Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chwee Kueh

Preparing the chai poh (preserved radish) and batter
Chwee Kueh freshly out of the steamer
The soft texture and tastelessness of the dough suports the saltiness and cruch of the fried preserved radish.
Nyonya Kueh are traditional 'cakes' in Malaysia and Singapore, which essentially, is a marriage of Chinese and Malay flavours. Nyonya describes a culture that was born when the Chinese came to Malaysia as part of a wedding entourage, and then settled there. Their Chinese heritage merged with the Malay culture. What stands out in this amalgamation of cultures is its food. Chinese style cooking using the South East's herbs and spices, the evolution of which results in a unique blend of textures and flavours.

Which brings me to the subject of today's post - Chwee Kueh. Coming from Penang, hailed as a food paradise, I had not heard of this kueh. Seemingly, it's a popular breakfast item in the southern states of Malacca and Johor and the island republic of Singapore. My friend YP needs to make a typical Singaporean food item to be served at her sons' school's international day. Yvonne came to the rescue and gave YP a lesson in Chwee Kueh. Yvonne is the expert in this area as she comes from a family of 'Asian delicacies' makers. Curious, I decided to find out more about this 'unknown' kueh.

Chwee kueh involves making a mixture of rice and corn flours, water, salt and oil and then cooking it till it thickens, then poured into small moulds and steamed till done. Preserved radish is chopped finely and fried in plenty of oil till it turns crispy and fragrant, adding garlic and toasted sesame seeds to the mix. After the dough has cooled, it's scooped out and served with the preserved radish mix on top, and if you like it spicy, with a side of chilli paste.

Believe me, it sounds easy but it isn't. As with all kueh, the ingredients are simple, but the technique is what sets one kueh maker apart from the rest. Mastering the skill to make a kueh of the perfect texture takes practice, and can't be learnt just by reading a recipe. Traditional recipes such as kueh came from a generation of people who would make everything literally from scratch, with love and attention to detail. They would not rush, and would lovingly stir a pot, coaxing the contents to reach perfection. Having said that, Yvonne's recipe yielded Chwee Kueh that was soft, firm and packed with the zing of the radish. She is, after all, the expert...

It's nice to meet you, Chwee Kueh. I'm sure we'll be meeting again.....

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Problem - Dome Cupcakes

I made my entry for this month's Sweet & Simple Bakes challenge - Vanilla Cupcakes. So very excited about posting it but have to be a little more patient till posting date on May 1st. (Only a week away....) In making the cupcakes, I encountered a 'phenomenon'. I have a small oven so had to bake the goodies in 2 batches. The first batch yielded flat topped cupcakes - great. But the second batch yielded dome-topped cupcakes. Same batter, same temperature, same tins. Only difference was obviously, the second batch had to sit a while. When making cupcakes, I've almost always had slightly dome-tops, and always thought I had over-filled each case and always reminded myself to put in less batter (notice I said 'always' but guess I keep forgetting!)

So, what am I doing wrong here? Anyone had the same experience and can share their expertise? Anyone.... help....?
What happened? First batch on the left, second batch on the right.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Origami Birds for Earth Day

It's Earth Day, but I think we should wake up everyday thinking of how we can protect the environment in our own little way. I'm no technical genius on how to harness natural power, nor can explore the heights and depths of the world to chart its deterioration. No, I try to do what I can from my own little kitchen. I'm sure you do to.

To celebrate Earth Day, I made these little origami birds out of newspaper for Etienne to take to school. One for each classmate and for his teachers. Nothing spectacular, but a simple message which 8-9 year olds can relate to. Repurposing old newspaper into crafts.

Happy Earth Day! Reduce, reuse,recycle,repurpose.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sesame Noodles

A tangled mess of sweet, sour, savoury and nutty

'Sesame Noodles - a sure hit with kids' was what I read in a magazine years ago. I don't remember the exact recipe as I tried it once, and never again. It was a peanut butter and sesame seed sauce which was tossed with spaghetti. Eh? I should have stopped when 'peanut butter' and 'spaghetti' were said in one breath. So I was curious when I saw this recipe on Tastespotting. Sweet Amandine shared this recipe. One look at it and I knew it would be winner. It has vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and sugar, which invoked a feeling of flavours bursting in my mouth. It was good.... The only problem the kids had was biting into bits of garlic - not their favourite. I could overcome this problem by mincing it even finer and thus will cook faster and eleviating some of the 'sting'.

Again, extra points from me for a fuss free recipe and ingredients readily available in your pantry.

Sesame Noodles

Garlic 6 cloves, minced
Sugar 3 tbsp
Rice vinegar 6 tbps
Soy sauce 6 tbsp
Sesame oil 2 tbsp
Sesame seeds 3 tbsp, toasted
Spring onions 1/2 cup, chopped
Spaghetti 500g

Place the first five ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves. Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Pour the sauce over the boiled and drained pasta, add the sesame seeds and chopped scallions, and mix thoroughly.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Chocolate Fudge Easter Cupcakes

Easter is not a big celebration for us. It's pretty much another day. But I couldn't just let it pass without even the smallest chocolate treat! So I baked these absolutely yummy Chocolate Fudge Easter Cakes that I found at the The Goddess's Kitchen. It's a simple recipe, where all the cake ingredients are mixed in one go, and you can decorate the cupcakes anyway you like. I believe in the original recipe the cupcakes were made smaller, but I had Easter design paper liners, which were regular size, so I used them instead. With this size, I baked them for 25 minutes. I don't have golden caster sugar, so used regular caster sugar, and reduced the amount a little. I used hundreds and thousands to sprinkle and topped them with a small chocolate egg, which I got at the bi-monthly Farmer's Market.

You can find the original recipe here.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Soft butter 140g
Caster sugar 130g
Eggs 3 medium
Self raising flour 100g
Cocoa 25g sifted

For the frosting:
Baking chocolate 85g, broken
Soft butter 85g
Icing sugar 130g, sifted
Hundred and thousands
Chocolate Eggs

Heat oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5 and line a muffin pan with paper liners. Tip all the ingredients for the cake into a mixing bowl and beat for 2 mins with an electric hand-whisk until smooth. Divide between the cases so they are two-thirds filled, then bake for 12-25 mins until risen, depending on size. Cool on a wire rack.
For the frosting, microwave the chocolate on high for 1 min. Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the melted chocolate. Spread on the cakes and decorate.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Strawberry Jam

Strawberries destined for the jam jar

All the ingredients neeeded for yummy Strawberry Jam

I am on a roll after the success of my Homemade Peanut Butter. Since the jam jar is almost empty, I decided to make Strawberry Jam. A couple of reasons - I've always wanted to try making jam but never got down to it; and strawberry season is almost over in Suzhou, so I'd better do it now or wait till the end of the year.

Again, it was so easy, it's mind boggling. Why did I not try this before? This is where I stop to thank all the foodies out there who share their recipes and inspire a mere mortal like me. So, Thank You, Xie Xie, Terima Kasih!

The jam was wonderful, and the perfect partner for the Peanut Butter. In future I may cut down on the sugar just a bit, as the strawberries were already on the sweet side.

You can find the original recipe here, along with other tips.

Fresh strawberries 500g, washed and hulled. Cut the big ones into smaller pieces
Sugar 350g
Lemon 1/2 juiced and zested
Sterilised jam jar

Place all the ingredients in a pot. Heat over low heat till the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat up to medium high and boil the mixture rapidly for 15 minutes. Stir occassionally to prevent burning. Skim off scum. Do the wrinkle test. Drop a ball of jam onto a cold plate. Push against it with your finger. If it wrinkles, this means the jam is ready. If not, boil for another 5 - 10 minutes and test again. Turn off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes and then fill into the sterilised jam jars.

I like my jam a little runny, so in future I will look for the 'soft wrinkle' stage. Remember that the jam will thicken as it cools, so don't judge by what it looks like while still cooking in the pot.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Homemade Peanut Butter

Rich, homemade PB

Would you like some bread to go with that?

Surfing the net, I've discovered that peanut butter is one of the easiest things to make at home. All dressed up at the supermarket, I had the impression that it was laborious. True, homemade peanut butter doesn't quite taste like the store bought ones, but in my opinion, it tastes even better. It's just all peanut, which makes it very rich. Imagine making Peanut Butter Cookies with this - heavenly! The cost? Just a fraction of what I pay at the supermarket, minus the additives and preservatives. China grows peanuts, and so it's pretty cheap and readily available here.

I came up with this recipe based on a few I'd seen in magazines, on the net, and read articles about. In the process of making, I improvised. I dare not say it's the best formulae yet, but not bad for a first try.

Raw peanuts 1 cup, roasted in a dry pan and skinned
Vegetable oil 1 -2 tbsp
Salt 1/2 tsp
Honey 2 tbsp

Blend the peanuts coarsely. Add 1 tbsp oil and continue blending. If mixture seems too dry, gradually add more oil. Add the salt and honey and blend till you get the consistency you desire. Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Butter Cookies

Melt-in-your-mouth butter cookies - doesn't look fantastic but tastes great.

"Mom, spell my name!!"

I had half an afternoon to spare, and thought I'd fill up the cookie container. The Oatmeal & Chocolate Chip cookies are all but gone, and the sweet tooth in us all was pretty much craving for something satisfyingly...sweet! I scanned the cookbooks and found this simple Butter Cookie recipe. Cream the sugar and butter, plonk in the dry ingredients and pipe them out. Easy peasy, and they should be ready before the dinner rush. All was smooth running till I had to pipe it out. While the dough was soft, it wasn't soft enough. We had a wrestling match - the piping bag and I. I ripped 4 bags in total. (Well, the bags were thin to begin with). There were moments when it piped out smoothly and then hit a snag again. I suspect it's due to the unusually cold spring we've been having. 'Room temperature' has been rather low, and this kept the butter mixture harder. I was going to give up on it as it took me longer than I had wanted.

After I had cleaned up, and nursed my sore hand, I sat down to see if my efforts were worth it. And it was! We were rewarded with short, melt-in-your-mouth cookies, bursting with the flavour of butter. I recommend getting the best butter you can afford. I will certainly make this again, but will do one of two things - either wait for warmer weather or get myself a cookie press. (I think you know which one I'll choose *grin*). Hmm... maybe a larger nozzle might work too?

All purpose flour 250g
Corn Starch 3 tbsp
Butter 250g, diced
Icing Sugar 100g
Vanilla Essence 1 tsp

Sift flour and corn starch together. Cream butter and icing sugar till light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla essence. Add flours and mix till well blended. Pipe out on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake in a preheated 175C oven for 15 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Steamed Egg

Eggs - a staple in all households. What would we do without the humble egg? Stir it, whip it, beat it, bake it, fry it, steam it. A dish in minutes. Which brings me to last night's dinner. I had a 'neither here nor there' situation. I needed another dish and a light one would be just right. Enter - the egg.

I love Chawan Mushi - the very soft, steamed egg custard served at Japanese Restaurants. It's silky smooth with lots of flavour. At home, try this version when you need that little something extra. I made this with chicken, but you can substitute with prawns, and even add slices of mushrooms. I've heard from friends that they make it with chicken stock instead of water and seasoning.

Chicken meat a few slivers for each cup
Eggs 3 large, beaten
Water 1 1/2 cups
Salt 3/4 tsp or to taste
Sugar 1/4 tsp or to taste
White pepper 1/4 tsp or to taste
Chopped spring onions 2 tbsp

Bring a steamer to a rapid boil. Mix eggs with water and seasoning. Place a few slivers of chicken at the base of a cup or small bowls. Divide the egg mixture between cups. Top with spring onions. Place cups in steamer and steam till just set, about 5-8 minutes. Makes 5 servings.

Note : beat the egg gently to avoid froth. Be sure to place cups in the steamer when it's already at a rapid boil. Avoid over steaming (as I did yesterday - forgot to watch the time) as the surface can become pock-marked. The egg/water proportion is important. If you want a firmer custard, you can reduce the water slightly. Avoid black pepper as they leave specks (did that yesterday too!).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Oatmeal & Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sweet & Simple Bakes' Oatmeal & Chocolate Chip Cookies - hearty and completely addictive

OK, so I'm excited about this one. Not because it's a Chocolate Chip cookie (which is a favourite in our house) but because it's for my very first virtual bake party! Sweet & Simple Bakes is a blog set up by two ladies who are passionate about baking and wish to promote the art. Rosie and Maria present a recipe each month and everyone is invited to bake along. I'll not spoil the fun here, so click on the links to find out more.

My official flour 'stir-it-up' guy

The cookie itself was very, very good. I followed the recommended recipe almost to the T. Just full of oatmeal, which makes it hearty. I substituted a small handful of choc chips for raisins, and that brought just the right balance of sweet/fruity. I expected it to spread more while baking, and so increased the baking time to accommodate the mass. This resulted in a harder cookie than I would have liked, and will remember to shorten the baking time next time. This will definitely be a common feature in our house.

Oatmeal and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Butter 110g (4oz), softened
Caster sugar 110g (4oz)
Soft brown sugar 110g (4oz)
Egg 1
Water 2 tbsp
Vanilla extract 1 tsp
Porridge oats (rolled oats) 250g (9oz)
Self-raising flour 110g (4oz)
Salt 1 level tsp
Chocolate chips, raisins or chopped nuts 110g (4oz)

Preheat the oven to 180oC (350oF), Gas Mark 4. Cream the butter in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer until soft. Add the sugars and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the egg, water and vanilla extract while still beating. Reduce the speed and gently mix in the oats, flour, salt and raisins to form a dough. Using your hands, roll the dough into walnut sized balls and place slightly apart on two baking trays. Bake in the oven for 12-25 minutes or until light golden brown but still slightly soft in the centre. Allow to cool on the trays for a minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool.