Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Ingredients Series: Cornstarch / Cornflour

Okay, so what is the deal with Cornflour / cornstarch? I know many people who have basic knowledge on thickening sauces and one of those things that we Asians love using to thicken anything is using cornstarch or cornflour as it is better known in the UK. 

Cornstarch is actually a very versatile ingredient. It can be used in baking and in cooking. How you say? Like wheatflour, once you mix it with water it thickens up. Pour it into your sauce and stir a little to mix it up. Slowly the sauce will thicken up. In baking, it is used in cookies just to give it that extra oomph!

In the UK, it is easily obtainable in supermarkets as well as Asian grocery stores. The brand normally appearing in Asian grocery stores tends to look like pre-packed clear plastic bags with Chinese wordings on with that ubiquitous single English sentence in bold writing 'CORN STARCH' and at the same time stocking Maizena:

My family used this when I was back in KL. Here I just obtain housebrand versions of cornstarch like the one from Sainsbury's. Now you don't even need to search for thickening agents. Just use cornstarch!

Go discover a whole new world of cooking with cornstarch,
The Innovative Baker

Stir-Fried Scallops in Chilli, Red Peppers and Onions

Seafood in the UK is quite pricey, so actually finding good quality seafood is a catch. I tend never to buy it in supermarkets as I can never see how good the quality is. But, Marks & Spencer here in the UK somehow lives up to its expectations. I was able to find scallops for a bargain. Not too bad considering how difficult it is to find good seafood here in London supermarkets.

I like my seafood simple and this recipe is just that.

1 packet of fresh scallops (20 pcs or about 800grams)
Scallop marinade:
A dash of sesame oil
a tsp of freshly ground black pepper
a tsp of chilli flakes

A dash of soy sauce

1 whole red pepper - deseeded and julienned
1 whole yellow onion - sliced into rings
Salt and pepper to taste
additional sesame oil

  1. Firstly marinade your scallops and set aside.
  2. Next heat up your pan with some vegetable oil and a little bit of salt. Then add in the yellow onions and stir fry til fragrant and fully sweated.
  3. Add in the scallops and quickly fry not letting the scallops stick to the pan. Allow to fry for about 2 minutes.
  4. Next add in the red pepper and stir fry til slightly soft. Add a dash of pepper and salt to taste before finally adding in some sesame oil.
  5. Dish out quickly and serve piping hot with white rice and a vegetable accompaniment.
This dish literally took less than 30 minutes. If you don't like scallops, replace it with fish cut into bite sized pieces or prawns. Not a seafood fan? Then chicken can also be used.

Looking for crabs now,
The Innovative Baker

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Ingredients Series: Malaysian Spices - Assam Gelugor

When reading recipes, sometimes you wonder what some of the speciality ingredients look like especially in the context of Asian cooking. If you are a fan of Malaysian cooking, you might have come across this particular ingredient / spice : Assam Gelugor. This particular ingredient is mainly used in Nyonya and Malay dishes. Originating from the plant called Garcinia atrovirdis (pic below is actual fruit before drying)

The fruit is then finely sliced before drying them in the sun. The effect would be as per the first picture. Used in various dishes, especially in sour based dishes like the Assam Laksa, this particular ingredient isn't exactly easily obtainable from any shop. In fact, it took me a while to find it until I discovered that it was sold in the Oriental Supermarket up at Bayswater, London. 

Where is Oriental Supermarket?
26 Queensway
London W2 3RX

So just in case you're wondering what in the world is Assam Gelugor, here's the big big picture for you!!!

Discovering more ingredients everyday,
The Innovative Baker

Turmeric Glutinous Rice @ Nasi Kunyit ala Lyn

In the effort of wanting to try something new, I set myself the task of making Nasi Kunyit. Now, I wasn't told in the beginning how long it would take to make this. Little did I know that it would take the better half of the day to produce the perfect sticky consistency that the dish is known for to be eaten with the perfect curry. So for those sticky rice / glutinous rice peeps who wants to know...here's the recipe:


To soak together:
600 grams glutinous rice - washed and drained
enough water to soak glutinous rice in
2 - 3 pieces of assam gelugor 
4 cm turmeric root - skinned and crushed

For steaming:
30 whole white peppercorns (or a handful really)
300 ml coconut cream 
1/4 tsp salt
10 stalks of screwpine leaves / pandan leaves

  1. Firstly, after having washed and drained the glutinous rice, place it in a deep enough bowl or pot. Place the assam gelugor amongst the rice before filling it up with water. 
  2. The turmeric root should be skinned and crushed in a pastel and mortar to get the yellow colouring. Place this crushed turmeric root into a stainless steel sieve (plastic ones with absorb the yellow colouring) and place it in the glutinous rice for the rice to absorb the colour. You can take up to 20 minutes and constantly stir the sieve round the glutinous rice mixture to ensure evenness in the colouring. It acts like a staining agent.
  3. Soak the rice overnight (the best effect is at least 8 hours, if not 5 hours would do).
  4. Prepare your steamer. You have several methods to do this: Option 1 - 1 large pot, an upside plate that can go into the base of the pot and fill it up with water. Option 2 - 1 large pot, a steaming stand and water. Option 3 - a bamboo steamer on top of a wok with water or Option 4 - an actual electric steamer. For Options 1 to 3, ensure the water is thoroughly boiling before placing the glutinous rice in for steaming. Option 4 will automatically boil the water when activated.
  5. Drain the water from the rice and remove assam gelugor. Mix in the white peppercorns and spread in a large enough casserole dish or pan that has been layered with the screwpine leaves  for rice to be steamed. The first stage of steaming is 20 minutes.
  6. Whilst waiting for rice to be steamed, mix the coconut cream and salt together. Once the first stage is done, remove it from the steamer. In a mixing bowl, combine the steamed glutinous rice and coconut cream and mix thoroughly. Place it back into the casserole dish / pan for further 20 minutes of steaming. Top up the water should it have evaporated.
  7. Remove from steamer and let it cool. Serve with chicken curry, beef rendang or anything spicy really.
Just in case you're wondering how to layer the bottom of the casserole dish with the screwpine leaves, do what I did - weave them. It holds the leaves together and ensures that the fragrance of the leaves gets absorbed into the rice as well. At best, do this in advance if you have the time.

For my first attempt, this was indeed a fantastic yummy rice dish. It finished and I had to make white rice because there wasn't enough to go round. 

Anyone up for giving away first month baby gifts (traditionally Nyonya / Malaysian Chinese tradition), this would be the rice to be given away.

Now dreaming how to make Nasi Beryani,
The Innovative Baker

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Flash-Fried Chilli Prawns and Mushrooms served with a Garden and Peach Salad

From instant noodles, we now go to salads once again. Inspired by my visit to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Aunty Kathie told me that that part of the US was known for the huge harvest of peaches. Of course I didn't make this totally and immediately in the US but had the sudden bout of inspiration when I spotted peaches here. Despite the very unpredictable weather of the UK, salads are a great lunch getaways I think. So what did I put in it?

1 whole peach - washed, pitted and cubed (you can also peel the skin if you wish, I left it on)
10 whole fresh prawns - marinated in soy sauce, chilli flakes and sesame oil
5 whole button mushrooms (white or chestnut) - sliced and put aside (1 portobello mushroom can also be used but cube the mushroom as it is extremely large)
1 whole green pepper - julienned
A bunch of baby lettuce
5 - 8 cherry tomatoes - depending on size, slice in half
1 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Juice of 1 lime
A dash of freshly ground black pepper
A dash of sea salt

  1. Prepare your prawns by marinating them in soy sauce, chilli flakes and some sesame oil. Leave for about 10 minutes, while you prepare all the other ingredients.
  2. Heat up a small skillet and add the olive oil. Immediately put in the prawns and flash fry it. Put in the sliced mushrooms and cook through. Remove from heat.
  3. In a salad bowl, add in all salad ingredients. Squeeze the juice of 1 lime and add a dash of pepper and salt. Then finally add in the prawns and mushrooms including the oil that was used for frying up the prawns. This would replace the olive oil that would normally be used in the vinaigrette.
  4. Toss the salad and serve up!
If you don't have mushrooms, you can replace it with leeks or other kinds of vegetables. If not, just the prawns is also fine. For an added kick, slice up some spring onions and toss it in as well.

The salad was total yums!!!

Enjoying the last days of summer,
The Innovative Baker

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Instant Noodles with a Kick!

Alright, I'm not supposed to encourage the use of instant noodles, but hey, it is very much a part of Asian Cuisine and is not specifically just Malaysian. Enter an Asian Grocery Store and you'll find yourself engulfed in the sea of Instant Noodle Packets from Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. The most notable of them are Indomie and probably the Malaysian Maggi Mee Version. South Korea also has splendid flavours for Instant Noodles and so does Japan... Ok Ok...enough of that and on to the Recipe.

Now, sometimes you wonder whether just plain instant noodles is enough? Well, I tend to pack in more than I can chew in my instant noodle ventures. Here's one:

1 Packet of Instant Noodles (flavouring to your liking) - I used Tom Yam Flavoured Instant Noodles from Maggi 
3 Slices Unsmoked Back Bacon
1 Red Chilli - Deseeded and Julienned lengthwise (approx. 5cm)
1 sprout of Pak Choy - washed and individual steam torn from main stem
1 Egg
1 bowl of water

  1. Firstly prepare a small frying pan for your bacon. There is no need to add any fat on to the pan as the bacon already has enough fat to fry it up! Slowly fry your bacon. Remove from heat but leave the bacon in the pan.
  2. In a medium sized pot, boil up some water. When water is boiling, add in the instant noodles. This is to remove the initial layer that keeps the noodles nice and crunchy. Once noodles soften and are springy, drain noodles and keep aside. Run through cold water to make sure noodles stop cooking.
  3. In the same pot, boil up more water. This time add in the instant flavour sachet. Bring it to a boil. Then add in the noodles again, the pak choy and the Chilli. Finally add in the egg and stir vigorously to break the egg up so you'd have an eggy soup. If not, just leave the egg be and let the soup poach the egg on its own.
  4. Serve up once egg looks 3/4 cooked in a large soup bowl. Lay on the bacon and there you have it.
Seriously good for a midnight snack.

Warning: as instant noodles do contain MSG (Monosodium Glutamate), do not in whatsoever fashion indulge in it should you have an allergy to it. You can make your own soup and purchase ready made noodles without the flavouring. For an alternative soup base that is quick, use ready made chicken stock, add in a touch of soy sauce, pepper and perhaps a sprinkle of sesame oil and the effect is the same.

Happy snacking people!

A snack away,
The Innovative Baker

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