Layered Fruit Agar Agar

>> Sunday, August 29, 2010

Have you ever woken up with the thought

"Omgosh, please tell me I didn't do that yesterday...that it was only a dream, right?"

I did. This morning actually.

Yesterday was the last day of my first full-time job. It's been 3 years. So I did the ugly cry in front of the now ex-colleagues (some looked worried and probably wondered if I'd lost it). I had envisioned that would happen hours before the actual incident. They call it the self-fulfilling prophesy. I call it overactive tear ducts.

But the good news is...I'm about to jet-off and start my holiday now so I can pretend I have a short term memory loss. It's a between-job holiday. Or just an unemployment stint.

I will leave with you the simple recipe for the fruit layered agar agar in the meantime.

And see - I told you I was going to incorporate agar agar into my everyday diet!

Fruit layered agar agar
  • Fruits of your choice (try not to use kiwifruit, pineapple and papaya as they have enzymes which may prevent the agar from setting).
  • 4 cups water (or you can use juice - I'd probably use lychee or apple juice next time!)
  • Honey (to taste)
  • 2 tsp agar agar powder
1. Bring the water with the agar agar powder and honey to boil.

2. Pour a thin layer of liquid from the above step to your container of choice before layering the first layer of fruit (in my case strawberries)

3. Once you add the first layer of fruit, pour another layer of the agar agar liquid on top - let it sit for around 2-3 minutes before you layer on second fruit of choice.

4. When done with the layering, place the container into the fridge for around 2 hours!


Coconut, Red bean and Matcha Agar Agar

>> Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Let's talk healthy (or heathier) today.

So you've just had dinner...and it is now time of the night when you scour the kitchen for desserts. So what do you find? Ice-cream, chocolate (with sea-salt!), or cakes? No? C'mon, I can't be the only one!

Ever since my recent over-indulgence in Japan, I've been thinking a lot about low fat desserts. Is that even possible?!

Then I magically found agar agar (kanten in Japanese) in my pantry.

You know what's so lovely about this stuff?

It is made of approximately 80% fibre and as you digest, it increases in volume in your stomach by absorbing the water...which means, you'll be fuller quicker than ever!

Oh and you know what else I love about it? Unlike your usual gelatin, it is all-vegetable (extracted from seaweed) and completely odourless! Thank goodness. Is it just me or does gelatin smell really bad when you boil it?

Many sites I have came across boast that agar agar is completely fat-free, has 0 calories and 0 sugar and carbs. While I don't know how accurate these sources are, I'd say it has been a great replacement to my usual ice-cream lately!

I have tested with one of my favourite food combinations...

Matcha and red beans with 2 different versions.

Oy, isn't variety the spice of life?

This is probably the easiest dessert recipe you'll ever find. All you need to know is...

...for every 1 cup of liquid, add 1/2 tsp of agar powder. Really. That's all. The rest, taste as you go along.

Coconut, Red bean and Matcha Agar Agar - Version #1

Coconut layer
  • I tbsp demerara sugar (depending on how you like it)
  • 1 cup low-fat coconut milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp agar agar

Red Bean layer

  • 1 tblsp demerara sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup (or more depending on preference) cooked red bean (boil in water for 45 mins)
  • 1 tsp agar agar powder

Matcha layer

  • 1-2 tsp matcha powder
  • 2 tblsp condensed milk (ok, this isn't healthy stuff I know)
  • 1/2 tsp agar agar powder
  • 1 cup low-fat milk

1. Pour the coconut milk and water into a saucepan and add the agar agar powder. Let rest for 10 minutes.

2. Add in the sugar and bring the liquid to boil.

3. Once sugar has dissolved, pour the liquid into your preferred container. It should set within 20 minutes.

4. Pour on another layes once the previous layer is about to set. Then refrigerate for 2 hours.

Follow the above methods for the other layers...

Note: with the red bean layer, before you pour the red bean onto the coconut layer, maybe sure you pour a small layer of the liquid first then wait for a few minutes before placing the beans and pouring the rest of the liquid over it. This will ensure that the layers stick together better.

Coconut, Red bean and Matcha Agar Agar - Version #2

This version uses exactly the same ingredients as the above step minus the 2 cups of water with the red beans. I just combined the coconut water with the red beans and omitted one layer.

I also used a different type of green tea (you can obviously see the beautiful vibrant green in this second version. Make sure you use fresh and good quality green tea (matcha) powder. It makes a whole lot of difference. The one I used in the first version was about to expire!

I've now a list of other flavour combinations that I can't wait to try.

Imagine lycee with rasperberries... rosewater with pomegranates...

Go on, give agar agar a chance....


Chocolate-Banana Marble Bread

>> Sunday, August 22, 2010

I'd put banana bread in the same category as my childhood friends - it's been in my life for as long as I can remember (and also the first thing I've baked in my life), and we've been through a lot together.

Good days, bad days, un-inspired days...the day when I resigned from my first full-time job (last week)...well, what else but banana bread!

Maybe what I love is the practicality of it. Like an all-purpose baked good that you can use in all situations. I mean, it really is the answer to some of life's toughest when you are:

a) so late for work and don't have time to make breakfast

b) incredibly stuck at work and the only thing left to do is to bribe colleagues with baked goods

c) in need to make your house smell truly domesticated...(there is a reason why banana bread is in Nigella's How to be a domestic goddess)

d) required to bake something at the last minute for people which says I-need-to-impress-but-I-don't-want-you-to-know-so-I-made-this-to-feign-indifference (don't under-estimate the power of the humble banana bread!)

Today, I introduce to you a fancier banana bread with a twist (of chocolate).

This is the first time I've used this recipe and the process is definitely more lengthy than my usual one (which I will post up another day!)

Chocolate-Banana Marble Bread
Adapted from The Art and Soul of Baking

Note: The recipe calls for cake flour instead of the usual all purpose flour. You can make your own cake flour: for every cup of cake-flour required by the recipe, take a cup of all purpose flour - remove 2 tablespoons of it and replace it with 2 tbsp of cornflour. Then sift 5-6 times.
  • 2 large or 3 medium very ripe bananas, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (7 ounces) sifted cake flour (see note above)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) unsifted unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounce) boiling water, plus more if needed
  • 1 1/2 sticks (six ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and position an oven rack in the center. Lightly coat the loaf pan with melted butter or high-heat canola-oil spray and line it with a piece of parchment paper that extends 1 inch beyond the long edge of both sides of the pan. Peel the bananas and place them in the bowl of the food processor.

Process to a smooth puree, or mash them in a bowl using a fork. Measure 1 cup of the puree and transfer it to a medium bowl, discarding the rest of the puree or saving it for another use. Add the buttermilk and vanilla and whisk just until blended. Set aside.

Use a fine-mesh strainer to sift the cake flour, baking soda, and baking powder together into a medium bowl. Whisk to blend well. Set aside. Place the cocoa powder in the small bowl. Pour the boiling water over the coca and stir until it forms a smooth paste — it should run thickly off the spoon. If it is too thick, add another tablespoon of boiling water and stir again. Set aside.

Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of the stand mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until the butter is very light, almost white in color, 4 to 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula. Turn the mixer to medium speed and add the eggs, 1 tablespoon at a time, completely blending in each addition before adding the next. About halfway through the eggs, turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl with the spatula, then continue adding the rest of the eggs. Scrape down the bowl and finish blending the batter by hand.

Transfer half of the batter to the second medium bowl. Add the cocoa paste and, using the rubber spatula, gently but thoroughly blend it into the batter.

Drop alternating spoonfuls of dark and light batters into the prepared pan, but marbleize by using a spoon to gently turn the batter over in 3 places down the length of the pan.

Bake the banana bread for 55 to 65 minutes, until firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. When cool, remove from the pan, peel off the parchment paper, and cut slices by sawing gently with a serrated knife.

While this banana bread is quite good (very soft and refined), I don't really think it is all that necessary to spend so much time on a banana bread (unless you do have the time!). Normally making banana bread is a one bowl task for me, but with this recipe be prepared to do a little bit more washing up ;)


Tokyo - final days

>> Monday, August 9, 2010

Rather than uploading all the photos from my Tokyo culinary adventures here, I thought I'd just highlight some of the places that I've been to over the weeks I was there.

For those who adore anything 'Green Tea'...

Koots is a green-tea lovers dream - it has all sorts of green-tea desserts and a huge selection of green-tea drinks! I love this place so much that I had to go twice. These are the type of things that make my feet do the happy taps while I eat.

Green-tea ice-cream with green-tea latte

For those on a tight budget...

You can't get any cheaper than at Hanamaru - Japan's largest udon franchise chain. Their most basic udon noodle starts at 105 Yen which is just under AUD $1.50 using today's exchange rate.

You can choose any style of udon - hot or cold, with curry or a poached egg, with natto, seaweed or with fried bean curd. Then you can also help yourself to a selection of tempura available for self serve.

Cold udon with grated radish

Hot udon soup

For those wanting a different dessert experience...

Yoshi Yoroizuka is unlike any dessert place I've been to. It is a stylish and elegant 'pastry bar' where the pastry chefs make the desserts right in front of you step-by-step.

Unfortunatley I don't have any photos of the experience there but head on over to this blog if you are keen to see what the 'bar' looks like!

Below is one of the desserts that we bought from the pastry store on the way out - Rhubarb and raspberry mousse tart! It was elegant and delicious (although, I still think that Hidemi Sugino is the best!).

For those who has time for a lazy afternoon...

HARBS is a quaint little cafe residing in the Roppongi Hills complex in Tokyo and they're famous for their layered crepe cake sandwiching fresh fruits and cream. You will find here the majority of customers are women chatting over some afternoon tea and light snacks.

Crepe layered fruit cake

Orange and mint tea

I drool every time I think about this omelette sandwich

For those souffle lovers...

Le Souffle has a whole page of menu dedicated to - you've guessed it, souffles! From the simple vanilla flavour to hazelnut, Grand Marnier and apricot souffles- choosing one is definitely a huge ask! I wanted to try pretty much everything! Since they make souffles from scratch from the time you order, it takes a good 15-20 minutes before your souffles arrive.

I was admiring the perfect looking souffles when they were brought out and before I could whip out my camera, the tops began to sink :(

Lemon souffle

Destructing my Chocolate with raspberry centred souffle

Instructions on how to eat a souffle properly!

For those who just don't know where to go for ramen...

Ippudo is one of the more well-known ramen joints in Tokyo - in fact it is so famous that a chain was opened in New York City. I think ramen really comes down to a matter of personal preference and while some ramen connoisseurs may not regard Ippudo as one of the tops, I reckon it is definitely one of my favourites in Japan (however I've only been to a handful).

We waited for 15 minutes outside in the 36C heat!

Business men in ramen action.


The broth makes me want to float around in it, if that makes any sense

For those who want delicious sushi at the best value...

Can I introduce you to Midori? This is the first place I think of as soon as my flight lands in Tokyo. Beware of long queue at Friday and weekends! I waited for 2 hours once at their original Umegaoka branch (which is the best of all branches!)

Midori has never disappointed me from all my visits and I actually thought the food here is much better than the ones I've had in Tsukiji Fish market! ;)

Sushi Set

This one thing called aburi engawa probably sums up what I go to Japan is amazing!

Plump and juicy scallops

Aburi sushi set

Avacado salad

Long strand of irresistable aburi engawa

Black sesame ice-cream with red beans

For those wanting to indulge a little bit more...

Henri Charpentier is a French-styled Japanese patisserie that I've been meaning to try for a while. As I really didn't have enough room in my stomache for dessert that day, I just had to buy some to take back to the hotel with me to indulge later at night.

Since mangoes are in season, we got the mango silk roll and a mango mousse log.

Deliciously fresh mangoes with light mango mousse and sponge....I'm in dreamland!

Mango silk roll cross-section

For those lactose intolerant (or not) on a hot day....

I'm not recommending any one place in particular, but it seems a number of places I visited in Tokyo sell soy ice-cream and they are so good! It's not just because I'm a soy lover, but they're so light, summer-y and highly addictive (and healthy I hope!). I had some at the Tsukiji Fish Market (one of the stalls) and some at Roppongi Midtown. For me, no trip to Japan is complete without one!

Tofu ice-cream from B1 level in Roppongi Midtown

Do you know any other places which fall into the above categories?!


Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

>> Sunday, August 8, 2010

One day soon, I hope to say something like,

" I bought a SLR camera and never looked back."

The truth is, at the moment I am looking back fondly on the days of effortlessly 'pointing and shooting' and not having to think about all the different settings and what they mean. I spent all afternoon getting acquainted with this new toy of mine and the super-zoom lens that I bought by 'mistake' (in's a long story!)

I know it will get easier with experience and patience...I just look forward to that day.

Oh, and that is not the only thing new in my life.

Spelt flour. Wholemeal. Whoa. Never thought this day would come.

Rhubarbs have been sitting in the fridge for a week now.

Six punnets of strawberries are waiting to be eaten.

No time for pie crust...

Looks like a crumble will do :)

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble
Recipe from 101 Cookbooks
  • butter for greasing skillet/pan (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 3/4 cup / 3 oz / 85 g spelt flour
  • 2/3 cup / 3 oz / 85 pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 1/2 cup / 1.5 oz / 45 g rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup / 2 oz / 60 g natural cane sugar (I halved this)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup / 2.5 oz / 75 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup / 2 oz / 60 g natural cane sugar (or Muscovado sugar - I halved this)
  • 1/2 lb. / 8 ounces / 225 g hulled medium strawberries, cut into quarters
  • 12 ounces trimmed rhubarb, sliced into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup / 60 ml port wine (optional - I excluded this)
Preheat the oven to 375F / 190C, with a rack in the middle. Butter a 10-inch round gratin dish (pictured), or a 9x9 square baking dish.

Combine the flour, pine nuts, oats, sugar, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Use a fork to stir in the butter, squeeze into a few patties, then place in the freezer to chill at least ten minutes.

Make the filling by whisking together the cornstarch and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the strawberries and rhubarb, and toss until evenly coated. Wait three minutes, add the port and toss again.

Transfer the filling to the prepared pan, remove the topping from the freezer, and crumble across the top of the filling - make sure you have big pieces and small.

Bake for 35 - 40 minutes, or until the topping is deeply golden and the fruit juices are vigorously bubbling. You'll want to let things cool a bit before serving, 20 - 30 minutes.

Serves a small crowd, 8 - 12 servings.

This is the first time I have baked strawberries. Normally I'd think it is a waste to cook such fresh berries, but I just have too much of it in the fridge ;)

The rhubarb and strawberry combination exceeded my expectations (in the past I just couldn't imagine how this could work) and the crunchy topping is just as delicious as a normal crumble - and healthier too, although I would probably decrease the amount of pine nuts next time as a personal preference.

Anyways, I'm ready for a new week ahead...

Have a blessed week!

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