Saturday, July 31, 2010

Not Just a Pretty Face

Still pretty but maybe this "pretty face" needs a bit of botox!
Pandan leaves
The rice layer waiting to be cooked

If you can't get a banana leaf to flatten the rice, 
just use a serving spoon with a clean produce bag over it
If you are a Malaysian living overseas, what do you do if you crave a Malaysian dish? Do you wait until your next trip back so you can satisfy your craving or do you look up the recipe online or in your Malaysian recipe books and just attempt the recipe? Because I live in the Bay area which has a large Southeast Asian population it is easy to get ingredients for Malaysian dishes. So for me when I crave something I have to add another factor which is having enough people to eat what I cook! With savory dishes like rendang, satay, fish curry etc. it’s not a problem because Keith enjoys these dishes, but when it comes to desserts like kueh talam, onde-onde, kueh ketayap etc he’s not a big fan and so I have to wait for a day when other Malaysians are around to enjoy the dish with me.

A couple of weeks back my cousin Stephanie and her family came to visit us for a few days and before she came I asked the usual question of what they wanted on the menu. She requested a dessert called kueh seri muka which means pretty face cake in Malay. This is a steamed cake made with sweet/glutinous rice at the bottom and topped with a custard made from eggs, sugar, flour coconut milk and pandan juice. Pandan juice is made from screwpine leaves or “pandan leaves” in Malay, blended with water. Pandan leaves are used extensively in Southeast Asian cooking both in desserts and also to add fragrance to rice and other dishes. The Thais make a wonderful dish with marinated chicken pieces wrapped in pandan leaves and then deep fried or grilled called Pandan Chicken.

You will absolutely need to get fresh or frozen pandan leaves for this recipe. You can get pandan essence in small bottles but it is just not the same as using the leaves. As you can see in the photo the custard turned out a little soft because of insufficient flour (I have corrected the recipe) but it was delicious all the same. Some recipes ask for the custard to be cooked for a few minutes on the stove to thicken it before being poured onto the rice layer and then some recipes just require you to pour the raw custard batter on the rice and steam it. I tried the first method this time and will probably try the second method the next time I make this.

Stephanie, our friend Ivan and even Stephanie’s kids all agreed that the kueh seri muka was absolutely delicious. Even Keith said it was “nice”.  I actually dare say that it was better than some of the Seri Muka that I have had in Malaysia!  So if you have a craving for kueh seri muka and if you can get fresh or frozen pandan leaves do try making it.

Serves 6 - 8

Rice Layer
1½ cups sweet (glutinous) rice
1 cup thin coconut milk
½ tsp salt
1 pandan leaf, cut into a few lengths

Custard Layer
2 large eggs
1 cup thick coconut milk
¾ cup (6 oz) white sugar
1 cup pandan juice (blend 10 pandan leaves with 1 cup water, strain)
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp corn starch
1/3 cup all purpose flour

To make the rice layer
  • Wash rice in several changes of water until water runs clear. Cover with fresh water and soak for at least 3 hours. Rinse and drain rice.
  • Place in shallow 10” cake tin. Mix the coconut milk and salt together and add this to the rice. Bury the pandan leaf pieces in the rice and steam over rapidly boiling water until rice is cooked, about 30 minutes.
  • Remove pandan leaves and fluff rice up with a fork. Then, using a banana leave or a large spoon placed in a clean produce bag, press the rice down to form an even compact layer.
To make the custard layer
  • In a mixing bowl, combine the eggs, coconut milk and sugar, stirring with a balloon whisk or wooden spoon. Add the pandan juice, corn starch and plain flour. Stir well until smooth and free from lumps
  • Strain mixture into a metal bowl and sit this bowl over a pan of gently simmering water. Stir continuously until custard just begins to thicken-do not overcook. Pour this over the rice layer. Steam over very gentle heat until set, about 30 minutes. Avoid opening the steamer as this will only allow heat to escape and lengthen the cooking time.
  • Allow cake to cool completely before cutting. Best eaten on day it is made as the rice hardens once refrigerated.

Monday, July 5, 2010

From Drab to Fab: Awesome Oatmeal Cookies

A stack of these + a hot cup of tea = heaven!
I like cookies but of course you can’t eat them all the time. But then again if they’re made with healthy stuff like oatmeal, dried fruit and cinnamon then that sort of cancels out all the unhealthy stuff like the butter, sugar and flour right? At least that’s my excuse for making these awesome oatmeal cookies whenever I have a hankering for cookies. What makes these oatmeal cookie awesome? The orange flavored dried cranberries (which I get from Trader Joe’s), white chocolate chips and the orange rind if you have some on hand, take what would be ordinary oatmeal cookies from drab to fab!

Makes about 4 dozen

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
¾ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp grated orange rind (optional)
1½ cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
3 cups Quaker Oats
1 cup orange flavored dried cranberries
½ cup white chocolate chips

  • Heat oven to 350°F
  • Beat the butter with the brown and granulated sugars until creamy
  • Add eggs and vanilla and the orange rind (if used), beat well
  • In another bowl combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, mix well
  • Add combined flour mix to the wet batter, mix well
  • Stir in oats, cranberries and chocolate chips
  • Drop tablespoonfuls onto cookie sheet
  • Bake 10 – 12 minutes or until golden brown
  • Cool, then remove to wire rack