Running Around London pt. 1: Lunch at Hampton Court Palace

Been down in London to see my aunt and cousins. They were here for a holiday for a a couple of weeks. It’s amazing that while over in Canada my sister had salmon, I too had salmon for dinner. Salmon was SKINLESS though. Argh, Sainsbury’s, how can you rob us of our salmon skin? This was prepared by my cousin, Sharon. Skinless salmon with roasted vegetables, boiled vivaldi potatoes and peas. It’s a simple fair but tasty. Thanks, Sharon.

Salmon was just lightly salted, seasoned with freshly milled black pepper and pan fried in a bit of Jersey butter.

Anyway, while I was in London, I decided to tag along and be a tourist in Hampton Court Palace. It was home to King Henry VIII, and we all know how he loves to eat. Since it was a whole day fair, we had to have lunch in the palace.

King Henry’s dining hall where he had many of his banquets. No, we didn’t get to have lunch here. We had it here instead.

Yes, it’s one of their servant kitchens. They now called this a ‘cafe’ to cater the hungry tourists. Less glamorous, I know.


I had their so called castle stew. Hmm, I like that they served it on a wooden board, but I’m pretty sure they don’t have tomatoes in medieval times. This is just some tudor sausage (really?) and pork chunks in a tomato based sauce. Well, it is tender and well seasoned… yeah, that’s all I’ve got to say about it. At £4.50, don’t expect it to be some delectable dish.

All in all, I thought the day out in Hampton Court was enjoyable.

– M.

Simple Recipe for Crispy Salmon

There was a time when I would stoop as low as to buy microwaveable fish. A frozen puck, probably once resembling a fillet, stuffed in a cardboard box and set in stasis over the ages. Cooking directions? Just unwrap and cook in microwave for 8-10 minutes. Does not even require thawing! The result? An off-white piece of shriveled sponge-like object swimming in melted ice water with bits of floating white debris. Bon appetite. This I had been willing to put up with. The reason being that I’d always thought fish was just a generally mediocre tasting protein- a food we only resort to when we’re sick of eating chicken or beef. A food reserved to be cooked(successfully) by culinary wizards. We all know someone in our lives who don’t like fish. When ill prepared, fish can scar a man for life.

Well, advice #1: NEVER BUY FROZEN FISH! Yes, they may keep well and they may be cheaper but they will always end up tasting like soggy sponge no matter how much lemon juice and whatever spice you smother them with. It’s also very difficult to dry frozen fish, and this can be a real problem when trying to achieve a crispy shell.

Advice #2: Stay calm and don’t panic.

Browsing through the weekly flyers, I came across a 50% off sale on fresh Atlantic Salmon fillets. I can spot a good deal when I see one, and a good deal I cannot resist. It was the first time I’d bought fish over the counter, instead of picking frozen vacuum packs off the cooling shelf. But what beautiful cuts of fillet – glistening and rosy red with freshness!

So, my first salmon dish- Crispy Skin Salmon Fillet (thanks to Chef Ramsay). My side dishes are an apple and leek slaw salad paired with creamy dill potatoes.

Salmon:

  • salmon fillet with skin on
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper
1. Cut incisions into salmon skin
Use a sharp knife. The skin can be tough but the flesh is soft like butter so be really careful not to butcher the salmon. The thinner the strips, the crispier the skin will be.

Also, it prevents the skin from curling and deforming the fillet during cooking.

2. Sprinkle salt into each incision
You may want to use your fingers and gently pry open each incision to insert the salt. Feel free to add on any spices you think will go well with the salmon.
3. Cook it skin side down first
Heat olive oil in a pan. When the oil is just starting to smoke, lay the salmon fillet skin side down.
This is when you want to leave the fillet alone. Before, I’ve always had the urge to nudge the protein around as it sizzles, but please don’t. FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD, LEAVE THE FILLET ALONE! Just keep an eye on it, and enjoy the irresistibly mouth watering sound of the salmon sizzling away.

                                You can see the translucent colour of the flesh gradually turn a solid pink, travelling upwards.
Keep at medium heat, the salmon skin should be gently sizzling, not spewing greasy projectiles at you.

When the color has traveled 2/3 of the way up, flip the salmon. Be careful not to break the fillet apart. Use a thin spatula. Let it cook for 2-3 minutes.

Then flip the salmon over one last time (just for a minute), to reheat the skin and get it nice and crispy again. Plate it and voila! Does the skin give off a crisp thud when knocked with a spoon? YES? Then mission accomplished! If not, well there’s always next time but be consoled that the fish will still be delicious.

Apple and Leek Slaw:

  • green apple
  • leek
  • lemon
  • sour cream
  • maple syrup (or sugar)
  • salt & pepper
  • fresh parsley
1. Julienne the apple and chop the leek

2. Toss apple and leek with lemon juice
The lemon juice will prevent the apple from browning, so should probably put that in early on. I find it reduces the sharpness of the leek as well.
3. Add sour cream, a dash of maple syrup and salt/pepper
I use maple syrup to give it a Canadian flare. Nah, it’s really because I don’t want to have to dissolve sugar. Mayonnaise is good too if you don’t have sour cream. Toss them all together and you’re done. I serve the slaw on a bed of mixed leafy greens and top it with some fresh parsley from me garden. 🙂
Creamy Dill Potatoes:
  • potatoes
  • sour cream
  • dill
  • lemon vinaigrette
1. Boil potatoes, cut into cubes
Until they are practically falling apart. Cut into inch long cubes.
2. Dress potatoes
Coat with sour cream, dill and lemon vinaigrette(lemon juice, olive oil, water, salt&pepper)
I find most restaurants tend to over cook their salmon fillets, and that’s why I’ve never really been a fan of salmon until now. When done right, it’s moist and rich and melts in your mouth and just absolutely glorious!
Beautiful. Still pink in the middle. Every bite offers a rich crunch followed by velvety moist salmon that just melts in your mouth.
I may have been wandering soullessly in a fishy dark age, but I have reached a Fish Renaissance and am basking in its aromatic glory.
  -Sugamama.

Making Almond Butter from Scratch: The Quest For Almond Butter in Malaysia!

Ever since I was a kid, I have always had a love affair with peanut butter. In fact, I think I ended up with a reputation of being addicted to stuff in my family. Thickly spread peanut butter on bread with jam and a cup of milo… mmm… oh my, how did the PB&J end up swimming in the milo? Oh well…

Of course, the worst part of growing up was discovering that my beloved creamy Skippy peanut butter contains hydrogenated oils which weren’t exactly good for me. Being a health conscious adult is sometimes a curse -_-;;

So with some healthy-eating prodding from sugarmama, I pondered on what to do… Leave peanut butter for something else? The problem with being in Malaysia is that the selection one gets is rather limited. For the longest time all the choices we had here were Skippy, Goobers or that horrible sugary peanut concoction that is Lady’s Choice (No offense, but the majority of Malaysian people tend to have a sweet tooth, I don’t, and unfortunately the peanut butter makers cater to them).

Anyway, while trying to decide who to partner with my favourite apple/rosehip jam, a trip to California happened. And it was there when I strayed from my love of many many years for some other nut butter whom I fell in love with on first taste.

You see, I walked into a local Trader Joe’s where I met and became acquainted with Almond Butter.

The good news was: almond butter is healthier than peanut butter providing the makers don’t mess around too much with it. The bad news? Long-distance relationships don’t tend to turn out well.

So once I had left California, I had a new dilemma: How to get ahold of almond butter in Malaysia.

Raiding the expat supermarkets in KL (Cold Storage, Mercanto, Village Grocers) resulted in me going home empty-handed. Desperate, I tried the health food stores, but the closest thing I got to that was sesame butter. Which was kinda nice, but not what I wanted. They’re kind of like those nice guys you see in romantic comedies, whose only purpose is to present an obstacle and prevent the girl from immediately uniting with her true wuv. Once the hero comes on the scene, she’s never going to settle for him and will secretly pine away until she reaches an epiphany and all that…

Similarly, I had one too. I came to the conclusion, because there was no way I was going to go crawling back to Skippy, if I wanted Almond Butter, I was going to have make my own supply myself.

Which brings us to the topic of today’s post:

 Scouring the net will find you several different recipes for almond butter, and I deliberately picked the ones with the least additives. All I wanted in my almond butter was almonds, salt and maybe some sort of sweetener.

By the way, just so that we get this out of the way, to make almond butter, you need to have a food processor, unless you are crazy enough to want to try making it with a pestle and mortar as the Mayans (…or was it the Aztecs?) did.

Anyway… My first attempt wasn’t too bad. It tasted great, but was a grainy, drippy, oily mess. The reason? Freaking recipe said to put in sugar and a bit of sunflower oil, which I did.

Fortunately, the almond butter article over at the Fresh Loaf put me back on the right track. The truth is, the only ingredients you need to make almond butter is… roast almonds. Oh if you want to be luxurious, a bit of salt and sugar. In my case, I switched to honey.

Ok, for those of you reading this long post and wondering when I am going to get to the point of how to make almond butter from scratch, here is where you start paying attention:

What you will need:

(Edibles)

1) Roasted almonds (Obviously. You will need as much as your jar can hold in grams)

2) Salt

3) Honey or sugar.

(Non-edibles)

1) Food processor. I don’t have a full-sized food processor, so I used the chopper attachment that came with my Bosch immersion blender, which by the way, rocks!

2) Sterilised glass jar to store your almond butter (just boil to sterilise)

Your almonds can be pre-roasted. I have noticed that they will be drier and produce less oil if they are pre-roasted though. Which can be a bit of a problem in making spreadable almond butter. Oil content seems to vary from types of almond to almond. So far Californian almonds seem to have more oil than any others I’ve tried.

INSTRUCTIONS:

In theory there is nothing fancy about making almond butter. You chuck them into your food processor and blitz.

In reality, there are a whole plethora of factors that determine whether the almond butter you made is creamy or not. Or if the person making the butter gives-up it halfway because they think they failed. Anyway, let’s start:

PHASE 1: Chuck your almonds into the blender and blend. 

A word of caution about using non-industrial strength food processors. These things are liable to overheating, so monitor the temperature and don’t have them go at it for too long. I blitz for 10 -15 seconds or so before stopping to check progress. Sure my lovely Bosch has a temperature sensor that auto-powers down if the motor gets too hot, but I don’t like to depend on safety features. Failsafes can fail.

PHASE 2:

This is the point where most people who make almond butter will fail and give up, because it will seem like all that is happening is the coarse almond meal gets pushed up to the top of the processor and the blades are spinning around grinding nothing at the bottom. This is also the point where people will think of adding some oil to moisten the meal and so make the butter-making process easier. The truth is:

DO NOT ADD OIL!

It backfires on you badly later. The reason for this is almonds contain plenty of oil already, but they just haven’t seeped out of the nut fragments yet. If you add oil now, you’re going to get a oily, soppy mess later. Trust me, I made that mistake and while the butter tasted great, the soaking through the bread part was a bit off-putting. Let’s not forget the whole reason we make our own butter is to avoid adding oils!

Instead, leave the almonds to cool and the oil to take its sweet time coming out, and go do something else. For example, I went cycling.

(That’s not me BTW, I’m the one taking the picture. Oh M, recognise the backlight?)

And then I came back, showered, and went back to making almond butter. By that time the hiding oil had decided to emerge and explore, only to be met by my deadly chopper blades. MUAHAHAA!

PHASE 3:

Don’t let the almonds escape! You might need to spoon the almond fragments so they fall back into the well and cover the blades.

Oh, you can add in the honey and salt here too. A little bit goes a long way, I put in about a half teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of honey for about 400g of almonds, but it’s all according to your taste really.

And after you’ve added your salt and honey, start the processor:

There was much almondy carnage, with almond blood oil seeping everywhere and binding the previously irritatingly fluffy almond meal together, which made it much easier for my Bosch Blades of Doom to further pulverize them into a lovely almondy mess.

PHASE 4:

With the hard part over, we just keep on blending until the almond turns creamy and spreadable. Make sure to watch your processor motor so it doesn’t overheat. Pause and let it cool down if necessary.

The longer you blend, the smoother it gets, but it can get really oily if you overblend, so watch out!

When satisfied with the taste and texture, spoon out into your sterilised jar.

You can actually store the almond butter unrefrigerated for a few months, but if you’re not like me and it lasts longer than that, keep it in the fridge because we’re in Malaysia and it’s hot and humid and nut butters CAN go rancid over long periods.

Papa Salvatore enjoying the almond butter, which cost me less than RM10 to make for a 400g jar. Eat your heart out, Skippy! I’ve left you for someone better and I’m stronger on my own now and don’t need you anymoooore!

[insert more typical ‘scorned lover’ type lyrics here]

-Pinkydoodles

Prawn/shrimp Burger (Ebi Burger)

While Sugamama is contemplating Cooking with Dog’s video over in Canada (btw, DO NOT USE THAT ICING RECIPE!), I am in the UK and tried out another Japanese recipe by Runnyrunny999 on Youtube. Here is his video on making Ebikatsu Burger.

Ooh, how I miss having Ebi Burger from Mos Burger. So, with what limited resources, I’ve made my version of Ebi Burger… eh it tasted quite good, but so not the real deal. Here’s the video I made.

That ‘panko’ crumb trick was actually taught by my mum. She used to make her breadcrumb chicken fillets using cream cracker crumbs. Thanks mum!

-M.

Tail of the Spongeee Cake

I’m a novice when it comes to making pastries, actually less a novice. Let’s just say that the little cutie poodle in “Cooking with Dog” most likely knows more than I do.

I’m going to try and bake my first cake: a “spongeee” cake with icing. I’m thinking of doing a five or six layer cake so that it’s nice and tall. There’s something very appealing about a tall piece of cake, the taller the better. Mmmm.. layers upon layers of moist cake precariously stacked on top of one another, held on by thin slivers of rich cream mortar.

I’ve compiled a list of instructions and ingredients based on the youtube video “Cooking with Dog: X-mas cake”. I’m not going to use the recipe for the icing, just the cake.

Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • 100g sugar
  • 90g pastry/cake flour
  • 15g butter

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 220F
  2. Line bottom and sides of cake pan with wax paper
  3. Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and beat at low speed with a handheld mixer.
  4. Add sugar and continue beating for about 30 seconds.
  5. Place bowl in a hot water bath and continue mixing at high speed for a couple minutes. Remove bowl from hot water when mixture is warm.
  6. Place butter in a small cup and let sit in the hot water bath just until it’s mostly melted.
  7. While waiting for the butter to melt, add flour to the batter and gently mix with a spatula. The technique is to gently fold the mixture until the flour is nicely incorporated. Add the melted butter and gently mix. The dog says to repeat the folding for about fifty times.
  8. Pour mixture into cake pan at once. Knock the bottom of the pan against the table a couple of times to remove any air pockets in the batter.
  9. Pop the pan in the oven and bake for about 23 minutes.
  10. When that’s done, take the pan out and pierce the center of the cake with a bamboo stick. Make sure the center isn’t still wet.
  11. Flip cake pan onto cooling rack and leave it alone until the pan is cool to the touch. Only then should the cake be separated from its mold by the gently lifting the pan, leaving a nice golden cake on the rack. Flip the cake to get the top side up.
  12. I think the trickiest part is create the uniform layers. With a long knife, cut the cake horizontally. Make sure to plan the incisions carefully so you can get the desired number of layers. Each layer should consist of equal height, otherwise the resulting cake will just look odd.

I haven’t decided what kind of icing I should use. I found this recipe online:

  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons clear imitation vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 8 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

Directions

  1. Mix shortening, water, vanilla, almond extract, and half of the powdered sugar with a mixer for 5-10 minutes. (it’s very important to mix this long)
  2. Add the rest of the powdered sugar and beat just enough to mix in.
  3. Add additional water for desired consistency.
It sounds pretty good but I’m not sure. I’m all for replacing the shortening with butter. Any comments?
I need a turntable (which I don’t have) to properly apply the icing but I figured out a spiffy way to forgo dishing out more bucks. The microwave! Yes, I’m going to use the microwave’s turntable instead. Good thing it’s removable.
Now that I’ve talked the talk, I need to walk the walk. Off to the Bake-mobile! Will update on the outcome in a few days. I foresee a cake-wreck…
-Sugamama.

Herb Herb Hurray!

Before my gardening days (literally three months ago), I would cringe whenever a recipe called for fresh parsley or basil or any kind of fresh herb. I rarely buy fresh herbs from the supermarket because they usually come in such a generous bunch (from which I pluck a few stalks) that most of it always ends up decomposing in my fridge. There is nothing more sad than finding a wilted piece of vegetable in your refrigerator box and having to recall its former vibrance just a few weeks ago when you came across it in the market- it poised on top of a pile of its comrades; and you paying for it, bringing it home and shoving it into a cold plastic grave labeled “Controlled Humidity”. All this is making me think of the movie “Grave of the Fireflies”.

Anyway, I usually substitute any call for fresh herbs with the equivalent dehydrated form or forgo the ingredient all together.

I found a solution to the herb problem, one that’s probably already obvious to all but me until recently when I discovered the magical land of the Garden Center. Hurray for container grown herbs for 2CAD$! Now I’m glad to say that I have a nice selection of common culinary herbs in my backyard.

 

Ahh, the big leaf basil. King of Herbs. I use  this in everything. Basil truly adds a  restaurant flare to almost any amateur dish. I’m not  sure if I’m supposed to let it bloom like that  but dog gone I love this plant! I might name  my next dog after it.

I have two types of lemon thyme: regular and  veriegated. As far as flavor goes, both are  identical. I guess it’s up to presentation of the  dish.

I decided to create an herb urn (say it aloud!  “Herb-Urn”). I potted the thyme along with  mint, oregano, dwarf curry and lavender. The  lavender’s sort of the odd one out. Apparently  lavender with TLC can live for a good 20  years. Pretty neat.

A friend of mine bestowed upon me the first ripe tomato from her garden, an honour I won’t forget. It compelled me to want my own tomato plant, but it’s already too late into the season so I guess I’ll have to wait for next year.

Over and out. -Sugamama

A spark…

A conversation with my mother led to the creation of this blog. I have always wanted to note down my mother’s recipes. Then there is my father who is a big wine buff. My sisters are also foodies and we all like experimenting in the kitchen. So, here it is. A blog to chronicle our journey through life with gastronomic overtones. The name of the blog was formulated from the fact that our origins are from a certain state in Kelantan. Yes, we are the people from the Land of the Lightning and we love our budu.

-M.