Chilli Oil

Category : Condiment
Preparation time : 45 mins
Serves :  3 standard 300ml jars
Cost : USD7

This is a good accompaniment to any dishes you have that are on the non-spicy or neutral side or when you want to add just that extra bit of heat (and flavour, I may add) to any dish.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of dried red chillies
  • a head of garlic  (also called a bulb), which the whole thing;
  • salt to taste;
  • 7 – 8 heaped tablespoons of dried prawns;
  • oil – could use canola, peanut, sunflower.

Chillies originate from many different countries and there are many variations of dried chillies. Knowing the heat level of the chillies is important so that you achieve the right balance and you adjust the quantity used. You can also have a mix of ordinary dry chillies and chilly-padi (bird seed) dried chillies.

Directions

  1. Do not wash your chillies prior to use. Cut the chillies into smaller pieces if you want the blending process to be quicker.
  2. Clean all your garlic pods and slice thickly.
  3. All these two ingredients together with the dried prawns into your blender.
  4. To this, add between 2 – 3 cups of oil. You do not use water in the blender at all. When blending, if you find the ingredients are not moving, it may help to start by pulsing instead. Add more oil until you see the ingredients are all moving smoothly inside.
  5. You decide on how fine you want the chilli oil to be. Personally, I like it a little crunchy so I dont blend until its a fine paste. I stop the blending and examine the mix. If all the big  chunks are gone and the paste is rough chopped, you can give it another whizz or two before ending.
  6. In a frying pan add a bit of oil and pour in the blended mix. Put the fire on a low to medium heat. If too hot, the mix will burn easily. This takes between 10 – 15 minutes.
  7. The mixture will be quite thick. At this point, you can add another cup of oil to the mix which will lighten the mixture and make it easy to stir.
  8. When done, pour all the chilly oil into another large ceramic container to cool down. Later, this may be bottled into small jars.

Serving

How can it be used?

  • to accompany a light stew served with rice;
  • to spice up a vegetable or meat & veg stir fry;
  • the perfect way to make your devilled eggs;
  • on hot buttered toast, as a simple snack.

Tips

  • In humid weather, dried chillies need to be dried thoroughly to ensure they keep and do not get mouldy. You can either dry the chillies again once you purchase them before you bottle it or you could store it in the fridge as it will keep longer;
  • Same goes for dried prawns which tend to age faster left at room temperature and can acquire a very strong metallic smell when it has gone off;
  • all jars used should be cleaned and dried thoroughly prior to use;
  • the oil should be completely cooled before you close the jars;
  • a clean dry spoon should be used each time to ensure the oil keeps;
  • if sufficient oil is used in the chilly oil, it will keep for at least three months.
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Portuguese Devil Curry

 

devilcurry-hock

Portuguese Devil Curry with Hock

Category : Curry
Preparation time : 1 hour 10 mins
Serves :  5 – 6
Cost : USD9 – 10

This is my initial foray in capturing some of the home-cooked dishes I grew up with, before they get lost or forgotten. So, a little background and context before we start.

Firstly, this is not a Portuguese dish from Portugal. It’s a fiery (hence the word devil!) curry that originates from the Kristang (otherwise known as “Portuguese-Eurasians” or “Malacca Portuguese”). They are a creole ethnic group of people of mixed Portuguese and Malaccan descent based in Malaysia and Singapore. Typically, people of this ethnicity have, besides Portuguese, a strong Dutch heritage, as well as some British, Malay, Chinese and Indian heritage due to intermarriages, which is common among the Kristang.

This recipe comes from my maternal grandmother, who is Kristang, and is one of my favourite dishes. I guess you could use any kind of meat – we’ve typically done it either with pork or chicken but quite often, a mix of both. If you want to switch things up and have a bit more money, then the best meat is really a ham hock (or hough) or a pork knuckle. Typically, in Malaysia or Singapore and pretty much anywhere else, you’d find this in a supermarket or a good deli.

The ham hock is the portion of the leg that is neither part of the ham proper but not quite the foot or ankle – it is the shank end of the leg bone. There’s lots of skin, tendons and ligaments and very flavourful – typically, you would cut down on salt when cooking as a lot of salt comes from the hock which is smoked.

Ingredients

  • Chicken/Pork/Ham hock – about 1 kg. A mix of bones and fillet is good to ensure flavour
  • Potatoes – cut into large squares
  • 2.5 inch thick fresh ginger, peeled and then julienned
  • 1 fresh red chilly

Ingredients for the curry paste

  • 1 tbsp mustard seeds
  • 3 lemongrass (serai) stalks – sliced about 3 quarter ways down the stalk
  • 12 small onions – sliced
  • 10 – 15 dried chillies – sliced – or add as much as you like here
  • 1 inch belachan (dried shimp paste) – available at any ethnic store or Chinatown
  • 1 tbsp coriander powder
  • a dash of turmeric powder
  • 1 inch lengkuas (galangal which is from the ginger family, is traditionally used in Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian cuisine. Although related to ginger, these are not inter-changeable or substituted for each other as they have different flavours) – peeled and sliced
The ingredients for the paste should be cut into small pieces before putting in the blender so that it blends easily. You will need to add some water to the paste in order to blend. Control that amount by adding small quantities at a time into the blender so you don’t water down the paste too much. What you want is just enough water to get the blender to move.

The type of dried chilly also affects the level of heat. I find the dried chillies from India hotter than those from China. Also, there are different kinds of chillies so if you’re using habaneros, you’ll want to be careful about how much you use.

Directions

  1. You start by preparing your meats – washing, draining, cutting and keeping it aside.
  2. Get your potatoes cut, soaking them in water. Peel and slice the ginger.
  3. Heat about 2- 3 tbsp oil in a large pot. I can’t stress enough the use of the right sized pot. When water is added to a curry, after meat and potatoes have been braised for a while, it all adds up. You need to give your curry enough space to breathe and you need space for you to stir the pot once all ingredients are added.
  4. When the oil is hot, fry the ginger till its golden brown and then add the paste. At this point, the consistency should be thick. It shouldn’t be so watered down. Be aware that if your pot is hot, the paste will start ‘spitting’ so keep the lid close by so you can use it. This is a critical moment because you don’t want to burn the paste. So it’s important to keep stirring constantly, being around and not tending to something else and keeping the flame pretty high. You may find it drying out a bit so feel free to add more oil as needed. When the paste is pretty cooked, you will find the oil rises to the top. That’s a good sign.
  5. After about 5 – 7 minutes, you add the meat, ensuring that no amount of water has been put in together with the meat. Just dry fry the paste, coating the meat pieces evenly. This should be fried for another 5 -1 0 minutes.
  6. Then you add water and potatoes to the point that the water just barely covers the meat. Pieces of meat should stick out from the top. Too much water and the curry becomes watery and tasteless. Too little water and your curry will dry out eventually and risk getting burnt.
  7. You want to put the curry on a full flame until it begins to boil. At that point, you use a low to medium flame. For this quantity of meat, you’re looking at about 40 – 50 minutes cooking time.
  8. Halfway through, add the fresh chilly to the curry.
  9. Just before you take it off the heat, lower the flame to its lowest point, which brings the oil to the surface. About 2 minutes. Then switch off. You’re done.

Tip : If half-way through, you find that the curry is too mild, you can add chilly powder to increase the heat. Just directly sprinkled on the curry and stir.

Serving

This dish goes best with Chinese style stir-fried vegetables, preferably green-leaf and rice. It can complement breads – like naan, roti or paratha – really well also.

So, give it a go and let me know how it went in the comments section. Enjoy!

Awesome Home Made Granola

Granola

Category : Breakfast
Preparation time : 1 hour 20 mins ( made a double batch) – single batch would take about 45 mins.
Serves :  40 serves, I dunno, it looks like a ton!
Cost : USD19.95

Maybe this looks a little expensive but I did make a super large batch. And some of the ingredients are imported like the raisins, nuts and seeds, which adds to the cost. But if you can source locally grown stuff where you are, all the better.

I’ve always been fascinated by granola because it looks beautiful and colourful. I love the crunchy taste against the backdrop of cold milk or creamy yoghurt. Just a good blend of smells, taste and texture.

I didn’t want to ruin the batch given the large quantities I excitedly committed to so the short of it is :

  1. keep the temperature low at around 150 Celcius;
  2. don’t try to do something else while it’s in the oven. It needs constant supervision as it can easily burn.

Ingredients

Cereal
4 cups rolled oats
2 cups corn flakes (regular, unsweetened kind)

Seed/nuts
1 cup brazil nuts roughly chopped (or any other kind of nut like walnut, pecan, macadamia)
1 cup almond flakes
1 cup sunflower seeds (or other seeds like pumpkin or sesame)
2 cups dried coconut slivers (or dessicated coconut if you cant find that)

Others
1/2 cup good quality honey
3/4 cup neutral oil (sunflower, grapeseed or canola)
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp nutmeg powder

Dried fruit
Cranberries
Raisins and/or currants
Dried papaya

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 150 Celcius.
2. Line the oven tray with thick aluminium foil.
3. The ratio is 6 parts dry to 1 part wet (the ‘wet’ is the oil + honey combo). The oil and honey should be whisked together with the vanilla essence. Keep aside.
4. The fruits should be kept separate as they are added later.
5. Combine the nuts, cereals and seeds with coconut. Add the nutmeg powder to this mix.
6. Once the cereal is mixed well, add the oil/honey combo, using a wooden spoon to stir until everything is well coated.
7. Spread this out evenly on the foil and place in the middle rack of the oven.
8. I feel checking in often is a safer bet than leaving it there for 30 mins at a go. So check every 15 mins or so and stir the mix, bringing the mix at the bottom to the top. If it burns, it will burn first at the sides and bottom of the tray.
9. I had it in there for 45 mins but if you don’t want it so toasted, you could easily remove it at 35 mins.
10. Once out of the oven, transfer immediately to another tray to cool down. Then add the dried fruits and mix well.
11. Best kept in an airtight container or to last longer, keep it in the fridge.

Serving options
Grab a handful for a nutritious snack.
Have it for breakfast with either cold milk or yoghurt.

It looks a bit hard but its actually quite easy to do. The only thing is to commit the time because you can’t do anything else while it’s in the oven. It’s a great thing to have because you can control the quality of ingredients you use and the amount of sugar added. You can also mix and match, adding or subtracting some stuff as it takes your fancy. Remember though that the dried fruit is quite sweet so don’t go overboard with the honey. Bonus : its full of great protein (due to large quantity of rolled oats) and good oils (from the nuts and seeds).

Let me know how yours goes…

 

Vietnamese Noodle Salad

Category : Thai Cuisine
Preparation time : 40 mins
Serves :  4 people
Cost : below USD8

This is cheap and super delish! It has a very clean taste but can pack a punch because of the combination of chilly and limes. There’s quite a bit of preparation involved but on the plus side, very little cooking as such. And as with many things, its always a little tough the first time around, to figure out portion sizes and balance in flavour but you get better the more times you try it.

If you love Vietnamese, you will absolutely love trying this out. I used to order this dish (No.37 on the menu) at a quaint little restaurant, back when I lived in Sydney many years back. I realised that it’s now possible to recreate that which I love and my heart sings indeed!

I downloaded a recipe for the Vietnamese Noodle Salad but as is typical of me, I never follow recipes to the tee. I always have to put my own twist on it. So the recipe I found was a Vietnames Noodle Salad aka Bun Bo Xao, which translates to stir fry beef. However, the meals I remember having incorporated pork strips on skewers instead. I had mince pork only so I used that.

So, the lesson here is firstly, make the recipe your own and secondly, it’s often possible to just use what you have.

Ingredients

For the Sauce
4 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 tablespoons lime juice
4 tablespoons fish sauce
2 garlic cloves minced
1 inch ginger, minced
1 bird’s eye chilli, chopped fine

For the Pork Skewers
1/2 kilo mince pork
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 garlic cloves minced
3 tablespoons finely chopped lemon grass
4 small onions

The raw ingredients
half head of lettuce
2 small carrots
2 small cucumber
1 radish
cilantro/coriander leaves
mint leaves

Other ingredients
4 tablespoons roasted peanuts
beansprouts
1 packet of glass noodles, made of mung beans. You could also substitute with rice noodles (bee hoon) (boiled) but glass noodles is really the thing to go for.

Making the Sauce
1. Combine all the sauce ingredients and then let it stand for a while.2. Taste it and adjust saltiness, sourness or sweetness to your liking.

Making the Pork Skewers
1. Combine the ingredients for the pork skewers above and let it marinate for about 20 mins or more.
2. Then combine and make them into little oval balls. Insert a skewer through and press the mince down so it’s flattish – this will help it cook faster.3. I used a simple curly skillet to then fry up the skewers with a touch of oil. It should not take more than 15 mins depending on the size of the skewers.

And the raw ingredients?
Carrots, cucumber and radish need to be julienned, roughly chopped will do as well, but julienned is better to allow absorption of sauce and presents better.

The Noodles
Once you boil the noodles, you should rinse in cold water and strain. Glass noodles appear clear once cooked. After the noodles are done, blanch the bean sprouts.

Putting it all together
1. Once the meat, noodles and sauce are prepared, you can then assemble.
2. Get deep bowls to be served per person. Line each bowl with lettuce leaves.
3. Place some noodles inside – not too much as the main feature is the vegetables.
4. Top noodles with the sprouts, carrots, cucumber and radish, Sprinkle the coriander and mint leaves and top with chopped chilli and crushed peanuts.
5. Place two skewers in the bowl on the side.
6. Ideally, each person should have a small bowl of their sauce. Quantity should be about the amount of half a teacup. Each person can then pour their sauce over the dish when they are ready to eat and then toss well before digging in.

Once you’ve had it once, you will know whether you want to keep your vegetables thinly cut or more chunky or whether you want more fish sauce or sourness. Then you can adjust it accordingly. Don’t expect to get the sauce right the first time and be sure that the quality of the dish depends on the quality of brown sugar and fish sauce you use.

Now go out and give this a shot!

Easy Peasy Roast Vegetables

roastvegetables01

Category : Vegetables
Preparation time : 20 mins
Serves : 3 – 4 people
Cost : below USD4

There will be days when you want something simple, effortless and yet, tasty.  Most times, effortless and tasty means 400 empty calories but not this. Try it !

Ingredients

2 Japanese cucumbers or zucchini
2 eggplant (otherwise known as brinjal or aubergine) – go for the long variety instead of the round ones
2 bell peppers (get contrasting colours like red, yellow or orange) to set against the green and purple.
Good quality olive oil
Salt, pepper

Note : You can add as many vegetables as you like but you need to ensure you have a flat dish that can take all these vegetables spread out. The more spread out the vegetables, the more evenly they can cook and look good without getting bruised as you turn them around. The best vegetables to roast are hardy vegetables include  carrots, turnip, beetroots, celery. Just experiment and see what works for you – that’s the best way to cook.

Directions

1. Clean the vegetables and slice them lengthwise. Each strip should be thick eg about 3cm. If its too thin, it sticks to the pan,  burns easily and cant take the flipping over. If its too thick, it will take too long to roast and you will need to increase the amount of oil to ensure it roasts well, thus making the dish too oily.

2. Season with salt and pepper. Add garlic powder if you like that.

3. Preheat the oven at 180C before you start preparing the vegetables. Once you put the vegetables in, its best to check it periodically and adjust the heat downwards as time goes by, perhaps lowering to 165C if you need to.

4. It will take about 20 mins or so. You will need to check it every 10 mins or so and then flip the vegetables over, making sure each slice is well coated with the olive oil.

5. Best served with roasts and barbeques but accompanies pasta dishes well too. Garnish with arugula leaves and some chopped parsley.

Super sweet from the bell peppers, healthy and so easy to make.

roastvegetables02

Homestyle Flavourful Chicken Rice

Homestyle Flavourful Chicken Rice

Category : Chinese
Preparation time : 1.5 hours
Serves : 4 – 5 people
Cost : below USD10

This is one of those moments when I wish I had a professional protographer around who could do justice to this dish. Don’t judge this purely on face value, this is really one dish worth trying. It is delicious, warms (and fills!) you up and completely satisfying. This is my take on the classic Hainanese Chicken Rice. The product of another day in the kitchen, working simply with what I have and going with the flow.

Ingredients

1/2 chicken cut into big pieces
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
a few drops of dark soy/ caramel soy
salt to taste
white pepper
a dash or two of sesame seed oil
4 cups rice
chicken stock (or you could get a chicken carcass and boil that down) – you need about 6 cups stock which will be used to cook the rice
cucumber – thickly sliced at an angle
ginger
garlic
vegetable oil for cooking
coriander leaves coarsely chopped

Directions

To prepare the chicken

1. Clean and drain the chicken pieces.

2. Prepare a marinade of light soy, dark soy, salt, white pepper, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and a dash or two of sesame oil. Mix it well with the chicken. If you have the opportunity, let it sit for about 30 minutes. If not, just go for it and get that on the steamer. This should take about 40 minutes or so  – check the chicken to be sure. As it steams, you will find that there’s a sauce building up inside your dish – that is very flavourful and will be used to drizzle on top of the rice when serving.

To prepare the rice

3. If you have stock ready, prepare your rice and replace the water with stock. If you prefer to make your stock as I did, simply chop up a chicken carcass. The more you chop the bones up, the more flavour emanates from it and permeates the soup. Dont add too much water or the stock will not have enough taste – you only need to pull 6 cups of water from this. The water level should be on par with the pieces of bones etc put in or a little bit more. Add a bit of salt as you cook this on a medium flame, for about 20 – 25 minutes.

To prepare the condiments

4. Ginger oil.
Simply pound half a ginger (about half the size of your palm) and fry that in vegetable oil (about 3 tablespoons). Medium heat as it burns easily, then remove and cool. This takes about 2 minutes.

5. Raw garlic.
As described, chopped finely and served raw.

6. Coriander.
Chopped coarsely.

Putting it all together

7. This dish must be served warm – it just does not work as well otherwise. Do it justice. The rice should be stuffed into a small bowl and then turned out… so it presents well. Place the chicken on the side of the rice with a little sauce. Place a little sauce on top of the rice also. Place a generous amount of coriander leaves on top of the rice with a bit of ginger right on top. Drizzle with some of the ginger oil. Sliced cucumbers on the side.

Pow -wow, that is carbo overload for sure, but its so worth the frantic morning run the next day.

* prices are based on cost of living in Malaysia but converted to USD currency for international readers.

Turkish Pide

Turkish Pide

Category : Bread
Preparation time : 2 hours (including the time set aside for the bread to rise – if you don’t count that time, the actual time spent slogging over this is about 30 mins)
Serves : 5- 7 people
Cost : USD7

Who does not love bread? I first came across Turkish pide in Sydney, more than 15 years ago. And there’s nothing quite like a warm Turkish pide with butter and vegemite. I am all for savoury but this can go very well with any kind of jam too.

This is a perfect opportunity to get away from the sliced white nonsense you see in the shops and try something that’s relatively easy. The first time you try this might seem like a lot of work but its only because its your first time. It gets much easier the next time and its worth the time and effort because these two loaves go a long way.

This is actually easy to do and the smell coming from your oven is absolutely heavenly. The bread is hearty and keeps you full. And you can make some wonderful sandwiches with them. To make them last, I suggest keeping them in the fridge and just warming them up in a toaster when you want it.

Ingredients

4 teaspoons dried yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
4 oz warm water
2 oz all purpose flour
14 oz bread/high protein flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
Sesame seeds

Directions

1. Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water and let it stand for about 10 – 15 minutes. It will get frothy. Water needs to be warm – too cold and the yeast will not activate, too hot and the yeast dies. 37 – 43 C is best.

2. Meanwhile, combine the bread flour and all purpose flour with salt and olive oil. Make a well in the centre and add the frothy water to the flour mix. Start mixing well and don’t be afraid to get all gooey and dirty. This is the fun part. The dough will be quite sticky – go with the flow. If you find its too sticky, just add more flour to a consistency you are happy to work with. You might add up to 2 cups more in total like I did.

One thing about working in the kitchen is that you need to be prepared to fail and fail often. That is how you learn your recipe and figure out what you like and don’t like. Most people like to make it look so easy but there are tough moments for sure. But you can keep trying because it’s fun stuff.

Although they say that the dough eventually stops sticking to your hands, I don’t find that to be the case. It gets pretty sticky, I just add more flour and as long as its sticky and damp, you are good. It should be springy and pliable to all that kneading. Not more than 10 – 15 minutes for all of this – you don’t want to overwork the thing.

3. Put the dough in a buttered or oiled big bowl as it will now slowly expand and get to work. Cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel and best to keep it somewhere warm. It helps the whole process.

4. Over 30 minutes to 1 hour (check and see how it’s going), you will come back and check to discover it is rising and getting bigger. You’re on the right track!

5. At this point, you can either keep going – to get it bigger or time it for when you are ready to bake – or you can chuck this in the oven shortly. So set the oven. I’ve seen some recipes that call for 260 C but it felt too hot for me. So I set my oven at 260 C initially to warm up and then dropped it to 180 C. Try this and see if this works for you and adjust accordingly. Each oven is different.

6. Generally, they use quarry tiles to place the bread on but if you don’t have those, just place them on the tray itself. As the oven is quite hot, placing it directly on the tray may burn/blacken the bottom. I used a foil and it did the trick.

7. This is the part where you shape your loaf. You split the dough into 2 balls. Knead them again and then make it into a ball. Keep aside for 30 minutes.

8. The balls will rise again – you then spread it out with your fingers gently into a round shape. Use a brush and spread the egg mixture generously on the top of the dough.

9. Wet your hands and slowly start making it more oval shaped. Press the dough with the edge of your palm to make an indentation around the edges of the circle – like a border. Press hard – it bounces up again a little.

10. Dip your fingers into the egg mixture and then with your fingertips pointing down, you dig deep into the dough across the oval. Go all the way down. Then you spread the sesame seeds.

11. As you place it in the oven, you will lift with your hands and stretch to make it more oval shaped.

12. It bakes in about 10 minutes or less. Test it with a skewer to ensure it comes out clean.

Makes 2 medium loaves.

* prices are based on cost of living in Malaysia but converted to USD currency for international readers.