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For many, many years, I’ve been trying all sorts of recipes for chocolate cake. I’ve tried magazine recipes. I’ve scoured the internet. But I keep coming back to this recipe mainly because it doesn’t require any extraordinary ingredients (just the stuff I normally keep in my pantry) and the method is quite simple.This is also the recipe that I used for making the twins’ Beach Cake.

Mom’s Chocolate Cake
(from AllRecipes.Net) 

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup shortening (or butter)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup hot, brewed coffee
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or 1 vanilla bean)

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour one 9×13 inch baking pan.

Put the shortening (or butter) into your mixing bowl…

…and beat until fluffy.

Pour in the sugar about 1/3 cup at a time and beat until light and fluffy. (This step is often referred to in cake recipes as ‘creaming the sugar and shortening’.)

 Add the eggs one at time…

…and mix well.

Do not overbeat. When you reach this consistency, it’s time to stop beating.

Stir in the dry ingredients (cocoa, flour, baking powder, baking soda) alternately with the wet ingredients (milk and vanilla extract) a little at a time, approximately about 1/3 cup each time.

 Make sure you scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl every once in a while using a spatula.

If you have some vanilla beans on hand, split the vanilla bean open with a knife, taking care not to cut all the way to the other side.

Open up the bean and scrape out the creamy black gold hidden inside, using the back of a small knife…

…and put it into the batter.

Don’t throw away the used vanilla bean. Chuck it into your sugar pot to make your sugar wonderfully vanilla-scented. Vanilla-scented sugar is absolutely delightful with tea!

For the boiling coffee which the recipe requires, what I do is take a Pyrex (glass) measuring cup, put in a cup of water inside, then add some instant coffee. I then put it inside the microwave. Once it has boiled,  I take it out and pour it into the batter…

…and mix using a spatula until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Do not overbake so as to keep the cake moist and soft.

Allow to cool for about 5 minutes before taking out from the pan. Allow to cool completely on a cake rack before decorating with icing.

Quick icing option: melt some cooking chocolate and spread all over the cake, then decorate with coloured sprinkles and/or chocolate chips.

All ingredients follow the original recipe at AllRecipes.Net. It’s only the method that I’ve modified. The original instructions simply read:-

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour one 9×13 inch baking pan.
  2. Cream the sugar and shortening together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and mix well. Stir in the cocoa, milk, flour, baking powder, boiling coffee, baking soda and vanilla extract. Mix until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. 

Tips For Making The Perfect Cake:-

  • Cake-decorating may be an art but cake-making is a science. Measure/weigh your ingredients carefully. If you watch cooking shows on TV, chefs like Michael Smith and Jamie Oliver may wing it when cooking stews and soups, but when it comes to cakes, they take out their measuring cups and weighing scales and use the exact amount of ingredients required for the recipe.
  • All ingredients must be at room temperature. Take out your butter, milk and eggs from the refrigerator some 15-30 minutes prior to mixing so that they can be at room temperature by the time you start making your cake.
  • When measuring your ingredients by cup or tablespoon/teaspoon, level the ingredient using a knife or the handle of spoon. Do not press down the flour/sugar/baking powder/baking soda. Do not shake the cup to make the flour settle.
  • Always preheat your oven, at least 15 minutes before putting in the cake. I usually turn on the oven just before I start mixing the ingredients together.
  • If the recipe asks you to grease and flour a pan, do so before you start mixing the ingredients. This way, you can straightaway pour the batter into the pan right after you finish mixing the ingredients.
  • Mix in one direction. My mom has taught me to do this ever since I was a little girl and I’ve always done this. I’m not sure what the reason for this is, but come to think of it — all stand mixers only mix in one direction.

Trivia: If Malaysia were to hold a competition for ‘Most Popular Cake’, the chocolate cake would win hands down. That’s one of the things I noticed when I first came here — Malaysians just looove chocolate cake.

Too tired to cook? Too lazy to peel/chop/saute/cook? Then take out that slow cooker (also known as ‘crock pot’ in certain circles) that’s been gathering dust somewhere in your kitchen and try this no-brainer recipe. But only if you like lamb. Because some people are not exactly enamoured with its… err… peculiar aroma.

Easiest Lamb Stew In The World

Ingredients:

  • 1 or 2 large onions
  • 500 grams lamb/mutton cubes (or shoulder or any other portion)
  • 250 grams oyster-flavoured sauce (sos tiram) – about half a bottle of the size they’re usually bottled in, as sold in Malaysia
  • 2 heaping tablespoons Italian Seasoning
  • water
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, sliced (optional)

Method:

  • Peel the onions and slice them any way you want. They’ll soften and caramelise in the process, so how you slice them won’t matter that much. Put the sliced onions into the slow cooker.
  • Wash and drain the meat. Arrange a layer of meat on top of the onions.
  • Pour some of the oyster sauce on top of the meat and sprinkle some of the Italian Seasoning on top.
  • Repeat the layering process. You can actually chuck in all the ingredients at one go, but I like to layer them. I’m quirky that way 😛
  • Pour enough water to cover.
  • Put the lid on, turn the control knob to ‘High’ and allow to cook for 4 hours (or 6-8 hours on ‘Low’). Do not open the lid so as not to lengthen the cooking time. If your meat is still hard and frozen, leave the stew to cook for 6-8 hours on ‘High’.

Optional: Add 2-3 cloves of sliced garlic to tame the lamb smell a bit.

Suggested additions: sliced mushrooms (button mushrooms in cans will do) — add it about half an hour to an hour before serving the meat — or carrots. For carrots, steam or saute them separately until tender, then add it to the stew towards the end, just like the mushrooms. Otherwise, the carrots will remain hard even if you put it in from the beginning.

This stew is absolutely delicious with crusty bread and also goes well with steamed rice.

The best part about it? I can put in the ingredients in the morning, turn on the slow cooker to ‘Low’, forget about it for the whole day (some 8 hours or so), and come home to a delicious treat in the evening! And your kids will love you for it, too 😉

One thing that I’ve stopped buying in the past few months is ice cream. I’ve invested in a Kenwood ice cream maker for two reasons:-

  1. I wanted to have better control over what goes into my children’s ice cream; and
  2. I thought of making some fat-free, sugar-free ice cream for myself.

A quick comment on reason #1: Have you ever taken the time to read the list of ingredients in ice creams available in the market these days? Sugar, palm oil, colouring, emulsifiers, preservatives, food conditioners. (Quick tip: By right, ingredients are listed in the order of from more to less, e.g. if sugar is the first listed ingredient, then that product is mostly made of sugar. The same principle applies for other food products.) Unless you buy the expensive high-end stuff that list down ‘cream’ as the first ingredient… then try buying that much ice cream for 5 kids! Looking back now, I should have done this a long time ago. My kids have a history of asthma when they were very young and, surprisingly, one of the things that a well-known chest physician in KL told me is to avoid food with colouring in them, including those yoghurt drinks for kids (Vitagen, Nutrigen, et al).

I haven’t made any headway on the 2nd item yet, mainly because I’ve been mainly making ice cream for the kids and the ice cream container needs to be in the freezer for at least 24 hours before making the ice cream. So between the making and the freezing and everything else that goes on in my life, my fat-free, sugar-free ice cream has taken a backseat to my children’s joy over eating ice cream that they see me making right before their very eyes.

Here’s a quick and simple recipe for ‘Cookies & Cream’ ice cream that I came up with, inspired by an egg-free recipe for vanilla ice cream that I found on the internet:-

Cookies & Cream Ice Cream

Ingredients:
– 250 ml cream (preferably thick cream but I haven’t found any, so I’ve been using whipping cream)
– 250 ml fresh milk (any milk should do but my kids don’t like full cream or low-fat milk)
– 1/2 tin condensed milk (standard tin size in Malaysia is 505 grams, so half would be around 252 grams, or round it up to 250 grams)
– 1 tsp vanilla essence (or the contents of 1 vanilla bean)
– a handful of crushed Oreo (or Cream-O) cookies

Method:
– Mix all the ingredients except for the cookies together in a large bowl.
– Start your ice cream maker and pour in the mixture.
– Once the ice cream has reached the consistency of soft-serve ice cream, add in the crushed cookies and mix for 1 or 2 minutes, then serve.

Tips:
– If you prefer a slightly harder, more scoopable type of ice cream, transfer the ice cream into another container and freeze it for 15 to 30 minutes before serving.
– You can omit the cookies if you prefer plain vanilla ice cream.
– Make sure you freeze the ice cream maker’s container as per manufacturer’s instructions. In my case, it’s for at least 24 hours prior to making the ice cream.
– For best results, chill the other ingredients (milk and condensed milk) prior to making the ice cream. Cold ingredients will speed up the ice cream-making process.

If you don’t own an ice cream maker, fret not. Just place the prepared mixture into a pan or tray and put inside your freezer. When it has started to harden, scrape everything up with a fork (à la Jamie Oliver) or whisk/spatula (à la David Lebovitz) to break up the ice crystals. Then freeze again, repeating the scraping and freezing a few more times every half an hour or so [NB: Jamie Oliver only did the scraping once in an episode of ‘Naked Chef’, should it should work]. Breaking up the ice crystals would make the consistency of your ice cream smoother, to make it as smooth and creamy as possible and feel like ice cream and not …well… ice. Click here to see more tips on making ice cream without a machine.

So there I was last night, sprawled on the carpet in front of the TV, trying to relax after another harrowing day at the office. I was flipping channels like there’s no tomorrow when I saw Nigella Lawson preparing an instant pancake mix. Quickly grabbing a pen, I scribbled the recipe at the first piece of paper I found — the back of the envelope of this month’s Astro bill.

Eager to try the recipe, we had this for breakfast today. The older kids loved this so much, they didn’t leave any for me nor the twins for breakfast this morning. So when I got back from work today, I whipped up a special batch for myself…for dinner. Who says pancakes are strictly breakfast fare? 😉

Make a batch today and never buy pancake mixes again! Here’s the recipe:-

Nigella’s Pancake Mix

Ingredients:
600 grams all-purpose flour
50 grams baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
50 grams sugar

Method:

Mix well and store in an airtight container.

When you’re ready to make your pancakes, simply scoop out one cup of the instant pancake mix and add 1 egg and 1 cup of milk. Preheat your non-stick pan (greased lightly) while you whisk all the ingredients together.

Pour a small amount into the hot pan using a ladle. Flip the pancakes when bubbles start forming on top.

Serve with a pat of butter and some maple syrup.

Yet another mom-tested, kid-approved recipe for y’all. Thanks, Nigella 😉

Image by paulapes

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Quick Update (9-Nov): I forgot to mention that Nigella actually added 1 tbsp of melted butter into her batter, then cooked the pancakes in a griddle without greasing it. Creature of habit that I am, I prefer to pour the teensiest bit of oil into my non-stick pan, move it around a bit and pour out the excess, if any. As for the topping: Nigella simmered some blueberries with maple syrup. One day, when I get my hands on some blueberries, I’ll try making that 😀

I knew my first attempt at homemade garlic bread was a success when my kids dubbed it ‘Heavenly Garlic Bread’ and polished off two baguettes in one sitting.

Recipe adapted from LittleMsFirefly’s garlic bread recipe:-

Heavenly Garlic Bread

Ingredients:
– butter 250 gm (or 2 sticks)
– 10 cloves of garlic, pounded finely
– 1 tbsp salt (or to taste)
– 1 tsp white pepper (or to taste)
– 2 baguettes

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius.
2. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat.
3. Add in the garlic, salt and pepper. Stir for 2 minutes and turn off the heat.
4. Cut each baguette into half. Take each half and make slices on the baguette (LittleMsFirefly recommends making diagonal cuts; I did straight cuts, to get smaller kid-friendly slices) but don’t cut the baguette all the way through.
5. Cut some foil, big enough to cover each baguette half securely, so that the garlic butter won’t spill.
6. Give the garlic butter a quick stir to make sure everything is well-combined, then spoon it in between the slices. Put a little at a time, so that you’ll have enough for all 4 pieces of baguette halves.
7. Take both ends of the foil and fold, then fold again to secure the package. Fold the foil on both sides, as well.
8. Put the wrapped baguette halves on a baking tin or roasting tin or cookie sheet and place inside the oven.
9. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the baguettes and bake for another 10 minutes.
10. Take out from the oven and open with care (it will be very hot!). Enjoy the garlic bread on its own or with some soup.

Here’s a healthier alternative, based on something that I’ve seen from one of those cooking shows on TV: replace the melted butter with 250 ml olive oil. But the garlic has to be marinated in the oil for a few hours, preferably overnight, in order to infuse the oil with the garlic flavour. Then grill the bread over hot charcoals for a few seconds on both sides. Yummy!

If you don’t have an oven or don’t feel inclined to do any baking, perhaps you can just make garlic butter by following steps 1 to 3. Place your garlic butter inside a container, allowing it to cool before putting it in the fridge. (The cold should make the butter solid again.) Then, anytime you feel like having some garlic bread, just toast a slice of bread or two and spread some of your homemade garlic butter on it.

Try it today! Mommy-tested, kid-approved 😉