Saturday, February 27, 2010


This is my fourth contribution to Food For Thought. A fortnightly meme, the brainchild of the wonderfully talented Jain of food With Style and of  Once in a Blue Moon

If you read a book and love to cook post a post as Food For Thought.

**** and a half

Lives lived are mostly dysfunctional. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout throws that fact into our faces. And I find it hard to dispute otherwise.

Olive is a large woman, solidly built, who lives without apology. She may be illogical, logical, temperamental, perceptive, obsessive, ego-centric, compassionate or abrasive. Or all of them at once. You feel her rage, you connect with her frustrations and her denials but at times you also despise her. Finally you sympathize in her fight to endure.

This is a book about several people, each, neck deep in living out their lives and reacting. Some desperately, some resignedly and some stubbornly to the crap their world has to offer.

This is also a story about the pain of growing old, the feeling of despair and frustration when you watch your stroke striken spouse become blank and distant then relieved and heartbroken when he dies. It is about the anger welling inside of you as you watch your children grow away and who seem intent on breaking your heart. It is about being "done with that stuff" in regards to bedroom life and about "I don't care if I die either....Long as it's quick."

This is a story about spouses who sense the infidelity, each in the other, mentally or physically, but who sometimes choose to pretend otherwise, to appear, even to themselves, to understand, intent on rationalizing the unacceptable or where things happen that alter their perception of each other forever. 

It is about wondering how or why you have become what you are and your marraige what it is. This is a story about life. Take it or leave it.

There is no plot really. Like real life. Strout presents Olive Kitteridge through the stories of uniquely different people each connected to Olive in some way, significantly or otherwise, in a small town of Crosby, Maine, a town by the sea where the waves lap, the seagulls squawk, the wind blows and the flowers bloom.

It ends with Olive Kitteridge feeling vindicated in her belief at the age of seventy four "that lumpy aged and wrinkled bodies were as needy as their own young firm ones."

I found the book depressing but from page 203 onwards Strout 's descriptions of situations and characters began to take on the occasional hilarious streak. Some simply made me laugh out loud. 

Olive is a multi-faceted character, like us. And to be able to write about people like us in minute and introspective detail, with clarity, is astonishing and, to read it, is frightening.

This is not a book for everyone. It wasn't unputdownable for me simply because it was mostly depressing or perhaps because it was too raw, uncomfortably truthful and blatant about angry feelings, about growing old, about infidelity, about imperfection, about real life. Perhaps we all live in denial at some point of our lives.

It won the Pulitzer Prize and I can certainly see why.

Perhaps ~

We may be old enough to make choices but we may never be old enough to know if we have made the right ones. 

Olive Kitteridge loves doughnuts. 

Dunkin donuts was where Olive and Henry, her affable husband, would stop by for a coffee, for doughnuts and for the doughnut holes. Doughnuts feature consistently in the book and I knew it had to be either donuts or doughnuts for Food For Thought.

It's amazing how pretty and playful doughnuts can look. I'm not much of a doughnut person and am amazed that people actually make a long bee line for doughnuts from a shop called Big Apple Donuts when it opened several years ago. I must say their toppings simply set them apart. They were gorgeously pretty. You just have to click on their link.They are beautiful! Sorry Dunkin Donuts!

If I had a little bit more love for doughnuts I would probably be queuing up myself.

This doughnut recipe belongs to Delia Smith. These doughnuts are gorgeously delicious, soft and thick. I've never tried any other doughnut recipe but my son says a lady at his university canteen sells doughnuts that are just so good because they are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. But I don't have her recipe so Delia Smith's it is.

The recipe ~
Makes 8 doughnuts......

8 oz plain flour
11/2 oz castor sugar
2 tsp dried yeast ( I used the same amount of instant yeast)
1 egg, beaten
1 oz butter
1/2 tsp salt
3 T milk
3 T boiling water

Oil for frying


Measure the milk into a measuring jug and then add the boiling water, a teaspoon of the sugar and the yeast. Stir it and leave the jug in a warm place for about 10 minutes till the yeast mixture froths. Put the rest of the sugar, the salt and the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter. Then pour in the beaten egg and frothy yeast mixture and stir and mix to a smooth dough. If it sems a little dry add a tespoon or so of warm water. 

Turn the dough out onto a board and knead for about 10 minutes by which time it should feel springy and show slight blisters just under the surface. return it to the bowl, cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place to rise until double in size, about 45 minutes to an hour.

When it has risen tip it out onto a board and punch it down to disperse large air bubbles. Divide the dough into 8 equal parts and flatten to a disc.

At this point I depart from Delia Smith by shaping it into a ring instead of filling the centre with jam. 

Once shaped place on a baking tray and enclose them in an oiled plastic bag or a bin liner as Delia suggests. Let them rise for 30 minutes. Heat up enough oil (I used canola) in a pot to deep fry to about 185 C and fry the doughnuts, turning them frequently so that htey will brown evenly. About 4 minutes frying time.

drain on kitchen paper tehn toss then on a bowl of castor sugar or any sugar combination that you like.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Here are some not so pretty pies that I made. Hunks. But they taste so good that I had to post. (The one in the picture above is one of the better ones).

An odd thing about this pie is that it has a front and a rear end. It's twice the size of a curry puff, is not quite a semi circle, is not a round, is not a square nor is it a rectangle. It has an unname-able odd shape. And they're not exactly dainty either.

I used to see these gorgeous hunks whenever the Chinese roti man in a van came honking around in the evenings in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. They were handsomer than mine. The pies.

These are pies or turnovers made with a particular Chinese pastry recipe that I had scribbled down in haste from a tv show while pacifying my year old daughter at the time. A precious layered crust as delicate and as flaky and soft as a thousand year old stack of parchments newly dug from an archeological site Somewhere.

I went through 2 trials to get the crust and shape to look somewhat presentable. It is made up of 2 types of dough. One enclosed in the other and then rolled out. Some lightness of hand is required here to avoid the inside dough from leaking out. 

Often these pastries are filled with kaya, a rich delicious Malaysian coconut jam or a sweet bean paste or a savoury mushroom filling. I chose  the latter.

The filling was delicious, if I have to say so myself. I made it loosely based on the original mushroom filling recipe. I had used button mushrooms the first time and the second time around I used a combo of shitake and enoki mushrooms.

It was simply delicious. My children and even my husband who isn't inclined to play food were nodding with pleasure and I heard some mmmm-hmmmms from crammed mouths of crust.

There aren't a million pictures in this post because I couldn't get any decent pictures, my motivation dying little deaths at each click. 

I have to tell you that I took some shots of the filling as in a dramatic quaking of the pie with the filling spilling out theatrically onto the plate. Well that looked even worse so I'm not posting the pic lest I disgrace myself. 

I know these photos are not going to make it pass Foodgawker or Tastespotting with whom I have a love hate realationship going.

But let me insist that it was GOOD!

The recipe ~

The pastry....

Dough (A)

240 gm bread flour
120 gm shortening
45 gm castor sugar
4 T cold water
1 tsp lime juice or lemon juice (I used apple cider vinegar because that was  what I had)

Dough (B)
90 gm plain flour
70 gm shortening

Sift the flours seperately in seperate bowls. For dough A put in teh sugar, a little less if you prefer, mix it then add the shortening and using a pastry cutter or 2 knifes cut into the fat and flour until the mixture becomes a coarse meal. Then using your fingers rub until fine like breadcrumbs. Pour in teh liquids and bring the dough together gently until it becomes a smooth mound. Leave to rest for 15 to 20 minutes.

For dough B, add the fat into the flour and using a metal or wooden spoon stir to mix until it becomes a paste and, lightly, using your fingers bring the dough together. This dough is more paste like than dough like.

After resting, divide both doughs inot 10 equal pieces. 

Roll out one piece of dough A into a small thick circle about 21/2 inches in diameter and place a ball of dough B in the centre. Bring up the edges of dough A and scrunch it up at the top, squeeze to seal and roll gently into a smooth ball. Roll out into a longish oval about 5 inches long and 21/2 inches across. Be careful not to let the inside dough leak out. A little tricky.

Place a small mound of filling on one half of the oval leaving 1 cm clean around the edges. Wipe some egg white around the half the edges and turn over the other half of the dough , seal and crimp with your fingers or use a fork. Place on a lined baking tray. Do the same for the rest of the dough and filling.

Brush the tops of the pies with egg yolk. Bake in a preheated oven at 180 C for 25 - 30 minutes.

The filling.......

250 gm of any combination of mushrooms, brushed clean and stalks removed if necessary and sliced,
120 gm of thinly shredded beef or other meat
1/2 large white onion
3 cloves garlic
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornflour

1 tsp balsamic vinegar
some chives, chopped 1 inch lengths
black pepper
cooking oil

Marinate the beef with the soy sauce, sugar and cornflour. Keep aside.

Slice onion and garlic. Heat pan and add 1 -2 T cooking oil. Saute onion and garlic till soft. Add mushrooms and saute about 3-4 minutes. Dont let the mushrooms soften too much.

Add the marinated beef, salt, black pepper and stir until the beef is cooked, probably about 4-5 minutes on medium heat. Put in balsamic vinegar and adjust seasoning if necessary. If there is some thin juice in the mixture mix 1 tsp of cornflour with a little water and add to mix and heat until the sauce thickens. Allow to completely cool before use.

Friday, February 19, 2010


I falter at the word cake to describe Malaysian 'cakes' or kuih (pronounced ko-weh). Ours, in culture, are very much more like the Spanish tapas, like snacks, served and eaten at any time of the day.

In taste and texture, most kuih are sweet and when they are sweet they are also sticky, dense and heavy with the heady fragrance of coconut cream and pandan leaves combined. They are very rarely leavened with baking powder. So these are not light and fluffy  'cakes'.

And never are they used as a centre piece to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or other occasion. Never are candles poked into them and never are they decorated with cream or sugar flowers. And I dare say never. I believe the idea of celebrating a birthday came into being with the introduction of a western cake. 

At most our kuih are wrapped in banana leaves and served with a coconut cream sauce or a palm sugar syrup. For amusement we tint them in bright tropical colours and add layers for pain joy and distraction. And never are they served whole. They are always served sliced usually in diamond shapes. And they are, more than not, steamed rather than baked.

Moistness does not factor in a kuih discussion because stickiness and chewiness overwhelms any question of moistness or dryness. We like our kuih dense, sticky and with a good bite to it not crumbly or airy. Good with a heavily sweetened cup of frothed milk tea and the ever popular past time of political bashing.

This kuih made of plain wheat flour, coconut milk and eggs and sugar is one of the simplest of all kuih yet I could not get it quite right. At least not the way I wanted it to be. Normally this is made without the pandan so it would have been a whitish cream coloured kuih rather than green. But I like green and I like pandan.

The best one I have made was more than 20 years ago while we were living in London and I had used a canned oily coconut cream. The whole upper floor of the house that we rented was filled with the sweet fragrance of coconut as it baked and I could do nothing else but take long, deep and sweet breaths and tap my fingers impatiently. It was heady, totally wild and aromatic while the edges rose to become a thick golden, crusty rim.

I have never been able to replicate it since. I wish I knew what I did right. I will try again. But in the meantime this is pretty good in itself.

The reicpe ~

2 cups plain flour
3/4 cup castor sugar
4 eggs
440 ml coconut milk or cream
juice from 3 or 4 pandan leaves

beat eggs and sugar till light. Add flour and mix in until all flour in incorporated. Add in the coconut milk and pandan juice and mix well.

Pour into a 9 x 6 inch rectangular pan lined with baking paper for easy removal.

Bake at 170 for 30 to 40 minutes until firm and the top is golden brown. Remove and allow to col completely before cutting and serving.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


This is my third contribution to Food For Thought, a fortnightly meme where books combine with food in a post, hosted by the wonderful and talented Jain of Food For Thought, Food With Style and  Once in a Blue Moon.

This book came with an ending that I could never quite forget. Not because it was spectacular, unexpected or odd but because it was warm, inviting and absolutely welcoming. It was a beginning.

When you read about people who think about love as being meaningless or obsolete, when their life is black and white and grey, literally or otherwise, when pain and suffering has been lost to a world long ago that the wisdom that comes with it is no more, you begin to ponder on the purpose of their existence. 

This is a childrens' modern classic. It is a book that has become required reading in schools across America and in Germany while at the same time arousing debate and controversy over the suitability of its mature themes such as euthanasia, infanticide and suicide for children. 

My son was working on it in his 6th grade while he was studying at the Taipei American School in Taiwan and after he was done with it I had picked it up and found that it could not be put down until I had finished it. It is a book that will haunt me and then compel me to read it again every once in a while. 

Lois Lowry pulls you into a community of sameness where citizens are observed, marriages are perfectly matched, jobs are assigned, food is centrally provided, children are allotted to couples, where there is no pain and no suffering, no angst, no differences, even of opinions, no hills and no valleys, no choices, not even basic primitive sensations and where the weak are released all because there are no memories. 

It is the survival of the fittest in its most organized form. It is a Utopia that Plato would have been proud of. It is totalitarianism at work.

Twelve year old Jonas's selection to be the next Giver and his training to prepare him for the most honourable position in the community gives him the knowledge of a world where once there was war, pain and suffering and also of love and joy and colour. And for the first time Jonas experiences these sensations and begins to question the 'perfected ' world that he is a part of.

Lois Lowry makes you sense rather than know that something is not quite right with the world. She gives no explanation about how things came to be. She lets you wonder in suspense. And when you're finally done reading it you're left ruminating in a disturbing pool of thought.

It is a short novel, simply and skillfully written while being powerful, profound and simply unforgettable. I could not finally put it down without experiencing a weighty brooding sensation hovering in my thoughts over the next few days. A five star book indeed.

Jonas's very first glimpse of colour was red; provoked by an apple that he was tossing in the air. Later he was stirred by the redness of a girl's hair and later on still he was disturbed by the colour of crimson blood.

This is a very challenging book for Food For Thought because it contained no food for pleasure. It was only in the mention of the apple that I had had to work on and to make the most of. So I made apples and for added colour some pears in miniature form.

The recipe ~

The first time I had made this was about 11 years ago after having been invited to a delightful Thai lunch. After a wonderful meal of spicy Tom Yam soup, some green chicken curry and a fabulous mung bean vermicelli and chicken salad the meal ended with a dessert of some sticky sweet cakes and then by these entrancing miniature fruits that simply sparkled and twinkled madly at me. 

I felt my heart pounding in my chest prodding me to ask for the recipe. And of course I did. Then I went home very carefully just so the recipe wouldn't spill out of my head.

Their whimsical glossiness ever since have added a sublime sparkle to my life. 

Although it uses food colouring and is completely edible I do however avoid eating them. I do try as much as possible to avoid additives and especially the unnecessary consumption of food colouring. Something that we all use in icing and fondant of course. But if you're not averse to it this makes a delightful, frivolously fanciful and deliciously colourful dessert.

After a long hiatus I had also forgotten some useful tips that I had gained from my very first experimentations. So this was a project of frustrated joy. 

They are made from boiled mung beans, drained and then mashed and mixed with coconut milk and sugar. Very much a bean paste and its texture perhaps akin to marzipan albeit not oily.

I'm quite aware that the pears I  made are twice the size of the apples. Loooong story.

You would have thought that apples would be the easiest thing to shape and sculpt but let me tell you ~ I'll never make apples again! Simply because it was very difficult to form the depressions realistically. I was never satisfied over each attempt but I just had to be by 3 am when I thought I saw a pair of eyes blinking outside my kitchen window. 

But when I poked the 'leaves' into them it did raise my spirits a little. So I went to bed a reasonably happy and obsessed woman.

Now for the recipe..........

Paste ~ 

2 cups skinned mung beans, boiled and drained
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup sugar

Place the boiled and drained mung beans, coconut milk and sugar in a food processor. Blitz until the bean mixture becomes a smooth paste. Remove and scoop the paste into a heavy bottomed medium pan. Cook over low heat and keep stirring until the paste dries and becomes a thicker and firmer paste. Remove and transfer to a bowl and shape into fruits. Paint and let the colour dry a few minutes before dipping int he gelatin mixture.

Coating ~

2 T gelatin powder (I used 1 T agr-agar powder)
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups water

Boil all ingredient and stir until the sugar dissolves. Sieve through a fine sieve. Dip the shaped fruits into the gelatin mixture and leave to dry a few minutes and repeat process at least twice more.

Equipment ~

A 9 inch round or square styrofoam board
cocktail picks or toothpicks
small and soft paint brushes
food colours
flat plate or paint palette for mixing colours
a small bowl of water

Accesories ~ 

Kaffir lime leaves, each leaf trimmed to size to suit the apples or other fruits that you would like to adorn with leaves.

Hints ~

* Shape the fruits until you have done as many as you desire before starting to paint. 

* Once the fruits have been shaped pierce with a toothpick and make them stand on the styrofoam. Let them dry a little, five or ten minutes but not too long or they may start to dry and crack.

* Paint one type of fruit at a time then move on to a different type of fruit. It makes for less mess. Once painted let them dry a few minutes, about 8-10 minutes.

* Dip the fruits into the gelatin while the gelatin is still quite warm and do one type of fruit at a time so that just in case the colour runs you will not ruin other fruits of a different colour. 

* Make a new batch of gelatin mixture if it gets stained by a contrasting colour.

* I find agar-agar firmer and sets faster.

* Best made on the day of serving. 

* After keeping in the refrigerator overnight I found the glossiness reduced, its surface looking a little sandy and the fruits had dried out a little. After 2 days they cracked from dryness.

*MUST use skinned mung beans or else the paste will be a greyish colour and lighter colours like yellow to paint on for mangoes or pink for rose apples will be difficult to achieve in a pretty shade. 

Monday, February 8, 2010


Did I tell you a long time ago that I am a fish person? Yes I did ~ I so did. And I am now even more of one. 

How could I not love fish when I have these snowy carps swimming around in a dark pool of serenity. Like a floating dream on a moonlit night. 

And how could I not love fish when it melts in your mouth after a crunch and a crisp. And when I bite it a little bit further it melts a little bit more and some of it so submissive that it sticks to the roof of your mouth so that you cannot speak until you have finished the whole little cookie fish. Naughty little cookie fish!

Today I have a whole shoal of them. 

I was inspired to make these by Shirley of Kokken69 when I saw her beautiful Kinako Polvorones made from wooden cookie moulds that she had brought home from China. 

Now China was too far away for me to wander even if I did befriend Goosey Goosey Gander so I felt myself blessed when I chanced upon a box full of wooden Chinese cookie moulds that were, to me, Made in Heaven. They were beautiful. Exquisitely crafted moulds of carp. 

Although they had written the word crap on its label I really didn't think they were crap at all. They were carps. Not craps. Carps ~ gorgeous gorgeous carps.

Then I saw Sonia of Nasi Lemak Lover make kuih bangkit ~ snowy cookies of tapioca flour. I suffered her experiments and reveled in  her successes and I felt encouraged.

Then I saw Elin of Elinluv make these snowy mowie cookies too and finally I felt committed. Finally ~ I felt I could do it. Yes why not!

And the proof I say ~ Is in the cookie fish. 

I had used the same recipe that Elin of Elinluv had used. And this is a recipe from No-Frills Recipes blog. A blog that stays true to its name. 

The recipe............

I have to tell you that instead of standing like a scarecrow for 45 minutes to an hour in front of the stove stirring a wok full of flour I cheated and baked the tapioca flour in the oven instead ~ For an hour at 160 C. 

I can't tell you how the pandan leaves scented up the house ~ a total delight that Ju,The Little Teochew constantly raves about. 

And when I took the tray out from the oven the flour had a hint of caramel-like fragrance in it as well! Sweet!! Is it possible that the starch in the flour had turned to sugar and the sugar had caramelized? Shirley, Kokken69 do tell. I'm so not a chemist!

The flour had also turned a lovely hint of pinkish gold. How heavenly is that?

After baking I let it cool and stored it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 2 nights by which time I couldn't wait to get started on making the cookies.

This recipe is fantastic. A dream. And the only adjustment I would make is to up the sugar a little, probably by about 20 grams or so. It is truly a melt-in-your-mouth-crumbs-on-the-floor kind of cookie fish. Heaven.

Note : bake more flour than you  would need. The excess flour is to be used for flouring the mould.

450 gm tapioca flour
60 gm shortening
130 gm icing sugar
2 egg yolks
150- 200 ml coconut milk (I used 200 ml)
4 or 5 pandan leaves

Spread the flour on a suitably sized baking sheet. Cut up the pandan leaves into 4 ot 5 inch lengths and stir them into the flour. Bake in a preheated oven at 160 C for an hour and the pandan leaves have dried and crisp.

Cream the shortening with icing sugar and egg yolks till light and creamy and the sugar is totally dissolved. Pour in slowly 100 ml of the coconut milk and beat until well mixed and creamy.

Meanwhile sift the tapioca flour into a bowl, add a pinch of salt and add in the creamed mixture. Add in half of the remainder of the coconut milk and mix until teh dough comes together. If dry add in some more coconut milk until you get a nice lump of dough. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rest for 30 minutes.

Flour the wooden mould well and then press a small mound of dough into it.Press down and cut off excess with a knife. Then knock the mould face down on teh baking tray and the cookie should fall out easily. If it doesn't then you have not floured the mould well.

If you don't have a cookie mould , roll out the dough onto a floured board and use a cookie cutter.

Bake 20 minute in a 170 -180C oven.

Allow to cool and store in an airtight container. Crush melt yummm....

Thursday, February 4, 2010


I am so inclined to whimsical food. Play food that is fun to make as it is to look at and to play with eat. These egg rolls filled my needs and are as pretty as a picture. 

Tracie from Bittersweet Flavours is whom I have to thank. Thank you Tracie. Her wonderful mother obliges with food for her blog, Tracie herself is quite the accomplished baker and these egg rolls were made by her aunt and displayed on her blog. That is what I call teamwork. Which makes me wish I had a living breathing and an industrious team of little elves in my kitchen right now.

However, these are what I made all by myself while my son hovered around the fringes. Waiting. And although the fish paste had little bubbles of air trapped inside I shall consider them not a failure but cute instead. But Perhaps I should have used white pepper instead of black.

I had used the fish ball recipe that I had posted earlier on, here. I just added a sprinkle of finely chopped red chillies for colour. Then I made and 2 or 3 thin omelets, spread the fish paste over each omelet, rolled them up into a longish log just like the making of pinwheel cookies, and then steamed them for 15 to 20 minutes. I then sliced them on the diagonal and took some pictures for fun my blog. How easy is that? ~ Child's play ~

And they were very very Yummy in our tummies ~

Great with a chillie soy vinegar dip like here ~


Related Posts with Thumbnails