Tham Jiak means in some way "love to eat" in Hokkien. I am a Malaysian Hokkien and truly love to eat.
Showing posts with label Light but Delightful. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Light but Delightful. Show all posts

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Icy Treats

Living in Malaysia, where the whether is hot and humid, icy treats are a necessity to us, especially when we were kids. I remember, those times when I was still in my Primary school, a good friend and I used to buy the ice tube of frozen-flavoured-water, usually orange flavour. It is a crude and cheap treat for us then, costing only 10sen per tube, where I remember vividly which the uncle, who is really old but will stand diligently everyday at our school gate selling his home-made creations, will snip the knot at the top off for us. Then we would take it and pour into our mouth the sweet water that has melted and then proceed to suck on the ice. Ah, I remember feeling really cool and happy every time after the treat, and not to forget the frozen little fingers for holding on to the tube.

Then we got on to our secondary, and then it was those days of ice-cream on the stick, where there is one of my favourite, which has vanilla ice cream wrapped with very-green lime frozen ice. Definitely not the usual combination one would hear of but one that is loved by many of us. That is also when the emergence of more processed ice-creams in oppose to these home-made versions of yesteryears. Then there was also the occasional treat of McDonald’s sundae cone on top of the Value Meal, where every Saturday, after our society meet, we 1984s would walk there from our school.

Soon I came to KL, where eventually, my spending power increases bit by bit till I got into the rat race. So it is now more of indulgence in terms of calories and money for me, where I go for ice creams in Baskin Robbins. There was once, Y and I chance upon its 31% off promotion for every 31st of the month, where we both got a pint each and sat down on a bench nearby and finish it all in one sitting! Ah, those were our uni carefree indulgence days. Then I also go to Swensens’ a couple of times for their earthquake promotion only on Tuesdays, consisting of 8 scoops of ice cream of your choice, where J and I had managed to go a few times. Nowadays, when J and I just want a quick fix of icy treats, we will drop by Macdonald’s drive-thru’ and get ourselves the McFlurry sundae.

So since my histories and currents of ice creams or its like in my life, one of the special additions was my ice cream maker. It had been such a long time since my last post of my own-home-made icy treats. As I mentioned, I had tried many attempts before I fell in love with THE Chocolate Gelato, oh so smooth. Just quite-sometime-ago, I got struck again with the churning bug and churned out some really deceptively and surprisingly delicious

Banana Fro-yo
Inspired by Jaden’s Coconut Frozen Yoghurt

Jaden’s post of suggesting churning Greek yoghurt (strained yoghurt, hence more cheesy-like) to turn into one deceptively healthy icy treat got me really interested. I have been looking out for Greek yoghurt since then, and since I have been working at KLCC for the past few weeks, I had a chance upon it in Cold Storage supermarket, but was definitely put off by the price! It cost nearly four times more than the regular yoghurt! Oh well, it was never ‘cheaper’ for making one’s own ice cream/gelato/sorbet but it is definitely ‘healthier’ in the sense that you can choose what you put in it. If you ever have the time to read into those ice cream ingredients, I bet you can find hydrogenated oil as the main as well as much you-can’t-even-identify stuff even after all the science classes we put ourselves through high-school. Besides we can make all sorts of exotic flavours by harvesting on our local tropical fruits for various concoctions. Anyway, back to yoghurt, so since the Greek yoghurt is crazily expensive here, I decided to get the regular one and since I do not have the patience to strain it, I thought that banana would be a very good ‘thickener’. So I got a bunch of ripe-to-blacken banana that the seller is happily to let off for just RM1! Now we are talking ‘cheap’ and healthy!

300ml plain yoghurt (mine was slightly sweetened)
1 bunch of bananas (bout 6-8), sliced
1 tbsp of sugar (only needed if your banana is not sweet enough)
1 tbsp honey, melted

Blend the yoghurt and sliced bananas together till smooth.
Add in the sugar if needed and blend till incorporated.
Pour into a container and chill overnight. This part is crucial for the flavours to meld and develop, as well as for the banana to ‘thicken’ the yoghurt.

Next day, pour the thick ‘banana-yoghurt’ into an ice cream maker and churn for 40-45mins (or according to manufacturer’s instructions).
Then scoop, yes scoop because it will be very thick (looked like the mess in picture above) and level into a freezer-proof container.

Can be serve soft immediately (J’s sister and I had a huge spoonful each) or store in the freezer.
Before serving from the freezer, take it out for bout 5-10mins in room temperature or bout 30mins in the refrigerator.

Yields: approximately 1 quart

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Beating It Stiff

I believe every cook has its challenges. Every cook has its qualms. As for me there are only two things in this culinary world that always gave me the apprehension. It is the yeast and the beat-till-stiff-peak thing. Oh yes, shamefully, as a cook, I have yet to even bake a bread myself, the thought of culturing a colony of yeast and then kneading them together and then hoping they would multiply and make your dough grow fat, seem so daunting, impossible even. But then, yesterday I had just overcome the other one of my culinary shortcomings, though not without some glitches. Before this, I had failed before in my attempt unknowingly, when I baked the birthday cake for my Ah Ma, resulting in a dense short sponge cake. This time however, I had finally beaten those stubborn egg whites stiff and baked myself a chiffon cake! Hurrah!

As a kid, I have always loved chiffon cake (similiar to sponge cake but lighter and taller). My
Ah Ma used to bake a mean pandan chiffon cake. She can make them rise really high in her huge chiffon pan, which she had passed on to me and which sadly, could not fit into my mini oven. Besides, here in Malaysia, chiffon cake is really popular among the locals. The most popular one is of course, the pandan flavoured chiffon cake then next is the orange chiffon cake. My mum used to buy it a lot too for me to bring to school last time, and I absolutely love the soft texture and the soft feeling of it. One can eat the whole chiffon cake without feeling you had eaten a bomb. In case you’re wondering, I have yet to try to eat the whole cake myself, ha-ha. Nowadays in KL, we can find chiffon cakes easily in the Pasar Malam (night market) and also at any of the hypermarkets like Tesco and Carrefour, which gives even better prices. Every time I wanted to buy them I would stop myself and then think “hey, you can easily bake one at home!” In the end I would end up deprived of them, cursing myself all the time. After so long, I guess it finally paid off. I succumbed to temptation, flipped through thousands of chiffon recipes, choose a promising one, braced myself and finally baked one.

Since this is such a well-loved light dessert for the Malaysians from eons ago, I am submitting this entry to Babe's Merdeka Open House 2006! Though this cake can still be found easily outside, I believe it is no longer the common bakes of Malaysian households, in a way it is a long forgotten recipe. Now with this easy and adaptable recipe, I hope everyone will bake one their own, just like how my Ah Ma would and make some kid really happy. Do look out for this wonderful event as Malaysia celebrates its 49th birthday.

All these while, I had always been used to the idea of pandan or orange chiffon cake, until I ate one cheese chiffon cake baked by C, a fellow
KC during our first gathering. Then it dawned on me that chiffon cake is actually really versatile, and could be flavoured in anyway you would want to. In fact we had been having the chocolate sponge cake in our famous blackforest cake all these while unknowingly. Chocolate seems like a good choice, but no too normal, then I do not have any cheese in stock (not after I just baked off a batch of overdue ones), then suddenly I stumbled upon this recipe, from Jo’s Deli Bakery for green tea chiffon cake. now this is certainly interesting. I love green tea, as drinks and also especially in ice cream. It is certainly an exotic taste, which I found really versatile in a lot of things. This green tea flavour took the chiffon cake up to another level of sophistication altogether, setting it apart from the usual ones. The green colour can be deceiving, as my mind would keep tricking me that I am eating pandan chiffon cake, but when I chew on the soft cottony cake a few times, and revel a bit in the flavour, then the green tea will come through and oh wow, I’m lost for words. Let me go try another one (yes it's an excuse) and come back with better words to describe it.

Green Tea Chiffon Cake

This recipe is actually for a fancy birthday cake, all dressed up with whipped cream and green tea powder, but I just took the basic sponge cake and give it a try. After all this is about me and the egg whites war, so a basic chiffon cake will do. I do not have a chiffon cake pan, but I heard before that it can be baked in the usual round cake pan so there goes the pan problem. Well, I finally manage to beat my egg whites stiff peak, it stands on the tip of my beater and I can turn the bowl over my head without being splash white (
Jamie’s way). Then I carefully fold in the green tea portion, taking care not to expel all the air I had whipped in. Now everything seems find till this step, but my one mistake is, I believe, my oven was too hot when I put it in. Before that I had been baking a chocolate cake at higher temperature, though I had lowered it down for a while before putting in the chiffon, apparently it is still hot, half of the top blacken considerably slightly after half time and that part did not rise as much, this is because my temperamental oven are usually hotter at the inner left, I don’t know why. Another thing to note is I used a 9 inch pan, instead of the 8 inch that the recipe called for, that is why my cake was shorter and with that it baked in a much lesser time, which luckily I check with a toothpick and took it out sooner. Oh ya, I also took care not to peak until only the last quarter of baking time.

A few things that I noted from this recipe are, first I would dissolve the green tea powder in the water, then only add to the flour mixture. As for the egg yolks, it should be beaten first, then add with the oil and beat further to mix well, as both are of the same kind, it should be easy and then add to the flour mixture too. This way it will be easier to incorporate everything together, which I had a hard time earlier. I would be reflecting these in the recipe.

Next time, I would also go back with the 8 inch pan and bake at the right temperature (until I found how to deal with my oven), and if possible get myself a chiffon cake pan for better heat distribution, in case you don’t know, chiffon cake pans have a tube in the middle for the heat distribution along with the sides of the pan. Now that I had finally successfully baked chiffon cake, and love it, I would be baking more soon, so definitely worth the investment (note to self). Look out for more of my chiffon cakes adventure, I would still be going back to this green tea a lot, but of course I will be experimenting on other flavours too, yum!

100 g cake flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
45g castor sugar
4 egg yolks
50g oil (I used olive)
70g water
2 tsp/3g green tea powder

4 egg whites
50g sugar
¼ tsp cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 170C
Sift flour, baking powder and baking soda into a bowl.
Add in the sugar.
Beat the egg yolks, then add in oil and beat well again.
Dissolve the green tea in the water.
Stir in both the oil and water mixture into the flour mixture.
Stir until incorporate well.
In a separate clean bowl, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar till bubbly.
Gradually add in the sugar and whip at high speed until stiff peaks form
Fold 1/3 of the egg white into the green tea mixture to enlighten it
Then pour this mixture into the remaining egg whites and fold gently to combine
Pour into a 8 inch pan and bake for 40-45 minutes
As soon as the cake is removed from the oven, invert the pan and let it cool
Once cooled, run a knife around the sides of the pan to remove the cake

Update: We devoured (virtually) all the food at Babe's Merdeka Open House 2006!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Satisfying a Craving

I wanted to post this up for the Jihva by Mahanandi, but I was off to Taiping, having fun and forgotten about it. But since this is a really cooling and refreshing dessert, that I sort of made up, with inspiration from sai mai lou that we have here in Malaysia, I decided to share it anyway.

Sai mai lou is actually sort of like ais kacang in Malaysia. Ais kacang is actually shaved ice swirled with sweet syrup (sometimes Gula Melaka) and evaporated milk then topped with various stuff, like mini jellies, red beans, peanuts, sweet corn and lots more. As for sai mai lou, the similarity is that it also has shaved ice, swirled with evaporated milk and fruit juice then topped with the cubed fruits and sago pearls. Of all the varieties, I always like the Mango sai mai lou best, as it is rich in taste and goes really well with the light milky ice and sago. The best one I ever had, which was the first, that got me hooked to sai mai lou is the one at Petaling Street (Malaysia's Chinatown). I’m not sure of the location but I remember is at one end of the street opposite a bank, and with a bookstore nearby. This roadside stall is manned by a lady, which has all sorts of sai mai lou, from honeydew, strawberries to of course, Mango.

As for my own version, I was craving for something alike, but of course I have to do away with the shaved ice, which needs a machine-like-device to shave a huge block of ice, and poor me as my blender could not take ice (yea a cheap one), and so came about this dessert that I call

Mango Sago Lou

1 mango:
1 cup cubed mangoes
1 cup chopped mangoes

1 cup milk
¼ cup sago pearls

Boil the sago pearls to translucent (a tip is to only put in the sago pearls when the water is boiling hot, in order to get clear looking sago in the end, stir once a while as the sago will stick to the bottom)
Once done, pour the sago into a colander and quickly run through with cold water to stop the cooking.
Scoop the sago into a bowl
Blend the chopped mango and milk together
Pour onto the sago, and then top with cubed mangoes
Chill for about an hour or a while in the freezer (like the lazy me) then devour cold

Satisfies 1

Note: I forgot to mention that my mangoes was really sweet and if yours are not so, do add some syrup (sugar water) to taste. Bon apetit!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Sugar not so High Friday #15

Finally I am back in my hometown. These day it was really hectic for me but I just could not pass out the opportunity to join this month’s SHF #15 hosted by Sam in Becks & Posh. So as usual I go for the easiest recipe I can find but of course still very tasty.

Since we are looking for dessert low in sugar and best to feature natural sugar, all I can think of was the Gula Melaka in my pantry. It is an all natural sweet sugar made from the sap of the coconut palm. As the name implies, it is widely known in Melaka and a favourite use among the Peranakans in both meals and desserts. Here in Malaysia, it comes in form of rolled blocks. These sweet rolls have distinct flavour themselves, not light brown sugar or honey or even golden syrup or dark molassess. You got to taste it to know it but as you know, it will always be a star in every sweet recipe if added. Yes it is that distinct.

Gula melaka is usually the star in many of our local Nonya kuih (our local cakes) alongside with the famous pandan leaves that I have kept talking about. It is used to make many other sweet desserts like cendol (I would talk about this nest time). I had even used it to make my macaroons! Really versatile and pair really well with pandan and coconut.

Here I made a really simple recipe using sago pearl. Sago is actually starch from the sago plant which can be made into pudding and is also usually added to many of our local ‘tong sui’like my Hak Lor Mai. This time I made sago pudding drizzle over with little bit of evaporated milk and then drown in gula melaka syrup. Heaven!

Sago Gula Melaka

The recipe here is in terms of guessing and estimating as it is to modify to suit ones taste, whether you want it really sweet, or less or more milk or vice versa. Besides, the amount yield would also differ according to your pudding cups. I made mine in little bowls since I have none. Ah, displaying my lack of kitchen tools again.

100g sago pearls
50 gula melaka
½ cup of evaporated milk

Bring water to boil in a pot
Add sago pearls to boil for 10-15 minutes or all the pearls are translucent (best to keep stirring as I have some stuck at the bottom once left unattended)
Remove from heat, pour onto a sieve and wash with running water.
Drain excess water and put aside.
Press the sago pearls into pudding cups, packing it tight together.
Refrigerate it for 1-2 hours then serve cold.

Melt gula melaka in a pot or microwave with about ¼ to ½ cup of water to it. (This amount depends how diluted you want your syrup to be. Chill.

When serving, unmould the sago pudding onto bowl, drizzle over with evaporated milk then drown it with the sweet exotic gula melaka and enjoy an all natural sweetness goodness.

Yields bout 6 small puddings or 3 large ones

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Coconut Macaroons

Where have I been? Life has been good I assure you. But it does not mean life had been easy. I am up to my neck with assignments and my final year project. With Chinese New Year coming, this coming Sunday to be precise, we at the university had been trying to cram everything into this week, in order to make way for a week long holiday. I will be homeward bound this Thursday, and I promise many pictures of my beloved Taiping and of course, our huge celebration marking a New Year in the Chinese Calendar.

My friend would also be celebrating her birthday next week, and I promised her a cake. I asked her for the flavours she liked, and she came up with a challenging theme, “Colourful”. How creative! It got me excited, yet I have not even thought of what to make.

Rabbit from Pearl of the Orient is hosting this month’s Hay Hay is Donna Day event, which she had won the last time with her really beautiful swirled self frosting cupcakes. I had joined that too at last minute with my Pandan Kaya Frosted Cupcakes. Now I could not pass up this opportunity.

The base recipe is simple and with lots of place to tweak and improvise. Here’s two version of mine. I tried to make it cute for Rabbit, and readers who would be voting, but could not think of any other way than to spontaneously add the little piggie pouncing at the macaroons. Let’s fight for it else it will be gone!

Lemon Macaroons

This I basically just substituted Rabbit’s lime zest with lemon. These are the bunch on the left side in the picture.

2 cups desiccated coconut
½ cup sugar
2 egg whites
1 ½ tbsp lemon zest

Preheat oven to 180C
Mix coconut, sugar, egg whites and lime zest in bowl to combine.
Use a spoon to scoop it onto hand and squeeze to it to ball size.
Place on a lined baking tray and bake for 10-15 mintues or till light golden.

Makes 12-15 fluffy macaroons

Pandan Gula Melaka Macaroons

This one is an Asian twist to these lovely macaroons. It came on an impulse as I thought of my pandan leaves in the refrigerator. It was in a way inspired by an Asian coconut candy that features basically the same ingredients but cooked till thick and then chilled. This one is really good!

2 cups desiccated coconut
½ cup Gula Melaka (raw palm sugar) or brown sugar
2 egg whites
2-3 tbsp shredded pandan leaves

Preheat oven to 180C
Mix coconut, sugar, egg whites and shredded pandan leaves in bowl to combine.
Use a spoon to scoop it onto hand and squeeze to it to ball size.
Place on a lined baking tray and bake for 10-15 minutes or till light golden.

Makes 12-15 fluffy macaroons

Monday, January 09, 2006

Weekend Herb Blogging #14: Chrysanthemum

This is going to be a short post from me. Pardon my lack of writing but it is due to me buried in my final year project. Yes, this dear “tham jiak” girl is in her last semester now, with her major project due soon. I am going to graduate in May and till then, it would be busy months for me. Yet, I cannot say that I would have more leisure when I work, so I have been warned. Nonetheless, I am excited to join the new phase of life soon.

For now, I am posting for the Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by our lovely Kalyn. I will be introducing a wonderful herb named Chrysanthemum.

It is used in many sweet drinks and ‘tong sui’ in our Chinese cuisine. When boiled, it would be known as Chrysanthemum tea. Since young I have been told that it is good for health. It is particular known for it's cooling properties.

There is a lovely Chinese history(or rather, legend) behind this wonderful herb; I’m quoting from Flowers and Plants Association:

The Chinese legend tells the story of an elderly emperor who had heard about a magic herb that would give him eternal youth. This herb was said to grow on Dragonfly Island and could only be picked by young people. The elderly emperor therefore sent twenty-four children on what proved to be a long and hazardous journey. Much to their dismay, when they finally arrived at the island they found it totally deserted. There was no sign of the magic herb. All they found was a flower - the golden chrysanthemum, which today still symbolises the Chinese people's ties with their country. Later Mao Tse Tung replaced the imperial golden yellow with the red of the People’s Republic.

There is also a Japanese version of history in the site if you are interested.

Now let’s go brew yourself some healthy drink.

Chrysanthemum Ginseng Tail Drink
Source: Kitchen Capers

Ginseng tail is a type of Chinese herbs. If I am not mistaken, it is the tail part of the ginseng root. It is known as “yang seng xu’ in Chinese. This herb is known for its cooling properties. It gives the drink a type of ‘kam’ (golden) taste. Pretty hard for me to explain this taste as only Chinese could identify to it; like how my Ah Ma always says it that way. Feel free to omit it and you will still have a lovely healthy drink.

75g Dried Chrysanthemum Flowers
25g Ginseng Tail
2000ml water
Rock Sugar to taste

Blanch Chrysanthemum and Ginseng separately with boiling water.
Boil water and add in Ginseng. Boil for 5 minutes.
Add in Chrysanthemum. Boil for another 5 minutes.
Add in Rock Sugar and taste.
Remove from fire and cover for 10 minutes before serving.

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.

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

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

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

1 can blueberries (bout 500g)

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

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