Monday, January 23, 2012

Turnip Cake - Lo Bak Go

Chinese New Year is one of these holidays that my family celebrates religiously in which we adopt Chinese traditions and superstitions. This is the holiday where I look forward to share with you my mother's recipes. I have to admit that I still haven't perfected the art of making Chinese New Year sweet treats or savoury cakes. This is also the time of the year where I have sweet treats with my colleagues, especially my Chinese friends who either of their parents can't make traditional home-cooked dishes or can't afford to go back home to see their parents. I'm quite fortunate to spend quality time with my family.

Days before the New Year, it is somewhat a tradition to exchange sweet baked goods with family friends. These sweet foods symbolize sweet life for the New Year. You are welcome to have a look at my past Chinese New Year recipes like Fa Gao (Prosperity Cake) and Nian Gao (Chinese New Year cake). We have received quite an abundant amount of baked goods this year, here are a few Chinese treats that I haven't shared with you in the past:

Pai Char/Qiao Guo -  Flattened and twisted deep fried bean curd dough with black sesame seeds.

You Jiao - Deep fried sweet dumplings commonly stuffed with coconut and peanuts, these resembles like a purse which means fortune.

Turnip cake or daikon cake is one of the first dishes that most people would associate with Chinese New Year. This is my all-time favourite savoury cakes. Once cooked, they are soft filled with a generous amount of julienned turnip with a bit of dried shrimp and Chinese sausage to add a hint of saltiness. With the leftovers, we pan fried them until golden to give a slight crunch on the outside but still soft in the middle.

As usual, my mother never gives me the exact quantity to her recipes. She mostly eyeballs her recipes. One tip for a good turnip cake is the ratio of turnip to rice flour must be 6 to 1. For every pound of rice flour, one must use about 6 lbs of turnip.

Makes 2 8-inch sized cakes
Preparation Time: 10 mins
Cooking Time: 10 mins
Steaming Time: 25 mins

1 long turnip (about 1 1/2 lbs), julienned
1/4 lb ground pork or pork loin, thinly cubed 
1/4 cup dried shrimp
1/2 cup pickled cabbage
2 celery stalks
2 Chinese sausages

Flour Mixture
1 pack (1 lb) plain rice flour
about 5 cups warm water
1 tsp salt

Chopped green onions for garnish


1. Thinly chopped dried shrimp, pickled cabbage, celery stalks, and Chinese sausages.

2. In a skillet, add julienned turnip and 1/2 cup of water, enough water to cover the bottom of the skillet. Heat over medium-high heat, cook turnip until soft, about 5 mins.

3. Add in pork, chopped dried shrimp, pickled cabbage, celery stalks, Chinese sausages. Cook for 5 mins until pork is fully cooked.

4. Meanwhile, prepare flour mixture. Combine rice flour with warm water. Add in salt. The mixture should be liquid, not thick or gooey. It should thinly coat the back of a spoon similar to a custard or a thin béchamel sauce. Add in 1/2 cup of water if necessary.

5. Transfer turnip filling with its liquid to the flour mixture, mix until combined. Lightly oil two 9-inch round cake pans. Fill batter to the cake pans.

6. Steam for 25 minutes or until firm. Garnish with green onions.

7. Slice cake into rectangles. Serve warm. 

Gung Hay Fat Choy! 
Gong Xi Fa Cai! 
Bonne année lunaire! 
Happy Chinese New Year! 
May the year of the Dragon brings you and your family good health, wealth, happiness and prosperity.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Nutella Chestnut Brownies - A 3-Ingredient Recipe

A while back, I wrote my experience about Deepavali. After publising that post, I have been told that some members of the Malaysian and Singaporean Student's Association are addicted to brownies and printed all my brownie recipes. I was trying to recall when was the last time I published my last brownie recipe. In fact, there are only two brownie recipes on this blog: Macadia Nut Brownies and Butterscotch-glazed Brownies. Both were published in 2009.

I was figuring out if brownies can be made with a minimal number of ingredients in case I received a last minute dinner party invitation or days that I just don't feel like baking, and cleaning the dishes afterwards. Making these Nutella brownies require only 5 mins of your time and three ingredients only. Well, four ingredients if you add some crunch to your brownies like walnuts or chestnuts. All you need is one bowl, one parchment paper, and a baking pan.  

These brownies are dense, chewy and chocolatey. Whip up a batch of these brownies in no time for your next party dinner. You won't be disappointed.

Update 04/01/2013: The recipe was retested several times to optimize the final result. To ensure the brownie to be moist, add in one egg at a time and incorporate flour with a rubber spatula. 

Makes 12 brownies
Preparation Time: 5 mins
Baking Time: 12-15 mins


1 cup Nutella
2 eggs
3/4 cup flour, sifted
1/2 cup roasted chestnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Align parchment paper on lightly oil 8''x8'' baking pan. 

2. In a mixing bowl, whisk Nutella and add in one egg at a time until smooth.

3. With a rubber spatual, slowly incorporate flour. Mix in chestnuts.

4. Transfer mixture to prepared baking pan. Bake for 12-15 mins until it passes the toothpick test.

5. Let it cool. Cut into squares. Serve.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Perspectives for 2012 - Top 7 recipes of 2011

Now that 2011 comes to an end: it is the time to reflect back on our past and figure out what new paths to take for 2012. By experience, doing the same thing over the years usually leads to boredom and lack of motivation. We need to enrich ourselves with new knowledge and new activities. To keep one motivated is to set a time-frame to realize long-term and short-term goals. In this case, what are my food-related goals? What am I planning to cover on this blog for 2012?

My main goal is to understand this age old question: what makes a dish irresistibly delicious? It is all about building flavour profiles to your protein with aromatics, herbs and spices than just adding salt and pepper. But how do you build flavour profiles? You can't just put any ingredients. A recently published article (Flavor network and the principles of food pairing) that Rebecca from Chow and Chatter posted on her Facebook fan page caught my attention. As a scientist, I love to put my mind into a scientific article and understand it carefully. Here is a chart from the article which represents the flavour network.

A flavour network of ingredients that are most used in recipes. Prevalence represents the occurrence of the ingredient over 56,000 recipes analyzed and shared compounds are the number of shared flavour compounds between two ingredients.
To summarize the article, the researchers have studied over 56,000 recipes through all major recipe websites such as and epicurious. Each ingredient contains a number of predefined flavour compounds. North Americans are likely to use ingredients which share a high number of flavour compounds known as food pairing. Find below a video of Heston Blumenthal trying out an odd combination - blue cheese and chocolate.

Unlike East Asia, they are less likely to use ingredients that share the same flavour compounds. These dishes are about the perfect balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavours. Overpowering one ingredient can make the dish unpleasant or missing the feeling that you can't stop eating it.

As a long-term food-related goal is to have a better understanding of the use of spices and herbs. The flavour network diagram will prove helpful for flavour combination.

So what are your food-related goals?

I will end this post with my top 7 recipes of 2011, each has its own special characteristic.

1. Hummus with a touch of parsley - my all-time favourite spread for my toasts in the morning.

2. Lentil Gardener's Pie - This vegetarian version of Shepherd's pie has converted some meat-eaters into flexitarians or even vegetarians.

3. Lamb Meatballs with Cilantro Raita - Irresistible, flavour-packed with herbs and spices. These will be a sure hit for your next dinner party.

4. Jerk Seafood - Spicy and saucy. You might end up sucking out every ounce of flavours out of these seafood.

5. Marble Rum Chocolate Banana Cake - Play a tasting game with this cake. There are more ingredients than meets the eye.

6. Shrimp Pad Thai - The perfect balance of salty, spicy, sour and sweet flavours in this popular noodle dish.

7. Roasted Root Vegetables - Simple ingredients with a simple recipe makes a good side dish.


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