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For the last few family birthday gatherings I’ve been baking the birthday cakes just for fun.  I like to bake, but it’s always too much cake to eat at home.  So occasions like this are perfect to share the cal…the goodness.  And generally the family are willing to try my experiments, however badly they may turn out haha.

Since we were going to have a full Chinese dinner, I decided something light and fruity would be good.  The berries this season are exceptionally sweet, so they were a natural choice.  Instead of a triple layer cake, I stuck to a two-layer cake.  And I searched for an alternative sponge cake recipe, because the one I used to use has been falling out of favour with me because I find it too sweet.  I also searched for a less-sweet frosting recipe because I really, really, don’t like sweet frosting.  I’m the kind that will sweep away all the icing on a cupcake because it’s usually just too cloyingly sweet.  It’s really wasted on me.

After some researching, I decided on a Victoria sponge recipe, and found a cooked frosting recipe to try.  I generally try to find recipes that aren’t too complicated and that do not need too many ingredients.  The Victoria sponge turned out pretty well, though I think I can still cut back on some sugar.  I added lemon to give it a zesty boost to complement the berries.  The frosting was also less-sweet than regular icing as promised, but again, I think I can cut back on the sugar.  Why are these things so sweet??  I added cinnamon to the recipe too as cinnamon and berries just go so well together.

My little helper grating the zest

My little helper grating the zest

Folding in the flour

Folding in the flour

Assembly was easy.  I wanted to do the ‘unfinished’ look, so cake, frosting, berries, cake, frosting, berries, and I was done!  And the best part, it looked so beautiful because of the berries!  I was very happy when everyone, including the service staff at the restaurant, thought we had bought the cake.  And it was no effort on my part really.  The prettiness of the berries just brought the cake to another level.

Berry cake

The cake tasted good after a heavy meal.  It was light as intended, not too sweet (though in my opinion still can be less sweet.  But I’m a savory person, really), and was pretty as ever.

Here’re the recipes I used, adapted from here and here.

Lemon Victoria Sponge Cake

Ingredients:
225g self-raising flour, sieved
225g butter, at room temperature
225g extra fine caster sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C
2. Cream butter and sugar together until smooth and fluffy
3. Add eggs and juice to the bowl and whisk some more
4. Fold in the flour, baking powder and lemon zest
5. Pour into 2 round tins
6. Bake in the oven until golden brown for 20-25 minutes
7. Cool on a wire rack before decorating

 
Less-Sweet Cinnamon Cooked Frosting

Ingredients:
1 cup milk
3 tbsp corn starch
200g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter*
100g vegetable shortening*
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-4 tsp ground cinnamon (depending on how strong you like it to be)

* You can use all butter for more flavour, or more shortening for more stiffness (good for warm weather).  I did 50/50 to get the best of both worlds.

Method:
1. In a saucepan, mix the milk and cornstarch and heat while stirring until the mixture thickens into a paste-like consistency.  Cool to room temperature.
2.  Cream the sugar, butter and salt together.  Add the vanilla, cinnamon and cooled milk paste then beat until the mixture is smooth and light.  The frosting is ready for use!

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Again, I’m so grateful for variety in Singapore, which makes keeping up the red meat intake so much more fun.  We had a fabulous beef burrito and chimichanga (fried burrito) at Margarita’s at Dempsey for lunch one day.  I love, love, love Mexican food and always have a problem choosing from the menu.  There are just too many yummy things to pick from!  As always, the food was comforting and bursting with a mix of flavours, and I was extremely satisfied with my meal.

Beef burrito

Beef burrito

Beef chimichanga

Beef chimichanga generously stuffed

As for my other meals, when I’m not eating out I usually just do a simple beef dish at home.  The burger was an indulgence though!  Mmmm.  Homemade burger patties are the best.  My grandaunt was craving burgers, so we made a huge batch and went over for a burger party!

Beef stir-fry with capsicum and onions

Beef stir-fry with capsicum and onions

Pan fried beef slices with pasta

Pan fried beef slices with pasta

Homemade beef burger

Homemade beef burger with onions and cheese

One of my friends recently asked me whether it’s boring to have to eat red meat everyday.  And my answer was, no!  There really is a huge variety of ways to consume it.  Vive la variété!

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There’s a nice man who works at one of the food outlets near the kid’s school who has bought us breakfast on several occasions.  We decided to repay his kindness by baking him a cake!

We saw a recipe for a lemon yoghurt cake in one of the children’s books and decided this would be the cake we’d make.  It’s a really easy recipe and I like that you don’t have to deal with butter.  Most cake recipes start with creaming the sugar and butter, which can get quite messy with kids, even though I’m always fascinated at how it rises to become fluffy and whitish.  I also like that you use the yoghurt pot to measure out some of the ingredients.  It’s a lot easier for the kids.

We made two batches.  One for the nice uncle, and one with strawberries for ourselves.  It was quite iffy whether the strawberry version would turn out nicely since it was an improvisation, so we thought it best to not put strawberries in uncle’s cake as well.

I was really pleased to see Asher grate the lemon zest all by himself!  Had to remind him a few times initially to keep his fingers out of the way because skin was not part of the ingredient list, but after that he was good.

Stir stir stir

Stir stir stir

Mix Mix Mix

Mix Mix Mix

Pour pour pour

Pour pour pour

The cake turned out really well too!  The original recipe has a subtle lemon taste, while the one with strawberries has a lovely tartness to it.  Both are rich, dense cakes.  Yum!

Yum yum yum

Yum yum yum

Lemon (and Strawberry) Yoghurt Cake 

Ingredients:
1 pot of natural yoghurt
2 yoghurt pots full of caster sugar (we did 1 pot white, 1 pot brown)
3 eggs
3 yoghurt pots full of plain flour
2 tsp of baking powder
1/2 yoghurt pot full of oil
1 lemon
some butter
(optional) two cups of strawberries, sliced

Directions:
1.  Preheat the oven at 180 degrees Celsius.

2. Put the yoghurt in a mixing bowl.  Wash the pot and dry well.  You need the pot to measure the other ingredients.

3.  Add the sugar and eggs and whisk.  Then slowly add the flour, the baking powder, and finally the oil.

4. Wash the lemon.  Grate the peel.  Then squeeze the lemon.  Add the juice and zest to the mixing bowl.  Beat the mixture until all the liquids are soaked up.  If adding strawberries, now is the time to stir it in.

5.  Butter a baking tin.  Pour the contents of the bowl into the tin.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Leave to cool before taking out of the tin.

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I picked Ellery up for swimming one day when his class was just starting their cookery session.  They were making popcorn chicken and he very much wanted to join in.  I coaxed him away by telling him we could ask the teacher for the recipe and do it at home.

For the rest of the week, he kept reminding his teacher every single day to send us the recipe.  He also asked me every day, “Have you received the recipe?  We are going to make popcorn chicken right?” So when I finally got the recipe, I made it a point to get all the necessary ingredients (well, almost…I forgot the Parmesan cheese) and we had our own little cookery session at home just him and me.  Asher wanted to play instead.

I was glad to see that Ellery didn’t get squeamish about getting his hands dirty.  Instead, he diligently coated the pieces of chicken in flour, egg, and crumbs until we finished with all the chicken.  It’s probably more fun to make this at home than in school since he’d probably only get to coat one or two pieces in school.

The ingredients

The ingredients

Dipping and coating the chicken

Dipping and coating the chicken

The chicken turned out pretty good!  We substituted regular sliced cheese for the Parmesan cheese, and it worked out quite well.  We had to make two batches of crumbs, and forgot to put cheese for the second batch though.  That gave me the chance to taste the difference with and without cheese.  Asher liked the cheeseless popcorn chicken, but Ellery and I preferred the cheesy one.  This is quite consistent with how Ellery seems to take after me and have a more savoury tooth.

Voila!

Voila!

It’s a fun recipe to do at home.  From the smashing of the crackers to the systematic dipping of the chicken.  Try it!

Breaded Popcorn Chicken (we tripled the recipe for our dinner at home, though you still only need 2 eggs.)

Ingredients:
2 slices of chicken breast meat
1 tsp oyster sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
pinch of sugar
100g of crackers/biscuits and cornflakes (up to you the proportion of each)
4 tsp Parmesan cheese
2 eggs, separated (you only need the egg white)
Flour
Vegetable/olive oil

Directions:
1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees celsius.

2. Wash and cut the meat into cubes, then marinate with the oyster sauce, sesame oil and sugar.

3. Make the bread crumbs next.  Mix the crackers/biscuits, cornflakes and Parmesan cheese together in a clean plastic bag then smash/pound until they resemble bread crumbs.  (Since we used sliced cheese we just tore it into tiny pieces and rolled it into the crumbs.)

4. Put some flour on a plate.  Now proceed to dip the chicken cubes into the flour, followed by the egg white, then the bread crumbs.  Be sure to flip the chicken cube a couple of times so that each ingredient evenly coats the entire piece of chicken.

5. Put a baking sheet on an oven tray to prevent the chicken from sticking.  Alternatively, rub some oil onto the tray.  Spread the chicken out on the tray then brush them with some oil.  Cook for 15 minutes, turning them over halfway through to ensure even baking.

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I have fond memories of the one time I made pineapple tarts with my mum when I was a teenager.  I remember how fun it was to shape and decorate the tarts.  My mum and I have always enjoyed baking together, and we had a tendency to start baking late at night and continue past midnight.  Don’t know why, it always just happened that way.  It was always nice chatting with her though, a good time of bonding.

So this year I wanted to let the boys have a go at making pineapple tarts.  When I had made tarts with my mum,  I remember she had made the pineapple jam from scratch which was an enormous amount of work!  I was very sure I wanted to skip the arduous task of making my own jam, so bought the Red Man brand premium pineapple jam from Phoon Huat.  The premium version is made from only good quality, ripe pineapples, whereas the cheaper version (can’t remember what it’s called on the packet) is made from any pineapple.

I am picky about my pineapple tarts.  If I like it I can eat many at a go, but if I don’t like it I gag at having to finish even one yucky pineapple tart.  I know most people nowadays like the closed pineapple tarts, and some shops seem to only sell that version.  I really really don’t like that kind of pineapple tart.  It’s too soft and mushy.  Even the most crisp of them on the outside and still too soft on the inside.  It’s like a sticky mess in the mouth when you eat it.  Same goes for the open pineapple tarts.  Once someone says it’s so yummy because it “melts in your mouth”, I can pretty much guess it’s the kind I don’t like.

I like an open tart that has a a crisp pastry.  None of that melty, sticky business please.  So I scoured the internet for a recipe that I liked.  Almost all of them touted the soft melt-in-the-mouth kind.  Skip.

Finally I stumbled upon a recipe at Papa Cooks! for a Nyonya pineapple tart that is cripsy.  His description of how the tarts ought to be like told me it was just the kind of tart I was looking for.  The fact the the recipe was also passed down from his aunt who is regarded as the master of pineapple tarts in his family also won me over.

So I bought my ingredients and settled the boys down to an evening of baking.  The recipe is easy enough, and the tarts came out perfect!  The boys and I ate sooo many.  I thought we had made a ton of pineapple tarts and was wondering who we could give them away to.  But once I tasted them and saw how the boys scarfed them down, I wondered if we had enough to give away at all!

They certainly had a great time making the tarts.  They did everything, and I only helped a little bit.  They mixed the ingredients, cut out the dough, did the egg wash, rolled the balls of jam, placed it on the tarts and did the decorations (which were very funny :)  not traditional at all, but full of humour and love).

I love their decorations!

I love their decorations!

At one point they kept saying they wanted to make a giant pineapple tart, and they each proceeded to shape a tart way bigger than the usual size.  They topped it with a ton of pineapple filling as well.  After the tarts were baked, Asher struck an agreement with me that he was going to have just 3 tarts since it was already late.  He started with his giant tart which was equivalent to five tarts.  When I said he was done, he asked me innocently, “but what about the other 2?”  I laughed and told him nice try.  But in the end he won, the tarts were so good, he ate way more than 3 (including the giant tart)!

Scooping a giant jam ball

Scooping a giant jam ball

Asher's giant tart

Asher’s giant tart

Ellery's giant tart

Ellery’s giant tart

See how big the giant tarts are!

See how big the giant tarts are!

I’d definitely want to make these again next year, but will make sure we start much earlier in the day.  The recipe is easy, but putting the tart together takes a lot a lot of time.

Anyway here is the recipe adapted from Papa Cooks!:

Pastry Ingredients:
– 500g plain flour
– 300g unsalted butter (slightly softened)
– 2 eggs
– 1 tsp salt
– 2 tbsp icing sugar
– 1 egg yolk (for use as the egg wash)

Making the dough:
1.  Mix the flour, icing sugar and salt together in a large bowl.

2.  Using a fork, scrape the flour and butter together until it resembles bread crumbs.  Using a fork prevents the butter from melting too fast, spoiling the pastry.

2.  Add the eggs and still using the fork, gently coax all the crumbs together until they just bind into a dough. Do not over mix the dough.  This is crucial to ensure the pastry will be crispy after baking.

3.  Shape the dough into a ball, wrap it in cling wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

Assembling the Tart:
1.  Pre-heat your oven at 175 degrees Celcius.

2.  While the dough is refrigerating, roll the pineapple jam into small balls (use your cutter to estimate the correct size the jam balls should be – not too big, not too small).

3.  Take chunks of dough, squash them with your palm into the desired thickness.  (This is the kid-friendly method.  Using rolling pins just means more washing up, and fighting over who gets to roll it.  I like to let each kid have his own baking sheet so that they have their own space and can squash their own dough.)

4.  Cut the dough using the pineapple tart shaped cookie cutter, arrange neatly onto the baking tray and brush with egg wash.

5.  Put the jam balls onto the tarts, adjusting the size of the jam balls if necessary.

6.  Decorate the tarts however you want, traditional or otherwise, then egg wash the whole tart again.

7.  Pop into the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the tarts turn golden brown.

They each did their own half of the tray.  This was just tray #1.

They each did their own half of the tray. This was just tray #1.

Ready for the eating! (and one already eaten)

Ready for the eating! (and one already eaten)

Pleased as pineapple

Pleased as pineapple

"Good" he says approvingly

“Good” he says approvingly

My first attempt at a photo grid!

My first attempt at a photo grid!

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Oh how I love my little boy.

Still as active as he was in the belly.  Still as chatty as ever (if not more so).  Still quite emo.  Still has one of the most infectious laughs and smiles anywhere.  He’s grown so much this year, and surprisingly matured more in the last few weeks (a lot to do with his change of school too I think, more on this in another post).

But he has grown.  And he’s still my little boy :)

My big little boy who still likes to cuddle with Mummy, who likes to wrestle with Daddy and his brother, who is so curious, who can be such a home-body sometimes, who loves military things just like his Gong Gong, who very often still pretends to be a dinosaur to the amusement/annoyance of those around him, and he’s still oblivious to their opinion.  Still innocent that way.

Just four.

Yes there are many things one could say about how four-year old kids are big, grown up little people.  But for today, I’m remembering and cherishing Asher’s smallness, youngness, pureness – childness.

———————————————————————————-

The Preparation

We settled on a plane theme this year because he’s been going on and on and on and on about planes, in particular the B2 stealth bomber, ever since my father introduced it to him.  He’s also into Transformers and in recent months more into the Decepticons, who tend to be planes, rather than the Autobots.  So it was quite a no brainer.

The things we prepared this year were a B2 stealth bomber T-shirt (made from scrap black fabric and a faded Transformers T-shirt), a Starscream plane pinata to knock out of the sky, and a B2 stealth bomber cake.  There was much less work than for last year’s dinosaur themed party because I didn’t include any cookies in the goody bag, so there was much less baking involved.

Bumblebee had faded away. B2 takes over!

B2 bomber boy

Most of the preparations were done at night after everyone else had gone to sleep.  But I did try to involve Asher where I could.  I think its a little more personal, meaningful and fun when he helps out.  Then it’s not just me pottering about and gearing up for party day.  It helps build some excitement.  And I’d like to think Asher would feel good that he had a hand in things.

Mixing the water and flour

Cutting strips of newspaper (classifieds are perfect for this)

The pinata was my biggest endeavour.  And way fun!  I remember playing with a pinata when I was maybe six at a family friend’s house.  They were Mexican and the pinata was a standard at their parties.  I remember clearly that first time how much fun it was and since Asher was born was waiting for a time when he’d be old enough to play with a pinata at one of his parties.  The time had come!

We used a balloon we received from a birthday party we attended 2 weeks before as the core.  We made the paper marche glue together.  Asher attempted to stick some of the newspapers, but he found it much to sticky for his liking.  Reminded me of when he was a baby playing with some sticky dough.  In the end, to my great great great great (times infinity) surprise, Jon stepped in to help!  Shock!  I would never ever expect that he would ever help in any of our craft activities, cos…he’s Jon!  But he did!  And he said it was fun!  And he then told me about how he used to play with paper marche very often as a kid, using it to make houses and other stuff.  I. Did. Not. Know. That.  Maybe it’s hard for you to comprehend my shock.  But if you know him and what he normally does on a day to day basis, you’d be as shocked as I.

Of course I lavished him with praise.  Positive reinforcement right?

Jon amazing me with his paper marche savvy

Over the course of the next few days I worked on the frame and decoration of the pinata while watching too much rubbish TV.  I was pleased with the result though!  Kids are the perfect excuse to do all kinds of craft you wish you did when you were younger :)  It was a good example of recycling too.  Asher likes to ask to recycle all sorts of scraps, so it was nice to show him what you could do with the scraps.

Frame made with cereal boxes and a KFC brouchure :)

Asher was excited to see the pinata coming along, and eager helped with stuffing goodies into it.  Also  squeezed a spelling activity out of the banner making.  Had to help him quite a bit though.  “Happy Birthday” is quite long and not all of it easy to sound out.

Stuffing the pinata with balloons, which turned out to be impossible to blow up. Hadn’t thought of the practicality of it when I bought it, just thought it was a nice colourful addition to the loot :)

Decepticon logo for Starscream

Filled and ready to be whacked

Helping with the banner

Pleased as punch to be turning four

The last big thing was to do the cake.  This we did one day before the party.  Asher had given specific instructions several weeks ago though.  He wanted a B2 stealth bomber cake.  The inside would not be chocolate, it would be plain cake (“vanilla?”, “yes, vanilla”).  The outside would be covered in chocolate.

Thankfully the B2 is quite an easy shape to replicate.  It’s flatish, and has a simple zigzaggy pattern.

(Source: http://www.airforce-technology.com/projects/b2/b21.html)

Well, at least it looked easy.  I had baked two rectangle trays of simple vanilla sponge cake, and the general idea was that it would have to be cut in a triangularish shape, then with the scraps piece together the rest of the wing and the tops.  I spent longer than expected mulling over how to maximize the amount of cake while still making sure there was enough cut out to make the rest of the plane.  And there was no room for error cos we had to deliver that cake that night!  Thankfully in the end the dimensions were fairly passable.

Assembling the cake

After adding the ganache

There was a little piranha next to me throughout the assembly process though.  Whenever there was a little scrap I didn’t need, it would suddenly disappear in a flash.  I suppose that way I had less crumbs to clean up.

ummm yummm yummm

All that was left were the party packs.  We went old school with the stuff.  Besides some very cool (well, I think it’s cool anyway) gummies I found on Amazon.com, which had among the various designs Asher’s favourite B2, we stuffed the bags with snacks that kids’ parents would have eaten when they were kids.

Airplane gummies.  Check out the B2!

Old school party pack – colourful round wafer, coklat krim wafer, white rabbit, parachute men, airplane gliders, and the gummies

Newspaper goody bags – I always feel party bags are such a waste cos we usually just throw them away! Of course, the proper bags are much hardier and nicer looking :)

We were all set for the party!  More in the next post!

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Hot Dog Hallucination

One day, to my great surprise, Asher’s teachers said he ate a hot dog bun, including the hot dog!  I almost didn’t believe them, but they all independently shared the story with me (yes, they were equally shocked he ate the hot dog).

Since then I keep mentioning the hot dog incident, and Asher always says he will eat the hot dog, but it must be in the bread like how it was in school.

So today we baked bread and we made a hot dog bun.  To my surprise, again, he said he wanted to have another hot dog outside the bun, and he will eat that.  He also said he wanted to eat the whole hot dog bun plus extra hot dog for dinner.

That hot dog incident must have been a collective hallucination.  Tonight he ate the bread around the hot dog in the bun, he cut the other hot dog into pieces and declared he would eat it after eating the bread.  But at the end of the meal, both hot dogs remained completely untouched.

Looking like a sloppy mess before baking

Looks quite decent after

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