Weekend Cooking: A very light banana cake

I always have bananas in my freezer as I buy bananas from Costco which come in a big bunch of at least 7-8 large bananas, and too often they seem to ripen at about the same time. They seem to go from green to almost yellow-green to yellow with brown spots all too soon. And I am no fan of ripe bananas. So into the freezer they go.

Usually I’m quite happy to make banana bread but somehow during the last round of banana bread I got tired of eating it really quickly. It just felt so heavy and stodgy. I wanted something that was a lot lighter, more of a cake than a bread. And somehow online I came across this cake recipe that read almost like it was heading a little towards a chiffon cake, something that would be light and different, with whipped egg whites and gula melaka (palm sugar). I reckon that if you can’t find palm sugar (usually at Asian supermarkets) you could use brown sugar, maybe with a bit of molasses to add a depth of flavour. I’ve adapted this recipe to include a step I learnt from Cook’s Illustrated’s Best Banana Bread Recipe, adding a sort of banana essence, made from the reduced liquid from thawed bananas. If you are not using frozen bananas, you can microwave your fresh bananas for a few minutes until soft and some liquid is released. It may be an extra step but it really adds such extra banana flavour to your cake!

Light banana cake

150g cake flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

4 large bananas – about 250g

(I use frozen bananas. Thaw them, sieve the liquid that inevitably remains, and heat the liquid on the stove, reduce it down to at least half and you get the most banana-y liquid ever. Almost like an essence)

100ml gula melaka syrup

100g vegetable or coconut oil

5 yolks

1/2 salt

5 whites

1/2 tsp cream of tartar

75g caster sugar

Line a 7″ square pan. Preheat oven to 350F.

Mash banana and add oil, egg yolks, salt, gula melaka syrup, mix the ingredients.

Add the baking powder and baking soda to the flour and sift this into the banana mixture and mix until well combined. Do not over-mix. Set aside.

Using a mixer, beat the egg white until foamy. Add in the cream of tartar. Continue beating on medium speed while gradually adding the caster sugar. Beat until you get firm peaks.

Gently fold the meringue into the flour mixture in 2 to 3 portions.

Pour into the baking tin. Drop the pan on the counter to get rid of big bubbles.

Place in a water bath and bake for 80 minutes at 350. Cover the top with foil if it is browning too fast.

Cool on a wire rack

Adapted from https://jeannietay.wordpress.com/2017/02/24/banana-gula-melaka-sponge-cake/

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Weekend Cooking: Begedil. Sort of

Begedil (begedel/perkedel) is a fried potato patty that can be found in Singapore/Malaysia/Indonesia. According to this Wikipedia entry (yes I know, wikipedia, but it’s not the easiest to find information on food history in Southeast Asia), it may have Dutch origins, derived from the  Frikadeller which are meatballs. But Begedil is more about the potato and less about the meat.

Whatever its origin, begedils are a great snack or an accompaniment to a meal. In Singapore, you can find them at nasi padang eateries, where you pick dishes of meat, curries, vegetables, seafood etc to go with your rice. I always make sure to order begedil! Or it sometimes accompanies soto ayam, a chicken soup made with turmeric and cumin. Add egg noodles and it’s known as mee soto. (Here’s a recipe for soto ayam). 

Traditionally, these are made with potatoes, fried shallots, a little cornflour, salt and pepper, coriander. Mashed into little balls, dipped into a beaten egg mixture and fried. I’ve seen recipes where the potatoes are first fried then mashed. But that seems like too much oil splattering around the kitchen and being absorbed into the potatoes. So I just boil the potatoes. Also there was a single lonely sweet potato looking so sad by itself, that I decided to boil that too and mash it in. I also wanted to make it more of a complete meal for the kids, so I added ground pork. In previous renditions, I’ve added corn, I’ve added peas.

Into a hot pan went some sliced shallots, then some ground pork which I had seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper. You can replace the ground pork with any other meat. Chicken, beef, I’ve even used canned salmon before.

Finely chop some 8 to 10 stalks of coriander leaves and some of them stem. Coriander is a big part of begedil. And it adds to the fragrance and taste.

You could form into patties, dip into a beaten egg mixture and immediately fry them. Drain on paper towels.

What I did was dip into egg and then a plate of panko, which I was trying to use up.

I made a big batch, then separated them and froze them. To reheat them, pop them into a microwave then toast until crispy. Or if I remember to do so early enough, thaw them overnight in the fridge.

 

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Weekend Cooking: Beef Hor Fun

Beef hor fun is one of my favourite things to eat.

It is a stir-fried rice noodle dish with beef and vegetables and a thick gravy.

You can find it at zichar places in Singapore, where most of the dishes are of the stirfried stuff.

And sadly, something I can’t seem to find at restaurants here in the Bay Area. Instead I have to make do with what I can at home. It’s really quite different as at home it is hard to get the ‘wok hei’ or ‘breath of the wok’, that smoky flavour you get when food is cooked in a wok at scorchingly high heat.
So here is a very basic how-to, without any definite measurements. If you’d like something more specific, here’s a good one from 3 hungry tummies. 

As with much of Chinese cooking, it’s all about advance prep. You need to have everything chopped/sliced/ready to be tossed in the hot wok at the right moment.
Begin with rice noodles, preferably fresh and wide.


As you can see these aren’t fresh. Or wide. But one must make do.

If your rice noodles are fresh they can go in the (very hot) wok immediately with some soy sauce and sesame oil. You want to get some colour on those pale strands!

If it’s the dried kind like these are, they will need to be soaked in warm water for a while. Drain well then do as above. Dried noodles may need a bit longer on the hot stove.
Most beef hor funs that I’ve had usually use mustard greens. But I had some bok choy from the farmer’s market to use up. I prefer these anyway.



 

Marinate thinly sliced beef at least half an hour in advance. I used a chuck steak and sliced it thinly while it was still somewhat frozen. Oyster sauce, soy sauce, white pepper, a little sesame oil and corn flour. I also added some Worcestershire sauce but mostly because I like to add that to beef dishes.

You’ll also need to finely slice some ginger, about four to five slices. I also chopped up four cloves of garlic and a small shallot. Also get an egg ready. Not necessary but it makes things even tastier.

Sear the beef using high heat until it’s about 60-70% cooked. Put it on a plate. You will add them back to the pot again later, so don’t worry about it not being completely cooked.

Get your wok hot again, stirfry the ginger, shallots then the garlic. Then I added the bok choy, adding a bit of stock (I only had chicken stock but beef stock would be great) to help it cook faster. Add more chicken stock bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and add a cornstarch solution (cornstarch with a bit of water stirred together) to help thicken the gravy. Drizzle in the egg and stir. Then add the beef.

 


 

Then spoon your gravy over your noodles and eat while hot. If you like, serve with some sliced green chili in soy sauce.

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Weekend Cooking: Scones

How I adore scones! They really are the epitome of afternoon tea!

In Singapore afternoon tea is quite popular. Really, in this food-obsessed country, anything that is to be consumed is a big thing. But one of my favourite must-do things when I visit Singapore is to have tea with my mum.

Many hotels in Singapore have afternoon tea service. Some are buffet style where a lavish spread awaits. Others are table-side service where the wait staff bring trays of lovely goodies. The one we tried the last time I was back was at the Fullerton Hotel.

  

(If I remember correctly the scones were kept warm in a little cloth-lined basket and not in these fancy trays)

 
I’m a chocoholic. My day never seems complete without a bit of dark chocolate. So I always make sure I get a small slice of whatever chocolate-y pastries and cakes are available. But when it comes to afternoon tea, it’s just never right without a good scone. And for me it’s always raisin scones. No not even a chocolate chip scone will do. Just a raisin or currant scone please.

A few weeks back I gave Rose Levy Bernabaum’s scone recipe a try (here’s a link to the recipe on Cookstr). I adore her Bread Bible but hadn’t tried her other non-bread recipes in the book before. But when I had some heavy cream leftover from making the frosting of Wee Reader’s chocolate cake, I knew it was scone time.

This recipe had an additional step which I think made quite a difference. After rolling out the pastry into a rectangle, fold it in threes. Rotate the dough, roll it out again and fold in threes again. Usually I just roll out the dough once and cut it! I’m not sure if it was this extra step or the heavy cream or just the recipe in general but these scones were seriously the most buttery, yet light, and overall, the best scones I’ve ever made!

They are perfect for afternoon tea. Or breakfast. Or a midnight snack! I like to eat them warm with a little bit of butter but the kids preferred the scones with a bit of strawberry jam.
How do you like your scones? 

 

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Weekend Cooking: Egg tofu with vegetables

Egg tofu is something I grew up eating in Singapore. It’s often found at many Chinese restaurants, although in Singapore, Chinese restaurant range from Teochew to Hokkien to Hakka to Hainanese cuisines, whereas in North America, “Chinese” tends to mean “Cantonese or Hong Kong cuisine.

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Egg tofu isn’t easy to find in the US, even in the San Francisco Bay Area which has quite a number of Asian Americans – and many Asian supermarkets within half an hour drive from my house.

Tofu itself – soft, firm, extra-firm, medium-firm – is bountiful. And there are even places which make their own tofu. And oh, even soy milk can be easily found too. Whether at supermarkets or restaurants.

But egg tofu? At Marina Foods, the Asian supermarket I frequent, there are just two types found on the shelves. Sad. Wanting to be taken home and cooked up.

How I love egg tofu. It has that silky texture of tofu and an added bonus of that yellow tinge from the whole eggs added to the mixture.

The best way to eat it is to fry them.

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Just slice through the plastic, peel the plastic off. Or gently ease out the egg tofu. Slice into thick chunks. Heat your oil and pan-fry until golden on both sides. It is a softer kind of tofu and so is a bit tricky to flip over. I find that a spatula in one hand and a pair of long wooden chopsticks works best!

 

 

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I stir fried some vegetables – a mix of chard, broccoli, snow peas, carrots, cauliflower, and served it with the egg tofu. The three pieces of roll on the right are ngoh hiang or a bean curd skin roll with minced pork, chestnuts and carrots inside. It is first steamed then fried and served with a sweet sauce.

 

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Weekend Cooking: Bulgogi

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I didn’t set out to make Bulgogi.

It was Sunday morning and I was digging in my freezer’s meat drawer to find the pork chops to make a soy sauce braised pork chop to go with the noodles I was planning to make on Monday.

And there it was a chuck steak, one that had been reposing in the freezer for, well, for far too long. Why had I bought that cut of meat and then forgot about it? Well the freezer is where things get chucked and forgotten right? No? Maybe it’s just me then.

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That beef needed to be cooked up!

And so it was to be Bulgogi. Perfect because I had just bought some apple pears. The recipe is simple enough. Slice your meat as thinly as possible. Or if you can’t slice it thinly enough, grab your meat-hammer and bang your frustrations away.

Make your marinade. Apple pears or Asian pears are great tenderizers. But if you don’t have it apparently kiwi works great too, or even onions.

And that was one tough steak. I think it had been on offer.

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So grated ginger (a thumb-sized piece – or if you use a lot of minced ginger, consider grabbing a jar like the one above!), five cloves of garlic, minced, one big shallot (I didn’t have onions), grated Asian pear went into a bowl along with sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, a little fish sauce, white pepper and some brown sugar. Here’s a recipe if you would like precise measurements but you can’t really go wrong with a marinade like this. Just taste it as you mix it, making sure it’s not too sweet or too sour. If you don’t have rice vinegar I’m sure a cider vinegar or just plain white vinegar would work too. It’s more of a splash to brighten up the marinade. No fish sauce? That’s fine too. But you do need the soy sauce and the sesame oil though as it’s hard to get around those flavours.

When it’s ready, add in the sliced beef and mix it up and leave to marinate, preferably overnight but at the very minimum half an hour.

When you’re ready to cook it while just take minutes, especially if it’s really thinly sliced.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve with steamed rice and vegetables or noodles like Japchae.

The kids love it, probably because it is a little bit sweet and a little bit salty!

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Weekend Cooking: Browned Butter Blueberry Muffins – from ‘eh’ to ‘ooh’

 

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So you know how kids are.

One day they declare that they love blueberries. And eat them at breakfast, lunch, teatime and dinner.

The next day, they declare that they love blueberries. And eat them at breakfast, lunch, teatime and dinner.

On the third day, they declare that they no longer love blueberries. And refuse to eat them at breakfast, lunch, teatime or dinner.

So I was left with most of a Costco-sized box of blueberries. And I don’t really like eating fresh blueberries. I mean, I love blueberry pie, but that’s about it!

Weird I know.

So I looked around for a new blueberry muffin recipe. I’ve made them before with various recipes found online but they weren’t anything great. Nothing memorable. Probably because I’m no fan of blueberries or really, blueberry muffins.

But this one by Joy the Baker sounded perfect. At first I was attracted to the idea of browned butter. And boy do I love the sound – and smell – of browned butter. If you’ve ever browned butter, you might know what I’m talking about! The melted butter makes this sizzling almost crackling kind of sound. And that toasted butter smell is so very heavenly.

And then I loved how much blueberries it used. It meant I could use up all the blueberries. But wait! I didn’t have enough blueberries, so in went the tasteless black grapes too! I figured, that they didn’t really have much taste so it wouldn’t matter very much!

The recipe just got better. Because it had a crumb topping, which I had never done before, and wondered, what’s all this about? But when it came out of the oven, and those bits of flour/butter/sugar crumbs on top were browned, it was amazing! The crunch of the sugar, the velvety-ness of the butter elevated the blueberry muffin from ‘eh’ to ‘ooh’!

I cut one muffin in half, thinking, I’ll save the rest for Wee Reader.

Then I ate the other half, thinking, he’ll just have to get another one.

 

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Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs