Tham Jiak means in some way "love to eat" in Hokkien. I am a Malaysian Hokkien and truly love to eat.

Friday, December 30, 2005

From My Rasoi: Kheema

Since I started blogging, I had known so many Indian food lovers and bloggers alike out there. If you want to be swarm by it, go over and get the links from VK of My Dhaba. Meena from Hooked on Heat had suggested a monthly cookout celebrating Indian cuisines in various forms, called as From My Rasoi, literary meaning, from my kitchen. Every month Meena would come up with a theme and for this month, along with the cold period in half part of the world, the theme is “Winter”.

Winter is a tough theme for a tropical gal like me. In Malaysia, it is either rain or shine here. When it is hot here, it can be burning hot. You would not want to be caught out in the sun especially right at noon. In fact, you can have burning sensation on your head. During my high school days, I was a school basketball players and fanatically, we play till 11am when the sun is high and our head is about to set on fire. Although it is really hot around, we are still lucky as the air is humid and never too dry plus we get a fair share of rain all the time. In Taiping, as I had mentioned as the wettest town in Southeast Asia, I had countless times of enjoying the cooling rain while I sleep.

Sometimes I do wish for four seasons like other countries, where we can enjoy the sun in the summer, catch fallen leaves in autumn, throw snowballs at winter and enjoy rebirth of nature in spring. But sometimes, I revel in the fact that we have consistent weather and nothing to worry about, just maybe occasional floods.

So therefore, my interpretation of the theme may vary a lot from people but I feel, as for winter, it is a cold time calling for hot food! Coincidently, all Indian food is hot! And I meant not just the high heat but spicy and exciting.

As for me, this month I will be featuring a really delectable dish that was introduced to me in a recent food gathering. As I had mentioned a few times, I am actively involved in a Singapore/Malaysia food forum Kitchen Capers, where we had organized a meet up, joint with another local forum that I was recently introduced to - Jo’s Deli, last month for both Malaysian members. There, a member had cooked up a delicious and ‘never get enough of’ dish – Lamb Kheema. Oh it got me dreaming of it day and night after the gathering. So, naturally, when everyone posted up their recipes, I try this one out first straightaway.

Kheema is a hot dish which is not too spicy but yet do not lack in taste. It is really complex in flavours although the ingredients are pretty simple and I am quite sure, readily available. According to
Wiki:
This is a traditional Punjabi home cooked dish and is popular with northern Indian/Pakistani people in the Midlands. It is minced lamb curry served with
peas.

Meena had also cooked up some Keema Matar, with ground chicken and peas. I totally agree with her on the part about peas, as I personally feel it is the main ingredient that made the dish at the right texture with the right taste. Not to mention it adds more colour to the dish and of course, more nutrition. Now, without further ado, let me introduce you this hot dish for cold times or to level your winter, if you are in one.


Kheema

I had used ground pork for this dish but found that the lamb that I had in the gathering had much more complex taste, but nonetheless this was also really tasty. This is a simple yet wonderful dish, certainly a keeper in my rasoi!

Grind to a fine paste:
4 slices of ginger (each 1 cm thick)
3 cloves of garlic

250gm minced meat (lamb, beef, chicken or pork)
3-5 tbsps of curry powder (according to level of spiciness)

2 cups of water salt to taste
120 gm green peas (I used 1 can)
1 green chilli (thinly sliced)

Cut into cubes:
2-3 medium sized potatoes (peeled)
2 tomatoes
1 big onion

For frying:
1/2 onion (thinly sliced)
3 cardamoms
4 cloves
1 stick cinnamon - about 4cm long

In a bowl, mix the meat with ginger-garlic paste, curry powder, salt and ½ cup water.
Then heat oil in pan and fry the ingredients for frying.
When onions are soft, add the mince meat and fry till fragrant.
Add the potatoes and stir in 1 ½ cup of water. Bring to boil. Cover and cook till potatoes are soft, stir occasionally.
Then add cubed tomatoes and onions, peas, chilli. Cover and cook for another 3-5 minutes.
Dish out and devour!

Serves 4

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Late Meme: You Are What You Eat

I had been late on this meme from Kalyn (bowing my head in shame), although I had been tagged since early this month. I am really sorry Kalyn, it just had been a busy month with Christmas and new year approaching. I had written it long time ago but have yet to complete it. I will update this post when I finally get the rest of the pictures together, which was the main source of this late post.

Now on to my top 10 favourite food:
Chocolate
Every woman’s secret vice. Chocolate is known as the food for Gods since ancient times and it is not a wonder why. Chocolate is one of my comfort food that bound to help most of the time. Whenever I’m down, chocolate is needed to lift me up and when I’m happy, chocolate is needed to share the joy. So, basically I need chocolate all the time. Naughty me! For me, the darker the chocolate, with richer cocoa taste the better! I eat chocolate anything, from plain chocolate to chocolate cookies to chocolate cakes to hot cocoa to anything! I just have yet to try mole, chocolate with meat, which one day I must!

Cheese
Need I elaborate more on this milky goodness? Yes I do. I had mentioned that it had been J’s weakness; well I must admit it does have quite an effect on me too. I love it in both sweets and savouries. I bow to cheesecakes; I love a thick carbonara anytime and whatever cheesy, you name it.

Milk
I would need a glass every morning (or the time I wake up) to start my day. I had been having it since my pre-school days up till now. Nothing beats fresh milk and now for me, fat-free milk.

Egg

It is the most versatile food I have ever known. If you’re lazy, just fry it and you will have a sunny side up. Or just whisk it around and fry it plain or with anything else that you want. One of my favourite ways is fry it with long beans. Not too sweet and with the right crunch compare to the eggy texture. You must try it if you get your hands on long beans, and I’m sure you have eggs at hand! Besides, eggs are the base for most delicious desserts isn’t it?

Vegetables
Oh, I do eat my greens. When I was young, I refuse to have anything green into my mouth but not anymore. I learn to love my veggies since quite sometime ago. Not only nutritious but it is actually really delectable. Cooking each veggies the right way would make it interesting. But somehow, I love the way we Chinese like to cook it; stir-fry it with some garlic, dashes of soy sauce and chicken/vegetable stock if you’re lucky or water if you’re not. Rest assured, it is one of the best way to enjoy your veggies!

Soup

Ah, one of our Chinese secrets! As I had mentioned, our Chinese soups are blends of the most natural tastes of the ingredients meld together into something really wonderful. One of my comfort food I might say. When I was young, I love to drown my rice in soup and then eat it with dishes; in fact it can even be a complete meal itself. It was Ah Ma that had brought the love of soup to me, and now I must pass it on! Do try out our various soups and indulge in the wonderful flavours.

Sushi

My housemates and I simply adore sushi! When we had the opportunity to eat out, we would pretend discussing where to eat but in the end, we would end up in a sushi bar. In Malaysia, it is either Genki Sushi or Sushi King for us. These are sushi cheap-eats for us but then again, who are we to complain. It still soothes our cravings for some raw salmon and some sweet rice.

‘Bun’ (Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli)

It is not the usual buns but rather it is actually rice vermicelli. Bun is served cold with fresh vegetables, juicy meat and ‘cha gio’ (springrolls). I would always hop over to Vietnam Kitchen (One U) for my fix of bun when I’m looking for a wholesome and fulfilling meal. To know more about what bun is all about, hop over at Fine Cooking.

Mexican

Even the test results revealed that I am a Mexican girl. Yes I am! I love Mexican food for its complex blends of spices and tastes. I loved chillis (which I did for my birthday, will share it one day), tortillas, egg rolls (simply adore these), fajitas, quesadillas and tacos with salsa! Now I am craving for some!

Seafood

Oh how can I leave out this wonderful food? When there are spreads of seafood around, I go week at my knees. This is no exaggeration! I absolutely adore crabs and shrimps. Then there are the fishes, plain ol’ fishes plus much much more ranging from mussels to squids to clams to oysters. What an indulgence.

Tagging (hopefully still available):
Babe_KL from Babe in the City-KL
Mumu from A Curious Mix

Well, the baton is passed. Hope you have a good (or tough) time listing your favourites. *Laugh evilly.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Shoving some lovely red tomatoes your way! Well, just a picture of reds and greens to build some festive mood. Hope your Christmas this year is a bundle of joy, full with laughters and cheers.

Here’s a little ode to you:

Christmas is
A time for gathering
and a time for sharing
A time for giving
and a time for receiving
A time for rejoicing
and appreciating
A time for embracing
and a time for reminding
How much we are loved


Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Popcorn Endeavour


I have been a fan of popcorn since the day Cineplex conquered Malaysia. Cineplex is actually cinema, a movie theatre in a shopping complex. This Cineplex fever had hit Malaysia about 8 years ago ( if I’m not mistaken) and people just love the idea for a one stop entertainment, where they will go there to eat, window shopping or do some buying and then go for a movie.

We used to have cinema in Malaysia, where a particular huge building with car parks itself is cater just for movie watching. At that time, cinema is a huge hit. Back in Taiping, Lido is one of the most famous cinemas, where during peak times like Chinese New Year; the tickets had to be booked a week ahead to get a seat for those usual 'Jackie Chan-good prevails-action kicking' kind of movie. I for one is lucky as my Lai Ma’s (nanny) husband Lai Pa, is the manager of the Lido cinema, which means easy booking for me. At times, during non peak season, I even have the privilege to watch a movie free; sometimes I would slip in a friend or two. After that, pirated VCDs invaded Malaysia and people no longer want to spend the money to watch in cinema when the price of one admission can get a CD for viewing by the whole family. Besides, Astro (our local cable television) came along and had also rendered many to their sofas. Then Cineplex became a trend and thus many cinemas close down one by one, and by 1999, Lido shut down too. I was particularly sad as I have many fond memories there, not just in the theatre but times I spend hanging out at the office with my Lai Pa.

Although I would love to have popcorn every time I go to a movie but sometimes, it is just too costly for me. After that I read about in blogs where people make their own popcorn. So one day, while J and I are out groceries shopping in the shopping mall (yes, shamefully that is where I get my food, just do not have the strength to wake up in the morning for a walk in the market), I just casually mentioned about popcorn. Now, I actually do not know how raw corn would look like and commented to J on how great if I know how to make own popcorn, as in not those costly pre-packed ready to pop in foil kind. J had a fit of laughter and was pretty amused. He was smug too as finally, there was once, he know something about food more than me. This was not the usual case where usually, during groceries shopping, he likes to enquire endlessly about food things from really negligible things to some I myself could not answer. Sometimes, I suspect he does all this just out to amuse himself while I do the boring “si lai” (housewife) shopping. Anyway, as I was saying, J pointed out to me what the raw corn was, of course after he gets a good laugh at me and a reluctant credit from me, as he had in fact seen his mum made popcorn before with the microwave. I was delighted in my new find - maize.



Well, J might have seen his mum did it before; typically he was not sure how exactly was it done. At that time, I do not have a microwave yet and decided to do it over the stove. It did pop but only half of it, with the other half burnt and stuck to the bottom of my saucepan. I have a similar problem, but with 70% success rate at second try. Then finally, I chuck my maize away in the corner of the cupboard. Then recently, I got my microwave! Hurray! So J and I put it in a container, with a knob of butter and finally it did came out nice, but sadly, still with about 15% non-pop at the bottom while also, unfortunately, slightly disfigured my container. I nearly gave up on my popcorn adventure but no, yesterday night, I just had the urge to finally make it right. I decided to use my trusty non-stick pan this time and finally had a 100% success rate! I was ecstatic.

Do try out making your own popcorn as, my huge bowl of popcorn, which cost me around RM1-2 compared to the popcorn sold in the cinema at RM6++ for maybe less the amount. You do the math. Besides, I’m pretty sure my popcorns are much healthier too, with no butter or preservatives plus more delicious with extra own spices. Now I am thinking of sneaking these lovelies into the cinema; lets all be converted together! But first I got to find a big hand bag.


Image hosted by Photobucket.com


Cinnamon Caramel Popcorn

2 handful (1/3 cup) popcorn
1 tsp oil

Drop oil on pan and use a tissue to spread it all over, coating the pan.
Heat it till hot.
Add in popcorn and cover. It would helped to use a glass cover so that you can watch the corn popping, not only for pleasure, but to know how to handle it.
While it heats up, do some other stuff, watch TV, surf the net, clean the kitchen (as if) or just sit down and dream.
It’ll be quite sometime till the first “pop” is heard.
From here, you have to watch over it.
Shake the pan once a while. This is to avoid some un-pop corn and also burnt ones.
After some fascinating ooh ahh seeing the corn popping and also some shakings, the popping stops. Remove from heat.

The coating:
4 tbsp of brown sugar
2-3 tsp of cinnamon

Heat brown sugar and cinnamon over a saucepan.
Stir it occasionally to avoid burning.
The brown sugar would soon sweat and then melt into a lovely caramel.
From here take note not to over cook it or you’ll get black and bitter stuff.

Put in the popcorn by batches on the caramel and coat it roughly. You might not be able to coat all but just the better else it would be too sweet. You’ll then get huge chunks of popcorns sticking together from the caramel. Yum!

Now I'm thinking of all the other spices or maybe coffee powder to use instead of cinnamon. Imagine all the possibilities! More adventures for me!

Makes one huge bowl of finger sticking and licking popcorns


Sunday, December 18, 2005

Weekend Herb Blogging - Lemongrass

It has been a while since I’ve been blogging. This had certainly been a busy week and it whizzed pass in no time. Nevertheless, I have still kept on cooking and baking, experimenting in the kitchen. Somehow cooking is therapeutic to me. No matter how long I spent the day inside that tiny little space of mine, I somehow emerge from there feeling victorious. Yes, even after a bunch of burnt cookies.

No matter how busy one is, we always have time for food. The first thing we thought of when we wake up is what to have to break the fast. It might not be breakfast, as sometimes (or usually) I break my fast with lunch. Ah, lazy me. Then in due time we would be thinking what to have for dinner. Such gluttony! But aren’t human born to live like that?

Anyway, to keep this post short and to rumble back to my busy dailies, I would continue on about the main thing you must be asking, “Where is the herb?” Pardon my long windedness, so here goes this week’s herb, Lemongrass (Serai).




This particular herb is featured mainly in Thai, Malay and Nonya cuisines, giving an instant lift to any food. Lemongrass is one herb that leaves a sweet lemony smell to your fingers after you cut it and it will instantly jazz up your spice mixes once grinded or pounded to release the aroma. It is widely used especially in cooking curries, soup (like the famous Thai Tom Yum soup that relies practically on this herb) and other spice mixing recipes. It can also be used in making of drinks like tea or honey. I once had honey lemongrass drink with the herb stalk itself used to stir the drink, exotic and certainly refreshing.

The recipe that I will be showing using this sweet herb is from the Nonya cuisine. Nonya is basically the people from the marriage between the Chinese and Malay, creating a new generation of Peranakan. Although they are half Chinese, these Peranakan had adopted Malay culture wholly with a little of their own influences, causing a new hybrid of culture that they call their own. These generations of people are prominent from Penang and Malacca but it is in Malacca that is left with many remnants of it. When one culture is created, most certainly a new cuisine of its kind emerged. Nonya cuisines are fusion of Chinese and Malay cuisines with Thai and Indonesia influences. There is an extensive explanation of Nonya cuisine over at Malaysian Food, if you are inclined to know more.

Well, I suppose this following recipe of mine must be of Thai influence with the usage of lemongrass, and it is a little bit spicy with a strong smell of belachan(shrimp paste), another acquired taste food. When frying the belachan, one is bound to be caught up with the strong aroma rising which would choke right up the nose, down the nasal to the throat. I’m not kidding here! I can still remember the days when my Nanny cook up a storm of Sambal Belachan (chilly fried with belachan paste), the whole house would be choking in the strong aroma. But secretly we would be smiling with glee anticipating what would appear on the dinner table next. Well, after a nasal war just now, I whipped up a sour fishy Nonya dish.



Ikan Assam (Spicy Fish in Tamarind)

Source: Female Appetite (Edition 1)

I did not have ginger flower and had omitted eggplants and lady’s fingers, adding more tomatoes instead, but I guess with those, it would had been much more flavourful and of course much more colourful. I ran out of lime thus added more tamarind for the sourness. I had also added 1 inch of Galangal (Lengkuas) just for fun, as I feel it would be appropriate, ah a cook’s whim.

4 tbsp oil
15g tamarind paste
500ml water
1 eggplant, julienned
1 tomato, cut in wedges
4 lady’s fingers
400g fish fillet
2 tbsp lime juice
Salt and sugar to taste

To grind:
30g dried prawns
20g shallots
30g onions
2cm belachan (shrimp paste)
20g dried chillies
20g red chillies
1 stalk lemongrass
1 stalk ginger flower

Heat wok over high flame, add oil and lower the flame.
Sitr in grounded ingredients and tamarind paste until aroma arises
Add water and bring to boil
Reduce heat and add eggplant, tomato and lady’s fingers. Cook for about 10 minutes before adding the fish.
When fish is cooked, add lime juice, salt and sugar.

Serves 4 - 6 (depending on edacity of guests)

Note: This spicy dish tasted much much better overnight (we got plenty leftovers) and reheated, the complex flavours developed more and had taken it to a whole new level. So next time, I would cook it and leave it soaking at least few hours first before devouring.

Update: Check out the list of herbs for this week over at Kalyn's.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A Tribute to Ah Ma

I had many wonderful childhood memories with my father’s mother, who I called Ah Ma (Grandma in Hokkien). For one period of time, when I was 5, Ah Ma stayed with us in our rented house back in Taiping. That time, was when I had many quiet evenings with Ah Ma after my nursery school everyday. I still remember at one point of time, she was really into knitting, and would be sitting by the sofa everyday, knitting away. She would knit scarves, jacket and gloves, which she said is for my aunty and uncle away in Australia (we would never dream of wearing those in Malaysia’s hot weather, which would spell madness). I would usually sit by, just staring at her fascinated for hours. In due time, my impatience grew, and Ah Ma know she got to give me something to do or else I would not stay put. She gave me a knitting kit myself plus a block of wool and taught me the most basic in knitting. I set down to do my own version of a scarf. Well, I could not remember finishing a decent one, but little did I know, 7 years down the road, I would consult her again to refresh my memory and knit a scarf for my school project.

Then other times, when it was not knitting season, I would sit around listening to her talk. She taught me a lot of things, from general knowledge to stories of yesteryears. I even remember that I learnt to read the time from Ah Ma. For one, Ah Ma is very much educated unlike most old people here. I did not mean that old people here are uneducated, it is just that most of us Chinese here, at that time, does not have the luxury to get proper education and mostly would be working since young to feed themselves, like my mother’s mother who came from China. This is mainly because Ah Ma was born in a rich family and had proper education up till she was 12, where the war started and her whole family was forced to hide in plantations. From there, she had continued to read and learn herself. For a grandmother from her era, she can practically read any English book, watch documentaries and converse in it fluently, much to amazements of my friends. This is also partly because she is still quite young as she got married to my Ah Kong (Grandpa in Hokkien), when she was just merely 17.

From the stories I heard from her and also my dad and aunts, I had gather a pretty thorough life story of Ah Ma. Ah Ma is a first born in her family, and had been pretty bossy since young, acting as the big sister. She took care of her lot of young siblings and had assumed whole authority when the women and children had sought refuge in the plantations during war time. After that, peace came and the whole family moved out to town again (Taiping) and so happened she stayed right next door to my Ah Kong. Little did she know she would be marrying her neighbour, one of the richest man in Taiping, at the tender age of 17

My Ah Kong is another remarkable man. When he was just in his early twenties, his brother passed away leaving behind four children. Being a compassionate man, Ah Kong took them as his own kids and raised them the best he could. At that time, he was just venturing into tin ore business and he had already decided in his heart to just concentrate on career and treat all his nieces and nephews as his family. By the time he was nearly 30, he had became one of the most successful man in business. At that time, tin ore business is a flourishing in the rich soils of Taiping. So after being really stable in his business, someone decided it is time he thinks for himself. Therefore, he was introduced to the girl next door, my Ah Ma, and then, to make an arrange marriage short, they got married.

Back to my Ah Ma, just imagine, at the age of 17, she was all of the sudden, married to a rich man and not only that, became a mother of four pretty grown up children. She could even be their sisters, but no, Ah Ma is more than that. For a young girl, she was pretty tough, trained from being a big sister since young, she assumes authority in the household quickly and took care of all the young ones. She then bears my Ah Kong, seven children all together, two daughters and five sons. It is a wonder how last time people can handle so many children altogether. I guess my Ah Ma had a big heart, as in overall, she would be giving love out to 11 kids now. According to Dad, Ah Ma treated them real strict, unlike how she had treated the 4 children earlier. Maybe it was her motherly instinct kicking in. Dad said, all of them would have to sit down to do their school work every night after dinner and no noise is allowed. By 9pm, all would have to be in bed and no objections allowed. Of course when they grew up, my Ah Ma tame down, don’t they always do?

As a grandmother, Ah Ma is a real softie. She had never once scolded any of her grandchildren and with her big heart still, she showered all of us with love. Once a while she does give some advice but she never nags for long. She had even taken care of my cousin brother his whole life, because his mother was away working in America.

Ah Ma cooks really good home cook food, we all says our home cook food is the best, and I guess it is true in our very own way. Food laboured with love is always the best. I am really lucky to be able to enjoy her cooking, as we stayed next to each other in Taiping, after the shift from the rented house. although she stopped cooking daily since my teens, for my uncles all objected it and wanted her to “heong fook” (which means enjoy prosperity) instead, she did whipped up some of my old favourites occasionally. One my favourite for all time is the Pork and Potato in Sweet Dark Soy Sauce. Oh, I must make it again, the way Ah Ma would, another worthy “exploring my origins” project. Ah Ma is not the type to cook fancy food. Her cooking style is in some ways like her roots, Cantonese, which is famous for simple yet delicious food. Cantonese people are good in bringing together simple few ingredients that complements real well and thus showcasing the authentic taste of each ingredient. It is never laden with spices, mostly just soy sauce or salt, as most flavours comes from the main ingredient itself. As far as I know, our famous Chinese soups mostly originated from the Cantonese who had brought together wholesome ingredients and brew to fuse all the wonderful flavours together which are light but a delight to the palate. It is from Ah Ma that I learnt to appreciate simple food, and I am really accustomed to food that is bland. When I go out to eat, I sometimes find food too salty or too sweet or too pungent. But of course, I still enjoy flavorful food laden with spices like the Indian and Malay cuisines, and some other more adventurous Chinese cuisines. But when I seek for home cook food, I always crave for the simple fare of Ah Ma’s cooking.

Ah Ma had came a long way since, and now, as the oldest in the family tree, she is really well respected. During Chinese New Year, all relatives will gather at her house without fail. Every year, on the first day of New Year, her house would be full with relatives from far and wide, her brothers and sisters, her cousins, her four step-children and her own children, which all bring the next generations and some even with the following generations. Ah Ma had just become a great grandmother last month as my cousin; the first boy in the family just had a new born baby girl.

During the weekend, I had went back to celebrate Ah Ma’s 80th birthday, which was attended by relatives from near and far, even my aunt, uncle and cousin from Australia came back. We occupied about 3 wedding sized table, accounting to more than 30 people. What a bash it was and my dad had ordered nine dishes all together (which we found out that it was just too much later) and it was certainly a wonderful tummy-rubbing feast.



I had mentioned earlier that I would be baking a cake for her, which is non-dairy as Ah Ma could not stand butter or milk or cheese. Thus I decided to go on a quest to make a cake she would not only be able to tolerate; it would be one she would enjoy. After some tweaking, sweating and praying, yes I did, I had finally came up with a cake for Ah Ma:



Chocolate Blueberry Cake with Chocolate Soy ‘Ganache’

A fellow cooking friend, C, from KC, recommended black forest Cake that she had just made. Looking at her delicious looking cake, I decided to give it a try. I saw the absence of butter but it called for whipping cream, which I’m sure, is a no no for Ah Ma. C had suggested non-dairy whipping cream but I’m not too keen as the look itself would still deter Ah Ma from trying it. Thus I tweaked the recipe a bit. Well actually a lot. I practically changed the whole thing and only used the basic chocolate cake. I had substituted black cherries with canned blueberries and forego the whipping cream altogether.

It was my first try at whipping the egg whites and I had troubled whipping it to stiff peaks. I was worried I might over whipped and thus ended up under whipped it. In the following recipe, I had added extra instructions in whipping the egg whites and how to incorporate the ingredients, a tip I learnt later from C. It was still bit runny but I gave up on it and use it anyway. This resulted in a disastrous not-fully-risen cake. To make matters worse, I had overlooked the recipe calling for 8-inch pan and had used a 9-inch one instead. Now you can imagine how short the cake it. Nonetheless, I persevered and sliced it anyway and sandwiched blueberries in between. I got a crack at the top of the cake, which C had also experienced and I had thought of a sly way to hide it. I sliced the cake into two, and put the cracked slice face down at the bottom instead and top with the other better looking slice. How would this affect the cake I’m not sure though, but if any of you do, please let me know. Anyhow, it solved the ugly part, but somehow it still lack the lustre of a cake fit to cater for a birthday bash.

After some head cracking, I had decided to do a ‘ganache’ for the cake. But of course, this would mean I need whipping cream again, thus I substituted and used soy milk instead and somehow came up with a spreadable cream which frosted the cake pretty well. Then back in Taiping, I rushed to the supermarket and got myself fruits to decorate the plain top. Should had gotten the strawberry instead as the canned pineapple was dull looking, much to my horror when I open it and I found that I overlooked that the dark purple grape would not stand out against the chocolate cake. Anyhow, my relatives were all very supportive, they said it looked wonderful and they ate it up with a resounding yum. I guess there were just being nice, as for me, I found the cake a bit tough, due to poorly risen, but other than that, it tasted great and no one realized the absence of dairy or the presence of soy. Even me. What a healthy alternative to a decadent looking and tasting cake.

Wet:
4 egg yolks
40g sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp brandy

85ml corn oil warmed (I used EVOO)
25g cocoa powder

135ml warm water

Dry:
125g cake flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder

4 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
50g sugar

Filling:
1 can blueberries (bout 500g)

Ganache:
150g dark chocolate
4-6 tbps of Soy Milk

80g shaved dark chocolate(I did mine with a knife on a block of cooking chocolate)
Fresh fruits

For the base:
Mix the A well with a hand whisk
Next stir in cocoa powder into a warmed oil (I used the microwave) until dissolved and then pour into wet mixture.
Stir warm water into the mixture.
Next, sieve the dry ingredients and then stir into the wet mixture.
Whip egg whites in a mixing bowl until bubbles form. Add in the cream of tartar and whip until white. Then divide the sugar into 3 portions and add one at a time slowly into the egg white while whipping. Whip until stiff peak.
Pour some of the egg white into the mixture, incorporating it with a cutting movement of a spatula.
Pour in the rest of the egg white and mix till well blended.
Pour batter into a clean 8 inch baking pan.
Bake at 175C for 45 minutes or until the tester comes out clean.
Remove from pan and let cool on the rack.
Cut the cake into half.

For the ganache:
Put the dark chocolate and the soy milk in a microwave proof bowl and microwave on medium for about 4-5 minutes.
Then stir to incorporate.
Add chocolate if it’s too thin or add soy milk if it’s too thick and microwave a minute more. Stir.

Next spread out the blueberries on top of the bottom half of the cake slice.
Top up with the other cake slice.
Slowly spread the ganache onto the cake with a spatula.
Freeze till harden and then return to chill overnight.
Decorate with fruit slices as deem appropriate.(Strawberries would look good, and don’t get dark coloured fruits as it would drown on the dark cake, oh I nag like an Ah Ma)

Make a good 8 inch cake
(or a short 9 inch- which actually served more people, *laughed evilly)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Weekend Herb Blogging - Pandan Leaves

I totally forgot the weekend herb blogging last week, sigh what a shame but it’s alright, I have every week to make it up to it. As I will be going back to my hometown tomorrow, for my grandma's birthday, this post is early, as on today.

Anyway, this time I would be introduce a wonderful herb available locally in Malaysia. It is always used in both savoury and mostly sweets cooking. They are green in colour and make your food go green but no they are not vegetables, they are actually, pandan leaves.



I have talked bout these pandan leaves before where they were added into our kaya (local coconut jam) as additional flavouring. For me, pandan has the special fragrant smell that is not too strong but yet distinct enough to show its presence while not overpowering the entire dish.

Pandan leaves are a favourite in cooking together with rice like nasi lemak (coconut rice), nasi biryani or chicken rice (we locals here usually have our special Hainanese style oily rice cooked with chicken stock and pandan leaves to go with braised or roasted chicken). It will emit an extra fragrant aroma to the otherwise plain rice. Some people might not even realize its presence but will note how much more fragrant the rice is.

As for the sweets, we locals like to use it in ‘tong sui’ (sweet soup) and also in ‘kuih-muih’ (local cakes). Chinese had always been real good in tong sui making, we have huge varieties with different types of healing properties. I might blog more about it in future, featuring various tong sui that we usually have in Chinese cuisine, ah it can also be part of my ‘exploring my origins’ project.

Well for now, the limelight is on this week’s herb, pandan leaves. I have choices of so many favourites above, but somehow the alluring thoughts of tong sui evaded me and I succumbed to my old time favourite Hak Lor Mai (Sweet Black Glutinous Rice). My grandma use to make this only on occasions, and I would always be thrilled to have a bowful, then another helping, then another and another and...ok, too much! I just love the nutty flavours it emits (though no nuts here), and the crunch of the glutinous rice.


Usually, this Hak Lor Mai would be served with a drizzle of coconut milk, freshly squeezed and this is important as it will affect the flavour of the Hak Lor Mai. Some like a lot of coconut milk, some don’t, and I am one who loves my Hak Lor Mai black, just a little coconut milk plus whole load of pandan smell. Ah, bliss.




Hak Lor Mai (Sweet Black Glutinous Rice)

As now I am no longer in my teens where I can have a bowful and another and another without effect, I had become much more health conscious. Though delicious, coconut milk is not good to be consumed in excess. Therefore, I had substituted it with evaporated milk, and I personally like it much more. Though, this is strictly individual preferences, and most would gaps at this un-authenticity. Anyhow, J seems to prefer the evaporated milk version too, oh that vain boy!

300g Black Glutinous Rice
2 litres of water
4 pcs Pandan leaves

250g Gula Melaka (Palm sugar)
150 ml coconut milk/evaporated milk

Dump everything, except the gula melaka and coconute milk, into the slow cooker and put on auto/low for about 8 hours or overnight.
Next, add in gula melaka and cook till dissolved, bout 15-20 minutes more.
Serve a bowful of Hak Lor Mai with a drizzle of coconut milk or like me, evaporated milk.
This yummy tong sui goes well served warm or chilled.



Alternative method from KC:
Soak rice overnight.
Drain and wash rice the next day.
Put rice into rice cooker to cook.
Add enough water to cook the rice.
When rice is cooked, removed.
Boil water with gula melaka, pandan leaves till sugar is melted.
Add cooked rice to it and simmer over low heat for 2 hours.
Add more water if it dries up.
Served as suggested.

Makes for a person who can finish a bowl, then reach for another, and another, and another and….till the sixth bowl, if still possible ;) To be safe, share these quickly!

Update: Get all those herbs over at Kalyn's Kitchen

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Exploring My Origins: Egg Tarts


I am a Chinese, inside out. My mother and father, and both their father’s mother and so forth are all Chinese. In other words, I am a typical Chinese. My mother’s father, came directly from China, during the time many immigrants flocked here to seek a better life. Coincidently, my mother’s mother came to Malaysia in the same way, save maybe in a much later date. As for my father’s side, it was my great grandfather who also came from China to do business.

I am also, a Taiping ‘kia’ (the word is in Hokkien for child), inside out. I said this because both my parents were born and bred in Taiping, including my father’s mother. Same goes for me.

Taiping is a town located up north in Perak, Malaysia. The word itself Taiping meant “Eternal Peace”. As I remember from my studying of history, the name was given to signified the end of the feud between Ghee Hin and Hai San, two prominent gangster (like those in Hong Kong “ku wak chai” movies) at that time. Taiping was also known as “rain town” as it is the wettest town in Malaysia. I for one can testify to that when various times, my basketball practices and plays were canceled due to rainfall. Especially when it is the rainy season, the downpour is so huge; you cannot drive safely on the road. Anyway, I tried it and I swear, I felt like a blind man driving. Well, due to the wetness, we had a beautiful lake in town, with rain trees arching over the road, as they reached over for the water. Check it out over at Taiping Talk or Worldisround for wonderful pictures of my beloved home’s lake. This lake was a produce of the abandon tin ore mines. Quoted from NST:


“Often overlooked is the lake gardens' history. It is said to be the oldest lake gardens in Malaysia, opened to the public in 1880”

There is so much to talk about this hometown of mind, and I will bit by bit introduce it you readers. I had numerous pictures from Taiping, food especially, go figures, to share with you guys. I’ll be going back to Taiping this weekend, for my Grandmother’s birthday (I am also thinking of baking a cake for her, look out for it as it would be butterlees and milkless, my Grandma cannot stand dairy) and I promise to get more food pictures from town.

As for now, my subject is about my Chinese origins. I had intend to further explore food from my origins, due to inspiration from Barbara from Tigers & Strawberries, where she wrote a lot of thought provoking articles of how to appreciate Chinese cuisines and its various forms and arts.

So I had decided to make something created in Chinese cuisine, and came up with baking egg tarts. It was an absolute hit in my house. I referred to a recipe at KC yet again, and had modified the fillings. According to Wiki, egg tart is a type of pastry from Chinese cuisine. It was created during the time British colonized Hong Kong. SeaDragon from Café of the East had a nice write up bout how the word came about. You can also see the picture of how an egg tart looks like in Wiki, although the crust I made was not those flaky ones. I ran over the recipe to do the flaky crust and was at first afraid of the procedure of combining water and short dough together, something like how you would do puff pastry. Then dignified, I wanted to try it but then was once again put off, this time for the amount of butter involve! It doubles the amount I would have use for a normal crust, like those you would have in tarts. Therefore, I resort to making the pie crust instead.

Last time when I was young, I did not know how to enjoy egg tarts, maybe because my family seldom buys it anyway. Then came Portuguese egg tarts to town, these tarts are from Macao origin, neighbour to Hong Kong, and the crust was superbly puffy and the filling is extremely rich and thick. Alas, I have yet brave enough to make this favourite of mine, I might when one of these weekends I’m geared enough. Anyway, now that Portuguese egg tarts had ignited my interest in egg tarts, I decided to make one at home. Although, it would be completely different from my favourite type, normal crust with simple filling, I found this recipe a keeper as the crust was just at the right crunch and the filling was smooth and tasty, much unlike the watered down ones outside. Do give it a try, even with any pie crust you have. After all, it is just egg custard in pie crust. Ah, the beauty of simplicity.






Egg Tarts

I had discovered a really genius way to make the tart crust! Alright maybe not really genius or maybe everybody does it but it just came to me (the light bulb effect again) to use the rolling pin to flatten it first and then cut it out with a mug. Yes, you heard me right, a mug which you use to drink your hot cocoa from, as it would create a size just slightly smaller than the tart cases.


Remember to roll it just thin enough, press mug to the flatten dough, softly lift the cut out piece and place onto the tart case. Push up the sides to meet the ends. I also found that once baked, the crust will shrink slightly, therefore for my second batch, I had pinch the crust slightly higher than the sides and it will shrink to perfect size. Another reminder is to watch it while it baked so not to over done it resulting in cracks (it was told by a forum member). When done, the custard might be slightly jiggly in the middle, and not to worry as it will harden once cool.


Ingredients crust:
125g butter at room temperature
225g flour
1 egg white (leftover from the egg filling)
1 tsp vanilla essence


Method:
Sift the flour and then rub in the butter with your fingers till crumb-like.
Add egg and vanilla essence.
Then knead it to form dough.
Take a portion out of the dough, flatten it with a rolling pin.
Cut out in round shape, and press it into the tart moulds, using your fingers to push up the sides and evenly into the zig-zag shapes.
Preheat oven to 180C.
Bake the tart crust for 10mins.


Meanwhile get ready the egg filling:
80ml (1/3 C) water
80ml (1/3 C)ml fresh/UHT milk
4 tbsp sugar or to taste (depending on your milk sweetness)
juice from 1 lemon slice (1 tbsp lemon juice)
4 egg yolks and 3 egg whites


Method:
Put water and milk into saucepan and heat it till nearly boiled.
Then add in sugar and whisk it till dissolved.
Add the lemon juice and remove from stove, set aside to cool.
Beat the eats lightly and filter it through a sieve.
Combine the eggs with the prepare sugar and milk water, set aside.
Pour egg mixture into crust and bake at 180C for about 10 - 15mins.
Once cool enough, remove it from the cases with thongs (I just used my hands), it will dislodge easily
Place on the cooling rack.
Devour it while still slightly warm and be surprised how wonderful it is.


Makes 12 egg tarts



Sunday, December 04, 2005

My Blog Went Up in Flames!

Oh no! I did not mean to burn my new beloved blog. It’s young, barely growing and I’m killing it! No, it’s just that I’m joining in a one off event, thought up by Rachael at Fresh Approach Cooking, to let the world know how bad a photographer I am. But I guess you already know that judging from my previous pictures. Nevertheless, lets pretend those are not as bad to be in this entry.

The following not-so-kind-to-the-eyes-or-appetite picture will be featuring one of the food that I whipped up in the kitchen on spur of the moment and from inspirations and ideas I mixed and matched from everywhere. This particular one is about the current crave of Hong Kong food mania in Malaysia. You can see how greatly these Hong Kong ‘Char Chan Teng’, which is kinda like bistro ala HK style, had stormed Malaysia. It is really popular in HK and now it had spread over to our side, with adaptation of course. Recently, Babe in KL had just featured them, there are also few more outlets reviewed by Swee San from JustHeavenly and also at Yummy Corner.

As for me, I had only managed to try out and frequented two of the popular ones in Petaling Jaya area which is Kim Gary (both outlets in Midvalley, yeah I know that’s in KL but it is real close to PJ and I considered it in ‘my area’ too and also The Curve, ah, this is definitely superbly near as my condominium is right opposite it) and also Wong Kok Char Chan Teng (both One Utama and the outlet in SS2). If you’re not from Malaysia, PJ is an urban outskirt next to the famous KL town, where it’s younger in development. You can get more information on this wonderful town that I stayed in over at Wikitravel. If you do go over and read, I so happened to live in the northern “chunk” Damansara, as mentioned in there. Anyway, these restaurants are famous for the milk tea and also my all time favourite “Yin Yong” which is actually coffee and tea with milk, plus of course, the cheese baked rice. It is basically rice, with either chicken chop or fish fillet, topped with either tomato or sweet cream corn sauce and baked with cheese sprinkled on the top. Therefore, it is a basically a really simple dish to whip up with whatever you have in the refrigerator.

Alright, I have slide way out of topic. As I mentioned, this is a burning-my-blog event to disgust my reader. As after I came up with my concoction, which was on the spur to feed a hungry guy who just woke up from a deep sleep, I promptly serve him on the newspaper he was reading (if you look closely it is in the background) and had a quick snap with my poor quality digital camera plus bad lighting from my dining area, you get the idea how this is going to turn out. Well, I did not fuss to take a better picture when I saw my dear boy with a spoon on one hand and a fork on the other, looking wild eyed at the food with saliva dripping from his mouth (alright I might be exaggerating a little, ok, maybe a lot), and so I chuck the PDA away and let him dig into the food.

Well, so here goes to the ugliest food picture I have ever taken but yet given thumbs-up by a hungry guy (well, when you’re hungry, your thumb is bound to come up eh), but trust me, I tasted it and it can well fight those out there, except maybe a tad too sweet. (I’m such a food critic, *roll eyes).



My Version of Cheese Baked Rice with Chicken Fillet and Omelette in Tomato Pineapple Sauce

Phew, what a name. Anyway, here goes a really rough ‘guesstimation’ of my concoction as I just cooked it on a whim. Try it out at your own risk. But I believe you cannot go wrong with these as it is perfectly adaptable in anyway.

A palm size chicken fillet (chopped into pieces)
2 eggs (beaten)

Dash of soy sauce
Dash of fish sauce
Dash of Chinese Rice Wine

1 medium onion (chopped)
1 tomato (chopped)
Bout 3tbsp of tomato sauce
2 tbsp of pineapple juice (leftover from my pineapple tarts)

Olive oil
2 cups of cooked rice
1/4 cup of shredded mature cheddar cheese (or any cheese you prefer)

First, marinate the chicken fillets with soy sauce and fish sauce for about 10 minutes.
Then heat up non-stick pan with some olive oil.
Put in the marinated chicken fillets and pan fried still seared on the outside but still tender inside, it will further cook more when you bake it.
When it is nearly done, give a few good dash of Chinese rice wine for good flavour. Trust me, this is important.
Add another dash of OO, and fried your omelette with another good dash of soy sauce. Remove from pan.
Next, reuse the pan, if it is oily still, you do not need to add oil, if it is dry do so, and put in the onion. Sauté if for sometime till it is soft and a little caramelize.
Then stir in tomatoes and cook for another minute.
Add in tomato sauce and pineapple juice. Adjust to taste.
To assemble, simply scoop rice into whatever pan that is right, I do not have so I had used the bread pan instead (oh such shame), lined with foil.
Then spread half the fried chicken fillets over the rice, top with half the sauce.
Spread out remaining chicken fillets and top with the omelette.
Drown the top with remaining sauce and sprinkled with shredded cheese.
Bake in preheated oven at 250 degrees until the cheese is bubbly, melted and slightly browned here and there.

Serve 1 really hungry guy

Update: Thought my picture had ruined your upcoming meal? Think again and head on to Fresh Aprroach Cooking for more to "unwet" your appetite!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

To Start a Day

I had started embarking on my long due final year project and had little time now to cook or bake and share it here. But I am still trying my best to keep it up. After all, nothing beats home cooked food or the joy of indulging in own creations to cater to my sweet tooth.

Since I am working on my project, I found myself waking up much earlier than my usual routine, but still later than normal people (if you must know, it’s bout near to noon). Once up while I can still call it morning, I had a sudden pang to make my own pancake for brunch yesterday. It had always been something I wanted to try out but have yet to come across one healthy enough or sounds yummy enough for me.

Recently, I came across a recipe somewhere on the net that sounds promising enough and I had modified it to suit my own taste. It is a healthy pancake with whole wheat plus oats and natural yoghurt. It came out simply delicious and at the right note to start the day of battling work.






Whole Wheat Oat Pancake

Initially I wanted to make green tea pancake and had added 1/2 tsp of it, as I worry the taste would be too strong. It turned out that, not only there were no distinct green tea taste, I only managed to tinge my pancake to slightly greenish (you can see it in the picture if you look closely enough). I had omitted a pinch of baking soda by mistake, but to what effect I’m not sure; will try it again next time to see the difference. I have also found this pancake to be fragile while cooking, therefore be gentle when you flip it over, as you can see I have a crack on my pancake, but like what I have said for my chocolate chip cookie, it made it looks the more home made.

The pancake texture was just right, the type that I like which is ‘oaty’ and sturdy, while the taste was not floury (like some bad pancakes I had outside) and with a slight tinge of sourness from the natural yoghurt I had used. After making the pancake, I would love to have maple syrup to go with this, but alas I had no such luxury at hand. I did thought of honey but had forego it and suddenly a bulb light up in my head (seemed to happen every time eh) where I thought of using, yes you’ve guess it, my ol’ and still left at the dark corner of the fridge pandan kaya!

5 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon rolled oats
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp baking powder

1 egg (lightly beaten)
4 tbsp of natural yoghurt
1/2 tsp oil

a dollop of pandan kaya

Heat up the pan with a teaspoon of oil (use tissue paper to wipe it evenly over the surface)
Mix the dry ingredients together
Stir beaten egg and yoghurt briefly
Add wet ingredients to the dry and stir to incorporate
Pour batter onto the pan and use a spoon to spread it out into a round disk of bout 1cm thick
Flip over when it is done on one side and continue cooking
Once done, slide it out onto plate and serve with a dollop of pandan kaya or whatsoever that toots your horn

Serves 1 to kick start the day

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