Thursday, July 29, 2010

Nyonya Cincalok Omelette

Here's a dish which I would categorise as real, unpretentious, homecooked fare. It is simple. And cheap. And easy. AND so delicious. It's called Nyonya Cincalok Omelette and it's something you might want to consider whipping up as a light meal or as a side dish. That is, if you like stinky food in the first place. Me? I adore it!

Cincalok, belacan, hae ko, fish sauce ... you name it, I love it (although I draw the line at petai, sorry!).

When inSing featured this dish (contributed by Debbie Teoh, cookbook author and Nyonya food consultant for Tourism Malaysia), I was totally sold. After all, I am such an eggs person! :D Also, with the recent rainy weather, it looked like perfect comfort food to have with white porridge. Mmmm ...

(from inSing)

Cincaluk or cincalok are made from fermented shrimps or “gerago” or “geragau”, as the locals call them. Found along the shores of Malacca, these shrimps are less commonly available today as more beaches are being reclaimed. One Nonya favourite using this shrimp paste is the cincaluk omelette, whose taste is fully enhanced with a squeeze of kalamansi lime.

Serves 4

- 5 to 6 tablespoons cooking oil
- 2 tablespoons Cincalok
- 3 grade A eggs
- 1 big onion, peeled and sliced
- 4 bird’s eye chilli, sliced (omit if you can't take the heat)
- 1 big red chilli sliced
- Pinch of ground white pepper
- Salt to taste (optional, I omitted because it was salty enough for me)

- 2 kalamansi lime, squeezed over the omelette before serving (substitute with regular lime if you can't find kalamansi)

1. Heat oil in wok, sauté the chillies and big onions until fragrant.

2. Add the eggs and give it a stir before adding the Cincalok and cooking it over low to medium heat. Adjust seasonings to taste. Omit the salt if it’s already tasty enough.

3. Once the omelette starts to set, flip it over and brown the other side. I like my eggs to be slightly tender on the inside, so I don't cook for too long.

4. Remove from wok and serve omelette with steaming white rice. Squeeze the lime juice over the omelette and enjoy. I only used one half of the lime and I thought it was sufficient. My helper, on the other hand, preferred it without the lime. Well, different strokes for different folks.

If you notice, my omelette is in a very pale shade of yellow because instead of using 3 eggs like the recipe stated, I used only 2. I had 2 egg whites leftover from making Spaghetti Carbonara for my children the night before, so I conveniently used them up for this dish. See, it's a great way to clear out the odd yolk or white you have sitting in the fridge!

PS: I used this (and another yellow) enamel plate for my guest post for Rasa Malaysia. Some of you emailed me to ask where I got them from. In Singapore, they can be found at those shops which sell "household" items (those that sell mops, pails, pots & pans, etc). I found THREE such shops selling these plates near my home, which means, they must be quite easily available. This green one costs S$1.70 and the other smaller yellow one costs only S$1.30 ... and I love how they trigger childhood memories the moment I serve my food in them!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sambal Fish (With Tortillas)

I so loved that bowl of yummilicious Sambal Prawns that I quickly made the same dish again, but with fish instead. :) Call me unoriginal, but I'm all for making spin-offs with things I like! That philosophy extends particularly to shoe shopping ... if I like the cut and feel of a pair of shoes, I usually get the same pair in a few colours. ;)

Sambal Fish and Tortillas? That's what I call fusion, peeps!

I ditched steamed white rice in favour of tortillas, just for a change, but mainly because I saw some really awesome ones at my favourite lovelies - Penny's and Trix's. Thank you, dearies! I went with Penny's version for this because I had so much coriander in the fridge ... and coriander is just perfect with fish.

Recipe for Tortillas
(from Jeroxie)

- 200g of flour
- Pinch of salt
- 225ml of water (it varies, just add a bit at the time if it is too dry)
* Note: I halved the measurements and it yielded just enough tortillas for 2 persons.

1. Mix the flour, very finely chopped coriander leaves, salt and water. Work the dough till it becomes quite soft. Divide into 1-inch balls.

2. Flatten the balls and roll it out flat and quite thin. No oil is required. Place the thin dough onto a heated pan (lower heat) and allow it to sit about 40secs on each side. It's quite fun to see it bloat and balloon as it cooks!

3. Place a towel over the tortillas as you continue making the rest.

Honestly though, I still prefer pratas to tortillas. Pratas are greasy and flaky, that's why! But I'm glad I gave tortillas a shot, cos you don't know till you've tried. :)

For this Sambal Fish, you can use any type of firm white fish. I used snapper fillets. I also made the tortillas small, so that I could fold and devour whole. ;) Kinda like eating sushi ... toss the whole thing in! Nom nom nom.

Recipe for Sambal Fish
(adapted from inSing)

Serves 2-4

- 200g to 300g firm, white fish fillets
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 300g grated coconut, squeezed for thick cream (about 1/4 to 2/3 cup), or use coconut milk from packets or cans (I used about 1/2 cup coconut cream from a packet)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon assam pulp (tamarind)
- 1/4 cup water
- Handful of chopped coriander

Spice mixture*:
- 5 buah keras, aka candlenuts (if you don't have candlenuts, use macademias)
- 10 fresh red chillies
- 1 stalk serai (lemon grass), use only the bottom 2 cm at the root end
- 1/2 teaspoon belacan (shrimp paste)
- 10 shallots, peeled
* Note: If, like me, you have ready made rempah in the freezer, just use 2 to 3 tbsps and you'll get your piping hot dish in even lesser time.

1. Pound or grind all the spice ingredients except for the shallots. When the paste is semi fine, add the shallots and grind to make a fine paste. You add shallots last as they are the softest ingredient and if mixed with the hard ingredients, will prevent the harder ingredients from being ground to a fine paste.

2. Rinse fish fillets and season with a little salt.

3. Mix assam pulp with water, knead and strain through a sieve to remove seeds. Retain assam water.

4. Heat a wok or saucepan, add the oil and when it is hot, add the spice mixture and stir fry for 3-4 minutes till fragrant and the oil has exuded.

5. Add fish fillets and gently stir fry to coat them with the spice mixture.

6. Add coconut milk and tamarind water, coriander leaves, and bring to a slow boil. Cook fish fillets through ... about 4 mins. Taste test and add salt and sugar if required.

7. Time to eat!

See the sad life of a food blogger? Gotta cook, style, photograph AND pose with my own food! :( Thank goodness the eating makes up for everything.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sambal Prawns

I love spicy dishes, and I was really eager to try out this sambal dish. It's from one of Singapore’s leading authorities on food - Violet Oon, and I knew it would be scrummy.

Now, this was actually a Sambal Sotong (squid) dish. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any sotong at the market that morning, so I used fresh prawns instead. They work great too! Coincidentally, we had cool, rainy weather that day and that just made this dish even more delicious to dig into. I slurped up every drop of the yummy gravy. It was so, so good. :)

I know some people prefer to shell the prawns and only keep the tails on, probably for easy and dainty eating. But for home cooking, I like to keep the shells on (although I remove the heads) because it keeps the prawns from over-cooking, somewhat. Besides, peeling the shells and sucking them dry of the sambal gravy makes eating this dish all the more hearty! Now, THAT'S finger lickin' good. ;)

(from inSing)
The marriage of spices like chillies and lemon grass with the creamy flavour of coconut milk is what makes Malay food so attractive to the palate. Well, here's how you do it, with prawns.

Serves 2-4

- 500g prawns, with shells on (I used 300g)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 300g grated coconut, squeezed for thick cream (about 1/4 to 2/3 cup), or use coconut milk from packets or cans (I used about 1/2 cup coconut cream from a packet)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon assam pulp (tamarind)
- 1/4 cup water

Spice mixture*:
- 5 buah keras, aka candlenuts (if you don't have candlenuts, use macademias)
- 10 fresh red chillies
- 1 stalk serai (lemon grass), use only the bottom 2 cm at the root end
- 1/2 teaspoon belacan (shrimp paste)
- 10 shallots, peeled
* Note: If, like me, you have ready made rempah in the freezer, just use 2 to 3 tbsps and you'll get your piping hot dish in even lesser time.

1. Pound or grind all the spice ingredients except for the shallots. When the paste is semi fine, add the shallots and grind to make a fine paste. You add shallots last as they are the softest ingredient and if mixed with the hard ingredients, will prevent the harder ingredients from being ground to a fine paste.

2. Clean and devein prawns.

3. Mix assam pulp with water, knead and strain through a sieve to remove seeds. Retain assam water.

4. Heat a wok or saucepan, add the oil and when it is hot, add the spice mixture and stir fry for 3-4 minutes till fragrant and the oil has exuded.

5. Add prawns, salt and sugar; stir fry till the colour changes.

6. Add coconut milk and tamarind water, mix well continue to stir fry for 1-2 minutes till the sauce thickens.

7. Serve with steaming hot rice as part of a meal. So sedap!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Orange Butter Cake

After my disappointing encounter with a Clafoutis, I decided to go back to basics the next day and make meself a plain ol' cake. Initially, I had planned on baking my regular butter cake (see here and here), just to eat my heart out. Butter is one of my favourite natural remedies for depression, and not surprisingly, I found myself craving for a buttery cake, as a salve for my "distress" over that cherry fiasco.

It so happened that while I was waiting for the butter to soften, I decided to squeeze some OJ for my son. And that triggered a series of fortunate events.

On a whim, I thought, why not grate the zest to flavour the cake? And that was what I did. Two large navel oranges rendered approximately 1 1/2 tbsps of zest. In the original butter cake recipe, vanilla is added, but I decided to bench my bottle of extract, to allow the flavour of orange to stand out.

So in went the zest, and out came an Orange Butter Cake that was wonderfully moist and delightfully fragrant. I had expected a subtle hint of orange because I did not add any juice but was pleasantly surprised to find, instead, a strong citrusy flavour. The zest single-handedly delivered the punch.

Here's the cake batter, in a lovely shade of sunshine.

Tent with foil if you see the top browning too quickly. I did so towards the latter half of baking.

It's best to wait till the cake is completely cooled before slicing, else it might crumble as you cut. *guilty look* And woncha lookie here, the texture is just gorgeous, ain't it? I have always loved this butter cake recipe ... and now, with the addition of zest, you get a golden, buttery cake that is speckled with pretty bits of orange.

- 195g all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 170g butter, softened
- 225g sugar
- 1 large egg, plus one large egg yolk
- 1 1/2 tbsp orange zest
- 12 tbsp whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 190 degrees celsius. Butter and line a 9-inch* cake pan.
* Update (23 July 2010): Two of my readers gave feedback that their cakes did not rise much in a 9-inch pan. I thank them for writing. I do not have a 9-inch pan (except a loose-bottom one which I use for cheesecakes only). So, what I always do is, I'll pour the batter into my 6-inch pan (just slightly above than the halfway mark) and pour the excess in cupcake tins, and I'll bake everything together. My experience to-date is that the cake rises really well, and always looks as if it will overflow. ;) Another reader, bakertan, suggested that, judging from the amount of batter, perhaps an 8-inch pan would be more suitable. Please do read my comment box for the full "discourse". Thank you readers, for sharing. I learn as much from you as you learn from me. :)

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

3. Using a mixer on medium speed, cream butter and sugar until fluffy for about about 2 minutes.

4. Beat in orange zest, then egg and egg yolk. If the mixture curdles, just add 1 tbsp of flour and continue mixing.

5. On low speed, add flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with milk.

6. Switch mixer to medium and beat for 10 to 15 seconds, just until batter appears uniform. The batter should look thick and creamy.

7. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top with spatula or knife.

8. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until it reaches a dark-gold color and an inserted cake tester comes out clean.

9. Let to rest in pan for 5 minutes, then remove to a cake stand or platter. Allow cake to completely cool before slicing.

After a few scrummy slices, I felt completely redeemed and my world was at peace again. Cherry who?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cherry Clafoutis (Clafoutis Aux Cerises)

Have you ever been let down by a dessert that looked so good but didn't deliver at first bite? Well, I have, couple of times. And now, I can add Cherry Clafoutis* to that list.
*Pronounced "klah-foo-tee".

No matter how hard it tried to be photogenic for me, I still couldn't bring myself to like it.

When will I ever learn? I am not crazy for cherries to begin with. I don't dislike them, but I don't like them either. And I certainly don't like the taste of cooked cherries even more. If I had to eat a cherry, it would have to be in its fresh form and nothing else. So why on earth did I bake this clafoutis?


Because cherries, which happen to be in season now, look so good in desserts. They are in a midnight shade of scarlet, and glistening, and juicy ... and, and, and, they always provide the finishing touches! A cherry on a cake (wink wink). Besides, I saw some some mighty fine cherry desserts lately - see Linda's Rustic Cherry Tart, Shirley's Cherry Pie and Zurin's Cherry Cupcake Financiers.

You know, like when bootleg jeans were all the rage and everyone was wearing them? Gawd, Madonna totally rawked hers in her Don't Tell Me music vid. I tried on one wrong pair after another, hoping that the next one would be it. Of course I always went away empty-handed. Jeans aren't even my thang and bootlegs make me look ridiculous. What was I thinking?

So I'm gonna stop this futile search for the cherry dessert. I'll stick to durians or bananas or mangoes, thank you very much. They don't look so purdy, but heck, I like 'em. And that's all that should matter.

And so, I'll have to declare this Cherry Clafoutis a baking disaster because I didn't enjoy it at all. :( None of us at home did. :((

For what it's worth, read on for the recipe, from Joy of Baking. I reduced the cherries to only 250g. Thank goodness or it would have been a bigger waste of good money!

Wash the cherries.

Remove stems but not the stones, and place them all in a buttered dish. That's the traditional way of making clafoutis. The stones impart an almond-ish flavour to the overall taste. Apparently. What'ev. Cherry lovers, please don't stone me for my lack of enthusiasm (pun not intended).

Pour in the batter and bake as per instructions, and you'll get this:

Cooked cherries in a puffed custard cake. If you like it, good for you. It looked so promising, but ... oh well ... Clafoutis, not for me.

I like my flowers way better. :) They remind me of cherry blossoms.

And for those of you who have been asking for a peek into my "new" home, well, here's the corner where I sit and blog. And that's all you'd want to see anyway. The way my boys thrash their toys around, they make the apartment look like a war zone! ;)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Huevos Habañeros (Eggs Havana Style)

My entire household was down with a horrid flu for almost two weeks. The bug struck, and like dominoes, we obediently fell ... sick. Raging fevers, aches and chills, multiple trips to the doctor's office ... not fun at all.

And all these during the busiest, final bit of home reno. The timing could not have been worse. But everyone has mostly recovered, and the apartment finally has some semblance of a liveable space, and I am quite the happy camper once again. :D

Now, after being missing from the kitchen, this was the first "nice" dish I cooked after reporting for duty. It's called Huevos Habañeros (Eggs Havana Style) and I absolutely love the sexy ring to it.

Huevos Habañeros

Don't you the cigar box in my photos? It's so appropriate for a Cuban-themed dish (although it's a Jamaican brand of cigars! Haha!). And no, you can't get it at Daiso, so don't bother looking. I salvaged it from a relative who used to work in a tobacco factory in Malaysia yonks ago.

I thought it was great to place flowers ...

... or cutlery for serving ...

... to jazz up a simple dish.

(adapted from here, from Mary Urrutia's "Memories of a Cuban Kitchen")
Serves 4

For the Sauce
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 small green bell pepper*, finely chopped
* Although I omitted this, I felt I needed to keep it in the recipe because green bell peppers seem to feature prominently in Cuban cooking.
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 cup tomatoes, canned or homemade (I used Hunt's Whole Tomatoes)
- Salt to taste
- Fresh ground black pepper to taste
- A dash of sugar, if too tart

For the Eggs

- 8 large eggs
- 4 tablespoons butter
- Salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- Pinch of chilli flakes

1. Preheat oven to 170 degree celsius. In a medium-size skillet over low heat, heat the oil until it is fragrant, then cook the onion, bell pepper (if using), and garlic, stirring, until tender (8 to 10 minutes). Add the tomatoes and cook until thickened (about 15 minutes), and season with salt, pepper and chilli flakes.

2. Lightly oil 4 ramekins or au gratin dishes and divide the sauce among them. For each dish, break two eggs into a saucer, slide them on top of the tomato mixture, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon melted butter.

3. Bake until the whites are set and the yolks are still soft (10 to 12 minutes). Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and parsley, and serve immediately from the baking dishes. Place each on a serving plate, to protect the table.

I hope you enjoy this comforting dish as much as I did. In the meantime, I'm slowly getting my momentum back in the kitchen ... and behind the camera! We have been subsisting on takeaways for almost all our meals that I kinda "forgot" how to cook and take pictures already! Ooops.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Vegetarian Ngoh Hiang

This one is made with yam.

This one is made with sweet potato.

I really have to thank Bee of Rasa Malaysia for introducing this dish. Recently, she shared a droolworthy Vegetarian Loh Bak recipe on her other food site, Nyonya Food. Loh Bak is what Penangites call our Singaporean Ngoh Hiang. In her vegetarian version, yam is used in place of meat. As you know, I have made Teochew-style Ngoh Hiang (With Yam) on several occasions, but it never ever crossed my mind to make a yam-only, meatless version.

Of course, I wasted no time in trying this out. Coincidentally, because I also had sweet potato leftover from making Mini Vegetable Frittata, I decided to experiment with it too.

The one deviation I made was in not using Five Spice Powder for the seasoning. I am not particularly fond of it, so I used mushroom powder instead. Some of you cautioned that mushroom powder contains MSG under the guise of other less suspecting ingredients. Perhaps that could be why my Ngoh Hiang tasted so savoury and yummy despite being meatless. Haha!

The yam version is a lot more meat-like due to its denser, chewier texture. Eaten warm, the creaminess of the insides contrasted really well with the crispy skin. My husband liked it a lot. I can't wait to make more of these again, and add chopped bits of braised chinese mushrooms. Whaddya say?

If you don't fancy yam (like my helper and kids), try the sweet potato ones. The sweet-salty-crunchy combination of sweet potato-beancurd skin-turnip strips is quite something. :)

So here you go, Vegetarian Ngoh Hiang inspired by the wonderful Nyonya Food, which I am quite sure you will all enjoy. :)

When you mix the yam or sweet potatoes with the turnip strips, be gentle. Don't mash them any further. You should cut them in thick strips as shown in Nyonya Food, not what you see in my picture above ... I used up my sweet potato from Mini Vegetable Frittata, which is why they are in small cubes.

Roll TIGHT. The sweet potato rolls are golden orange even without frying.

These are the yam ones, pure and white, and ready for frying.

Fresh from the pan. I know it's hard to resist but you've got to let them cool first.

Just take a deep breath ... and by that, I mean, enjoy the aroma. :)

For the recipe, hop over to Nyonya Food. Note these pointers from me first, though:
1. Bee told me that the beancurd skins she gets in USA are frozen and have no taste. But they are very tough and need to be sprinkled with water before usage. In Singapore, the beancurd skins we get in local markets are quite pliable but very salty. Use a clean, damp cloth to gently wipe both sides before rolling. Rinse the cloth and squeeze very dry after wiping each sheet.

2. I used mushroom powder instead of Five Spice Powder for the seasoning. One to two sachets should be sufficient for this recipe.

Take your pick. I'll take both.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Mini Vegetable Frittata


I've eaten it a few times and I love it. It's one word that's enough to get my salivary glands into overdrive. Yet, I seldom make it because the recipes I see almost always involve first frying the Frittata in an iron-cast skillet and then placing it in the oven to finish off baking. Which means, you need to go from stove to oven. Which also means you need kitchen ware that have oven-proof handles/knobs. And I don't. :(

Le Creuset, are you listen'? Help me out here, will ya?

Yes, I have made a version which did not require baking, and it was good. But it lacked the golden brown top that is so characteristic of an oven-baked Frittata. And then, and THEN, I saw a recipe in my new cookbook - Homestyle Vegetarian (by Murdoch Books), that makes the Frittata in muffin tins! *squeal* Which means, no need to cook on the stove! And you all know how much I love using my muffin tins, so yay!

Sauteed white onion in butter, steamed sweet potato cubes, frozen peas.

Divide them equally into muffin tins that have been lined at the bottom with baking paper. I know, my muffin tins look like they have been used and abused, and you're right! They are hand-me-downs from my aunt.

Add cheese shreds (I used red cheddar and mozzarella) and some grated parmesan. The original recipe called for feta. You can use that too.

Pour egg/cream mixture (that have been seasoned with salt and pepper). The recipe called for light cream but I used crème fraîche instead. I always do. You should try it too.

Ready for baking. Bake for 25-30mins till tops are golden brown.

Makes 12

- 1 kg orange flesh sweet potato
- 1 tbsp oil (I omitted)
- 30g butter
- 4 leeks, white part only, finely sliced (I used white onions instead)
- 1 handful frozen garden peas, rinsed and drained
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 150g shredded cheese (I used red cheddar and mozzarella)
- 2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
- 8 eggs, lightly beaten
- 125ml whipping cream or crème fraîche
- Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven till 170 degree celcius. Grease and brush muffins tins with some melted butter. Cut small rounds of baking paper and place at the base of each hole.

2. Cut the sweet potatoes into small cubes and steam/boil/microwave until tender. I steamed them. Drain and set aside.

3. Heat butter in pan and fry the onions till softened and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two. Turn off the heat.

4. In a bowl, mix sweet potato, onions and peas. Try not to break up the sweet potato too much. Scoop and divide in muffin holes.

5. Add shredded cheeses followed by parmesan cheese.

6. In a measuring cup, whisk eggs and cream (or crème fraîche) until there are no more lumps. Add salt and pepper and mix further.

7. Pour mixture into muffin tins, making sure it comes up to almost the rims. Press vegetables down gently with a spoon or fork. I forgot to do this, so maybe that is why my Frittate looked a bit "holey". Haha!

8. Bake in oven for 25 to 30mins or until golden brown and set. Let cool for 5mins and then using a small knife, gently coax out each Frittata onto a cooling rack. Peel off baking paper and serve. They can be eaten hot, cold or at room temperature.

Ready for eating!

My daughter saw me taking photos and said my styling was very "breakfast". Maybe because everything is bright and sunny and golden. Or maybe it's just the OJ. :) Would you wake up for these?

I promise you they are worth it.

"Holey" Yum! I know I should have provided a better photo with peas and more visible bits of the sweet potato, but I couldn't wait to eat. Can't blame me now, can you?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Mushroom Powder (For Vegetarian Cooking)

These are my recent purchases - mushroom seasoning powder. I've ditched chicken stock already and it's hard to find liquid vegetable stock here in Singapore. I paid a total of about S$17 for all three, I think.

The one in the can is the priciest because it contains seaweed extract and shiitake powder. The other two just state "mushroom powder". They all don't contain MSG or preservatives (at least that's what is claimed on the packaging).

So far, so good. They flavour dishes very nicely. I made a vegetarian Ngoh Hiang (spring roll) using the one from the white box, and it was fantastic! That post will be coming up soon, so stay tuned.

I think you can get these quite easily from any vegetarian food supplies shop. Singapore readers can get the list here. Regardless of whether you are vegetarian (I still eat seafood!), these mushroom seasoning powder make an excellent base for soups and stocks. I guess you'll be seeing more dishes from me, using them.

Anyone who has tips on using (non-MSG) seasoning for vegetarian cooking, please do share! Thanks. :)