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A case for the cauliflower

12 Sep

The cauliflower is not a favourite vegetable among most of my friends. Except perhaps when it is coated in a spicy chilli-flavoured batter and deep-fried. Anything deep-fried is nice, after all. But on the rare occasion when there is a when there is a cauliflower on the table, I find myself the only one excited. What’s not to love? Crunchy or soft, the cauliflower is truly  adaptable. Honest. It’s wonderful in a curry/masala as it absorbs the flavours well. As mentioned above, its delicious when deep-fried (after dousing it in boiling water to soften it a little). It’s nice au Gratin too. I even like it steamed (with broccoli and corn) and seasoned with just salt and pepper. But what I really like is mashed-roasted cauliflower! It’s way better (and healthier) than mashed potatoes – yes, even better than the Colonel’s mash.

I decided to test out my theory (that mashed cauliflower beats mashed potato) on some cauliflower hating friends. I didn’t reveal the main ingredient of the dish as, all mashed up, it kinda looked like potatoes anyway.

No Andy Warhol magic needed.

Here’s what I did. First, I steamed the cauliflower till it was nice and soft — about 20 mins. Then, I mashed it with a fork. Easy.

Preheated my oven to 180C.

Next, in a small pan I melted some butter and  sautéed some garlic, minced fine. I added the mashed cauliflower and added about 1/4 cup milk (or cream if you prefer). I let the mixture simmer (low heat) till there was no more liquid and then I added about 1/2 cup cheddar.

I then seasoned it with salt and pepper. As the cheddar was pretty strong, I didn’t need that much salt.

After about 2-3 minutes, I transferred the mash into a bake-safe dish, sprinkled some cheese on top and let it bake in the oven for about 10-15 mins or till the top began to get golden.

Remove, scoop out, garnish with coriander and serve.

OK, the results. My  unsuspecting dinner guests loved the mash but they also kinda guessed it wasn’t mashed potatoes. They were not able to guess what it was though. the nuttiness of the boiled and then roasted cauliflower kinda made them think they were eating mashed beans — they weren’t too thrilled at this thought. When I revealed what it was, there was silence. No, they didn’t become cauliflower converts but admitted that they wouldn’t mind seconds of my mash.

I’d call it a success. After all, they ate so much I had to chance to help myself to seconds! Backfired? Perhaps!

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.

Palak means spinach

24 Jun

Everytime I visit my favourite North Indian restaurant I order the same dish: Palak Paneer or spinach with cottage cheese. In fact, when I was on holiday in Northern India a couple of years ago, I think I ordered this dish almost every night. My three travel mates didn’t compain as it was everyone’s favourite. The creamy, slightly spicy spinach coupled with the lightly toasted cottage cheese is just perfect.

Unfortunately, because  paneer is quite pricey (you can get a 150gm packet for between RM15 to  RM20) I don’t often make it at home. It’s cheaper to order it at a restaurant:  RM8 for a side dish that can be shared by 2-3 (depending how greedy you are). of course, it isn’t difficult to make paneer at home. In India, most people do. Like ricotta, what you need is whole milk and citric acid or vinegar.

But, as luck would have it, I was in Brickfields last week for a job assignment and took the opportunity to go grocery shopping. As KL’s “little India”, Brickfields has some really cool Indian grocers that stock Indian cooking produce largely  imported from India. From spice mixes to Indian biccies and snacks, these shops are a cook’s paradise (well, if you’re into Indian or Indian influenced cooking). I spent about an hour browsing and came away with a 200g packet of paneer (and a whole lot of other things — I cannot resist temptation) costing me Rm15.

Perfect. 200g of paneer is actually quite a lot, especially since I usually only cook for two. I decided to use just a small portion of the cheese for the Palak Paneer and keep the rest to experiment with later. Palak paneer can be eaten with rice but is usually eaten with Indian flat breads. I like to eat mine alone.

Palak paneer

2 cups chopped spinach

40g paneer, cubed

1/2 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 inch ginger, peeled and chopped

1 large green chilli, sliced

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp coriander powder

salt and pepper


Shallow fry the paneer cubes till they begin to get golden and crusty. Don’t let them fry too long.

Pound/blend the onion, garlic and ginger to a paste. Mix the cumin and coriander powders with the paste. Heat 1 tbsp butter in a saucepan and add the onion/garlic/ginger paste. When fragrant, add the green chillies and soon after the spinach. Cook till the spinach is all soft, then transfer the contents of the saucepan into a blender and blend (if you want it slightly chunky, just pulse the mixture a couple of times. If you prefer it smooth and creamy, blend it for about 2 mins.

Heat some butter in a clean saucepan; add a couple bay leaves. A couple of minutes later add the spinach blend and then the cottage cheese and leave it to simmer for about 5 mins, stirring occassionally. Low heat.

Remove and serve with bread.

Homemade cheese, louise!

6 Jun

My mother used to make butter and ghee and though she never said it, I could tell that it gave her great satisfaction. It wasn’t a matter of economics; rather it was a desire to consumme less preservatives (yes, butter has preservatives which allows us to keep it for a long time, albeit refrigerated). At the time, I admired her for it although I don’t think I fully realised the satisfaction she got from it.

Yesterday, I made my own ricotta cheese and all at once I understood.  For me, it was partly  economics that prompted me to try it (it is much cheaper to make ricotta than buy it). I also was curious. If I could make cheese at home (my next project is mascaporne), I wouldn’t have to pay those exorbitant prices  for imported cheese at supermarkets. Well, at least I’d save a little.

For a RM15 block of store bought ricotta, it cost me just about RM8 to make it at home. I needed two litres of full cream milk, a cup of whipping cream, lemon juice and salt.

Homemade ricotta is probably the simplest cheese to make. Although you can use full cream milk from the carton, you will get better results from  fresh  milk — luckily I managed to catch the man who goes around my neighbourhood (on a motocycle) delivering fresh cows milk. (I had to pre-order two litres the week before).

Apart from the milk, whipping cream, salt and lemon juice, you will need a large bowl and a muslin cloth (or a dishcloth) as well. And a stockpot to boil the milk, of course.

First step: Heat the milk and whipping cream; when it comes to a ROLLING BOIL (not just a simmer) add the lemon or lime juice and resume boiling, stirring now and then. Keep stirring until the milk mixture starts to curdle. Depending on the milk (fresh milk works faster than milk from the carton), this may take between 20 to 30 mins.

When the milk starts to curdle — when you can see clumps amongst the slightly thickened liquid — put off the heat and let the milk stand for about 15 mins.  If the milk isn’t curdling well, add a little more lemon juice.

After 15 mins or so, you will see the curdled milk seperate from the liquid, or  whey.  Place a muslin clothe or dishcloth over a large, deep bowl and pour the curdled mixture into the cloth to physically separate the curd from the whey.

Let the muslin seive do it’s work — leave it for about 30 minutes or until almost all the liquid has dripped  into the  bowl.

Tie the edges of the muslin together to form a ball with the curd and hang it on your tap or somewhere so the remaining liquid drips out.

Once you;re satisfied that there is close to or completely no whey left, put the balled ricotta in the fridge for about 2 hours or so to set.

Click here for more resources for homemade ricotta.

Small wonder

22 Feb

The heat in Kuala Lumpur has truly been unbearable the last week or so. All I want to do is sit in front of my TV with the air conditioner and fan both on full blast and vegetate.

But, tomorrow is Monday and I brought home some work to do over the weekend … work I have to “hand in” tomorrow. Gosh,  sometimes it feels like I’m still in school! Needless to say, I haven’t done anything. I guess, I’d better get on it.

So, what do I do? Bake. Well, it’s cool in the kitchen and I need some inspiration to actually get down to work. Ok, that didn’t sound too convincing did it? No matter. At least, I can bring my baked goodies to work and bribe my way out of a shelling (don’t judge me.. ;0).

So, onto the dessert on hand. A cream cheese poppy seed cake sounded really good. I had some cream cheese in the fridge and poppy seeds are always aplenty in my pantry so I was set. Perhaps this was meant to be…

The recipe is courtesy of Martha Stewart, though  I altered the presentation of it a little. Martha spreads the creamed cream cheese on top of the cake batter, kind of as a topping to her cakes. I decided to include a layer in between as well, making it a layered cream cheese cake.

What you need is:

1 cup unsalted butter, and a little more for greasing your muffin pan

1.5 cups cake flour, plus  a little more for dusting the muffin pan 1/2 tsp salt

1.5 cups caster sugar

3 large eggs + 2 yolks

1.5 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 cup whipped cream cheese, room temperature

3 tbsp icing sugar

1 tsp poppy seeds .

Preheat the oven to 160C.

Whisk the Flour and salt and set it aside. Cream the butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add in the eggs and yolks, one at a time and then the vanilla extract and 1.5 tsp water and continue to mix till well combined.

Add the flour and salt mixture gradually and mix till its all combined into a thick-ish batter.

Grease a 12-hole muffin pan with butter and dust with flour. Spoon the batter onto  the muffin pan till each mould is a quarter full.

Now, put the cream cheese and icing sugar in the bowl of your mixer and mix on low speed till creamy.

Spread a layer of cream on top of the batter.

Spoon another layer of batter till 3/4 full and then spread another layer of the cream cheese on top.

Sprinkle each cake with poppy seed. Bake for 30 mins or till tester comes out clean.

Cream Cheese loves Chocolate Brownie

6 Feb

It hasn’t been a particularly good week at work. But there really isn’t any point grumbling, so what do I do? Bakelah! Now, when you are  morose, it won’t do to just bake any cake. A butter cake is always a reliable cake but in times of trouble (dramatic, aren’t I) you just gotta  go the extra mile and bake something truly decadent.

Cheesecake Brownie. Now that sounded pretty sinful and just what I needed. Chocolate on its own is marvelous; as is cream cheese. When you  cream them, whip them and then combine them …. that’s when some real magic happens.

There are several versions of this treat and rest assured I am going to try at least two of them: David Lebowitz’s one being one. Today though I opted for another which I bookmarked from, courtesy of Stephanie Jaworski.

Recipes are but guidelines and so I had to make some adjustments here and there — different ovens kinda work differently and my brownie took a little longer to cook, I used semi sweet dark chocolate instead of unsweetened choc, etc .

Did the brownie uplift my spirits. It sure did. The tangy rich cream cheese matched the richness of the dark chocolate to perfection. Rich and buttery, it was an almost fudge (the brownie was dense as it had no rising agent: no baking soda or powder), almost cake, almost heaven chilled concoction.

Cheesecake Brownie


115 gms unsalted butter, cut into pcs

110 gms  semi sweet chocolate, broken

250 gms castor sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

70 gms all purpose flour

2 eggs

1/4 tsp salt

Cheese layer

225 gms cream cheese, at room temperature

65 grams white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
Pre-heat oven to 160C. Line 6×6 inch square baking pan with aluminum foil (across the bottom and up two opposite sides). .
Melt choc and butter In a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove and stir in sugar and vanilla extract. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat. Don’t use a mixer as you want the cake to be dense and not incorporate too much air. Use a wooden spoon. Stir in the flour and salt and beat gently till batter is smooth and comes away from the sides of the pan. Set aside about 1/4 cup of the brownie batter. Pour the remainder of the batter into the lined pan.
Now take out your mixer and beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar, vanilla and egg and mix till smooth. Spread the cream cheese filling over the brownie layer.
Take the 1/4 cup of brownie batter you reserved and with a spoon, swirl in the brownie mix (slowly, not too much at a time) into the cream cheese layer to get a kinda marble effect.
Bake in preheated oven for about 30 to 45 mins or until the brownies start to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Once cool, stick it in the fridge until it firms up (at least a couple of hours) before you cut it up. To remove brownie just lift the foil. Cut it up in squares and enjoy it piece by piece. Best eaten chilled.

Well and truly Bitten

29 Dec

Spring onion crackers vs Cheese crackers. I choose both.

If you don”t already know of Mark Bittman, you should. Especially if you are and aspiring cook. Not chef. Cook. The New York Times columnist (author and occassional TV star) is truly a home cook to learn from. His cookbooks (my bible is the How To Cook Everything Vegetarian — an extension of his How to Cook Everything tome) are fixtures in my kitchen as they’re easy to follow and offer many alternate suggestions on one master recipe.

The latest recipe I decided to try was a simple one for home made crackers. I made two batches: one were plain ol’ cheese the other, spring onion crackers. The recipe is more or less the same.

All you need is all purpose flour (1 cup), 2 tbsp butter or neutral oil like grapeseed or corn and 1 tsp salt. You can add cream cheese (1/2 cup) or parmesan (also 1/2 cup). I chose parmesan simply because I had some in my fridge. Oh and you will need 1/4 cup water when pulsing the mixture into a dough (don’t add more water as dough should not be sticky).

For the  spring onion crackers, replace the 1/4 water with milk and add chopped spring onions (they have to be minced, almost).

One thing to remember, when rolling the dough, make sure it’s no thicker than an inch. Thinner is better so your home made crackers cook faster and are crispy without being burnt. Mine could have been a bit thinner but it was still ok.

Also, with a knife, lightly draw lines diagonally and horizontally — i.e perforate the dough so you can break it easily into squares  once baked.

Bake it at 190C for about 15 mins or till golden and cooked through.  They taste like cream crackers (the ones that are slightly buttery) with a hint of cheese.

I used to spend a ridiculous RM7 on Arnott’s shapes every once in a while. Well, not anymore cos these crackers taste incredibly alike. Better actually, cause anything home made tastes better somehow. So  Goodbye Arnott, So long Jacobs, my snacks from now are Bittman Crackers manufactured in PJ.