Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Fried Rice Challenge

friedrice, originally uploaded by emily loke.

I don’t have many food prejudices, but the one I do have seems to be unconquerable. I should probably clarify this: to me, a food prejudice is a strong dislike for a dish that tastes good, looks edible (at least) and is made of perfectly normal things that you would happily consume in any other recipe. I hate to think that I’m prejudiced against anything – let alone food, of all things! – but in light of my recent attempt to (and failure at) overcoming my bias, I’m giving up and admitting this to the world: I hate fried rice.

I’m not sure if the fact that I’m Asian makes my prejudice peculiar or acceptable: while fried rice is a very Chinese dish, it is synonymous with Americanized Asian cuisine and its accompanying Chinese stereotypes. I’ve always found my dislike for it strange and have tried mouthfuls of it on several occasions in attempts to understand the reason behind my aversion to it, to no avail.

Finally, A. suggested a make-or-break type of trial that would either lead to me loving fried rice (as he does) or writing it off forever, never to experimentally eat any again. We decided that I would make a plate of fried rice to my exact preferences, within certain ingredient guidelines. The challenge would be fair.

As I prepared my ingredients (extra char siew and spring onions, no eggs), I began to feel the stress of the challenge: should I dislike the fried rice, was giving up on eating it ever again a little drastic? I tried not to think about it as I swirled the rice around in my wok. When it was done, I mounded it onto a plate and handed it to A., the in-house fried rice connoisseur, for approval. It was deemed an authentic representation of fried rice, which was good enough for me. I took a tentative bite.

I could feel A. watching me with bated breath as I, ever the optimist, ate a couple more spoonfuls of it. I didn’t eat much more than that before I began to pick at it with my chopsticks and push it around my plate. I managed to catch my inner child from fully surfacing just before the whining and pouting started, but at that point I knew I had my answer.

So for all you foodies out there who are prejudiced against some dish or another, I have a challenge for you: try making it at home and see if you like your take on it better. If you do, great! If not, then go ahead and be prejudiced. I won’t tell if you don’t.

Friday, July 15, 2005

SHF #10: Honey

honeycomb, originally uploaded by emily loke.

Honey is a beautiful thing. Thick, sweet and ranging in colours from gold to deep amber, honey is liquid sugar on fire. Its glows with both sweet innocence and blatant sensuality, stirring up memories both naughty and nice upon gliding over one’s taste buds. That’s the best thing about honey – its split personality. For every mother doling it out as a throat soothing remedy to her child, there is a hedonist licking it straight off her fingers; for every proper lady spooning it into her cup at high tea, there is a gamine dusting her body in edible honey powder. Few things are as charmingly contradictory.

Honey’s adaptability was, in this case, (and I hate to say it) a hindrance to me. Not being able to think of a single thing that wouldn’t benefit from its gold touch definitely stems from my personal bias: I could eat honey on anything. Therein lay yet another dilemma – as if trying to narrow my field down wasn’t hard enough, I was also obligated (out of my passion for honey) to make something truly worth bearing its regal colour. My indecisiveness tormented me for days.

Finally, inspiration materialized in the unlikely form of S., A.’s decidedly non-epicurean friend. After hearing me rant about the impossibility of being able to pin honey down to a single, fabulous dish, it was suggested by S. that I slice up an apple and dip it in honey. The irreverence! I almost collapsed in convulsions.

Before I could come up with a suitably scathing remark, however, I felt a faint memory of the offending suggestion niggle my brain. Apples and honey – I knew I’d never eaten them together like that before, yet the combination seemed familiar somehow. Then it dawned on me – Silk Apples! – and just like that, apples had won a leading role in the final dish.

It all fell into place from there. As though the stopper had been pulled from the Bottle of All Revelations, inspiration began coursing through my veins as I snatched bottles, tins and jars from cupboards. The kitchen stove glowed through the steam that whistled up from the myriad of pots on it, and I scurried about, mixing, stirring and whipping like a woman possessed. Till I burnt my thumb, that is, which started a terrible chain reaction ending in A. calling a ‘Kitchen Time-Out’ and gallantly proceeding to make the sesame snaps for me. I love this man.

To me, the final product was well worth the two-person effort, burnt thumb, and Time-Out – after all, this is honey we’re talking about! The dessert, affectionately christened ‘The Silk Road at Sunset’ by A. and I, is a geography lesson on a plate. Trying to incorporate as many flavours from regions along the silk road as possible was tricky, but ultimately very gratifying…in more ways than one. Not only did it turn out tasting melodiously complex, it also made a honey lover out of A.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we’ll be outside and under that beehive, worshipping at the alter of honey.

silk road at sunset, originally uploaded by emily loke.

The Silk Road at Sunset
Honey Date Cake:

4 tbs honey
¼ cup butter
¾ cup flour
1 egg
½ cup ground almonds
¾ cup chopped dates
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Cream the butter and the honey together, then add the egg and beat well.
3. Mix in all the other ingredients except the dates, and beat till mixed.
4. Mix in the dates with a wooden spoon or spatula.
5. Pat the batter (it should be fairly sticky) into a square cake tin, and bake for 20 minutes or until a pick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
6. When cooled, use a round cookie cutter to cut out circles of cake. Set aside.

Plum and Ginger Compote and Coulis:

8 black plums, peeled, pitted and chopped into cubes. Reserve skin.
3/4 cup honey
2 tbs ground ginger

1. Mix plum cubes, honey, and ginger in a saucepan and cook on med. heat till bubbling and and until you notice plums losing their colour.
2. Remove the compote and return liquid back to the pan.
3. Throw plum skins into the pan. Cook for 5 minutes, or until desired colour is reached.
4. Sieve honey and skin mixture into bowl, discard skins. Set coulis aside.

Honey Sesame Snaps (From

1 cup confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2cup white sesame seeds
1/4cup black sesame seeds
1cup all-purpose flour
Zest of 1/2 orange(about 1 tablespoon)
Pinch of salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper, and set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, combine confectioners' sugar, butter, honey, and orange juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute.
3. Remove pan from heat, and stir in remaining ingredients. Cool to room temperature.
4. Pipe lines of the batter with a small round nozzle (about ¼ inch) 4 inches apart from each other and bake for 10 minutes.
5. Remove from the oven. When cool enough to touch, but still pliable, wrap sesame sheets around cake rounds and set aside to harden.

Silk Apples:

2 apples, peeled, cored and sliced into wedges about ½ inch thick.
½ cup sugar
¼ cup honey
1/3 cup water
1 tbs peanut or vegetable oil.
1 large bowl of cold water and ice

1. Cook everything but apples in a small saucepan till mixture reaches hard crack stage (or turns amber in colour)
2. Toss the apples into the mixture and coat well
3. Drop coated apple slices into the bowl of ice and water.
4. Remove wedges and pat dry. Set aside.


1. Set cake rounds with their sesame collars on plates.
2. Brush cakes with some plum coulis.
3. Top cakes with plum compote.
4. Fan a few slices of the Silk Apples out next to the cake.
5. Drizzle or drip plate with plum coulis.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Beat the Heat

agar-agar, originally uploaded by emily loke.

Its been absolutely sweltering the past couple of days here in Toronto, and it doesn’t look like its going to be cooling down any time soon. A. and I have been living life as short-distance sprinters the past few days, zipping as quickly as possible from one air-conditioned locale to the next in attempts to limit our exposure to the humidity, heat and pollution – a traveling technique I’ve noticed most other Torontonians have recently adopted as well. It seems everyone has issues with the heat.

The worst thing about the heat for me is that it means my cooking has to be shelved for a while. Though the apartment is (thankfully) air-conditioned, it's so hot outside that when I do come home all I can think about is not subjecting myself to anything that could make me even slightly warm again. Chinatown has been our saving grace the past few days, rescuing us both from having to get too close to a stove or barbeque and possibly suffering a heat stroke while attempting to make dinner. Our fridge is crammed full of white styrofoam containers: rations for the days where walking the 3 blocks to Chinatown seems far too daunting for an ex-Singaporean and an ex-Floridian. Yes, it’s that hot here.

So hot, in fact, that A. was actually turned away last night from a Chinese restaurant while trying to order takeout, the only explanation given being: “Too hot to cook. Go away.”

But I digress.

It might have been due to a bout of heat-induced psychosis, but all I could think about today was agar-agar. Chilled, pink, rose-flavoured agar-agar was one of my favourite ways to beat the heat back home in Singapore. I still remember crunching through mounds of the stuff with my mother on hot days, barely stopping to admire their intricately molded designs, our fingers and mouths stained pink from the dye. When A. called my attention to a packet of it at the store today, I needed no other incentive: we were having agar-agar for dessert tonight.

It took me a while to figure out the proper conversions from grams to tablespoons, but it was well worth the effort – the 6 cool, glistening agar-agar bunts sitting in the fridge tell me so. And that’s not the heatstroke talking.

Rose Agar-Agar

1 1/2 cups water
4 tsp rose water
1 tbs agar powder
10 tbs sugar
red food colouring, if desired

1. Throw everything into a saucepan and heat till sugar and agar dissolve, stirring.
2. Take it off the heat and stir in as much food colouring as you'd like. (I used 3 drops)
3. Pour into agar mold (I used a baby bundt pan, but anything will do.)
4. Leave out on counter to set at room temperature
5. When set, refrigerate to chill.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Happy Birthday, Dolce!

pupcakes, originally uploaded by emily loke.

This post was initially supposed to be a heartwarming, albeit slightly mushy, happy-birthday letter to Dolce, my dog and this blog’s namesake. It was going to be all about his adoption, or rather ‘How I Came to Have a Furry Four-Legged Child’, which was its working title. However, I realized that most of the people who read this blog already know ‘How I Came to Have a Furry Four-Legged Child’, so to spare them from having to hear it again I reworked this post to be a little less gag-worthy. Because we all hate those moms who won’t shut up about their stupid, noisy kids who are really only cute if you like looking at bawling red prunes.

Anyway, for all of you out there who haven’t had the pleasure of hearing ‘How I Came to Have a Furry Four-Legged Child’, here’s the breakdown: we got him from a breeder.

Moving on.

Today is Dolce’s 1st birthday, and neither A. nor I can believe it’s only been a year (minus 8 weeks) since we first adopted him. When he first came home with us, the bedroom and the inside of a few of my purses were his entire world; now all he wants to do is leave the house and explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy (or North America, for starters). When he was a puppy, even other puppies scared him; now he wants to take on German Shepherds (and cars, and horses, and vacuum cleaners…). When he was little, he stuck to us so closely that we used to joke he would crawl into our skin if he could; now he’s too cool to be seen with his parents when we’re out of the house (though he’s not above cuddling when we’re home).

He’s really grown so much in a year that it’s hard to compare it to anything except perhaps, my own growth. Within a year I have learnt responsibility – the kind of responsibility you develop when you realize you have another creature’s life to worry about besides your own. And worry I do, almost every day. Is he eating enough? Getting as much exercise as he needs? Is he happy? The list goes on and on and on. I’ve finally realized what it means to be devoted to the care of another life, and how your life will never be about just you anymore. I realize these aren’t huge revelations to anyone but me: growing up a privileged only child doesn’t exactly bestow upon you a sense of Mother Theresa-esque selflessness. Owning a dog hasn’t quite turned me into a saint either, but I’m a whole lot closer to being one than I was a year ago. So thank you Dolce, for teaching me so much and for asking so little in return.

“My goal is to one day be as good of a person as my dog already thinks I am” – Anonymous

dolce now, originally uploaded by emily loke.
Pupcake Recipe (Makes 20 pupcakes or 1 large bundt cake.)

3 ripe bananas, mashed
¾ cup unsweetened applesauce
3 eggs
1 ½ cup flour
¾ cup rolled oats
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla

1. Mix bananas and applesauce together, then beat in eggs.
2. Toss in all the dry ingredients, and beat well till mixed.
3. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes if in muffin pan, and for 30-40 mins if in bundt.

Dog-friendly Frosting

½ brick light cream cheese
¼ cup smooth unsweetened and unsalted peanut butter
2 bananas, riced
Small dog cookies/candies or slices of banana

1. Beat all the ingredients together till smooth.
2. Frost pupcakes/cake and decorate with dog treats or banana slices.

dolce eating, originally uploaded by emily loke.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Cinnamon Therapy

caramelbuns, originally uploaded by emily loke.

Cinnamon can do no wrong by me – it is one of the few spices that makes me curl my toes in happiness when its scent wafts by. This is probably because I associate cinnamon with Christmas. Gingerbread cookies, mulled apple cider, eggnog…what Christmastime delicacy doesn’t contain cinnamon? Nothing worth remembering, surely. Everything served in our home at that time of the year smacked of the spice. I still remember the Christmas parties my mother used to throw where the kids would come over early and bake gingerbread men and apple tarts. While the goodies baked, us kids would (under the patient direction of my mother) rehearse poems or short Christmas-themed skits (nothing hokey like the Nativity) that would be performed later for the parents when they came over for dinner. For dessert were the treats their children had baked for them that morning.

Days after the party, I would still luxuriate in the smell of cinnamon that lingered on and punctuated the happy memories of the parties, friends and presents that had come, but too quickly gone. Cinnamon was my way of holding on to happiness.

Though I eventually (and regretfully) got too old for parties and became a fixture at the Big People dinners, I never gave up on cinnamon therapy. I would burn a mixture of crushed mulling spices and water at after-school tuition classes and each time boredom and restlessness set in, I would breathe in the scent so deeply my lungs would hurt. If that didn’t work, my typical last-resort-attempt-to-make-myself-feel-better would be to beg my mother to bake me her Caramel Cinnamon Buns. I figured that even if the cinnamon didn’t do it for me, the sugar-high-inducing caramel certainly would.

Those buns remain one of my favourite comfort foods to this day. Sure, they take a considerable amount of time to make, but they are the closest thing to a time machine to take me back to my cinnamon-infused childhood. Come to think about it though, there are definitely reasons not to pine for the past: the thought of sharing these buns with 10 other screaming kids is enough to make me thankful that my feet are firmly planted in the present.

caramelbuns2, originally uploaded by emily loke.

(Happiness Is) Caramel Cinnamon Buns
3 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 package (or 2 ½ tsp) active dry yeast
1 ¼ cups milk
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup butter
1 tsp salt
1 egg

½ cup butter, melted
½ cup brown sugar
2 tbs cinnamon at least (I use more like 4 tbs and up)

1 cup brown sugar
½ cup butter
2 tbs corn syrup

1. Make the caramel by mixing all the ingredients together in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat till bubbling, then pour into a rectangular cake pan.
2. In a mixing bowl, mix 1 ½ cups of the flour and the yeast.
3. Heat the milk, sugar, butter and salt till just warm (not boiling) in a saucepan, stirring constantly till the butter melts.
4. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and then add the egg.
5. Beat on low till just mixed, then on high for 3 minutes.
6. Mix in the remaining flour by hand to form a soft dough, then shape into a ball.
7. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl to rise in a warm spot for 1 ½ to 2 hours, till doubled in size.
8. Punch down and the turn out onto a floured surface, and cover it and let it rest there for 10 minutes.
9. Mix melted butter, brown sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl to form a paste.
10. Roll dough into a 24x16 inch rectangle, and plaster it with an even later of the cinnamon-sugar paste.
11. Roll it like a jelly roll, starting with the long side.
12. Cut* into 2-inch slices, and place into the caramel coated baking pan. Make sure to leave some room between buns because they will puff up.
13. Let rise again in a warm place for 30-45 mins.
14. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
15. Remove the pan from the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes before inverting it onto a tray.

*Hint: Use dental floss (or thread, if you’re lacking in the oral hygiene department) to cut the rolls without smushing them. Slide the floss under the roll and hold the ends up so it forms a U shape. Cross the legs of the dental floss U and pull, and it should slice cleanly through the roll without flattening it.