CNY Test Bakes - Mandarin Friands, Sesame Financiers, Almond Shortbread, Pineapple Tarts

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I have a rather ambitious plan for this coming Lunar New Year. Instead of buying the usual goodies off the shelf, perhaps I should bake my own since I've attended a number of baking classes since last year :) This is to be my first time doing Lunar New Year bakes, reckon a test bake now would be good to gauge the timing and effort required; and to decide whether I should really bake my own goodies.
Anyway, been raring to bake as I was on vacation the most of December and early January. Now that I'm back to office -_-, stressed over all the work and grouchy with post holiday blues, really in need of some therapy. Baking does just the trick!
Selected 4 recipes - Mandarin Friands, Sesame Financiers & Almond Shortbread from Chef Joycelyn's CNY Special Class and Pineapple Tarts from Chef Christopher's cookbook, Shiok!

Looks not too bad for a first trial? I named this My Lunar New Year Four Treasures 大四喜. Just like mahjong, haha. (Yes, mahjong would also help me de-stress!)


Quite unsure over the pineapple tarts as I heard about how tedious the process is. Followed Chef Christopher's recipe religiously, especially the pineapple jam where I painstakingly blended the pineapple and cooked it for 2 hrs, stirring constantly. Well, the results turned out not too bad, especially in terms of presentation. Hubby commented that the pineapple jam is too sweet and wet and not enough of the pineapple texture. Hmmm, perhaps I over-blended the pineapple. Noted.

One of my fav recipe from Joycelyn's class, although I found it a tad too sweet when I tasted it during the class. So for this test bake, I reduced the amount of sugar. It seemed to do the trick as the French-inspired tea cake turned out quite nice with a tangy aroma. The presentation is also very suitable for Lunar New Year!

Similar as the Friand, the Jap-French-inspired Sesame Financier turned out fine but I found the sesame taste and smell too strong for my liking. Perhaps I should reduce the amount of toasted white sesame oil or try just a simple butter financier.

This Almond Shortbread may look plain but it certainly has an almost melt-in-the-mouth texture :)
After 1 whole day of baking, washing, baking and washing again, my test bakes turned out pretty successful and I'm all inspired to actually bake and serve them to friends and family. Time to start planning my bakes and stock up on all the ingredients!

CNY Special: Baked Treats & Plated Desserts

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Lunar New Year is certainly round the corner. Everywhere you go, you'll see seas of red decorations and hear familiar Lunar New Year songs in the background to usher the most important festive celebration for us Chinese.
I remember I loved Lunar New Year as a kid because we get to wear new clothes (often in red which is the auspicious colour), visit friends and relatives, receive "Ang Bao 红包" or red packets, play Blackjack and Mahjong (with money from the red packets), eat lots of goodies that are only available during Lunar New Year like "Nian Gao 年糕", "Yu Sheng 鱼生" and savoury snacks like almond cookies, pineapple tarts, love letters etc.
These days, I received Lunar New Year with much less enthusiasm. Reason is of course not that I'm married and have to give Ang Bao instead of receiving them. Just seems that the festive mood isn't as strong as before. Nevertheless, I still look forward to meeting up with relatives and friends for some catching up and not to forget the gambling :p Hey, it's all in the name of fun ya, not that I'm a compulsive gambler.
With my ignited interest in baking, I naturally contemplated baking some of my own new year goodies. So have been watching out for classes at Shermay's Cooking School ever since Christmas.
This CNY Special: Baked Treats & Plated Desserts Class is by Joycelyn. With her impeccable taste and talent, we trust she would once again plan something exquisite that wows. Themed MOD CHINOISERIE, she demonstrated 4 Chinese-Inspired Petits Fours where each recipe can be served as is or as the core component of a plated dessert when paired with accompaniments.

1) Jasmine Tea Macarons with Jasmine-Infused White Chocolate Ganache
2) Mandarin Orange Friand
3) Sesame Financier
4) Ultimate Almond Shortbread

Accompaniments:
A) Jasmine Tea Panna Cotta
B) Star Anise Mousse
C) Mandarin Compote
D) Valrhona Milk Chocolate Chantilly
E) Lychee & Rose Sorbet

Joycelyn even thoughfully mapped a Flavour Pairing Chart and hand-drew an Illustrated Plating Guide for us!
During class, we sampled the Lychee & Rose sorbet which was light and refreshing as well as the Sesame Financier with Milk Chocolate Chantilly which I love very much! I like Financiers a lot because of it's buttery and dense but light texture with tinge of almond. The Milk Chocolate Chantilly was smooth and not too heavy on the palate.

Our takeaway treats are the Mandarin Orange Friand, Jasmine Macaron and Almond Shortbread. The Mandarin Orange Friand packs punch full of orange aroma, though I find it tad too sweet. The Jasmine Macaron is crunchy on the outside and chewy inside and the jasmine infusion is really unique and apt for the festive celebration. The Almond Shortbread looks plain but is certainly savoury and literally melts in the mouth!

I guess I have a long list of CNY goodies to bake and I ought to plan the bakes now. Wish me luck!

Sipadan Dive Trip 2-7Jan08 - Eat, Sleep & Dive!

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Just returned from a 6D5N dive trip to P. Sipadan (Sabah, Malaysian Borneo). Have anticipated this trip because Sipadan is highly acclaimed as one of the best dive destinations in the world with beautiful wall dives, different species of pelagic fishes; in addition nearby islands Kapalai and Mabul offer superb muck diving, great for macro lovers.

Actually, the first and last day were spent travelling, so there were basically just 4 days of diving. But it was 4 solid days of diving and everyday was well spent - Eat, Sleep, Dive! The dives were totally awesome; up close and personal encounters with countless Green Turtles, Barracudas, Jacks, White Tip Sharks, Humphead Parrot Fishes etc; for macro, lots to uncover like colourful Nudibranchs, Pygmy Seahorse, Flamboyant Cuttlefish, Mandarin Fish etc etc.
Itinerary
Day 1 - Singapore to Senai Airport, Johor Bahru via van. Flight on AirAsia to Tawau Airport, Sabah. Transfer to Semporna via van. 1 night stay at Dragon Inn Floating Resort, Semporna.
Day 2 (Part 1), Day 2 (Part 2) - Speed boat transfer to Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort. 1 Orientation check out dive at House Reef. 1 Boat dive at Kapalai. 1 Sunset dive at House Reef.
Day 3 - 2 boat dives at Sipadan. 1 boat dive at Mabul. 1 Sunset dive at House Reef.
Day 4 - 2 boat dives at Sipadan. 1 boat dive at Kapalai. 1 Sunset dive at House Reef.
Day 5 - 2 boat dives at Sipadan. Check out. Speed boat transfer to Semporna. Coach transfer to Tawau. 1 night stay at King Park Hotel, Tawau.
Day 6 - Van transfer to Tawau Airport. AirAsia flight to Kuala Lumpur (KLIA-LCCT). Bus transfer to KLIA. Shuttle flight to Singapore. Cab back home.
Totally busted. Travelling was more tired than diving! Shall blog about all the dives with photos and even video clips slowly...

Happy New Year and Happy Birthday to Dreamersloft!

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How time flies! Cliché, but true indeed. 2007 has been a busy year.
My lifestyle department was decorated with indulgences and discoveries of all sorts - new shops, interesting eateries, pampering spa treats, achieving advance dive certification, going places, baking, blogging...
Some highlights
Diving
Made 4 dive trips in 2007, 1 of them for Advanced Diver Certification. Since my Open Water Diver Certification in May 2006, we had clocked a total of 35 dives in 7 trips.
Each dive was an adventure. Our passion for diving and underwater photography has been growing. Hopefully we could make more trips in 2008. *We are embarking on my 1st dive trip of 2008 to Sipadan in Jan!
Baking
Since attending my first class at Shermay's Cooking School, I am hooked to baking! Can't remember what got me started, could be the cupcake craze. A recap for all the baking classes attended.
Attempted several of the recipes and I'm proud to declare most of the bakes were successful and some even became my signature dishes :p I truly enjoy the baking process. Check out my entries under "Baking". And of course, have been adding bakeware to my already cluttered kitchen and always lamenting the lack of space for more sophisticated equipment. Regardless of the space and equipment constraints, my hope for 2008 is to bake more, trying on new recipes and perfecting learnt ones :) *Have registered for a CNY class in Jan!
Vacations
Not counting the dive trips and road trips to Malaysia, the most notable would be my most recent vacation to Kansai, Japan (would be blogging about the trip the next couple of weeks, hopefully). Other than that, the rest are short haul travels to Bangkok, Thailand and Bintan.
Flipping through my passport, I realised I have been travelling almost every month if I were to count every trip. Hmmm... happening ya? Hope that 2008 would just be as colourful!
Blogging
It has been a year since I set up my blog, Dreamersloft :D Yeah, Happy 1st Birthday! Maintaining a blog is not easy as it seems. I have so much to blog about, so many photos to post but could only manage an average of 5 entries per month. Perhaps I have been nit-picking, making sure photos were edited and content read through several times before publishing. Or maybe I was plain lazy :p But sometimes, after a day in the office and dealing with tonnes of paperwork, the last thing I want to do is to write some more. Excuses, again :p

So far I've stuck to my personal conviction to make Dreamersloft a virtual space to feature positive feel-good quotients, lifestyle desires and indulgences. Therefore, have refrained from any sort of negative emotions, rants or complaints in the blog. Well, it's not as if I'm always a happy person. I do have my ups and downs, many moments of frustrations but I think it's better not to spread negativity around. Hence shall keep the blog this way, happy thoughts as far as possible.

Anyway, in 2008 I shall be more diligent in blogging, clear my backlogs and provide more up-to-date entries.

Here's to a better 2008!