Monday, January 31, 2011

Rum Banana Cake

What would you cook or bake with a bottle of rum? When my bro and I came back from our trip to Cuba, immediately we thought of making a rum cake. We were searching online for a rum cake recipe and we can tell you that finding a recipe made all from scratch was weirdly difficult. We were quite surprised that most of the online recipes are shortcut version which utilize packaged cake mix and instant pudding mix like the one on Allrecipes.  I don't know about you, but for us, it doesn't feel right using premixed packages; it feels somewhat like cheating. I guess as an amateur baker, we are sort of obliged using basic ingredients for baking.

We finally manage to find a recipe from Southern Living which does not contain any premixes, but we did have to tweak it a lot according to what we have at our disposal. For instance, banana liqueur is one of these ingredients which will end at the top shelf of my pantry and never will be used again. Why not simply use ripe banana? Also, to reduce the fat content, we substituted whipping cream for low-fat yoghurt.

We were quite happy of the final results when we flipped the cake onto a plate. If you are big fan of banana bread, you will love this. The cake was very moist and flavorful. The flavor improves if the cake is left overnight.

Makes 1 cake
Inspired from Southern Living
Preparation Time: 20 mins
Baking Time: 60 mins
Printable Recipe


1 1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
4 very ripe bananas, mashed
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark rum
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup low-fat yoghurt


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a bundt cake mold.

2. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, beat butter and brown sugar until smooth.

3. Add in one egg at a time. Mix well after each addition.

4. Beat in mashed bananas, vanilla and rum.

5. Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Gradually fold the dry ingredients into the batter with a rubber spatula.

6. Fold in the yoghurt into the batter.

7. Transfer batter to greased pan.

8. Bake for 60 mins or until it passes the toothpick test.

9. Cool for 15 mins, flip the cake out onto a large plate. Serve.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Oatmeal Fruit Bars

Have you ever made granola bars? What is your favorite one? It is not very often that I use oats for baking. I tend to use it to make oatmeal for breakfast or simply mix it in yoghurt. I know that there are endless possibilities of using oats such as in cherry crisps, date squares and sweet granola bars. This time, I decided to try and make my own granola bars which is totally Victor. The inspiration came from what I usually put in my Corn Flakes. As some of you know, this cereal does not contain any flavors nor sweeteners. Apart from milk, I usually add dried fruits, chopped almonds and a teaspoonful of flax seeds in my cereal (a good source of Omega-3). So I translated these ingredients into making the granola bars. No sugar were added, the only source of sweetness originates from the dried fruits.

The texture was a bit weird in a good sense. The granola bars were crunchy on the day that were baked. Strangely, store it in plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature overnight, its texture becomes slightly chewy. These granola bars are healthy, nutritious and great for snack on. If you want to sweeten up, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup brown sugar along with the dry ingredients or dip these granola bars in your favorite yoghurt.

Preparation Time: 15 mins
Baking Time: 45 mins


about 2 1/2 cups quick oats
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries, raisins or any other dried fruits
1/3 cup chopped almonds and/or cashew nuts
1/4 cup flax seeds
2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup lukewarm milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg


1. Preheat oven to 400F.

2. Oil a 8'' x 8'' baking pan. Line it with parchment paper and lightly oil.

3. In a large bowl, combine quick oats, dried fruits, chopped almonds, flax seeds, cinnamon.

4. In another bowl, combine wet ingredients and whisk in the egg. Gradually fold into dry ingredients. If necessary, add more oats if all the milk is not fully incorporated.

5. Transfer mix to prepared dish.

6. Bake for 45 mins. Serve.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chocolate Chili con Carne

No, this is not what you think. It is not ground beef and chili peppers that is simmered in a large pool of chocolate. Actually, this makes me wonder... Is there such thing as a dessert chili? I did have a hard time to find one recipe. I would say that the dessert which approaches to the texture of a chili would probably be a chocolate chili bread pudding topped with a gooey chocolate sauce. Am I right? Do let me know if there is something that can be considered as a dessert chili.

From the two chilies that were made in the past (Quick and Easy Chili and Chili with Bacon), I learn that a good chili requires layer upon layer of flavor and a long simmering time. For this chili, I took ingredients of a traditional chili con carne, added some chipotle pepper for spiciness and smokiness, and a bit of bitterness and sweetness from the chocolate which gives an additional depth of flavor to the chili. One ounce of bittersweet chocolate is enough to make the taste of chocolate unidentifiable. I have done a taste-test on my two friends on Sunday cooking and I can guarantee you that none of them were able to guess the secret ingredient despite the helpful number of hints.

Here's what to expect after taking a tablespoonful of chili. At the first moment, one would taste the vegetables and the ground beef, this is immediately followed by the sweet and smoky taste, once swallowed, the chili leaves a lingering taste of cumin and bitterness of chocolate in your mouth. This is an ideal chili to experience altering flavors in one bite. 

Serves 6
Preparation Time: 10 mins
Cooking Time: 1 hour
Printable Recipe


1 large onion, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb ground beef
2 chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 cup beef stock
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can corn kernels
1 oz. (35 g) bittersweet chocolate


1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onions until transparent. Stir in garlic and bell pepper. Cook for 5 mins.

2. Add in ground beef and cook until brown.

3. Pour in beef stock, chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, chipotle peppers, and cumin. Stir well.

4. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 mins. It should look thick and juicy.

5. Add kidney beans and corn. Bring back to boil and simmer.

6. Add chocolate and cook for 10 mins.

7.  Season with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Guacamole with Baked Tortilla Chips

What is your favorite Mexican dish? When it comes to Mexican night, there is no doubt that guacamole should be in the menu. Guacamole is so versatile that there is a million possible ways to make it.  It can be very spicy or mild, chunky or mashed, and made with lots or little seasoning. I guess that the best guacamole is the one personally made by you, the one that represents yourself. 

As an experimental physicist, I do enjoy playing with flavors and see whether or not they will satisfy my palette. Guacamole is one of these dishes that it is almost impossible to mess up as no cooking is required. It is all about combining fresh ingredients. 

Here is some general facts to remember in making a good guacamole. Always use ripe avocados. For ripeness check, avocado will yield when a gentle squeeze is applied. If not ready, one can quickly ripen the avocados by wrapping it in aluminium foil and place it in a dry and warm/hot spot (Mexican trick). The process can vary between 1-2 days. Tomatoes are essential to provide a fresh and juicy taste. I personally prefer white onion as it yields lots of flavors without overpowering the other ingredients. I don't really like spicy food so no chili peppers are added. Finally, salt is the key to enhance all these flavors.

For a healthier option, don't buy chips at your local supermarket, instead buy some flour tortillas and make your own homemade tortilla chips. Healthy and simple!

Serves 6
Preparation Time: 10 mins
Baking Time: 6-8 mins (tortilla chips)
Printable Recipe


8 flour tortillas, cut into 6 triangles
8 ripe avocados, seeded
1 medium tomatoes, diced
1 medium white onion, diced
1 lime, juiced
1 tsp salt


1. Preheat oven to 375F. 

2. Line aluminum foil on a cookie sheet. Bake tortillas for 6-8 mins until golden brown and crispy.

3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine avocados, tomatoes, white onion and lime juice. Mash it with a fork until desired texture. Add salt to taste.

4. Remove tortilla chips from the oven and cool for 1 min before serving.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Curry Shrimp Fried Rice with Pineapple and Sausages

It never cross my mind to post a recipe on fried rice. After watching the first season of Worst Cooks in America, I was shocked that a contestant manage to screw up on fried rice, especially that this contestant is Chinese. For us, this should be the easiest dish to prepare in Chinese cuisine. Well now, it doesn't look simple after all. It reminds me a bit of my undergraduate days when students asked the instructor about the difficulty of the final exam. The instructor will usually say that it will be easy but the exam ended up to be difficult...

Since we always eat rice at home, it is no surprise that we always have leftover rice lying in our fridge. Reheating leftover rice is not always satisfying as it becomes dry and lose its fluffy texture of freshly cooked rice. Making fried rice is the best cure. We cook fried rice like 2-3 times a week. One of my favorite is to combine shrimp with the sweet taste of pineapple and season the rice with curry powder. Something about these three ingredients make the dish comfy and succulent. Sausage is just something extra that I had left in the fridge. Also, if the leftover rice is clumpy, rinse it in cold water and drain excess water. It will make it easier to fry.

Serves 4
Preparation Time: 5 mins
Cooking Time: 10 mins
Printable Recipe


2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 sausages, casing removed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8-10 large shrimp, shelled and deveined
3 cups cooked rice
2 tsp light soy sauce
1/4 cup diced pineapple
2-3 tsp curry powder
salt and pepper (optional)


1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat.

2. Add sausages and shrimp. Sauté until cooked.

3. Stir in cooked rice, soy sauce and pineapple. Combine and cook for about 1 min.

4. Add curry powder and stir until the rice becomes yellow. Add more curry if necessary. Serve.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Coconut Fish Stew

When I started to learn how to cook other than Chinese food, my first cookbook is The Illustrated Kitchen Bible. Once I opened this book, it already sold me to buy this book as each recipe contains a mouth-watering picture. Great for beginners as all the basic food preparation techniques can be found in the last section of the book. Every recipe I tested so far turns out perfect and I never stop loving this book. I also convince some of my friends to buy this book, even my Taiwanese friend Chris owns a copy of it. 

Since October, Chris attended culinary school. On the first day, he had to learn the basic cutting techniques. In order to put his skills to the test, he chose to make a coconut fish stew. This dish is a traditional Brazilian fish stew which combines fresh bell peppers and tomatoes, and enriched with coconut milk. This can be served with a side of lime-flavored salsa. His knife skills were not too bad, so I'm giving him, just for now, a B+. Also, as a chef, he needs to practice a lot on food presentation. This is also true in my case as a food photographer to see how a dish should be presented and apply correctly the rules of photo composition.

Serves 6
Adapted from The Illustrated Kitchen Bible
Preparation Time: 20 mins
Cooking Time: 30 mins
Printable Recipe


1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 tomatoes, skinned and cut into wedges
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 green bell pepper, julienned
1 cup coconut milk
1 tbsp tomato paste
750g cod (or any white fish), cut into 2-inch pieces
salt and pepper


1 tomato, diced
1 small red onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp olive oil


1. In a pot, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion until transparent, about 5 mins. 

2. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add tomatoes and bell peppers. Stir occasionally and cook until softened, about 15 mins.

3. Stir in coconut milk and tomato paste. Bring it to a boil. Add in the fish and cook until opaque, about 5 mins. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Make the salsa. Combine all ingredients in a serving bowl.

5. Serve fish stew with the salsa.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Lamb Meatballs with Cilantro Raita

Whether you invite guests to a dinner party or go to a restaurant, appetizers are very important. I consider them as first impression and usually dictate how the rest of the meal will go. By experience, if you start off with a great appetizer, its taste will always be remembered, even if the main course is mediocre. On the other hand, a disappointing appetizer leads to high expectations and importance on the main course. If the main course is a let down, the meal becomes a total disappointment overall. Be sure to serve your guests with tasty appetizers.

A month ago, I made some new friends at rock climbing and invited them at my usual Sunday cooking session after a long and tiring day of climbing. Since this is their first invitation, I'm making sure that the food is the best thing that they ever tasted (and hoping that they lend their place for the following cooking sessions). I went for an appetizer that everyone is familiar with: meatballs. They are not complicated to make once you know how. Tender and flavor-packed, everyone can't resist of eating more than one. Simply add some spices and eggs to your ground meat. Grill, pan fry or broil the meatballs and finally, serve it with a dipping sauce.

Here the meatballs are packed with Middle East flavors, inspired on spices and herbs used for lamb kofta. These meatballs are dipped in a refreshing raita dip sauce, a yoghurt based condiment commonly used in India and Middle East, similar to the Greek tzatziki sauce.

Makes about 24 meatballs
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast: Small Plates
Preparation Time: 15 mins
Cooking Time: 10 mins
Printable Recipe


1 small onion, minced
1 lb ground lamb
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup parsley, minced
2 tbsp bread crumbs
1 tsp ground cumin
3 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper

Raita Sauce
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
1 garlic cloves, minced


1. In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onions until transparent, about 5 mins.

2. Transfer onion to a large bowl. Add in lamb, eggs, parsley, bread crumbs, cumin, minced garlic, salt and pepper. Combine all ingredients.

3. Preheat grill pan (or skillet) over medium heat with a drizzle of oil.

4. Form mixture into walnut-sized balls. Place meatballs onto the grill pan. Grill meatballs, turning once, until brown and crispy, about 4-5 minutes each side.

5. In a small bowl, combine yogurt, cilantro, minced garlic and 1/4 tsp salt. Use raita as a dipping sauce. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Yeast-Free Olive Beer Bread

What should be my first post for 2011? I guess I'll start the year with a recipe that is mind-boggling. A few months back, I invited a couple of old friends and my brother to my usual Sunday experimental cooking session. My brother was mentioning that he missed the olive taste of the Mediterranean Rolls that I made a while back and he requested that I should remake it again. My bro and I sometimes think of the weirdest ideas. This time, we thought of incorporating beer into bread. We went to search online if this combination is actually feasible. To our amazement, there are quite of few available recipes out there. What is more surprising is that the recipe does not require any yeast. This means you don't need to wait to let the dough rise and kneading is not required. Simply mix all the ingredients together and pop it in the oven. The results are just amazing. The bread is astonishingly moist and it has this yeasty flavor from the beer. This is a quick bread to make, it only requires 10 mins of your time. Try it out, your guests won't be able to believe it!

Makes 1 loaf
Adapted from Epicurious
Preparation Time: 10 mins
Baking Time: 40 mins


3 1/2 all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 12oz. bottle of beer (we used Heineken)
a handful of chopped pimento-stuffed olives


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a loaf pan.

2. In a large bowl, combine and sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

3. Add in egg, beer and olives. Stir the batter until combined. Transfer to prepared pan.

4. Bake for 40 mins or until it passes the toothpick test. Remove from pan and let it cool before slicing.


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