An apology, and some onde onde.

I’ve been an AWFUL blogger lately. I’ve almost completely ignored the blog, and I’m honestly surprised that people even still visit (thank you for visiting!). Apologies to everyone, but because I’m now a student again, I suspect my blog posts this year will be more sporadic than usual… there was a reason why I only started my blog after I graduated after all! Having said that, I’ll be making some changes to the way I blog to maximise the number of posts I’m able to produce.

It all sounds rather lame, but I’ve been rather preoccupied lately, and not just with my attempts to study (which are supplemented by large quantities of coffee, tea and snacks). I’ve been pondering what we should do after this year, and it’s all boiled down to ‘should we leave, or should we stay?’. As most of you know, I grew up in Malaysia and moved to England some years ago for educational reasons. But now, 9 years later, I must admit the time has come where I’m thinking it might just be time to move back closer to home… Age does funny things to you, eh? ;)

But of course, admist all this pondering, a girl still has to eat. And a girl will still have random cravings for food.

My latest food cravings have mainly been centered on food from home. I think it’s because I’m missing home, and the closest thing to “transport” me home (apart from a 15 hour flight) is the food I grew up eating.

Onde-onde is a Malaysian snack which most Malaysians know and love. It’s made from a few key “Malaysian” ingredients – aromatic pandan (screwpine) leaves, grated fresh coconut, and palm sugar. It’s not all too dissimilar to glutinous rice balls (tang yuan), as it’s also made from glutinous rice flour. The only difference is that instead of using water to make the dough, you use “pandan juice”, which is extracted by whizzing the pandan leaves with water.

The pandan juice makes the onde-onde appear a vibrant “kermit” style green colour, and no there’s no food colouring used here! It’s all natural, and because the pandan leaves are so fragrant, you get the most wonderul aroma from these little morsels of deliciousness.

Onde-onde are filled with palm sugar which melts during the cooking process. The sugar bursts out in an explosion of flavour when you bite into them, and you must be careful to not eat them when they’re too hot as you might very well scald your tongue! This sweet liquid, combined with the chewy glutinous covering and flaky grated coconus truly provides an excellent combination of textures that is typical of onde-onde. My only gripe about making onde-onde is the grating/chopping of the palm sugar which can be tiresome, as I buy them in large blocks. I always fear for my fingertips when I am chipping away at the palm sugar blocks!

If you’re a fan of mochi or tang yuan – do try this, and provided you like coconut I am certain you will love onde-onde.

Onde-onde
Makes approximately 20-24 balls, depending on size

  • 250 glutinous rice flour
  • 10 pandan (screwpine) leaves
  • 190 ml water – use 200ml water if you are not using the coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp coconut milk (optional)
  • 70g palm sugar (chopped or grated into fine pieces)
  • 150g dessicated coconut
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt

1. Using a food processor, whizz the pandan leaves with the water. Strain the mixture, squeezing as much liquid out of the leaves as you can. This is the pandan “juice” that you will use to form your onde-onde dough.
2. In a large bowl, mix the pandan juice (and the coconut milk, if using) with the glutinous rice flour. Knead the mixture until it forms a smooth dough. Although it may initially seem like you don’t have enough liquid in the dough, resist the temptation to add in too much extra water, as it will make your dough too soft (which later leads to difficulties in wrapping the palm sugar).
3. Pinch off a round of dough, and flatten it in your palm. Place a teaspoon of chopped palm sugar in the centre of the dough, wrap it up carefully, then roll it lightly to form a round. Do be delicate when doing this as it doesn’t take much to break the skin of the onde-onde. Be sure to seal the dough tightly, or it may burst during the cooking process and cause the sugar to leak out.
4. Repeat until all the onde-onde dough has been used up.
5. Boil water in a medium sized pan. Cook the onde-onde in the boiling water. They are ready when they float to the surface of the water.
6. Whilst the onde-onde are cooking, mix the dessicated coconut with the salt in a shallow bowl. Set aside.
7. Remove the onde-onde from the water, and roll it in the dessicated coconut mixture.
8. Leave to cool slightly (the melted palm sugar is hot!), then eat.

‘Nduja puffs

‘Nduja. What is it? Well, up till about a week ago I had no idea, but now I know… and I’m hooked.

‘Nduja (pronounced n-du-ya) is basically a ready to eat spreadable spicy sausage, made with pork. It is unique to the Calabria region of Italy, and is said to be the Calabrian version of salami. The name ‘nduja originates from the French word “andouille”, which means “sausage”.

Photo courtesy of Unearthed

‘Nduja is made with various parts of pork (including the shoulder, belly, tripe and jowl) and hot red peppers. The abundance of red peppers make the ‘nduja rather spicy, but thankfully it doesn’t make your mouth feel like it’s on fire… on the contrary, it has a rather pleasant aftertaste of pepper heat.

There are many ways to eat this spicy sausage – as it is spreadable, it can be used as a spread for bread or crackers (or you can eat it with a spoon, like I did). However, it is much more than a spicy sausage spread – it can be used to season a range of foods, and I’ve even seen it used as a crust for baked fish!

Unearthed kindly sent me a sample of ‘nduja, and invited me to take part in a ‘nduja recipe challenge. Along with four other (very talented) bloggers, I had to come up with an innovative way to cook ‘nduja…. and I definitely had fun trying to figure out what to do with it (apart from snacking on it, that is)!

I was inspired by one of my favourite Malaysian snacks when trying to figure out how to use the ‘nduja – the humble curry puff. Curry puffs are small ‘pies’/puffs filled with a spicy curry chicken and potato mix. They are traditionally deep dried, and are not all that dissimilar to empanadas. I think most Malaysian kids grew up snacking on these, and it’s definitely something that reminds me of home. I do seem to be more sentimental about home lately – and as a result always try to cook things that remind me of home.

But I digress. Back to the ‘nduja. Instead of using curry powder and chillies to flavour my puff fillings, I used ‘nduja… and I must say that it turned out really well! I also happened to have some leftover roast chicken in my fridge, so I added it to the potato and ‘nduja mixture.

I must admit to sneaking quite a lot of the puff fillings in the process of making these ‘nduja puffs – it was ridiculously addictive and I kept on dipping my spoon into the bowl to eat more mouthfuls of the spicy potato mixture. Thankfully I’d intentionally made more filing that I would need, maybe I foresaw my snacking! ;)

But yes, ‘nduja and me, we have become fast friends. If you haven’t tried it, do look out for it the next time you’re grocery shopping (I believe the Unearthed ‘nduja is currently available in Waitrose, you may also find ‘nduja in specialty Italian delis) – I suspect you’ll like it as much as I do. :)

And of course, if you do like my recipe, please vote for it on the Unearthed Facebook page here. Thank you! The prize is a selection of Unearthed goodies and a KitchenAid blender – something I’ve been yearning for for a long time now!

‘Nduja puffs
Makes approximately 30 puffs

For the filling:

  • 2 potatoes, peeled and diced into 5mm cubes
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 60g ‘nduja (I used Unearthed ‘nduja)
  • 30g cooked chicken, shredded (optional)
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp corn oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

For the pastry:

  • 500g puff pastry (storebought)
  • 1 egg, beaten (for glazing)

To make the filling:
1. Heat oil in a pan over medium high heat. Fry the diced onion until they start to brown and become fragrant.
2. Add the diced potatoes and smoked paprika. Fry for 10-15 minutes, until they start to soften.
3. Add the ‘nduja and chicken (if using) to the pan. Use your spatula to break up the ‘nduja into smaller pieces to ensure they are distributed throughout the potato mixture. Cook for a further 5 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through.
4. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Set aside. The filling will need to cool before the puffs can be assembled.

To assemble the ‘nduja puffs:
6. Roll out the puff pastry to a thickness of 5mm. Cut 3 inch circles from the pastry until all the puff pastry has been used up.
7. Hold a pastry round in one hand, and place 1 tablespoon of the ‘nduja/potato filling in the centre of the circle of pastry. Fold into a half moon shape, and press the edges together to form a tight seal.
8. Crimp the edges of the pastry.
9. Repeat until all the puff pastry is used up. If you do not wish to eat all the puffs in one go, you can refrigerate or freeze them for future use.

To cook the ‘nduja puffs:
10. Heat the oven to 190’C.
11. Lightly beat an egg in a bowl, and glaze the puffs lightly with egg.
12. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the pastry puffs up and turns golden brown. Eat warm.

Milo ice cream

Every so often, I make something that makes me REALLY excited and happy. If you recall, I received an ice cream maker from the Fairy Hobmother not so long ago, and I was itching to make some ice cream. And so I did.

The first batch of ice cream I made was a vanilla and raspberry swirl ice cream… which I ate straight out of the ice cream maker as I could not bear to wait a few extra hours to allow it to solidify further (the ice cream comes out of the ice cream maker in a ‘soft serve’ type texture you see).

Photo courtesy of nestle.com.my

Two days later, I decided it was time to make some ice cream yet again, and this time experimented with incorporating Milo into the ice cream custard mixture. For those of you who don’t know what Milo is… where have you been?!! Kidding. :P I daresay any person who’s from South East Asia (and I even dare to say Australia) grew up with Milo, which is a chocolate and malt powder which is mixed with milk/water (and a touch of condensed milk *cough*) to make up one of the best ‘hot chocolate’ drinks EVER.

The Milo truck used to come by our school all the time, giving out cups of ice cold Milo on a hot humid day (let’s face it, when is it not hot and humid in Malaysia?)… fond memories. :) According to the Milo website, Milo contains ACTIGEN-E®, a combination of 8 vitamins and 4 minerals that helps to optimize the release of energy from food. These are the B Vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, Biotin); Vitamin C; Calcium; Magnesium; Iron; and Phosphorus. This is supposed to give one the energy to get through the day’s activities uninterrupted. (I tend to drink it before I sleep though, so I can’t vouch for this energy thing).

Most of you Malaysians and Singaporeans out there may also remember all those Milo ads on the television with their tag line of “It’s marvelous what Milo can do for you!”. I suspect it’s not as “marvelous” for you when you eat it out of the tin with a spoon on a regular basis (like me), but you know what, it’s so good that I can’t stop myself from doing it.

So yes. I MADE MILO ICE CREAM! I churned the ice cream at 11.30pm, and could not bring myself to eat ice cream just before going to bed. Also, I did want it to solidify a bit more so it could reach the right ice cream consistency. So this meant that whilst at work the next day, all I could think about was my Milo ice cream. I kid you not when I say the journey home from work never took so long (and it only takes me 20 minutes), as I was so excited about trying it. Ah, the little pleasures in life. ;)

The moment I got home, I rushed to the kitchen, opened the freezer, dipped a spoon into the ice cream, and….. BLISS. I absolutely loved how it tasted, and had to stop myself from eating up the whole tub pre-dinner.

Later that day, I was more civilized and served the ice cream in teeny little bowls I bought when I was in New York, and topped the ice cream with… you guessed it, MORE Milo. What can I say, I’m obsessed.

I adapted David Lebovitz’s vanilla ice cream recipe to make this, and I must say it is an excellent recipe. It made for a very creamy and decadent custard base, which is the key to a good ice cream. I can’t wait to try out some of his other recipes, and I can imagine that each and every one is just as good. He wouldn’t have such a bestseller ice cream book otherwise!

I actually made 2 versions of the Milo ice cream – one was a pure Milo ice cream (i.e. all brown), and also a mix of vanilla and Milo ice cream (i.e. a mix of a white and brown). I suspect it’s not that obvious because of the copious amounts of Milo I sprinkled over the tops of the ice cream…

I believe I will be eating a whole lot of ice cream in the near future. Thank goodness it’s summer, which gives me a slightly more valid reason to do so. :D

Milo ice cream
Adapted from a recipe in The Perfect Scoop

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup Milo
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract (alternatively, use seeds from half a vanilla bean)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 5 egg yolks

1. Set up an ice bath by placing ice and water into a large bowl.
2. Pour the double cream into a bowl, and place this bowl into the ice bath.
3. Warm the milk, salt, sugar, Milo and vanilla bean extract in a pot over medium heat.
4. In a separate bowl, stir the egg yolks together. Gradually pour the milk into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly.
5. Pour the egg yolk/cream mixture back into the pot, and cook over low heat, stirring the whole time. Cook until the mixture thickens to a custard consistency –  it is ready when you can draw a clean line through it on the back of a spoon, using your finger.
6. Strain the custard into the heavy cream. Stir constantly over the ice bath until cool.
7. Refrigerate the custard/cream mixture until thoroughly chilled. Some recommend doing this overnight, I only left it to chill for 4-5 hours.
8. Churn the chilled mixture in your ice cream maker, according to the manufacturers instructions.

p.s. If you don’t have an ice cream maker but still want to revel in homemade ice cream goodness, try this recipe for semifreddo. It’s a no churn recipe that gives rise to something very similar to ice cream, and is just as delicious.

Chinese New Year ‘cakes’

I’ve gone Chinese New Year mad on the blog recently – and just to stick to the trend, here’s one last Chinese New Year post for good measure. What can I say? It is a 15 day celebration after all, and there are just so many types of food to cover. So I thought I’d round up my Chinese New Year-ism with a post on ‘cakes’ – one sweet, and one savoury.

Nian gao (also known as “thi kuih” in Hokkien, or Chinese New Year cake) is one of the must have foods of Chinese New Year. The main reason why it is so popular during this period is because “nian gao” is a homonym for “higher year”. As Wikipedia says:

The Chinese word 粘 (nián), meaning “sticky”, is identical in sound to 年, meaning “year”, and the word 糕 (gāo), meaning “cake” is identical in sound to 高, meaning “high”. As such, eating nian gao has the symbolism of raising oneself higher in each coming year.

We Chinese are VERY superstitious you see.

Anyway, back to the nian gao. It is made from a surprisingly small list of ingredients – glutinous rice flour, sugar, water and/or coconut milk. These ingredients are then steamed until they solidify to form your “cake”. The traditional method of making these is a rather long process, and as I do not have the patience to steam something for hours on end, I use a simpler method and only steam my nian gao for about an hour. And you know what, it still tastes pretty damn similar to the more traditionally made ones.

It can be eaten as it is (in all its sticky glory goodness), or be pan fried in an egg batter. We always pan fry it with yam or sweet potato slices at home, but I usually just eat it as it is here in London. Again, this is a testament to my laziness. Do note that it becomes more solid the longer you keep them (and they keep for a good 2 weeks in the fridge), but pan-frying or heating it in the microwave (1 minute on High) restores it to its original deliciousness.

The other “cake” of Chinese New Year is the turnip cake (“luo bo gao” in Mandarin, or “loh pak gou” in Cantonese). Whilst this is primarily a dim sum dish, it is very commonly eaten during Chinese New Year as we believe it symbolizes prosperity and rising fortunes. Told you we are superstitious. ;)

I’d never actually made this before (as opposed to nian gao which I’ve made every year since I discovered how to make it in my 2nd year of med school), but I tried Charmaine’s home made version during our Chinese New Year potluck, and I tell you – I was hooked. Obsessed. Simply because it tasted much better than the ones you get in restaurants. So I made some, and it was absolutely delicious. It’s fairly similar to yam cake, and wasn’t actually too hard to make at all!

Turnip cakes are usually sliced into squares/rectangles, and pan fried prior to serving. The pan frying allows you to achieve a crunchy exterior and a soft gooey interior, which as we all know is a brilliant combination of textures. It can also be eaten as it is, ideally warm.

So yes. Nian gao. Luo bo gao. Angku kuih. Peanut cookies. Pineapple tarts. Tang yuan. Yu sheng. Mandarin oranges. So much food, so little time. But no matter, because you can rest assured I’ll be back next year with MORE on the food of Chinese New Year. Be warned. ;)

Happy Chap Goh Meh (15th day of Chinese New Year), everyone! And to those who will be taking part in the festivities of throwing Mandarin oranges into the sea - have fun! :)

Nian gao (Chinese New Year cake)

  • 200ml water
  • 200g Chinese brown sugar (I use Pearl River) – alternatively you can use palm sugar
  • 200ml coconut milk
  • 250g glutinous rice flour

1. Heat water and Chinese brown sugar in a pot over medium heat, until all the sugar has melted.

2. Add the coconut milk, and stir until the mixture is well combined.

3. Take the pan off the heat, and leave the mixture to cool.

4. Once the mixture has cooled, slowly add the glutinous rice flour to the mixture (I do it in four additions), stirring well between each addition. You should end up with a mixture that has a consistency that is slightly thicker than double cream. If your mixture is too thick, add a little more water to it. If it is too runny, add a little glutinous rice flour.

5. Sieve the mixture – this helps to avoid any lumps that may have formed. Believe me when I say you don’t want to have a lumpy nian gao!

6. Pour the mixture into a container of your choice (either a heatproof bowl or takeaway aluminium containers – I used ramekins lined with banana leaves). Don’t forget to oil your containers well if you intend to serve them without the containers.

7. Steam over high heat for 35-45 minutes, or until the surface of the nian gao is fairly firm to touch. If in doubt, I recommend steaming it for longer (10 minutes each time) rather than risk ending up with a liquid/uncooked mixture.*

* To ensure a smooth surface, you can cover your containers with a teacloth during the steaming process. I did not do this, which is why it’s not as smooth as I would like it to be. Alternatively, you can turn the nian gao out from the container and serve it bottom up, which again will give you a smooth surface.

Radish cake (luo bo gau / loh pak gou)

Despite what its name suggests, radish cakes are made from Chinese white turnips, and not radishes.

  • 1kg Chinese white turnips/mooli/daikon (this is approximate, you can use more or less as you wish. I recommend a radish: flour ratio of at least 4:1)
  • 2 Chinese sausages (lap cheong)
  • 6 Chinese mushrooms
  • 2 dried scallops
  • 20g dried shrimps (heh bee)
  • 3 shallots
  • 150g rice flour
  • 25g wheat starch
  • 2 ½ cups water (including drained turnip water & soaking liquid for Chinese mushrooms and scallops)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • ½ teaspoon five spice powder

Prepping the ingredients:

1. Grate/shred the Chinese white turnips, either using a box grater or the shredder attachment on your food processor. Leave the turnips in a sieve to drain as much water as possible out of it. Reserve the drained liquid.

2. Soak your Chinese mushrooms and dried scallops in some water. Once they soften (this usually takes at least half an hour), cut them into 1cm pieces. Reserve the soaking liquid.

3. Soak the dried shrimps in some water for approximately 10 minutes. Discard the soaking water.

4. Dice your Chinese sausages into 1cm pieces.

5. Finely dice your shallots.

Making the cake:

6. Measure out 2 ½ cups of water. Start off with the water from the grated turnips, as well as the mushroom/scallop soaking liquid, then add water until you have the whole amount.

7. Mix the water, rice flour and wheat starch together. Stir until there are no lumps in the mixture. I suggest straining it to double check. Set aside.

8. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan (over medium high heat), and fry the shallots until they turn fragrant. This usually takes 3-5 minutes.

9. Add the dried shrimps, Chinese sausage and dried shallots to the pan, and fry for a further 2-3 minutes.

10. Add the grated turnips to the pan, and fry for 5 minutes, or until they start to soften slightly.

11. Season with the sugar, salt, pepper and five spice powder, and mix well. You may need to adjust the quantities according to personal taste.

12. Turn the heat to low, and slowly add the water/flour mixture to the pan, stirring consistently. Take care to ensure the flour doesn’t sink to the bottom of the pan and form a ‘crust’ there. Cook the mixture over the low heat for 5-10 minutes, or until it becomes a thick paste.

13. Pour the mixture into a greased bowl/container (I used a 20cm diameter Pyrex bowl, but have also used loaf tins!), and steam over high heat for 45 minutes, or until it is cooked. Its surface should be fairly firm to touch. (Sometimes the surface can be a little gooey from the steam even after steaming for 45 minutes, leading you to think it is uncooked. If this is the case, test by inserting a toothpick (or even chopstick) into the center of the cake. It should come up fairly clean, and you should feel resistance when inserting the toothpick.)

14. Slice the turnip cake into 2cm slices. (This will be easier once it has cooled slightly, as it firms up. I actually like putting in the fridge to cool, as the flavour also develops a little more.) You can choose to eat it as it is, or pan fry it in a lightly oiled pan over medium high heat. I highly recommend serving it with some chilli sauce on the side!

Chinese New Year peanut cookies

One of the bad things about being away from home is missing out on Chinese New Year festivities. Sure, I can deck my place out in decorations, but it’s just not the same. My family isn’t here, you don’t have cheesy Chinese New Year songs playing everywhere you go, and you don’t have all the food and goodies that come along with it. Plus, it’s hard to have much of a festive spirit when you have to go to work…

I was lucky enough to go home for Chinese New Year last year (after not celebrating it at home for a whole 7 years), and it was GOOD. Unfortunately I do not have such good fortune this year, and will in fact be working everyday for a 12 day stretch at the time.

Having said that, there is no way I am going to miss out on the food of Chinese New Year… so I made some peanut cookies last week. These (along with pineapple tarts and arrowroot chips) are my favourite Chinese New Year treats, and I was actually worried that the peanut cookies I made would not live up to my high expectations. I’m very picky with my peanut cookies you see.

I hate recipes that are too finicky, so loved how my grandma’s yam cake recipe used a simple “cup ratio”. So when I chanced upon Quinn’s post on peanut cookies, where she used a similar “cup ratio” recipe, I knew I had to try it out. You can use ANY cup you wish – in fact, I used a chinese rice bowl. Just be sure to use the same cup throughout, and stick to the 2:2:1:1 ratio.

These cookies turned out beautifully, and had the “melt in your mouth” quality that is essential for peanut cookies. I used corn oil for the “fat” component of the cookies as it was all I had to hand. I would have preferred to use lard (I know it’s unhealthy but it’s the secret to the best “melt in your mouth” cookies), but it was cold and wet outside and I was too lazy to go out and buy some. But no matter, as they were still yum. :)


Chinese New Year peanut cookies
Based on Quinn’s recipe

  • 2 cups peanuts
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup icing sugar (alternatively, use castor sugar)
  • 1 cup corn oil (alternatively, use lard or butter)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg, beaten

1. Dry fry the peanuts in a wide non-stick pan (over medium heat), until they start to become fragrant and lightly browned. Take care to make sure you do not burn the peanuts.
2. Pulse the peanuts in a food processor, until it becomes a fine powder.
3. Heat the oven to 180’C.
4. Place the ground peanuts, flour, sugar and salt in a bowl of a stand mixer*, and mix until well combined.
5. With the stand mixer on (medium speed), slowly trickle the corn oil into the bowl containing the peanut/flour/sugar mixture. Mix until it forms a cohesive dough. You may need more or less oil depending on the weather/humidity. A good guide is to try forming a ball from the dough – it should not crumble.
6. Form the dough into 2cm balls, and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Press down lightly with a chopstick (alternatively, use a straw or a clean pen cover), this forms the typical indentation you see in the cookie.
7. Glaze lightly with the beaten egg.
8. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until they turn a lovely shade of golden brown.

* if you have a food processor, you can use it to mix the cookie dough as it will lead to less washing up! Alternatively, you can use a wooden spoon/your hands to mix the dough together.