Sunday, September 28, 2008

Kuih Makmur - My Little Turtles

These are the cookies I made yesterday for Raya (Eid). A rich concoction of plain flour, ghee and butter. Very much like a very rich shortbread with a nut and sugar filling and dusted with icing sugar after baking. Yummy if you like a rich cookie. I indulge once a year and this cookie just melts in your mouth. mmmmmm.......A little fiddly to make though but looks very pretty and worth the effort.

I will post the recipe once the festivities are over. I made this by eye and did not weigh the ingredients. I'll make some more after Eid just to post it on the blog.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Golden Corn Fritters

This is an amazingly simple recipe with amazing results. Crunchy, full of the fresh raw nuggets of sunshiny corn just off the cob fried to a golden crisp. The addition of cornflour adds to the crunchiness. Good for a snack or as an additional dish to a meal. I have tried many versions and have found that the large proportion of raw corn to flour is the key and essence of what I think makes a good corn fritter.

1 cup of plain flour
1/2 cup of corn flour
Kernels of corn scraped off 4 fresh cobs of sweet corn
2 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic paste ( 2-3 cloves of garlic)
dash of pepper
dash of cayenne pepper
a sprinkle of dried parsley flakes
3/4 cup of water

1/2 cup (approximate) of vegetable oil

Mix flours, peppers, salt and parsley flakes into a bowl. Add raw kernels. Add water. Mix. Heat oil in a pan. Fry. Shallow fry a tablespoon at a time until a golden brown and crisp and crunchy to the eye. Drain. Serve. With or without a chillie sauce. Enjoy.

TIP* If you're thinking of using canned corn kernels, think again. It's not going to work because there is simply too much moisture in them that the finished result will just not be the same. You'll miss the crunchiness and the bite of raw fresh corn off the cob fried to a nugget. mmmfh...

TIP* To make an even yummier version, add minced prawns/shrimps to the mixture or vary the flavour with chopped coriander instead of parsley. Create.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Rendang - Its History and the Original Rendang Recipe

The Minagkabau Rendang

Aahhh.............the Mother of all Rendangs! Invented and spread by the Minangkabaus as they ventured beyond their comfort zones into the Malay peninsula. Centuries ago. Resulting in the love and savouring of the rendang today all over Malaysia, by all Malaysians, of all races, and from all walks of life. So perhaps a short delve into the story of the Minangkabaus as a people is not uncalled for here.

The Minangkabaus are a people indigenous to the highlands of West Sumatra in Indonesia. They practice a matrilineal culture (apparently the world's largest matrilineal society) where property and land passes from mothers to daughters while their men dabble in religion and politics. Hmmmm.....that's rendang for thought.

The name Minangkabau is thought to be a conjunction of two words; minang (victorious) and kabau (buffalo). Legend has it that the name derived as a result of a territorial dispute between a neighbouring prince and the Minagkabaus.

To avoid bloodshed (of the human kind of course) the two adversaries each put up a buffalo to a fight. And to cut a long legend short the Minagkabau's buffalo emerged victorious and it was at that point that the 'Minagkabaus' were born; as in 'Victorious Buffalo'.

What they called themselves before that though is anyone's guess. But they were a proud people and were renowned as travellers and merchants. They travelled and set up communities in the Malay peninsula and in other parts of Indonesia and brought with them their particular foods that are very much enjoyed here today.

The picture above, taken from Wikipedia, shows a beautiful Minangkabau 'Big House' or 'Rumah Gadang' designed in such a way that its roof was inspired by and took on the shape of the upward curve of a buffalo's horns. Further proof that the legend perhaps is a little more than mere legend.

Rendang is one of the characteristic foods of Minagkabau culture, served during ceremonial occasions and to honour guests.

Although westerners might categorize rendang as a curry, rendang is in actual fact nothing like a curry, at least not in the way that it is cooked.

Rendang is cooked very slowly in plenty (and I mean really plenty) of coconut milk with a combination of spices and herbs for several hours until all the liquid has evaporated thus allowing the meat to soak in and absorb the flavours of all the condiments.

The cooking process begins as boiling but it changes eventually to frying as the liquid evaporates and the meat begins to cook in the oil of the coconut milk itself. There is no sauteeing of the spices in vegetable oil first, unlike in a curry, but the meat is simply boiled in the coconut milk with the spices and herbs thrown in.

What gives it its dark, deep and rich colour, which is an important characteristic of a good rendang, is the result of the large amount of coconut milk used in proportion to the meat. The oil from the coconut milk after the liquid has evaporated 'fries' the meat to a dark, reddish brown.

The first squeeze of thick coconut milk from two mature grated coconuts to one kati (catty)(approximately half a kilogram) of meat is the normal ratio in a Minang rendang recipe. Kerisik (freshly grated or dessicated coconut dry fried to a golden brown and pounded to a paste) is quite unnecessary as the large amount of coconut milk and the oil obtained from it is more than sufficient to give the rendang its dark and rich coconutty flavour.

History has it that the rendang was thus cooked because it was the best way to preserve cooked food during times when refrigeration would have been unfathomable.

As a result, there emerged two kinds of rendang, the wet and the dry. The wet lasting about a month if kept well and the dry lasting two to three months. The dry rendang was usually served on ceremonial occasions and was a convenient dish to serve to visitors who dropped in unexpectedly over time.

Rendang was cooked using mostly beef or sometimes mutton, buffalo meat and also chicken or duck. But chicken or duck rendang however has tamarind juice as an additional ingredient and does not require as long a cooking time as beef.

The downside of cooking a real Minang rendang though is that it takes ages, hours, and the upside is that it is incomparable when it comes to flavour and taste!

As far as I am concerned, it's worth its wait in gold (pun intended).

The Recipe......

The large amount of onions used gives this dish its thick rich sauce and adds a savoury sweetness as it cooks and caramelizes with the other condiments towards the end of the long cooking. Kerisik (grated or dessicated coconut dry fried to a golden brown and pounded to a paste) is not necessary as this recipe includes plenty of thick coconut milk.

I kg. beef or mutton, cubed in sizeable chunks

400 gm large red onions or shallots
4 cloves garlic
1 1/2 inch galangal/lengkuas
1 1/2 inch ginger/halia
1/2 inch fresh tumeric/kunyit
2 stalks lemon grass/serai
8-10 pieces of *dried or fresh red chillies, or a combination, (more if preferred)
* dried chillies (soak in hot water to soften for 10 minutes before being ground)

**1200 ml thick coconut milk, preferably freshly squeezed, obtained from 4 grated coconuts

1 tumeric leaf
5-6 pieces kaffir lime leaves
2 tsp salt

**I have converted the previous measurement of 900-1000 grams of coconut milk to milliliters and have specified the number of coconuts to be used for easier and more specific measuring.

Slice onions, garlic, galangal, ginger, tumeric and lemon grass and then grind them in a food processor ( my preference) or a blender, if you prefer, until it becomes a paste.

Put all ingredients - cubed meat, ground paste, tumeric leaf, kaffir lime leaves, santan and salt into a large pot or wok and bring to a boil. As soon as it comes to a boil lower heat and let it simmer for the rest of the cooking time until the mixture becomes a dark, dark, rich brown. This will be achieved as the colour changes shades through several stages in the cooking.

Stir every once in a while to ensure that the bottom does not get burnt or that the meat does not stick to the bottom of the pot or wok. The rendang is ready when the mixture becomes dark, rich and brown or if it is cooked to a drier stage the colour would be an even darker chocolate brown.

I actually cooked this yesterday for about four and a half hours. Don't let this discourage you though for it's worth the wait.

TIP* Through trial and error I have found that rendang is best cooked in a heavy based wok or in a heavy based, wide mouthed pot as opposed to a high narrow pot. The larger surface area allows evaporation to take place more rapidly and the heat is not entirely concentrated on breaking down the meat inspite of the long cooking process. So you will still get a nice thick sauced rendang while still maintaining chunks of meat satisfactorily intact.

TIP* Select rump, knuckle or topside for rendang, not sirloin. Sirloin is too tender to withstand the long cooking and you will probably end up with ground mush instead.

TIP* If packaged coconut milk is used instead of fresh, you may not end up with the glaze of oil towards the end of the cooking and the rendang may not be satisfactorily dark or moist. This would probably be caused by the fact that packaged coconut milk has lost most of its natural oils after being processed.

The only way to overcome this problem is by sauteeing the ground ingredients in oil first, as you would a curry, then add the rest of the ingredients after which you should continue to cook it as you would a rendang.

But the 'darkness' of the rendang is also a result of the large amount of fresh coconut milk used as it provides more oil for the meat to 'fry' in towards the end and therefore becoming darker. This means that even if you saute the ground ingredients in oil first the final product will still not be as dark brown as a dish that uses fresh coconut milk in the amount stated in the recipe above.

I am afarid all this obsession with darkness in rendang has got to do with the fact that it is one of the means by which I judge a good rendang. Through experience, pale, light brown coloured rendangs never taste good let alone look good. Having learnt this recipe from a 'thouroughbred' elderly Minagkabau lady years ago I have set her rendang as the 'GOLD STANDARD' in rendang world.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Claypot Mutton Rendang

Hari Raya (Eid) is around the corner and I'm thinking of making a claypot or casserole mutton rendang. I tried it recently and it turned out to be very, very good. Something different from the usual beef rendang, was a healthier option and it was easy on the washing up as well. I was more relaxed because I knew in my mind that my stove wouldn't get spat on by the bubbling and simmering concoction which meant that I wouldn't be using up much of my depleting energy reserves cleaning it up afterwards. That and in addition to the fact that a one pot casserole that is popped into the oven can be conveniently forgotten for at least an hour if not more. In other words less stress, less work and more blogging time.

The recipe would serve four rather starving people or six civilized eaters. My children stared quite malignantly at the empty dish trying hard to to will more into existence. That's enough proof that I should either keep this recipe to myself or share it. But share it I must. It's the spirit of the season. TIP* Use a pretty casserole or claypot with a 2 litre capacity.

900 gm of cubed boneless mutton

2 large red onions
4 cloves garlic
1 inch of fresh galangal/lengkuas, sliced
1 inch fresh ginger, sliced
1/2 inch fresh tumeric, sliced
1 - 2 tbsp chilli paste or more if you prefer ( made from blended/processed soaked dried chillies or bottled chilli paste)
1 tbsp tomato puree (optional)
2 stalks lemon grass/serai, sliced
1 tbsp powdered cumin/jintan putih

The above ingredients (mutton not included) are to be blitzed in a food processor or in a blender. I personally prefer using a food processor as I needn't add water to the mixture which results in a thicker and more concentrated paste and less simmering/cooking time in order to achieve a thick and rich rendang sauce (which is everyone's goal in the cooking of rendang).

2 large onions, sliced and fried in some oil (approx. 2 tbsp) till caramalized or a golden brown, drained and kept aside till needed.

1/2 cup freshly grated or dessicated coconut, fried dry in a pan till golden brown and blitzed in a grinder or food processor. Or you could just buy some ready made (called kerisik) at the wet market. Keep aside.

1 piece tumeric leaf/daun kunyit, shredded or left whole
5 - 6 pieces kaffir lime leaf/daun limau purut, left whole

440 ml thick coconut milk ( I used 'canned' not fresh) because I find it thicker and more concentrated

1/2 cup (more or less) vegetable oil

Put cubed mutton in a claypot or casserole. Put shredded or whole tumeric leaves and lime leaves, the golden brown fried sliced onions and the 'kerisik' in as well.

Meanwhile saute the ground ingredients till fragrant and or the paste turns a darker, richer colour and the oil rises to the top. When done add this cooked paste (oil and all) to the mutton in claypot or casserole. Pour in the thick coconut milk. Add salt. Give the mixture a good careful mix so that the meat is well coated with all the spices and coconut milk. Cover.

Pop it into the oven at 200 F for about 1 hour or a little more than that and then lower the heat to 180 F and cook uncovered or half covered till the sauce thickens and turns a rich dark brown. I did not check the time when I did this so you will have to look in after half and hour or so and let it continue to cook if not done yet. I believe I left it in for about another hour. Add more salt if necessary.

I had it in the oven for a about 21/2 hours in all. Plenty of time to watch AFC, read, write, have a stomach ache or even a nap (WITH THE TIMER ON!).

Serve it straight from the oven to the table, after giving it a good wipe around the edges of course.

Why this dish tasted good:

The fried caramelized onions added a savoury sweetness.

A long, slow cooking time allowed the meat to absorb all the flavours.

The ground paste was sauteed first which brought out the savoury sweetness of the ingredients.

The addition of kerisik added the richness of the coconut flavour to it and gave it its dark, deep colour. (Sometimes I omit the kerisik and it does not taste as good)

Why casserole cooking was more convenient then the traditional stove top cooking:

I avoided the problem of scraping the bottom of the pot every now and then to ensure that the meat at the bottom doesn't stick or get burnt.

The meat cooks evenly as the heat from the oven surrounds the whole casserole; therefore it eliminated the need to stir the mixture.

Here are some of my casseroles, minus the one that I had dropped to smithereens, the one I cracked and the one that's missing a cover.

Next post : The History of Rendang - recipe for the true traditional Minangkabau rendang

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cupcake Art

This is art. Zalita's gorgeous cupcakes!

I never, in my life, thought that I would one day get inspiration from cupcakes. Those little cakes of convenience were how I used to regard them. Simple, quick to make and needing nothing more than a swirl or a dollop of cream with a cherry on top and they're ready to go.
But my life has changed. I have been rattled out of my box and have come to regard cupcakes with more respect, reverence and amazement. I will never look at a cupcake the same way again!
Like everything else in life, cupcakes have evolved and, as I see it, are one of the things in life that are, without a doubt, getting better, more beautiful and are, at this point in time, completely awe-inspiring.
Inspiration here I come.

With inspiration hovering above it looks like I'll have to get back to making fondant again. Back to the cake art books, gazing at cake designs, floating about in cake world and picking my brains.

Plus I'll have to get a new set of tools and ingredients too....fondant embossers, pearl dust, silver dust, gold dust, the emptying of my purse, dirtying my hands, sleepless nights, washing up, second thoughts.

Hey Inspiration where are you?

However, just as I feel inspiration slipping away, I've just been informed of a new baking supply store, The Cake Connection, at Jaya One, which is a newly renovated shopping complex. I haven't been there myself but I do believe that it is the old Jaya Supermarket complex albeit with a new face. Now I'll have to decide whether that is good news or bad news.

Five hundred products at our disposal it seems. I must check this store out and pray that they have what I need with affordable prices thrown in. Otherwise, fancy cupcake art will be just another item on my extremely long, ridiculous, becoming fictional to-do list.

Check out The Cake Connection.

More of Zalita's cupcake art that I envy at

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Captured Moments in Ohio

A visit to the US in her spring of 2007 for my daughter's fifth delivery brought me to Ohio, Colombus. Inspite of an excrutiating journey of seventeen hours from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and sprinting 200 meters in my high heels to catch the connecting flight from Detroit to Ohio, it was a moment that I was not to regret.

I witnessed, with bated breath, the birth of my fifth grandchild, a healthy, bouncing baby boy, I spent precious moments with his sisters and a brother and I had invaluable mother and daughter time, amidst diapers, dirty dishes, and my daughter's lovely and lively girlfriends.

It was time well spent and although most of it was spent at my daughter's home I was fortunate enough towards the end of my stay to have been able to glimpse and catch snatches of beautiful Ohio country, its scenic river Scotio and some beautiful homes.

I have captured glimmers of these precious picturesque moments and I share them with you.

Mirror Lake at the Ohio University was exceptionally beautiful when I captured it. A looking glass that shimmers in the sun. It was a reflection for thought.

Lavender blooms near my daughter's home.


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