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Twisted and loopy

11 Sep


I love soft, flavourful breads. All breads are flavourful, you may argue. Well, most home-made breads are indeed flavourful but I find that  store-bought breads are mostly pretty bland and have no character (I am talking about the loafs that are pre-packed and have a 2-week shelf life!).  Since I successfully baked my first loaf about seven months ago, I think I’ve eaten store-bought bread less than five times. Why buy when you can bake, right? Sure, baking takes time (unless you have a bread machine — but where’s the fun in that?). Also, baking my own bread means I can add any herb/nut/grain/seasoning I like depending on my mood.  Now that’s really  swell especially since I love herb buns and they’re not that easily available in stores.

So, anyway. I was in the mood for some bread making and was mentally going through a list of breads I could possibly make. What about Pretzels? I’ve never made them before even though I’ve read quite a few recipes and articles about making a good pretzel. Why not? I was feeling relaxed (a  four-day weekend would get anyone to relax, right) and adventurous. So, why not?

Usually whenever I get a craving for pretzels (not very often, thankfully) I head over  to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels for a sour-cream and onion or cinnamon flavoured knot.  I like em. So the question is, could I make mine as nice?

I used a recipe I had earlier bookmarked from thefreshloaf.com, a great resource of you like making bread. I intended to make the  Laugenbrezel or the Lye Pretzel — a basic pretzel that is first dipped in boiling water+ a drop of Lye and then baked. The recipe on thefreshloaf however skips the lye bath, deeming it unnecessary for homemade pretzels. Ok, great. Am all for skipping a lye bath for it kind of reminds me of a tic bath I have to administer on my dog, Mojo, from time to time. Urrgh.

As it turned out, my pretzels weren’t as pretty as auntie anne’s but they were really tasty. Especially the ones with grated cheese topping. Not bad (pat on back, pat on back) 🙂

Home made pretzels

(from thefreshloaf.com)

Makes 6 large pretzels
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp brown sugar
2-3 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup warm milk (approximately 110 degrees)

1 egg (for egg wash)

1 saucepan boiling water

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of your electric mixer and mix until the dough forms a ball. Use 2 cups of  flour first and add more, if necessary. I used a little less than 21/2 cups. Mix it for about five mins on low speed (speed 2 on my Kenwood) and then anpther 5-7 mins on 4 until the dough is all smooth and shiny.

Remove the dough and form into a ball. Place in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise till double the size, about an hour.

Degas the dough gently and then transfer onto a work surface.

Preheat your  oven to 220C.

Cut the dough into 6 pieces. Roll each one into a short log, cover with a towel and let the dough relax for 5 to 10 minutes. This makes it easier to  roll it out and stretch it.

Roll each log into long ropes about as thick as your index finger, 15cm in length. You may have to let it rest as you roll/shape them.

To shape the pretzel, form the dough into a”U”. Cross the ends and cross them again. They fold the crossed ends downwards. Confused? Check out THIS site for guidance.

Once all 6 have been shaped, bring a saucepan of water to boil.

Now, using either two metal spatulas or a big wire strainer (the kind you use to deep fry stuff) dip each pretzel in the boiling water (one by one) for about 10 seconds. Drain and place on a baking sheet.

Brush each one with egg wash and sprinkle with salt and any topping of your choice: poppy seed, sesame seeds, nuts, onion powder, grated parmesan, etc.

Bake for about 15 mins or till nice and golden.

Eat it while its hot!

Miso like this!

8 Sep

Still on a Japanese food bend,  I tried to recreate a delicious dip I had in a Japanese fusion restaurant called Shokan in Tokyo. Served with a selection of raw vegetables, the dip was so good. The earthiness of the miso blended well with the freshness of the tomato paste; the saltiness of the miso went so well with the sweetish tomato paste. It was a marriage waiting to happen.

I tried to get the recipe for the dip from the owner /head chef of the restaurant — a friendly guy who knew just enough English to converse with us — but he subtly evaded my prodding again and again. The dip was his own concoction and I guess he wasn’t going to pass it out  to just anyone.

No matter. I remembered the taste and I thought that I should be able to come up with something similar, if not identical. Half the fun is in the trying right? (WELL, not if you read my last post about Spekkoek!)

First, I had to determine the right ratio between the tomato paste and miso. 2:1 was what I settled upon. (You may have to set your own ratio depending  on the type of miso you use and how strong it is).

What else should I use?

The tomato and miso alone tasted yummy but there was still something missing. It wasn’t the same as the one I had at Shokan. I tried adding a few different ingredients: minced ginger (not bad), pepper (not great), vinegar (just a bit is actually quite nice), japanese mayonnaise (oh, so yum: with less tomato paste).

Ok, so I may not have cracked the code and replicated the dip at Shokan exactly but who cares? I still have a very tasty miso sip … actually I have several and that’s good enough for me.

Apam balik, anyone?

5 Aug

Sunday morning breakfasts have always been special. As a kid, Sunday mornings meant going out as a family, first to the market for our weekly shopping and then to our favourite food stalls to buy breakfast.

From noodles to Tosai (indian pancakes) to nasi lemak (rice cooked with coconut milk and served with sambal, anchovies and peanuts), we could quite literally have anything we wanted for breakfast … but only on Sundays.  For years, this was the highlight of our Sundays.

I now live on my own and family trips to the market aren’t possible: my brother lives 200 kms away and my sister has her family to feed and care for. I still savour my Sunday mornings and though I still go to the market almost every Sunday, I only occasionally stop at the food stalls for breakfast as giving in to cravings now means extra hours at the gym to work off the extra calories. That’s what happens when we hit the 30s, eh?

One of my favourite Sunday morning breakfast indulgences is the Malaysian peanut pancake or Apam Balik. It’s like a bread-waffle-pancake hybrid: spongy and crispy with a delicious sweet peanut filling. There really is nothing like it.

I have never thought of making this at home… until I came across a recipe for it on dodol-mochi.blogspot.com. The photos of her Apam Balik were awesome and she made it seem like a cinch to make. All I had to do was buy some unroasted peanuts … which I did the very next day I read her post.


If you like Apam Balik or actually if you like peanuts and waffles, you must, must try this. The skin of my Apam Balik didn’t brown as evenly as I would have liked it (I blame my inferior quality skillet which doesn’t distribute heat evenly ) but the pancake tasted AWESOME. Thank you dochi-mochi, I will surely make this again and again. And again.

Apam Balik

200ml tepid water

1 tsp instant yeast

100g high protein/bread flour

50g tapioca starch

1/4 tsp salt

35g castor sugar

B

2 eggs, at room temperature
60ml cooking oil
1/2 tsp air abu or alkaline water
Keep some tepid water on standby in case your batter is too thick

C

2 cups finely crushed roasted peanuts
2-3 tbsp castor sugar
roasted white sesame seeds (optional)
Salted butter, cut into small cube

Mix all the ingredients in A together and let it sit, covered, for about 60-90 mins or till the dough doubles in size. It may start bubbling after an hour or after doubling: don’t panic. It’s how it should be.

When it has doubled, mix all the ingredients in B together. Add it to the dough and blend well with a hand whisk. Add more water if the consistency is too thick — it should be the same consistency as pancake batter. Let it sit for about 10 mins.

Heat a skillet and oil the base and sides. Ladle in the batter (how much depends on how thick you want your apam to be) and lower the heat to med/low. Let it cook undisturbed until the top is set and the bottom is starting to get golden. Spread a thick layer of the peanut filling on half the pancake, flip the other side over, press down with something heavy like a lid of a pot and remove.

Repeat.

Yes, I Can

2 Aug

This month’s Don’t Call Me Chef challenge put me in a real tizzy: cooking with canned food. I  admit that I always have some canned food stocked in my pantry. Usually it’s a can or two of green peas (my all-time favourite can food which I featured in the column),  a can of Campbell’s soup (a quick sauce/casserole solution), a can of chickpeas (when cravings leave you no time to soak dry beans overnight) and a few cans of pureed tomatoes – Italian variety tomatoes, cut and sometimes herbed are such a wonderful shortcut.

My, it does seem like I use canned food quite a bit. Anyhow, looking at my stock, I realised that nothing I had was quite exciting enough to be featured. Except the green pea because nothing compared to canned green peas. Yes, I will stand by this.

I usually feature recipes that I am inspired by but this time I decided to use this space to report on my first encounter with a canned food I am unfamiliar with. For that, I had to go grocery shopping. Oh Joy. I decided to scout around: visiting small sundry shops as well as big-chain grocery shops — just so that I could suss out the selection.

Like a kid in a candy store (or a dude in a tool shop) I spent hours looking at canned food. The kind of food Michael Pollan would balk at. Canned beets, spinach, sliced potatoes, refried beans, sauerkraut, canned raspberries, pineapple, mandarin oranges … the choices were endless and, mind you, that’s only the vegetarian options. For meat eaters, there’s more to play with: anchovies, corned beef, luncheon meat and spam.

I really wanted to buy the canned chestnuts and artichoke hearts but at RM15 a can (a small one at that) I was hesitant. Well, actually I turned around and walked the other way, down the next aisle.

I found what I wanted in my neighbourhood shop: Kedai Runcit Peng Soon. My choice was a can of fake meat or “mock chicken”. Made wholly out of gluten, this was a challenge indeed. Firstly, the texture of the canned gluten is rubbery. Next, the taste is salty because of the brine in which it sits.  The canned gluten is  actually pre-cooked but you will not want to eat it as is. Salty with a tinge of chemical is not really appetizing. On the plus side,  the canned meat was visually interesting because the fake meat actually had fake chicken skin.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I decided to make a curry with the mock chicken. While I couldn’t alter the rubbery texture of the gluten, I discovered that sugar and spice can make anything nice. Cinnamon, star anise, curry powder, ginger, garlic, shallots and lemon grass and a little coconut milk made this gluten curry a tasty side dish which I ate with plain white bread.

The verdict: Would I used canned gluten again? Probably not but it isn’t because the dish wasn’t tasty; rather, why used a canned alternative when using fresh ingredients are not only tastier but easier?

Do you roll with bananas?

11 Jul

It’s strange. I don’t quite like eating bananas but give me banana cake or bread and I’d gladly gobble it up. But, being a fussy eater, even with banana breads and cakes I prefer it when the taste of the fruit is not all empowering and is instead tempered  with spices like cinnamon or nutmeg. I’ve made banana bread before but I wasn’t quite satisfied because though tasty, it tasted suspiciously like cake. I have been on the lookout  for an alternate recipe. So, when I spotted a recipe for a yeasted banana bread on My Diverse Kitchen, one that seemed more bread than cake — i.e very little sugar and a moderate measure of banana, my curiosity was piqued. Actually, more like my greed. My hopes and expectation were high as the picture of the rolls depicted  on My Diverse Kitchen was tantalising.

So, I actually made it a point to get up real early on Saturday (to beat the traffic at the morning market — believe it or not, it gets insane after 730am!) and got myself a bunch of ripe bananas: I chose the small, sweet pisang mas because I think they cook  well.  I had all the other ingredients in my pantry already: all purpose flour, cardamom, butter, salt, sugar and yeast so I was all set.

I followed the recipe to a T, with one exception: I used instant yeast instead of active dry yeast —  a small inconsequential adjustment. The recipe was easy enough to follow but let me caution you: it takes about 3 hours to make these rolls. You need to allow the dough to rise twice and the first rise is for 2 hours. Yes, 2 hours. Anyhow, it was worth the time. The rolls turned out well. They were soft and fluffy and just a little moist. And, it looked like a football/soccer ball! How apt that the World Cup final starts in less than 6 hours!

The only problem was that I could hardly taste the banana; they tasted too much like dinner rolls. Delicious dinner rolls, no doubt,  but where’d the taste of the cup full of mashed banana go? Perhaps the bananas I bought weren’t sweet enough…

Told you I was fussy. No  matter, I finished the eight rolls the recipe yielded with the help of a couple of  friends and guess what I did? I  decided to give it another go, adding more banana this time around. After all,  I reasoned, I wasn’t going to eat the remaining fruit in a hurry …

Instead of 1 cup of mashed bananas, I used close to 2 cups. I added a bit more cardamom and a little nutmeg too. This time, it was just  perfect.

Here’s the recipe.

31/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup lukewarm water (plus a bit more, in case)
½ cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp butter, at room temperature
1 cup banana, mashed
1/2 tsp  cardamom powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg powder
Melted butter for brushing on rolls once they’re out of the oven

Whisk together the banana, water, buttermilk, yeast, salt, sugar, cardamom,  nutmeg and butter in the bowl of your stand mixer till all the ingredients are well incorporated. Fix the dough hook attachment  and,  adding the  flour in two batches, mix  the wet and dry ingredients till a dough forms, about 5 mins. The dough should be sticky and moist.

Remover the bowl from the mixer and cover with a damp cloth. Let it sit in a warm spot, allowing the dough to rise for about 2 hours. It should double it’s size and deflate. If it hasn’t deflated, de-gas it gently after the two hours are up.

Flouring your hands, gently form balls (the size is up to you; mine were half the size of a tennis ball) and arrange them (touching each other) in an 8-inch round cake tin.The balls need to be the same size: they look prettier and will cook more evenly.  Cover and let the dough balls rise again for about 30 -45 mins. Bake at 180C for 30 to 40 mins or till the tops are golden.

For soft rolls, brush the top with melted butter once you’ve taken them out of the oven. Set aside to cool. Best eaten warm.

Mushroom magic

7 Jul

I learnt my lesson the hard way. About six years ago, I was lunching with  some buds in a deli-styled eatery in KL and I ordered a mushroom burger thinking it would be a vegetarian burger made of mushrooms. The menu didn’t offer a description of the burger so I assumed…

Imagine my embarrassment when the burger arrived: a huge chunk of beef patty with a generous mushroom topping and some white sauce, some variation of mayonnaise I assume. I protested, but to no avail of course. The waiter thought I was being ridiculous: who would order a burger made of mushrooms (he didn’t say it but his expression shouted it!).

I pushed my plate aside, dejected, an sipped on my smoothie. Oh bother, these all-meat eateries.

Mushroom burgers are not something I conjured up, in case you are wondering. Portobello mushroom burgers are quite popular, perhaps not in our cafes. I’ve had them (they serve them at The Daily Grind in Bangsar Village) and I love them. You can’t go wrong with mushrooms, really. Especially not the Portobello, surely a royal mushroom.

At home, I make mushroom burgers/sandwiches all the time. I either incorporate them in vege burger patties or, like the one above, I make sandwiches with a variety of mushroom fillings. The one above is made from sautéed mushrooms in a creamy cheese sauce, served with roasted tomatoes on sprouts. I usually use lettuce or salad but I had some sprouts at home and used them instead.

Cheesy Mushroom chompers

1 cups mushrooms (swiss brown, button white and fresh shiitake), separate the stems from the caps.

1/4 cup cheddar

1/4 cup parmesan (you can add blue cheese too if you feel extravagant)

4 tbsp butter

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

2 sprigs thyme

1 med onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

Chop the mushroom stems; quarter the caps.

Heat 2 tbsp butter and saute the caps with thyme, season with salt and pepper, remove and set aside.

Heat  butter. Add onions and then garlic and saute till soft. Add chopped stems and cook till soft, about 5 mins. Stir in cheese and nuts. Cook for a couple of mins.

Lay sautéed caps on baking sheet and pour half the cheesy sauce over. Bake in 180C oven for about 15 mins. Remove. Pour remaining sauce over.

Assemble the chomper: Layers of sprouts, mustard, cheesy mushrooms and roasted tomato in between sesame burger buns.

Give (homemade) vegannaise a shot

7 Jul


Ever wake up and find that you no longer like the things you used to obsess over? Well, it happens to me quite a lot. I used to love mayo, for example. I’d slather on a thick layer of mayo in all my sandwiches. So much that my Egg Mayo sandwiches looked more like Mayo cream sandwiches with egg. I’d even use Mayo to dress a salad or to spread on crackers for a snack. Mayo madness, if you will.

Then one day I woke up from a pretty unspectacular sleep and found myself turned off mayo completely. Suddenly the thought of eating raw eggs (emulsified with oil and vinegar/lemon juice) was just such a turn off and I was put off forever. Wierd, huh?

So, I substituted Mayo for mustard and home-made relishes and spreads. But sometimes there can be no substitute for mayo. An Egg Mayo sandwich needs to be an Egg Mayo sandwich. How now?

A vegan mayo, of course — vegannaise! I remember my sister whipped up a vegan mayonaise made with tofu many years back, while I was yet a giddy teenager. It tasted good but I pooh-poohed it, opting for the original instead.  Funny how things come full circle, eh?

So I decided to make my own vegan mayo and, having tried making regular mayo before (you whisk egg yolks, dry mustard, salt and pepper and gradually add oil and watch as the mixture emulsifies in the blender) I can attest to how much easier it is to make a vegan version. It sometimes takes me a few tries before I  make  one successful batch; with the vegan version you will be guaranteed success immediately. It’s that simple.

The vegan mayo is tofu-based. Hold on all you tofu haters. I guarantee, it won’t be like you’re spreading tofu paste on your sarnies. Nope. Mixed with mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper (you can try variations like a curry vegan mayo with curry powder or a basil mayo) the tofu is well masked.

If tofu really is a turn off, try THIS RECIPE for almond mayo, also vegan and also tasty.

The texture of the vegan mayo is lighter than the regular mayo.

What you will need

250 gm silken tofu

1 tbsp mustard

1 tbsp sugar or honey

1 tbsp lemon juice or cider vinegar

salt and pepper

1/4 cup oil

Blend all the ingredients except the oil. Once smooth, gradually add the oil and blend till they emulsify. Voila, you have your creamy vegan mustard. You can add/reduce the sugar/sat and pepper to your taste, of course. You can add seasonings too like herbs or nuts, spices like curry powder is great too. Or tomatoes.