Saturday, 23 July 2011

Coconut pandan cupcakes

So here is my first recipe with pandan. I was lucky to find some fresh but if you can't find it look for pandan essence in the baking section in Asian stores and just add some more coconut milk. You can make the pandan syrup in advance but the pandan juice should be made on the day as it will oxidize and lose the bright green colour.


125ml sunflower oil
100g sugar
2 eggs
150g plain flour
100g rice flour
6g baking powder
5 tbsp pandan juice*
5 tbsp pandan syrup**
5 tbsp coconut cream
toasted coconut flakes

for the buttercream

200g salted butter
400g icing sugar
5 tbsp pandan syrup*
5 tbsp coconut cream

Preheat the oven to 175°C. Mix the oil, sugar and the eggs. Beat until the mixture turns pale in colour. Mix the flour and baking powder and sift. Gently fold under the egg-sugar mix and incorporate the other ingredients, including some of the coconut flakes. Fill into muffin cases and bake for about 15 minutes. Let cool down on a wire rack. In the meantime prepare the butter cream. Beat the butter until pale and creamy. Add the icing sugar, beat well and add the pandan syrup and coconut cream. Spread over the cold muffins and decorate with the toasted coconut flakes.

* To make pandan juice take 10 pandan leaves, cut them in small strips and puree with 1/2 cup water in a food processor. Strain with a cheesecloth and discard the leaves.
** To make the pandan syrup put 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of water and about 10 fresh pandan leaves (tied to a knot makes it easier to remove them later) in a pot and bring to the boil. Leave to simmer for about 10 minutes. Let cool down before handling.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Flavours of Asia

Now that we're back I'm being asked about the best place or country that we visited but as they are so different I find this question incredibly difficult. I liked them all. For different reasons. Instead I will try and sum up the trip in flavours so here is my top 10 list of ingredients we came across that have left an impression:

1. Pandan
If you have been following the blog you will have figured by now that I have found my new food crush. Love at first sight, eh, taste. It is the vanilla of SE Asia and you can use it accordingly in baked goods and sweet treats, rice and cocktails. Yum. Now I always have some pandan leaves in the freezer.

2. Winter melon
We haven't tried it fresh and ripe but it's great as a juice made from the immature melon when it's still sweet. It's available in cans throughout Malaysia, Vietnam and China and I love the creamy buttery taste.

3. Chili
Of course I had to mention chili. Adds heat to so many dishes in so many countries. On my 'heat-scale' Thailand is taking the top, followed by India and Malaysia.

4. Cardamon
One of the things I cherished in India is chai, the fragrant tea made with ground spices (including cardamon) and milk. The taste and smell of cardamon pods encapsulates India for me. It can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes.

5. Palm sugar
It's not just sweet but has a rich caramel flavour similar to demerara or other brown sugars. It works well in my favourite dessert Cendol Gula Melaka from Malaysia but also in savory dishes like Som tam in Thailand.

6. Kaffir lime
The rind of the kaffir lime and the aromatic leaves are both used in curry pastes in Thai, Lao and Cambodian cuisine and though the juice is not used the tart kaffir lime peel can be used similar to lemon or lime in sorbets and desserts as well.

7. Taro
This starchy root vegetable can be used either in savoury dishes or in desserts, easily recognisable by it's purple colour. Taro replaces pandan as the flavour of choice in ice cream in Vietnam and China.

8. Dragonfruit
This is the most amazing looking fruit and it grows on the most amazing looking plant not unlike a cactus. They are grown commercially all around Southern Vietnam but are available throughout SE Asia. There are two variations, one with white and the other with deep purple flesh. In taste they are very similar. Reminiscent of a kiwi but sweet instead of acidic and the small black seeds have a light nutty flavour. Dragonfruit works well in combination with rambutan and lychee.

9. Lemongrass
With it's fragrant citrus flavour this herb is an essential ingredient in Asian cuisine, from curries to tea and it also works well in desserts.

10. Galangal
Commonly called 'Thai ginger' galangal has less of the peppery heat retained in ginger and tastes slightly more earthy and citrusy. It's an integral part of Thai, Lao and Cambodian cuisine used in curry paste or Tom Yum.

Friday, 1 July 2011

CHINA: Beijing

Beijing means "Northern Capital" but the city is also known as Peking (an older pronunciation predating a subsequent sound change in Mandarin 400 years ago). It's a metropolis with a population of almost 20 million.

The traditional bicycle rickshaws almost disappeared after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 but have had a comeback and can now be found around the hutongs (narrow streets or alleys) and popular tourist destinations of Beijing.

This is proper Beijing street food. Jianbing starts of like a crepe with a thin egg-based batter. When this has set cracks an egg and spreads it over in a thin layer. Now sprinkle scallions and black sesame seeds on top. The crepe is flipped over and it's time for the sauces: hoisin sauce, hot sauce and a fermented tofu. Brushed on. Literally. With a big brush. Now place the bing on top, a deep fried cracker. All is then folded and tossed in a plastic bag, ready to go.

Beijing yoghurt is sweet and slightly sour and comes in these unpretentious ceramic pots with a paper lid and rubber band. Just stick a straw in and ready. They can be found at almost every corner.

More dairy coming your way. This is labeled 'cheese' but is actually more like a creamy buttery yoghurt and in this instance with added fruit in the form of mango but there are several flavours to choose from. The tiny shop only sells this one product and it is so popular that you will find a cue outside the store at almost anytime. They close when they have sold all the fresh product of the day so you better be quick.

Super-size skewers of lamb and chicken.

Cold rice noodles in a sesame sauce with some chili paste for heat, topped with sesame seeds and julienne cucumbers.

In my search for the most original waffle this version here definately takes the prize. Owl shaped and it comes in four different flavours: red bean, green bean, sesame and chocolate.

This passionfruit & mango lava drink is all about the show. A small bag with dry ice is submerged in the juice to create smoke.

Deep fried fermented tofu, chou doufu or stinky tofu is a popular snack in China and once you get over the smell of rotten feet is actually quite tasty.

A good Chinese dinner is all about the combination of dishes: some are cold, some hot; some spicy, some mild. There has to be veg and meat and maybe some fish, too. On this table you will find pickled quails eggs, sweet and sour pork, spicy tofu, potato straw, fried eggplant, lotus root filled with sticky rice, wood-ear mushrooms, fresh herbs with walnuts and then of course the legendary Peking duck. The crispy roasted bird is sliced in front of the diners by the chef himself and the meat and crunchy skin is wrapped in thin pancakes with spring onions, cucumbers and pickles to be dipped in smoky sweet hoisin sauce.