Easy As Pie

I’m chuckling to myself as I’m typing because I’m about to type out another post that begins with, “When I was young, my mother…” and I had just spoken to my mother tonight and she heard from my brother’s fiancee that I talk about her a lot on here. My mother’s completely computer illiterate so she won’t be reading this anytime soon unless someone shoves a laptop in front of her, but bless her because she knows what a blog (ugh does this word still get to others the way it gets to me?) is. Or pretends to whenever I use that word; although I cringe inwardly.

So tonight she grilled me, “I heard that you talk about me on your blog and that your food doesn’t measure up to mine. What dish did you make? Fish cutlets? Did you steam your fish? Mash the potatoes? Add scallions? The egg? Well what’s wrong, then?! Did it at least look like mine? Well, that’s all that matters, really.” Oh, mum, I love you!

When I had hatched out this idea to make chicken pie at the start of my grocery-shopping-week, I also decided that I would make my own dough. This decision was met with exclamations of surprise and awe from my friends which confuses me a little because it has never seemed like a difficult task to me. My mother is responsible for this logic for she always made her own doughs for everything ever since I was a child. I still consider her my Pastry Goddess and call her with pastry concerns. I’m a Cake Person and it is one place that I’m so comfortable in that I will willingly tweak recipes for experiments, but I am a little weak when it comes to pastries. My mother, on the other hand, has tackled a variety of pastries since my childhood. My birthday party menus consisted of her Chicken Pie (puff pastry from scratch), Mini Pizzas (pizza bread dough from scratch), Danish Pastries (danish pastry also from scratch) and an ice cream birthday cake. I’d always watched her in action rolling out the dough and she’d narrate her actions as I observed. All her tips I’ve absorbed into my subconscious despite my only toe-deep forage into the slightly intimidating world of pastry.

Chicken pie

Chicken Pie

I’ve never thought of home-made pastries as difficult work or cumbersome, but I’ve always thought of them to be more fragile than cakes, hence my intimidation. Unfortunately I’ve foolishly forgotten to get a copy of my mum’s puff pastry recipe off her before I left but I decided to try my hand at the Pie Dough on the Ratio application. I had my fingers and toes crossed that it’d turn out all right and to my sheer delight and Jacey’s pleasure, it turned out perfect. It was flaky, buttery, slightly fluffy and just delicious.

Chicken pie

Ready to be baked. (Sorry for the bad photo, this was taken with my phone)

The filling was my mother’s tried and tested recipe that I grew up on although I’ve tweaked it to my liking now. I omit the celery and coriander and add rosemary instead. I prefer rosemary to coriander any day although I don’t have that weird gene that makes coriander taste like soap!

Ooze

Oozing sauces

I made the dough as instructed, chilled it, rolled it out to fit this cake tin (I don’t own a pie dish – it makes me a little sad to admit this), punched a few holes into the base with a fork, brushed on the egg wash and blind baked it. I read somewhere that you have to eggwash the base of all pies to build up a barrier so the wet fillings won’t permeate the pastry and make it soggy and you know what? Theory proven!! Unfortunately I didn’t have any baking beads or rice on hand so the pastry did shrink downwards a little but after I spooned the filling in and layered the rounds of pastry on top, it wasn’t noticeable at all.

I’m not good with making pastry look pretty so this circles on top was a rather ingenious idea, if I say so myself. If I’d been left with just another massive circle on top, it would’ve looked like a dog-bitten, lopsided Frisbee. Seriously.

Chicken pie

The texture and taste of the pie dough really blew me away. It was ridiculously easy too. Butter, flour and water. That’s it. I liked it so much that I ended up peeling some circles off the top of the pie to munch on.

Fortunately for me, I still have enough filling to make another pie and this pie dough recipe was so easy that I’ll just whip it up whenever I’m in the mood for it. Who says making pie dough from scratch is hard?

Ps. I highly recommend the Ratio application if you have an iPhone or an iPod Touch. It won’t fail you! I’d explain what it is but don’t be lazy, just click on the link.


An Unabashed Love Proclamation

One of my absolute favourite smells in the world is butter. Of all the foods that are being cooked, those that contain butter have this irresistible decadent scent to it that reminds me of my mother’s warm embrace yet leaves me salivating. It’s as if this scent travels straight from my nose right to the bottom of my stomach and zaps straight to my brain, who in turn purrs, “Hello, lover” as my tummy does a little excited jig in anticipation being fed such luscious goodness.

(You’re probably thinking right about now, WOW, she sure loves her butter! What a freak!)

My favourite butter smell-taste memory is when my friend Charlene served a group of us a Galette des Rois. I had almost passed out from the overwhelming scent of butter as the galette was baking (I had asked her, “What butter are you using?! That smell is amazing!”) and after I took a bite, I think I had an out-of-body experience as that rich buttery taste oozed into my mouth and melted on my tongue as I tried to savour every bite whilst greedily stuffing my face so I could get a second-helping before anyone else. Turns out the magical butter Charlene had used was imported French butter. The French sure know how to make their women happy. I’ve since taken to buying French butter when I can afford to (on the waistline, not on the pocket) and it still brings me to a state of euphoric bliss each time I use it.

So when I decided to try my hand at this dish, it hadn’t occurred to me that I’d be sent into butter-induced heaven. I wasn’t even expecting it because its a savoury dish and it seemed so unsuspecting. But from the first mouthful, my eyes widened in surprise and my stomach applauded in amorous joy and my brain was an incoherent jumble of hiuasgdilymmmmmmm.

Pork chops

Pork Chops with Apple and Sage

Pork Chops with Apple & Sage
Adapted from Real Living Food Summer Cookbook
(Serves 2)

Ingredients
4 average sized potatoes (I don’t particularly care what type, I always buy the cleaned ones so it’s less work)
25 g butter (and more according to “feel”)
1/4 cup milk
2 pork chops
2 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 bunch fresh sage, leaves plucked and chopped finely
1 apple, cored and thickly sliced
1/2 cup chicken stock (I used my homemade version)

1. Place potatoes in a pot and cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender. Drain and mash with first quantity of butter and milk. I ended up adding more butter because I think it’s a matter of preference to taste and I like it to be buttery. Season to taste.

2. Season pork chops with salt and pepper. Melt second quantity of butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add sage leaves and fry until crisp. Remove pan from heat and remove sage leaves from pan with a slotted spoon.

3. Return pan to medium-high heat, add pork chops and fry each side till browned and cooked, about 4 minutes per side. Remove from pan to a warmed plate and cover with foil.

4. Add apple slices to pan and fry gently until browned on both sides. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil until sauce is slightly thickened. Season to taste (my chicken stock had no salt in it previously).

5. Divide mash potatoes onto plates, arrange pork chops, apples and sage leaves on top. Drizzle with sauce (I recommend straining the sauce because there’s likely bits of sage leaves and other impurities floating in it).

Pork chops

Party in the mouth!

Basically, every component of this dish was cooked in butter or had some sort of butter component to it. The amazing thing was that my entire apartment smelled like butter for hours after I made this, and by that, I mean that my apartment smelled exactly like what I imagine heaven to smell like.

Mock me if you must but this dish was so good that Jacey, who isn’t a fan of pork, agreed that it was absolutely, lip-smackingly delicious. The by-product, that lingering scent of sin butter, was just pure incentive to make this dish again and again and again…


Food-ciations

It’s hard to explain why I love cooking. I think my favourite part is attempting one of my mum’s dishes when I’m feeling homesick. Food has such an emotional connection for a lot of people and it’s definitely deeply ingrained in my upbringing.

I was raised in a family where dinner was eaten together almost every night. It made for some seriously late dinners because my father was such a workaholic. There were exceptions, of course, but we still keep that tradition going now. It’s a chance for us all to catch up on each others’ lives, share important details of our day, and just be together. I’m realizing now that my mum did most of her parenting at the dinner table, too. My brothers and I were taught from a very young age to invite the elders to eat first and it’s a practice that’s so ingrained in us that it’s become a habit. We carry it out to whenever we eat with our parents’ friends or our friends’ parents and we still get praised on what well-behaved children we are (which fills us with some really smug pride!). I was taught to help clear the table after every meal despite growing up with a live-in maid and it’s one of my major pet peeves when guests don’t offer and sit like blocks of cement after a meal. I was taught to ask to be excused after dinner, even if everyone else is finished but this is probably the reason why I love lingering around the dinner table after a meal… I’m waiting for the conversation to start!

More than that, I think my mum’s food always portrays how deeply she cares for her family. If one of us were sick, the whole family got really healthy food (think less oil, steamed or boiled dishes) and we’d follow up with a lot of fruits and probably barley water. She always went marketing with a plan to make somebody’s favourite dish and said person would get first servings of the dish. Even when we eat out, she’d order a variety of our favourite dishes to make everyone happy. We were spoiled rotten, can you tell? We still are, actually!

So being away from home, I do miss my mum’s food and its connotations. I never ever get it perfectly right when I attempt her dishes. There’s always something a little off about my replications and I’m never sure what it is because I’d call her up and she’d talk me through her dishes but I’ve learned that there’s a magic about a mother’s cooking that just cannot be reenacted.

Fish cutlets

Tonight’s dinner: Fish cutlets on rocket salad.

Knowing this, I improvise and make my own dish instead. Tonight I made fish cutlets but I don’t have my mother’s recipe for this so I winged it and it tastes pretty close but mine is highly fragile whereas mum’s is more crunchy on the outside (possibly because she uses Panko breadcrumbs and I didn’t have those!). But it reminds me of my childhood and birthday parties, because she’d make a ton of these tiny potato+fish patties and my friends would go batshit crazy over them. Her version is to be had with steamed rice and other dishes, and sauced with Thai sweet chilli sauce but mine is a main, on rocket leaves and sauced with Tobasco sauce.

Roast chicken

Roast chicken

One of my favourite dishes that my mum made in my teenage years was her roast chicken. Well, Kylie Kwong’s ‘radical’ roast chicken, to be precise. It’s probably been years since my mum made it but it’s something that’s stuck with me and I make it so often that I never have to look at the recipe anymore. I highly recommend it, it’s one of the best roast chicken flavours I’ve tasted. It’s crispy on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside, and smells like heaven (read as: butter). And the vegetables that soak up the chicken’s juices… ooh! Especially the shallots. I now add more shallots because the amount in the recipe is too few for me. I like it completely cold from the fridge, too as I’m always lucky enough to have leftovers! My mum said her favourite part is the gelee that forms when the gravy is cooled but I’m all about the roast vegetables. It’s not that the chicken isn’t great, it’s fantastic but it goes so well with the veges. Honestly, put all your negative feelings about Kylie Kwong aside and just try this recipe.

The one missing component about my dinners here is the lack of family. I have a different sort of family here, though. Most of my weeknight dinners are shared with my dear friend and housemate, Jacey. But last Friday night, Kristine and Su Yin thought we’d have a wild night of baking cupcakes together (pandan cupcakes with pandan fudge!) and Su volunteered to cook dinner. We’re real party animals, can you tell?

Su in action

Su Yin in action

Su Yin made us some amazing spicy prawn pasta with rocket, I believe it was a Jamie Oliver recipe.

Portion

Oversized portion

We each got an oversized portioned plate but somehow managed to polish our plates clean. Then we proceeded to eat our cupcakes (which I did not photograph, unfortunately).

They were all really good dinners but sometimes food isn’t just about the success of the dish but rather how it is shared, and I am blessed to have all good associations of my dinners from two different lives as they all comprise good company, much laughter and titillating conversation.


From Scratch

For the past two weeks I’ve been pretty excited about something I’ve always wanted to make: chicken stock. I grew up in a Chinese household where chicken stock equals the powdered version and I never understood the liquid chicken stock that people buy in grocery stores. It tastes really strange to me, to be honest. But I’ve seen the need for chicken stock with all the cooking I’ve been doing lately but I abhor the boxed versions. It tastes so salty!

Chicken stock

Chicken stock in the pot

I’ve officially become one of those people who cook too much and can’t buy any processed food at all (unless I really, really have to) because it disagrees with my sensibilities. My marketing habits have changed drastically because of this. Honestly, I spent $60 this week (including $14 for two buffalo Mozzarella balls) on groceries to cook 4 different meals for two, including enough for leftovers. And I didn’t even have to hit up the supermarket for any other ingredients. That’s how great it is when you make everything from scratch.

I found this recipe in one of the books I lugged all the way to Melbourne from KL. Yes, I am that crazy.

Chicken Stock
Adapted from Cook Simply Everything, recipe from Shaun Hill
Yields 1.5 litres stock

Ingredients
1 kg raw or cooked chicken bones
3 litres water
1 onion, quartered
1 leek, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
5 sprigs of rosemary
5 bay leaves

Chicken bones

Chicken bones/carcasses from the market. I got 1.5kg for only $1.

1. Preheat the oven to 200˚C. Place the chicken bones into a roasting pan and roast for 20 minutes. Transfer to a large pot or pan.

2. Pour any fat from the pan (I keep it for other uses), then add 500ml of the measured water. Bring to the boil, scraping up the burnt-on residues on the pan.

3. Pour this deglazing liquid over the roasted bones in the pot. Pour in the remaining water and bring to the boil.

Skimming

Skimming off foam and oil

4. Skim off any foam or fat then add the vegetables. Simmer, uncovered for 3 hours, or until the bones begin to disintegrate. If the water level drops below the ingredients, top it up. Constantly skim off any foam or fat you see floating on the surface.

Chopped vegetables

Chopped vegetables

5. Strain the stock into a jug or bowl, then leave the pot and contents for a minute or so. Any stock held in the bones will drop to the base, leaving another ladleful of stock.

Disintegrated bones

Collapsed bones. Confession: I pick at the meat left behind and eat it!

6. Leave the stock to cool – cover with a tea towel if necessary. When it reaches room temperature, skim off any remaining fat with a large spoon and then refigerate. Once chilled, the stock should jelly: the more leg bones used, the more gelatinous it will be.

Chicken stock

Chicken stock, cooling

It’s honestly one of the easiest things to make. Depending on what you use your stock for, you could add salt if you wanted. I don’t because I like to control what I use it with so I add the salt in when I use it. It’s already flavourful before the salt. I added the herbs even though the recipe didn’t call for it because I like the little extra oomph the herbs give to the aroma of the stock.

I’ve been using the chicken stock a lot (which I will talk about later) and it’s so pleasurable to open up the freezer and see a few containers of chicken stock ready for use. The rendered chicken fat from the bones I’ve used recently in a pasta dish I came up with and it was delicious (if a little naughty!).

I think I’m going to have to try out vegetable and fish stock soon. It makes me feel so healthy knowing that I know every single ounce of salt that went into my food and I know I’m using good and fresh ingredients, something I wouldn’t be able to guarantee with the boxed stock. It’s fantastic that chicken bones and the ingredients that go into the stock are so cheap, too. It’s a tiny bit time consuming but I make it every Sunday, right after I come back from the market. I just leave it simmering while I go about my chores.

My friends think I’m a little too obsessed because of my insistence on making things from scratch but look at how easy it all is!


Two Great Loves: Pesto and Bocconcini

I recently did a week-long vegetarian stint so that’s the reason for the multiple vegetarian dishes. I much prefer being vegetarian in Australia than in Malaysia. The fresh produce here is just so beautiful.

I’ve developed a new habit of going to the market every Sunday morning. I sit down with a few recipe books or food magazines on Saturday night and plan my menu for the week and write down a shopping list. This is really important for me because it makes me focus on the things I know I will make. I get distracted by the sight and scent of gorgeous produce and sometimes I get carried away. I’d end up with a heavily stocked fridge and no clue how to use up all the produce before it goes bad. Since I’ve adopted this more logical exercise, my produce dwindles down to almost zero by Sunday so I fell all right about hitting the market. I love doing this too because I want to avoid buying anything from the supermarket. It’s expensive, the produce isn’t as fresh and it takes away from the experience of shopping for your food. Now I’m only in the supermarket for cleaning products and the occasional tin of tuna or dried pasta. I haven’t yet mustered up the courage to try making pasta from scratch. I want to, though I have no clue if I have the space to dry them…

One of the things I always make when I go vegetarian is pesto. It’s great for a quick snack with toast or for an easy meal with some pasta. I first tried pesto when my brother made it from scratch many years ago and I fell madly in love with it. I’ve tried some bottled varieties in the supermarket but they never live up to their fancy description of ingredients so I just steer clear away now knowing that anything I buy will be inferior to the tried and tested recipe that I’ve perfected over the years.

Pesto Pasta Salad

Pesto Pasta Salad

The recipe I use is the same one I first tasted when my brother made it for me all those years ago, and if I’m not mistaken, he snitched it from a Gordon Ramsey cookbook, although exactly which I can’t ascertain. It is fantastic and I can’t insist enough that everyone try this at least once because it’ll put you off the bottled versions in the supermarket forever.

This recipe uses basil and pine nuts, and I know there are other versions with other herbs and nuts like parsley or spinach or cashews but I do enjoy the scent of basil a whole lot more than the other alternatives.

Classic Pesto
adapted from some cookbook of Gordon Ramsey’s

Ingredients
50 g pine nuts
70 g fresh basil leaves, plucked from the stems, washed and dried
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
50 g Parmesan cheese
125 ml extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Fry the pine nuts in a pan (with no oil) until slightly brown. Remove from heat and leave to cool.

2. Place pine nuts in a blender with basil, garlic and Parmesan. Blitz to combine.

3. Scrape down the sides. With the machine running, add in the oil slowly. Scrape down occasionally. (I don’t have a machine that has an accessible open top that I can open while it’s running so I just dump the oil in batches)

4. Taste and check for seasoning, add salt and pepper according to your preference. I usually add only a teeny tiny bit of salt (the Parmesan salts it enough) but I do go heavy on the black pepper because that’s the way I like it.

5. Dump in bin and go to bed. This was what my brother e-mailed to me many years ago. I hadn’t noticed until I was making the pesto and pissed myself laughing for ages after. He’s a prankster, that one!

Pesto Pasta Salad

To make the really simple, really easy Pesto Pasta Salad in the photographs, I’m not even going to bother giving you a recipe. All you need is some pesto, a handful of cherry tomatoes, a few balls of bocconcini cheese, and some fresh mushrooms. Boil some pasta, saute the mushrooms with a little salt and pepper. Dump the cooked pasta in a bowl, add a tablespoon of pesto per individual serving, mix it up so it coats all the pasta. Add in the mushrooms and tomatoes and shredded bocconcini. Season with a little salt and pepper if you feel like it (I personally didn’t find a need for it). DIG IN!

I feel the need to express my undying love for bocconcini for a moment. I have a massive savoury fang, even though I love making desserts (this shocks people a lot). I’m not the kind of person who would choose dessert over a main course. That’s just crazy talk! One of my biggest savoury delights is cheese and while I enjoy cheese, I can’t handle eating camembert and brie or even blue cheese too often. I can take them in small doses but I have to be very light handed with them or they gross me out and put me off a dish. However when it comes to my two greatest cheese loves: fresh mozzarella and bocconcini, I would sing a different tune. I especially love buffalo mozzarella (which I’m told is the larger version of bocconcini) although I am convinced buffalo mozzarella has a stronger taste. Or maybe I’m hallucinating.

Bocconcini has the loveliest, fluffiest texture; it’s the right amount of chewiness and the taste! Oh the taste! It’s really mild and it absorbs the flavour of whatever it is served with but I have been known to munch on a plain bocconcini ball. They’re a very subtle, joyous party in my mouth. I could eat bocconcini daily and wouldn’t utter a single word of complaint – there’s no such thing as too much bocconcini in my book.


Lazy Lasagne

One of the things I enjoy about being vegetarian is the chance to explore really delicious and healthy recipes. I found this recipe for a vegetarian lasagne in a Real Living magazine pullout from 2008. It’s called the Summer Cookbook. I’ve been cooking from it A LOT because the recipes are really quick and easy (helps when I only trudge home at 6 p.m.) and I like using seasonal ingredients.

Vegetarian Lasagne

Healthy vegetarian lasagne

Easy Spring Vegetable Lasagne
adapted from Real Living Food Summer Cookbook
(Serves 4)

Ingredients
2 zucchini, sliced lengthways
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 cup tomato passata
1 packet instant lasagne sheets
75 g baby spinach, steamed for 2 minutes
1 bunch asparagus, woody bases trimed, spears steamed for 3 minutes
100 g fetta cheese, crumbled
2 tomatoes, sliced thinly
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 200˚C (180˚C fan-forced). Place zucchini in a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and scatter with garlic and a little salt and pepper. Cook zucchini slices in frying pan over a high heat for 2 minutes each side until golden.

2. Pour half the passata into baking dish and spread evenly over base. Place a single layer of lasagne sheets on top of passata, then top with zucchini, spinach, asparagus, and fetta. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Cover with another layer of lasagne sheets. Cover with the rest of passata plus sliced tomato and oregano. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and drizzle with the olive oil from the zucchini tray.

4. Bake for 30 minutes. Slice and serve.

Vegetarian Lasagne

Layers of healthy yumminess

This isn’t like your average lasagne without the bechamel sauce, mozzarella and obviously, meat. But I liked it. It’s quite crunchy with the oregano and breadcrumbs on top (although I may have overdone it). In the photo in the magazine, they appear to have topped the lasagne with more fetta as well, but I didn’t do that. It is a little messy to cut into because the layers don’t glue together like with a meat lasagne and the asparagus kept falling out but apart from all that, it’s seriously delicious.La


Pork Up, Buttercup

I have once again abandoned Hey, Sugar! without a word but I was busybusybusy as it was Chinese New Year and then I flew off to Melbourne, Australia and had to re-set up my entire life here again and now, almost three weeks later, I finally have the Internet connected so I am once again whole. It is rather alarming how dysfunctional and empty my life feels without the Internet. It is also a lot more productive and I do find myself a little less addicted to the distractions the internet has to offer, but we’ll see how long that goes.

Chinese New Year is probably my favourite holiday. Coming from a non-Christian family, I’ve never appreciated Christmas, and seeing as I’m not American, Thanksgiving isn’t thrilling for me either. In fact, I don’t even really know when Thanksgiving is but from popular culture I gather it is a day that is acceptable for everyone to gorge themselves to bursting point and to laze around watching TV. Well Chinese New Year isn’t really that far off from that except we get ang pau, which is little red envelopes containing money. It’s a celebration that goes on for fifteen days and we lay out all sorts of delectable treats on our coffee tables in the living room for guests to munch on. We also have many, many feasts but the most important is on the eve of the Chinese New Year which is called the Reunion Dinner and it’s usually very lavish but it’s a time everyone in the family gathers together for a meal.

Mandarins

Mandarin oranges and cherry blossoms (our dining table centerpiece), put together by yours truly

It is also customary for everyone to be decked out in bright colours like red and orange as it is meant to bring in good luck for the new year. We usually end up with brand new clothes every new year, everything from our undies to shoes.

It isn’t hard to imagine how this is my favourite holiday, is it? In Malaysia, the government would usually declare up to a week of school holiday for the children. So imagine lots of really good food, being awarded red envelopes containing money from every single married adult you bump into, obtaining a brand new wardrobe and seeing relatives that live very far away. It’s like Christmas, but better because there aren’t any tricks of having to be good or Santa won’t bring you presents because you get money from EVERY married adult you meet, I swear. It’s awesome being Asian!

Fireworks

Fireworks, viewed from my house

The older I get, the smaller our Chinese New Year celebration gets. Previously my family would travel interstate to my maternal grandma’s home and I’d be surrounded by my cousins. Now everyone’s all grown up and my mother and her siblings now have their own families to tend to. My cousins too have all grown up, have gotten married and have families of their own, or are living overseas, so the celebrations now tend to be with our own nuclear families. My cousins would be with their parents, and us with ours. It is still a fun and joyous occasion, but it isn’t quite the same as when you’re a child and staying up all night with your cousins, scaring each other silly with morbid ghost stories.

Yee Sang

Yee Sang, with smoked salmon because we couldn’t find fresh salmon

There are so many Chinese New Year traditions that I get excited about. Traditionally, during the Reunion Dinner, we’d kick off the meal by mixing together a dish called Yee Sang. Everyone stands around a massive platter with a pair of chopsticks and grabs a little bit of the dish in between their chopsticks, lifting as high as they can without spilling it, and dropping it down to the platter again. It is a dish that tastes sweet and sour from the plum sauce with a hint of lime juice squeezed onto the salmon that usually goes with the dish. It is texturally wonderful in the mouth; crunchy (biscuits and crushed peanuts), chewy (preserved jellyfish), silky (salmon), and in all forms of sizes! It’s one of my favourite things to eat during Chinese New Year.

Champagne

Celebratory drinks

My mother has only two siblings in the same state and the rest of my aunts and uncles live where my grandmother does. Naturally, every Chinese New Year, we have our own mini tradition going where we feast in each other’s homes. My aunt always does an Indian lunch banquet in her house on the first day of the New Year. It is always catered and because it is a public holiday in Malaysia, most restaurants are shut so the only available vendors that will cater are the Indians. The food is always wonderful, though.

Fire

The burning of gold paper during a prayer ceremony

This year, our family hosted a lunch on the second day of the new year and we invited my aunt’s family over. My aunt has four sons, three of whom are married, and have eight grandchildren. We weren’t hiring caterers, though, we were cooking for them. Combined with my family of six, we were looking at feeding fifteen adults and eight children. Pretty intense.

My mum had a plan to cook her Fried Spaghetti dish for the adults but it only dawned on me the day before the lunch that we were cooking for 23 people but only had one dish planned! It was then that I decided that we would split the menu for adults and children and I would take over the kid’s menu. I needed something easy and delicious, but really familiar so I wouldn’t have to deal with the nightmare of fussy children who refused to eat anything foreign. It was then that I came up with the idea to make hamburgers for the kids.

One of the things that I’m most fussy about now that I’ve really gotten into cooking is processed food. I try to avoid it at all costs and I can be a little bit annoying about how far I take this. The one time I made an exception for some frozen nuggets due to a craving, it was so insanely salty that I couldn’t even eat them to satisfy my nugget fixation. So, as you can imagine, I’m not one for frozen burger patties either. Burger patties aren’t even difficult to put together and the frozen varieties are usually just innards, fat and skin instead of proper lean meat.

Burger patties

Burger patties

Pork Hamburgers
Yields 8 patties

Ingredients
700g minced pork (or beef, or lamb, or half and half of whatever combination you’d like)
350g fresh mushrooms, sliced thinly
1-2 onions, diced
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1-2 teaspoons dried nutmeg
1 egg
freshly ground sea salt and black pepper

1. Put the minced meat, sliced mushrooms, onions, nutmeg and leaves from the fresh thyme into a big mixing bowl. Mix together well with your hands. Really work through the mixture to get everything incorporated.

2. Season with freshly ground sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix once more with your hands. Lightly dab onto the mixture and taste (but don’t swallow! Just wash your mouth out). It should taste (and smell!) good. Well, you’d know if it tastes salty and peppery enough and the smell of the thyme is just mmm. I’ve got a bit of an obsession going with thyme, I try to put it in everything!

3. Crack an egg into the mixture and mix once more. This helps bind the meat together so you don’t get loose patties.

4. Portion it off into eight even portions. I actually just went freestyle and see how many I got and got lucky with the eight even portions.

5. Form a ball in your palm and slam down onto a baking sheet or a tray. Miraculously, you’ll find that you’ve assembled a ball! Set aside and continue for the other seven portions.

6. Cover up with cling film and keep in the refrigerator until ready to cook. These can be made in advance.

7. When ready to cook, just lightly fry them until brown and just cooked on both sides on a non-stick pan, then pop into an oven of about 180˚C for a further 15 minutes. I’d grill them if I had a grill but I didn’t so a non-stick pan was my best option.

Somehow when I came up with the idea for a hamburger, I also came up with the idea of serving it with a “tzatziki”. Tzatziki is more often paired with lamb burgers but I absolutely loathe fresh tomato slices in my burgers but I wanted to have tomatoes in there for the flavour so I thought, heck, I could wing a cucumber and tomato “tzatziki”, couldn’t I? And so I did.

Tzatziki

Tomato and Cucumber “Tzatziki”

Cucumber and Tomato “Tzatziki”

Ingredients
1 cucumber, diced
5 tomatoes, deseeded and diced
3 tablespoons Greek yogurt
3 cloves garlic, crushed
4 stems fresh dill
salt and pepper

1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Season to taste. (it won’t really taste too awesome on its own, it’s a little blah if I’m honest but great with the burger)

2. Pour entire contents into a strainer and place above a bowl, wrapped in cling film in the refrigerator overnight. This helps drain out all the liquid because tomato, cucumber AND yogurt is just really watery.

There’s an actual, proper method to make the tzatziki that I am totally disregarding with my lame-attempt at a tzatziki, which is why mine is a “tzatziki” with the ” because I know it is not the authentic version. If you want to make the authentic version, go for it! It doesn’t look anything like this little diced cucumber and tomato version I have here!

To assemble the burger, heat the burger buns up till slightly crisp, then place cooked burger patty on top. Top with a slice of cheddar cheese and pop into the oven again until just melted. Top with a spoonful of the “tzatziki”, a giant lettuce leaf and the top bun. Voila! A hamburger!

Open burger

Open burger

It was a great hit! Thankfully I had about twelve patties on the day of the lunch (I redid the recipe for the photos and actual measurements of the recipe to blog about it) because the adults started requesting for them as well! It was amusing how my cousins would walk into the kitchen and asked me where their burgers were and I had to explain how the kids were the only ones getting them. I had enough for them to share amongst themselves, luckily, and my siblings loved the burgers so much I was asked to make them again the following weekend (hence the photographs as I was much too busy the first time around!).

Hamburger

The assembled burger

I highly recommend giving the burger a shot. The “tzatziki” really goes wonderfully with the patties and the joyous thing about these burgers is the really tender and moist texture. It’s mostly attributed to the mushrooms, and why I wanted them in there. I really hate very porky, very lean burgers because I often feel sick of it before I can even get halfway through my burger. So I was determined to create a patty that was juicy and not as heavily pork scented as the average pork burger tends to be (and the thyme and onions do a wonderful job with the aroma).

Recipe making is pretty fun and I apologize if quantitative measures aren’t as precise. This is still a major step up from what I usually tell my friends when I make dishes. I’m all about the “just until it tastes nice” quantity, which is VERY vague! But it tastes a lot better than a McDonald’s Prosperity Burger!