Best of Tham Jiak – Malaysia Food Guide

I felt like as if I have dropped out of this Earth. Does transitioning of years (man-defined even but with backings of astrology sorts of course) has anything to do with it? Does everyone fall out and return just like me? Or am I the only one? * insert mysterious tune at the background * Since we are at that , why not ask who am I? Where does the world comes from? Pardon me as I have been a tad philosophical recently due to reading a really good book that weaves the history of philosophy together in a 400 page story – Sophie’s World. The amazing thing is, a good friend introduced me to read it, so I went in search in the MPH bookstore and found one lonely book left and quickly grab it and ran to the counter with it under my sleeves lest somebody came to fight with me for it! I got out alive and thus been enjoying reading tremendously. Just about weeks later, I casually saunter into the same MPH bookstore, and walk around, lo and behold at the middle of the store on the tables where they usually showcase pick of the week or bestselling books, there are mountains, yes mountains!, of Sophie’s World stacked up on the table mocking me. At that time I was wondering if there is a conspiracy following what I read (such arrogance) but now on retrospect (writing does this to me), it seems then that they normally feature books that they just restocked (I bought the last one remember) so maybe to just get the books moving! Bah, I hope this assumption is wrong as we would not want our ‘pick of the week’ to be actually truly ‘new stock of the pick’, it takes the novelty out of it, it would even be slightly, just slightly better if it is ‘rokh’s current reading’ right?

Anyhow, back to Earth for me, we should be talking about food! See how I explained that I have dropped out of Earth, it seems I am still floating in and out of it, I wonder when I would settle down. Nevertheless, the world keeps spinning, people keep eating and I am still tham jiak. So just to kick start the year, I am reviewing this dear little blog of mine, after the four years anniversary, I found that there are few popular posts of all time in this blog, and I feel that it would be nice to share a little glory of this humble blog of mine, and also to put into retrospective where I want to head this blog towards. So without further ado, let me present you Tham Jiak’s top 8 (8 because Chinese New Year is just around the corner and the number 8 is especially auspicious for us Chinese, as it has the same homophone as ‘fortune’) blog posts:

Bak Chang @ Chinese Rice Dumpling
Bak Chang @ Chinese Rice Dumpling

Bak Chang

Oh this was definitely one of my own favourite posts too, as I learnt the ‘dying’ art of making Chinese bak chang. I was really worried then soon one day this will be lost to our current and future generations, as many now choose to purchase the commercial ones or eat at restaurants rather than make their own. Making them with Lai Ma that time was truly exciting and in short, though this may make me sound real young and over enthusiastic, simply awesome! I love how we had walked down the street from her house to an old wooden tim chai(sundry shop) nearby to get the bamboo leaves and the peas to the whole process of preparing all the ingredients which seemed like an endless list of things, but when you get down to it, it isn’t all that immense after all, then to the cooking of the meat and then frying of the rice to scooping all of the fillings onto the leaves and to what seem like my honest attempt to wrap them all in and then lowering them into boiling water while uttering some sort of prayer that it will not all turned loose and became a huge mess. After the whole endeavour, the bak chang came out perfect and somehow it tasted extremely good, thanks to all the heart and sweat poured into it. So go on and read about it all here, and who knows, you may make a resolution to make one for yourself this year?

Penang Food Diary

Oh how can I forget this food adventure of J and mine, at the food haven up north of Malaysia. Thinking back on all the food we had consumed in a span of one day, and yes ONE day, makes me shudder. I felt I had ate for the entire week! One of the most memorable dishes that I had in Penang that time, apart from my all time favourite Kek Lok Si  laksa of course, is the Mee Mamak. The sinful plate of red stir fried noodles has a huge myriad of flavours all packed into this seemingly simple dish. Now I have a sudden hankering for it. Ah, it will definitely be on top of my list if I ever go visit Penang again.

Best Mee Mamak @ Penang
Best Mee Mamak @ Penang

Teochew Steam Fish

Ah, so it seems that a lot of people googled for this recipe and I hope it did certainly helped many of them to have this dish grace their dinner table and feed many tham jiaks out there. Though I would have loved to re-enact this dish instead with a huge fresh fish, but nonetheless what I managed to concoct the other day remained fresh in my mind. The recipe was definitely a keeper and one day I shall attempt it again when I get my hand on some good fish.

Chinese Egg Tarts
Chinese Egg Tarts

Egg Tarts

This was definitely one of my favourite attempted recipe, one that is truly Chinese yet able to satisfy my sweet tooth. Since young I have loved this dainty dessert and especially so after the Portuguese egg tarts made their inception in Taiping. Although this recipe of mine was not of my favourite Portuguese egg tart (the idea of puffy crust still scares me, but one day I shall brace it like how I did for my Sponge Cake), but I still love the soft eggy and slightly sweet filling and the cookie-style crust was quite good too.

Bangkok Street Food
Bangkok Street Food

Bangkok Street Food: A-Roi

Yes I do have to admit that, although I have been to Bangkok for numerous times, yes even at one point I am there more than I am in Malaysia, this had been the one of the very few post on Bangkok food, and it turned out that the crowd pleaser was the street snacks. I guess sometimes when one go to someplace too much, they took for granted all the good food that they can have all the time there and forgot to document everything down as if it is really precious. Looking back now, I really do miss a lot of Bangkok food, and someday I am so heading back there again (though I also had numerous time swore I did not want to go back after many, many flights), not just for the shopping, which was unbelievably cheap, but definitely for all the a-roi (delicious) food there. Oh I have a sudden vivid recollection of my favourite, one must be forewarned when reminiscing on food that it will leave a huge longing in the heart.

Best Char Siew @ KL/PJ
Best Char Siew @ KL/PJ

Char Siew

Now I know that so many people out there shared my sentiment to this meat call pork, and one that have been barbecued to point of charred skin but locked with all the sweet meaty juiciness inside. Ah, just trying to describe this special dish again makes my mouth waters. Anyhow, I have indeed wrote a long post of praise to it, so head on to read all about and where to get your hands, or rather teeth in this case on it, and the best ones at that. What are you waiting for?

Pandan Leaves

Although this post was also about Hak Lor Mai, the sweet Chinese dessert that uses Pandan Leaves, it seemed that the whole information in regards to pandan leaves was the main attraction to people. Probably I took this leave for granted, having it embedded in our various local cuisines from aromatic Nasi Lemak to kaya (coconut jam) to kuih-muih. It is no wonder that these plain looking leaves in disguise of a wonderful yet not intruding aroma that it imparts to anything it came in contact with, in this case cooking with would garner so much attention to this date. I am so grateful that it is one thing that is easily obtained in Malaysia.

Pandan Leaf
Pandan Leaf

Chee Cheong Fun: The Breakdown

It seemed that this guest post of mine from my dear friend L is here to stay definitely, with her extensive research and also eating of course on the many types of Chee Cheong Fun that one can find in Malaysia. We might not have covered the whole Malaysia entirely but even then, we have already manage to find four variations of totally diverse style and sauces, but all with the main ingredient of steamed rice flour sheets rolled up. I for one feel the need to inject here that, although I have tried so many of the types mentioned, the Taiping style Chee Cheong Fun is the best and shall always hold a special place in my heart, bias I may be, but it is really tasty, one must try it at least once in their lifetime!

So there you have it, the top 8 posts of this blog. From here I would announce my return to planet Earth, and I would like to resume some sort of normality, then again what is normal? Nevertheless, stick around a little longer as I have a long postponed write up on chickens, and I promised it is going to be interesting, think free range and castration (yes, you read this right). Till then, happy eating and cheers to a 2010 that would be filled with loads of good food!

Banana Bread/Muffin Recipe : Girls Day In

“Too bad you always work on the weekends” I exclaimed assumingly, as we were mentioning that we did not hang out enough. You see, U, my kai jie (god-sister) works at days and times that are not the usual slaves of cubicle nations (like poor ol’ me), she could work from break of dawn or till the wee midnight, even on weekends and break on uncertain days of the week. It is nearly impossible to catch her, not to mention that she chose to stay quite far away, even in my context of after 7 years of staying in Klang Valley that requires quite a travelling distance to get to places (in Taiping context), which used to be where I stay in my days long gone. Ah, those were the days.

“Oh, I am off on this Saturday!” U shouts with excitement (through MSN mind you, but I can feel the excitement all the way from her house to my office).

“What!” that is all I can answer at the moment. It was a befuddlement to me. Then the moment passed and I got a grip on myself “We must hang out then! Catch up! What shall we do? Shopping? Eating? Watch a movie?” I babbled on and on like an excited kid that has been promised an all day outing.

“I am afraid of spending too much if we go out, let’s just stay in”, she says, at that moment I flash back to the last time we hang out, we watch movie, shopped and ate indulgingly as if we are some rich tai-tais (wives)having a day out, I blushed. Then a light bulb flashed right above my head, while my eyes roll up where I imagined a picture in my mind – U and I baking delicious stuffs out of her huge, and I mean huge oven that I had ooohed and ahhhed over when I visited her place the first time.

Oven @ U Home
Oven @ U Home

So I exclaimed “OK! Let’s stay in, we cook something and do some baking!”, and her resounding yes! had made my heart jumped with excitement. So that very Saturday, I went out to buy the necessary stuff that I can get at last minute (yes, that’s me again at it) and all my usual ka-changs, before heading off to her lovely home. When I reached, U had already begun baking chicken with baby potatoes and capsicums and loads of garlic. The house is already basking in wonderful food aroma, ah, how I miss those smells which make a house feels like home. Then like some chef cooking at home in her day off, she whips up spaghetti aglio olio with such style and flamboyant, she made me feel like I am eating food from a posh restaurant when we finally dig into the food. At same time we watched a chick-flick that I normally would not be watching, but it is alright because I was too busy enjoying the food anyway.

Spaghetti Aglio Olio and Baked Chicken @ U Home
Spaghetti Aglio Olio and Baked Chicken @ U Home

Finally when the show ended, and with me nearly falling asleep, she asked, “So what’s up for baking? “. When I told her I planned to make three bakes today, her eyes grew wide and I laughed, she just had to pardon me, who is someone that had been deprived of good baking therapy lately. Admittedly, I have not been baking much in recent times, so was a bit rusty on the baking instincts, and also due to ripping off recipes from my ever-long to-do list without thoroughly examining it, out of our three bakes, only one truly came out good. And luckily it was really good, I brought it the next day to work for breakfast, my sceptical colleague took a bite and say “hey, it’s good, just like those you can get in the famous-coffee-chain”. Ah, such things are what bakers  or cooks out there would loved to hear, that the people who ate their food enjoys them as much as they do themselves, I did for mine!

Banana Bread / Muffin Recipe
Banana Bread / Muffin

Banana bread-fin

Adapted from Slow Like Honey

I called it banana bread-fin because, it was supposed to be banana bread but I made it into muffin sized because I had this bunch of muffin cups around and I want to take the shortcut in baking them. Muffins bake in nearly half the time than bread. Besides, the outcome is more muffin like, possibly due to some of my own modification of the recipes (I am always guilty of this, couldn’t help tinkering). Making it into muffin also gave me the chance to see U in action, where she shows how commercial bakers make muffins quickly, by scooping up the batter with their hand and squeeze into each cups, using their palms as ‘funnels’. We had such fun doing it, we forgot to properly swirl and level the top and coupled with us not putting the muffin cups in proper muffins trays, it resulted in whimsical muffins, where after a long good laugh, I find it quite adorable and it gave a homemade feel to them.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups mashed banana
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped chocolates (optional) (or walnuts if it rocks your boat, I would have add this in if I had them)
Preheat oven to 350 F/180 C

Prepare 12 muffin cups in a muffin tray
Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, combine together eggs, banana, sugar, and oil.
Add in the flour mixture and stir till just moistened (do not over-stir, batter should be lumpy).
Fold in the chopped chocolates (and/or walnuts) gently.
Squeeze batter into the muffin cups
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick poke in near the center comes out clean

Makes about 12 muffin cups if squeezed properly!

Chinese New Year: Green Pea Cookies Recipe : Bribing with Cookies

I cannot believe it! Tomorrow is the last day of the Chinese Lunar calendar! I am going to leave for my dearest hometown wee early tomorrow morning along with aunty and cousins, and I can’t wait. Though counting up to tomorrow have been anxious, then turn to stress, then turn to excitement and then now anticipation. I can’t wait to drink my Pho Pho’s heart-stopping duck soup and wrap pieces after pieces after pieces after pieces of lettuce around my all-time-favourite Pho Pho’s jiu hu char. I can’t wait to toss the Yee Sang with everyone up so high half of it end up on the table. I can’t wait to casually walk into my Lai Ma’s house again and mention casually that I haven’t had lunch, I hope the same trick works again, but then again, I don’t need a trick to have my Lai Ma pushing food to me. Moreover this year I am armed with New Year cookies for her as well! Hah! It does sound like I am bringing a container of cookies in exchange for a mouth-watering feast, I would say this is such a good deal, agree?

I have baked more goodies after my initial kick-off Chinese New Year baking and finally chosen to remake Green Pea cookies in batches for giveaways because it was oh-so-tasty and not too tedious to make. I mentioned that Peanut cookies seemed like a new cookie for Chinese New Year but oh boy was I wrong, Lily reminisced making these with her grandmother, only that the original called for lard! I stand corrected but I might try again to say these Green Pea cookies should be newer in generation, as I could not recall it before the appearance of Peanut cookies during Chinese New Year, and some even claimed that it was a variation of the traditional Peanut cookies. Correct me if I am wrong again! I do not know what the Green Pea cookies represent in Chinese in comparison to other more obvious cookies, if anyone does know, do let me know too!

As for now, pardon the short post, I need to get ready, pack my bag and head north to celebrate in gluttony. By the way, Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Green Pea Cookies Recipe @ Chinese New Year
Green Pea Cookies Recipe @ Chinese New Year

Green Pea Cookies

When I made my first batch, I found that it was too sweet, and so I went about researching on more recipes around the wonderful blogosphere and came about to my own measurement below. Also, on the first time I bought the green peas, it was the Jusco selection packet, that comes in 180g and it seem the green peas do look slightly smaller than the usual snack ones. The cookie came out so fragrant, I bought the same packets for my subsequent bakes! Note that these came salted so I omit the salt in the recipe. Also make sure you grind the green pea fine enough for the melt-in-mouth cookies. Similarly to the Peanut cookies, you should add the oil bit by bit until the dough comes together. This time I was a bit lazy and skipped the egg glazing steps, thus my cookies look pale but it still taste oh-so-good. This time I also learnt from the Peanut cookies bakes and used 1 teaspoon to shape my cookies and it came out just the right size to pop into the mouth.

180g ground green pea cookies
180g all-purpose flour (sifted)
80g icing sugar
80 – 100g oil
1/4 tsp salt (omit if green peas are salted)

1 egg lightly beaten for glaze (optional)

Mix the ground green peas, sifted flour, icing sugar and salt (if using) together till well combined
Slowly add in the oil and mix till a pliable dough is formed
Shape them into balls or use a 1 teaspoon to shape it, and then line it on a tray
Brush egg wash on top of each cookie (optional)
Bake at 180C for 15-20 minutes

Make approximately 84 cookies

Chinese New Year: Dragon Cookie and Peanut Cookie Recipe : Finally, Initially

Way long ago initially, I wanted to blog about my gastronomic adventure in Japan I haven’t. Then initially I wanted to do a roundup of the blog for 2008, and that did not happen either. Than it reminds me that initially I wanted to make many things for 1984 and friends’ Christmas Eve party but that did not happen either, though I did manage to make hummus and cupcakes, blog entry to follow, wish I hope would indeed happen on day. So all that initially aside, they have to wait, as I am going to make way for a more appropriate post at hand – Chinese New year bakes, which I had way way long ago initially, I’m talking about few years back here, wanted to bake which now I finally did!

To me the new year has yet to actually start, due to the impending Chinese New Year, it still feel like I am in the counting down mode to wrap up the year-has-been, please tell me I am not the only one, at least not the only Chinese. At first CNY still seemed pretty far away to me, but when I started to plan out some CNY bakes, it dawned onto me that it was only about 2 weeks away. Ah, so much to do, rather so much to bake yet so little time.

Anyway, what brought me into finally baking cookies for this important Chinese festival? That question brings to the story of a dear friend, M. She messaged me one day on a link to a detachable handheld mixer which she was contemplating to purchase in order to do some CNY baking; she chose to ask me because she knew I was a sort-of-baking-and-cooking aficionado, which then renewed the interest in me. I have always, wanted to bake for CNY but have not kick my lazy butt hard enough to really do it as because (insert overused excuses here) so this time thanks to M, I seized the opportunity and proposed to her to have a baking session together! Aha, that would bring this lazy tham jiak to really stick to the plan; she has a baking date to stick to!

So fast forward to the following weekend, I was lugging two big bags of ka-chang (Cantonese dialect’s multi-purpose word for kitchen tools/utensils/equipments/anything that you use to do something), to M’s home and then we got started on our project. There were two bakes that day as each of us chose one recipe to attempt.

M chose her many-attempts-since-last-year Dragon Cookies, which she had not yet manage to achieve her ultimate one, which were supposed to be creamy , slightly soft, melt in your mouth yet having a bit of a crunch on first bite kind, if I understood her correctly. I can’t help but to mention here that the batch she baked the day before which she added banana essence due to one recipe which called for it, and a word of advice from both of us here, do not attempt to put banana essence in your Dragon Cookies! It is not a banana cookie, end of explanation. I guess I was her lucky star as finally, that very day that I am there with her baking the cookies she finally achieved her ultimate Dragon Cookie!

Dragon Cookies Recipe @ Chinese New Year
Dragon Cookies @ Chinese New Year

M’s Ultimate Dragon Cookies

Note that for this recipe, you would need a cookie press to shape it. Also M had noted that she had tried before with plastic press which has less desirable results especially if the dough is not soft enough, therefore she prefer the metal one that she is using now.

One important thing to understand about making these cookies is the balance between the baking time and the oven temperature. Our first batch was slightly over-baked and really puffed up. After tasting we found that it had a texture of similarity to kuih bangkit, where we even joked we had made a fusion of them, but ah that is not what we want for the ultimate Dragon Cookies, do we? So for the next batch we decided to bake in shorter time, about 10 minutes, and it came out perfect! The next next batch was slightly under-baked though, where we need to put in for few minutes more. Take note that we had the oven on slightly higher temperature due to its nature. Therefore we can only conclude that, the secret here in making the ultimate dragon cookies is to find the balance of time and temperature, also good recipe is a must, we would not want another banana essence case do we? Just remember that the cookies are suppose to be pale white even after baked. Good luck in trying, M tried since last year, so be like her, don’t give up! Also, we are now giving you a tried and true recipe below, so I bet it would save you at least a year, no?

Dragon Cookies Recipe @ Chinese New Year
Dragon Cookies (the making)

150g butter (room temperature)
150g icing sugar
2 egg yolks
1 egg white
350g corn flour
30g milk powder
60g plain flour

Beat butter, icing sugar, egg yolks and egg white until creamy
Sift flour and milk powder together
Add flour mixture to the batter and mix till fully incorporated
Fill batter into cookie press and press out a line and then shape it (M shaped to S which to me is a sleeping Dragon, there are other who made a flying Dragon – curly long line)on a baking tray
Bake at 160-180C for 10-15 mins

Yields 120 cookies

As for me, I chose to make Peanut Cookies, which not too long ago, I would say about maybe 10 years back that in Malaysia here, it became a must-have for Chinese New Year. If anyone new since when these cookies got into the list please let me know. As a peanut fan myself, I just had to make it, even though I knew it is not going to be easy, as we would first need to dry fry the peanuts patiently and then remove the skins patiently. Preparation is bit tedious, some experience on how the dough should be like would be good, but other than that it is a fairly simple recipe, calling for minimal ingredients.

Peanut Cookies @ Chinese New Year
Peanut Cookies Recipe @ Chinese New Year

Peanut Cookies

Adapted from Do What I Like

First dry fry the peanuts over medium heat, remember to stir it religiously. Do not try to take shortcut by frying over high heat as it would result in the peanuts got burnt pretty quickly on the outside but has yet to fully cook on the inside. Then you have to take de-skin them, I do this by rubbing them against a basket, this would also need some work if you have not mastered the skill which enables you to do this in a jiffy. After that the peanuts is ready to be grind till fine.

Frying Peanut for Peanut Cookies
Frying Peanut for Peanut Cookies

But simple as the recipe may seem, it also requires some experience in understanding the dough. I added in all the oil and still found my mixture on the dry side but I tried by pressing them together and mould it into a 1/2 tablespoon for shape and it did work, but later noted to self that it seem a bit too big and might use a smaller one next round. But if you want an easier task where you can roll them into balls, you might need more oil to form the dough first. After researching and reading other’s experiences, it seemed that the quantity of oil needed depended also on how oily your peanuts were naturally. Therefore, slowly add in the oil until the dough is able to mould when pressed, or slightly more oil if you need to roll and shape them. These cookies came out with the melt-in-the-mouth texture, with some crunch due to the added chopped peanuts (I crushed them with a rolling pin; before that I tried to smash them against the counter which resulted in them flying everywhere, sorry M). I gave some to Q to try which she said that it tasted rich (even when I did not put enough oil) and she even asked if I have added peanut butter, ah, so it means I have achieved the creamy texture as well. Overall this is a good recipe, if you want full creamy kind then you might want to omit the chopped peanuts, and also remember to take note on the oil ratio.

200g ground peanut
200g flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
100g icing sugar
1/4 tsp salt
100g – 150g crushed peanuts
100g-150g peanut oil/corn oil

Egg wash:1 egg yolk lightly beaten with 1 tsp water

Put all the peanuts into a wok and dry fry over low heat till crunchy
Remove the skin then grind till fineSieve flour and baking powder together
Mix the flour mixture, ground peanut powder, icing sugar and salt together till well combined
Add in the crushed peanuts and mix well (if you are using)
Slowly add in the peanut oil and mix till a pliable dough is formed (see note above
Shape them into balls or like use a 1/2 tablespoon to shape it, and then line it on a tray
Brush egg wash on top of each cookie
Bake at 165C for 15-20 minutes or till golden brown

Yields 35 cookies (for the 1/2 tablespoon size)

I would say the project has been quite successful for Peanut Cookies first attempt and the achievement of the ultimate Dragon Cookies. I am even contemplating to do second round of Peanut Cookies with some tweaks that I have learnt, oh well, we shall see if this lazy tham jiak will get around to that (psst, which might be next CNY!). Still, I think I deserved a pat on the head for finally meeting one of my initially-s, that is baking for CNY! Not to forget one pat for M as well for her perseverance!