Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Movin' the blog! Come see my new home...

I've been struggling with Blogspot for a while now - I just don't get it. And so, I've made like a hermit crab and have scuttled off to find a new home. 

Please click here or copy and paste:

Malaysian Feasting

I'm incredibly proud of my Malaysian Chinese heritage. My mother was taught to cook by my wonderful grandmother and is the most exceptional chef able to turn her hand to anything be it a simple noodle dish to a full roast beef dinner to an Italian style apple tart. I always look forward to her cooking and love being in the kitchen with her as she prepares the food. In my younger days she wouldn't let me help or if she did, I'd always be lambasted because it wasn't done to her way. Now I'm older, I understand where she was coming from as I get quite antsy in my own kitchen but I'm hopefully more polite to any help I receive!

Now I've proved that I can cook, I'm allowed to help and I thoroughly enjoy it. I hope to sit her down one day and get her to start writing down her recipes as I don't want hers and my grandmother's legacy to end. I'm also conscious of the fact that I'll have to quantify her measures as she tells me she never knows how much of anything she puts in, she does it till it's right. What a great philosophy to lead your life by. In these days of YouTube, social media and the information superhighway, I think we sometimes forget to just step back, breathe and use our own judgement.

So anyway, for those who are more focused on the food aspect of this blog, let me present to you my Mum's Streetfood feast.

She cooked Hokkien Mee - a soupy noodle dish with both egg and rice noodles in a fiery stock flavoured with prawns and chilli served with pork, prawns, spring onions and deep fried shallots. Think aromatic, sweet, spicy, fragrant and so hot that even my brother who loves his chillies found it difficult to take...

We also had Nasi Lemak - one of the dishes that won Ping Coombes her Masterchef trophy. This dish consists of sticky rice flavoured with coconut, chicken curry, boiled egg, cucumber, peanuts and sambal ikan billis which are deep fried anchovies in a chilli paste. This dish is eaten for breakfast all over Malaysia and gives you a real spicy kick to the start of your day.

Our last dish was Char Kway Teoh - fried flat rice noodles, a little reminiscent of Pad Thai but the flavouring is very different. Salty, chilli hot and rich with egg, sweet with Chinese sausage and delicious, this has to be my favourite hawker dish in Malaysia.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Brew Coffee Company - Whiteladies Road

Readers who have read my blog previously will know that I didn’t hold Café Retreat on Whiteladies Road in the best regard and while it is sad when businesses close down, it’s always exciting to see what will spring up in its place especially as Bristol is making such a name for itself in the national food stakes. One only has to look at the last few weeks and the evidence speaks for itself – I’m talking of course about the Bristol Food Connections Festival, Eat Drink Fashion and the Good Food Awards.

But I digress. Café Retreat shut up shop for the last time a couple of weeks ago and this morning, after a paint job and a refurb, Brew Coffee Company threw open its doors to the public. Gone is the bright turquoise façade, replaced by a more muted, timeless taupe and the billowy sheeted ceiling sacrificed for clean lines and a large bar groaning with delicious looking eats.

Joe, my lovely server at Brew, was quick to point out that it was a soft opening and not all of the drinks were available just yet so I’ve made a note to try out the very interesting looking ‘lavender hot chocolate’ next time.

So, let’s move on to the food. How far could they come from supermarket sliced bread and what would appeared to have been sandwich filler from a carton? Polar opposite is the answer.

I chose a slice of hand made slow roasted tomato quiche with a gorgeous, crumbly crust, packed with sweet, delicious tomatoes and a potato salad dressed in a light mustard dressing with cornichons and dill – no claggy mayonnaise to be seen; and a charred cauliflower salad with toasted hazelnuts and pomegranate seeds. Other temptations on offer included an equally delicious looking salmon quiche and a range of freshly made sandwiches and bagels.

As I stood waiting to pay, slabs of rocky road piled high on a dish were brought out but I found myself drawn to a sticky, glorious looking cinnamon roll from Everything Bagels who are opening their first bakery in Bristol soon. I can confirm that not only is it a thing of architectural beauty but it tastes pretty darn good too!

Brew CC might have opted for a soft opening but judging from the diners outside they’ve burst on to the Whiteladies scene with quite a roar. 

Monday, 3 February 2014

Chinese New Year!

Edited, coz quite frankly it was rather lame!

Gong Xi Fa Cai - Happy New Year to all my friends and family. It's the Year of the Horse (the green, wooden horse to be exact) and it is looking like a good one for me - I'm a goat and according to the horoscopes, goats and horses get along because they're both quite similar animals.

Tradition dictates that you should have a reunion dinner to close the previous year so strictly, you should travel back to your elder's homes for a big feast. Unfortunately I don't live very near my Mum so we generally travel back on the weekend after to celebrate. This year, New Year's Day fell on a Friday so Si and I travelled back on the Friday evening.

Mum had been planning her menu since Christmas and Saturday was a major day of prepping and cooking the many dishes she had planned. She had already made curry puffs, a childhood favourite of mine for breakfast the next day. They look like mini pasties and the pastry is filled with a combination of curried minced lamb, peas and potatoes all highly spiced and very delicious. They are then deep fried and eaten hot or cold.

She had planned a huge amount of dishes, many of which are favourites of mine and they included prawn sambal - a sour, thick curry made with large tiger prawns flavoured with lime and kaffir lime leaves. This was my grandmother's recipe and brings back wonderful memories of Malaysia for me. We had steamed rainbow trout, wontons (deep fried dumplings made with minced pork and prawn), crispy belly pork, beef curry, chicken and cashews in black bean and a variety of other things. We also had a couple of traditional Malaysian desserts including Kuih Talam, a layered 'cake' made with coconut and pandan - a Malaysian leaf.

On Sunday she treated us to another variety of amazing food including curry petai - my second all time favourite curry, again made with prawns but with a distinctive bean called buah petai or sotu bean. It offers a pleasing crunch and a rather unique flavour but again, it was a dish from my childhood when I lived in Malaysia. We also feasted on a Chinese turnip dish cooked with spring onions and dried scallops which is then scooped and rolled up into a lettuce leaf before eating.

My mother is the most wonderful cook and I would love to see what she could knock up with a larder full of fresh Malaysian food in front of her!

(Above) Wontons - minced pork and prawn flavoured with coriander and sesame oil and stuffed and folded (by me!) into a wrapper and deep fried - this is obviously before they were cooked!

(Clockwise from top left): Prawn sambal, a fragrant, sour curry made with dried chillies and flavoured with kaffir lime leaves; wontons after they've been cooked; Chinese turnip that you stuff into lettuce leaves; Curry petai made with prawns and a lot of chilli; crispy pork belly

(Above) The huge prawns that went into our Sambal

Philip Seymour Hoffman & Addiction

PSH was discovered yesterday, dead in his apartment with a syringe in his arm and a bag of heroin lying next to him. Cue the public outpouring of grief and tributes but also the usual crap on social media about how selfish he was and how could he do this to his children.

I think people forget that addiction affects everyone around the world - young, old, rich, poor - be it an addiction to drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, food, shopping, gambling, collecting cats... Obviously some are worse for you than others. Some people are strong enough to overcome the addiction and abstain from their particular poison for the rest of their lives but they will always be addicts. A true alcoholic, once sober will never be able to touch alcohol again for fear of relapse. Some aren't strong enough, the demons are just too great and they can't help but succumb.

I have heard nothing but good things about PSH - an inherently good man who was incredibly talented, charming to work with and an all round nice guy but PSH had a long history of addiction and notably, admitted himself to rehab just as he finished drama school with several more stints over the years. But ultimately his demons won the war in the end. I don't think it's fair to deem him selfish without having gone through such an addiction yourself. Think about having to give up something that gave you such a buzz - sugar or chocolate for example for the rest of your life without being able to have a tiny bit even once ever again. And now imagine putting yourself in an environment where that substance was highly accessible and available in great quantities 24/7. Unfortunately PSH lived such a life and the temptation was too great but this does not mean that he did not love his children or his partner (who he recently split from - a situation stressful enough to tempt him back to drugs, perhaps?).

Some people are asking why we should care that PSH is dead and that if it was someone ordinary, no-one would give a crap - what a stupid question. We mourn the loss of PSH because he is well known and we have seen and like him in films. We mourn the loss of his very obvious talent and the fact that we have been robbed of future masterpieces from him. I don't mourn the loss of a local crackhead because I don't know them but I'm sure if I did, I would, especially if they had contributed something positive to society, despite their personal demons.

I've been hearing a lot of bullshit and sweeping statements about fame and how bad it is and how it is the cause of so many things. It is NOT fame, but more the culture of celebrity. Being famous does not condemn you to a life of drugs, multiple unhappy marriages and general misery, just as being brought up on a council estate does not mean that you will grow up to live on benefits, eat ready meals and have a brood of children in your teens. Fame will certainly open different doors, both good and bad but it is wrong to blame drug culture etc on being famous. It is more widely available, certainly but not everyone will seek out the opportunity to do drugs. I know many people, some in the TV industry but many of whom are not, who take drugs of all sorts. Addiction does not discriminate. We just hear about it more if the person who suffers is in the public eye.

Why is it we rarely hear about the philanthropic nature of celebrities - who really knew that Scarlett Johansson was an ambassador for Oxfam until the SodaStream story broke? Who can really tell me about Will.I.Am's STEM project or how much he has donated to charity from his salary from The Voice? How many charities (or which) can you tell me that Katie Price has patroned or raised a vast amount of money for? The answer to these questions would probably draw a blank with most people but if I asked how many children does Katie Price have any by how many different fathers, I would suspect that many more people would be able to answer that or would have at least heard of several associated stories over the years.

Why? Because the good stuff is boring and the bad stuff is interesting. The act of (often misguided) celebrity is what we see splashed over tabloids and magazines - that is what we have to look at and criticise, not fame itself. Why is it we take such relish in seeing a young, 19 year old boy being arrested or shake our heads at a 20 year old girl in skimpy clothing, gyrating as she performs on stage? (I'm sure you know which celebs I'm talking about here!). Being famous does not cause you to stick a syringe in your arm any more than it does to go shoplifting. Personally I think it comes down to genetic make up and that some people are more likely to be addicts because it's human nature.

You can be famous and well known without being a 'celebrity' and there are many famous people who go to great lengths to protect their private life. Daniel Radcliffe has said in the past that celebrities who are on Twitter and other social media should not expect their lives to stay private.

It is not fame that brings unhappiness, fame is a consequence of certain life choices - you cannot say that every famous person in the world is unhappy, but a small minority are and it is us, the celebrity seeking public who are the ones who find happiness in their misery and therefore we should question ourselves before we question and judge others no matter who they are or how high their fall from grace.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Great Bristol Cake Off

Jack FM in Bristol are running 'The Great Bristol Cake-off' looking for the best cupcake in Bristol. I thought I'd enter for fun so cobbled together a recipe and sent it off.

Had a call yesterday and I'm one of the five finalists! I have to compete in a bake-off tomorrow with an hour and a half to bake and decorate 6 cupcakes. Argh! 

Only problem is that I've NEVER baked these cakes before so it'll be down to test batches tonight after work. Wish me luck!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Everyone loves a macaron...

I normally make big things. A big, rustic loaf of bread. A big joint of beef. A big mess... you get the idea. I thought I'd go for refinement this week though and knock up a batch of macarons. 

I adore macarons - I've been fortunate enough to go to Laduree on the Champs Elysee to sample them and could literally wolf down a dozen of the chewy, crispy morsels in one go if it wouldn't cripple my wallet. I've never made them though but have seen dozens of people do them on TV so thought I'd have a go. 

175g icing sugar
125g ground almonds
3 large free range egg whites
75g caster sugar

1) Preheat the oven to 160°C/fan140°C/gas 3. Sift the icing sugar and almonds into a bowl.

2) In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt to soft peaks, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar until thick and glossy. I also added some food colouring and cherry flavouring - you can add almost any flavour, just remember to avoid oil based flavourings as this will destroy the integrity of the meringue.

3) Fold half the almond and icing sugar mixture into the meringue and mix well. Add the remaining half, and fold the mixture until it is shiny and has a thick, ribbon-like consistency as it falls from the spatula. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm plain nozzle.

4) Line 2 baking sheets with baking paper. Pipe small rounds of the macaroon mixture, about 3cm across (I drew round a pot of bicarb to give me guide lines to pipe to), onto the baking sheets. Give the baking sheets a sharp tap on the work surface to get rid of any air bubbles. Leave to stand at room temperature for 20-30 minutes to form a slight skin. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.

5) Fill the macarons and sandwich together - I use passionfruit and lemon curd but you could use buttercream, jam or ganache

For a first effort they turned out pretty well - crispy and chewy, although I wasn't too pleased with the colour. However, winging their way to me is a set of Wilton colour pastes so I can get a really intense colour next time. (That's a mini cake stand in the pic, I haven't made giant macarons!)