Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mango Coconut Streusel Muffin

The spring's rain was relentless today. Just the right weather to stay indoors and play house! With the continuous warm days and occasional rain, the mini garden outside our house looks ready for cleaning and sowing. However said, I still prefer cooking and baking anytime to digging and planting! The pleasure of having a green thumb is better left to Curry and maybe Missy E.

I wanted to make these muffins early in the morning for breakfast but like they always say, there is no snow date nor rain check for church mass and off I went dutifully to worship my faith and made them for teatime instead.

I have always preferred muffins to cupcakes as the former can be very versatile in both sweet and also savory taste with the addition of different nuts and fruits. The fact that its texture is more denser than cupcakes makes it a substantial food for the mornings and if baked from scratch with healthy choices of ingredients, muffins is a better option than donuts or that big breakfast meal that we so easily get through the convenience of drive through windows!

There were boxes of Alphonso mangoes for sale in the Asian store and this type of mango is by far the best choice for use in baking. The flesh is smooth and feels like butter in the mouth and so juicy sweet than the usual Tommy Atkins type. Most of the neighborhood houses in Malaysia have their own mango trees and when I was a kid, I enjoyed picking mangoes from my parents' trees and I can even eat them tart and unripened, dipped in a sauce made of sugar and soy sauce.

This muffin is very tropical in nature with the combination of mango and dessicated coconut flesh. The mango was blended and pureed before being added to the batter. The presence of its juice made the muffin more moist and tender and the dessicated coconut gave it additional crunch texture. I have always liked crunchy crumbed tops and I made the streusel part more interesting by adding grated lemon rind to almond flakes and mixing them all into the flour, sugar and butter mixture. The lemon gave a subtle flavor to the whole of the muffin and the almond flakes was a lovely garnish.

Ingredients :

3/4 cup pureed mango flesh (1 large mango)
1/2 cup unsweetened dried dessicated coconut
1 cup All purpose flour
1/2 tsp Baking powder
1/4 tsp Baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp butter (room temperature)
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg

Streusel :
1 tbsp almond flakes and extra
grated rind of 1 lemon
2 tbsp sugar
1-1/2 tsp flour
1 tbsp butter (cold)

1) Preheat oven to 375F. Grease 6 muffin tins or cups.
2) To make muffin: Sift the all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.
3) Beat the butter and sugar till creamy. Add in the egg and continue to beat till combined.
4) Fold in half of the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Add the mango puree next to combine and fold in the dessicated coconut.
5) Fold in the remaining half of the flour mixture. Batter will be heavy and firm.
6) Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling 3/4 of each cup.
7) To make the streusel: Combine the 1 tbsp almond flakes, sugar, flour and lemon rind. Stir to combine evenly. Using your fingers, rub in the butter to make sure it coats the flour mixture resembling crumbs.
8) Sprinkle on top of each muffin and sprinkle extra almond slices to garnish the top part of the streusel.
9) Bake for 25 mins till the streusel is slightly brown and toothpick test comes out clean. Remove from oven and let rest in the muffin tin for 5 mins. Serve with coffee or tea.

Makes : 6 muffins

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sweet Egg Custard

I have always liked Chinese desserts. The reason is that they use very simple ingredients and the method of cooking is mostly through steaming and stewing. The varieties are not as heavy nor fattening as the Western choices which has more quantities of cream and butter.

I remember during a certain year, these type of steamed Chinese desserts got very popular in Hong Kong that you can simply find every dessert shop at every corner of the streets. Some are served cold with cuts of fruits and some preferred hot or warm, drizzled with syrup laced with ginger or cooked with palm sugar. For the past few years I have been to Hong Kong, I don't see many of these types of shops anymore and most probably the new generation prefers to eat cakes and Western desserts as I see more cake shops and bakeries.

This dessert is the easiest thing to make and the most important thing to follow closely is to strain the egg mixture to rid off the bubbles and steam at medium heat with the bowls covered with foil paper. This is very important so that the steam droplets do not have contact with the egg, or else the surface and the whole custard will come out rough with holes all over and nothing smooth about its texture! For the more health conscious, an egg white version of the same dessert can be made instead. According to the ever so informative Chinese, this dessert is said to give a better skin complexion and good for kids. It can be served both hot or cold but the texture seems to be smoother when it is hot. It is very versatile as it is neither heavy nor light, just the right kind of sweet for the palate on this sunny but cool spring day. The quantity of this recipe can be doubled.

Ingredients :
3 eggs (room temperature)
1-1/2 cup cold milk
1/3 cup cold water
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp sugar

Method :

1)Prepare steamer. Boil water.
2)Beat the eggs to combine the white & yolk. Add in the sugar and whisk till sugar dissolves.
3)Add in the milk and beat for 1 min.
4)Add in the water and beat for 1 min.
5)Strain the mixture into 4 small bowls. Slight presence of film of bubbles at the rim is alright, as long as the surface part is smooth. If bubbles appear, use a paper towel to slowly dab it.
6)When the steamer is ready, turn down heat to medium. Cover the bowls with foil and put into steamer and steam for 10 mins.
7)Toast 1/2 tsp each of white and black sesame seeds, for 1 min. Remove from heat.
8)The egg custard is done as soon as it is set and slightly wiggly. Don't over steam or else it will become tough.
9)Remove from heat and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Serve hot or refrigerate with foil cover.

Serves : 3 or 4

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

March Bento Days (5)

Kids tend to know which of their parents is the strict one and which is the easy one. I would like to think of myself as a combination of both qualities as Missy E thinks I am funny at times and yet she seldom protest when I tell her what to and not to do. On the other hand, Prince D never seems to take me nor Curry seriously and a scolding never means anything for long before he is back to his little naughty tricks! But among us two, I seem to be able to play the disciplinarian role better and perhaps I am a bit complacent but I do find that my kids behaving better without Curry around!

I was home alone with them last night. I was so ready to settle down and turned on Wall E to calm and tune them down for the evening. After a mere 30 mins, Prince D was moving around and nothing seems to tire him. I started to worry about the long trip back to Malaysia that we are planning for this November! What will he be doing during the 16 hours plus flight time? I know one thing for sure..... I will have no peace!

Not much of an idea today and I opted to pack something simple for their lunch boxes. Every kids love tomato sauce and I simply cooked some Ziti pasta and stir fried it with peas and tomato sauce. I managed to get hold of some animal shaped pasta and cooked some to decorate the Ziti pasta. These shaped pasta are more fragile as they are shaped irregularly and should be cooked on low heat to avoid them breaking up. I made some meat balls by mixing some minced beef with sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil and corn flour and pan fried them with oil. As the weather gets warmer, I serve them more fruits and lucky for me, my kids don't mind eating fruits and vegetables.
This will be the type of Bento lunches that I will likely be packing if I had to do it on a daily basis. Quick and easy saves the day!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sweet Potato Hot Cross Buns

Spring is officially here and that means Easter is near. Although I am not a devout Christian, I have faith in God and maybe I didn't fast nor give up anything during this Lent month but I just go about doing everything within my means, no less and no more! But I do observe extra kindness and forgiveness.
I attended church this morning and I was surprised that it was full house as I have never seen 3/4 of the benches filled when I was there in the past Sundays. Perhaps in this hard economic times, people must still have faith and being around the community of fellow worshippers and listening to the preaches of God's words keeps the hope for everything bullish!

Hot cross buns is similar to dinner rolls in texture and taste and it is served throughout the Christian month of Lent & Easter. I once read from somewhere that the origins of these buns are actually not from Christianity itself but from the pagan era in England where worships of signs and objects were still practiced. I am always intrigued by the evolution of a religion and the conflicting beliefs and practices that surround it, primarily because it makes me think and really ponder on what is realistic, common sense and implausible. And living with a man of science who seems to believe that science makes more sense than religion adds to my curiosities!

I tweaked the original recipe of plain hot cross buns by using up a sweet potato that I bought more than 1 week ago which was lying on my countertop. In the midst of mixing everything, I forgot to include the raisins and I only realized after the dough was kneaded and let to rest and rise! The sweet potato added a very nice yellowish orange color to the buns and it yields a nice crust and velvety soft texture to the bun itself.

The dough itself must be allowed to rest and rise for at least 2 hours and I made mine the night before and let it rested, covered with cling film to keep the moisture in. It expanded more than 2 times its original size and I punched it down like other bread making process and from there, divided the dough into 15 balls weighing around 50gm each. You will need a rectangular sized deep dish baking pan for these buns and greased with butter before placing the buns inside. The buns were placed 1/2 inches apart and 3 in one row. They were then allowed to rest and expand again for 2 hours till all of them filled up the gaps between them and create a dome on the surface for the cross shape to be piped in. These buns are suitable for freezing and reheated in the oven anytime you need it. The buns turned out very good in texture but not sweet as I forgotten to add the raisins and I reduced the amount of sugar. They are good as afternoon snack buns too when drizzled with syrup and I added the poppy seeds for extra color.

Ingredients :
1 sweet potato (around 400gm)
4 cups water

3-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp yeast
1 tsp cinnamon spice
1/2 tsp nutmeg spice
4 tbsp butter (1/4 cup) (room temperature)
1/2 cup of sweet potato water (warm)

1 tsp poppy seeds
6 tbsp all purpose flour
6 tbsp water

Method :

1)Clean and cut the sweet potato in chunks. Boil in the 4 cups of water for 20 mins till soft for mashing. Mash and leave aside. Reserve 1/2 cups of the boiling water.

2)Sift the flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix in the yeast and sugar.

3)Use hands to rub butter into the flour mixture till it resembles fine crumbs.

4)Add the mashed potato into the flour and butter mixture. Use a spatula as it gets very messy and slightly sticky. Put the mixture into the mixer bowl and use the hook attachment to knead for 5 mins.

5)Add in the sweet potato water slowly till all the mixture forms a dough.

6)Dust hands and the countertop with flour and take out the dough and knead for 5 mins. Sprinkle flour as you knead till the dough is no longer sticky. Scatter flour all over the bowl and shape the dough into a ball and let rest and rise for 2 hours till double the size. Cover with cling film.

7)Grease a deep dish baking pan with butter. Remove dough and punch down again. Divide and shape into 12 to 15 balls. Arrange 1/2 inches apart in the baking pan. Cover with cling film and let rest for another 2 hours.

8)Preheat oven to 400F. Mix the flour with the water to make paste. Spoon mixture into a small plastic bag and snip the corner. Pipe the cross shapes onto the buns. Sprinkle with poppy seeds.

9)Bake for 15 to 18 mins, rotating the pan at interval of 10 mins. Remove from oven and let cool.

Makes : 15

Friday, March 20, 2009

Corned Beef with Potato & Carrot

Packaged corned beef were on sale during St. Patrick's Day week and I couldn't resist the deal and had to buy a pack. Although I am not Irish, I am quite open to all types of cuisine and during my stay in England, I have eaten more steak and kidney pud and fish & chips than anyone else! To us who lives in America, we associate the English and Irish as one but over in the UK, they do really emphasize their differences. However said, I think British and Irish food are very homey in taste and I like the idea that they are usually very simple and cooked over a long period of time to fully release the flavor of the meat or vegetable itself.

I grew up with the type of corned beef that comes in a can and I still like it till this day. Not a very healthy choice due to added preservatives and salt but still very helpful when I have nothing to cook for dinner. Corned beef is actually the brisket cut of the cow and brined in salt. To rid of the saltiness, the whole brisket cut can be blanched in boiling water before the actual cooking with the accompanying ingredients but I simply rinsed mine under running cold water. I just omitted adding any more salt to this dish.

I like that the color of this meat stays red throughout the long cooking and very easy to slice into thin slices. The original version of this dish is served with boiled cabbage or sometimes brussel sprouts. I don't like either and used red baby potatoes and carrots only. For the herbs, I combined minced rosemary and thyme and sauteed them with onion and garlic. Although the results of this dish looks plain, the taste is very clean and uncomplicated.

Ingredients :

2 lbs corned Beef or Beef Brisket meat

1 large yellow onion, sliced

5 garlic cloves, sliced

3 tsp of rosemary and thyme, minced

1 tsp of black pepper

2 cups of Low Sodium Beef Broth (Use usual Beef broth if using plain brisket)

2 cups of water

5 carrots (halved)

8 small red potatoes, skin peeled

Method :

1)Heat 2 tbsp cooking oil in a pot. Saute the onion, garlic and herbs for 3 minutes.

2)Add in the beef broth and pepper and turn on the heat till boiling.

3)Put in the corned beef and lower the heat to medium low and let simmer for 30 mins. Turn the brisket around and spoon some of the softened onion to cover the top part. Add the 2 cups of water and continue to simmer.

4)After 30 mins, turn the brisket around again and simmer further for another 30 mins.

5)Add in the potatoes and carrots and continue to simmer for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat.

6)Spoon out the brisket and let rest for 5 mins. Slice to serving sizes, yields from 7 to 9 slices.

7)Serve with the potatoes, carrots and gravy sauce.

Serves: 3 persons

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Scallion & Sesame seed Pancake

According to my close friend Crazymommy, making these pancakes is very easy. I would say it is not wholly easy, at least the making of the dough and rolling part required alot of time and I think I did the rolling process too much that my scallion ended up mostly on the outside of the pancake and not inside! Or was it supposed to be like that? I had eaten this once or twice but never really observe on what it looked like.

Despite for the fact that scallion is so easy to grow and I have onions in hand all the time, I get it at the grocery store every week. One interest that I am lacking is gardening and I am totally clueless on how to rake or clean the dirt for plants! Perhaps I should make Curry and Missy E grow me some starting this spring, knowing that they were so excited after their pea and tomato plants actually produced last year! Perhaps this year I should make a herb garden their project.

The Chinese people uses a great deal of scallion in their cooking and we use it in soups, steamed dishes and sometimes fried with eggs. Most of the time, it makes the dishes more fragrant and also enhances the color as well as the taste of the main dish and it can keep in the fridge for at least a week's period.

Most of the scallion pancake recipes do not have sesame seeds in it. The fact that this dough is very versatile and sturdy to contain any types of dry fillings makes different varieties of fillings possible. I added baking powder to the flour in hope that the dough will turn out light and slightly puffy when cooked. Original recipes don't use any type of leavener. The result was that the texture was slightly like bread texture rather than very thin flat piece of pan fried flour. The outer part was crisp and a coat of vegetable oil must cover the frying pan but not to the point of soaking the flattened dough during the pan frying. At first, I tried to avoid too much oil by simply brushing oil on the frying pan and the inside of the pancake was not cooked thoroughly. After adding more oil, the next batch were better and they browned and cooked evenly.

I would have served these pancakes with plain soy sauce and any type of sauces can be used. Thanks to Curry and the kids, they finished up the whole plate before dinner time. Perhaps it should only be served as snack but I was hoping to slowly savor each slice at dinner time, knowing that it took me alot of effort and time to make them. What I was left with was the doillie paper! Hmmmm.

Ingredients :
1-1/2 cup All Purpose Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt
3/4 cup boiling water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Extra vegetable oil
3/4 cup scallions, cut to small pieces (around 5 stalks of leaves)
2 tbsp slightly toasted white sesame seeds

Method :

1)Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.
2)Make a well in the middle and pour in hot water. Use spatula to bring in the flour from sides of bowl and mix in. Add in the 1 tbsp vegetable oil. Knead for 5 mins. Divide to 6 to 8 balls of equal sizes. Cover with cling film and let rest for 30 mins.
3)Roll out each ball to a circle and brush with vegetable oil. Sprinkle with some scallion and sesame seeds.
4)Roll from bottom edge nearest to you all the way up to enclose the filling and pinch the sides. Turn the rolled up dough vertical and roll up to a tight coil and turn it flat on the surface. Using fingers, press out from the middle and roll out with rolling pin to a circle again.
5)Brush with extra vegetable oil and sprinkle with some more sesame seeds (can be omitted). Roll up and flatten again as in Step (4). Repeat with all the dough balls.
6)Heat 2 tbsp of vegetable oil in frying pan. Pan fry the flattened dough for 5 to 8 minutes each, turning both sides. Dish up and let rest on kitchen paper towel to absorb grease.
7)Cut to quarters. Serve with soy sauce or any sauce of your choice.

Makes: 6 to 8 pancakes

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lemon Almond Cakes with Strawberry glaze

Such a good day today. While Missy E was at school, Prince D was able to kick his ball outside the house while I day dream away about nothing! Spring can make me a lazy person, perhaps the effect of the feel good factor seeing the snow melting, birds chirping and buds popping! Come summer, I will just lie in the sun and melt away my fats. What a life!

Anyways, I was in the urge to bake something or rather guilty for not doing anything. A dear friend offered to drive Missy E to a class birthday party in the afternoon and I thought these little cakes will be the perfect token of my appreciation.

I bought 2 mini cake pans during my trip to New Jersey last December and haven't got a chance to use them. My weakness is kitchen goods, be it a wacky gadget or beautiful dish plate, I can spend hours in a kitchen goods store besides the book stores. Every year when I start spring cleaning, I cannot believe how many things I have amassed over the year and sometimes I just forget I ever own something. Sometimes I think my small kitchen is a blessing or else I will go bankrupt trying to slot in and stuff the kitchen cupboards with hoards of things!

I always love lemon and lime. Their citrusy sourness and lingering sweet smell simply perks up every cooking. Poppy seed lemon cake is a very nice thing to eat but I thought perhaps adding nuts to the cake and taking the poppy seeds out but not completely will do better. This cake was very different from the cakes I normally eat. The outer part has a crust like texture, actually like biting into a biscuit and yet the inside is made up of soft cakey crumbs. I added toasted almond slices to the lemon cake batter and made up a strawberry glaze for the cakes. These mini cakes are just perfect for afternoon tea. The recipe yields one loaf pan size cake or around 26 mini cakes, similar to the smallest muffin cups size.

Ingredients :

1-1/3 cup Cake flour
1-1/2 tsp Baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs (separated & room temperature)
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup skim milk
2/3 cup of sliced almond
2 tbsp lemon juice
grated rind of 1 lemon

5 large strawberries
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp poppy seeds
2 tbsp icing sugar


1)Beat the butter and sugar till creamy. Add in the egg yolks one at a time and beat till mixed evenly.
2)Add the lemon rind and juice next and continue to mix for 1 min.
3)Sift the flour and baking powder together. Alternating with the milk, add each into the lemon batter in 3 batches by folding in with spatula. Batter will be heavy.
4)Scatter the almond into the batter and stir.
5)Preheat oven to 350F. Grease the baking pans or mini muffin cups.
6)Beat egg whites till stiff peaks. Take 1 scoop of the egg white and fold into the cake batter. Notice that the batter will become lighter. Add in the rest of the egg white and fold in just to combine everything.
7)Spoon the cake batter into the baking pan or muffin tins, filling just 2/3 full.
8)Bake for 25 minutes, till slightly brown. Let cool on cake rack.
9)Puree the strawberries and add the lemon juice. Strain.
10)Dissolve the icing sugar with 1 tbsp water. Add into the strained strawberry juice.
11)Drizzle on top of the cakes and sprinkle with poppy seeds.

Serves : 6 persons

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March Bento Days (4)

One week gone and another Bento comes! These days, I tend to be very lazy and perhaps exhausted running around with Prince D and his potty time that I simply have no ideas on what to create in the kitchen. So, I think Bento lunches can help me work my brain a bit after all those false alarm and cleaning up after his mini accidents!
I like making these kids Bento boxes because I can create a lot of things in small versions and the varieties are endless. I cannot bake as much every week for fear of packing up on all the butter and sugar on my already not so ideal weight and doing other types of specific dishes requires extra shopping and preparation.

Today's Bento lunches was not planned and I thought I have abandoned my blog and kitchen for a bit too long now for the sake of my little boy! Not that he is not important but I treat my kitchen and cooking more as a therapeautic getaway from all the daily hullabaloo of 2 young kids and all the chopping and clanking of the utensils and pots kind of sooth my nerves. Strange.... but true!

I just took what I had in the fridge and cupboard and made up something. Although I am very bad in making rolled sushi, I haven't given up hope yet. I pan fried a large omelette from 2 eggs and wrapped the rice inside. Yellow is a very bright and fresh color for Bento boxes and it can perk up any boring looking dish. The omelette was first made and let cooled to room temperature and I used the bamboo rolling mat by first covering the surface with cling film before laying down the omelette. As soon as the rice was cooked, it was spooned onto the omelette and I put in some long green beans which were then immediately rolled up and allowed time to rest before cutting.
I have used goji berries in my soup making but never thought of using it in other types of cooking. These berries are said to pack a great amount of Beta Carotene which is good for the eyes and I have been eating it since young, although sad to say, I still ended up wearing glasses due to too much TV. Its bright red is very pretty and although nothing exceptional in taste about it, the seeds inside it is very fun to chew on. Goji berries have been very popular in Western baking these past 2 years and I hope to explore more on its possibilities in my kitchen creations.

Once a while, I come across very cute stuffs in my local grocery and I bought a pack of this Laughing cows cube cheese, which was the right size for the Bento boxes. The thing I like about it is that it doesn't need to stay in the fridge as with other fresh cheeses and the kids love its soft and creamy texture. And one thing..... I love the Laughing cow design on the packaging too, save me the time of making another character face. I love the dragonfly and frog punches that I got for a $1 at the local craft store. Pity though, I can only punch nori with them but nothing else.

Contents of Kids' Bento Boxes :

Omelette wrapped rice & long beans, Goji berries

Cubed cheese, tomato, cauliflower & grapes, carrot

Sausages & Ham with Peas

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

March Bento Days (3)

Yesterday was a hectic day. From day to night,it seemed that I didn't even have time to sit down and sip a cup of tea. Sometimes, a day's happenings makes you run around like a wild goose and by the end of the day, you cannot really recall what you did. But I am just glad everything is ok and here I am making my Bento without a hitch and I hope today will be all new and yesterday's news is all past.

Got up early this morning and it is a very dull and gloomy day. After the snow, came the rain. Waited for the sun to rise to get that natural light flowing into my kitchen window and yet the sky looked the same from 6.30 till now, which is almost 9am!

I made a spring theme Bento today. Missy E is staying back in school during lunch time and thought she might like a little pick me up, knowing that her school will not go out and play today.

As I was lacking natural light, the pictures didn't turn out good. After thousands of photo takings, I still cannot handle the tripod and I don't like taking pictures when there is no natural light. At first I thought of skipping this post entirely, but yet it will be a waste not to chronicle every bento that I made for my kids. Perhaps some people can do scrapbooking and keep their kids photos in beautiful and chronicled order, I can never do that as I am not that organized. But I would like to see my kids looking back at their Bento and comment on them.

Contents of Missy E's bento Box:

Rice flavored & colored with beet root juice
Ham and quail egg
Fruits and vegetables
Bees: made with cheese & nori
Butterfly: made with ham, nori & fish cake
Flowers: made with ham & cheese

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Murtabak (Stuffed Meat Pancake)

Such a beautiful weekend day today! Ground snow melting, sunshine on my face and I am down to 2 layers of clothing. Despite the lost hour sleep due to the change of clock time, I was not complaining . Spring will be here very soon and I can't wait to bring my camera outside to snap some blue skies and flower buds.

Contrary to some thoughts, I am not a very big eater of rice and the 2 dishes with 1 soup mealtime requirement of the Chinese family. Curry is a very typical Cantonese bloke who was nourished by his parents' daily soups that were supposed to keep him healthy. And until I married him, I have never drank so much soup nor made it in my life. I prefer light meals with as little ingredients as possible and I can happily survive on sandwiches for dinner.

As the days get warmer, I long for something light that doesn't fill me up and knowing that it is time that I shed off the extra pounds that were piled up during the winter months!

This pancake is available throughout Malaysia and Singapore and usually eaten during breakfast and tea time at Indian Muslim restaurants, served with a small plate of watery lentil curry or chunky piece of meat in curry gravy. The dough is stretched very thin and cooked on a flat hot surface. When I am back on vacation in Malaysia, I always have the plain version of this pancake known as Roti Canai and seldom try the Murtabak. So, for dinner tonight, I needed something more substantial with a meat filling and I also cooked up some potato curry as side dish to go along with it.

The idea to make this came from a cookbook that I borrowed from my friend, CrazyMommy. Although I have numerous cookbooks, sometimes I don't see recipes that I want to see and never able to locate a recipe I want when I needed it! With luck, CrazyMommy's recipe book was flaunting at my face when I went over for a playdate.

Although I was not a champion in stretching thin and flipping the dough like those they make in the restaurants, I tried my best with my small rolling pin and pinch and pull technics of my fingers. Surprisingly, I avoided alot of tears by pinching and pulling from the sides of the dough and go anti-clockwise motion as I went along. The meat filling consists of minced beef cooked with onion and ginger with spices and cooked separately while the dough has been shaped to balls and rested for 2 hours. The addition of cumin powder with garam masala gives the filling a slight spicy kick and the pancake itself was slightly sweet from the addition of sugar. Murtabak must be served warm as it hardens after a while.

The recipe was adapted from the cookbook titled 'Malaysian Hawker Favourites' by Periplus.

In addition to 150gm of all purpose flour, I added 50 gm of bread flour. I thought this would give a better stretchiness to the overall dough. The addition of sugar is a must to give the pancake a contrasting taste to the meat filling which is slightly spicy and savory. I melted my butter to very soft mushy texture before adding it to the flour with the milk added lastly to gather up to make the dough. Kneading with hands will be best and at least 8 minutes of elbow grease to make the dough light and elastic. The dough was then divided into 5 balls, which was then oiled and let to rest for 2 hours. I used vegetable oil and left the dough balls inside the dark oven.

I am pretty sure that this cookbook was written by and for the Western market as it required cumin powder and garam masala. In Malaysia, all we do is add the widely available concocted curry powder to the meat and cook away. Ground cumin is a very lovely spice that gives the distinctive aroma to the curry powder while garam masala contributes more to the taste rather than smell. I skipped the addition of the chopped chilli so that Missy E can enjoy something different from her usual rice and soup dishes. And not forgetting Prince D who must have everything we have! I find the original recipe of adding one egg to each pancake filling too outrageous and just used one beaten egg for the whole meat filling.

The rolling and stretching part of the dough took some time. I just took each ball and squished them first with my fingers to flatten them. This makes the dough spreads out to the sides and when I started rolling them with the rolling pin, the middle part would thin out easily. Continue pinching the edges as thin as possible. The meat filling was then spooned into the middle part and the dough was folded from both horizontal and vertical edges to form a parcel shape. Using a non stick pan drizzled with vegetable oil, each pancake was pan-fried on low heat for 5 mins on each side till slightly charred. The cooked pancakes were then cut to quarter sections and served with the potato curry.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sweet Meat Pastry

I am a big fan of Dim Sum dishes. Savory or sweet, I gladly try and enjoy every and each of them. But as with all types of restaurant served food loaded with fat, grease and oil, Dim sum is not a group of food that should be eaten on a daily basis. Even the skinniest person can get high cholesterol from eating too much of these delectable delights.

As dumplings and steamed morsels in their nice bamboo steamers are always the stars of Dim Sum and get carted out everytime, I usually forget or don't have room anymore for this type of pastries. Chinese pastries are more complicated in the making as it contains 2 types of dough rolled and shaped together and the filling for the pastries are normally cooked separately before inserting them into the pastry shell. This means alot of work and patience when making the dough and from what I experienced from making this pastries today, I will gladly pay for it on my next Dim Sum trip!

This pastry usually contain chinese BBQ roast pork and known as 'Char Siew Shou' in Chinese Cantonese. I didn't have any available and went on to marinate pork rib meat with numerous flavorings that roughly resembles the taste of the BBQ roast pork. Chinese cooking usually uses lard but I skipped it and used vegetable shortening instead and I didn't use butter this time as butter always has a lingering smell over the dish that it is cooked with, hence I didn't want this pastry to smell buttery like Western pastries. The combination of both water and oil dough makes it flaky and light and slightly crisp when bite into. I have a weakness in judging on the amount of filling and can never get a uniform size of all the pastries but the most important thing is not to put too much and to make sure the edges are sealed tight. The meat filling is moist and sweet as sugar was added. The main flavoring sauce for the meat was oyster flavored sauce and together with the sugar, the presence of sweet and salty were well combined. I added a cube of Chinese fermented tofu ('Nam Yue') for extra moisture and taste.

The time consuming part was the rolling and shaping of the dough. The water dough appeared to be more wetter and heavier with the addition of an egg and the oil dough was more dry and crumbly. You will need constant dusting of flour on both the countertop surface and rolling pin and if the triangle shape is too much, a roll up shape can be attempted too. And to get a nice shape, some trimmings with the knife is required and once the filling is inserted and the edges of the pastry is sealed, use the rolling pin to gently push in the perimeters of the triangles so they slightly puff up in the middle part. Egg wash needs to be applied before and during the baking to get the right brownish crust color.

This Recipe was Adapted from a cookbook with some variations

400 gm pork rib meat, cut into small chunks OR Chinese BBQ roasted pork ('Char Siew')
1/2 of a small shallot, grated
2 tbsp Oyster Flavored Sauce
1 tbsp Dark Soy Sauce
1/2 tbsp Sesame oil
2 tbsp Sugar
1 cube of Chinese Fermented Tofu (red 'Nam Yue')
1/3 cup water
1 tbsp corn flour
3 tbsp water

1)Marinate the meat with all the other ingredients except the cornflour & 3 tbsp water for 2 hours or overnight in the fridge.
2)Use a food processor and blend the meat mixture on an off and pulse mode for 10 seconds but not blended to puree form.
3)Heat the cooking pan with some cooking oil and pan fry the meat contents for 10 to 12 minutes, till meat is cooked. Mix corn flour and water to make starch and stir into the meat and cook for 3 mins till all moisture is absorbed and the filling is thick. Let cool .

Ingredients :
Water dough
1-1/2 cup flour
5 tbsp vegetable shortening (80gm)
2 tbsp sugar
1 egg (room temperature)

1)Beat the shortening with the sugar till combined. Add in the egg and continue to mix.
2)Fold in the flour and the dough will form. Knead with hands till combined evenly.
3)Form into balls (Makes 1 dozen)

Oil Dough
1-3/4 cup flour
5 tbsp vegetable shortening (80gm)

1)Rub the shortening into the flour, as in making pastry tarts.
2)The dough will be crumbly and sticky. Dust hands with extra flour when dividing and forming into balls. (Makes 1 dozen)

To make the pastries:
1)Roll out each ball of water dough to a square. Put a ball of oil dough on top of it and gently squish with your fingers so the oil dough sticks to the water dough. Gently roll out to the same size as the water dough.
2)Fold the dough 2 times and turn it vertical and fold twice again. Roll out to a square again.
3)Repeat the folding part and turn it vertical again and fold twice again. Roll out to square again.
4)Use a teaspoon to fill the middle part of the dough and join one corner with the opposite facing corner of the dough to enclose the filling. Pinch the seams and sides to seal in and place on a greased pan or use a baking pan lined with parchment paper.
5)Repeat with all the remaining balls of water and oil dough.
6)Preheat oven to 375F.
7)Beat one egg and brush on top of each pastry. Sprinkle with white sesame seeds.
8)Bake for 20 mins. At 10 mins interval, take out pastry and apply more egg wash and rotate the pans. Check at the last 3 mins if the pastry has brown perfectly, if not, apply more egg wash.
9)Remove from heat and cool on racks.

Makes : 12 to 14 (depending on preferred size)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

March Bento Days (1) & (2)

It is finally March and instead of warmer days, we got a March Northeaster Snow dump! If you ask me, I would say the weather these days is pretty erratic, one day it got warm and I swear that I saw flower buds and squirrels scurrying around and the next thing you know, the icy wind is blowing right into your face and chilling down to the bones. And of course, the snow fall took the last laugh.

I was off doing nothing on cooking and blogging for the past week due to motherly duties that I must attend to. Potty training Prince D took up my entire days and I loathed this process the most after childbirth. Amidst all the running and hurrying to the bathroom, I managed to lose 2 lbs and at least that was the bright side of things. Children experts still failed to explain to me why toddlers are so smart in imitating us in everything we do or say and yet going to the potty is such an alien thing.
I wanted to introduce more types of vegetables to my kids and this time I got a bunch of red radish. We do not normally have red radish except when we have salad outside the house and frankly speaking, it doesn't really taste good without the Ranch dressing! Partly due to the fact that it taste really raw in the bite and the slight bitterness may not sit in well with kids' palates. But I like its small size and of course, its bright red color. Perhaps I should go figure on how to cook it with other ingredients to make it more interesting. Till then, I will entice my kids to taste it as it is.

Curry was feeling a little bit under the weather due to the snow shovelling and I think he was over-stressed for staying at home with the kids and me for the continuous 3 days of the weekend. Something about my kids, they misbehave alot when their father is around and the atmosphere in the house is always rowdy with either one screaming or the other crying or both running happily up and down the 3 flight of stairs in my house with the energy and strength of monkeys! But once in a while, I think this type of off-day for Curry is good to me, at least he knows that staying home with kids is not easy and give me a break when I need one. And so I made him something simple, without the extra oil or fat while the kids get all the fun of eating crispy pan fried fish patties and a side dipping of Ranch dressing to go along with their radish.

Contents of Curry's Bento Box

Deep fried tofu pouches (Inari), stuffed with rice and garnished with black sesame seeds. Rolled up omelette with steamed tofu, stuffed with fish paste and corn & peas.

I made the fish paste from mahi mahi , which was mixed and processed with cornstarch, pepper & salt together with egg white. It was then piped into the cavities that I made on the tofu pieces and wiped with some cornstarch so it sticks during the steaming process.

Contents of the Kids' Bento Boxes

Rice balls with pasta for the hair part. Pan fried fish patties with steamed broccoli and cauliflower. Radish, baby tomato wedges,strawberry together with peas and corn completed the box.

As expected Missy E didn't like the radish at first bite until I offered her the Ranch dressing and she happily dipped and gobbled away. The fish patties were the same fish paste I used for Curry's stuffed tofu, but I added a bit more cornflour to it and coated it with egg and breadcrumb before pan frying them on low heat.

The character in Missy E's box didn't turn out very good this time as the rice was a bit disintegrated when I was shaping it and once it was in the box, I couldn't be bothered to dig it out and fix it. But I like how the black squid ink pasta made up the hair part with the 2 cut out flower shapes from the spinach flavored pasta and usual pasta. I got a pack of mixed pasta from a specialty store and once in a while I get lucky to see these products which can really spruce up any Bento.

Prince D looks exactly like the character in his Bento Box when I tell him to go potty. I wonder how long do I have to train him and I am dying to see that moment when he automatically goes by himself and I can say bye bye to diapers!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Custard Bun

It has been some time since I last baked bread and buns. After I discovered and tried out the Hot Water Roux method, I always wonder if I can also make pillowy soft buns without using it.

I have another bread & bun recipe book that supposedly tells on how the Japanese bakeries make their bread. Until they have an English title, I am not sure what is the title.

Unlike the water roux method bread, this recipe used more liquid and yeast to leaven the dough. And it took more time to let the dough rest and rise.

The making of the dough is an easy combination of bread flour, yeast, milk powder, salt together with water, egg, vegetable oil and butter. Perhaps my jar of yeast has been in the fridge too long, I didn't see much rising and doubling in the volume of the dough during the resting period. After I shaped them and inserted the custard, I turned on the oven to the lowest heat temperature available, which was 200F and let the shaped buns rise in the warm oven for a further 50 mins. They expanded quickly and the dough felt more lighter and puffed up.

I made the custard filling the night before I made the bread dough. Perhaps there was no custard powder called for, my custard seems to be more liquid than gooey as those sold in stores. The custard was a mixture of milk, egg and extra egg yolks with cornstarch and flour added together with vanilla flavoring and sugar. The milk was first heated slightly and both flour stirred in till dissolved. The eggs and sugar were beaten at high speed in the mixer and the warm milk mixture was then added. After 2 mins beating, the mixture was then returned to the heat and butter and vanilla were added. The cooking process took some time as I used slow heat to avoid over cooking and burning the custard. The custard thickened but not to the firm stage that I expected. It was then refrigerated till slightly firm, similar to jam consistency.

The bread dough was first divided into portions of 50gm each, which looked small initially but felt heavy. They were then rested for another 1 hour before the custard was spooned into each one. As the filling was a bit soft, I used the dumpling method by spooning and spreading the custard in the middle of the rolled out dough and gathered and pinched to seal up the dough. They were then turn upside down, with the smooth part facing up and with both hands, I shaped the buns further in an anti-clockwise motion and gently flatten the top . The recipe yield a total of 12 buns and I let them rest and rise further for 50 mins before egg washing and baking them at a preheated oven of 400F for 15 mins. Some of the custard inside the buns actually oozed out during the baking but didn't affect the quality of the buns at all. They must be cooled completely on the cookie rack as eating them straight out of the oven was not an option with the kids as the filling is piping hot and the bun itself needs time to firm up a little at room temperature.

The texture of the bun turned out very soft and to tell the truth, I think more lighter than the ones I made with the hot water roux method. At first I thought the requirement of one tablespoon of yeast was too much but I guess that it served to make the bread dough rises more and produces a lighter texture. One thing that I don't really like about the recipe book is that all its ingredients are listed in the weight form and I had to measure all my liquid on the scale instead of using the cups or baking spoons. But that is how serious bakers and pastry chefs do it and I just had to do the extra work of measuring with everything and converting the numbers to the cups and spoons equivalent. Imagine me measuring 18 gm of yeast.... how much is that when my own scale starts from 25gm ! So I still think the 1 tbsp of yeast was too much!