Coconut Nut Bars

20160911_184040-2It’s back to school time and one of the things I remember is lunch bags.   Actually, I remember not having to prepare lunch bags. That was done by Hubby for Kid1 and Kid2.  Aside from inventive wraps and chopped veggie things, he prepared some delicious snack bars.

I recently discovered his secret – a dog-eared recipe book called “Brown Bag Success” by Sandra K. Nissenberg and Barbara N. Pearl.  I skipped past the pages on Healthy Lunches and Sandwich Staples and zoned in on “Snacks, Treats and Finishing Touches.”  There I found what I’d been looking for. The chewy, nutty, butterscotch flavored Coconut Nut Bars.

It was deceptively easy to make. I whipped up a batch in less than ten minutes, baked it for 20 and waited for it to cool.   Kid2 who is now twelve years older and two feet taller, hovered around the kitchen.  Unwisely, I left the bars unguarded.  When I returned to store them away, I found the supply woefully diminished.

Challenged, Kid2’s only response was “Huh? Humph…(swallow)..nuhme!”

Coconut Nut Bars

1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup melted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (add 1 cup if you’re nut crazy like me)

Grease and flour a 8×8 pan
Preheat oven to 350

Measure flour and baking powder in a bowl
Melt butter in microwave.Stir in brown sugar. Add egg and vanilla.
Mix in to flour mixture. Add coconut and nuts. Batter will be stiff.
Spread into pan.  If it doesn’t look it has enough nuts, shove some more into the batter.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.
Cool for 15 before removing from pan. Use a long serrated knife to slice into bars.

Makes 12 bars


Ginger Beef and a Cautionary Tale

ginger beefIn Jamaica goat is a well liked meat.  It is cheaper, tastier and more generally available than beef.

Once when he was a boy, my father visited a remote rural region of Jamaica.   He ate a delicious bowl of stewed Ginger Goat.  Dark and flavorful with the taste of bean sauce and ginger.  It was wonderful.

He told the Chinese cook-man that it was the best Ginger Goat he’d ever had.

The cook laughed and said “Is no goat mahn.  Is bow-wow!”

Ever since then my father only eats Ginger Beef and only from cooks he knows very very well.


Hakka Ginger Beef

1 kg Blade beef or Beef Short ribs
150g fresh Ginger root, sliced into large 3 inch wide slices
4 fresh garlic cloves, sliced
2 star anise
2 fresh lime leaves  (Kaffir or regular Persian limes, as available)
2 tablespoon brown bean sauce
2 tablespoon oyster sauce
Sugar & salt to taste

300g Lo Pet (Chinese white radish or daikon) or Chayote, peeled and sliced into large chunks

Cut beef into large pieces. Dry with a paper towel and coat lightly with flour.  Brown well in a heavy skillet or dutch oven.

Add sliced garlic, star anise, ginger  & lime leaves  until fragrant.  Add brown bean and oyster sauce and stir in sufficient water to cover.   Simmer over low heat until tender, approximately 2-3 hours.  If using a crockpot, transfer everything into the crock and cook on high for 4-5 hours.

At the 2 hour mark, stir in the Lopet or Chayote.  Mix in the vegetable so that it is covered and absorbs the gravy.

When beef is fork tender, taste and adjust for flavor with oyster sauce & sugar.  If necessary, thicken with a slurry of cornstarch and water.

Serve with lots of  steamed white rice.


Easter Bun … seriously good

Here is another recipe for bun. It is an evolved version from the non-fail, anecdotal one in my earlier post.   Use this for making seriously good bun.  Eat with lots of cheese. Jamaican tradition says to use Tastee cheese, which is a processed yellow cheese sold in a giant red tin.  I prefer a good sharp Cheddar or a fine buttery Gouda.


Easter Bun and Cheese
Easter Bun and Cheese

½ cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
6 tsp Dry Active Yeast

½ cup warm water
1 egg, beaten
3 tbs Butter, melted
1 cup Brown sugar
4 tbs molasses
1 tbs vanilla

4 cup Bread flour
1 Whole Nutmeg, freshly grated
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 ½ tsp salt
1 cup mixed fruit (raisin, citron, cherries)

Molasses Wash made with 2 tbs molasses, 1 tbs water and 1 tsp sugar

Proof yeast in ½ c water & 1 tsp sugar

Mix liquids, sugar, salt & vanilla.
Add 2 cups flour with yeast. Mix in other flour with fruit. Knead for 10 mins.

Rest in lightly greased bowl for 2 to 2 1/2  hours under parchment & tea towel.

When doubled, shape into 2 loaves and rise for another 1-2 hours.

Brush loaves with melted butter before placing in oven.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Brush loaves with a wash of molasses, water & sugar. Bake for another 15 minutes.

Buns are cooked when a skewer comes out clean.


Bread Baking Binge

I’ve been on a bread baking binge.   Fueled by my  success with Easter Bun, I stocked up on flour determined to try different types of bread. Starting with Robin Hood’s Basic White Bread.  My, oh my. What a revelation.  I do believe I’ve found a new hobby.

The marvel in making regular bread is that it rises so much more than sweet bread.  Twice as high and twice as fast. The first time I peeked under the tea towel I was  surprised at how much the dough had risen.   After de-gassing  and reshaping into loaves, it rised again.  Twice as high and twice as fast as Easter bun.   Why is that ?

Yeast loves sugar but too much sugar inhibits growth.   Easter Bun has a full cup of sugar while a Basic White has 2 tablespoons.  To compensate, Easter Bun uses 6 teaspoons of Active Yeast while Basic uses 2 1/4 teaspoons. Even so, the rise in the sweet bread takes longer and is not nearly as high.  This is not to disparage – the appeal of real Jamaican bun is its dense, sweet chew, its full toothesome goodness, its spicy complement to buttery cheese … hmm, where was I …

Bread making is different from cake making.  I make cakes regularly and am comfortable in whipping up butter cakes, sponges, muffins, etc.  I’ve always stayed away from  real breads, scared off by the finickiness of yeast and the long yeild times. Plus there’s a whole mystique about the craft which is quite intimidating.  For instance, I bought Jeffrey Hamelman’s book on “Bread – A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes.”  After flipping through the first eight pages on just mixing the flour, I hastily closed the tome and moved on.    It took a wave of  nostalgia for Easter bun (and inability to purchase in Singapore ) for me to try making it by hand.   Luckily this time, four years later, it worked.

Robin Hood has a delightfully straightforward recipe for Basic White Bread.  Here is my variation for a Whole Grain version.


½ cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast

1 cup warm milk
½ cup warm water
2 tbs butter
3 tbs molasses
1 ½ tsp salt

4 ½ cup bread flour
1 cup wholegrain flour

Proof yeast in ½ c water & 1 tsp sugar

Mix milk, water, butter, molasses & salt
Add 2 cups bread flour with yeast. Mix in the remaining bread and wholegrain flour.  Knead for 5 mins.

Rest in lightly greased bowl for 1 hour under parchment & tea towel.

When doubled, place on lightly floured board anc cut into two pieces.  Use your fingers to press into a rectangle and remove the excess air (de-gas).  Shape the loaves by rolling into a tight roll and placing into 2 floured loaf tins (8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ x 2 3/4″  or 1.5L). Cover with tea towel and rise 1 hour.

Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.

Brush with butter for a soft crust.  Makes 2 loaves.



Chewy Christmas Ginger Cookies

Who can resist chewy, spicey ginger cookies on Christmas Day.  Warm, crispy at the edges and soft in the center. Perfect with a cup of tea.  It harkens Christmas past, present and future.

Big Soft Ginger Cookies

Chewy Ginger Cookies

2 1/4 cup  Flour
3 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses

2 tbs sugar

Measure and mix dry ingredients
Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and molasses
Mix flour mixture
Shape into 2 inch ball, using a heaping tablespoon
Roll balls in sugar
Place on ungreased cookie sheet about 2 1/2 inches apart
Bake in preheated oven at 350, for 10 minutes or until lightly brown and puffed. Do not overbake, as this will make the cookies hard.
Cool cookies on sheet for two minutes before removing and cooling on wire rack.

Makes 18 cookies, depending on size.
Adapted from ‘Better Homes & Gardens New Baking Book’

Khao Soy

IMG_20151029_132913832_HDR (2)Khao Soy is a  coconut flavoured curry noodle soup.  It is a regional dish, found in northern Thailand.   I think it must have some Chinese roots since I’ve tasted similar dishes (without the curry) from Malaysia and Singapore.  But then, isn’t that true of all noodle soups in this region?

Traditional Khao Soy is made with a mixture of fresh egg noodles and fried noodles. In Chang Mai its easy to find both in the local wet market. The fried noodles give a pleasant contrast in texture.  But for my home made version, I used fresh bean sprouts. It’s healthier and provides the necessary crunch.

The key ingredient that makes this dish unique is the addition of yellow curry powder to the wet curry paste. My Chang Mai guide called it masala.  In Singapore I used Babas meat curry powder, but any pre-made yellow curry powder should work.

Khao Soy

IMG_20151029_124229137200g chicken, sliced
2 tbs red curry paste
1 tbs curry powder
1/2 cup coconut cream
1/2 onion, thinly sliced (optional)
1 tbs Thai chilli paste
1 tbs fish sauce (to taste)
3 tbs sugar (to taste)
Juice from one lime
2-3 fresh coriander bunches, sliced
2-3 green onions, sliced
200g fresh egg noodles, blanched
100g fresh bean sprouts

Fry curry paste & curry powder with 1 tbs cooking oil. Add coconut cream, fish sauce, chilli paste and 1/4 cup water. Bring to boil before adding chicken to cook. Add noodles and bean sprouts. Adjust flavour with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and chilli paste. Remove from heat and add coriander and green onion.

Thai Red Curry

Whenever I travel I try to find a cooking class. Singaporean, Malay, Thai, Viet and Khmer people  all share a common love of curries and invariably, the  classes have me cutting up fresh ingredients and pounding them with mortar and pestle.  The ingredients change according to dish but sometimes it feels like I’m learning the same thing over and over again.  Call it rempeh or curry paste, there is always chillis and garlic. Variations include shallots, ginger, galangal, lemongrass, shrimp paste, herbs and dry roasted spices.

In my last class I had an Ah-HA moment.  You can make different dishes with the same paste.   A red curry paste wasn’t only for a Red Curry dish.  It could be used for  a Jungle Curry,  a Yellow Curry, a Phanang Curry, a  soupy Khao Soy, a slurpable Spicy Glass Noodles. The cooking technique is almost always the same.  The difference is in the additional ingredients

After my last trip to Chang Mai (November 2015) I think I’ve finally gotten the hang of cooking Thai.  It begins with this Red Curry Paste from the Siam Rice Cooking school.

Red Curry Paste

Curry Paste ingredient

10 dried red chillis, de-seeded, soaked and chopped
10 (3 tbs) shallots, chopped
10 (2 tbs) garlic, chopped
1 inch (1 tbs) galangal, chopped
1 tbs lemongrass, chopped
1 tbs Thai shrimp paste
1 tbs Kaffir lime rind,chopped
1 tbs Thai ginseng, chopped
1 tbs coriander roots, chopped (optional)

All proportions are approximate.

Blend or pound into a fine paste.  If using a blender , add a couple teaspoons of cooking oil to emulsify.

Lopet Ban – a Work in Progress

In Singapore there’s a Teochew snack called Soon Kueh. 

soon kueh
Soon kueh

I first encountered it at a business event where with typical Singaporean hospitality, they served food during the intermission.  (This is an unheard of practice in corporate America.)  At my first look at the snack table I paid little attention to the steamed white dumplings.  They looked like mass produced dimsum, unusual to our American guests but ho-hum for the rest of us.   My Singaporean friend encouraged me to try, saying that it was uniquely Teochew and not at all like the regular Hong Kong fare.

I tasted it and was surprised.  The filling was made with shredded chinese turnip, dried shrimp and black pepper.   Salty, savory and slightly bitter. It is reminded me of my mother’s lopet ban.

Growing up, lopet ban was my least favorite ‘bao’ food.  I much preferred the doughy goodness of her cha shu bao buns or even her dungu gai baos.  The sweet charred flavor of  BBQ’d cha shao pork and the unctious morsels of chicken (gai) and mushrooms (dungu) beat the turnip filled lopet ban every time.

However, in the  crowded reception area of a then alien country, that unexpected taste of soon kueh swept me back  thirty years and kindled my first  emotional connection with Singapore.

I’ve since found out that soon kueh is relatively hard to find in Singapore. It is not commonly available in the local hawker’s markets and is not offered in the Cantonese style dim sum restaurants.  It is not even in the many Singaporean / Peranakan / Malaysian / Hawkers food cookbooks.  It is  hidden in home kitchens, cooked by aunties for family and special occasions.

Recently I stumbled upon a food stall which specialized in savory kuehs.   I purchased some and snagged a menu.  Now armed with the correct spelling of soon kueh, it was relatively easy to search the web and find recipes and images.   Closer inspection showed that soon kueh  means bamboo shoots (soon) snack (kueh).   The turnip was a cheap substitute for bamboo shoots.  There is even a hakka version of  soon kueh, with cooked yam mixed into the dumpling skin.

The problem with searching the web for recipes, is that they start to look less and less like the food you’re looking for.  Much like my first taste of soon kueh  the recipes looked similar but not the same to what I remembered.

One day, in a fit of enthusiasm I decided to make lopet ban from scratch.  I resolved to recreate the filling from memory but  use a web recipe for the dough.

The results? My filling was almost spot on. The dough … was a dud. A solid, hard, unchewable and indigestible dud.  Luckily, after 3 hours of chopping, mixing and kneading,  I had decided to check the dough by making a very small first batch of six dumplings.  It was awful.  I threw the dough out and we ate the lopet filling with rice for dinner – lopet ban became lopet fan. 

Here’s the recipe for the filling.  Eventually, I’ll have another spasm of enthusiasm and I’ll try the dough again.

Lopet ban  – The Filling 

Lopet ban filling

600g lopet (aka daikon or chinese white radish) , julienned
3 tsp ground black pepper
3 tsp sugar., to taste
2 tsp (10g) dried shrimp, soaked and minced
100g ground pork
2 green onions, chopped
Garlic, minced
Dark soy
Oyster Sauce

Stir fry pork with minced garlic, shrimp, black pepper, dark soy and oyster sauce.  Add the lopet with a bit of water. Braise until it is soft. Taste and adjust flavor with sugar, soy and oyster sauce.   Remove from heat and add green onions.


Massaman Curry

Massaman Beef CurryMassaman Curry is different from Rempeh in that it adds spices – coriander, cumin, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, star anise and Belachan (shrimp paste) – to Rempeh’s chili/garlic/shallot paste.

Dry roasting the spices and then grinding it in a stone mortar is surprisingly easy. Plus the aroma of freshly roasted spices is lovely. Not so can be said of the shrimp paste. Belacan looks and smells awful. Bad. Punch in the gut bad. However, it adds an incredible flavor to the curry, which combined with the red chilli’s, garlic , shallots and galangal transforms the dish.

The first time I made the Massaman curry with beef, potatoes and onions, I was knocked over by the brightness of the flavor.  All I could think was “OMG this is good!” The aroma of the roasted spices, the pungency of the chillis and the sweet back tones of coconut, tamarind and sugar delivered an amazingly complex dish.

Massaman curry paste ingredients
Belacan shrimp paste, galangal, garlic, cumin, coriander, green cardamon, cinnamon bark, star anise, nutmeg, cloves, dried red chilis, shallots

Dry Spice mix

1 tbs coriander

1 tsp cumin
1 stick cinnamon bark, approx 4 cm
3 cloves
1 cardamon pod
1 pc star anise
1 tsp nutmeg, grated

Dry roast each of the spices and then grind into a powder with the mortar and pestle

Wet Paste mix

15 dried red chilli’s
4 – 6 shallots, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 inch galangal, chopped
½ tsp belacan (dried shrimp paste)

If the chillis are large enough, deseed them by rubbing together to loosen the seeds before cutting in two and shaking them out. Otherwise, remove after soaking the dried chillis in water for about 15 minutes. Thoroughly rinse and strain the deseeded chillis.

Dry roast the belacan over an open flame.

Place all ingredients in the blender with a bit of water (approx. 1/3 cup) and blend until smooth. Mix in the ground spices.
Makes about a cup of curry paste.

Massaman Beef Curry - IngredientsMassaman Beef Curry
600g Beef – sirloin, thinly sliced
3 large potatoes, cubed
2 onions, sliced
1 cup coconut milk
1 tbsp tamarind paste , mixed with 1/3 cup warm water
3 tbsp sugar (or to taste)
¼ cup fish sauce (or to taste)

3 tbsp Massaman curry paste (or to taste)
1 star anise
½ cinnamon stick

Fry curry paste in wok/skillet
Add beef to curry paste and brown. Add onions
Add rest of ingredients, adjusting flavors to taste
Add potatoes with additional liquid, as needed
Bring to boil and then simmer for 45mins until meat is tender and potatoes cooked through. Serve with steamed white rice.