Sunday, December 2, 2012

Malaysian Roti Canai & Dhall Curry

I've always wanted to learn how to make Roti Canai. My last attempt over 20 years ago was a disaster, and since then I've felt sure that the Art of Tossing Roti was beyond the reach of mere mortals.

Actually... roti canai is totally doable! And there's no reason why you can't make it yourself at home. Healthier too!

Fluffy, light roti that is soft inside and crispy outside. Bottom left: dough balls generously oiled and rested, ready
to shape and flip; Flipped roti that is paper thin; The delicious end product.

The basic roti canai recipe has only three ingredients - flour, salt and water. Oil, margarine or ghee are used to oil the dough mixture. Variations of this recipe include condensed milk, eggs and/or sugar. Here's my favorite recipe for roti canai, followed by a recipe for a simple dhall curry. I prefer high gluten flour as this gives a more pliable dough, but all purpose flour is more readily available and will do the job. I like to add egg to the roti dough mixture to increase the protein content. I use a Kitchenaid mixer to do the kneading, but it's just as easy by hand.

Ingredients for Roti Canai
Makes 4-5 roti
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 egg
3/4 cup water (approximately)
1/4 cup vegetable oil (approximately)
  1. With the dough hook attachment on low speed, mix the flour and salt in the mixing bowl. 
  2. Add the egg, and most of the water, mixing on low speed. Continue adding water until the dough holds together in a soft ball, but not sticky. If it gets sticky, add a little flour. Knead for 5 minutes.
  3. Portion the dough into small plum-sized balls, one-by-one. As each ball is formed, generously slather with oil and place in a bowl. The coat of oil will keep the dough balls separate while the dough rests.
  4. Rest the dough balls for at least 4 hours, or overnight in the fridge (take out of the fridge an hour before shaping).
  5. Flipping or Tossing the Roti: The best video tutorial on this technique is found at Lesley Tan's video blog and I suggest you practice a couple of times with a hanky first. 
  6. Preheat your largest flat pan on low heat before starting to shape and flip the roti. 
  7. Oil your hands and the work surface before picking up a dough ball. Use your palms to flatten the dough ball into a round disk. Flip and fold the roti as shown in the video. 
  8. Drizzle some oil on the pan, then drop the folded roti onto the pan. Cook about 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. 
  9. Serve with dhall curry (recipe below).

Ingredients for Dhall Curry
Yellow dhall

1 cup yellow dhall (also known as chana dhall / dal / dhal)
1 stick cinnamon*
1 knob ginger, sliced
1 star anise*
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon mustard seed*
About 5 sprigs of curry leaves (30 leaves)
1 tomato, cut into 8 wedges*
1 potato, cubed*
1 small eggplant*, cut into wedges
Salt to taste
  1. Rinse the dhall a few times. Add enough water to cover the dhall, then soak the dhall for four hours or overnight. 
  2. Add the cinnamon, ginger, garlic, star anise, tumeric, mustard seed and curry leaves to the soaked dhall. Boil the dhall for 30 minutes until tender. Skim off any foam that forms.
  3. Add the potato and cook for another 20 minutes.
  4. Add the eggplant and tomato and cook for another 15 minutes until tender.
  5. Add salt to taste and serve with roti canai.
I hope you have fun flipping roti canai! Let me know how it goes! :)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hearty 30 minute Chicken Soup: The Instant Pot Chronicles

Hearty, easy chicken soup can be conjured up in 30 minutes with the Instant Pot. On the stove-top, this sort of soup would normally take 3-4 hours. (By the way, thanks 'Anonymous' for your request and keep 'em coming!)

Hearty chicken soup mmm mmm yum

This is my basic recipe for chicken soup and I make it at least once a month. I make a big pot and eat it all week. I love chicken soup! It's a great cold remedy and anytime-pick-me-up. It is low-carber friendly too.

(for about 5 quarts of soup)
1 small whole chicken (4-5 lbs)
1 whole bulb of garlic
2 stalks celery
2 carrots
1 bunch parsley (about 5 stalks)
1 thumb-sized knob of ginger
2 tablespoons salt
6 cups water 


  1. Place the chicken in the Instant Pot.
  2. Cut the carrots and celery diagonally into large pieces. Cut the parsley into 2 inch long sections, stems and all.  Cut the ginger into thick slices. Separate the garlic bulb into cloves and peel the skins off each clove. 
  3. Add all the vegetables into the Instant Pot. 
  4. Add the salt and the water. 
  5. Place the lid on the Instant Pot, set the pressure valve to 'seal' and select 'Poultry', which will give 15 minutes of pressure cooking. (It will take about 15 minutes for the liquid inside to come to a boil and build up pressure, then it will pressure cook for 15 minutes. Total cook time 30 minutes).
  6. After the Instant Pot has worked it magic on the ingredients you placed inside it, fish the chicken out and set it on a large plate to cool a bit. Then pull all the meat off the bones. Return the meat to the soup as large chunks, or after chopping into smaller pieces, depending on what you prefer). 
  7. Serve warm. Happy eating!

Optional Ingredients
To this basic chicken soup recipe, you can add pretty much anything you like to jazz it up. I add serano or jalapeno peppers for some extra heat. Or ginseng root as a real pick-me-up.

Anticlockwise L-R: Parsley, carrot, celery, garlic, ginseng root, ginger root, chicken.

What's your favorite chicken soup recipe? Would love to hear from you!

Next up in the Instant Pot Chronicles - Herbal Chicken Soup that will cure almost anything, even a broken heart. :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rainbow Fruit Skewers for Wedding Hors D'oeuvres Reception Party

So today I did a practice run to estimate how much of each fruit would be needed for 100 fruit kebabs for Kim and Jeff's Big Day.

You will need a pack of 8 inch bamboo skewers ($3.95 free ship on Amazon)

Tell me these aren't gorgeous. :)
Here's the breakdown
  • Purple Grape - 1 lb
  • Blue Berries - 1 pint
  • Green Kiwi - 9 kiwis
  • Yellow Pineapple - 1 medium
  • Orange Cantaloupe - 1 small
  • Red Strawberries - 4 lbs

  • Chill all fruit thoroughly. The cantaloupe and pineapple should be chilled overnight. 
  • Before food prep, wash and sanitize hands.
  • Prep each fruit in turn, returning to chiller as soon as prepared. 
    • Pick grapes off stems. Rinse.
    • Rinse blueberries
    • Peel kiwi. Cut into half lengthwise, then into another six cubes. 1 kiwi = 12 cubes
    • Cut skin off pineapple. Cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
    • Cut skin off cantaloupe. Cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
    • Cut the tops off strawberries. Leave a uniform 3/4 inch from tip to end, for each strawberry.
  • Assemble the skewers. Do this quickly, returning to chiller as soon as completed. 
  • Keep covered and chilled till service time. And serve on a platter sat on ice to keep cold. 

Alternatives for Colors
  • Purple - blackberries
  • Green - grapes
  • Yellow - mango
  • Orange - orange!
  • Red - watermelon, raspberries

What do you think? What other fruit would you use? What about fruit shapes? I love hearing from you!

xo Gracie 

p.s. It would be AWESOME if you could click on any ad here - my sponsors give me a few cents per click. Thanks for supporting my blog!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

OvaEasy Powdered Whole Eggs Review: Delicious!

I packed one 4.5 oz sachet of  OvaEasy powdered whole eggs for two breakfasts and one lunch during a three day Laurel Highlands hike back in June.

The Meal Plan
As one 4.5 oz sachet yields 12 eggs AND two scoops (scoop comes with sachet) = 1 1/2 eggs, I planned for two people:
  • Breakfast Day 2: Scrambled eggs (4 1/2 eggs)
  • Breakfast Day 3: Scrambled eggs (4 1/2 eggs)
  • Lunch Day 3: Egg and chicken burrito (3 eggs and Future Essentials freeze-dried chicken cubes)                                                              

Scrambled Egg Prep
It's 2 scoops OvaEasy to 3 scoops of water. I measured 6 scoops of OvaEasy into our much-loved Titanium Snowpeak 1.1 L ultralight pot, added 9 scoops of spring water and stirred well with a spoon (ultralight titanium of course :p). I added a generous tablespoon of organic ghee for that delicious buttery flavor, and scrambled as per the usual way, over our Primus stove. Sprinkled some sea salt and dug in! A quick hearty breakfast in under 10 minutes.

The cheapest I've found for sachets are $18 (three sachets, free ship) on Amazon. That works out to only 50 cents per egg. The cans are slightly cheaper (43 cents per egg) - if you order over $100 of product from The Ready Store, shipping is free. There are six 4.5 oz sachets in one #10 can.

These OvaEasy eggs taste so good. They taste like fresh eggs. I wouldn't be able to tell the difference. A quick and hearty breakfast in under 10 minutes.

Have you tried these? What's your favorite brand?

xo Gracie

p.s. It would be AWESOME if you could click on any ad here - my sponsors give me a few cents per click. Thanks for supporting my blog!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Instant Pot Baby Back Ribs: Easy and Yum!

Rib Lovers Unite! Here's a recipe that's super easy, takes only 30 minutes pressure cooking with my Multi-Function Instant Pot, and will hit that spot without hard-hitting your wallet. That's right, you read me right. Thirty minute pressure cooked ribs. (Read my review of the Instant Pot HERE).

I've made it twice using the Instant Pot so far and both times it produced fall-off-the-bone tender and tasty ribs that the entire family LOVED. Made from scratch with no additives, MSG, preservatives, or high fructose corn syrup, these ribs are actually, healthy. Recipe adapted for the Instant Pot from Scott Hibb's famous rib recipe , minus the onion and whiskey. I'm actually salivating as I plug away at this blog post!

Sorry blur iPhone pic taken with rib-sticky fingers
- I nearly forgot to even take this one pic!

(for 6 large half racks of baby backs, feeding 6)
Three 2 lb slabs of baby back ribs (7 lbs or about 3 kg total)
3 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon fine ground cayenne powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder (Love Frontier's organic one)
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 cup apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg's)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon liquid smoke flavoring
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/8 cup water
*The fresh ribs are about $25 from Restaurant Depot. The finished ribs cost about $150 in a restaurant. 

  1. Prep the ribs by removing the membrane that covers the inner part of the ribs. This allows the flavor and seasonings to penetrate the meat. (See a video tutorial HERE).
  2. Lay the ribs out on a large tray. You'll season one side first, then the other side. On one side, sprinkle on half the salt, cayenne powder, black pepper, garlic powder. Repeat with the rest of these seasonings on the other side.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the tomato paste, vinegar, sugar, molasses, honey and liquid smoke. Pour this sauce over the ribs. Turn over to coat the other side.
  4. Arrange the ribs in the Instant Pot, meaty part facing outward and sort of nestled circular-like (see pic). Pour the sauce from the tray into the Pot. 
  5. Seasoned ribs in the Instant Pot ready to go
  6. Place the lid on the Pot, set the pressure valve to 'seal' and select 'Stew', which will give 30 minutes of pressure cooking. It will take 15-20 minutes for the liquid inside to come to a boil and build up pressure, then it will pressure cook for 30 minutes. So total cook time including prep is about an hour.
  7. When the time is up, pull out the ribs and arrange on a tray. 
  8. Preheat the oven to grill on 'Low'.
  9. Reduce the liquid left in the pot to a basting sauce by heating it on high in a saucepan for 5-10 minutes. Stir the cornstarch with the 1/8 cup of water, then add that to the reduced sauce to thicken it. Stir vigorously while adding the cornstarch solution. At this point, taste and adjust salt and sugar as you prefer.
  10. Baste the ribs generously with the basting sauce. Place the basted ribs in the oven for 5 minutes for a beautiful char-grilled finish.
  11. Enjoy!
Do you have a favorite no-fail rib recipe to share? I welcome you to try mine and let me know how it turned out for you!

xo Gracie 

p.s. It would be AWESOME if you could click on any ad here - my sponsors give me a few cents per click. Thanks for supporting my blog!

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake Bar None

My quest for the best ever vanilla cupcake began two months before Kimby's bridal shower. I decided to add fondant decorated cupcakes to the dessert list, which included my signature fruit-filled sponge cake. My inspiration was Cousin Yoonie's exquisite fondant decorated cupcakes, which are *almost* too beautiful to eat (see one lovely creation HERE). Thanks for all your help and advice Yoon, this blog post is dedicated to you.

Recipe Testing
I first tested three promising recipes and then chose the best - this was Stef's Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake. My cousin's kindly-provided recipe was incredibly buttery and flavorful, but denser than the Ultimate. Julie Hanson's Very Vanilla Cupcake was also dense and not as tasty. The Ultimate was very light and airy, less buttery (as it had half oil half butter). I believe the secret of it's lightness lies in the 'reverse creaming' method. My quest for the perfect vanilla cupcake ended with the Ultimate.

Very Important 
  • The first time I made it, it had 'tunnels' going through the cupcake. This meant my gas oven got too hot, which it tends to do if I let it go for too long. For the next three batches, I was careful to keep temperature at 350 degrees F and each batch was good.
  • All the ingredients MUST be at room temperature for this to work.
  • Use a good quality vanilla bean, and pure vanilla extract. This is a vanilla cupcake after all. :) I love the premium bourbon-Madagascar vanilla bean by J.R. Mushroom & Specialities. At less than $1 per bean, these are value for money.

(makes 16 cupcakes)
1 cup sugar (225 g)
1 vanilla bean
1 3/4 cups flour (175 g)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter (57 g)
2 eggs
1/3 cup sour cream (75 g)
1/4 cup vegetable oil (60 ml)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup whole milk (160 ml)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C).
  2. In a small bowl, combine sugar and vanilla bean seeds.
  3. In the stand mixer bowl with paddle beater attached, put flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Mix on speed 2 for 3 minutes.
  4. Add butter. Mix for another 3 minutes.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk eggs, cream, oil and vanilla till combined.
  6. Add the egg mixture all in one go to the flour mix. Mix till well combined (1 minute). Scrape down the sides of the bowl halfway through.
  7. Add milk to the batter and mix till very smooth (3 minutes). No lumps! Batter will be thin-ish.
  8. Transfer batter to jug for easy pouring into cupcake liners. 
  9. Fill liners half full and no more. 
  10. Bake 14 minutes or until test skewer comes out clean. Test every minute after minute 14 until skewer comes out clean. 
I love these with swiss meringue buttercream (SMB), which are not as sweet and which contain protein from the egg whites. SMB is also addictive and you could be sucking silky luscious spoonfuls down before you even realise it!

Vanilla cupcakes with swiss meringue buttercream piped roses and topped with fondant butterflies

Making Ahead
The cupcakes can be made up to 3 days ahead, and kept in an airtight container so they don't dry out. They can also apparently be frozen for up to a month, but I haven't tried that.

Have you a favorite cupcake recipe to share? I am always on the lookout for favorite / family recipes and would love love love to try yours out. Please do leave a comment!

xo Gracie

p.s. It would be AWESOME if you could click on any ad here - my sponsors give me a few cents per click. Thanks for supporting my blog!

Powdered Eggs: What's Cheap and Good?

I did a thorough review and price comparison of powdered egg options on Amazon. I didn't want to buy too much, just in case they tasted horrid, so I kept my price comparison to product under $20.

Eggs-tra Cheap
At 20 cents per egg, Honeyville Powdered Eggs was cheapest. But since it comes in a 2.25 lb can (96 eggs, $19.09), I was sure there would be wastage. The thing is, once the can is opened, the eggs will start sucking up ambient moisture. They need to be eaten within two weeks or they'll go bad. Hmm... 96 eggs in two weeks? No thanks. Also, these eggs received mixed reviews.

Hoosier Farm Whole Powdered Eggs were also cheap at 24 cents per egg. However, these came in a 1 lb bag (42 eggs, $9.99). I could probably finish the package within two weeks of opening, but did I really want to eat all that powdered egg? Besides, nobody has seen fit to review the product yet.

OvaEasy powdered whole eggs, at 51 cents per egg (for the 3 pack of 4.5 oz sachets, $18.49) was more than double the cost of the Honeyville and Hoosier bulk eggs. However, the advantage was that each pack containing 12 eggs-worth, could be used pack-by-pack. I used one pack for three meals over a three day hiking trip and found this portion size to be perfect for my needs.

Barry Farm Whole Egg Powder was the most pricey at 60 cents per egg (8 oz bag = 21 eggs, $12.76). I read the reviews. Most of them were mediocre except for one that said they were cheaper than Honeyville and tasted just as good. I'm not sure where that reviewer got his figures from, but I certainly wasn't going to buy these eggs!

Gracie's Pick
I got OvaEasy. They taste so fresh, and are great scrambled, especially with organic ghee. Other brands don't seem to scramble as well according to the reviewers. And the sachet portion size is a plus. Next time, I will save by buying in bulk!

What's your pick? Would love to hear from you.

xo Gracie

p.s. It would be AWESOME if you could click on any ad here - my sponsors give me a few cents per click. Thanks for supporting my blog!

OvaEasy Egg and Freeze Dried Chicken Burritos: Backpacking Gourmet!

I made this for a quick hot lunch during a hike in the Laurel Highlands.

Two scoops (= 3 eggs) of OvaEasy powdered whole eggs
1/2 C freeze dried peas from Future Essentials
1 C natural freeze-dried diced chicken from Future Essentials
1 T grass-fed organic ghee from Purity Farms
1 1/2 C water
Salt & pepper to taste
4 large tortillas

I mixed all the ingredients together in our titanium cook pot, and stirred with a spoon (yes we like titanium) as the mix warmed and cooked over our Primus Omnifuel stove. It took about 10 minutes to cook. Then about 1/2 cup of the egg and chicken filling was spooned onto each tortilla, and rolled up.

The eggs were $1.50 (based on calculations from a previous post). Peas were $1 and chicken was about $2. Each burrito worked out to $3.

This was a delicious meal. The freeze-dried peas and chicken, and the powdered eggs, rehydrated beautifully and adding the ghee to the filling gave it a buttery flavor. The ghee also adds some good fat which would keep us full longer. I would definitely make this again.

xo Gracie 

p.s. It would be AWESOME if you could click on any ad here - my sponsors give me a few cents per click. Thanks for supporting my blog!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Toddlers' Cooking Class: Rainbow Fruit Kebabs

Oh boy I had a blast today with four adorable toddlers and their moms, making 'Rainbow-on-a-Stick'!

Rainbows-on-a-stick fruit kebabs with grapes, blueberries, kiwi, pineapple, cantaloupe and strawberries

After a quick intro and donning of aprons and the cutest chef hats ever, I fished out a picture of a rainbow and went through the colors with the kids. Gosh do they know their colors! Then I had a giveaway: if they guessed the fruit correctly, they would get to take it home. Basil took home the kiwi fruit, and the rest of the kids snagged apples!

We started by taking the tops off the strawberries and cutting them in half. Then the kiwis were cut into bite sized squares. After that everyone got a 1/2" slab of cantaloupe and their pick of mini cookie cutter shapes (butterfly, lily, daisy, bell), and went to town cutting out fruit shapes. Ditto with the watermelon slabs. The pineapple cubes were done with the Curious Chef kid safe knives - these worked really well and it was a huge relief not having to worry about any accidents.

After all the cutting, chopping, slicing and dicing - it was just like Masterchef! - I handed out bamboo skewers (with the sharp points snipped off), put together a Rainbow-on-a-Stick as an example, then let the kids at it. Everyone did so well!

At the end of the class, I brought out some apples, carrots, celery and lemon and had everyone pick out their fruit-veg combo to run through the juicer. I'm glad to be getting more use out of my Green Star Twin Gear Juice Extractor. Since it's a triturating juicer (not a centrifugal one), it doesn't 'cook' the juice and it extracts a whole lot more juice. Oh, I also served up some wontons for everyone to sample. I think they liked it :)

The set up: Kids would come up and get the fruit to cut and we worked our way down the list.

Next up, we are going to make Pizza from scratch! I think the kids will have fun kneading and rolling out the dough, and putting their favorite toppings on their personal pizza. For more information on the classes I offer, click HERE. Classes start from $10 per person per class!

Do you cook with your kids? Kids can be such great helpers in the kitchen. What are your favorite kids' recipes?

xo Gracie 

p.s. It would be AWESOME if you could click on any ad here - my sponsors give me a few cents per click. Thanks for supporting my blog!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Toddlers' Cooking Classes: Kids can Cook!

I'm looking forward to my first toddlers' cooking class at the end of this month! I've taught kids how to cook for years, but they have mostly been ages six and up. When my friend Amy asked about cooking classes for her three year-old, I thought "Why not?". Of course, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it would be very possible to have cooking classes for kids that age, that are safe, impart some cool kitchen skills, and fun!

I've planned a healthy and fun dish for this upcoming class. I ordered some kid safe knives, and aprons and chef hats. I have up to four kids per class, which is a manageable number for me - allows me to give each one lots of attention and get a lot of interaction in.

Stay tuned for my report on how well the kids did!

    xo Gracie

    p.s. It would be AWESOME if you could click on any ad
    here - my sponsors give me a few cents per click. Thanks for
    supporting my blog!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Asian Shrimp Cucumber Salad Recipe

Cucumber salad with sesame ginger lime dressing is one of my favorite salads, and today I dressed it up with shrimp for Kim's bridal shower. I've seen variations of this 'asian' salad all over the internet, but I prefer mine the best. It has just the right balance of sweet, sour, salty, and the 'umami' that imparts something extra special to this refreshing summer salad. The recipe below makes enough for four (1/2 cup) servings of salad.

A really delicious salad

One hothouse cucumber
One large knob of ginger (about thumb-sized), ground into a paste. (I use a mortar and pestle)
One clove garlic, finely minced
Juice from one lime
2 T apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg's organic raw unfiltered ACV)
1 T coconut palm sugar. This is delicious sugar from the sap of coconut palm flower buds.
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp sesame seeds, toasted
1 cup cooked shrimp (optional)

The sliced cucumber awaits its ginger sesame lime dressing. 

  1. Use a fork to rake lines down the length of the cucumber. (when sliced, looks prettier).
  2. Slice the cucumber in half, length-wise. Then slice each halve into thin slices. Place in bowl.
  3. Into a smaller bowl, place the lime juice, apple cider vinegar, coconut palm sugar, salt, fish sauce, and sesame oil. Mix well.
  4. Pour the dressing over the sliced cucumber, add shrimp and sesame seeds. Toss to coat the cucumber and shrimp evenly with the dressing.
  5. Taste and adjust seasoning to suit your tastes.
  6. Serve immediately, or keep covered in refrigerator for up to a day before serving. 
The coconut palm sugar can be substituted with regular sugar. You may omit the fish sauce and use 1/4 tsp more salt, or you can also substitute the fish sauce with soy sauce. Rice vinegar or white vinegar can be used in place of apple cider vinegar. I prefer cooking the shrimp myself rather than using the ready-cooked shrimp. I marinate about 1 1/2 cup of raw shrimp in 1/4 tsp salt, dash white pepper, one clove garlic (minced), then quick fry in 2 T peanut oil. 

Where to obtain ingredients? I am able to buy most of what I need at the Strip District in Pittsburgh - I use natural ingredients, with no MSG or preservatives, in my cooking. 

What's your favorite cucumber salad recipe? How did you like mine? Would love to hear from you!

xo Gracie 

p.s. It would be AWESOME if you could click on any ad here - my sponsors give me a few cents per click. Thanks for supporting my blog!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Ultimate Zucchini Fries Recipe

Zucchini fever abounds as the zucchini plants - if you unsuspectingly planted more than one - yield more zucchini than you could possibly eat, use, or give away. The fruit seem to double in size overnight. I once missed picking a zucchini hidden deep within the lush gargantuan mother bush. By the time I realised it was there, it had grown to the size of a log!

I digress. You are here maybe because you love zucchini fries and want the ultimate zucchini fries recipe, which I am 99.9999% sure I possess. Or maybe you're already up to *here* with zucchini bread, zucchini pancakes, zucchini casserole, grilled zucchini, zucchini stir fry, and any other way you could think of to utilize all that zucchini. You have come to the right place, my friend.

The ultimate zucchini fries

My zucchini fries are delicious and crispy, with a satisfying crunch every eager bite, and giving way to a sweet juicy flavor-bursting center. What's more, they stay crispy for a long time rather than getting flaccid soon after emerging from the deep fryer. The recipe has been tested by hundreds of people at the farmers markets I set up at. The general sentiment is 'amazing' and even kids who don't like veggies like these fries.

You'll need the following for a large zucchini (about 1.5 - 2 lbs):
5 cups of vegetable oil for frying (peanut oil is best)
1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 cup corn flour
1 tablespoon rice flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons oil
About 180 ml water

  1. Cut the zucchini into generous sized fingers, like thick cut fries or even thicker (I like mine thick).  If the center is watery and full of seeds, you can remove and discard the center (I use it all). Zucchini 'fingers' taste sooo much better than the usual long-sliced version, and you get more zucchini than batter too. Set aside.
  2. Start heating the 5 cups of frying oil in your fryer. I use a good quality carbon steel wok. Heat to 350 F. How do you know it's hot enough? You can either use a thermometer (candy or deep fry type) or wing it. I do it the old-fashioned Chinese way - I place my hand palm down over the surface of the oil (but not touching it!) and the heat coming off it tells me if oil is hot enough. 
  3. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a medium sized mixing bowl.
  4. Add about 1/2 cup of water to the dry ingredients, stirring vigorously till you get a smooth even paste. Then keep adding water bit by bit, stirring after each addition, till you get a smooth, thick batter. How thick? Like pancake batter. Try dipping a zucchini finger into the batter mix - the finger should come out completely coated, not runny. 
  5. Next, add the 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil and mix well. 
  6. Frying will be done in two batches. Put a few fingers into the batter, coating them well. Pull them out of the batter one by one, dropping them into the frying oil as you go. Repeat till half the fingers are battered and in the hot oil. Separate any fingers that are sticking together. I use my wok spatula and extra long cooking chopsticks for this. 
  7. In about 5 minutes, the fries should be golden brown on the outside. It might take less time or more - just go by the 'golden brown' rule. Take the fries out, letting the excess oil drain off as much as possible. I use a bamboo strainer to extricate the fries from the hot oil. 
  8. Enjoy! I love zucchini fries with ketchup!
What's your favorite dip for zucchini fries? Or do you just enjoy them plain? Do you have a favorite time-tested zucchini fries recipe? I LOVE to hear from you - please leave a comment!

xo Gracie 

 p.s. It would be AWESOME if you could click on any ad here - my sponsors give me a few cents per click. Thanks for supporting my blog!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Paper Souffle Cups vs Nut Cups for Baking Cupcakes: Food Safe?

I've been baking a LOT of cupcakes and testing recipes. And I've been eating them too. Hey somebody's gotta be the quality control supervisor right? After finishing my existing stock of solid colored standard paper cupcake liners, I bought a pack of Wilton Unbleached Standard Baking Cups, 75 Count paper cupcake liners. While these work great (peels off the cuppies easily with no wastage), they don't hold up well by themselves. They need muffin pans. I remembered my cousin Yoonie's cupcake liners were stiff and lovely to bake-n-serve in, and started looking for those.

This was when I found out that Wilton Nut Cups (see pic and link on right) are not oven safe and not food safe, thus are a Big No No for baking cupcakes. At first glance they looked similar to the ones Yoonie uses. But reading the forums online, the waxy coating that lines the inside of the cups are not heat-stable. When exposed to the high temps in the oven, I imagine this coating would melt and contaminate the cupcakes. Some said the odor is remniscent of burning plastic even. :S

Continuing my hunt for a food safe paper cup suitable for cupcake baking, I came across these Paper Souffle Portion cups! These are made for baking souffles, although they can double up as cups for serving sauces, condiments, dressings, medicines, and yes, nuts too. Perfect. The Webstaurant Store stocks the Solo brand 1.25 oz paper souffle cups (250 cups for $4.29 plus $8 shipping to my home). These measure 2 inches across at the top of the cup, thus are the standard size for cupcakes.

No prizes for guessing which ones I ordered :p

Find these paper souffle cups at The Webstaurant Store

By the way, I believe I have found the perfect vanilla cupcake recipe and the perfect not-too-sweet, silky smooth swiss meringue buttercream frosting to top it. Stay tuned for my upcoming post!

xo Gracie

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Review of Instant Pot 6-in-1 Pressure Cooker 6.33 qt

I was about to buy myself a new stainless steel rice cooker when I came across the Instant Pot® IP-LUX60 6-in-1 Programmable Pressure Cooker, 6.33qt, Latest 3rd Generation Technology, Stainless Steel Cooking Pot and Exterior (wow that's a mouthful) in stainless steel and got that instead. It turned out to one of the best buys I've made in a while!

Perfect fluffy grains of rice from the Instant Pot

What I look for in a rice cooker
  • Stainless steel. NO aluminum.
  • Large capacity - at least 25 cups cooked rice (the Pot is 6.33 quarts or about 25 cups, thusly 10 cups raw rice)
  • Perfect cooked rice 
  • Keep warm function that won't result in 'crusty bottomed rice'
Instant Pot Magic
The Instant Pot does all the above, and more. It also functions as a pressure cooker and steamer. You can even tell it to have dinner ready by say 7 pm, and it will magically produce a dish that makes you seem to have slaved over all day. (just a small exaggeration). But yes, you can throw all ingredients into the pot in the morning before going off to work, and program it to have your chilli, stew, casserole etc ready for dinner and it will automatically do it for you. 

So Far So Awesome
So far the Pot has conjured up chicken-falling-off-the-bone soup in 15 minutes, unbelievably tender and succulent baby back ribs in 30 minutes, and delicious fluffy rice in about 10 minutes.

Ribs in 30 minutes? For Real?
The '30 minutes' really means cook time under pressure, after the Pot has built up sufficient pressure to go into Super Pressure Cook Mode. So the actual total cook time would be the time it takes to heat up to Pressure + number of minutes in Super Pressure Cook Mode. For the baby back ribs, it was an amazing 40 minutes total. Ain't that something? None of my guests believed me, though that didn't stop them from devouring every tender tasty rib. Heck I wouldn't have believed me either, if I hadn't set the Pot timer myself!

Gracie's Verdict
The Instant Pot has met all my 'must-a-haves' in a rice cooker, with the bonus of an incredibly time- and energy-saving pressure cooker, in an easy-to-use design. I'll be sure to update if I find something I don't like about it, but right now I'm in the Honeymoon Phase! *love*

Would love to hear your experiences using the Instant Pot - Like, Love or Blech? :) Leave a comment!

xo Gracie

Asian Cooking Ingredients & Seasonings with No MSG, No Preservatives, No High Fructose Corn Syrup: Gracie's Pantry

I take great pains to find and use good ingredients in my cooking. Some of the most used seasonings in my pantry are sea salt, sesame oil, soy sauce (thin and thick), oyster sauce, fish sauce, ground white pepper, corn starch, garlic (fresh and powdered), five spice powder, cumene, coriander (fresh leaves and ground seed), fennel (ground seed), chilli paste.

It can be very difficult to find soy, oyster and fish sauces that do not contain MSG (monosodium glutamate) or preservatives (e.g., sodium benzoate, sodium bisulphite, potassium sorbate) and sometimes what is available can be pricey. Down at the Strip District in Pittsburgh I am limited in my choices, but still grateful that I can find many of the things I need and cheaply too. For those of you who can't get to the goodies at Asian grocer where you are, I have found the equivalent products (or better) on Amazon (see below right for Gracie's Amazon Picks). In most cases, buying online costs more than buying at the Asian grocer - I'll list the prices so you can compare.

Gracie's Strip District Picks!                                                                                                                            Gracie's Amazon Picks! 

Oriental Mascot Oyster
Sauce $2.29, 16 oz.

This Oriental Mascot Oyster Sauce is the only one I can find that doesn't contain added MSG or preservatives. Other brands eg Lee Kum Kee, all contain them. Oriental Mascot sauce may contain gluten though, as HVP (hydrolyzed vegetable protein, this probably wheat) is one of the ingredients. I pay $2.29 for a 16 oz bottle (453 g or 420 ml). Ingredients: Water, sugar, salt, oyster extracts, corn starch, HVP and caramel. As this is made in Malaysia, the sugar is most likely cane sugar and not HFCS. However, I still use it sparingly in cooking my own food, because I avoid gluten as much as possible.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Backpacking Food: OvaEasy Powdered Whole Eggs

I'm planning a two night hike along the Laurel Highlands Trail next week and thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try making some meals with freeze-dried or dehydrated foods. Going crazy (how unlike me!), I ordered freeze-dried natural chicken, ground beef, diced tomato, peas, and a couple 4.5 oz of packs of  OvaEasy powdered whole eggs worth a whopping $80 total.

My usual low-carb diet consists lots of eggs, salads, lightly cooked veggies and meats. Fresh eggs and produce are kinda heavy and not very amenable to being lugged around in a backpack across miles of rugged terrain. Eggs crack, and make a stinking mess all over the insides of your bag. Well, ok, my bag (not pretty). And even tough veggies like carrots and cabbage are more than 90% water - I don't really wanna be mule-ing water weight, or any more weight than necessary.

So, I'm eager to put these dried and freeze-dried foods to the test and if they are at all edible, I could then plan for that three month Appalachian Trail hike that I've been dreaming of since I read A Walk In the Woods by Bill Bryson. Imagine being able to carry a month's worth of food and have my backpack weigh a mere 20 lbs.

One 4.5 oz sachet of the OvaEasy eggs reconstitutes to 12 eggs, thus would last me three days. Or, if I had four eggs for breakfast, then another four for lunch, and another four eggs for dinner, one sachet could feed me for a day. For a paltry $7 per sachet, that's pretty good! That's in theory of course. :)

I'll keep you posted as to how these taste. Stay tuned!

xo Gracie

p.s. It would be GREAT if you could click on any ad here - my sponsors give me a few cents per click. Thanks for supporting my blog!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cooking Classes in Natrona Heights

I started cooking classes featuring my most popular dishes. Cooking is fun and doesn't have to be complicated for the food to taste great. I like to keep things simple, so simple that kids can enjoy them too.

Classes are $60 to $80 for a 1-2 hour class, with four persons max per class. This includes all the ingredients, and you get to take home a delicious dish (or two) at the end of each class. I prefer to hold classes from 10 am to 5 pm, but can also do evening classes on occasion. Vegetarian and vegan options are also available for all my dishes. For More Information CLICK HERE.
I particularly enjoy the kids classes, and teach simple basic pizza, pies, breads, cookies, other baked goodies and family favorites.

The Nicholases stirring up some delicious fried rice!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Char Siew Quick, Easy, Authentic

So here's my char siew for cheaters. It's so easy it's almost foolproof, and it tastes quite like my Popo's delicious char siew barbequed pork. I get all my ingredients at the Strip District in Pittsburgh, but if you don't have access to any Asian grocers, you could purchase them online. I've compiled a list of ingredients that I use in my cooking, together with links to where you can buy them on Amazon (my review Here).

  • Pork, 1 kg (any kind of pork will do as long as it's in even cuts but the best is pork belly. Actually you can make char siew type chicken or any kind of meat)
  • Thick soy sauce, 2 tablespoons
  • Soy sauce, 2 tablespoons
  • Oyster sauce, 1 tablespoon
  • Honey, 2 tablespoons
  • Sugar, 2 tablespoons
  • Salt, 1 teaspoon
  • Sesame oil, 1 tablespoon
  • White pepper, 1 teaspoon
  • Five spice powder, 1 teaspoon
  • Chinese wine, 1 bowl
Simply put all the ingredients in a wok, bring to a boil then simmer for about 45 minutes. After that, uncover and keep cooking until sauce is reduced to a thick goo and until the meat is slightly charred (that's 'char' siew proper). Slice, serve and enjoy! (Now could that be any easier? :))

Tender and juicy char siew is perfectly paired with fluffy white rice

A click on any ad will put a few cents in my pocket, from the advertisers. Thanks for supporting my blog!

xo Gracie

Friday, April 13, 2012

Easy Peasy Pizza From Scratch

I make pizza once a week, it's cheap, easy, filling and reasonably healthy. Pizza dough from scratch is a lot easier than you may think. And it's so satisfying knowing I put all wholesome stuff in my pizza.

Pizza dough recipe (for 1 Large Pizza).
3/4 C warm water
1 T sugar
1 t yeast
1 t salt
2 T oil
2 C All purpose organic flour

1 small can tomato sauce mixed with 1/2 t of italian herbs
1 C mozzarella cheese, 1 C cheddar, 1 C colby/jack
Assorted cooked cubed meats and raw vegetables, 1 C each. I commonly use ground beef, pork sausage, ham, mushrooms, green peppers, tomatoes, pineapple, spinach, etc etc.

  1. Mix everything and knead for 5 minutes. The dough needs to be very pliable, almost bordering on sticky, but not sticky :)
  2. Rest 40 minutes to 1 hour until double. Rest in a warm place. 
  3. Roll out the pizza dough to about 1/4 inch thick. I like mine thin! Place on an oiled pizza baking pan.
  4. Preheat the oven to 500 deg F. That's VERY hot.
  5. Top the pizza. Start by liberally coating with the tomato sauce. Then sprinkle on half the cheese. Next, arrange all the meat and veggie cubes/slices. If using spinach, put this down first, then only all the other stuff. The really juicy veggies go on the very top because these won't burn/singe when baking. Finish with the rest of the cheese.
  6. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Slice and serve!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Home made Apple Pie

I made this pie for Spencer. It has apples from our tree. I made apple pie filling with them and put them in the deep freeze for whenever. The pie crust is flaky and buttery, and the apple filling is tart and slightly sweet. Vanilla ice cream is the perfect accompaniment.

Apple pie with flaky pie crust and not-to-sweet pie filling

Whenever we run out of our own home made ice cream, Breyers is an acceptable substitute :p

Double Pie Crust Recipe
3/4 C butter
5 T cold water
2 C flour
1 t salt

Apple pie filling Recipe
7 C apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 C sugar
2 T corn starch
1 t cinammon
1 t salt
2 T butter

  • To make the pastry, rub or cut the butter into flour until you get fine crumbs (I just use my Kitchenaid Professional 6 quart stand mixer :p. I use the flat beater, cut chunks of butter into the flour, and let rip for about 2 minutes on low speed until the mixture looks crumbly). 
  • Add water and mix until just combined, don't overwork the dough. Divide into two equal portions and roll each out between two sheets of wax paper till about 1/4 inch thickness (enough to cover the bottom of the pie dish, and also the top).
  • For the apple pie filling, just mix it all together, then fill into the crust. Carefully lay the top crust over, then seal and crimp the edges.
  • Bake for 1 hr at 400 deg F.
  • Try to keep yourself gainfully occupied and don't get too distracted by the delicious aroma of caramelizing apple wafting from the oven.
  • Hold off a little longer while the pie cools, then reward yourself with a nice warm slice topped with vanilla ice cream. Droooool.
xo Grace

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Monday, April 9, 2012

Smoothie ala Spencer

Spencer makes a sensational smoothie, hands down the best I've ever had. It's all in the ingredients, good stuff goes into his smoothies.

A Basic Recipe
1/2 cup fresh milk
1 banana
1/2 cup berries or fruit of any kind, e.g., papaya, mango, pineapple
3 ice cubes

We usually also put in a bunch of add-ons such as yoghurt (2 tablespoons), some sort of protein powder like hemp, flax, etc (1 scoop). For an extra decadent smoothie, add a scoop of ice cream....

Smoothie ingredients

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fudgy Double Choc Brownies

These are very decadent, sticky, fudgy, chocolatey brownies. It's impossible to stop at one!

1 C butter
2 C sugar (omg! :p)
4 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 C cocoa powder
1/2 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 C choc chips and/or coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

  1. Melt butter and sugar in good sized pot. When melted, remove from heat, stir in eggs, salt and vanilla till well combined.
  2. Add in the sifted together dry ingredients and mix well. Pour into a 9 x 9 inch pan. Sprinkle on walnuts or choc chips.
  3. Bake in 350 F (180 C) oven for 20 minutes or till toothpick comes out clean. 
  4. Enjoy!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Chinese New Year Pineapple Tart Roll Cookies Organic

Here's some very special part organic pineapple tarts I baked for Chinese New Year. I didn't have time or a blender to make the pineapple jam from scratch, but I bought a superb quality slightly sweet-sour jam from Bibun Bakery Supplies at Bukit Idaman. Why so special? Because each cookie is shaped like a pineapple and I use a teeny pair of scissors to snip the pineapple pattern on the dough. They take a long time to make (2 hours for 80 cookies). The crumb is very fine, buttery, melt in the mouth. From the pic you can see the ratio of pastry to filling. For me, it is just right :)

Pineapple Cookie Recipe
Pineapple jam 300 g
350 g organic flour
50 g corn starch
30 g icing sugar
250 g butter
1/4 t salt
1 t vanilla essence
4 egg yolks (2 for pastry and 2 for the egg wash)
Cloves (optional)
  • Roll out little oblong balls the size of your thumb (up to the knuckle). The pineapple jam should be firm enough to hold its shape. 

  • Sift the flour and starch together into a bowl
  • Sift the icing sugar into another mixing bowl, then add the softened (room temperature) butter, vanilla essence, salt. Beat with mixer till pale yellow and fluffy. Add 2 egg yolks and beat till combined. 
  • Add in flours and gently mix with spatula till just combined. Don't over mix or the pastry will be tough.
  • Take a small chunk of dough about twice the size of the pineapple ball filling and shape it into a ball, then flatten with thumb in the palm of your hand till quite thin (about 2 mm). 
  • Place the filling in the center of the pastry and fold over the edges, sealing it in. Then snip with scissors the pattern of pineapple 'eyes' onto the pastry. Stick a clove into the top of the 'pineapple' so it looks like the stalk. Brush with egg wash.
  • Bake in an 180 Celsius oven for 20 minutes. 
  • Enjoy!