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Sunday, 18 July 2010

The ABC of the Quintessential Malaysian Dessert - more Cultural Exchange

In this hot climate of ours there is no snow, nor will there ever will be. We do get hailstones some times but that is rare. What we do get though is rain. Lots of it. Torrential rain and thunderstorms. Then Kuala Lumpur floods. Traffic crawls. Trees get uprooted. Damage occurs. You get the idea.

But I digress. I started this post off to say that we don't get snow. Why snow? Because as a young lad, I remember reading books that talked about scooping out snow and covering it with maple syrup or honey - written by western authors no doubt.

Many countries and cultures have evolved to using shaved ice instead of snow and pouring syrup over it. We do that here too and we call it "Ice Balls". Better than that however is our very own dessert known as ABC - Air Batu Campur. Air Batu means Ice (Air is pronounced I-yay and means water while Batu is pronounced Bah-to and means stone) and Campur means to mix or mixture. The language has evolved and Air Batu is now commonly known as Ais (ice!) So the dessert is also commonly known as Ais Kacang (literally Ice with Nuts or Beans).

The dessert is usually made with Red Beans, Peanuts, Cincau (grass jelly), coloured jelly pieces (or shredded) and some cream corn. It is then covered with shaved ice to which coconut milk is poured on top and then covered with Gula Melaka and Red Syrup. Sometimes, instead of Coconut milk, evaporated milk is used. Sometimes too, the syrup used is only Gula Melaka or Red Syrup. Nowadays, the ingredients to Ais Kacang are wide and varied and include fruit cocktail in addition to the other ingredients. The options are really limitless. Some places like to place a scoop of ice cream over the ABC as well.

Both my kids love their Ais Kacang. The Lovely Wifes sister-in-law has an electric ice scraper that TLW borrowed to make home-made Ice Kacang. Although the home version of the ice scraper doesnt produce as fine a shaved ice, it does a pretty good job.

For the homemade version, TLW used Evaporated Milk rather than Coconut Milk - healthier although not quite as tasty. She made the gula melaka syrup by melting the solid gula melaka with a little water while the red syrup is simply coloured sugar syrup flavoured with some pandan leaves. She also made her own jelly by boiling agar-agar with pandan leaves and then adding in sugar and food colouring. The red-beans took a long time to soften and I had suggested that TLW just get canned beans isntead. The rest of the ingredients, like grass-jelly, peanuts and cream of corn, are easily available in the local stores.

Sometimes, the jelly is shredded and sometimes it is just cut into small cubes. For the first serving of the Ais Kacang, TLW shredded the jelly. Subsequent servings were just served with cut up jelly!

At least two types of Agar-agar (Jelly made from seaweed)
Cincau (Grass-Jelly)
Cream of Corn
Evaporated Milk
Gula Melaka
Red Syrup or Rose Syrup
Red Beans - boiled till soft
Lots of shaved Ice
Arrange the ingredients in the bottom of a bowl. Cover with shaved ice and then pour evaporated milk/coconut milk on top. Drizzle over Gula Melaka and Syrup.

Here's a little step by step pictorial for you to truly understand the composition of Ice Kacang.

1. Place all the ingredients in the bottom of a bowl. I usually like to put my cream corn in too but TLW and the kids like it on top. To each their own I guess!

2. Place the bowl under the ice scraper maching and fill up with ice shavings.

3. Pour over the evaporated milk (or coconut milk)

4. Then pour over the Gula Melaka...

5. ... and the Red Syrup

The dessert is then ready for the eating!!
Ice Kacang is a great dessert to end a meal with. More than that however, its a great treat to have at any time of the day. The only problem with Ice Kacang is that eaten too quickly, it can cause 'Brain Freeze' as my little princess found out!

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Festmahl Kuchen - a cake fit for a feast

In my previous post, I mentioned how Lynn's request made me decide to make Quinoa Stuffed Peppers for the dinner we had with friends prior to watching the World Cup Quarterfinals. The ever discerning Ms Kong Piang yawned in her royal manner and declared that she was tired of purchasing substandard desserts and wanted something that would "hit the right spots." She waxed lyrical about something fruity then pondered upon something chocolatey before she dismissed everything and just 'demanded' something that would satisfy her. Kind of like Jean-Luc Picard saying "Make it so". (For those of you not from the same generation or wavelength, Picard is the Captain of the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek, The Next Generation)

Anyway, I'm quite frightened of Ms Kong Piang . She has such discerning taste and is a fabulous cook in her own right that I would have to think of something that would match her expectations. Same goes for TLW as well as Lynn!

Having 3 gorgoeus women expecting satisfaction from one man may not be such a dream after all... Women with discerning palates are not to be trifled with. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

TLW kept asking me what I was going to make but I knew it would be better if I surprised her. I decided on a dessert with pears, chocolate mousse and a nutty base. My usual mousse uses egg whites to make it light and fluffy but I needed the egg whites for the meringue and didn't want to have leftover egg yolks. I decided to modify my Baked Chocolate Mousse. This is what I came up with, another original recipe:

3 Egg Whites
150g Caster Sugar
160g Ground Hazelnuts

3 egg yolks
1 Egg
2 Tbsp Sugar
200g good quality Dark Chocolate
400ml Cream
1 large can pears
Start off by straining the pears. Discard the juices. Cut the pears into quarters and set aside.

Whip egg whites till at soft peak stage. Add in the sugar and continue beating till thick, stiff and glossy. Quickly fold in the nuts till well incorporated. Spread into a 10" Springform lined with parchment paper. Bake at 180C for 30-40 mins till meringue is nicely cooked. Remove from oven and let cool. Once cool, remove the parchment paper from the meringue and place the meringue back into the springorm pan, being careful not to break the meringue.

Meanwhile, Melt the chocolate over a double boiler. While chocolate is melting, whisk together the egg yolks, 1 egg and sugar together till light and creamy. Add the egg mixture into the melted chocolate, stirring quickly. Should the chocolate seize or get lumpy, dont worry. Beat with an electric mixer for a short while and chocolate will become thick and silky. Set aside.

Whip the cream till it forms stiff peaks. Carefully fold into the chocolate mixture incorporating well to get a lovely chocolate mousse.

Place a thin layer of mousse over the meringue and then arrange pear quarters over the layer of mousse. Cover the pears with remaining mousse and smoothen the top of the mousse. Bake at 190C for 25 mins. Remove from oven and let cool before allowing to chill for at least 6 hours. Decorate with sliced pears.

I was in a bit of a rush when I made this cake that I didn't remove the parchment paper from the meringue before covering it with mousse. So when I wanted to unmould the cake, I caused a bit of cracking. I've written the recipe above to make sure I dont repeat that mistake!

When I brought the cake out to be served, everyone asked what it was and it was then that I realised that I didn't have a name for it. We decided to eat it first before deciding if it was worthy to be named.

The dessert was a huge hit! Everyone enjoyed it with Ms Kong Piang saying that it was the nicest dessert she had partaken of in a while. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the mousse complemented the pears while the hazelnut meringue was much nuttier and tastier than my usual almond meringue base. Michael enjoyed it so much that he had two pieces at one sitting while the rest of us definitely had more than one serve each!

Lynn and I reckoned that we had to give the cake a Geman name to commemorate Germany's destruction of Argentina in the 2010 World Cup Quarterfinals. Since its a Chocolate Mousse Cake with Pears, I thought of calling it Schokoladenmousse Birnenkuchen - a direct translation.

Maybe Festmal Kuchen is a better and simple name for this cake as I reckon it is the perfect finale to any Feast!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

A few weeks ago, or maybe it was a few months ago, I received this text message from my friend Lynn.
"Do you know how to make Quinoa Stuffed Peppers"

Now Lynn has had my Stuffed Peppers before but I have never made nor thought of stuffing my peppers with Quinoa. So I texted her back saying that if I did make them, I would use mushrooms, spinach and quinoa to stuff the peppers. Maybe some pine nuts to.

I then asked her if she wanted a recipe or if she was asking me to make her a batch someday. Her reply was a simple "What do you think?!!"

So... when we had a few friends over the other night for dinner and to watch the Germany - Argentina Semifinal Quarterfinal match of the 2010 World Cup I made the Quinoa Stuffed Peppers.

For a change, I didnt have to make all the food as Ms Kong Piang made a delightful Paella as well as a Sourdough ham sandwhich (this one just for me to try.)

The Lovely Wife made a Salad out of her Jamie Oliver cookbook while I made the peppers and a lovely dessert. I'll post about the Salad and Dessert soon (hopefully!)

Lynn brought along some lovely Brie Cheese and crackers for the appetizer while TLW whipped up some Salsa that we enjoyed with Corn Chips. So yes, quite a feast or Festmahl as Lynn called it as we all wanted Germany to win that night. By all, I mean Lynn, my two children and I - as Ms Kong Piang, TLW and Kevin really weren't all that bothered about the football!

This is what I did with the Peppers.

4 cloves garlic - chopped
2 tsps basil
250g Button Mushrooms - sliced
1 bunch baby spinach - blanched and chopped
1 cup quinoa
Handful of raisins
Black Pepper
6 medium capsicums
Bring 1.5 cups of water (with a little salt) to the boil and add in the quinoa. Allow to simmer for about 20 minutes or till quinoa is cooked. Set aside.
Sautee garlic with a little black pepper. Add in the basil and fry till fragrant. Put in the mushrooms and cook till juices are released. Add in the chopped spinach and mix well before adding in the raisins. Add in the cooked quinoa and season with salt and pepper. Let sit for awhile to absorb the flavours.
Cut off tops of capsicum and remove the seeds. Coat the insides and outsides of the capsicum with a little olive oil before stuffing with the mixture. Bake in a preheated 190C oven for about 30 minutes or till capsicums are soft.

I was rather pleased with how the peppers turned out - being vegetarian and all! The Quinoa lent a nice nutty flavour and texture to the capsicum and the mushrooms and spinach combined really well while the raisins provided a little sweetness. The capsicums were really juicy too and that made it even better. I decided against pine nuts as the Quinoa was already nutty. Maybe adding more vegetables like celery or carrots would improve the flavour but it was still delicious as it was.

Dinner with good friends and good food is alway a plus point and we all had a gerat time. Two bottles of wine didnt hurt the festivities either! Kevin showed how manly he was by washing up all the dishes AND I mean ALL the dishes! Thanks Kevin!

Finally, Germany didn't just win but THRASHED Argentina 4-0! A magnificent ending to a wonderful night. Now lets just hope they win the World Cup since Brazil is already out...!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Flirting with Nigella

I've probably mentioned somewhere in this blog that The Lovely Wife loves adding cookbooks to her collection. She especially likes 'celebrity cookbooks' - you know the Jamie Olivers and the Wolfgang Pucks and the Nigella Lawson's.

I quite fancy Nigella Lawson - not so much her cookbooks but her! I love watching her cooking shows where she makes cooking look so effortless. She always looks so good while she is cooking and you know she is playing the erotic cook by the way she flutters her eyes, smiles at the camera and swishes her hair. She is one sexy cook!

Anyway, sexy cook aside, I had never tried any of her recipes. So a few weekends ago, when some friends said they were popping over for tea, I decided to flip through her book and see what I could find.

This recipe comes from How to be a Domestic Goddess and Nigella calls it her Store Cupboard Chocolate Orange Cake. I've edited the recipe but only for ease of typing and reading...

125g butter
100g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
300g, thin cut marmalade (I used Apricot Jam)
150g caster sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
150g self raising flour
20cm springform, buttered and floured
Preheat oven to 180C
Put the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and melt over low heat. When its nearly completed melted, add in the chocolate. Leave for a moment to soften and then take the pan off the heat and stir with a wooden spatula until the butter and chocolate are smooth and blended. Now add in the marmalade, sugar and eggs. Stir with the wooden spoon until amalgamated. Beat in the flour bit by bit. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for about 50mins or until a cake tester comes out clean. cool on a rack for 10 minutes before turning out.

I had my doubts about this cake as it looked like it didnt have enough eggs nor butter and I thought it would yield a cake that didn't rise. However, it turned out to be a well risen cake.

As Nigella points out in her book, the recipe doesnt produce a pretty cake and she suggests that if you want to 'beautify' it, to dust it with Icing sugar or something along those lines.

The taste was different, slightly chocolatey and with a jammy taste to it as well - probably due to the load of apricot jam in it. The Lovely Wife and our friends reckoned it would have tasted better with Orange Marmalade and weren't quite sure whether they really liked it or not. To be fair, we ate it on its own and immediately realised that it would definitely taste better with some cream or ice cream.

The next day it tasted a whole lot better with Vanilla Ice Cream. It tasted better on its own the day after too! The cake was taken over to my mother-in-laws where my children and their cousins did a fine job of polishing it off!

This was my first flirt with Nigella. Well, flirt with her cookbook that is - and I know that's the closest I will ever get to flirting with her!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Explaining my absence...

Where has the time gone?!! I just realised today that I haven't made a single post for the whole month of June and now it's already July! My cousin sent me a text message this morning to ask if I was alright as my blog hadn't been updated in a while. What a sweetie!

To anyone else that may have wondered, I'm doing fine. Work has been busy and it IS the World Cup season that only comes around once every four years. Add to that the fact that I haven't been in the mood to write, means this blog has taken a bit of a backseat for the past month.

Anyway, rest assured that I am still keeping on with this blog and have a few posts still waiting to be written up and published. The home cooking is still going strong but I have to admit it's getting a tad more difficult always trying something new.

Since the World Cup is on, The Lovely Wife doesn't get to watch much TV as both the kids and I monopolise the set for all the matches, repeats, highlights, football news, matches, highlights - you get the picture. My son and daughter watch the highlights so often that they can repeat some of the commentaries even before the commentator says it!

Last week, during the afternoon while my son was at football practice and my daughter was upstairs playing, The Lovely Wife and I sat down to watch Julie and Julia.

Unlike my American readers, I had never heard of Julia Child until I learnt who she was through the Daring Bakers Challenge of making French Bread. Doing the challenge made me read up all about Julia and for those of you that still don't know who she is, you can get a quick synopsis from the link above.

I had heard about the movie Julie & Julia but had never ever gone over to Julie Powell's blog - she has quite a few now. How I wish that my blog could become famous like Julie Powell's The Julie/Julia Project. There have been a few other blogs that have spawned off into cookbooks but this is the only blog I know off that has evolved into a book and a movie and made the author famous and I would suppose rich. Maybe there is still hope for this blog...

Anyway, the movie was pretty good fun and The Lovely Wife got to learn about Julia Child - with some additional commentary from me as there were certain parts that weren't all that clear unless you had some background info on Julia Child and Paul Child (like how they were suspected of being spies).

I thought Meryl Streep did a great job although I felt her accent and speach patterns were a bit too exaggerated. I could never figure out why Julia Child spoke that way either! Nonetheless, a pretty decent movie and the food shots all rather marvellous!

So that was a little treat for The Lovely Wife. Football is off for a while but it resumes again tomorrow with the Quarter Finals. I've got my hopes pinned on Brazil although I quite fancy the Germans too. Dont want the Argies to win and neither do I really want Spain or Paraguay. It would be great if Ghana got into the Semi's but I dont see them getting any further than that. Rounding off the lot is Holland and it would be good to see them win - only trouble is that they would have to beat Brazil to do that and I would prefer Brazil to Holland any day.

Ahhh...the joys of The FIFA World Cup!!


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