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 What's Cooking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label What's Cooking. 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

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

One-nine-eight-four: Ra-ta-too-ee

Have I tell you about 1984? Oh I have, many times it seems. How have we been? I would say we have our ups and downs, our disparities and commonness, but still till now we are as we are, always 1984. I’m sure you readers now have your hair standing, ha-ha.

1984 is the year we are all born in. It is the year of the Golden Rat, for the Chinese. All of us actually got together during our teens, when somehow we find commonness among ourselves. As my grandmother taught me long time ago when I was just a little kid, “birds of a feather, flock together”; I did not know then that this quote would apply to me personally as well as anywhere in this world (read the news and you know what I’m talking about) so well. But after we graduated from high school, we all started to grow different feathers, inevitably moving towards very different directions. Out of sentiments I guess, up till now, we are all still trying our very best to keep in touch, maybe once a while flock together.

I had just deleted a paragraph that I wrote about us, our timelines and so forth. Why? I feel that it would bore you readers with too much detail. Then I remembered a story I written quite long ago, at the time when we were in the midst of nearly breaking apart, to metaphorically describe 1984’s and my journey thus far:

The One Behind

Walking down the road, she turned and stared at the distant. She shields her eyes from the glaring sun. She squinted to see it. She knew that it is there. After some time, her eyes adjusted, and she can see the beautiful house, seemingly shining among the sky. Her eyes watered from the strained, yet she continues to stare. Giving a final look, she turned and went on her way.

The road in front of her would be long. It would be certainly different from the comfort life in the house. But she knew she had to move on. She had to walk this path, in order to fulfill her destiny. It is inevitably part of her life’s scheme. But yet she knew the life she once had in the house will always be in her heart.

As she moved along the road, her perspective of it seemed to change. When she left the house, the road seems narrow, rocky and steep. It seemed really hard to tread it. Yet now as days go by, the road seems bigger, wider, leveled and smoother. Her feet, once dragging on had begun to start walking. As she walked on, it started to skip along. The road now seems very enjoyable.

As she was walking down the road, the house is still in sight right behind her. It is always there for if ever once, she stumbled and fell, and she can always turn back and see that support is there, just within reach. Once a while, she did tripped and she did fumbled on the rocks on the road. And every time, with knees and hands on the floor she would look back and be reassured by the sight of the house and then with renewed strength, she would once again stand up and resumed her walk.

As days goes by, she learnt to skip the rocks, she learn to look for holes and she learn to tread with care. She had found walking the road so much easier. Along the way, she found more things to do, other sights to behold, flowers to be picked, sceneries to be enjoyed and wonderful breeze to revel in. Thus, she was so caught up with all these pleasures in walking down the road, the house seemed like a distant fading picture.

But soon she realizes something is missing. She enjoyed the sights. She loved the smell of the flowers. She stood in awe of the sceneries and she got swept away by the cooling breeze. Yet she knows she would not be here enjoying all these if it wasn’t for the house. So she stopped in her tracks; and once again turn back to look at the house, this time not for assurance, but just because.

She smiled, as the house still stood looming there, shining before the bright sky. This time, the sun did not even seem to bother her. With the image in her mind, etched deep in her memories, she returns to continue down her path. This time, there is even more spring in her steps.

Alright, now this post is getting a little heavy for a food blog. I thank you for your patience if you are still reading, so let’s move on to the food! Recently, one 1984 had a housewarming, and we decided to have steamboat along with a side dish (definitely my idea), which I volunteered to cook up ratatouille for them. Why ratatouille? Besides the fact that this dish had just won the hearts of many in the famed movie featuring the tham jiak Remy, it is also the fact that the movie had at one point of the show that I felt most compelling is the part where the once tried Remy’s ratatouille, the cynic Anton Ego was snapped right back to his childhood where he came home to a dish of ratatouille lovingly prepared by his mum. That scene got right to my heart. This is how the best food should be appreciated. This is how I had tried very hard to describe my Ah Ma’s cooking long time ago. This is how no matter where we go, how far we traveled, how many food we taste, it is always back to the basics, the most simple and humble dish churn out lovingly by someone especially for you. So this is why I chose ratatouille, to churn out this dish with my heart for my fellow 1984s, after such a long time that we finally reconcile in a home, so that when many years down the road, if they ever taste one nice (let’s just assume mine is good now) ratatouille, they would be snapped back right to that night where all of us sat together at the table laughing and eating good food.

Ratatouille (ra-ta-too-ee)
Adapted from Flavours (Sept-Oct 07 Issue)

Since I was privileged as a cook, I had my friend to do the grocery shopping for me. I had sent them the needed ingredients prior to this. Imagine, halfway between their shopping they called me up and ask me what the heck is zucchini? I laughed and told them to skip it then if they can’t find it. They also asked where to get rosemary (I was thinking of the vacuum-packed fresh ones), I tried to explain where to get it in Tesco but finally they end up buying me bottled dried rosemary. Then besides, they overlook the ingredient of canned tomato puree which is essential to this recipe. Oh well, I have to make do with what I have and improvise.

Therefore I ration some of the fresh tomatoes out and made my own tomato puree. I found that do not need to simmer for 1 hour (as per original recipe) as I see that everything is well cooked and the eggplant is starting to turn black and soft. Maybe because I altered the amount of tomato puree, I’m not sure why though. So use your own judgment when you cook it. The recipes also states that it will develop taste overnight but we can’t wait eh, we are having party! It tastes great nevertheless, with convictions from my friends.

2 long purple eggplant
salt for sprinkling
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, cut into cubes
1 red capsicum, seeded and cubed
1 green capsicum, seeded and cubed
3 cloves garlic, chopped

150g tomatoes, peeled and cubed
1-2 tbsp dried rosemary
sugar to taste
salt

handful of black olives, seeded and chopped

Tomato puree:
50g tomatoes chopped finely
Salt to taste
Sugar to taste
3 tbsp of tomato sauce
Mixed herbs

Preparation:
Split the eggplant lengthwise and sprinkle with salt to draw out bitterness. Set aside for 30 minutes, drain and cut into 2cm cubes
Prepare the rest of the ingredients as per above
For the tomato puree:
Sauté the tomatoes till soft, adding in salt and sugar to taste.
Smash the tomatoes while cooking it.
Then add in tomato sauce and sprinkle liberally with mixed herbs
Cooked till semi-dry and remove from pan then set aside
For ratatouille:
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed or cast iron pan. Add the eggplant and cook until lightly browned. Remove and set aside.
In the same pan, cook the onion (add more oil if necessary) until translucent. Add the red and green capsicums and cook until tender; add garlic, eggplant, zucchini, tomato and tomato puree. Cook for 1 minute.
Sprinkle in the dried rosemary liberally as well. Then add in the olives.
Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.
Season to taste with sugar and salt, but I find it unnecessary since my home-made tomato puree is already very well seasoned.

Serve immediately to a table of 10 hungry girls

Monday, December 25, 2006

Quiet Dinner for Two

Where have I been missing from Bangkok? Well, I have been catching up my lost weeks in Malaysia, relaxing and enjoying Malaysian food once more, nothing beats going out and deprive from your usual food to fully appreciate it again. It reminds me of the time I left my hometown and came to live in KL; that is when I start missing home food, Taiping-style food and appreciate it so much more every time I’m back in town. As for now, I went and visited all the food I miss since Bangkok. Don’t get me wrong though, Bangkok food is great, it excites my palate and I’m hooked to one or two of their dishes. But somehow, nothing beats home.

For now, since its Christmas time, let this be a Christmas related post then (yes, it’s an excuse on my long overdue Bangkok food post). Yesterday, just for time of giving spirit, I cooked up some simple fare for J and I to enjoy together, thus escaping the hassle to go out, with the roads jammed with cars and the restaurants jammed with hungry people.

I cooked a variation of fish curry, adapting from the trusted source Kuali, in order to fit what I had in the pantry (sounds familiar). The fish came out alright, though not as good as the Assam Fish I did before, but this one does have a lot more spicy kick with an extra personal touch to it. To accompany it, I came up with the idea of chow fan (fried rice) at the last moments. So it’s just a simple fare of chow fan with curry fish, enough to fill two happy tummies while enjoying the peace of home.


The fish turned with hidden spiciness, like how when you eat some dish, it was not spicy at first or two taste, but then when you continue on, you will feel the burning sensation in your mouth and then it is your tummy on fire. I must have put too much cili padi (bird’s eye chilli). Anyway, it was good, could have been better with okra but I did not get them during grocery shopping as they sold it in huge pack and it looks not-too-fresh. I would not be sharing the recipe as I believe it could be better, somehow lacking in something, this taught me not to mess with a recipe too much.


As for the chow fan, I did it by my simple rules of ultimate chow fan. This time, it is much simpler as it would not be a main dish itself but just an accompaniment to my fish. So I just chopped up some shallots, fried it till slightly soft, throw in finely chopped long bean (my absolute favourite in chow fan, it gives the crunch and the nutrition I might add) and fry again for a minute. Then in went the rice, fry a little and pour in the sauce, which is a mixture of dark soy sauce, soya sauce, sesame oil, pepper and water. I added a little too much water this time, resulting in a less-than-perfect chow fan which was bit sticky. For extra seasoning, I splash some fish sauce and rice wine vinegar. Then of course, an ultimate chow fan must end with egg coating, to seal up the goodness and turn up the taste a notch. Oh if you have notice, there is no garlic in present, yes I ran out of it, but I believe with it, it would have been so much more fragrant.

So there, it wraps up my Christmas dinner for two. Now on you go to enjoy your holidays, while I see would I be able to squeeze in some last minute baking and also, not to forget my Bangkok food posts to come! Cheers!

Friday, December 08, 2006

While I am Away

The internet connection was down in my hotel now. So I started writing. I guess when you stop reading you start writing, a good theory no? Well, I have yet to fully gather all the picture and information on Bangkok food, so this post would be about something else. Though it is Bangkok related, as it is about the cookie I baked for J, for his breakfasts and munchies, while I am gone, for I won’t be able to go to our daily breakfasts and to catch him out to grab some food at odd hours.

Before this, J commented that I can bake good cakes but not cookies. I protested defiantly, after all I am a baker, I bake everything well! Or so I thought I did. So I baked a batch of my Godsister’s chocolate-walnut-oat-chocolate chip cookies, which unfortunately did not turn out too well just because I so happen to ran out of baking soda, and acting smart, I added in baking powder as substitute. The cookies turn out with good texture and all but it tasted slightly off to me and definitely very off to J. Later I found out that the baking soda in the recipe serves as not only rising agent but also to counter the acidity of cocoa powder, which explains the off taste of my cookies. Turns out my plans to change J’s mind on my cookies had just backfired and now he is even more sceptical of it.

I let the issue pass, and then the news came that I have to get to Bangkok for a business trip. I just wanted to make something for him while I am gone (though I did not expect it to last the entire trip knowing him, ha-ha), then the thought of regaining his faith on my cookies came to mind too. So I decided to bake him cookies for my away-trip, that’s what I call killing two birds with one stone.

This time I finally manage to bake a batch of cookies that could erase all the doubts on my cookies-baking skills. I had my housemate eating non-stop while I keep baking batches out, which I packed it and sneak out a batch for her too. J commented that the taste was great this time but he asked, “Why was it not crunchy?”

“It is supposed to be a chewy cookie! Don’t you like it?” I exclaimed.

He nods and continued munching, but I was not satisfied with it. I asked, “Is it that you like crunchy ones?” He nods again and continued munching. Being too late, and I am to fly off in a day, I vowed to bake a super-crunchy-and-addictive cookie when I come back from Bangkok. For now, these batch of cookies will do.


Chewy Chocolate Chunks Cookies

These cookies are really great, if you are looking for the chewy kinds. It would not be too chocolatey, in the absence of cocoa powder (which is why I can use baking powder here instead of baking soda), but chocolate enough with all the chocolate chunks. And the presence of salt brings out the flavours, though my salt was a bit coarse, but once a while biting on some salt was a welcome taste through all the sweetness.

I adapted this recipe from few sources and adjusted to what I have, such as my lack of baking soda and vanilla essence plus chopping up the remaining block of chocolate that I bought for my Y’s birthday cake. The chocolate chunks turn out to be really good, so much better than chocolate chips I believe. Try it, especially when the cookies are just out of the oven with the chocolate chunks in the gooey stage (yes, I was my housemate’s partner-in-crime on eating thorough the batches), after all this is a baker’s privilege. Enjoy!

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup rolled oats
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
175 gram butter
½ cup white sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup chocolate chunks (200 gram)

Preheat oven to 180C and prepare baking sheet/pan, lightly butter.
Sift together all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt.
Then whisk together with whole wheat flour and oats.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars, till light and airy.
Slowly add in the flour mixture till nearly combine.
Sitr in the chocolate chunks until well distributed.
Drop by teaspoonfuls onto prepared pan.
Bake at 180C for 12-18 minutes, until lightly browned.
Remove to wire rack to cool.

Makes about 36 cookies (included baker and partner’s stolen ones)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Ultimate Chocolate Fix

Before this, during the summer at the other side of the world, the food blogging communities had gone into the frenzy of making icy desserts which got me totally hype up and weak to my knees. After all, living in this part of the world where it is practically summer everyday, it seems so right to have my icy treats all the time. I love the local favourite is of course such as ais kacang, sai mai lou and cendol, but sometimes, some dessert are just universal, yes, that is ice cream. I believe it is one dessert that no one can say no to, besides chocolate of course.

Well, after getting bombarded with all the ice creams, gelatos, sorbets and frozen yoghurts, I nearly succumb to getting an ice cream maker. I told myself, if I found one that I can afford, I would definitely buy it. Then one day, while out with J, at a fair, I saw a tiny one on promotion and nearly bought it but in the end got against it because it cannot fit into my mini refrigerator. I was nearly devastated. Then on that week itself, J’s mum wanted to exchange some gifts from the points she collected from the credit card, and voila, J chose that ice cream maker itself for me! I was totally ecstatic.


So it came, and I excitedly tried out a few recipes. My first banana ice cream, with my own adaptations of recipes came out too hard. I wouldn’t really call it ice cream though as I made it without cream, if you’re a long time reader, I mentioned before why I usually go for alternatives. Then the next one I tried was mango ice cream (I don’t really know what type so universally I will call it ice cream even without cream), using gelatin which has better texture. Then I tried one mango frozen yoghurt, which was also not so perfect yet.

Then I came across recipes for gelatos and I got hook instantly. No cream but still rich in its way. As gelatos are uncommon here, in fact I believe I never had one before, so I must try it! I was inspired by a recipe from The Traveler’s Lunchbox, where she explained what gelato is all about and then try out three different recipes for us to gape at. I chose the recipe that she and her husband decided was best.

Now the verdict from me? It was totally utterly (pardon the pun but it was necessary) delicious! Now I would understand what the craze about gelato is all about. The texture was just right with enough richness and feel, and the taste was incredible, the ultimate chocolate fix for any sudden crave. J mention it was a little bitter, but it was because of me as I had reduced the sugar level and used really dark chocolate due to my affinity for, of course chocolate, which I overlook as a personal preference. Nevertheless, J likes it too, and I promise to come up a vanilla (his favourite flavor) gelato soon. After this gelato, I believe I would never eat another chocolate ice cream again the same way.


Chocolate Gelato
Source: The Traveler’s Lunchbox

Although I had reduced the sugar content for my own version of chocolate heaven, I believe sticking to the original quantity below would be fine and safest for all to love. Anyhow, I believe it would be good. Oh ya, since my freezer was a quite strong, I would take the chocolate out and leave it for about 5 minutes (really impatiently) and then start digging in. Now I have to make another batch.

2 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup evaporated milk
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons superfine granulated sugar
1 cup Dutch cocoa powder, sifted
4 large egg yolkspinch salt

Coarsely chop chocolate.
In a saucepan, bring milk, evaporated milk and half the sugar to a simmer, stirrin till the sugar dissolved.
Remove pan from heat and add the cocoa powder and chocolate, whisking till all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
Get ready a large bowl of ice and cold water.
In a bowl, beat the yolks and remaining sugar and salt with electric mixer till thick and pale.
Add hot chocolate mixture in a slow stream, whisking, and pour into saucepan.
Then cook the custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until a thermometer registers 160°F (for me, I follow Melissa’s advice and go by instinct, watching not to let it boil)
Pour custard through a sieve into a metal bowl set in ice and cold water and cool.
Chill custard, covered until cold and preferably overnight.
Then freeze custard in an ice-cream maker.
Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden for several hours.

Yield: about 1 quart.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Cupcakes-ful of Love


Been on a blogging hiatus and I guess there are no better reason than that I have been having fun and eating well. Oh yes, just had two weekends getaway, which the latest one have me and J on a gastronomic excursion up north, no prizes for guessing where it is. Yes you have said it, Penang the food haven of course. The place where all foodies claim to be the one place you must go to stuff your face if you are ever in Malaysia. The place where even when the Penangites themselves have long move out from their hometown, would still scuff at the every apparent mock-Penang-food they find, which are vastly available everywhere in Malaysia. I leave this now to your desires until the time I post up my honest tried and enjoyed reviews. Don’t frown yet, as I promise more than a few posts of my gastro-adventure coming soon, so bear with me for now as the focus should be on J.

Why you ask? Well, it was actually J’s birthday the past 12 days ago (so that’s the REAL reason behind the absence), and so we had been on a prolong celebration. The trip was actually meant for him, but being such a sweet guy, J went on with me to do what I love most instead, that is to EAT. Ah, such tham-jiak-ness to a point of no return. How did J put up with these? Could it be because I could churn out
his greatest weakness anytime, tempt him with many cakes, trying variations of our vices, reward him with surprises from time to time, whip up something when hunger strikes and also many of my little Chinese cookouts that I tried, reenacting my Ah Ma’s simple dishes.

Aside all these, all I know is that he is putting up his best with me and my food such as my camera frenzy, especially after I got the new one, where I need to take every picture of every food before consuming, as if it’s a ritual (does anyone out there have the same problem as me?). Sometimes he just wants to dig in straight but I had to warn him not to touch it until I take a decent shot (which takes quite a few tries) and sometimes I just had to give in and let the hungry boy down his food (especially when he is having the tham-jiak face on too). Then he also has to put up with certain degree of humiliation when I go around taking picture of people preparing food. You will sure hear more of these in my Penang-tales to come. In despites the once a while frowning, J had been a great partner in crime of my food endeavors. He had
came early in the morning to try my new bakes, bring me to breakfasts (my favourite) and try out new places (knowing well I would go into the picture-taking frenzy), search high and low for some place I read on some foodblog which I insist I must try (or die), and taking me to places he tried which was superb and he would want to share it with me. How much more wonderful can a foodie have from her partner?

Well, I would not be going into details of how J is, I guess the aforementioned of him and my tham-jiak-ness shall suffice. As for now, the cake, the one ultimately should have been the reason of this post. For J’s birthday I wanted to make something special, something different from my
1984’s cakes bake-out. So I decided to make him cupcakes adorn with letters on top to form a certain message (it shall be between us). No prize for guessing again, oh yes, I made it with chocolate and cheese. After all this two combination meant a lot to us.


Black Bottom Cupcakes with ‘Icing’ and Chocolate Love Letters
Adapted from David Lebovitz, at Leite’s Culinaria

I did some variations on the recipes, substituting chocolates with chopped Oreos that I happen to have extras on hand (ok I admit it’s a big purchase from my company’s warehouse sale). That move actually causes semi-disaster as the cheese portion overflow and was left with ugly bumps on the top of the cupcake due to the huge Oreos chunks. So I had to come up with last minute idea to cover it. I found that the cupcake was not really sweet (yes, I gobbled up one, but just because it split to half due to my clumsy hands when releasing it for the first time), as I had lessen the sugar amount in the original recipe. So I decided to sprinkle the cupcakes liberally with icing sugar till most of the ugly bumps are covered, and then adorn it with chocolate letters. When J tried it, he said it was the best (cup)cake I had ever bake (he had too) and then commented that it has frosting too! Then later I realize that he thought the cheeses was the frosting, as I had bought an inferior cream cheese instead (cause the shop I went to ran out of Philadelphia), so it was not cheesy enough to be noticeable. If I am ever to try this recipe again, I would make sure I buy good quality cheese, stick with chopped chocolates instead of Oreos, stick with the sugar ratio and would pour in the cheese right on top of the chocolate batter; instead of how I tried to spoon it in initially (you wouldn’t want to know how).

250g cream cheese
Scant 1/3 cup of granulated sugar
1 egg
60g of bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chop (which I had substitute with Oreos)

1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 cup loosely packed light brown sugar
5 tbsps Dutch process cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tbsp white/red vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract

50g chocolate
25g of butter

Cheese Filling:
Beat together cream cheese, sugar and egg until smooth
Stir in the chopped chocolate pieces
Set aside

Cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 175C.
Butter a 12 cup muffin tin, (or like me bake it in two batches of 6 holes muffin tin, I had a small oven remember)
In medium bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt together.
Mix in the brown sugar.
In separate bowl, combine the water, oil, vinegar and vanilla.
Make a well in the center of the dry mixture, then stir in the wet mixture, till smooth
Do not overmix
Divide batter into the muffin holes, using a spoon, pour the cheese filling into the center of each cupcake, up to the brim
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or till top are golden brown and feel springy when pressed

Frosting (less than an hour before serving a birthday boy):
Melt the extra chocolate and butter in the microwave, stir once a while
Set aside and let cool
Pour it into a piping bag, or like me a ketchup squeeze bottle
Sift icing sugar on the cupcakes generously, till fully coat the top
Squeeze out the chocolates in letters you desire onto the icing sugars

Serving:
Stick one little candle on one of the cupcakes
‘Surprise’ the birthday boy
Sing the age-old song
Demand him to make a wish first before blowing out the candle
Then make him eat at least two cupcakes
Later sneak into the kitchen and try it out yourself

Serves a birthday boy, the baker and his family (12 cupcakes)

Friday, September 08, 2006

Smile!


Let’s see. Where do I start? There is so much to tell about a friend of mine, which is extraordinary in her own way. A girl I had mentioned quite a number of times in this blog. Y is a girl of exuberance. A girl who has a sweet smile on the face at all times. If I have to sum her up in one word, smile would would be it. She is smiling when she is walking, she is smiling when she is talking and she is even smiling when she is singing. Yes, she is a girl that smiles and brings joy to whoever she is with.

I have known Y more than 10 years ago, our passionate relationship kicks off when we both found ourselves sharing the same love for basketball. Then our friendship was forged deeper when we had the same class at 14, where we formed 1984; where we had tons and tons of laughter, excitement and adventure.

Our friendship was brought to the next level as we both came to the strange world of KL together, looking for more to life after the peaceful years of schooling and good food at the haven we are in. I call it fate that we both end up in the same college and soon end up as room mate, then to condo-cum-studio-mate and till now, housemate and not to forget, also my band mate. She had always been with me in KL, so to me; she is like my family here. I know I will always have someone to look to, to confide in and to share with, in times joy or turbulence.

I wish there is more I can tell about Y, as believe me she is not as simple as that. But somehow it seems impossible to mention everything about her. I can confidently say that she had always been a great friend, who never failed to be there for me when I needed and will always still be there for me even when I don’t need it. Confusing as it may seems, but believe me, she would understand what I mean. Love you Y, and have a great year ahead as a girl with the age-of-double-number. Cheers.

Extremely ChocolateY Chocolate ‘Kou
Adapted from Molly, Orangette


I made a cake for Y, specifically with all her preferences. I forgot to mention that she is a girl of acquired taste, extremely stubborn (which means if she does not like one thing, she would not ever change her mind bout it, no matter how much you try with all sorts of variation), a bit of a traditionalist and have a strong degree of liking to chocolate (who doesn’t?), and with certain specific no-no. She does not eat anything which is too bitter (thus degrade the idea she is addicted to chocolate, lets just add that she loves sweet things too), or anything with nuts, raisins or just anything round, hard or soft or whatsoever that appears in where she thinks it should not. Basically, she loves her food plain, simple and delicious. Since she has the weakness for chocolate, I decide to go all the way out to make an extremely decadent chocolate cake, which is flourless, and of course devoid of any trace of her no-nos.

I had been attracted to this cake since the day I read it at Orangette but have yet to find the occasion for such indulgence. Now this time, Y is going to be the victim, as the result of the cake is certainly addictive. When Y and my friends bit into it, they moaned with pleasure and I am not exaggerating here. In Y's words, she mentioned that the cake does not have the texture like regular cake at all but more to like ‘kou’ (as in kuih, like a marriage between pudding and cake), thus the name I christened it.

I would also recommend to use the best chocolate you can find (for me I would certainly go for bittersweet but since it is for Y, I used Vochelle cooking chocolate instead) and also the best butter, full fat kind, oh and the freshest egg around. I said this was good but I also said it was decadent remember.

200 g best-quality chocolate (bittersweet, unless for someone like Y)
200g full fat butter
220g granulated sugar
5 eggs
1 tbsp all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 180C.
Line an 8-inch round cake pan with foil.
Finely chop the chocolate and melt it with butter in a double boiler or microwave, stirring regularly.
Add sugar to the chocolate-butter mixture, beat well and set aside to cool.
Then add in the eggs one at a time, beat well with a wooden spoon at each addition (I like this traditional way, working my arms over the batter).
Add the flour and mix well.
Pour batter into the pan and bake for 25-35 minutes (mine took quite long, I covered the top half way through to avoid burning), until the top is slightly burnt but the middle is still jiggly.
Pull the cake out immediately with the foil and let it cool.
Then slowly peel away the foil, then be strong and store it away into the refrigerator for a at least a day (Molly said its better the day after and I’m not going to compromise this).
Before serving, take it out and decorate as desire to fit for a birthday girl (in my case a huge love to sweet Y).
Then slice thinly to indulge slowly (you have been warned).


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!

Monday, August 07, 2006

It's Weekend Again

Well a week just flew by in a breeze. It is weekend again. Although I know the weekend breakfast blogging is meant for, well weekend cooking, which means taking more time to prepare and enjoy breakfast. In oppose, I either sleep late on weekends or eat out. On weekdays though, I prefer to enjoy some healthy homemade breakfast before going to work. Knowing that I have a lovely breakfast waiting for me seems to be a pretty good motivation to get out of bed. Now that is the best alarm clock in the world, don’t you agree? So I had this really good, healthy and substantial muffin recipe from 101 cookbooks really long time ago in my to-do list, which I cannot resist sharing it here. I can’t seem to find this post anymore in that blog, so I could not link it, but I will share my adapted version here though.

This muffin turns out great the way I imagine it would be, slightly chocolatey, with good thick texture, occasional encounter on soft raisins and crunch on the nuts. To top it off, it uses all the readily available ingredients in your pantry and is really versatile for substitutions accordingly. These huge muffins can only keep for bout 3 days in room temperature but fret not, it freezes really well, so far I still have 2 left in my freezer and it is still keeping well. Whenever I wanted to have it the next day for breakfast before work, I would take one out the night before, put it in a tall container and leave it in room temperature, and by the time I wake up in the morning, it is ready to eat. No better reason to wake up than breakfast; pour a cold glass of milk and enjoy with this yummy muffin. Eating one is enough to fill you up for the whole morning, without feeling as if you ate too much. It’s really good and healthy too! Give it a try.

Whole Wheat Banana Chocolate Muffins

I had, as usual, adapted the recipe to suit whatever I have or can get my hands on. Anyhow, feel free to experiment. Besides, I had halved the recipe to make do with my mini oven, thus there are cases like half a ¼ cup, which I hope you would understand, I advise to double the recipe since it freeze so well, for rainy days. The oat and bran cereal topping is optional, but it does give the muffin a novelty look besides adding more crunch and flavour to it. You can use whatever oat bran cereal you have, or even granolas. Remember to push it down slightly though when you sprinkle on before baking, as quite an amount of mine fell off during removal.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1.5/4 tbsp brown sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 ½ overly ripe bananas, mashed
¼ cup low-fat yoghurt
1 egg white
1 tsp vanilla extract

¼ cup of nuts (walnuts, almond, pecan)
¼ cup of raisins (original calls for currants)
1.5/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Oil for preparing the pan
Oat and bran cereal for topping

Method:
Preheat oven to 180C/350F
Lightly oil a 6 hole muffin pan (I used an oiled tissue to wipe it)
Combine flour, brown sugar, cocoa and baking soda together.
Add in mashed bananas, yoghurt, egg white, vanilla, nuts, raisins and coconut.
Stir until combined.
Pour batter into the muffin pan and top with the oat bran cereal.
Bake about 25-35 minutes, or tooth pick is clean when inserted.

Makes 6 large breakfast muffins

P/S: I just bought a new camera, Canon Ixus 60! I am so ready to take lovely food pictures now. Do you notice the clearer and better muffin pictures? I must admit I need more practice though, as I am still testing out my camera’s various functions and getting use to its ability. So look out for more pictures for you to drool on, I hope ;)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

What Breakfast Means

Since young, my mum had always enforced the importance of breakfast to us, my sister and me. Once someone told her that an egg a day would make your children grow up big and smart!(I can testify that the former is wrong, judging from my height, but I hope the latter is right ;) So, every morning for most of my pre-school, she would make half boil egg for us and a glass of Milo (a popular Malaysian chocolate malt drink). We practically eat the same breakfast everyday for school days until one point I am revolted with the smell of half boiled egg (which suddenly smell really raw) and my mum would insist I finish them. So every morning I would pinch my nose (I learnt from somewhere that we taste through our nose, ha-ha, cheeky me) and down the egg and then quickly wash down with milk or Milo. At one point my sister and I take up a banner and make a riot to sanction a ban on it. Ok, maybe a bit exaggerating but you get the idea. Finally we got our ban and moved on to other breakfasts. But knowing my mum, she would go the fast and easy way, and most of our breakfasts are then bread with jam, or peanut butter and so forth. Soon it got even lazier where my mum would just get chocolate milk drink in cartons.

That was a long time ago, and later I came to stay by myself in KL and soon found out how is it to live on my own. Many of my mornings went without breakfast, maybe an occasional cereal and fresh milk, but that’s about it. Most of my university days have me waking up when the sun is already halfway across the sky. Thus breakfast took a back seat in my life.

Now, as I grew up more and got into culinary adventures and food craze, I learnt that how important breakfast is (yes mum, I finally understand), and always look forward to have a good breakfast to
kick start my day. I even got the penchant back for half boiled egg, especially with toast and a good cup of coffee, kopitiam style. Nowadays, getting into the life of working, I need a good coffee to boost my day. I am now always in search for good and healthy breakfast recipes as I want to go home made style. of course I take into account on time and also ease of eating, as I would sometimes need to have my breakfast in the car. Life is all about rushing isn’t it?

Anyway, nowadays I seem to surf a lot on breakfast recipes and was mostly interested in the healthier options such as lower fat, higher nutrients and so forth. I had made quite a number for my everyday breakfasts before I got to work, and so you can be sure of more breakfast recipes to come. To me breakfast is something of a ritual, something exciting to look forward to the night before and the reason for you to get your bum off the bed in the morning. I wouldn’t call it a day without breakfast, won’t you too?

Ginger Molasses Cake
(adapted from Williams Sonoma)

I love ginger. It is one of the most useful spice that I ever came about. In Asian cuisines, it mostly used in savouries, especially with meats and in some sweet soups. Since our ancestral times, we know the goodness of ginger, of its medicinal properties, such as aiding in digestion after a heavy meal and also others such as aiding in nausea and other illness. This ginger cake that has crystallized ginger in it is something foreign to us Asians, Malaysians that is, but somehow I am attracted to it, imagining the flavours in my mind. This cake is really light and soft, despite the low fat content and the ginger flavours is just amazing. Sadly though, J did not enjoy it as he felt that it is weird and my housemate Y thought it was chocolate cake at first and got a surprise once she bit into it. She could not exactly guess the taste but once enlighten, she left the cake alone too. Well, I guess I am the only one having ‘foreign’ taste here. Don’t be put off though, if you’re a ginger lover and you love the thick heavy taste of molasses, this cake is definitely good eats, as it is really tender, moist, gingery and full of flavour from the spices.

3-4 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup minced crystallized ginger
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups cake/superfine flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 cup low-fat yoghurt

Preheat oven to 180C. line a 9 by 4 inch loaf pan with baking/parchment paper.
Beat the butter and sugar till creamy and fluffy.
Stir in molasses and crystallized ginger.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
In another bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and the spices.
Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with yoghurt, starting and ending with flour.
Mix until smooth.
Pour into prepared pan and bake in oven for 45-50 minutes.
Transfer to wire rack and let it cool for 10 minutes or so.
Then turn the loaf out onto the rack.
Cool completely before storing.
It tastes divine warm out of the oven, still good in room temperature but it would turn hard once refrigerated. It keeps well for about 5 days in air-tight container and room temperature; if it is still around.
Now have a few slices and call it a day!

Serves 10-12.

P/S: This post is added into Nandita's Weekend Breakfast Blogging over at Saffron Trail. Do look out for the forthnightly roundup!

Update: The roundup is here, Part 1 and Part 2. More food to wake up to!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

It's Getting Hot in Here

If you guys have noticed, I had slowed down a lot on blogging into only bout once a week. I had just started my new job, and still in process of getting the hang of things and in the midst of training. So do bear with me as I have a lot of wonderful good eats waiting to share here.

Anyway, this time I am here to post for Barbara’s The Spice is Right Event, this time with the theme ‘It’s too darn hot!’ Barbara is so right about the case that we Asian love to eat hot and spicy food even though it is darn hot out there. Why? We are mad people who like to sweat their shirt out in some road-side stall with the heat up to 38 degrees. We also like to burn our tongues when we eat and end up with red puffy lips all day. We also happens to enjoy end up with a burning sensation in our stomach all day long and maybe a big business trip to the toilet. Well, there are many reasons we Asian eats darn hot chillies in the heat, but one holds true for everyone is that it is just plain good eats.

The chili condiment that I am going to feature today is called the Sambal Chilli. It is usually served alongside the famous local dish called nasi lemak, which is the unofficial Malaysia national dish, competing with char kuey teow. Nasi lemak holds much stronger position to me as it is enjoyed by all races, young or old. Somehow I believe that it evolves from a simple Malay dish to various types of serving, somehow adapted by other cultures. There are Indian and Chinese serving nasi lemak here in Malaysia, both with their own distinctiveness, or maybe not, what is real nasi lemak anymore anyway? The basic is the rice that is cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves for fragrance. For now there are two popular types, one which is in small servings wrapped in banana leaves, the usual breakfast fare for our locals here. As for the bigger serving style, of huge amount of lemak (fatty) rice, and lots of sambal to go with it along with some fried ikan bilis (anchovies), groundnuts and cucumbers, sometimes with egg, hardboiled or sunny-side-up and fried chicken. This is the usual mamak style fare that we eat it anytime of the day, which I called it fast food the Malaysian style.

For me, as I grew up in Taiping, with not much of wondering around and not much of mamak stalls available, I have not been really expose to the wonders of nasi lemak. When I then came to KL I started to try it out both the breakfast and the mamak style. To me, the best of the nasi lemak comes not only from the coconut milk rice, but the sambal that goes with it. It must be hot with enough kick, while slightly sweet and tangy. Now I would share with you one fool-proof and darn hot

Sambal Chilli

I got this recipe from KC, and it yields quite a large portion of sambal, thus I had scaled it down by half when I did it. But if you have a large family to feed, I would definitely recommend you to make the whole batch since you are doing the same amount of job and it keeps really well too. According to Gina (founder of KC and the one who shared this recipe) it can last for 1 month in room temperature (away from sunlight), 2 months in the fridge and 6 months or longer in the freezer! How cool is that? As for me, after eating bout half the batch, I took the liberty by adding fried ikan bilis (anchovies) to it for the nasi-lemak-style sambal which I’m not sure would the shelf life be shorten, but I remembered keeping it for quite sometime in the fridge. As the recipe that follows, most of the ingredients are just for guidelines, you can add more or less of whichever fancy you most. I had also reduced the sugar amount as I like my sambal more hot than sweet. Amount of oil is also adjustable, some like their sambal drowning in it, but as for me, I am a little health (or weight ha-ha) conscious, thus I reduced the oil amount quite a bit and it still turn out great.

100g red chilli
2 pcs of assam keluk/gelugor (tamarind slice)
100g sugar
10 shallots
6 cloves of garlic
250ml tamarind pulp juice (or dilute tamarind paste in hot water)
80ml oil
2 lime, juiced

Grind together the chillies, onions and garlic into a smooth paste
Add in sugar, tamarind juice and assam keluk to mix
Heat up the oil in the wok
Add in the chilli paste to cook, turning down to low heat and continue to stir fry the paste
Cook until the paste turns dark and starting to dry out
Turn off the heat and let it cool completely
Stir in the lime juice
Store in tight jars

For sambal ikan bilis:
2-3 handfuls of ikan bilis (anchovies)
Oil for frying

Heat enough oil for frying in the wok
When smoking hot, throw in the ikan bilis and fry until crispy
Take care not to burn it as it can turn from crispy to burn pretty fast
Dish out and let drain
Then stir it into the sambal, mix well
Store in tight jars again

Yields 300g of darn hot sambal

Suggestions:
Serve with nasi lemak
Goes along really well with stir-fry noodles too like my pad thai
Kicks up a notch on any regular or chinese fried rice
Leave out the ikan bilis to go with char kuey teow

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sweet Goodbye

If you all have been following this blog, you would be familiar with L. Yes, she had been my guest blog a few times, writing about her food adventure in Penang and also her great research on Chee Cheong Fun that had caught so many’s attention. L came up to KL for internship the last 2 months, which started our food whore out there, once I wrote about it, many more in my archives yet to be publish, due to more food eating and enjoying life. It had certainly been fun when she’s up here. We got around quite a bit, pretty adventurous with our food endeavour, sometimes burning holes in our pockets, yet we would still go out and do it again.

Let me give some introduction about L. She had been one of my longest friend, and also a fellow 1984. I’ve known her since 11, and from there we just clicked and our friendship had grown since then till now. We have a lot in common, sharing interests in writing, books, dreams and of course food. It is not a wonder we are so close.

Anyway, we had a mini farewell for her last Tuesday at our new home, with our housemates and a few close friends. She promised to leave a goodbye note here, which I have yet to receive from her, and would update when I do. We had steamboat party, which has the usual array fresh food, and clear soup which would then later be turn to tom yam to finish it off.

When I got home from work (oh, yes I started, it was great), I quickly got to the kitchen to make dessert for the party. Guess what I will be making? It’s bread pudding. This dessert is easy; one can prepare before the party starts, leave it in the fridge and bout 1 hour near to the end, take out the bread pudding and bake it, then serve right out of the oven. This is one time I made something with my ‘own’ recipe, adapting from here and there, and since I am making it specially for L, I am naming it

Farewell Bread Pudding

I had about half a loaf left on apricot and raisins bread that I bought last week for my daily alone breakfasts. After a few days, I got tired of it and chuck it into the fridge. Therefore came the inspiration to use up this bread when the party came. This is actually the Gardenia Toast 'em fruit breads, if you live in Malaysia you’ll know which one, and it can be bought just about anywhere. They are good to eat just like that but I love it especially when toasted, with a good cup of coffee. Now, I found out that making it into this pudding was really good as well. Browsing through various recipes, I encountered most using whip cream, which if you had notice, does not ever appear in my recipes. Not to say I do not like it, maybe it’s the high fat content, maybe it’s the unavailability and also maybe it’s expensive. Therefore I had to adapt and fine alternative. To me, evaporated milk would be good, thick milky taste yet light and slightly creamy. This following recipe is my adaptation from few recipes, which I just go with hunch this time with the milk ratios, since I did not use cream and phew, it turned out great. At first it would seem to wet but trust me, once baked, all the liquid will absorb into the bread, making it pudding like. During baking it would puff up so nicely making one happy, but after cooling, it will shrink down. My heart nearly jump to my throat at the sight, there goes my dessert, as it also looked really burnt on the top and sides. There is no turning back for me as everyone at the steamboat table is waiting. There you have it, the adrenaline rush of a first try, serving to a bunch of people. Despite the hard look, once you spoon on it, it is actually soft inside, while crusty on the outside. The sugar topping gives it a deeper taste, some guessed it was gula Melaka, and with some hint of cinnamon. No one guessed the presence of alcohol, but I’m sure that is where the complex flavour came from. My first try and all my guests are happy about dessert, though it took some initial coaxing to try, as all of them have never tried bread pudding before. One of them even expected a flan instead. Well, a nearly empty dessert bowl signifies success I guess.

8 slices day old bread
3 tbsp butter melted

3 eggs
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup low fat milk
4 tbsp of sugar
½ rsp vanilla essence
½ tsp cinnamon

½ cup raisins (I used a little lesser because my bread came with raisins)
4 tbsp brandy

2 tbsp fine jaggery powder (or fine brown sugar or palm sugar)

Soak the raisins in the brandy for at bout 30 minutes
Melt butter in microwave, or on the stove
Use a spoon and slowly swirl and coat all the bread slices with butter
Trim off the sides if the bread (not necessary white clean, a little crusts would give a crunch)
Then cut it into about 8 triangles each slice, I did not care bout getting it really uniform, just about the same size
Reserve triangles from two side slices of bread to one side
Then line the bread triangles in two rows, slightly overlapping one another in a glass oven proof dish (I used an oval dish about 12 cm width, 5 cm thick, just use one big enough to accommodate all the bread and some room for puffing up)
Cream together eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon until bubbly
Then pour in the raisins and all the liquid and mix well
Slowly, pour this custard mixture onto the bread slices
Take the reserve bread slices and chuck it in at all the sides, with the crusts facing outwards, lining next to each other
Put the dish into the refrigerator and let it soak for about an hour
Preheat the oven to 180 C
Take the dish out and then sprinkle the jaggery powder all over the bread top
Bake the bread for 45 minutes

Serves 8-10 party people


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Going Thai

It has been so long since I contribute to the weekend herb blogging at Kalyn’s (I got to her blog and found her blogging on the same herb this week, how coincidence!). This time I decide to add in my entry on Chinese parsley (pictured above as garnish). This herb surprisingly has various names referring to it, where last year, without the world of blogging to expose me, I would be totally lost. It is also known as coriander leaves, cilantro and dhania in other parts of the world. It was once pretty confusing when I see it mention in foreign recipes and I had to research up on it. As for its uses, it is usually used for garnish as it will loose its flavours quickly with heat.

But this time, as per recipe I would be cooking it slightly at the end and then garnish it with more parsley. This dish also features a lot on the limau purut (kaffir lime leaves) which I had blog before on of those long-time-ago herb blogging. This time I am making a dish from the Thai cuisine. Thai is one of my favourite Asian cuisines, apart from Chinese and Indian, and also not to mention Vietnam. Thai is famous for its sweet, sour and spicy cuisine, complex in taste yet light on the palate.

So since these are my last few days of freedom, and usually being alone during the day, I decided to whip up a light lunch. Flipping through the recipes, I was drawn towards making my very own

Pad Thai

I remembered having this dish before but I cannot recall where. Nevertheless, I know it would be good, as reading the ingredients made my mouth water. This dish can be chow (fried) with other meats such as chicken or beef but this time I am using prawns, since Tesco is having a huge sale on prawns, and it seem to be more authentic this way. Then of course there must be the fish sauce, which is the main flavouring agent in this dish. You can also substitute it with soy sauce, if you don’t have it. Oh ya, I wanted to get glass noodles for this, but I cannot seem to find it in Tesco, thus I bought brown rice vermicelli instead, just for the sake of nutrition, hence the darker looking Pad Thai. Since this recipe have many variations, and you can add many ingredients or omit them, I would list down the alternatives too and do take note everything is in estimation, after all, this is done with Asian cooking style (if you don’t know what style, it is the dump, fry and taste style). Enjoy.

200g of noodles (rice vermicelli or glass noodle)
12-15 Prawns (I forgot how much I bought, but lets say two big fistfuls)
Bunch of mushrooms (sliced thinly)

1 fistful of Chinese parsley (stems removed)
1 fistful of kaffir lime leaves (roughly teared up)
1 bunch of Chinese chives or scallions (green parts only, cut up 1 inch long)

3-5 Thai bird chillies
5 shallots
5 cloves of garlic
1 20inch cube of fresh ginger
(all above peeled and slice then grind)

Fish sauce to taste
3 tbps of oyster sauce
1 lime (zest and juice)
1 Tbsp tamarind (soak in some water)
Sugar to taste
Some broth or water
Oil

Garnish:
½ cup unsalted peanuts
1 fistful of chopped parsley (stems removed)

Variations (substitute or add in):
1 boneless chicken breast, sliced thinly, marinated with fish sauce for bout half hour
2 blocks of firm tofu, sliced thinly (I should have added this, I love tofu)
1 egg
Pepper to taste
Fistful of bean sprouts
Banana flower

First soak the noodles in warm water until soften, then drain
Grind up the spices – chillies, shallots, garlic and ginger
Remove the parts of the prawns that you do not like, I left on the shell and tail plus half the head, legs removed of course.
Then heat up the wok in about 3 tablespoons of oil.
Throw in you paste and fry briskly, till the aroma is all over your kitchen.
Then add in the prawns and fry quickly till slightly red
Add in mushrooms, give a quick fry as it wilt quickly
Add fish sauce to taste
Now add in the drained noodles, fry until slightly limp (careful that it does not stick to your wok but still the heat must be high, else it will turn watery)
If using egg, push aside the noodle and crack in an egg, scramble till cook and then fold into the noodles
Then add in fish sauce, sugar and pepper to taste and tamarind plus its water
Then fry some more till a little dry, then lower the heat a little
Add in oyster sauce and stir till combine
Add in the scallions or chives, lime leaves and parsley, stir fry a little more
Off the fire, dish up and serve, garnish with chopped peanuts and more parsley and a lime wedge if needed.

Serves 3-4 people for lunch

Friday, June 09, 2006

Exploring My Origin: Bak Chang

I am back in my hometown for the weekdays and I had gotten myself busy with, yes you guess it, cooking! Well, I know I’m pretty late but since I only got back last two days, I pestered my Lai Ma (nanny) into making bak chang with me.

Bak chang is actually Chinese meat dumpling that is usually made during the Duan Wu festival. As all Chinese festivals, this one too has a legend behind it. This day is to honor Qu Yuan, a wise minister in China who was greatly loved by common people. Due to despair of the government and the defeat of his country, he drowned himself in a river. After that people searched for him in the river with long boats, beating drums as they went and throwing dumplings into the river to feed the fishes so that they won’t eat his body. After that, on this day, fifth day of the fifth month in the lunar calendar, it is then customary to enjoy bak chang (commonly known as zongzi) in memorial. Dumplings are made and enjoyed while dragon boat races are also held alongside, in commemoration of the initial search.

Since young, I had always enjoyed these dumplings, thought it is only quite recently that I learned of the meaning behind it. There are many types of chang (dumpling) made here in Malaysia. The usual ones that I know of is bak chang (which I made this time), which is savoury, and the kan sui chong, which is the sweet type, made plain with lye water and to dip with kaya or coconut caramel. These two are my usual favourites. Bak chang comes in two types, the dark or the white ones. Foodcrazee had talked bout the white ones here. The usual ones that I always had were the dark ones, which is the one I made this time. Bak chang usually have sam chang bak (pork belly), Chinese mushrooms, dried shrimps, either pak mei tau or lok tau (split green peas), salty duck egg yolk and of course, my personal favourite, fong lut (chesnuts).

The process was tedious, as I had expected. But I was adamant to learn and make it; else the tradition and method will be lost. After all, making this dumpling seems like a very good addition to my ‘exploring my origin’ project.

When I got back, I was only half expecting my Lai Ma to make bak chang with me, I had requested since last week, as she is the type who needs to be in the mood to do something. Nowadays, it is up to whether she feels like it or not, or she is tired or not. This time I got lucky, she asked me bout it and then took everything out to prepare. She said she made some before hand and there are leftovers ingredients. The only thing that I needed to do was to walk 5 minutes to the local tim chai (mini store) nearby and get some beans and extra bamboo leaves for wrapping.

So far there are many variations in making this bak chang, but to me my Lai Ma’s bak changbak chang was out and ready to be devour! All I can say is, my cravings had been answered.


Bak Chang

Alright, the whole process is pretty tedious and seemingly complicated, but don’t feel daunted, take up the challenge and make it. As for me, my chang is much simpler, with less ingredient but nevertheless yummy. I also left out the usual salted duck egg yolks, because the selfish me do not like it.

For the recipe, I break down to few parts for easier preparation. Most of the ingredients, especially the spices and flavourings are all in estimation as, I have said, we Chinese cooked by whim, with fingers dipping in and tasting as we go. It is always a splash of this and a dash of that and some jiggling of this and some spoonfuls of that. My Lai Ma said, cooking by taste is one of Chinese secrets to good cooking, as all ingredients we use differ, our own tastes of what is salty and sweet also differ, therefore we cooks know best to tweak to our the situation and our liking.

As for the wrapping, I wish I could be a better artist to illustrate it, but oh well if you still do not understand, you can head on to Teckie to see the video of her mum wrapping the bak chang, she had also written a comprehensive detail of the preparation. Be careful bout the wrapping as either if wrongly wrapped or too loosely tied, it will leak and come unwrap, resulting in a mess that cannot be salvage. We lost one of it (must be the one I wrapped, he-he.

Ingredients:
1 kg glutinous rice
800g – 1 kg pork
200g of pak mei tau (not too sure but I guess it is soy bean)
200g (35-40) fong lut (chestnuts) (depending how many you want to put in your dumpling, we have two for each)
8-10 Chinese dried mushrooms (or 16-20 small ones)
Handful of har mai (dried shrimps)
Handful of minced garlic

Additional fillings (I did not add):
Salted duck egg yolk
Hou see (dried oyster)
Lap cheong (dried Chinese sausage)

20 bamboo leaves
8-10 ham choong chou (literally the dumpling weed plant. You can use any string here)

Marinate for pork (in estimation):
2-3 tbsp of five spice powder
Pinch of ajinomoto (I wouldn’t want this but my Lai Ma insists)
Pinches of salt
2-3 tbsp of white pepper
3-4 tbsp of oyster sauce
2-3 tbsp of dark sauce

For the frying the rice (in estimation):
3-4 tbsp of dark sauce
4-5 tbsp of soy sauce (or to taste)
6-8 tbsp of five spice powder
3-4 tbsp of pepper
5-6 tbsp of oyster sauce
Pinches of ajinomoto
Pinches of salt

For frying the fillings (in estimation):
2-3 tbsp of five spice powder
2-3 tbsp of oyster sauce
2 tbsp of pepper
3-4 tbsp of soy sauce

Method:
Day before (or in the morning):
Soak rice with water for at least 6 hrs and up to one day.
Cube the pork and marinate for 8 hrs or overnight

Few hours before cooking and wrapping:
Soak bamboo leaves in water till soft. Then gently wash with running water, wiping with cloth. Stack it up face down in a basin, and then submerge in water until use.
Boil the chestnuts and beans till half cooked.
Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water till soften, then remove stem and halved it (for big ones)
Clean the har mai a few times, running through with water
Drain the soaked glutinous rice.

Cooking the rice:
Heat up 3-4 tbsp of oil in a wok.
Throw in garlic and fried for a minute.
Then add in the glutinous rice and stir fried.
Slowly add in all the frying ingredients, tasting as you go.
Lastly, add in the soy bean, then fry and mix evenly.
Add spices if needed.

Cooking the fillings:
Heat 3 tbsp of oil in wok.
Then add in garlic and stir fry for a minute.
Add in har mai, fong lut and mushrooms.
Fried for few minutes and mix well.
As usual, add in all the fillings spices one by one and fry till evenly mix.
Add in the marinated pork and continue stir fry.
Add in water (bout quarter bowl).
Fry till dry.

For wrapping:
Gather 5 strings together and fold it half, then tie a not to form a bundle
Then prepare a place to wrap, something like this:

Place together ingredients and leaves below it, along with spoon.

Take two leaves and overlap on each other in opposite sides, slightly slanted.
Twist in the middle and turn to shape a cone.
First line the bottom and sides with the rice and bean mix.
Then add in the fillings in the middle: ½ pork, 2 fong lut, 3 har mai and 1 mushroom
Then top loosely with rice.
Turn it upward to close up. Pull it down slightly.
Then turn in and fold the sides.
Fold the top leaves together, then turn down the side.
Now its in a triangle shape.
Tie it with ham choong chou, around the dumpling two times then knot it firmly.

Final cooking:
Put in all the tied dumplings into a huge pot of boiling water, submerged totally in the water.
Boil it for 4-5 hrs, topping up with boiling water every hour or so.
Then take out and hang it to dry.
Peel open leaves and devour!

Make 16-20 big dumplings
(It can keep for few days or few weeks in the refrigerator)
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