Use your powers for good.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

(In case you're wondering what on earth this is, it's a recent cake I made for a joint 40th)

The recent events in Japan left many of us reeling with emotion. I felt shock, horror, sadness, but most of all, a feeling of helplessness. When faced with the sheer scale of the disaster, what could I do that would even make one iota of difference?

Obviously, that’s a silly way to think, as many, many wonderful bloggers around the world have shown that a difference can indeed be made. They’ve banded together to help in many ways. Here are some of them.

1) The Online bake sale for Japan hosted by Sabrina at The Tomato Tart. (I missed the deadline to contribute but I can still bid and so can you. Bidding starts on the 30th of May (I’m assuming US time). Proceeds will go to Second Harvest Japan.

2) Bento4Japan - a collective of bento bloggers who are auctioning off bento related items to raise money. Check out the website for more information.

3) Food Bloggers Auction for Japan - a contributive effort raising funds for the Japanese Red Cross Society . Auction ends on April 10.

I’m sure these are many others out there, but these are just a few that I’ve come across. If auctions are not quite your cup of tea, there are many ways to give, including Just Giving and Save the Children, to name just two.

Malaysian Monday 69: Kuih Wajik / Kuih Wajid

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hi everyone, yet another Monday rolls around, and again I scrabble to put together a post for you.

Some bloggers have a stack of drafts prepared, or at least a few finished posts up their sleeve. You don’t need me to tell you that I’m not one of those organised people right?

Here’s how I roll - after a busy weekend, start thinking about what to make for Malaysian Monday, on Sunday night. Look in pantry and decide to make kuih wajid/ kuih wajik (sticky glutinous rice cake) because it doesn’t require an extra trip to the shops. Plus, I love this delicacy and haven’t eaten any for a very long time.

My memory is pretty fuzzy but I think the first time I ate this kuih, it might have been at a tea-party hosted by the local Kaum Ibu. Kaum Ibu loosely translates to Mother’s Group or Mother’s Community. But it’s really a society for women, a little bit like the Country Women’s Association here in Australia. I’m not sure if Kaum Ibu is found everywhere, or whether it is particular to the defence forces.  The association acts as a support group for the women (and family) of defence force personnel who move around a lot.  Yes, there’s cooking and craft involved, but there’s a lot more than that. The association rallies round in times of need and organises aid for the less fortunate. Thanks to my dad’s work, I had the privilege of tagging along to various well-catered Kaum Ibu meetings, and stuffing myself silly (but of course).

So began my life-long love for this sticky, sweet kuih. However, it’s one of the lesser known kuih and not as readily available unless one knows where to go to hunt it down. Otherwise,  you have to wait patiently as it usually makes an appearance at the pop-up kuih stalls during the fasting month of Ramadan.

I found two recipes for Wajik, one in Mum’s notes and one on an old recipe card. Of course, to make things interesting, both the recipes were quite different, with varying weights for sugar and rice and coconut milk. What they shared in common though, was measurements for the coconut milk based on number of coconuts, as in : “squeeze milk from X number of coconuts and set aside the first milk”. Nowhere do the recipes mention how many cups to expect from each coconut. This is the part about Malaysian cooking that I find extremely frustrating - the guesswork involved.

You can add durian to your wajik if so inclined. Mmmmm

So I calculate and try to work out ratios and cook the wajik in snatched moments over the course of a long and busy day. The end result is a little bit stickier than it should be (I think I need to increase the amount of glutinous rice), but the flavour is exactly as I remembered. Excitedly, I gave the MCs some for afternoon tea. MC Senior loves it and chomps through a largeish serving. MC Junior meanwhile said, “Pah, it’s horrible. I think Dad will hate it too!”. (She’s probably right).

Never mind, more for me then, and I cannot stop eating it! Help.

When I get down from the sugar high, I promise to try very hard to be organised for the  Muhibbah Malaysian Monday round-up #9 next week and get it to you at a reasonable time. So if you’d like to take part, please send your entries in to me at its(dot)sharon(at)gmail(dot)com. (My MMM partner Suresh at 3 Hungry Tummies and I, take turns hosting each round-up.)

Have a great start to the week.


The texture of the kuih I made is a little too “wet” but I think adjusting the glutinous rice ratio will help. If you’d like to experiment, here’s how I made my wajik.

1 cup (about 200g) (use more) glutinous rice - soaked overnight.  I used 2 1/2 cups water to soak, but this water gets drained anyway so the measurement doesn’t matter too much.
11/2 (220g) cup gula melaka (dark palm sugar) chopped into bits
just under 1 cup caster sugar (170g)
4 cups water
1 cup coconut milk (I used canned coconut milk)
pandan leaves if available (I used 8 frozen ones, which seem to work fine. I make sure I use lots though, because the fragrance isn’t as strong as fresh leaves)

Prepare a heat-proof pan for pouring the finished mixture in. I lightly oiled a lamington pan and lined the base with baking paper,

First drain the glutinous rice, add a pinch of salt and steam until it is cooked. It took about 20 - 30 minutes for me.

Next, cook the gula melaka, caster sugar, 4 cups water and knotted pandan leaves in a large saucepan, stirring until all the sugar melts. Gently simmer for 5 minutes, take it off the heat and strain. Gula melaka contains a lot of impurities, so this straining part is crucial. I had to go out, so I rinsed the pandan leaves off, stuck them in the bowl of hot syrup and left it there to infuse for a few hours.

Strain the syrup into a large pan or wok (preferable). Bring to a boil, then carefully put the cooked glutinous rice into the syrupy mixture. Stir constantly, and keep simmering until the mixture is very thick and sticky and the grains of rice are visible, almost like a very, very dry risotto. This part took about 20-30 minutes for me (I wasn’t really timing it properly, I just glanced at the clock every now and then). Add the coconut milk and cook, still stirring until the mixture is dry and starts clumping together and leaves the side of the pan. Pour the mixture into prepared pan, press down with the back of a spoon and leave to cool. Cut into squares when cool.

If your wajik is a bit to sticky (like mine), don’t despair, just eat it with a spoon :)

Wattle it be this month? Yeasted Coffee Cake. (Daring Bakers)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Knead some dough? (*groan*?) Well, I’ve got some for you, thanks to our March Daring Bakers challenge hosted by lovely Jamie and Ria.

Cue the blog-checking lines:
The March 2011 Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.

When I first saw the challenge recipe, I was very intrigued and not a little sceptical. How was this going to work? The recipe called for a brioche like dough to be wrapped around a meringue layer that had been scattered with a nutty chocolate filling.

But I should have known better than to doubt the Jamie/ Ria team. They are both accomplished bloggers who produce mouthwatering creations. And this one was no exception.

Apart form my initial mistake of overfilling the dough with the meringue and making a huge mess, the steps were easy to follow and the end result was super, super tasty. So tasty it even impressed Mr. Kitchen Hand who doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth. He even went back for seconds. The first messy coffee-cake all but disappeared within 6 hours of coming out of the oven.

Look! I made a dog's breakfast (in case you're confused, it's a colloquial Australian/ English saying)

But it looked sort of better when baked

I wasn’t too surprised because the combination of wattleseed in the dough, and chocolate and pecans in the filling, worked perfectly together. It was sheer indulgence to bite into the outer brioche layer scented with a coffee-ish aroma*, then sink through the pillowy sweet meringue, to arrive at the crunch of smoky pecans and gooey, dark chocolate.
* (wattleseed has a smell very like coffee, with hazelnut undertones, almost like a liquer)

The recipe makes two coffee cakes but I actually used the other half of the dough to make two smaller coffee cakes which were easier to handle. I’d definitely make this again but will divide the dough to make four smaller cakes.

Much better second try. I found that leaving the cake to rise whole before snipping ensured the neatest result. (Cake in back).

As for the filling, the meringue remained visible on the larger cake, but I actually liked it this way (because I like meringue). I also experimented with filling one of the cakes with sunflower seeds and crystallised ginger to get around the no-nut (MC Senior) and no-chocolate (MC Junior) policy of school and pre-school. (Really! No chocolate. I couldn’t quite believe it at first). Although it worked and tasted pretty good, I really think this is one recipe which doesn’t benefit from too much experimentation. The chocolate and nut combination really work together for a greater whole, and changing the balance just sends the end result off kilter. (That’s just my opinion, obviously).

Crystallised ginger and sunflower seeds

Oh, and before I go, check out this clip of a very dishy baker kneading dough/ air kneading. I wanted to try this method, and only got up to about 200 “slams” unlike the 600 recommended by the baker in the video. It was great fun though, and I’m going to knead this way from now on :)

Wattleseed flecked dough. I added 2 teaspoons of ground wattleseed to the flour. The little dough ball in the background was made by my helper.

For the recipe, check out the Daring Kitchen, and don’t forget to visit the other Daring Bakers for their take on the challenge.

Yes, everything is bigger in Texas.

Friday, March 25, 2011

My hubby went to SXSW, and all I got was a lousy blog post (sorry Mr. Kitchen Hand :P) . The blog post is definitely not lousy, but us Editor's need to make sure we grab the reader's attention.

Now that you've been grabbed, please stay to read the rest of Mr. Kitchen Hand's post? Thank you :)

I’ve been angling to get to the annual tech conference SXSW for a few years now and I’m glad I struck gold this year. By all accounts, this was the breakout year for the festival, with an estimated 30,000 people piling into Austin, Texas for the first week of the two-week festival (music and film events take up the rest of the time).

I know quite a few Americans through work, and some of them are native Texans, so I asked for eating & drinking recommendations the week before I flew out. No matter who I asked, they all insisted there was one place I should move heaven and earth to get to: The Salt Lick.

This place is a Texan barbeque institution, situated about 20 miles outside the city of Austin on a fairly lonely road surrounded by what appears to be a decent amount of not very much at all. I’m very fortunate to have friends who live in Austin and they were happy to take me out there – even the locals have a soft spot for Salt lick, it would seem. It’s a BYO place, so we pulled into a tiny gas station along the way and picked up a couple of sixes, including one of a popular local microbrew called Fireman’s #4 along with the coolest esky I will never own: a genuine NASCAR-branded polystyrene unit that I almost considered paying excess baggage fees to bring home.

 I’m with Austinites Denise & Bryan, and the NASCAR esky
I was told that large groups of celebrating sports teams will often rock up to The Salt lick with their own kegs and spear them right at the table. It’s that kind of place.

The outdoor waiting area seemed like a party just warming up, complete with live band, long benches and gas-fired heaters. We got through a couple of ales before the buzzer rang and we headed inside to our table, past the biggest grill I have ever seen.

The grill at the Salt Lick. Note full-size humans in background

Now if you talk BBQ to an Aussie, they will swear they not only invented it, but they perfected it. The Argentinians also claim to have a fairly firm grip on the hotly-contested title of world’s most BBQing nation. As do the Brazillians. And the Koreans and Mongolians, come to think of it.

But the Texans cannot be matched for sheer scale. They BBQ by the acre. Which would only be mildly impressive if not for the fact that, at The Salt Lick at least, they also make some of the best-tasting BBQ meat I’ve ever had. Pork ribs, beef brisket and sausage – it was all fabulous, incredibly tender, smoky and tangy.

Family style means you can actually feed an entire family from just one plate

We ordered ‘Family Style’, which meant the plates of meat kept coming (including plenty of ‘burn-ins’, the charred ends of beef that sit longest on the grill), accompanied by potato salad, cole slaw, beans, bread, pickles, and onions. There were at least a half-dozen different sauces to choose from, but they were barely necessary – the flavour of the meat was simply that good.

The Salt Lick also does a pretty good line of desserts: pecan pie and a couple of fruit cobblers (we’d call them crumbles, I suppose), but you are really testing the laws of physics trying to ingest more food at this stage of a meal like this.


Such is the legend of The Salt Lick, their catering arm was used as the drawcard at many of the parties thrown by media and tech companies in Austin that week, and I was stoked I got to taste their ribs again before leaving.

Austin seems like a reasonably diverse kind of a food town, but SXSW is such a hyper-real environment that it’s hard to tell what’s going on. I did find a few of places that really suited my style: Second Bar & Kitchen is a stylish but reasonably priced restaurant (fairly new on the scene) on the edge of the CBD, The Old Pecan St Café did a breakfast that wouldn’t be out of place in Sydney’s café scene, Frank’s did absolutely brilliant late-night hot dogs and cold beer and I really fell in love with The Royal Blue Grocery – great coffee, soft, chewy breakfast tacos (these were an absolute revelation) and a playlist that majored on the likes of Modest Mouse, The Shins and New Order.

Getting back to Austin and South-by (as the locals call it) for 2012 is pretty high on my list of priorities right now. And when I do, The Salt Lick will have a list all of it’s own.

Pulled pork taco at the airport and Mr. Kitchen Hand's new  favourite cap.

Farewell summer (Macattack #17)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

See you sunshine.

Bye-bye Barbie (as in BBQ, not the improbably proportioned bit of plastic).

Cheerio cricket (the game, not the insect).

Ciao, cicada chorus.

So long sundress.

Ta-ta thongs (the footwear).

Be seeing you, beach days.

Goodbye good times. (Oh, I exaggerate I know).

So, summer’s gone and I will miss it.

But here’s one last hurrah - a macaron that pays homage to a classic summertime treat.  You’ve heard of the PineLime Splice? I offer you the PineLime Spice Macaron.

Jamie and Deeba, our wonderful MacTweets hosts invited us to incorporate both spice and fruit into our macarons, to herald the change of the seasons.

My inspiration came about thanks to abundant produce and a need for eggwhites. I’d seriously depleted my eggwhite stash, but had a freezer bag full of lime juice cubes, thanks to a special at the fruit and veg shop. When I picked up half a pineapple for next to nothing, I knew I had to make pineapple-lime curd.

I based this curd on my go-to lemon curd recipe, one that can be cooked directly on the stove and done in five minutes. Yep, you read that right! Five minutes (plus extra stirring time). It’s by Stephanie Alexander, and I found an online recipe for you here. In The Cook’s Companion, she explained that lemon curd cooked directly on medium-high heat (not slowly on the double boiler) would not curdle. This is due to  the high amount of sugar required to counteract the acidity in the lemon juice. The sugar stops the egg-proteins from forcing out liquid (which happens when regular custards are cooked too fast). Cool huh? (You can try here for a bit of further (quite geeky) reading about the properties of egg proteins, and what happens when you add sugar).

Since I was “messing about” with the recipe ratios, I actually placed the bowl over a saucepan of rapidly simmering water just in case. I turned the heat up quite high and luckily, my curd cooked up beautifully. I substituted the lemon juice with 75ml fresh pineapple juice plus enough lime juice to make up 1/2 cup. This is slightly more juice than in the original recipe but worked out well. I subbed lime rind for the lemon rind.

(The curd looks a bit "spongy" because it just came out of the fridge)

The resulting curd is gorgeous, all thick and tangy, and tastes predominantly of lime, but with a  definite hint of pineapple. Perfect for filling macaron shells spiced with ground ginger. (I used Tartelette’s macaron recipe and added about 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger to the ground almonds/icing sugar mix).

I’m glad I made the whole curd recipe rather than trying to halve it, because we’ve ended up with lots of leftover curd to spread on toast in the mornings.

There might be a nip in the air, but I can still taste summer :).

Malaysian Monday 68: Kaya Puff.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hi everyone.

Remember my kaya making attempt last week? I thought of a great way to use up some of the kaya. How? By making kaya puffs of course. You’ve heard of curry puffs right? Well, kaya puffs are a sweet version, made with a special flaky pastry.

A long, long time ago, before my blog had any real, actual people reading it, I made some flaky pastry.  While that version worked rather well, the pastry is really meant for deep fried items. Kaya puffs are baked. Luck was with me though, and I found a recipe straight off the bat, over here at My Simple Food.  The puffs on display looked great, with the distinct spiralling found in well-made flaky pastry.

 Notice how I used the words well-made up there? My puffs struggled to show off their spirals, but they tasted so, so good that I forgave them. Seriously folks, this is an awesome pastry and I think it will be my go-to flaky pastry for  baked, sweet items from now on. Does anyone know if this is the same pastry for making egg-tarts? It sure tastes like it.

Rich layers of flakiness on the inside, mmmmm.

And you don’t have to fill the puffs with kaya either. I used jam for the difficult fussy other members of the family, and those went down a treat as well.

Trouble is, I ended up with about 10 small but very rich and moreish kaya puffs all to myself. Hmmm, that exercise in reduction didn’t work very well then!

Jam filled puffs for the non-kaya fans.

To try out the pastry, do head over to My Simple Food. I made a couple of minor modifications to the recipe:
a) instead of shortening, I used 40g butter and 10g vegetable oil
b) I needed to go out after making the dough, so I wrapped them up in plastic wrap and refrigerated them for half a day before using them. It seemed to work out fine.

Have a good start to the week, and remember, I'm hosting  Muhibbah Monday round up #9, so keep the wonderful entries pouring in. The Muhibbah Malaysian Monday blog event is hosted alternately by 3 Hungry Tummies and myself. You can send your delicious entries to its(dot)sharon(at)gmail(dot)com.

Location, location, location.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Exactly how much do views influence your dining experience? On our recent camping trip, we took advantage of a grey and drizzly afternoon to  explore the nearby locality of Smiths Lake and found a quaint little place called the Frothy Coffee boatshed. Surrounded by water and trees, you couldn’t ask for a more picturesque setting for lunch.

The vibe is extremely laid-back, and don’t be too surprised if one of the “locals” wanders in to check out what you’re having.

 Hello bush turkey.

And what we had was a menu that is only one page long and a little bit retro. When we first arrived in Sydney over 12 years ago, it seemed as if every cafe did a toasted focaccia number. Over time, we noticed the focaccia less and less, until that afternoon at the boatshed, where we again came face-to-face with such classics as the chicken and avocado focaccia combo, and the racy smoked salmon and caper mix. I even got myself a prawn baguette! And of course, all the food wore little garnish hats.

The focaccias

My baguette

Kids meal - tomato and cheese sandwich

Don’t get me wrong, the food wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t earth shatteringly delicious either. It was...nice.  The coffee was more than drinkable and our dessert was certainly worth having, but again, nothing to write home about. Price-wise, we averaged $12 a head for drinks and sandwiches (not including desserts) which isn’t cheap but not too exorbitant. All in, if this cafe had been situated in a nondescript place, I wouldn’t have bothered blogging about it.

Oreo cheesecake - not something I'd order normally but I let Mr. Kicthen Hand choose (we were sharing). I was surprised at how good it tasted!

 After I scoffed cheesecake, I looked up to see someone swimming laps in the lake!  See the splash?

But, the location is what makes this such a great place to drop into. As we whiled away the afternoon, the kids amused themselves by feeding the fish over the side of the boatshed. A friendly waiter had given them surplus charred bits of focaccia. And it isn’t every day you get to watch your fellow diners get up and leave by motor boat! After lunch, we strolled along the water's edge  to the nearby playground so the kids could work off their dessert energy. Bonus!

Trying to look at the fish between the floorboards.

If it rains next time we’re camping this way, I know where we’re heading for lunch :).

Frothy Coffee Boatshed
Amaroo Drv, Smiths Lake, NSW 2428
Great Lakes, Hunter Valley, Mid North Nsw Coast
p: (02) 6554 4202  

Malaysian Monday 67: The trials and tribulations of being rich.

Monday, March 14, 2011

No, I have not struck it lucky with a lottery win - this would be  an unlikely event, seeing as I never really buy any tickets. Today’s post is about a yummy coconut spread called Kaya, which literally translates as “Rich”. The richness here refers to the mouthfeel and flavour, (and probably cholesterol levels) in the dish. I’ve seen many people refer to this as a Coconut Jam, but it’s really more of a curd, which is custard based. It only contains four ingredients namely coconut milk, pandan (screwpine leaves), sugar and eggs. Sounds simple right?

Uh, no.

I forgot to mention the fifth ingredient which you have to have in spades - patience. You see, kaya needs to be cooked low and slow, and stirred constantly. While I have nothing against stirring (I make a mean risotto if I do say so myself), the stirring required for this job falls into the “watching paint dry” category.

But it’s one of those things that cannot be rushed as I found out the hard way. It all started so promisingly though, the recipe optimistically stated “cook on low heat for half an hour”.  The recipe came from Mum’s handwritten notebooks, and you gotta love a recipe which has an ingredient list that starts with : 1 coconut. Luckily, the recipe went on to explain that I needed to extract 4 cups of milk from the above-mentioned coconut. Perhaps this was my first mistake, I opened a can instead, much easier.

I also turned my nose up at the tablespoon of flour mentioned in the recipe, thinking I knew better. I was trying to be a purist, ok. Silly me.

So, long story short, I’d mixed all the ingredients together, pulled up a stool, had a magazine handy to read, and stirred. And stirred. And stirred. And stirred. One WHOLE hour later, the mixture was still a soup.

Which is when I turned up the heat a little bit. Big no-no, because I started to get the tell-tale signs of overheating a custard sauce - scrambling. Unsightly flecks were spreading their way through the mix. I quickly took it off the heat and stirred vigorously, the mixture was still pretty soupy, but now with extra added clumpiness! Sigh. I gave up the purist tack and added a teaspoon of cornflour made into a paste with a little water. Back onto the heat over a very low flame and constant stirring, and I achieved the final thick texture that is kaya. Slightly lumpy kaya maybe, but still kaya.

Kaya straight out of the fridge = still lumpy, but wait...

Spread it on something warm and it looks good again :)

So I sieved the whole thing into a clean glass jar, which got rid of the larger clumps but the finer ones still stayed. The texture was disappointing but the flavour was spot-on perfect. Thick, rich, creamy, very sweet and slightly caramel-ly, and so, so fragrant with the smell of pandan. The whole apartment smelt of pandan, it was quite glorious.

Unfortunately, I think Kaya is an acquired taste. I love it but MC Senior doesn’t. MC Junior is strictly anti-coconut (what did a coconut ever do to her?). Mr Kitchen Hand is away and can’t give his verdict, but he is anti-custard so I’m guessing he’d not like this too. Now I’m stuck with half a large jar of too yummy coconut curd all to myself. And a drawer full of spoons...

Have a good start to the week, and keep those entries coming for the  Muhibbah Monday round up #9. The Muhibbah Malaysian Monday blog event is hosted alternately by 3 Hungry Tummies and myself. It's my turn this time, so please send your delicious entries to its(dot)sharon(at)gmail(dot)com.

 You know where kaya tastes really good? Inside steamed buns (pao). Mmmmm...


(not sure where Mum got this recipe from, so if you recognise it please let me know and I’l credit it. I halved the original recipe and fiddled around with the egg quantities because I need egg whites.).

2 cups coconut milk
1 cup sugar (I used caster sugar)
1 whole egg and 2 egg yolks (the original recipe called for 3 eggs, which would mean 1.5 eggs when halved. Not sure how you’d go about measuring that)
handful of pandan leaves (I used about 10. The recipe calls for the leaves to be processed and the juice collected (1/4 cup). I just tied the whole bunch into a knot and threw it into the pan)
1/2 tablespoon plain flour

Method - beat the eggs and all but 2 tablespoonfuls of the sugar together until the sugar dissolves. I just used a fork but electric beaters can be used too. Stir/ beat in the coconut milk, then set aside. (If you aren’t being a purist, add the flour here too. I think it acts as a stabilizer).

In a saucepan, heat the two tablespoons of sugar until it melts and caramelises (a deep golden brown colour). Watch like a hawk to prevent burning. Then VERY carefully take the pan off the heat and stir in about 3 tablespoons of water (the mix will spit, use a long handled spoon), until the caramel dissolves and you get a thick syrup. Leave this to cool for a little while.

(I’d seen a recipe over here that actually adds the caramel in at the end of the cooking process. I think that’s just to ensure the caramel doesn’t accidentally scramble the egg mixture in the beginning. If you leave the syrup to cool, then it’s fine).

When the syrup is cool, pour the coconut milk/ egg mix into the pan, add the pandan leaves (or juice), pull up a chair, get comfy, turn the heat on low and stir. Don’t be tempted to turn the heat up and don’t stop stirring. I can’t really tell you how long it takes, because I got impatient. I think you can safely say you’re not moving for a couple of hours :).

When kaya is done (it should be quite thick, like lemon curd), pour into very clean glass jars, leave to cool and store in the refrigerator. It will get really thick when cold, but spread it on warm toast and it “melts” and goes all gooey again.
See? Hot kaya on left, cold kaya on right

Next time, I might try this microwave method I saw. Sounds much faster:)