Saturday, 23 August 2014

Pork Cutlets

I woke to a bright sunny morning today, complete with chirping birds and my favourite Strawberry Smoothie. As I was drinking my Smoothie breakfast, I wondered what I should do for the rest of the day. You see, it's not often that I have a whole, empty day of nothingness presented to me. So today was a treasure. 

With all the healthy eating going on with me these days, I thought that it would be nice to have a slightly un-healthy lunch. I also had all that lovely minced pork in the freezer to use up. Since no one in my family has made my grandmother's Pork Cutlets in a long time, my decision was easy. 

Just like the Fish Cutlets, I knew I was in for a long morning of prep in the kitchen. It's unavoidable with Cutlets. You'll understand why when you read the recipe. 

I had them for lunch with a mixed vegetable stir-fry and brown rice. Delicious and very much like I remember from a time long gone.


300g Minced Pork

3 medium-sized Potatoes

Boil, peel the skin off and mash. Set aside.

1 medium Red Onion
2 sprigs Curry Leaves
4 small cloves Garlic

Chop and saute till fragrant in a little Oil. Set aside. 

1 teaspoon Cumin seeds
2 teaspoons Fennel seeds
2 teaspoons Ginger Powder

Dry roast in a pan till fragrant. When done, let it cool for a few minutes, then grind into a fine powder in a dry grinder. Set aside. 

1/3 cup Cashew Nuts

Dry roast in a pan till lightly brown. When done, let it cool for a few minutes, then grind into a coarse powder in a dry grinder. Set aside.

1 Egg, lightly beaten
Salt, to taste

In a large bowl, place the Minced Pork. Add in the ingredients from B, C, D and E which you already prepared. Add a few pinches of Salt to taste. Then with clean hands or a spatula, mix everything together. Once done drizzle in a little of the Egg and mix it through well. You may not need the whole Egg. Only use enough to bind the mixture. Roll into balls, flatten them slightly and shallow fry in some Oil until brown. Drain on absorbent paper to remove excess Oil and serve immediately. 

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

It's all a certain kind of madness

My camera is a year old and I don't know what I'd do without it. Interesting isn't it? Considering the fact that for years I never 'missed' having it in my life, it's remarkably odd that in the one year it's been with me I've tried to take it everywhere with me, only stopping short when I remember how intrusive it can sometimes be to others. In my case, stopping short happens most of the time, which sadly enough means lost photo opportunities. 

In the past year, I've also read and re-read articles, blogs and whatever written material on photography I can get my eager little hands on like there's no tomorrow. Some make sense, some don't, but the voracious reading continues, rather more than the clicking!

Then there's the lens lust that has taken over part of my life. Which lens is sharpest, which has the best bokeh, which is best for wide-angle, which is the best zoom, which camera models are best, etc. etc. 

I pored over what seemed like a gazillion articles and photos online to decide on a new lens. It had to be perfect. It had to do everything. So to the shops I went, saw and bought. The new lens is far from perfect and doesn't do everything - obviously - but rather, is just the right fit. For me. 

There is a lot of debate between the Nikon 16 - 85mm and the 18 - 200mm. I tried both as well as some other lenses (which were way out of my budget) at the shop and one thing was clear. I'm not the sort of person who carries a bagful of heavy anything anywhere for any amount of time or reason.  

In light of that, it was Mr. 16 - 85mm that came home with me. He cost a pretty penny, so when I got home I went back to reading and re-reading articles that I'd already read about him just to reassure myself that I'd made the right decision. I've now decided I'm perfectly happy with him (despite his sometimes horrifying bokeh) and so he's staying.

As you can see I then promptly took him into the garden for a spin. Looks like I need a lot more practice. Sigh

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Kueh Lapis Legit

Sometimes life hits you with a sledgehammer. You emerge dazed, disorientated and demotivated while wondering what the hell just happened. It takes days, weeks and sometimes months to pick yourself up and out of it. Yet when you finally gain your equilibrium back, there still seems to be a lingering halo of instability following you around for a time before it finally disappears into thin air like it was never there before. 

I've been feeling like that recently. With numerous things going on at work and in life, I felt it was time to shake off the halo sooner rather than later. So I baked. A cake. 

Not a cake for the faint-hearted this one. Anyone will tell you that it takes a borderline OCD and sadistic sort to willingly sit in front of a hot oven on a day of scorching heat to bake precisely measured batter into layers of perfectly even cake. Sometimes that's just what you need. To immerse yourself in something positive to push out the negative. 

I've been wanting to try a Kueh Lapis Legit for a long time. So when I finally found time to do it, I went to town with it and made TWO in just one day. 

It is a cake with many names, variations and appearances. While I like calling it Kueh Lapis Legit, it's also known as Kek Lapis, Kek Lapis Legit, Kek Lapis RempahSpekkoek, Dutch Spiced Layer CakeThousand Layer Cake, Indonesian Layer Cake, etc. Call it what you want. 

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Everyone seemed to like one better than the other, so the recipe below (adapted from here) is for the one that truly knocked everyone's socks off. 


450g Salted Butter, cold and cubed
2 tablespoons Condensed Milk
100g Caster Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Essence
15 Egg Yolks

130g Plain Flour
5g Cornflour
1/2 teaspoon Mixed Spice
1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg

5 Egg Whites
100g Caster Sugar

A little melted Butter

Preheat the oven at 120 Celsius with Top and Bottom heat. Lightly butter and line an 8 inch x 8 inch x 4 inch square cake tin with baking paper. Make sure the baking paper fits the bottom of the tin perfectly. Do not line the sides of the tin.

Other equipment needed - A thin Cake tester/Skewer/Pin; a Fondant Smoother/Kueh Lapis Press; a Ladle; a Brush for the melted Butter.

Mix and sift B together. Set aside. 

In a large mixing bowl - preferably a stand mixer - beat Butter until soft. Add in the Condensed Milk, Caster Sugar and Vanilla. Continue beating until pale and fluffy. Beat in the Egg Yolks one by one, beating well after each addition. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and gently fold in B by hand. 

In a separate bowl - you need a hand-held electric mixer for this - whisk Egg Whites until slightly frothy. Add in the Sugar little by little and keep beating until it reaches soft peak stage. 

Gently fold in C by hand into the A and B mixture until well combined. Take care not to knock the air out of the Egg Whites. Set aside. 

Heat the empty prepared tin a little in the oven for a minute. Be careful of the baking paper warping. Press it down firmly if it warps after the tin is warmed and removed from the oven.

Add about 3 measured ladles (level off the top) of batter into the tin. Spread it out with the back of a small spoon and bake at 160 Celsius Top and Bottom heat on the middle rack with the oven door slightly open until golden brown. 

Remove the tin from the oven, prick any air bubbles present and press down gently using the fondant smoother. Brush lightly with melted Butter.

Measure out the next 2 ladles of batter, pour into the tin and smooth with the back of a spoon. Turn the oven to 190 Celsius with Top heat only and bake the second layer of batter on a higher rack with the oven door slightly open until golden brown. 

Remove the tin from the oven. Prick, press, brush, layer and bake as with the first and second layers. Keep going until you use up all the batter. 

After you do the same for the last layer, turn the oven to 160 Celsius with Top and Bottom heat. Bake the whole cake for 5 - 10 minutes on the middle rack with the oven door closed to ensure the cake is cooked through properly. 

Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the tin on a wire rack. Once completely cool, turn the cake out of the tin and cut into slices. 

  • Ensure you have your day completely free when attempting this cake. It will take about 3 - 4 hours from start to finish if you do it right.
  • Ensure you have all the ingredients and equipment ready at hand before you start the mixing the cake. 
  • It is most convenient to have two electric mixers on hand when making this cake. If not, wash and dry the beaters of your electric mixer well in between mixing A and C. 
  • Make the first layer of the cake slightly thicker than the others as it will provide a firm base for the rest of the cake. 
  • Use only one ladle and measure the batter out carefully while baking to get even layers of cake.  
  • Take care to use Top and Bottom heat or Top heat only where necessary. I left the oven door slightly open when using Top heat only so as to prevent the oven from getting too hot and burning the cake. 
  • Do not walk away or leave the cake unattended at any time. It burns easily. 

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Nasi Lemak

One of my favourite Malaysian foods is Nasi Lemak. What is Nasi Lemak? It's essentially a serving of Coconut Rice accompanied by Ikan Bilis Sambal, fried Peanuts, fried Ikan Bilis, slices of Cucumber and a cooked Egg. I say 'essentially' because it can on one hand be less than that or a whole lot more.

My Perfect Nasi Lemak

Malaysians eat Nasi Lemak for breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper. Next to Roti Canai, it's usually even the food of choice in the wee hours of the morning to end a long night of clubbing. Not a food defined by a time of day. Because we love our Nasi Lemak, you can find it everywhere in all shapes, sizes and tastes. 

For instance, you can have a Prawn Sambal instead of the standard Ikan Bilis Sambal, or even a Dried Squid Sambal. Would you like a boiled Egg to go with that or a fried Egg? A piece of fried Chicken, Chicken Rendang or Beef Rendang? Extra fried Peanuts and Ikan Bilis on the side or none at all? Boiled Rice or Steamed Rice - you didn't know there was a difference did you?

I hope you're getting the picture. In Nasi Lemak-land anything goes. You eat it how you like it, usually bought from your favourite stall... and yes we all have our favourite stalls. Each and every Malaysian you know will be able to tell you which Nasi Lemak is their favourite if you would only ask.  

Even the price-tag differs from stall to stall and shop to shop. The more varied you like your Nasi Lemak, the more expensive it gets. You can pick-up a small packet for RM1 at stalls or coffee shops in the morning for your breakfast, or you can order it a la carte at a local bistro for RM12.90. Then there's the RM20 whopper of a Nasi Lemak from Dome!

I love the Nasi Lemak from the lady who runs the breakfast stall across the road from the office, (most mornings I pretend she's not there and successfully brainwash myself into believing that the Weet-bix waiting for me in the office fridge is better than anything she's selling), but there are times when I succumb to greed.

Still, as much as I love her Nasi Lemak, I love mine too. One cannot have just ONE favourite you know. Where's the fun in that? 

The key to any good Nasi Lemak is the Sambal. A great Ikan Bilis Sambal is better than a poorly made Prawn Sambal. It can make or break the dish. The Sambal is crucial. 

My Ikan Bilis Sambal recipe comes from the old Domestic Science recipe book Resipi Harian. It's a pretty straightforward Sambal that I've tweaked ever-so-slightly to suit me. (Have I ever left a recipe alone? No.) My homemade perfect is just enough sweet-sour-spicy with a balance of Ikan Bilis and Red Onions.

It's not something I make often. In fact, almost hardly ever since a good Nasi Lemak is always just a stone's throw away. So most of the time I think 'Why bother?' Though sometimes, on a lazy Saturday or Sunday morning it's the perfect thing to make... and eat for lunch... comforted by the knowledge that your bed is close by for the snooze that you know will follow.

For 4 servings

Ikan Bilis Sambal
1 medium Red Onion
1 teaspoon Tamarind Paste
Salt and Sugar to taste

Sambal Paste (to blend)
1 medium Red Onion
A knob of Ginger
2 stalks of Lemongrass
2 fresh Red Chillies
6 dried Red Chillies
1 Candlenut (optional)
1cm Belacan (optional) 

Coconut Rice
2 cups of Jasmine Rice
1/4 cup of thick Coconut Milk
2 stalks of Lemongrass
A knob of Ginger

1 Cucumber, sliced
4 Boiled Eggs, halved
2 handfuls of Peanuts, fried

2 handfuls of Ikan Bilis, fried (divided)

Boiling the Eggs
Bring a saucepan of water to boil. When just coming to boil, put in the Eggs. Boil for about 10 - 15 minutes depending on how firm you like your Eggs. When done, remove saucepan from heat, drain the hot water off and fill the saucepan with cold water. Let the Eggs sit in the cold water for about 20 minutes. Then, peel the shells. Halve the Eggs, place in a dish and set aside.

Frying the Peanuts and Ikan Bilis
Heat some oil in a wok. When hot, fry the Peanuts. Once done, remove the Peanuts with a slotted spoon and place on absorbent paper to drain off the excess oil. Add a little bit more oil in the wok and do the same with the Ikan Bilis. Once both Peanuts and Ikan Bilis have been drained off oil, place half the Ikan Bilis and all of the Peanuts in a dish together. Set aside.  

Reserve the other half of fried Ikan Bilis for the Sambal.

Slicing the Cucumber
Top and tail the Cucumber. Rub the ends you have cut-off onto the cut part until you see some white foam coming off it. Do the same for the other side. Throw away the topped and tailed ends. Wash the Cucumber in clean water, and slice. Store in a container until needed.

Cooking the Sambal
Ingredients for Sambal Paste - Slice Onions, Ginger and Lemongrass. De-seed and slice fresh Red Chillies. Soak dried Red Chillies in hot water for 10 minutes, drain (reserve the water). Slice the Candlenut. Place Onions, Ginger, Lemongrass, fresh Red Chillies, Dried Chillies; Candlenut and Belacan (if using) into a blender. Add a little of the reserved water from the Dried Chillies (just enough to get the blender going) and blend until you get a paste. Pour into a dish and set aside. 

Slice Onions. Mix the Tamarind Paste with 1 tablespoon of water to make juice.

In a large wok, heat a little Oil. Fry the sliced Red Onions until slightly transparent. Add in the Sambal Paste and cook until the Sambal is fragrant and the Oil floats to the top. Add in the Tamarind juice. Mix through and cook until you see the Oil floats to the top again. Then add in the reserved fried Ikan Bilis, as well as Salt and Sugar to taste. Dish out onto a serving dish and keep warm until needed. 

Cooking the Rice
Skin and slice the Ginger. Cut-off the tops of the Lemongrass and leave the bottoms whole. Gently bruise both Ginger and Lemongrass with a mallet. Set aside. 

Wash Rice in cold water 3-4 times to get rid of excess starch. Add just enough water to come up to half one-third of your finger (see photo). Add in the Coconut Milk concentrate and mix through. Place your palm flat on top of the Rice to level it out. Place bruised Ginger and Lemongrass on top of the Rice. Cook in the rice cooker with the lid ever-so-slightly open until done. Once done, remove and discard the Ginger and Lemongrass. Let the Rice cool in the cooker for 10 minutes. Then, using a wet fork or chopstick, lightly fluff-up the grains. Dish out onto a serving dish and keep warm until needed.  

Assembling the Nasi Lemak
Place 1 or 2 scoops of Rice in the centre of a plate. Arrange the Sambal either on the side or on the Rice. Then arrange the Egg, Cucumber slices, fried Peanuts and Ikan Bilis on the side. 

Friday, 1 August 2014

Banana Cake

This cake deserves a mention of its own. It may be the usual never-fail Banana Cake we've baked at home for years, yet no one complains when this cake appears on the table at tea, and that's saying something in a household of finicky eaters. Something good.

Where Nigel's Black Banana Cake combines hazelnuts, chocolate and bananas for a rather delicious mouthful of cake, this one is really all about the banana. Unlike its counterpart, this cake is delicate, soft and pillowy. It won't cut as well as the other, so some amount of gentleness is required.  

Yet, this is one of the most perfectly sublime cakes I've ever had. This is not an all singing, all dancing cake. It's as plain as plain can be and there in lies its remarkable beauty. Despite this I am guilty of relegating it into the ordinary whenever a quest for the extraordinary takes over. 

Here in Malaysia, it is all too easy to scoff at a cake like this because the fruit and cake is readily available. Step into any neighbourhood sundry shop and you're likely to see a mass-produced, plastic wrapped version sitting on its shelves, but homemade it always better!

This recipe is what I use and slightly adapted from my Domestic Science Cookbook Resipi Harian.


120g Plain Flour
1 Egg
1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon Soda Bicarbonate
90g Butter
90g Caster Sugar
1 tablespoon Milk
1 teaspoon Lemon Juice
3 - 4 ripe Bananas, mashed

Preheat the oven to 150 Celsius. Butter, flour and line a 20cm loaf tin. Set aside.

Sift Flour, Baking Powder and Soda Bicarbonate. Set aside.

Pour Milk into a small bowl and add Lemon Juice. Set aside.

Cream Butter and Sugar in a bowl until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer. Add in the Egg and beat well until combined.

With a spatula, gently fold in the Flour mixture until mixed through. Then, carefully fold in the Milk and Lemon Juice. Lastly, fold in the mashed Bananas. Ensure the batter is well-combined.

Pour batter into the prepared tin and bake for about 30 - 40 minutes or until a skewer poked through the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the tin for about 20 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.