Saturday, October 13, 2007

I Wanna CocoNana

Watching National Geographic, we know that certain animals will come out for food at certain times of the day. Greg behaves in the same way that is predictable.

The pattern is very clear. When it's around 5-6pm, Greg will suddenly appear in the kitchen, a place where he seldom frequents except when it's feeding time. His words, 'I'm so hungry I want to faint liaw. I want Food-uh. Food-uh. Food-uh.'

Greg likes chocolate. He also likes bananas. Both are excellent laxatives for him when he has too much. I have combined these two into a cake which I call CocoNana.

It's basically layers of chocolate sponge with fresh chocolate cream and lined with bananas, covered with rich chocolate glacage. The art of making this cake requires the sponge to be chocolaty and soft, and the banana must be nicely ripened. Fresh cream must also be chocolaty without the articificial chocolate waxy aftertaste.

Nee's CocoNana: From here, it goes directly into Greg's mouth.

A decorated CocoNana from Nee's Kitchen

Secret Recipe is quite well known for this version of the cake (Chocolate Banana) but to be bluntly honest, it is bland. I'm sorry but I really couldn't eat at Secret Recipe. The cakes are generally puffy like it's got a lot air pumped into it to make them look big. And the huge amount of cream that goes with them makes them characterless.

We've tried many of its varieties in KL and came out really disappointed. I've once stood at the new Secret Recipe outlet counter in Kuching and was trying to find an item to buy. But in the end, I walked out empty handed. The only item we are happy with is the Marble Cheese in the KL outlet. At least they don't call it Chocolate Marble Cheese. If they do, I'd be mad cause a few lines of chocolate on top does not make a Chocolate Marble. I guess that's the difference between commercial & home baked cakes.

Gyu Nikku Udon: Learn Japanese 101

Greg and I love Japanese and Korean food! Two years ago, when we were in the exotic Land of the Rising Sun, we were like starving mad tourists. One of our favourite items is noodles ~ soba and udon. Udon and soba in soup is not exactly difficult to cook and can be easily done at home with equally yummy taste.

What confuses most people is the specifically Japanse flavour umami, which exists in almost anything Japanese. Typical chinese cooking is sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy. Umami is the ultimate 'tastiness' factor in Japanese cooking.

The Japanese use a stock called Dashi. And the best dashi is made with freshly shaved katsuobushi (smoked bonita fish flakes) and konbu (kelp) brewed in water and then strained to get the broth.

You can do two brews each time. Depending on the dish, you can use either the first or the second. Dashi stock makes the basic broth for noodle dishes. To make life simpler, we can use dashi granules (like our chicken or beef stock).

One of our favourite is Nikku Udon (meat udon) and we love the beef version (gyu). Would do this at home if I am lazy.

The stock:
1.8 - 2 liter of water
2 tbsp of dashi granules
2 tbsp of sugar
3 tbsp of light soya (Kikoman or Japanese brandshoyu)
1 tbsp of dark soya (Use Japanese brand)
1-2 tbsp of cooking sake
1- 2 stalk of leek, sliced thinly
150 gm of beef

1) Put all ingredients into a soup pot and boil. Add beef when boiling. Turn to simmer for 1 hour or so. Taste. If not tasty enough for you, add a little more dashi, sugar and light soya a little at a time.

Fresh packets of udon noodles or dried udon/soba noodles
Thin slices of beef (shabu shabu cut) 25 to 40 gm per person
More leek thinly sliced
Some anaori (small flakes of dried laver like nori to sprinkle)

2) Prepare a small pot of boiling water and put in noodles with boiling. If fresh udon cooking time is shorter like 3-5 min. Dried ones takes longer like 6-8 min. Make sure it is cooked through but not too soft.

3) Dish out and place in bowls. Turn up fire for soup, dip thin beef slices into boiling soup 30 sec per slice. Skip dipping if you like your beef raw. Place on top of noodles. Pour hot soup onto noodles. Sprinkle leek and anaori.

Soup will serve 4-5.

You can get most of the above ingredients from Choice Daily Supermarket in Stutong. I usually stock up whenever we go KL. Jusco and Isetan have a huge selection of Japanese ingredients at 15 to 30% cheaper than Kuching.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Grandma's Bak Kut Teh

There are actually quite a few places that serve very good Bak Kut Teh in Kuching. Bak Kut Teh literally means Meat Bones Tea. It's a mixture of different cuts of pork and its other internal edible parts claypot-cooked in herbal soup (would have a range of chinese herbs).NEE: The taste of the soup very much depend on the balance of the herbs.

One similarity I share with Nee is that I am as lazy as she is when it comes to going out driving under the hot sun (11 to 2 pm) to find food. (NEE: CK would not have this prob cause his eyes are small). I know there's something called aircond inside the car, but we are just beyond help. If there is a shop next to our house, we will go there. If they can bring the food to our bed, even better.

Therefore we usually frequent two places for Bak Kut Teh only; one in BDC and the other at Rock Road. Personally I prefer the one at Rock Road. It is easily one of the best Bak Kut Teh places in Kuching. But the signboard can be deceiving.

Grandma say very good, cham pulut!

From the signboard you'd think that Grandma can cook really terror noodles . But they're actually so so only. It's the Bak Kut Teh that rocks!
The first thing that you'd notice about this shop is the strange white board with graphs.

Just in case you're beginning to feel like you're in a Grandma bingo parlour, the white board actually indicates what is sold out and what is not. This is ingenious! The waiters now do not have to do ping pong shouting with the kitchen everytime you order something.

Before white board system:
Greg: Got ribs or not?
Waiter (turning to kitchen): WHEY!!!!! GOT RIBS O NOT?!!!!!!!!
Kitchen: DON"T HAVE!!!! FINISH LIAO!!!!
Waiter (turns back to me): Soli. Finiss liao.

After white board system:
Greg: Got ribs or not?
Waiter: don't have.
Greg: How about the san-chan meat?
Waiter: don't have.
Greg: How about the lean meat?
Waiter: don't have.
Greg: How come everything oso don't have?
Waiter: Aiya. You come earlier next time mah. You come early everything oso got. If don't have, I chop mine for you!

The Bak Kut Teh here has a lighter feel as the herbs are not overpowering (NEE: Less dang gui and more dang shen). The ones at BDC would have a little bit more of a stronger herbal taste, but still nice in its own way. NEE: The Alphabets represent different cuts of the pork, from big bones to soft bones, spare ribs, lean meat to 3 layer meat (pork belly) and the internal parts like stomach, big and small intestines. For a standard one person bowl of bak kut teh, you can choose three items from the alphabets and the dried beancurd, button mushrooms and vegies are complimentary. Per person RM 6.50. Rice with onion oil is separately charged.

They are a few types of side dishes, prices ranging from RM2 to Rm 4. Items like liver, kidney, stir fry vegies and bean sprouts are side dishes. Usually we would order items yew char koay (yu tiao)

and also the skinny string mushrooms. (NEE: Needle mushrooms la)

This time around we also tried the special steam chicken. I don't know what you call it. Nee HELP! (NEE: Baked Salted chicken (Yen Che Zi). Grandma's version is on the herby side. Guess it is to go in line with their usual product). RM 12/half a chicken.

We ordered it because the waiter seemed to be promoting it so confidently. It turned out to be excessively salty. The texture is perfect. The herbs are well balanced. It's actually an excellent dish except that it tasted like it fell into a bucket of salt. See, this is exactly the reason why most of the time we just stick to the same things. (NEE: Yeap, salty side. Baked Salted Chicken is not suppose to be salty. The salt should be separated from the chicken and the smoke from the salt suppose to smoke the chicken and give it a nice flavour. Think they let the salt touch the chicken a bit too much).

And not forgetting the Teh-C-Peng Special Report. ). This is something that I order at every shop that I go to.(NEE: Seriously my hubby is sooo predictable he ordered only Teh C Peng, Teh Tarik or Teh C Peng special wherever he goes). It's basically a magical brew of 3 layers of potion (Atap sugar, Milk & Tea) which manages to stay afloat on top of each other.

Not too bad. Smooth texture. Not too milky, not too tea-ish. Good balance. I like.

One advice when you're eating here: Never order a set for two or three. They'll give you less meat & stuff. Order separately!

Directions: Grandma's noodles is located along Rock Road. It's at the last row of shophouses, next to an apartment building, just BEFORE you reach the junction to Jln Ong Tiang Swee. You can't see it from the roadside. It's in the inner block of shophouses.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Kek Lapis: The Art of Cakes

Nee made some kek lapis (layer cake) yesterday. This is not the first time though.
She has made some before, something like over 100 pieces of 8" by 8"cakes in about a week.
I know! It was chaos!

I think Kek lapis looks like zebras.

I know I have a tendency to link food with exotic animals, but the similarity is obvious.

All the layers are painfully spread on one layer at a time. Take it out of the oven, spread the layer, put it back again. Repeat.

But this time, Nee tried out a new kind of kek lapis. Just look at them. It is madness. They're like pieces of pop art.

Pyramid Lapis

Spiderman Lapis

Streamyx Lapis

Somebody-stepped-on-the-Snail Lapis

In fact, kek lapis is synonymous with Sarawak. It is a signature Sarawak product like Laksa and Kolo Mee. You can hardly find so many varieties in other part of Malaysia. It comes in many different colours, designs and composition and flavours as well. It is truly an artform. Just look at our wall...

Puppy Power: Version 3.0

My father-in-law got himself another puppy again. When I heard about it, I dropped everything and quickry zoomed over to the house. When I got there, I saw this little fella.

This is the new addition to the family. Now there's 6 dogs (Dad-in-law, me, brother-in-law, and the 3 wittle pups)

Awwww. Puppy on a plate. Hmmm.
Don't worry. I won't be talking about exotic Vietnamese cuisines next.

This new pup is the tiniest dog I have ever seen. See how he compares to the other fatso.

My mother-in-law says 3 dogs means something like a good sign according to ancient Chinese beliefs. Now that we have 6, we have more luck, happiness and wealth. We're doubling up everything. Got more power. So kiasu.

The new pup actually reminds me of the little animated dog that always pop up in Microsoft Windows.


I think the cage is a little too small for three now. Especially when the othe two fatsoes are getting bigger.

Oh, don't misunderstand. Actually we don't like to keep them in the cage. It's just that when we're not around, they keep falling into the drain and they cannot get out. When it rains, they get soaking wet. So like what the Singaporean government always say, it's for their own good!

We need to get them leashes soon as the two big ones are starting to explore outside the house fences. They need to pay the vet a visit too.

By the way, I am threatening to name them Ah Beng, Ah Seng & Ah Khiong if you guys don't start suggesting names soon!

The two fatsoes have a lot of affection for long thick pants.

They would go crazy everytime I wear pants like this. I think I'm just too sexy for my pants.

Don't get me wrong here. They're not humping me. I think Ah Seng here just thinks I'm his mom. Awww.

Ah Beng also likes to eat dirt. La Sap Kia!

And Ah Seng takes after Nee. He likes to make cakes.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Google Earth Chow Chai Bee Hoon

Ok. Here's the secret directions to the New Happy Cafe as promised.

When you're coming from your hotel direction (waterfront golden triangle area), take a long walk along Jalan Padungan. When you reach the end of it, you will see Kuching's very own Hello Kitty,

and a firehouse, and a roundabout.

Diagonally ahead from where you're standing, about 11 o'clock-ish, you will see the Hongkong Bank building & the Travillion. Walk towards and pass it till you see a gas station, then follow the map to New Happy Cafe!

Rub a dub dub, Give me some Grub Baby!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Bingka Sarang (HoneyComb Cake)

Rhiana, Imogen & Natalie said, 'It's wierd. We can't even taste the honey!'
That was the response from the three little girls (some of my usual guinea pigs) when I gave them the Honeycomb Cake.
Ehmm, it just looks like honeycomb (the look) not the taste, children. So conclusion: this is an oldies cake and if you under 25 you prob cant appreciate it.

It is interesting to know that some people actually take such effort to come out with cakes like this, so much precision needed for a few bites. Malaysians must be real real food lovers. O maybe, like Greg would tell you, it was a mistake, they forget the lid so accidentally created the Honeycomb effect. Oh well whichever way, it is still a very nice cake/snacks, ingredients not difficult find and mixed, just the method of baking requires certain precision. This cake exist in Malaysia and Indonesia (they called it Bika Ambon) and it is siding slightly more towards Nyonya Kuih rather than Cakes. Recipes varied slightly. Both have leavening it in to create the comb effects.

Nee's freshly baked Bingka Sarang

300gm of coconut milk (use about 1/2kg of santan + 3/4 of water, squeeze juice out)
220 - 250 gm of castor sugar
4-5 no of pandan leaves, washed and wiped clean

1) Put the above in small pot and over medium fire and stir consistently to melt sugar. Right before boiling (seeing little bubbles on side, off the fire). Let it cool, will take approximately 1 hour or so.

1 tbsp of yeast (instant ones)
1/2 tbsp of plain flour
4 tbsp of water
2) Mix the B ingredient, stir til even. Side aside for 10-15 min.

1/2 teasp of vanilla essence
10 egg yolks
160 gm of good quality sifted tapioca flour (Use of tapioca flour are common in Nyonya Kuih). If quality no good, your cake may turn out too soft and not chewy enough.

3) Hand whisk egg yolks til even, add essence, cont stirring
4) Add B mixture, cont stirring
5)Add flour, stir til even, and finally add A mixture. Use a spatula to press out the lumps. Set aside for 2 hours to allow yeast to take reactions.

The baking (after trying out 4 times):
1)Prepare an approx 10 cm high pot, 24 to 28 cm diameter. Preferrably a thicker pot as you will be placing in on fire. Pot must not be too high as circulation will not be even.

2)Grease the bottom of a 8-9 inch cake tin. Note only the bottom, not the side and do not let grease touch the side as it will cause cake to collapse into the middle. No baking paper as well as the heat from bottom will push the paper to the top or worse into the middle of cake.

3) Place a 1 1/2 - 2 inch stand in the pot and put your cake tin on it. If stand is too low, bottom of cake will be too close to fire and turn black. Put layers of aluminium foil around the cake tin to prevent heat from escaping from the side of pot.

4) After 2 hours, pour your mixture through a sift into your cake tin. Turn on the fire. This part you need to explore as different stove has different fire strength. Use medium or slightly lower if your stove is very strong. Let it bake for 35 to 45 min uncovered. The cake will cook from the side towards the centre. Little airholes can be seen on top of cake. Once only about 3 inch diameter of centre left uncook, this stage is completed.

5) Turn the fire lower on your cake while you prepare your top cover pot (about 5 cm or lower in height) over high fire. Will take at least 10 min.

6) Take the top cover pot and flip it onto the cake pot (they should fit well). Let it cook over low fire for another 10 min. This will properly brown the surface. If you want it browner, chuck into your oven with top fire or grill mode and cook for another min or so just to brown the surface.

7) Let cake cooled before taking it out the cake tin. You may experience some difficulties as no baking paper can be used. Cut only after the cake is cooled. You should get bottom to top combs.

Suggestion: No tested yet! Use bottom oven fire, then top fire together with bottom. Same concept of using heat bottom to lift the cake from bottom thus creating little airholes as there is leavening in the cake. Then heat on top to brown the cake. My guess is oven will prob take longer. Will try this soon but a little sick of honeycomb cake for now, after 4 x baking (being an engineering academic makes me dangerously experimental and tenacious). So if you burn your pots or your stove or worse your kitchen, the blogger holds no responsibilities for the suggestion or method given. Good Luck!

Google Earth Laksa

First & foremost, it's very difficult to find detailed street maps of Kuching. Most map are very touristy and centers around the waterfront Golden Triangle area.

This is the typical one which you can easily find on any tourist related site. If you click on it, you can see a larger version on pdf. Take this one as your reference point.

Ok boys and girls! You asked for it - Greg & Nee presents Kuching Laksa on Google Earth!

We'll start from the waterfront perimeters since most hotels are concentrated around that area. Presenting Chong Choon Laksa on Google Earth:

We have not done a review on Chong Choon yet. Just a little bit of warning, you may need to wait for a while for seats.

After you have that, you can head on down to the next one near Grand Continental Hotel. The walking will help you digest so that when you reach there, you'll be ready for more.

We have not tried this one personally. So we don't know the name of the shop. We just know it's on the top 3 list. (Note: Ting's Noodles & Permata Top Spot Seafood is on this map!)

And finally our all time favourite! Fat Cat Laksa Baby! This one's very very off from the city centre!

I saw a new bus stand just in front of Choice Daily. I have no idea which buses go through there or whether the service have started. But if you're taking a cab, any taxi driver will know where Kuching Specialist Hospital & Choice Daily (Tabuan Stutong branch) are! In the words of my bro-in-law, if they donno, they can go eat seeeet! (Note that Mother's Recipe is also in the photo :)

Next: Google Earth Chow Chai Bee Hoon!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Quest to Bake A Bingka Sarang (Honeycomb Cake)

I have been trying to search for a good recipe for Bingka Sarang, also known as Honeycomb Cake. But it is not really that much about the recipe, it is the baking method. For those of you who know this cake, i m sure you understand the frustration of not getting it right. Not chewy, no comb, not enough comb, cake collapsing bla bla bla the list goes on. A good Bingka Sarang is:

Soft yet chewy. Chewy is very very important.
The comb is really obvious coming from bottom of cake to top.
The superb ones the comb is really neat like almost same diameter and spacings.
And the flavour is should i put it...let just say very flavourful.

Similar cakes are Hong Kong Cake and Dunlop cake (both are darker brown) and some people called this cake Sarang Semut (Ants' Nest).

Thanks to Mrs Yeo, I finally find the right baking method. It all lies in a pot. The best pot to use is a really old fashioned multi purpose pot (Wan Nern Wor). I walked the two oldest streets in Kuching trying to find this 'magic' pot. Every hardware stores tell me the same thing " where got pot like tat anymore", " no one buys them anymore" , " no one make them anymore" ARGGGGGG...i get so mad at i dont know what. Happen when i cannot find the things that I want when it comes to cooking and baking. I get very UPSET. Almost started ranting at Greg like it is his fault. He quickly drove away from the shops in case i started rolling on the floor.

Well I persevered. I started calling Mum and Mum in law and all ladies over 60. Mum actually gave hers away...WHAAAAHHHH.NOOOOOO....Mum in law said she would try Ah MA, Greg's grandma who is 90+++ and has the oldest collection of antique cooking wares in town (at least to me they are treasures). The answer is Nope, she used a old brass mold (acuan) to do cakes like this, which involves charcoal. Ehmm, no thank you. Oppss, sorry, I have been ranting and I forgot about what is so special about the d*@# pot.

To bake this cake, you must use a short, thick metal pot. You must place the cake tin in the pot and the pot over real fire on the stove. You cook this cake open so that the heat on bottom can push the bubble upwards and thus creating all the combs you want. The last stage of the baking requires you to heat up the cover and multi purpose pot has a solid flat cover that can be put over fire, made of exactly same material as the pot itself. See..where got our pots these days got covers that can be put over fire. And you placed the heated up cover to cover the cake and this is to cook and nicely brown the surface.

I finally calmed down and let my engineering brain ticked. There's got to be another way other than the super elusive pot. So I took out my soup pot and my frying pan of the same diameter and the same material. And use the frying pan as top cover. For those of you who own AMC pots, you can use the 24cm diameter ones with a shorter one as cover. I was really worried that I would burn my kitchen with my experiment so i could hardly dare to take my eyes off the pots. But heay it works, my Bingka Sarang turns out chewy and with the honeycomb. Wooohoo... I feel so smugly smart!

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