Cooking with… Clare of Mrs. Multitasker

Months ago, I met Clare of the wonderfully written, beautifully photographed recipe blog, Mrs. Multitasker. We spent hours together the first time we met. I leaned that not only is she a whiz in the kitchen, but she also loves to travel, can speak several languages, and can sing like a dream. (In fact, she sang in an a cappella group at university with my sister-in-law’s cousin. Small world, no?) Perhaps we should call Clare “Mrs. Multitalented” instead?

To Clare…

o o o o o

Agar-Agar

Wikipedia: A gelatinous substance derived from a polysaccharide that accumulates in the cell walls of agarophyte red algae.
English: The Asian answer to Jell-O.

I loved agar-agar as a kid. Sure, it wasn’t the most nutritious of snacks. But it was chilled, it was sweet, and it was crunchy. What was there to dislike? I used to get a real kick out of buying agar-agar from the school canteen during breaks and, to be honest, I still get a kick out of buying it today.

For those of you unfamiliar with agar-agar, it is a sweet gelatinous dessert that sometimes looks quite similar to jelly, but differs from jelly in the following ways:

  • It has a harder, crunchier texture.
  • It does not taste of artificial fruit flavouring, but of pandan leaves (and of coconut milk too).
  • It is usually not eaten out of a cup or bowl, but with one’s bare hands. *

I particularly love the agar-agar my grandaunt makes during Chinese New Year. A couple of years ago I asked her what the basic steps were to making it and wrote them down. I never got around to using the recipe…

…until notabilia asked if I would do a guest post on her blog. Her only specification was that it have a Singaporean flavour (pun intended). I decided to get my grandaunt’s recipe out of the storeroom and into the kitchen.

So here you go: My grandaunt’s recipe for agar-agar.

Agar-Agar
(yields a large 9×13-inch block of agar-agar)

8 pandan leaves, knotted together
4 packs of agar-agar (13g each)
3 litres of water
750g sugar
Red food colouring
Green food colouring
Lemon flavouring
Coffee emulco

(The colouring, flavouring, and emulco can all be found in the baking aisle of most supermarkets in Singapore. [Editor’s note for my dear American readers: Coffee emulco can be found in Southeast Asian speciality stores in the United States.])

1. Place the pandan leaves, agar-agar, and water in a big pot over medium-high heat.
2. When the liquid is almost boiling, stir in the sugar until it dissolves.
3. Once the liquid has come to a boil, remove the pot from the heat and allow the liquid to cool for 5-10 minutes.
4. In a separate bowl, combine 2 cups of the agar-agar liquid and 4 drops of red food colouring. Pour into a 9x13x2-inch baking tin and allow to cool and harden (about 5 minutes). Then, combine 2 cups of the agar-agar liquid, 4 drops of green food colouring, and 5 drops of lemon flavouring. Pour into the tray over the first hardened layer and again allow to cool and harden. Then, combine 2 cups of the agar-agar liquid and 5 drops of coffee emulco. Pour into the tray over the first two hardened layers and allow to cool and harden. Repeat until all the agar-agar liquid has been used.
5. Chill the agar-agar in the refrigerator for half an hour. Slice and serve.

There are heaps of variations to this basic recipe.

  • If you want the agar-agar to be softer, increase the ratio of water and sugar to agar-agar powder.
  • If you want the agar-agar colours to be more intense, use more colouring. I used very little colouring here!
  • If you want fewer, thicker layers, pour more of the agar-agar liquid into each layer.
  • If you want the agar-agar in a specific shape, use a different container in place of the baking tin. (i.e. For a dome-shaped dessert, use a bowl.)
  • If you want each slice of agar-agar in a specific shape, use a cookie cutter. (Just make sure the cookie cutter is thick enough to cut through the many layers of agar-agar).
  • If you want layers of coconut milk in your agar-agar, prepare a separate pot of agar-agar liquid. At step 2 (above), add 3 liters of coconut milk. Alternate layers of coconut agar-agar liquid with the non-coconut layers. You can also add coloring to the coconut layers if you like. (My grandaunt doesn’t usually put coconut milk in her agar-agar, but many other people do. My parents are of the view that coconut milk is essential in agar-agar, and were quite disappointed when I appeared at their doorstep bearing agar-agar sans coconut milk!)

o o o o o

* And agar-agar is vegan, perfect for my aforementioned sister-in-law.

I welcome recipes from Singapore and beyond for Cooking with…. Priority is given to original recipes that have not yet appeared online. Please indicate if your recipe has already appeared online or has been submitted elsewhere. Please email all recipes, including high-quality .jpgs, to me with the subject line ‘Recipes.’

(Additional credits: Photographs by Clare of Mrs. Multitasker; geometric watercolor pattern via August Empress.)

Visit to Loewen Gardens Farmers’ Market

In New York City, I was a bit spoiled for choice when it came to finding locally grown produce. My favorite greenmarkets were Fort Washington market (Tuesdays) and Dag Hammarskjold Plaza market (Wednesdays).

There is not much locally grown produce on this tiny island. Yes, there are farms to the north of the country, but they are small and can hardly provide for 4.8 million residents. Most produce here is imported from around the region—Malaysia, Thailand, China, Australia—and beyond.

I’m not a militant locavore but do try to eat regionally and seasonally as much as possible. When I saw a listing for a farmers’ market in a recent issue of Time Out Singapore, I grabbed my Envirosax and my camera, and jumped on the bus.

o o o o o

The Loewen Gardens Farmers’ Market is less about “farmers” and more about creative “food crafters” who make Singapore home.

These scones were baked by the folks at The Pantry, the cafe and cooking school behind the twice a month market:

Cute hair pins by Min of Honest Vanilla:

Gingerbread man by Samuel Chan of Sam’s Cakes and Bakes:

Sam told me that he has been baking for nearly seven years. He had a number of vegetarian (egg-free) and vegan (dairy-free) loaves for sale. His blog is fun. And he offers baking classes!

Homemade cookies by Sarah’s Kitchen:

Sarah is the artist behind the lovely blog, Sarah’s Loft, and her table had cookies, candies, tarts, brownies, and muffins as well.

In exchange for the picture above, one of Sarah’s friends, Ronan, gave me a bite of his just-baked olive and sun-dried tomato loaf. It was delicious; many thanks for the pre-breakfast snack!

Would I go back? For sure! There is a bottle of ginger jam by Organic Himalaya Produce in my future.