Thursday, February 23, 2012

Burmese Food Fete, Asia House, Perth

Asia House on Stirling Street in Perth is a hub of multicultural activity. On the second Saturday of every month, the Burmese food fete is held in the main hall from 10am to 1pm.

I have not eaten any Burmese food before and Burmese cuisine does not have a prominent place in our culinary landscape. As far as I’m aware, there aren’t any Burmese restaurants in Perth, although some pan-Asian restaurants serve a few Burmese dishes, so the fete is an excellent opportunity to have some authentic Burmese food. It also appears to be a way for Burmese people to enjoy the food they love outside of their own home, all the food has a home cooked feel to it, with an assembly of aunties behind the stalls selling the food they have made with secret recipes that they won’t share.  


I asked my Burmese friend MM from high school to accompany me to the first Burmese Food Fair of 2012, we had been planning to catch up for a while and this was a great way to hang out, enjoy some delicious food and I could also pry her for some information on the food on offer.

Upon entry you are required to buy food vouchers and any unused vouchers can be exchanged back for cash. 


Chinese and Indian influences on Burmese cuisine (an effect of its geographical location) can be seen in the wide selection of foods on offer such as curries, samosas, biryani, salads, noodles soups, beverages (like faluda) and sweets. Most are packaged in take away containers ready to be bought, some dishes are made fresh to order like the thoke salads and noodles soups, and you can sit down and enjoy them.

 (Samosas and curry puffs)

Thoke is the Burmese word for salad, it consists of a main ingredient like noodles, potato or tofu which is mixed with various vegetables, seasonings and garnishes. Burmese tofu is unlike the tofu I am used to eating, it is made of split peas rather than soy beans and has a firm jelly like texture. 

 (Thoke salad ingredients)
(Making thoke salad)

There were two different noodle soups on offer. I spotted what I thought was laksa but later found out to be ohn no khao swè which is a Burmese coconut chicken noodle soup that bears similarities to a Malaysian laksa. But what really caught my attention was the big pot of moke-hin-gar brewing away in the corner, it’s a fish based soup with rice noodles. The chef who watches over the stove is a friendly character and wears an Australian flag apron, and he is working non-stop as it appears that everyone here wants a bowl of moke-hin-gar. It’s sold as Burmese’s favourite noodle soup and for $4 I could not believe how cheap it was (if I want some sort of noodle soup dish in Perth, I generally have to pay at least $9!). Moke-hin-gar is a traditional Burmese breakfast dish, it’s the dish that all Burmese want to wake up to eating, it’s comfort food and eaten throughout the day as well. It’s like the Burmese equivalent of Vietnamese pho. 

 (Moke-hin-gar corner)
(Moke-hin-gar Chef)
 (Hot bowl of moke-hin-gar)

Bowls of portioned rice noodles sit under a plastic sheet ready for an order to come and have hot broth spooned over the top straight from the simmering pot. The moke-hin-gar comes garnished with a little coriander and various pickled vegetables, onions, crispy fried fritters made with chick peas, a slice of boiled egg and then you have the choice of adding in chilli power, fried garlic, fish sauce and lemon juice, to adjust the flavour to your desired taste. We took our bowls to the traditional Burmese tables at the back of the hall, they are round and low and you have to sit on the floor. I only got a spoon which I found weird as I always eat noodle soups with chopsticks. My friend MM told me that Burmese eat with their hands and a spoon may be used but rarely ever chopsticks. The good thing was that the rice noodles in the bowl of moke-hin-gar were in short lengths so that chopsticks were not really required. MM told me that the ingredients that make up the broth of moke-hin-gar are generally fish, roasted rice flour, roasted gram dahl flour, onion, garlic, ginger, banana tree stem, lemongrass and fish sauce. I felt right at home with the bowl of moke-hin-gar, it’s characteristically pungent, fishy taste and balance of sweet and sour flavours felt very familiar to me as this is the kind of food that I am used to eating, but it was a new combination of flavours and had a distinctive taste unlike anything that I have had before. I’d be quite happy to eat this for breakfast all the time. 


There was a big turnout for the first Burmese food fete of 2012. Ethnic food fetes always have a certain air about them, organized at a local level with people coming together to prepare and sell foods from their cultural heritage, it’s a friendly atmosphere and provides a celebration of food which is usually not readily available.

I also bought some goods to take home, a container of chicken biryani, Burmese tofu and some sweets – burfi (condensed milk spiced cake) and ladoo (deep fried sweet chick pea ball). 



I’m looking forward to going back next month to try some other dishes. 

The dates for the Burmese Food Fete for 2012, available on the Burmese Association of Western Australia website.

Burmese Food Fete
Asia House
275 Stirling Street, Perth
10am to 1pm

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Green Tea Shortbread Cookies with Black Sesame Seeds


With baking, there is always the endless search for that perfect recipe – the perfect vanilla cupcake, the perfect sponge cake, the perfect brownie, the perfect macaron…the perfect shortbread cookie. I think that I have found the perfect shortbread cookie recipe, it’s from Breakfast, Lunch and Tea by Rose Carraini – it has a rich flavour and a great crumbly texture.

Once you find that perfect recipe, it provides a good base for experimenting and trying different flavours. I find shortbread cookies very versatile in that you can make different shapes with it and make a lot of different variations by adding things into the basic dough, like chocolate chips or cocoa powder for a chocolate outcome or orange/lemon for a citrusy taste. You can add chopped nuts or spice it up with cinnamon or nutmeg. You can also dip the ends of baked shortbread into melted chocolate (which is known as royal shortbread).

I really like adding green tea (matcha) powder to baked goods, I like the flavour it contributes, especially for sweet things as it tempers the sweetness. Another bonus of using green tea is that it is known for it cancer fighting properties. To counteract the effects of a night of drinking, at the end of the night, some of my friends drink cans of green tea that you can buy from Asian supermarkets and mix it with some gin or vodka, convinced that it constitutes a nutritious drink and may reverse whatever damage that may have been done earlier.


I recently baked some green tea shortbread cookies and I also added in some black sesame seeds. Black sesame seeds have a stronger flavour than white sesame seeds, it’s slightly nutty but also has a bitterness which I think complements the green tea. There were a number of ways I could have incorporated the sesame seeds – I could have just sprinkled them over the top or included them whole. In the end I decided to toast the black sesame seeds and then grind them a little in a mortar and pestle to intensify its flavour.

Green Tea Shortbread Cookies with Black Sesame Seeds

(using basic shortbread cookie adapted from Breakfast, Lunch and Tea)

Ingredients

Basic shortbread dough
•    250g cold unsalted butter, chopped into small cubes
•    100g caster sugar
•    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
•    225g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
•    60g rice flour
•    pinch of salt

Additional ingredients
•    2 tablespoons green tea (matcha) powder
•    1 ½ tablespoons black sesame seeds, toasted and crushed a little (toast sesame seeds by dry frying them in a wok or pan for 2-3 minutes, I added a few white sesame seeds as a guide as it can be hard to tell when black sesame seeds are toasted)


Method

Line baking trays with greaseproof paper.

Combine the butter, sugar, vanilla extract, plain and rice flours, green tea powder, black sesame seeds and salt. With the tips of your fingers, rub the butter into the flour mixture until it clings together in clumps. Keep working the mixture until the dough comes together.


Turn out the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead a little until it is smooth and well blended.

(Tip: At any stage when you are working with the dough it feels too soft, place it in a bowl or glad wrap and refrigerate it for 15 minutes so that it hardens a little and is more workable)

To make the cookies you can either:
a)    roll the dough to about 5mm thick and cut into shapes, place on prepared baking trays and chill for 1 hour; or
b)    roll the dough into a cylinder shape/log and wrap it in cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour, then slice into 5mm rounds and place them on the prepared baking trays.

(I went with option b)

Preheat the oven to 160C and bake the cookies for around 12 minutes until just turning golden. The shortbread should be cooked but remain pale. 




Thursday, February 9, 2012

Home Made Sausages. Chicken, Apple and Chardonnay Sausages. Jerk Chicken Sausages.





While it is easy to buy packs of sausages from the supermarket and get some pretty decent gourmet ones from your local butcher, nothing beats homemade sausages. The best thing being that you know exactly what is in them. Sausages are one of those types of food where all the leftover bits and pieces of meat get stuffed into them, it’s a scrapheap, so you never know what could be in your sausage. With homemade sausages, you choose what meat goes into it, and as long as you have the proper ratio of salt to meat and fat (generally sausage = 3 parts meat : 1 part fat and for every pound (0.453g) of meat and fat, use around 1 – 1 ½ teaspoon of salt), you can experiment with interesting flavour combinations, creating sausages that taste much better than the ones that you can buy.


Home made sausages are not hard to make but requires a bit of time to be set aside (2-3 hours) and if you are going to make them, I think that it’s only going to be worth it if you make a large quantity. Eat the sausages within a few days and any leftover sausages can be given to friends or frozen for several months.


Last weekend, my friend Rob invited me to one of his sausage making sessions. He has developed a love for making sausages and every few months he will make a huge batch (a few kilos) to eat and freeze. 


I generally find the chicken sausages that you can buy to be pretty bland. We spent the afternoon making over 5kgs of chicken sausages. We made two types – a chicken, apple and chardonnay sausages, and jerk flavoured chicken sausages. Rob told me that chicken, apple and chardonnay sausages were his favourite. He has made them a few times before and he keeps going back to making them because they taste so good. I’ve only ever used dry white wines like sauvignon blanc in cooking but never chardonnay, and I have never cooked chicken and apple together before. It was an interesting combination that I would have never thought of putting together, I think that this is the best thing about making sausages at home, the possibilities are endless.


Making sausages requires a mix of meat and fat. Chicken sausages use a mix of thigh and breast meat, and the fat component comes from the skin. It’s very hard these days to buy chicken thigh and breast with skin on it. This means that the most economical way to make chicken sausages is to buy a whole chicken and debone it - remove the thighs and breasts for the sausage meat, reserve all the skin for the fat component of the sausage mixture, save the chicken wings to marinate for a tasty barbecue treat and the chicken bones/carcass can be frozen to make stock later on. It was great to be able to take a whole chicken, hack it apart and put every part of it to use. Nothing was wasted. This was also the first time that I have deboned a whole chicken (good thing that all the meat was going to be minced as I did a pretty hatchet job of it). We deboned eight whole chickens which provided around 4.35kg of meat and 950g of fat/skin. One of the advantages of making chicken sausages is that you know how the chicken has a kind of slimy feel to it, well it just slides through the mincer! Chicken is easier and quicker to move through the mincer than pork or beef. 


(Sausage filler)


Rob has a special sausage filler that he bought when he was traveling around New York. You can source one online for around $200 on ebay. It is a worthwhile investment if you are keen on sausage making. Most meat mincers come with sausage making attachments these days but as the meat is being forced through a small chute and constantly being rotated around, this causes friction and results in a bit of heat being generated as you process everything through, it also ruins the texture of the sausage. When you are making sausages, you want to keep everything as cold as possible to inhibit the growth of bacteria. With the special sausage filler, you fill the large cylinder in the middle with the sausage mixture and slowly push it down, it’s a compression style pump so there is less heat transfer and more sausages can be made faster.


(Chicken, apple and chardonnay sausages twisted into different sized links so you can have little cocktail sized sausages as well as regular length ones)


Chicken, Apple and Chardonnay Sausages Recipe


(Adapted from Home Sausage Making)


The quantities of ingredients in the recipe was tripled to make approximately 2.7kg of sausages (using half of the chicken/fat mince that we prepared from 8 whole chickens).


Ingredients 


For 2 pounds (~900g) of sausages


2 small sheep casings (You can buy sheep casings from the butchers which come packed in salt to preserves them)
2 pounds (~900g) boneless chicken thighs and breast with skin, roughly chopped (you can also use just thighs only)
2 teaspoons kosher or course salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons minced onion
¼ cup of chardonnay (Preferably one that you like to drink, a glass for the sausage mixture and a few glasses for yourself while you are making the sausages)


Method


Prepare casings


Soak the casings in water until they have softened and then run water through the casings to flush them and rinse out the salt (this also allows you to check if there are any holes in the casing). Take a casing and open up one end and fill the entire casing with water from the tap (using a small funnel to do this makes it easier), repeat this at least 3 times. Keep all the casings stored in a container of water with a little vinegar until you are ready to use them (the vinegar improves the texture and makes them more translucent).


Prepare sausage mixture


The sausage mixture is minced twice. Firstly, grind the chicken and skin through the fine disc of a meat mincer. In a large bowl, combine the minced chicken/fat, salt, ginger, pepper, apple, onion and chardonnay together, and mix well using your hands for a few minutes until thoroughly blended. Then grind the seasoned mixture through the fine disc of the meat mincer again.


Prepare sausage filler


Affix one end of a casing over the sausage stuffing attachment (long thin tube) of a sausage filler (or meat mincer if you don’t have a filler, another option is a small funnel that I saw in action during a Mondo cooking class on charcuterie). Slip on and push the entirety of the casing onto the length of the tube so that it forms an accordion-like pleat and tie a knot at the end of it. Keep a bowl of water next to the sausage filler so that you can dip your hands into it and keep the casing lubricated as you are stuffing the sausages. Add the sausage mixture into the body of the sausage filler.




Stuffing sausages


Push the sausage mixture through the sausage filler and stuff the mixture into the prepared casing. As the meat comes out of the tube, use the thumb and forefinger of your hand to regulate the flow of the mixture as it comes out into the casing to determine how tightly and evenly the sausage is packed. Let the sausage come out in one long coil. When the casing is filled, tie off the end in a knot. Repeat with another casing until all the sausage mixture is used up. 




I found that filling the sausages can be quite tricky, as it’s important to get the right amount of filling in the casing. You want it to be tight so that you don’t get too many air bubbles inside the sausage, but not too tight as you need some leeway for twisting the long coil into individual little sausages, so that it doesn’t burst. It's a matter of trial and error, and getting a feel for the right texture. This was my first hands on experience of filling sausages hands on and I ended up with a few burst casings, and lots of unevenly twisted sausages so they didn't all look perfect but it didn’t matter too much as they were still edible :)


Making sausage links


Prick any air pockets and twist the sausage into desired link lengths. Using two hands, pinch off what will become two links and then spin the link that you have between your fingers away from you several times (make the links pretty tight, you want any air bubbles to force their way to the edge of the sausage). Repeat this process down the coil, but spin the next link towards you several times. Continue this way, alternating the direction that you twist so that the previous link does not unravel, until you get to the end of the coil. Note: if the casing is tight, make longer links to avoid increasing the pressure in the casing and causing a burst link.


(Jerk Chicken Sausages)


We also tried making some jerk style chicken sausages. ‘Jerk’ is a specialty from Jamaica in the Caribbean, it refers to the hot and spicy mix rubbed on meats before grilling. 


Jerk Marinade Recipe


(Adapted from Caribbean Pot)


Two batches of this marinade mixture were made. One batch was used to marinate the 16 chicken wings leftover from deboning 8 chickens. The other batch was added to 2.7kgs of minced chicken meat/fat to make sausages.


Ingredients


2 spring onions, roughly chopped
5 sprigs of fresh thyme (about 1 tablespoon chopped)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Habanero pepper (scotch bonnet or any that you like), roughly chopped
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup vinegar
1 onion, roughly chopped
1/4 cup orange juice
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 lbs chicken wings 


Method


Combine all ingredients (except for the chicken) into a food processor and give it a few pulses until a smooth/runny consistency is achieved.


Wash chicken wings and pat dry with paper towels so the marinade can really stick onto the wings. Pour 1/3 of the marinade on the wings and using your hands, massage the wings with the jerk marinade. Allow this to marinate for at least 30 minutes.


Cook the chicken wings by roasting it in an oven for around 40-60 minutes, turning once at 200C (400F) degrees or grilling them on a barbecue for 14-18 minutes, turning a few times until cooked through.


(Leftover jerk marinade can be stored in a plastic bowl in the fridge for at least a week or frozen for a couple months)


To make jerk chicken sausages - we incorporated one batch of this marinade to around 2.17kg of chicken mince and 457g of chicken skin/fat as well as 6 teaspoons of salt. Then stuff the mixture into casings (follow the method above). 


All the sausages were refrigerated uncovered (to allow them to dry out a bit), overnight for the flavours to develop and to allow the shape of the sausage to set in the casing. It was hard to resist eating the sausages straight away but some things taste better the next day so it’s worth the wait. However, the barbecue was fired up to make some patties with the leftover sausage mixture and grill the jerk chicken wings which had been marinating while we were cranking out the sausages, so I got a taste of what I was in for the next day when the sausages would be at their optimum.


(Barbecued meat feast - patties made with leftover sausage mixture and jerk chicken wings)


(Sausage meat patties on the barbecue)


The chicken, apple and chardonnay patty was a pleasant surprise. I couldn’t believe how amazing this combination of flavours was. I also really enjoyed the jerk chicken wings, it was my first taste of Caribbean food and I loved the delicious array of flavours in the marinade and it had a nice hit of heat from the chillies. 


(Jerk Chicken Wings - Before)
(Jerk Chicken Wings - After)


Having chicken wings that are grilled on the barbecue is always a treat, love the charred texture and how it adds a smoky aroma to the marinade.


Making home made sausages was a fun and rewarding experience. It’s like making your own bread or pasta, there is a certain feeling of satisfaction that you get from it. I recommend that everyone try making home made sausages one day, especially chicken, apple and chardonnay ones. 





Monday, February 6, 2012

Soy Sauce Chow Mein (Stir Fried Egg Noodles)


Whenever my family went out for dinner at Chinese restaurants, this was the first dish that my parents would order for us kids to eat in order to shut us up, while we waited for other relatives to arrive or as my dad took his time to carefully consider the menu items and ordered. Once we were seated, my dad would get the waiter to immediately bring out a plate of soy sauce chow mein, this is a Cantonese dish and literally translates into “soy sauce king chow mein”, as the soy sauce is the star of this dish. It was a bit of a pre-dinner snack, pre the entrees (although we generally didn’t order entrées). Us kids would have this dish all to ourselves and eat it all up as we waited for the main dishes of the meal to arrive.

Did anyone else have a similar experience to me as a child? Did your parents order you a dish at a restaurant as a snack at the start of a meal before the mains would come?

Soy sauce chow mein is a dish that is really quick and easy to fry up at home but worth ordering at a restaurant. Chow mein ordered from restaurants always taste better than home cooked versions because restaurants have huge stovetops that enable these noodles to be fried quickly over high intensity flames, and gives the noodles ‘wok hei’, which is the smoky aromatics imparted by a hot wok on food during stir frying.

The key to getting these noodles right is to undercook the noodles a little in the first step when you are reconstituting them in boiling water, so that the noodles maintain a firm texture (take into account that you will further cook them in the wok). Have all your prep ready and work quickly. A tip that I learnt from my dad for cooking noodles so that they don’t break is to use chopsticks to stir fry and toss everything around, it works everytime, guaranteed to minimise noodle breakage! I either have a pair of chopsticks in each hand and frantically toss everything together, or have a pair of chopsticks in one hand and a spatula in the other, and use both utensils to incorporate everything. The chopsticks also allow me to get between the layers of ingredients and noodles, and mix everything together well.

I like to cook soy sauce chow mein when I want something quick, simple and tasty for dinner.


Soy Sauce Chow Mein 

Ingredients

For 2-3 serves
•    ~250g fresh thin egg noodles (you’ll find them in the refrigerated section of Asian supermarket)
•    5-6 dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and sliced
•    bunch Chinese flat leaf garlic chives, cut into 4-5cm lengths
•    200-300g bean sprouts
•    salt
•    Shaoxing wine
•    roasted white sesame seeds

 (Fresh Egg Noodles from my local Asian supermarket)

Soy Sauce Mixture

This quantity of soy sauce is more than enough to cook the above serving. I always mix a bit more sauce than I need, so that I have some leeway when cooking to adjust the taste. Leftover sauce can be used to cook more noodles (you may need to mix some more if you are cooking a large quantity of noodles) or refrigerate the mixture and use for a stir fry.

•    1 tablespoon light soy sauce
•    2 tablespoon dark soy sauce
•    1 tablespoon oyster sauce
•    1 teaspoon of sugar to taste
•    pinch of salt and ground white pepper to taste
•    ½ teaspoon sesame oil
•    4-5 tablespoons of water to taste

[Note: For this dish to be completely vegetarian, you can omit the oyster sauce]

Method

Add the fresh egg noodles to a pot of boiling water and simmer until just cooked (check the packet instructions, cooking time is usually 1-2 minutes). Drain noodles in a colander and run them under cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain the noodles thoroughly until dry.

Mix together sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside.


Before cooking with the wok, dry fry a tablespoon of white sesame seeds to colour and bring out their aroma. Remove and set aside.

(Toasting sesames seeds in wok)
 (Toasted sesame seeds)

Heat some oil in a wok, sauté garlic chives until fragrant, add in the bean sprouts, a pinch of salt and splash in some Shaoxing wine. Stir fry the garlic chives and bean sprouts together until the bean sprouts are cooked yet still crunchy (30-60 seconds). Remove and set aside in a colander to drain any water that leaches from the bean sprouts.

Heat some oil in a wok and sauté the shiitake mushrooms until browned. Then add in the egg noodles, toss and stir them around constantly to cook evenly (using chopsticks helps). Spoon in the soy sauce mixture, a tablespoon at a time, and stir well into the noodles, add as much soy sauce as desired (approx 5 tablespoons or more) and taste as you go (be quite liberal with the soy sauce as this is what makes these noodles taste good). Once you are satisfied with the flavour of the noodles, add in the garlic chives and beans sprouts to the wok and quickly toss altogether until combined.


 Serve with roasted sesame seeds sprinkled on top.