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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Selamat Merdeka, everyone!

various mee from my pantry and 3 kilos of chillies drying on my patio for my stash of Cili Kering (dried chillies) I used the top right healthy noodles from Yuan Li Food for my laksa. In the pix are 2 different ho fun noodles - one is chinese style and the other creamy, bi hun, su hun and long life noodles.

Join me in congratulating my buddy, Babe in The city KL for a great Merdeka Open House blog event for the third time. So far, 25 recipes of lekkere Mee in the form of Mee Siam, different laksas, mee sua and Nyonya Lam Mee with mouth watering photoes are waiting for you over at her blog.
I am looking forward to returning to that page over and over again to try different recipes, starting with Nyonya Lam Mee, which I have to tweak to suit my halal needs. There is also a very intriguing Mee Bandung which uses spaghetti (no kidding) and sauce from a bottle which will make both Delia and Nigella green!
A fantastic theme for a great event for our nation's 51st party.
Head over to Babe's and let's partay!
Selamat Merdeka dan Selamat Makan.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Laksa Lemak for Merdeka Open House 2008

I am a self confessed noodle fiend. I just love noodles. I can have it for breakfast, coffee break, lunch, tea and dinner and later when I am hungry in the middle of the night - I crave either cold noodles or steaming hot instant noodles. My mom who loved noodles and who was a great cook but was perpetually on diet when she was younger told us noodle is a type of vegetables since it is made of grains. Hahahaha we all believed her! These days I tell myself this too especially when I try to be on diet, like now and am failing miserably.
Anyway my Mom's tip was to have mee hoon - rice noodles if you're trying to lose weight. a tip I don't always follow.
My mom used to make her own noodles. We had a pasta maker at home and she made it look effortless. She didn't do it much when we were older and one of my greatest regret was never to learn how to make my own noodles. It will taste so much better especially in gravy based noodles dishes, like laksa and soto.
I am delighted to find this year's theme of Merdeka Open House to be Mee and My Malaysia. This event is organised annually by Babe In The City KL. It is to promote a very Malaysian tradition - Open House - in which we open our house to anyone, even strangers into our homes for festive occasions like Chinese New Year, Hari Raya (Eid) and Christmas. In the blog world, Babe chose Merdeka - our National Day which falls on the 31st of August every year. Malaysia is celebrating its independence for the 51st year this year! And every year since 2006, we have a virtual merdeka party hosted by Babe.
My contribution is a dish very close to my heart - laksa lemak. I make this dish with a few other noodle dish every year on the second day of Raya when I am back at my parent's. The spread proved to be quite popular since most of the other houses will usually still be serving nasi minyak/beriyani spread with lauk-pauk. Because I only make it once a year and sometimes once in a few years, my parents were always looking forward to it. And this makes me feel rather virtuous ;-)
With a baby, my laksa takes three different days to make but with a little more organisation, you can make it in a few hours. Just make sure you do it for dinner and have everything ready by say 2pm. It is not something you can make in a hurry but you can assemble quickly and make a great impact. This is something that is prepared with lots of love. The shopping, the planning, the cooking and the assembling take a bit of patience especially when you don't live in an Asian country and all the ingredients have to be obtained from different places. I try to make everything only with the ingredients I can find easily here. The only thing missing are daun kesum which I replaced with Thai basil - which has a similar taste and fish cakes, which I could have made fresh if I had tapioca starch but I only realise this morning is missing! So I scratched that out.
I want to try to make a recipe which can be followed easily and using the agak-agak as minimally as possible - so I weighed in the onions, garlic, ginger and galanggal after I peel and cut them and they turned out to be right - I didn't have to add or subtract from the original estimation. The only thing that would probably need tweaking are tamarind and gula melaka (palm sugar). I used one disk divided into 2, half for the sambal and half for the gravy. You can use brown sugar if it is easier for you.
When I am planning a dinner party here, I usually serve the laksa as a main course. I would place all the extra toppings in a big platter and the sambal in a jar for the guests to help themselves with. Laksa is very rich and filling but it never stopped anyone to ask for second helping. Just have some iced cool drinks ready in case it is too spicy.
Thanks for organising another fantastic event, babe and for picking such a great theme! Happy Merdeka everyone! Let's have a fabulous party this year!

Recipe for Laksa Lemak
Prawn stock - make ahead
skins and heads form a kilo of prawns
1 cup cooking oil
2 stalks celery
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 liter water
salt, pepper and sugar to taste
1. In a pot, heat up the oil.
2. Add the prawn skins and heads
3. Fry together until the skin of the prawns turn pink and the liquid produced turns salmony pink.
4. Removed the oil/prawn extract and reserve it for the sambal goreng.
5. Add fennel, celery stalks and water into the prawn skins and head. Season to taste.
6. Let it boil and simmer for about 30 minutes.
7. Let cool. Sieve the prawn stock and throw away the prawns heads and skins, fennel and celery. Keep it chilled in the fridge or freeze until you need to use it.
Sambal Goreng - make ahead
Prawn Extract
300g onions - from 2 big ones or you can use shallots
5 dried chillies - softened in hot water
5 fresh chillies
5 candle nuts
2cm ginger
5 garlic
tamarind + water - turn into a paste
cooking oil
12.5g palm sugar (half a disk)
salt to taste
1. Put the onion, dried and fresh chillies, ginger, garlic in a food processor or blender with some water and process until it because a thick paste.
2. Pound the candle nuts with pestle and mortar and add in the palm sugar and pound some more.
3. Heat the oil in a wok. Add in the chili paste and fry until the oil separates from the paste and the paste turns dark red.
4. Add in the prawn extracts and mix thoroughly. The aroma that is filling your kitchen now is totally divine.
5. Add in the candle nut and the palm sugar. Mix some more.
6. Make sure all the paste are mixed thoroughly and is amalgamated into a fiery red mixture. Then add the tamarind paste. If it turns the mixture into a runny paste again - let it simmer and keep mixing until it turn into a sambal/ jammy consistency.
7. Season and let cool and store in a jar in the fridge. If you plan to make a lot of this and keep it for a while - use a safe canning method. I usually make a lot of it and keep it for up to 6 months and give away to friends.
Laksa gravy
150g onion - diced
20g ginger - sliced
30g lemon grass stalk - only the white part - you get this from 3 fresh fat stalks - sliced
30g galanggal - sliced
20g garlic - sliced
10 fresh chillies - sliced
1TBSP coriander powder
1 TBSP cumin powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 kg of tiger prawns (16/21) - head and skin removed (freeze for future use)
2 Lt prawn extract
500ml coconut milk
200g kangkung /water spinach or if you can't find this use spinach or bak choi
cooking oil
12.5g palm sugar
salt to taste
1. First make the rempah. Combine onion, garlic, ginger, galanggal, chillies and lemon grass with a bit of water in a food processor and blitz it into a thick paste.
2. Mix all the spices into the chili paste and set aside.
3. In a pot, heat up oil and add in the rempah. Fry the rempah, stirring constantly until the oil seperates from the rempah. This should take about 8-10 minutes.
4. Add the prawn stock into the mixture and let it boil together.
5. Add the coconut milk and let it boil.
6. Let the laksa gravy simmer for about half an hour. Season with sugar and salt to taste.
Toppings and tails
Noodles of your choice - I used a thick ho fun - prepared according to package instructions
a bunch of Thai basil
boiled eggs - half per person
100g taugeh (bean sprouts) - top and tailed and blanched
5 tau pok - fried tofu skins - blanched and sliced thickly
1 cucumber - seeds removed and cut into ribbons
lemon/lime wedges. If you can get kalamasi, it will be perfect
sambal goreng
To assemble
1. Prepare the noodles according to package instruction and set aside.
2. Just before serving, add the prawns and kangkung into the laksa gravy and quickly fish the prawns out as soon as it cooks. The gravy now witll turn thicker and into a richer colour. This is the consistency that you'd want.
3. Warm up a bowl. Place the noodles on the bowl.
4. Arrange the prawns, cucumber, tau pok, taugeh, cucumber and half an egg on top of the noodles.
5. Pour the laksa gravy into the bowl.
6. Add sambal goreng and Thai basil.
7. Serve with extra sambal goreng and a wedge of lime.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

bored with chicken

My friend Lionel said he is bored with chicken. Bored with a capital B. "I don't know," he said, "but somehow chicken always slips one meal or the other everyday." We both love fish and seafood and lamented on how paramount chicken seems to be in the Asian culture. A pity since fish and seafood are not just abundant but are very fresh too.
"Mango, I had the white pepper crab from no signboard seafood last night. I thought of you. I had the BIGGGG claw just for you." After chatting about the crab experience for 15 minutes, he killed me with this, "...and got to sop up the sauce wif that fried bread thingy."

He then listed the places we're going to in Singapore in October when I am back in Asia for a month. I am looking forward to eating with him because he really knows how to eat and he is the kind of person you really have fun hanging out with.

"When I am coming to see you, you have to cook everyday though,"he said. "And I want to eat that roast chicken of yours. The not boring one - the honey spicy thingy."

It was kinda funny that he should mention roast chicken because I always make roast chicken when I have friends for dinner especially when I have real, old, comfortable like slippers friends. The kind I cook with and just throw everything and anything on the table.

How I marinate the chicken depends on what I plan to serve it with. With rice, it tends to be spicier or with soy sauce and oyster sauce. With potatoes, it is usually with butter, herbs and garlic.

This is the one I like to serve with rice and cous cous, for very old friends, the kind I do allow in the kitchen even when they dare to tell me they are bored with chicken ;-)

Honey Lemon Spicy Roast Chicken

1 roasting chicken - I tend to use 2 smaller ones of 1kg each but you can use the one between 2.2 - 2.5kg
Wash the chicken thoroughly and rub in salt and lemon juice inside out.
1 lemon

black pepper
juice and zest of one lemon
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp paprika powder
1 tsp chili powder
olive oil

Pound garlic, black peppercorns, ginger and salt. Add turmeric, paprika, chili powder into the garlic paste and mix. Add in the lemon juice and zest. Whisk in honey and olive oil until you get a fragrant, golden, thick paste. Season with salt.

Spice rub
1 TBSP cumin
1 TBSP coriander
1 tsp fennel
toast the spices and mash lightly with your pestle - do not turn it into powder and set aside.

1. Marinate the chicken thoroughly. Keep the chicken in marinade for about 2 hours in the fridge.
2. Preheat the oven to 220C or get the grill/BBQ ready.
3. Take the chicken out of the fridge, place in the roasting tin and place the lemon inside the cavity.
4. Rub the spice rub on the skin of the chicken.
5. Roast or grill until it's cooked.
6. Let the chicken rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Life is a picnic...and you ace it with summer rolls

We LOVE picnic in this house! That is perhaps the best reason to join this month's Waiter There is Something in my... PICNIC Basket! organised by Joanna at The Passionate Cook. The other thing is, I am feeling slightly guilty - Joanna has been inviting me to the events she organised since 2006 but I have been so snowed under these past two years, I just haven't been equally gracious. I keep dreaming up things to make for the events she organised yet the timing has been wrong!

When I read about this event in her blog, I quickly penned it into my Filofax and dreamed of things to make. I even asked the kiddies at the neighbourhood if they want to go for picnic with us last week but the weather was so awful for the past two weekends, there wasn't any opportunity.

Nabila kept joking about the times when we had picnic indoors because I was determined to have a picnic. Now we live in a park. The duck pond is literally at our doorstep and we can actually go for picnic any day - rain or shine! For this kind of picnic with the kiddies - we just make something simple in the house, pack it into the pink tiffin, make some drinks and put everything into our wicker picnic basket and walk over to the park and have a picnic. Usually the kids playing at the park will drop by and join us and some will go back to their own houses to drag their moms and bring more food. Before you know, we're starting a revolution - the picnic revolution since a picnic is not a Dutch thing to do.

My favourite picnic food is summer rolls inspired by Vietnamese Spring Rolls but made with anything I find in our fridge and pantry. This is a typical one. I don't usually use any noodles inside the rolls because I prefer it to have more veggies and meat or shrimp. I figured the rice paper is made of the same stuff as rice noodles and that is quite enough. Since I am making it for the children, I usually make a creamy sauce (using yoghurt!) instead of the typical sauce that comes with the spring rolls.

When planning the ingredients for the filling - texture is very important. Use whatever is in season. This will ensure freshness. The other thing that is equally important is colour. Although the filling is sealed in a package, it is very tantalizing to see layers and myriads of colour through the thin rice paper. We do eat with our eyes first ;-) This time, I decided to make summer rolls with shredded poached chicken, fresh baby spinach, blanched taugeh (bean sprouts), mange tout and baby carrots from our garden.

I cut all the ingredients into matchstick strips, lay them on the table at the patio and have the kids make their own rolls and pack their own containers. I then mix the sauce in front of them and have them taste it for sour, sweet, stickiness, saltiness and heat... The sauce proves to be more popular than the typical sauce using fish sauce. Children like it when they encounter something they are familiar with - peanut butter, honey and yoghurt in this case. This makes it easier for them to accept new flavour and new way of eating and at the same time making them feel more *adult* for trying something seemingly more sophisticated.

The combination of the rolls and sweet sour peanut sauce reminds me of Gado Gado - a cold salad made with noodle, vegetable, meat and tofu with peanut sauce. I will post something about Gado-gado soon.

The summer rolls are easy to eat with because it is not oily or sticky unlike popiah or loempia. It transports very well and do not get soggy on the way. And the clean fresh flavour with crunchy texture is a real treat in any picnic. It is also a doddle to make - the only thing that takes a bit of time is preparing the ingredients but once you have everything mise en place, it is like a meditation... a sensual meditation in texture, colours and scents...
and the best part is... there is no cooking (well almost) and the sauce is instant!
Summer Rolls
1 packet of rice paper - I used a 500g packet o 22cm in diameter
baby spinach
poached chicken - shredded
carrot - cut into strips
mange tout - cut into strips
taugeh (bean sprouts) - blanched in hot water for about 2 minutes
1. Cut carrots and mange tout into strips and place in a bowl. Wash the spinach and pat dry.
2. Prepare a container with damp kitchen paper (towel) in the bottom of a dish. Make sure you have a tea towel nearby.
3. Lay all the ingredients together in easy reach.
4. Fill a wide, shallow dish with hot water. Evenly submerge one rice paper in the water for about half a minute or until it is soft and pliable. Remove from the water and place on the work surface.
5. Start creating your filling. Be creative - you can do any mixture or layers to your preference. I place one baby spinach in the bottom and then layer the other ingredients one by one and top it with another baby spinach.
5. Fold the bottom half of the rice paper wrapper over the filling. Holding it firmly in place, fold the sides of the wrapper in. Then, pressing firmly down to hold the folds in place, roll the entire pile up to close the top.
6. Turn each roll so that the rice paper seam faces downward. Place in prepared container. Cover with tea towel so the rolls do not dry out.
7. For clearer instruction on how to fold the rolls, you can watch this video.
8. Serve with sweet sour peanut sauce.
Sweat sour peanut sauce
1 round TBSP peanut butter
1 round TBSP Thai sweet chili sauce
1 TBSP honey or maple syrup
yoghurt - I used non fat
In a bowl, whisk the peanut butter, sweet chili sauce and maple syrup together. Add yoghurt to slacken the sauce. Taste for flavour. I didn't add any salt or pepper as I find the taste from the ingredients are quite enough. But you should if you want to.
Whisk until you achieve a velvety texture.
update: for the rest of the original and delicious entries to the event, head over to Joanna's. The list of this roaring international event can be found here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

summertime and the baking is easy...

My Aunt Tom - not the famous Malaysian designer - used to say although this is a very simple recipe, it is not the kind of thing you teach a novice baker. Because it is so easy and so foolproof, it makes you lazy. I disagree, I think this is the recipe you share because it is so easy, it gives anyone the kind of confidence that they can bake anything and make them want to experiment. After all, this was the cake she taught me to bake at the age of 11 for my mom's birthday and a recipe I know by heart.
The cake turns out to be buttery, soft and crumbly. It lends itself easily to flavourings. You can make coconut cake - by substituting the milk to coconut milk and replacing 80g of the flour with coconut, orange cake - by adding 2 TBSP of orange juice (minus 2 TBSP of milk) and orange zest, pandan cake but adding 2 TBSP of pandanus juice. The flavours are endless and liberating.

You can use it as cupcakes and ice the top with a simple butter icing. It is so versatile although it is not very good at carrying things like nuts, fruits or chocolate chips. For which I think a pound cake or regular butter cake would probably do a better job.

Tom's Easy Butter Cake
125g butter
200g castor sugar
125ml milk
3 eggs
1TBSP vanilla extract
200g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt

1. Preheat the oven to 160C.
2. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.
3. In a bowl or using your magimix, combine ALL ingredients and start mixing for 5 minutes.
4. Bake in the oven for 25 - 30 minutes.

1.The butter and milk has to be in room temperature. My aunt prefers to use UHT milk but I usually use half fat fresh milk.
2.For the chocolate cake, I just added 2 TBSP of cocoa powder at the end. and I baked both the loaves together in the oven for slightly longer 40 minutes I think.

Monday, August 11, 2008


When Nabila comes home from school every day around 3.45pm, I usually have something waiting for her - a sandwich with tea, yoghurt and fruits. When the weather is cold, we have hot chocolate with cookies or some soup with beschuit - crackers. The spread always includes something savoury and something sweet with a hot drink. We always have a proper tea in this house because we usually have dinner only around 7 or sometimes as late as 8.30.

During summer, we sometimes skip dinner altogether and just have high tea or extended tea. Terry and me both always check the dessert menu first when we're dining out. We plan dinners around desserts and always order different things so we can eat of each other's plate. We think of each other as cake mates - instead of soul mates.

A reader mailed me asking if I do bake everyday and if I make something fancy everyday. I usually bake once or twice a week but I don't think of myself as a fancy cook or baker. I am not really into overly iced or frosted cakes and I cannot abide by marzipan. I might make something with butter cream, ganache or fresh cream sometimes but usually we have very plain cakes.

When using brown bread for sandwich, I always leave the crust on the bread. The filling varies. This afternoon it was roast beef, tomatoes and arugula. If we have soup, then we might have a sweet filling for sandwiches like banana and peanut butter, chocolate sprinkle or nutella.

In summer, the kids from the neighbourhood usually drop by for tea. And when it rains, we usually bake together. Dorie Greenspan's Peanut Butter cookies is very popular. The other one is Donna Hay's self frosting cupcakes - rechristened Nutella Lekker Cakejes. Sometimes they make the whole spread themselves and go on picnics.

Today we had butter cake and chocolate cake - made from the same recipe, I just added some cocoa powder to make the chocolate one. Terry picked up some mini chocolate glazed donuts from Albert Heijn this morning - he is so sabotaging my diet plans. To ease the guilt of the toffee and Turkish delights, I put some apples and melons (not in the pix). And we had some fabulous Earl Grey from Simon Levelt.

And in the end... we actually didn't have dinner. We ended up making more sandwiches, cutting more fruits and cakes and making more tea...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

grilled beef salad

shhh... let me tell you something I am very skittish about... I am on a diet. There it is out there, in the world for everyone to see. Giving birth at 40 has its rewards and amongst it is a little something something around your waist which just refuse to budge.
In any other year, I would just enjoy it and take my time getting rid of it. But not this year. In October, my baby brother is getting married and I have to look good in a kebaya and I now have only 2 months to get rid of the spare tyre.
Yesterday, my physiotherapist told me I have a natural corset which he said he can spank back into shape in 2 months - IF I do my part of course. The powerhouse abs he promised me will get rid of all these aching pains I have been having on my back and shoulders. And he gave me the good news - my pelvis is no longer misbehaving! Wooo hooo.
But I have been feeling very sluggish anyway and as always when I feel like this, I try to change something on the inside. So I have been poring over nutrition books and devise a little diet plan I think I can stick to. I am not very good at not eating carbs or not having a treat or dessert for a very long time. But at the same time, judging from the list of good vs bad food from the books, I think we have already have a very healthy diet at home. So, I am not going to cut anything down drastically but I will change a few things. And I am definitely not going to start compromising on flavour.
That's where the salad beef comes in. It is made with leftover grilled beef we had a few days ago. The beef was marinated in teriyaki sauce and grilled to medium. It is then leave to rest and cut into strips.
The bed of salad leaves provides the bulk of this salad. You can use any leaves you like for this. It is the thing that I use to make me feel full and I can have as much as I want. For crunch and sweetness, I add freshly plucked cherry tomatoes and paprika from our back garden. The whole salad is pulled together with a simple Japanese vinaigrette and sprinkled with toasted black sesame seeds.

Beef salad recipe
Grilled beef
your favourite cut of beef
dark soy sauce
light soy sauce
2cm ginger - mashed
3 garlic - mashed
1 tsp brown sugar
freshly cracked black pepper
1 tsp oil + a sprinkle of sesame oil

Combine all the ingredients together and give it a good whisk. Marinate the beef for 30 minutes. Grill to your liking.

Salad dressing
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp light soy sauce
black pepper
a squeeze of lemon
1 teaspoon of sesame oil

Combine all the ingredients together, taste adding until you get the right combination of taste. Pour over beef and salad. Sprinkle toasted black sesame seeds over the beef and salad leaves.