Cookery chat

This would not be a Malaysian blog if there was no talk of food.

Food is such a big thing for us over here. It is a means for survival, yes, but it is also a cornerstone of family life, a meeting point for friends, a catalyst for romance and many other things. We love eating out as much as we love our homemade creations.

The variety of food we consume here in Malaysia also speaks volumes about who we are as a community and the collective culture that we adopt in our daily lives.

So it’s only fitting that I should write more about this delicious aspect of my life.

In case you are clueless what it is we eat here in Malaysia, the above image is a general representation of what an average meal would look like in Malaysia. Sure, we have our noodles and roti and other fare, but in terms of staple diet, it usually comes down to rice. Or nasi, as it is called in Bahasa Malaysia.

The other two dishes you see in this photo are stir fried long beans (left) and stir fried chicken in Moroccan seasoning (right).

Stir frying is a common technique used in Chinese cooking. And since we are Malaysian Chinese, it is no exception in our household.

The great thing about stir fried dishes is that they are quick to whip up and require a very small amount of cooking oil. Cooking typically begins by heating the oil (normally about 1 tablespoon of it) and then adding in chopped garlic, shallots or onions into the mix, letting it sizzle for a moment before other ingredients are added to the pan. The order of ingredients that are thrown is would probably be decided based on which one would require a longer cooking time, eg mushrooms would go in earlier, and things like spring onions (which can be even eaten raw) are put in last. Both veggie and meat dishes can be prepared with the stir fry method.

The cooking time is short, but preparing the ingredients needed for a stir fry dish can sometimes be quite time consuming, especially if there are many different parts to put together. For instance, there would usually be a sauce mixture, meat might need to be marinated a bit earlier, and each additional ingredient would need to be chopped separately before being combined into the pan or wok later on.

Another frequent feature of Chinese meals is soup. This is usually clear soup, not the creamy kind you tend to see on a Western menu. The best tasting Chinese soups are double boiled and are left to cook for hours so it is more flavourful. These methods rarely take place in our home. The fact that a bowl of soup could be prepared at all is already something to be thankful for. My husband isn’t too fond of Chinese style soups, so that makes me even less motivated to make soup. I love it though, and if time permitted, I’d ensure there was one at the table each time we dined.

In our home, we also have an oven, 2 slow cookers and an air fryer to depend on for preparing our main meals. Other ancillary appliances include a blender, food processor, bread machine and sandwich maker.

The air fryer was the latest addition to the kitchen arsenal and it is serving us well. Tell me, who doesn’t like fried chicken after all?

Besides the Chinese dishes, we also often cook Indian curries and sometimes also try out Malay dishes like rendang or assam pedas. We also love Western food, so every week there is usually at least one meal of this nature. Examples of stuff we have whipped up in the past include shepherd’s pie, pasta, pizza and sandwiches.

Oh, and breakfast menu is normally simpler fare as compared to lunch and dinner. Bread or cereal is often what we resort to. Sometimes we’d have pancakes, muffins or steamed Chinese sponge cake too. I’m hoping to incorporate more options into the list of breakfast choices. In particular, some roti and pau and maybe some kuih and rice or pasta options too. But that might take awhile to work out, since it needs some prior planning and food preparation.

With our son around, we have also been making efforts to vary the items on our diet as much as we can afford to. So we have at least two types of meat every week, with chicken being the staple as it is the cheapest option available.

Fresh fruits are also served up on a daily basis in our home. I usually serve them over breakfast. But on lazier or less organised days, they creep into the lunch or tea time menu instead. Sometimes, they would be made into juice instead. But since this involves using the blender, that means more cleaning up so it isn’t as often as I’d like it to be.

I guess I shouldn’t cram too much information and stories into just ONE post. I’ll share more about our kitchen capers in subsequent posts.

I’d love to hear about what your daily meals are like though. Especially if you’re residing somewhere other than these Malaysian shores. Drop me a comment if you can 🙂

Sew in love

I inherited my love for sewing and cooking from my mother and grandmother.
Source: Cherry Menlove

I have come to see that quite a lot of things that make up who we are were actually embedded deep into our souls very early on in our lives.

For instance, my love for cooking, sewing and all manner of homely habits undoubtedly was a result of the influences of both my Mum and grandmother.

Back in the days when I was a kid, I would often have the chance to see both of them at work in the kitchen. I hardly understood most of what they were doing, but I guess some of the mechanics of it did latch onto me and I sometimes find myself recalling now, many years later in life, some of the things they would do.

My sister and I were greatly blessed through the many delicious dishes we savoured thanks to my Mum and Mama’s skillful culinary abilities. Some of Mama’s dishes which I really loved were nasi kunyit and chicken curry, nasi dagang and rendang, and a sweet two layered kuih we referred to as Ban Tng (to this day, I don’t know anyone else who knows how to make this and can’t even find it in any stores).

My Mum had her own specialties too. I liked her renditions of spaghetti bolognese, chicken stew, and a nameless potato and chicken dish similar to the Nyonya pong teh.

I was also privileged to be the recipient of their various sewing projects. Mama would sew countless sets of pyjamas for both my sister and I. She did this for years, right up until the days of my teens. (In fact, my Mum recently informed me that Mama had actually even sewn baby clothes for me. I, of course, do not remember any of that.)

Somewhere along the line though, Mama eventually had to stop sewing pyjamas for us because it had gotten difficult for her to do fine needlework with her hands as she had lost sensitivity in her fingertips.

My Mum, too, in attempts to save money during the years of economic downturn, sewed dresses for me. Not only that, she went the extra mile and even made additional matching accessories to go along with the dresses such as a bag, hat or hairband. Perhaps some other spoilt child might have been ashamed to wear such simple clothes sewn by their own parent, but I loved them.

Over the years, my Mum also often took it upon herself to repair many of my clothes that suffered minor problems through wear and tear. This ranged from issues such as buttons falling off to holes in pants to stitches coming loose at odd places in the fabric.

Now, having been married myself, with our very own home to manage and a child on the way, I find myself drawn to these simple domestic activities even more than ever.

Homemade meals are among the proudest moments that my husband and I share (we often cook together in the kitchen).

And thanks to my generous sister’s gift to me for my wedding, I now own a sewing machine of my very own which I love very much. I only wish I had had one earlier in my life. I have dozens of unfinished sewing projects, but I do try to pick up on them whenever I can afford to.

All in all, I just love most things that are related to home, including mundane things like doing chores. I absolutely love it when the home is squeaky clean and the place smells of floor cleaners and every form of household cleaner you can think of.

To be honest, I can literally be at home all day and just feel tremendously happy. It is my refuge and place of peace and happiness.

And I owe all of these inclinations to the women who went before me in my family line.

Deric and I were told there’s a possibility that our baby is a girl. If that is true, I certainly hope I will be able to pass on this love for the domestic front to her as well. It’s getting rarer these days, and I’d hate to see it lost forever in our bloodline.

Weekday cookery: Chicken, cucumbers and kai lan

IMG_2306_small

Think I’m going to start posting about my cooking adventures on this blog every now and then.

Not because I think I’m a great cook or anything like that. It’s more of to share the things that I learn along the way, in hopes that perhaps it might benefit you, my reader, too. 🙂

And of course, as a means to nudge myself into posting more content on this blog even as it approaches its one year mark. (Oh dear, how little I’ve been posting all this time).

My latest cooking attempt was to make what you see in the picture above:

  1. Sliced chicken with cucumbers and fermented black beans
    and
  2. Blanched Hong Kong kai lan (also known as Chinese brocolli/kale) with oyster sauce and sesame oil

The former recipe I took from a book titled Easy Chinese Stir Fries (so I won’t be posting the recipe itself since it isn’t my intellectual property to distribute). The veggie dish I concocted myself.

My husband, Deric and I followed the recipe’s instructions pretty closely for the chicken dish, and it turned out really well.

And just like how the author of the cookbook had predicted, I found it really amazing to see how just a simple ingredient like fermented black beans could lend so much flavour to a dish.

The reason we had bought the jar of fermented black beans in the first place was to cook it with pork ribs. That was basically the only dish that comes to my mind when I think about cooking dishes using fermented black beans .

So it’s nice to learn an alternative way of using this ingredient it in the kitchen.

Deric and I always have this dilemma about buying ingredients which we don’t regularly use.

On the one hand, there’d be this really cool recipe we’d like to try out, but then it would need this bizarre set of ingredients. And if we didn’t include those items, I’d feel that perhaps our version of that dish would end up being too different from how it’s actually intended to be.

So we’d end up buying those ingredients. Only to be baffled on how we could use it all up before it’s expiry date came around (since meals we make are only for two and we don’t cook every day of the week).

Well, at least as far as the fermented black beans are concerned, they will stand a better chance of being fully utilised now. Anyway, they’re fermented, so there is very little chance of it to go bad, since technically, it already IS bad (if you think about fermented stuff in that way).

As for blanching the veggies, I chose this method over stir frying it this time around partly because I was lazy. I also wanted to see how the veggies would taste when prepared with very minimal cooking.

This idea comes from my Mum, from whom I developed a love for cooking. She is always saying how good it is to eat food (especially fruits and veggies) as raw as possible so that the vitamins are still preserved in them at the time of consumption.

The veggies turned out well. In fact, I might actually considering using more of such lighter cooking methods in the future for the veggies we eat.

Besides that, I also realised that eating Kai Lan isn’t as difficult as I had imagined it to be.

Just so you understand where I’m coming from, I generally detest eating most leafy vegetables (other than kangkung and spinach) due to some uncomfortable experiences of being forced to eat such thing during my growing years.

Yes, I know they are good for me and all that, plus I often have constipation issues, but I really do not enjoy consuming them most of the time.

I also tend to avoid them because I think most of them are bitter in taste, making it an ordeal to chew them through and to swallow.

And while I am chewing and swallowing them, focussing my thoughts on how horrible the veggies in my mouth are will only make things worse, and if I dwell on it a tad too long, I may even end up feeling like throwing up.

But this particular Hong Kong Kai Lan that we bought from Jaya Grocer turned out to be really pleasant to eat. Not bitter at all, very fresh and easy to chew on. To me, at least.

Oh, and I also don’t really enjoy cucumbers in my food all that much either, as they can sometimes turn out to be unpredictably bitter or have an extremely yucky and mushy centre (where the seeds are) which is also a chore to endure.

For this chicken recipe, however, the pulp of the cucumber (seeds included) was removed so I actually enjoyed eating the cucumber more than I normally would. (And I could then keep aside the pulp to use for washing my face later on hehe – another trick I learned from my Mum :D).

So concludes one of our more successful episodes in the kitchen. Hehe.

Improvised dinners

My dinner today: rehashed from leftovers.

Decided not to follow Deric out for dinner with friends tonight so I could get some time to do some pending items on my To-Do List and also just for some peace and quiet to regain sanity 🙂 A last minute decision, but the longer that I have this moments to myself, the more I am glad that I chose to stay home tonight.

I’m mostly a homebody anyway, and not easily convinced that there’s really a good reason that I should be out there. Well. I do oblige most times when it comes to invitations by friends and such (I’m not a hermit by any means), but honestly, if you must know, I just like being at home. This is true 90% of the time. And if Deric and my immediate family are at home with me too, that makes my world pretty much complete 🙂

Anyway, I am here to talk about food. Because I improvised my dinner tonight due to the sudden change in plans to stay in. So I dug up some leftovers from the fridge. Other than nibbling on the fried rice that I had cooked yesterday and some baked beans from another meal in the past, I also dug out some lettuce and tomatoes and made myself a pretty decent salad and also heated up some old McD’s French fries on a frying pan too.

It turned out to be quite satisfying.

So there’s two tiny conclusions I can draw from my simple yet sufficiently scrumptious dinner:

  1. Lea & Perrin’s Worcestershire sauce is a great salad dressing
  2. Never throw away French fries you can’t finish. Even though they usually taste terrible after one or two hours, pop them in the refrigerator and then re-fry them on the pan like I did. It’ll taste pretty close to what they were before (not completely as good, but not too bad), plus you’ll be glad you saved them and didn’t just waste good food by chucking it out.

Since I’ve started talking about food on this blog, I might as well mention that I intend to talk more about this subject in upcoming posts. Now that I cook on a fairly regular basis (at least a few times each week), I think I am confident enough to start reviewing recipes I’ve tried and to also share little tips and tricks I pick up along the way.

Of course, I am still pretty much an amateur and can’t claim to know very much or be very adept in the kitchen, but whatever wisdom I gain, I’ll be most willing to share. And hopefully someone out there reading this will benefit.

Alrighty, cheerio for now, as I get back to doing the stuff I’m supposed to be doing. Chores and other such unfinished business.