Monday, February 28, 2011

Texas Style No Bean Chilli

Texas-style no bean chilli has to be my favorite. To my readers in Asia, chilli in the States refers to the beef concoction cooked with a little tomatoes and plenty of spices. It goes extremely well with hotdogs and nacho chips like chili dogs, chilli cheeseburger, nachos that you will get at Chilli's or Fridays and the likes. My favorite way of serving chilli is staright up in a bowl, with chopped onion, scallion, shredded cheese, a dallop of sour cream and cornbread muffins on the side.

Chilli differs in every region, from the more popular chilli with beans to the Texas man-style chilli, all beef and no fillers. I am not a big fan of beans so the all beef version works extremely well for me.

The bonus point is the ease of preparation involved. All there is to do is cut the beef in cubes or long strips, diced the onion and garlic, mix up a bunch of spices, open a can of tomato, let it simmer for 2 hours and it is ready. It is so easy yet so good. Perfect in the winter or during rainy season. The recipe that I used is adapted from the 1984 Texas State Men's Chilli Cookoff's winner recipe. I like the robust flavor of the spices blend of the original recipe but adjusted the cumin to chilli powder ratio as my family loves cumin. Also, I find the addition of brown sugar in the stew gives it the right balance of salt, spicyness and a hint of sweetness.

Texas Style No-beans Chilli
(Adapted from 1984 Texas State Men's Chilli Cookoff Winner)
3lb beef, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 8oz can tomato sauce about 2 cups

1st Stage Seasoning
2 tsp beef bouillion
1 tsp chicken bouillion
2 Tbsp Paprika
1 Tbsp onion powder

2nd Stage Seasoning
6 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
6 Tbsp chilli powder
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 fresh chilli pepper, split

1 scallion, chopped
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 onion, chopped fine
1 cup sour cream


Step 1: Heat 3 Tbsp oil in a pot. Sear beef till brown. Add in garlic and onion. Saute for a few minutes till onion is softened.

Step 2: Add in 1st Stage seasoning, tomato sauce and enough water to cover the beef. Bring to a boil. Lower heat down to a simmer. Cover and let cook for 1 1/2 hour.

Step 3: Add in 2nd Stage seasoning. Cook for another 1/2 hour.

Step 4: Serve with scallion, chopped onion, shredded cheese and a dallop of sour cream with some cornbread on the side

Variation: Serve chilli on top of hotdogs or hamburger.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Cornbread Muffins ~ Kenny Rogers Muffin Wannabe

I remember when Kenny Rogers Roasters first hit town in Malaysia. My friends and I will go there for lunch after school and they make the only southern style cornbread muffins in Malaysia at the time. It was a realtively new food to me as the muffins I was used to were either chocolate or berries flavored. To combine corn in sweets, that was something new.

My first venture in making cornbread muffins is not a unique story. Just like any novice cook at the time, Jiffy mix cornbread seems like the perfect good solution. It was easy, convenient and cheap. Most of all, it works.

Years later after endless dabbling in baking and researching for recipes, the faithful day came when I finally venture into cornbread baking from scratch. I found many recipes online but few of the recips meet my criteria of making the Kenny Rogers style cornbread muffins. See, in the south, the cornbread recipe is not sweet. However, what they did not tell you is that cook usually poured gallons of honey after the baking process onto the cornbread to sweeten it. Something that a friend from the south told me.

Well, I want my Kenny Rogers style cornbread muffins and after some un-numbered times of trial and error, may I present to you my Sweet Cornbread Muffins.

 Cornbread Muffins
(Makes 12)

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 - 1 cup sugar (depending on the sweetness you like)
2 tsp  baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup corn kernels plus 1/2 cup for mixing into the batter
1 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
4 Tbsp melted butter

Step 1: Preheat oven to 450F or 232C

Step 2: Combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix well.
Step 3: In a food processor, combine the eggs, 1 cup of corn kernels and sour cream. Process for a minute till mixture is well blended. If you are using cream-style corn, just use a cup of the cream style corn and 1/2 cup of sour cream in the mix.
Step 4: Pour the liquid mix into the flour mix. Pour in the melted butter. Fold lightly to combine.

Step 5: Stir in the 1/2 cup of corn kernels. Batter will be thick.
Step 6: Prepare a muffin tin lined with muffin cups. Spoon cornbread batter into cups. Divide the batter evenly among the 12 cups.
Continue till all batter has been used.
Step 7: Bake for 12-15 minutes till cornbread is done and golden in color. Test with a skewer. Skewer should come out clean when insert into the center of a cornbread muffin.

Let cool on wire rack. Serve as is or with a bowl of chilli.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Weekday Easy Taco Nite

My family loves tacos. Taco is one of those easy meal that you can pull together in a matter of minutes for a busy weekday dinner. Unless you have a lot of time on hand or a keen yearning for carne asada or fish tacos, taco can be made relatively easy minus the elaborate prep.

The most important thing is to have taco shells, fresh lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cheese and salsa on hand. If you have the aforementioned ingredients, taco nite is well within reach.
The condiments of choice when it comes to taco nite is up to your personal preference. We like pace picante sauce, salsa, mexican picante sauce and sriracha hot sauce with our tacos. A dallop of sour cream is great too.
First thing to do is prep the fresh ingredients. Shred the lettuce leaves, cut up tomatoes, diced the onion finely and lay out the cheese on the taco board.

Next, brown up ground beef. I like to take the easy way out by browning the ground beef in the microwave. It takes about 5 minutes in the microwave to cook the ground beef. Just drain off the grease.
Then there is the taco shell. Store bought taco shells come in extremely handy.

Heat up 1/2 cup of oil over high heat on the stove. Cook the taco shell 30 seconds on each side.

Drain the taco shells on paper towels.

When ready to assemble, place a taco shell on your plate.

Place a slice of cheese on the shell.

Top with a handful of lettuce leaves.
Top with onions and tomatoes. Ground beef if you like. I like my vegetable taco, without any meat in it.

Sauces of choice. I like mine with a tablespoon of picante sauce, a squirt of sriracha and a small dallop of sour cream.

Hold taco together and enjoy. Repeat the process till you are full.  Approximate about 3 taco shells for a small eater, 4-6 for a big eater.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chinese Radish Cake- Loh Pak Ko

I had the urge to clean my fridge today, especially the vegetable and fruit compartments as it looked rather full with stuff. I found a chinese radish or daikon and a large carrot sitting in my fridge since Chinese New Year. The leftover daikon and carrot from making homemade yee sang for Chinese New Year. Three bunches of scallion, some leftover dried shrimps from my taro cake making experiment last year, two chinese sausages that has been sitting in the freezer for a while now and a bunch of shallots on the counter.

Immediately I thought of making Loh Pak Ko or Chinese Radish Cake. I am a big fan of radish cake and I am the only fan of radish cake in my house. I figure if I make a batch and save the leftover in the freezer, it should be good for a while. I never make Loh Pak Ko that often as I will be the only one to eat it. No one else in the family likes Chinese steamed Ko as they said the texture is strange.

To the uninitiated, Chinese Ko is made out of meat, veggies and rice flour mix. I can definitely see why, since it comes out soft. If you think of oatmeals and the like, it may help you to accept it somewhat. Beyond that, I really can't name other food here in the States which resembles the texture of Chinese Ko. Ko can be either sweet or savoury, depending on the ingredients available in the kitchen pantry.

Every cook has their own version of Loh Pak Ko. I have seen some recipes which called for soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil in making the dish. I prefer to season the Ko with only salt and pepper as I like to dip my Loh Pak Ko in soy sauce after it is done steaming. Don't ask me why, maybe I am just used to it that way.

The biggest thing when it comes to Loh Pak Ko is the Ko or cake part. Some recipes has the tendency of using too much rice flour, which to me if I want a cakey Loh Pak Ko, I can definitely find it in most of the dim sum place which tends to do just that to save on cost. I prefer my Loh Pak Ko with lots of ingredients and a lot less cakey than the commercial ones.

Rice flour played an integral part in making this Ko. I prefer using the Thai's Erawan Brand rice flour as it doesn't have the weird aftertaste unlike some of the Vietnamese brand rice flour. I find that the 1:1 ratio of flour-water mix to daikon-carrot mix is the perfect combination as the Ko will not come out too cakey. As I prefer my Loh Pak Ko with lots of ingredients, I tend to go overboard with the shitake mushrooms, Chinese sausage, dried shrimps, shallots and scallions. You can decrease the amount, if you wish, but why would you?

Chinese Radish Cake-Loh Pak Ko
3 cups shredded daikon/chinese radish
1 cup shredded carrots
5 dried shitake mushrooms (soaked in hot water for 30 minutes and diced)
2 links chinese sausages, diced
A handful of dried shrimps (soaked in hot water for 30 minutes and chopped)
3 shallots, finely sliced
3 scallions, chopped
2 cups rice flour (preferably Erawan Brand)
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of white pepper powder (black pepper is fine too)
1 tablespoon of oil

Step 1: Prepare all the ingredients.

Step 2: Shred daikon and carrots using a box grater or mandoline.

Step 3: Mix rice flour with one cup of water. Whisk till it is lump free. Batter will be fairly thick.

Step 4: In a wok, heat a tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Stir in shallots, chinese sausages, mushrooms, dried shrimps and scallion. Cook for a few minutes till aromatic.
Step 5: Add in shredded carrots and daikon. Stir to mix well with other ingredients. Add in water and let mixture comes to a boil.
Step 6: Add in the rice flour batter. Stir quickly to mix as it will get thick really quick

Reduce heat if necessary.

Step 7: Place mixture into a well greased saucepan or baking tin.

As I do not have a steamer at home, I made my own make-shift steamer using a pot filled with boiling water and a heavy bottom saucepan. If you are using this method, sprinkle about 2 tablespoon of water onto top of radish cake to avoid dryness.

Step 8: Steam for an hour. Let cool completely before slicing.
To serve: You can serve as is or pan fried the sliced radish cake in a non-stick pan using a teaspoon of oil.

Serve with some sweet hoisin sauce and chilli sauce like sriracha.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Homemade Coconut Jam - Kaya

I have always love coconut jam. In fact, that used to be the only thing I will eat with my morning toast. Butter and coconut jam on thick toast for breakfast. Back in Malaysia where I grew up, the Punjabi man used to sell the Benggali bread, that is what we called it, out of his makeshift green bread box at the back of his bike. It is essentially bread baked till the crust is extremely brown. All the crust is then trimmed off and you eat only the cottony white bread.

The special bread has an extremely soft texture and very light. Compared to Canadian white bread, I have to say, you will probably have to eat 3 slices of the Benggali bread toast to feel the satisfaction of a slice of Canadian white bread.

Another thing about the Benggali Bread, it is usually sold in a loaf of two or more. Or maybe that is just how my grandma used to get them. When toasted, the bread becomes extremely crunchy and it did not give any chew at all compared to biting into a regular toast. You can literally crumble the toast with your hand and all that is left is breadcrumbs. Hmmm.......that will be a very good bread for breadcrumbs and croutons.

Back to the coconut jam or kaya, it is a thick, gooey, sugary sweet spread. You can eat it with butter on toast, use it as a filling for steamed bun, as a filling for swiss rolls or just use it as a sweet curd for scones. If you love coconut, you will definitely love this jam.

When I first started making homemade kaya, I have tried atleast 10 different kaya recipes, all yielding different results in term of texture and sweetness. I like my kaya spreadable, which eliminated most of the nyonya kaya recipe I found online as they tend to be really thick. I also like my kaya to have an amber brown color from caramel, of moderate sweetness and no pandan paste, extract or food coloring in it. I guess I am a purist when it comes to kaya. Most of the recipe called for equal portions of eggs, sugar and coconut milk. Knotted pandan leaves are a good way to add a hint of pandan flavor without overpowering the original taste of kaya.

Homemade Kaya
(Makes one pint)
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar + 1/2 cup sugar for caramel
2/3 cup or 200ml of coconut milk
2 pandan leaves, knotted

Step 1: Gather all the ingredients. Fill a pot halfway with water. Boil water over high heat.

Step 2: Whisk eggs with 1 cup of sugar till sugar is fully dissolved.

Step 3: Add in coconut milk and stir to mix well.
Step 4: Strain mixture into a heavy bottom pan.

Step 5: Place saucepan onto the pot with simmering water. Turn heat to low. If you own a double boiler, just use your double boiler for this step.

Step 6: Place knotted pandan leaves into egg mix. Stir constantly.

Step 7: Meanwhile, in a pan, pour 1/2 cup of sugar and turn heat to medium high. Remember to keep stirring egg mix on makeshift double boiler.

Step 8: Cook caramel till amber in color

Step 9: Remove egg mix from pot for a while. Discard pandan leaves. Add in caramel to egg mix.

Caramel may harden a little when poured into egg mix. Do not worry. It will dissolves after a minute of stirring.

Step 10: Place saucepan back on the pot of simmering water. Continue to stir egg mix for another 20 minutes.

Step 11: The coconut jam may be thick enough at this point for a spreadable consistency. If you would like it thicker, continue to cook on double boiler for another 20 minutes or more to desired thickness. Note that the jam is slightly lumpy.

Step 12: Place jam in a blender and process till smooth. Alternatively, use a hand blender and process till smooth.

Step 13: Let cool and place in a container. Keep up to a month in the fridge.
Nothing beats toast with kaya and butter for a sweet breakfast, afternoon tea or light snack.

Note: You can omit the pandan leaves if you cannot find it. The kaya will still taste fine without the pandan flavor. Alternately, use a drop of pandan flavoring or pandan paste to infuse the flavor. If you are using pandan paste, your kaya may come out looking green, which is the color of pandan kaya.