Friday, December 31, 2010

Here's To The Year...

...and all things wonderful.

What an eventful 2010 this has been - 2 weeks of Kodaly certification training in early December, the World Choir Games in China and coming back with golds, Vietnam and the 1000 Years of Hanoi celebrations. A new place, a new kitchen, new responsibilities at work, new choirs. My grandfather's passing, renewal of friendships, cutting ties, forging new ones.

I'm home with my parents, just to see the end of the year out and to take a much-needed break for time-out and reflection. So much has happened. And in the year ahead, so much more -will- happen, of that I'm sure.

So, with all that in mind, I made madeleines.

I've never had a madeleine before, but when Shauna posted up her recipe for these honey-spiced gluten-free ones, I just -had- to try it.

Not being in my apartment has its minor disadvantages when it comes to baking. Finding a grater, for instance. The only one I could get hold of was an umpteen-year-old bright green plastic multi-use contraption that served as mandolin, juicer, and grater all in one go (though not at the same time, unless you have four hands.) Suffice to say my orange zest was...somewhat less zest and more mush, and I decided to use the rind of the whole orange to make up for that. I also didn't have my stand mixer with me, so I whipped the sugar and eggs by hand. It was a workout at least!

The batter was a bit sticky and a little stiffer than I thought it would turn out - then again, my eggs weren't as large as asked for, so maybe that was it.

The recipe also said it would make about a dozen large madeleines, so my pan size must have been slightly smaller as I got fifteen out of the batter.

(Yes, my parents' table is red formica-topped. It's a beautiful colour, but it's a bit of a photography challenge at night under flourescent lights.)

The batter had to sit in the fridge for at least three hours or overnight, so I put all the moulds in the fridge, nearly forgot to put plastic wrap over the surface, and let it stay till early this morning. That's also when I discovered that little 'bumps' under the madeleines are desirable, and that you're NOT supposed to cram and flatten the batter into the mould with the back of a plastic spoon, but it was way too late to do anything about it, and I could just hope for the best.

And would you believe, they baked up like a DREAM and came out of the mould as soon as they were tapped. All in all, I think they came out quite well!

They even had that little bump on the underside - it's not very prominent because when I put them out to cool, the rack flattened 'em. Ooops.

But they taste fantastic - light and spiced and just -beautiful-. Thank you Shauna. I'll definitely be making these again!

I also declared that I'd be cooking New Year's Eve Dinner for the family. The menu consisted of roast beef, parsnip and turnip mash, julienned brussel sprouts with apples and carrots with honey, lemon and thyme. I decided to use a combination of Nigel Slater's and Jamie Oliver's roast beef recipes, wing the mash, and adapt the brussel sprouts from how I'd always cooked 'em.

The vegetables came out beautifully!

The beef was a bit too rare for the family (my first time roasting beef, so my estimate of time, even by the recipe, are a bit off), so we sliced it and threw it into the microwave to nuke for a little, but all in all, it was flavourful and deliciously tender.

In the next few days there will be lemon-ginger bars, and perhaps some cookies even.

Here's to you, 2010 - it's been a hard, but good year in many ways. May 2011 bring even better things.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Art of Red-Braising

I was enticed by pictures of fatty pork.

At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it, and friends who have known me for a while will know how hysterically funny that statement is. For one, I usually don't gravitate towards anything that boasts excess fat or lard, and for another I don't usually eat belly pork either.

But those gorgeous photos of this recipe! I am a sucker for good photography. I'm an even bigger sucker for good food photography, and the recipe seemed simple enough, and so when I finally caught sight of a NICE big strip of pork belly in the market and I already had most of the spices necessary for making this dish even though I'm terrified of being caramel-splattered after an accident in uni with hot caramel and a glass dish...

Well. The end result was a resounding triumph and the process was amazingly trouble-free and easy, although I thought I could have braised it a bit longer to make the meat more tender. I also thought I might cut down on the amount of oil needed as belly pork already has a huge amount of its own fatty goodness.

It did get me thinking about another dish I'd eaten over the years - Hong Shao Tofu. Having not had it for some years now, I couldn't remember if this was the sort of sauce used for it - there's a Cantonese version that uses a brown sauce instead - but I figured it could do no harm to try this particular way of making it.

So I got to work. I decided to use dried shitake mushrooms for a bit of bite, and firm Chinese tofu since that is sturdier than Japanese tofu and will stand up to long cooking without disintegrating into smithereens.

I saved the soaking water from the dried mushrooms so I could add it to the braise later on for a bit more savoury flavour. I also seared the cubed tofu in a non-stick frying pan first till it was brown on all sides - this helps it keep its shape when it's being stirred around with the pork and the caramel sauce.

The original recipe calls for Shaoxing wine. I don't have Shaoxing wine but I recall seeing somewhere that using mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine) was an acceptable substitute so that's what I used.

End result after modifications and putting the whole lot of ingredients on to braise: Absolutely, unbelievably GOOD. Even if I had to make it with purely tofu and mushrooms, it would still be excellent since the tofu soaks up the flavours in the braise like a sponge.

It was even better after a night in the fridge; the flavours developed beautifully.

Thank you JS and TS of Eating Club Vancouver! This is a keeper of a recipe for sure!

Red Braised Pork with Seared Tofu and Mushrooms
Adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop's recipe in Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province

1 lb pork belly
Splash of vinegar (for boiling the pork)
1 tbsp. neutral-flavoured oil
2 tbsp. white sugar
1 tbsp. mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
3/4-inch piece fresh ginger, skin on and sliced
2 star anise
2 dried red chiles
6-8 dried shitake mushrooms
2 blocks of firm Chinese tofu, cubed
1 tsp. neutral flavoured oil (for frying the tofu cubes)
Small piece cassia bark or cinnamon stick
Gluten-free light soy sauce, salt, and sugar
Few pieces scallion greens (if you have them)

1. Soak the mushrooms in hot water for about 20 minutes, or till soft. Squeeze them out and slice them, but don’t make them too thin. You can discard the stems, but I usually use them; in a braise like this, they’ll get soft anyway. Save the water used for soaking the mushrooms and set aside.

2. Fry the tofu cubes in the 1 tsp. of oil – I used a non-stick pan, so that cut down the amount of oil I needed. You might require a little more if you’re using a regular frying pan, or if you have a wok. Make sure the cubes are at least brown on two sides; I tend to fry them on all sides to be sure. This prevents the tofu from breaking up into mush when you add it to the pork-and-caramel mixture later. Set aside.

3. Plunge the pork belly into a pan of boiling water, add the splash of vinegar and simmer for 3-4 minutes until partially cooked. Remove and, when cool enough to handle, cut into bite-size chunks.

4. Heat the oil and sugar in a wok over a gentle flame until the sugar melts, then raise the heat and stir until the melted sugar turns a rich caramel brown. Add the pork and stir till well-coated. Add in the tofu cubes, stir to coat and splash in the mirin.

5. Add the reserved soaking water from the mushrooms, and top it up with enough water to just cover the pork, along with the mushrooms, ginger, star anise, chillies and cassia. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 40-50 minutes.

6. Towards the end of cooking time, turn up the heat to reduce the sauce, and season with soy sauce, salt, and a little sugar to taste. You might need to braise it a little longer than actual cooking time to reduce the sauce to the thickness you want. Add the scallion greens just before serving.

I forgot the scallions of course. I always forget SOMETHING. But the dish tasted great even without it, although the greenery would have added a lovely touch of colour to the finished recipe.

Tofu Batons and Pea Shoots

I've mentioned Beyond the Great Wall by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid in a previous post. I love this book. Not only does it give some wonderful insights into the less-commonly known ethnicities of China, but a great many of the recipes are inherently gluten-free and require little to no modification at all.

There were a few recipes I'd been itching to try since getting hold of the book. The Tofu Batons with Hot Sesame Dressing was one of them. It looked easy and as it turned out, it -was- easy to put together but I ran into problems with overly soggy tofu batons as per following the recipe's instructions to put them into boiling water, submerge, and cover for 30 minutes. A lot of it turned into mush, not all of which could be dried out even with a good hot frying in the wok.

I was skeptical of taste, given the dressing was rather mouth-puckeringly sour when I put it together. Once it was poured over the tofu batons however, the combination mellowed out the sharpness into something amazingly comforting and smooth. Fantastic. I'd definitely make this again, but I think I'll be soaking the batons in cold water for 30 minutes instead of boiling them. It should help with the sogginess problem.

The other recipe that I'd been dying to try out was the Pea Tendril salad, except pea tendrils proved remarkably elusive. It wasn't until yesterday that I got hold of 2 packs of pea shoots (the recipe wanted the tougher pea tendrils, but I'd only seen those in a vegetable shop near my workplace - and that was 2 hours and 2 buses to get to, so I just went with pea shoots instead.) Given this is me, I accidentally changed the recipe through misreading the instructions, of course. The recipe called for frying the shallots till they were pale to medium brown; I just fried them till they were translucent and soft. Then again, I never really liked crispy shallots, so I think I liked the end product a lot better.

This is a tart, salty salad with very sharp, clean flavours. I thought it might be too tart for my liking, but I was surprised to find that it was pretty addictive - I kept going back for seconds and thirds till I finished half the plate all on my own. Yep, definitely another keeper.

Tofu Batons with Hot Sesame Dressing
from Beyond the Great Wall by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Serves: 4

3 ounces tofu sticks (4-6 sticks)
1 tbls peanut oil
1 tsp roasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp chile pepper flakes, or to taste
1 tbls rice vinegar, or to taste
2 tbls gluten-free soy sauce, or to taste
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup coriander leaves

Bring 2 inches of water to boil in a medium pot. Add the tofu sticks, breaking them if necessary to make them fit, and use a wooden spoon to push them under the surface of the water. Turn off the heat. Weight down the sticks with a plate that fits inside the pot to keep them submerged. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes.

Remove the plate and drain the tofu well. Cut the sticks into 2-inch lengths, trimming off and discarding any tough bits. Cut the sticks lengthwise into half or into quarters, to make narrow batons. Set aside.

Heat a wok or wide heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the peanut oil and sesame oil. When the oil is hot, add the chile flakes and tofu batons, and stir-fry for 2 minutes, stirring and pressing on the batons to expose them to the hot surface of the pan.

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, gluten-free soy sauce, and sugar, and whisk well, then pour over the tofu batons. Stir-fry briefly to distribute the flavours, then bring the liquid to a boil Immediately lower the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Turn out into a wide shallow bowl. Taste and add a little more gluten-free soy sauce or vinegar if you wish. Sprinkle on the coriander leaves and serve warm, or at room temperature.

Next time I'd soak the tofu batons in cold water and just leave them to sit for 30 minutes instead. Less soggy that way. Also, I didn't have coriander so I used sliced green onions, and it tasted just fine. No chile flakes either, all I had was Japanese red pepper, so I used that.

Pea Shoot Salad
Adapted from Pea Tendril Salad in Beyond the Great Wall by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Serves: 4 as a salad or side dish

1 lb pea shoots

2 tbls rice vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp roasted sesame oil
2 tbls peanut oil or vegetable oil
3 thinly sliced shallots

Wash the pea shoots well, drain, and set aside.

Place the vinegar, the 1 tsp salt and the sesame oil in a small cup and stir well; set aside.

In a large pot, bring 3 quarts salted water to a boil. Toss in the pea shoots and stir to immerse them in the water. Cook for 3 minutes, or until just tender to the bite - because pea shoots vary considerably in terms of toughness, the cooking time may vary a little. Drain thoroughly in a colander and refresh briefly under cold water, then drain and press out excess water. If the pea shoots are very long, cut them into about 1 inch lengths so that they will be easier to eat. I didn't bother, with mine. Press out the excess liquid again.

Place the pea shoots on a wide serving plate. Stir the sesame oil dressing again, pour it over the shoots, and toss gently to coat.

Place a wok or heavy skillet over high heat. When it is hot, add the peanut or vegetable oil and swirl gently, then add the sliced shallows, lower the heat to medium-high and fry until the shallots are translucent and soft. Use chopsticks or cooking spatula to keep the shallots moving so they don't burn. Take the pan off the heat and pour the oil and shallots over the pea shoots. Add a dash of cayenne pepper to taste.

Toss the shallots, pepper and pea shoots well, then serve.

I misread the directions and wound up tossing all the oils together for the dressing, rather than saving the peanut oil for the shallots later. This resulted in me having to add about half a tablespoon extra oil into the frying pan. It was perhaps a bit greasier, end result, but still just as good. The original called for frying the shallots till pale or medium brown, but I don't like them that way so much. This way, I think they're sweeter and still maintain their lovely purple colour.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pumpkin Curry, and Thoughts of Thanksgiving

The past week has been an incredible hive of activity - choir performance over the weekend, preparations for it, as well as teaching and getting ready for musicianship class finals. And now I've got a two-week hiatus (sort of) before I dive right into Level 2 of the Australian Kodaly Certificate of Education course that my workplace is organizing.

All this to say, I've not had much time to actually get a blog post up on what's going on in my kitchen despite having made sure to take photographs of the finished products.

I've been in the mood for comfort food of late. I'm not sure why, though I suspect that after ten years in the US, my body sort of attuned itself to the seasons - my thoughts tend to turn towards warm stews and soups, and slow-cooked dishes around this time of year since coming back to Malaysia.

Not only that, it's coming up to Thanksgiving. While I've only had ten Thanksgivings in my entire life, I've found that for me, every day is Thanksgiving really - safe food, wonderful friends, working at a job I love, having a beautiful place and equally beautiful kitchen to cook in. What's there not to be thankful for, when I have people like Life For Beginners and the Devil in Prada, the Bloke, and S, my Disaster Duo Comrade, in my life?

It's a cause for celebration - and besides, I felt like eating pumpkin anyway, and what's more Thanksgivingy than pumpkin?

Which is why I turned to Nigel Slater's curry recipe.

I've been a huge fan of this man since hearing about his extraordinary Kitchen Diaries. There's a little sentimentality involved too, as the UK hardback edition of the book was the first serious cook book I bought when I came back here. His recipes are practical and low-fuss - and most importantly, a lot of the recipes in the Kitchen Diaries are naturally gluten-free. They're also easily adaptable to local, seasonal ingredients, which is just as important. This curry recipe is a perfect example of how flexible his cooking is, since I didn't actually have all the ingredients on hand - meaning, no tomatoes, no coriander and no mint. But I did have ground chicken and far too many green onions, and the result was still indescribably comforting and delicious.

Chicken, Pumpkin and Apples with Ginger, Coconut Milk and Lime
Adapted from Nigel Slater's Pumpkin Curry

Serves: 4 (it served 1 rather small eater for a week)

2-3 stalks green onions
Canola/sunflower oil – 1 tablespoon
A large lump of ginger
Small, very hot chillies – 2 (I used dried)
Stalks of lemon grass - 1
Ground turmeric – 1 teaspoon
Ground cumin - 1 teaspoon
Ground coriander - 1 teaspoon
Ground chicken - 400g
Green apple – 1, diced
Vegetable stock (or water at a push) -400ml
Pumpkin or butternut squash – half of a small one
Coconut milk - 200ml (1 box)
The juice of a plump lime

To serve: Steamed rice

Grate the ginger (or cut up into matchsticks, it just so happens I can’t stand pieces of ginger in my food so that’s how I do it). If using fresh chillies, chop them up fine; if using dried like me, just cut them into half or leave them whole. Peel and discard the outer leaves of the lemon grass then very finely slice the soft inner core. Peel the pumpkin or squash, scrape out and discard the seeds and fibres and cut the flesh into large chunks. Or you could save the seeds for roasting! The pumpkin chunks need to be a good 4 or 5 cms in size if they are not to break up and become soup.

Roughly chop up the green onions, green parts and white parts both. Cook them slowly with the oil in a deep heavy-based saucepan, until the white parts look soft and translucent but not burnt. Add the ginger, chillies and lemon grass to the onions and continue cooking for five minutes. Stir in the turmeric, cumin and coriander.

Add in the ground chicken, stirring the entire time to break up any lumps. When it has almost cooked through, add the green apples, stir around for about a minute, then pour in the stock. Bring to the boil then turn down to a gentle simmer. Season the pumpkin with salt and black pepper. Lower the pumpkin into the pot and let it simmer for 20-30 minutes, checking now and again for tenderness. It is worth remembering that it is a fine line between tender squash and squishy squash.

Stir in the coconut milk, gently so as not to smash the squash, and continue cooking for a couple of minutes, check the seasoning, then stir in the limejuice and extra green onions, if desired. Serve with the rice.

Note: This curry tastes even better the next day as the flavours have a chance to settle in. I had it in the fridge for about a week and it was fantastic.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Kitchen Sink Style: Cauliflower Pasta and Pudding Cakes

I am not an intuitive baker, at least not since my diagnosis. By that I mean I don't quite have some people's knack of putting together various gluten-free flours to give a certain characteristic to a certain sort of baked goods - I suspect this comes with practice in the kitchen and a lot of reading up on each of the flours (tapioca, sorghum, millet, buckwheat etc.) and what characteristics they have as individual flours, before I can throw them together with any sort of abandon.

Funnily enough, the opposite is true for my cooking. Give me a set of flavours or tell me what you want in a dish and I can pretty much put it together in my head and figure something out. Granted, it took a while before I stopped just throwing stuff together and began finally analyzing ingredients and flavours properly whenever I combined them into some dish or other.

So there's probably a touch of lurking amusement in the fact that I decided to cook two things on the same day that showcased these two opposite sides of the pole.

I've been wanting to make Aran's pear, hazelnut and brown butter cakelets for a while now since reading her glorious recipe. Since I had an entire afternoon free, I decided why not, put together all the ingredients, and went ahead.

I realised belatedly into the flour-combining process that I'd inexplicably misplaced my cinnamon. Three rounds of searching didn't turn it up so I did the next best thing - I yanked out my trusty mortar, half a cinnamon stick and pounded away. I managed to get the required teaspoon of ground cinnamon out of that (yes, that's the mortar and half-ground cinnamon stick up there in the photo.)

From there on everything went nicely - until I had to strain the melted brown butter as the recipe called for. I had a strainer, a cheap plastic affair that's lasted me about 3 years and probably would have lasted a few more years of careful usage. The operative word in that sentence is 'had'. Because when I poured the hot butter into the strainer, it promptly melted the plastic netting and I only just got the wretched thing into the sink before it decided to melt into the butter proper.

Now if I'd been a proper baker and all, I'd have remembered that hot oil melts plastic and hot butter is hot oil.

But the butter was saved, that's the important thing, because I didn't have any more in the fridge and that'd have been a total waste of good butter if I'd had to throw it away due to my own high-class stupidity.

Making the brown butter left me with a saucepan bottom full of brown milk solids, and when it had cooled enough for me to poke a finger into them, I realised they were quite salty. I didn't quite want to throw them away though.

So I decided to save them. And use them for Sicilian cauliflower pasta afterwards.

(It's all part of what I call a Victorian Kitchen Sink mentality, in honour of Agatha Christie's Jane Marple. She saw the mind as a kitchen sink - you throw everything into it whether it's tasteful or not, and it's an utterly necessary piece of equipment. In my twisted culinary world, that means I throw into my cooking anything I have on hand - just like putting everything into a sink. Improvisation is usually indicated.)

The logic behind this rather incredibly fattening idea was that the salty browned milk solids would take the place of the anchovies I'd seen in the recipes for Sicilian cauliflower pasta that I'd looked up before. The version I knew was one I'd been using since college days that didn't include anchovies at all, and which I couldn't find any more (given it's been about ten-odd years since I printed that recipe, it might well have gone the way of obsolete web pages.)

But back to the cakes.

By the time I'd mixed up the ingredients (having substituted honey for maple syrup since I didn't have any at hand), I'd begun to have a feeling that perhaps the batter needed to be just a tad more moist as the consistency was now rather muffin-like and thick. I divided the batter into muffin tins anyway, and realised I still had enough for another twelve cakes - so I added a little water to the remaining batter to moisten it up. Call it an experiment.

Well. The first batch came out moist and rather puddingy, and required about ten minutes more baking time. Since I hadn't smoothed down the tops of these muffins, they were about as lumpy as a boulder-strewn highway since they didn't settle as I thought they might.

Batch two got its tops smoothed down properly, rose beautifully and...came out exactly like pudding - nice outside, very soft and mushy insides. It probably required a bit more baking, but because I was hot and lazy, I left them to cool anyway. They tasted fantastic and were still more than passably edible so I'll just consider them pudding-cakes for now and eat less of them since they're rather filling.

Once baking was done, I got started on the cauliflower pasta - boiling the cauliflower till soft, boiling the pasta in the cauliflower water, frying up the cauliflower with garlic and chopped Chinese chives till slightly brown.

The original recipe called for onions. I hate chopping onions because they make me cry, and I had a few too many stalks of Chinese chives at hand - and those taste a lot like onions anyway, so I used 'em in typical kitchen sink style and put in the brown butter solids when the time was right. To be honest, I have no idea whether or not that had any effect on the taste of the cauliflower because I still wound up having to add salt anyway. It did use the butter solids up rather than wasting them though.

The dish tasted rather plain when I finished with it. Not quite like I'd remembered. And then I recalled reading somewhere (it might very well have been Frances Mayes, I'm not sure any more) that a slight drizzle of olive oil over warm food would improve the taste, so I went ahead and did that.

Just that bit of olive oil transformed the entire dish of pasta into something absolutely incredible. It blended all the flavours together into something subtly fragrant and creamy, and utterly addictive - just how I remembered it from college, and just what I needed to round off the day.

Victorian Sink Style Sicilian Cauliflower Pasta
Adapted from a basic Sicilian Cauliflower Pasta recipe that I can’t find anymore

Servings: 2 people, or 1 small eater who'll have lots of leftovers

1 head cauliflower
4-5 cloves garlic, smashed
2-3 stalks finely sliced green onions or Chinese chives
Uncooked gluten-free pasta (spaghetti, vermicelli, rotelle or fusili work fine)
Brown butter solids (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Preparing the cauliflower and pasta:

Cut the cauliflower into quarters or fifths – whatever fits a medium-size, heavy saucepan nicely. Barely cover with water – you want to have most of the florets submerged if you can, but just a few bits poking out here and there are fine. Bring to boil, and keep boiling half-covered for however long it takes for the cauliflower to become soft enough to be detached easily with a fork.

Using a slotted spoon, drain the cauliflower well and set it aside. You want to save the water that the cauliflower was boiled in; you’ll use this to cook your pasta.

Top up the cauliflower water, as there’s going to be a lot less in there than when you started. Bring to boil, salt the water well, and put in the pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain the pasta and set aside.

Cooking the cauliflower:

In a medium or large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat, drizzle about a teaspoon of olive oil to heat for about 30 seconds. Throw in the garlic and fry until the bottoms of the garlic are just a little brown, not completely browned through. Add in the green onions or Chinese chives and fry for about a minute or until soft. Add in the drained cauliflower and mash with cooking spatula as it cooks; it will brown a bit and that’s what you want. If you have brown butter solids, add them in now and stir to combine with the cauliflower. Add salt and pepper to taste – make sure you add sufficient salt or the cauliflower will be very bland.

Fry for a while more until the cauliflower takes on a slightly brownish colour. Turn off the fire and add the cooked pasta, combining it well with the cauliflower mash. Add a further drizzle of olive oil and stir into the cauliflower-pasta mix – this is the step that makes all the difference in the final taste of the pasta.

Serve immediately.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Gluten-Free Basics 101: Gluten Whahuh?

Ping Sha - a gluten-free Tibetan dish of mushrooms, beef and cellophane noodles

One of the biggest challenges for celiacs and gluten-intolerant people in Malaysia is the ignorance that we run up against when we say we are gluten-free. This usually involves explaining a) what gluten is b) what we can't eat, and of the two, it is usually easier to list what we can't eat rather than attempt an explanation of a).

While most people are understanding, in a rather bemused fashion, the real difficulty lies in when we want to eat out, and have to ask the restaurant what sort of ingredients are in the foods we'd like to order. Which will generally lead into having to explain yet again for the umpteenth time what we can't eat (gluten) and the things which have gluten in them that we can't eat (wheat, rye, barley, spelt, malt, etc.) More often than not, this doesn't really work so well and it ends up with restaurant staff getting frustrated with us, and us getting frustrated with explaining - and then probably gluten-poisoned at the end of it all despite everyone's best efforts.

Half the problem lies in the fact that most Malaysians don't take a very serious view of what they perceive as 'food allergies'. "It's just a little bit can it hurt?" "Whylah, so picky, just eatlah, you'll be fine later I'm sure."

Well. No, it's not ok actually, and we will not be fine later on.

The Celiac Disease Foundation has this to say about celiac disease:

'Celiac Disease (CD) is a lifelong inherited autoimmune condition affecting children and adults. When people with CD eat foods that contain gluten, it creates an immune-mediated toxic reaction that causes damage to the small intestine and does not allow food to be properly absorbed. Even small amounts of gluten in foods can affect those with CD and cause health problems. Damage can occur to the small bowel even when there are no symptoms present.

Gluten is the common name for the proteins in specific grains that are harmful to persons with celiac disease. These proteins are found in ALL forms of wheat (including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn and faro) and related grains rye, barley and triticale and MUST be eliminated.'

- quoted from 'About Celiac Disease' on their site

That's right folks. It isn't an allergy, even though for some of us (like me) who aren't full-blown celiacs, it masquerades as the pernicious IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or stomach discomfort, and thus gets shrugged off by doctors most of the time. It's an autoimmune condition. It really does do some serious damage to our bodies. People can die from it - heck, children die of it, I've read cases. Food is not something we can afford to play with when it involves our health and such serious consequences.

What I'd really love to get across somehow, via this blog or maybe via some of the links I'll be cross-posting, is that we aren't just simply picky about our food when we ask about everything that's in it. Sure, there are some health nuts out there who are extremely picky about what they eat, but that is a lifestyle choice. For us? It isn't a choice. If we don't eat right, we get very sick. Some of us have lived for years being very sick, until we finally figured out what was wrong. And in order to maintain our health, we have to eliminate gluten from our diets.

Let's just take a hypothetical scenario now - a day in the life of any ordinary Malaysian. You go out for breakfast - capati with assam fish curry. Half an hour later or even less, you have stomach pains and maybe even diarrhoea. So you go out for lunch and get a nice bowl of rice porridge with yau cha kwey (fried dough sticks) on top. You feel ok for about ten minutes, then less than an hour later, you're back to stomach pains and more stomach upset, maybe even with an added headache now. So you drink a warm cup of Milo and have some bread. And the headache not only doesn't go away, it becomes a migraine and the stomach upsets have settled into a sort of dull pattern. By dinnertime, all you want is a nice bowl of clear fishball soup. But even that doesn't stop the stomach discomfort and by the time you go to bed, you're exhausted.

Sounds unpleasant doesn't it? Well, that's what some of us have had to deal with every single day of our lives for months and maybe years. So don't even try telling me that I'm being unrealistically picky about what I eat. You try living this way for even two weeks, and tell me how much you like it.

Why should any of the above foods have such an effect, you might ask. Let's do a quick run down here.

1) Capati and curry - capati is made from wheat flour. That's already a no-no. The assam curry? Shouldn't that be gluten-free? That depends. Some curry mixes contain wheat flour as a thickener, or modified starches, which are usually made from wheat. So you've poisoned your system twice already.

2) Rice porridge with dough sticks - rice is inherently gluten-free. So that shouldn't be a problem, right? But look at the dough sticks. Yau cha kwey is made from fried dough made from wheat flour. Not only that, the rice porridge might have been flavoured somehow with soy sauce. Soy sauce contains wheat as an additive. If you don't believe me, go read the labels on the soy sauce bottles in the supermarket. Unless it's specifically labelled 'wheat and gluten-free', it will have wheat added.

3) Milo and bread - by now you'd have realised that the bread definitely is a no-no because it's practically bursting to the seams with wheat. But Milo? Well. Milo contains malt - and malt is usually a mix of barley and wheat, both of which have gluten in it.

4) Fishball soup - Fish is gluten-free. Fishballs, however, may contain some form of starch as binder, at least commercially made ones. This might very well be modified starch, and as previously mentioned, that's normally made from wheat unless it's specified 'modified corn starch'. The soup could have been flavoured with soy sauce. And even if the soup and fishballs were totally free of gluten, how about the cooking utensils that were used for making it? They could have been used to cook things previously which had gluten in it. It's called cross-contamination and yes, even that can make a celiac very ill.

Now think about having to ask any and all of these questions every single time one has to go out to eat. Every day. And think about how it feels like to live like this for the rest of your life.

It's daunting, yes. But it IS possible to live gluten-free even in a society where street foods contain hidden gluten additives everywhere. I've managed it. And that's what this blog is about - to at least show people that they don't have to resort to despair and settling for being sick for the rest of their lives.

So. We've touched on everything we can't eat. But what can we eat safely? Here's a quick run down of foods in general, based on the most common Malaysian ingredients.

Safe foods:
1) Rice - rice is naturally gluten-free. It's what you eat WITH rice that usually is the problem.
2) Fresh fruits and vegetables
3) Meat - again, there's no inherent gluten content in meat, but it's what you season it with that proves to be problematic. I'm talking about fresh, raw meat here, not seasoned meats that you find at the meat counters in the supermarkets. For those, bacon is usually a safe bet. If you can't eat pork, stick to chicken or beef you marinate yourself.
4) Fish, seafood and shellfish - some people are allergic to these, but if you can eat 'em, more power to you.
5) Millet, sorghum and amaranth - these are grains that are usually found in health food stores. Flours made from these grains are usually safe, bar cross-contamination.
6) Corn and tapioca
7) Potatoes - yes, this is usually considered a vegetable but it's actually a tuber.
8) Rice noodles - kuey teow, bi hoon, tang hoon (cellophane noodles made from mung beans)
9) Textured soy protein - now those with soy allergies as well can't have this, obviously. But I've used it at times to substitute for meat and to cook for vegan friends, and it's not given them or me any trouble. If it does, that might be due to cross-contamination at the manufacturing plant.

Safe seasonings:
1) Salt
2) Pepper
3) Sugar
4) Most pure spices - now if you're talking about curry powder mixes though, read the label. A lot have wheat as an additive so be careful.
5) Lemon and lime
6) Balsamic vinegar - I've not had any problems with this, and quite a few of my other celiac friends haven't either. Again, read the label.
7) Wheat-free/gluten-free tamari or soy sauce - Jaya Jusco, Cold Storage and health food stores carry this, I've been using variations of it for years. The label will say 'Wheat Free' if it doesn't have wheat in it. But check the labels again, just in case (are we sensing a pattern here? Yes. READING LABELS IS IMPORTANT.)
8) Rapunzel vegetable bouillon cubes - this brand is an all-natural alternative to stock cubes, and contains no gluten. I've used it for a while without problems now. It can be found in Jaya Jusco, Cold Storage, and some health food stores.
9) Herbs - any herbs. Unless you're allergic to them, upon which be smart and don't use 'em.
10) Canned tomatoes - or, let me put a disclaimer, canned tomatoes that don't list anything like wheat or modified starch in them.
11) Heinz Lite Mayonnaise - this one apparently is gluten-free, but I haven't checked it out for myself.
12) Dry mustard - you have to be careful with mixed mustards; those with alcohol content may have gluten contaminants depending on how the alcohol was produced. If you get a can of dry mustard and mix it yourself, there should be no problems. Colman's Dry Mustard can be found at Cold Storage.

I'll add to this list as time goes by, and will also give a more comprehensive list of where to find safe foods as I compile lists and addresses of shops and so on. So do bear with me, but for now, this is a quick and dirty run down.

Gluten-free bacon and cheese muffins that were adapted from a wheat recipe

Living gluten-free in Malaysia may be bewilderingly inconvenient at first, especially if you don't cook. I can't stress it enough - cooking for yourself is the best way to make sure you don't poison your system. And cooking gluten-free is not difficult. If I can do it (and I came to cooking very late in the game, only halfway through my graduate school days) then I know most people can, with just a little bit of guidance.

I will also be posting a list of restaurants that are safe to eat at, or that I haven't had any adverse reactions to, as time goes by and I try them out myself. For now though, Woods Macrobiotics in Jln. Telawi, Bangsar seems to be all right. Do tell the server that you need a complete gluten-free diet, and have them check with the resident dietitian what they would recommend. When I called up to ask, they were very helpful indeed, which is a plus, and they understand what gluten-free means, even better.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Of Cookies, Stews, and Salads

I've never really had to apply the words 'too small' to anything I own for a while now - the kitchen in my former apartment being the singular exception. But when I was mixing up a batch of Shauna's fabulous adaptation of David Leite's 36-Hour Chocolate Chip Cookies, I actually said aloud, "This stand mixer is too small." Mostly because the dough was practically climbing up the beaters, and I just hadn't registered that 4 cups of flour and what seems to be a metric ton of butter and sugar (I know, I know, I exaggerate) could make -so- much volume.

Of course, I -was- making the dough at about 2am in the morning, which seems to be my default time for any sort of baking and cooking since I started working. So maybe that could have messed with my mental capacity a little.

Once the dough had gone into the fridge, I actually managed to let it sit there for the requisite 36 hours without yielding to the temptation to a) eat the batter raw b) bake it up.

The logic behind the 36 hours of refridgeration is beautifully explained here in David's article in the NY Times. Go read it. It's a delightful little culinary gem.

Now, I was aware that I had to bake the cookies on Friday, but for some idiotic reason (likely my 2am brain that day) I thought that 36 hours meant '24 hours x 3' instead of '12 hours x 3' and I was all geared up to bake again at 3am Saturday morning (which I consider Friday night, since it's still dark. Hush. Morning is when I wake up and not before.) And then Friday afternoon at 2pm the epiphany hit - 36 hours was actually UP, I could start baking NOW.

So I pulled the dough out of the fridge and got to work.

In retrospect I should have let the dough sit out for about half an hour, since it was rock-hard from all that congealed butter, and it would have been much easier to scoop out. As it is, I nearly broke my best metal spoon trying to carve out a chunk before sanity took over and I let it rest on the counter for a while before attempting to dig out large balls of dough with my stubby fingers and the help of said spoon.

The recipe said, 'Generous balls of dough'. So I made generous balls of dough, and after looking at them I wasn't sure if they'd even flatten out into proper cookies but I put them into the preheated oven anyways, said a prayer, and went off to do Internetly Things. And then I remembered I hadn't sprinkled sea salt on the tops of the cookies so I went back to the kitchen, pounded up a batch of coarse sea salt in my mortar, sprinkled it on as required, and went back to reading Beyond the Great Wall by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

20 minutes later (I upped the baking time because I had two racks of cookies and I knew the bottom one wouldn't be done yet) I went into the kitchen to check on how things were doing and the cookies were doing -exactly- what they were supposed to be doing - spreading lightly, and turning into the most delicious-looking masses of chocolatey goodness. I gave it about 10 minutes more baking time before taking it out of the oven.

Oh lord. Ohhhhh, ohhhh, ohhh.

I shall let the photographs do the talking for me as there are really no words to describe just how -good- these cookies are. Even my substitution of millet flour for amaranth flour, since I didn't have any amaranth flour, came out perfectly fine.

I really felt as if I'd died and gone to chocolate chip cookie heaven. Shauna said that these would be absolutely fantastic, and she was right.

What I hadn't realised were that the cookies would be so filling. I had one, ignored warning signs that perhaps this was enough, had another, and promptly felt stuffed. Granted, they're giant cookies but even so, that's great. It means I won't eat so much!

The recipe said it'd make a batch of some 1-2 dozen cookies depending on size. Well, there's still a sizeable hunk of dough that I put back into the fridge, which will probably make about 8-12 more cookies so perhaps I didn't make them big enough!

After all that chocolatey richness, I really needed something light and cleansing for dinner. So I made a recipe out of Beyond the Great Wall - the Silk Road Tomato-Bell Pepper Salad which is a simple mix of yellow bell peppers, tomatoes, chopped mint, cilantro or dill, and salt to taste. Since dill grows as an ornamental plant down by the apartment guard house (and I'm sure they don't know it's an edible plant, since for a while it was all the rage in decorative greenery around here), I walked down, snipped a fistful and came back to make the salad.

Today the sun was liquid gold through my windows, hot and tropical, and the colours of the bell pepper, tomatoes and dill reminded me of the end of summer and the beginning of fall when I was a student in Virginia Beach.

I put that in the fridge to chill for a while so I could have it with rice and the Lentil Stew with Spinach and Potatoes that I'd cooked as a staple during my graduate school years. Since I didn't have normal green lentils on hand, I used yellow dhal, and I added some home-made chicken and apple sausage adapted from the wonderful Appetite for China's recipe.

It was very, very good. Perfect, in fact, and just what stellar chocolate chip cookies required.

Lentil Stew with Spinach, Potatoes and Sausage
Adapted from Epicurious' recipe

1 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
2-3 cups vegetable broth (I used home-made)
1/2 cup yellow lentils (yellow dhal), rinsed, picked over
3 medium potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 lemon
1 bunch spinach, cut into large shreds, including stems
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Several patties chicken-apple sausage (made from this recipe, minus the wonton wrappers)

Heat olive oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and stir 30 seconds. Add vegetable broth and lentils; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add potatoes; cook covered until potatoes and lentils are tender, stirring occasionally, about 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, grate 1/2 teaspoon peel from lemon; squeeze enough juice from lemon to measure 1 tablespoons. Add lemon peel, lemon juice and sausage to stew, breaking the sausage meat up and letting it cook through for about 5 minutes. Add spinach and cayenne to stew. Uncover stew and simmer until spinach wilts and is cooked through, about 2 minutes, or longer if you want the spinach less crunchy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon into soup bowls and serve. I tend to have this with rice, but plain would be just fine too as there are already potatoes in there to serve as carbohydrates.

This can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over low heat before serving.

Yellow dhal tends to take a much longer time to cook than ordinary lentils. You might have to add water or broth, if they soak up a lot of it and still haven't turned soft enough. The original recipe also calls for simmering the stew covered after the spinach is added, but since I didn't want the lovely green colour to oxidize so quickly, I simmered it uncovered.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Brioche and Bo Kho

Lord knows why I seem to be predisposed towards baking in the crazy hours of the morning. Like 2am, or even 3am and counting. Granted, it's a holdover from my university days when I had classes in the mornings, worked in the afternoons and evenings, and did all my homework and studying at night.

That being said, it was worth every moment of staying up to try out this gem of a gluten-free brioche on Aran's beautiful, inspiring blog, Cannelle et Vanille.

While I was a very good cook prior to my gluten-intolerance and am even better now thanks to all I've learned since my diagnosis, unfortunately the same doesn't hold true for my baking skills. I was a great bread-baker in days past. However, gluten-free baking was an animal of completely different temperament - after several rather expensive failures (gluten-free baking ingredients can be rather costly here), I didn't dare try anything else for fear of yet another jinxed recipe.

Zoe's brioche though? Absolutely amazing. More than that, it's surprisingly easy to whip up; it's the rising times that takes the longest at 2 hours and 40 minutes respectively. It is also incredibly forgiving of baker stupidity, which gets a HUGE thumbs-up from me - I forgot to take my agave nectar out of the fridge, so had to use it cold (I didn't have honey, and agave nectar substitutes out nicely for that.) One of the things that's been drilled into my head is that gluten-free baking NEEDS to have all ingredients at room temperature or it might not turn out right. Furthermore? The recipe had -yeast- in it, and I wasn't sure if the dough would rise after I just dumped a batch of cold stuff in to mix. I just covered the plastic container I mixed the dough in, shut it in the oven to sit in the requisite warm place, and left it after crossing fingers, toes, and eyes that it'd turn out ok.

Two hours later, the dough had inflated like the giant Pillsbury Dough Boy in Ghost Busters even -with- the cold agave nectar, much to my astonishment. It shaped up nicely for baking with the help of wet hands. While the recipe called for greasing the pans, I noticed that Aran's pictures of her brioche included one where she'd lined her pan with a sheet of parchment paper so she could easily lift the loaf out to cool when it was done. I greased only the two short sides of the pan, and cut parchment paper to hang over the long sides. In went the dough to rest for the required 40 minutes and by the time I came back, it filled the entire pan.

I don't normally eggwash anything that calls for an eggwash, simply because I think it's a waste of one egg and I don't need my bread to look so pretty-pretty - but I decided to be good and follow the recipe anyway. So I beat up one egg, brushed it over the surface of the dough, forgot to sprinkle sugar over the top of it, and stuck it in the oven to bake.

Both brioches came out picture-perfect, and that's a -rare- thing when I bake. The smell in the kitchen was intoxicating enough I wanted to bottle it. Great taste, fantastic texture, especially after it firmed up when cool. When hot, it reminded me -exactly- of the texture of a crumpet and I -love- crumpets. Haven't had them in years, and especially not since my diagnosis. I might need to figure out a way to replicate crumpets with this particular mixture of flours now.

I had to wait till two days later to take photos of the brioche in the daytime, and the taste and texture were still fantastic.

A day before that, I'd also decided to make a huge supply of Wandering Chopstick's amazing bo kho (Vietnamese beef stew). Since I'd lugged back a huge bottle of genuine Phu Quoc fish sauce back from Hanoi, I figured I'd try it to see what the big deal was all about - I'd read rave reviews from Andrea Nguyen and Bobby Chinn about the fish sauce off the little island of Phu Quoc. One drop on a fingertip to taste was all it took to convince me they were absolutely right. The stuff has a phenomenally complex depth to it that defies description. It's barely fishy at all. It's marvellous. I'm hoarding that bottle, I am. It's liquid gold.

I couldn't find the annatto seeds for the recipe even though I hunted for a few hours around all the shops I could get to in the area. So I substituted paprika instead. But then I thought I had bay leaves and it turned out I left them behind in the Great Move of Doom so I had to leave 'em out to my disgust and hope it would taste just fine.

'Fine' is not the word I'd use to describe this stew. 'Wow' might be better indicative of my first taste when the prescribed four hours in the crockpot were up.

In short: Just make it. You will not regret the time spent (and it's not that much time, since it mostly involves putting all the necessary ingredients in the crockpot.) This bo kho is amazing. After four days in my fridge, it's even more amazing. In the words of the Bloke, 'Beef stew - good. When you feel like making more, I'll help get the ingredients.'

(I'd have taken a photo of the stew bubbling in the crockpot but my camera battery died, and besides, WC has even better photos on her site of this marvellous dish.)

For the brioche, I used agave nectar in place of honey as I didn't have the latter on hand. It works just fine, and keeps things vegan, if one's inclined that way.

For the stew, I still haven't found annatto seeds but a good dash of paprike will give the entire thing a pretty red colour as well. The absence of bay leaves didn't seem to detract much from the taste either, but I definitely want to try it with the next time to see what the difference is.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Simmered Burdock and Lotus Root

There's nothing like bland comfort food after one has been immensely ill from being badly glutened.

Now don't get me wrong. I love spices and strong flavours. Heck, I live in a country where bold cooking and pungent spices are the norm for meals. But there are times - like today - when all my system wants is something warm and soothing rather than fiery stimulation.

Lo and behold, in a beautiful display of serendipity, Shauna of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef posted a wonderfully simple recipe for coconut brown rice. Not only that, I even had all the ingredients necessary except for coconut milk, which I could get by just walking downstairs to the little convenience store in the apartment complex. No argument about it, that was my dinner all set and planned.

I wanted something else to go with the coconut rice though - something that would complement the flavours, not overpower it. Since I had a length of burdock that's been sitting on top of my oven for umpteen weeks (burdock keeps incredibly well, as I know from personal experience), I decided to make simmered burdock and lotus root for an accompanying dish.

I never cease to marvel at how beautiful lotus root is when I slice it up. All those lacy holes like some couture piece of jewellery! Can you wonder that lotus flowers are so beautiful when they have roots like this?

I put the rice on to boil in my rice cooker, and got the vegetables prepared. Just the smell of all the cooking made me smile.

And when everything was done, the flavours of the rice and the vegetables went together so beautifully, they could have been made for each other.

Serendipity. There's nothing quite like it.

Simmered Burdock and Lotus Root

1 length of young lotus root
1 length of burdock (if it’s a large one, even a quarter of a burdock root will do)
1 pack instant dashi powder
1-2 tsp cooking oil
1-2 tsp mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)

Preparing the vegetables:
Wash and scrape the brown skin off the lotus root – you may use either a knife for this, or a vegetable peeler. Slice into thin rounds cross-wise. Set aside.

Prepare a big bowl of water. Wash and scrape the burdock. I’ve found the back of a knife very handy for this, as the skin is thinner than that of the lotus root. Sliver the burdock like you would sharpen a pencil with a pen knife – into thin, long shavings. As you sliver, drop the burdock into the bowl of water. This helps prevent discolouration, as burdock tends to oxidize very fast when exposed to air. Keep the burdock soaked until you are about to use it.

Cooking the dish:
Drain the burdock well in a colander.

In a heavy medium saucepan, heat the cooking oil until drops of water flicked into the pan fizzle and pop sharply. Toss in the burdock and fry it, stirring constantly, for around 2-3 minutes, or until it changes colour and begins looking less opaque. Add in the lotus root and fry for another 1-2 minutes, stirring the entire time. The starch content in the lotus root may cause it to stick to the pot, but don’t worry, the next step will take care of that.

Pour the packet of dashi powder into the saucepan, and add the water. Stir to combine with the vegetables. Eyeball the water a bit; you don’t want to have too much, but you don’t want to have too little either. The water shouldn’t cover the vegetables; maybe about ¾ way up is enough. Add the mirin and stir.

Bring the saucepan to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and cover the pot. Let the whole thing simmer for about 15-20 minutes to give the burdock time to soften.

When the burdock is soft, turn off heat and serve hot with rice.

You can use any cooking oil – I sometimes use sesame oil when I have it to give added fragrance to the dish. I sometimes also julienne a bit of carrot to add to the dish to give it some colour – if you do use carrot, add it when you put the lotus root in to fry.

For Shauna's rice, I halved the recipe as there's just one of me in the house and in this tropical weather, coconut milk in food spoils quite easily. I didn't have coconut oil so I used sesame oil instead. As an extra bit of flavour, I sliced up one kaffir lime leaf into thin shreds and added it to cook with the rice.

Trying Out Cha Trung

Wandering Chopsticks may be one of the best ever Vietnamese cooks I know in my personal blogosphere. Her site is a delight to read and browse through, and the recipes that I've made from it are wonderful and fuss-free. No losers in the entire lot that I've tried!

One of the ones that I've been meaning to post up for some time already is her Cha Trung, Vietnamese Meatloaf Steamed Egg Omelette. It's become a staple for me when I have ground pork in the freezer, little time for anything more than about half an hour in the kitchen, and a need to eat NOW. Best of all, it is naturally gluten-free so it didn't need ANY tweaking whatsoever.

I can't, and won't, better the explanations she gives on the recipe. You'll just have to go look at it and try it for yourself.

But since I've told her for ages that I have pictures of the process and the finished product, I will put them up here since I finally have an appropriate blog space to do so!

Cha Trung just after being steamed...

Cha Trung unmoulded onto a plate...


Thanks so much for the recipe, WC! I'm definitely going to be making this many more times over the course of the year.

Wednesdays with Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: Pizza Pizza!

This is sort of a repeat/cross-post from my regular blog, since it fits better here. For why I went to Hanoi, that can be found here.

A week before I left for Vietnam, Shauna of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef blog mentioned something very exciting - Wednesdays cooking from her new book, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef. If you don't know who Shauna is, she is one of the most inspirational people in the food blogging world that I know of. She's spunky, caring, innovative, and she's been one of the biggest influences in my life as far as being able to survive gluten-free goes.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to get hold of her book yet so I wasn't sure I was going to be able to take part in the Wednesday cooking sessions, and left it at that. However, thanks to Michael Ruhlman's interview with Carol Blymire of 'Alinea at Home' and 'French Laundry at Home' fame, I -was- able to participate in this week's Wednesday - baking pizza!

This is -me- of course, so I -had- to run into problems first reading of the recipe. Corn flour. in Malaysia, that's what I call corn starch. But corn starch had already been mentioned in the recipe so I was pretty sure that wasn't what was being asked for. A bit of slightly confusing research drew up an article that mentioned Southern cooking and the silky smooth flour made from finely-ground corn meal. Ahhhhhhhhhhh. That helped.

Except I didn't have any of that, and the nearest thing to hand was maize meal, rather coarse-ground. To heck with it, I thought about it for a moment, then grabbed the maize meal, weighed it out on the rickety contraption that -calls- itself a manual kitchen scale but in reality should be more 'Cook's Domestic Torment', and went right ahead with the recipe.

By golly, it worked.

I am not the world's best photographer so the first shot I got of the pizza coming out of the oven is cringe-worthy (and I forgot I had a camera tripod). But I was far, far too excited to even think about proper photography at the time - I had PIZZA. Glorious, safe, pizza!

(Rolling dough into a circle, however - that's another story. The adage that anyone who can draw a freehand circle will make a good artist? LIES. -MY- circle looked like someone patched together a 2-year old's sense of geometry and mangled it with a Picasso perspective. Thankfully, that's got no bearing on the taste of it or I'd be in trouble by now.)

This morning, I got some better pictures of the project that hopefully do the recipe a bit more justice.

1) I mixed up the entire batch of flour and realised that my small oven wouldn't contain a 10" crust, let alone anything bigger. So I halved it. I didn't need to do a thing to the recipe otherwise, apart from adding just a little more water to bind the dough properly when it was getting mixed together - and that likely because my measurement for the oil was a little off.

2) The dough was a bit wet and sticky to handle for rolling. When putting it between two sheets of parchment paper didn't work, I removed the top sheet of parchment paper and substituted it with plastic wrap instead. Once rolled out, I took the entire thing, parchment paper and all, and put it on my baking sheet as I don't have a pizza stone. I was afraid that not sprinkling the bottom with corn meal might make the whole thing stick, but as it turned out, I needn't have worried. The crust came off the parchment paper beautifully. I also will try rolling the dough out thinner and using a different flour to see if that makes any difference to overall texture; I might need to bake the crust for a bit longer to get it browner and crisper.

Taste-wise? FANTASTIC. I topped this crust with tomato puree, spinach, black pepper smoked pork strips, green apples and parmesan. The one remaining crust in the fridge is going to get eaten soon; perhaps I'll try roasted eggplant, home-made tomato sauce and bacon. Either way, I would make this again in a heartbeat. Thank you so much Shauna, for this beautiful recipe!

An Introduction (or, So Why The Extra Blog...)

So I really must have extra time on my hands or I wouldn't be putting up yet another blog to maintain along with my main one The Great Unknown and the one for Dawn Studio Creations, right?

Well. No, not really. To explain it fully, let me digress a little.

I was diagnosed with gluten-intolerance a little over ten years ago when I was still a student in America. When I returned to Malaysia, living gluten-free was such a nightmare I gave up on it for some years since my system could still tolerate small amounts of gluten and not go haywire.

Then I got very, very sick. It was either go back to gluten-free again or be sick my entire life, so I kicked myself into shape and started the long slow process of healing my system.

I could still tolerate small amounts of gluten when I finally healed up, or so I thought.

And then I got badly, badly glutened just after recovering from very bad food poisoning in Vietnam. Every single stomach problem I'd encountered in my readings on celiacs and gluten-poisoning happened to me in one night, just because I'd been accidentally glutened from eating out the night before.

It made me think about celiacs and other gluten-intolerant folks living in Malaysia, and how difficult it could be to find safe food that wouldn't make them ill. I'd spent the last four years of my life hunting for places that sold gluten-free goods but it wasn't easy.

So that's why I started this blog - as a resource for people with dietary allergies like mine or worse.

Hopefully, it will make a difference and a whole lot less hassle for someone else who needs the information badly.