In photos: Norman Musa & Ning London

I was never much of a cook until I came over to England. I always wonder if I’d be where I was today (cooking-wise) had I not left home – as one of my main aims of cooking has always been to recreate the food of home. What else can one do when there is a lack of good Malaysian food in London?

Which is why I was intrigued when I heard about Norman Musa‘s Malaysian London supperclub venture, aptly named “Ning London” after his restaurant in Manchester. I’d heard good things about Norman through the Malaysian foodie grapevine, as he is one of the more well known Malaysian celebrity chefs, and had always wanted to try his food. Another plus is that Norman hails from Penang, which is of course the best place in Malaysia for good food. Maybe I’m a little biased, but… it’s true! Ha.

All the photos in this post were taken with my phone, so please excuse the rather grainy photos (oh the plight of taking food photos in mood lighting). In my defence, I didn’t really feel like whipping out my dSLR in front of a crowd of people I had never met (it’s totally different for friends and family who are used to my photo taking, naturally).

Kerabu nonyaKerabu Nonya. This Malaysian “salad” (kerabu) incorporates a wonderful mixture of herbs – including the fragrant (and hard to find in London) ginger flower, or bunga kantan as we call it back home. I wasn’t expecting it come with rice noodles (bee hoon), but it worked really well. I might even have to borrow the idea for a quick summer meal – if summer ever comes, that is.

otak otak 2 Otak Otak. I still don’t know how this dish got it’s name, as “otak” translates to “brains”. But despite the slightly odd name, this Malaysian take on fishcakes is one of my favourite things to eat. The fish is marinated in spices, galangal and lemongrass; then wrapped in banana leaves (to add fragrance); and cooked on the grill.

Assam pedas ikanKari Kapitan Ayam. (Kari = curry, Kapitan = captain, Ayam = chicken). An old-school Malaysian chicken curry with a complex blend of herbs & spices,  that was a favourite of captains in the ancient port of Malacca.

Kari limau udangKari Limau Udang.  (Kari = curry, Limau = lime, Udang = prawn). This sweet and sour prawn curry is cooked with coconut milk, tumeric, chilli and a hint of lime. This was my favourite dish of the night.

Kari Kapitan Ayam
Assam Pedas Ikan. (Assam = sour, Pedas = spicy, Ikan = fish). We Malaysians like spicy and sour flavours, and this is a dish that showcases it well. The key ingredients in this dish are assam (I can’t for the life of me think what it is called in English), bunga kantan (ginger flower), and daun kaduk (polygonum/laksa leaves). Salmon was used in this, which is a little atypical (salmon isn’t eaten all that commonly in Malaysia), but I would imagine that this was to conform to the British palate.

Kangkung belacanSayur Goreng Belacan. (Sayur = vegetable, Goreng = fry, Belacan = fermented shrimp paste). This is a very classic vegetable dish – belacan is renowned for it’s strong smell, and those who are not used to it may find it rather unappealing. But believe me when I say the final product always tastes fantastic… why else would we use it as an ingredient in so many dishes?

yee kwan lemongrass and lime sorbetLemongrass & Lime ice cream. This was sourced from Yee Kwan – who by the way, makes the best black sesame ice cream ever. I tried it at a food fair a few years ago, and have yet to try a better version since.

CendolCendol. This is a very popular dessert, which comprises of pandan (screwpine leaf) flavoured “noodle strands”, red beans and shaved ice; served in a coconut milk base; and topped with palm sugar (gula Melaka) syrup. If I remember correctly, there weren’t any red beans in this version, which was a shame.

Seri mukaSeri Muka. (Seri = happy/smiley, Muka = face). This is a traditional Nonya kuih (sweet dessert) that showcases pandan, glutinous rice, and coconut milk. Lots of coconut milk. As a child I used to only eat the green (pandan) bit of the kuih, but I now happily scoff it all up. The more carbs the better, eh?

ning london teamThe service from the team (pictured above) was wonderful, and Norman himself is a charming host. He worked his way around the room and ensured he said hello to everyone who was there. I also thought that their service of offering pick up/drop off from/to the station was a nice touch, as it caters to those who do not know the area well.

norman musa chocolates Norman also has a range of spice-inspired chocolates – my favourite is obviously the pandan, as it totally appeals to my obsession for it. (I incorporate pandan into anything I can…)

All in all, I had a lovely evening at Ning London. I think that the standard of food was high, but it wasn’t always completely authentic. I suspect that this is because Norman had to cater to a range of palates – he mentioned how he had to tone down the chilli to ensure everyone could enjoy the meal.

Let me put it this way – it is not the best Malaysian food I’ve ever eaten, but it’s certainly the best Malaysian food I’ve had in London. Would I return to Ning London? Most definitely.

p.s. Norman is hosting a ‘Malaysian Street Food‘ themed supper club on May 24th & 25th, featuring the very famous roti canai (Malaysian flatbread), satay (chicken skewers), and most importantly – nasi lemak bungkus. I am rather upset that I am working that weekend, or I would be there in a heartbeat.

Ning_logo®-02

Ning London
£35 per person, BYOB
http://www.normanmusa.com/restaurants.htm

Disclaimer: I attended the supper club as a guest of Ning London, but all views expressed are my own.

[instagrammed] Pandan bundt eggwhite cake

I first made this pandan bundt cake when I realised I had an ever-growing stash of leftover eggwhites in my freezer. I’m not a huge fan of meringue/macaron baking, and was trying to figure out what I could do with all those leftover eggwhites. And I have yet to purchase a chiffon cake tin.

I then came across this recipe for “Munavalgekook”, an Estonian eggwhite cake. I was intrigued, and not just because I couldn’t pronounce the name of said cake! So I made it. And absolutely loved it.

pandan bundt eggwhite cake

This cake has a slight pound-cake like texture, but has a beautiful delicate crumb due to the volume created by the whipped eggwhites. I personally prefer whisking eggwhites separately in cake recipes (even when the recipe calls for a whole egg), as I find cakes made this way result in a finer crumb.

And in keeping with my aim in life of putting a Malaysian twist on all my baked goods, I added a dash of pandan (screwpine) extract into the cake mix.

pandan bundt slicedNot a very good slice through the cake, is it? I really need to sharpen my knives… Oops.

Pandan bundt cake
Adapted from this recipe for Munavalgekook, from Nami-Nami

  • 6 large egg whites
  • 2 tbsp + 100 g caster sugar
  • 160 g plain flour
  • 1 heaped tbsp potato starch or cornflour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 100 g melted butter, cooled slightly (I use salted butter)
  • 2 tbsp pandan extract (I never measure, I plonk in as much as I feel is necessary on that particular day…)

1. Preheat your oven to 170’C (fan assisted).
2. Sieve the flour, potato/corn starch, 100g of caster sugar, and baking powder into a bowl. Set aside.
3. Place egg whites and 2 tbsp of the caster sugar in a clean bowl. Whisk until the egg white/sugar mixture forms soft peaks.
4. Gently fold in the sieved flour/sugar mix into the whipped egg whites, until it forms a smooth mixture. Be careful when doing this as you do not want to knock the precious air bubbles out of the egg whites.
5. Slowly trickle the melted butter and pandan extract into the mixture, and gently fold until just incorporated.
6. Pour the cake mix into a bundt tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-45 minutes, until the cake becomes golden brown. A toothpick inserted into the cake should come out clean.
7. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes.
8. Turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool, then eat!

Plum Valley Restaurant, Chinatown

I’m a creature of habit. I not only frequent the same restaurants, but I also order the exact same thing most of the time. Unsurprisingly, I have my list of favourite Chinese/dim sum restaurants in London. In fact, I don’t think I have tried dim sum at any place that isn’t on that list in recent years.

Having said that, I do like discovering other good restaurants, and had the opportunity to do so recently, courtesy of Cox and Kings. Cox and Kings are one of the world’s oldest travel companies, and pride themselves on specialising in high quality cultural (both group and private) holidays all over the world. In particular, they have a wonderful selection of holidays to China (a country I am yet to explore!). In line with the whole “China” theme, they invited a group of bloggers to review a selection of restaurants in Chinatown – with the aim of showcasing the range and standard of Chinatown eateries.

So this is how I ended up at Plum Valley.

Plum Valley offer both an a la carte and dim sum menu, but we chose the latter as it would allow us to sample a wider variety of their dishes. It also enabled me to perform a fairer assessment of the food, as dim sum offerings tend to be fairly standard (with a few exceptions, naturally!)

plum valley har kau

Prawn dumplings (Har kau). These steamed dumplings are a dim sum staple, and are personally a must order for me, especially in a new restaurant. These were good, with thin skins and a succulent prawn filling.

plum valley siu mai

Pork & prawn dumplings (Siu mai). Whilst the prawn dumplings were good, the siu mai unfortunately fell a little short. The pork used for the dumpling fillings seemed a tad too gelatinous, which resulted in a rather chewy texture.

plum valley black cod dumpling

Black cod dumplings. I was intrigued by these, as it was something that’s not seen commonly on dim sum menus. I was rather excited when they came to the table, as they looked rather intricate and pretty! Unfortunately they did not taste as good as they looked – the dumpling skin was very doughy, which led to a rather sandy texture. The black cod filling also seemed to be slightly overcooked. A shame, because this held much promise.

plum valley crispy eel cheung fun

Crispy eel cheung fun. I am a huge fan of contrasting textures, and this certainly delivered. The crispy fried eel worked well with the soft cheung fun – although it admittedly tasted a little more Japanese than Chinese!

plum valley scallop dumpling

Scallop dumplings. I was surprised to see them using some gold leaf on the top of these – pretty yes, but rather un-Chinese really. These tasted fine, but I would have preferred a larger piece of scallop – I suspect a whole scallop had been sliced into three to top these, which is a little stingy. I would prefer to pay more and get a whole scallop, but perhaps that is just my greed talking.

plum valley chicken feet in black bean sauce

Chicken feet in black bean sauce. This was cooked well, and had good flavour.

plum valley venison yam puff

Venison yam puffs. A slight tweak on the classic yam puffs. The ‘yam puff’ bit was rather well executed, but the venison filling lacked that ‘oomph’ I was hoping for.

plum valley xo fried rice

XO fried rice. The humble fried rice, which should be easy to whip up, is in reality quite a hard dish to get right. One of the most important aspects of any wok-fried dish is something called ‘wok hei’, which not-so-literally translates to “breath of the wok”. This dish had plenty of this, and was something I’d order again. Doesn’t look like much, but it delivered on taste.

A quick note on other aspects of the restaurant: Service (which is often poor or non-existent in many Chinatown restaurants) was actually pretty good – the food arrived in good time, and all requests were promptly dealt with.

Lastly, decor was fairly modern, with a decent amount of space between the tables. A little too posh perhaps, but in all fairness they market themselves as a ‘fine dining’ restaurant. I would have preferred it if the dining area was slightly better lit though – this is purely a personal preference stemming from the fact that I never saw a dimly lit Chinese restaurant growing up!

pplum valley dim sum

So yes – there were highs and lows of the meal. I cannot say I would rush back to dine here, but I would not rule out returning to try other offerings on their menu. At the end of it all, I feel that the quality of food is similar to the other Chinatown restaurants I have tried – but I maintain that better dim sum can be found outside Chinatown itself.

plum valley

Plum Valley
20 Gerrard Street
Chinatown
London W1D 6JQ

Disclaimer: I dined at Plum Valley courtesy of Cox and Kings, and also received a wine voucher as a token of appreciation. However, all views expressed above are my own. This review will also be published in ‘Compass’, their in-house travel magazine.

[instagrammed] – Asparagus & avocado pasta

avocado asparagus pasta

I almost forgot about my grand plans to chip at the backlog with some ‘instagrammed’ posts.. So here’s one.

This asparagus & avocado pasta is something I’ve made many (many) times, especially on a weekday when I cannot be bothered to make something too involved. Am so glad I happened to have both asparagus and avocado in my fridge at some point, or I might have never discovered this delightful combination.

You can find me on instagram as @breadetbutter – where I post a lot more regularly than I do here. ;)

Asparagus & avocado pasta
Serves 2 (generously)

  • 250g pasta of your choice (I usually use linguini or spaghetti)
  • 2 avocados
  • 150g asparagus (I use asparagus tips), cut into 1cm lengths
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Bunch coriander (approx 30g)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
1. Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. 1 minute before the pasta is done, add the asparagus to the pan. When draining the pasta, reserve some of the pasta cooking water – you may need it later.
2. Whilst pasta is cooking, halve and peel the avocados. Chop one avocado into small 1cm cubes, and the other into larger chunks.
3. Place the large chunks of avocado into a blender, along with the coriander, lime juice, and olive oil. Blend until it forms a thick smooth paste.
4. Place drained pasta and asparagus back into the (same) pan you were using earlier. Add the blended avocado mixture. The mixture may be quite thick and gloppy, if so, add some pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you reach your desired sauce consistency. The sauce should coat every strand of pasta.
5. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
6. Serve pasta onto plates. Top with small cubes of avocado. Other ingredients you can use are pine nuts, extra coriander, sesame seeds, chilli flakes.. An endless list really! Drizzle with some olive oil (if you wish), and eat.

Chocolate chip cookies – without chocolate chips!

It’s been a while. However I don’t think I shall launch into my “I have been a terrible blogger lately” ramble, as it’s all becoming rather repetitive!

So let me get right down to it.

Lindt Hello range

I recently received some chocolate balls from Lindt’s new “Hello” range. As I have yet to see in stores, I was naturally excited to try these out. My first thought was “I love the packaging”. It deviates slightly from the more formal packaging of other Lindt products, but I like the playfulness of these – and really, it would be nice to give someone a thank you gift which says “Hello, just wanna say thank you” wouldn’t it? Sure it’s a little bit cheesy, but we need cheesy in our lives sometimes.

Lindt crispy balls

I tried the “Crispy balls” and the “Chocolate balls” from this range. Now I should say that I absolutely LOVE Lindt’s Lindor balls, but these crispy little balls are my new favourite. Crunchy pastry balls, coated in chocolate and hazelnuts, rolled in cocoa powder to finish. They taste similar to Maltesers, but I think they are better. It’s the hazelnuts that do it – think a crunchy Nutella chocolate ball. So good!

Lindt chocolate balls

The chocolate balls (nougat crunch & cookies and cream) were also good, but a little too sweet for my taste. They’re great for a quick sugar hit, but I found that I couldn’t really eat more than one at a go. And I like eating more than one in a go. The packaging of this was brilliant though, as you can open the box without needing to untie the ribbon – meaning the box looks pretty all the time.

As I found the chocolate balls a little too sweet, I decided to experiment and use them as “chocolate chips”. I simply chopped the balls up into small chunks, and substituted them into a chocolate chip cookie recipe. Thankfully it worked out pretty well. (Phew).

chocolate ball cookies 2

chocolate ball cookies 5 copy

Please excuse the terrible photo – I was too lazy to arrange everything prettily, thus the use of the ugly chopping board/horrendous lighting. 

I used a mix of chocolate balls and crispy balls – the crispy balls didn’t retain as much of their crispiness once baked, but the chocolate balls were perfect. I’ve modified the recipe below to only include the chocolate balls.

I thought I’d be a little bit adventurous and stray from my usual chocolate cookie recipe, and tried out one of Nigella’s. Interestingly, my cookies came out more crunchy than chewy (the recipe stated that this was a fudgy chewy cookie, with and edge of crisp bite). I suspect my cookies were a little smaller than hers, which might explain it. Still good though.

chocolate ball cookies 4
Chocolate “ball” cookies
Adapted from a recipe in Kitchen, by Nigella Lawson
Makes 20 cookies, measuring approximately 2″ diameter

  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 80g soft brown sugar
  • 80g caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk, fridge cold
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 300g Lindt chocolate balls, chopped into 1cm chunks
  • 100g chopped nuts (I used almonds)

1. Preheat the oven to 170’C.
2. Melt the butter, and let it cool slightly. I used a microwave to melt the butter, but you can do it on the stove if you wish.
3. Place the brown and caster sugar into the bowl of your stand mixer. Pout the melted butter over the sugars, and beat with the paddle attachment until just combined. (Or use a regular hand held mixer)
4. Add the vanilla extract, cold egg + egg yolk. Beat until the mixture is light and creamy.
5. Add the flour and bicarbonate of soda to the bowl in two parts, mixing until just combined.
6. Carefully fold in the chopped chocolate balls and chopped nuts.
7. Shape the cookies into mounds of dough, and place on a parchment lined baking tray.(You can use an ice cream scoop/a spoon/measuring cup to do this, depending on how large/small you want your cookies to be.) Leave at least 5cm between the mounds as they will spread whilst cooking.
8. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until edges are lightly toasted.
9. Cool slightly on baking rack, then enjoy!

chocolate ball cookies 1

chocolate ball cookies 3
Disclaimer: I received the review samples courtesy of Lindt, but all the views expressed above are my own. 

Non watermarked photos are courtesy of Lindt.

Chinese New Year: Almond cookies, with crunch!

Most Malaysians equate Chinese New Year with a few important things = family, friends, FOOD, and well, food. And let’s face it, it wouldn’t be Chinese New Year without all those typical CNY cookies – pineapple tarts, peanut cookies… and so forth.

I made some almond cookies last year, but wasn’t altogether pleased with their texture. You see, to me almond cookies should have a slight crunch, yet be slightly melty. My version from last year tasted good enough, but it didn’t have much of that ‘crunch factor’. I know I’m being pedantic, but if you’re going to stuff yourself with cookies, it might as well be ones you love!

chinese new year almond cookies 3

I found this recipe in one of the cookbooks I bought in Penang (oh yes, I totally buy local cookbooks whenever I go home – then lug them all back to London), and thought it looked promising. And it did deliver!

These cookies have a nice crunchy/firm exterior, with a slight melty interior. If you have never tasted such almond cookies, you must think I am completely bonkers. I know it sounds mad, but it works. Remarkably well, might I add.

chinese new year almond cookies 5

As always, I managed to eat 5 cookies in the first hour post-baking. I then had to take fairly drastic action to keep them all away in a sealed container, so I can’t get to them before Chinese New Year comes along! Yes, I am THAT lazy. If it’s sealed/hard to get to, I rather not eat it. Ha!

If you prefer a soft/completely ‘melt in the mouth’ almond cookie, you’ll prefer my recipe from last year. But if you prefer one with a slight crunch, try this one. I think you’ll like it!

chinese new year almond cookies 2

Chinese New Year Almond Cookies
Adapted from My Secret Recipe Series: New Year Cookies by Alan Ooi
Makes approximately 50-60 cookies, depending on size

  • 100g ground almonds
  • 150g plain flour
  • 100g caster sugar (I might cut down the sugar to 75g next time, as I prefer a less-sweet cookie)
  • 3/4tsp baking powder
  • 3/4tsp baking soda
  • pinch salt
  • 100ml corn oil, or other flavourless oil (you may need a little more/less oil depending on the climate you are in)
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten

1. Sieve the flour, caster sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into bowl of your stand mixer.
2. Add the ground almonds to the flour/sugar mixture.
3. With your mixer on medium speed (with the beater attachment),* slowly trickle in the corn oil into the bowl containing the flour/sugar/almonds. Mix until a cohesive dough forms. You may need more or less oil depending on the humidity/moisture levels – the aim is to reach a dough which is just able to hold it’s shape (and doesn’t crumble) when you attempt to roll it into a ball. It’s rather dry here in London at the moment, so I had to use an extra 10ml of oil before the dough came together.
4. Heat the oven to 180’C.
5. Roll the dough into ~2.5cm balls, and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper/a silpat mat. Repeat until all the dough is used up.
6. Using a pastry brush, lightly glaze the tops of the cookie balls with the beaten egg yolk.
7. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cookies become slightly golden.
8. Leave to cool on a wire rack, then tuck in.

* You don’t need a stand mixer to do this, you can use a handheld mixer/food processor/a spatula. I use my stand mixer because it’s permanently out on the counter, which makes it the easiest option. I told you I was lazy.

chinese new year almond cookies 4

Gingerbread Cookies

As cheesy as it sounds, I love homemade Christmas gifts. Over the years, I’ve come to love making gingerbread cookies – I would be kidding myself if I said they aren’t one of my favourite Christmas cookies.

Another obsession that has become fairly evident in recent years is my love for cookie decorating. I still remember the mess I made the very first time I attempted piping royal icing onto my cookies… *shudder*. Thankfully I am now much more organised, which makes the whole process go much more smoothly.

gingerbread christmas snowflakes 5

gingerbread christmas snowflake 4

I decided to make something different from last year, and made 1) snowflakes, 2) stars and 3) Christmas ornaments. Because, you know, I get bored easily. It was also a good excuse to add to my growing cookie cutter collection. Ha.

Take care to not roll out your dough too thinly if you decide to make ornaments for your tree though – they tend to be rather fragile (as I have found out).

gingerbread christmas ornaments 1

gingerbread christmas ornaments 2

And it’s not just the ornament-shaped cookies that can be hung on the tree – I also hung up some snowflakes. The snowflakes are actually a little more sturdy than their ornament counterparts, something I didn’t expect before I started this baking-icing-gingerbread-madness.

gingerbread christmas snowflake 2

A large snowflake…

gingerbread christmas snowflake 1

…And a mini snowflake. For balance.

I also pondered over whether I should dust glitter onto the snowflakes (because anything glitter during Christmas has to be a good thing), but decided against it as I felt it made the piping stand out less. When you’ve put in so much effort into piping, you will most definitely not want it to fade into the background! Trust me.

gingerbread christmas snowflake 3

I swear by this Peggy Porschen recipe for my gingerbread cookies, as I find that they keep their shape very well (which is what you want if you’ve spent all that time cutting out lovely shapes from your dough!). Another handy tip is to refrigerate your cut (pre-baked) cookies for 5-10 minutes, and bake them from chilled.

You can pipe with or without a piping tip – I prefer using a piping tip (with a coupler) and a large-ish piping bag, as I find this gives me more control over how my icing flows. I use either 00, 0 or 1 tips, depending on how small/large the cookie is. Some people prefer to use a smaller sized piping bag without a piping tip (i.e. just snip off the tip of your piping bag), but I tend to not do this as I have to keep on refilling/make more piping bags… and I am too lazy for that.

I also highly recommend having toothpicks to hand, as they come very handy when you make mistakes! ;)

gingerbread christmas star

Here’s wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season – may it be a wonderful one filled with love, laughter & food!