Saturday, November 24, 2007

Gula Melaka Ak Bahling

I dont know if you've yet noticed, but yep, I'm kinda obsessed with cooking. In particular, I only want to attempt dishes that sound interesting or those that I haven't done before, which actually encompasses almost everything. Like the soft, chewy, tender, melt-in-your mouth figs braised in red wine vinegar and red wine I made last night. Served with chilled mascarpone cheese and walnuts, it was unbelievable. In fact, it was so good I went for a 2nd serving against my better judgement. I had to contend with a distended belly for the rest of the night. lol

Sometimes my culinary exploits are also borne out of necessity. Like this morning's brekkie of glutinous rice balls (ak bahling) soaked in warm coconut milk. Realising we were out of milk and the stores were not open yet, I had to make do with whatever was in the kitchen. Since there were 3-quarts of a can of coconut milk left in the fridge from the nasi lemak last night, I thought I'll make an improvised version of ak-bahling.

Now the plain ones are easy peasy to make, but stuffed ones? The first ball I made looked like a herd of elephants had just played Twister on it. Oh and did I mention that gula melaka melts VERY quickly? Put two and two together plus clumsy fingers and you end up with a stickey mess. Not very pretty. The second and third ones turned out much better though, and before long, I was churning out stuffed ak bahlings so deftly that anyone watching would have thought I worked in a rice ball factory all my life. The secret to this is simple - the less time the ball spends in your hand, the better. You gotta work FAST. The dough tends to deform easily and the heat from your hands melts the sugar in the dough. I'm so proud of my little babies -see how pretty they look in the picture above? ;p

For the recipe, if you like you can add one tsp of vanilla extract to the dough like I did. One bite into the ball releases a swirl of thick gooey gula melaka into the coconut milk and with the slightly softned but nonetheless crunchy peanuts, it creates a beautiful melange of textures and flavours.

Comfort food for a rainy Saturday morning. :)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Ikan bilis & peanuts

One of my fave "junk" foods ever, especially topped on nasi lemak, or coconut rice. The saltiness of the dried anchovies cuts right into the creaminess of roasted peanuts and is further accentuated with homemade chili paste. One bite and I'm reminded of home sweet home...

Ikan Bilis n Peanuts
Heat a tbsp of oil in a pan. Take equal portions of unsalted raw peanuts and dried anchovies (ikan bilis) and fry til til golden brown. Remove, cool and serve with rice, noodles or with aperos! (or like i did tonight, with a 2005 dry pinot noir from Capel Vale, Western Australia)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Glebe Street Fair 2007

Oh boy. Judging from the windless and sunny conditions in the early morning, I knew this was going to be a sweltering HOT day. And after two hours of paddling, lunch and a cold, refreshing shower, the last thing I wanted to do was go out again. Then again, the annual Glebe Street Fair was on and well, a quick browse won't hurt!

I admit I was half expecting a blown up version of the Glebe Markets, but it was a serious underestimation. This was waaaaayy better. Stalls of food, costume jewellery, clothes, bags etc lined a good half of Glebe Point Road. I had a ball zipping in and out of each stall, but what really caught my eye were the cheap summer dresses and skirts on offer and of course, the food! I was still full from lunch, so I thought I'll shop around first while making a mental note of the kinds of foods available.

It was when I was floating on a giggly high after purchasing 2 light summer dresses and a skirt that I chanced upon this:

Utterly delicious finger-lickin' Hungarian pastry. It was the sight of the weird bread-like standing cones which caught my eye initially. To seal the deal, there were free samples for tasting. ;D I popped a small chunk into my mouth, not really expecting anything mind-blowing. Jeebers, it was soooo good. Soft, yielding and crusty on the outside with a good smattering of cinnamon sugar, it somewhat made me imagine what a really good pretzel would taste like and one bite would not suffice. I ordered half a cone of almond pastry and we shared it between us quickly. And it wasn't oily at all. Check this out : they grill the bread on a mini spit roast as they would do chickens! There's virtually no added fat and the constant turning meant that the pastry was cooked evenly. However, I thought the price at 6 bucks for a cone was a tad hefty.

This Hungarian stall was also selling big, flat, golden pieces of deep fried dough which turned out to be Hungarian style garlic bread. It was amazingly light, crisp with a solid dose of garlic. Just the way I like it. If the simple likes taste THIS good in Hungary, I'll definitely be making a pit stop there one of these days!

As I mentioned, it was stinking hot and I was already feeling quite sticky. A nice, tender young coconut was greeted with greedy smiles from the both of us. I even got a generous bottle of coconut juice for free since my coconut was on the smaller side. How nice. I just wish they'll just catch on with the young coconut idea a bit faster - I reckon it's the perfect summer drink and you can get them cheaply everywhere in SE Asia. There was also a stall selling mexican food with a savoury chocolate and chili sauce. Damn, the heat turned our appetite off for a bit there so we didn't try it.

But right before we left I thought I just had to have a chocolate churro. Yep, these slender, long, dough-y sticks just seem to have a hold over me. Simple yet satisfying.

Whee! Can't wait to use my dresses!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Chocolat et orange cookies

You know how sometimes you inexplicably take a sudden liking certain foods that you didn't before?

For me, it is citrus flavoured desserts.

Yeah I know lots of people love all things citrusy. I, on the other hand, tend to steer clear from them for some reason. Sure, I'll eat oranges, kumquats, grapefruits and what not, but put them in a confiture, ice-cream, cake or even chocolate and you can be sure I won't touch it with a ten-foot pole. They remind me of dishwashing liquid - and who wants to have Jiff lemon flavour for dessert? I even remember those little individually wrapped Van Houten chocolates that we normally get during Chinese New Year - I'll dig through the whole lot and leave the orange-wrapped ones behind (I just have to wonder who finished those!).

Until now (5 years into adulthood), I've only managed to come across one citrus desert that blew me away - lemon gelato. It was sweltering hot in Basque country and all I wanted was something light, fruity and refreshing. Enters gelato. (Make that excellent gelato) I pick faves like cassis and green apple while Truffe goes for lemon. Once. Twice. Thrice. And he ate the third scoop with as much enthusiasm as the first one. Curiosity got the better of me and I tentatively took a bite out of his scoop - I was hooked from then on. Banana and lemon. Coconut and lemon. Green apple and lemon. Right before I left Basque, I shoved what would probably be the last frozen lemon scoop I would have there down. I just had to. *shrug*

And now, orange and chocolate. I was leafing through recipes from the Mrs Field's cookie competition. Chocolate and oatmeal (oooh!), white chocolate macademia (yummo!). There was only one problem - I was in the mood for something a little more exciting and the plain old flavours just didn't cut it. Give me matcha, black sesame, anything. So when this orange chocolate chunk recette caught my eye, I was all game.

And it feels somewhat like revisiting an old situation, only with a totally new perspective. I loved it.

In this recipe, I subsituted one cup of organic wholewheat flour for all-purpose flour - simply because I ran out of the latter. I also used fresh orange juice in place of orange extract and added 1 tsp of finely minced fresh ginger for that added kick. Was a little worried that the orange would be subdued, but the mixture of grated peel and juice worked the stage perfectly, with the peel providing a pleasant tang. The chocolate chunks were orgasmic - just the right size for a good mouthful of chocolate in every bite! I'm happy - simply 'cos liking another thing means more food for me! Heh.

Hmm. Gotta get in shape for my sister's wedding in Feb. Now, I'd better find a way to distribute these before I polish them all off....

Monday, November 05, 2007

And race season begins..on a rainy note.

Ominous clouds. Thunder. Light rain. Gusty winds. I was so not looking forward to racing yester-morning.

Woke up all sleepy-eyed at 6am, had a brisk hot shower and we sat through a short and quiet brekkie of cocoa pops, milk and a mandatory long black. Quickly put together a salad of tuna, corn, tomato, rice & vinegrette and packed a box of museli as well as a white chocolate + matcha cake (gateau aux chocolat blanc et matcha) I whipped up the night before for the team. I've grown to love matcha (japanese green tea) in my desserts and have been wanting to try my hand at making one. Have to admit I was agonizing between my tried-and-tested gingerbread and the matcha cake for some time. Well, when you're cooking for others, you want to make something that'll cause them to be so estatic on the first bite that their eyes will roll back, right? Or well, something along that line. But what the heck, I decided to head for uncharted waters. You see, i kinda figured:

(1) the team will be too hungry after the race to give a damn;
(2) everyone will be too polite to complain; and
(3) if it REALLY turns out bad, Truffe will just have to finish it! LOL

Just kidding.

It did turn out pretty yummy, although I had to do some improvisation on the spot. I thought the recipe called for too much flour and too little matcha, so I left out a portion of the flour and tripled the amount of matcha. It was a good call considering the cake edges ended up rather crunchy. Was also rather disappointed that the white chocolate and matcha flavours did not stand out as much as I would have liked it to. It was tasty nonetheless and everyone agreed, or maybe Points (1) and (2) probably held true. ;D

As usual, our pickup was While waiting, I couldnt help but pick up my camera to take a few shots. I just love how the rain makes everything look so fresh. And check out these babies - the grapes are growing again. Geez, how fast one year passes...

By the time we got to Penrith, the sky had cleared up to a cheery light blue and the sun was out in full gear, dieu merci. Yeah, the weather in Sydney is even more fickle than moi! LOL. Warmed up, marshalled and off we went. The winds remained strong though - we had quite a bit of difficulty aligning the boats in the first race. As a result of the wind conditions, the entire competition was running some 3 hours behind schedule (or perhaps it was poor organization?). Our team didn't win overall, but I reckon we did well on our last lap of the day. And that's considering half of the team's comprised of newbies, we took part in the mixed races 2 paddlers less due to a shortage in numbers and lastly, a 500m sprint is really quite a tough race, even for someone who's been paddling a year like me (okay prob still not long enough, but well, long enough by my standards.). This might come across as a tad sour-grapish to some, but frankly I dont give a rat's ass. Winning is nice, but it isn't everything. That's what I love about this team - they dont let the competition get to their heads and they're there cos they really enjoy the sport for what it is. It makes me wonder how many people really look at dragon boating as a recreational sport like we do.

All I can say is, what a great start to the race season and I'm looking forward to many more :)

Note: dragonboating pics taken courtesy of Serence..thanx babe!