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In Cake, Recipe on
October 7, 2010

Banana Crumble muffins

Our kitchen runs in a simple way- my mother is in charge of the cooking, which she does, infallibly every single day. Then there’s me with my sweet and baked goods, which I make whenever I feel like it. My father’s in charge of the drinks whenever we have a more Western style dinner- say roast or steak. And my sister’s the kitchen assitant, helping out here and there, or recreating recipes from school or other little things she might like to try.

And then there are the few dishes each one of us creates which don’t fall into our normal category- sort of like signature dishes, although not quite because they’re not that good. But these are dishes which other members of the family will rarely attempt.


For me, these special things would be mostly my occasional dinners (like butter chicken or beef rendang) and my yorkshire puddings which I make everytime we have roast (which unfortunately, have never lasted long enough for a photo). My sister’s would be her fruit punch, a recipe from one of our first cookbooks. My father’s would be his HK style borscht or a couple of dishes he whips up whenever mum’s not at home. None of these are particularly special, and could easily be replicated by other members of the family but just never are.

One of my mum’s special little somethings is bannana bread, which, funnily enough, comes from my cookbook. She claimed banana bread as her role one afternoon, while I was at school when she made the banana bread from a recipe we’d been looking at…..together! It was an instant hit, and she’s been making it regularly ever since.

Although this doesn’t mean I’ll never make banana bread, this is the reason why most banana bread recipes, as good as they may look and sound, rarely make it to the top of my list of things to bake. And because that list is so long, I’ve never really gotten around to making banana bread =)

But, when I saw these gorgeous banana crumble muffins here, with their delicious looking crunchy crumble topping, along with the soft fluffy insides I just couldn’t help but make them =D And this was before I read on to realise that more than 5,500 other people had tried and loved the recipe too! Read more

In Asian, Dining on
October 4, 2010

Zen Oasis, Berrima

This has got to be one of the most unusual buffet restaurants I’ve been to.

For one thing, it’s situated one and a half hours away from Sydney, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Literally. All you can see around here is lots of plain, empty land. The endless flat ground, with dry yellow grass (because we’re in Australia, of course), a couple of lonely, skinny trees here and there and an occasional cow or two- just like the type you see for hours on a long drive along a highway. And to make it a little bit stranger, all the diners here don’t actually come from this area- they all come from suburban Sydney. And then there’s the name of this restaurant, Zen Oasis, which (to me) sounds nothing like a restaurant name really- perhaps a resort of some sort, but not a restaurant.

We arrive by car, slowly along the windy gravel road until we reach the end, to find plenty of other cars already parked there. Never mind that our GPS seems a little lost, with our car sitting in a middle of a big green patch on the screen, with no roads to be seen- at least we’re in the right place! The sight of the large pond draws our attention- perhaps this is the reason for the ‘oasis’ part of the name? Sitting next to the pond is what appears to be a small wooden cottage- it doesn’t take long to figure that the cottage is the restaurant.

We’re here from the recommendation given by family friends. Apparently, this place has been open for a while and is quite well known within the Cantonese-Chinese community (the same bunch you’ll see flocking Eastwood every weekend for their grocery shopping). It’s very popular too- the restaurant opens at 11:30 and we’ve only arrived a couple of minutes later but have already found the restaurant mostly full, with customers already comfortably seated and digging into their food. We are shown to our table, in a small dark corner by a waiter who notifies us of their food wastage policy before we are let loose to grab some of the food we’ve been eagerly awaiting to try.

So- what’s so great about the food that makes people travel so far just to eat it??

To me, it’s not just that the food tastes good; it’s the fact that the food is ingenious. Zen Oasis is a vegetarian restaurant, but instead of serving up plates of veggies and tofu, it serves up seemingly ordinary dishes with vegetarian foods disguised as meat. And you don’t really notice it! The meats are not only replicated in appearance and taste, they are also replicated in texture- even with fake fat within the ‘meat’!

Fried Banana, (and I don’t know what the rest are meant to be…..)

Of course, we start with the unhealthy fried foods, which have their own table, separate from the mains. Unlike your typical RSL buffets, there were no fried chips or potato wedges to be found, but instead a more unusual selection of delicious crunchy foods.

I don’t usually like fried banana, but I make the exception to try it this time, because the black sesame seeds make it look different and yummier. And it is! It doesn’t taste quite as banana-y as most fried bananas I’ve had (which is a good thing) and the batter is deliciously crispy and crunchy. Made with a similar batter, the round fried ball thing reminds me of fish balls, with its nori wrapping making it extremely tasty.

Spring Roll and ‘wu cee’

And of course, the beloved spring roll, which is filled with a slightly sweet veggie filling and is delicious with its crispy exterior


Fried ‘Salmon’

Wrapped in a layer of nori, giving it a slight fishy taste, and then fried in a crispy batter, this fried salmon is one of my favourite fried foods. Biting into the crispy batter reveals the tender pink interior which tastes amazingly like salmon- and it even tears off in the exact same way cooked salmon does!

Fried (yellow) ‘eel’

Again, nori is used to give this a little fishy flavour. The thin strips of ‘eel’ are fried until very crisp and crunchy and then covered in a slight sweet sauce. And if you’ve never had deep fried eel before, just take a look at these pictures to see the resemblance!

Selection of fried foods

With so many crispy and crunchy foods on offer, I could happily stuff myself with just the fried foods =)

Rice Dumplings (Zhongzi)

These cute little dumplings are so small, I could eat them in one mouthful! They must have taken forever to wrap….

The rice dumplings are made of glutinous rice and instead of the meat filling, mushrooms and beans along with other ingredients which I’m not quite sure what they’re supposed to replicate. But they’re incredibly flavoursome and are so good, we each eat a couple of these. Luckily they have heaps of these, kept warm in layers of bamboo steamers- they really must have taken forever to wrap!

Fried rice

Surprisingly, our favourite of all is the simplest one- fried rice. Unlike your usual chinese style fried rice with colourful veggies and egg, this fried rice is fried with shredded pieces of nori and other veggies. It tastes suprisingly tasty despite its simplicity compared to other dishes, but is so good that we keep going back for more!

Steamed Wonton

A smooth, silky wonton wrapper envelops delicious fake prawn failling- even from the outside, you can see the pinkish interior which looks decievingly like a prawn filling!

Vegetarian Char Siew (chinese barbecued pork)

I love how realistic the char siew looks- the shape is exactly like the real one! But even more incredible is that it tastes amazingly real, perhaps with a lesser pork taste than the usual but still has a incredibly meat-like texture. It’s slightly soft, like the real good quality char siew that you may occasionally get- the type with just the right amount of fat. Of course, there’s no real pork or pork fat in this, so we can happily wolf down a lot of these without the guilt =) Covered with a delicious char siew sauce, this is definitely one of the best char siew I’ve ever had, real or fake!

Steamed Chinese Dumpling

I’m not quite sure which dumpling this is exactly trying to replicate (maybe it’s not really trying to replicate anything at all?) because the filling is difficult to recognise but the delicious, soft transparent dumpling wrapper tastes just like yum cha dumplings. Personally I think the skin was not as soft as I’d like it, but it was delicious all the same =)


The sushi is really pretty- it’s not only colourful but is made into many wonderful shapes and patterns. The sushi is made fresh, behind the table of food so that we are able to witness it being made whilst we get our food. And despite being vegetarian and full of veggies, it tastes every bit as good as it looks!

Fruit Jelly and Mochi (glutinous rice balls)

Vegetarian desserts are not the most difficult things to make (who puts meat in desserts??)so the restaurant goes little further here, to make most of the desserts vegan.

The cute little jelly is looks simple but is surprisingly delicious and addictive with pieces of fruit studded throughout the smooth, sweet, tropical jelly.

The mochi is another addictive dessert- a soft, chewy glutinous rice ball, covered in specks of coconut witha delicious mung bean (I think) filling. Seriously addictive =)

Blueberry Cheesecake, Sponge Cake and something (haha…I forgot what it was =S)

The blueberry cheesecake is a little firmer than what I normally like, but tastes delicious. The spongecake is also a little dry, but with its delicious custard filling and light coconut topping, tastes so light and yummy that we don’t really mind.

Red Bean Dessert

Chocolate Mud Cake

The rich and dense chocolate cake is tastes heavenly, especially with its rich ganache icing. Perhaps not so popular with the adults who complain it’s too rich and sweet but the slice is small anyway!

Mini Coconut Tarts and mini lemon meringue pie

The mini coconut tarts are really cute and taste delicious, although I prefer coconut tarts served warm rather than cold. But other than that they are an addictive treat- not too oily or sweet! I was surprised when my parents also decided to eat the lemon meringue pie because they don’t usually like meringue. But it’s so cute, it’s hard to resist!


Looking back, I probably should have taken more photos because there was a lot more food I didn’t take photos of- but there’s always next time! Outside, there’s a small path surrounding the pond- it’s short and only takes one minute or so to complete the whole circle but does give a good opportunity for photo taking, and, more importantly, for a little exercise to help digest the food. Before the long 1.5 hour drive home. =)


Zen Oasis Vegetarian Restaurant
Lot 2 Medway Road Berrima NSW 2577
(Berrima & Moss Vale Exit of Hume Highway)
Tel: 0404 099 285 OR 02 4877 1285

Open 11:30-1:40 Sat and Sun
$31 for adults and $16 for children

Zen Oasis on Urbanspoon

In Recipe, Yum Cha on
September 28, 2010

Yum Cha Style Mango Pancakes

Mango season has hit quite early this year- although they’re not exactly at their best yet, there’s always a strong scent of mangoes whenever I venture into a fruit shop. I find this a little weird as I always associate mangoes with December. When I was younger, we used to take boxes of mangoes to Hong Kong for our relatives when we went there just before christmas. Back then, mangoes were at their best just before christmas and we always managed to bring some large, ripe mangoes. But it seems that the mango season is appearing earlier and earlier each year- last year, we only managed to bring a box of small end of season mangoes!

Although I prefer eating mangoes as they are, rather than using them for desserts (as I do with most fruits), my next favourite way to eat mango is in mango pancakes. Yup, the bright yellow ones they wheel around in the dessert trolley at yum cha, always covered tightly in cling wrap with water droplets hanging off the plastic.

I had these for the first time at a yum cha restaurant about 3 years ago, instantly fell in love with them and then realised how simple they were- after all, they’re just a simple mixture of mangoes and whipped cream wrapped in a yellow pancake. But that never stopped me from ordering them everytime I spotted one at a restaurant. Even when it’s in the middle of winter, and you know that they’re using canned mangoes….

So I finally got around to making this yesterday, after seeing the two mangoes which I’d reserved (my sister used the others for mango pudding) starting to rot. I’ve never been able to find a mango pancake recipe on the internet, one of the resons I’ve been putting it off for so long, despite my love for it)so I decided to use a crepe recipe as I thought it’d be similar to the pancake I’ve eaten at yum cha (never mind the fact that I’ve never actually eaten a crepe before…..), tint it yellow and chuck some whipped cream and mango in there =D And you know what?? It worked!!

I accidently made the crepe too thick because I was scared that if it was too thin, it wouldn’t taste like the mango pancakes I had before. And then I think I overcooked it because it wasn’t quite as soft as I’d like it AND I also added too much food colouring so it ended up looking pretty cheap, like those ones at yum cha restaurants which you look at and know that it won’t taste good but you still order cimply because it’s a mango pancake, and you love mango pancake. Or is that just me? Luckily, the mangoes were really good so it didn’t taste like it looked =) Infact, they were heavenly!! The mangoes are really the star of the show here so the slight problems with the crepe weren’t too noticeable. And so these dissappeared in no time!

I know what I’ll be doing with this season’s mangoes!

Mango Pancake Recipe

Yellow Crepe
Recipe From Anatomy of a Wishful Bohemian
Makes ~10 depending on thickness and size of pan

3 eggs
1 cup milk
⅓ cup water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup caster sugar
a few drops of yellow food colouring

1. Put all the ingredients in a bowl in the order listed. Whisk vigorously until blended (about 30 seconds by machine standards). Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat or blend 15 seconds longer.

2. let the batter sit for an hour or longer so the starches can absorb. You can make the batter up to a day in advance and keep it in the refrigerator, just bring it up to room temp before you cook it. It should be the consistency of buttermilk. If it’s lumpy you can strain it.

3. Spray a non stick skillet with a little cooking spray, or brush lightly with a neutral oil and get it hot but not smoking. Remove from heat and pour a little batter in (how much depends on the size of your skillet) and swirl batter evenly around the bottom- try to make this very thin!

4. Return to heat and let cook for 1 to 2 minutes (I used the lowest heat, so it took a lot longer for me- but it meant that the crepes would be smooth!). The thin edges will get crispy and curl up, and the top will mostly set but stay shiny. Flip the crepe around with a spatula (this part is difficult! for me anyways….)

5. Cook the second side for about 30 seconds, then remoce crepe and place it on a clean, dry and preferably light colored dish towel (I put it on a dish…..)

Making the pancake:
300mL cream (I used thickened cream,
but any cream which whips up will do)
icing sugar, to taste
2 small
mangoes, or one large one
around 10 crepes, from the recipe above

1. In a large bowl, whisk the cream until slightly thickened then add icing sugar until it tastes sweet enough, and stiff peaks form. Chill while you get the rest of the ingredients ready.
2. Peel and chip mangoes into long, thin pieces.
3. Place one crepe on a plate (with the nice side down!) and put a heaped tablespoon of whipped cream into the centre. Place a couple of pieces of mango around the whipped cream, then wrap the crepe around it. I do this by folding one side over the cream, then folding both sides inwards, then rolling the whole thing into a cylinder shape.
4. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour (the longer the better) before
serving =)

In Cake, Recipe on
September 20, 2010

Vanilla Cake for my english teacher!

I love the reaction I get from others when I make cake. The oohs and the aahs bring a really nice sense of satisfaction and make me really happy- even when I know the cake doesn’t look that great. And although I love baking, it is really this reaction which makes even the boring and frustrating bits of baking all worthwhile.

This cake was for my english teacher, perhaps my favourite teacher- so from the beginning, it was completely worth the 4 or so hours I spent in the kitchen slowly trawling through the recipe, making sure I didn’t skip a single ingredient, and the decorating after that. And it definitely was- I loved her reaction when she saw the cake- I don’t really think anyone has been quite as happy and touched by my cakes before!

It certainly makes it worth the tired arms I get from whipping the batter for 10 minutes- it can get painful sometimes. It makes it worth the frustration of having to wait hours for the cake to be done and the frustration when you have a billion bowls to clean- and you don’t even know how you managed to use that many =S

The reaction of my class also made it very worthwhile. Not only the oohs and aahs, especially of the butterflies, the easiest part of it (I stole the idea off Adriana– thanks!) but also the way they kept reaching for seconds. Like those who wolfed down piece after piece after piece *ahem* Andrew *ahem* 😉 But I love all of this.

It really makes it worth the frustration of the egg whites not whipping up into stiff meringue- because you couldn’t be bothered to clean your bowl cleanly after you used it to make the cake batter. And the consequential 10 minutes of beating in hope that it will. And then the additional 10 minutes of beating in the butter in hope that it will turn into a beautiful, smooth buttercream. It makes it worth the frustration when you realise that you don’t have enough buttercream to ice the whole cake. And when the crumbs all mix with the icing to make a lumpy one- so the icing looks like a splat of…something.

But you don’t notice all these imperfections when you are bathed in compliments, when you are constantly told how good the cake is. You only stop to think about whether you cake was actually that great a couple of hours later, when you think back and when you look at the picture you snapped hurriedly in the morning before rushing off to school. I guess it’s all part of the experience.

Thinking back this time however, it kinda made me sad. Sad that I’ll probably never have the chance to make a cake for these people again- school finishes in a few days and I’ll probably never see them like this again. But I’ll leave the sentimental stuff for another post, and meanwhile, spend the rest of the week treasuring out last moments of high school =)

Yellow cake

from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook
Makes one double layered 20 or 23cm cake

3/4 cup butter
3 eggs
2.5 cups plain flour
2.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 and 3/4 cups sugar
1.5 tsp vanilla
1 and 1/4 cups milk

1. Allow butter and eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutesas. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside
2. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, aabout 1/4 cup at a time, beating on medium speed until well combined, scraping sides of bowl. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes more. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition (about 1 min in total). Beat in vanilla. Alternatively add flour mixture and milk to butter mixture, beating on low speed after each addition until just combined. Pour batter into a 20cm or 23cm round cake pan.
3. Bake in a preheated 180 degree (celcius) oven for about 12 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the centre comes out clean. Cool cupcakes and decorate with buttercream.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Recipe from Joepastry
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 pound soft unsalted butter

1. Begin by combining the whites, sugar and cream of tartar the top of a double boiler set over simmering water. Whisk to combine them, and keep it up intermittently while the mixture warms. In about 5-7 minutes’ time, your mixture should have reached 160 degrees Farhenheit (don’t worry, your whites won’t cook, the sugar will keep all those little proteins from clenching up). At this temperature, Salmonella bacteria are killed
2. Pour the contents of the double boiler into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whip.Turn the mixer on high. In a few minutes the mixture will turn white and start to build up into a foam. Whip for about 6-8 minutes, until the meringue forms stiff peaks
3. Switch to the paddle (beater) attachment and turn the mixer to medium high. Beat in the butter a piece at a time. Whip until the mixture becomes smoother and thick.

In Uncategorised on
September 15, 2010

Strawberry Milk Jelly

You can always tell a chinese recipe, if it has its ingredients separated in Part A’s and B’s and C’s- even if each part only has one or two ingredients =)

I found this recipe at a rather unusual place- on a chinese video website, which we usually use to watch chinese news. If I translated literally from the chinese name it would become ‘strawberry cold milk’- unfortunately they didn’t have any english translations, so it took me a while to figure out that this was probably panna cotta (I’ve never had panna cotta before). EDIT: On second thoughts, this is too firm to be panna cotta- I think it’s milk jelly =) Which is why I changed the title

This time, it was my mother who suggested we make this- but it’s a good thing she did because it has quickly turned into a family favourite which we’ve made numerous times. The recipe is really simple, the way my mum likes it- it only takes 5 minutes to prepare. And it tastes really nice too! I think it’s because of the simplicity of the flavours – the focus is on the light taste of the strawberries. There’s nothing too surprising, but a delicious change from my normal heavier desserts- I could easily gulp down the whole batch of these =D

And so could the rest of my family, in particular, my father who keeps requesting for another batch to be made each time we buy strawberries!

Strawberry Milk Jelly

Part A
160g sugar
15g gelatine powder
150g water

Part B
5-10 strawberries, depending on size
150g milk
150g cream (recipe didn’t specify but I used thickened cream)
150g cold water

1. Sprinkle gelatine powder over water (from part A) in a small saucepan; let stand 5 minutes to soften. Add sugar and place over low flame and heat until gelatine powder and sugar dissolves.
2. Puree the strawberries in a blender until smooth (you’d also want sieve it to remove the seeds) and then mix with all the other ingredients in part B.
3. Stir the gelatine mixture into the strawberry mixture. Pour into moulds and chill for at least two hours before inverting onto a plate to serve. Note: This panna cotta is a lot firmer than what I’d imagined panna cotta to be, so I’m not sure if it’s technically a panna cotta- it’s sort of like a firm milk jelly. BUT it still tastes delicious =)