DIY Paneer Cheese

Palak Paneer or spinach curry with Indian cottage cheese is a default dish that I always order when I go to an Indian restaurant. I like it that the spinach gravy is not spicy and of course, I love it for the cheese. An Indian friend once mentioned that you can make your own cheese with just milk and vinegar, and I have always wanted to try it out since. So while researching paneer recipes online, I came across a very detailed explanation on how to make your own paneer here: https://www.indianhealthyrecipes.com/how-to-make-paneer-cubes-at-home/

I gathered my ingredients and made 2 attempts at this experiment. I followed the method in the recipe using Chinese rice vinegar as my preferred form of acid. Rice vinegar does not have that sharp acidic smell so I did not have to rinse my curds off with water after. Here is what I learnt from my 2 experiments in the video below.

METHOD

Batch 1Batch 2
After turning off the heat, the milk was stirred for a couple of minutes to cool down before adding vinegarVinegar was added immediately after turning off the heat
Stirred the milk over long intervals in between spoons of vinegar
Intervals between each spoon of vinegar was short
Curdling process took about 15 minutesCurdling process took 5 minutes
Differences in methodology between Batch 1 and Batch 2

RESULTS

Batch 1Batch 2
Curds were small and of sandy texture. Final block of cheese was crumbly and breaks easily.Curds were in big lumps and smoother. Final block of cheese was firm and solid.
Differences observed in final product

CONCLUSION

The milk reacts quickly with vinegar while it is still hot. Vinegar needs to be added while the milk is hot because chemical reaction is retarded when milk cools down. The longer the curdling process is dragged out, the more dehydrated the curds become as it sits in the acidic liquid longer. Therefore, we can see the curds from Batch 1 is dry and crumbly compared to Batch 2.

My tips and recommendations from this experiment is:

  • use a pot with a narrow opening to prevent it from cooling too fast
  • use double layer of the disposable kitchen cloths. Disposable cloth is better because you don’t need to wash it after. The smell from the cheese is pretty strong and hard to wash off.
  • gather all curds into a ball and make sure they are not wrapped into the folds. This will give you a nicely shaped cheese.

Homestyle Salt Baked Chicken

My hometown Ipoh is famous for it’s traditional Cantonese style salt baked chicken. The marinated chicken is wrapped in baking paper and then buried in salt and baked. A good salt baked chicken is tender and juicy and very aromatic. Two important ingredients used in salt baked chicken are: 1) sand ginger (沙姜) or cekur root in Malay, and 2) Chinese Angelica root (当归).  Both have a very distinct smell and flavour that will immediately give you the association with Salt Baked Chicken for those who know their SBC well.

Sand Ginger 

I would like to clarify that sand ginger is actually different from normal ginger. Do not mistake the scientific name Kaempferia galanga with Thai galangal either. Sand ginger has a slight peppery taste and goes well as a marinade for chicken and pork. The Chinese call it sha jiang and the powder form can be found in traditional Chinese medicinal shops. In Malaysia it is called cekur and fresh cekur roots can be found in the wet markets. The roots and leaves are used in curries and traditional Malay rice dishes. Individual farmers plant them in small scale because the yield is low and it takes a long time to grow. Therefore, you might have to be at the market at the right time and day for a chance encounter.

Chinese Angelica Root

Chinese Angelica root or dang gui is a type of medicinal herb readily available in Chinese medicinal shops. It has a nice herbal fragrance that can be released when boiled. That is why it has to be soaked in boiling water for a few minutes before it is cooked with the chicken. If you use it dry, the smell will not come through. The main function of dang gui in this dish is to infuse the chicken with a herbal fragrance. Tuck the slices in between the chicken skin or nooks and crevices. 

With these two ingredients ready, you can easily make salt baked chicken at home. Thanks to modern technology, lazy home cooks like me can cheat our way through with an air fryer or electric oven. No need to buy a whole tonne of salt to bury the chicken. Just rub the marinade over the chicken, wrap in foil and bake in an air fryer.  

Marinating Ingredients:

  • 2 heaped tsp sand ginger powder
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 4-5 tsp sesame oil (enough to make into paste)
  • sliced Chinese angelica roots (enough to tuck inside the chicken)

Tips:

  • Make sure you rub enough salted marinade over the thick parts of the chicken
  • You can use a whole chicken or cut it up for faster cooking. You can also use chicken drumsticks only
  • Poke a skewer through the thickest part of the chicken, if the juices run clear it is done

Durian Kuih in Handcrafted Pandan Cups

Durian. A thorny issue for many. Some love it for it’s rich and complex flavours, described as sweet, creamy, bittersweet, intense or buttery. Others stay far away from the disgusting, pungent, nauseating fruit that wrecks havoc in hotels, airplanes and confined spaces. When Western friends who have never tried the fruit ask me how durian tastes, I describe it like this: smells like onions but tastes like custard, imagine eating onion custard.

I like custard. So when I saw some Hoen Kwe flour in the cupboard, I decided to use the extra durians to make this custardy durian dessert. Hoen Kwe flour is a type of mung bean flour mixture mostly made in Indonesia. It is cooked and left to set into a pudding-like texture and best served cold. It is usually sold in small little packs of 100 grams. And it comes with instructions on the pack itself. I am adding durian into the mix for this durian delight, only for durian lovers. It actually tastes stronger than pure durian itself. 

Learn how to fold pandan cups in this video too

Ingredients:

  • 1 pack Hoen Kwe flour
  • 3 cups coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup durian flesh
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt

This recipe can fill up approximately 30 pandan cups. If you did not make enough pandan wrappers, just pour the remaining mixture into a tray. Let it set, chill in the fridge and then cut into pieces for serving.

Tips:

  • If you are using thick coconut milk or coconut cream from a pack, dilute it with water to make up to 3 cups. You want the mixture to be milky, not too creamy. Then cook the mixture to a thick, goopy consistency.
  • Make sure the dessert is properly chilled before serving. It needs to be cold for that refreshing taste.


Chili and Lemon Grilled Fish with Banana Leaf

Grilled flounder wrapped in banana leaf

I love cooking with local Malaysian herbs and spices. Everything is just so pretty and colourful for the camera. But that’s not just it, the smell and flavour that these herbs release when you cut them is an like an appetiser, teasing your senses before the food is ready. 

Besides the mix of aromatic fresh herbs, banana leaf also contributes to another aspect of the dish. The light fragrance of the banana leaf gives your grill items a nice smell during cooking. It also protects the contents from drying up during the grilling process. You can find a lot of food that is cooked with banana leaf in Malaysia. 

So using the basic curry blend ingredients of garlic, shallots/onions, chilli, ginger and lemongrass, I added lemons into the grill fish wrap for a Thai twist. This basic blend is the base to many curry and spicy dishes. Whether you are using a charcoal grill or electric oven or air fryer, this recipe works for all gadgets in general.

Ingredients:

  • 10-12 pcs shallots
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 3 red chilis (more if you like spicy)
  • 2-inch pc of ginger
  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 2 lemons
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • banana leaf for wrapping

Tips:

Remember to add the oil generously. It helps to cook the fish and the herbs evenly and releases the aromas

Towards the end of grilling, just take the banana leaf off and let the grill crisp up the surface for an aromatic golden top

Press the lemons to release the juice when done


Turmeric Latte and all its benefits

My mother is always championing the benefits of turmeric, from relieving joint pains to aiding digestion. She sometimes adds a few pieces of turmeric to her stir fried vegetables and she also blends it with pumpkin for her spiced pumpkin soup. It gives her cooking an extra bit of a kick.

I first came across turmeric latte in a vegan cafe in Beijing. One of those organic, low fat, meat free cafes that promotes a healthy lifestyle for stressed out city folks. I never knew you can have turmeric in your drink because we usually use it for cooking curry in Malaysia. So, feeling adventurous, I went for a cup.

I could feel my body warming up as I sipped my turmeric latte, heat radiating from the centre to my extremities. It gets your blood circulating and that feels good even on a non-winter day. Hmm, not too bad.

I’ve been thinking about that drink recently and decided to do some research on it. Just like the Indian chai tea that has turned hip after reinventing itself as chai latte, the turmeric latte also had its roots as turmeric milk in India. The basic ingredients for the turmeric paste are turmeric, black pepper (aids the absorption of circumin, the active ingredient in turmeric) and cinnamon. Cook into paste with organic cold-pressed coconut oil (or olive oil if you don’t have coconut oil). You can also add on cardamom, cloves or fennel seed powder for an upgraded version.

Watch how to make your own fresh turmeric latte

Ingredients:

  • 500g turmeric root
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 2-3 tbsp organic cold-pressed coconut oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • optional spices: cardamom powder, fennel seed powder, clove powder
Fresh turmeric roots in a basket

Benefits of herbs and spices in this golden concoction:

Turmeric: aids digestion, relieves pain from inflammation, and fights against influenza

Black pepper: improves the absorption of Curcumin (active ingredient in turmeric) into our bodies

Cinnamon: encourages blood circulation and fights bacteria

Organic cold pressed coconut oil: raises the good cholesterol levels in your body and contains fats that boost brain function and reduce heart disease

And you know what is the best thing about this paste? You can use it to cook curries, add it to your stir fried vegetables or even put a dollop into your pumpkin soup! It’s so versatile once you have it all prepared.


Traditional Mung Bean Cake

Recently I found some wooden cake moulds while digging through the kitchen cupboards. These are blocks hand-carved from solid wood that my grandma used to make traditional rice cakes (炒米饼) with. I have not seen my grandma use them before but I do remember watching my mother hammer the wooden mould on the table as she shaped her mooncakes during mid-autumn festival.

As a tribute to my grandma’s kitchen antiques, I decided to make some mung bean cakes (绿豆糕) with these moulds. This is an old-fashioned cake, made traditionally by compressing mashed mung beans into a mould. These snacks are very easy to make and only requires 3 basic ingredients – mung beans, butter, sugar.

Ingredients:

  • 300g mung beans
  • 100g butter
  • 100g sugar
  • pinch of salt (not necessary if you use salted butter)

Just to be clear, the mung beans used here are actually the green mung beans with the shell removed. If you can’t find mung beans in the supermarket, you can get the green beans too. Just soak them overnight and rub them together with your hands to remove the outer shell. You can leave some green shells behind to give it some green colour. Just need to blend them in a food processor to properly mash them up.

Tips:

  • properly compact them into the mould so your shape would stay in place when you knock it out
  • chill them in refrigerator to let the cakes firm up
  • keep in fridge to stay fresh
  • you can use a food processor to blend it into a finer paste but I like the sandy texture of mashing with a fork

Nostalgic mung bean cakes are ready for tea time.


Grilled Lemongrass Pork Skewers

During my 13 years in China, I have discovered that I have an obsession with Yunnan cuisine. Maybe it’s the Thai, Vietnamese, and other southeast Asian flavours in their cooking that reminds me of home. Or the use of tropical herbs like lemongrass, mint, basil and chillies that sets it apart from other Chinese cuisines on the eastern coast.

I first came across this lemongrass skewer dish in a Yunnan restaurant in Beijing. The lemongrass is cut lengthwise through the middle and stuffed with chicken meat, then grilled. So I got the inspiration to stuff my lemongrass with mince pork instead. Minced meat is able to absorb more of the lemongrass flavour.

The secret to getting the most out of the lemongrass is to drizzle it with enough oil. The aroma and flavour of the lemongrass is released through the oils. Just like how the satay man dabs the lemongrass soaked in water and oil over the skewers frequently, the lemongrass essence needs a carrier to bring out its aroma.


Perfect Half-Boiled Eggs

How the half-boiled egg maker works

Did you know? The half-boiled egg maker was invented by a Malaysian in 1973 and was sold as the Newton Egg Maker. I took for granted that everyone knows what this gadget is but I realized that many of my friends from outside Malaysia and Singapore have never actually cooked their eggs this way.

When I first got my new Anova sous vide machine, I was excited to make some sous vide eggs that everyone was raving about — perfectly formed whites barely enveloping the creamy, liquid yolk inside. The instructions called for 45 minutes.

Just-cooked whites that doesn’t stick to the shell, clinging to a soft runny yolk inside

When my dad finally got to eat his sous vide eggs, the verdict was: “Almost the same as half-boiled egg. Just use the half-boiled egg maker. Takes only 10 minutes, save water, save electricity. ” To give the sous vide eggs credit, the yolks are a little creamier. But yes, it does save me a lot of time and work to just half-boil them the conventional Malaysian way.

So I started digging the cupboards for our yellow egg boiler. A four-piece plastic container that can cook up to 4 eggs each time. Almost every household and coffeeshop in Malaysia has one of these because the all time favourite Malaysian breakfast is half-boiled eggs with toast and a cup of hot coffee or Milo.

I decided to make a video of the half-boiled egg maker to show how this little gadget actually works. A few points to take note of when using this apparatus:

  • egg has to be at room temperature. If taking eggs out from the fridge, let it sit for 20 minutes or so until it has reached room temperature.
  • water has to be boiling. Straight from the boiling kettle or pot.
  • pour water up to the level indicator according to the number of eggs inside. This half-boiled egg maker can cook up to 4 eggs max.

Scientifically, if you want to boil the perfect egg, there is a formula for it. You have to take into account many variables such as the egg temperature, egg weight, surrounding temperature, air pressure, water temperature…blah blah blah. Unless you are into physics, many of us would just prefer to have a simple gadget that takes out all the calculations. But I did come across this Egg Boiling Calculator created by Miłosz Panfil, PhD and Mateusz Mucha. Something to amuse yourself if you do have time to experiment.