Thursday, June 17, 2010

COMFORT FOOD


I totally agree with the saying that 'reading maketh a full man'...I love poring over cookbooks packed with glorious food photos and devouring food-themed novels with great relish.

Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs is a heartwarming tale about a celebrity chef - Augusta Simpson whose popular cooking show 'Cooking with Gusto' was forced to undergo drastic changes as TV ratings dipped.

The protagonist naturally was forced to share the limelight with a former beauty queen and Internet Foodie Queen, Carmen Vega on a new TV show. It didn't help that Augusta or fondly known as Gus would be turning 50 soon and her two grown-up daughters started rebelling against their mother's well-meaning albeit misguided intrusions into their lives.

It is a heartwarming tale of how changes in life can bring renewed happiness, unexpected love and the unlikeliest of friendship to Gus and those that she loves and loathes amidst the trials and tribulations of a successful cooking show and what goes on behind the scenes.

Reading Comfort Food reminds me of some nostalgic favourites from my salad days such as Nasi Kerabu, Udang Masak Lemak and Pineapple Upside Down Cake. So recently I put my cooking skills to the test and recreated all these dishes. Needless to say, my family was the primary beneficiary of those culinary attempts!

To welcome back my brother-in-law who has been away for two years from Malaysia, I prepared Nasi Kerabu, Ayam Percik, Udang Masak Lemak Nenas and some fresh salad for a family dinner.


All the recipes were Rohani Jelani's (refer to my earlier blog Saturday Cooks) which I replicated successfully. Phew!

Doesn't the Ayam Percik look scrumptious? It's an East Coast-style roast chicken marinated with fresh turmeric served with a mildly spicy sauce.

My Mom was especially ecstatic over the Nasi Kerabu - cooked rice with a mixture of local fresh herbs such as pegaga, mint and curry leaves, ulam raja, daun selom, Thai basil, ginger flower and turmeric leaf, dry-fried grated coconut, shredded ginger and lemon grass. She calls it ngap chai fanIt means duckling rice in Cantonese due to its resemblence to duck's feed (basically consisting of leftover rice, vegetables, etc) of yesteryear.

Everyone also loved the Udang Masak Lemak Nenas - prawns cooked in coconut milk and spices with pineapple especially the rich and tantalising gravy!

PIECE OF CAKE

Last Sunday instead of emptying my wallet at the malls, I baked up a long cherised recipe - Pineapple Upside Down Cake!

It was based on Chef Wan's recipe from his Sweet Treats book. Although the measurements given were a tad confusing (how much butter constitutes 1/4 cup?), I somehow managed to figure things out.

This is how the cake looked fresh from the oven and voila! when it was removed from the baking pan, I was really pleased with the results.

Next time, I would sprinkle more sugar at the base as per the recipe (I actually cut down on half the amount as I presumed the cake would be too sweet) before laying down the pineapple rings. I'd also add in some chopped pineapples to give the cake a nicer texture. But I'd definitely make this again!

For those who has asked for the recipe for the Pineapple Upside Down Cake, here it is:

55g butter
115g brown sugar
8 pineapple rings
6 whole glace cherries
240g cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
115g unsalted butter
225g caster sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup pineapple juice

1. Grease a 22cm cake pan with butter. Sprinkle brown sugar over the base and sides of pan.
2. Arrange pineapple rings in a single layer over the sugared base. Place a cherry in the centre of each pineapple ring. Set aside.
3. Pre-heat oven to 170 degrees C.
4. Sift flour together with baking powder and salt.
5. In a separate bowl cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in sifted ingredients, eggs, vanilla essence and pineapple juice.
6. Pour batter into cake pan that has been lined with pineapple rings. Bake for 45 minutes. Check to see if cake is done by inserting skewer into the cake centre. If it comes out clean, the cake is ready to be removed from oven.
7. Cool in cake tin for about 15-20 minutes before removing it from the cake pan.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

EAT WELL, STAY FIT


One doesn’t have to be a health nut to eat well. Just take a leaf from Prince Hotel & Residence Kuala Lumpur’s latest Fit For Life promotion; Executive Chef Donald J Pezar or fondly known as Chef DJ’s selection of wholesome dishes make healthy eating as easy as A-B-C.

When you dine at Eccucino from now until June 13, 2010, keep your eyes peeled for the chef’s Fit For Life specialities on the buffet. The dishes are prepared using healthier cooking methods such as steaming and grilling with less fat and oil, and accompanied by vegetables, fruits and mushrooms.

Although I don’t have a penchant for soup, the tangy Yucatan Chicken, Lime & Summer Squash broth is simply sublime with an additional sprinkle on chilli flakes in it. Then I made a beeline for the salad bar which proffered Sashimi and selected Sushi, Asparagus with Parmesan Shavings, Grilled Artichoke Hearts, Marinated Mushroom in Olive Oil, mini glasses of Gazpacho and assorted fresh greens with a variety of condiments and garnishes.

Hot favourites include the delectable Balinese-style Sate made from minced seafood, fish paste and chilli, Baked Garlic Naan with a deliciously thick Dhall Curry, Grilled Salmon with Citrus-Olive Salsa, Chicken Scaloppini with Mustard and Tarragon, Tandoori Chicken and Grilled Prawns with Tomato and Feta.





Just this once I steered away from the dessert section laden with sweet treats and feeling a tad angelic, opted for healthier alternatives such as freshly sliced watermelon, honey dew, dragonfruit, papaya and buah salak, our local snakeskin fruit instead.

By the way, in line with its Fit For Life promotion, Prince Hotel is collaborating with HSC Medical Centre, Celebrity Fitness, Mandara Spa, i-Dance Studio, Boot Camp and Fun Stompers to conduct various activities to get everyone moving, dancing, jumping, and joining the bandwagon for a fitter, healthier life!

Keen to know more? Then call ECCUCINO (tel: 03-2170 8888 x 8119/20), Prince Hotel & Residence Kuala Lumpur for details and information.

Friday, June 04, 2010

SATURDAY COOKS




I couldn’t believe it when I read the email invitation – a chance to cook with Rohani Jelani at Bayan Indah...could this be true? Honestly, I thought it was even more surreal when I saw who the other invitees were...I couldn't believe I'd be cooking alonside some of Malaysia's most prolific 'floggers'? How can I turn down such a golden opportunity?!

Having been a great fan of Rohani for the longest time - well, she has left an indelible mark on me from the days she was food editor of Her World magazine years ago and I was lucky enough to own several of her mini cookbooks. Naturally, I have read about and heard of her cooking classes but I never had the inclination to enrol in any partly because:

1. I was lazy and somewhat daunted by the location of where the classes were held...
2. the motivation to go just wasn’t there. After all, her recipes have served me well over the years; I've attempted many of them and they always yielded the desired results.

But my curiosity was piqued and as serendipity would have it, I got to meet Meena of A Whiff of Lemongrass, Cheng Yi of Fat Boy Bakes and Jonathan of A Lil'Fat Monkey at a wine dinner just two days before our scheduled cooking session.

Thanks to Li-Hsian's detailed written directions, hubby and I succeeded in getting to Bayan Indah without too much trouble. The serene, lush greenery and verdant surroundings of Bayan Indah literally took our breaths away! We could even detect different scents of local herbs in the fresh morning air.

Since we were the early birds, one of Rohani's staff went all out to make us feel welcomed and told us that we could help ourselves to coffee or tea and cookies which we did. We prowled around admiring the well-equipped kitchens and work tables, the semi-open patio that serves as the guest seating and dining area, and the lush, sprawling gardens adorned with trees, shrubs and plants of all heights, shapes and sizes complete with a fish pond and old-fashioned wrought iron swing set. I suddenly felt like Alice in Wonderland all right; cocooned in this peaceful haven with a grey, plump snoozing cat, frolicking birds and fishes for company.




When the other invitees showed up on the dot, there was much merriment as everyone got acquainted with Rohani, Wati and Li-Hsian. After devouring the scrumptious Mushroom & Onion Pastry and Apple Cake laid out for us, Rohani took us on a tour of her double-storey premises.


The charming double-storey house is outfitted and furnished just like an exclusive, cosy resort. We all agreed that Bayan Indah would have been the perfect retreat for Martha Stewart when the American lifestyle guru was Malaysia recently. But it wasn't meant to be though such a feat wasn't from the lack of trying according to a visibly frustrated Li-Hsian. Oh well, Ms Stewart had no idea what she missed out on...really. Here's a sneak peek of the guest rooms and lounge area upstairs but seriously, my photos really don't do the actual place justice.



After giving us an overview of Malay cuisine and a chance to read through the recipes for our Kampung Cuisine cooking session, Rohani divided us into groups.

Together with Audrey of Audrey Cooks and Chris of Pure Glutton, the three of us were tasked with preparing Kerabu Jantung Pisang (Banana Flower Salad), Udang Masak Lemak Nenas (Prawns with Pineapple Curry), Nasi Kerabu (Rice with Mixed Herbs) and Ayam Percik (Roast Chicken with Spiced Gravy).

Soon the kitchen was bustling with frenetic activities as the three different groups pounded, blended, sliced, cut, chopped, tossed, mixed, fried, grilled and stirred merrily away.


Rohani was a fabulous teacher, generously sharing tips and tricks, and even chiding us in mock horror when she discovered some of the sliced fresh herbs for Nasi Kerabu were not fine enough to pass the time-honoured 'mother-in-law' test.

That was when I realised made the difference from trying out recipes at home on one's own and cooking in person with the sifu - you pick up on loads of invaluable advice, useful hints and nuggets of wisdom as the class progresses. Also it is a lot more fun getting hands-on with so many like-minded food/cooking enthusiasts around...every moment's filled with good-naturedly ribbing, endless teasing and a sense of camaraderie to ensure everything turns out well.

Doesn't the Ayam Percik look delicious? The bright yellow spiced marinade was so flavourful, it thoroughly imbued the chicken thighs with its aromatic and mouth-watering nuances.


The Nasi Kerabu looks like a tricky dish to make but under Rohani's guidance, everything seems incredibly simple. As expected, the end result was superb as these pictures bore testament to that.






Pick Shan of Babe in the City KL gets down to tossing the mixed fresh herbs and rice for Nasi Kerabu with pleasing results...and we followed suit. Needless to say it was well worth all our efforts!

Although it was my first time learning how the classic Kerabu Jantung Pisang is prepared, the salad was also ready in two shakes of a tail feather.







As we sat down to lunch, everyone couldn't help but smile from ear to ear as we savoured the fruits of each other's labour. Of course, we couldn't have done it without Rohani's team of capable helpers led by Wati who had done so much of the prep work ahead of time and then pitched in to help keep our work tables, used kitchen tools, crockery and cutlery clean. Thanks guys and gals - it was certainly one Saturday I'd remember and cherish for a long, long time!