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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

bingka jagung

When I was pregnant and craving Malaysian food - and unable to cook them as I can't even stand that long to stir anything in the kitchen let alone smell anything for the first 4 months - I was trawling Malay foodblogs to salivate over recipes and the pictures of glorious home cooked food. I made millions mental notes on which recipe to try as soon as I can and my head was swimming of dinner parties ideas. Needless to say a lot of the recipes and pictures filled me with acute nostalgia and the longing for the scents and taste of a land I once called home.

A friend used to tease me on Messenger - are you craving for Budu today? Are you craving for Ikan Keli Masak Lemak Cili Padi (Eel in coconut and chili broth)? Are you craving for Kerabu Perut (Tripe salad) I told him I don't eat such thing and how can you have a craving for things you have no food memory of?

My Malaysian food cravings were very normal almost boring - I wanted kuih and I wanted them at tea time with my coffee. My husband manage to get some Indonesian kuih for me and our cleaner made kuih bom especially for me when she was made aware of my cravings.

But there are so many kuihs you can't get here and have to make for yourself - serimuka for instance and bingka or kuih bakar especially my favourite bingka jagung. My Mom used to make a kuih or cakes for afternoon tea everyday when we were small. Much later, my dad used to buy the kuihs for tea but everytime Mom made a bingka it is such a treat - I would actually give up dinner (I thought of it really... alas) just to eat her bingka. My uncles even resort to hiding a portion of her bingka to enjoy alone later.

What is Bingka or Kuih Bakar? The western equivalent is clafouti - it is essentially custard, pudding and cake at the same time. The holy trinity of basic Bingka ingredients are eggs, coconut milk and flour. Bingka is always baked in the oven hence the name Kuih Bakar (baked Kuih) in some states. The most popular bingka or kuih bakar is probably the green Bingka Pandan - made of the 3 ingredients and screwpine leaves and also usually sold whole in a flower shape called Bingka Kemboja. The other equally ubiquitous bingka is Bingka Ubi - made of tapioca.

No matter how I tried my bingka never tasted alike maybe because I have never bothered to measure the ingredients but always cook with instinct or agak-agak as we say in Malaysia. One tip is to make sure you use a teaspoon of salt whenever you cook with coconut milk because it will bring out the *lemak* - rich taste of the coconut and this is very important in kuihs. Without salt the kuih usually taste flat. And the most important thing to achieve in making a successful bingka is the sweet-salty-lemak taste followed by whichever flavour/fuit you use.

I found a very sound Kuih Bakar Jagung recipe in one of the darlings of Malay bloggers, Mat Gebu and thought I should try it and it was a success. The only thing I changed in his recipe is the food colouring and the order of mixing. I am so happy with the outcome of the reipe that I am going to use it as the basis of my future bingka endeavours and probably just tweak it to add other fruits/ingredients.

Bingka Jagung
(adapted from Mat Gebu's Kuih Bakar Jagung)
250g flour
230g sugar
400ml coconut milk - I used a canned coconut milk
200ml water
4 eggs
1 can creamed corn - mine was 340ml
2 TBSp butter - melted
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla essence

1. Heat the oven to 160C.
2. In a bowl whisk eggs and sugar.
3. Combine the coconut milk, salt and water and add into the egg mixture.
4. Fold in the flour.
5. Add the vanilla essence and melted butter.
6. Mix in the cream corn.
7. Pour into your baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour.
8. Let cool and serve. The bingka is lekker to eat immediately and the day after it is made and can be kept in the fridge for 3 days.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Lunch at La Mangerie

Unlike the past 10 years, we didn't make any real plans for Valentine's Day. Terry was in Munich for three days. He came home last night with a box of champagne truffles and told me he is taking me to lunch. With no babysitter, I called our favourite resto in Venlo, La Mangerie, and asked Gerry Cals, the owner and hostess if we can have a reservation for 1pm and bring the baby. She told me, "Of course, I will give you a table in the corner."

The best thing about La Mangerie, besides the delicious food, is the warm hospitality of the owner Gerry and Hans Cals and the intimate setting of the restaurant. While Hans is busy crafting new wonders in the kitchen, Gerry will be the attentive hostess who not only makes feel you are having a delicious, beautifully presented dishes and carefully chosen wine but having it in her house. Some of this is due to the bespoke elegant interior which is made of little nooks and living room ambience. This time, we're pleasantly surprised with the new decor - new chairs upholstered in apple green leather with matching table clothes and napkins. The restaurant looked fresh and springy! I love the special care that she took with everything including choosing the flowers herself and arranging them every morning. I feel like I am there for a private dinner party everytime we dine here. And if I have my way, we would go there once a month!!!

Gerry is not just a great hostess when she presents the food but she remembers everything about her guests and she is very attentive. The regulars call her and Hans by the first name. Every guest is made to feel special and attended to and sometimes I wonder how she does it especially when the restaurant is in full swing. Knowing that I love food - cooking, baking and eating - she explain the dishes and ingredients in greater details. And it is wonderful to talk to her (and Hans when he is not busy) because they are both passionate about food and produce.

This time when we took the baby, she was even making him feel welcomed by taking him off the stroller to meet the chef in the kitchen and showing him off to the other guests. How often do you get to meet a hostess who will babysit? And how many 2 month old actually get to meet and be in the kitchen of a Michelin recognized chef?

We started the lunch with champagne and some canapes and decided on the Valentine's menu. We were pleasantly surprised that they created a special valentine's menu since there is no hoo haa anywhere about it. Compare to other countries where Valentine's Day is another day to milk profit, it is quite low key here and we hope it will remain this way. There is no extra premium on things like chocolate and flowers. I am glad for this and the fact that La Mangerie were not decorated in corny heart decorations or uniquitous red roses.

The amuse were gooseliver pate with shallot jam, fried sweetbread with applesauce, local smoked eel with potato salad and brioche. The gooseliver and smoked eel are standard amuses in La Mangerie and they are very popular, the sweetbread is the seasonal offering. La Mangerie sources their ingredient locally and offers what they call a menu of market findings for lunch and dinner everyday.

The starter was a trio of Dutch brown shrimps, crab and prawns with parsley dressing. We love the combination of creamy pate done to perfection when you can practically taste the salty seawater off the prawns and the sweetness of the sesame tuille.

Our mains were lamb done five ways served with roasted potaotes with zucchini and tomatoes and a side dish of sugar snap peas. The zucchini and sugar snaps are surprisingly sweet for February. The lamb as usual was magnificent. With Hans, you always feel like he is letting you in a little secret and giving you a taste of everything - so succulent and juicy and indulging you in small pieces of heaven - so you can actually have layers and layers of textures and flavours without ending up feeling bloated and wasted.

Dessert was made of citrus fruit soup, blood orange bavarois, lemon sorbet and a dried heart of Pineapple and Blood Orange. The taste were fresh and tingling and the perfect end to lunch.

As always we ended the meal with coffee which comes with a platter of bon bons, whiskey truffels (another reason to come La Mangerie), fleur de sel caramel, candies, cookies and a little fruit cake.
At the door when we leaving, Gerry held my hand tight and looking at both me and Terry, she wished us both well and said, "Take care of each other, be happy and stay in love." In the car, both of us were already planning to come back for their Asparagus and Lobster seasonal menu.
Restaurant La Mangerie
Hans en Gerry Cals
Nieuwstraat 58
5911 JV Venlo
The Netherlands
Tel:. 077 3517993
Fax:. 077 3517261

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hello world...

Wow it's been almost a year! It feels like forever. Last year had been topsy turvy for me - 12 months of non stop rollercoaster to the end. Especially with food. Let's start around the time we got back from Antwerp. Terry brought back a blue packet and told me I have to pee on the stick for being crabby in the way that I am ONLY crabby when I am pregnant. And as luck would have it, the kit was faulty. Hahahaha. I was getting cranky calling him paranoid - I was almost 40, I said menopause is closer than pregnancy :P He was adamant - and I must say very very patient - drove 15 minutes to the only pharmacy that opened that day (it was a Sunday) and got us another stick for me to pee on. And yes, it was positive.

Because we had 2 miscarriages before, we waited a long time before breaking the news to everyone including Nabila and our parents. Nabila got to know faster because I was sick most of the time and we only told the parents after the amniocentesis test results came back positive and we were told it will be a boy.

Being pregnant at 39 wasn't as easy as the first one. I hardly went into the kitchen in fact never in the first 4 months. I can't even stand the smell of oil heating up or the smell of chicken that is not cornfed. I didn't go shopping for groceries because I kept throwing up when I passed the meat/fish section - I can't stand the sight of chicken tight wrapped in plastic. And then I started dreaming of unhappy chicken in psychadelic feathers.

My pelvic was failing me almost at the word go and after 2 rounds of chiro, it became bearable but gave me such bad contractions the obgyn asked me to stop. I just have to control it by moving *smarter* which means conserving my movements. Ahhh there is the internet, I thought and my beloved books. It started with me wanting to bake something and while perusing some of my trusted baking books, I started vomitting. I found some pictures offensive and they were innocent photos of cookies and cupcakes. Photos of recipes I have successfully made in the past. It got so bad, the only baking book I could open during my pregnancy was Baking by Dorie Greenspan. When I can't bake, I took the book to bed thinking of all the goodies I can have the moment I give birth. I was luckier with cookbooks - I can read Appetite by Nigel Slater, The Sugar Club by Peter Gordon and Tessa Kiros' Falling Cloudberries.

So Terry had to cook a lot and we ordered in a lot and go out more often than we used to. the pelvic pain got worse towards the end of the 2nd trimester so we even ahd to pick and choose the restaurants we went to.I ate more sausages in the last trimester than I did for the last 10 years. And when we went to the Shiro at Den Bosch for my birthday, I practically screamed at the waitress who advised me against eating the sashimi... "I've waited 6 months to eat this! So I am going to eat it and if it is really good, we will order another plate, thank you." And yes, we did have another plate.

On the last week of my pregnancy I had the infatigable need to eat kruimelvlaai - the custard and crumble pie made in the tradition of Limburg with Vlaai crust. It is my favourite Vlaai and something I will blog about in the future. One morning, the craving was so bad, Terry actually went to the bakery and bought one just as it came out of the oven - the custard was still wobbling and the buttery crumbles was still smoking by the time he got home. It was the best vlaai I have ever had.

I gave birth on the first week of December to a gorgeous baby boy. I am still in confinement though I have completed the stricter 40 days period and have been receiving friends and relatives since then. Following the Dutch tradition, we offer beschuit and muisjes. And each guest who came for the mom and baby 40 day banquet were given a red egg, following our family tradition.

PS: I apologise for not answering your mails. I wasn't online during the last 2 weeks of my pregnancy and a few weeks after I gave birth. Some of the mails I answered in January were bounced because the address you used are no longer valid. I really feel bad about that.