The top five

We’re finally down to the last two days of 2011. It has been one hell of a year that has seen me turning my casual cooking photography into a new passion, boycotting the kitchen during my initial months in KL, and then coming full circle to start this food blog in early December. Before we bid adieu to 2011, I wanted to do a quick nod to my top five favourite moments in the kitchen this year. Yes, as lame as that sounds, I am obsessed with lists and actually remember the significance of almost all the key dishes I have cooked.  Photographing them helps imprint the memory and contextualises each meal (i.e celebratory dinner after 10KM race, soul comforting Friday night pasta after a crappy client meeting). I have had some lovely food memories this year so I’m ending 2011 on a positive and grateful note – here’s to more exciting kitchen discoveries in 2012.

So in no particular order…

1. Baked cod fillet with salsa
A healthier take on my pub grub of choice – fish & chips. Yes, yes, I know fish & chips is not the same without all the grease, however I think it is actually the quality of the fish that makes/breaks this British classic. I have such fond memories of this meal as it is a reminder of the exciting random discoveries one can encounter on a typical day out in London. In this case, a beautiful summer afternoon lazing solo in Primrose Hill led to the finding of the quaintest neighbourhood fishmonger, whose main philosophy was to provide fresh, exceptional quality, variety, environmentally sustainable, and affordable seafood. The shop owner was on a mission to inspire residents to once again trust in their local grocer. Food shopping with principles – I knew I had stumbled upon a gem. Over the next few months I became a dedicated visitor, keen to support the underdog independent seller fighting to keep his store open against the threat of the giant high street chains. Ethics aside, the freshness of the seafood at this store was worth the out-of-the-way 40 minute walk from Kentish Town to Primrose Hill.

A really good piece of fish, like the one below from said fishmonger, really does not require much preparation to it. Minimal interference will truly hero its freshness. All that is required to prepare the cod fillet is seasoning and a very mild sprinkling of breadcrumbs before baking in the oven. The cod makes a nice base to the citrus tones of the pepper salsa – a combination of chopped red, green, and yellow peppers, coriander, and lime juice. To me, this dish personifies London summer on a plate.

2. Char kway teow
And now for a Malaysian classic, the iconic char kway teow. This photograph was taken in early January 2011, the weekend before what is officially known in the UK as the most depressing day of the year. Always the third Monday in January, this is the day when the sinking realisation kicks in that party season is over, you’ve spent all your money on drinks Christmas pressies, payday is still awhile away, new year resolutions go down the drain, and it’s only going to get colder. All these factors combined is enough to make you reconsider the point of living. Succumbing to the winter blues, I attempted to recreate this signature Malaysian dish to pacify my homesickness. I say attempted because making char kway teow at home is like trying to redraw Da Vinci’s Last Supper. Basically, your classic char kway teow is a masterpiece that no matter how confident an artist/cook you are, there is just something you can’t get quite right. I have tried numerous homecooked char kway teows (including my mom’s) and they somehow do not live up to the same lip-smacking satisfaction guaranteed when eating this at a hawker stall. An intensely hot smoky wok is apparently what makes the difference (and possibly the spoonfuls of MSG). Unfazed by the impossible and craving a taste of home, I stayed up all night reading hundreds of different recipes, taking bits and pieces from various sources to concoct my own special version that both my flatmate and I absolutely enjoyed! Success was short-lived. I made the silly mistake of not jotting down the magical combination that led to smoky (not soggy) noodles and until today I have not been able to recreate this. And trust me, recent attempts have gone so very wrong. In hindsight it was probably the winter blues that made us delirious into thinking that this was the best homemade char kway teow ever but whatever the case, moral of the story, when it works – WRITE IT DOWN!

3. Watermelon & Feta Salad
No further explanation required here because I have already elaborated on the significance of this dish.  This simple salad basically revived my love for cooking during a time when I thought I had lost my mojo.

4. Grilled lemon sole with cherry tomatoes and red peppers
This is the food photo that I am most proud of to date (ok so it had a little help with Instagram effects but it’s still mine!). I find the contrast between the fish fillets and the blood red of the roasted cherry tomatoes and red peppers quite dramatic. I used lemon sole, with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, plenty of black pepper and simply oven grilled on top of some halved cherry tomatoes and chopped red peppers. This was also my first time experimenting beyond my comfort zone of salmon, cod, and tuna steaks because a fillet of cod costs an arm and a leg in Malaysia. Lemon sole is a more affordable (and just as tasty) alternative. One of the joys of cooking is improvising to best make use of what you have around you.

5. Scrambled eggs with grilled asparagus, smoked salmon, and roasted cherry tomatoes
I love this dish for a number of reasons:

Reason 1: I finally, finally got scrambled eggs right.
I am fanatical about eggs. I would like to think that I’m pretty proficient with most egg dishes – I make a mean egg sarnie (recipe to be shared soon!), my frittata and omelet combinations are creative, I know the exact time required for perfectly boiled eggs, and I can do an egg fry up with my eyes closed. BUT ask me to scramble or poach an egg and I was/am completely hopeless. In fact, I’m still useless at poaching, even with the assistance of foolproof poaching devices! Not ideal for someone very particular about her scrambled eggs because oh-my-god do I despise overcooked eggs. Prior to mastering the art, I used to force feed people (family members, flatmates, friends, randoms) into eating my overdone eggs so I didn’t have to suffer through them.

So after after much practice (and annoyance from those that live with/around me), I only got the hang of making scrambled eggs correctly THIS YEAR (slow learner!). The perfect scrambled eggs should have a rich golden colour, is lush in texture (not runny), and oozes a natural creaminess even without the addition of a tub of butter (FYI this is how most restaurants achieve to-die-for but not waist-friendly scrambled eggs). The trick is using fresh eggs and a good non-stick pan. And whatever you do, do not let the eggs settle otherwise you end up with an omelet or an overdone mess. I beat the eggs in a bowl, without any milk or seasoning – I’ve read that seasoning at this stage will affect the consistency of the end product. Add a knob of butter to a hot, pipping pan. Once the butter has melted, pour the eggs in and allow to cook for about 20 seconds. Just as the eggs begin to take form, you need to start stirring (as you would a risotto) to break up the formation. Once this is adequately broken up, let the mixture settle ever so slightly again and repeat the process of stirring furiously. Take the pan off the stove when the eggs look halfway done and continue stirring – this avoids overcooking as the eggs will naturally cook from the heat of the pan. At this stage season and add creme fraiche (optional). There’s nothing like starting the weekend with yummy scrambled eggs for brekkie.

Reason 2: I cooked and assembled the dish just for me. That’s right, for ME, solo.
When I initially shared this picture with a few people, I had comments of ‘do you actually go through all that trouble cooking breakfast for just yourself? You’re so weird!’ Well why not? It honestly was not that much effort – the asparagus and tomatoes I grilled with olive oil. Once the asparagus was cooked, I wrapped some shop bought decadent smoked salmon around the stalks to make it all look pretty. The toast took a press of a button on the toaster. That’s pretty much it. I would like to think that just because you are cooking for one does not mean you need to limit yourself to a quick fix microwaveable ready meal. Every meal you eat, either alone or with groups of people, should be a treat that you enjoy and look forward to. 
When I sit down to eat, I want to appreciate every last bite. To help break the monotony and mundane pace of everyday life, I am a strong believer in hero-ing the small moments that make the journey more joyful. And if all it takes is just a bit more preparation and consideration in my cooking to evoke these moments through a meal I’ve made, then hell yes it’s worth the extra effort. It’s about vivifying the simple pleasures in life, even if that excitement comes from a measly bite of perfectly cooked scrambled eggs.

Wishing everyone a happy new year. To more joyful moments and positive energy in 2012. x

A headstand a day…

Vietnamese prawn & dill soup
Keeps the doctor away. I don’t believe in falling sick. For the record, I don’t mean unfortunate (and cruel) medical illnesses that often strike without proper reason or purpose. I’m talking more about the niggling colds, flues, fevers and aches.

For a while now, I’ve shunned away from the idea of doctors or taking any form of medication (even paracetamol to sooth a sore head after a night out!). This is possibly a rebellious reaction to growing up in a family that believes Panadol is the miracle cure to everything (Me: ‘I think my heart is broken’ Parent: ‘Have a Panadol!’) After a bad experience of going through the winter flu several years ago by myself and regressing into shameful case of self pity à la Man Flu (the I-can’t-get out-of-bed-there-is-no-one-to-cook-for-me-my-life-is-miserable type whinging), I now try my best to prevent falling sick in the first place.

For the past year and a half, in addition to healthy eating, yoga has played a significant part in this. Apparently yoga practitioners are less likely to come down with the sniffles and on the rare case that they do, they have a much faster recovery rate. Yoga is known to regulate the immune system to keep it strong and healthy, allowing the body to withstand infections. Shirshasana (headstand) is possibly my favourite yoga pose – coming into it you really do see the world in a new light. Being upside down increases the amount of blood flowing to the head, creating a greater oxygen flow to the brain to reduce overall stress levels (a main contributor to the pesky cold/flues). Not wanting to jinx anything, I can safely say that I have not had a cold/flu or been on MC for the past year and a half.

So at any indication of feeling under the weather (like today’s annoying fever and ache), rather than pop a pill, I choose to go into headstand. Lots of water, sleep, and a bowl of Vietnamese Prawn & Dill Soup for dinner will also help. I love this recipe for when I feel the symptoms kicking in – its nourishing broth and abundance of veggies help revive the senses and remedy aches. The original recipe is from BBC Good Food, but I’ve tweaked this slightly to include more vegetables so that it becomes a nutritionally full-proof meal to kick the cold in the ass.  My  version includes broccoli since this nutrient-packed miracle food is known to help shield from illness/disease.

I really do believe that the right combination of foods, exercise, and a yoga class has more mileage than any guy in a white coat keen to write you off with a costly prescription of antibiotics for just about everything.

Vietnamese Prawn & Dill Soup

Basic Ingredients
Chicken stock, oyster mushrooms, prawns, dill, broccoli, fish balls (optional), 1 lime, quartered tomatoes, nampla, wild rice

The Prep
1. Heat chicken stock (can use chicken cube and water). Season.

2. Add in broccoli and cook until tender. Add oyster mushrooms, fish balls, grated lime peel, lime juice, splash of nampla, quartered tomatoes, chopped dill.
3. I add in the prawns last to avoid overcooking them.
4. Once soup starts boiling take off heat.
5. I usually serve this with some wild rice that I cook normally and just add this into the soup for a more satisfying meal. You can also use any type of noodles.


Scandi Kitchen

Pea & mint soup and Smoked salmon & avocado open sandwich
After a full-on weekend (actually more like a week!) of excessive celebratory eating like no tomorrow, it was time to practice some restraint for lunch today. Though I had to remind myself it is still technically the festive season and any proper detoxes are only allowed to start in the new year. Wanting something light but still self-rewarding, I turned to some of my favorite Scandinavian dishes for inspiration. 

One of the things on my bucket list before turning 35 is to spend six months to a year traveling through the Nordic region, soaking up the culture, food, languages, and yes the freezing cold winds. I was lucky enough to work on a Danish/Swedish dairy brand at my last agency and was delightfully introduced into a world that has the right attitude towards work, life, family, and food. Not only do offices shut for a period of two to three months during the summer to allow everyone a proper holiday, on a daily basis my clients start work promptly at 8am and leave the office by 5pm so they can spend the evenings with their families. I once called a client, panicking about artworks that needed sign off, only to be told “Tasha, I’m swimming in the lakes with my children. No one is dying, this can wait until tomorrow.” When I was ill and working from home, I used to get messages FROM CLIENTS telling me to stop checking my emails and rest.  Quite a contrast to the “I wanted that due yesterday, sort that for me now or all hell will break loose” attitude that I have the joy of dealing with now in Asia. Intrigued by this balanced approach to life, I made sure to absorb as much as I could during my client/market visits to the region. When my sister wanted to escape to Europe for a holiday, Stockholm was our immediate choice. We even embarked on an adventure to hunt down the Northern Lights in Kiruna, Sweden’s northern most town. It was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, despite trying not to freeze our tropical Malaysian butts off when temperatures plummeted to -38 degrees Celsius while we snowmobiled across magical Hans Christian Andersen fairytale-like forests and frozen lakes.  

And not forgetting the lovely food! I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Swedish/Scandinavian cooking but I absolutely love what I know of it. Most people think Scandi food and automatically blue/yellow images of Ikea canteens and meatballs come to mind. However, it’s so much more than plastic trays and balls of meat. Scandi food is a world that celebrates local produce, exotic fruits, seasonal vegetables (the absolute joy of Autumn and chanterelles), wholegrain/rye everything (you’re not a freak if you like wholegrain pasta!), healthy snacking, light open sandwiches, smorgasbords of flavors that are perfect for entertaining, and fresh gloriously to-die-for seafood. Visiting the various Saluhallen (food halls), I was like a kid in a candy store – wide-eyed, salivating, and aww-ing at everything in plain sight, much to my sister’s embarrassment as she yelled out ‘get a grip, it’s just food you fatty!’ On a not-so healthy but still along the self-rewarding theme, the Swedes make the best kanelbullar (cinnamon buns). Unlike the sickly sweet American/English counterparts, one whiff of the spicy cinnamon is enough to transport you to images of a rustic, homely kitchen with a roaring fireplace and the kettle brewing. Now that’s what I call the ideal life. 

For today’s lunch, I decided on a classic open sandwich of smoked salmon and avocados, served with my mom’s recipe for pea soup. I like the concept of open sandwiches as it allows the filling combination of your favorite sarnie ingredients without being too heavy. The base tends to be made from rye bread, a Scandi staple. Rye bread has a large fibre content, with only little fat and has the added bonus of not creating spikes in blood sugar in the way that other breads (especially white!!) do.  

Assembling the sandwich took about 3 minutes but was an enjoyable process (the soup I made beforehand and froze). I was quite excited about the fact that the rocket leaves used were organic and grown from my very own garden! My dad has a green thumb and has been experimenting with growing different vegetables and herbs as a slight acceptance to his daughter’s neurotic approach to healthy eating. If only we could grow avocados since ripe, ready-to-eat ones require a bit of hunting in KL. Village Grocer in Bangsar Village I seems to be the only supermarket in town that has individual ripe avocados that you can buy to eat on the day itself. Smoked salmon also tends to be an extravagance here, at a wallet burning RM 20 for a pack that will get you just through two servings.  But hey, it’s still the festive season and I’ve had a long year that has kicked my ass slightly so when it comes to healthy food indulgences, some things are absolutely worth it. 

Pea & Mint Soup

Smoked Salmon & Avocado Open Sandwich

Basic Ingredients
For the pea soup: 1 cup frozen peas, 2 leeks, 1 stalk of celery, onions, garlic, 1.5 – 2L chicken stock, mint leaves, creme fraiche

For the open sandwich: Smoked salmon, rye bread (my favourite brand is Biona but I can’t seem to find this in KL. Village Grocer does stock some German brand options), cream cheese, 1 avocado, rocket leaves, pepper, lemon wedges to serve.

The Prep
For the soup
1) Saute onions and garlic with olive oil. Add chopped leeks and celery and continue sautéing until translucent. Add frozen peas and mint leaves.
2) Add chicken broth, season, and leave to simmer for about 20 minutes. Take off heat and allow to cool.
3) Blitz soup and return to heat.
4) Stir in 1 – 2 tablespoons of creme fraiche and take off heat once soup starts to bubble. You can use single cream but I find creme fraiche less calorific.
5) Garnish with mint leaves.

For the open sandwich
1) Toast rye bread and spread cream cheese.
2) Top with sliced avocado, rocket, smoked salmon, black pepper
3) Serve with cherry tomatoes and lemon wedges on the side. 

Tis the season to be jolly

As Christmas weekend approaches, it’s beginning to kick in that one of the things I miss most about London is having a group of friends over and cooking a feast. Having your own space makes things easier and more personal (no worry of parents freaking out when the night has evolved to playing ‘i have never’) My parents are cool and open-minded but when I entertain I like to run things my way. My lovely mother has a tendency to input one too many suggestions on how I should arrange the table, change up my recipe because her way will make it better, and god forbid, the proper onion chopping techniques. Apparently I am not daughter-in-law material because I don’t chop onions correctly. Oh, so that’s why I’m still single. Right.

Moving on swiftly past a subject that I will save for another day, one of the best Christmas celebrations I had was in 2008 when I hosted my first official Christmas lunch. I was ecstatic and started planning the menu a month ahead. People were trusting ME, a semi-vegetarian who does not even eat turkey, to cook a hearty Christmas meal. Though I did have to promise that I would stick to tradition and not surprise (or scare) my guests with a new age spread of tofu turkey and cous cous, with a drizzling of goji berry dressing (though that does sound pretty yum).

Despite reading numerous articles on ‘how not to kill yourself while enduring the pressure of cooking Xmas lunch’, I went through a few panic attacks fearing that I would scar the festive traditions of the nine poor London stragglers who were already facing the sad fact of not spending Christmas with their families. A colleague recommended that I visit Marks & Spencer for  party food inspiration. Thank god for M&S, I not only left with ideas, but with my actual turkey and holy trinity of sauces all ready to go. Yes I did cheat. However, with turkey being the centre stage of all Christmas lunches, you can’t trust someone who is nauseated by big chunks of meat to clean and prep a dead bird. So I left it to the experts. All that was required on my part was unwrap bird and sauces from packaging, stick in oven/on stove, knock back a few glasses of vino, and tadaaaa Christmas feast for 9 ready to go. Oh and there was some prep work involved for the fifty million other dishes I decided should accompany the meal.

True to tradition, there was the usual mad rush Christmas morning, the pain slightly dulled by having Prosecco for brekkie while cooking (always recommended, thanks Phil). The pinnacle of it all was when I freaked out screaming ‘Why does the turkey stink?’ to which my friend Phil calmly replied ‘Because that’s how a giant turkey is supposed to smell!’ Despite the chaos, the meal went down very well. I love the way food brings people together – in that moment the outside world is forgotten as you lose yourself to tastes, flavours, (new) friends, sparks, and laughter.

Because I’m fully aware of my lack of timing and multi-tasking skills, rather than have a traditional 3 course sit down meal, I had informal standing canapes and drinks in the kitchen, followed by the sit down grand show (and more drinks), and then adjourning to the living room for dessert, games, and you guessed it, even more drinks! Christmas meals  are very personal since everyone has their own spin to them. So instead of listing down full on recipes, I’ve compiled a list of dishes that I rely on for my festive gatherings. The only recipe I’ve elaborated is Nigella Lawson’s Grilled Halloumi, which is probably one of the tastiest and easiest party snacks to prepare.

Here’s wishing everyone a beautiful Christmas filled with lots of family, friends, food, drinks, and laughter. Love, light and peace. x

All I want for Christmas is….
Start the party with 1) Bruschetta with chopped tomatoes, onions, basil, and buffalo mozzarella 2) Bruschetta with chopped mixed mushrooms, garlic, and cream 3) Smoked salmon bellinis made from pre bought bellinis topped with chopped smoked salmon, creme fraiche, chives, and horseradish 4) Nigella Lawson’s Grilled Halloumi (see recipe below) 5) Bowl of olives 6) Tortilla chips with guacomole, hummous and sour cream.

The main show 1) Turkey accompanied by the holy trinity of bread sauce, cranberry sauce and gravy 2) Stuffing balls 3) Roast potatoes and parsnips with goose fat, the way roast potatoes should be made 4) Potato Dauphinoise because you can never have enough potatoes and cheese at a festive meal  5) Glazed carrots with honey  6) Steamed brocolli with a drizzling of olive oil and a generous shaving of parmesan 7) Mashed sweet potatoes with A LOT of butter 8) All served with good company if possible.

Nigella Lawson’s Grilled Halloumi
Pan fry halloumi until it’s golden brown. Top with a dressing made from whisking olive oil, lemon juice, sliced red chillies, and pepper. Garnish with chopped coriander. It’s that simple folks and can easily be put together even when the prosecco has kicked in.

For the morning after…

Ipoh kway teow soup
So simple yet so comforting, noodle soup has recently been my favourite go-to food in the aftermath of a night out, when everything still feels a little hazy and you’re struggling to get with the programme while cursing to yourself ‘never again!’ 

This non-judgmental and welcoming dish ensures a balanced recovery to soothe a sore head: a generous portion of carbs to soak up those pesky toxins, veggies to help replenish any lost brain cells, protein to lift lingering veils of cloudiness, and an inviting broth that not only re-hydrates but more importantly promises to wash away all notions of the world feeling like it’s about to end. With that said, as the festive season and celebrations approach, noodle soup trusty old friend, I’ll be seeing you again this weekend.

My version of Ipoh Kway Teow Soup

Basic ingredients
Kway teow noodles (you can substitute with rice vermicelli or egg noodles), balls of all sorts (squid, fish), tofu (I like using tofu skin), bean sprouts, kale, chicken, ginger, garlic, prawns, nampla (fish sauce), soy sauce, spring onions, red chillies. 

The path to recovery…
1.  Make the chicken broth by boiling chicken with ginger, garlic, salt and pepper. If you’re struggling to even form coherent thoughts then for the love of god, cheat – a chicken cube and boiling water will suffice. Once chicken is cooked, shred and keep aside.

2. Blanch noodles, kale, bean sprouts (all separately if possible!) 
3. To finish off the soup heat chicken broth and add all the fish balls, prawns and tofu. Add nampla and a splash of soy sauce to taste. Season. When you’re about to take this off the heat, add some sliced spring onions.
4. To assemble – fill your bowl with noodles and top with kale, bean sprouts. Ladle over the broth and finish off with fried onions and sliced chillies.
5. Go back to bed. 

Food to fuel the soul

Quinoa salad with broccoli, cherry tomatoes, tofu, avocado & feta
I’ve recently developed a slight addiction to all things grain and seeds – cous cous, bulgar wheat, barley (as a replacement to arborio rice in risottos) and best of all, quinoa. In fact, I’ll happily choose grains over rice, pasta, and noodles. Shock, horror, because most people will know about my emotional attachment to the carbs goodness of pasta as the ultimate comfort food. I was (and still am) a staunch sceptic of the Atkins diet. A life without (good) carbs is not worth living!

Back to the point, what I love most about grains is their versatility. You can just about toss any combination of vegetables (or meat if desired) and the dish is transformed into a new, exciting meal. At the moment I’m having quite a lot of fun experimenting with what I can whip up with quinoa. To my amazement quinoa can easily be found in the organic section of most supermarkets in Malaysia. The types of quinoa available are also far more extensive than London!

I was first introduced to this superfood when I was trying to cook meals that could sustain me through a 10km run on the weekends. Just a few random facts – quinoa technically is not a grain. It’s a seed from a grain-like crop that was prized by the ancient Incans as being sacred as they relied on the seed to keep their people and armies strong. Quinoa became known as ‘the gold of the Incas’. These little gems are a nutritional powerhouse, packed with a higher protein content than most grains, eggs, or dairy products. It is ideal for the dieter as well as it’s a good source of complex carbohydrates that has a low glycemic index to avoid any blood-sugar surges. Your standard quinoa salad provides a meal high in vitamins, minerals and protein, while low in fat and calories. In addition to its detoxifying properties, a cup of quinoa is also known to help increase the delivery of oxygen to the blood, boosting energy and brain power. So food to make you skinny and smart? 🙂

You can imagine that this combination of energy fueling carbohydrates and nurturing protein (runners need protein for muscle growth and repair), makes this superfood a runner’s dream. I find that having quinoa before a run ensures a significant improvement to my performance. Not only can I have a pretty big serving without worrying about a stitch as a result of being too full or weighed down, I also feel so much more energy, see an improved breathing pace, and have more stamina to run for a longer duration. Fatigue does not become an issue as I feel almost impervious to the distance I’ve covered. You can literally feel the strength kick in, as if the superhero mode in you is all of a sudden unleashed. This was easily my meal of choice to power me through my half marathon earlier this year. 

One of my favorite combinations is quinoa with broccoli, cherry tomatoes, tofu, avocado, and feta. So easy to put together, it’s the perfect fusion of Asian and Western ingredients. This blend of magic food and veggies is pretty much wholesomeness and goodness personified. 

Quinoa salad with broccoli, cherry tomatoes, tofu, avocado & feta

Basic ingredients
The name of the salad pretty much sums up the list of ingredients! Easy. You’ll also need some grated ginger and chicken stock.

The magic
1. Cook quinoa (ideally soaked for 2 mins in water before cooking) with chicken stock and grated ginger. The way to tell if they are cooked is to check if the seeds have split to reveal an almost tail-like shape. Season.

2. Pan fry tofu to hold its shape and so it does not disintegrate into the salad. 
3. Add cooked quinoa to boiled broccoli, halved cherry tomatoes, sliced avocados and feta. That’s pretty much it. The spiciness of the ginger and creamy textures of the avocados and feta does not even warrant additional dressing but you could always drizzle with some lemon juice and olive oil before serving.

An ode to Sunday brunches

Bulgur Wheat, Puy Lentils  Mushroom & Caramalised Onions Salad
I can easily say that hands down, today has been the best Sunday I’ve had in KL. I broke away from the usual routine of isolating myself at the yoga centre to feast on the brunch buffet at the newly opened Acme Bar & Coffee at The Troika. Their Sunday brunch setup reminds me so much of Ottolenghi’s cafes in London – platters of wholesome salads, imagination, fusion of ingredients, and odd combinations that work so well together. I loved the fact that there were various moments of ‘oh wow this is good’ as we sampled new dishes. 

Not only was there delicious food, but great company as well. Today reminded me of how Sundays should be spent – lazily eating copious amounts of good food, over an extended period of time with great people, and surrounding yourself with conversation and laughter. The usual Sunday blues (well more like panic attack) of going back to work after being on leave for 2 days last week seemed like a distant memory once the food coma kicked in. 🙂 

Returning home after spending three and a half hours feasting away, I was not in a rush for my next meal but was inspired to try out the recipe below for tomorrow’s work lunch – Bulgur Wheat, Puy Lentils, Mushrooms & Caramalised Onions. This is slightly inspired by the Acme Bar & Coffee Bar’s Bulgar, Quinoa & Onion salad but I was out of quinoa and had to improvise! I’ll be tucking away into this and thinking of my perfect Sunday when shit hits the fan at work tomorrow. 

Image

Bulgur Wheat, Puy Lentils  Mushroom & Caramalised Onions Salad

Basic ingredients
Bulgur wheat, portobello mushrooms, puy lentils, spinach, slivered almonds, cumin and paprika for the bulgur wheat, chicken stock, onions, butter, feta cheese (*at the time of the picture taking I had completely forgotten to add in the feta so this salad can easily work without it as well)

The magic
1. Cook the bulgur wheat with chicken stock and cumin. Season with paprika and pepper.

2. Sautee the portobello mushrooms with olive oil.
3. Boil the puy lentils in some salted water.
4. Toast the almonds. 
5. Now this is where the magic ingredient comes in – the caramelised onions is what makes this dish. I loved the fact that the Acme Bar & Coffee had lovely sweet onions in their salad. Sautee onions in butter until they have caramelized. 
6. Mix all the above ingredients together with the spinach.
7. Top with crumbled feta cheese as a bonus.  

Seven easy steps to get to the goodness of ‘forget Sunday blues’ in a bowl.

Getting my mojo back

Watermelon & Feta Salad
So 2011 has been pretty significant… after years of contemplating I finally decided to leave London to be closer to family and embark on a new chapter of my life. Perhaps it was the ‘I’m turning 30’ freak out kicking in as well! London was where I discovered my passion for food – the beauty of ingredients, the joy of veggies & farmers markets, relishing in the simplicity of basic flavors (i.e. not drowning your food in sauces and spices!), and basically wholesome, healthy eating. 

I was initially excited to come back home to a city that thrives on a 24-hour food culture, where delicious meals are being prepared every where you look, and where the question ‘have you eaten’ replaces the standard ‘hello, how are you?’. I thought ‘how nice to meet new people and start a conversation around food rather than discuss the weather conditions.’

To my surprise, on a food level, coming back to KL has been a slight culture shock.Yes I have visited KL once every two years and eaten my much missed Malaysian food to my heart’s content. However, coming back home on a more permanent basis forced the acceptance that it is hard to eat Malaysian food daily and still be a healthy. I was slightly disturbed by the reliance on chain restaurants, the open acceptance to fast food, MSG!!!, and the exorbitant prices for good, imaginative food at restaurants and to buy the ingredients I loved. 

These realisations (along with other big life questions) discouraged me from food for a couple of months. I lost my passion for cooking and basically stopped being inspired to try new recipes and new food in general. I pretty much lived off cereal from end of June to August. Then one day my boxes from London arrived and I stumbled across Ottolenghi’s ‘Plenty’. Flipping through the pages and being embraced by the familiar, gorgeously mouth-watering photography reminded me of what I loved most about cooking – the experimentation, seasonality, and making the best of what ingredients you have available. ‘Plenty’ also re-ignited my spark. The book was actually a gift from my lovely colleagues at piglobal. They knew Tasha = passionate and obsessed with food and food photography, so they treated me at the quaint Books for Cooks store on Portobello Road. The perfect present for a foodie. I got the lovely ‘Plenty, an eye-opening workshop on Lebanese cooking and a beautiful farewell card designed as a cook book with my food pictures! Classic! I thought to myself ‘see this is what defines me so well that everyone who truly knows me, knows that I love the magic of food.’ So I of all people should clearly know this about myself. 

Then and there, at around 8pm, I stopped unpacking and decided to try out Ottolenghi’s simple Watermelon and Feta Salad. This recipe imbues the concept of seasonality, particularly in KL where our tropical weather means that watermelons are a plenty (and dirt cheap!). The only slight splurge was perhaps the feta cheese. Thinking that watermelon and cheese is a strange combination? Well, there never has been anything so right together. And with this simple summer salad, I can safely say I’ve found my mojo back.

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Watermelon & Feta Salad

Basic ingredients
Watermelon, basil, feta, balsamic vinegar, olive oil

To assemble…
There really is not that much work involved. Just cut the watermelon into triangles, crumble feta, and drizzle balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Two birds with one stone

Grilled chicken, avocado, & halloumi tortilla and Grilled chicken & halloumi with cous cous
Best example of what has been a recent obsession of mine – trying to make a variety of interesting meals using the same set of ingredients. Let’s face it, while I would love to be able to grocery shop everyday in KL to cater to my daily (random and ever changing) cravings, food costs are expensive here. Gone are the days where I could quickly pop into Sainsbury’s and buy ingredients to assemble a healthy and flavorful lunch for a fiver. In KL for a decent healthy meal, don’t expect a bill less than under RM 20. In fact, I still have heart attacks when I’m faced with what I have to pay at the till!

Grilled chicken, avocado, and halloumi tortilla

Factor in the fact that I absolutely hate food wastage, I started up this project to see how many different dishes I could make using the same base ingredients. I must admit that this mission was also an attempt to disprove the myth that cooking for the one person meant being doomed to eating the same leftovers again and again over the next few days. So here’s to cooking (and eating) solo, but still being able to enjoy variety.

Grilled chicken & halloumi with cous cous

Base ingredients & preparation
Chicken breast, halloumi cheese, cous cous, tortilla wrap, avocado, cherry tomatoes, red pepper, cucumber, rocket, capers, lemon, natural yoghurt.

Grill the chicken breast with paprika, cumin, yoghurt and chill flakes.
Pan fry halloumi until golden brown

And now for the assembly…
Tortilla
I like to spread a thin layer of dijon mustard on the tortilla for a bit of a kick. Line tortilla rocket leaves, the sliced grilled chicken, sliced red peppers, halloumi (sliced vertically), and avocado. Serve with the natural yoghurt.

Grilled chicken & halloumi with cous cous
Cook cous cous with chicken stock and ginger. Once all the liquid has absorbed, run a fork through the cous cous to avoid the grains from sticking. Sprinkle some paprika into the cous cous. Season. Top with grilled chicken and halloumi slices.

For the salsa I just finely chop some cucumber and cherry tomatoes. Throw in a few smashed capers for a kick and serve with a olive oil and lemon vinaigrette.