Archive for the ‘My Treasured Recipes’ Category

Honestly speaking, I had always associated a vegan being Buddhist. Call me ignorant, but you will forgive me after reading the next paragraph *wink*

My first exposure of a full-fledged vegan meal was when I did not know I had a vegan meal at all! How ironic was that? Then again, it was eons ago. I was a little girl sitting at a big round table, surrounded by adults I could vaguely recollect their faces except for my late Dad and an aunt or two and an adopted cousin and her biological family. Everyone was speaking Henghua, and Mandarin and a smattering of Hokkien and Malay. I remembered eating a cold plate as starter and mains consisting of lo han chai, braised mushrooms with broccoli, yam basket with pieces of ‘meat’, slices of ‘meat’ in orange sauce that tasted like duck meat, whole fish with edible bones. All the dishes were intricately and artistically presented. I was not a good eater when I was a young girl growing up, but I remembered those dishes were simply sublime. Although the tastes seemed quite linear throughout, the textures were rather interesting: chewy, meaty, spongy, sweet, savoury, tangy, tasty; and yet there were no real meats, only mock meats! Yup, that was my first intro to a vegan meal, prepared for a group of people who were mostly Buddhist at the time.

>> Fast forward anno 2013, Belgium >>

On 5th June, 2013, the United Nations celebrated World Environment Day (WED). The company where I work, co-celebrated the year’s theme “Think. Eat. Save”.  A colleague who is a vegan was the best ambassador to present that year’s theme at one of the meetings.

And guess what? I was not being introduced, but more so, re-introduced to yet another full-fledged vegan lunch, albeit on a different level! I must say the vegan burger was a surprise discovery. I have written a post about it, here.

In case you are wondering, nope, my colleague is NOT a Buddhist. She became a vegan due to both dietary and ethical reasons.

Vegan is the New Black!

This phrase is inspired by the opening title of Netflix’s hit show Orange is the New Black. While the 2nd part of the phrase, “the new black” is very common in pop culture, the first part of the phrase, “Vegan”, is the suddenly trendy thing that is happening of late. If you don’t already know, being vegan is not at all a new thing. It was founded in 1944 !!

Loving the Loving Hut

Ever since I had my first bite of that vegan burger, I was on the lookout for that restaurant in Leuven. Loving Hut is a vegan restaurant chain with several outlets worldwide. I’m glad Leuven is one of them! I have brought my younger son there with me on several occasions and he likes the food there, so much so, that it becomes a domino effect. In turn he brought his friends to lunch there, too.

Here’re what I had with my son during one of our visits to Loving Hut. All organic and vegan burgers with vegan “bitterballen” and “calamares”

Awesome!



My favourite remains the refreshingly colourful and tasty, neptunus salad.



Oh by the way, it was at Loving Hut that I got to know of Dr RM, a Kerala born doctor in Ayurveda and yoga therapy. Although I have never been to any of her yoga classes, I have enjoyed a good Ayurvedic full body massage from her.

During one of the massage sessions with Dr RM, she mentioned about giving an Ayurvedic Vegan workshop (yes, she called it a workshop) when the weather was warmer. She sounded extremely enthusiastic about it and even sharing her plan with me. Lucky for her, I’m a good listener 🙂

And doubly lucky for her, I told her to count me in when the workshop day arrived, as I was game – for the food, in particular. Lol!

Workshop Day

28th May arrived. It was a lovely sunny day. I drove to Dr RM’s house where the workshop was. It was my first Vegan workshop, hence, I had not the clue what to expect.

Although I have been to Dr RM’s house on several occasions for the Ayurvedic massage, I have never been into her living room, let alone, her kitchen. It felt like walking into another dimension with our bare feet et al. The living room was unadorned and pure minimalistic, definitely not in a negative sense.

Yoga Before Vegan

We were a small group of 4 participants. Dr RM gave a brief explanation of yoga after which she recited a simple mantra to anchor our attention to our breathing while the calming and Zen meditation music was playing.

A-U-M!

We “woke up” with a pleasant serving of aromatic mug of freshly brewed warm Ayurvedic chai. We were in comfort zone, literally speaking.

Ready? Steady…. Cook!

For the next 2 hours or so, I took down mental notes of the vegan cooking process through the photos I captured from my iPhone.

My challenge? To replicate the Vegan lunch in the comfort of my own kitchen *wink*

Okay, just let your imagination run wild with you, with the following photos…

It was supposed to be an interactive cooking workshop but due to time constraint, it ended up with Dr RM preparing and cooking all the dishes herself!

She whipped up 4 vegan recipes while explaining the choice of ingredients used – Ayurvedic mung bean soup, Ayurvedic Chapatis or Rotis, Ayurvedic chutney and kheer or rice pudding with saffron, cardamom and cashew nuts.

What a Feast!

It was worth the wait. A simple, unadulterated vegan meal that’s fresher than FRESH! Couldn’t get any fresher than that.

What more can I say!

My Challenge…

After seeing Dr RM toiling away with the mixing, stirring, kneading and cooking, I thought, “nah, too time consuming!“, so I opted for the extreme alternative.

Yup, I turned to my Thermie for help 😉

With the mental notes in my head, I converted the drudgery of preparing the Ayurvedic vegan lunch into an expeditious culinary journey in the comfort of my own kitchen.

Vegan Sunday with a Twist


My Ayurvedic Chapatis

  • 1 kg potatoes (I used “Jazzy” creamy potatoes)
  • 750 g organic wheat “atta” flour (I used organic spelt flour plus extra for kneading)
  • 1.5 tsp nigella seeds
  • 40g chopped fresh coriander
  • 1-2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tsp Himalayan rock salt


I boiled the potatoes (skin on) as per the BCB and peeled the skin when still warm but not hot. Then I set them aside to cool before mashing the potatoes to the texture I wanted. Then I added the flour bit by bit, nigella seeds, 1 Tbsp coconut oil and salt. I mixed the mixture until a dough is formed. I turned the dial to “knead” for 2 minutes, and added 1 Tbsp coconut oil if too dry, or more flour if still wet. The key here is trial and error and stop when you are happy with the consistency you want.

Next, I tipped the dough onto a floured bowl and leave the dough to rest for at least 30 minutes. After half an hour, I kneaded the dough again by hand on floured surface. For the amount of dough mixture, I was able to make 25 equal-sized balls. I flattened each ball with a floured rolling pin and rolled each ball into disc.


I used two green pans to speed the roti making process. Each pan was pre-heated and drizzled with a tiny bit of coconut oil on medium high heat. The Chapatis were cooked when they puffed in the centre. I just flipped the roti over to cook on both sides until little brown specks became visible. As you can see, my rotis were not of uniform sizes and form. I like it that way as it looked more home-style 😀

My Ayurvedic Chutney

  • 180 g raisins secs
  • 180 g raisins blanc
  • 200 g x 2 dates
  • A palmful of fresh mint leaves
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Himalayan rock salt


I soaked the raisins and dates in water overnight. With the amount of raisins and dates (water removed) and mint I dumped in the TM bowl, I made sure not to go above speed 5 to avoid the TM blades from getting stuck. You can continue by using a wooden spatula to free the area around the blades. Continue blending until you reached the desired texture. I prefer my chutney with a bit of texture.

For smoother puréed-like texture, blend in smaller batches.


Dates and raisins are sweet, so you know the drill. Pep it up with some freshly milled Himalayan rock salt and cayenne or paprika powder. Et voilà!

My Ayurvedic Soup

  • 400 g split mung beans
  • 1,500 g water plus 500 g water
  • 5 g turmeric powder
  • 5 g garlic (sorry, I can’t go without this herb!)
  • 80 g onion (ditto)
  • Ginger
  • Lemon juice from half a lemon
  • Himalayan rock salt, to taste
  • 25 g Coconut oil


Tempering

  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • Roughly chopped Spinach leaves
  • Coconut oil


Garnishing

  • Chopped coriander leaves
  • Crispy fried onions (optional)

Wash the mung beans in several changes of water until the water runs clear. Soak the mung beans for at least 4 hours or overnight


Mince the garlic, onion and ginger upto speed 5 for 3 seconds. Add coconut oil and sauté with turmeric powder for 3mins/ 120 C/ speed 1.

From the overnight-soaked mung beans, weigh 500g of the soaked beans and transfer to the TM bowl. Add 1,500g water. Cook for 20 mins/ 120 C/ R/ Spoon/ Half MC

After 10 minutes, watch out for the foams floating on the surface. Pause and remove the frothy surface. Reduce the temperature to 100C/ Half MC. Cook further until the mung beans are soft and tender. Transfer the soup to a bigger soup pot. Add 500 g water. Boil for another 5 minutes.

And of course, season to taste!

Prepare the tempering by heating some coconut oil and mustard seeds in a frying pan. As soon as the seeds start popping, add the cumin seeds and roughly chopped spinach leaves. Gently pour the tempered ingredients into the soup. Season to taste before serving. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and crispy fried onions (optional)


Our Vegan Lunch was ready to serve!

My Verdict?

I loved Dr RM’s Chapatis. Her rotis puffed up beautifully in the centre. She used plain wheat flour while I used organic Spelt flour. That could be the reason why my rotis did not puff too much and a bit more dense, too. The mixing and kneading in the TM were a breeze but it was the rolling out of the dough into discs and the waiting time to get the rotis cooked went by at annoying snail speed. With my boys popping in and out of the kitchen and incessantly asking “is the food ready yet?” didn’t help one bit at all 😦

I loved my Ayurvedic soup the most. Could it be the un-vegan ingredients of minced garlic, onion and crispy fried shallots that made the world of difference? That’s the Twist, I meant 😉

The guys in my household are not fan of beans and lentils, but surprisingly, they liked the soup.

To be honest, Dr RM’s soup was very bland. It could do with some pinches of extra salt but we were all too ravenous, and gulped all the soup down. Lol!

Our Ayurvedic chutneys were on par. Hers was extremely smooth, more like purée and mine was more relish-y. I prefer my chutney with some texture, hence by not pulsing on high speed for too long was, for me, perfect. If you’re wondering if the chutney was too sweet because of the dates, well, it was on the sweet side but not overly sweet due to the overnight soaking. The slight tartness from the raisins and the cool and refreshing mint, Himalayan salt and cayenne or paprika powder balanced the flavour of the chutney quite flawlessly.

I asked the 3 participants what their favourite dish was. All 3 pointed to the Ayurvedic chutney and the Chapatis 😉

By the way, I did not replicate Dr RM’s dessert as that was my least favourite dish. Her rice pudding did not set in the fridge and it turned out pretty soupy. The flavours were alright.

Will I make these again? Yes! Without a doubt, but on a smaller scale. I will use plain atta flour for the Chapatis. The Ayurvedic soup will be on a future lunch menu. Bookmarked! I will make the Ayurvedic chutney 2 ways – puréed and relished and will add some chilli flakes and a squeeze of lemon juice for extra tartness.

If you have never had an Ayurvedic vegan meal before, you may consider trying this out and judge it for yourself.

I’m not a Vegan but I loved it, however, it’s not something I will eat everyday. Too many restrictions and it’s just not possible for me to abstain from a good bowl of kolo mee or char siu pao 😀

Oh by the way, Dr RM gave away a try-out sample pack of the Ayurvedic chai after the workshop.

I brewed it immediately when I got home.

Mmmmm…. yummy!

Zen….

This masala chai is a keeper 😉

Have a Blessed Sunday!

Cheers!

It is really amusing to observe a toddler’s reaction when eating a piece of tofu (soybean curd) for the first time.

His face changed and grimaced. “Yuck!” I remembered that was what my older son said when he first tasted tofu. He was 3 years old then. His younger brother said exactly the same thing at his age. Even worst. He spewed everything out, with a contorted face.

Okay, maybe they were the wrong audience to feed those white spongy, tasteless thingy, BUT… kids don’t lie. Remember? 😉

Masking the Curd

I must admit soybean curd on its own is downright bland. That’s why my Mum made us “like” eating tofu by masking and dressing it up when we were younger. She won, because we absolutely loved and still adore Mum’s stuffed fried tofu “tauhu sumbat” with either meat or veg filling. I’d love to replicate Mum’s tauhu sumbat here in Belgium, but deep fat frying of the curd is not what I would venture into in my own kitchen … as yet. I’m sure my boys will be bowled over by the stuffed tofu. Yes, 100% !

On the other hand, I’ve whipped up a much healthier version of steaming the tofu and made a glossy gravy of sesame oil, oyster sauce, garlic, ginger, cooking wine, salt and pepper to taste and corn flour as thickener to go with the once-upon-a-time bland tofu.

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Or simply a bowl of clean healthy soup with cubed tofu and meatballs. And by the way, I made those tofu from scratch! You can check out how I made the soymilk the ‘traditional’ way (no soymilk maker then) and transformed the milk into soybean curd by using s secret ingredient here.

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My boys have grown into teens now and their palates and cravings have also evolved over the years. They want more spices and flavour in the foods they eat. I’m glad for them because I’m a spicy person when it comes to eating, hence, it makes cooking a lot easier for me 😀

The best ‘mask’ yet for a tofu dish is the unbeatable Mapo Tofu dish. I have had these in many Chinese restaurants, and I have always loved the smooth tofu and the heat that comes with it, however, the “heat” is not as spicy as I would love it to be.

So I decided to make my own fiery Mapo Tofu.

Here you go!

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Who or What the hell is Mapo?

Mapo tofu bluntly means ‘pockmarked elderly lady’s soybean curd’. It doesn’t sound very flattering, but the origin of the story dated back to the late 19th Century in Chengdu, the Provincial Capital of Sichuan in SW China. There may be little variations to the details of the story being told, but here’s one I learnt from a Chinese lady who used to run a mini Asian store near where we lived. I told her I wanted to make an authentic platter of mapo tofu dish and I wanted to know of the special ingredients that went in the dish. She was very helpful and immediately told me that the Pi’xian doubanjiang is one of the compulsory ingredients in the dish. I bought a bag of the spicy Sichuan Pixian fermented broad bean paste.

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Then her eyes twinkled and she asked me if I knew why the dish is called Mapo Tofu. I love listening to stories and I was looking forward to her story 😀

Here’s what she told me, “Once a upon a time there was an elderly woman by the name of Mrs Chen. She is said to have pockmarks on her face. She ran an eatery, mainly selling vegetarian dishes, on a route travelled by porters who were carrying heavy loads. Many stopped at her stall for her food. One day, a hungry labourer who had no money to pay for his meal, stopped by at Mrs Chen’s food stall. He barter-traded with Mrs Chen his rapeseed oil (similar to canola oil) and some meat in exchange for lunch. She created and tossed what were available, and topped the tofu-minced meat with infused chilli oil, and THAT was when the Mapo Tofu was born”, as in “Ma” meaning pockmarks and “Po“, which is the first syllable of “popo” meaning an elderly woman or a grandma.

What an interesting story!

Hot and Fiery and 7th Heaven!

According to Wikipedia, a true Mapo Tofu dish is powerfully spicy with both conventional “heat” spiciness and the characteristic “mala” (numbing spiciness) flavour of Sichuan cuisine. The characteristics considered to be the most defining of authentic Mapo Tofu dish must include the following seven specific adjectives:

1. numbing (from the Sichuan peppercorns)
2. spicy hot (from the dried chillies, chilli oil, chilli flakes, doubanjiang)
3. hot temperature (cooked on high heat)
4. fresh (from the fresh ingredients used – meat, spring onions, tofu, garlic, ginger)
5. tender and soft (from the tofu)
6. aromatic (from the stir-fried aromas of the spices)
7. flaky (melts in the mouth)

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As a bonus, I got this recipe from the friendly Chinese lady at the store. She only mentioned the ingredients used but not the measurements. Most unfortunately, she no longer works at the store and I have no clue where she is now, but I am very grateful for the recipe she had briefly shared with me.

Ingredients

Dried chillies (I used 4, cut in halves. Not for the faint-hearted. Be warned!)
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
Medium-firm soybean curd, cubed (I used 500 g)
Vegetable oil (again pure guestimate)
Minced meat (The choice of meat is yours. I used a mixture of pork-beef mince)
Fermented chilli broad bean paste (Sichuan Pixian doubanjiang) – I used 2 Tbsp
3 garlic cloves, finely diced (this one she mentioned)
Small knob fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced (“agak-agak”)
3 stalks spring onions, cut on the bias (yes, 3…)
Chilli-sesame oil (I used 2 Tbsp)
Chilli flakes (optional – depending on how hot you can take it!)
Salt and sugar (optional)

Cornflour Mixture
Chicken stock or water (this is pure guestimate!)
Light soy sauce
Chinese cooking wine (I used Shaoxing wine)
Cornflour

Note: For Vegetarian version, replace minced meat with water chestnuts, wood ear fungus or any vegetables of your choice.

Method

1. Dry roast/ toast the dry chillies and Sichuan peppercorns in a wok over a medium-high heat stirring continuously for a few seconds. Thereafter, I set aside 2 halves of the toasted dry chillies and transfer the rest to a pestle and mortar and grind finely. Let cool.

2. Prepare the cornflour mixture in a bowl by adding wine, light soy sauce and stock or water.

3. In a pan of water add the cubed soybean curd. Cover and bring to the boil. Drain. Set aside.

4. Add some oil in the wok over medium heat. Add 1 Tbsp of the ground toasted chilli and Sichuan peppercorns. Cook for a few seconds, stirring well up to the point where you see a thin wisp of smoke. Remove the peppercorns while retaining the oil in a small bowl.

5. In the same wok, add the minced meat. Stir fry for a couple of seconds over a medium- high heat.

6. Add the diced/ minced garlic and ginger. Continue stir-frying until fragrant.

7. Add the doubanjiang paste and the 2 halves of the toasted dry chillies. Stir-fry.

8. Pour in the cornflour mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

9. Add the cubed tofu, prepared chilli oil and chilli-sesame oil. At this stage, taste to check if salt or sugar is required. Bring to the boil and then immediately turn off the heat. Transfer to a serving plate

10. Finally, sprinkle the toasted ground peppercorns and garnish with spring onions.

Here’s my version of the famous Sichuan Mapo Tofu made by a Malaysian in Belgium 😀

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Enjoy!

Mapo Tofu is a very light yet tasty dish with the level of heat that can easily be adjusted to one’s preference. I’m linking this post to Bangers & Mash’s The Spice Trail with the theme “Temple Food

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With my chosen herb in this recipe, I am submitting this post to Lavender and Lovage’s Cooking with Herbs

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Mapo Tofu can be eaten anytime of the year. I don’t mind having this dish served at Chinese New Year lunch or dinner. For this, I’m submitting this post to “My Treasured Recipes #5 – Chinese New Year Goodies (Jan/Feb 2015)” hosted by Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders and co-hosted by Charmaine of Mimi Bakery House

I’m also sharing this post to Cook and Celebrate: Chinese New Year 2015 organised by Yen from Eat Your Heart Out, Diana from Domestic Goddess Wannabe and Zoe from Bake for Happy Kids.

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Tasty Tuesdays with HonestMum



Have a great weekend!

Cheers!

I’m so glad I finally made this sticky glutinous rice cake! This has been on my to-do list since time immemorial 😀

And what better way to have this auspicious cake posted on Chinese New Year day!

GONG XI FA CAI!

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Being half Chinese, this dessert has criss-crossed my Mum’s house in Kuching zillion times during the Chinese New Years gone by. She either got the cake as a gift from friends and relatives or she had made the cake herself. There was a time, when we received an abundance of the sweet sticky cake, to the point that my Mum would fill her two fridges to the brim, metaphorically speaking 😉

We did not mind a bit that our fridges were stuffed with the sweet sticky cakes. And by the way, the cake has a name, “nian gao“. It is believed to bring good fortune if one consumes nian gao. According to Wikipediia, “nian gao” in Chinese Mandarin, is literally translated as ‘Year High’. Coincidentally, the Chinese word “nián” means ‘sticky’ and is identical in sound to ‘year’. Similarly, “gāo” means ‘cake’, which is identical in sound to ‘high or tall’. Having said that, eating nian gao has a symbolic meaning of raising oneself higher in each coming year, be it a promotion at work or, for a child, growing taller. And OMG… I haven’t had nian gao in years! I reckoned my achievement had stagnated from my last bite of the sticky sweet snack many donkeys’ years ago. Jeez….I hope not. Touch wood 😉

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Legend has it …

Oh by the way, an interesting legend has it that nian gao is made each new year as an offering to the Kitchen God, with the main purpose of keeping his mouth shut. The Kitchen God is said to make a report of each human (Chinese) family to the Jade Emperor if they have been good or bad that year. By offering the nian gao to the Kitchen God will avoid him from badmouthing to the Celestial Court, as his mouth will be stuck with the sticky cake. He will not be able to talk a lot or too fast.

Whether, it’s true or not, many Chinese families keep the legend going to this day.

The many faces of nian gao

Not long ago I had a brief discussion with some friends about the word nian gao. The nian gao I knew was the sticky brown glutinous rice cake, which I have just discussed, however, one of my friends said the nian gao she knew was the white rice cake, which is usually stir fried with soy sauce, meat and vegetables as a savoury dish. Hmmm… interesting…

Brown + sweet vs white + savoury? Golly gosh! Two opposite poles! There must be an attraction at some point?

The only ‘attraction’ is the fact that China is such a vast country. Different provinces have their own language (dialect) and food! Nian gao being one of them. My friend was not wrong when she referred to nian gao as the white rice cake prepared as a savoury dish, because that’s where the dish is commonly served in Shanghai!

This was what I had for lunch today, the Shanghainese version of stir-fried nian gao. Just so you have an idea 😜

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The nian gao that is most popularly served in Malaysia and Singapore is originated from Fujian (Hokkien-speaking) and Guangdong (Cantonese-speaking) provinces. THE nian gao I am referring to in this post is the Cantonese-style, made the Malaysian way in Belgium 😉

Japan and Korea have similar glutinous rice snacks, known as mochi and tteok respectively,

In Malaysia, this sticky snack is called Kuih Bakul (Cake in a Basket) in Malay, due to the fact that the banana leaf is used to tuck the cake in. The Straits Chinese or Peranakan Chinese or Baba-Nyonya of the Hokkien ancestary called this cake, “Tee Kueh” (Sweet Cake). Tee Kueh was exactly the word I grew up knowing. It was not nian gao. Surprisingly, the Chinese Filipino and Burmese also called the cake, “tikoy“. We definitely see China spreading her wings in the food we eat. Almost the same ingredients used in China years ago are preserved and retained by Chinese families today in Malaysia, Singapore, and elsewhere in East and South East Asia. As one of my brothers used to say, ” You can take a Malaysian out of Malaysia, but you cannot take Malaysia out of a Malaysian”. The same is true if you replaced Malaysian/Malaysia with Chinese/China.

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Labour of Love

There are only 3 ingredients used to make nian gao. Glutinous rice flour, sugar and water or coconut milk. Sounds simple, right? But it’s the hours and hours of constant stirring if done the traditional way (similar to making dodol) or hours and hours of steaming, as is done in the contemporary kitchen.

I steamed my nian gao for only half the original time. 5 hours instead of 10! I have 2 reasons for halving the time –

1. I started steaming the cake at 5.30pm. I had to be in bed by 11pm as it was a work day the following day , hence, I set the timer to stop at 10.30 pm.

2. I did not make a huge portion

This is a family recipe where I chose to use coconut milk over water.

Ingredients

400 g glutinous rice flour, sieved
200 g brown sugar ( I used cassonade brown sugar)
200 g organic cane sugar
400 ml coconut milk

Banana leaves to line a round dish ( I used ramekins and frozen banana leaves, cleaned and dabbed dry with absorbent papers).

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Heat the coconut milk and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool. Sieve the flour and pour in the coconut milk caramel. Mix well with a balloon whisk for at least 10 minutes until a smooth sticky batter consistency. Pour the batter in round ramekins lined with banana leaves.

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If you have all the time in the world, steam the cake for 10 to 12 hours. Unfortunately I did not have a lot of time to spare, hence, I shortened the steaming time to exactly 5 hours. I was not at all disappointed with the outcome. On the contrary. I loved the colour and the smooth finished texture.

Et voilà !

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I made 3 nian gao. One bigger ramekin and 2 small ones.

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You will notice that the colour changes after the refrigeration process.

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The purpose of refrigerating the cake is to harden it, so it will be more manageable when cutting with a knife. But of course you can eat it as is, warm and sticky, but I want to transform the cake into one of my childhood favourite snacks.

This!
*smiling sheepishly*

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I’m submitting this post to “My Treasured Recipes #5 – Chinese New Year Goodies (Jan/Feb 2015)” hosted by Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders and co-hosted by Charmaine of Mimi Bakery House

I’m also sharing this post to Cook and Celebrate: Chinese New Year 2015 organised by Yen from Eat Your Heart Out, Diana from Domestic Goddess Wannabe and Zoe from Bake for Happy Kids.

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If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody and share your happiness. ~Chinese Proverb~

Happy Lunar New Year to all celebrants!

Cheers!

My two sons were very excited at the prospect of their aunt’s and grandma’s visit last summer. They were secretly wishing, or rather, hoping, that their aunt (my sister) would be bringing along in their trip the most incredibly dreamy snack in the world – for them, at least – ie.,the savoury-sweet dried meat slices aka bak kwa.

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Bak kwa is quite similar to jerky but is not an equivalent definition. While the making of jerky uses lean meat (where most of the fat must be trimmed off) and then are cut into thin strips and dried with some salt to prevent spoilage, bak kwa is made with meat preservation, ie sweet and savoury marinades and requires at least 10% of fat, and then are dried by cooking at low temperature before cutting into squares and barbecuing over glowing fire.

By the way, my personal preference is the sliced bak kwa, however, minced meat bak kwa can be made anytime in the comfort of one’s kitchen. I was amazed at how easy it was to make this most sought-after Chinese New Year snack. The most renowned bak kwa is the Singaporean brand, Bee Cheng Hiang..

The barbecue aroma of the Bee Cheng Hiang bak kwa will linger in the palate from the first bite. Oh darn! It’s so addictive!

My sister hand-carried not one, but five packets of the savoury sweet meats – sliced pork, minced pork, chicken, turkey floss and crispy pork floss. My boys and I were over the moon. But… but … Wow! The price tags! I goggled at the price labels in disbelief. They cost a fortune! Thanks, sis, for the most incredibly scrumptious gifts.

6 months down the road, I wanted to relive that moment. What better time to buck up with Chinese New Year round the corner.

I went in search for Bee Cheng Hiang bak kwa recipe on the Internet. Zilch! Then again, most bloggers seemed to be using almost identical array of ingredients. THE most important point to consider in making bak kwa is how much of each ingredient is used to create a well-balanced flavour and texture. That was not easy the first or second time round. I’m speaking by experience here.

I have made the snack twice recently. The first time was completely impromptu as I had 300g of very lean calf mince in the fridge, which was meant for making bolognese sauce. Lean or not, I just had to make those bak kwa. I referred to the recipe from an online newsletter Mothership.sg. A contributor posted Homemade bak kwa from scratch . It’s not the nicest looking bak kwa but it’s more the technique of execution I was looking for. The idea of leaving the oven door ajar just to dry the meat and not burn or over-cook it was a clever idea, I thought. I bookmarked the recipe and this was the result!

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I followed the recipe to a tee by mathematically apportioning the measurement based on the 300g of minced meat.

I had quite positive comments from the guys. “Quite” because it was not perfect yet. Well, 300g was definitely not a lot of meat, hence, they were immediately gone from the moment the meat came out of the oven. There were two drawbacks, firstly the meat was TOO lean, and secondly, it was a wee bit salty to our liking. Everything else was almost perfect.

Once Bitten Twice Shy

I vowed to make a bigger batch with more fatty minced. I chose a mixture of pork and calf/ beef.

The original recipe used 1 kg, however I bought a bit more and increased the sweeter marinades (honey and kecap manis) by a tablespoon each.

Ingredients inspired from Mothership.sg with some modifications :
1.374 kg mix minced pork-beef
100g cassonade brown sugar
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp light soy sauce
2 Tbsp mushroom oyster sauce (vegetarian)
2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine
2 Tbsp ABC kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)
1/2 tsp 5- spice powder
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp Borneo Wild runny honey ( which I got from one of my sisters)
White Pepper
(Note I did not add salt while increasing the measurements of the sweeter marinades)

Additional ingredients: water and honey for brushing . I lost count on the measurements because I used quite a lot in several rounds, brushing every single slice, both sides, on the hot grill.

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Method –

1. Add all the ingredients and mix in well with the minced meat. I used a pair of chopsticks to stir until the mixture reaches a gooey consistency.

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2. Refrigerate the meat mixture overnight, covered with a clingfilm. When out of the fridge the next day, you will notice the colour of the mixture becomes more deep and intense. That means the meat mixture is cured. The Belgians would call this filet américain or a Martino . LOL!

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3. Spread the cured meat on a rectangular baking tray lined with a baking sheet. Cover the meat with a cling wrap and flatten it with a rolling pin, or you may use the back of a spoon.

4. Once the meat is flattened equally and thinly, transfer the baking tray to a pre-heated oven at 150 degrees Celcius. Leave the oven door ajar. All you need is to dry out the meat and not cook it thoroughly. The last thing you want is a burnt bak kwa. It takes about 15 minutes, depending on the type of your oven. At this stage, the juices from the meat will ooze. Remove the juice. I then cut the meat into desired squares and leave the meat to cool on a cooling rack.

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5. At this stage, I used my own method to wrap up the grand finale. I let my oven to R.I.P for the rest of the day while I unwrapped my secret weapon.

This!

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By the way, this was a gift I chose as my Year End gift from work. We were each given a unique password to order our Year End gift online. There were a few items to choose from : For Her, For Him, For Family or For Charity. I had my 2 sons to help me choose the gift and we finally agreed on the Tristar grill-teppanyaki-hot plate. 😀

Glad that the gift came in handy ! 😉

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

As quoted from the homepage of Bee Cheng HiangThe bakkwa is then barbecued over a glowing fire until it spatters and caramelize the tender meat in the all right place. Hot grill combined with dripping meat juice releases a sweet barbecue aroma to the already succulent meat meld together to deliver the authentic Bee Cheng Hiang Bakkwa”

Unquote

And enjoy ogling;-)

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Visually, the bak kwa looks really authentic if kept the next day(s) in the fridge.

Like so …

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The meat became tastier and that’s when you would want to make a conclusion, ” it’s just perfect ” or “it’s okay and there’s still room for improvement”. I daresay that all my recipes are tried and tested on my blog, as my priced critics are my other half and my 2 sons. Then again, one man’s meat is another man’s poison…

The verdict: Thumbs Up, BUT, it’s still salty !!!

Okay…. Third time lucky, then 😜

I know there are many bloggers submitting their own rendition of the bak kwa in the CNY blog- hop cooking challenge, well, let’s say I’ve got the bug, too, and this snack is just one of my favourites during this auspicious occasion. Having said that, I’m submitting this post to “My Treasured Recipes #5 – Chinese New Year Goodies/ Valentine’s Day (Jan/Feb 2015)” hosted by Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders and co-hosted by Charmaine of Mimi Bakery House

I’m also sharing this post to Cook and Celebrate: Chinese New Year 2015 organised by Yen from Eat Your Heart Out, Diana from Domestic Goddess Wannabe and Zoe from Bake for Happy Kids.

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Chinese New Year is just round the corner and I’m sure every Chinese family is busy “spring cleaning” the house. I just received a message from one of my sisters that she’s dead tired cleaning every nook and cranny of the house in Kuching. No worries, sis. With the newly cleaned house, let us all hope for a new year filled with lots of good health, wealth and eternal happiness.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

I also linking this post to Tasty Tuesdays with HonestMum Live




Cheers!

Putting to the Test

Two weeks ago, my 13-year old son was telling me about one of his school projects. Yes, they have lots, but that one in particular required my intervention.

Oh…? What could that be? Yep, I was curious 😀

I had hoped it was an easy one because I was really exhausted, mentally, with tons of unanticipated reports to accomplish at work with specified deadlines. The last thing I wanted was another ton of bricks on my shoulders.

That evening, my boy came up to me and said, “Mama, I need a recipe from you for my school project, indicating at least 10 points or steps to accomplish the final outcome

Huh? Is that it? I thought, that was an easy one.

I told my son to go search for THE recipe on my blog he thought would befit his school project. And by the way, to make the quest a lot simpler for him, I have 2 big binders of the printed hardcopies of every single post I have published on my blog since March 2010!

It was such a novel seeing my boy sitting on the couch, flipping through the pages of my posts. For some posts, he seemed to take a longer time browsing than another. I was quite sure he could find something in no time at all. He finished browsing the first binder and went through flipping the second binder. He stopped longer on some of the posts than another. Good. Getting warmer…

When he came to the last page, I was eager to know what his choice was.

But then I saw the grimace on his face, which transmitted a bleak message on my end. Hmmmm….. not looking good.

So, have you found anything? I asked

He frowned briefly, and went through the binders the second time round.

At that point, I was getting fidgety. He wanted a recipe (tried and tested) which he had loads to choose from, with step-by-step photos to boot. And he dared tell me there was nothing. Yes, NOTHING! Grrrrr… I suddenly felt a ton of red hot bricks landing on my shoulders!

THUMP! Thud!

Ouch!

I tried to speed up the quest process by choosing a recipe which involved a few steps. I asked him if the Ngo Hiang” (5-spice Sausage Rolls or Wonton recipe which required some tactics of folding or wrapping would be a good choice. Nope!

How about the Honeycomb Cake Nope!
Or any of the Rice Cooker Cakes? Nope!
Brazilian Cheese Bread? Maybe

Okay, at least we had a “maybe”

Then you tell me what you want, son. I retorted.

At that instant, he was kind of bookmarking one of my posts dated 25th November 2013!

This! He said, pointing to the photo of my Moist Beetroot Chocolate Cake or Brownie

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BUT… on condition that I used apples instead of beetroot! He said the ingredients must be local, as in 100% Belgian produce, and most importantly, that it’s something that he would enjoy devouring. In other words, my son had put me to the test, in a very scheming manner. Oh yes. *grin*

He wanted me to bake fresh brownies using apples, and not copy paste any of the published posts I had on my blog! And OMG, I had wanted to have a good rest that weekend not wanting to do anything, especially, in the kitchen, however, it was not meant to be. Alas! No rest for me. *sob*

Precious Belgian Project

When Venus Williams came to Antwerp, Belgium in 2002 for the Diamond Games, a professional women’s tennis tournament, she was asked this question, “What will you be bringing back from Belgium to the US?”

Lots of Belgian chocolates, of course (besides diamonds…)

Well, it’s not only Venus who had made that statement but that could easily come from any tourists, my family from Malaysia, included. When my younger sister and Mum came to visit us in 2010, she ended up being ‘overweight’ when she checked-in their luggage at the airport in Zaventem heading back to Malaysia. And guess what, she ended up paying Eur 350 for the excess weight which comprised the heavyweight bars after bars of Belgian chocolates! She could have left the chocolates behind with us, and I could have arranged for a separate shipment from BE to MY but she wanted to indulge in the Belgian choc bars immediately when touched down in MY and not wanting to wait for another month for the chocolates to arrive in Kuching. Okey-dokey. Crystal Clear! Understood! If my sister was crazy enough to pay Eur 350 for the excess weight, it shows how precious and indispensable Belgian chocolates are 😉

I made these brownies using one of Belgium’s purest and finest chocolates. The result was a dark, rich, chewy, bitter-sweet brownie.

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Ingredients

2 Haspengouw Jonagolds, finely grated
240g Galler Noir Profond 85% (Dark, bitter chocolate rich in cocoa!)
130g Solo butter
250g Candico organic cane sugar
3 eggs
8g Dr. Oetker Bourbon vanilla sugar
16g Dr. Oetker Backin baking powder
100g Anco self-raising flour
A pinch of salt

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For the detailed direction , please refer here.

Because this was my son’s school project, I took more recent photos of the steps that used the requested ingredients.

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Here were some compulsory photos my son requested me to take showing the end product and a jonagold.

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The Final Piece of the Puzzle

When I have finished baking and letting the cake cooled for at least 3 hours before cutting the brownies in little rectangles, my part was done. The last piece of the jigsaw puzzle was for my son. After all, it was his school project. How he wanted to direct the grand finale was totally up to him. He was the Director. I was only the Actor.

Of course I was curious 😉

And here’s the final curtain…

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This was the result of what my 13-year old son had put together that same evening I baked those brownies. By the way, he took the photo of me grating the jonagolds ;-). He followed me around the kitchen closely and jotting down the ingredients and the steps all by himself! He transferred the scribbled notes and re-typed the entire manuscript on the computer. I was (and is) very proud of my son.

Good job, mama, BUT …. GREAT job, son!

Oh yes, I brought a few pieces of the brownies to work the next day. One of my colleagues commented that she had just experienced a culinary orgasm😊

Amongst all the colleagues’ remarks, I was especially looking forward to the comment of a particular colleague. He’s a fantastic baker. He has baked several birthday and anniversary cakes, complete with fondant decorations and up to 4-tier! And guess what? I got an email from him with the following feedback, “The brownies are so good. May I have the recipe?

I rest my case!

Because it’s February and someone commented that these brownies were a culinary orgasm and it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow, I’m submitting this post to “My Treasured Recipes #5 – Chinese New Year Goodies/ Valentine’s Day (Jan/Feb 2015)” hosted by Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders and co-hosted by Charmaine of Mimi Bakery House

Because I have used 85% cocoa content per Galler bar multiply by 3, I’m linking this post to the February 2015 Little Thumbs Up with the theme “COCOA” organized by Zoe of Bake for Happy Kids and Doreen of my little favourite DIY and hosted by Grace of Life can be Simple.

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I’m also submitting this post to We Should Cocoa hosted by Katie of Recipe for Perfection. I thought the February theme “BROWNIES” was absolutely spot on!

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I’m also linking this tasty brownie recipe to Tasty Tuesdays by HonestMum

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Have a great weekend and Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

Here’s a story worth reading – The Story of St Valentine

Cheers!

Christmas and the New Year celebrations have just passed us by. We have been pampered with a bit too much eating, from appetizers to starters to soups to main courses to desserts. Munching, chomping, slurping, burping… OMG!

I’m glad it’s over for now, albeit temporarily. My stomach needed a bit of rest after the eating marathon, so I decided to make something really clean and simple and yet very attractive and tasty. It’s everyone’s favourite – at least in my family – the delectable sushi, or rather, Makizushi or nori rolls.

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DIY Sushi Meal Kit

I have made sushi before when I was still in Kuching many moons ago. We made it from scratch, my sisters and I. Homemade sushi are definitely a notch higher than the store-bought ones or even the restaurants’ because we have control over what goes in the cylindrical gems. More often than not, the sushi rice served in restaurants are way too sweet, which I am not a fan of.

Both my sons are fans of Sushi of any type. I have made Inarizushi (sushi stuffed into fried tofu skin or aburaage). That became a hit with my guys.

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Once in a while during impromptu outings with my younger son, we would always end up in a Japanese resto ordering a sushi set lunch. My son, who is not a big eater could down these sushi in record time. But that also meant burning a hole in my pocket, hence the urge to home make the sushi rolls 😉

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Just before Christmas last year, I was at Stonemanor, a British store located at Everberg, Belgium.

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While filling my trolley with Christmas goodies, I was thrilled to see a Sushi Meal Kit on the Asian shelves, I grabbed 2 kits.

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Both kits included the following items –

• A Bamboo Rolling Mat (makisu)
• 4 Sushi Nori Sheets
• Sushi Rice (2 “Uncle Ben’s” type bags)
• Sushi Vinegar
• Japanese Soy Sauce
• Wasabi Paste
• Chopsticks (4 pairs in the red kit and 2 pairs in the yellow kit)
• Sushi Ginger or gari (not included in the yellow box)
• Sushi Recipe/ Instruction Leaflet

Per kit makes 4 large Makizushi, a main course for 2 or a starter for 4. Since there are 4 of us and I have planned to serve the sushi rolls as a main dish, hence I bought 2 kits. And by the way, I had actually planned to make those sushi rolls during the weekend of Valentine’s Day or Chinese New Year. Since CNY 2015 falls on 19th Feb, which is a Thursday, it will be difficult for me because it’s a workday. Honestly speaking , the 2 kits were too enticing for me to wait that long, I decided to ceremonially open both kits on the same day for our first weekend lunch anno 2015 🙂

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Instructions (per kit)

1. Put the 2 rice bags into a medium-sized saucepan and add enough water to cover the rice bags, soaking evenly.

2. Bring to the boil and simmer on a low heat for 11 – 12 minutes with the lid on.

3. Turn off the heat and drain the water using a sieve; put the rice in the sieve back into the saucepan and leave to stand for 25 – 30 minutes with the lid on. Do not open the lid!

4. Remove the rice from the bags and transfer the hot rice into a large bowl. Fold Sushi Vinegar into the rice. Wait until the hot rice cools down to a warm temperature before rolling the Sushi.

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Fillings

While the rice is cooking, prepare the fillings. At this point, just let your imagination run wild with you. I have actually used leftover vegetables from my fridge (yellow, orange and green paprikas, cucumber, carrot, spring onions and chives). Then again, the list is endless. You may want to go vegetarian or vegan or add slices of chicken or Peking duck meat. The sky’s the limit! I made a vegetarian version, with mock crab sticks and omelette with chives as protein.

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To Roll …

1. Place a sheet of nori onto the makisu (bamboo rolling mat). Spread the cooked rice as evenly as possible over the nori making sure to keep a thin layer of rice and leave a 1 cm gap free from rice at top and bottom as you will need this to seal the roll.

2. Before placing the strips of vegetables, surimi/ omelette on the rice, brush some wasabi paste or mayonnaise on the rice, from one end to the other, horizontally. Do not put too much filling in otherwise it will be difficult to roll.

3. Begin rolling the nori carefully and evenly around the filling, using the mat to help shape the Makizushi, rolling away from you and pressing firmly. Pull the bamboo mat away from you, and make sure to keep rolling the nori around itself.

4. Once the roll is complete, press down firmly on the mat helping to compress the roll slightly so that it keeps its shape.

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To Cut …

1. Remove the rolled sushi from the rolling mat and place onto a dry chopping board.

2. Using a very sharp knife, cut the roll in half. Then cut the 2 halves into 4 even lengths, making 8 Makizushi. Wash the knife occasionally between cutting each Sushi roll to prevent the rice from sticking to it and to ensure a cleaner cut.

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I served my Makizushi on a tray with some gari (sushi ginger) and wasabi paste. As far as the presentation is concerned, there’s still room for improvement, however, since that was the first time I have attempted making the Makizushi on my own, I thought that was not too bad at all 😉

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Without a doubt it was a mouth-watering lunch and what was even better was it was wholesome, healthy and à volonté.

No wasabi paste? No worries.

Not many people will go gaga on this green-colured paste. Wasabi is Japanese horseradish and its stem is used as a condiment and has an extremely strong flavor. Its hotness is not akin to that of a chilli but more so of hot mustard. The heat from the wasabi paste produces vapours that stimulates the nasal passages more than the tongue. And sometimes it even goes up to the head. Ha ha..

I found a good substitute for the wasabi paste. It’s also green in colour. It’s a cousin of the Tabasco sauce, the Tangy Green Jalapeño hot and zesty sauce from Heinz. I always have this bottle in my fridge. It goes very well with pizzas, salads, soups… It’s just so zingy and funky! Love it!

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The Day After

There were 2 sushi rolls left after the day before’s à volonté lunch. I used those as starter for our Sunday lunch. There were no gari and wasabi paste left, hence I made a simple and quick pickled cucumber with dhill. It went so well with the sushi rolls. It was super refreshing and scrummy. Yums!

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I’m sharing this post to the following blog-hop Cooking Challenges, my first linkup in 2015 😀

The Great Britsh Store Cupboard: Cooking with Herbs Challenge – January 2015

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“My Treasured Recipes #5 – Chinese New Year Goodies (Jan/Feb 2015)” hosted by Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders and co-hosted by Charmaine of Mimi Bakery House

Tasty Tuesdays by HonestMum

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January 2015 Family Foodies hosted by Eat Your Veg and Bangers & Mash

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January 2015 Vegetable Palette hosted by A2K – A Seasonal Veg Table

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Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking

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Extra Veg with Helen at Fuss Free Flavours and Michelle at Utterly Scrummy

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Have a Healthy and Happy year!

Cheers

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Everywhere you go, you see glistening lights. What a pretty sight!

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We were in Cologne, Germany, recently for the annual Weihnachtsmarkt am Kölner Dom (Christmas Market at the Cologne Cathedral)

We have been to several Christmas Markets. They are quite similar everywhere in Central Europe. The decors, colours, the sweet smell of spices, waffles, pretzels, fried onions, dry roasted chestnuts and the crowd! 

It was amazingly crowded the weekend we were in Cologne. It was also the day when whole Belgium stood still. 15th Dec 2014 saw the country went on strike against the ruling government’s policy of austerity measures. Many low landers from Belgium took a day off as well as neighbouring Netherlands thronged at the Cologne Christmas Market that weekend. It was almost impossible to take decent pictures of the Christmas stalls without human beings stampeding in every nook and cranny. I managed to take a few with just the roofs 🙂

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It was such a pity with the immense crowd, we were struggling with our manoeuvres, elbow to elbow. We had been walking around the same stalls for the umpteenth time. My younger son said he preferred hanging around in the big Lego shop in the centre of Cologne. We did that! And wow, the price tags! Cha-Ching! Cha-Ching! Lol!

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A Glowing Christmas 

A German colleague once told me, “Never leave a German Christmas Market without trying the German Glühwein.” 

By the way, what is Glühwein?

Glühwein literally means “glow-wine”, from the hot irons once used in heating wine with mulling spices. The holy trinity of a traditional German mulled wine are cinnamon sticks, cloves and orange (juice and rind or zest). However, there are many variations of mulling spices used for making Glühwein today.

A few German friends I know swore to the “glow” in Glühwein as the addition of stronger liquor such as rum, whiskey or brandy. Whatever it meant, I never failed to “glow” within me when sipping the warm mulled wine :-). An excellent winter treat. 

My version of the Glühwein included lemon rind, juice and honey instead of sugar plus the holy trinity of the mulling spices.

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For the red wine, I used Ruby Cabernet from South Africa because of its fruitful essence. To make Glühwein, the red wine is warmed at low heat (Note: Do NOT boil the wine). In a muslin cloth or tea bag, add the cinnamon sticks, star anise , cloves, and rinds of orange and lemon. Throw the mulling spice bag in the warmed wine. Add some honey and juices of orange and lemon to taste.

And that’s it!

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Unlike other Christmas Markets we have been to, the ones in Germany are quite exceptional. Instead of plastic cups, the Glühwein is served in festive mugs.

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These Glühwein mugs have become collective items, but for a price, of course. Eur 2.50 for the wine and another Eur 2.50 for the mug! Well, it’s Christmas and it only happens once a year! 

I am sharing this Christmas warmth to the following Cooking Challenges – my last one for this year 😉 

Lavender and Lovage’s “Sugar & Spice (November and December Cooking with Herbs Challenge)”

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My Treasured Recipes #4 – Ho Ho Ho It’s Christmas (Dec 2014) hosted by Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders and co-hosted by Charmaine of Mimi Bakery House

Cook and Celebrate: Christmas 2014 hosted by Yen from Eat your heart out, Diana from Domestic Goddess Wannabe and Zoe from Bake for Happy Kids

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And without much ado, I would like to take this opportunity to wish my family, friends and readers a very Merry Christmas!

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May the real message of Christmas fill your life with love, joy and peace. 

Best wishes to you and your family during this holiday season. 

 

God bless!
xxx