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Dec 27, 2012

Guest Post: Little Miss Sunshine

Here I was, thinking I wasn't going to be able to come up with a post until the end of the year with all that's been going on, when a little ray of sunshine popped out of the darkest clouds that were looming over my head ... in the form of my niece. Such a great support. Thank you, dear girl, for carting away my cake pans, messing up my kitchen., and "trying" to clear my fridge. That would take many visits, *hint*.  

How can this not cheer anyone up? And if the looks alone doesn't get you, those little sour bursts from the cranberries will! I loved the tartness of the fruit in this and the crunch of the almonds with the caramelization from the sprinkling of sugar. 

Everyone, I'm sharing with you today .... my personal ray of sunshine with her Cranberry Bottom Cake.

My aunt's pantry is a bajillion times better stocked than my own bare-bones, gotta-cart-it-to-a-new-apartment-every-few-months one. Every time I come over I'm itching to bake or cook and take advantage of her ridiculous supply. I've already got several ideas for my next trip so she better be prepared to do some serious eating!

I love the tart explosiveness of cranberries, but I haven't had any of the fruit since my last Thanksgiving in the States 3 years ago (I've been working abroad since). When my aunt mentioned that she had some in the freezer I jumped at the opportunity to bake something with it and promptly found this recipe from the Beantown Baker that I had to adapt a bit (not fully melted butter and coarse sugar), resulting in a thicker batter and thus more of a cake-y-ness than the pie/macaron-ish texture she described. It's fast and easy and the sugar/cranberry/almond bottom resulted in a caramelized coating. The cake itself was just light enough and not too sweet, letting the cranberry's flavor and zest shine through. 



2 cups raw cranberries (fresh or frozen)

zest of half an orange

1/2 cup sliced almonds

1 & 1/2 cups white sugar

2 eggs

3/4 cup (~170g) butter, melted

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup all-purpose flour


1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (160 C). Grease a 10-inch pie plate or 8-inch square pan.

2. Wash the cranberries, leaving some water on them (thaw first if frozen). Combine the cranberries with the almonds in the pie plate. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the sugar. It was basically enough for a layer of almonds and then a layer of cranberries.

3. Cream the remaining 1 cup sugar with the eggs and butter. Stir in the almond extract and zest. Add the flour and mix well. Pour/spread over the cranberries.

4. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until a tester inserted near the center of the crust comes out clean. Let cool slightly before serving warm, or serve completely cooled. This would go well with some whipped cream or ice cream.

Happy holidays everyone, enjoy the cranberry cake!

Dec 21, 2012

Down Time

I apologize for the long silence. 
It's been a little hectic with losses of loved ones since August. 

I'm looking forward to a whole new and happier (and I really mean Happier, with a capital "H") new year in 2013. 

I would like to thank everyone who had been so supportive in their different ways ... guest posts, friendship, emails, spiritual support, moral support, patience.

A Merry Christmas to all. 
This year's Christmas will be a very quiet affair for us .... to reflect and to heal.
Here's wishing a better one to you and yours.


Dec 16, 2012

Guest Post: Homemade Ricotta

Hey everyone!  
Shannon's blog-sitting for me while I'm caught up with one crisis after another. (I can't wait for this year to end ... seriously). 

If you haven't met her by now, hop over to her mostly gluten-free blog, JustAsDelish ... totally healthy and inspiring and get acquainted with one of the sweetest people I've met. 
She's also the reason behind my falling in love with quinoa! And she recently came out runner-up in the Nutriplus baking competition with her fancy mushroom quiche! I can tell you she'd had a better year than I did. Yay for her! 

So, enjoy reading her wonderful post, get inspired and run off to your kitchens and try your hand at making homemade ricotta. 

Here she is ....

Hello, all you Ping's Pickings readers! I'm Shannon from A gazillion thanks to Ping for asking to me guest post on her fabulous blog. As this is my 1st guest post, I was pretty nervous when she asked. I'm very honoured to do so but I was undecided on which recipe to share because she's such a fabulous cook & baker. Hmm.. what recipe for Ping?
One of the things I enjoy is making food from scratch.. food that is sold in the jars/cans - like condensed milk, peanut butter, yogurt. If a factory can produce them, there should be a recipe for me to try at home. There's nothing more satisfying to me than making them fresh. So what's more apt than sharing a "made from scratch" recipe - Homemade Ricotta Cheese.
Ricotta is a soft Italian curd cheese, light and creamy with a slightly grainy texture and delicate flavour. Making fresh cheese is easier than you think.  If you know how to make Paneer (Indian Cottage Cheese), the recipe is almost similar with milk & an acid (lemon juice or vinegar). Making ricotta needs 2 extra ingredient - plain yogurt and cream. Adding cream did indeed give an even richer edge. It's also possible to make ricotta with just milk, it will be less indulgent & 'healthier'. 
When I suggest to my friend Tracy to make her own Ricotta cheese for her ravioli, she look at me dumbfounded. Making Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli calls for a large amount of ricotta, and a very good 200g ricotta costs RM30 (USD10). She don't believe me how easy (and cheap) it is until I demonstrated to her. In 10 minutes with very little effort, we have a lovely mound of freshly made, still warm ricotta for the price of 1 liter of milk. We tested 2 batches of ravioli with store-bought & freshly made ricotta, and the ones with homemade ricotta win hands-down!
Homemade ricotta makes a wonderful base for Italian cheesecakes, ravioli fillings, and lasagna. Serving slightly warm ricotta over berries or peaches with a drizzle of honey makes a lovely dessert.
For the upcoming Christmas dinner parties & year end celebration, try serving freshly made ricotta accompanied with some stewed fruit compote or poached fruits. Trust me, your guests will be very impressed.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Makes: about 200g Ricotta Cheese


1 liter whole (full cream) Milk
1/2 cup (125ml) plain Yogurt
1/2 cup (125ml) Cream - Optional
1 teaspoon vinegar (or lemon juice)
1/2 teaspoon salt


1. In a large pot, bring the milk, yogurt, cream (if using), and salt to a soft boil. 
2. Add in vinegar (or lemon juice) and boil for 1-2 two minutes, or until the milk curdled.
3. Meanwhile, line a strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth and set it over a deep bowl/pot.
4. Pour the milk mixture into the strainer and let drain for 15 minutes. Gather the cheesecloth around the curds and squeeze gently to extract any excess liquid. And you have warm fresh ricotta 

* Homemade ricotta is best served slightly warm, or keep it refrigerated for up to three days, if desired.

* The liquid that is drained out is whey. You can throw it out, or I save it to use in place of milk for my cooking & baking.

Dec 7, 2012

Organic Baby Steps

Organic food never really caught my attention. Probably because there wasn't a need for it, and probably because I've always thought it was boring. Unfortunately, eyes are opened to these things when one gets some sort of allergy to regular foodstuff, or a need to avoid all the preservatives and chemicals that are in practically everything we buy off the shelves these days ... or unless one is a health nut ... or ok, just wanting to be healthy ... the right way. 

A while back, I was put into a situation where I had to guest post something healthy. And was I in a fix! I realized then how little I know about eating healthy besides the couple of vitamin pills that I pop every now and then .... whenever I remember. (I have absolutely no discipline when it comes to these things). 
So I made a quinoa something-or-other for the guest post, and got totally hooked to it ... hubby still says it's rabbit food and refuses to have anything to do with it. 
But whaddaya know? Healthy food can be tasty. 
I need to learn more about this organic culture. Just out of curiosity. 

I was fortunate to be invited (thanks to Veronica @ Quay Po Cooks) to spend half a day with some fellow bloggers and the local media to experience a very educational session about Ozganics, a homegrown, award winning Australian brand, founded by Anni Brownjohn. Such a bubbly lady ....
She had 2 other chefs (Chef Ryan and Chef Loke) assisting her in a cooking demo ... great job, guys! 

There's a wide range of products, these are just a few (the lemon chicken sauce was used in the cooking demo). You can find more at Jaya Grocer.

Chef Ryan whipped up the most delicious tasting Organic Sprouted Wheat Multigrain Bread ... I could eat the whole loaf. (Note to self: must make this soon!)

The bread went beautifully with my favorite dish of the day .... Moroccan Chicken with Lemon and Olives. And the sauce was right out of a bottle! Who needs to be a cook-from-scratch snob when this is so easy and so delicious! This dish was also very well paired with quinoa ... yes! quinoa! ... that healthy thingy that I'm so in love with! Will amazement never cease!

The other 2 dishes on the menu: Thai Pumpkin Soup and Watermelon and Feta Salad. The soup and salad also had sauces and dressings from a bottle ... Ozganics, of coz.
We had a taste of 3 different kinds of dressing for the salad ... garlic, lemon myrtle and avocado. I honestly thought I'd prefer the avocado before I'd tasted it, but the feta overpowered the mildness of it as well as the lemon myrtle that in the end, the garlic dressing was a better compliment. 

Waiting for those dishes to be ready was the most agonizing part ... thank goodness nobody heard the orchestra doing a crescendo in my tummy.

~ Feeding a hungry horde ~

And for the more inquiring minds ....

Definition of Organic:
(sourced from wiki)

~ no human sewage sludge fertilizer used in cultivation of plants or feed of animals (organic meat). The livestock must be reared with regular access to pasture and without the routine use of antibiotics or growth hormones.
~ avoidance of synthetic chemical inputs not on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (e.g. fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives, etc.), genetically modified organisms, irradiation, and the use of sewage sludge.
~ use of farmland that has been free from prohibited synthetic chemicals for a number of years (often, three or more).

And having authentic Organic Certification means:

~ keeping detailed written production and sales records (audit trail).
~ maintaining strict physical separation of organic products from non-certified products.
~ undergoing periodic on-site inspections.

In some countries, certification is overseen by the government, and commercial use of the term organic is legally restricted. Certified organic producers are also subject to the same agricultural, food safety and other government regulations that apply to non-certified producers.

So, even if you get a product that has a bunch of logos plastered on the label, that doesn't really mean it's certified organic. To be certified organic, products must be grown and manufactured in a manner that adheres to standards set by the country they are sold in. And in this case, Ozganics is certified by NASAA (The National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia) and holds international recognition.

I came out of that session much smarter than I went in. There's still much to learn about organic foods. And I specifically am interested mainly in the dishes I can whip up with it. The only downside about organic products is that they're costly, and I don't mean a smidgen in difference, but quite a significant one. Hopefully that'll change sometime soon.

Thanks again to the organizers, Anni Brownjohn, Chef Ryan, Chef Loke, Jaya Grocer @ Empire, Nourish!, QuayPo Cooks for the invite and fellow bloggers who contributed to an enjoyable afternoon. Nice meeting all of you!