The Household COO - Part 2

Chinese New Year Food: Nian Gao

Nian Gao – literally “year cake” – is a common feature in our Chinese festivals (especially the biggie – Pai Ti Kong). Being a mere peon in my MIL’s kitchen, I get the simple task of un-moulding and decorating so I don’t really know how to make these yet. As far as I understand, making Nian Gao is technique sensitive if you want to get it perfect so that automatically disqualifies me.

Still, I wanted to know how it was made so I looked it up. This is the recipe I found from Messy Witchen. It’s quite involved so I suggest you head over there for the step-by-step visual instructions. Given how involved it is, the mere thought of making this fatigues me already…


  • 400g glutinous rice flour
  • 400ml water
  • 500g sugar

1 banana leaf
3-4 round tins (8cm-10cm diameter, 10cm height)
cotton string or rubber bands


  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the rice flour and water to form a thick batter-dough. Mix in the sugar.
  2. Meanwhile blanch banana leaf to soften it. Use the leaf to line the tins in three layers. Allow leaf to extend above the tin; this can be folded back around the rim of the tin and tied with string or rubber bands. If you’re unable to find banana leaf, you can substitute with glass paper (also known as cellophane paper).
  3. Pour batter 3/4 way into the lined tins. Then cover the tins with muslin cloth to prevent vapour/water dripping into the cake. Secure with string or rubber bands. Note: I used batik cloth here (make sure it doesn’t stain) or I guess you can use any white cloth or aluminium foil.
  4. Steam over high heat for 10-12 hours, or until Ti Kuih has a nice brown color. Tsk I, myself steam the Ti Kuih with low heat. Remember to add water to steamer from time to time.
  5. Cool and allow to set overnight (preferably for 2-3 days) before removing the tins and trimming off the leaf for a neat edge. Leave aside for a week to allow Ti Kuih to harden slightly before cutting.

There is also a video from Nyonya Cooking:

The Smoothie Breakfast…

Eating a breakfast rich in protein may lower food cravings later in the day so here’s a protein breakfast smoothie for Mummy…

Morning Smoothie


  • 1 tbsp cacao powder
  • 1 tsp barley grass powder
  • 1 tbsp soya protein
  • 2 tbsp 5 grains powder
  • 1 date
  • 1/2 an avocado
  • 1 tbsp nutella
  • milk


  • Dairy inhibits the absorption of antioxidants from Cacao so I would a non-dairy milk instead, like soy milk. We didn’t have any, hence the milk.
  • The mix is very thick so depending on how you like your smoothies, I would add as much liquid as you require to get the dilution you prefer.
  • Not awesome like the Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie but quite palatable.

Soy Good or Soy Bad?

When it comes to nutrition, the information on soy seems controversial. It was once hailed as a superfood, but in recent times, it has been receiving some negative reviews. So what’s the low-down on soy? Is it good for us or not? After reviewing some of the arguments, my conclusion is this:

  • Don’t believe everything you read, even if the article quotes scientific literature for support because they’ve either misunderstood the source article or they’re hoping you won’t check it. Even when the arguments are factually correct, it can be misinterpreted.
  • There are instances when soy should be avoided, like when you have an existing thyroid problem and take medications for your thyroid (Dr Oz) but otherwise there is no indication to avoid soy in our diets.
  • As always, consume everything in moderation and eat from a wide variety or sources to ensure adequate nutritional intake because even too much of even a good thing can be bad.

For a more detailed run-down, read on…

About Phytates

One common argument against soy is that it contains phytates which inhibit the absorption of certain minerals. Although this fact is true, it appears to be misconstrued. While soy does contain phytate and phytate does reduce our absorption of several minerals, soy is not a particularly exceptional source of phytate (Vegan Skeptic). Additionally, Dr Weil adds:

  • phytates aren’t really as big a concern as it’s being made out to be because there is “no scientific data suggesting that eating whole soy foods leads to mineral deficiencies in humans”. As long as you are eating a balanced diet, phytate-associated deficiencies shouldn’t be a problem.
  • to reduce the phytic acid content, cooking and soaking your soy beans can help.
  • phytates have health benefits, including anti-inflammatory effects. In laboratory research, phytates have helped normalize cell growth and stopped the proliferation of cancer cells. They also may help prevent cardiovascular disease and lower a food’s glycemic load.

About Omega-6

One article I read stated that soy is high in Omega-6 fatty acids and that we should avoid foods that are high in it. While too much Omega-6 fatty acids may not be good, we can’t do without it. It needs to be consumed through our diets because our body cannot produce it.

There are several different types of omega-6 fatty acids, and not all promote inflammation. Most omega-6 fatty acids in the diet come from vegetable oils, such as linoleic acid (LA). Be careful not to confuse this with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid. Linoleic acid is converted to gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in the body. It is then further broken down to arachidonic acid (AA). GLA is found in several plant based oils, including evening primrose oil (EPO), borage oil, and black currant seed oil.

GLA may actually reduce inflammation. Much of the GLA taken as a supplement is converted to a substance called DGLA that fights inflammation. Having enough of certain nutrients in the body (including magnesium, zinc, and vitamins C, B3, and B6) helps promote the conversion of GLA to DGLA.

Omega-6 has been linked to beneficial effects for various health conditions.

– University of Maryland Medical Center

Once again, we’re back to “everything in moderation”.

Fermented Soy

There is an argument that the reason why Asian populations do okay eating soy is because they consume fermented soy and only in small quantities. It is said that the amount of soy that Asians actually consume is something like 2 teaspoons. The example cited were the Japanese who consume soy sauce, tempeh and natto as condiments rather than as foundation meals.

Speaking as an Asian individual, this argument is flawed because the Chinese consume much higher quantities of soy and it is mostly NOT fermented. We eat tofu in our stir-fried dishes, in dim sum, and as a sweet dessert (tofu fah). We also drink soy bean milk – not the kind that is used as an alternative to milk. I think all this consumption qualifies for far more than the few teaspoons of fermented soy that Asians supposedly consume as part of a regular diet.

Photo Credit: Let’s Cook Chinese Food – Stir Fried Tofu with Mince Pork

About Isoflavones

The argument here is that isoflavones bind to estrogen receptors and can have similar effects to estrogen. However, according to Dr Oz, its effect is not nearly as strong as animal-based estrogen and human estrogen is over 1000-times stronger.

Isoflavones also have non-hormonal effects on the body that are very positive. They help regulate cell growth, which actually safeguards against some cancers. They also play roles in regulating cholesterol levels (Dr Oz).

See also:

The Bottom Line

You don’t need to go mad adding soy into everything that you eat, but neither do you need to avoid it altogether. Common sense could have told us that.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie

My boys are two very difficult customers to please. Although they love their chocolate, I have yet to find a chocolate Cacao smoothie mix that their fussy little taste buds will approve of. The alternative to  Boost Juice’s King William Chocolate Smoothie that I came up with didn’t cut it because they weren’t having none of that (even though I enjoyed it a lot)!

The problem with using Cacao is its bitter aftertaste. Additionally, if you want to get the most out of the health benefits that Cacao offers, you can’t add dairy because it inhibits the absorption of antioxidants from Cacao. Since I didn’t want to use a nut milk because of the carrageenan content, that didn’t leave me many other ingredients to play around with.

Even though I could give the boys a blast of nutrients through our tried and tested “Super Smoothies“, the whole purpose of these Smoothie blending experiments is to expand those fussy palates and encourage them to accept new flavours they wouldn’t normally agree with if they were served in their pure forms.

Today’s recipe got the thumbs-down from the boys but I’ve included it here because I really liked it. I’ll admit that I’ve always had a weakness for peanut butter and chocolate, and if you do, too, then this one might be right up your alley…

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Smoothie


  • 2 tsp Cacao powder
  • 200ml coconut milk
  • 2 dates (remove pips)
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 large frozen banana


  • We used M&S coconut milk because it was the only one we have found that claims to be free from preservatives, colours, and flavours.
  • Soy milk may be used as an alternative to coconut milk especially if you’re not really into coconut flavours or if you have concerns about using coconut milk.
  • More about Cacao

Health Benefits of Dates

Dates are an awesome way to add natural sweetness to a smoothie without adding sugar or honey. They have a lovely “caramel” flavour that make them perfect for creamy chocolate smoothie bases. I’ve added dates to smoothies before and G2 identified the smell as a “cola” flavour. Dates contain the following health benefits:

  • rich in dietary fiber which prevents LDL cholesterol absorption in the gut.
  • contain health benefiting flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants known as tannins which are known to possess anti-infective, anti-inflammatory, and anti-hemorrhagic properties.
  • moderate sources of vitamin-A which is known to have antioxidant properties and essential for vision and maintaining healthy mucous membranes and skin.
  • antioxidant flavonoids such as ß-carotene, lutein, and zea-xanthin which have the ability to protect cells and other structures in the body from harmful effects of oxygen-free radicals. Zea-xanthin also offers protection against age-related macular degeneration, especially in elderly populations.
  • excellent source of iron
  • excellent sources of potassium which is an important component of cell and body fluids that help regulate heart rate and blood pressure.
  • rich in minerals like calcium, manganese, copper, and magnesium. Calcium is an essential constituent of bone and teeth, and required by the body for muscle contraction, blood clotting, and nerve impulse conduction. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Copper is required for the production of red blood cells. Magnesium is essential for bone growth.
  • moderate levels of B-complex group of vitamins and vitamin K. Pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), niacin, pantothenic acid, and riboflavin act as cofactors help body metabolize carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Vitamin K is essential for many coagulant factors in the blood as well as in bone metabolism.

A Couple of Notes on Coconut Milk

Coconuts contain significant amounts of fat, but unlike other nuts, they provide fat that is mostly in the form of medium chain saturated fatty acids (MCFAs) in particular, one called lauric acid. Lauric acid is converted in the body into a highly beneficial compound called monolaurin, an antiviral and antibacterial that destroys a wide variety of disease causing organisms. It is therefore now thought that consumption of coconut milk may help protect the body from infections and viruses.

MCFAs are rapidly metabolised into energy in the liver. It is thought that unlike other saturated fats, MCFAs are used up more quickly by the body and are less likely to be stored as fat. This does not exempt them from contributing to heart disease – they are still a fat – but they have a different effect than saturated fats.

The link between excessive consumption of dietary saturated fats and coronary heart disease (CHD) is well established. Because of coconut milk’s high content of saturated fatty acids, it is still seen as a food that should be consumed in moderation. – BBC Good Food

Coconut Milk, although touted to contain a number of health benefits (listed below), it does contain significant fat content so it should be consumed in moderation. Benefits of coconut milk:

  • Calm Nerve Cells. Coconut milk is high in magnesium that helps to keep your blood pressure at a normal level. The combination of calcium and magnesium in coconut milk also keeps muscle and nerves from becoming overstimulated.
  • Strengthen Bones. Coconut milk does not contain as much calcium as dairy milk but it does contain high amounts of phosphorus that can help to strengthen bones.
  • Fight Virus and Infection. The lauric acid in coconut milk will be converted to monolauin in your body. This compound contains antiviral and antibacterial properties.
  • Regulate Blood Sugar. The manganese in coconut milk helps you metabolize glucose in the body to help the metabolism working at the optimum level. Manganese can also help to prevent osteoporosis, PMS, inflammation and vitamin absorption.
  • Lower Cholesterol. Even though coconut milk is high in saturated fat, but this type of fat raises the HDL or good cholesterol while dairy based products raise the LDL or bad cholesterol. The fat in coconut milk is easy for your body to metabolize which will lower your cholesterol levels overall.
  • Relieves Arthritis. The selenium in coconut milk acts as an antioxidant that will help to reduce free radicals that can cause joint inflammation.

There are 3 concerns related to coconut milk:

  • Bisphenol-A – which can be avoided if you get fresh coconut milk or you use the ones in tetra-paks.
  • Guar Gum is an additive that is included in some packaged coconut milk. The brand we use states that it is free from preservatives so I would presume that includes Guar Gum.
  • Fructose mal-absorption (FM) – this is cited as one of the negatives against coconut milk, and I would presume it is similar to the problem that lactose-intolerant individuals have with the consumption of milk. So unless you have FM (which would mean a lot of other foods you shouldn’t be eating as well), this isn’t really a reason to avoid coconut milk.

Healthy Fruit and Nut Smoothie

When I first started blending smoothies for the boys, the goal was simple – how do I get my boys to consume more fruits and veggies? Considering that the first smoothie I ever made for the boys was not tolerated well at all, I think we’ve made a lot of progress. G1 now looks forward to his smoothies as something enjoyable and G2 drinks a whole glass without fuss. The boys have had spinach, carrots, beetroot, tomato, cucumber, celery, and wheatgrass in their smoothies without complaint. G1, who doesn’t like bananas, drinks smoothies with bananas. G2, who hates apples, drinks smoothies with apples.

Now that they have tolerated their fruit and veggie smoothies so well, I figured it was time to start expanding their palates again by testing more “new” ingredients. The hope is that through the introduction of new flavours into their smoothies, they might one day accept the actual food in its unmasked flavour.

Testing new ingredients is always a tediously slow process because you can only add one new ingredient at a time. So far, we’ve added chia seeds, flaxseed, oats, grain powder, and nutmilks. However, after reading about carrageenan in nutmilks, I decided we should try to add the actual nut rather than a nutmilk.

See also: Is Carrageenan Safe?

Adding Nuts to Smoothies

The concern about adding nuts to a smoothie is the concern that it might affect the texture of the smoothie making it gritty. The best way to overcome this problem is to soak the nuts before blending them. Apparently, soaking is also a great way to improve the nutritional value of the nuts – bonus! Soaking also helps to remove natural toxins from the nut that can otherwise cause bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort associated with the consumption of nuts.

Soaking Time

The Blender Girl has a terrific chart for recommended soaking times for various grains, nuts, and seeds. We started with almonds, cashews and walnuts:

  • almonds – 8 to 12 hours
  • cashews – 2 to 4 hours
  • walnuts – 4 hours

After soaking, wash the nuts before adding them into your smoothie.

Nutritional Benefits

Nuts are nutritious and a great way to give your smoothie a nutrient boost. Here are some of the nutritional benefits of nuts we use in our smoothies:

  • Almonds
    • rich in dietary fiber
    • vitamins – vitamin E, B-complex (riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6, and folates)
    • minerals – manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium
    • phyto-chemicals – protects against diseases and cancers
    • mono-unsaturated fatty acids like oleic, and palmitoleic acids that help in lowering LDL or “bad cholesterol” and increasing HDL or “good cholesterol” in the human body
  • Cashews
    • vitamins – pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin, and thiamin (vitamin B-1)
    • minerals – manganese, potassium, copper, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium
    • rich in “heart-friendly” monounsaturated-fatty acids like oleic, and palmitoleic acids
    • zea-xanthin – an important pigment flavonoid antioxidant which protects the eyes
  • Walnuts
    • phyto-chemical – substances that may contribute to their overall anti-oxidant activity, including melatonin, ellagic acid, vitamin E, carotenoids, and poly-phenolic compounds
    • monounsaturated fatty acids (about 72%) like oleic acid and an excellent source of all important omega-3 essential fatty acids like linoleic acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and arachidonic acids
    • vitamins – vitamin E, B-complex (riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6, and folates)
    • minerals – manganese, copper, potassium, calcium, iron,magnesium, zinc, and selenium

More benefits of nuts

Quantity of Nuts

Although nuts are highly nutritious, you can have too much of a good thing. In our smoothies, we only add one serve of nuts:

Nut Smoothies

Cashew Nut, Chia Seed and Fruit Smoothie

This was one of the first nut smoothies we tried. Cashews are terrific for giving smoothies an added creaminess and a great first nut to try.


  • 1 apple
  • 1 orange
  • 5 frozen strawberries
  • 1 tsp supersprout strawberry
  • 1 tsp supersprout blueberry
  • 1 tsp supersprout apple
  • 1 tsp supersprout wheatgrass
  • 1/3 of a large carrot
  • 1 large banana
  • 1 c almond milk
  • 1 c farmfresh mango yoghurt drink
  • 1 large handful of grapes
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds, soaked for 4 hours
  • 30g cashew nuts (approx 17 cashews), soaked for 4 hours


Delicious Nutrient Packed Chocolate Smoothie

Step aside Boost Juice, your King William Chocolate has nothing on this!

The King William Chocolate has always been one of my favourites at Boost Juice. We previously experimented with our own King William Chocolate recipe which was not so healthy so I decided to play around with more nutrient dense ingredients with similar flavours to see if we could make a “healthier” smoothie. Here’s what we came up with…



  • 1 large banana
  • 1 cup hazelnut chocolate milk
  • 1 tbsp cacao powder (which is apparently way better than cocoa powder in terms of nutritional benefits – see below)
  • 1 large handful of spinach (you can also use wheatgrass or barley grass as an alternative)
  • 2 tbsp flaxseed meal
  • 2 tbsp Country Farm Organics 5 grains powder

Spinach vs Wheatgrass vs Barley Grass

In our haste to boost everything with as much nutrients as possible, I thought we should clarify a few points so we don’t end up overdoing it…

Cacao vs Cocoa

Here’s what they say on Food Matters

What’s the difference?

  • Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing un-roasted cacoa beans. The process keeps the living enzymes in the cacoa and removes the fat (cacao butter).
  • Cocoa powder is raw cacao that’s been roasted at high temperatures. Roasting changes the molecular structure of the cacoa bean, reducing the enzyme content and lowering the overall nutritional value.

Benefits of Cacao

  • Lowers insulin resistance
  • Protects your nervous system
  • Shields nerve cells from damage
  • Reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduces your risk of stroke
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Guards against toxins – it is a potent antioxidant (cacao contains far more antioxidants per 100g than acai, goji berries and blueberries!)
  • Boosts your mood
  • It is rich in minerals – magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper and manganese.


  • The nutrients can be damaged by the heating process so that makes cacao well suited for smoothies!
  • Dairy inhibits the absorption of antioxidants from cacao so stick to non-dairy milk in your cacao smoothies

Nut Milks

Nut milks contain carrageenan which is an additive that has been linked to gastrointestinal problems so although we used it in this recipe, we will be experimenting with alternative methods to get our nutrients from nuts in future.

See also:

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