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Thursday, September 25, 2008

lodeh, oh yeah!

Yesterday I made lodeh and sambal kacang for buka puasa (break fast). Lodeh is a Malaysian vegetable stew that is sometimes served for breakfast with lontong or nasi empet and sambal kacang (peanut sauce). I don't usually make nasi empet for dinner so we had ours with white rice and some grilled salmon.

The preparation is very easy. You only have to soften the tofu skin and mung bean (cellophane)noodles and chop all the vegetables. Use vegetables of different colours and texture as it would make a colourful dish in white coconut broth. Then everything is simmered together in a coconut milk broth. You usually get some tofu and tempeh in it too. But I prefer to use the tofu skin sticks and feel that is enough for me. There is usually no meat or seafood in the dish though some actually dress it up using chicken stock and prawns for dinner parties.

I am not providing measurements for this dish because I used the agak-agak method to prepare it. And you know what, you should too! Just use whatever you have in your fridge and store cupboard and be pleasantly surprised!

1 cup coconut milk - I use a 250ml packet
2 cups water
2 garlic
2cm ginger
1 plump lemon grass - white only
1 onion
Tofu skins - break into pieces
Mung bean noodles
you can also use tempeh and tofu
snake beans
french beans
baby carrot
chestnut mushrooms - you can use other mushrooms but not dried shitake
white cabbage

1. Crush and chop garlic, ginger, lemon grass and onion and combine with water and coconut milk in a pot. Bring to boil to make a coconut broth. Season to taste.
2. Place the mung bean noodles and tofu skins in different bowls filled with boiled water for a few minutes until they are soft.
3. Cut all the vegetables into similar length and thickness.
4. Add the softened noodles, tofu sticks and vegetables into the coconut broth.
5. Leave to simmer. Season to taste.
6. Serve with sambal kacang (recipe to follow later) and rice or nasi empet.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Baking with Kids

One of my articles is published at Expatica NL today. It is on a subject I truly enjoy - cooking and baking with kids.We live very close to Nabila's school and in a neighbourhood that is filled with young families with school going children. And our house is consistently filled with kids, whether playing in or dropping by for tea or a chat.
I love the sense of community in the neighbourhood and school, where we know each other and each others' kids and constantly looking out for them. Cooking and baking with them are two of the activities I enjoy most and we are already planning for the coming Sinterklaas/ Christmas baking sessions!


Monday, September 22, 2008

a day in Brussels...

a short walk from Grand Place to Sablon.

When we arrived at Wittamer in Sablon, we stopped taking pictures... oh yes we were at the famous Wittamer Cafe sampling all the lekkerste dingens. And were properly charmed by the real treasure of Wittamer - Joy!

And then we stopped by at the Pierre Marcolini across the street...
Don't ask me what happened after!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I dream of Ayam Percik

post grilled - ayam percik twice cooked braised in the pot then grilled.

There is a dish originated from Kelantan (or is it Terengganu?) that is available in every Pasar Ramadan in Malaysia every year. It is ayam percik and the smell of the a Ramadan bazaar is incomplete without it. As if by magic , or the drums of your stomach, you would be lured into the stall, buying more than what you'd end up eating. And no matter where you are, if you are a Malaysian, you'd want a taste of it at least once during Ramadan.
I still remember my first taste of Ayam Percik. Or is it Ayam Golek?I was probably 8 or 9 and my aunt was married to a man from Terengganu a few months before. It was Ramadan and he was grilling some chicken in their back garden. I remember it so well because unlike other bbq chicken, this one smelled of something sweet and coconuty. There was a spicy smell too and yet it is not curry. It was also red unlike the usual yellow (turmeric rub) or brown (soya sauce based marinade) or the butter based roast chicken that I was accustomed to. Ayam Percik then was very exotic to me and I can't wait.
I remember the first bite - it was sweet, then spicy, then coconuty and totally dreamy. The flesh of the chicken was so moist and pregnant with taste and the skin was very crispy. And there was the keropok to sop up the gravy with. I can't get enough of it. My mom began making it after that and we used to have it quite often.
I thought of the technique recently when there was a wave of blogs making Mark Bittman's Chicken Adobo. There are two schools of thought on how ayam Percik should be made - one is by grilling it on fire for a long time and brushing the gravy over and over it again. Thsi can be extremely punishing because it can be very long and you have to make sure each surface of the chicken is soaked in gravy. The other, the one that I am more used to, is twice cooked. First braised in a thick coconut gravy then grilled on open fire or in the oven. Before grilling, the braising gravy is boiled and reduced into a sauce - to be brushed over the chicken as it grills and then later poured over the chicken, eaten with with rice and keropok!
The sauce (kuah) is a very important element of the ayam percik. The famous Malaysian blogger, Natinski recently stated in her Malay blog, Natasya di Awangan that she "can tell if the ayam percik is any good by just looking at the kuah..." The sauce has to be the perfect marriage of sweet, salty, spicy and coconuty. Done right, there is no other dish that can rival ayam percik in this department. That is probably why even after so many years of eating it and it being so widely available in Malaysia, it remains exotic to me.

A feast of ayam percik, kerabu zucchini - made from the vegetables in our garden - , keropok and white rice.
Because it is first braised in the coconut gravy, the chicken can be between 50-70 percent cooked and is great for a party because you don't have to worry if your chicken is thoroughly cooked. You can even make it a day or two ahead, just refrigerate and later heat it completely before putting it on the grill. And when it is no longer the ideal weather for an open grill outside, make it in the oven and your house will be filled with the aroma of a very exotic summer!

The Recipe
Ayam Percik
1 chicken - cut to 8 pieces
400ml coconut milk
5 stalks lemon grass - inner white part only
1 onion
3cm ginger
3cm galangal
3 garlic
10 dry chillies - soak in water
1 tsp fenugreek
half a disc of palm sugar - or 1TBSP brown sugar
1 tamarind skin - use tamarind juice if you don't have it
salt to taste

1. Combine the lemon grass, onion, ginger, galangal, garlic and dry chillies in the food processor and blend until you get a thick paste.
2. In a pot, add the coconut milk, chili paste, fenugreek, salt and sugar. Bring it to a slow boil. Taste the seasoning and adjust accordingly.
3. Reduce the heat to medium low and add in the chicken. If the chicken is not covered by the gravy, add some water or if you prefer, half and half of coconut milk and water.
4. Cook, covered for half and hour until the chicken is cooked through. Turn the chicken once or twice.
5. Cool the chicken down, pat it dry with kitchen paper and let it rest in the fridge until you are ready to grill. This step is meant to make the skin of the chicken very crispy.
6. You can now sieve the gravy of evidence of galangal and lemon grass. I skip this part because I prefer this dish to be rustic. Turn the heat up again and bring the gravy to boil and reduce to about a cup.
7. Fire up your grill and over medium heat, grill the chicken for about 3-5 minutes on each side. Brush the gravy over the chicken pieces as you grill them, this is probably why it is called percik because the word percik in Malay means to to sprinkle/spray.
8. Serve with white rice, kerabu and keropok. And extra sauce for ooomph!

Monday, September 08, 2008

pear chocolate cake

I love the scents of ripening pears, especially these small ones available between summer and autumn. They fill the house with the promise of sweetness which gets you to be a little dreamy. We got some from a little stall in Germany from a farmer. There are a lot of these stalls if you take the scenic route biking through the boarder towns between Netherlands and Germany and we often get a lot of fresh produce from them.
It was still green when we got them last week but yesterday they was getting a little too ripe. In a day or two, it might rot and the sweet scents will turn into the sour smell of alcohol. I was hankering for chocolate cake, the moist kind. But I was so tired I didn't really want to go through the motion of baking a moist chocolate cake. Then I remember watching Nigella making Chocolate Pear Pudding. A quick check in the kitchen, I knew I had everything. So I set off to work just an hour before the break of fast.

I did a little tweak - changing the canned pear into the fresh ones we have. And adding almond mill into the batter and instead of using baking soda using self raising flour instead. The batter fit snugly into my little glass dish and there was a little extra, which I baked together using my little loaf pan.
I didn't make any sauce and thought my cake turned out divine as they were. But if you must, make a sauce with Nigella's recipe or serve it with ice cream ;-)
Pear Chocolate Cake
(Inspired by Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Pear Pudding)
6 very ripe pears
125g butter - soft and at room temperatures
150g dark brown sugar
2 eggs
100ml milk
100g self raising flour
100g blanched almond - blitzed in the food processor
3TBSP cocoa powder
1tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 160C. Grease the dish and pan with butter.
2. Peel the pears and cut into quarters and arrange in the dish
3. Place all the other ingredients into a food processor and blend into a smooth batter with luscious velvety consistency.
4. Spread the batter over the pears and the rest (if you have it) into a loaf tin.
5. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
6. Serve immediately with the ice cream of your choice. Or make a sauce with Nigella's recipe.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Bubur Jagung

Every time I make this, Nabila would say she smells Malaysia. It is I believe the sweet scents of coconut milk, corn and pandanus leaves, left to simmer with salt and sugar on the stove for a couple of hours.

We would devour it immediately. And later, another bowl each at room temperature. I make this every week IF fresh corn is available at the market. It is my favourite bubur and Nabila's too.

Bubur is a funny word in Malay. Literally it means porridge but it can be sweet or savoury. The most ubiquitous savoury bubur would be rice porridge (congee) - some (including me) will even have them for breakfast. The most craved sweet bubur would probably be bubur kacang - made of mung beans, pandanus leaves, palm sugar and coconut milk. It is so beloved, it was even featured in one of P. Ramlee's movies.

Although I love bubur nasi (congee), I am not into bubur pulut hitam - which is made with black glutinous rice. My mom usually served bubur for tea, especially for my dad and youngest brother who absolutely love bubur kacang. and of course, it is one of the best way to break your Ramadhan fast with.

Any leftovers of the bubur will usually be frozen in lolly moulds - to be devoured later as another one of Malaysian classic sweets, ais kerim jagung (sweet corn ice cream/lollies)

corn kernel from 20 fresh sweet corn
3 - 5 fresh pandanus leaves - knotted together
1 Lt coconut milk - I used Chao Koh
1 cup sugar or 2 disc of palm sugar
salt to taste

Combine all ingredients and leave to simmer gently for 1- 2 hours. Stir occasionally. Be careful NOT to let the coconut milk boil too much - it will totally ruin the bubur.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

lemony roast chicken thighs

T was away on business and I was alone with 2 sick kids for the best part of this week. Nabila and me were eating mee sua for a few days and when she felt better, she was craving roast chicken. A bird is too big for just the two of us. And with a cranky baby in tow, I thought of a very easy roast chicken recipe made with thighs and herbs from the garden, some lemon zest and juice.
Oh yes, I am on tastespotting! to those of you who found me through that ludicrously gorgeous site, welcome and thanks Sarah!!! I feel so LOVED!

Lemony roast chicken thighs
3 chicken thighs
juice and zest of one lemon
a bunch of fresh oregano, lemon thyme and thyme
2 garlic - crushed
Maldon salt (of course!) and black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Combine all the ingredients together and roast in the preheated oven (at 220C) until the juice from the thickest part of the chicken runs clear when pierced.

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