In Which We Get the Lunar New Year Off to a Sweet Start…

Caramel, mochi... Looks like a plan...

Tikoy – also known as nian gao – that deliciously chewy glutinous rice cake usually appears on local tables towards the end of January and the start of February for the celebration of the Lunar New Year.

Normally, tikoy is sliced, dipped in egg-wash, deep-fried, and served for breakfast.  (With tea, presumably.)  Sometimes, though, it’s sold as a batch of tiny sticky rolls filled with either sweetened mung bean or peanut paste.  This year, however, I felt like doing something completely different to get the Year of the Metal Rabbit – so I whipped up a batch of my rum-infused mochi dough and did just that.

Have one? Have the whole tub!

These are my butterscotch daifuku, scrummy balls of glutinous rice dough filled with a rich caramel custard.  I think that these sticky, chewy, rich-tasting little bites are guaranteed to make good luck stick to you like glue and sweeten your fortune for the rest of the year.  These would be perfect for giving away as gifts, but I’m pretty sure some of you would like to enjoy these in a more selfish manner.  :p

Butterscotch Daifuku

For the butterscotch:

  • 15 – 20 pieces caramel candy
  • 250 mL all-purpose cream
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 1 egg yolk, whisked

For the mochi:

  • 2 cups glutinous rice flour
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum + enough water to yield 1-1/3 cups liquid
  • 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
  • additional rice flour or cornstarch for dusting

To make the butterscotch, put the caramels, cream, and butter in a saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent scorching.  Cook until the butter and caramels have all melted and the mixture is smooth.  Ladle about 1/4 cup of the caramel cream into the whisked egg yolk.  Whisk briskly, then add to the rest of the caramel cream and stir until well-combined.  Remove from heat and allow to cool for a couple of minutes.  Pour into a freezer-safe container, cover, and freeze until needed.

Start on the mochi by whisking together all the ingredients save the flour for dusting in a saucepan until well combined.  Cook over medium heat whilst stirring until the mixture is thick and viscous.  Allow to cool for a bit, then put the mixture into a heatproof bowl with a wet silicon spatula.  Cover with aluminum foil and place in a steamer.  Cook the dough for an additional twenty minutes.

Remove the dough from the steamer and carefully ease it onto a cookie sheet dusted over with rice flour; use a wet silicon spatula to help it out of the bowl.  Dust the hot dough with rice flour and carefully flatten it down with your palms.  Cut into forty (40) pieces.

Make the daifuku by flattening each piece between your palms.  Place about 1/4 teaspoon of the frozen butterscotch cream in the middle of each disk, bring the edges together, and pinch to seal.  Repeat with the remaining dough and butterscotch.  Place in a covered dish and chill until ready to serve.

Makes 40.

Incidentally… This recipe makes more butterscotch than necessary, but that’s all right.  Keep it in the fridge or freezer and, when you feel like having caramel sauce, heat 1/4 cup of the caramel in the microwave on HIGH for 45 seconds to a minute.  Poured over vanilla or dark chocolate ice cream, it is sheer perfection.


In Which the Blogger Returns to Penang Hill…

Roti Canai

Considering how my last post was about Peninsular (Malay/Indonesian/Singaporean) food, I was actually having second thoughts about doing this one.  But my second visit to Penang Hill proved to be so good that I just have to tell you all about it.

I was supposed to meet up with two of my friends at the restaurant.  As things turned out, though, only two of us went to dinner as Klowi had to be rushed to a nearby hospital!  😦  (Hope you’re feeling better, girl; we missed you!)

At any rate, we who were left behind went on ahead and ordered our personal faves off the menu.  Ate Lara ordered the Malaysian beef wrap and Hawker-style curry noodles.  I, on the other hand, went for my usual roti canai.  It was every bit as buttery-sweet as I remembered and was served warm.  The curry that came in a tiny dish was flavorful, not too spicy, and absolutely aromatic.  It made a very good point for the sweet bread.

Thai Oyster Omelet

However, I should state here that I didn’t order either of my usuals – nasi goreng and char kway teow – after the roti.  Instead, I found myself drawn towards the Thai oyster omelet.

Now, I confess that I’m a long-time fan of oysters.  Fresh oysters with just a sprinkling of salt and a squeeze of lemon are fantastic and I’m also a sucker for the baked oysters over at Via Mare.  Plus, I will pick a fight with anyone who tries to share an order of oyster cake at Mann Hann.  So when something that looked like a tortang talong sans the eggplant stem appeared on the table, I was already gearing myself up for disappointment.

Thankfully, I wasn’t as each bite of the thick loaf yielded one or two plump, flavorful oysters suspended in lightly salted egg.  Bits of kangkong gave a textural contrast with the salty succulence of the shellfish.  In fact, this dish is so flavorful that the small dish of chili-infused vinegar that comes with it is almost unnecessary.  My one regret: I should have ordered rice to go with this baby!

Gula Melaka

We wrapped up the savory meal by splitting the gula melaka between us.  Now, for those of you who love tapioca pudding or are mad about caramel, I recommend this dessert.  What you get is mini sago (pearl tapioca) cooked in a dark palm sugar syrup.  The sago is then topped with thick coconut cream and garnished with a maraschino cherry (!) and two snipped pandan [screwpine] leaves.  I should warn you that this dessert may look small, but it is quite rich so it’s best to enjoy it by slow teaspoonfuls.

Considering that it’s been a long time since I was last at Penang Hill, I am pleased to say that the flavors and the quality remain very good.  😀

In Which Red Dot is Given Another Go…

The Crispy Pork Mega-set

I am not now nor have I ever been known to shy away from pork.  I adore the savory-sweetness of the meat, the richness of the fat, and I am not shy about the fact that I have an avowed fondness for charcuterie in its myriad forms.  As gluttonous, as decadent as it sounds, deep-fried pork belly – lechong kawali – is one of my favorite dishes and it’s something I order given half the chance whenever I feel a drought of it at home.

And it is this craving that prompted me to give Red Dot another try a few evenings ago.

Crispy Pork on Turmeric Rice

Now, I’ll admit I was seriously put off by Red Dot because of its incredibly incendiary char kway teow.  However, I’m the sort of person who gives restaurants second chances and I couldn’t resist the lure of the crispy pork mega-set.

As show above, one gets a generous amount of deep-fried pork belly on top of an equally generous mound of rice.  A regular order is served over plain rice, but throw in a few extra pesos and you can choose from turmeric rice, nasi lemak, or Hainanese rice cooked in chicken broth.  I’ve yet to try the lemak and Hainanese rice, but I can assure you that the turmeric rice is a vivid yellow, tastes like a properly done dry curry, and smells heavenly.  Paired with the crisp-skinned pork, it makes for a fantastic meal.

Sambal kangkung and char kway teow

On the side, one gets small portions of sambal kangkung (kangkong – water spinach – cooked with garlic and sambal belacan) and char kway teow.  Now, given my previous experience with the noodle dish, I had a lot of reservations.  But I was pleasantly surprised that it tasted fine and wasn’t spicy at all!  The sambal kangkung, on the other hand, was cooked properly and the leaves were tender while the stems were crunchy.

A bowl of Red Dot’s anise-infused beef broth and a glass of iced tea rounded out my meal.  To be perfectly honest, Red Dot will never really be one of my favorites.  But it’s still worth paying a visit to – if only for the crispy pork on turmeric rice.  😉

In Which a Bit of New York Provides Cool Relief…

New York Cheesecake Gelato

The weather in this part of the world has been most erratic: some days, the heat is so intense that you feel like melting onto the sidewalk.  Some days, it rains so hard you’d think we were in the middle of typhoon season.  Other days are overcast and the breezes are comfortably cool and balmy.

Last Friday was a dreadful scorcher and I was surlier than a wild bear with a toothache.  Instead of lunching with my colleagues, I decided to take a walk to the Ayala Triangle at noon to check out Cara Mia, Amici‘s gelateria.

Truth be told, I prefer my gelato simple.  This is why I usually stick to the usual suspects: chocolate, vanilla, and pistachio.  (Quite obviously, this also makes me a spumoni addict.)  But when one is on the verge of going into a dark rage involving the breaking of both furniture and human bones, one needs some serious relief in the form of pure, glorious, gluttony.

Cara Mia’s New York Cheesecake does it for me.  There is just something incredibly soothing about the creaminess, tanginess of very good cream cheese balanced with a hint of lemon zest.  Throw in some crunchy biscuit crumbs, and this cranky bear goes back to being a cuddly teddy.

As for sharing, however…

Sharing is not in my vocabulary - at least where gelato's concerned...

…go get your own!  :p

In Which We Meet O-Bento‘s Korean Counterpart

Dosirak with Raw Tuna

I’m a major fan of o-bento or Japanese boxed lunch sets.  There’s always plenty of variety involved and, even if it’s a bento box you know well, it always seems fresh and new.

Now, the Koreans have something similar to a bento called a dosirak – a boxed lunch containing rice, relishes, and other goodies.  So far, Kaya has been the only Korean restaurant in these parts where I’ve actually encountered this particular set.

The standard dosirak consists of steamed white rice topped with black sesame, a good helping of kimchi, some sukju namul (delicately seasoned mung bean sprouts), some buttered veg, a few pieces of deep-fried tofu, and what appear to be dduk-galbi (fried meat patties).  As for the primary protein, one gets to choose from beef, chicken, pork, tuna, and squid.

Shown above is my cha chim hoe dosirak which features raw tuna as my protein of choice.  This boxed set comes with a sweet sesame dip for the meat patties and some soy and wasabi for the tuna.  The tuna used here was quite cold – almost frozen, as a matter of fact – but it made for an excellent contrast: the cold fish working wonderfully with the hot rice.  The meat patties were also quite good and the tofu was beautifully crisp on the outside, meltingly soft within.

If you find yourself getting bored with the conventional o-bento, I wholeheartedly recommend this to you.  😀