Viet-inspired Chicken Rice

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I was so inspired by the Viet chicken rice in Hoi An that I absolutely had to make my own. I started off on a typical Hainanese chicken rice base. Not having access to the type of chicken (most likely cornfed) that coloured the rice yellow, I improvised by adding turmeric to the rice base. For the chicken, I poached it the Hainanese way. However, the toppings were very much improved with plenty of typically Vietnamese herbage. Even in the absence of Hainanese chilli sauce, I thought this was a winner. It also passed the family test: every grain of rice was gobbled up even though I deliberately cooked more in the hope of leftovers. I can imagine it being even more magical with Hainanese chilli sauce.

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Ingredients:

2 cups rice

1 chicken
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sesame oil

2 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
1 thumb-length ginger, chopped
4 cloves, optional
1 star anise, optional
1 thumb-length turmeric, pounded

½ carrot, shredded
Thai basil
mint
daun kesom (laksa) leaves
kaffir lime leaves, very finely sliced
big limes, cut into wedges

Method:

  1. Wash rice and put in rice cooker pot. Measure out how much water you’d put in and keep that amount in mind for the stock to use, about 450ml. (I use the “equal finger” method: stick your finger in the rice, and add water to the same level above the rice.) Now drain the rice and set aside.
  2. Put chicken in pot and cover with water. Heat gently till just boiling and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off fire and leave for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove chicken and set aside. Keep all stock and juices from chicken. When cool, rub with salt and sesame oil.
  4. Fry garlic, shallot and ginger in oil till fragrant, then add cloves, star anise, cinnamon and fry for a few seconds more. Add rice and fry till it’s dry and glistening.
  5. Transfer to rice cooker and and chicken stock. Squeeze the pounded turmeric over, discarding the dry turmeric pulp. Season with a pinch or so of salt. Cook as normal.
  6. Chop chicken and prepare herbage for serving.
  7. Before eating, arrange chicken on top of rice and top with carrot shreds and herbs. Squeeze the lime over and tuck in.

Serves 4.

Sticky Snail Buns

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These sticky snail buns are always a big hit. As Mum prefers non-chocolatey things and DC’s mum likes nuts, these were a natural choice for Mother’s Day last week. They’re so good that I caught Mum chewing on something as she snuck out of the kitchen. True enough, there was one less on the rack! These gooey, crunchy spiced buns are quite irresistible both fresh out of the oven and also the next day cold from the fridge. Somehow keeping it cold keeps the syrupy bits crackly and crunchy. I can never stop at one.

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Packed into a pretty box, these little buns beckon so glisteningly and enticingly, it’s no wonder Nigella urges in her Schnecken recipe to “apply to face” as soon as cool! Now I’ve made loads of modifications to her recipe to suit my taste and sense of practicality. I replaced golden syrup and maple syrup with honey because it’s easier to find and I have no idea what to do with leftover golden syrup. Plus I find that the fragrant honey I use gives a lovely aroma to the buns. Also, I find  the recommended amount of 150g sugar for the filling a bit excessive and have cut it down tremendously. Feel free to scale up the sugar if you have an especially sweet tooth! Lastly, I find that this recipe makes quite a lot of dough, so make sure that the buns don’t sit too long in the proving stage. Either that or halve the amount of dough and make 18 instead of 24. That would mean less dough and more syrup, so leave to prove for as long as you like instead of hawkishly watching them to make sure they don’t fill up the muffin tin too easily.

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Ingredients:

dough
3 eggs
150ml plus 1tbsp milk
75g unsalted butter
500g bread flour
40g sugar
¼tsp ground cloves
½tsp salt
1½tsp yeast

syrup
125g unsalted butter
4 tbsp brown sugar (or equal proportions of white sugar and dark brown sugar)
5 tbsp honey

150g pecan halves

filling
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated

Method:

  1. Beat the eggs. In a separate bowl, combine 1 tbsp of the beaten egg with 1 tbsp milk and set aside the mixture to glaze the buns later.
  2. Melt the butter, then combine with the eggs and 150 ml milk.
  3. Into a bowl, stir the flour, sugar, cloves, salt and yeast together and then pour in the liquid ingredients above. Using the dough hook of a cake mixer, knead for 5 minutes on high. Alternatively, knead by hand for 10 minutes.
  4. Form into a ball, oil the bottom of the mixing bowl and drop into the bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for about an hour or till doubled in size.
  5. In the mean time, prepare the syrup. Melt the butter in the microwave (medium for 1-2 minutes), then whisk in the sugar and honey. I don’t know how it works, but this magically turns it into a thick syrup. Spoon about 1 tbsp of syrup into each cup in two 12-bun muffin tins.
  6. Top with the pecans, making sure that each pecan half faces down. About four halves go into each muffin cup.
  7. When the dough is ready, knock it back, knead once or twice and halve the dough. On a flat surface (I normally use a long piece of aluminium foil), spread out half the dough with your fingers to form a rectangle about 15 cm long and 30 cm wide. Glaze the surface of the dough so it’s damp and sprinkle on a thin layer of sugar. Sprinkle on half the cinnamon and half the nutmeg, or just grate the nutmeg directly onto the dough.
  8. Roll up the bun from the long side and push it gently but firmly away from you till you have a sausage seam side down. Don’t worry if the dough is a bit sticky, with careful handling, it shouldn’t go too pear-shaped! Using a sharp knife, cut the dough sausage into 12 even pieces. I normally halve and halve it again to get four logs, then cut each into three. Take each swirly piece and lay into the muffin cup so the swirly part lies on the syrupy-nut mixture.
  9. Repeat with the other half of the dough mixture.
  10. Leave to prove for 20 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.
  11. When the 20 minutes is over, or the buns are risen and puffy, bake for 20 minutes. You’ll probably want to swap the trays at the 10-minute mark so they brown evenly. They’ll come out brown and gooey and the syrup is likely to bubble over, so make sure there’s a pan on the bottom of your oven to catch drips.
  12. Carefully loosen each bun with a knife and place a roasting tin over the muffin tin. Invert carefully and the sticky buns should pop out into the roasting tin. Carefully replace any fallen nuts and transfer any leftover syrup in the muffin cups onto the buns.
  13. Leave to cool and either eat as soon as possible or keep in the fridge overnight.

Makes 24.

Giant Spiced Apple Cupcake Surprise

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I was a little tired of the typical twee cupcake thickly coated with icing everyone scrapes off and throws out. (Dudes, icing sugar is expensive yo.) Instead, I went the other way and made giant cupcakes. The good thing is that this method cuts down on the bother of filling a zillion neverending cupcake cases. I made five in this recipe instead of the usual 15 or so. To make things a little special, I soaked some dried cherries in kirsch and filled the cupcakes with these little surprises.

The recipe itself is the same as the Orange Clove Cake, just that I added two grated apples to the cake mix for a fruitier, slightly denser and moister cake.

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Ingredients:

240g plain flour
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp cream of tartar
½tsp salt
¼tsp ground cloves
170g butter
200g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
2 egg whites
½cup milk
2 red apples, grated

big handful cherries, at least 30
good splash of kirsch or vodka

Method:

  1. The night before, soak the cherries in the kirsch. They should be plump and juicy when ready.
  2. Preheat oven to 160°C.
  3. Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar, salt and ground cloves.
  4. Beat butter and sugar till creamy. Add in the eggs one by one, beating in between each addition, followed by the egg whites and vanilla extract. Beat till light and creamy.
  5. Fold in the flour mixture and milk alternately till you get a thick batter. Stir in the grated apple.
  6. Fill up each giant cupcake case halfway, fill with a generous spoonful of cherries, then top with remaining batter till about ¾ full.
  7. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or till a skewer comes out clean.

Makes 5.

Orange Clove Cake

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It was a good thing sis-in-law borrowed my usual baking book. I had to dig out my folder of recipes printed off the net, most untried and some 10 years old even. This one came off epicurious.com and I’ve done the usual modification to my own taste. The cake turned out surprisingly good. Somehow the clove brought out the freshness of the orange zest and lifted the flavour very well. This is a great recipe also because it uses up egg whites, the bane of kitchen leftovers.

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I served it with yogurt, honey and orange slices for breakfast and it made for a faintly indulgent yet not too sinful start to the day.

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Ingredients:

240g plain flour
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp cream of tartar
½tsp salt
¼tsp ground cloves
170g butter
200g sugar
zest from 1½ oranges
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
2 egg whites
½cup milk

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C. Line and butter a loaf pan.
  2. Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar, salt and ground cloves.
  3. Beat butter, sugar and orange zest till creamy. Add in the eggs one by one, beating in between each addition, followed by the egg whites and vanilla extract. Beat till light and creamy.
  4. Fold in the flour mixture and milk alternately till you get a thick batter.
  5. Smooth into loaf pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a satay stick comes out clean. Let cool in pan and slice when cold.

Makes 1 large loaf, approx 12 thick slices.

Easy Apple Cake

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I was tired of bringing my usual cupcakes to a gathering, so I flipped through my cookbooks and came up with this variation on a Danish apple cake. I have no idea why it’s Danish, but after I’m through with the modifications, this is pretty much my special creation. It’s very moist and reheats very well in an oven toaster.

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Serve it as is or with some cream poured over. Yummy.

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Ingredients:
100 g butter
100 g sugar
125 g ground almonds
3 drops almond extract
2 eggs
100 g plain flour
¾ tsp cream of tartar
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground clove
125 ml milk
3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 tbsp crushed meringue, or sugar

Method:

  1. Grease and line a 20 cm spring-form tin and preheat the oven to 180 °C.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the ground almond and almond extract, followed by the eggs.
  3. Fold in the flour, cream of tartar, bicarbonate and ground spice, then gently fold in the milk. You should get a smooth, thick paste.
  4. Pour into the tin and scatter the apple slices on top. Press the apple slices gently into the cake mixture.
  5. Dust with the meringue powder or sugar and bake for 45 minutes until the apple slices are slightly brown at the edges and the cake is just about firm.
  6. Serve warm.

    Makes 8-10 slices.

    Southeast Asian-Style Coca Cola Chicken Noodle Soup

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    This is a rather odd-sounding recipe. It’s inspired to some point by the famous Kai Tun Coke in Chiang Mai (even though I haven’t tried the McCoy yet) and from eating my way around Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. I know that most people don’t have a leftover Coke problem when they have guests over, but I do. This recipe used up my leftovers beautifully.

    First, simmer the chicken in an infusion of coke, fish sauce and whatever herbs and spices you like. My recipe is a broad indication, use as many or as few of them as you like. Similarly for my soup toppings: I adore the Viet idea of having a whole herb garden to accompany each meal. Diners would then pick and choose from the basket whatever they liked and added the herbs and vegetables according to preference. I tried to replicate some of it here, so please don’t feel like you have to run out to buy every single topping/garnish. If you just want it in its most bare bones form,  try it with just mint, onion and lime.

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    Ingredients:
    500 ml coke
    4 tbsp fish sauce
    1 stalk lemongrass, sliced
    1 tsp black peppercorns
    2 star anise
    4 cloves
    2 cardamom pods
    1 chicken

    kway teow noodles
    romaine lettuce
    onion, sliced thinly
    mint leaves
    lime wedges

    Optional:

    cucumber, cored and cut into matchsticks
    long bean, cut into short lengths
    beansprouts
    red chilli, sliced

    coriander leaves
    thai holy basil
    spring onion

    Method:

    1. Combine the coke, fish sauce and herbs in a pot and lower in the chicken, breast-side up. The breast should just about be covered by the liquid.
    2. On low heat, bring to a gentle simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes.
    3. Allow to cool in its own liquid.
    4. Lift out the chicken carefully and divide into portions ready for serving. Reserve the cooking liquid.

    To serve:

    1. Dilute the cooking liquid in an equal amount of water. Bring to a boil and season with fish sauce to taste.
    2. Add the noodles and lettuce. Bring back to the boil.
    3. Divide into bowls, top with the chicken and serve. Diners will add their own garnish according to taste.

    Heavenly and Incredibly Easy Poached Pears in Red Wine

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    Pear poached in red wine is one of those chi-chi restaurant desserts that’s actually quite a no-brainer to make at home. It’s so much easier yet somehow more impressive than baking a cake. I made some the other night and it was such a revelation!

    Here’s where all the leftover red wine stashed in the freezer comes in useful. Or you could just use any cheap not-too-sweet red. Use as many or as few of the spices as you like. I think the poaching liquid ends up like mulled wine with all the spices!

    For dessert, I reduced some poaching liquid to make a sauce.  I left the pears soaking in the rest of the poaching liquid overnight. The next morning the pears deepened to the darkest purple ever. This time, I didn’t bother with a reduction and just had them cold as a fancy fruit compote with my thick yogurt. Both were very yummy.

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    Ingredients:
    ½ bottle red wine
    4 black peppercorns
    4 green cardamom pods
    ½ stick cinnamon
    1 star anise
    4 cloves
    lemon peel from ½ lemon
    ½ cup sugar
    2 pears

    Method:

    1. Combine wine with spices, lemon peel and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer on low heat.
    2. Get on with peeling and coring the pears. Cut each pear into eight.
    3. By now the poaching liquid should be at least warm. Lower pears into poaching liquid and keep on a low simmer for 20 minutes or till pears are soft.
    4. For serving immediately, fish out the pears and boil the poaching liquid till the resulting syrup coats the back of a spoon. Drizzle the sauce over the pears and serve with Greek yogurt, crème fraîche or ice cream.
    5. Alternatively, leave the pears in the poaching liquid overnight to steep. Eat with yogurt for a decadent breakfast.

    Serves 2-4.

    A Reviving Broth

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    I like to cook chicken and vegetable broth because it’s so comforting and reviving. It takes a bit of time and effort to debone the chicken, but the results are well worth it. Freeze the thigh and breast meat for some other use and put only the bones into the soup. If you’re feeling lazy, you can just chuck the whole chicken in, but don’t blame me if you get dry stringy meat. Add as much or as little of the veggies as you like. If you have leeks or potatoes, feel free to add those too.

    A note on the aromatics: I like the deep flavour cloves give to the broth. It somehow makes the soup extra satisfying. I stash parsley and coriander stems in the freezer each time I use the leaves, so making this broth just involves unpacking whatever there is in the fridge. Don’t worry if you don’t have it.

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    Ingredients:

    1 tbsp oil
    1 large onion, cut into large wedges
    2 carrots, scraped and cut into rounds
    4 sticks celery, cut into chunks
    bones of three chickens (if lazy, just use one whole chicken)
    4 cloves
    a sprinkle of whole black peppercorns
    1 bay leaf
    parsley and coriander stalks

    Method:

    1. In a big pot, heat the oil and the onion, carrot and celery. Stir on low heat for about 5 minutes to sweat. Make sure the vegetables don’t brown.
    2. When the vegetables are soft, add the chicken bones or whole chicken and pour water over it till covered. Add the cloves, peppercorns and bay leaf.
    3. Bring the broth to a gentle boil for about one hour. Alternately, if you have a thermopot, put it in the thermopot for about two hours.
    4. When the soup is done, lift out the bones or chicken and extract whatever meat you can. Serve on the side with the soup.

    Enough for 4.