Sunday, 16 March 2014

Zev and Eliza's Engagement Party

With Mr. and soon-to-be Mrs. Lebowitz

In November 2013, a lovely young couple named Zev Lebowitz and Eliza Quanbeck emailed me out of the blue to enquire if I would be willing to cater a full selection of traditional Malaysian dishes for their upcoming engagement party of about 100 guests. It was the first request of this scale that I had ever received, and I was both surprised and more than a little tickled that two New Yorkers who neither knew me personally nor were Malaysian themselves had a) found my little blog online randomly somehow (thanks Google!) b) trusted I was the real deal based solely on my food porn pictures c) seemed to have such a passion for and in-depth knowledge of local dishes I had grown up with and d) actually wanted to pay me to cook the stuff for their friends and family!

Some back-and-forth later, it emerged that Zev and Eliza had just concluded an epic 14-month world tour (check out their fun food/travel blog A Feast Afoot), during which a month was spent eating and attending cooking classes in Kuala Lumpur. To my delight they not only were familiar with but specifically requested rendangayam goreng berempahsayur lodeh and kuih amongst other traditional delicacies, and before I knew it I had agreed with a resounding "yes!" and was standing in their Upper West Side apartment cooking a mini trial taster dinner of 10 different appetizers, mains and desserts.

The food went down well, and we eventually settled on the following menu for the big day on 8 March 2014:

The savouries:
Mini karipap (spiral curry puffs), popiah (fresh vegetable spring rolls), ayam goreng berempah (Malaysian spiced fried chicken), Nyonya acar awak (spicy vegetable pickle) with rice, beef rendang (dry coconut curry) with rice

The sweets: 
Fah sang peng (peanut cookies), kuih ketayap/ dadar/ gulung (pandan crepes with caramelised coconut filling), sago gula melaka (tapioca pearl pudding with palm sugar and coconut milk)

Now, let's get real.

I was honoured and excited, but also mildly terrified. Never in my life had I catered for so many people at once before; 20+ on a low-budget film set maybe, perhaps 50 in a potluck setting with friends where everyone brings food and no one holds it against you if your dish sucks. Absolutely not something like this, where I am solely and fully responsible for planning, prepping, and plating nine different dishes into little canapé size morsels that are tasty, hygienically safe to eat and look pretty, for 100 guests who have never met me and have no reason to expect anything less than restaurant quality.

On top of that, it was a school week where I could only cook in the evenings after I got home from class and rehearsals. AND my kitchen, to put it mildly, is modestly sized with very little countertop space and no professional equipment. AND I live in a 5th floor walk up and don't own a car (ever tried grocery shopping for 100 people and carrying it up the stairs? Who needs a gym!).

Ambitious much? Insanely so.

I do love a good challenge though, and thankfully with adequate amounts of pre-planning, detailed lists and the willingness to forego sleep in order to stir curries on a stove til 5am, everything somehow worked out! Thank goodness for my ever-patient fiance Ari, who would help me roll hundreds of fah sang peng and lug incredibly heavy bags of ingredients (eight pounds of jicama, five litres of coconut cream etc... ) all the way up from Chinatown via the crowded subway. Thank heavens too for my loving and tolerant roommates Adam and G, who didn't complain for one second about my noisy blender grinding into the night, or the perpetual pungency of spice pastes filling the air, or the fact that they couldn't really make any meals for themselves the whole week because I took up the entire fridge and stovetop. G even helped us carry our things into a cab across the street on the day, when my poor planning caused some bags to break and made it impossible for us to juggle everything! I love you all, you guys make my life.

So here below, I share with you some pictorial proof that this actually happened. Thank you Zev and Eliza once again for the leap of faith you took in hiring me, I had a lot of fun and hope you did too!

THE PREQUEL

Step 1: Make detailed shopping list/ timeline of tasks for the week leading up to March 8th

Step 2: Buy gigantic 16-quart pot from Amazon. Worry about where to store it later.

Step 3: Use pot for everything (like making rendang in advance).

Dough for 300 mini curry puffs ready to be shaped

Quick scribbles of my own recipes in shorthand to refer to in the kitchen
(with quantities multiplied for 100 pax)

SHOW NIGHT

Frying the karipap freshly on site. Yes that is a Hard Rock Kuala Lumpur T-shirt. Represent!:)

Some of the plated dishes ready to roll. Clockwise from top left; acar on rice, mini karipap, beef rendang on rice, fresh popiah

Assembling the bitesize ayam goreng. That's Dan Williams behind me,
who led the team of servers for the night


My trusty kitchen elf/ slave/ general helpful fiance. The model of intense concentration as he assembles the shots of sago :)

Friday pops by to say goodnight! (Or maybe he was just intrigued by the curious smells)

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Cheesecake Brownies

*Also available made-to-order at $20 (25 bitesize pieces) or $30 (50 bitesize pieces) 

Let's get real now. Why force yourself to choose between a cheesecake and a brownie, when you can do this? :)

For those gluten-free foodies out there, the cherry on the cake is that this recipe contains so little flour (and so much cheese and chocolate and all that good stuff), that you can easily use cornstarch/ground almonds instead without impacting the decadent intensity.

Do it. You won't regret it (though your waistline might).

Cheesecake Brownies
Makes one 9” square pan

*Note: Brownies are a lot more forgiving than cakes, so don't stress if you use a bit more or less of anything.


First, make the two separate batters.


  • The chocolate mix
Combine in a bowl and melt together until glossy:
5 tbsp (about 75g) butter
120g good quality dark chocolate (my favourite is Trader Joe’s super affordable 72% cocoa Belgian Pound Plus block)

*I melt by microwave: 20 second intervals several times, stirring in between. If you prefer the traditional bain-marie method, place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and stir until dissolved.

Allow to cool.

Add and stir in:
Few drops vanilla extract
⅓ cup (about 70g) sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
2 small drops coffee essence or diluted instant coffee (this is just to enhance the cocoa flavour, not to make it taste of coffee. If you don't have any on hand you can omit it.)

Fold in:
1 tbsp flour (or cornstarch/ground almonds for gluten-free)
½ cup (about 80g) dark chocolate chips/chunks

  • The cheese mix
Stick this all in a bowl and beat together until smooth:
1 pack (8 oz/227g) cream cheese, softened to room temperature*
¼ cup (about 50g) sugar
1½ tbsp flour (or cornstarch)
Pinch of salt
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla extract

*In the UK cream cheese is called full-fat soft cheese, and tends to come in 300g packs. I usually just chuck the whole lot in.

Line the pan with baking/wax/greaseproof paper. Dollop the chocolate and cheese mixes randomly and swirl with a spatula to make a marbled effect.

Swirly-whirly :)

Bake for 35 minutes or until set at 350F/180C. Let cool in the pan totally (be patient!) and slice with a sharp knife only when completely cold.

Exercise self control.


Friday, 14 February 2014

Nyonya Acar Awak (Malaysian Spicy Vegetable Pickle)


Visually vibrant to the eye and refreshingly piquant to the taste, acar awak is a traditional cold Malaysian pickle bursting with a lip-smacking blend of sweetness, tang and spice as well as a spectrum of textures and crunch levels. A joyride for your tongue, if you will, especially when served alongside hot rice and as an accompaniment to cut through heavier curries.

Some recipes omit the pineapple; I personally find it adds a juicy, succulent sweetness that really elevates this dish. The blending of the paste takes a bit of work, so feel free to double or triple the quantities and make a large batch at one go. Be sure to top liberally with more chopped peanuts and roasted sesame seeds just before serving.


Nyonya Acar Awak (Spicy Mixed Vegetable Pickle)

Serves 6-8 as a small side


Chop the following into 2” sticks:
1 medium-large cucumber (about 300g), pulp removed
1 medium carrot (100g), peeled
A handful long green beans/French beans (100g)
¼ of a white cabbage (150g)

*You can also use cauliflower or other crunchy vegetables. Measurements are approximate, adjust to taste

Stir in 1 tbsp salt.

Slice 200g pineapple into small chunks.

Line a baking sheet with paper towels and spread everything except the pineapple onto it. Bake on very low heat (about 100C) for about 25 mins to dry out (or if you live in Malaysia/somewhere very hot, feel free to lay it out in the sun for a few hours!)



  • Spice paste:
Grind the following together and fry in oil over medium heat for 10 mins until fragrant:
5 shallots/1 large cooking onion
5 cloves garlic
5 dried chillies, deseeded and soaked
2 candlenuts
1 tsp turmeric powder (or 1” fresh turmeric )
1 stick lemongrass, white part only
1” galangal
Optional for non-vegetarians: a bit of belacan, dried shrimp

Stir in and bring to a boil:
¼ cup rice vinegar
2 tbsp sugar

Stir in and immediately turn off heat:
Prepared vegetables
2 tbsp roasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup (about 50g) roasted ground peanuts

Allow to cool completely and refrigerate in a glass jar overnight (or for up to 4 weeks) so flavours can intensify. 


Before serving, leave at room temperature for a short while (so it's not stone cold) and top with extra ground peanuts and sesame seeds. 


Devour with hot steamed rice!




Friday, 27 December 2013

Now Open Again for Chinese New Year Orders!




Every year for the past 4 years, Chinese New Year has meant three things: sleep deprivation, loss of sanity and an odd warm thrill of satisfaction and accomplishment when the last order is shipped. Handmaking hundreds of intricate bitesize cookies from scratch, one by one, in a tiny kitchen unfit for such purposes is simultaneously fulfilling and ridiculously stressful.

So why do I do it? 

Because I know that if like me, you're far away from home, family and any decent Malaysian bakery able to replicate local flavours accurately, then CNY goodies that actually taste authentic can mean the world this time of year. You may not have endless relatives to visit or red cards to decorate the home with or angpow to collect/give out, but by golly you can still eat festively!:)

Some nitty-gritty: for New Yorkers, cash upon receipt is the easiest method of payment and delivery/collection can be arranged anywhere within the MTA subway system. For everyone else, shipping is possible (including outside the US) and payment will be made via Paypal. Please drop me a line at bakecookeat@gmail.com for details. 

Please get your orders in by January 15th in order to guarantee receipt by January 31st.

All cookies come in clear plastic deli-style tubs, either small or large depending on the type of cookie. If you're ordering them as a gift, let me know and pretty tins/festive packaging can be arranged.

Gong Hei Fatt Choy to all my readers, and wishing you a prosperous Year of the Horse ahead! :)


Kuih Nastar (Rolled Pineapple Jam Tarts)- $20 per tub of 24 pcs
Homemade jam slow-cooked from fresh whole pineapples and aromatic spices, encased in a hand-shaped all butter crumbly pastry

Fah Sang Peng (Peanut Cookies)- $20 per tub of 30 pcs
Extremely addictive, be warned! Fragrant, crumbly and deliciously nutty, made the
proper way with ground whole peanuts (none of this peanut butter business)

Kuih Bangkit (Tapioca Coconut Cookies)- $20 per tub of 40 pcs
Handmade traditionally shaped little cookies with a crisp bite and powdery melt-in-the-mouth texture. Aromatic and tasty with the definitive flavours of tapioca, pandan and coconut.

Open-Faced Pineapple Jam Tarts- $28 per tub of 35 pcs
Made with the same blobs of scrumptious homemade jam as the Kuih Nastar,
only sunny side up with a patterned pastry base


Almond London- $28 per tub of 34 pcs
One for the chocoholics- a whole roasted almond encased in a butter cookie, topped
with melted dark chocolate and chopped nuts

Kuih Ros/ Kuih Loyang (Crispy Beehive Cookies)- $15 per tub of 15 pcs
Large and pretty honeycomb/rosette shaped crunchies, deep-fried until satisfyingly crisp
from a batter of coconut milk and rice flour. Fragrant, lightly sweet, very addictive.



Buttery Coconut Cornflake Crunchies- $15 per tub of 25 pcs
A version of the family favourite Mum taught me growing up! :) A crunchy and
fragrant blend of dessicated coconut and crushed cornflakes
with the added bite of sweet raisins

Mini Honey Cornflake Cups- $15 per tub of 30 pcs
Delectable little bitesize bundles of cornflakes coated in a buttery honey caramel, then baked
until crunchy. Exceedingly moreish- expect to eat a whole box in one sitting.

Bakkwa/Rougan (Chinese Dried Pork Jerky)- sold by weight, $39/lb
Free of the colouring and preservatives usually present in mass-produced versions, this delicious favourite of Malaysians (also known in Cantonese as "yoke gon" or "long yoke") is home-marinated and grilled until the perfect sticky-sweet-salty flavour and texture is achieved. A Chinese New Year staple!