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Category: recipes

Takoyaki in the making

I was invited “Sarlo’s Awesome Eatery”, a hobby home cook’s renovated kitchen, where he and his friends are known for the preparation of over the top and delicious dishes. Where bigger is better and the camera eats first, just my kind of crowd. On tonight’s menu: the popular Japanese street snack, takoyaki. But with a twist, we would make the batter and balls from scratch, but give ourselves flexibility in our choice of filling. Not just octopus but wasabi, sharp cheddar, and even black garlic and chocolate would make an appearance in the cabbage and ginger balls.

As per the requirement of any Ron event, you pull up and sleeves and come ready and willing to you work for your food. The night began with prep work. The slicing, chopping, and grating of all ingredients needed.

To watch the video version of this, visit the link on my YouTube channel: MaggiMei.

 

 

Chopping up lettuce and picked ginger.

Slicing green onions and frozen octopus tentacles.

Shredding pieces of seaweed with kitchen scissors. And even making the mayo dressing from scratch with multiple egg yolks.

And the peeling and grating nagaimo, a type of Asian yam. When grated down, the finished product has a thick and stringy texture, much like semen, humorously. For a select few, having skin contact with it causes an allergic reaction, many break out in hives. I am lucky to not be one of those folks, as I did the job without consequences. Its starchy texture is used to help to give the takoyaki batter some structure and its defining melty chew.

The end result, multiple bowls filled with finely chopping meat and vegetables. And as I mentioned earlier, we were also creative in finding unique substitutions to fill our takoyaki with. This would later become a game of takoyaki roulette for us. A game of chance where you don’t know which ball of dough and its filling you would get, but you pick it up you eat it to find out.

 

But as prepared as our multiple bowls of coloured ingredients seemed, when it came down to it, actually assembling the takoyaki in its specially designed dimpled tray proved difficult. We needed some practice in the actual ball making.

It took us over five tries to get the dough and the cooking time just right. Whereas at the night market they make the process look so quick and easy. In reality it is a series of constant flips of the wrist and turns of the ball, as you rotate the dough into a round shape baking it to a golden brown hue.

The end, we had decently dressed and delicious octopus filled balls (and others) that I would charge money for. If you ever get the chance to, I suggest trying this cooking project yourself.

How to make “Trash Can Nachos”

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I am a sucker for novelty when it comes to food. Food challenges, dishes larger than normal and smaller than usual, and anything that would be considered an acquired taste. So when Guy Fieri posted a video of himself making an extra large portion of nachos, in an extra large tin can, that he so affectionately called, “Trashcan Nachos”; I knew I had to give it a try myself.

As soon as I saw it, I knew I had the recreate it, but bigger and better. Hence our tin can nacho challenge began. To watch the video and skip all the reading, click the link.

But first to find the right folks to dare this endeavour with me. One would be a cake designer known for making over the top confectionary; and the other, a home chef who already has a reputation for preparing dishes in excess and believing the bigger the better. I found my ideal eating mates in Cory of “Hey!CakeThis” fame and Ron from “Sarlo’s Awesome Eatery”.

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I shopped for everything and anything that would be complimentary to and passable for dressing over nachos, and ended with 18 different ingredients. I took the liberty of arranging it all by colour for easy identification.

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With all the chopping and dicing, the prep time was double actual cooking and eating time. Salsa, Roma tomatoes, coloured peppers, pineapple, queso cheese dip, shredded cheddar, peaches and cream corn kernels, deep fried shallots, refried beans with lard, homemade short rib chilli, oven baked bacon, taco flavoured ground beef, black pitted olives, cilantro, jalapeño, avocado, pico de gallo guacamole, and red onions. And of course tortilla chips and a large tin can, to put all of the above into. The can was a reuse, once home to a bulk portion of stewed tomatoes.

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We would layer ingredients over layers of tortilla chips. No specific order just starting and ending on cheese. With 1/3 left and a can now full, we stuffed what we could and shut the lid half way. We baked it in Ron’s industrial kitchen, judging by ear on when it would be “done”. The gooey cheese was a fine indication of that.

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With mitted hands, Ron would shake the tower of nachos out into a pan. It didn’t hold its shape as intended, but it was still an impressive amount of food toasted evenly.

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And once un-canned, we began piping jalapeño and chipotle sour cream over our creation. And then topping it with dollops of regular sour cream, salsa, and guacamole.

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Once fully dressed, we began digging into our creation.

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As is with most dishes, the best was within the first few bites, before the flavours merged, and the colours blended. In order to get us through the one tone taste to come, we would use what sauces and unseasoned vegetables we had left to rejuvenate the flavour.

All in all, a very successful duplication, if not improvement. Definitely thinking of finding a much larger can to do a part two with.

Agar Agar, Edible Paperweights

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A friend air-mailed me a care package all the way from Malaysia. A box of South East Asian treats and some hard to find ingredients; of which included agar agar. “Agar” is a jelly-like substance, obtained from algae. Similar to gelatin, but plant based, as apposed to ground up bones; so it is vegan friendly. When solidified is basically makes Asian jello. Jello before the flavouring or the colouring.

We had talked about agar and its application in response in the viral “rain drop cake”. This is a cake in the loosest sense. It is clear agar that when it settles looks like a oversized drop of water. It wiggles like jelly and is translucent like water. Variations of this product include injecting liquid in the centre to make flowers or inserting strawberries to “float” at its core.

Upon returning to Malaysia, he himself made a batch and sent me what I needed to make my own. I would be doing this with my mother today. My apartment hardly has the space, and I don’t have all the dish ware or equipment that is needed for more intricate baking or cooking projects. However this was surprisingly easy to make.

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Here is the quick ingredient list and how to. Scroll down further to read the actual steps we took and the difficulties we encountered.

Ingredients:
A whole pack of agar
1400ml (5.6 cups) of hot water to melt agar
250ml (1 cup) of sugar to sweeten

You can find agar at your local Asian specialty store. I have seen them available at T&T, H-Mart, and Foody Mart.

Melt agar and sugar in hot water over medium heat.
Pour melted agar into desired container.
Add in desired “filling”.
Allow agar to cool.
Serve when agar has harden to a solid and is firm.
Top and dress to suit tastes and sweetness level.

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I first confused the package of agar for noodles. They were white in colour and dried in strands. They were also packaged in a lengthy plastic bag and harden like noodle tread.

We began by cutting the agar down and melting the entire package in 1400ml of water (5.6 cups). The less water you use the more firm the jelly ends up when hardened; more water, the more giggly it stays.

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The water is heated over medium heat and the agar is stirred in to melt. It required time to fully dissolve with several churns of a wooden spoon. Not giving it the time it needed would result in the yet to be melted strands being visible, after the gelatine solidified; and the whole point is to have a clear and translucent jelly. To it we added sugar, as agar is tasteless. So you can essentially sweeten to taste.

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The steps seemed simple enough: heat, mix, and pour. However we soon learned the fussiness of the product, the hard way. It was quick to set, so when we made the mistake of putting the pot in an ice bath to chill, it hardened too quick. The agar hardened before we could transfer it to our intended moulds. It was hardening in the pot that we used to melt it down in. And here we imagined it like packaged, powdered jello; where it takes hours to turn from liquid and solid.

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So in order to reverse this, we returned the pot back on to the heat and began stirring. The semi formed jelly eventually returned back to its full liquid state. However, what resulted was a murky end product. You could still see the items we set within the jelly, but the jelly itself wasn’t translucent. We would later improve and learn from our mistakes with the second batch.

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Here is how the first blotched batch looked. We added fruit and mint freshly picked from my mother’s garden, and slices from a golden kiwi for colour. We found the bolder the colours, the better our end result. Each completed dome looked like a paperweight.

I do not actually advise using mint or cherries. The next day the mint browned and stained the agar brown, and the dark juices of the cherry did the same thing. The raspberry and kiwi held up well. I would recommend trying this with either of those, strawberries and other berries, or edible flowers.

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It was hard to set the fruit in place, as it and the leaves floated up with buoyancy. We tried holding both down with metal skewers until the jelly set, and then using wooden tooth picks to keep pieces from floating away. Both attempts were tedious. We eventually thought to fill part of the bowl with jelly, let it set, add in the fruit, and then pour more liquid to cover it all. The fruit ended up resting on the formed, solid chunk of jelly, centring each element in place. However I made the mistake of not adding enough agar on the initial pour and a few cherries found their way through the thin veil of the jelly dome. Also the heat needed to keep the agar in liquid form cooked the edges of the mint leaves brown and we suspect it boiled the fruit as well. Though this dessert is more about visuals, and at least it looked great.

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The second batch was much better looking, with a clearer surrounding jelly. The fruit centre was more visible and better set into place. We found the best container to hold a shape were little round sauce bowls. They were easy to slide the jelly out of once it set. Giving them some time in the refrigerator helped quicken this step. But in total we didn’t have to wait more than 10 minutes for each; from hot pour to cooling fridge. We tried other containers to vary the shape, and what ended up happening was we ripped edges and gouged surfaces. We used rubber spatulas to remove jelly from containers with sharp corners and dents, and even with our best efforts it was a delicate affair.

When it came time to taste, we realized it wasn’t sweet enough. It was probably best to add a full cup of sugar instead of the half we committed to and tasted initially, thinking it would be enough. An easy fix was to serve each piece of jelly with either condense or evaporated milk. Even maple syrup, honey, or ice cream would be helpful for flavouring. After all like jello, it was a dry product and needed some moisture, a sauce or syrup to enhance the rubbery texture.

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During the first batch, we realized we weren’t able to salvage our mistake, so we decided to use the rest of the agar to make pandan coconut jelly instead. The jelly had harden, and mixing it with white coconut milk helped to hide the imperfections, as did mixing the agar with the green of concentrated pandan flavouring.

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We used even parts of agar to coconut milk, 250ml (1 cup) each. For the pandan it was a 25ml (1 tbs) to 500ml (2 cups) agar. But it doesn’t need to be precise, it is based on taste and preference.

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We then made a mistake with this mistake. We didn’t let the coconut layer fully cool, so when the hot green pandan was poured over, it caused a fracture in the centre of the white. Although the end result was a great striped cake of green, white, and more green.

This is such an easy dessert to make. It isn’t too sweet and doesn’t cost much in ingredients. This is one I recommend to bring to impress at parties and potlucks. There are so many ways to make this your own. Use different food colouring, flavour extracts; or fill in with a variety of edible flowers, fruit, or candies. Or even use different moulds like shaped ice cubes trays and cake pans.

I hope you found this walkthrough and recap helpful. Enjoy moulding and don’t deny your cravings.

Steamed layer cake “kueh” recipe

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My mom’s steamed layer cake.

 

I haven’t lived at home in years, but I am lucky to still get care parcels of my mother’s home cooking. But it dawned on me that I should actually invest the time in learning how to reproduce some of her classic dishes, for myself. The result will be me immortalizing my learnings here, on my blog. It allows me to keep a record of it, as well as celebrate my heritage and these memories with my mother.

Today I asked her to teach me how to make “kueh”, a classic Malaysian dessert you can’t really find in Vancouver. A dish I have fond memories of enjoying, growing up. Multicoloured layers I would eat one colour at a time, peeling off each one by one.

“Kueh” is the term used for bite-sized snacks or dessert foods commonly found in Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand. The term can encompass items that would be called cakes, cookies, dumplings, pudding, biscuit, or pastries in English. Though are not nearly as sweet, are usually made from rice or glutinous rice, and came be made savoury or sweet. Most distinctively, “Keuh” has a very unique preparation. It is steamed then baked, giving it a very different texture, flavour, and appearance from Western cakes or puff pastries. The version I will be recalling today is sweet and meant as a dessert. And for those who are vegan, this one is for you!

My mother learned this recipe from a classmate in Brunei. She brought it with her when we immigrated to Canada. In this version, I have convinced her to use neon food colouring, as a modern twist on her classic. Although she states she would never feed her children such unnaturally coloured food. It’s true. To this day my favourite candy flavours are green, blue, and purple; out of sure depravation of such tones.

 

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The ingredients are as follows (in measurements she uses) and includes enough batter to make a six layer cake in an 8 inch pan.

6.5 oz rice flour
2.5 oz tapioca flour
5 oz sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Two tins of coconut milk (400ml each)
Food colouring as desired.

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You begin by bringing water to a boil in a double broiler or steamer.

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Measure out the rice flour, tapioca flour, and salt. Sift together. Set aside.

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Over medium heat whisk together coconut milk and sugar until frothy.

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Mix in dry ingredients, stir until fully blended.

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Strain mix in sieve to fully remove lumps.

Separate batter into separate bowls and colour as desired with food colouring. Mix thoroughly to avoid splotchy colour.

We went the non traditional route with neon colouring today. The traditional colours are white, red, and green. The green is typically flavoured in pandan, and is the only one with flavour. Pandan is an mild herb used for dessert flavouring. I typically describe it as the Asian equivalent of vanilla bean in use.

Place cake tin in steamer. This one has a removal-able bottom for easy removal later. You ladle in enough batter to coat the bottom of pan. Allow batter to steam for 2.5 to 3 minutes. Until firm.

If you forget to set the timer you can tell when it’s ready by the colour of the cake. When cooked, the colour becomes more dull. Although since there is no egg in the recipe you need not fear overcooking it, as the batter won’t curdle. You are basically waiting for the batter to set to have the layers individually separated.

Repeat the process above with each additional layer. Make as much batter as you need and repeat for as many layers as you desire. Typically the cake comes with nine.

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The first layer was original, in white.

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Next a layer of pandan flavoured green.

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Then a layer of purple.

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Next, a layer of teal coloured batter.

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The layer of red that looked more pink.

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And one of blue to top it off. My mother usually pours in more for the top layer, this is so it is easier to peel. She says that people typically peel just the first layer, and it’s easier to do so when it is thicker.

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When complete, carefully remove the pan from the heat. Cool fully in room temperature until cool to touch. Do not cover, as it will create condensation and the liquid will drip onto surface of your cake, causing unwanted dimples. If you have to cover it, do so with a cloth to avoid said condensation. The cloth will absorb the extra moisture.

Cut cake into reasonable sizes. It is easiest with a rubber cake cutter. It guides through it like scissors sheering wrapping paper.

 

I hope you liked the recipe and find it easy enough to follow. Happy steaming and don’t deny your cravings!

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