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Breakfast #1: Chee Cheong Fun | 猪肠粉

In Eats, Recipes, Singaporean, Singaporean on July 1, 2010 at 1:07 pm

One question that I’ve constantly been asked by my classmates is that IF I don’t eat bread or muesli for breakfast, then what is it that I eat?? Well, I can’t possibly expect people who have been eating bread for centuries and muesli for decades to make any sense of tau sar pau, roti prata, char kway, tau hway, chwee kueh, png kueh, you tiao, hum chee peng, chut bee png, can I? Explaining myself is always synonymous to ramming my head against a wall. Each time, it is a look of polite confusion or mock disgust at how I could eat sweet / salty / hot / spicy / funny coloured stuff for my breakfast. So most of the time, I just say I eat ‘rice, sticky rice and soy products’ or if I’m in a lazy or not-too-good mood, I say ‘I eat bread, cheese and spreads like you do, and a lot of other things too‘… and most often people are satisfied with the first half of my comment.

After my first long night of jetlagged sleeplessness, it was wonderful to wake up to one of my favourite breakfast foods that mom had bought from the supermarket (SGD$2.30/1.20 euro for 4 rolls – serving size 1-2 rolls). Chee Cheong Fun (dialect) or zhu chang fen (mandarin) literally means pig intestines noodles. It’s actually rice noodle rolls made of rice flour, water and a little oil that is steamed in thin sheets and rolled up in such a way that it resembles pig intestines. Most of the time it has little bits of mushrooms / shrimp / chicken / pork rolled in between the sheets, but mine was with a little bit of spring onions. It has the texture of very smooth rice noodle sheets, eaten warm with a generous scoop of sweet soya sauce and chilli sauce, and a sprinkle of sesame oil and sesame seeds. Great way to start the day!

I’ve also just found out that it’s possible to make it in a microwave too!

Here’s an easy Chee Cheong Fun recipe from notquitenigella:

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups rice flour
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt

Method:

  1. Mix ingredients together.
  2. Pour a thin layer (about 1-2mm) into a microwave-safe flat container.
  3. Microwave on high for 2 min until just set.
  4. Sprinkle your desired chopped up filling and roll up.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 until you’ve used up all the batter.
  6. Serve with a sprinkle of soya sauce, chilli sauce and sesame oil!

Disclaimer: I have not tried this recipe myself, but it does sound quite fool-proof. I’ll give it a shot when I’m once again 9987km away from NTUC fairprice / Bukit Timah Market! 🙂

Update: Upon meeting another foodie Singaporean, K, here in Wageningen, we decided to put Chee Cheong Fun to action after raving about how much we miss it when we’re away from home 🙂 Hereby delighted to declare that this recipe is awesomely SIMPLE and DELICIOUS.

Because it tastes so good when it’s warm, we could barely resist gobbling it before the proper photos were taken!


So Long, Scandie #3 – the Unpronounceables

In Danish, Danish, Eats, Recipes on June 30, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Usually, when I travel to non-English-speaking countries, the only words of the local language I could speak would be hello, thank you, and the words on a menu. Usually, those words and a few hand gestures are more than enough to satisfy me (it gets me the food I want) and satisfy my server (who happily serves me the food I want). But after FIVE months of eating rugbrød (rye bread) sandwiches and smørrebrød (open sandwich) in Denmark, and hearing their names being pronounced a million times by a million different people….I still can’t say it right. Anyway, whatever you’re saying in your head right now, is probably not right too.

Photo credits: <http://magnesiumagency.com/2010/01/17/the-food-we-hate-to-love/&gt;

The way I hear my Danish housemate say it, rugbrød sounds something remotely like ‘ROALLB-BPLOALLH’ or ‘ROW-BLOW’ pronounced with a frikadeller/fishball in each cheek; and smørrebrød uhhhh…sounds s o m e t h i n g like ‘SMOUHR-BPLOALLH‘. Even if I’m given a script of ten random words and an audio guide, I don’t think I can manage to pick out which word is rugbrød and which one is smørrebrød. I’m thankful that at least ‘Thank you’ is as easy as ‘tak’ (pronounced as it looks)…. though the response of *##$@$* that I hear from the cashier almost every other day has never ever been understood by my Asian ears.

Smørrebrod is a traditional Danish open-faced sandwich that originated from the words ‘smørre og brød’ or ‘butter and bread’. It’s usually served on rugbrød, which is a Danish dense rye bread that is as healthy as it looks (very high fibre low calorie – 9g fibre and 180kcal / 100g while keeping you full for twice as long) and definitely a lot more flavourful and moist than it looks (thin and almost-black rectangular slab of grains bounded together). Unlike most other sandwiches that are dominated by the bread, Smørrebrød features the sandwich ingredients while the rugbrød quietly supports from under with pleasing contrasts in flavours and textures. And unlike most other sandwiches that are modes of nutrient delivery, smørrebrød is a work of art, pleasing to the eye and extremely easy to impress the observer.

The basic idea of smørrebrød is to TOTALLY cover the buttered rye-bread with toppings such as salad vegetables, shrimps, fish, meat, egg, cold cuts, sauces, cheese, liver paste… whatever you have in the fridge in the combination that you would like to eat them. DON’T even try to pick it up with your hands. Eat with fork and knife.


How to make your own Smørrebrød (Video instructions here!)
1. Cut a piece of rugbrød in half.
1*. Lavish butter on it (I didn’t have butter with me then)
2.-4. Start stacking your ingredients until you can’t see the bread.
5. Stack more ingredients.
6. Put sauce or something with a sauce (I had a last bit of marinaded herring in mustard)
7. Add more ingredients until your sandwich threatens to topple…. then, DEMOLISH IT!

That was my version from ingredients that were available in my refrigerator at that time. Check out these typical Danish combinations from the Danish Food Culture Website!

Smørrebrød. Rugbrød.
It’s healthy, delicious, pleasing to the eye. I’ll miss you, roallb-bploallhh. I’ll miss you, smouhr-bploallh.

So Long Scandie #2 – Danish Cultured Milk

In Danish, Eats on June 19, 2010 at 5:45 pm

This is one rare week that I’m absolutely certain that I have met my recommended calcium intake requirements… AND… I’m also pretty sure that any wars the ‘good’ bacteria in my colon had been fighting have been triumphant (rmb the Vitagen advertisement with the little soldiers flying through the intestines?).

Tykmælk. Check.

Ymer. Check. A38. Koldskål. Check. Check.

Together with my daily gobbles of milk and ice cream, and the windfall of cheese I earned from the housemate (thanks U!), I hereby proclaim that I’m officially done with milky stuffs for now and I’m absolutely looking forward to having some good ol’ soy milk / douhua / soy ice cream (oh Mr Bean!)  in <2 weeks!

Though I did enjoy these cultured milk products with fruit, raisins, muesli, lingonberry jam, soya bean agar ( I used vanilla soya milk with agar agar), crispbread crumbs, crisp cookies etc etc, I must admit that I was rather disappointed with the lack of difference between the products, and especially the lack of communication of the nature of these products that are so differently named. Is it too much to expect a different product when buying something of a different name? I mean all the sourdough breads with different cultures ARE still called, sourdough bread, aren’t they?

Like yoghurt, these cultured milk products have been inoculated with some species of lactic acid bacteria that ferment the lactose in the milk to produce lactic acid that lowers the pH of the product, causing the major milk proteins (casein) to coagulate and increase the viscosity of the milk. The plus points? The milk keeps longer, it suspends delicious crunchy goodies wonderfully and LAB bacteria are good for our gut. And so, if it’s Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, it’s called yoghurt. If it’s not, it HAS to be called something else. Gee, those food regulations.

TYKMAELK is cultured with Lactococcus lactis and Leuconostoc mesenteroides. Same consistency as yoghurt, but less acidic tasting (L. bulgaricus in yoghurt causes a tarter taste), hence it tastes great consumed with less sweetening than YOGHURT.

YMER is cultured with just Lactococcus lactis. It was less thick in consistency than YOGHURT and tasted pretty much the same to me as TYKMAELK, with a little hint of buttery flavour (diacetyl!).

A38 is a product of Arla, which is cultured with Lactobacillus acidophilus and some other unspecified strains (oh well). Tastes like BUTTERMILK to me, more sour than TYKMAELK and YMER, and with the consistency of YOGHURT.

[I’ve forgotten to take a photo of this, can you believe it??]

KOLDSKÅL is the most different from the lot, and is made with BUTTERMILK in combination with eggs, sugar, milk/cream/tykmælk, vanilla and citrus. Just like a flavoured YOGHURT DRINK, refreshing and usually enjoyed with crisp cookies a.k.a. kammerjunkers.


So much for food variety. If I were to make a choice, I’d just buy whichever is on offer at the supermarket and enjoy it with lingonberry jam and muesli! 🙂

So Long, Scandie #1 – Messmör

In Eats, Swedish on June 11, 2010 at 8:31 pm

It suddenly dawned on me that it is a mere 2 weeks before I wave goodbye to Scandinavia. Normally, when I travel to a new place, the first thing I would do is to comb the shelves of the supermarket and the list of ‘cuisine of XX’ on Wikipedia to make sure that I’ve eaten everything local that there is to eat. At least, everything affordable and remotely edible-sounding.


Recently, a fellow foodie friend (thanks, I!) bought for me some messmör (browned soft whey butter) from Sweden – apparently the OTHER ‘weird’ thing (besides brunost) that the Scandinavians do with the co-product (whey) of cheese production. It is like a semi-liquid brunost: whey that is boiled down a little less, without the cream, and with a little more sugar, to yield a spreadable whey ‘butter’ that is low in fat (5%), high in sugar (~50%) and tasting something like sweet boiled caramel milk with a creamy consistency.

I must say that it is pretty difficult for someone who didn’t grow up with it to take an instant liking to messmör, because it doesn’t quite fit the expectation of caramel (different lactose-type sweetness), nor butter (not quite as creamy), nor cheese (really really sweet), but it does grow on you. I first got accustomed to it on my hands-free bread (last FAB), and now I enjoy it on soft Swedish bread (got more again from Lund!).


Well, if that’s not convincing enough, perhaps knowing that it’s a more enjoyable form of whey supplement, high in good quality protein, calcium and iron would be an incentive to give it a shot 😉


While googling info about messmör, I realized I’ve overlooked the entire supermarket cultured milk shelf — the cartons of STUFF that resides above the milks and beside the yoghurts. The STUFF called : Tykmælk, Ymer, Ylette, A38, and Koldskål. They all come in the same dairy-style cartons, they all indicate some level of fat content (0,1% , 1,5% or 3,5%) in big bold fonts, and they all have ingredient lists that say ‘Højpasteuriseret homogeniseret sødmælk, syrnet med mælkesyrekultur’ — simply meaning pasteurized and homogenized milk soured with milk culture (i.e. some kind of lactic acid bacteria). What are the differences then, and are they so huge that they warrant this variety of labeling, boggling the mind of a frazzled foreigner who still can’t figure out the simplest Danish? Hey, that’s what I’m trying to find out now — I’ve currently eaten my way through one carton of Tykmaelk and half a carton of A38… would you care to join me to complete my mission? 🙂

FAB – Hands-Free Bread

In Baking, Friday Afternoon Baking, Recipes on June 5, 2010 at 6:49 pm

For these past 10 months in Europe, I have been forced to give up my normal diet of tropical veggies / soy products / surimi / seafood/ kueh / malay and indian foods and adjust to a diet very much based on seasonal vegetables, dairy and bread products. I think the largest change I had to deal with going from Singapore to Europe would be this difference in the variety of food, but also the absence of like-minded superduperly-food-obsessed companions (I think other cultural changes are slightly easier to deal with haha). There is no better homesick-therapy than dining with a friend who explodes in fireworks of joy over bakkwa (Chinese sweet bbq pork) and a bowl of plain rice porridge.

But 10 months is also long enough to start feeling at home in this different world of food, and one of the things I will miss very much as I delve back into my Asian food haven this summer would be the crusty and flavourful European breads. Perhaps it was a sign to start nurturing my bread-baking skills when this week, Fakta slashed the price of high gluten wheat flour from 18kr (2.4 euros/SGD$4.20) per 2kg to a third of its price.


Honestly, my experience with bread-baking is almost entirely limited to theoretical knowledge. Apart from knowing that the requisites include a high-protein flour (to form strong gluten networks to trap the gas bubbles and give the bread a good structure) and yeast (that generates CO2 bubbles and lotsa lotsa lovely aroma compounds as it ferments the starch)…. I’m pretty useless when it comes to practical bread-baking. Hence for starters, I’ve decided to try Steamy Kitchen’s No-Knead Bread recipe, that is apparently ‘so easy even a 4 year old could do it’.

My bread-baking skill level is evidently lousier than a 4-year old because I had some trouble following the instructions and ended up with quite a mess in the kitchen. I aborted the plan and decided to just shove my dough into the oven anyway and ended up with a pretty good result 🙂 Crispy crust and a soft spongey interior, though lacking in some saltiness and flavour. Well, I never eat my breads plain anyway — so I enjoyed it with a slop of salted butter and sweet thick honey. Delicious. 🙂 Goodbye <Gardenia>… Goodbye <Sunshine>….
Kneadless Bread-Baking adapted from Steamy Kitchen

  • 350-400g bread flour
  • 1/4 yeast cake- I’d double it next time for better flavour (1 yeast cake ~ 2.5 tsp instant yeast)
  • 1 tbsp salt ( I misread it as 1tsp and hence learned the importance of salt in bread flavour)
  • 350ml warm water
  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water then mix with the flour and salt using a spatula.
  2. Cover mixing bowl with plastic wrap and leave to ferment overnight. Dough becomes puffy and stickier.
  3. Fold dough around in bowl with a spatula, flouring the surfaces of the dough to reduce sticking to the spatula. After 5min, dump it into a floured loaf tin and leave aside to rise for another 2 hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 230˚C half an hour before baking. Cover loaf tin with aluminium foil and bake for 30 min. Uncover and bake for another 20 min or until golden brown and crusty.

Chinese Steamed Bun – 包子

In Chinese, Recipes on May 19, 2010 at 8:19 am

I’ve always thought that I needed one of these in order to steam my food:

Apparently not! As long as you have a pot / pan (with a lid) that is big enough to enclose some kind of container on a stand (e.g. small bowl), steaming is just as easy as putting a pot of water to boil. Here’s how I do mine: fill the base of a large pot with 3-4cm height of water, place a bowl in the centre, then I lay the plate of food to be steamed on top of the bowl. 🙂

Great. Now you have no excuse not to try out steamed recipes.

Steaming food is a healthier choice because it doesn’t require the addition of oil and nutrients are not leached into boiling water. Moreover, the steam keeps the food moist and tender…AND busy / lazy people don’t have to watch it closely (as long as the water at the base does not dry out, your food and house will be safe) so it’s easy to cook the food well without spending much time at the stove.

Evidently, it isn’t used much in Western kitchens, but Asians use this method to cook almost anything — fish, meat, sweet potatoes, eggs, rice, soups, noodles, cakes, breads… Perhaps the common usage of this healthy method is part of the answer to the Westerner’s constant dwelling on ‘why are Asians so skinny’, apart from ‘burning energy picking up food with chopsticks’ lol. I guarantee that you can expect more steamed recipes to pop up soon!

First up, here’s a simple recipe for the Chinese steamed bun a.k.a. baozi (if filled) / mantou (if unfilled), which I often grab from the school canteen in Singapore for 60cents (30 euro cents, 2.5kr). Steaming bread is faster than baking it, and produces a texture that is both soft and moist. With many sweet and savory fillings to choose from – char siew, cabbage, corn, red bean paste, yam, lotus paste, etc etc… it is one of those grab-and-go breakfasts / snacks that is both satisfying and comforting. 🙂

Steamed Chinese Bun recipe adapted from standard baozi / mantou recipe

  • 400g plain / cake flour — I used 340g plain + 60g potato starch (usually corn starch)
  • 1-2 tsp yeast / half a yeast cake
  • 1 tsp baking powder (optional)
  • 50g sugar
  • 180ml warm water / milk
  • 2 tbsp oil
  1. Mix the yeast and warm water together.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together then rub in oil evenly (tenderizer by limiting gluten formation)
  3. Combine and knead into a soft dough.
  4. Cover with a damp cloth and leave aside to rise for 2h.
  5. Shape dough into a log of about 4cm in diameter. Cut into 2-3cm segments, flatten / roll into a round and wrap your desired filling (any finely chopped stir-fries or sweet pastes or anything you’d willingly eat with soft white bread – I had in mine cabbage and corn stir-fried with garlic, onions, chili, pepper and oyster sauce). Place on a square of baking paper to prevent it sticking to the plate.
  6. Steam for 8-10min and serve warm!
  7. If you’re lazy to make the filling, you can make mantou from the dough by rolling it out into a sheet, then rolling it up like a swiss roll, and cut to desired shape. Here’s a good pictorial instruction. Good to eat with anything with a gravy (e.g. Singaporean Chilli Crab!!) or your stir-fries (you can serve it on a side like the Europeans do with boiled potatoes!)

Note: Remember to leave enough space between the buns, it expands about 50% of its size after steaming!

Refrigerate the extras and just pop it into the microwave for 30s and… voila! Soft chewy buns!

Orange Overload!

In Dutch, Eats on May 5, 2010 at 11:13 am

It was great to be back in NL, even better that it was QUEEN’S DAY and SPRING! The Dutch sure are one crazy bunch of party-ers with their wild spirit of wacky orange party antics! With the biggest annual Dutch celebration of the Queen’s (mother’s) birthday, orange is the colour to be in and partying is the central activity on the agenda. But despite being one of the most creative and comedic bunch of people I’ve ever met (when it involves partying or funny random discussions), they aren’t exactly the most adventurous when it comes to food (or as the saying goes: Wat de boer niet kent dat eet hij niet / what the farmer does not know, he does not eat LOL)…..but WAIT, don’t go yet, I’ve still got some treats coming up for you!

Although I once complained loads about the monotony of breakfasting on bread with excessively sweet toppings, lunching on the same bread with ham and gouda cheese (one cheese, one ham to be specific. unexplainable.), dinner on potato mashes (stamppot)… and snacking on cakes and cookies of every shape and size of the same flavours (butter or speculaas)…..experiencing Dutch again after being away for 3 months in Copenhagen was surprisingly comforting. Now, ontbijtkoek (spiced breakfast cake) and broodje hagelslag (bread with chocolate sprinkles) possesses a new charm for me- a feeling of comfort and familiarity that tugs at the heart the way ice-cream sandwiches and kaya toast does for homesick Singaporeans. That’s when I realized I’ve been such a food snob* to judge the Dutch for what is simply Culture.

*’anyone who practises overt social or cultural bias… who insist too loudly on a scale of values’ -Alain de Botton
hagelslag | stroopwafel |ontbijtkoek | fluffybread | bischuit | gouda cheese | bapao | littleparties | bigparties | soppymusic | dutchbarstandards | orangefever | multitaskingcyclists | dutchifiedindonesianess | coolbunchofwagbuddies… miss them alllll!:)

If you’re not in the Netherlands and don’t have access to a whole supermarket shelf of hagelslag varieties, you’ve gotta grab some plain ol’ chocolate sprinkles from your baking department and try this:

Generously topped on buttered fluffy bread. Delicious!

PS: I’ve now got an ample supply of ontbijtkoek with me. Any suggestions on NEW ways of eating it are most welcome! 🙂 Maybe brunost. hahaha…. we’ll see! 😀

Brunost – My Breakfast Candy

In Eats, Norwegian on April 6, 2010 at 8:35 am

This must be one of my most interesting eats so far. Sweet caramel cheese? It’s one of those foods that non-Scandinavian neophobics (people with an aversion to novel foods) are likely to crinkle their nose to and mutter a You want me to try THAT? at frequencies inaudible to their offering host.

But I absolutely absolutely love it! Brunost is a sweet Scandinavian whey cheese that is (almost) Norway’s national breakfast food. And if you’re a poor student, it makes some great lunch food too. Brunost is a special type of cheese made from goat’s milk (traditional) or more commonly now, a mixture of goat’s milk and cow’s milk. Unlike typical cheese production*, it is made by concentrating a mixture of milk or cream with whey by evaporation until approx 80% dry matter. This slow process of heating promotes the Maillard reaction of the sugar (lactose) and proteins. This gives the cheese it’s characteristic brown colour and rich caramellic taste.

*Typical cheese production involves the acidification of milk (with acid or starter culture), curding, pressing of curd and ripening.

How to Eat Brunost

  1. Butter on bread and a slice of brunost (safest, simplest and most rewarding).
  2. Add some jam to no.1 (lovely combination, and if you’re a stickler for variety).
  3. Add a thin slice of apple or cucumber to no.1 / no.2 (for people with complex taste preferences, like yz and myself haha).
  4. Make it into a brown cheese sauce (that’s what I heard, but never tried).
  5. On crisp bread (simple and awesome snack).

I loved it so much, I’ve brought back 700g of Brunost with me, which I pack with my ryebread sandwiches and snacktimes!

How to Eat Brunost Adventurously

  1. Try it on vanilla ice cream — it’s almost like topping with caramel fudge and it adds extra creaminess! Five stars.
  2. With tuna in a sandwich — smoothens out the harsh taste of canned tuna and adds an interesting flavour dimension.
  3. Little bits on bran flakes — you’d be surprised how well the tastes go together (initiative of an impulsive snacker in her bid to reduce rate of calorie intake).
  4. Combined with a slice of ‘normal cheese’ in your sandwich — if the sweet taste is too disturbing for you, combining it with another cheese lessens the caramel note, but still keeping it detectable and adding to the sensory pleasure!
  5. I’m going to try it next in a sauce to go with blood pudding that I’ve just bought from Sweden. Watch out for this post!

Acknowledgment to hlyf for feeding me with brunost.