Archives for posts with tag: nostalgia

_DSC38672So…you may recall a previous post (the one with the kaya recipe) in which I mentioned I had an abundance of pandan leaves to use up? Well, here’s me going through the rest of those fragrant fronds in a couple of culinary experiments that (fortunately) turned out according to plan. 😀

As promised, I made us Ji Bao Gai 纸包鸡 (literal translation: paper-wrapped chicken), a Cantonese dish that I haven’t had since childhood; and Sago Melaka (aka Sago Pudding), a very simple Peranakan dessert which you can see in the above pic. It goes without saying that both recipes include pandan leaves (or shop-bought pandan essence, which is easier to store and has a longer shelf life) in the list of ingredients.



SAGO MELAKA

Pudding – Add sago pearls* to boiling water. A serving of a similar size to what you can see in the photo above would require about three to four tablespoons of pearls. You’ll know they’re done once the grains turn translucent. Don’t worry too much if a few still have a bit of white in them so long as they are soft.

Drain the pearls in a sieve, and give them a rinse under the cold tap to get rid of any starchiness. After that, gently press them into jelly moulds or small bowls before placing in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours. Alternatively, if you’re not fussy about how it looks, set the pudding in a large tray or dish, and scoop out portions when ready to serve.

*Be careful not to confuse sago pearls with the huge dark tapioca globules in bubble tea. They are not the same thing! For this recipe, you’ll need the little tiny white balls, like in the left-hand pic below.

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Syrup – Heat up some gula melaka** in a pot of water with two or three ‘knots’ of pandan leaves. You’ll need roughly one tablespoon of water per 30g of the gula. I used about 100g for this batch of pudding (for four people), and still had quite a bit of syrup left over. Stir until the mixture caramelises, then set aside to cool. It may thicken further if you refrigerate it. Should this happen, stir in a few drops of hot water…just enough to thin it out, but not so much that the syrup re-heats.

**There are a few different types of palm sugar, some sourced from the date palm, others from coconut or nipa. Gula melaka originates from the Straits of Malacca (hence the name), and is produced using the sap of flower buds from coconut palm trees. Like pandan leaves, you can get them from most Asian stores, or major online shopping portals like eBay or Amazon. They come in hard solid blocks which can be difficult to break apart. However, they do grate easily.

Cream – Bring coconut milk*** to boil, and stir in a pinch of salt. The cream isn’t actually supposed to be savoury, so don’t overdo it. The idea is to enhance the milk’s natural flavour while acting as a counterpoint to the syrup. It’s probably best to sprinkle in a few granules and do a taste test before adding more (if required). Leave the cream to cool before serving.

***Any brand coconut milk will do, and most supermarkets sell them. I like my pudding to be literally swimming in cream, so a 400ml tin was about right for us, but smaller 250ml cartons are also available. Leftovers can be refrigerated for later use, though not beyond a week.



JI BAO GAI 纸包鸡

2018-04-21 21.15.51This dish is traditionally deep-fried, but I was overjoyed to discover that the healthier option of oven-baking is entirely doable! Yay, no more greasy kitchen…It’s such a bugger to clean!

Breast fillets are fine if you are calorie-conscious, but I personally prefer chicken on the bone (with skin…it’s the best bit!) as they’re tastier and juicer, so what you see here are chicken thighs (halved).

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Marinade – The essential ingredients are oyster sauce*, rice wine**, and the cornflour solution (so you don’t end up with a watery dribbly mess when unwrapping the chicken). Minced garlic would be ideal, but I was lazy and had recently bought a huge bottle of garlic oil from a discount store.

*I am very picky when it comes to oyster sauce, and would rather go through the trouble of ordering good quality (yet low-cost) ones online than purchase what most UK supermarkets have on offer. Highly recommended brands are Lee Kum Kee Gluten-Free or Ayam – neither of which contain MSG, but I honestly can’t say I’ve noticed that the authentic flavour has been compromised.

**If you haven’t got any rice wine, it’s ok to substitute with white wine…my dad often uses brandy or cognac in place of wine whenever he does the cooking and everything still turns out just as scrummy, sometimes even more so! 😮

Parcels – The chillies are optional, and any mushrooms will do, though shiitake works best here, and it doesn’t matter if they’re fresh or dried. However, the latter will require pre-soaking in hot water.

2018-04-21 19.13.16Wrap chicken pieces in parchment/baking paper, and secure the parcels with staples before baking.

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Not going to specify a time or temperature as all ovens are different, and you’ll probably know how to operate yours better than I would. If you’re not confident, my advice would be to leave a parcel unstapled at one end so you can keep checking if the meat’s thoroughly cooked.

As always, any meal that involves pandan leaves (or other Asian ingredients) fills the whole house with a wonderful aroma that stirs up lots of memories from my growing-up years…mainly family celebrations – three generations of us sat around a huge table chatting, laughing, enjoying great food, and even better company. Happy days! 🙂

I suppose olfactory trips of of nostalgia are pretty much universal, but each experience is unique, so it’ll be interesting to hear what stories others have to tell. Comment below if any food smells in particular whisk you off to another time and place…what magic does it work on you? ❤

2018-04-15 14.33.40As jam is typically made from fruit, some argue it would be more accurate to call this a spread, or even custard because it contains egg. This is an ongoing debate that stems from confusion over the correct classification of coconuts. In botanical terms, coconuts do fall in the fruit category. Somewhat of a misnomer, ‘coconut’ is technically defined as a fibrous one-seeded drupe, putting it in the same league as plums and apricots.

To us Asians, the name of this breakfast condiment has never been a matter of contention since we just refer to it as kaya (or srikaya). However, there are quite a few variations (including a green one) depending on how it is made, so we may not always agree on which version is best!

I am a complete novice when it comes to making jam, so to keep things simple, I opted for a fast and easy recipe that only makes a small amount. Basically, I cheated. 😀

Please note that the end product of this method will only approximate the taste of the genuine article. It’s great for those living in countries where this coconut jam is not readily available, but want a quick fix to satisfy nostalgic cravings.

Making authentic kaya requires a great deal of kungfu (not martial arts…there is more than one definition!), slaving over a double boiler, and involving at least an hour (sometimes more) of stirring. Kaya usually requires eggs, but this particular approach omits the whites and uses only the yolks. True, your jam will not thicken up quite as well, but there will also be less lumps to break up, which reduces the need for all that arm action.

Some day, I will attempt to make kaya the proper way, but for now…this will do.



INGREDIENTS:

200ml Coconut Milk*
4 tbsp Brown Sugar
4 tbsp Gula Melaka** – Grated
4 Pandan Leaves*** – Knotted
4 Egg Yolks

2018-04-15 12.48.09METHOD:

Mixture A – Gently heat the coconut milk, sugar, gula melaka, and pandan leaves in a pot (no need for a double boiler). Turn off cooker once it starts to simmer.

Mixture B – Stir egg yolks, and slowly add in half of Mixture A.

Return pot with the remainder of Mixture A to heat (not too high), and gradually pour in all of Mixture B, stirring all the while.

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Reduce heat to low and stir constantly until the jam begins to coat the sides of your pot.

Add more sugar if preferred. If not, remove pandan leaves and transfer the jam to a jar.

Leave kaya to cool entirely before putting the lid on, and ensure it is airtight. Refrigerate and consume within one week.

*Although it is better to use fresh coconut milk, this is next to impossible to get hold of in most Western countries. However, it is ok to use tinned coconut milk.

**Gula melaka aka coconut (not date) palm sugar can be found in most Asian stores. It is also possible to buy it online. I actually got mine from an eBay seller.

***Another challenging item to acquire, though I did manage to purchase mine from Amazon. The trouble is not only are pandan leaves generally sold in large quantities, they also have a short shelf life and don’t last long in the fridge. I’d advise rolling up individual leaves in some baking paper, putting them in a bag, and freezing the lot.

With enough of these leaves to last me the next six months, I’ve now lined up quite a number of recipes to keep me busy experimenting in my lab kitchen. Pandan flavour is sometimes dubbed the Asian equivalent of vanilla, but I don’t quite agree with that analogy since it is a major ingredient in many savoury dishes from Asian cuisine, such as the Pandan Chicken I made awhile back (served with a prawn and vegetable stir-fry).

20228556_10155381175750856_7038454441550405045_nI was thinking of making it again, but would be happier if I could avoid any deep frying since that activity is almost guaranteed to cover most of our downstairs in a thin film of grease. Then I remembered a childhood favourite of mine – Ji Bao Gai 纸包鸡 (literal translation: Paper-Wrapped Chicken). It’s a Cantonese variant of Pandan Chicken and best of all, it can be done in the oven! Ji Bao Gai is absolutely scrummy and won’t be difficult to make, so I can’t wait to try it out, but that’s a project for another day. 🙂

2017-12-31 16.28.46A few months ago, I was! Someone from a Facebook group I joined – Feed Yourself for £1 a Day – shared a photo that took me back to my childhood. This lady had made what she called Wartime Jelly Creams which her gran had taught her, and it got me so nostalgic for jelly I was practically drooling!

It reminded me of the creamy Almond Agar-Agar desserts I used to eat as a kid (usually at parties), often with fruit cocktail, mangoes, or peaches. The Western version is sometimes also known as Milk Jellies, Jelly Fluff or Jello Whip (depending on whether the mixture is whisked before being left to set). I suppose it’s a little like blancmange, but without the cornflour, so it has a lighter and airier consistency. All versions include cream or milk in the recipe, with evaporated milk the more traditional of the two in the UK. I suspect the reason is down to cost, and the clue is in the name – Wartime Jelly.

Food was rationed in those dark times, and milk was scarce. However, it was possible to get tinned milk which is more economical, and lasts longer. Across the pond, it’s also been documented that gelatin was used in the US to “stretch rationed foods”, so perhaps it’s not surprising that jellies were as much a treat back then as they are now. Although here in this sceptred isle, I am not so sure about Colleen Moulding’s Carrot Fudge from “Frugal Recipes from Wartime Britain” which also contains gelatin. Then again, carrot cake is a lot yummier than it sounds! 😀

Most of the modern recipes I’ve come across do not list gelatin itself as one of the ingredients, but I really fancied a fusion of East and West, and had decided on layered mango jelly. Unfortunately, jelly crystals of that flavour are not easy to get hold of here; the ones I found online were instant set (at room temperature) which wouldn’t do at all because the jelly solution would need to boil, then cool before blending with milk (otherwise it would curdle)…And so it was that I ended up making my jelly from scratch.



The stars of the show:

• Evaporated Milk (Loving the tin’s retro design!)
• 2 Sachets of Gelatin*
• Mango Juice**
• Water
• Sugar

Also, basic arithmetic! LOL

2017-12-31 16.49.30Mix one packet of gelatin with freshly boiled water as per manufacturer’s instructions. Add mango juice in a quantity proportionate to amount of gelatin…again, related details can be found on the sachet/box/tub. Stir well, pour in mould, and refrigerate until set. This could take a couple of hours or more.

Reserve some of the evaporated milk and put it in a small pot.

Mix the next packet of gelatin with freshly boiled water, and add it to the rest of the evaporated milk and some mango juice (as before, milk and juice relative to amount of gelatin as per packet instructions). Stir well.

Quickly heat up the evaporated milk that’s in the pot and melt some sugar in it. It’s probably best to do this to taste as mango juice of different brands have varying sweetness. Add the sweetened milk to the rest of the mixture. Stir well, and pour over initial layer of jelly that’s set.

Pop the layered jelly in fridge to set for a few more hours, or better still, overnight.

*Can also be swopped with vegan gelatin, or agar-agar.

**Other types of fruit juice can be used, but nothing citrus as it may curdle the milk. My mango juice did have a bit of citric acid in it, but it must have been a small percentage as it didn’t affect the milk.

Here’s a tip – If any bubbles form, prick them with a toothpick or bamboo skewer. Make sure the tips are dry each time.


2017-12-31 16.17.03With the two sachets of gelatin, I made enough jelly to fill four wine tumblers, probably just under a couple of pints. It can be served with any topping of your choice – whipped cream, diced mango etc. – but seeing as we’re ushering in a new year, I sprinkled mine (see top pic) with spangly gold sugar stars! Hope your celebrations also went off with a great big shower of sparkles…I can still hear fireworks going off everywhere! May 2018 be full of wonderful times! 🙂