Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lemon Drizzle Cake

I was back in Singapore in end Aug, just a month after attending Jay Chou's concert in July. The concert was totally unplanned but the trip in Aug was well planned with air tickets bought at an incredibly cheap price. I am no longer the young girl I used to be, who had had the energy and vitality to take the MRT trains down to Orchard Road to do window shopping and checked out every single stores with huge signs of SALE on it. For the past 6 years, my itinerary in Singapore was pretty simple : read my novel, play with my nieces, surf the web, do some minor shopping around the HDB neighboourhood and finally, baking for the kids and adults. So this time is like any other time. Armed with Fern's lemon cake recipe, I started baking early Saturday morning. The lemon skin was grated a day before while flour and sugar was weighed before hand. Sensing I need a little help to speed things up, Kakak helped me to wash and clean while I squeezed every drop of lemon juice I could get out from the fruit.
The lemon juice was poured on top of the cake the moment it was taken out from the oven. I tend to fancy sourish taste and so, I reduced the sugar tremendously. That morning, I baked 1 big square pan and 2 smaller pans as shown above. The big pan was of course, for us to devour while the 2 smaller pans were specially baked for some of my lovely colleagues in Singapore office. I just hope they enjoy it as much as I did.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Steamed Mix Vegetables

Lately my dinner seems to be steamed food besides the usual platter of fruits and fresh veggies. It's not entirely because I wanna fully utilize my i-chef steamer pot but rather it's because of the contraint time I have. Every week, I found myself wishing I have the time to cook certain interesting dishes that I suddenly thought of, saw somewhere or had recently eaten it somewhere. But the fact remains that I'm a working woman who starts work at 7+am and reaches home either before 6.30pm or after 8.30pm. My routine is as such that whatever dish I wanna cook has to be pre-planned, pre-prepared and preferably, simple and fast. This mix vegetables do not need much of planning and work done. So little time was needed for washing , cutting and cooking. Since steamed vegetables for me only has one singular boring taste (unless I add seasoning like oyster sauce and the likes), I sliced some ginger and threw in a pinch of mushroom powder. To satisfy my cravings for baked beans, I opened up a TST brand baked beans and cooked it over some fried garlic and tomato sauce. And so.. in the end, I found myself having 4 dishes and a rice on the dinner table. And all.. for just me and hubby to dig in.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Chilled Lemon Cheesecake

The idea to bake a lemon cheesecake came to me when I was back in Singapore in end Aug. I was then baking a very moist chocolaty cake with chocolate topping for the kids (turned out the adults were swooned as well) and a lemon cake for the adults (turned out the kids love it too). My sister in law and I were on this baking topic and we discussed on what I should bake next. I told her I've this cheesecake recipe and her face brightened up with the mentioned of 'cheese'. I promised her I'm gonna bake one for them in my next trip back and that's gonna be next weekend. I've tried my hands on this recipe countless times before but the last time I did it was about 3 years ago and that's a pretty long time if you count the number of days. So before I make a laughing stock of myself in Singapore lest the cake fail, I honed my skills on this recipe last week. It turned out yummylicious. I love the sourish taste of lemon and squeezed the entire lemon juice for 2 19" round pan. Some may complain the overpowering taste of lemon will cover the original cheese flavor but that's exactly what I was trying to achieve. Afterall, I baked it for myself, for hubby and for cousin Soo and cousin Soo has a 'thing' on lemons.

Monday, September 13, 2010

101 Essential DSLR Photography Tips: Bokeh

One day, a friend of mine was terribly excited and told me he managed to capture blur background photo with his newly purchased DSLR camera and with this, he complimented himself as an outstanding photographer!

That brought back a long lost memory that many years ago when I just started to learn photography, I kept pestering my brother to teach me this blur background technique. When I finally managed to capture it, I felt excited too. Last night, my wife asked me the same question again, so because of her request, I penned this down.

For layman, we called it blur background or more specifically, we call it out-of-focus area but it has a photography term called Bokeh. Bokeh was believed to be originated from Japanese word ‘boke’, which mean ‘blur’ or ‘haze’. Okay, I’m not gonna discuss further about Bokeh because if I do, there is every possibility that I could stretch it to 10 pages long. Right now, we are more interested to know how to create ‘bokeh’.

Before I share with you the technique, we must first understand Depth of Field (DOF) and its relationship to Bokeh. DOF refers to area of an image is in focus whereas the appearance of the light that is seen within the blur part of the photograph is Bokeh. DOF and Bokeh work together to produce a photograph with main subject that stands out from the background without distraction.

To produce these kinds of photos is not a rocket science technology, just follow these camera settings and set up should be able to assist you to produce a relatively decent ‘blur background photo’.

1. Aperture
Open up your aperture, simply mean use the smallest F number available in your lens like F1.8, F2.8, F3.6 etc.

2. Focal Length
Preferably use a telephoto lens with a focal length 85mm and above. If you use a zoom lens, zoom to the longest telephoto end eg. if you are using a 18-200mm lens, used 200mm end instead.

3. Distance to Subject
Physically move in as close as possible to the subject that your lens allow you to be, yet at the same time the lens can still focus properly.

4. Distance of the Subject to Background
Find a background not too close to your subject so that you can isolate them nicely.

The below photograph of mine is an example where I used my TAMRON AF 18-270mm F3.6-6.3 lens to capture a butterfly during my hiking trip last year in Maxwell Hill, Taiping. I used F6.3 at 270mm end and move as close as possible to subject (in this case is the butterfly) and found some green bushes as background.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Juicy Roasted Chicken with Rosemary

The one thing that puts me off when it comes to roasting chicken is the oil from the chicken that will spew everywhere inside the oven and the some stains proved to be pretty stubborn to be removed. I'd like the idea of roasting a whole bird with it's leg tied up and stuff lots of fresh thyme, rosemary, garlic and of course a lemon into the cavity of the chicken. Unfortunately there are only 2 of us in the house to devour the whole bird and this feat is definitely unachievable. This is somewhat the same recipe I gotten from Jamie Oliver but I kinda like 'improvised' it here and there by adding additional spices. First, I rubbed the bird with salt, then with lots of course black pepper. Next, I rubbed a generous amount of roasted garlic powder and onion powder inside and outside of the bird. The recipe asked for rosemary but I added lots of thyme, garlic , of course rosemary and lastly stuffed in half a lemon in the cavity. I even tucked in few some rosemary and thyme under the skin of the chicken. That was all it took to roast this simple recipe. It turned out juicy and delicious but I gotta say certain part of the chicken breast was rather dry where the aroma from the fresh spices did not quite reach this. Well .. to overcome this, I just made the brown sauce to go with it. It's an instant brown sauce pack , by the way.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

101 Essential DSLR Photography Tips: Bracketing

I am halfway writting my Basic DSLR Photography (Part III): Shooting Mode and out of a sudden, I received a request to talk about bracketing function of DSLR camera. Believe me, I am more than happy to assist in this topic.

What is Bracketing? Bracketing is a technique to take a series of shots of the same scene using different camera setting. Camera setting that can be bracketed includes exposure, ISO, white balance, flash and even focus. Nowadays we always refer bracketing as a camera function; a function that your DSLR camera will fire a series of shots automatically produced images (usually 3, 5, 7 or 9 images) with various settings you desired to bracket.

Bracketing can be done manually too but it is tedious. The whole idea of bracketing is for you to choose the best from the series of shots you have just taken. A long time ago before the digital era, we used film to capture light and took us days to develope the film before you could see the actual photos and result. You will miss a great scene due to mistake, misjudgement or metering in your camera not doing a good job. Bracketing becomes a savior here so that you will have a series of shots with different exposure setting eg. -2EV, -1EV, 0EV, +1EV and +2EV for your selection.

However, today just a blink of eye after clicking your shutter, we can ‘chimping’ the image you have just taken through DSLR camera’s LCD screen to check result and retake if not satisfied. That’s why I can tell you that the bracketing function is not as important as those day in film era.

For NIKON DSLR cameras, Auto Bracketing function is only available for their mid and higher end model such as D90, D300s. It is limited to 3 shots per bracketing for D90 while 9 shots for D300s. You can’t find it in entry level model like D60, D3000 but for the fortunate CANON users, it is available even for their entry level model ie. 1000D. I'm a strong supporter of NIKON but I do hope NIKON will be more generous in their future models.

For some bracketing, you have to do it manually like focus bracketing. Some however, advices to do it automatically like ISO & White Balance but subject to your DSLR camera capability. Some can do it either auto or manual like exposure bracketing. As for me, I hardly use the Auto Bracketing function for exposure but opt for exposure compensation for my shooting and check after each shot through my DSLR camera‘s LCD screen until I am satisfied with it. This is what I call manual bracketing and I find this much easier and simpler as compare to Auto Bracketing function.

Auto Bracketing comes in handy for me when I want to produce a HDR (High Dynamic Range) image. Today, with photo editing software like Photoshop and Photomatix, you can combine a series of different exposures shots to assemble a single image with huge brightness range. The below image is the result I combined 3 frames with -2EV, 0EV & +2EV exposure bracketing. This post is about bracketing, so I will talk about HDR in my future post or if there is a request.