Thursday, February 28, 2008

Good Porking

a tumbling mess of lusciousness

With the price of Australian beef and lamb going up, we are forced, yes forced to eat more pork! Although pork prices have gone up too, its still far more affordable then beef and lamb. The other easy and cheap option is duck. Its meatier than chicken and far more interesting. I like to do my shopping at wet markets because not only is it cheaper there is far more variety of cuts. With the exception of Imbi market which is really a rich tai-tai's wet kitchen.

A couple of weeks back we had a Sunday roast at home. Sis made roast pork accompanied with a vegetable dish we had at Beatrice's several weeks back - caramelised sweet potato and potatoes with asparagus. Sis tried the Gordon Ramsay recipe by stuffing the pork with garlic and sage. All of us prefered it without as the garlic still tasted very raw and interrupted the porky serenity we so badly wanted to be lost in. It also needed a sweet and tart sauce which there was none as Sis only made gravy. Mum's roast pork is still the best. Its always served with pineapple sauce instead of apple. And mum's idea of gravy is Campbell mushroom soup served thick with extra button mushrooms thrown in. Yummy!

I was delegated with dessert so I decided to try a ricotta and honey cheese cake with a ginger crust from Taste magazine. While I was making it, I was sure it wasn't right. The ginger crust had so little ginger in it. And the cheese filling only had 2 tablespoons of honey. I had to look again to see if this was a diabetics edition or something. Hey I'm all for cutting down the sugar but 2 tablespoons honey is not going to be enough. So I doubled the amount and you know what, it still wasn't sweet enough. And the ginger crust was no where near gingery. Its a very, very subtle tart. Sis decided to make a syrup with dried figs to go with the tart. Much better sweet but didn't quite go together. On to the next recipe I guess...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Love Of My Life

If there ever comes a time when I have to choose between pork or chocolate, it would be a very, very sad day indeed. I know I always go on about my affinity with fine slabs of pork but after all is said and done, I just might pick chocolate. One of my first few memories involve chocolate. Pork actually came much later. My mum often tells the story of how she caught me sitting on the floor with the mini-bar wide open, a litter of colourful foil wrappers strewn around me and my face and hands stained with guilty, sinful dark chocolate. Apparently I was quite impervious to the effects of the liquer in the chocolate. What I remember was that I poured all the liquer away! I loved how all the sugar had crystallised at the bottom of each chocolate "bottle".

I'm not a snob. Well, not when it comes to chocolate. I like all kinds - white, milk and dark. Generic and gourmet. When I was old enough to travel with my parent to Australia to visit my siblings, I would love going to the supermarket with my mum. I loved Milo Bars and Violet Crumble. Sadly, Milo bars are no longer available and have since been replaced with the disgusting power/booster-bar-crap-thing. It was also in Australia that I discovered the joys of Easter! Easter to me meant chocolate eggs in all kinds of sizes. I loved the Red Tulip's caramel-filled mini eggs and Cadbury creme eggs. The most memorable one was the one given to me by Mrs. Moore and it was a dinosaur egg. (Not solid of course!) It was huge! It took me a long time to finish it. Back here it was Nutella of course. It was such a treat at recess to be able to buy that little packet of Nutella for 25 sen. I also remember eating quite a bit of Kandos and Krispy. I had Krispy recently and it brought back some fond memories. Kandos on the other hand, was not very nice! Oh, and who can forget strawberry and orange flavoured Zip! 

These days, I still enjoy English Kit Kat, Flake, M&M Peanut Butter when I feel like something junky. Then there are days when I feel very adult-like and eat nothing but Green & Blacks dark or Lindt 70%. When my friends go away for a holiday, I look forward to the chocolates they bring back. Hey, I'm a simple girl. A box of Godiva or Leonidas will be fine! When Rafs went to Japan recently, I asked for some green tea and red bean Kit Kat. I heard someone mention it before and was curious to have a bite. It was so exciting looking at this green and red packet of Kit Kat with the familiar logo and yet completely foreign text. I can tell you now that there is nothing vaguely red beany or green tea-like about it! It was like eating very sweet green-tinted white chocolate Kit Kat. I tried and tried to the green tea flavour but the tiny amount that I got was mostly psychological I think. Hey, at least I got to try Japanese Kit Kat but I think I will stick to plain old English Kit Kat.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

That Dirty "P" Word

In the spirit of trying new things, I've found myself in unfamiliar surroundings quite a number of times. I now know where Setia Alam is and its very far away. Especially when you take the most straightforward route which is the NKVE. WMW took the even longer route and went via Ipoh! But thats another post altogether. A while back, I was somewhere in Sungai Buloh. I have a feeling I was quite close to LYJ but who can bloody tell in the dark! We were there buying plants and things. Sis took us to a fantastic bak kut teh restaurant called Chung Sun. She had been to the famous one in the area (I can't remember the name) and found it to be disappointing. And she happened to chance upon this one and has been a fan ever since.

The broth at Chung Sun was more complex and deep than I could ever hope to be. It had a lovely balance of herbs that was both intense and clear. If this bowl of bkt was a man, I'd marry him in an instant! Accompanied with a big plate of lettuce stir-fried with heaps of garlic and salty, fragrant yam rice. Mmm, it was so good we ordered a second bowl. And the lady said it the first bowl was more than enough for us three ladies. Please! Do I look like some featherweight from Sungai Wang?! Bring it on!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Lasagne al Forno con Melanzane

Second day of the new year. The ang pows get less and less. Actually I'm a little sheepish to be collecting ang pows especially when the three people who received ang pows before me where under 7. Oh well, might as well enjoy it while I can. I decided to do some cooking today. I've always wanted to make sheperds pie and lasagne. Funny I've never tried making either before. Its just one of those things that I never got around to trying. Its amazing how rusty my cooking skills are. I'm not bragging or anything but I really was a very good cook when I was studying. I never owned a recipe book. Everything came to me instinctively just from practise. I didn't even break a sweat cooking a 9-course meal for reunion dinner one time for 10 people. I'd pluck dishes out of thin air. I could put ingredients together in my head, imagine the taste and scratch whatever that wasn't working. Now I'd die without a recipe. I second guess myself. Its terrible! Something had to be done!

So yesterday between stuffing my face and gambling, I found myself wandering up and down the supermarket aisles. I grabbed all my ingredients to make a lasagne only to realise they had run out of lasagne sheets. So I figured I'd make a sheperds pie instead. But what I ended up with was a bit of both! I decided I really wanted to make lasagne. And there was no other option when it comes to tried and tested recipes of Delia Smith. It is fail proof, idiot proof and guaranteed to be delicious. I adapted a little bit here and there but the result was just gorgeous if I do say so myself. Well, after four hours stewing the sauce in the oven, it had better be good! Yes, Delia's recipe requires the meat sauce to be reduced slowly in the oven. And if I had read the instructions properly and reduced it without the lid on, it would've been much faster. I already bought carrots and leeks for the sheperds pie so I decided to use it. I also added a layer of fried aubergine. Yes, I actually fried them, shock horror. Mum would be so proud! To accompany the heavy lasagne, I made a zingy salad with baby tomatoes, onions and oranges with a orange and mustard vinaigrette. Hunky gave a big thumbs up. If you'd like to attempt the recipe, click here. Below is my ad hoc version, feeds 6 adults comfortably unless they are growing adolescents:

For the ragu:
  • 250g minced lamb
  • 250g minced beef
  • 3 carrots chopped
  • 2 leeks sliced
  • sprig of thyme
  • 175ml red wine (thanks Joe for pointing out that I nearly alcohol-poisoned everyone :-))
  • 2 x tinned tomatoes (I use La Valle plum tomatoes)
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 1 tbls chopped garlic
  • salt & pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 150C
  2. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan. Brown the onions on low heat. Add leeks and sautee. Remove and place in a ovenproof casserole dish.
  3. Oil the saucepan again and brown the lamb. Remove when coloured slightly and drain. I found it produced quite a bit of oily liquid compared to the beef mince. Place in casserole dish and repeat with the minced beef.
  4. Place casserole on direct heat now and pour in the wine, canned tomatoes, carrots and thyme. When it comes to a simmer, turn off the heat and pop the dish into the oven (without the lid). It took 4 hours with the lid on so I'm guessing it would probably only take half that time to reduce it to a gloriously thick meat sauce.
For the bechamel sauce:
  • 750ml low-fat milk (yup, low-fat milk nullifies all other fats)
  • grated nutmeg
  • 90g butter
  • 55g plain flour
  • sprig of thyme (my favourite herb!)
  • salt & pepper
  1. Place butter, flour and milk into a saucepan over low heat. Whisk with a balloon whisk to beat out the lumps. Bring it up to a gentle simmer and cook for further 10 minutes or so. The sauce will become nice and thick.
  2. Remove from heat. Grate some nutmeg into the mixture. Season to taste. I found Delia's sauce quite bland because her meat sauce would've been quite salty (she adds pancetta).
  3. Strain and keep aside.
Assembling the lasagne:
  • lasagne sheets
  • fried aubergine (if you're putting it in)
  • 200g mozarella, cubed or shredded
  1. First layer with ragu, followed by bechamel sauce then mozarella (I forgot about the mozarella in the first layer, duh).
  2. Place lasagne sheets side by side. I could only fit 4 into my dish.
  3. Start with the aubergine on the second layer. Add cream sauce and sprinkle mozarella, and lay the lasagne sheets.
  4. The final layer - meat sauce, cream sauce and finally mozarella.
  5. Bake in a preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until the mixture is bubbling and mozarella has become golden.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A "Tzi Mui" Reunion Dinner

Initially the title of this post was called "A Girlie Reunion Dinner" but did you know that "girlie" is deemed as "often offensive" and derogatory in the dictionary? Thats a bit of trivia for you. Its the eve of Chinese New Year. Traffic has been a nightmare the past few days. The ATMs are out of cash. On the plus side, I'm going to really enjoy the peace and quiet. Its only a few days in the year when KL comes to a standstill and I can actually listen to the leaves ( from the few trees that there are left) rustling in the wind. Last night, I was invited along to a reunion dinner for the girls hosted by perfection personified, the lovely Beatrice. I was so excited and had my toes and fingers crossed that she would make my favourite chocolate cupcake from Vanilla Box.

I should have guessed that "casual" to these gals is not quite how I interpret it. There I was in my crumpled white shirt, khakis and flip-flops in a room full of women with immaculate hair, flirty dresses with plunging necklines and perfectly applied make-up. Talk about thorn among the roses! Anyway, the moment we walked into the house, we were greeted by the scent of jasmine and roast pork. Its a good combination! The dining table was prettily decorated with red, black and gold. We started with yue sang from the Taman Tun markets with slivers of butter fish and just a sprinkling of finely chopped kaffir lime leaves.

For our main course, a roast loin of pork stuffed liberally with garlic and basted in chicken broth in the oven. It was amazing that the only hint of garlic in the meat is the spiciness. Otherwise, I would not have known there was enough garlic in there to ward off a whole colony of vampires. I'm not fond of this particular cut of meat in a roast as it tends to be coarse and dry if you overcook it even a tiny little bit. There is hardly any fat in it. Got to have some fat in yer meat. I reckon I would make a delicious roast. Mmmm. Anyway, to accompany the pork, caramelised sweet potatoes, potatoes and asparagus. Pork always goes well with something sweet and this was no exception. It was thoroughly delicious and satisfying! I could've had more but I was holding out for dessert! Alas, no cupcakes! So sad but we had durian cheesecake and chocolate durian cake from Bijan, cherries and Beatrice's melt-in-the-mouth almond cookies and pineapple tarts. It was definitely a different type of evening for me since my friends and I usually have such a relaxed (lepak aja) approach to entertaining. If these gals are representative of what to expect when you're 40, I look forward to it! Thank you for a lovely evening and the present (we all got one. A small Chinese brocade jewelley box with a Chinese New Year blessing inside! So thoughtful!).

I just want to wish all of you a very happy & prosperous new year. May there be peace, understanding and harmony in the world. GONG HEY FATT CHOY!!!

I leave you with a picture of Beatrice's gorgeous cat as he contemplates what it means to be a cat in the year of the rat.