Matcha Coconut Adzuki Bean Tart

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The week in a nutshell?

Well.

Perhaps an abundance of small happenings and details that cumulated to form the realisation that the smallest changes can indeed lead to drastic changes. Things like goal setting and reading affirmations out loud (even if just in a whisper) have a tremendous impact on how you start and go through your day. Meditation. Another thing I’ve gotten into again, more recently. So many things which, just 2 years ago, I may have scoffed at, brushed aside as heeby-jeeby, loco, substance-less stuff. An amazing Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library, and finally becoming a member of the Wellcome Library. Delicate, lasting pleasures.

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I here conclude that centre of mind should be centre of gravity. Slip-ups happen, a day isn’t always that great, and that’s ok. Walk off the woes. Write. It’s about returning to those small, good things, and staying confident in their life-giving properties which may only be discovered upon closer inspection. Like pouring tea into your teacup, or savouring your first bite of dinner, or reading without your phone buzzing. There is a secret bonhomie even in the most inane things, or inanimate objects.

So I made this tart on Monday, and there is one last slice in the fridge. Waiting there for me, as I sit here typing in Waterstones. Stiffened just to the right degree, with a thin blanket of coconut cream gently melted before the drizzle, and lovingly homemade sweet red adzuki beans. Can you tell Japan is still on my mind?

With matcha, coconut, black sesame and adzuki bean, there’s a lot going on, but there’s a lot going on well. Ecstasy possessed me upon my finding these beans in a health shop near where I stay. They take quite a while to cook but the result is so worth it. These rigid, dark beans are harder, darker and smaller than your normal red kidney beans, and add a nice firm texture to any soft, sweet dessert. Dense and more earthy in flavour. In fact, you could throw these guys into your lunchtime salad or pasta and it probably wouldn’t be half bad (here’s to a new idea for tonight). The filling is not too rich, achieved by mixing coconut cream, coconut yoghurt and plant milk in the right ratio. You could do it all just with coconut cream, but that would totally overwhelm the addition of matcha. The light blend ensures all the flavours come through at the same time. As I wrote in my journal that day, it is ‘so sweet, matcha-y and creamy…!!’ Clearly I was too excited to English properly. Also, no baking needed! Just a little fridge hibernation, so make this the night before to enjoy the next day, or in the morning if you’re the sort who has time at home, and enjoy later on.

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A creamy matcha coconut tart with a black sesame crust and sweet adzuki beans (Japanese red bean)

Matcha Adzuki Bean Coconut Tart (makes one 7/8-inch tart)

Ingredients

For the crust:

35g roasted black sesame seeds

2 tbsp (50g) tahini

8 large medjool dates (120g)

100g raw cashews

 

For the filling:

2 tbsp matcha powder

150g coconut cream, from a package or scoop out the solid bits from a tin of coconut milk, and save some extra to drizzle on top

150g coconut yoghurt or any other plant-based yoghurt of choice, e.g. soy/almond etc

120ml almond milk (or any other plant milk)

50ml (45g or 3-4 tbsp) maple or agave syrup

4.5g (about 1 tbsp) agar powder or vegan gelatin

half a teaspoon of fine salt

 

For the bean topping:

100g adzuki beans (pre-soaked for 2-3 hours, or you can soak them while your tart is setting in the fridge)

5 tbsp granulated/coconut sugar

water

Directions

Using sesame oil or any other oil/margarine (sesame works well here because it matches the flavour of the crust but you don’t have to, really), liberally brush the base and all corners and crevices of your tart tin. Your tin should have a removable bottom. The liberal oiling is important because it’s easy for the sticky crust to stick to the sides! Now in a food processor, blend together all the ingredients for the crust. Wet your hands to stop so much of the batter sticking to them, and press the mixture evenly into your tart tin. Use the bottom of a glass to help, if you want. Set aside for now.

In a saucepan, whisk together the ingredients for the filling. Place on high heat and bring to boil. Once it is boiling, immediately reduce heat to low, let the mixture simmer for 30 seconds, then take off the heat. Pour this on top of the prepared black sesame crust and spread evenly. Place the tart into the fridge to set nicely.

Meanwhile, make the adzuki beans. Wash your saucepan. Take your pre-soaked beans and place them in the saucepan. Fill with water until the beans are just covered, then cook on medium-high heat for an hour. Now go read something, chat with your mum or watch an episode of Friends. When you come back, the beans should be relatively soft. If not, cook for another 10 minutes. There should still be a little resistance when you use a wooden spoon to break a few beans. Now add the sugar and stir until everything is dissolved. Take off the heat and set aside.

Finally, drizzle some extra coconut cream on the tart, then top with the cooked beans. Et voila! Serve cold from the fridge and enjoy with some green tea or coffee.

And to end on an inspirational quote…

‘Consistency is the playground of dull minds’

Black Sesame Waffles and Lemon Curd

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Do you feel the same emotional high as I after creating a meaningful breakfast? Such that it ceases to be a shallow acquaintance in the morning, disappearing as fast as it appeared– head to table, then head to door. It’s so much more than that. It’s a tuning into the senses, savouring a myriad of plant-based foods that nourish and lighten the soul, the abundance of classic and sometimes unexpected flavours colouring the rest of your day with creativity and comfort.

Just as how some people have shaped and supplied your existence over x number of years, food too mirrors this truth. In clashing flavours, harmony is found.

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There’s no ‘right’ time to treat yourself. Lately I’ve been re-focussing once more on the importance of routine, which really does free up a lot of creative head space during the day. Suffice to say that, upon the first moments of rising, after a cleansing elixir of which recipe I modified from various parts of the Internet  (1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, juice of half a lemon, top up the rest of my 750ml glass with filtered water, mix mix mix), meditation, a short workout and mini journalling session, a generous, flavourful, exotic breakfast is always welcome.

Black sesame, matcha, red bean. These are the flavours which still call to be delivered on an almost-daily basis. The magical trip to Japan was bookmarked with earthy flavour, soil and icy freedom etched in the wintery grey skies. These waffles are a throwback to some charcoal waffles I used to travel far for back in Singapore, though are richer in traditional goma flavour instead of being just, well, black. The use of activated charcoal here helps the colour, though that is optional. What makes it special is a black sesame paste made of finely ground black sesame, maple syrup and sesame oil. The ratio of the paste is much more coarse than that for the actual waffles, but as long as you get a relatively coarse, all-black paste then you’re set and ready to go.

And this lemon curd! Ah lemon curd, something I have unconsciously craved for so long and have failed to substitute with various tangy yoghurts and the morning lemon wash, has finally made a sturdy comeback. All vegan, all delicious, creamy and silky. I used agar powder since I did not have vegan gelatin on hand, but use the latter if you do have it. The agar promotes a more jelly-like flavour so use much less of it. Another great thing is that you can make both waffles and curd at the same time, and not waste time making one thing after the other. If lemon curd isn’t really your thing, these waffles would pair well with most anything else– this morning I coupled a toasted one with tahini, frozen fruit and maple syrup, the white pasty sesame-y tahini (yeah, to think I speak and type English) amping the roasted, toasted flavour of the black sesame paste in the waffles. The lemony curd cuts through this pastiness, a sunny break.

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Crispy, chewy black sesame waffles with lemon curd (makes 6 medium, or 5×6-inch waffles)

Ingredients

90g all-purpose flour

90g oat flour (store-bought or process 90g oats in a food processor; alternatively substitute with another flour of choice, be it plain, spelt, or perhaps a gluten-free option)

35g cornstarch

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp sugar of choice– I used coconut, you can use plain/brown/maple/golden caster

Optional: 1 tbsp activated charcoal powder (you can get this in powder form, or cut open the capsules to release the powder inside)

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the black sesame paste: 65g roasted black sesame seeds+ 2 tbsp each of maple syrup and sesame or vegetable oil

2 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice

1 tbsp melted vegan butter

350ml plant milk of choice (I used almond; you could use soy/cashew/oat)

For the lemon curd:

The juice of 1 lemon

3 tbsp cornstarch

1 tbsp agar powder, or 2 tbsp gelatin powder

a light pinch of turmeric, for colour (literally just the tiniest smidgen)

a pinch of salt

3 tbsp maple syrup (or agave nectar)

3-4 tbsp plant-based yoghurt (I used soy)

240ml plant milk of choice (I used almond)

 

Directions

First, make the black sesame paste. In a food processor, process the black sesame seeds until fine. This will take quite a while, perhaps at least a couple of minutes (well it took a while for me, at least). Once they look quite fine, add the maple syrup and oil and pulse again until everything is well combined. The paste should be dark and sticky.

In a separate bowl, weigh out all your dry ingredients and mix together well. Add the charcoal powder, then all the wet ingredients. Mix everything together until just combined. The mixture should be moderately thick, dark, and have speckles of the black sesame paste. Heat up your waffle iron according to its instructions and ladle in your glossy, dark batter. Do not put too much or the batter could seep over the sides once you close the lid. Wait for at least 3-4 minutes before opening the lid and checking. Mine does not need flipping over so I only had to close the lid for a couple more minutes again.

While the waffles are cooking, you can combine the ingredients for the lemon curd except for the yoghurt in a small saucepan. Mix everything together well then bring the contents to a boil. Once boiling, take the pan off the heat. This part is important! It may look as though the mixture is still very liquidy, but that’s how it should be. Leave it to cool while you deal with the waffles. After half an hour, take a spoon and mix the curd. It should be a little jelly-like, or at least thick. Add the yoghurt and mix to lighten the colour and smooth the flavour (otherwise its a little too intense).

The waffles and curd will keep for up to a week in your fridge, or you can freeze both and heat up either whenever you want. Serve with each other, with maple syrup and fresh fruit. Bliss, at its true finest.

Rice Cake Molasses Granola

The kitchen seems to have closed upon the death of last week’s get-up. But the smell lingers. It’s rich, dark, carnal. I sit here now recalling the life-giving things of everyday. After making this last Saturday, I hopped over to a new cafe which I implore all of you to check out for some downright good, authentic Danish bakes, then to Piccadilly’s Waterstones for a good 5 hours just to read my heart out, the perfect excuse for not doing work I was meant to be doing. How sad it is to find joy in the unruly, yet how perfectly OK with it I am once or twice a week. It’s true that meaning and mental enlightenment can arise from nothing when given work to do, yet there’s a wild freedom only found in self-direction, reading and exploring things one would only find outside of a lecture theatre, as exciting a lecture may be.

With granola-making on the agenda last Saturday, I shook off the morning grog and effortlessly persuaded myself to Waitrose. Right opposite, to get some oats and rice puffs for a little bit of fancy. I came across a most moreish-looking granola recipe in Honey&Co’s cookbook just earlier in the week, overcome with fiery instinct. Rice puffs are something I always took for granted. Child’s play, too light to be in anything except standard mass-produced granola or cereal bars. This, however, seemed to take granola to something of a new level, choked with Mediterranean spices and a sultry undertone of rarity. Just as I was about to leave the house, my peripheral vision caught sight of these chocolate rice cakes I brought back from Germany just the previous week, and I knew something had to be done with those babies. A mini brainwave hit– why not crush those and chuck them in the granola instead? So I chucked off my shoes and got to work. It was going to be fun.

Starts off all sticky after everything is incorporated, and even seems a bit ‘leaky’ once taken out of the oven, but success is trust. Cooling will let the clusters form, and that’s where all the fun’s at, right? Each huge, outrageously crisp cluster is a thing of dreams. A heavy hand with the molasses will do the caramelisation process, and you, too much good. And of course, like all granola recipes, this is so easily customised. Raisins, nuts, chocolate, add and subtract as you will. How to granola: douse in milk, languish, enjoy.

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Rice Cake Molasses Granola (makes one large batch)

Note: all bracketed substitutions are vegan

Ingredients

80g unsalted butter (sub: vegan butter)

120g blackstrap molasses (sub: a rich, dark honey)

110g light brown, soft sugar

100g chocolate-covered rice cakes, chopped into thick chunks (sub: 70g plain rice cakes and 30g chopped chocolate)

70g oats or muesli

150g nuts of choice , chopped (I used walnuts)

100g dried fruit of choice (I used torn dates and raisins, though if you abhor either like many a friend of mine, then feel free to substitute with whatever else you would like, and this recipe works well even without any dried fruit!)

1 tsp cinnamon

optional: 1 tsp ground ginger

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 190C (375F) and line a large baking tray with parchment. Combine the butter, molasses and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Take off heat, then pour in the rest of the ingredients.

Transfer to the pan and flatten a little so everything will cook more evenly in the oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes, then take out and let cool for another 10. You will notice a bit of molasses leakage, almost like a liquidy mess at the size. Not to worry, for this is expected. Leaving the pan to cool will rest everything and harden it all up nicely. Use a spoon to break everything up a little, but not too much– leave the large clusters! Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Enjoy with liberal drizzles of milk, topped with fresh/frozen fruit for a good adjacent tang.

Pancake Plum Cookies

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Mistakes, as I have mentioned time and time again, are not an unwelcome guest in the kitchen.

So that’s how it started. What meant to be something turned into something else, and that was more welcome than ever. As I fiddled in the kitchen, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm and gratefulness. It has been a while since I’ve done so here in London, after long-haul flights and crazy flying foxes and head-banging school-related shenanigans. What a relief it was to be there, just there in the kitchen, putting together a dough and tending to it after the oven’s cradling.

Here I have some pancake cookies, because, well, that’s pretty much what they taste and look like! With insufficient flour for what I originally wanted to make (kolaczki), I decided to give what seemed to be an overly-wet dough a chance at life. The consistency reminded me of the pancakes I love to make (find my favourite recipe here) minus its signature fluff.

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Incredibly easy to put together and a dream to bite into, seriously. The crumb is perfect when not baked for more than 15 minutes, like a sweet shortcrust with a little give, cream cheese making it tender and so texturally pleasing. Plum ties it all together, like the ribbon on top. I don’t know about you guys but I always feel as if something sweet fares better, at least by a little, when jazzed up with a bit of tang. Yoghurt or a citrusy fruit or something. It’s optional of course, but highly recommended.

The messiness here says nothing. Make these, then get back to me.

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Pancake plum cookies (makes 10-12 medium cookies)

Ingredients

110g cream cheese at room temperature (sub: vegan cream cheese)

110g unsalted butter (sub: vegan butter like Earth Balance)

100g castor sugar (sub: same amount of coconut or maple sugar– works!)

270g plain flour (sub: half gluten-free flour)

3/4 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg (sub: vegan egg replacement or flax egg)

80g (1/4 cup) jam of choice, I used strawberry

sliced plum (I used a few small plums, and more because those things are too darn delicious to just leave alone naked on the counter)

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and grease or line two baking tins. Or make the dough the night before and bake it in the morning, which is what I did the second time roundIn a bowl, beat together the cream cheese, butter, sugar, salt and vanilla extract. Beat in the egg. Add the flour until you get a rather soft and sticky dough. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours (or overnight if you wish to bake in the morning).

When ready to bake, ready your trays and slice your plums into thin, small slices. Pluck chunks off the dough and roll each into balls of around 2 inches wide. Flatten into 3-inch cookies and place onto the baking trays, then dollop some jam of your choice onto the middle of the cookie, spreading it a little but not letting it get too close to the edges. Depending on the size of your cookies, the amount of jam you need on top will differ. Lay 2-3 small plum slices on top. Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, or until you can see the edges turning crisp and brown.

Enjoy with tea and a good book. Or… The new Series of Unfortunate Events!! I have to say I was a little overly psyched when I saw this on Netflix, for I lived and breathed the Baudelaires during a significant part of my childhood. As excited as Excited can get.

Coconut Molasses Cake

Or The First Cake I Made In a Long Time During a Family Holiday, because it sounds 100 times more special that way.

A bit more than a while. That would be a good way to describe this period of absence. The air is heavy with moisture and the air con remote is a touch too far. Sweat is threatening to ruin the afternoon, but I’m learning to be ok with that again. The heat is foreign, but this is home. It has been too long since Home. Having just touched down here after a 10-day trip to New Zealand, it all does feel a little strange; the past couple of months have been saturated with train hopping and exploring more of the never-touched or heard or loved. From London to Germany to Austria and New Zealand. Never has a heart been so full or a conscience so sharp. I miss it, but Home is lovely and missed, too. Soon the plane will be calling again, and the suitcase will be bursting at the seams. Now? Now is for Here. And that means reminiscing the sweetness of the long gone with the pictures you see below, starting with Germany and ending with Queenstown. It’s a story starting with rustic pre-Christmas German charm, bellies warm with mulled wine and lips sweetened with lebkuchen (gosh I miss that so much already), then sun and adrenalin shaking up the frame in a town of all-smiles.

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~

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In short, a whirlwind of a year. From travelling a lot more to publishing my first book, to more moments of simultaneous despondence and ecstasy, to meeting someone special, doubting and then hoping, and then ultimately trusting. I have my doubts, like those concerning the western world and North Korea and the circulation of science and technology in the hands of people most can’t will themselves to trust. But perhaps the silver lining is trust. A lot of hope is stabilised with just that– trust in oneself, in those who love you, in love itself.

11.49pm. 11 minutes to 2017, here in Singapore at least, and I sit here reminiscing bits and bobs and splatters of time, grateful for what has gone and what has to come. What exactly remains unsaid, and that’s the way it will always be. The most important thing is to be wild, be the best of yourself. As of now there is no standard list of resolutions, no I Will Be Fitter or even a I Will Be Better or I Will Stop Judging and Being a Bad Sister. Which sounds ridiculous, like I’m some downgraded version of yesteryears, the worst of all the possible Alex’s. But I see the new year as a chance to hone previously set goals, and to love what I love with even more fervour and passion. I want to continue the upkeep of this blog, to weave stories of food and knowledge and life and love and science. To understand, then create. To explore and wander.

The last morning in New Zealand came and I decided to make something simple but festive. A tribute to both Christmas and New Year’s, with a gold sparkle and kick.

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The top is crispy, the middle mottled with brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon and plenty of desiccated coconut. A bite takes you to a good middle state of longing and bliss– post-Christmas, Pre-NYE. This is perfect with coffee (or champagne, hey), a dollop of yoghurt of coconut cream, and more grated coconut on top.

11.59.

Coconut Molasses Cake

Ingredients

260g all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda (alternatively, use self-raising flour and leave out the leavening agents)

pinch salt

160g sugar– 125g white and 35g soft brown sugar (subs: coconut/maple sugar)

1 tsp each of ginger and cinnamon (optional)

130g butter (sub: vegan butter/ Earth balance/ coconut oil)

120ml blackstrap molasses

120ml milk of choice (normal/plant-based)

100g (1 cup) desiccated coconut

2 eggs (sub: flax eggs– make one by mixing 1 tbsp flax with 2 tbsp water and letting sit for at least 5 minutes)

 

Directions

In a microwave, heat together the water and butter until both are melted. Preheat your oven to 200C (400F) and grease a 9×9 or 7×13-inch baking pan. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, ginger and cinnamon. Add the butter-water mix, then mix in the rest of the ingredients on the list. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-28 minutes, then take out and leave to cool for 10 minutes before cutting.

Serve with coconut cream or yoghurt, grated dark chocolate and more desiccated coconut.