When I was a little girl, I was quite the snacker (who am I kidding, I’m still a snacker!). Although potato chips and Planters Cheez Curls were readily available, I went for more “local” snack items like Chickadees and Twisties, or perhaps chili-coated tapioca crisps.
As a tween, I realized I required heftier munchies to sustain me throughout the day and that’s when I turned to curry puffs, fried fishballs on a stick, and my all-time favorite, sausage rolls.
Sausage rolls may sound like a strange snack to grow up eating in Singapore but it’s no doubt a colonial legacy. In fact, when we lived in England for a couple of years, sausage rolls and Devon cream teas were both staples in my diet, much to the detriment of my waistline. Sausage rolls used to be sold at just about every school canteen and roadside snack bar. Sadly, on a recent trip to Singapore I couldn’t spot them anywhere.
A few years ago, I picked up the “Singapore Heritage Food” cookbook and was excited to find a recipe for sausage rolls in there. However, the resulting product was not up to par with my taste memory—or perhaps nostalgia just made it murky.
Thankfully, my mother came to my rescue. Mum is good like that. Since we’ve moved to the U.S., she’s managed to recreate just about every childhood favorite (I’m talking about dishes that we used to go out to eat) from mee siam to chili crab. And every dish has been just as tasty, or even tastier.
One day, after I lamented about the disappointing sausage roll recipe, she decided to experiment and came up with a winner. Unlike the many sausage roll recipes I’ve seen, she uses nutmeg (it’s an Indonesian-Dutch thing) and lots of sugar to satisfy our Javanese taste buds I assume. Plus, she cuts them into smaller two-bite pieces so one is less likely to overindulge, a sensible precaution since it’s hard to stop at one. You have been warned, they are mighty greasy!
I don’t recall what my childhood sausage rolls taste like anymore. Nor does it matter as Mum’s version makes my family and I very happy–perfect for whenever we have an attack of the munchies. Amazing how fickle those taste buds can be!
Mum’s Sausage Rolls
Pork and puff pastry—I can’t imagine a more sublime marriage. My mum uses the Pepperidge Farm brand of frozen puff pastry but for some reason puff pastry isn’t always stocked at the neighborhood grocery store. I ended up buying Dufour brand at Whole Foods and that set me back a pretty penny–$10 for 14 ounces! Granted it’s made with real butter but still … That’s definitely an incentive to make my own puff pastry next time. If you have a good recipe let me know.
Makes: 20 pieces
Time: 20 minutes, plus cooking time
2 slices white or whole wheat bread, torn into small pieces
1/3 cup (2 percent or whole) milk
1 pound ground pork or chicken
3 to 4 teaspoons sugar (my family likes it sweet so add less if you prefer)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon white or black pepper
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I use freshly grated, and feel free to substitute with a different spice, say sage)
1 (14 to 17 ounce) package puff pastry, thawed completely
Flour, for dusting
1 egg, lightly beaten, and diluted with a tablespoon or two water
Black or white sesame seeds for sprinkling, optional
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
Soak the bread in the milk. Combine the ground pork with the sugar, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a medium bowl.
Sprinkle some flour on your work surface and unfold the puff pastry, rolling out if necessary. Cut into half to form two rectangles measuring 8 x 24-inches.
Add the soaked bread to the pork mixture and mix with your hands.
Divide the pork mixture into half and shape a mound of meat (like a mountain range) along the horizontal of each puff pastry rectangle, leaving an inch or so on either side.
Brush the long edges of each rectangle with the egg, then fold the sides up and pinch together to seal.
Turn the rolls over so that the seams are on the bottom. Brush generously with the egg, then sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Cut crosswise into 1-1/2 inch pieces.
Arrange the rolls on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.
Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for 10 more minutes, or until golden brown. (If using a different brand, adjust temperature and time according to package directions.) Remove to a cooling rack and leave to rest for a few minutes but devour while still warm!
Note: You can freeze the sausage rolls to keep them fresh for a later date. Just reheat them in an oven at 325 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes or in a toaster oven. I find this a good strategy as gobbling too many too quickly (and you will!) may be hazardous for your health.
This post is part of the monthly Let’s Lunch Twitter blogger potluck. This month we pay tribute to “The Marijuana Chronicles,” an anthology that features Cheryl Tan’s short story. For more Let’s Lunch “Munchies” posts, follow #LetsLunch on Twitter or visit my fellow bloggers below:
Annabelle‘s Scallion Pancakes at Glass of Fancy
Anne Marie‘s Pepper-Stuffed Tater Tot, Fried Pickle, Cheese Whiz and Garlic Bread Burger at Sandwich Surprise
Cheryl‘s Spam Fries with Key Lime Mayo at A Tiger in the Kitchen
Emma‘s Homemade Pizza Rolls at Dreaming of Pots and Pans
Grace‘s Fry Sauce, with an Asian Twist at HapaMama
Linda‘s Sam Sifton’s Trinidadian Chinese Five Spice Chicken at Spice Box Travels
Lisa‘s No-Time-To-Wait Nachos at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Vivian‘s Spam Bacon & Kim Chi Sandwich at Vivian Pei
In the U.S., avocados are most often eaten in savory dishes, sliced to adorn salads or made into guacamole.
As a little girl, my mum would make us a very simple snack–she’d halve an avocado, drizzle some palm sugar syrup (made by melting gula jawa a.k.a. arenga palm sugar) over each half and hand us a spoon. I’d scoop out the flesh bit by little bit, making sure I got a good dose of caramelly syrup with each spoonful of creamy avocado.
I still eat avocados this way once in awhile but I’m more likely to make es alpukat, a light and refreshing that satisfies my craving for something sweet on a hot summer day. Es alpukat (literally iced avocado) is ubiquitous in Indonesia, available at just about any restaurant or at a street-side stall, but it’s easy enough to make at home.
The name makes no mention of it but coffee is usually added to the drink. You can always leave it out or substitute with chocolate milk.
What’s your favorite way with avocados?
Iced Avocado and Coffee Drink (Es Alpukat)
Es Alpukat is the perfect dessert if you are following a heart-healthy diet. The rich, creamy flesh of avocado gives this drink richness and body but it contains “good” mono and polyunsaturated fats, is naturally cholesterol-free as well as being chock full of nutrients like Vitamin E and folate. So you can drink up guilt-free. The Indonesian way is to serve it over ice and scoop out the avocado chunks with a spoon, but you can blend it like a milkshake–and add ice cream!– if you prefer.
Makes: 4 (1-cup) servings
1 large ripe Hass avocado
1/3 cup espresso plus 2/3 cup water, or 1 cup strong brewed coffee, cooled
2 cups whole or 2 percent milk
1/4 cup Pandan Syrup (see below)
Chocolate syrup (optional)
Using a tablespoon, scoop avocado flesh in bite-sized chunks into a medium bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
To serve, squirt the chocolate syrup to coat the insides of 4 tall, clear glasses. Divide the mixture equally. Add ice cubes and sprinkle with ground coffee just before serving.
All this is is a rich simple syrup steeped with pandan leaves with a 2:1 sugar-to-water ratio so you can adjust amounts according to your needs. Use one pandan leaf for every cup of sugar. The cooled syrup can be bottled and keeps in the refrigerator for up to two months. You can use the syrup to sweeten teas and other mixed drinks too.
Time: 15 minutes
Makes: 2-1/2 cups
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 pandan leaves, trimmed and tied into separate knots
In a medium (2-quart) saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and stir continuously until the sugar dissolves, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Remove the leaves and pour the syrup into a jar or bottle. Refrigerate for up to two months.
Several recipes I learned while writing The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook are still in my everyday cooking repertoire. Mochiko Fried Chicken (pg. 187), Japanese-Style Hamburgers (pg. 153), Deep-Fried Tofu Simmered with Tomatoes (pg. 123), just to name a few.
And an all-time favorite–Caramelized Chicken with Lemongrass and Chilies (pg. 179).
Seemingly simple at first, this is one recipe that takes practice to perfect. Over the years, I’ve managed to improve the final outcome bit by bit.
I confidently caramelized the sugar to the point where it turns a rich mahogany and hovers on the bittersweet, and doesn’t burn. I know that the quality of the chicken is very very important to this dish. The chicken has to be fresh and definitely not plumped up with water. The extra liquid released during cooking turns the chicken pieces into mush, far from the nicely bronzed outcome you want. Now, I can make this dish with my eyes closed (well, almost!) and it turns out delicious every time.
But I am always left with one conundrum: what to do with the lemongrass tops? I’ve tossed the tops into a pot with tea. I’ve made lemongrass vinegar. And then it came to me–why not poach chicken? It would make an excellent addition to a mixed green salad, my Harvest Rice Salad, and for a summery chicken salad for your next picnic.
The chicken turned out soft and tender, and was imbued with a delightful lemony scent and flavor. The remaining stock was so fragrant I was almost tempted to stick my head over the pot and breathe in the aromatherapy “fumes!” I decided to save it for another dish instead.
What do you do with your lemongrass tops?
Lemongrass Tea-Poached Chicken
I used boneless chicken thighs for this method (I wouldn’t even call it a recipe!) because that’s what I always eat but you can use breasts too if you prefer. You can put the tea leaves into a cheesecloth sachet but I find that the tea leaves can be easily scraped off. If you only have tea bags, use one tea bag and remove it once the water comes to a boil, unless you want a stronger tea flavor. Try adding other complementary herbs to the mix like Thai basil, ginger, or green onions.
Time: 20 minutes
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon good quality looseleaf black or green tea
Tops from 3 to 4 stalks of lemongrass
3 smallish boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 3/4 pound)
Fill a heavy (2-quart) pot about halfway full with water, just enough to cover the chicken pieces. Add the salt, tea, and lemongrass tops, and bring to a boil. Add the chicken and bring it back to a simmer. Turn off the heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and remove the pot from the stove (important if you have an electric stove). Let sit for about 15 minutes (thicker pieces may take longer) or until the chicken is no longer pink inside (cut into a piece to check). If it is, put the lid back on and wait another 5 to 10 minutes.
Let the chicken cool a little then put it in the fridge overnight to cool completely. Remove the chicken from the liquid and shred with two forks or cut into slices.
My parents aren’t natural storytellers (perhaps I should ask more often?) but every once in awhile a gem from their childhood pops up. Like this one story my mum recently told me: Ma remembers always waking up from her afternoon naps to the intoxicating aroma of freshly-baked-or-cooked something wafting in from the kitchen. To get her and her siblings to fall asleep with the least amount of fuss, Popo, her mother and my grandmother, would promise her and her siblings a treat when they woke up. The post-nap delights ranged from roti bakso (savory meat-filled buns) to kue mangkok (“cup”cakes), and all were delectable.
While Ma and my uncle and aunts wriggled restlessly in their beds anticipating what lay in wait for them when they woke up, I envision Popo (whom I only know from photos) hard at work in her tropical kitchen. As she rolled and flattened soft balls of dough, she’d occasionally wipe sweat from her brow with a hanky she stuffed into her bra strap. Taking a teaspoon in hand, she’d scoop a mixture of pork, candied winter melon, and green onions into the middle of each dough disc. Gently, she’d bring the dough edges together and wrap it up into a neat oval package as she listened for rogue sounds coming from the children’s bedroom.
When Ma and her siblings woke up in a couple of hours, the buns would be out of the oven and ready to be grabbed by little hands and devoured with squeals of delight.
All this I see in the sepia tones of my mind’s eye, imagining what my mom’s childhood was like and what Popo was like.
Inspired by this perfect anecdote, I decided to recreate this experience for my son with my own post-nap treat.
One Tuesday afternoon after Isaac goes down for his nap, I busy myself in the kitchen. I want to bake banana bread but I only had two bananas (three at first but one was so ripe it fell splat on the floor when I accidentally dropped it). Desperation incites innovation and digging around my kitchen, I discover two bright yellow mangoes, ripe and ready to eat, in my fridge.
Bananas and mangoes are both tropical, I convince myself, they’ll couple very well in a quick bread recipe!
As I prepare all the ingredients, I hear a squawk. My heart sinks, it’s been barely 30 minutes since Isaac went down! Sure enough, the little guy emerges from his room, his disheveled hair in a post-nap Mohawk. I panick for two seconds before realizing, wait, he can help me bake! All kids love to measure ingredients and mix batter don’t they?
Isaac has never really shown much interest in helping me in the kitchen and I’ve never forced him. But this time, I drag his stool into the kitchen and try and talk up the mother-and-son baking experience.
“This is going to be so much fun! You can measure the sugar, flour and butter, and mix everything together. Come help mommy in the kitchen.”
“I don’t want to. I want to watch TV!”
“But baking is so much fun! Don’t’ you want to help mommy?”
“I don’t want to! I want to watch TV!”
A few volleys back and forth ending with a promise of “Thomas the Tank Engine” later, Isaac steps up onto his stool. He starts by scooping sugar into the mixing bowl. Then he helps me add the butter and proceeds to “cream” the mixture with a wooden spoon. After two or three turns around the bowl, he declares, “I’m done!” He hops off the stool and goes off to play with his airplanes.
Nothing I can say henceforth can cajole him back into the kitchen.
Feeling dejected, I finish mixing the batter and shove the loaf pan into the oven.
As I sit down to wait for the bread to bake, I realize how silly I was for getting frustrated. Did I really expect everything to go according plan? Hah, it was definitely wishful thinking on my part.
If there’s one important lesson to take away from raising a toddler, it’s that you should always expect the unexpected. It builds character and encourages a flexible outlook on life. And sometimes results in a new favorite recipe!
Simple and straightforward, the original banana bread recipe came to me on the back of a bag of flour many years ago when I was in college. It’s been my go-to recipe ever since. Over the years, I’ve mixed it up a little: varying the ratio of white to brown sugar, using a combo of all-purpose and whole wheat flour (I add some applesauce or yogurt to moisten it up), substituting butter for shortening, etc., etc. And the sweet smelling loaf—crusted in a shiny mahogany veneer–comes out lovely every time!
Time: 10 minutes prep, 50 minutes baking
Makes: 1 loaf
3/4 cup granulated raw sugar or brown sugar (I really like Wholesome Sweeteners brand)
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 eggs at room temperature
1-3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 very ripe honey (Altaufo) mango, peeled, seeded, chopped and mashed (about 1 cup)
2 large bananas, mashed
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan.
In a medium mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs and beat well.
Sift flour, baking powder and soda and salt and add to the creamed mixture. Stir in the mango and banana and mix until just blended. It will be lumpy but don’t fret.
Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning the loaf onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing (if you can wait!).
Help! I’ve turned into my mother!
As much as I love my mum, I’ve lived in fear that our bloodlines run so deep I was bound to inherit some of her “quirky” (yes, that’s a diplomatic term) traits sooner or later.
While I’ve managed to dodge Ma’s penchant for sucking in her breath every time the car brakes (an unfortunate habit learned over decades of being in the passenger seat while my dad is driving), or haggling with poverty-stricken market vendors in developing countries over 10 cents or some such paltry sum (seriously, my heart breaks every time I witness this injustice), like her, I am now a perpetual rice-eater.
No matter how much protein or how many potatoes I consume, if I don’t eat rice, I’m just not satisfied. Not to mention, my belly starts rumbling barely an hour later.
Growing up, hot and fluffy rice took pride of place in the center of the dinner table, forming the blank canvas of my childhood palate. Plain white rice, usually jasmine, would be embellished by a stir-fry of bok choy and garlic, and turmeric fried chicken or spicy beef curry. The next day, any leftover rice was transformed into fried rice or thick rice porridge for breakfast.
Granted this rice-eating habit has followed me into adulthood, but when days are pushing 80 or 90 degrees, the last place I want to be is in a smoldering hot kitchen.
And so began my quest for no-cook — or as close to it as one can possibly get — rice recipes.
I’ve been inspired by visits to farmers’ markets, my favorite cookbook authors, and by experimenting with creative riffs on Asian favorites. The results were spectacular: a mound of rice studded with assorted seasonal vegetables, like gems, and seasoned with my favorite vinaigrette du jour; no-cook “fried” rice using the same ingredients but in different guises — grated carrots, shredded Chinese cabbage and crumbled hard-cooked eggs tossed with rice; rice cakes dipped in wasabi dressing, and the list goes on.
In the end, I’ve discovered several “out-of-the-wok” rice recipes to add to my repertoire, often saving the day when the pool, rather than the stove, beckoned.
Thank you, Ma, I owe you for this one!
Harvest Red Rice Salad
I’ve grown to love the reddish-brown hue of Thai red rice, some grains with the bran rubbed off to reveal the white beneath. The needle-thin grains are pretty to look at and have a pleasing chewy, nutty flavor. Thai red rice is unmilled (like brown rice) and takes longer to cook than polished rice like jasmine. However, because the grains are slender, they cook more quickly than other unmilled rices and use less water. Use a heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid to ensure the steam is retained in the pot during cooking. One cup raw rice yields about 3 cups cooked rice. Measurements and times vary according to rice type, so follow the package directions. Jasmine rice takes 15 to 18 minutes. Find red rice at Asian markets or specialty markets, or substitute brown rice.
Makes: 4 salad servings, or 2 light lunch servings
1 cup Thai red rice
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or water
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup fresh lime or lemon juice (about 2 large limes or 1 lemon)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 heaping tablespoon honey
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
2 green onions, using green parts only, chopped
1/2 green or red bell pepper, chopped (1/2 cup)
1/4 small red onion, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Wash the rice well and drain. In a heavy-bottomed pot, combine the rice and stock. Bring to a boil over high heat and let boil for 1 minute. Stir the rice to prevent sticking. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand covered for 10 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, whirl the canola oil, lime juice, soy sauce and honey in a blender until smooth to make the vinaigrette.
When done, fluff the rice with a fork and combine the rice and vegetables in a large bowl. Add the vinaigrette and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the salad sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving, or refrigerate for later.
This post is part of the monthly #Let’s Lunch blogger potluck. For more Let’s Lunch “Too Hot to Cook” posts, follow #LetsLunch on Twitter or visit my fellow bloggers below:
Lucy’s “The Girl in a Hat Goes on a Picnic” at A Cook and Her Books.
Monica’s Peanut Salad at A Life of Spice
Lisa’s Aperol Spritz Granita at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Cheryl’s Mango-Key Lime Pie at A Tiger in the Kitchen
Linda’s Escape from San Francisco Picnic at Spicebox Travels
Have you ever been struck by an incessant food craving that just won’t go away? (No, this has nothing to do with pregnancy.) It’s kinda like an earworm (click here for more info about this wonderful new word I just learned about on NPR), a song that lodges in your head and plays over and over again.
Most often, it’s a childhood snack or comfort food you crave–mom’s mac and cheese, Twinkies (RIP), or cherry-flavored jello. And it’s always, always, always, annoying because you simply can’t shake it off until you actually indulge it.
In my case, I’ve been fantasizing about glutinous rice balls in sugar syrup (also known as tang yuan,汤圆) for the last week or so. You know, those chewy white balls made from glutinous (or sweet rice) flour, the ones that burst open with one bite, releasing a lavalike flow of sweet black sesame paste?
So when Diana Kuan (who writes the marvelous blog appetiteforchina.com) invited me to participate in her Chinese New Year potluck to celebrate her new book The Chinese Takeout Cookbook, one recipe was calling, siren-like, out to me.
I’ve seen black sesame ice cream on menus before but I’ve never tried it, let alone attempted to make it. However, Diana’s recipe is so simple that my mind was made up before you could say “black sesame.” I whipped up the ice cream base in barely 10 minutes and the ice cream machine did the rest of the work.
The four hours the ice cream had to sit in the freezer to set seemed like a toe-tapping eternity. As soon as the timer went off, I scooped some out, sat down with a bowl of cool, nutty black sesame ice cream and ate my craving away spoonful by luscious spoonful.
If you’d like to win a copy of The Chinese Takeout Cookbook, please leave a comment below telling me where and/or in what dish you’ve tried black sesame seeds (and even if you haven’t, leave a comment anyway)! I’ll select a winner at random on March 8th.
Black Sesame Ice Cream
Adapted from The Chinese Takeout Cookbook by Diana Kuan
Diana uses a light Philadelphia-style eggless base for this delicious dessert infused with a hint of vanilla and the more dramatic nutty fragrance and flavor of black sesame, which is almost akin to dark chocolate or French roast coffee. I lightened it up a little and used half-and-half instead of heavy cream for a fluffier gelato-like texture. If you can actually resist gorging, the ice cream stores well in the freezer for up to a week.
Makes: 1 quart
Time: 10 minutes, active
2 cups half-and-half, or heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1/∕8 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup black sesame seeds
Ice cream maker
Combine 1 cup of the heavy cream, the sugar, and salt in a large bowl and whisk until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Stir in the remaining 1 cup heavy cream, the milk, and vanilla extract. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour. (If you are in a hurry, skip this step).
Grind the sesame seeds in a clean spice grinder for about 5 seconds until they turn into a coarse powder. Don’t grind for too long as the seeds will turn into a paste.
Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and slowly pour in the ground black sesame. Churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the ice cream to a freezersafe container and freeze for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Now for some disclaimers: I received a copy of this book as thanks for writing a blurb for the back cover. And in participating in this potluck, I’ll be given a copy of The Chinese Takeout Cookboook to share with one lucky reader as well as be entered in a giveaway. However, I am endorsing this book because it has awesome, easy recipes that I know you, my reader, will enjoy.