Saturday, September 30, 2006

Ramadan Get-Together

My husband and I are quite determined not to break our fast alone during the weekends of Ramadan. It all started when on the first day of Ramadan, which was on a Saturday last weekend, when we had our iftar (breaking fast as dusk) at a friend's place in Slough after they kindly gave us some complimentary tickets to go to Legoland. We spent the day with them at Legoland and later they invited us for iftar at their place which we accepted (after much persuasion on my husband's part) and my husband and I have decided that it is indeed lovely to spend time with friends and eat in a group with lively conversation as opposed to our normal routine of eating alone, just the two of us in our kitchen back in London, with one ear always alert, listening to the children playing in the living area.

And so we decided at the last minute yesterday to ask some friends to come over for iftar today at our place. Oh, I could never cook so much food in such short notice and with very little planning so we decided that it would be potluck - 'just bring whatever you're having for berbuka at home' because really, it was just an excuse for us to meet up with our close friends.

My menu was my Chicken Milano, those scrumptious Cinnamon Rolls which I baked just 30 minutes before the first guest arrival and some cream puffs, which was a first attempt for me. My friends' menus were more elaborate and traditional. They brought nasi putih, a delightful and delicious Pais Ikan Seabass, Mee Rebus, Popia, Roti Paratha, Kari Arab, Paceri Nenas, Chocolate Cake, Sweet and Sour Fish and Masak Lemak Kobis. As usual, I was huffing and puffing in the kitchen until the first guests have already arrived and their food already on my table and I had to rush upstairs to put on something more presentable not before almost all the guests have seen me with my worn and stained apron and slipping track bottoms and not to mentioned my not-so-gorgeous state of hair. Sigh.

Nevertheless, it was overall a success.

I told you that pasta recipe was good - all my guests complimented me for that one and all my other presentations except for the cinnamon rolls - which I baked in 2 batches - were gone by the time everyone decided to go home. Indeed, after all those compliments and happy smiles and full bellies, what housewife wouldn't be happy and satisfied?

I have included the Cream Puff recipe that I used for my first attempt at choux pastry - I think cream puffs are easy to make as long as you remember to poke a hole in each puff as soon as it is done and leave it in the oven for a few minutes with the oven door a little ajar - for the purpose of 'drying' the inside of the puffs. I piped the puff mixture onto the baking tray using a pastry bag and put the cream in by slitting the puff at the side with a knife and using a teaspoon to put the cream in. The result was more than acceptable, I think.

Cream Puffs

2 (196g) packages instant vanilla/white choclate pudding mix
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk (or a little less)

1/2 cup butter
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs

Mix together vanilla instant pudding mix, cream and milk. Cover and refrigerate to set.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
In a large pot, bring water and butter to a rolling boil. Stir in flour and salt until the mixture forms a ball. Transfer the dough to a large mixing bowl. Using a wooden spoon or stand mixer, beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown. Poke a small hole in each and leave the oven door a little ajar for a few minutes before taking them out. Centers should be dry.
When the shells are cool, either split and fill them with the pudding mixture, or use a pastry bag to pipe the pudding into the shells.
(If you want recipes for other fillings for the cream puff, you can go to my friend's recipe blog and also this blog.)

This is food to impress, especially if you drizzle some melted chocolate or icing sugar on top of the puffs for a nice last touch before serving. Try this one out with your friends. You can pipe them just like I did to make cream puffs (profiteroles) or you can pipe them in long strips to make chocolate eclairs and tantalize the children. Good luck.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Cinnamon Rolls!

I have always been a little intimidated by bread recipes. It is because of the kneading. All that pressing and punching and pinching and rolling and if the bread turns out flat and hard - all those beads of sweat for nothing. That was why I have kept this recipe for a long time and in fact have bought the cinnamon powder ages ago with the intention to make these but have yet to even open the packaging to smell the lovely cinnamon aroma to tempt me into making the rolls.

But somehow, in this holy fasting month, I felt the urge to give it a go, but even then, I was too afraid to face the punching and pressing and rolling alone, so I asked my idle housemate, Kuzco, a Malaysian living in one of our rooms who has nothing to do all day except to look at the pc and apply for jobs, to help me with it. It turned out that he also misses his Cinnabon from the concourse floor at KLCC and so he gladly agreed to help me.

This is my first try at making any sort of real bread and I thank God that it turned out B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L.L.Y. (with Kuzco's help at the kneading and measuring - rest assured that you have redeemed yourself, Kuzco, from your mistake of not adding that bit of warm water in the recipe - and letting me proceed to punch holes into the dough when there is 1 ingredient lacking!). And so, I would like to recommend this recipe to anyone out there who is living anywhere where there is no St Cinnamon or Cinnabon - we are in the same boat, my friends! - this recipe is easy and the result is wonderful, even for a first timer like me.

Therefore, I am confident that YOU can do it too.

1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 (47g) package instant vanilla pudding mix
1 cup warm milk
1 egg, room temperature
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups bread flour
1 (7g) package active dry yeast

1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 cup chopped pecans/ raisins

1/2 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons milk

In a large bowl, combine water, melted butter, vanilla pudding, warm milk, egg, 1 tablespoon sugar, salt, bread flour and yeast. Mix together and knead for 8-10 minutes and leave covered in a warm place for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, the size of the dough will have doubled. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 17x10 inch rectangle. Spread with softened butter. In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar, cinnamon and pecans. Sprinkle brown sugar mixture over dough.
Roll up dough, beginning with long side. Slice into 16 one inch slices and place in 9x13 buttered pan - but I used a normal 9" round cake tin. Let rise in a warm place for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes. While rolls bake, stir together cream cheese, softened butter, confectioners' sugar, vanilla and milk. Remove rolls from oven and top with frosting. (I did not prepare the topping because I was confident that the rolls will not turn out nice so why bother. So I missed out on tasting these wonderful rolls with their topping. Next time, I will definitely make the topping.)

Some pics:

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Chicken Milano

Have you ever tried cooking with sundried tomatoes? They are absolutely wonderful and I recommend this delicious recipe to anyone who would like to try a sundried tomato and pasta dish. If you have a lovely recipe with sundried tomatoes as one of the ingredients, please do share it with me because I love them!

Please don't judge this recipe from this picture though - I was too tired to take a better one, perhaps on a dish that would have clearly shown the swirly pasta and the tomatoes and basil. This pic will have to do, for now.

1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (use the dry ones, not the ones in oil)
1 cup chicken broth, divided
1 cup heavy cream
300 gm skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
225 gm dry fettuccini pasta

Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. In a large skillet over medium heat, warm oil and saute chicken. Press on chicken occasionally with a slotted spatula. Cook for about 4 minutes per side or until the meat feels springy and is no longer pink inside. Transfer to a board; cover and keep warm. Discard the fat from the skillet.

In a large saucepan over low heat, melt butter; add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and 3/4 cup of the chicken broth; increase to medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes or until the tomatoes are tender. Add the cream and bring to a boil; stirring. Simmer over medium heat until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

In the same skillet used for the chicken, over medium heat, bring 1/4 cup chicken broth to a boil; stirring the pan juices. Reduce slightly and add to the cream sauce; stir in basil and adjust seasonings to taste.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add fettuccine and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or according to instructions on package; drain, transfer to a bowl and toss with 3 to 4 tablespoons of the sauce.

Cut each chicken breast into small pieces. Transfer the pasta to serving plates; top with chicken and coat with the cream sauce; serve.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

No, Thanks!

During the first week of school (a few weeks ago), my son's new class teacher told me this story of my son's behaviour in class:

My son and all the other children in his class were asked to finish some work in their workbooks but when it was time for them to show their work to the teacher and the class, the teacher found that my son did not do a single thing on his book. The teacher then proceeded to ask him why he did not finish his work. And this conversation ensued:

Teacher: Why didn't you finish your work?
My son: I don't want to.
Teacher: You will go now and finish your work.
My son: No, thanks.
Teacher: What are you thanking me for? Go to your table and finish it now!
My son: No, thanks.
Teacher: Do you want me to send you to see the Head Mistress?
My son: No, thanks.

And so the teacher gave up. He's only five after all, so she really didn't think it was necessary to send him to see the Head Mistress. So she asked him to sit at his table and proceeded to teach all the other children some maths while ignoring him completely. My son loves his numbers so he happily followed the lesson from his table but when the teacher gave out cards (probably with some simple sums) for each child to finish and she purposely didn't give one to my son - he started to feel left out. The teacher saw this and she finally gave him his card - and guess what, he did his work "beautifully."

From then on, she has never had any problems with him about his work in class. I guess I do cut a lot of slack for my kids at home, so I'm really, really quite thankful for his new no-nonsense teacher.

My son(s) can be a little stubborn at times but I try to be patient and try to negotiate with them into doing the things that I want. But this back fired when they tried in turn to 'negotiate' with me. Examples:

Tired mum: Come and take your medicine, sayang.
2 Year old: No, I don't want to. (this is his usual statement)
Tired mum: Come on...dia budak pandai (he's a clever boy)
2 Year old: Hmm..(thinking) OK! But not too much! Just a little bit.
Tired mum: Huh?..(eye brows raised)

5 Year old: Mummy, this square is senget! (he was trying to draw a square with his ruler.)
Mum: Really? Then rub it off and do it again.
5 Year old: That's ok, mummy. It's just a little senget.
Mum: Laaaa...(eyes rolling)

Always the negotiators, the both of them.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bye-bye Post Office

Online postage service launched

People will be able to buy their postage online, without any stamps, for the first time under a new initiative from the Royal Mail.

Customers will be able to pay for their postage by credit card over the internet for first-class, second-class and international deliveries. Each item of mail will be given a special barcode, which can be printed off at home, before being posted. Royal Mail said the scheme would improve choice for its customers.

The service will be available 24 hours a day and it is hoped it will reduce queues in post offices. Postage purchased online will cost no more than the normal rates. Royal Mail, whose monopoly on postal deliveries ended at the start of the year, said it believed the service would appeal particularly to home workers and to people who sell goods via eBay and other auction sites. (BBC News Online)

I definitely welcome this because I do sell books that I don't want to keep on ebay and I'm always too lazy to go to the post office to get the stamps.

I can also still go out and buy those nice birthday cards at Memory Lane or Clinton Cards and post it straightaway in a nearby postbox because the bar code stamp will already be in my handbag - printed at home.

Looks like in the future stamps will become a rare thing and the value of old stamps will increase. So if you were planning to throw out your husband's childhood stamp collection - you may want to think again. And it may be worth it to keep those nice stamps you're still getting on your mail - at the very least, as a reminder that they once exist.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Incredible Sulk

My youngest son likes to sulk.
He sulks 2 or 3 times within the hour whenever I say the words 'NO' and 'DON'T' and whenever he does not get his way and of course, for other reasons only known to him alone. For the record, my youngest is 2 and he's trying to live up to the term 'Terrible Two' that people always associate with two year olds like him. All the pics below were taken on Saturday (16/9/06) and when he's older, I hope he'll be able to look at these pics and see the humour of it all, just like how my husband and I find his behaviour now.

In the morning, after getting ready to go out - all prepared except for his socks and shoes, I found him in the kitchen sulking about something or other that I honestly can't remember now, although I did manage to talk him out of it.

We went out and decided to go and lunch at Nandos (some of its branches here are halal, but NOT all) but the restaurant does not open until noon so we decided to go to the nearby shops for some window shopping while waiting for the doors to open. And guess what my youngest did again there, in the middle of the shop floor?

And again in a different aisle.

And then one more time.

At last the restaurant was open for lunch. The place was nice, with ambience and nice deco and my boys were behaving themselves until suddenly..

While waiting for the food, he found something else to sulk about. However, he didn't throw himself onto the floor this time - just squatted by his chair to sulk quietly until the food came.

And indeed when the food came he became a good boy once again - eating his food until most of it was gone and he was happy again. I was not surprised if the reason that he sulked before lunch was really because he was hungry.

But then we went to Tesco's to do our weekly grocery shopping and there he was in the trolley, sulking again!

And again!

And then on our way back home, in the car, on his car seat, there he goes!

Back home, some time later while I was cooking for the family's dinner and my husband and our eldest were playing footie in our backyard, there he was again sulking behing the sliding doors - because he tried playing and he couldn't get the ball. Not that the other players didn't want to pass the ball to him, but as he started to sulk even when he missed a pass - which of course, he has only himself to blame - they stopped actually passing the ball to him and simply asked him to 'join' the kicking and shuffling of the ball around the yard. But he refused and went to sulk behind the glass doors instead.

And then my husband had to come and coax him to come out and play, to join in.

And so they had to change into a game of catch instead just to include the baby in the family. And Abang was such a sport too, not 'sulking' like his baby brother just because he wants to play footie and not catch.

Only then was the 'baby' happy...

Monday, September 11, 2006

I Do, I Really Do

I remember the first time I stepped my foot on British soil, 12 years ago. My friends and I were so excited that the very morning we arrived and checked in our 3 star hotel in Sussex Gardens (all expenses paid by our sponsors, of course) we straightaway went walking along Edgeware Road, stopped by the tourist shops and bought ourselves maps and London guide books so that we can discover London as much as we can within the few days that we were here, for we were only in transit from our real destination which was Scotland.

I remember feeling so very clever at the time because I knew of a few places in London from my own reading and from stories regaled by my mother and brother for both of them spent some time in the UK years ago while they were studying here - my mother in the 60s and my brother in the late 80s. I remember that it was so very exciting discovering how to take the tube, studying the tube map and marvelling at how very easy it was to go to the many tourist destinations and by the end of the day, feeling so very tired of walking.

The first night in London was a shock to us all for when we turned on the TV, we couldn’t get any other good channels except for 1 and the show that was on was about breasts and how they react to sexual stimulation. And when we went into the phone booths to call home the next day it was another shock when we saw all those graphic sex adverts! Of course, we didn’t mean to read them but it was plastered all over the inside walls of the booth - we couldn’t very well close our eyes when we went into the booths to talk to our mothers back in Malaysia!

I remember the first place I wanted to visit was Trafalgar square, because of what my mother told me and what I saw in LAT’s cartoons when I was small. And so I persuaded my friends (who were clueless as to where to go) to visit the square first and then going around from there. It was exhilarating. I couldn’t believe that I was actually in LONDON! And then we went to the National Gallery next to the square but did not spend too much time there because my friends were not so very interested in paintings as I was. I remember one of them saying, "Kita orang tak interested la dengan paintings ni - kau sorang je! Nanti kau datang la sini sorang-sorang." (We're not interested in paintings - only you are! You should come here by yourself). And I answered with my resigned "Iyalah." (Alright.) And so we went to all the other famous tourist attractions in London; the parliament building at Westminster and Big Ben, St Paul’s Church, the Tower Bridge, London Dungeon, Tower of London, Madam Tussaud’s, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Oxford Street etc. all within the few days we were there. We had a blast before starting school in Scotland. I will never forget my first experience going around this place. But I never did return to the National Gallery again, alone, to look at the paintings.

But last weekend when my husband and I could not think of any other shopping malls to visit during the weekend (a Malaysian habit of ours, I'm afraid), we decided to just go sight-seeing in Central London. I suggested Trafalgar Square because it was within walking distance to China Town where I could go and look for some asam keping, for my stock has run out, and the children can chase some pigeons (they do delight in that!). But I also thought of going to the National Gallery again to look at those paintings. It was a very relaxed and laid back kind of weekend because we didn't really have any other agenda except for the asam keping, and so my husband agreed to climb up the stairs from the square to the gallery, although he wasn't really interested in paintings himself. I admit we didn’t really spend as much time there as I would have liked, as my 2 year old was making a racket – shouting to hear his voice echo in the large galleries and crawling under the barriers to go nearer to (and nearly touching!) the paintings and stomping his feet on the polished wooden floors as hard as he could to make maximum noise with his trainers – but I still had sufficient time to look at certain famous pictures that I have seen in books, the internet and newspapers, ones that I have really wanted to see with my own eyes.

The paintings were beautiful and I looked at many of them in absolute wonder. Because we could not use our cameras in the galleries, I could not take any pics to put in this blog but I have searched and added here some of the pics I saw in the galleries - the ones that I really liked.

Seurat, 'Bathers at Asnières', 1884

James Wright of Derby, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, 1768

(This one is so LARGE and very, very realistic - I think its my favourite.)

Monet, The Thames below Westminster, circa 1871

Constable, The Cenotaph to Reynolds' Memory, Coleorton 1833-6

(My husband's favourite was this one - it is a very elaborate and detailed painting. Breath taking!)

Manet, 'The Execution of Maximilian' 1867-8

I have to say at 30 years old, I am looking at London with different eyes. That first time it was with satisfaction and pride of actually being here, in the UK, where I have always wanted to pursue my degree. And it was also with the excitement of independence and discovery - a feeling that I think cannot be brushed off so easily for it is very potent and can make many do many things that he/she would never do otherwise. Then, I was too young and excited to really appreciate the beauty of the places and its architecture. But now, years later, after reading so many historical books (albeit fiction), and acquiring an interest in the old London, and not to mention being a little older and perhaps a little bit wiser and mature, I am more interested in the history and story behind the old buildings and streets. In short, I fell in love with London all over again with my new knowledge. I could imagine seeing the fictional female characters in my storybooks strolling along The Serpent in Hyde Park . And I could see the alpha heroes handling their pair of grays from a high-perched phaeton on the cobbled streets along the Thames River. Looking at the buildings, many already standing proud since hundreds and hundreds of years ago, I cannot help but feel amazed and awed by the fact that I am here looking at these cold stones that have seen so much history and so many people - some great, some just leading their day to day lives, but now are all dead - passing by here, right here where I was standing. And now, my humble person can claim to be one of these people.

It was a different experience altogether than the one I had at 18 years old. However much I complain about my being here, I do love London, I do. For all its ridiculously fickle weather, its congession, its effing black women drivers and its horrifying and silly Tv programmes, it is really a wonderful place.

Two Hoots For Charity

Met with a wonderful sight the moment I stepped out of Stratford Station last weekend. Two men were trying to attract people to give some donation to a children’s hospice by showing off some owls. The brown one was HUGE and did not seem at all like it was losing any beauty sleep (for aren’t these birds nocturnal?) The baby one on the man’s head was closing its eyes most of the time so I assumed it was trying to get some sleep amid all that noise created by the traffic from the road behind us. How so very pretty and wonderful! It certainly attracted a lot of attention for the hospice!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Tried and Tasted - Banofee Pie

Tried this Banofee Pie recipe from a friend's blog.

My own humble adjustments to the recipe;

For a 9" pie dish, use 300g digestive biscuits, more bananas, not sliced too thin, layered overlapping each other a little (therefore requiring more slices - which is my intention!)

And for the toffee - use a big can. And once boiled for 3 hours, should be used as soon as possible for it to be more manageable. If you decide to use it later, make sure you soften the toffee before you open up the can by boiling the can again for at least 40 mins. And the cream - definitely should be more than what I used on my pie - I used only around 1 cup of whipping cream for that amount in the pic.

Overall, very easy, nice and will definitely try again.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Good Bye Steve Irwin

I will always remember this man. He was enthusiastic, charismatic and so very knowledgeable and passionate in his work and I respect him, eventhough I would never do the things he did in a million years. I am very sad that I will never see him old with grey hair doing those wonderful things with those wonderful animals and perhaps restraining himself a little bit due to his old age.
His wife and children must be devastated. My heartfelt condolences.

News: The Crocodile Hunter Killed by Stingray