Pumpkin Butter Cake And Thankful For The Ingredients That Goes Into It

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Whenever I cook, I silently give thanks that I am able to make a choice in the ingredients that go into my dish.  I don’t have a sky-high budget, but at least I am able to choose from a variety of items with a fairly reasonable grocery allowance.  I understock, rather than overstock my pantry, which leads to less food waste at home.  With almost zero dollar wasted on food items that are thrown away due to spoilage,  I can stick to market produce that I think are of a better quality such as organic fruits, healthier cooking oil, or Omega-3 fatty nuts instead of chips as snacks, as I know that I will be eating them, not throwing them away.  This is my motivation for better food, not more food.  Quality, not quantity.

I had a lousy butter cake last week and wonder how the chain bakery could have gotten it all wrong?  All dried up and not a whiff of butter.  I suspected that I was eating a new breed of “bread-cake”, like cronuts or wassant.  But no, the label and my receipt clearly indicated BUTTER CAKE.  I am no food connoisseur, but I think I can differentiate between a good butter cake and a not-so-good “shortening cake”.  Good ingredients are all it takes for a home baker to satisfy her own cravings.

So early morning next day, I dug out a block of frozen butter from my stash (Yes! I stock up punnets of berries and blocks of butter on sale in my freezer!) and left it on the countertop to soften, while I went the market to get a wedge of pumpkin and fresh large eggs to bake a simple butter cake with a never-fail recipe from here.

By noon, I was enjoying a slice of butter cake, the kind that is perfect in all the right places : moist but fluffy, buttery but not greasy.

In case you were wondering why I did not save the trouble and bake a plain butter cake,  the addition of 200 grams of pumpkin offsets the guilt from consuming 200 grams of butter.  I need the beta-carotene to keep my eyesight healthy.

Enjoy!


PUMPKIN BUTTER CAKE

recipe from here

200g pumpkin, steamed and mashed
200g soften butter, room temperature
180g raw sugar 
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract 5 large eggs (70g each)
300g cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Grease and flour an 8 inch round cake pan.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 180C.

Cream softened butter, sugar, and vanilla extract with a paddle attachment at medium speed till the yellow tone of the butter turns several shades paler and the mixture is soft and fluffy.  Stop the mixer once or twice to scrap the butter mixture down from the side of the bowl to the center so that mixture gets beaten evenly.  Add in the eggs, one at a time, making sure that each egg gets incorporated before adding the next one.  My cake mixture at this point started to look like a curdled mess, even though my eggs and butter were of room temperature.  After some reading (only after the cake was done), here, here and here, a curdled batter doesn’t seem to be the end of the world, and can usually be rectified with the addition of dry ingredients, like flour, which I am adding next.

Sift the cake flour and baking powder twice. Add only half of this to the batter and run the mixer on the lowest speed to combine.

Incorporate the pumpkin puree to the batter with the mixer on the same lowest speed.  For the last step of adding the remaining flour, I fold it into the batter with a spatula instead of using the mixer.  Once there are no more traces of flour in the batter, I pour it into the 8 inch round pan.  Level the surface of the batter with a spatula ( I sometimes use my finger) and bake it at 180C for 50 minutes, or when the skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Leave the cake to cool completely in its pan on a rack.  Any attempts to dislodge a very warm cake from its baking pan run the risk of tearing the cake from the middle where it is the hottest and still moist.  If you like to serve the cake hot out of the oven, you can line the cake pan with parchment paper instead of the grease and flour method.  In that way, you can simply lift the cake out of its pan with breaking it apart.

This cake doesn’t keep well long due to the high moisture content of the pumpkin puree.  If it doesn’t get finished in 24 hours after baking, store inside the fridge in a tight container.

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Condensed Milk Square Pullman Loaf

Condensed Milk Square Pullman Loaf // Mono+Co Condensed Milk Square Pullman Loaf // Mono+Co

Watching my bread dough rises beyond the rim of the baking tin is one of my favorite kitchen highlights. But something about baking perfectly cornered square loaves sometimes lures me away from shaping dome loaves from time to time, and these tend to be plain milk recipes.

Other than making perfect symmetrical sandwiches, I enjoy turning this almost-brioche-texture bread into luxurious thick french toasts.  This is not something you will want to prepare if you are in a hurry as I make sure the bread slices soak up the custard thoroughly, and this could take up to 20 to 30 minutes.  Plus, I bake it in the oven for another 10 minutes just to make sure the custard gets cooked all the way inside the toast, even after frying them in the skillet.  So if you have really hungry kids waiting in line at the kitchen door for their breakfast, may I suggest regular omelettes on toast instead,  same ingredients but much faster.

Alternatively, make the french toasts with thinner bread slices to reduce the soaking time.  But still, make sure that the custard gets completely absorbed. Otherwise, it will just be cooking an omelette on the surface of the bread, which bring us back to my earlier suggestion.  This video perfectly illustrates the importance of the additional soaking and baking step.  It might just make you wake up an hour earlier to do the prep work, like how it did for me.

Coupled with homemade jam like this, breakfast gets extra brownie points, though I would have settled with just honey or maple syrup when the (cheaper) berry season is over.

Condensed Milk Square Pullman Loaf // Mono+Co


Condensed Milk Potato Bread

100g potato, cooked and mashed
200g bread flour
20g top flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons condensed milk
45g liquid**
36g butter
1/2 large egg (around 35g)

**  You can add liquid of your preference such as fresh milk, soy milk, plain water or water remained from cooking potatoes with, along as they are chilled or room temperature, never boiling hot.

In a mixing bowl, combine bread flour, top flour, instant yeast, salt with a hand whisk to mix the dry ingredients.

Add mashed potatoes, condensed milk, beaten egg (roughly 35g) and liquid of your choice.  I  made mine with fresh unsweetened soy milk.  Start the mixer on low speed (KA 1) to knead the ingredients to form a dough.  Stop the mixer and rest the dough for 15 minutes.  After the resting time is up, turn on the mixer again to continue kneading the dough, this time with cold cubed butter added, one by one.  Knead this dough till window pane stage, a must for soft, cotton-like Asian style bread.

Turn off the mixer, and let dough bulk rise covered for 1 hour, it should expand considerably up to twice its original size.  After an hour, punch the dough down to and transfer it to a clean and dry worktop.  Divide the dough into three equal portions, roll them into balls and let it rest for 15 minutes.   wl from the As soon as the bread dough reaches almost the top of the tin, it is covered and the bread should continue to rise well within the next 15 minutes to reach all corners of the enclosed tin, while my oven is being preheated.

Take a ball of dough, and flatten it to remove any air trapped inside.  With a rolling pin, flatten it into a longish piece, and roll this up into a cylinder, like a swiss roll.  Repeat with the other two balls of dough.  With seam side facing downwards, place them in a bread tin, and let it rise in a draft-free area for 40 minutes.  As soon as the bread dough reaches almost the top of the tin, it is covered and the bread should continue to rise well within the next 15 minutes to reach all corners of the enclosed tin, while my oven is being preheated.

After 40 minutes, check if the bread dough has risen to fill about 90% of the tin.  As soon as it has risen to that height, cover the bread tin and it should continue to rise well within the next 15 minutes to reach all corners of the enclosed tin.  Bake in a preheated oven at 210C for 40 minutes.

Unmold done bread from bread tin and cool it completely on a rack, before slicing or serving.

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Okara Bread Loaf

Okara Bread Loaf // Mono+CoOkara Bread Loaf // Mono+Co

This recipe follows up nicely with a previous post on reducing food waste in my tiny kitchen because of this ingredient : okara.

Okara Bread Loaf // Mono+Co

This creamy paste is the by product of homemade soy milk; leftover after extracting the milk out of blended soy beans.  Since they are still full of protein, calcium and fiber, the best waste free kitchen solution is to mix them in bread recipes or cook them into meat-free meatballs.  I’ll show you the bread method first.


OKARA BREAD LOAF

190g bread flour
20g top flour
120g fresh okara **
1 tablespoon raw sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 egg (60g)
60g water **
40g cold butter, cubed

** A note on fresh homemade okara, I can never seem to squeeze them completely dry when making soy milk.  Since I have found other ways use it in our food, I have chosen to go easy on myself; no need to squeeze till the last drop of milk comes out.  Since this will affect the amount of liquid in okara, the amount of water added to the recipe will be adjusted accordingly, pour just enough to make all the ingredients come together as a ball is a good indication.  Same caution with liquid addition applies if you use store bought dehydrated okara.

In a mixing bowl, add bread flour, top flour, sugar, salt, and yeast, and mix briefly with a hand whisk.   Add fresh okara, egg and water (**see note above) and knead on lowest speed (KA 1) till all ingredients come together to form a dough.  Let this dough rest for 15 minutes before adding cubed cold butter one by one, till no traces of butter can be seen.

Continue kneading alternating between KA speed 1 and 2, till the dough reach window pane stage, it will turn extremely pliable.

Turn off the mixer, and let the dough rise for 1 hour, covered with a clean towel.  I have started using a huge pot lid instead since it fits my KA mixer, so that I have one less towel to wash at the end of the day. Evolution takes place in my kitchen everyday.

This dough did not rise as much as my other recipes, but a straightforward “ripe” test is all it takes to see if the dough is ready for the next step.  Simply stick a floured finger deep into the dough, usually in the middle,  and when the indentation remains after taking out the finger, it is ready for punch down.

Okara Bread Loaf // Mono+Co Okara Bread Loaf // Mono+Co

Deflate the dough and transfer it to a clean work top.  Flatten the dough to push out any gas trapped inside, rolling pin will be helpful here when the dough is not too sticky.  Shape dough and place in a baking tin, seam side downwards.  Let it proof for another hour, covered and placed at a draft free place.  Remember that I don’t cover my dough with towel anymore? Another form of evolution has taken place : I leave the uncovered tin inside my oven with the oven door closed.  Some bakers proof their bread inside the oven with the lights turned on.  My oven doesn’t have this mode, maybe it took a little longer time than if the lights were turn on to increase the oven interior temperature slightly, but at least the bread still rise beautifully.

After an hour, check if the dough has risen to reach almost to the brim.  Bake at 170C for 30 minutes.  After baking, remove bread from the tin immediately and leave on rack to cool completely before slicing or serving.

Okara Bread Loaf // Mono+Co Okara Bread Loaf // Mono+Co   Okara Bread Loaf // Mono+Co Okara Bread Loaf // Mono+Co Okara Bread Loaf // Mono+Co

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Repurpose It

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I don’t usually go for the prettiest packaging when it comes to buying mooncakes, like most people, taste of the mooncake matters more.  Fancy packaging provides this recipient here with a joyful feeling that tends to be short lived when it is time to decide if I should dispose of or stow away for some unknown purpose.  Rarely the latter, as the fancier the packaging, chances are, they come in a real cumbersome bulk or an odd shape that take up far too much space.

I have been pretty happy with the few regular brands that sell their mooncakes in conventional tin boxes that I can recycle after a quick rinse to get rid of crumbs and grease.  But once a while, something plasticky ends up at our home from well meaning friends and I recently found that I seem to have a penchant for upcycling these no-so-easy-to recycle containers into household items that I can use everyday.

Like this box from a local bakery :

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It seems to be made from laminated plastic so when I found that regular tissue box fits well in the larger top cover, I sew a wrap with a felt cloth and turn it into tissue box holder.  The end result is pretty encouraging.

Have you done anything similar with your mooncake packaging?

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On Food Wastage And Tiny Kitchen

DIY Oat Flour // Mono+Co

How many weeks worth of food items to you keep at home?

Few days back, I was looking out for new ingredients at the wet market, when a lady next to me started lamenting how she threw away sprouted potatoes every time.  I thought she was complaining to the stall owner how fast the stocks were turning green, but she went on to elaborate that, because the potatoes at the stall were always looking so nice, she ended up buying a bag home, but never seemed to cook them.  So when they started to sprout after a while, the only safe thing to do was to throw them away.

I had two questions in my mind as I listened : “How does a nice potato look like? So much so that the lady buys it every time she sees it?”  I am biased towards the produce found in the local wet markets, they all seem very nice to me. So if her motivation to buy is “nice looking potatoes”, going by the same reason, I could end up buying every nice looking vegetable in the market.

And my second question was: “With 101 ways to cook potatoes, how can one end up throwing perfectly good ingredients away? And every time?”  I wanted to believe that the “every time” point could be an exaggeration, as “saving money is the greatest motivation to reduce food wastage” according to this study here.

I watched interestingly how the stall owner spoke with discomfort as he dispensed the perfect tip that greatly conflict with his business interest :” Just buy enough, don’t buy too much lah. Only wasting your own money.”   How’s that for a solution?  While companies all over the world roll out promotion after promotion to entice customers to buy more (Buy 3 for price of 2!  Buy 1 get 25% off 2nd item!), this stall owner sheepishly adviced the customer to buy lesser.  I am not sure if he had kept his volume lower to save the food wasting customer from embarrassment or he was worrying that his business would be affected if everyone hears his honestly simple tip.  Either way, his response greatly reflected 2 top habits that lead Singapore households to waste food at home ; over preparation of food/ingredients and oversight of expiring food inventories at home.

For me, my greatest sore is also the greatest solution to food waste reduction : a tiny kitchen at home.  Due to the lack of space, I have since developed a few (very good) habits to stock up less on pantry items.  Having a wet market and a 24 hours supermarket a stone’s throw away makes cooking with a low food inventory a lot easier.  If I run out of an ingredient, I try to replace with another, or do without altogether.  Often, I find that I do not really need a perfectly stocked pantry to prepare my daily meals.  Then once a month, I do a “total cleanse” with my pantry; to use up every single fresh ingredient or items that are close to expiry.  You will be surprised by how well stocked your pantry actually is, by refraining from grocery shopping for as long as possible.

Another great tip I have on keeping a low pantry stock is to DIY.  Available on the retail shelves are bottles of ready made sauce to make cooking more convenient, but most can be prepared at home if you already have the basic condiments ready such as chili paste, vegetarian oyster sauce, sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar etc.  Do a quick search on the internet, and there are thousands of recipe entries for teriyaki sauce, black pepper sauce, sesame mayonnaise dressing, etc and the beauty of these diy sauces is that you can season them exactly to the way you like it.  I have also recently found that icing sugar is simply adding corn starch to fine sugar after processing it in a blender, one less item on my shelf since I already have corn starch and sugar at home.

DIY Oat Flour // Mono+CoDIY Oat Flour // Mono+Co

And talking about blender, they are great for making diy flour too, especially the types that you don’t use that often and certainly won’t need to buy 1 kg for, like I make my own small batch oat flour to make breads like this and this.  As you can see from my photos, my homemade flour might not be as fine as the store-bought ones**, but it doesn’t have to be for my bread recipes.  Moreover, between getting a not-quite-up-to-miller-standard flour and turning good quality flour rancid due to infrequent use, I’ll settle with coarser flour in my breads and think of it as a better fiber source.

What are the must-haves in your pantry?


** I have read that the ultra high end blenders like Vitamix and Blendec can produce really fine diy flours.  Use them to make you own diy flour if you already own one.  Lucky you!

 

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Banana Avocado Smoothie

Banana Avocado Smoothie // Mono+Co Banana Avocado Smoothie // Mono+Co

Wholesome breakfast prepared with my immersion blender again!

No sophisticated cooking skills required and only three ingredients, or four if you have a super sugary tooth as banana has already sweetened the smoothie considerably, in a healthy way.  I will usually yearn for something sweeter during the later part of the day, like after dinner, so I can imagine myself stirring in 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of date syrup to this smoothie if I serve it as a dessert after a meal.

Enjoy!  Whether as a smoothie breakfast or healthy dessert!


Banana Avocado Smoothie

1 ripe avocado, pitted and sliced
1 ripe banana, sliced
Fresh milk
date syrup or honey, optional

To save the hassle of washing, I prepare my smoothie straight in a cup that has a wide mouth that fits my immersion blender.  This glass container with lid from Daiso is perfect, as I can prepare 2 servings with one of each fruit, store one serving covered in fridge and serve it later when my other half wakes up for breakfast.

Divide avocado and banana slices equally into 2 serving cups, and top with enough milk to cover the fruits.  Blend till smooth with immersion blender.  Add more milk if it is too thick for you.  If you prefer something really sweet, stir in date syrup or honey to taste.

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Vegetarian Chinese Braised Mushroom Buns

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Fungus and soy, what would I do without them?

When it comes to substituting the meat ingredient in a dish, mushrooms and firm bean curds are my best bets.  Take this braised dish that originally calls for pork belly for example, an important key to the flavor of the dish to me comes from chinese dried mushrooms and spices like cinnamon sticks and star anise pods.  I will then alternate the rest of the ingredients mostly with soy products such as bean curd sheets and firm bean curds, sometimes with hard boiled egg and even bok choy, depending on my pantry stock, but never without the mushroom and spices.

The pork belly slices in this braised dish were meant eaten sandwiched in a special steamed bun known as 刈包 Gua Bao.  So for my meatless version, I prepare this dish with a thicker gravy by adding black fungus, that will thicken up the dish when cooked over a long period.  The white ones have a better thickening effect, but I prefer the black ones in this dish.  This helps to mimic the soft texture of the pork fats in the braised dish that has been cooked over a long period.  I also simmer the dish till the liquid has almost dried up to ensure that the ingredients fully absorb the aroma of the dark caramel soy sauce and spices.
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I try out a different ingredient this time with this vegetarian chicken made of soybean.  This looks like the ‘hundred layer tofu’ 百頁豆腐, another great soy product, that has an even firmer texture than firm tofu.  I usually use this for stir fries.

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I cut this hundred layer tofu into 8 slices, and after braising to coat them with the caramelized sauce, they looks pretty much like the real thing when wedged between the buns.  However, I have to add that this tofu is too soft to produce any meaty bite compared to the braised mushrooms.  So if you can’t find this item in your market, you can choose not to have it or simply use firm tofu slices instead.  I always add tofu here to include plant protein in my diet.

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VEGETARIAN CHINESE BRAISED MUSHROOM BUNS

8 small chinese dried mushrooms
3 large pieces of fried black fungus
3 slices of ginger
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon chinese cooking wine
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
handful of small lump sugar**
1/2 cinnamon stick
3 star anise pods
3 taupok
1 pack hundred layer tofu
few stalks cilantro leaves
8 steamed 刈包 Gua Bao***

** I use this small pastille-sized lump sugar, not those in jagged larger rocks.  You can also use white sugar instead, about 2 teaspoons, add to taste.veg braised pork bun 011

*** I bought ready ones from market, but someday, I want to make them from scratch like this.

Soak dried mushrooms in water till they soft.  Squeezed them dry to remove as much water as possible and separate the stems from the caps.  Reserve the water that the mushrooms have been sacked in, it is packed full of umami and I always use it in the dish that I am cooking the mushrooms with.

Soak black fungus till they are soft, wash to remove dirt and cut them into pieces about the size of the mushrooms caps.  The water used to soak the fungus can be discarded.

Cut hundred layer tofu in 8 uniform slices.

In a heated pot, add sesame oil and fry the ginger slices till aromatic.  Pour in the mushrooms, caps and stems, and stir fry till aromatic.  Next, pour in the black fungus, stir around to cook.

Pour in wine, continue to stir fry till alcohol evaporates.  Add dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, sugar lumps and the reserved water from soaking mushrooms with.  Add cinnamon and star anise next and allow the mixture to boil before adding the hundred layer tofu slices and tau pok, Pour just enough boiling hot water to top up the liquid to barely cover the ingredients and stir to mix.

Reduce heat to simmer till the liquid is reduced to a thicken gravy.

To assemble : Place a slice of hundred layer tofu, a mushroom cap, some black fungus and a generous topping of cilantro between the fold of the bun and eat immediately.

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Banana Cashew Soymilk Smoothie

Banana Cashew Soy Milk Smoothie // Mono+Co

I didn’t become a smoothie person until I got an immersion blender. The tabletop blender with separate jar is too cumbersome for me to bring out from the storeroom. And to find an area on my limited counter top space to air dry the huge jar after washing is a real bother, as I often find myself transferring it a few times around the kitchen and dining area throughout the day when I need more worktop area during the meal preparation times. So when the immersion blender finally arrived at my home, I find myself making smoothies (and milk shake, and cream soup, and sauces, and …. I simply love my immersion blender!) more often. I make it a point to stow away the wired stick control immediately after using, and that leaves me with just the blade attachment to wash and leave to dry on my dish rack.

Banana Cashew Soy Milk Smoothie // Mono+Co

The smoothies I prepare are more for providing nutrition than for satisfying a craving for sweet food or cold drink.  I make it a point to use ingredients with good fats and proteins, and natural sweeteners or spices as much as possible.  This vegan recipe is inspired by a Japanese soy milk smoothie recipe book.  I like the way they name their smoothies as “精力湯”, which loosely translates into “genki soup”, meaning energy providing liquid.  It would be much better to make a smoothie that revitalize than to drink a cup full of sweeteners that makes me feel sluggish afterwards.

After going through all the 121 soy smoothie recipes with beautiful photos, I realized that there are so many ways that I can alter the recipes depending on what I have in my fridge.  I start to imagine starting my day with a smoothie filled with lotus roots, pumpkin, cherries, spinach, figs, tomatoes, basil, celery ………

I have a penchant for banana that really thicken up my smoothie.  What’s your favorite ingredient in your smoothie?

Banana Cashew Soy Milk Smoothie // Mono+Co


BANANA CASHEW SOYMILK SMOOTHIE

1 cup soymilk
1 banana
1/2 cup roasted cashew nuts

** If you prefer your smoothies cold, use chilled soy milk and frozen banana.  I prefer my morning drink at room temperature.

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend till smooth.  Serve immediately.

Passion fruit pulp popsicle

Passion Fruit Pulp Popsicle // Mono+Co

This is hardly a recipe when all I did was transferring the fruit pulp of a few passion fruits into my popsicle molds and adding a few kiwi slices to win extra artistic points.

In fact, most of my popsicles are done this way; decide if it is going to be a creamy (yogurt/cream) or icy (fruit juice/pulp) , sour (lemon juice) or sweet (honey), choose one or more fruit.

Blend.  Pour.  And freeze.

I am repeating these steps next week, creamy one this time.