Friday, May 9, 2008

Garlic Bread

Greg decided to come back for lunch yesterday instead of having his usual packed lunch. So I did him a quick Spaghetti Aglio e Olio with the leftover spaghetti that I had stored in the fridge, & threw in a loaf of Garlic Bread.

I don't really know that many people who does not like garlic bread and it has got to be one of the most common item in Malaysia's Western eateries and also some hangout places. If you don't want to do Bruschetta for a party, Garlic Bread is easily the next option. It can be served prettily in small rattan baskets with clean tea towels.

I accidentally bumped into this website called Simply Recipes by and it has an excellent description of the methods in making this bread. Essentially, the garlic bread that is commonly served are the toasty version or a soft chewy version.

1 loaf of French Bread
120gm of salted butter, softened
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced (+ 1 tbsp of garlic powder if you like it really garlicky)
1 heaped tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley

Optional for extra zest:
Lemon zest

1) Mix all butter, garlic and parsley and any of the optional items if you like well. Set aside

For the toasty version (Greg's favourite):

Cut the bread into slices of 1.5 cm or slightly thicker (if you like). Spread butter mixture on each slice and toast in 180 deg celcius grill mode in the oven till bread becomes crispy and slighty brown on the side. It took me about 8-9 min. But do check ocassionally to prevent from burning. You can sprinkle with Mozarella or parmesan or cheddar half way through toasting to add extra oomph.

For soft chewy version:

Cut bread at 2cm or slightly thicker (if you like) apart but do not cut through. Cut till right before the bottom crust. Spread 1-2 tbsp of butter mixture into each slice. Wrap the entire bread loosely in aluminium foil and bake at 180 deg non-fan forced for 15 -18 min.

Spaghetti Aglio e Olio (with Seafood)

Aglio e Olio is basically garlic and oil in Italian. I personally think this is a healthier version among Italian pasta sauces besides of course tomato and pesto.

Aglio olio is actually a type of basic sauce, hence making this a very versatile base for cooking pasta. You can do a healthy vegetarian version with fresh, sundried or crushed tomatos, eggplants and/or mushrooms. Or you can go for a more expensive version with your favourite seafood. It can be just big prawns or mixture of prawns, mussels, squids, scallops, oysters etc. Some brandy or white wine and chicken stock can be added for extra flavours.
Serve 3-4
450gm of cooked spaghetti*
5-6 tbsp of olive oil
4-5 cloves of garlic, sliced
1/2 teasp of dried chilli flakes (optional but I think it is better with)
3-4 tbsp of white wine or brandy
50 ml of water + 1 teasp of chicken stock
some parsley flake for garnishing
Salt and pepper to taste

6-8 pcs of half shelled mussels, de-bearbed and cleaned
8-10 pcs of oyster meat, cleaned off hard shells if any
8-10 pcs of medium or large prawns, deshelled and deveined, leaving head and tail on.
1 pc of squids, cut into 6-8 rings
scallops, fishes (optional)


16 - 20 pcs of large prawns, deshelled and deveined leaving head and tail on

*This is the weight after cooking in boiling water and drain. On average per serving per person is about 150 gm if you are only eating this as a main dish. Please reduce portion if you are serving other things in a party environment.

1) Cook spaghetti and coat with some olive oil to prevent them from sticking. Set aside.

2) In a large pan, heat up olive oil and saute garlic till fragrant and light brown (not burnt).

3) Add seafood like mussels and scallops first, followed by squids, oysters, prawns and fishes. Continue sauteing. When seafood is almost cooked, add wine and chicken stock. Let it simmer for a little. But please don't overcook seafood.

4) Add spaghetti and dried chilli flakes and toss till all noodles are coated with sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5) Dish out and serve individually. Garnish with some parsley flakes.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Italian Antipasto: Bruschetta

Bruschetta is certainly one of Itali's most famous export to the world. It is basically Italian Roti Kosong, plain grilled bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. We make it a little fancy here ~ warm, cripsy bread topped with olive oil and with other freshest ingredients possible.

As I start to look more into Italian food, I find that their cooking is extremely simple in terms of ingredients but freshness is a must. There is pure elegance in the simplicity of the dishes unlike French which is attained through precision and complexity.

Bruschetta is an excellent party entre dish. Bread can be made a day ahead. Toppings are cut and/or cooked earlier on in the day, to be assembled right before dinner.

1 loaf of french bread, cut slantly into slices of slightly more than 1 cm thickness (For a homemade version, please refer to previous recipe on French Bread)
4-5 garlic cloves
olive oil

1) Turn your oven to grill mode and grill at 180 deg, each slices for 1-2 min on each side or till the sliced bread is hard and dense and slightly brown. Take out.

2) Lightly rub with garlic clove on each side while it is still hot and out of oven. Drizzle some olive oil on the side you want to put your toppings on. Heap on the toppings of your choice.

Topping type 1: Tomatos and Basil
16-20 pcs of ripe cherry tomatos or 4 nos of big ripe tomatos
Fresh Basil to taste
1/4 of medium red onion or more according to taste (no chinese shallots please)

1) Cut cherry tomatos to quarters or cube shape. Roughly chop onion. Tear basils to smaller pieces.

2) Mixed all ingredients together and set aside. Season with salt and pepper or 1 tbsp of balsamic vinegerattes before topping onto grilled bread.

Topping type 2: Mixed Mushrooms
350 to 400 gm of mixed fresh mushrooms (oysters, button, shitake)
Dried rosemary, thyme
1- 2 tbsp of garlic
2 tbsp of olive oil
salt and pepper

1) Chop mushrooms to squarish pieces. Season with salt and pepper and garlic and dried herbs.

2) Heat up pan with olive oil and add seasoned mushrooms. Saute until all liquid evaporates. Set aside.

Assemble and serve.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

French Bread

I did some research over the week and realised that French stick or bread or loaf is actually an English name for French Baguettes. Baguettes are basically those bread with much more smaller diameter compared with length. But French are strict and have more exact standard and name for those loaves which are thicker or thinner in their diameters. But the standard is around 5-6 cm to not more than 10 cm.

To make life simpler, I will just called it French bread or loaf. I did one french loaf some weekend ago and then also for Greg's party. The loaf was made a day before the party for the Bruschetta. Fortunately, the french loaves all turned out well. They were brown and crusty on the outside and a little chewy in the inside, just the way french bread (baguettes) should be.

Standard French loaf consist of basic water, flour, yeast, common salt. But I also did a little experiment with shortening. For one of the loaves, i added one small tablespoon of shortening but kept the others original. The results:

Just from that one tablespoon of shortening, the loaf inside became softer & silkier. But the taste is equally as good as the original. And there was no effect whatsever on both the crustiness & chewiness of the bread.

It took a while, & a little bit of experimentation. But now I'm confident that the recipe can now be shared with you. I leave the decision to add shortening or any other form of fat up to your own discretion.

400gm of bread flour or high protein flour
8 gm of active instant yeast
8 gm of salt
1 tbsp of shortening (optional)
1 tbsp of castor sugar
220-240gm of slightly chilled water

1) Sift flour and mix all dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl.

2) With a dough beater, beat at No 1-2. Very slowly add 90% of the chilled water. Continue mixing till all ingredients bind together. Add rest of water if too dry.

3) Beat at medium for 15 -18 min or high for 10 -12 min. In between the beating, try the membrane test. A thin membrane indicates that the glutten has formed and dough is ready. But you must stop if the side of bowl feel slightly warm. A warm dough indicates that yeast may be taking action already.

4) Take it out of bowl and hand knead it to release all air bubbles. Shape into a round dough.

5) Rest the dough, covered with clean cloth for about 15 min before further shaping. Divide the dough into 2 equal parts and shape into round two round balls. Rest further for another 10 min

6) Roll each into a long rectangle (lengthwise) and roll towards yourself. Roll slightly more towards the middle of the dough to form the loaf shape. Seal ends and bottom well. Place on a greased tray. Make three slanted slits along the loaf.

7) Proof cover with cloth for 50 min to 1 hour 15 min depending on weather. Do the finger poke test.

8) Preheat over at 170 degree celcius forced fan. Spray your hot oven generously with water. Bake for 15-20 min till golden brown.

Cool, cut and serve as bruschetta/garlic bread or with a nice thick broth.

Same recipes apply for shorter baguettes (not very sure whether it is called batard. Anyone?) used as sandwich loaves. After step 4, rest for 10 min. Divide dough into 4 equal portions and knead into smaller bowls. Rest for another 10-15 min. Enough resting makes rolling easier. Follow with step 6 onwards but cut one, straight long slits on each one.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

All for a Loving and Caring Society

Every morning when we pick up the papers, there will alway be a piece of news of newborn babies dead & abandoned, children being neglected, abducted (the still missing 5-year old Sharlinie missing since Jan 9, 2008), abused and murdered (remember the horrific Nurul case last year?). All of these are very chilling and sickening stories. And they're not things which happen in far away America or UK or Indonesia or Thailand which has got less to do with us, but it's something that is happening right here at home.

There are also more and more children born sick with asthma and with the weirdest forms of cancer, physical/mental abnormality and handicap which makes us appreciate the fact that having a healthy child no matter how naughty they can be is still like striking jackpot lottery.

Have you ever wondered what is really happening to our world and society? Aren't children supposed to be our future leaders, the generation that must be nurtured, cared for and loved? Why are family units crumbling and why are they so many social ills?

Despite these sad aspects of things, every time Greg and I are involved in charity work, we are quite amazed to witness the generousity of some individuals. They contribute their time, effort, talent and of course money for charitable causes. Over the weekend, we watched Kuchingites working hard to contribute to a charity. Our good friend, Doreen's school for the mentally handicapped children were having the annual sales. Many people volunteered to set up stores to sell all types of food and some very creative & fun activities like body painting. Many people also showed up with pre-sold tickets to support the charity sales.

If it is not for the general public and their kind support, we think the world will be a much more sadder place for these less fortunate ones. Governmental support is downright miserable. The funding for the blind, deaf, handicapped, orphans and abused children are pathetic.

Did you know that the Kuching Blind Centre had to build an entire new building based on the support of the general public public & a few individual philantropist? There was barely any contribution from the government and their so called ministers. They are usually very good at holding big grand cheque-handing-over ceremonies at big grand hotels, with the media snapping away. But if you look at the cheque, the amount is so miserable. Sometimes I wonder why millions are wasted on abandoned, unfinished and overpaid projects, elections campaigns, grand opening ceremonies and so on. The mathematics just does not tally.

There are actually genuine needs out there to make life better for these less fortunate people and children. They are many of you with big hearts and lots of care and love for them. So if you think you can contribute your dollars or effort and time, please do so. They are right here in Kuching, not some far away places.

Children charities that always need extra support are like the School for the Mentally Handicapped where a large amount of funding is needed anually for special equipments, staffing and the daily operations.

The Salvation Army is also another organisation that solely relies on charity to survive. Many children there are neglected, some without parents, while others are abused children. Funding is needed for the daily operation, children's books, food and clothing. These children basically do not have even 1/4th of the privileges of a normal child, from a normal average family.

Other organisations in need also include Autistic Children, Thelesammia, The Cheshire Home, School for Deaf and Dumb & The Blind Centre.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Greg's Birthday Bash

NEE: We always enjoy having friends over for little get togethers. What better excuse than birthdays. Normally, there would be at least 2 birthday celebrations for Greg's, one with our cell friends and another with family and sometimes an additional for close collegues. This year we are sticking to one home cook for cell friends and one small eating out for family next week.

GREG: It is certainly most embarassing to be surrounded by little children while they sing you Happy Birthday Day, & after that, fighting to blow the candle with you.

And in a very wierd way, I almost understood how an old granpa would have felt to be surrounded by his great grandchildren. Well, this was my birthday, but those kids ain't my great grandchildren. There were at least 18 of them belonging to cell friends and we couldn't fit all of them into the camera frame.

Nee graciously cooked up a Tsunami on Friday nite & we invited friends from our cell group over for a big Italian themed dinner. Literally, she marathon-cooked for the whole afternoon for 5 hours until she almost fainted.

And behold, the Great Italian Mafia spread:

Take it easy. This is just the appetizer. I'll let Nee take you thru it.

NEE: Italy's famous Antipasto export: Bruschetta, done with homemade French Loaf

Another antipasto: Beef Carpaccio with Homemade Tonnato Sauce

Grilled Vegies with Balsamic Vinegerattes

NEE: It's important to note that when serving Italian dishes for a party, cetain dishes can only be cooked after the guests have arrived & are revving up to eat. Therefore, sometimes it can be a strain as the cooking still goes on even when the guests are already seated & are already eating.

Pasta: Spaghetti Aglio-olio with Seafood

Another Pasta: Linguine Carbornara

Lasagna al Forno (oops a little burnt on top, hehe..)

For the mains, we had:

Chicken Piccatta : The chicken breast pieces are as tender as fish

Osso Bucco with Mashed Potatos (I cheated. Did a oxtail version), served with Gremolata

Italian Style Roast Lamb Shoulders served with Rosemary Garlic Cream Sauce.

I did 2 pizzas. They should always come out last from the kitchen, fresh from the oven onto the table & into the tummy.

WARNING: We are now entering the dangerous dessert area:

Panna Cotta ~ Italian Cooked Cream with Homemade Strawberry Coullis.
Greg calls this one the Mafia Shootout.

GREG: And just when you think the night has ended, Nee came out with a fire show.

Le Creme Brulee (very Un-Italian, French in fact).

GREG: Wow. I thought I was only getting food on my birthday party.
Instead there was a circus show as well.

Greg's birthday cake: Strawberry Cream Cake. Layers of sponges with strawberry and fresh diary cream and topped with buttercream for a little more zest.

GREG: Special thanks to everyone who came by, & for all the presents. I really felt like Don Corleone. FYI, my actual birthday hasn't arrived yet MUAHAHAHAHA.

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