Sunday, May 30, 2010

Swedish Visiting Cake (And Childhood Memories)

I have been spending a lot of time at IKEA lately, prepping for my home renovations ... so this post couldn't have come at a better time.

You must be wondering where I got these Swedish toothpick flags from. Some 27 years ago, I spent a glorious family vacation in Sweden, and these were one of the souvenirs we brought home (they came in a packet of 25). I had no idea they were still alive after all these years. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw them at my mom's ... she should really be awarded the title of Master Preserver.

Instantly, all the memories of that trip came flooding back ... smoked salmon, smorgasbord, Swedish potatoes, my fascination with the way "milk" was spelled ("mjölk") ... and cake. There was always dessert served at the end of every meal, and cake was a perennial item. I am pretty darn sure we ate this cake at least once during our stay.

But wait. I'll shan't go on about my recollections of childhood. No one should be forced to read through my ramble before getting to the recipe. ;) If you like, you can read on at the end of this post. For now, we'll focus on the cake.

I saw the recipe for this Swedish Visiting Cake at Dorie Greenspan's beautiful blog. The recipe was so unbelievably easy I had to give it a second read to make sure I didn't miss anything. Really, if you are baking for the first time, this might just be the cake to start with.

You see, everything goes into one bowl (easy washing); there is no need for a mixer (forget about beating till ribbon stage whatever); or any need for leavening agents (you don't have to worry about your cake not rising)! If you look at Dorie's cake, it is flat and low, and it's meant to be that way. In short, a stress-free, fuss-free cake.

However, as I am one who gets depressed looking at vertically-challenged cakes, I decided to pour the batter into muffin tins to ensure a nice height for each mini cake. Note that the cake will rise a wee bit during baking, so make sure the batter is slightly short of touching the rims.

In less than an hour (from prep to end), you have freshly baked cake that is ridiculously aromatic and utterly delectable. Incredible.

PS: Anyone here from Sweden? Can I just say how beautiful your country is? :)

(from Dorie Greenspan)
Makes 8 to 10 servings

- 1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I used vanilla beans)
- 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- About 1/4 cup sliced almonds (blanched or not)*
* I used chopped almonds that I wanted to finish up.

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (about 175 degrees celsius). Butter a seasoned 9-inch cast-iron skillet or other heavy ovenproof skillet, a 9-inch cake pan or even a pie pan.
* I used muffin tins.

2. Pour the sugar into a medium bowl. Add the zest and blend the zest and sugar together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Whisk in the eggs one at a time until well blended. Whisk in the salt and the extracts. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir in the flour. Finally, fold in the melted butter.

3. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Scatter the sliced almonds over the top and sprinkle with a little sugar. If you're using a cake or pie pan, place the pan on a baking sheet.

4. Bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it is golden and a little crisp on the outside; the inside will remain moist. Remove the pan from the oven and let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then run a thin knife around the sides and bottom of the cake to loosen it. You can serve the cake warm or cooled, directly from the skillet or turned out onto a serving plate.

I hope you enjoy this wonderful treat as much my family did. :) Here's a shot of the moist, soft, slightly chewy interior. I snapped it as an afterthought, as I was devouring the last mini cake standing. Ooops! :P


And for those who want to hear me ramble ...

I can still picture myself stepping off the plane at Halmstad Airport back in 1983. I had traveled from Singapore to London, and then to Sweden. A friend of my father had extended a generous invitation to host our family at his summer home. It was to be a memorable 3-week holiday - with a week each, in Sweden, Norway and Finland.

As usual, the only thing that marred my vacation every year were the stacks of holiday assignments that my teachers mercilessly piled onto us. :( I remember packing them into my bag so that I could finish them on the long, boring plane rides.

Those were the days when "in-flight entertainment" was a random movie played out on a standard large screen. If you were a child, good luck to you if you weren't sitting in an aisle seat up front. Good luck to you also, if they decided to screen On Golden Pond. My mom got all excited at the mention of "Fonda" ... but us kids? Yawn. Well, at least I had homework to occupy me. Maybe it wasn't such a bad thing after all.

So yes, stepping off the plane in Halmstad, it instantly felt different. There is something very unique about Scandinavia ... I can't put a finger on it, but I believe it's just the way they organise things - bright, airy, linear and clean-cut. Or maybe it's just the nordic good looks of its people ... imagine seeing life-sized Barbie dolls everywhere!

When we met Uncle Lars (and Aunty Birgitta) for the first time, he had a small bouquet (I believe it was Lily of the Valley) for my mother. I am not sure if this was a norm or a coincidence, but as we later traveled to Norway and Finland, my father's other friends would also wait at the airport with a similar bouquet. I thought it was a lovely gesture.

Uncle Lars' summer cottage looked like a page from the IKEA catalogue. How I loved every corner! The cottage had a backyard that extended into the woods ... in other words, there was no back gate. One morning, I woke up really early, and spied a little fox in the garden. I was thrilled! Often times, we all walked into the woods and picked flowers for the house. Even their weeds were pretty.

There were two girls who lived in the cottage next to us - their names were Viveka and Anneka. If by any unlikely chance, you are one of these girls reading this post, please say hej. :) (What are the odds, really?)

One afternoon, us girls went off by ourselves to the nearby beach. I felt like a character from the Famous Five. It was windy and cold, despite it being summer, and there was not a soul in sight. It was the first time I felt the power of nature, for right in front of us was a vast, mighty, raging sea. We stood silently as we watched the waves crash over and over again. It was impossible not to submit and immerse yourself in a moment like that. That day is still vividly etched in my mind.

Food was such an eye opener. I had never seen dill before and suddenly I saw it in almost every dish. I also remember asking my parents why Swedish people ate cold food when they were living in such a cold country. ;) At every single meal, Uncle Lars would extol the wonders of Swedish potatoes, and how they were far superior to Finnish, Norwegian or Danish ones. Every meal.

I learned to clink my glass and say, “Skål!” before eating. The adults would have Snaps while the kids had sparkling water. I was fascinated with bubbly H20.

As you can tell by now, I have a photographic memory for unimportant information but they are my cherished memories, nonetheless. Thank you for still reading, the four of you who are left.

I should really stop here and go back to baking more Swedish Visiting Cake. For now, it's the closest I can get to visiting Sweden all over again. That, or spend the day at IKEA. :)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Spicy Tofu Confetti

Here's a quick, simple everyday dish for you. I recently saw this salad at inSing. It's a recipe from Pauline D Loh, who happens to be one of my favourite food writers. I am always on the lookout for delicious vegetarian dishes, and this one caught my attention with the way it was delightfully described.

It uses firm tofu as the base ingredient, that is "cubed, lightly fried and tossed in a spicy sweet onion-based sambal. Add a colourful sprinkle of sweet corn, red peppers and fresh snow peas and you have a spicy, sweet and crunchy fresh-tasting treat that will make you forget it’s all vegetarian."

Besides, with a schnazzy name like Spicy Tofu Confetti Salad, I was instantly sold.

However, as I am not too fond of raw bell peppers and snow peas, I decided to do a version with cooked veggies instead, essentially dropping the "salad" from the recipe.

This was whipped up in minutes with my Sambal Tumis. See what I mean when I say ready-made pastes are a lifesaver on busy days? I used whatever ingredients I had on hand - firm tofu (tau kwa), frozen peas, red bell pepper and tempeh.

Indeed, you can use any type of veggies you want, like corn, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and so on. Just make sure you cube everything in as equal sizes as you possibly can, and cook every ingredient individually before mixing them up with the sambal in the final stage.

Love this dish! I will definitely be making this again.

(adapted from inSing)
Serves 4
- 2 tbsp Sambal Tumis*
- 2 pieces firm tofu (tau kwa), cut into 2cm cubes
- 2 pieces tempeh, cut into 2 cm cubes
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into 2 cm cubes
- Frozen peas, rinsed (as much as you like)
Other options:
- Sweet corn kernels
- Carrots
- Potatoes
- Tomatoes

* If you do not have sambal tumis, this is the recipe for the sauce:
- 1 tbsp chilli paste
- 4 shallots
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp salt
Process chilli paste, skinned shallots and garlic cloves into a fine puree. Heat up a little oil in a non-stick pan and fry the paste till fragrant. Season to taste with honey and salt. Cool to room temperature.

1. In a clean frying pan, heat up some vegetable oil and fry tofu cubes until they are lightly golden on all sides. Be patient, and use a medium fire to make sure the tofu is tender inside but nice and crisp outside. Remove tofu from the pan and set aside.

2. Fry bell pepper till just cooked (but not too soft). Remove from pan and set aside.

3. Fry tempeh till crispy. Return tofu and bell pepper to the pan, throw in frozen peas, add Sambal Tumis and fry to coat everything. If it is too dry, add 1 or 2 tbsps of water.

4. Taste test. Add salt and/or sugar if required. Done! :)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Happy Vesak Day

Wishing fellow Buddhists all around the world a Blessed Vesak Day! May all be well and happy.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Choux Puffs With Crème Pâtissière

Strangely, one of my blog's most visited pages is the one on Choux Pastry. Hmmm ... how did that happen? I'm a cooking blog more than a baking one - well at least, I much prefer cooking to baking - so I am baffled whenever I see my desserts stealing the thunder from my mains!

Whatever the case, if my dear readers like Choux Puffs ... then Choux Puffs it is. :) Over the weekend, when I made a batch, I took the chance to do a step-by-step of this beloved dessert of mine. I am no expert, but these recipes have not failed me once, so ... see if they work for you too.

Making the Crème Pâtissière
You can make this the day before and keep it in the refrigerator. I like to do it this way, so that I have less to do all at one go. Besides, the custard needs to be nicely chilled before you use it to fill the hollows of the Choux Puffs.

(largely adapted from Corner Cafe)
- 1 cup milk (236ml)
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup caster sugar (55g)
- 1 drop vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp cornflour
- 1 pinch salt (only if not adding butter, or using unsalted butter)
- 1/2 tsp unsalted butter, for additional shine and firmness

1. Whisk together egg yolks, 1/4 cup milk (60ml), sugar and vanilla beans. Mix in cornflour and salt (if using).

2. Bring the remaining milk to a scald* in a saucepan. Pour the hot milk in small stream into the egg mixture, whisking constantly with a balloon whisk as you pour (very important). Once incorporated, pour everything back into the saucepan.
* To scald is to heat to just below the boiling point.

3. Whisk the mixture over medium heat until it thickens and firms up. Remove from heat and whisk in butter.

4. Pour the hot custard into a bowl and plunge the bottom of the bowl into another larger bowl of iced-water to cool, give it a whisk occasionally.
- I just continued whisking in the same saucepan until it cooled down.

5. Once it reaches room temperature, scoop the crème pâtissière into a piping bag (twist the open end to seal up the custard) or into a ketchup bottle. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.

A: Add yolks, 1/4 cup milk, vanilla beans, salt, cornflour in a bowl. In the meantime, bring the remainder 3/4 cup milk to a scald in a saucepan.

B: Mix your egg mixture well.

C: When the 3/4 cup milk is hot, stream it into the egg mixture to temper the yolks. You will get a pale-coloured, creamy liquid.

D: Pour the liquid back into the saucepan and cook on low heat, stirring constantly. It will continue to thicken as it cooks.

E: Add in butter. Just keep stirring until the whisk leaves swirls from the stirring. As it cools, the custard will thicken even further. See how gloppy it is?
Love the speckled look from the vanilla beans. :)

F: I like to store the crème pâtissière in a ketchup bottle because it makes the job of filling the choux puffs easier.

Making the Choux Pastry
If you have never tried making choux, let me tell you that it is easier than it looks, and a lot less temperamental than macarons. Step aside, Beard Papa cos Mama's in da house.

(from annamariavolpi)
- 1 cup water
- 55g unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 120g plain flour
- 3 large eggs + 1 large egg (beaten lightly)

1. Place the water, butter and salt in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil. When the butter is completely melted, remove from the heat and add the flour all at once.

2. Mix rapidly with a spatula until fully combined.

3. Place the mixture on the stove over a low heat and dry mix for about 5-6 mins. The dough should be soft and but not sticky. If there is a thin white crust at the bottom of the pan, it means the dough is sufficiently dried.

4. Transfer to a bowl and spread to cool. Let the dough cool slightly.

5. Add the 3 eggs one at a time, incorporating each fully before adding the next.

6. Add the last egg a little at the time to control consistency. You do not want a mixture that is too runny, else the choux puff will not hold its shape. If the mixture looks right to you, stop adding the egg. The dough should be smooth, shiny and as thick and heavy as mayonnaise.

A: Melt butter, water and salt. The moment it comes to a gentle boil, remove from heat and pour in flour all at once.

B: Mix rapidly. Do not stop. It will be messy and clumpy but don't worry. Just keep going.

C: Place the saucepan back onto the stove, over low heat, and continue stirring. The dough will magically come into a ball that will no longer stick to the sides and bottom of the pan. Make sure your dough is sufficiently dried.

D: Take the saucepan off the heat and add the 3 eggs one at a time, incorporating each fully before adding the next. Stir rapidly. It will get sloshy all over again but that's normal.

E: Check the consistency of the dough. If it is too thick, use some of the 4th egg (beaten). Add a little at a time. You do not need to use up the entire egg.

F: As long as the dough is smooth, shiny and as thick as heavy mayonnaise, stop. A fluid dough will not hold its shape.

7. Preheat oven to 190 degree celsius. Cover a large baking tray with parchment paper. Fill a pastry bag with the dough with a piping nozzle.

8. Pipe the dough into balls - depends how big you want your cream puffs to be. Press down any peaks gently with your finger (dipped in water). Otherwise, the peaks will burn as they bake.

9. Brush the top with the egg wash (I mix some egg and with water). Some recipes call for giving the puffs a quick spritz of water before baking, as steam helps the puffs rise better.

10. Bake for about 35 minutes or until well puffed and golden. The drier, the crustier, the better - you want a cavernous, not soggy, centre. Shut off the heat, leave the oven door slightly ajar, and let the puffs cool slowly. The puffs may collapse if they are cooled too fast. Some people make small slashes at the bottom of the puffs to allow the steam to escape and then put them back into the oven. I don't, and my puffs still turned out fine each time.

Now that you have your choux puffs and your crème pâtissière, you're ready to pipe! Using a sharp knife, make small slits at the bottom of the choux puffs. Pipe in the crème pâtissière that has been chilled in the ketchup bottle or piping bag.

You just made Cream Puffs! Place the Cream Puffs in the refrigerator to chill thoroughly before serving.

Now we're ready to eat. Bring out your tea set.

Bring out your Cream Puffs ... in all their naked glory.

Fill your cups with tea ... Earl Grey for me, please.

Give a light dusting of icing sugar onto the Cream Puffs. Afternoon tea is served!

"I want nobody nobody but choux, I want nobody nobody but choux."

Sorry, couldn't resist. ;) I am not a fan of the
Wondergirls ... although I'd admit, the tune is kinda catchy. Still, I am amazed at how we celebrate mediocrity these days. Ah, I digress.

Anyhow, I hope you found this post useful. You can use savoury fillings for the choux puffs (like egg mayo, hummus or tuna) and use the crème pâtissière as filling for cakes and tarts. The possibilities are endless. :)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Cacio E Pepe

I am bracing myself for a busy June. I need to start with some home renovations pronto, as things are breaking down ... in part due to wear and tear, in part due to my destructive sons.

Cheese and Cracked Pepper Pasta.

With hectic days ahead, I can see myself cooking more simple dishes, like this Cacio E Pepe (Cheese and Pepper). The recipe is from David Rocco's Dolce Vita cookbook, and it is as basic as it can get. I used macaroni because I wanted to finish up the last of what was left in the packet, but I believe it would be have been easier mixing in the grated cheese had I used spaghetti. Macaroni tends to be more clumpy.

Anyway, here's how you make it (note that I am not reproducing the recipe verbatim).

Serves 4
- 500g fresh egg pasta
- 30ml black peppercorns
- 500ml freshly grated pecorino cheese (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)

1. Cook the pasta in salted water.

2. In the meantime, place the peppercorns in a small dry frying pan over a low heat and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, shaking the pan ever so often, until the peppercorns become lightly fragrant. Remove and place on a mortar; crush them with a pestle. You want an uneven texture that's coarser than what a pepper mill will give you.

3. Put your frying pan back on medium heat.

4. Once your pasta is cooked, drain it, reserving 500ml of the cooking water. Put your pasta into the heated frying pan. The book says to add 250ml to 500ml of the pasta cooking water back in. I didn't really measure how much water I used ... as usual, I relied on the best most reliable methods, ie, eyeballing and tasting.

Note: According to this other recipe, "the pasta should not be drained too much, and must be served very hot. The heat of the pasta melts the cheese and enhances the flavor of the black pepper. As soon as the pasta begins cooling down, it will no longer taste as good."

5. Add the crushed peppercorns and slowly begin to add the cheese, constantly mixing and tossing your pasta thoroughly for a minute or so until it is completely coated, creamy and flecked with the pepper. Serve immediately.

Can't get easier than that, eh?

Buon Appetito, folks! Children & parents in Singapore, enjoy your upcoming June school break. :)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Homemade Vanilla Extract And Vanilla Sugar

I've got my vodka, I've got my vanilla pods, I've got my castor sugar. No prizes for guessing what I'm up to.

I'm telling you how much and where to buy these items because I KNOW I will be bombarded with questions otherwise. :)

1. Smirnoff Vodka (1L) = around S$20 (from Changi Airport duty free), around S$40 from regular shops.

2. Vanilla pods (10 in a packet) = S$10 from Phoon Huat. This is the el cheapo version because I really don't know where I can buy Madagascan or Tahitian vanilla in Singapore! Anyone knows?

3. Castor sugar (1kg) = S$2.50 per packet from supermarkets.

4. Container for sugar = S$2.95 from IKEA.

Assuming you get your vodka from duty free like I did, and you dunk all 10 vanilla pods into the 1L bottle ... you basically get pure, homemade vanilla extract for under S$30!!!

Better yet, use those vanilla beans for baking before you throw the pods into the vodka, so that those pods are essentially used TWICE. How's that for stretching your dollar?

Oooh, save some pods to make vanilla sugar. Just throw them into your (castor) sugar jar and store them there. Next time you need vanilla beans, take one pod out, rinse it, slice it, scrape the beans out, and then throw the used pod into the bottle of vodka. In the meantime, your sugar gets perfumed by the heady scent of vanilla.

You can do the same for your regular granulated sugar too. Imagine how your coffee or tea will taste like. :)

Work-in-progress ...

I saved this empty bottle of my daughter's favourite drink. Re-use whatever clear glass bottles you have at home (clean and dry them first, obviously). This one is 300ml, so I'd need about 3 to 5 vanilla pods. I put 2 in first (beans already scraped out) but I will add more as I continue using up the pods for baking.

Over time, as you start using the extract, just keep adding vanilla pods and top up with vodka. The more pods, the richer, darker, concentrated your extract will be. Vanilla extract has an indefinite shelf life. Like fine wines and spirits, they become better with age. Isn't that good to know? ;)

This looks like sunset in a bottle, no?

Store in a cool, dark place and give it a little shake every few days. But don't forget to first admire that gorgeous hue of amber (in the early days, at least). Now that I'll have a never-ending supply of homemade vanilla extract, I can live happily every after. *contented sigh*

Others who have made it too:
Evan's blog
Jen's blog
Elises' blog

My friend just asked a good question: "Why we can't use cheap cooking wine?" Why do we have to use vodka or brandy or bourbon?

The answer can be found here. Essentially, higher proof of alcohol = stronger extract. Vodka has an alcohol content of 40 to 50%. Cheap cooking wine or rice wine, on the other hand, have an alcohol content of about 15 to 25%.

* In order to get the strongest extract possible, use a high proof of alcohol and scrape the seeds from the pod (or split the pod open).

* To get a weaker extract, use a lesser proof of alcohol and soak whole pods intact.

* In addition, corn syrup or sugar helps extract and develop the flavor from the vanilla pods (corn syrup dissolves more easily).

* Occasionally, spoon out some of the mass of vanilla pods that settle to the bottom of the jar for when you want a very intense vanilla flavor (such as homemade vanilla ice cream or butter/vanilla pretzel cookies).

All the above useful tips and more, can be found at this site.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Xiaolongbao Workshop at Din Tai Fung

That's me on the extreme left, in green. I chuckled when I saw this photo at Julia's blog, since obviously, I have never seen myself in action. So, that's what we, the food paparazzi, look like while at "work". :)

This was a bloggers' event held at Din Tai Fung (313@Somerset). We got up bright and early on a Saturday morning to attend this workshop. As you know, Din Tai Fung is synonymous with Xiao Long Bao (and their famous 18 pleats). Needless to say, I looked forward to learning how this was done.

The restaurant was abuzz with action when we arrived, although it was only 10 in the morning. Staff were busy getting the place ready for the impending brunch crowd, but these 3 masked gentlemen were nice enough to pose briefly for the camera. Ha!

We were soon introduced to Chef You Zhixiong, who began by sharing some interesting Xiao Long Bao trivia with us:

- An apprentice would need about 2 years to properly master the art of making Din Tai Fung's Xiao Long Bao.

- Only right handers need apply (due to the direction of the swirl).

- It takes SIX different stations to produce ONE Xiao Long Bao.

- Every Xiao Long Bao is made to look and weigh exactly the same, as humanly possible. How's that for precision?

The next time you pop a Xiao Long Bao into your mouth, consider the amount of effort that goes into making it!

Using specially imported flour from Taiwan, Chef You worked up a sticky dough that was kneaded and left to proof.

As in all cooking shows, there would always be a sample that was already prepared. :) Tadah, here's a block of dough ready to be used!

The deftness and dexterity of the chef was amazing. Within minutes, we saw the dough cut into three parts, rolled into long ropes and pinched into small pieces.

An apprentice would have to weigh every single piece of dough, while a qualified chef every 1 in 5.

Chef You then pressed and rolled them into circular wrappers that must fit the circumference of a prototype (see plastic disc he is holding in the photo). That's not all, the edges of the wrappers must be thinner than the centre, giving it that slightly curved, frilly rim.

Next, contort your poor hand into this awkward position - which takes several months to a year to master - to hold the wrapper while you add the filling.

Now, give it the magic number of pleats - 18. No more, no less. By now, you should realise that this job is best suited for perfectionists.

I guess they must have experimented with 17 and 19 pleats, and found 18 to yield the best-looking Xiao Long Bao, with a wrapper that was neither too thick (too chewy) nor too thin (skin will break after steaming). You think? ;)

Foodgawking in session.

Beautiful Xiao Long Bao that is delicate yet sturdy. An art, if you ask me.

Now, our turn. We went back to our individual "work stations" to try our rookie hands. Gulp. Thankfully, red bean paste was used instead of meat for easy handling (also less messy, I reckon).

My rolled wrappers. My wrappers rocked because of all the practice that I've had. :) The chef was suitably impressed ... until I told him I had done this many times before. Haha! I think if I ever worked at Din Tai Fung, I would be sent to the "rolling" station, because ...

... I am hopeless at wrapping!!! I can't even get past pleat number 4, much less seal the Xiao Long Bao. FAIL! Haha!

After the "hard work", we were treated to lunch. However, I had to run off halfway because of another appointment, so my food photos are incomplete. To see the dishes that were served, visit Julia's blog. Look out for the Vegetarian Delight in Special Vinegar Dressing. It was my favourite ... simple but oh-so-good! SO GOOD!

Din Tai Fung (313@Somerset)
313 Orchard Road
Singapore 238895
Tel: (65) 6509-6696
Website here.

Many thanks to Din Tai Fung, for hosting this wonderful workshop and to Sixth Sense Communications for organising it. It was truly an eye-opener and my respect for Xiao Long Bao chefs just went up many notches!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sambal Tumis

Thank you for all your encouraging words in my last post. I'm sorry to bring you back to earth with mundane home cooking today! Martha Stewart I am not, so glammed up food can only appear occasionally. Besides, styling requires extra work, but I promise I will try my best whenever possible. ;) Anyhow, here's what I made - Sambal Tumis, which is essentially stir-fried chilli paste.

This is the second time I have made Sambal Tumis with Zurin's recipe. It's really sedap (delicious)! I think I tripled the recipe for this batch because we finished it up so quickly the last time. But don't take my word for it, ask Quinn or better yet, try it yourself.

This bowl of vermillion goodness is fresh red chilli blended with oil. I used a food processor for this, and it always helps if you add some oil for a smoother blend.

Note that Zurin used dried chilli, but I didn't want to go through the trouble of soaking first, so I used fresh ones (remember to remove as many seeds as you can, unless you like it REALLY hot). You can use either type of chilli - I have tried both. The only difference (to me, at least) is that the dried ones give a deeper, darker hue of red.

Oh, here's a tip: crush the garlic cloves before you put them into the processor. If you find any shoots inside, discard them as they are bitter.

And another tip: Zurin's recipe called for candlenuts or walnuts, but I subbed with macademia because I had a lot of those. Macademia nuts are often used interchangeably with candlenuts, by the way. They even look similar!

Lots. Of. Oil. Just accept the fact that making such pastes require plenty of oil, and move on with it. ;) Note how small my flame is. Keep it really low or the sambal will burn.

After a while, the chilli paste will start bubbling and absorbing the oil. I added the tamarind pulp water, sugar and salt but I increased the amounts of the latter two. I did not use belacan because I wanted to keep this a vegetarian recipe. There are no hard and fast rules to this, so taste as you cook, and adjust to your preference.

See how it has started to thicken? The oil appears to have reduced drastically too. After 45 minutes of constant stirring over a medium flame, you get this:

Sambal Tumis in a gorgeous red (excess oil has been skimmed off). Want some? ;) Let it cool.

Then keep in a clean and dry glass jar. How easy is that? Now, go take a shower. You'll be stinky and sweaty after this, I promise.

(from Cherry on a Cake)

- 50 gm dried chillies, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes, drained
- 3 medium large red onions
- 4 cloves garlic
- 4 to 5 candlenuts (buah keras) or macademias or walnuts
- 1/2 inch belacan, optional

All the above ingredients are to be blended with 1/8 cup of water in a blender or processed in a food processor dry (without the water).

- 1 1/2 tsp tamarind pulp mixed with 3 to 4 tbsp water and the juice strained
- 2 to 3 tsp sugar
- Salt to taste

Heat up 1/4 cup of cooking oil in a small heavy/thick bottomed pot. Saute the blended ingredients, stirring on and off until the paste turns a shade darker, maybe about 10 minutes. Use a low heat all the time as the paste burns easily. Add the tamarind juice, sugar and salt and stir and let cook about 15 - 20 minutes more until the oil rises to the top and the sambal is really cooked and turns a dark red. Done. Cool and store in a clean glass jam jar in the fridge. This will last about a week or maybe more.

Here's something I whipped up in under 30 minutes using this Sambal Tumis:

Fry the dried anchovies (ikan bilis) till they are crispy, set them aside to drain off excess oil. In the meantime, fry your brinjal (eggplant) till they are about cooked. Add one or two tablespoons of Sambal Tumis, throw the crispy anchovies back in, and just stirfry to get everything coated. Taste test and add salt or sugar if required. Dish up onto rice and dig in.

You can make this with long beans too. This is one of my favourite weekday lunch choices because it's not only yummy but quick. The sambal delivers all the flavour, and you don't even need to slice any garlic or shallots!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Meringues (Pavlova And Ambrosia)

I know. I am as horrified as you are. Wassup with all the recent photos of my food? All styled and dressed up? Whatever happened to The Little Teochew, the home cook? Home cookin' need no stylin', y'all.

Well, just in case you have been wondering, "Who are you and what have you done to Ju?", let me assure you that it's still me.

It's just that I have been on "camera high" lately. It's amazing what a DSLR does. I notice so many new details through the lens, so much beauty in the unlikeliest of places. In fact, I just have to share with you the pretty things I saw today. Now.

Indulge me, will you?

First of, my friends, Linda, Quinn and Ellie all made gorgeous pavlovas recently. I couldn't resist but join in. I mean ... meringues, you know? Pure and white, cute and cloud-like. Bite into the delicate crisp shell and melt into the marshmallow-like centre. What's not to love?

I made mini ones.

So ethereal ...

... I can almost see a halo (halo, halo, halo ... sing it Beyonce!).

But keep an eye. I baked this batch a tad too long (because I made them petite). :(

But even in a cracked meringue, I can still see beauty (love the arch). Don't throw them out. Give them a makeover ... they can still steal the show.

Pavlova and spring go hand in hand. OK, who am I kidding? I live in perpetual tropical heat and humidity, but I did think of spring when I saw this lone bunch of Sweet William at the market. They called out to me and my heart sang. Their petals reminded me of farfalle. :)

I found this Oneida spoon that belonged to my late father (part of a set ... I'll show you the gorgeous fork another day). It could well be as old as me. I was helping my mom get something from her cupboard when I caught sight of this box ... hidden in a corner, yellow with age ... forgotten over time. But golly, the cutlery ... they were in mint condition! I held each heavy piece tenderly for a moment, admiring the intricate swirls.

Gosh, I miss him so. He was the one who opened my eyes to beauty from a tender young age, starting with the picture of the sea he painted for me when I was six. He was extremely talented in art, among many things. The image is still etched in my mind ... the most beautiful painting to me.

My fruit of choice was the strawberry. This batch was from the USA. They look fatter and juicier, but their taste paled in comparison to the Korean ones I got recently. Oh well, buying fruit is like playing Russian Roulette, no?

So you're supposed to top with a generous serving of chopped macerated berries, but it soon turned into a floppy mess! It was a nightmare to photograph, and I had no choice but to prepare another one. For the sake of photography, all you get is this halved strawberry. Don't fret ... I made up for it with extra whipped cream. :)

I used Linda's recipe, which comes from Ms Nigella Lawson herself. I only omitted the vanilla so that the meringue stays pure white. Visit Linda's blog to see the recipe and her notes. She knows her pavlovas. Don't you, my dear Linda? ;)

Here's what you do with the cracked meringues:

You crack them further, layer them with the macerated berries in a verrine, and top with a dollop of whipped cream. Voila! You now have Ambrosia! Does it not turn heads too? :)

Have a beautiful day, everyone of you!