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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Rhubarb Cake

This is a simple cake to make, using fruits that happen to be in season. I use rhubarb which is wonderfully sweet and tart at the same time. It sets of the tender, homely and sweet cake so well. And the red colour always perks up my spirit. I only use the red part as I use the green part in something else (to be blogged later). I cooked the rhubarb for less than 5 minutes with sugar. The rhubarb retains its shape and colour beautifully too. Sugar crystals developed because I didn't dry the pan which was find and lend a little crunch to the top of the cake! It's lekker to be eaten immediately or kept in the cake tin for a day... if you can resist it!
Rhubarb Cake
300g rhubarb
100g sugar
1 vanilla pod

125g butter
125g caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp yoghurt
175g flour
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
a pinch bicarbonate soda

1. Clean, wash and cut rhubarb to 1cm pieces
2. Coat rhubarb pieces with sugar
3. Tip the rhubarb, sugar and vanilla pod into a wide based saute pan/wok
4. Heat up on medium to high heat for no longer than 5 minutes, stirring ever so lightly.
5. Leave to cool.
6. Preheat the oven to 175C.
7. Combine flour, bicarbonate soda, salt and baking powder together and sieve once. Mix yoghurt and milk together. Set aside.
8.Beat butter and sugar until it is pale and fluffy.
9. Add egg one by one, beating well in between. Beat in the vanilla extract.
10. Fold in 1/3 of the flour, then half of the milk. Follow by another 1/3 of flour mix and then milk, ending with the rest of the flour mix.
11. Pour the batter into a lined cake tin.
12. Add the rhubarb mixture on top of the cake and swirl it around. You don't have to use up all the rhubarb, the extra can always be served on the side later.
13. Bake for 25 minutes or until a skewer used to test it come out clean.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

lentil soup with vanilla, cumin and coriander

Yes, you read right. There is Vanilla in this lentil soup. In fact it is a whole vanilla pod thrown in for good measure. I learnt to make this soup, as most of my Moroccan recipes on the schoolyard, from my friend Samira.

I remember the first time I had lentil soup in Marrakesh. The cumin and coriander were easily identified but there is a somewhat mysterious scent and flavour which I didn't immediately attribute to Vanilla. At home when experimenting with the soup, I used saffron, orange blossom water and rosewater and can't quite capture that same taste. I can't find this mysterious flavour in books either until I had a similar soup in Samira's house one autumn morning in 2005.

She revealed the secret was Vanilla and it had to be vanilla pod because using essence (and extract as I later found out) doesn't quite marry well with the earthy cumin and coriander. After cooking, the texture develop into a hybrid of stew and soup which is light although still quite filling. Although it is delicious to eat immediately, try to make the soup early in the morning if you're eating it for dinner. Letting the soup rest for a long period will totally transform the flavour. Or cook it the night before you're planning to eat it. Delicious eaten with bread or as we always do, couscous complimented with harissa, Greek yogurt and lemon on the side.

Lentil soup with vanilla, cumin and coriander
100g channa Dala
50g of Urad Dal
400g canned tomato
1 TBSP tomato puree
1 red paprika
5 baby carrots - peeled and chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp whole cumin
1 tsp whole coriander
1 pod vanilla pod
2 cm ginger - peeled and sliced
2 garlic - crushed
1 large onion - sliced
olive oil
salt and pepper for seasoning
fresh parsley and chives
1. Combine the lentils, wash thoroughly and leave to boil until softened. Strain. Save the liquid for later.
2. Roast the paprika over the hob, peel the skin and scrape the seed out.
3. Heat up the saucepan and toast the cumin, coriander, cinnamon and vanilla pod for 2 minutes. Take them out. Place the cumin and coriander in a mortar and crush with the pestle. Scrape the vanilla pod off its seeds.
4. Pour some olive oil in the same saucepan and brown the onion.
5. Add the garlic and ginger and fry 1-2 minutes.
6. Add in the spices and vanilla.
7. Add in the lentils and mix thoroughly.
8. Add the tomato with the juice from the can, tomato paste, carrots, roasted paprika and liquid in which the lentils were cooked in.
9. Stir everything to combine, season with salt and pepper to taste and leave to simmer for about half an hour.
10. Serve with chopped parsley and chives, harissa, yoghurt and lemon on the side.
Note: I find this soup to be a great way to utilise *used* vanilla pods which seeds have been scraped out for baking or pudding. The other ways are of course to make your own vanilla sugar and extract.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Beef Semur

For the life of me, I can't make my Beef Semur photo looks good. I read somewhere that it is difficult to photograph brown food. But I thought it is easy enough to photograph chocolate and chocolate desserts. Why oh why is it so hard to take photos of Beef Semur or beef in soy sauce? So I thought I'll use an old photo - the one I put on for Q's riceball earlier this year.
I really want to share this recipe with you because there were a lot of request for it. It is usually the first taste of spice that a child in Malaysia get. The spicy note in this recipe is more sweetish and aromatic. The heat doesn't come from the chili but ginger so it is more to warm up your body rather than to tickle the back of your throat.

It's also a typical dish you cook at home. Not quite so easy to find when you're eating out. Don't get me wrong. It is ginger beef is ubiquitous - you can probably get it from any street stalls or restaurants but Beef Semur is a braised dish and it is not so easy to get unless you go to a very good Nasi Campur buffet spread.
I know braising beef isn't exactly what you ought to be doing when it is 24 C outside and it is better to read and drink Mojito under the gorgeous blue sky but in Malaysia, braising happens on a daily basis when there is a heatwave. And you know what? We eat soup too... with lots of ginger and chili thrown in some more! There are only four spices used in this recipe - cinnamon, star anise, paprika powder and black pepper. You can replace the paprika powder with chili powder of fresh chili if you want it to be more fiery. Don't be deterred by the list of ingredients - they are mostly blitzed to make a paste for the marinade. It is easily prepared - just leave the beef to marinate for not longer than 20 minutes, then leave it to simmer for about at least 45 minutes to an hour - depending on the cut of beef you choose and then you're on to a real winner! Beef Semur
1 kg beef
1 cinnamon
1 star anise
3 tomatoes - quartered
salt, pepper and sugar for seasoning
vegetable oil

for the marinade
1 onion
5 garlic cloves
2cm ginger
1/2 tsp freshly crushed black pepper
1 tsp paprika powder
3 TBSP oyster sauce
3 TBSP kicap kental (or kicap manis)
1 TBSP light soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
1. Add onion, ginger and garlic to a food processor and blitz to make a fine paste.
2. Combine the onion paste with the rest of the marinade ingredients and mix thoroughly.
3. Cut the beef into cubes and massage the marinade into the cubed beef. Leave the beef to chill in the fridge for about 15-20 minutes. don't leave it too long - it will turn bitter.
4. Heat up some vegetable oil in a thick based saucepan, add the star anise cinnamon stick.
5. Add the marinated beef into the saucepan and stir to coat lightly. Keep stirring until the juice of the beef seep through.
6. Add the tomatoes, taste and season accordingly.
7. Adjust the heat on your stove. Leave to braise in its own juice for at least 45 minutes or depending on your beef cut of choice.
8. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

vacation ritual

It usually starts in March. You see them when you're on the road during the short holidays in The Netherlands. Cars pulling caravans. You curse because they usually slow the traffic down and if you're Terry, you'd curse them for carrying their own supply of potatoes and cheese even when they are on holiday in France.
We're not the caravan holidaymaker types. Terry is still traumatised of caravan holiday in Spain when he was a child and me? I just like to sleep in a proper bed, have the shower and toilet facilities in my own (hotel/holiday rentals) room and not do any housework when I am on holiday. I have done the backpacking-sleeping under the stars vacations when I was a teenager and I think that is quite enough. When it comes to eating during the holidays though, we're quite adventurous. We will try everything and usually try to make advance reservations for certain restaurants and even sometimes work our vacations around the cuisines or restaurants we want to eat in. This should be the way non? Why would you want to eat McDonald's if you're in Bebek Betutu in Bali for instance?
There are however a few things that I noticed about myself when I am about to go on holiday and when I think about this, I have always done it especially when in my previous life, when my job used to involve a lot of travelling.
First of all, the house has to be spotless. I hate returning to a dirty house. After a holiday or a work trip, the last thing you want to do when you come home is vacuum the floor and empty the dishwasher. So the day before I leave I would usually spend cleaning even after the cleaning lady has left - I usually arrange for her to come the day before I leave to do the major work. The second thing which is probably more important than the first since the first one can be delegated - I have to eat a Malaysian meal complete with sambal. The meal has to be eaten by hand. I usually have a jar of sambal in the fridge and will make sure I have some left for when I return from holidays. If I am leaving for a long trip i.e longer than 2 weeks then I would freeze some.
I have seen some people actually carry their own chilies or sambal and will even take them out to sprinkle on their food even when they are dining out on 3 star restos. I never do this because I think it is insulting to the chef and the experience you could have. I don't really miss chilies when I am away. And it's not like I have to eat them everyday when I am home.
Today, as I put away the dishes after I ate my rice with sambal, I realise something and it made me a little sad. Last autumn when we went back to Malaysia for a long holiday, I actually ate my rice with sambal - despite the fact that we were actually going back to eat more Malaysian dishes - and had a bottle of sambal ready for me when I get home.
It dawned to me then going to Malaysia these days is no longer *going home* but actually going somewhere for a vacation.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Chocolate Coffeecake with White Chocolate Frangipani

Before I met my friend Ali, I had no idea how to use the recipes from my American baking books. We use a weighing scale for baking and cooking in my mom's house. There is also a measuring jug which uses both imperial and metric system. But seriously, I have never knew that you actually measure butter by the Tablespoon or Cup. I will probably never be comfortable baking with cups and tablespoon measurement like an American and will always convert everything into grams and mililiters but at least now I don't get spooked by American baking books.

I met Ali in a yahoo chat room. We both left our jobs to take care of our children full time - she a son and me a daughter. We used to chat about clothes, SHOES, pedicure, manicure, books the theatre and exchanged recipes. It was so fun to meet a kindred spirit who loves the same things I do. Ali helped me to make sense of American baking and taught me the wonder of Angel Food Cake and most importantly, coffeecakes!
I used to think coffeecakes are cakes butter cake with coffee or espresso accent like the ones we have back home. Or a mocha cake made with mocha cream and coffee flavoured chiffon. Ali opened up a new world to me, where with different toppings you can create different coffeecakes with a simple butter cake base. There is no need for icing she said because the toppings will be the decorations.

From the basic recipes she gave me, I have made different coffeecakes over the years. And I think it is a good trade off for introducing her to Milan Kundera ;-)
This one I made yesterday was really created by accident. I meant to swirl the white chocolate chips - I used white chocolate ribbons by De Ruijter - into the chocolate cake but I was distracted by a phone call. So it stayed on top of the cake with the frangipani. It gives the cake a creamier topping than usual. You can replace the cardamom with cinnamon or nutmeg but I find white chocolate and cardamom work very well together.
I baked using a 20 by 30cm cake tin. I am very happy with the texture and the structure of the cake. You could halve the recipe and bake it in a 22cm round cake tin and still get the same results.

Chocolate coffeecake with White Chocolate Frangipani
250g butter
250g sugar
1/2 cup yoghurt
1/2 cup milk
300g flour
50g cocoa powder
8g baking powder
a pinch of fleur de sel
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
200g white chocolate

100g almond - toasted then grounded
50g brown sugar - I use Billington's Dark Molasses
50g cold butter - cubed
1 TBSP cornflour
pinch of fleur de sel
3 green cardamom - crushed then toasted and the seeds grounded
1. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt. Combine the yoghurt and milk and mix till smooth.
2. Preheat the oven to 175C
3. Cream butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.
4. Add the egg one at a time and beating each well into the butter mixture.
5. Add the flour alternating with the yoghurt milk, ending with the flour.
6. Pour the cake batter into a cake tin lined with baking parchment.
7. Scatter the white chocolate chips on top of the cake.
8. Lightly combine all the frangipani ingredients with fingers or spoon until it resembles a sandy mix. This doesn't have to be so smooth or paste like.
9. Scatter the frangipani on the white chocolate and try to cover as much as you can.
10. Bake in the oven until done.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pizza Margherita

I love baking pizza with Nabila. The first time we baked it together she was so excited that she can actually make pizza in her own kitchen. The idea of the dough doubling in size is enough for any child to believe that they can do anything. It is also a great way to show her that there are different living organisms in this world - the ones that make good food for you. And you can actually *see* them work!
We use different toppings but the favourite is a simple Margherita with tomato sauce, basil and mozzarella. I usually get the fresh buffalo mozzarella from the Italian deli and basil is from the kitchen garden. It is really pointless to use dry basil and if you can't get it fresh, just use fresh parsley or skip it altogether.
The tomato sauce is developed from different recipes and there is always enough leftover to store for use later. The Silver Spoon uses fresh tomatoes for their Margherita but I usually do this only when summer is in the height and fresh tomatoes are at their best. For the rest of the year, I use my trusted tomato sauce. If you don't like the taste of anchovies, you can skip it. anchovies usually melt into the sauce and lending a taste of umami which really make a difference.
I use the basic pizza dough from the Silver Spoon with slight alteration. I added a further 30ml of water because the dough felt too dry that day and rounded the salt to a teaspoon. If you're using dry /instant yeast, be sure to add a pinch of sugar it will help the yeast work faster and better since yeast really feeds on sugar. There are so many pizza dough recipe out there but I find this one, the simplest I have followed so far works best.
The Silver Spoon says pizza need to be eaten with fizzy drinks to stimulate digestion. Beer is fine but use sparkling wine preferably light, young and fruity.

Pizza Margherita
1 basic pizza dough
tomato sauce
fresh basil leaves
150g mozarella cheese - sliced
olive oil for drizzling
flour for dusting
salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas mark 7
2. Spoon and spread the tomato sauce onto the pizza dough leaving 2cm margin to the edge. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 15-20minutes.
3. Take the pizza out of the oven, brush another layer of tomato sauce. Drizzle with olive oil.
4. Add mozarella and fresh basil, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with more olive oil.
5. Bake for a further 7-8 minutes.

Basic Pizza Dough
(adapted from The Silver Spoon)
250g plain flour - I used Italian type 00 - plus extra for dusting
1 tsp salt
15g fresh yeast
150ml lukewarm water
Olive oil for brushing

1. Sift flour and salt into a mound on the work surface. Make a well in the centre.
2. Mash the yeast in the lukewarm water until very smooth.
3. Pour the yeast mixture into the well.
4. Incorporate the yeast into the flour. Mix it well.
5. Knead the dough for a while - pulling and stretching and working it out until it became smooth and elastic.
6. Shape into a ball and put in a bowl, covered with a tea towel.
7. Leave to rise somewhere warm for at least 3 hours. It will double in size by then.
8. Punch the dough down and flatten on a floured surface.
9. Roll the dough to a round disk (I never manage to do this!) about 5mm thickness.
10. Line a baking tin with parchment paper.
11. Place the dough onto the baking tin.
12. Make sure the rim of the dough is slightly thicker than the center.

Tomato Sauce
400g canned tomato
2TBSP tomato puree - you can use the smallest can
1 TBSP tomato ketchup
3 big fat garlic - crushed
half an onion - there is no need to chop this unless you want to use it later
a handful of oregano, parsley and thyme
2 anchovies
Olive Oil
black pepper and salt

Combine all ingredients in a pot and leave to simmer in a pot for about 45 minutes. Season and leave to cool until ready to use.

Pizza on Foodista

Saturday, May 09, 2009

happy mother's day

hope your is filled with love, joy and sunshine!

Friday, May 08, 2009

baked lemon thyme chicken wings

I marinated some chicken wings for a barbecue last week. Then it started to rain and the plan to eat al fresco go out the window. So I thought I'll just bake them in the oven and make a little coating with panko (Japanese bread crumbs), lemon and Parmesan. The results was sensational and oh so quick too... Funny that the sun came out just as the chicken wings were ready and I used the streaming sunlight in the kitchen to snap a few photos ;-)
Baked Lemon Thyme Chicken Wings
1 kg chicken wings - I cut them into two
For the marinade:
1 lemon - juiced and zested
3 garlic - crushed
a handful of thyme
some parsley
black pepper

For the crust:
a cup of breadcrumbs - I used panko
half cup Parmesan - grated
zest of a lemon
some parsley and thyme - chopped finely
salt and pepper

1. Combine and whisk together all the ingredients for the marinade. Taste and season accordingly.
2. Marinate the chicken and leave in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 220C.
4. Combine all ingredients for the crust and season with salt and black pepper.
5. Coat the chicken piece by piece in the panko mix.
6. Arrange the wing pieces so they will fit in one layer.
7. Pour and spread the rest of the panko mix on the chicken.
8. Bake until done.
It is also delicious without the Parmesan crust if you just grilled it on the BBQ after resting in the marinade for at least half an hour. I love eating this with Hoegaarden Wit beer, blue cheese dip and sweet chili + ginger dip

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Dan Lepard's Chocolate Custard Muffin

Dan Lepard, that baker extraordinaire called this "the best chocolate muffin you'll ever eat" and it is not difficult to understand why. The top of this muffin is crusty almost light cookie like and the inside is rich and fragrant with chocolate and vanilla. It is not as rich as a cupcake or a brownie and yet it is impossible to resist another.
It is also a doddle to make. You only need a pot and a whisk and then you're set. It lends itself so easily to experiments. I have played with it a little - using espresso shots, instant espresso powder, kahlua, baileys and rum... and they all work so well. the best bit - you can serve it for breakfast, tea and even dessert - dress it with cinnamon ice cream and pour chocolate sauce over it... my guest haven't complained... especially when they heard you only need to use 75g of butter and 2 eggs for 12 lekkerste muffins!
Chocolate Mocha Custard Muffin
(you'll find the original here)
50g cornflour
3 level tbsp cocoa
100g dark soft brown sugar - I used Billington's
1 cup espresso
125ml warm water
75g unsalted butter, cubed
125g dark chocolate, broken small - I used Valrhona Guanaja 70%
75ml sunflower oil
a pinch of fleur de sel
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
100g caster sugar
125g plain flour
2½ tsp baking powder

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4
2. Sift the cocoa, cornflour and brown sugar into heat resisting bowl. It is very important to sift so the cornflour doesn't become lumpy. Add the water and espresso into bowl and whisk together over a medium heat until very thick and smooth.
3. Beat in the butter and chocolate until melted and absorbed, then add the oil, salt, vanilla and one of the eggs, and beat again until combined.
4.Add the remaining egg and the caster sugar, and beat again until smooth and thick.
5.Measure the flour and baking powder into a bowl, stir together, then sift directly on to the custard and beat through until combined.
6. Spoon into a dozen paper muffin cases sitting in the pockets of a muffin tray.
7. Bake for 25 minutes.