Sticky Toffee Pudding – Without a Date

Saturday, 12 September 2009

PhotobucketSticky Toffee Pudding, an English pudding, is traditionally made with dates. But because I don't have a date, I make prune pudding instead. HA . . . ha . . . and tell lame jokes, obviously. Aiyah, I just prefer prunes because they are less sweet.

I haven't made Sticky Toffee Pudding for a long time, so I pulled out my recipe this morning and did a test run. I'm going to make some – with dates – for my Muslim neighbours. They are fasting now, and will be celebrating Hari Raya Puasa on 20 September. Traditionally, Muslims eat dates when they break their fast. Besides energizing with their high sugar content, dates are also spiritually significant Photobucketbecause they were one of the Prophet's most frequently consumed foods. (Click here for more information on dates and fasting for Muslims.) My Malay neighbours are extremely friendly, and they pop over every so often with some goodies. See the photo of the chicken curry? That's from them. It was reheated a day after it was cooked but still looked and tasted gorgeous. I reciprocate every now and then, especially when I can make extra portions with no effort at all. Like homemade cookies. Of course, I never ever give them curry since that would be like making Kimchi for a Korean or Tom Yum Soup for a Thai. I think they will be very pleased with a gift of Sticky Toffee Date Pudding. It's appropriate for the religious festival and is something familiar yet new. And it reheats very well, so they can eat it whenever they want. Knowing them, they will be cooking tonnes of food, and giving me some. Mmm mmm, I'm looking forward to that.

STICKY TOFFEE PRUNE PUDDING
(For 6 persons)

This recipe is adapted from Angela Nilsen's Ultimate Sticky Toffee Pudding. It's slightly less sweet and not as rich.

225 g pitted prunes, roughly chopped
175 g (180 ml) boiling water
1 tsp vanilla extract
85 g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
60 g dark muscovado sugar (or soft dark brown sugar)
60 g demerara sugar
2 eggs
100 ml milk
175 g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp baking soda
Toffee Sauce
100 g dark muscovado sugar
300 g thick cream

Pour boiling water over prunes and soak for 30 minutes till soft. Add vanilla extract and mash with a fork.

Position oven rack in the middle and preheat oven to 180°C (360°F). Butter and flour the sides of 6 small pudding tins, each about 200 ml (7 fl oz). Alternatively, use small ramekins or ceramic rice bowls. Trim 6 pieces of parchment paper and place one at the bottom of each pudding container. Place pudding containers on a baking sheet or pan. Puddings can also be steamed. If steaming, bring a wok or big pot of water to a boil.

Beat butter with demerara sugar and dark muscovado sugar till smooth. Add eggs, then milk and prune mixture in stages and beat well in between each addition.

Sieve flour and baking powder over mixture and fold in evenly.

Divide pudding mixture amongst containers and bake, or steam on medium heat. Check after 20 minutes for metal containers, or after 25 minutes for ceramic containers. Puddings are done when an inserted skewer (or chopstick) comes out clean.

Unmould by running a small knife between the pudding and container and turn it upside down on a serving plate.

To make the sauce, put dark muscovado sugar and cream in a pot and bring to a boil. Simmer on low heat till thick. If you want a richer sauce, add a knob of butter to the sauce.

Drizzle sauce over puddings and serve immediately.

Alternatively, wait a day or two for a more sticky pudding. Unmould puddings, then pour half of the sauce into the containers and swirl it round the bottom and sides. Put puddings back in, and top with the remaining sauce. Swirl containers around and let the sauce trickle down the sides. Leave puddings in the fridge, covered, for a day or two. When ready to eat, zap 'em in the microwave. Or bring puddings back to room temperature, then reheat by steaming or in a preheated oven at 180°C (360°F) for 15 minutes or so till heated through.

Claypot Fish Head

Friday, 11 September 2009

PhotobucketClaypot fish head is like a reliable friend. It turns out beautifully every single time and never fails you. No real skill is called for. It just needs a bit of time. It reheats very well and in fact, tastes better reheated. You can cook it early in the day and when you, and maybe some friends, are ready to eat, it's there for you. It's highly adaptable to your requirements. Just add more pork, Chinese cabbage and bean curd when there are more people at the table. If you have one or two ingredients missing, add more of what you have. And you keep adding . . . until there is so much delicious stuff in one pot, there is no need for anything else. Like truly good friends, one is enough.

Cream Scones

Saturday, 5 September 2009

PhotobucketI can't remember what was the first Chinese dish I ever cooked. I started helping Mum in the kitchen from the age of . . . oh . . . nine? ten?

It's hard to say exactly when or what I first cooked something totally by myself. Baking, however, was different. Mum never baked, so I picked up baking only when I went overseas to study, and there was an oven in the common kitchen.

My foray into baking was gentle and gradual. I started as the kitchen hand for my neighbour who was an avid and experienced baker. Her pièce de résistance was apple pie in which I performed a crucial albeit non-baking role.

French Toast

Sunday, 30 August 2009

PhotobucketThere used to be a Hilton Hotel in Hong Kong, where Cheung Kong Centre now stands. It was a pretty nondescript hotel in Central and most people probably never thought of it once it was gone. Neither would I except that was where I had the best French toast ever.

The French toast  was really special because it was crispy. I've had good French Toast elsewhere but the crispy part was always missing.

After the Hilton Hotel was torn down, I had no idea where their chefs went, so that was the end of crispy Hilton Hotel French Toast. And the beginning of homemade French Toast.

When I first made French Toast, it was bland, it shrank after it was fried, and it just wasn't crispy.

Over the years, I've tweaked the recipe many times. I started with just eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla extract and bread. Now, cream cheese is a key ingredient. It keeps the texture creamy and "custardy", and stops the bread from shriveling after it's cooked – provided the bread isn't oversoaked. It also adds depth to the flavor, which is enhanced with a splash of dark rum. Most importantly, it's crispy with a sprinkling of sugar caramelized under the grill. And it's not oily because it's not fried.

I now have the perfect French Toast for a weekend breakfast or even dessert. Yay!

FRENCH TOAST
(Recipe for 2 persons)

4 slices stale sandwich bread, thick-cut (I use Gardenia brand's Junior White)
regular-cut sandwich bread would turn soggy and not make good French toast
2 eggs
40 ml milk
20 g cream cheese
1 tbsp fine sugar
1 tbsp dark rum
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp butter at room temperature
1 tbsp fine sugar (for sprinkling)

Depending on the type of bread used, the amount of egg mixture and soaking time required may vary. Please adjust as necessary. For dense bread, a few slits in the middle and a regular rather than thick-cut would help speed things along. The bread should be thoroughly saturated with the eggy liquid without turning soggy. If necessary, cut the bread in the middle and check.

If possible, make egg mixture the night before so that flavors have time to mingle and develop. Stale bread is essential; fresh bread turns soggy and shrinks after it's grilled. Let some butter come to room temperature before starting to cook.

When you're ready to make toast, preheat grill to 230°C, and line grill tray with parchment paper.

Put cream cheese and sugar in a bowl and beat till smooth. Add dark rum, vanilla extract and milk in stages, beating till smooth after each addition. Add eggs one at a time and – you guessed it – beat till smooth.

Remove bread crust. Do it by hand if you have time; jagged edges turn really crispy. Cut each slice into four pieces. Soak bread thoroughly in egg mixture, turning over half-way so that both sides are evenly saturated. Do not let bread get soggy.

Place bread on grill tray. Dot each piece with butter – just a bit, not too much. (You could put butter on a knife, then push small blobs onto bread with a tapered chopstick. Or, if you're making a lot of toast, make a small piping cone with parchment paper, then use it to pipe the butter. Third option: Keep butter chilled and hard, then shave with a vegetable peeler directly onto bread.) Sprinkle bread with sugar, right up to the edges.

Grill with the door closed till bread is golden brown or even slightly burnt, then repeat butter-sugar-grill procedure for the other side.

Enjoy French Toast piping hot with its best buddy, maple syrup. Or drizzle with melted butter and honey and serve it as dessert. How about a light coat of icing sugar, some fresh fruits and cream or ice cream? I'm sure that'll win you lots of 'Ooh!' and 'Aah!'

Fried Anchovies and Peanuts

Sunday, 23 August 2009

PhotoFried anchovies and peanuts is great with rice. In nasi lemak, for instance, it's one of the standard side dishes. For me, I find it a bit dry with rice. I like to eat it with Teochew porridge but mostly I eat it as it is as a savory snack.

You know how too much chocolate leaves a sweet aftertaste in your mouth and you long for something salty? That's a little craving I have not infrequently, especially in the afternoon after my Kit Kat break.

Being a well organized person who doesn't like to panic when confronted with such a culinary emergency, I like to keep a ready supply of the antidote in the fridge.

The key component of the antidote for sugar is, of course, salt, of which dried anchovies have plenty. So, I make a good size amount of fried anchovies, more rather than less because I want to make the most out of the oil I'm going to throw away.

PhotoFried peanuts make a classic combination with fried anchovies. The additional calories from the nuts doesn't spoil my diet since there isn't one. It flies out the window every time I set my eyes on chocolate.

The dosage for the sugar antidote is two tablespoons immediately after sugar consumption. Unfortunately, the antidote is addictive and more often than not, I eat a whole plateful.

You know how too much salt leaves you craving for something sweet? Back to Kit Kat . . . . Oh dear, I think I need help.

FRIED ANCHOVIES AND PEANUTS
(For 4 persons)

50 g dried anchovies (ikan bilis), without bones and heads
50 g dried, raw peanuts
150 ml vegetable oil
a pinch of salt (optional)

Wash and drain anchovies twice to remove excess salt. Squeeze and pat dry with paper towels. Heat oil in a pan till smoking and add anchovies. Fry, stirring occasionally, till almost golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Reduce heat to low. Let oil cool down slightly. Put one peanut in the oil to check that it's not too hot. Oil should not bubble on contact with raw peanut. Add all peanuts to oil when temperature is right. Stir to distribute heat evenly. Pick a peanut without skin and watch it. When it changes color slightly, turn off heat and quickly remove peanuts with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels and – if you think the anchovies aren't salty enough – toss peanuts with a pinch of salt. Combine fried anchovies and fried peanuts. Eat with rice, chocolate or beer. Have I ever eaten all of these together in one go? I'm not telling you.

Chai Poh Omelette (菜脯卵)

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

PhotobucketMy mother didn't make chai poh omelette (菜脯卵) very often, because chai poh wasn't a regular item in her pantry. So, I can't say I have a fabulous recipe which was passed on from my mother, and which I will pass on to my daughter. This is a recipe I came up with for friends who think that chai poh omelette is de rigueur when they come to my place for Teochew porridge.

My recipe combines the elements that I like in a French omelette – fluffy, creamy and not too oily – and a Chinese omelette – fragrant and aromatic because it's fried till golden brown, unlike its anemic French counterpart.

Teochew Porridge

Thursday, 23 July 2009

PhotobucketTo my friends, I'm known as 'the Teochew peasant' when it comes to food. The nickname's due to my fondness for Teochew muay (潮州糜) or rice porridge, a peasant staple traditionally eaten with simple, peasant dishes. If my friends let me choose what we eat, I'd say Teochew porridge nine times out of 10. (I am thus forbidden from making the suggestion at all – sob!)

Since I'm such a connoisseur of peasant food – is that an oxymoron? – I think it's only appropriate that I feature peasant recipes on my blog and the first place honor goes to none other than Teochew porridge. I grew up eating piping hot porridge for lunch and breakfast almost everyday. For me, it's the best comfort food bar none. A good bowl of hot porridge energizes the body, lifts the spirit, and warms the heart.