Monthly Archives: October 2009

Cooking With Friends & Cooking For Friends

I have been a fairly avid cook for the last 20 years. In that time, I have not found many others who have the same passion for preparing food as I have. Grandma and mum, who were the greatest influence in my cooking experience, were very talented home cooks who cooked because they had a family to feed, but they did not cook because it was fun. So it was always a pleasure when I meet a new friend who is passionate about cooking. I have one friend who loves seafood cooking, another who is a wonderful pastry cook and a Japanese friend who is terrific with her family recipes.

Last weekend I threw a charity brunch to raise money for breast cancer research. I formed a cooking team with a new friend Peta who is the fabulous pastry cook and we set about creating a menu for 12 people. She came over on Saturday and we set about cooking. To begin with we made the baked goods that need to be stored overnight to improve their texture and deepen the flavour. Peta made a wonderfully moist and zesty pineapple and ginger loaf and I made a dark chocolate brownie with white chocolate and macadamia. The fun thing about cooking with a friend is the amount of gossiping we do while chopping up the nuts and the crystallised ginger. Afterwards, we wandered down to the beach for a fish dinner at my favourite gourmet fish & chip and a well deserved ice cream.

The next morning we got busy with the serious cooking. The menu was: individual smoked salmon and brie quiches, buttermilk pancakes, summer fruit salad, baked herbed mushrooms with haloumi cheese, grilled bacon, Antipasto platter, and white chocolate & mixed berries muffin; And of course the Pineapple & Ginger Loaf, along with the brownies.

Making the quiche was a lot of fun – I was originally planning to do a baked frittata with spinach and feta or creamy slow cooked scrambled eggs as the eggs course. However a few people I know either did not like spinach or did not like feta. Then the scrambled eggs idea was scratched because it involved stirring the egg mixture (if you’re interested, for 1 person, it’s a mixture of 2 eggs, ¼ cup of milk or cream if you’re feeling decadent, salt, white pepper and a good tablespoon of cheese) in a saucepan over medium heat until it thickens to a thick custard consistency, almost like a sauce. Incredibly delicious over buttered toast with smoked salmon & capers and freshly made espresso on a cold day, but really tedious and I did not have the time with all the other things to cook. Also it was not very nice when cold and would not keep if there was any leftover. So I decided on the quiche. I was thinking of a black olive, semidried tomato, caramelised onion and roasted capsicum quiche, but a friend was also on a doctor prescribed diet of no caffeine, and no acidic foods – so that meant anything with tomatoes, lemons etc was out. So I decided the least offensive combination would be smoked salmon, creamy brie, caramelised onions and chives. And since I had some cheddar cheese left, I used that as well. The quiches turned out better than I thought since I made the recipe up only the day before! So this recipe is definitely a keeper.

The buttermilk pancake has always been my standby recipe for when I have guests for breakfast. I just make the batter up and leave it until I need to cook it. Pancakes were the first thing I was experimenting with when I first started cooking. When I was around 8 or 9, Mum taught me a recipe of savoury pancake with prawns. It was the first thing I could make with no supervision and I was even allowed to wield a knife to cut up the prawns and the onion – I felt so grown up back then! I think it’s a variation on the Korean pancake, Jeon, and other pancakes like it. It basically involves ½ cup of plain flour, mixed with a good pinch of salt, a little pepper or chilli powder, an egg, some light soy sauce, a couple of tablespoons of cornflour, a few drops of sesame oil to add a fragrance and enough water to make a thick sticky batter. Then add a few chopped green prawns, a few slivers of green onion, chopped coriander (cilantro if you’re in Nth America) and whatever else you feel like. Heat a frying pan, add a teaspoon of oil and pour in a few spoons full of the batter. Fry until the top look dry and the bottom is golden. Flip and cook until the other side is also browned. This made enough for one or two hungry 9 year old. Eat hot with tomato sauce. Nowadays when I make it I would use whatever I have in the fridge – salami, olives, any leftover roast, any seafood, or Antipasto vegetables. And I would still eat it with tomato sauce.

One of my favourite TV shows was (and still is) Food Safari on SBS. In one episode Maeve O’Mara, the presenter, visited a Turkish family and the dad prepared a fruit salad of watermelon and other fruits, at the end he added a couple of capful of rosewater to the mix, so I had wanted to try it ever since. Another reason I wanted to play with rosewater is because I love Turkish delights, or Lokum, especially those you get fresh from the Kebab shops or the Middle Eastern delis. I always have trouble choosing from the lemon, rose, plain, orange, lime, mint, vanilla and sometimes more exotic flavours ( to me anyway ) like pomegranate, melon, and mastic. When I was at school, I used to get the Fry’s Turkish Delights chocolate bars, but when I discovered the freshly made ones, there was no going back. Once I tried making it myself to see what that was like, it turned out to be harder than I thought. It started off easy enough as a cornstarch and sugar syrup mixture, but it soon became hard work stirring when the mixture started to get thicker as it cooked. I actually broke two of my favourite wooden spoons trying to stir the almost done mix. The flavour I made was a simple lemon with pistachio. It came out fine, wasn’t as firm as those from the shop, but it had a squishy consistency that was quite satisfying and it kept very well in the fridge. The verdict? Well, let’s say Mr Fry won’t be seeing me again for a while. Anyway, back to the fruit salad, I ended up using strawberries, blueberries, golden kiwi, a couple of new season mangoes, and 5 passion fruits. Then I added some rosewater to the mix. The perfume was incredible – it was a musky, sweet, voluptuous fragrance mixed with the sweet smell of the passion fruit – Mixed with some yoghurt on top of the pancakes, yum.

The brunch was a huge success. People started arriving for the brunch around 11 and we broke out the bubbly, in this case the Brown Brothers Zibibbo Rose which went very well with the fruit salad and a bottle of Chandon. It was good to have everyone in the same room, just catching up and also for some of my newer friends to meet other people. One of the Japanese girls was curious how else you would use rosewater, so I showed her how to turn a very ordinary white wine into a sangria like cocktail – muddle in some soft fruit (in this case a little of the fruit salad with at least a piece of each fruit from the bowl) and a few drops of the rose water to the glass of wine. And voila! Now I just need to figure out how to use the orange blossom water.

We finished up around 3 and Peta stayed to help me clean up. By then we were absolutely exhausted, as we have been up since 7 that morning to start cooking – we put our feet up for a while with a well deserved glass of wine and started planning our next cooking adventure.

I can’t wait.

Buttermilk Pancakes

  • 2 cups self raising flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 500-600 ml buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs (approx 60 grams each) lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter (around 25 grams)
  1. Sift the flour, sugar and salt into a large bowl.
  2. Mix in the eggs, buttermilk and butter, whisk until combined. Set aside to rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Heat a small frying pan on medium heat until hot. Grease with some melted butter or non-stick spray.
  4. Pour in about 4 tablespoons of batter to make a 10 cm round.
  5. Leave to cook until the surface is bubbly and the edges are dry, around 2 minutes, then flip to cook other side for another minute.

Serve with maple syrup, fruit salad or bacon rashers.

Makes around 16 pancakes

Smoked Salmon & Brie Quiches

  • 1 packet (5 sheets) shortcrust pastry
  • 2 onions sliced
  • 150 gm smoked salmon shredded
  • 100 gm Brie chopped to small cubes
  • 50 gm tasty cheddar cheese
  • 12 eggs
  • 300 ml thickened cream
  • 4 tablespoons chopped chives
  1. Heat a large frying pan. When hot add 2 tablespoon olive oil and the onions. Turn the heat down to medium and cook the onions until caramelised. Set aside to cool.
  2. Spray 3 6-holes jumbo muffin tins with non-stick canola spray. Heat the oven to 200 C (180 C in a fan force oven)
  3. Cut each sheet of pastry into 4 squares (you will only need 4 ½ sheets – save the other ½ sheet for something else), and stretch the pastry square to fit the muffin tin with the 4 points and edge of the pastry draping over the top of the tin to form wings.
  4. Bake the pastry shell in the oven for 15 minutes until pale golden and cooked through. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes.
  5. Turn the oven down to 180 C (or 170 C in a fan force oven).
  6. Distribute the onions, salmon, cheese and chives among the pastry cases
  7. Whisk together the eggs, cream, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a generous shake of pepper.
  8. Pour the egg mixture into the pastry cases. Bake in the oven until slightly puffed, golden on top and just set, around 20 minutes.

Makes 18 single serve quiches

Baked mushrooms with Haloumi (Vegetarian)

  • 12 large mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced thickly into 1 cm slices
  • 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped herbs of your choice ( I used chopped chives and lemon thyme )
  • 50 gm butter
  • Olive oil
  • 300 gm Haloumi cheese, thickly sliced
  1. Heat the oven to 200 C (or 180 C in fan force oven)
  2. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat until hot then add a tablespoon of olive oil and the onions. Cook until the onions are brown and turn out into a large baking dish to cool.
  3. Add the butter to the same pan with another tablespoon of olive oil. When the butter has melted add the garlic and cook until the garlic is soft but not brown. Add the mushrooms and toss to coat in the butter mixture, turn into the baking dish and mix with the onions. Sprinkle over the chopped herbs.
  4. Distribute the cheese slices over the mushroom mixture and drizzle the cheese with a little olive oil.
  5. Bake in the oven until the cheese is golden and the mushrooms are soft.

Serve with crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Advertisements

Oh Offal!

There has been a lot of interest in “head to tail” eating in the recent years. Quite a few British cooks have been serving up dishes like baked marrow bones, buttered tripe, devilled kidneys, even liver and onions,  and making it all trendy again. I think it’s wonderful when the animal that has been killed for food is completely used rather than having the bits that offends the modern sensibility being turned into dog or cat food. Not that I have anything against Fido or Mittens getting the off cuts but why should we as consumers be so wasteful of what is sometimes up to 40% of the animal that could be used for food? I respect the wonderful creature that gave up its life in order for me to have a steak, so turning its ear into a pet chew toy seems a little, well, sad.

OK I will get off my soap box now.

My dad, when he was alive, was a great fan of offal soup, until his cholesterol level shot through the roof and he was told by his doctor to stop eating the stuff. Now that would sound gross to a lot of western diners, in fact my cousins’ reaction has always been quite colourful when presented with liver soup. However, when prepared properly it is a hearty, delicious way to start the day. Mum has a friend in Kota Kinabalu who made her fortune running a noodle shop selling ( yup you guessed it) offal soup. Whenever I use to go back to KK for a trip to visit the folks, I would drop in to have a bowl of soup with rice noodles and Auntie Mary’s homemade beef meat balls. The place would always be heaving with people trying to get their noodles in the morning. The soup would be a clear beef broth with a strong beefy flavour and secret spices – I think there were star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns, ginger, dried citrus peel and something else in there, but I never found out what that something else was…. The meat would be a jumble of offal, it would be the smooth, honeycomb and the funny looking fanned tripe, a few slivers of liver, spleen, tender flank steak, tendon, sometimes kidneys, a bit of heart, and, my favourite, ox tongue. These have all been cooked separately in a soy based sauce and simmered for hours until the tripe has softened to an almost buttery consistency. I will have to confess I am not a fan of the spleen, there is something about its texture and flavour which never sat well with me. Anyway, the finished dish, which is a mound of rice noodles, you get a choice of the kue teow, which is the ribbon rice noodles or mee foon, rice vermicelli, on top of that goes the mixed offal, a few meat balls, bean sprouts and then that wonderful soup. You then slurp all that down with gusto, and if you like heat, add some bird’s-eye chillies with soy sauce.

Mum use to cook offal at home too. I loved it when she used to cook ox tongue in a garlic, pepper and soy sauce. We would all go nuts when she made oxtail stew. One thing that never really caught on with the kids was her bitter gourd and liver soup, which is supposedly a blood cleansing soup. The only person who would eat all the liver slices would be dad, who covered them in chilli and eat it with rice. Mum would also stew tripe sometimes but she didn’t use to like preparing it at home because the tripe would be sold in a “natural” state. Not to say the butchers did not clean them out, these were emptied of their contents, however they will still retain the residual essence of its original utility, shall we say. So out would come the bi carb of soda and lemons. Mum and the maid would take turns massaging the tripe in the mix of bi carb and lemon juice until the whole thing is snow white. Then into the pot it went to be scalded by a few changes of hot water, and finally it was braised for the next 2 hours in a rich sauce of soy, pepper, onions, garlic, rice wine and oyster sauce.

When I was living with grandma in the 80s, there was not that availability of offal in the shops in Adelaide as people did not really eat it any more. There were a few English grannies who would still buy tripe from the butchers to make tripe in parsley and cream sauce, and some of them still had their tins of dripping saved from when they made the weekend roast. I don’t think these would have passed with the health inspectors nowadays but back then some of the older folks were still eating the dripping on bread like they did post World War II. Grandma had a few offal recipes as well, and the one I really wanted from her was the crispy deep fried large intestine in spiced salt. However, this was one of the recipes she would not share with me as she said they were too hard as a) you can’t get good large intestines in Adelaide b) if you do manage to find it, it is disgusting to clean c) if I did find cleaned ones, well, grandma wanted to keep that recipe all to herself. Hmm. Thanks grandma!

Spicy Crispy Large Intestines (reverse engineered)

  • 500 gms pigs’ large intestines, cleaned. You can find this sometimes in Asian butchers, especially Vietnamese, Chinese or Korean butchers.
  • salt
  • 5 spice powder
  • corn starch
  • fresh small chillies ( optional ) finely chopped. remove the membranes and the seeds if you don’t want it too spicy. You can get these from Asian green grocers.
  • light soy sauce
  • Chinese rice wine – Zhao Xing wine is fine.
  • oil for deep frying
  1. Slice the intestines into 1 inch lengths and marinate for 30 minutes in a mixture of 1 teaspoon of cornstarch, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of rice wine.
  2. Drain and dry on some kitchen paper.
  3. Mix together 1 tablespoon of corn starch, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of 5 spice powder, and, if using, the chilli in a bag. Add the meat pieces and shake to coat. ( anyone remember shake and bake chicken? )
  4.  Heat the oil in a deep fryer or a wok until hot. Drop the meat a few pieces at a time into the oil and deep fry until golden brown and crunchy. Drain on kitchen paper. Serve while hot with beers.

 

Mum’s braised ox-tongue

  •  1 large ox tongue ( around 1 kg ) cleaned.
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and bashed
  • 1 large piece ginger, around 1-2 inch, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, cracked
  • dark soy sauce
  • oyster sauce
  • rice wine
  • sugar
  • vegetable oil
  1. Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan large enough to accommodate the tongue, on high heat.
  2.  When hot add the onion, garlic, ginger, cook until fragrant and the garlic starts to colour 
  3. Add the tongue and the pepper, turn to coat in the herbs and spices.
  4. Now this next bit is an approximate. Pour in enough dark soy to coat the meat, around 2 tablespoons. Add 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce and a generous splash ( around 1 tablespoon ) of rice wine. Sprinkle over 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt.
  5. Check the level of the liquid, there should be about 1/2 inch of liquid at the bottom of the pan, if not then add some water. Bring to the boil and cover. Turn the heat down to low and leave to simmer for an hour and a half. Turn the meat half way through so the other side gets a coating of the sauce also. The sauce will get stickier as the meat cooks. Add more water if getting too dry. Check the seasoning – this dish should be quite peppery, salty and sweet-ish.
  6.  When ready, the meat should be very tender with a knife easily piercing the thickest part of the meat. Remove from the heat and pour the sauce into a bowl or a sauce boat. When cool enough to handle, slice the meat to thin slices and pour some sauce over. Serve with steamed rice and some greens.
  7.  The sauce will turn into jelly in the fridge. The meat is great as sandwich filler in crusty bread rolls the next day with cucumber ribbons and some of the jellied sauce.

 Note: If you know of a recipe for Persian sheep’s head soup or any such exotic offal recipe, please let me know!

Grandma

What can I say about Grandma? She was probably the most amazing cook in our family when she was alive and in her younger days. She had an encyclopaedic range of Hakka recipes to be found in a person. Her temper was somewhat mercurial when I was living with her, which I suppose you would be when you had 9 kids to bring up and back then grandpa was a clerk for the government which did not pay a lot and definitely was not quite enough with that many mouths to feed.

To compensate, grandma used to raise pigs, kept chickens and had a vegetable patch, which also supplemented the family income when there was excess produce, in order to put food on the table.

To say it was a hard life is probably understating it. To give them credit, grandma and grandpa managed to raise their children to adulthood, giving them at least a high school education, then managed to scrape together enough money to send their sons overseas to Australia for university. The girls however had to make their own way for their further education. It wasn’t fair I suppose, but it was a hard life and I guess they did what they thought was right and what they were able to afford at the time.

Anyway, back to grandma’s cooking.

I had my first hand experience of her cooking when I was to sent to live with her, grandpa and my uncles in Adelaide in the early 80s when I was old enough to start high school in Australia. I won’t bore anyone with my experience of growing up in Adelaide, considering this is a recipe blog after all. The dishes I remember grandma use to cook were all quite hearty and definitely very filling. This is the kind of food that a hill dwelling Hakka peasant would eat and be able to go all day tilling the rocky ground or building a communal round house. If you were trying to count your calories, you can forget it if you were living with her!

Some of the recipes I managed to get from her were by asking her directly, spying on her when she was cooking, or reverse engineered later when I tried to replicate what she did. Others I never did managed to get off her as she claimed they were too complicated or too whatever to make for me. Never set me a challenge like that!

Of the recipes she did share, the simplest dish, which mum also gave me tips on, was pigs’ trotters in black vinegar sauce. When cooked properly, it is a gelatinous, sweet, sour, unctuous, calorific delight to be consumed with vast amounts of steamed rice. Possibly accompanied by a dish of plain garlic flavoured greens.

Black Vinegar & Garlic Pigs’ Trotters

Ingredients:

  • about a kilo of cleaned pigs trotter. Ask the butcher to cut into one inch rounds – like mini osso buccos. Leave the skin on!
  • Chinese Black vinegar, also known as sweet vinegar.
  • 1 whole head of garlic peeled, and crushed with the flat side of a large knife
  • a large piece of ginger – around 1.5 inch, peeled and bashed to flatten, or sliced if you prefer
  • Dark soy sauce
  • white vinegar
  • sugar
  • salt
  1. Heat a large pan, preferably non-stick to make things easier, on medium high heat until hot. Then throw in the ginger, the garlic and the meat. There is no need to add any oil.
  2. When the pork pieces changes colour add about 1/4 cup of the black vinegar, a couple of tablespoons of sugar and a couple of tablespoons of the soy sauce.
  3. Stir to coat the meat and the herbs in the sauce. When it starts to bubble, cover and turn the heat down to low to stew for the next hour. Check the liquid level from time to time, make sure that there is at least about half an inch to an inch of liquid at the bottom. If too dry then add water to make it up to the level.
  4. Taste the sauce after about an hour – it should be sweet, salty, gingery, garlicky and a bit tangy. If not sharp enough to your taste, add a splash of white vinegar. It should be like a sweet and sour pickle in taste. If too sharp then add a teaspoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, to “round off the flavour” as my mum would say.
  5. Let it gently stew for at least an hour until you can easily pierce the skin with a skewer – the meat should be very tender and the fat under the skin should be almost translucent. If not then leave it to cook for another 30 minutes.
  6. If you are health concious, then you can let the stew cool in the fridge and then spoon/scrape out the fat that sets on top. The sauce will set to a jelly when cold.
  7. Eat the stew hot with steamed white rice and a plain stir fried chinese green or stir fried chinese lettuce.

I Cook Therefore I Am…

I was born in Malaysia and I grew up in a household that loved food.

Whether it was something that took my mother 3-4 days to cook or something that takes only 5 minutes, we, the kids, ate everything that was placed in front of us at least once before we are allowed to say we don’t like it. Then again not that our opinions mattered, we were usually told to eat whatever was placed in front of us. End of conversation.

Funnily enough most of what I can remember of the food was not just the strong flavours but also the various textures ranging from the usual crunchy, soft, hard to the slippery, slimy, and other more exotic mouth feel. We learnt to eat whole fish on the bone as small children – how to pick out the small bones from the sweet flesh. If we did accidentally swallow a bone, we were taught to swallow a big mouthful of plain steamed rice in order to dislodge the bone from our throat. We learnt to love curries, steamed chicken, offal, sea cucumber, tree moss, tofu, fried fish, prawn paste, agar jelly and durian. Then dad decided we needed to also develop a more Western palate, we were introduced to the joys of French fries, pepper steak served on a hot metal plate, chicken in a basket, cream of mushroom soup, garlic bread and escargot in garlic butter. We were mastering the escargot clamp long before Julia Roberts did in Pretty Woman. And we did not send any snails into the stratosphere either like she did.

I was around 7 or 8 I think when mum, who was at one stage a home economics teacher at a girl’s school, taught my sister and I our first dish. The recipe was making rock cakes. Back then, in the 70s, in Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia, western ingredients were hard to come by. There was one supermarket in town that sold goods geared for the very small local European expat community. Butter was very expensive and was usually imported from somewhere exotic like France or England, all prettily wrapped up in foiled paper. The dried fruit, well, were very dry by the time they reached the shelves there or had small moving inhabitants moving around within the packet. It wasn’t until much later that I realised sultanas aren’t meant to be like tiny hard pebbles designed to break your teeth.

Anyway, back to the rock cakes. Mum actually splurged in order to teach her daughters the culinary arts. She bought, I think, the Sunmaid mixed dried fruit, a large tin of Planta margarine, some expensive caster sugar ( there was a sugar shortage at the time due to some political happenings in the Phillipines ) and some other ingredients I forget. We were taught how to cream the sugar and the margarine til it was white, add in the flour( sifted to remove the weevils ), fruit, spices and other bits and bobs – I think there was an egg in there somewhere or milk or liquid of some description. We then dropped spoonful of the stuff onto a biscuit tray that had been buttered and floured, then popped it into the oven. Then we sat back and waited impatiently. I can’t honestly say I remember what it tasted like, but I do remember thinking they looked like yellow rocks when they came out of the oven. The bits of sultanas and currents looked like something my dog left behind on one of her bad days. I don’t remember if anyone ate them or whether mum gave them to the maid and the gardener because none of the kids would eat it after the first few mouthfuls. Actually I vaguely remember the dog didn’t think much of the rock cakes also.

However even though this exercise did not show me at the time that I would actually enjoy homemade baked goods, it did plant the seed of the joys of cooking in me, and I have been cooking not just for the hunger, but for the fun of it since.

So, you may ask, what am I doing here on this blog then? Well, at the risk of sounding like a complete twat, most people I know nowadays do not cook. Not because they don’t want to but mostly because they have no time, have never been shown how to cook and a myriad other reasons. There are a lot of old family recipes out there, that your grandparents, favourite auntie or uncle, best friend’s family etc would have cooked with but now is in danger of disappearing because no one in the family have the time to learn to cook these. I want to share the recipes that I picked up from my family with you and also I would love to have your recipes along with the stories behind them so that these precious and rare family recipes do not disappear forever.

So come on – Let’s share recipes and let’s cook!