Friday, March 27, 2009

Corn Loaf

I've been experimenting with a lot of breads, sometimes plain, sometimes with nuts, seeds or wheat germ. I've been meaning to try this Corn Loaf recipe again. I tried this recipe many years ago, and not knowing what corn meal really was, I used corn grits (roughly ground dried corn). The teeth took a beating! A friend clarified (thanks Mary) that corn meal is also known as corn flour - not to be confused with corn starch that is used to thicken sauces. I searched in Auchan, and lo and behold, the golden gleam of corn flour in the rice and seeds section! The result - a sweet, golden loaf with wonderful texture.

Egg, 1, combined with enough water to make up 1 cup
Milk 1/2 cup
Oil 1/4 cup
Sugar 1/3 cup
Salt 2 tsp
Bread flour 4 cups
Corn meal 2/3 cup
Dry yeast 2 tsp

Put all the ingredients in the bowl of a breadmaker and set it to 'Dough'. Remove when the programme is complete. Punch it down, shape it and set it in a warm place to rise for 1 hour or double in bulk. Bake in 185C oven for 30 minutes. Cover with aluminium foil if the top browns too quickly.

Steamed Chicken with Salt Fish

I was a busy bee yesterday. Felt like quite the domestic goddess. In addition to the usual bread, which I seem to be baking every 2-3 days, I made 'Mua Chi' or 'Ma Zi' in Mandarin, and tried a new dish for dinner. Yes, I was quite the busy cook. The Mua Chi was good, but not quite up to my expectation. I shall tweak that and post another time. The bread turned out wonderfully and the dinner dish was yummy.

Dinner dish was Steamed Chicken with Salt Fish. I adapted the recipe from At Home with Amy Beh that my Mom and brother gave me for Christmas. It received the thumbs up from my guys, and bonus points from me for a fuss-free recipe.

Here's what I did...

Chicken 1/2, chopped
Salt & pepper
Sugar 1 tsp
Sesame oil 1 tbsp
Chinese cooking wine 1 tbsp
Ginger 3 cm piece, sliced
Salt fish 50g, choose the meaty type

Marinate the chicken pieces with salt & pepper, sugar, sesame oil and cooking wine for at least 2 hours (Amy suggests marinating a few hours or overnight). Fry the salt fish till crispy. Set aside. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a wok and stir fry the ginger till fragrant but not brown. Add the chicken. Stir fry for 3 minutes. Transfer into a steaming dish, and top with salt fish pieces. Steam over rapid boiling water for 20-25 minutes or till chicken is cooked through. Serve hot with rice.
Note : do not add too much salt as the salt fish will lend much of its flavour into this dish.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pineapple and Coconut Clafoutis

We've been eating a lot lately - me and my buddies. It seems everyone is lining up to cook something special and invite the gang over. And not just your everyday food. It's 'real' South East Asian food. Last week we hopped over to Daphne's for Laksa (I'm still reeling from that one), and today we went over to BLi's for Curry Mee (reeling double time). YP and Jodi are lining up for their turn to cook. As always the lunches are filled with laughter... till 3.45pm when we have to assume our 'Mom' roles.

Curry Mee with the works

Singaporean Jelly Cocktail or Wen Tou Xue

After the last couple of lunches, I am guilt ridden as everyone seemed to bring a little something to share - fruits, Konnyaku Jelly and other desserts. I usually ask if the hostess needs anything, and the usual response is "No neeeed. Got a lot here alreadyyyyy!" But today, I needed to get some nervous energy out and baked this Pineapple and Coconut Clafoutis, and just as well, I could share it with the gang. I had tried it before and it didn't turn out as good as I had hoped. But I didn't give up on you, Clafoutis! With a little tweaking, I knew I could make you better. It did turn out better than the first time, but still failed to impress me. Perhaps I need freshly grated coconut instead of desiccated, and perhaps a combination of milk AND coconut milk.

Here's the recipe. If anyone out there tries this with fresh coconut and coconut milk, please let me know the result...

And of course, the Pineapple and Coconut Clafoutis

Fresh pineapple 400g
Sugar 100g
Vanilla essence 1 tsp
Eggs 2
Freshly grated or desiccated coconut 40g
UHT milk or coconut milk 100ml
Coarse sugar for sprinkling

Cut the pineapple into wedges, and mix it with half the sugar and vanilla essence. Leave to macerate while you prepare the batter. Whisk the eggs and remaining sugar till light and creamy. Add flour and coconut. Mix well and add milk or coconut milk. Mix till smooth. Place pinapple into a buttered baking dish, and pour the batter over. Bake in preheated 185 oven for 25 minutes. Serve sprinkled with sugar.

Recipe adapted from Flavours Magazine.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Healthy Food... or Not

I was browsing through the recipe section of a magazine yesterday, which prompted this thought. Some of the recipes called for 'low sodium', 'fat free' etc. It got me wondering about the processes a product goes through to yield it 'healthy'. A print ad screamed 'A healthier egg' - lower cholesterol, fat and a bunch of other stuff, but still promised, in essence, an egg. Mind you, this particular egg came in a carton. Not an egg carton, but a milk or juice-like carton. Now, how can an egg be a fresh egg outside its shell? Surely it went through some process to remove all the bad stuff, retain the good stuff and be resilient enough to be in a carton. Give me the ones in the shell, thanks.

We can't escape the use of processed foods. What would a ham sandwich be without ham? Can't live without mayo, ketchup, soy sauce. Sure, we can make home-made everything, but that would mean being in the kitchen 24/7. I believe healthy eating is :

Eating as close to the source as possible, whenever possible. By this I mean choosing pork over ham, fresh vegetables over canned or frozen,.... - you get the idea....

Choose local over imported produce. Unless your local produce is tainted, or just isn't right for the dish you're making, go local and go organic. It's fresher without use of unnecessary chemicals. You also support your local farmer, and therefore the local community. Imported food chalks up air/sea miles and has environmental implications.

Choose seasonal vegetables whenever possible. Mother nature has a reason for doing things. And we know mother is always right.

Try homemade. Surfing the net, I found so many recipes for foodstuff that I never realised could be made at home with relative ease. Gather friends to split the workload. Each person makes a different item and shares (or sells) it to the other people in the group.

Stay healthy!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Puff Paint on my T-Shirt

I've been crafting for many years. Thanks to my friend Jo, who got me started on patchwork and quilting, my cupboards and boxes are bursting with every kind of fabric craft paraphernalia available. Whether it's expensive fabrics and tools from overseas or little treasures found in the flea markets in Suzhou and Shanghai, I have them. Often times, I just pick up whatever I find, store them (for ages) and then find a project which will work. Y'see, I'm a little craft obsessed.

At the last expat Christmas bazaar, we had a vendor who sold special paints for glass, window clings, t-shirts, puff paints, suitable for adults and kids. Needless to say, I was excited. I picked up Pebeo 'Volume' paint or paints that will puff up when heat is applied. I made a few Christmas craft projects with them and then they just sat in my sewing basket till a few days ago. I found a cute design called Jellybean and transfered it onto a t-shirt. This is the result.

I love it. It puffs up beautifully, colours are fantastic. Now... need to find time to go get more paints....

NB: paints can be found at Le Pont Des Arts Gallery 112-115 Pinjiang Road (off Gan Jiang Lu)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Chicken & Broccoli

I truly appreciate the 'made from scratch' recipes. I really do. They translate into fabulous dishes, and it seems every bite only beckons you to take another, and another. I remember, as a child, my grandmother (Nannie) over the batu giling, grinding every spice to make a specific dish, every dish having it's own set of ground ingredients. Pots over a low fire, its contents simmering patiently. If we were in the afternoon session of school, lunch (made from scratch!) would be ready for us by 11am. Looking back, where was there time to prepare lunch? Did she pull out time from her bottomless pot? (Bottomless pot is what I called it because the whole family would eat and eat, and there would still be more). I'm sure she would scoff at me as I share this recipe with you.

But sometimes I just want convenience. Besides picking up the phone, this Chicken & Broccoli is one of the best. It's easy to make and the kids will eat every bite of it. I learnt this from my Canadian friend, Beth.

Here's what I do :

Chicken breast meat 1 1/2 pcs
Broccoli 1 medium head
Cream of Chicken Soup 1 can
Mayonnaise 1 tbsp
Milk 1/3 cup (approx)
Breadcrumbs for sprinkling
Grated cheese for sprinkling

Boil chicken meat in a pot of water with a little salt, about 20 minutes. When cooked through, shred into an oven-proof casserole. Cut the broccoli into florets and blanch. Lay on top of chicken. Add a few tablespoons of the boiling water. In a separate bowl, mix the chicken soup, mayonnaise, and enough milk to make a creamy sauce. Spread this on top of the broccoli. Top with breadcrumbs and cheese. Bake in 190C oven for 40-45 minutes or till the sides bubble and the top is brown. (If the top seems to brown too quickly, cover with aluminium foil).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Thought For The Day

If life throws you a lemon, make lemonade.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rye and Sunflower Seed Bread

It's been a few days since I posted. I was busy on a project that, hopefully, will be worth writing home about in a few days. So preoccupied was I that I forgot to keep the pantry stocked with the most basic item - bread. Kids had no bread to go with their PB and Nutella, and CS voice echoed in the bread box "No bread...ead...ead...ead.....?". I decided to bake with one of my prized ingredients - bread mix which I bought from Cooking Island on our last trip home. I would love to stock up on their great bread mixes, but alas, my Rolls Royce Kenwood KMix and food processor took up a chunk of our luggage allowance. Next trip...

Today I used the Rye and Sunflower Seed bread mix. It's hearty, yummy and idiot-proof. Each packet comes with instructions, which was tried and tested by Cooking Island's husband and wife team of Erina Law and Lawrence Cheah. I like this shop because the Cheahs are not only business people, but people who are in this business for the 'lurve'. Erina will willingly share any tip that will ensure you of baking success. Go there with kids, and sure enough, there will be a jar of cookies to keep the little ones munching happily while you shop.

Here's what I did...

Rye & Sunflower Seed mix 250g
Bread flour 500g
Water 417g
Instant yeast 8g
Bread improver 21g

Place all ingredients in a breadmaker mixing bowl. Set for 'Dough'. Stop after 15 minutes to scrape down the sides. Continue the programme. When done, remove from breadmaker, knead for 5 minutes and shape into a round loaf. Set in a warm place and let rise till double in bulk. Bake in 190C oven for 30 minutes.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Thai At Mary's

My wonderful friend Mary organised a Thai cooking demo at her gorgeous house. No, Mary herself did not conduct the demo, but two chefs from Thailand, Mananat and Fonthip. Their warm and friendly smiles which accompanied the joining of hands, slight bow of the head and a sing-song 'Sawadeekap' made me feel honoured and welcome. The house was a buzz of excitement when 12 ladies packed into the kitchen, some helping with cutting or grating the vegetables. (Me? I took the opportunity to catch up with Rosi, whom I hadn't seen in yonks and was leaving for Germany the very next day. SO great seeing you Rosi!) Mary herself is a vegetarian, so the dishes were prepared with a vegetarian and non vegetarian option. Five items were on the menu which were:

Vietnamese Spring Roll
Papaya Salad
Green Curry with Tofu or Chicken
Pad Thai with Tofu or Prawns
Sago Pudding (Tako) with Corn

Everyone had a hand in making their own spring roll, while the chef prepared the other items. We had a lovely lunch of the above menu. I have to say, it was really good - my favourite being the Green Curry. I'm a dessert gal, and the Tako hit the spot. The 'durian' in me loved the combination of the lemak coconut milk and the little bursts of sago.

A cup of breshly brewed coffee and I was in heaven!

What's next Mary? Sign me up!

I'll list the recipe for the Vietnamese Spring Roll (*whisper* don't want to spoil the fun for those who may join other Thai cooking classes!)

A selection of vegetables such as lettuce, beansprouts, tofu, carrot, cucumber
Pre-cooked prawns or chicken
Thai basil leaves
Vietnamese spring roll sheets (rice paper)

Soak the spring roll sheets in room temperature water. Place on a flat surface. Place your meats and vegetables at the bottom of the sheet, and a basil leaf on top of the vegetables. Roll up halfway, tuck the sides in and roll all the way. Serve with Dipping Sauce.

Vinegar 2 tbsp
Water 1 tbsp
Sugar 2 tbsp
Salt 1/4 tsp
Garlic 1 clove, chopped
Coriander root 1/4 tsp, chopped
Red chilli 1, chopped

Boil water with the vinegar. Add sugar and salt over a low flame. Add the other ingredients and simmer until thick. Remove, cool and serve.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Bread with my Buddies

It was bread making day today. Of all days we chose today to make bread when it was cold, and rainy - perfect conditions for bread to rise (mmm hmmm). Anyhow, not rain nor sleet or snow can dampen me and my gals when we decide to do something. The venue was BL's apartment, and in the absence of a breadmaker, we went the old fashion way and kneaded by hand. Somehow, it didn't seem as difficult. Maybe because we were chatting away (what else?), or maybe because it wasn't me who was kneading!

There was no 'warm corner of your kitchen', so we let the dough proof under the heater lights (hey, we think outside the box!). At the end of the day we had some delicious sausage rolls and a huge loaf. And to top it off, an absolutely sedap Hokkien Mee lunch prepared by BL and equally yummy pandan-santan jelly made by BLi.

Fun day as usual, enough to keep my spirits up till the sun peeks through the clouds again.

The recipe we used today :

Dry ingredients-
Bread flour 3 1/4 cups
Salt 1 tsp
Sugar 3 tbsp
Dry yeast 1 1/2 tsp

Liquid ingredients-
Egg 1 plus enough warm (27C) water to equal 1 cup
Oil 3 tbsp

Mix all the dry ingredients on a work surface. Make a well in the center and slowly pour the liquid ingredients, mixing as you go. Mix well and knead till the dough is 'elastic'. Let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or double in size. Knead again. Form into a ball (or wrap around sausages) and let it rise again till double in size. Brush with beaten egg. Bake in preheated 180C oven for 25-30 minutes.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

No photos... for now

Photos will be few and far between - for now. I'm not much of a shutterbug, which I know must change if I'm to maintain a blog. I'm working on it. Bear with me....

Pancakes with Strawberry Sauce

This morning I decided to try one of the recipes suggested by Cookie Monster. When your first name is Cookie, how can you go wrong? I got this recipe from C is for Cooking, a Sesame Street cookbook which suggests simple recipes that kids can also help prepare. Kids can cut up fruit and soft vegetables with a plastic knife, crack eggs (careful!) or stir the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Very fun. The strawberry sauce is so easy to make - just cut up about a cup of strawberries, add 1-2 tablespoons of sugar and leave it aside while you prepare the pancakes. The juices will ooze out of the fruit and mix with the sugar and what you get is a natural, sweet sauce. Strawberries are in season here in Suzhou, so this is the perfect time to make this sauce. We had our pancakes with honey too. Very yum..

Here's my take on Cookie's pancakes.

Dry ingredients:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup wholemeal flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Liquid ingredients:
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
1 cup yoghurt
2 tbsp vegetable oil

In a large bowl, stir all the dry ingredients together. In another bowl, mix the liquid ingredients together. Pour liquid into the dry ingredients and mix with a fork till well blended. Lightly grease a skillet and place over medium heat. Pour about 1/4 cup of the mixture into the skillet and cook till the top bubbles. Turn over and cook for another minute. Serve with the strawberry sauce.