Merry Christmas Jam with Scones

Merry Christmas!

Today I share with you how a mistake led to lots of beautiful Christmas presents. A few months ago, I’d left out a bag of frozen cranberries by mistake and had to figure out what to do with with them and fast. A quick google showed up cranberry sauce and jam, but I was worried that jam making would be complicated and difficult. Luckily, I hit upon a recipe from 101cookbooks.com (originally from Falling Cloudberries) that seemed easy. It was also convenient since we were having people over for breakfast the next day.

Anyhow, having people over was the perfect excuse to test out my new oven. Put freshly baked scones and freshly made tart cranberry jam together and slather with either clotted cream or butter for a glorious combination. Then have grilled mushrooms and crispy bacon as chaser and it’s a very satisfying breakfast.

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Scones (taken from Nigella)

These need to be made fresh and eaten while still warm. If you have leftovers, they must be heated up in the toaster oven, otherwise will have an awful dense texture. Don’t keep them any longer than overnight because it just gets too heavy to eat then.

Ingredients:

500g flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
4½ tsp cream of tartar
125g unsalted butter (direct from the freezer, oh you mean you don’t store yours there?)
300ml milk

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 220°C.
  2. Sift the flour, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar together. If lazy, just sift the baking soda and cream of tartar into the flour and salt, that bit is the most crucial.
  3. Cut the butter into chunks and use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour. Finish off the process by rubbing the butter into the flour with your fingers.
  4. Add the milk and stir quickly, kneading very lightly until it forms a dough.
  5. Press out (you can roll if you like, but I normally don’t bother) into about 3cm thickness or about as thick as one finger joint.
  6. Using a medium cookie cutter (5-6cm diameter), cut into 10-12 rounds. You’ll need to reroll for the last few.
  7. Glaze with some milk. I normally smear it on with my finger.
  8. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for about 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.
  9. Eat as soon as you can!

Makes 10-12.

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Cranberry and Apple Jam (adapted from 101 cookbooks)

I used a bag of frozen cranberries and added some of my own spices. The first round, I used cinnamon and star anise and the second time, lemongrass, lime and clove. Try various combinations and see what works for you. If you’re going to make a lot like I did for Christmas presents, don’t worry about the proportion of apple to cranberry, just make sure you scale the sugar with the cranberries and it should be all good. Another tip: don’t taste the jam immediately after it’s done. It’s somehow very sour and a bit unbalanced then. Let it sit for 30 minutes at least if you’re going to eat it fresh. The flavours will mingle and the sharpness will mellow, then it’ll be all good.

Ingredients:

340 g cranberries (one bag frozen)
120g sugar
spices – 1 stick cinnamon or 2 star anise or 5 cloves or 2 lemongrass sticks, bashed
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped

Method:

  1. Rinse the berries and get rid of the spoiled (brown) ones. Drain and toss with the sugar, lemon rind, its juice and whatever spices you’re using in a bowl. The original recipe calls for a non-reactive bowl, so anything plastic, ceramic or stainless steel is fine.
  2. Leave overnight and stir a couple of times if you remember to. Otherwise just give a good stir before you continue to step 3.
  3. The next morning, load your clean empty jam jar(s) into the oven and set the oven to 100ºC. Leave for at least an hour until you’re ready to bottle the jam.
  4. Put the chopped apple into a saucepan.
  5. Transfer most of the sugary cranberries into another bowl, leaving most of the juice and sugar behind. Scrape that juice and sugar along with a spoonful or so of berries into the saucepan with the apples, then add the water and simmer till the apple is soft or about 10 minutes. Squish the berries till most burst.
  6. Add the rest of the berries and cook, stirring gently till the jam looks thickened, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  7. Get the by now sterilised jar(s) out of the oven and scrape the jam inside. Screw on the covers firmly, but not too tightly and place upside down on a tea towel.
  8. Leave to cool completely, then wash away any sticky mess and store in the fridge or a cool place.

Makes 1 standard jar plus some for breakfast for 4.

I scaled up the recipe with these proportions: 1.5kg cranberries (4 bags of 340g each added up to that much after washing!), 600g sugar, 3 lemons, 6 lemongrass sticks, 6 star anise, 3 apples. It took longer to cook the apples down in step 5, about 30 minutes or so and the mixture only thickened slightly. Then it took 10 minutes for the cranberries to cook through. It made a huge pot that ended up with 4 big and 4 small jars of jam. Here’s what they look like upside down.

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Merry Christmas!

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September in Bali: Last Pampering

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It was time to call it wraps in Bali. I’d spent about 3 weeks diving in both Bali and Komodo and while I enjoyed it all greatly, it was time to take a break from being underwater. What better way than to do it in style – at one of the Nusa Dua resorts. I was lucky enough to get a free ride from Permuteran to the airport from a very generous Spanish couple. It was there that I met my aunt for our pampering at the resort.

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We stayed at the Hyatt, a lushly landscaped resort.

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My aunt found a great deal on it and we spent four days lazing around this resort.

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Most of the time was spent at the swimming pool, a free form one that snaked round the premises. It was lovely wandering from one coil to another, exploring the little surprises round the corner.

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One cute surprise was the slide, big enough for adults even! I enjoyed going down a few times, it was pretty fast. But soon I got embarrassed because little kids were going both before and after me.

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At breakfast, we had a choice of the open air patio or comfortable airconditioning inside. The open air patio gave us a beautiful view of birds enjoying the grounds too. They were fairly tame and I didn’t have to zoom too much to catch good shots.

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This little fella was our breakfast companion as we sat by the lily pond. In exchange for his companionship, we gave him a few morsels of bread from our table.

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And after spending the day lazing in the pool, we had dinner at Jimbaran beach. Here we had the typical spread of barbecued seafood, and here I also wave goodbye with my crab to the end of the Bali series.

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Quick Eats: Fei Zhai Pork Rib Prawn Noodles

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I got this tip off from a taxi driver who waxed lyrical that these prawn noodles were better than the one at Pek Kio Market. DC and I had a hard time tracking it down because he called it “Ah Bui” prawn noodles in the Alexandra area. After some extensive googling, I found a place call Fei Zhai Pork Rib Prawn Noodles on a tech forum. Turns out that it’s at the junction of Pasir Panjang Road and Pepys Road, where we go fairly often to have E-Sarn Thai food. We’d not seen it before because it only opens in the morning and is supposedly shut by 2pm. Motivated by love of food and the thrill of a new find, we woke up early one Saturday morning and made our way there. There was only a very short queue and the very friendly owner soon despatched our orders. No pig tail nor big prawns as recommended by the taxi driver though, only pork ribs and regular prawns.

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But the ribs and regular prawns were good enough! The prawns were firm and extremely fresh and the pork ribs tender and full of good flavour both from good meat and from the herbs delicately scenting the soup. I enjoyed the soup a lot, there was a lot of briny sea in there from the prawns and also sweetness from the pork. DC felt that it was quite prawn nirvana though, he felt that the Pek Kio one was far superior. Noodles-wise, it was decent with good bite to the noodles. Not sure why, but the crunchy fresh beansprouts really added to this dish they were that good. I wasn’t sure about the chilli because I felt it too sweet. However, the sweetness gelled with the breakfast aspect of the noodles. I wouldn’t want to have too in-your-face a chilli so early in the morning. I’m glad to report that Fei Zhai is generous on the lard and those lard bits are pretty darn heavenly too. He probably uses superior pork cuts. Next time, we’re going in for the kill for pig tail. Stay tuned.

Fei Zhai Pork Rib Prawn Noodles
Junction of Pepys Road and Pasir Panjang Road
Open only in the morning

True All-Day Breakfast

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DC and I were frustrated in yet another attempt to eat at Ippudo. Disheartened by the queues, we headed over to Wild Honey instead. It’s an interesting premise here: an eclectic set-up with odd-sized tables and chairs or sofas, a chalkboard menu with pictures to browse on an iPod Touch, and an emphasis on breakfast food. I was a bit surprised to have to queue and pay at the counter for my food, but soon understood as part of the fun was deciding what to eat from the photos on the iTouch.

True to its name, this place had several honey-themed drinks. I liked my refreshing fizzy pink grapefruit and manuka honey drink. DC also liked his banana, honey and meringue drink which was more smoothie than drink. It was like breakfast in a glass. I found it way too thick and rich and while I don’t particularly fancy soft meringue, I liked the creativity of the soft meringue topping crisped on the outside (most likely with a blowtorch). DC enjoyed it thoroughly, enthusiastically sucking up the gloop with the straw.

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The goat cheese salad was another hit. Hardly healthy at all, our token nod to vegetables was dominated by the very yummy breaded deep-fried goat cheese. The oozy, salty goodness went really well with the bacon bits and pine nuts. It seemed like the fresh salad leaves were an afterthought.

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I went for the Yemeni breakfast of “malawach with whole boiled egg, green chili harissa and tomato kasundi.” Turned out that malawach is a Yemeni version of roti prata, very similar to a fluffier version of the frozen kind you pop in the toaster oven to reheat. It came with a loh neng, seemed just like braised egg in soy sauce, but I had no idea what the sauce was. The harissa was quite spicy hot and the tomato kasundi rather sweet. The owner came over and explained to me that it was his favourite childhood breakfast and he was absolutely delighted that I’d ordered it. He taught me how to eat the dish: by mashing up the egg and then mixing the sweet and hot sauces to my liking and eating it all with the prata malawach. It was quite yummy, but I felt it quite expensive ($18)  for what I got.

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DC’s choice was more substantial and I rather preferred his Tunisian breakfast of a “sizzling pan of tomato stew, fried eggs and chorizo sausage.” Given that we were having dinner, this breakfast dish seemed more apt for the time of the day. I liked the combination of gooey egg yolk, salty spicy chorizo and tomato on toast. They were somehow a bit nicer on the toast soldiers that came with the salad.

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My verdict? I guess I’m not much of an all-day breakfast girl. It’s a nice little place with friendly service and interesting concepts. I wonder if it’ll last in fickle Singapore, especially given the high prices (think about it: eggs and bread for slightly under $20?). Still, I’d go back for brunch and try the other stuff too.

Wild Honey
Mandarin Gallery #03-02
Orchard Road
Tel: 6235 3900

Blueberry Pancakes

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Occasionally I like to make a decadent breakfast chockful of expensive ingredients. This time I made blueberry pancakes, putting a good two punnets of the stuff in it. I made the fluffier thick American-style pancakes, which typically uses buttermilk and bicarbonate of soda. I replaced the buttermilk with a mixture of yogurt and milk and it worked out just fine. You can make the batter minus the bicarbonate of soda in advance and stir it in just before cooking. Be sure to sift the bicarb. If you’re lazy like me, you’ll end up with lumps that turn parts of the pancake disappointingly salty-bitter. Top it either with the traditional maple syrup and butter/whipped cream or go healthier like me and dollop with thick yogurt and manuka honey.

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Ingredients:
170g plain flour
1 egg
½ cup yogurt
¾ cup milk
40g sugar
50g melted butter
pinch salt
¾ tsp cream of tartar
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tbsp melted butter, for frying
2 punnets blueberries

Method:

  1. Mix all the ingredients from flour to bicarbonate of soda in a blender or mixer till smooth. (If making in advance, leave out the bicarbonate of soda: stir it in only when ready to make pancakes.)
  2. Heat a heavy frying pan and coat lightly with melted butter. Pour the batter into the pan in spoonfuls till it runs to the edges of the pan. Turn heat to low and sprinkle blueberries generously over the uncooked and bubbling side.
  3. When the pancake turns almost solid on the uncooked side, loosen gently and flip the pancake. It’s all in the wrist action. (Tip: use a non-stick pan, it helps a great deal!) Cook till brown on the other side, then transfer to a plate and cook the rest of the pancakes.
  4. Serve with butter, thick yogurt and honey.

Makes 8 pancakes.

A Breakfast Smoothie

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Carrefour had a strawberry sale, so it was strawberry smoothie for breakfast. Too bad the strawberries weren’t particularly sweet, so I had to add some manuka honey for a herbal kick. Also added in a secret ingredient that really brought out the strawberry flavour. If you can’t figure out what it is, you can use vanilla essence instead. (A rather oblique hint: vanilla essence is the same colour as my secret ingredient.) If not, you could try using better flavoured strawberries, or just swap the strawberries for a good ripe mango. That’s also very good.

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Ingredients:

1 punnet strawberries, washed and hulled
1 tbsp Manuka honey, or to taste
2 tsp secret ingredient, or to taste OR ½ tsp vanilla essence
approx 1 cup milk, or till it covers the fruit

Method:

  1. Easy peasy: just combine all in a tall plastic tumbler and whizz with a stick blender till smooth.
  2. Drink immediately.

Serves 1 or 2.

Privé Cafe

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I’d been meaning to try Privé Cafe for a while and breakfast was as good a meal as any to check it out.  The website says that it opens at 9.00am, so we got there slightly after nine only to be told that while the place was open, only coffee and selected drinks would be served for then. It wouldn’t be till 9.30 that they would take orders for food and other drinks like smoothies. I found it incredibly bizarre because it was a bit silly to open for breakfast and tell people that they could only drink coffee and tea for the first half hour. No smoothies even! How hard is it to load a blender and flick the switch? The manager explained to us that even pastries couldn’t be served because they were still baking. It was obviously a lie because the pastries, while not stale, came at room temperature and the glaze of the Danish pastries were definitely not freshly set. The worst bit of it all was that they did not even offer to take our order first and get it to the kitchen so that our food would arrive just after 9.30. (Back story: we had an elderly person who couldn’t stay out for long, hence the need for speed.)

Well, we finally got round to getting our food and it was decent. The berry smoothie had lots of (frozen) mixed berries blended into vanilla ice cream. It was more of a milkshake than smoothie. My impression of a smoothie is one made with yogurt instead of ice cream, it was a bit too rich for the morning, especially with my main course.

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The stack of pancakes was quite lovely. It was the best I’d had in a while, with each pancake warm and fluffy, accompanied by fresh fruit, softly whipped cream and syrup on the side. A nice touch was the honeycomb bits which really added to the flavour and texture of the dish. All in all very satisfying.

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Discount the odd order-only-at-9.30 policy and not particularly attentive service and the food and ambience are great. It’s lovely to sit by the marina with the sun climbing up over the boats, feeling like it’s going to be a lovely day ahead.

Privé Bakery Cafe
2 Keppel Bay Vista
Marina at Keppel Bay
Tel: 6776 0777
info@prive.com.sg

Homemade Yogurt Breakfast

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I had a teeny bit of time one Saturday morning, so I made this healthy yet very satisfying breakfast. There was mango and pear in the fridge, and some greek yoghurt too. I wasn’t quite content with just fruit and yogurt, so I rummaged in the freezer for some rolled oats, toasted it and then drizzled over some Manuka honey. I think the combination of nutty toasted oats and herby honey really lifted the yogurt to a higher level. Not to mention, the mango was nice and fragrant, making it something yummy to look forward to again soon.

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There’s no real need for a recipe, but here goes if you must.

Ingredients:

1 small mango, skinned, seeded and cubed
1 pear, cored and cubed
1 cup thick greek yogurt
1 handful rolled oats
1 tbsp Manuka honey

Method:

  1. Prepare the fruit, lay in a shallow dish and spoon over the yogurt.
  2. Spread the oats in a thin layer in a toaster oven and toast for about 2 minutes or till just brown.
  3. Scatter the oats over the fruit and yogurt, then drizzle over the honey.
  4. Stir and enjoy.

Serves 1.

A Very Decadent Breakfast Omelette

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I was a little tired of having the usual cheese or peanut butter in my breakfast sandwich. Inspiration hit when I looked at eggs and cheese sitting around in my fridge.  I wasn’t happy with just a plain cheese omelette. There was some aging  garlic and shallots in a corner of my kitchen, so that went into my recipe, as did some defrosted chopped spinach. I went slightly overboard with the butter for my omelette but that made it extra special and flavourful to perk up my breakfast. I suppose it also helped keep the omelette from sticking to the pan. DC insists that I add this line: he thinks it was very nice.

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Ingredients:

big knob butter
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
3 shallots, sliced thinly
4 nuggets of thawed frozen spinach (about a small handful)
1 small handful grated mature cheddar cheese
4 eggs
generous splash of milk

Method:

  1. Melt the butter in a frying pan on medium heat, then add the garlic and shallots. Fry till the shallots are soft and start smelling wonderful.
  2. Fish the garlicky shallots out into a large bowl and mix in the spinach and cheese. Season with sea salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Stir till well combined.
  3. Put the still-buttery pan back on medium, then briskly beat the eggs and milk together. Pour into pan and let set. If bubbles form, burst them with a wooden spatula to help it cook faster. When the omelette has just about set, smear the spinach and cheese mixture gently onto one half.
  4. Carefully fold the omelette over and wait for the cheese to melt. Serve as soon as you can, though it tastes gorgeous cold too.

Makes 2 giant portions or 4 regular ones

A Leisurely Breakfast with Easy Long-Rise Bread

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This is what I try to make my typical breakfast: lots of fruit with some dairy and complex carbohydrates. I think it’s a tad heavy on the sugar, but at least the jam is homemade and the Yakult gives me some sort of lactobacteria. I slice bread only when I need it and end up lazily using the chopping board as my serving platter too.

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The bread I make is very dense and quite moist, like the German fitnessbrot I grew up eating, so it doesn’t go stale easily. It’s based on a Cooks Illustrated almost no-knead bread recipe. I’ve modified it slightly to suit my own needs. My bread is dense because my tins are non-stick, meaning that the dough doesn’t get enough grip to rise high against its walls. If you have a regular (as opposed to non-stick) metal tin, go ahead and use that instead for a lighter bread. Don’t oil the sides, if not the high temperature of the oven will turn it into a gloopy mess that takes an eternity of scrubbing to remove. And use only metal tins because you need the metal to conduct heat to get the dough hot immediately. Fear not, the rest of the process is dead easy.

As for the flour, feel free to use all plain flour or all finely ground whole wheat flour, normally sold at atta flour or chappati flour at places like Phoon Huat. As long as the flour makes up three cups, try using a bit of rye or other grains for varying taste and texture. If you don’t have whey, just use water with a few spoonfuls of milk. Or try the original recipe with a quarter cup of beer in it.

Ingredients:

1 cup plain flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup atta chappati flour (very finely ground whole wheat)
¼ tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt
1¼ cup whey
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar or lemon juice

Method:

  1. Blend all the ingredients together in a bowl and cover with a dry towel. Leave to rise for 12 to 18 hours.
  2. Punch down the dough and knead by pushing and folding over the dough 10 times.
  3. Put into a 20 cm diameter round springform tin and allow to rise for 2 hours.
  4. Preheat the oven 30 minutes ahead to 250°C or as hot as your oven will go.
  5. Cover the tin tightly with aluminium foil and put onto lower oven shelve. Turn down the oven to 200°C.
  6. After 3o minutes, uncover and bake for a further 30 minutes.
  7. Leave to cool for about 30 minutes. Cut and serve immediately to enjoy the crisp crust.

Makes 1 loaf.