It’s all in the family

Vegetarian fried brown rice
Green chicken curry
Chili & spring onion omelette
A good friend of mine once fairly pointed out that although he has found a few recipes on my blog that he could not wait to try for himself, I did not have any dishes that would help him when it came to cooking for a family. Actually, this thought is pretty spot on. Although I am absolutely passionate about cooking for loved ones and introducing people to new foods, I must admit that preparing dishes to suit the more conventional Malaysian family palate (my very own Aziz clan included) is not something I am very good at. In fact, for someone who spends most of her time in the family kitchen, I have NEVER cooked a proper, traditional meal of rice and accompanying dishes for my family. The honest truth is that my strengths as a cook lies in solo centric dishes or more experimental wholesome meals that I try to convert close friends to. The only person in my family brave enough to indulge in my kitchen adventures is my dear mom who has an open mind when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. On the other hand my dad, who enjoys his meats, spices, and rice generally will not touch any of my dishes with a ten foot pole. 

My focus towards solo experimental cooking can be traced back to my early teenage years when I proudly (well bordering arrogantly in that ‘everything I say is right’ teen way) proclaimed to my parents that I was denouncing meat to become vegetarian. I can still remember the smugness running through me as I held back from saying “bow down you lowly carnivores, vegetarianism is the true way. PS Please still cook for me.” I stood in front of them naively waiting for reassurance from my mom that she would still cook vegetarian versions of my favorite dishes. To this day, I have no idea why I thought my mom would happily volunteer to slave through the extra effort of cooking additional meals for her demanding daughter. No such luck of course. My mom raised an eyebrow and countered with a “No problem. I denounce cooking for you then.” And she was not kidding. From that point onwards I was forced to learn how to cook my own meals. Looking back, I am so grateful she told off her bossy daughter since it was during these years that my obsession with cooking was borne. I was constantly preparing meals for myself and only in these recent years has my mom become open to the thought of someone else being in command of the family kitchen. Trust me, moms are very territorial when it comes to THEIR kitchens. I can put in a bucket of salt and my recipes still apparently need more seasoning. So having her actually enjoy my cooking now is one of my greatest accomplishments. My lovely dad however still gets the deer caught in headlights look when he thinks that my mom has passed the cooking-for-the-family-tonight baton to me. I suppose you cannot win everything.

I know that I cannot stay in my comfort zone of solo or cooking for much smaller groups forever. Times are changing, new people come into your life, and there are new families beyond my own that I want to embrace and show my love for by cooking. Two weekends ago, I surrendered myself to a traditional rice and accompanying dishes meal that included the mandatory meat, kuah (gravy), and additional condiment. I made a spread of fried rice, green chicken curry, and chili & spring onion omelette for a very special family. Like I said in Head over Veggies, cooking for others should not be an avenue to show-off your culinary skills by imposing that you think they should eat. To me, the joy of cooking is derived from combining the ingredients you love with what you know others would love to eat. Having said that, there’s no reason why I can’t add a Tasha twist to the experience though! 

Vegetarian brown fried rice (recipe inspired from The Year in Food)

Basic Ingredients
2 – 3 cups cooked brown rice, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, tofu, 2 eggs, spring onions, onions, grated ginger, onions, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt & pepper. 

The Preparation
1. Sautee onions with sesame oil on high heat until onions become crispy. Set aside.
2. Beat eggs and fry with a drop of sesame oil. Once omelet begins to form, set aside and slice thinly.
3. Sautee mushrooms with a little sesame oil. Once cooked set aside.
4. Sautee garlic and ginger with sesame oil. Add in cooked mushrooms, diced carrots, sliced tofu, brown rice, eggs, and soy sauce. Season. When rice is thoroughly mixed with the other ingredients, add in the slice spring onions.
5. Sprinkle pre-cooked onions on top of dish before serving. 

Green chicken curry
Chili & spring onion omelette (aka telur dada)

Basic Ingredients:
For the green chicken curry: chicken breast, aubergines, cherry tomatoes, peeled & quartered potatoes, coriander, yoghurt (or coconut milk), salt & pepper, spice mix containing: 3 green chillies, 1 red onion, 3 cloves of garlic, ginger, galangal, 5 kaffir lime leaves, a bunch of basil leaves, and olive oil.

For the omelette: 3 eggs, sliced red chillies, onion, spring onions, a splash of milk, olive oil, salt & pepper.

The Preparation
For the green curry:
1. Place all spice mix ingredients into a food processor and blend.
2. Place chicken breasts in a cooking pot and marinade with blended spice mix  for half an hour.
3. Following this, bring pot to the heat and add about 200ml water.
4. Add potatoes immediately since these take a while to cook. When chicken breasts are three quarters cooked add aubergines and cherry tomatoes. Allow all vegetables to cook down. Season.
5. Once curry starts bubbling and chicken is cooked, add half a small pot of natural yoghurt (if you wanted to be more indulgent about 200ml of coconut milk instead of yoghurt is heavenly).
6. Garnish with chopped coriander before serving.  

For the chili & spring onion omelette:
1. Beat eggs, add splash of milk. Season.
2. Sautee onion with olive oil. When onions are fragrant add red chilies.3. Add egg mixture and allow this to set. Add spring onions.
4. When add looks three quarters cook flip over and cook the other side.
5. Serve once the outer of the omelette starts to firm slightly and the insides are not fully cooked (I hate over cooked eggs!).


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Pesto power

Grilled chicken with pesto pasta
I love weekend afternoons spent at BSC’s centre court. It’s as close as I will get to the Borough Market experience here, with its cosy bakeries, luring delis, and wonderfully quirky artisan products. The prices of these products however can often be not as enticing. A recent Sunday afternoon stroll admiring the aisles lined with beautifully packaged homemade looking jams and condiments had me stopping dead in my tracks after spotting a 100g jar of pesto, apparently crafted from a secluded town tucked away in the lush Italian hillside, selling for RM 45! That’s barely two not-so-generous servings of pesto in a pasta dish at such a wallet damaging price!

Determined not to be duped into paying exorbitant Bangsar prices, I accepted the challenge of creating the comforting joys of homemade pesto without leaving a hole in my wallet. A quick stop at the neighbouring supermarket and I was armed with a shopping bag of necessities for my own DIY blend, spending the same price I would have paid for the rip-off-in-a-jar. The main difference? I could make enough pesto to get me through my cravings for the next three months (fresh pesto is freezer friendly) and would still be left with a surplus of ingredients for lunch over the next few days (think pine nuts and Parmesan shavings to garnish a salad – yum).

Lesson learned that while it may be nice feeling of escapism to enjoy a taste of traditional Italy via fancily packaged jars of imported products, the true artisan root of cooking often starts in your very own kitchen.

Grilled chicken with pesto pasta

Basic Ingredients
For the pesto: 2 bags of fresh basil, 2-3 garlic cloves, a handful of pine-nuts, grated Parmesan to your heart’s content, olive oil, salt & pepper.
For the pasta: spaghetti, cherry tomatoes, grilled chicken (I marinated the chicken with olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper and grilled this), creme fraiche (or sour cream of creme fraiche is too crazily priced where you live), chili flakes, onion, garlic, salt & pepper.

The Preparation
1. To make the pesto: Chop the basil and garlic. Blend in a food processor. Throw in  a handful of pine nuts and Parmesan to your liking. Keep adding olive oil until pesto becomes a thick but moist consistency. Some people like more olive oil in their pesto (makes the mixture more runny) whereas I prefer my pesto still quite thick and less oily. Season.
2. Cook pasta in salted boiling water. Once pasta is al dente, drain but reserve some of the cooking liquid.
3. Saute garlic and onion with a bit of the olive oil. Add chili flakes.
4. Add cherry tomatoes. Cook until this has softened.
5. Add pasta, grilled chicken, 4- 5 tbsp of the fresh pesto mixture, creme fraiche/sour cream, and season. Add reserved pasta cooking liquid so that dish is not too dry.
6. Tadaa – a taste of Italy on a plate.

Saying no to the golden arches, but yes to golden grains in three ways

Quinoa with caramelised onions and mushrooms
Quinoa salad with grilled halloumi
Bulgar wheat with spiced aubergines
Following in the footsteps of the novel Eat Pray Love where main character Elizabeth Gilbert challenges her friends to describe their respective cities in one word, I  have been thinking about the word that defines KL. In the book, the city of dreams New York is full of “ambition” while sensuous Rome exudes “sex”. My beloved London town is apparently “stuffy”, to which I would wholeheartedly disagree. Spontaneous would be more like it.

So what about KL, the garden city of lights? During my initial months, I thought KL was “chillax”. There is A LOT of casual (almost apathetic) chilling out and everything seems to move at a slower pace, even the lazy speed that most people (annoyingly) choose to waltz at (sorry, walking speed is a big pet peeve of mine!). Fast forward eight months later to insane rushed deadlines and chaotic traffic, chilled out would be far from describing the city.

Ask me today and I would describe KL as being the land of “quick-fixes”. It seems that just about everyone is after an easy way out to all their problems. Extremely bad pot holes on a road? Cover it up with cheap, low quality tar to solve the problem for a week before it resurfaces again. At the slightest tinge of a cold, many people I know rush off to the doctors demanding a mountain of pills and antibiotics. No time to cook or just plain too lazy? Order McDonald’s delivery. Yup the heart attack in a wrapper can be delivered to your very doorstep. Even after 8 months, I am so incredibly amazed at the acceptance of the local fast food culture. Quick, easy and most importantly cheap food is everywhere. It is often the default choice, creating a difficult battle with myself to try to resist and turn it away. Under normal circumstances, I cannot even begin to understand how KFC or McD’s can count as part of the consideration set when trying to decide what to have for a proper meal. However upon getting numerous disapproving “you psycho, snobbish health freak” looks when I turn down a lunch/dinner invite to the Golden Arches, I sometimes wonder whether my food decisions will result in a loss of friendships and social invitations. Is taking an active stand to reject fast food really worth the risk of ostracizing yourself from the people around you who see food as something to be enjoyed and not taken so seriously? How do I not offend someone by turning away his kindhearted gesture of buying me a shop-bought sarnie made with processed white bread laden with a tub of mayo and fake cheese? 

To a certain extent, I have already isolated myself from colleagues who have given up on asking me out for a quickie lunch knowing that I would without hesitation turn down an offer for crispy fried chicken in favour of a lonely lunch at the pantry with a cold quinoa or bulgur wheat salad. Sadly, I am quite comfortable with this setup because I know that every now and then you do meet like-minded people who appreciate the importance in making the right food choices. My lovely yoga teacher left me with a glimmer of hope. Following a class this evening, he pointed out “you have just detoxed yourself so please don’t go wasting that away by putting toxins into your body”. So there are people who understand. Sorry Ronald, you will not take this away us, no matter how convenient your patties of meat are are or how your damn drive through lights entice me during my late night drive home after leaving work past midnight on an empty stomach. So long as I am still passionate about food, I will choose to cook my golden grains at 2am, thank you very much. 

Spiced aubergines with bulgar wheat salad

Basic Ingredients
Olive oil, smashed garlic cloves, 2 tsps cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, paprika, 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon, red pepper flakes, salt & pepper, aubergines cut into circles, bulga rwheat, vegetable stock, small red onion thinly sliced, coriander, toasted pine nuts, and lime juice.  

The Preparation
1. Mix oil, garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika, cinnamon, red pepper flakes, and salt & pepper. 

2. Brush spice mix onto aubergines – score aubergines with diagonal crisscrossing lines so that the marinade soaks in. Roast until soft and tender, about 50 minutes.  
3. Cook bulgar wheat with vegetable stock.
4. Once cooked stir in onions, coriander, pine nuts and lemon juice. 
5. Serve with aubergines once cooked. Drizzle with olive oil to finish.  

1. Quinoa salad with grilled halloumi (top)
2. Quinoa with caramelized onions and mushrooms (bottom)

Basic Ingredients
Recipe 1: Quinoa, vegetable stock, 2 tsp red wine vinegar, a sprinkling of brown sugar, small garlic clove chopped, red pepper flakes, salt & pepper, cucumber, spring onions, parsley, lemon, halloumi cheese, and rocket leaves to serve.

Recipe 2: Quinoa, vegetable stock, sliced red onions, sliced button mushrooms, halloumi cheese, butter.

The Preparation
Recipe 1: 
1. Whisk together red wine vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt & pepper. Add cucumber and spring onions to this mixture and let it stand for 15 to 20 minutes. 
2. Cook quinoa with vegetable stock. Season.
3. Add olive oil and lemon juice to the quinoa. Once cooled at parsley.
4. Grill halloumi until golden brown, squeeze a little lemon juice over the cheese.  
5. Combine quinoa, halloumi, and marinated cucumber and spring onions mixture to serve.

Recipe 2:
1. Cook quinoa with vegetable stock. Season. 
2. Saute onions with a bit of butter and salt until caramelized. Set aside.
3. Pan fry mushrooms with a bit of olive oil and seasoning. Set aside. 
4. Combine quinoa, onions, and mushrooms to serve. 

 

The pumpkin girl

Pumpkin soup
Societal labels are an interesting thing. Jock. Geek. Goth. Popular. Loser. Emo. Drama queen. We’ve all at some point or another have been wrongly or in some cases accurately defined by others. I myself am guilty of believing in these stereotypes sometimes. Looking back, those high school years were never my favourite. I went through a journey of labels – starting off from ‘the nerd with pink glasses’ in 8th grade, to ‘the shy and quiet girl’ in 10th grade, and somehow by the time I hit graduation, I had mysteriously evolved into ‘the angry goth girl’ (who got sent to the counselor for listening to Marilyn Manson).

To a certain extent labels make it easier to compartmentalise the people in your life. Sometimes a person’s quirky characteristics are better understood or are more relatable through simplified definitions. Recently a colleague of mine received a pumpkin from a client who was leaving the corporate world to venture into organic farming (lucky him). The pumpkin then went to live on my colleague’s desk for a week or two until her last day at work clear out, after which I was bestowed the honor of the organic pumpkin. She said confidently “you are the only person I know who would appreciate an organic pumpkin. You would know what to do with it. You’re the foodie. The pumpkin girl.” I would like to think that I have a close relationship with the people that I work with although the majority of them do not know me THAT well. Many of them do not even know about the existence of this blog. However it is a nice feeling that from what little they know of me, they automatically associate me with ‘Tasha the foodie’ or ‘Tasha the healthy food person’. The pumpkin girl. For once these are labels/associations that I openly embrace and welcome. I love knowing that food, wholesome home-cooked food, is so engrained in every part of me that it has become something that I automatically (and unconsciously) project in everything I do – what I say, how I act, the choices that I make – even to those who do not know me very well. This has become a defining part of who I am. 

So what did the pumpkin girl do with her organic pumpkin? Pumpkin soup of course.

Pumpkin Soup

The Basic Ingredients
One whole pumpkin, one leek stalk, 1 small potato, garlic onion, groups cumin, nutmeg, ground coriander, 1L chicken or veggie stock, olive oil, salt & pepper, creme fraiche and coriander to garnish.

The Preparation
1. Slice leeks, cube the pumpkin, dice the potato, and chop garlic and onion.

2. Sautee garlic and onion in olive oil.
3. Add the chopped veggies and cook with lid on until pumpkins are slightly tender.
4. Add stock and cook for 30 – 40 mins.
5. The pumpkin should be almost broken down at this stage, season, and remove from heat.
6. Blitz soup mixture in a blender.
7. Garnish with a dollop of creme fraiche and a sprig of coriander.