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We’re now coming up to our second Christmas in Malaysia and I realised that I had hardly written anything this year. There are so many reasons why… time seems to slip by and we’ve been busy
We’ve been travelling around Malaysia… exploring beautiful beaches
and being punted down the river at night to watch fireflies...
I drive to Singapore every few weeks to see my best friend from my teenage years and we try out roof top bars to see where we get the best view
We’ve taken our friends to the elephant sanctuary, where you can help bathe baby elephants in the river
and I’ve taken up batik painting at the Kraf Kompleks in the centre of KL
We’ve gorged on amazing crabs
and we always take our visitors to Sun Chui Yuen on Jalan Alor, the famous street of food off Bukit Bintang, where you eat outside at plastic tables, using melamine tableware… but the food is five star.
.. we breakfast at Raju’s, where roti canai, chicken and squid are eaten from banana leaves.
It’s not all eating out. I have cooked at home
where we can relax
and enjoy the view with our after dinner drinks.
But cooking at home has taken a back seat really, with all of the other things we do.
And it’s so hot! My kitchen is always over 85 degrees. All I want to do is relax and drink cold drinks. I bought a day bed so I can keep cool under the fan…
… it’s where I relax and read and think about writing things up, but mainly, I have to say, it’s where I just relax.
I was there one day when I read about Cakeyboi’s delicious Vanilla Bean Lemonade and realised that would be perfect, just perfect, for drinking as I idled an afternoon away. When he described it as “almost like drinking lemon meringue pie’ I knew I had to make it.
I had four beautifully juicy, organic and unwaxed lemons that squeezed out at least 125ml of sharp and aromatic juice
Sweetness was needed, so 90g of sugar was weighed out
… and heated with 90ml of water to make a simple, pure syrup, which once everything was dissolved and the mix was clear, was left to cool completely.
I have a beautiful, old glass water jug that was perfect for this – the lemon juice was added and two teaspoons of vanilla bean paste was added to that
and then the vanilla was whisked into the lemon juice
When you’re ready to drink it, top up with sparkling water…
… and you’re ready to serve.
It’s so beautiful… the vanilla seeds fleck the drink
And the taste? Sweet and sharp, deep and rich… perfect for a hot day.
Perfect to serve to our guests who don’t drink alcohol but who need something more exciting than a glass of water.
… and perfect for me to drink as I read and laze about. One more reason why I haven’t been into the kitchen really….
Thanks, Cakeyboi! A great idea and a great drink.
Now all I have to do is start cooking again.
One morning I was up early, drinking my coffee on the balcony and looking out at the city as dawn broke. For once the sky was clear and in the far distance I could see as far as the Genting Highlands
When I looked closely I realised I could even see the Genting Highlands resort where we stayed briefly at Christmas
The thing that most amazed us while we were there was that when we opened the bedroom window, we were so high up that clouds came in and swirled around, making the room cold and damp. It was the only time in Malaysia that we ever wanted to wear something with long sleeves because we were chilly.
It was almost like being back in the UK with a chilling, damp and foggy atmosphere. As I sat there sipping my coffee, I must have started to think of cool days in England because I suddenly thought of a malt loaf I used to bake all of the time there. It had started off as an ordinary malt loaf but as with all recipes it had evolved over time, being tweaked here and there until it turned into something that I was proud of.
I have an old diary that I have written recipes down in and, as you can see, I have changed things and written my comments in so I could keep track of what was good and what should be done again.
Originally, as you can see, this was just a Bran Fruit Loaf and I suppose it must have been copied down from the back of an All-Bran cereal packet. It was simplicity itself – 1lb of sugar, 1lb of mixed fruit, 1lb of self raising flour, 1 pint of milk and 6 ounces of All-Bran. It made three 1lb malt loaves. It was good enough to do again… but then I started changing it.
I took out the mixed fruit that was originally specified and added in, at first, just golden sultanas then swapped half the fruit for cherries and soaked them in kirsch because I though it would give the loaves a little bit of a bite. I changed the white sugar to golden granulated and when I was baking, sprinkled more sugar on top for a crispy, sweet crunch. It was good but it still needed something else and I didn’t know what it was.
One day I didn’t have any cherries and besides, I was rather tired of them. Too sweet, I thought. When I looked through the cupboards I found a jar of stem ginger in syrup and suddenly I was struck by an idea. A full pound of ginger would be overkill but if I made the pound of fruit up with the ginger and sultanas I might be onto something.
I liked to soak the sultanas in something to make them plump up – I’d tried tea (which worked well) but as I thought of the ginger, I realised that whisky would work incredibly well. Whisky with ginger is a great pairing – it works well as a wonderfully warming drink and I knew it would make a beautifully flavoured malt loaf. Perfect with a cup of tea on a cold afternoon.
And so, what I (and a lot of my friends) think of as the perfect malt loaf evolved. It is moist, sweet and spicy, soft and succulent with a lovely crunchy top… absolutely just the right thing for a cool afternoon.
Except it was a hot day in Kuala Lumpur and stem ginger in syrup is impossible to find here. I went to every supermarket I knew of, every gourmet store and expat shop and there wasn’t a jar to be found. I had to send begging messages to people coming out here and then one day I finally got my hands on stem ginger in syrup. I was going to bake the best malt loaf I knew of and it didn’t matter if it wasn’t a cool afternoon. Tea and cake work at any temperature.
First of all, get your ingredients together. This recipe is so old it still uses Imperial measurements but they are so easy to remember, so I stick with them. You’ll need a pint of milk, 1lb each of fruit, sugar and flour and 6 ounces of All Bran.
That translates as 170g of All_Bran which needs to soak in a bowl with 1 pint of milk. I like to do it ahead of time so the All-Bran softens and becomes a smooth mix.
The precious stem ginger in syrup is drained and the syrup is included in the 1 lb of sugar. Yes, it makes a mess of your weighing scale dish but it adds to the flavour, so just do it.
What I do is start pouring in some golden granulated sugar
Then I drain the ginger syrup into the weighing pan, then top up with more golden granulated sugar until I have a combined weight of 1lb (450g) It makes less mess this way.
I soak 7 ounces (200g) of golden sultanas in some whisky so they all plump up. If you don’t want to use whisky then weak black tea will work well.
While they are plumping up, chop the stem ginger into small pieces much the same size as the sultanas and then add them to the soaked fruit.
Mix it round… it smells gorgeous.
The All-Bran should be soft and smooth by now so stir in the fruit
And then stir in the sugar and syrup mix then fold in 1lb (450g) of self raising flour.
This is a sweet and sticky mix, so you should line your loaf tins – you can do it with baking parchment, cutting and folding in the traditional way, or you can do it as I do it, using pre-formed loaf tin liners. Whoever thought this up deserves a medal because it saves so much time and mess.
As I said, this makes three 1lb loaves and before you say you won’t want three malt loaves all at once, I’d like to tell you that actually three loaves is not enough. You’d be surprised how quickly they disappear and how many of your friends will want a loaf of their own. We have never yet had a situation where there’s been malt loaf left over and it is a lovely thing to give a friend a malt loaf….
Spoon the mix into the loaf tins and sprinkle the tops with golden granulated sugar before putting them into a preheated oven at 165° C /330°F for about an hour.
Check them when they start to look ready by sticking a skewer in – when it comes out clean and the top looks golden and slightly crunchy from the sugar, get them out and leave them to cool.
The smell that fills the kitchen is wonderful, all rich and sweet and spicy. It makes me wish you could get air fresheners that smell like that instead of insipid flowery scents but until they do, I just have to keep baking.
The look so lovely….
Cut yourself a slice when it cools… put the kettle on and make a pot of tea.
Some of us like it with butter and some don’t . Try it both ways. Take a loaf to a friend and share it.
Have a cup of tea, a slice of malt loaf and enjoy it.
Evolution isn’t just restricted to living things, you know. In my kitchens, this recipe has changed and improved over the years and really does illustrate the theory of survival of the fittest. (Ingredients, that is)
Not only do I love cooking and eating, I love reading recipes and articles about cooking and eating. I’m a great snipper and copier out of recipes that I think will be worth doing, or that interest me. I’m always on the lookout for recipes that can be made in advance – we lived in an apartment in Nottingham where the upper floor was an open space for the kitchen, dining and living area and here, in Malaysia, we have much the same layout. That’s lovely when everything is tidy and ready to go but if you have guests sitting around with drinks it’s not so great for them to see you juggling pans and plates, cursing mildly and getting hot and bothered.
I like to have things ready to bring out – for one thing, it gives me time to brush my hair and wipe flour, sweat and splashes off my shiny, red face.
In my folder of Things I Really Must Make, I found this article, from Olive Magazine, dated June 2008, but searching the site now, there’s no recipe listed. You’ll just have to follow what I write out.
Rowley Leigh, of Le Cafe Anglais has, amongst the many wonderful dishes he makes, a classic starter, Parmesan Custards – creamy, cheesey, savoury set custard served with thin fingers of toast, spread with a thin smear of anchovies, perfect as a simple, yet stunning, make ahead starter.
I have a set of espresso cups that are just about the right size and as they are part of my Wedgwood Cornucopia dinner service, they were going to look perfect at the table. We were having good friends round to dinner and I wanted to make sure everything was as lovely as possible. There’s no point in keeping things ‘for best ‘- my motto is, if you’ve got it, use it! If you haven’t got espresso cups, little ramekins or china moulds (they need to hold around 80 ml) will do just as well.
I needed 4 egg yolks; 300ml of single cream; 300ml of milk; 12 anchovy fillets; 100g of finely grated parmesan for the custard and another 150g for some parmesan crisps I was going to make as an extra; 50g of softened butter; 8 slices of good bread ( I used thinly sliced No Knead Bread) plus cayenne and white pepper to season everything with. The recipe said this would make 8 small pots but the six espresso cups took slightly more than the recommended 80 ml so everything evened out. Besides, there were going to be six of us eating.
This really is quick and easy – so easy, that the first thing you do is get the oven turned on to 150°C/300ºF/gas mark 2.
Then, grate the parmesan finely so it makes a lovely, light and airy mound
Remember that this is for the custard…. I need the rest of the parmesan for crisps, later.
Mix 300ml each of the milk and the cream together
….then add in all but a tablespoon of the parmesan, if you are using ramekins. You save this because you can sprinkle this last bit on top and then grill your pots to make a crisp topping. I was going to make parmesan crisps instead because I didn’t want to put my lovely Wedgwood under the grill.
…and heat gently in a bowl or a bain marie, over a pan of boiling water until the parmesan melts.
Allow this to cool completely
While the mix is cooling, butter your cups or little bowls.
Once your mix is cool, whisk in the four egg yolks, a pinch of cayenne, the same of finely ground white pepper and maybe a pinch of salt. You must let it coolproperly because otherwise you will end up with cheesey scrambled egg.
Put the cups in a roasting tin, then fill them with equal amounts of the custard mix, then put the tin on the oven racck before you add boiling water. You need enough to come maybe one third of the way up the cups. Doing it this way prevents the mix slopping about and you pouring boiling water over your feet. Always a plus point in my book.
Cover the top of this with some buttered baking parchment or a silicone sheet and then let everything bake for about 15-20 minutes, when they will be just set.
They emerge, looking gorgeous. I put them to one side while I made the toasts and the crisps……
My sister gave me some Curtis Stone silicone wafer baker molds as a Christmas present and I really wanted to try them out – you simply pack them with the rest of the finely grated parmesan and put in a low oven, on a baking tray
.. until they turn a soft, golden brown. Leave them to cool and you can get started on the anchovy toasts.
Thinly slice some good bread – each person will need a slice – and cut the crusts off to make lovely, neat, evenly sized rectangles
Then take your softened butter and the anchovies (drain them – you don’t want the oil)
….and mash them into a smooth paste
Lightly spread half of the slices of bread – and I do mean lightly. You don’t want to overpower everything with too much anchovy.
Lay a slice of unbuttered bread over the spread ones to make dainty sandwiches. The easiest way to toast them is in a toasted sandwich bag and then pop them in the toaster for a short time. You don’t want to make them too toasty and crisp – you have to slice them into fingers after that…
A good way to get very thin toasts is to roll them, still in the bag, with a rolling pin to get them nice and smooth, then toast them. When they are done they can easily be cut into fine fingers.
By now, the parmesan crisps are cool and can be gently lifted from the molds. How fantastic is that?
And then… well, then you are nearly ready.
Wipe down the kitchen and set the table….
When you are ready to serve, if you are using ramekins or china molds, sprinkle the last of the parmesan on top of the custards and brown gently under a hot grill. I had my parmesan crisps to place on top, instead.
The fingers of anchovy toast were piled onto a plate
The starter was served…..
The crispness of the toast fingers contrasted deliciously with the soft, savoury custard.
The parmesan wafers added a gorgeous crisp bite.
Tasty? Very much so.
Easy to do? Yes, so much so that this, with its comforting creaminess and rich, savoury flavour, would be a great dish to do when you needed some lovely comfort food.
In fact, the more I think about this, the more I want to make it again. It will remind me of a wonderfully happy night in Nottingham and I can introduce it to my new friends here in Malaysia. What a good reason to invite people round to supper!
I know… I know…. it’s been so long since I wrote anything but there’s been so much going on. We’ve had guests staying and we’ve been on trips abroad and time just slips on by. It didn’t help that twice I wrote out this recipe and twice something went wrong. I saved everything, both times, but half of the post still went missing. Technology, eh?
So, I’ll start again. Things have changed a lot since we moved in here with just a couple of suitcases. While we waited for the container to arrive, I did go and buy us the bare minimum of stuff to see us through…
And when I say the bare minimum, that’s what I mean.Thank goodness for IKEA. That balcony table and chairs were all we had to eat at unless we wanted to sit on the bed, which was the only other thing we had. Mind you, that gave me time to think about what I really wanted…
Having friends round to eat with us is a big part of our life. We love to share evenings and food with people and we wanted to make sure that when we did get a table, we’d get the perfect table.
We wanted a square table because if we got a rectangular one, it meant there was someone sitting at the head of that table and for us, there’s no head of the table. Everyone eating around it is equal. We also didn’t want legs either, as someone on the corner (me, usually) always ended up banging knees on the legs. But finding the perfect table… well, that was the hard part. I looked everywhere and there was nothing I could find that was right for us.
And then I found Teakia, where all they asked was what was it that I wanted…. square? Yes, certainly. Five feet square should be large enough? A central pedestal? Of course, what carving would I like on the pedestal? Teak? Naturally. Chairs? Try this chair… or that? What suits you? Ten chairs would fit round that perfectly.
You have no idea how happy I was. Everything made to my specification. This was the ultimate customer service.
And then it arrived…. the beautiful, solid, central pedestal
.. the square table top
… and ten lovely chairs!
No excuse now… I had to cook for our friends. I wanted us to sit down together, laughing, eating and drinking; celebrating our new start in Malaysia.
One of the first things I cooked was something I’d had a local restaurant – pineapple and prawn curry. I don’t think I’d had anything like that before but it was the most lovely dish – the pineapple was sweet and sharp while the prawns added a salty savouriness to a spicy sauce.
I went and got a big bag of prawns ( weighing them, cleaned and peeled later, they came to about 300g) ; a pineapple (you could use a tin of good pineapple in its own juice); a stalk of lemongrass, some mild red chillies, a piece of turmeric root, although ground turmeric will work as well; shallots; garlic; dried shrimp paste; coriander seeds and coconut cream. I can buy coconut cream, freshly squeezed in bags but if you don’t have access to that, a can will do just as well.
First of all, peel and de-vein the prawns, running a knife down their backs and pulling out the black cord of their intestines. Put them into the fridge to keep cool, as you will add them at the end of the cooking.
The next thing to do is also something that will be needed later but it makes sense to do it straightaway and besides, you will need the pestle and mortar to do other stuff…. so, grind three tablespoons of coriander seeds and put them to one side. I’m quite fond of pounding away with a pestle and mortar as it gets the tension out of me….. If you have no tension, you could, of course, use ground coriander. Maybe three teaspoons would do.
Now, chop all of the other ingredients – the lemongrass stalk; the shallots (maybe five or six); three or so cloves of garlic; about an inch or so or turmeric root ( a teaspoon and a half if you used ground powder) and three or four red chillies. This makes them easier to pound… or grind if you want to blitz them.
Once everything is in a smoothish paste add in chopped soaked, dried chillies and pound some more. Remove the seeds from the chillies first and they add a lovely soft and rich taste to the spice mix, without overpowering everything. Using a pestle and mortar gives you a rougher mix than if you blitz it all, and I like the difference in textures, but a quick blitz will give the same results.
Then, heat a frying pan and add some oil – you have to fry the spice mix for a few minutes to let all the flavours blend properly
Adding some of the coconut cream, maybe half of the can, if that is what you are using, and it will stop it burning.
Add in the ground coriander and a quarter or half teaspoon of dried shrimp paste and stir it round gently before adding the rest of the coconut cream
Look at how it all swirls together. It smells really good, too.
The pineapple goes in now and needs to cook gently so it softens.
Some Maldon salt needs to be added to balance the flavour
Then… throw in those fresh prawns, Grey now, because they are raw, but stir gently and watch them turn a beautiful rosy pink.
Five more minutes of simmering and then it will be ready
All we needed was some rice and to get up to the table
Dinner was served.
The sweet sharpness of the pineapple was balanced by the rich smoothness of the coconut cream and the salty, savoury prawns in that spicy gravy made it into a perfect supper dish.
Perfect dish at a perfect table. It was worth the wait.
Sometimes, you know, my thoughts go back to the UK and I think of my family and friends there that I miss so much. Right now, they tell me, the weather is icy, frost lines the branches of trees and the grass has turned to thick white, iced strands. I miss the beauty of an English winter, even if I don’t miss the aching pain of frozen feet. Nor do I miss having to chip ice from the inside of my windscreen, as I had to do last winter when the temperatures were regularly -5° to -9° C.
I do have other problems here…. I get out of my air conditioned car and my specs steam up; here, my hair is permanently limp in the humid heat. Minor, I know, but constant. That’s the thing about the Tropics. We have no seasons, no changes… sunrise and sunset are at much the same time every day, twelve hours apart and the weather is pretty constant. Sometimes it rains a bit more than other times but, generally, one day is much like any other.
When you are inside, with air conditioning however, the weather can look very different… I looked out at this, dark and stormy skies and the promise of a thunderstorm and rain later. It looked like November in the UK. Yet I knew that once I was outside on the balcony it would feel hot and humid. It’s quite disconcerting at times.
It did make me think of cold days in the UK and I remembered the last meal I cooked for friends in Nottingham before we left for Malaysia. It was a fabulous night where we laughed till we cried, we ate till we were fit to burst, we drank cocktails and wine and then moved on to whisky and we even danced across the floor in the early hours of the morning…. we finally said our goodnights at about 4am.
Maybe it was all the drinking. I blame one of the puddings for that as I am sure we wouldn’t have had the whisky if we hadn’t had a tot to go with the Whisky Toffee Almond Tart….
I’d seen the recipe in Delicious a couple of years or so ago (maybe even more) and I’d saved it, wanting to cook it for a special occasion. Us leaving the country seemed pretty special to me and besides, one of our lovely guests is Scottish and he loves whisky… and even more to the point, we were moving somewhere we couldn’t take our whisky anyway! Waste not, want not, I thought.
All I had to do (and it was a pretty simple recipe – always a plus point when you are cooking lots of things) was make some pastry. 200g of plain flour, with 100g of chilled and chopped unsalted butter needed to be rubbed through (or, easier still, whizzed on pulse in a processor) until everything comes together into fine crumbs.
Add about four tablespoons of cold water and mix it together so it comes into a ball, then roll it out into a circle
I’m pretty useless at rolling evenly as you can see, so if you are the same, don’t worry, it works even if you have to piece bits together when you put it into a 23cm/9 inch fluted flan tin.
Don’t handle it too much and leave the edges hanging over. You can trim them off later so it is all neat and anyway, pastry shrinks when it cooks, so you get a better fit.
Prick the bottom with a fork so that when it cooks the steam can escape and you have a flat bottom to it and just put it in the fridge to chill right down for 30 minutes.
After you have wiped up the mess you will have made after dusting the board to roll the pastry on, you have plenty of time to get the rest done. Put the oven on to heat at 200°C/fan 180°C/390°F.
You can put the pastry shell into the oven, lined with baking paper and baking beans to weigh it down, for fifteen minutes. After that, take the paper and beans off and put it back in to bake until golden… but no more than five minutes. Take it out and let it cool.
Now for the good stuff…. you’ll need 300g flaked almonds, a 284ml carton of double cream, 225g granulated sugar and some single malt whisky. You don’t need much, so before the whisky lover in your family shrieks at the thought of cooking with fine whisky, assure them it is for the best of reasons and anyway, you only need 4 tablespoons….
Put the almonds into a pan and add the sugar
Add the cream….
And mix it together. It’s looking good so far……
And then, select your whisky…. I chose anCnoc, a smooth and almost sweet Speyside single malt.
Measure 4 tablespoons of the good stuff, pour it in and then just stir it all round and add a pinch of salt to round out the flavours…
… and then heat it all through, gently, until the sugar dissolves and it thickens slightly. This will take about twenty minutes and you will see it turn a beautifully pale golden colour. Take it off the heat and put to one side.
Turn the oven down to 180°C/fan 160°C/355°F.
Pour the filling into the pastry shell
… and then smooth it out. (Yes, the mixture DOES taste delicious) and then bake it for another ten minutes or so until it looks golden. Don’t overdo it and don’t worry if it looks like it hasn’t set. It does that as it cools.
After you have put it on a tray to cool slightly, drizzle it with just a little more whisky so it sinks in as the filling cools and firms up.
Let everything cool completely before you trim off the edges to make it look neat and put on a cake stand, ready for serving.
And then, of course, you are ready to serve it with a wee dram to go alongside it at the end of the meal..
… and serve it with a dollop of really good, thick cream.
It really was lovely.
Was it a success? Well, that picture was taken after we’d had the whisky toffee and almond tart, at the end of the meal. I think the blurring of the shot says it all.
I can’t blame the tart for that, I suppose, but it certainly was a fine ending to a lovely meal with our friends.
A fitting goodbye to those we were leaving behind us and an excellent start to the laughing and dancing that followed.
Maybe you could make this? Not necessarily because you are leaving the country… but how about as a dessert for a Burns’ Night supper? Then the whisky is justified… not only justified but essential.
I know… this is hardly the start of the year, is it? I have an excuse though. Since New Year’s Day I have been suffering with a vile cough and cold, which seems to me to be really unfair. OK, if I was still in the U.K. in the depths of winter… but here? In the heat and the sunshine? I have spent the last two weeks, moaning and coughing but I am finally feeling slightly more clear headed and sounding less like a chesty old pit pony.
Time to start again.
When I look back on 2011, from where I am now… well, it seems unbelievable. At the start of that year we had no idea that we would be moving anywhere, never mind half way round the world. I suppose if I had thought of moving it would have been to a house, instead of our apartment, because I had been longing for an outside oven. I would have thought I’d have carried on cooking things like Beef and Ale Casserole with dumplings. or maybe the glorious Black Pudding and Haggis on Apple Mash (after all, it will soon be Burns’ Night again) or, or of our favourites, Bacon and Apple Risotto with Black Pudding. Everything rich and delicious and sustaining to get us through the cold and the snow.
I’d have been glad of the cold as we tucked into Jansson’s Temptation, my favourite potato dish ever. Maybe I’d have been making slimming soups, like Skinny Tomato Soup , in an attempt to lose weight after eating all of that lovely hearty food…
I would wake up and look out of our windows, in our apartment, down onto the frosty city below
And yet here we are, a year later, living just off the Equator, steaming gently in the Tropical heat. Now I wake up to dawn, over a vibrant city, with the Petronas Towers appearing through the mist.
Some things are the same, though. I look ahead to the rest of the year, knowing that THIS will be the year that I get thin and fit….I’ve had that as a resolution for years. And I haven’t done it.
Maybe I will this time. After all, we are living in a place where I can swim each day (and that means, of course, putting on a swimming costume. Not a good look at the moment, I admit)
The fruit and vegetables here in Malaysia are incredible….. there’s an abundance of fish and seafood. All of which are fresh and tasty. All of which are just waiting for me to try.
And we have a wonderful new space, with a lovely, large dining table so we can invite our friends round….
We can sit ten round there (OK, ten at a push. Comfortably, we can seat eight) and I have two large kitchens to work in. My old friends back home can come out to visit and my new friends here can come round to eat.
It’s all such a change from Nottingham!
If we can go through so much change in one short year, I wonder what can happen in the coming year?
What WILL happen is that I am going to cook more and write more. There are so many delicious things to experiment with here, so many wonderfully tasty recipes to tell you about and, I have to say, so many things I cooked last year and didn’t have time to tell you about.
This year there’ll be a mix of Southeast Asian and British dishes as I look back at what I’ve done and look ahead to new experiences.
My resolutions, therefore, are to explore, remember, taste, experiment, enjoy and, most of all, to tell you all about everything!
Happy Belated New Year!
When I first met the Bear, I knew he was pretty special. I knew, in that deep down way, that he was someone I wanted to spend my life with. There was this sense of recognition. I know people always say you will KNOW when you meet the right person, but I suppose I never really believed them…. except, it’s true. I knew when I met him that he was the one for me. He was perfect.
Well…. almost perfect. He had some pretty fixed ideas about food……and that didn’t suit me. Broccoli? He’d get a stubborn look on his face and turn his head away. Shellfish? Nope. He wouldn’t eat that either.
Well, ask yourself, do you really think I was going to let him get away with that? I was determined that my life’s mission would be to make him truly omnivorous. I wanted him to know how wonderful fresh and tasty prawns were… what about the joy of eating oysters fresh off the boat? By refusing shellfish he was refusing so much.
I had a plan… and it was a plan that worked, too. He said he would refuse broccoli forever but when I made Broccoli that a Bear will eat he not only ate it without complaint but actually asked for it at other times. The Broccoli and Stilton Pastryless Pie was a winner in his eyes and he liked having it in his lunchbox to take to work. When I made Baked Polenta Pie he loved it…..and all of those dishes had broccoli in them. How did I get round his stubborn refusal? I suppose you could say that I hid the broccoli. Whenever I served the dreaded vegetable it was covered in either a deliciously light creamy sauce, or baked into other delicious stuff. It got him to eat broccoli and while he still won’t eat plain, steamed broccoli, he will eat it without complaint and a certain enjoyment. Maybe that’s what you will have to do if you have equally stubborn food-faddists.
So, I had success on the broccoli front. What I needed to work on was shellfish. We started by making him eat one prawn – just one – whenever I ordered prawns. He admitted that he was missing out on stuff and if we ever ended up living somewhere where shellfish was freely available then it would be a waste if he didn’t try. He wasn’t really enjoying it at first but he persevered. One prawn at a time. Then one day, he ‘phoned me from a trip abroad to say that he had eaten a prawn, voluntarily without me having to make him do it….. he was on the way to liking prawns!
He still wasn’t really convinced though… and then we moved here, to Malaysia. Here I can buy beautifully fresh king prawns for very little and so I started, in earnest, searching for the perfect prawn recipe that would make him love prawns. And you know what? I found it.
I’d bought a marvellous little recipe book by Betty Saw, a really well known Malaysian cook and writer, called ‘Malaysian’. It’s where I found that recipe for rendang that everyone likes. In it was this recipe for sambal santan udang, or prawn curry… it sounded delicious.
I bought 600g of king prawns (that’s 1lb 5½ ounces) and they needed to be cleaned and peeled. That’s simple enough, just tear off the head and peel off the shell
… and then once that’s done, take a sharp knife and run it down the curved back of the prawn and pull out the black vein… you can see it there. That’s the intestinal tract and you don’t want that in there.
Then, put them in a bowl in the fridge and get on with the rest of the preparation. Of course, if you can’t get fresh prawns, use prepared frozen ones. And if this makes it too expensive for an everyday meal, save this for a special occasion. You’ll thank me for it later.
As with all Malaysian cooking, the next bit involves ingredients to be ground.
The recipe book said two onions, but as a couple of mine were really small, I used three of them. Five chillies needed to be deseeded and sliced, four fat cloves of garlic had to be peeled along with four stems of lemongrass and one inch pieces of ginger and turmeric needed to be peeled. The turmeric is the bright orange piece in the middle there…. it looks like a piece of carrot.
When I first bought some, I thought it was just a differently coloured ginger… I mean, it’s not as if the label suggests anything else, is it? Anyway… if you can get some, I’d suggest you wear gloves when preparing it. Otherwise, your fingers, like mine, will turn a bright yellow and stay like that for days. If you can’t get fresh turmeric, you’ll have to use dried… maybe just under a teaspoonful will do it.
The other ingredient is belacan, which is dried shrimp or prawn paste. I know you can get this in the UK, so there’s no excuse for not getting some. I think the Malaysian belacan is a bit milder, so whereas I am using a half inch square piece, you may want to use a quarter of a teaspoon or so.
And then, as they say, have at it with a pestle and mortar. Or, if you want to, give it all a quick whizz with a blender, but don’t reduce it to a smooth paste… you need it to still have bits. (Remember, you can do this quickly and easily if you use the jars of ready prepared spices)
Now you are ready….
Start by frying the ground ingredients in three tablespoons of oil. This will take five minutes or so and you’ll smell everything coming together and the oil separates.
Pour in a can of coconut milk and stir everything round, bringing it to the boil.
Now, if you were to taste the creamy coconut and spice sauce you’d like it, but what it needs is something to lift it… and you get that from tamarind. Here, I buy tamarind paste that still has seeds in it and what I have to do is mix a dessertspoonful of the paste with four tablespoons of water and then strain it out. You might be able to get paste without seeds, so that makes it a bit easier.
The sharpness fromn the tamarind really brightens the taste of the sauce… it is still rich and delicious but it isn’t cloying.
Then… add the prawns….chuck in a pinch of salt….simmer for five minutes….and you’re done. The best prawn curry ever.
I served it over basmati rice that I’d added a handful of grated coconut to. I do that because I like it and because I can. Served over plain rice this would be just as delicious.
And that was it. Simple and quick. The finished curry is not mouth searingly hot, but well spiced. The flavour is rich and creamy but not cloying. In fact, it is delicious.
So delicious that Bear is now a convert to prawns. And he’d said it couldn’t be done…..all I have to work on now is spinach.
If there’s only one thing you cook from reading my Malaysian adventures then it has to be beef rendang. Unless, of course, you are a vegetarian or a vegan….because, quite frankly, beef just won’t work for you. Or unless you can’t eat coconut because that, too, would mean the beef rendang just isn’t going to be your thing. But let’s not bother with ‘unless’…let’s focus instead on the most delicious Malaysian recipe ever.
Rendang is an iconic Malaysian recipe – a mouth-filling melange of spices, coconut and slow cooked meat making an aromatic dish that has you longing to eat it again and again. The first friends I made in Malaysia, Roger and King, took me to lunch at Madam Kwan’s where we had her delicious rendang. Her version has the beef slow cooked and shredded and it is rich and delicious so little goes a long way with plain rice. King swore that this was the best rendang in Kuala Lumpur and who was I to argue?
I spent a long time looking for a recipe that would give me the right taste – every cook will have their own version. Eventually I came across (in a small, inexpensive Malaysian cookbook by Betty Saw, from Marshall Cavendish, that cost 9.90 ringgit, that’s just under £2) Rendang terlagi-lagi. ‘Lagi’ in Malay means ‘more’ and I was assured that having eaten this dish people would ask for more….and more. That had to be worth trying.
Now, before we go any further, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that authentic Malaysian cooking doesn’t rely on the kitchen gadgets that make our lives so easy. Most recipes involve spice mixes that are ground…and when they say ground they mean that they been pounded into a juicy rubble with a pestle and mortar.
What also might be worth pointing out is that while pounding produces an authentic roughness to the mix (some bits are pounded more finely than others) the pounding itself is hard physical labour. I have done this in an authentic a fashion as possible but in the interests of getting you to try this, I think it will be perfectly acceptable to use a blender to get the spice mix made. Don’t keep pulverising everything to a smooth paste, though, try and keep a certain roughness to it.
Also, if you are trying this and don’t have access to the same fresh ingredients that I can get here in Kuala Lumpur, don’t worry. Do your best. Supermarkets sell jars of ready prepared ginger, lemon grass and garlic. Use them if you can get them…it will be a lot easier than pounding.
The important thing is that you try to make this. If you like it enough you can always attempt pounding on the next go. Or maybe if you like it enough you can carry on using the prepared spices because that will mean you can make it quickly and easily. Just make it, right?
What you’ll need to make this is first of all 600g (1lb 5 oz) of beef.
The first time I made it was with deep frozen Indian buffalo which is all I could find in the supermarket and the resulting rendang was delicious but tough. Eventually, I found some nice beef cubes that made a deliciously tender rendang. Rendang is not cooked for a long time so try and avoid those cuts that will need hours of slow cooking.
You’ll need some dried chillies (maybe 8 or 10, say) and some thick dark soy sauce (this has a roasted almost caramel taste)
4 stalks of lemon grass (I think that 4 teaspoons of the prepared lemongrass in a jar would be the equivalent); a can of coconut cream ; some tamarind paste; and some kerisik (essentially grated coconut, roasted in a pan until golden brown and then ground finely. I think you could use desiccated coconut instead. It is important you make this, though there’s no real work involved, because it adds a gloriously rich, deep and sludgy level to the sauce surrounding the meat )
The next set of ingredients are classed as the ones that are to be ground – 300g/11 oz shallots, 4 garlic cloves and a 1 inch knob of ginger, peeled.
So, once you have everything assembled, you’re ready for the off. This is really a simple recipe and now I have done this a few times I can prepare it quickly. I make the ground spice mix first and put it in the fridge so I can split the work. If you were using prepared spices you’ll be able to do this really quickly.
First, cut the beef into strips, maybe a quarter of an inch thick and one and a half inches long.
Fry the beef over a moderate heat in 125 ml/4 fl oz/ half a cup of oil, for 15 minutes.
Take the beef out, leaving the oil in the pan as you’ll need this later.
The beef needs to be pounded lightly while it is still hot – I use the pestle that I used in grinding the spices. Use a steak hammer if you have one….what you are aiming for is a flattening of the pieces of beef, breaking down the meat fibres so they can absorb the flavours better and the beef becomes more tender.
This really is just a light pummelling so don’t go mad and destroy the beef pieces.
Then pour a tablespoon of thick, dark soy over the meat, stirring it round so the pieces get covered, then pop the meat into the fridge for at least an hour. I’ve done this the night before when I have been cooking this for guests and it works out pretty well.
Then, start on preparing the ground ingredients. Either do it with a pestle and mortar or use a blender or use prepared spices. The garlic and shallots and ginger get crushed to a gritty paste. If you use a blender don’t go as far as a smooth mush… part of the joy of this is in the texture of the sauce.
Dried chillies need soaking separately until they are soft and then need pounding or blitzing. It’s easier if you chop them first before pounding them and make sure you keep your hand over the top of the mortar to keep chilli splashes away from your eyes. I speak from experience.
Fry the ground chillies for two to three minutes in the oil left over from the beef
Then add the ground ingredients (shallots, garlic and ginger and the lemongrass).If you decide to pound the lemongrass first, it’s easier if you chop it into little pieces. Otherwise use the prepared lemongrass in a jar. Fry the mix until it is fragrant and the oil starts to separate out. This will take maybe 8 to 10 minutes over a gentle heat.
Once this is done, add the beef and stir it round well.
Add the coconut cream.
One tablespoon of tamarind paste needs adding to 5 tablespoons of water and stirring round and then strained off, leaving the pulp and stone residue behind. Add that liquid to the beef and stir in. You will probably be able to buy tamarind paste without the seeds in… here, I can’t get that and I have to sieve out the seeds. You do need the tamarind though because it adds a sharp hint that brightens the deep and satisfying richness of the meat.
Bring everything to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer gently until the colour has darkened and it is almost dry. In that picture I had just crushed the lenongrass and I had to pick it out later. It’s better when you either use the ready crushed into a paste version or chop it into small pices and then pound the living daylights out of it.
Next you need the kerisik. This is toasted and ground coconut.
I can buy bags of freshly grated coconut but you could manage with some dessicated coconut, I reckon. My Malay friends think it will be OK, so I’d go along with that.
I dry fry a cup full until it browns
Be careful because it can suddenly go from white to burnt, so do stand and stir and keep checking while you are roasting and toasting the coconut.
and then I grind it to a fine powder. The first time I did it I used the pestle and mortar….after that I used the Bamix and the spice grinding attachment. Far quicker.
Anyway….add in the kerisik, a teaspoon or so of sugar and some salt to taste. Stir it all in and keep stirring until it begins to look like this….
And that’s it. Taste it. Realise you have made the most delicious rendang…..
I serve it over plain boiled rice that I have added some of the fresh grated coconut to and some chopped coriander.
And then all I do is hope that there will be some left over to either eat the next day or freeze. It is a rich and deliciously tasting meat with layers of flavour becoming apparent as you eat it.
I think this has become one of our favourite Malaysian dishes and when we get back to the UK I will use (because I’ll have to) the shortcuts I’ve told you about. I’ll do anything, really to keep on eating this. It is rich and delicious, spicy but not mouth burningly so and the simple mix of spices blend together to make a complex, mouth-filling in its intensity, taste. It is deeply satisfying.
Try it… try it then tell me what you think of it. I’ve done my best to make it easy for you… now you do your best to make it!
We’re here… and we are almost sorted. They say (well, Lao-tzu said, anyway) that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. A journey of 6,570 miles must also begin with a single step then… and an awful lot of boxes in the container and a car full of bags and suitcases to drag with us.
It was odd, driving through the night to Heathrow and knowing it would be months before we would be back in the UK. Odd and strangely sad. All we had, as we walked into Departures, was each other and those few bags.
The glass of champagne that the Bear insisted we started the journey to our new life with, took the edge of the sadness though and we raised a glass to each other, toasting the start of our biggest adventure yet.
Then, after many hours of flying, there was Malaysia below us. That was where we were going to live… how strange it seemed. We looked at each other and laughed. Our new country!
We got through Immigration with only a few questions, though I have to say I was a bit put out when the Immigration Officer studied my passport, stared at me, studied my passport again and then asked if I was that woman in the photograph. I said I was and she didn’t believe me. Trying to explain that a photograph taken in a booth, when you know that this is the photograph you will be stuck with for ten years, so you’ve taken particular care with makeup, your hair is brushed, you look as good as you are going to get…..well, that photograph is a good one. It may not, as the Immigration Officer pointed out, look very much like the face that was staring back at her from the other side of the desk. That face, however, did not have the benefit of makeup, the hair had not been freshly blowdried, and travelling from the Saturday night till the Monday morning does wreak its own awful havoc.
Eventually, though, because if I was a criminal I might have made more effort to look like the person in the passport, she let me in to the country and we grabbed a cab and set off. Our suitcases were jammed in the boot, on the front seat next to the driver and on our laps (Malaysian cabs are quite small) and we started on the trip into Kuala Lumpur.
There’s a smell to Malaysia… a green and sweet smell that makes you smile. The roadsides are green and bursting with shrubs and palm trees. It rains every day so everything grows rapidly and the rain washes the dust away leaving everything clean and fresh. I suppose the smell is rather like a fresh air version of a tropical hothouse, if you can imagine that.
And then we were in the city. We stayed in the rather wonderful Grand Millenium Hotel while we got our bearings and while I started looking for a place to live.
The Bear went straight to work and I spent my time searching the internet and looking for apartments to rent. I sat in the Executive floor lounge, drinking coffee and looking out over the city and wondering where we would end up next.
Each night the Bear would come back to the hotel and we’d sit outside, 20 floors up, with a drink and a snack, talking about what we’d done each day. I’d tell him about the apartments I’d viewed and he would tell me about his work.
One night there was a surprise for him….
It was his birthday and the lovely staff from the Executive Floor and the managers of the hotel came round the corner, bringing him a cake and singing Happy Birthday. If it wasn’t for the fact he is such a shy and retiring Bear, I’d show you a picture of his surprised and beaming face as everyone joined in with the singing.
We went out that night to celebrate, with friends on Jalan Alor
This is the famous street of food at night in Kuala Lumpur and a must-visit destination if you are ever here. It used to be the red light district but is now the home of what seems like hundreds of restaurants and hawker stalls, where you eat in the street. You get the most delicious food here – there’s so much to see… and eat.
And the best place of all in the street is this restaurant… better known as the restaurant with yellow tablecloths. I think I’ll tell you more about Jalan Alor another time…
When we finally got back to the hotel we thought (briefly) about finishing the night off by going to the nightclub but realised that we were probably too old; too fat; too full of delicious food and too casually dressed for that. A club where customers routinely have bodyguards was too smart for us. Besides we were exhausted. … and there were going to be many more long days ahead of us as I tried to find us somewhere to live.
We needed to rent somewhere in KL that we’d be happy with for the three years we are going to be here. I had so many things on my wish list and the person that was going to help us was Roopa. Probably the best letting and relocation agent in KL. She spent days with me, rocketing around the city in her car, showing me condominium after condominium, searching out the best deal possible. The Bear left on a trip to Arizona and it was just me and Roopa. She drove through crowded streets even on Fridays (the worst day to drive in KL) in her attempt to get us the best place to live and we narrowed the search down to one particular condo.
The apartment we were looking at had a large dry kitchen…. in Malaysia it is common to have both wet and dry kitchens. The dry kitchen is usually attached to the living area and this is where the less messy bits of preparing food go on. This one had an induction hob in the central island, a large two door fridge freezer, an oven, microwave, more cupboards than I would have thought possible and a sink.
So far, so good.
Then, behind the sliding glass door was an enormous wet kitchen, with yet another fridge freezer; a dishwasher; a double sink; even more cupboards…and a waste disposal unit (probably one of my favourite kitchen gadgets – just think how useful that will be at getting rid of peelings and food scraps when the temperature is always over 80 degrees C)
…. and best of all, a gas hob! It was everything I wanted in a kitchen.
And rounf the corner from the wet kitchen was the laundry area and a huge storage room.
It really was perfect.
I could cook and prepare stuff in the wet kitchen and the smell of frying wouldn’t be all over the rest of the apartment. I would have been prepared to sign up for the apartment there and then but Roopa had more to show me….
The living area was huge with windows on two sides and a balcony running the length of the room
There was a massive dressing room, off the master bedroom…
… and the master bathroom had doors that opened onto its own private balcony.
How could we say no to all of that? The kitchen alone swung it for me. And so, the deal was done.
There was one problem though…… we took the apartment unfurnished which meant that we moved in with what I could buy quickly.
Which was a table and a couple of chairs from IKEA and a bed.
All I had in the way of kitchen stuff was what I brought over – two plates; two bowls; two sets of cutlery and two mugs. I went out and bought the bare minimum of kitchen ware – a pan, a chopping board and a knife – and we settled down to wait for the container.
But I didn’t mind too much…. I had the kitchen I had always longed for.
We were home.
Finally, we have a half decent internet connection. It’s still slow to load pages but we can cope now, after Unifi finally arrived to install our internet connection. For the last six weeks or so we have been trying to manage on a mobile router device, or going to sit down at the poolside, where there’s a free wifi zone.
That’s fine, you know, in fact, that is gorgeous, but as a place to try and work? Well, it was too hot in the daytime. We used to go down at night and try and catch up with things. Thing is… it took forever to upload any pictures. The other thing is that the mosquitoes caught up with me. The Bear, of course, wasn’t troubled at all but I ended up with huge, horrible bites. I suppose it says something about the tastiness of my blood….
In the end we went and bought the mobile router so we could at least sit in the apartment and use the internet.
Of course, our other problem was that the container hadn’t arrived and all of our pots and pans , cutlery and crockery, knives and tools were miles from us and weeks from delivery. I did go out and buy the bare minimum…and when I say the bare minimum, that’s what I mean. I wasn’t going to replace everything when I had boxes and boxes of kitchen stuff on its way to me, so I ended up with a chopping board; one knife for cutting and one for bread; a colander and a pan. It was fine. It worked and I kept to the simplest of dishes. I steamed fish by wrapping it in tinfoil and adding ginger and garlic, adding a few drops of water and putting it in the oven. In my pan, I cooked rice and stirred shredded coconut through it (oh, the bliss of finding fresh, shredded coconut in the local food market!) and then quickly sauteed baby kailan leaves… we ate on the balcony, sitting at the only table and chairs we had. Thank goodness for IKEA, otherwise we would have been sitting on the floor!
Eventually, after many excuses by the shipping company, we got our container and the kitchen was filled with all of my lovely things… time, I thought, for a decent meal to celebrate. I sat on the balcony at dawn and started to consider what I could cook. Isn’t that a fabulous view? I sit there every morning with my coffee and plan what I am going to do while the Bear is at work.
I had been out and bought a small Malaysian recipe book and I really wanted to try a recipe I had seen in there – Ayam Golek – chicken boiled in coconut milk and spices and then roasted in the oven so the skin crisps up beautifully.
Malaysians love chicken… there are stalls at the roadside cooking chicken and the hawker stalls at the back of most shopping areas always have a fried chicken stand. Everywhere you go you will find chicken cooked in various ways and this recipe sounded perfect.
First, get your chicken. That was easy. I went to the local food market and picked up a chicken and all the ingredients I needed to make ayam golek. I bought coconut milk ( it did say make it yourself from fresh coconut but there were no further instructions, so I ended up buying three cartons to make the 750ml I needed); some shallots; garlic; three stalks of lemon grass; a knob of galangal; a knob of ginger; some cumin seeds; white peppercorns and fennel seeds.
I came back and started to sort out the ingredients so I could prepare the meal ready for the Bear to get home from work…..
Oh dear. That will teach me to wear my specs when I go shopping….
What the heck was I going to do with that? There was nothing in the recipe book about chicken heads!
Nor feet! I know I had seen chicken feet for sale… but I’d never wanted to eat them. The horrible claws… like long fingernails…oh it made me shudder.
And the neck….it just stuck out horribly and I had to hack away at it. Just shows how sanitised everything is in the West. Our chickens come prepared and all we have to do is start cooking. Well, I got it ready but maybe next time I will look more carefully at what I am buying. Maybe I will wear my specs.
First of all, then, I rubbed the chicken with salt and put it to one side while I started on the rest of the recipe.
Malaysians set great store by grinding everything in a pestle and mortar, so I started off…
I peeled twelve small shallots
and then got the ginger out to start peeling that… and discovered I’d made my first mistake
Yellow ginger ISN’T ginger of an attractive hue…it’s tumeric. My fingers and nails were stained for days.
I decided that grinding the seeds and peppercorns would be easier if I did that first, so into the mortar went one teaspoon each of white peppercorns and cumin and one tablespoon of fennel seeds.
… and bashed away until I had a smooth mix. I don’t think I’m going to need a gym membership because that gives you one heck of a work out.
I’d got the other ingredients ready – the twelve shallots; three cloves of garlic; three stalks of lemon grass and the peeled ginger….and decided that I wouldn’t put that ‘yellow ginger’ in after all.
So everything else went in and I bashed away
That’s hard work, that is.. Maybe if you aren’t looking to create a truly authentic dish, you could give everything a whizz with a blender? I think I might do that next time….
Especially when this was the temperature in the kitchen. That’s our kitchen clock, which helpfully confirmed what I thought – it was hot in there.
Finally, I was ready… 750 ml of coconut milk was added to a wok…
…..and the ground spices and bashed lemongrass stalks were added and everything was heated to a slow boil before I added the chicken and a teaspoon of salt.
I was on Easy Street now… all I had to do was simmer that chicken for thirty minutes, turning it half way through so both sides got poached. The coconut milk and spices thickened at that point and it was time to put the chicken into a roasting dish and then into a preheated oven (175°C/350°F) for another thirty minutes……the skin crisps up and the chicken browns…
Ohhh… the smell was divine!
The chicken was moist and succulent and fell apart as I tried to serve it. Just the way it should be if it is cooked properly.
I made boiled rice and stirred a handful of fresh grated coconut through it, with a few bits of chopped coriander (or, as they call it here, Chinese Parsley. I spend lots of time in the food markets sticking my nose into things to work out what things are)
Was it worth it? Very definitely. I’d suggest that if you do it, you use a blender unless you want a real work out. That would be so quick and easy and if you were to get the ready prepared chopped garlic, ginger and lemongrass (because not everyone has access to the fresh ingredients) no one would blame you. Be as authentic as you like or as lazy as you like, but do try making it because the flavours are delicious. The simmering in coconut milk make for the most incredibly moist and juicy chicken while the roasting crisps the outside and adds a final layer of taste to it all.
Oh… and maybe don’t buy a chicken with its head and feet…….