East Malaysia Cooking Trip – Part 1

brinjals

Hello my blogger friends, greetings from Hong Kong! For those who have been following my blog, I’ve finally settled down in this city that never sleeps. It’s been more than two months since my last post and I hope you will still get to see this in your reader or email 🙂

I am preparing to start cooking and baking soon but for now, I would love to share with you an amazing trip that I’ve made before my move. For this trip, I get to stay with my relative in Sarawak, East Malaysia who owns a little vegetable garden right in front of the house. Of course, you know my itchy hands wouldn’t leave those gorgeous plants alone. Hee hee!

chinese squash

These are oriental squash which are great for making clear soup with dried scallops and pork short ribs. Boil them together for an hour and all you need is just a little salt to flavor it.

be different

While most squash are long and straight, some just prefers to be different.

robot oven

dough in robot oven

I would like to introduce this powerful oven that looks more like an alien in scifi films which can pre-heat to 220C within 10minutes. The only thing to be careful is that the heating element is at the top so attention is needed to avoid the crust of my bread from getting burnt. Yes, I baked bread with it and the result is very satisfying.

foccacia

I made this foccacia bread with dried Italian herbs using that robot. It was really crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The bread was very well received and before I knew it, the pan was empty.

12 hour overnight poolish 

150g strong flour, 150g warm water, 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast

Mix everything together  and let it ferment overnight.

Main dough

278g strong flour, 150g warm water, 1 & 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast, dried Italian herbs, 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, 2 tablespoon olive oil, poolish

Mix everything together and work your dough till it is smooth. Let it rest for 45 mins. Stretch and fold the dough and let it rest for another 45mins. Pre-heat oven to 200C and bake for 20mins. Sprinkle with grated parmigiano if desired.

harvesting egg plant

I just can’t keep my hands off these gorgeous brinjals or long eggplants. I’m so lucky that they are at their best when I was there. Green on the inside with no seeds yet.

pasta with brinjals

With limited ingredients, I turned the brinjals into this pasta dish.

brinjals, cut into circles

red chili, chopped

1 onion, chopped

italian herbs

1 big lime juice

olive oil

sea salt

black pepper

your favorite pasta

Fry brinjals in olive oil till caramelized and set aside for later use. With the same oil, saute onions till caramelized and put in red chili, sea salt and pepper. On another burner, cook pasta to al dente and keep some pasta water. Back to the frying pan, add in lime juice and pasta water follow by a good handful of italian herbs. Put in pasta, brinjal and toss well. Serve with grated parmigiano and perhaps more chili.

It’s been a great trip. I’ll share more recipes in part 2 okay?

SPICY GARLIC MUSHROOM

spicy mushroom 4

It’s been a busy week at work. Today I decide to take a breather and left office before the stars starts to glitter. Not that I can admire them through the gaps between those skyscrapers.

Returning to my kitchen always makes me happy. With music and a sip of chardonnay, I made this Spanish tapas to go with homemade crusty bread (click here for recipe) which is now always available on the dining table.

spicy mushroom 1

spicy mushroom 2

Your favorite mushrooms

Chopped garlic

Chopped red chili

Hot paprika

Tobasco sauce

Olive oil

Freshly crushed black pepper

Sea salt

spicy mushroom 3

Fry mushrooms in olive oil over medium heat till they start to shrink. Put in garlic, paprika, pepper, salt and fry till fully cooked. Sprinkle a good amount of Tobasco sauce over and top it up with chili. Serve immediately.

The best part comes after you have finished the mushrooms and use crusty bread to wipe up all the garlicky chili oil.

You might want to get ready a large glass of lemonade. 

BAMBOO SHOOT IN OLIVE OIL

bamboo shoots 1

It is always fun to visit the local market during Chinese New Year period. This is when I can see a lot of rare ingredients that could not be found at other time of the year.

Bamboo shoot used to be a poor man’s food which had become an expensive delicacy. The traditional way of cooking uses boiling salt water to soften it before frying. This time, I fry it raw to retain its crunchiness. I was lucky it turns out well.  

bamboo shoots 2 bamboo shoots 3

Bamboo shoot, remove the layers of outer skin (more than expected) and cut into bite size

Garlic

White wine

Olive oil

Sea salt

Crushed black pepper

Lemon juice

Fry garlic in olive oil over medium heat. Put in bamboo shoot follow by salt and pepper. Add in a glut of white wine and cook for 5 minutes. Squeeze a wedge of lemon juice over and serve immediately.

RATATOUILLE

photo (18)_graded

This is the first dish I cook in 2013.

Don’t laugh at me if I tell you that it was the lead character (yes, which would be the rat) in the animated feature film that has inspired me to go for my dreams. 

In the film, this dish marks the success of the rat who embarks on an extraordinary journey to become one of the top chefs in Paris.

I am a rat in the Chinese zodiac and I love to cook so it all connects up. But what’s most important is the message that I’ve got from the film.

No matter who you are, as long as you dare to dream and work hard for it, you are probably going to make it.

The rat’s recipe is definitely much better than mine but I could not get hold of it.

photo (20)_graded

1 aubergine or egg plant

1 green or yellow zucchini

1 yellow or red sweet pepper

Olive oil

Sea salt

Black pepper

Balsamic vinegar (optional)

 

Sauce

1 canned Italian tomato

Few cloves of peeled whole garlic

Fresh basil

Sea salt

Black pepper

 

Preheat oven to 400F. Cut aubergine, zucchini and pepper into big thick pieces and season with olive oil, salt, black pepper and vinegar. Bake for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, fry garlic in olive oil till it starts to brown and add tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Add chopped basil and simmer over medium heat for an hour.

Serve vegetables with the sauce.

PORCINI MUSHROOM RISOTTO

Many ideas came to my mind on how I should prepare the only packet of dried porcini mushroom which had followed me home from Rome.  I have heard how great it is but its aroma was never known to me. Finally I decided that it should be a simple dish that is able to allow this king of mushroom to take center stage and show off its full flavor.

When I opened it, the aroma blew me away instantly. I have never come across any mushroom that has such exquisite flavor. It smells like oriental grilled cuttlefish to me. I almost wanted to taste it immediately like a snack.

It is pricy but now I regret not spending more euros to bring home a few more packets.

Ingredients

A small handful of dried porcini mushrooms (use more if you happen to have plenty and would like to make me jealous)

One cup of Risotto rice (for two servings)

One large bowl of chicken or vegetable stock

Half an onion, finely chopped

Desired amount of unsalted butter

Extra virgin olive oil

A quarter cup dry white wine

Sea salt

Black pepper

Fresh sweet basil

Parmigiano reggiano cheese

 

Soak mushroom in a bowl of simmering hot water for 30 minutes. Remove mushroom and chopped into small pieces. Keep the water for later use.

Heat up olive oil in a pan with onion over medium fire. Fry onion till translucent and add in rice follow by salt and pepper. When all grains are coated with oil, add white wine. Allow rice to soak up the wine. Put in mushrooms and mix well. Combine mushroom water with stock. With half a cup at a time, add in to rice and stir continuously until stock is being absorbed and repeat the process till rice is cooked to al dente. Add in butter, parmigiano reggiano cheese and sweet basil.

BASIC BRUSCHETTA

Ever since I discover my love for Italian food, I don’t think I can part with olive oil, tomatoes and basil anymore. Just these basic ingredients combine to create a simple dish can make me a very happy man.

It’s another lazy Sunday with a gentle November sun. After a fruitful run up the hill opposite my home followed by my favorite bowl of steaming hot tasty prawn noodle soup from the food center for breakfast, I simply refuse to move for the rest of the day. It was until my hungry stomach wake me up to lure me into the kitchen.

Bread is mostly available in my kitchen with cherry tomatoes chilling in the fridge and fresh basil along my corridor. I wanted some extra flavor so I took the trouble to blend some garlic with olive oil and spread onto pieces of French bread before grilling.

For some reason I just feel like tasting lots of olive oil and basil that day. So I tear up the basil into big pieces instead of chopping them fine.

Simply with crushed black pepper, sea salt and chopped cherry tomatoes, I indulge myself to a satisfying lunch accompanied with lemonade made from fresh lemon juice, salt, sugar and soda water.

PAN FRIED BRINJAL

I’ve never liked brinjals or eggplants when I was young. Only much later than I realized it’s the way it was cooked in the old oriental style that makes it mushy.  I am quite afraid of mushy food.

I learnt to enjoy it after I followed a chef on TV to fry it till caramelized and top it on pasta in crushed raw tomato sauce with basil, sea salt and lots of black pepper. That’s when I know that other than onions, brinjals and eggplants can be cooked till caramelized as well and it taste really good.

Grilling or pan fry works for me. This time, although it takes more effort, I pan fried it to avoid getting hard edges that results from grilling.

1 large brinjal cut into pieces about half a centimeter thick (egg plants are more expensive in Singapore)

Sea salt

Black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

Chopped cherry tomatoes

Lemon juice

Heat up enough olive oil in a non-stick pan over small-medium fire. Put in brinjals and add salt and pepper. Fry both sides till brown and caramelized. Remove from pan and cool it in the fridge for an hour. Squeeze a quarter lemon and serve with chopped cherry tomatoes.  

 

SWEET PEPPER WITH GARLIC & BASIL SAUCE

It should be more than 15 years ago when I saw an Italian lady making this dish on TV. Back then I have not really started cooking and certainly not able to appreciate the taste of sweet pepper. In fact I remember red pepper was quite unusual at that time. The green ones are more commonly used in Chinese cooking.

I was curious why the lady needs to grill the pepper over stove fire and remove the skin but I could not get any answers so I did not bother about it till recently when this whole scene suddenly flash by my mind. That’s when I know it’s time for me to try it.

I did some research and found out that the skin is believed to be difficult for digestion. That’s why it is normally being removed in Italian cooking. I used the same method as describe above to remove the skin only to realize it is really messy and the stains that need to be scrub clean from the stove is crazy.

During my second attempt, I cut the peppers into half and remove the seeds and membranes before placing them skin side up and grill it in an oven pre-heat at 220 degree Celsius for 20 minutes. It turns out the skin tears off by itself without any effort. The texture of the pepper becomes really smooth with all the sweet juices that come out from it.

Sauce

Good extra virgin olive oil

Finely chopped garlic

Chopped sweet basil

Black pepper

Sea salt

Balsamic vinegar

Combine all ingredients together. Cut pepper into bite size and mix well with the sauce. It taste even better after chilling it in the fridge for an hour.

COOK FEEL LOVE

Some of my friends comment that my recipes are not precise. I did not include measurements for the amount of ingredients or seasoning used. The fact is I don’t do that when I am cooking.

I prefer to cook with feel instead of going by the ‘rules’. For a same dish, the amount of seasoning depends on the different quantity of main ingredients for that day. There are times when I may not get to buy enough beef for meatballs so I used more pork or maybe some chicken. Pork is cleaner while chicken is sweet so I got to adjust the amount of salt or pepper accordingly. A pinch of sea salt taste different from rock salt and their taste varies when it came from different regions.

The touch of seasoning will differ again depending on who you are cooking for. Everyone’s taste bud varies. And if I am cooking for my mum, I may stew the meat a little longer so that she won’t have to chew that much. But the sauce may be gluier because of the longer cooking time so I will need to add extra stock or wine to get it right. I have definitely not make the grade many times before I can sum up my experience to finally create it accurately for most dishes.

I always believe seasonings and herbs are meant to enhance the natural taste of the main ingredient. Not to overpower it. Love all ingredients and they will combine beauifully like magic to love you back.

portobello mushroom recipe

aglio olio

garlic, finely sliced or chopped

your favorite pasta

white wine

olive oil

dry herbs or fresh basil

sea salt

black pepper

parmigiano cheese

Bring a pot of water to boil. Add salt and put in pasta to cook till al dente. At the same time, heat up olive oil in a pan, put in garlic to infuse the oil. Add salt, pepper and herbs. When the aroma fills the kitchen, pour in white wine follow by some pasta water. Drain pasta, put into pan and mix well. Top it up with portobello mushroom and grated parmigiano.  

PESTO SAUCE

Finally after ten weeks, my sweet basil that I have planted from seed is ready for the first actual harvest and pruning. That adds another happy moment in my life. Immediately, I turned them into my long awaited pesto sauce.

Lots of fresh sweet basil

Pine nuts

2 cloves of garlic

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Freshly crushed black pepper

Grated parmigiano-reggiano

Wake pine nuts by toasting in a pan over medium heat without oil. Other than parmigiano-reggiano,combine all ingredients in a blender and mix using high speed. Add enough olive oil at different intervals during blending to create a smooth paste. In a bowl, blend in parmigiano-reggiano into paste with a fork and it’s done!

Bring water in a pot to boil and add salt. Add in pasta and cook to al dente, drain well and mix in pesto sauce.

You can store the excess sauce in the fridge for other use. To my surprise, it tastes extremely good when I use it to make ham sandwich.