Summer 2015/16

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Go TROPPO

Uncle Chris with an elephant

Hello Folks

Seems a long time since I closed the doors of my restaurant in Tea Tree. So now I’m baking bread for an elephant. Have I gone troppo?

I’ll explain. My beloved Geraldine – she who must be obeyed – decided it was time for us to have a break in the tropics. She looked at a map of the world and Malaysia beckoned.

So now I’m writing from sunny Langkawi, by far the largest in a group of 99 islands off the west coast of Malaysia, very close to Thailand.

We’ve met up with a local who has a small zoo. I can report he’s very caring about the wellbeing of his charges. There’s a tiger named Zarna, a couple of racoons who’ve just had babies which dine on fish heads ... and an elephant named Lasa, who has rather scary long tusks. Lasa takes visitors on walks through the jungle.

I’ve been showing Redi, who works in the zoo’s kitchen, the art of baking bread ... for the elephant of course!

Lasa, he with the long tusks, is rather partial to bread and I’ve been baking up to 10 wholemeal loaves at a time for him.

If you bake a tasty loaf or ten an elephant never forgets, but don’t you forget to add the salt – like Redi did recently. For a few moments Lasa was not a jovial jumbo.

Lasa’s about to have his 35th birthday, so I’m baking him banana bread adorned with 35 bananas. Elephants don’t care for birthday candles.

The locals are friendly in Langkawi – there are around 70,000 on the main island – and it’s warm every day, around 26-32C

The food here is spicy and it helps you cool down.

And it definitely keeps your sinuses unblocked.

Malaysian cooking is a melting pot of nationalities – Malay, Indian and Chinese – and the fusion is called Nonya.

Of course there’s also an influence of Thai cooking as Malaysia and Thailand are neighbours. So when we talk about Malaysian cooking, it’s a combination of all the above: rich in spices and a bit of heat.

The ingredients are always fresh and cooked in a wok over high heat. As there is little refrigeration in many parts of Malaysia, you only buy for one meal at a time.

You’ll find the best Malaysian food in what are known as hawker street stalls. They’re along the roadsides in cities, towns and villages throughout the country – indeed you’ll find these eating out experiences throughout most of Asia.

The prices are low so who would be bothered to cook. The hawkers know where to source the food and they have their culinary skills honed to perfection.

Hawkers will ask if you want to eat there – sitting at bar stools or a basic table – that’s called makan. Or you can take-away – and that’s called bungkus.

I eat at hawker street stalls regularly – just as the locals do – with no ill effects. The food is fresh, nourishing and yummy.

Ah, the smells and the vibrancy of these markets. And the value!

There’s a bloke nearby who prepares roti chanay (some spell it canai), with minced chicken or beef and onions and spices – for $1.20! Dee-absolutely-licious!

As this is a learning experience for me also, I thought we can learn together. The Malaysian cooking lesson begins inside.

On your BIKE!

Tristan riding a bikeHey Brighton. How's things?

One of my pet hates is when someone I haven't seen in a while asks how my athletics training is going and, being honest, I have to say I'm injured.

All excitement in the question is lost at that point. Suddenly the mood has changed.

A trick I recently started on was to reply: “I'm on the path to something I'll be really happy with, I'm just at one of the speed bumps along the way.”

It's important to keep telling yourself that as rubbish as things can be at times, it's all part of a bigger picture, leading to outcomes we truly desire. Many have been the times writing for you I’ve tried to sound motivating while myself not being where I want to be. That makes moments like these more exciting.

I'm happy to say that currently all is going well. I'm surviving a manic time at uni and with just months until the next Olympic Games my body is starting to tow the line.

Training is even reminding me why I once believed I could be a contender. There's a lot of work yet to be done even to make the Games but at least I'm slowly getting my mojo back and feel ready for a tilt.

Better still, the sun is out and summer is on its way. It's amazing how morale lifts once the sky goes from grey to blue. I'd forgotten how great it is to wear shorts again until I took them from the cupboard
a few weeks ago. Hopefully you guys are feeling the same way and want to go outside and get amongst it.

I recently bought a bike, my first since early high school, and I'm loving the sense of freedom you get cycling to pick up groceries etc. Kids seem easily excited by things like bikes. Sometimes I think they are more in tune with how to live life than us adults. So give bike riding a go. Often the simple things in life are the best.

‘Give bike riding a go. Often the simple things in life are the best’

Street food in STYLE

Chris and his Nonya stallSo folks, this is how to make street food,

Malaysian or Nonya style.

First, you need a wok or a large frying-pan and a stirring spatula, preferably wooden.

The basic ingredients are:

Coconut oil or ghee, light soya sauce, belachan (dry shrimp paste made from fermented ground shrimp mixed with salt), ikan bilis (dried salted whitebait or anchovies), coconut cream, coriander leaves, cumin, curry leaves, five spice powder, garam masala, lemongrass, tamarind, pandan leaves, turmeric, cardamom, chillies, and mee (fresh yellow egg noodles).

Now let’s make some of the most common sauces to go with hawker foods.

Sweet chilli sauce

4 red finger-length chillies
2 cloves garlic peeled
2 tablespoons sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
5 tablespoons water
Combine all ingredients and grind in a mortar or blender until smooth. Serve as required.

Chicken rice chilli sauce

4 red finger-length chillies
2 cloves garlic peeled
3 cm young ginger peeled and sliced
11⁄2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons chicken stock

 

Grind all ingredients in a mortar or blender and serve with roast chicken and rice.

Seasoned sliced chillies

10-15 chillies deseeded and sliced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

 

Combine the chillies, soy sauce and lime juice in small bowl and serve as required.

PRAWN fritters

20 fresh (green) prawns peeled and deveined
225 g flour
1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
250 ml water
50 g chopped chives or spring onions
100 g bean sprouts
oil for frying

 

Sift the flour, baking powder, turmeric and salt into a mixing bowl. Add the water to make a fairly thick batter. Add the chives and beansprouts and stir to mix.

 

Use a long handled stainless steel ladle, about 5cm across and not too deep. Heat the oil in a small saucepan or wok. Place the ladle in the oil and allow it to heat up. After several minutes lift the hot ladle from the oil and allow excess oil to drip off. Spoon the batter to fill the ladle almost to the top. Press 2 prawns into the batter, then gently lower the ladle into the oil. After 2 to 3 minutes, when the base of the fritter has formed a crust on the ladle, prise it off gently with the tip of
a spatula or small knife. Continue to cook until golden brown. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.

 

Repeat until all batter and prawns have been used up. Allow the fritters to cool for about 5 minutes. Cut them into bite-size pieces. Serve with a small bowl of sweet chilli sauce on the side.

 

SPRING rolls

2 tablespoons oil
4 cloves garlic minced
100 g minced chicken
500 g parsnips or sweet potatoes peeled and finely grated (the locals use bangkuang, a root crop you probably won’t find in Tassie)
1 carrot peeled and shredded
10 french beans top-and-tailed then sliced at an angle
150 g finely shredded cabbage
1 teaspoon sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ground pepper
2 teaspoons corn flour
20 sheets of spring roll wrappers
oil for deep frying

 

Sealing paste

3 tablespoons plain flour
2 tablespoons water

 

Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat and stir fry the garlic until golden brown. Add the chicken and stir fry until cooked.

 

Add the vegetables and stir fry until they wilt. If the mixture is wet stir fry until the moisture evaporates. Season with the sugar, salt and pepper.

 

Spread the mixture in a layer in the wok and sift the cornflour over it. Then toss and mix well. The filling should be quite dry. Wet filling causes the spring roll skin to tear. While the filling cools prepare sealing paste, mixing flour and water.

 

Lay a spring roll wrapper on a clean dry surface with one corner pointing towards you. Place a spoon full of filling about one third up from the corner. Fold the bottom corner over filling to enclose it, then fold the two sides over neatly.

 

Brush on a little of the sealing paste and roll up tightly.

 

Form the rolls until all the filling is used. Lay the rolls neatly on a tray, cover with cling wrap and keep refrigerated until used. Heat the oil in a saucepan or wok over medium heat and deep-fry the spring rolls until golden brown, about 15 minutes. If the oil is too hot, the spring rolls will be rough and blistered. Drain on paper towels and serve with sweet chilli sauce.

FRIED noodles (mee goreng)

5 tablespoons oil
2 cakes of firm tofu
1 onion sliced
4 cloves garlic sliced
100 g chicken breast sliced finely
100 g fresh (green) prawns peeled and deveined
1 tomato cut in wedges
300 g sliced cabbage
150 g bok choy cut in short lengths
500 g yellow egg noodles, rinsed
2 eggs
2 spring onions sliced
4 limes cut into wedges

 

Sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon black soy sauce
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar

 

Chilli paste

6 dried chillies
5 shallots, peeled
5 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon belachan (dried shrimp paste)

 

To make the sauce, combine the ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

 

To make the chilli paste, slice the dried chilli and soak in hot water to soften, then deseed and drain. Grind the chillies, shallots, garlic and belachan to a smooth paste in a mortar or blender, adding a little water if necessary to keep the blades turning. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok over medium heat and stir fry the paste until the oil separates from the mixture. Transfer to a bowl and wipe the wok clean.

 

Cut the tofu cakes in half and pat dry on a paper towel. Heat the rest of the oil in a wok and stir fry the tofu until lightly brown. Drain on paper towelling and when cool enough cut into long strips. Heat the oil in the wok and stir fry the onions and garlic until fragrant. Add chicken, then the prawns, tomato, cabbage and bok choy. Increase the heat. Add chilli paste and tofu. After about 2 minutes add the sauce and noodles and fry for 3-4 minutes.

Make a well in the wok and add about 2 teaspoons of oil, then add the eggs and scramble them lightly. Mix all the ingredients together and serve garnished with spring onions and lime wedges.

 

CHICKEN rice

500 g chicken pieces
3 cm peeled and grated ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon black soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
400 g long grain rice
560 ml water
2 tablespoons oil

 

Place the chicken in a large bowl and pat dry. Mix the grated ginger with 1 tablespoon water and squeeze to extract the juice. Discard the pulp. Combine the ginger juice, soy sauces, oyster sauce, sesame oil, salt and sugar, rub into the chicken pieces and marinate for 30 minutes.

 

Rinse the rice thoroughly and drain. Place the rice and water in a pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 13 minutes until most of the water has been absorbed. Place the marinated chicken on top of the rice and drizzle 2 tablespoons of oil over the chicken. Cover the pot with a lid and cook on low heat, undisturbed for 20 minutes.

 

Flake the rice with a fork, cover and allow the rice to cook for another 15 minutes.

 

Garnish with spring onions and coriander leaves and a small bowl of seasoned sliced chillies.

 

CLASSIC MALAY fish curry (kari ikan)

2 tablespoons oil
1 clove garlic sliced
1 shallot sliced
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1⁄4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1⁄4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1⁄4 teaspoon fennel seeds
4-5 curry leaves
500 g fresh fish fillets rubbed with
3 teaspoons salt
400 ml thin coconut milk
1 tomato cut into wedges
1⁄4 teaspoon salt

 

Spice paste

2 cloves garlic
3 shallots
1 macadamia nut
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon curry powder

 

Make the spice paste by grinding all ingredients in a blender, adding a little water if necessary to keep blades turning.

 

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat and fry the shallots and garlic. Add the mustard seeds, fenugreek, cumin and fennel seeds followed by the curry leaves. Stir to combine well.

 

Add the spice paste and fry until fragrant before adding the fish fillets. Stir for 5 minutes, then pour in the coconut milk. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly.

 

Add the tomato and cook for another 5 minutes.

 

Season with salt. Remove from heat and serve with nasi lemak (coconut rice, see next page) or plain steamed rice and a fresh garden salad.

COCONUT rice (nasi lemak)

Nasi lemak is a simple breakfast dish. However, with the addition of prawn sambal, fried chicken or beef rendang, it can be elevated to an elaborate feast

 

400 g rice
125 g thick coconut milk
435 ml water
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 cm of bruised fresh ginger peeled
1 pandan leaf tied in a knot

 

Rinse and drain the rice. Place the rice in a pan and add the water, coconut milk, salt, ginger and pandan leaf. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the rice is cooked. Remove the pandan leaf.

 

Serve with hard-boiled eggs, sliced cucumber, crispy fried ikan bilis (dried whitebait) and fried or roasted peanuts on the side.

 

FISH with tomato sambal (gulai kuning)

500 g firm fresh fish fillets
1 tablespoon tamarind pulp
3 tablespoons water
1 cucumber
6 green beans
2 cm turmeric root
2 cm galangal root
2 cm fresh ginger
4 shallots
1 clove of garlic
2-3 dried red chillies soaked to soften
2 green chillies left whole
450 ml coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon salt

 

Tomato sambal

4-5 red chillies stalks removed
2 teaspoons sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon belachan (dried shrimp paste) roasted
1 tomato blanched and skin removed
1 teaspoon lime juice

 

Make the tomato sambal by grinding all the ingredients into a fine paste in a mortar or blender, adding a little water if necessary to keep the blades turning. Scoop into small serving bowls and serve on the side as a dip.

 

Put the fish pieces in a saucepan with the tamarind pulp and water. Cover and cook over a very low heat for about 10 minutes or until the fish is cooked. Remove the fish and set aside until ready to use. Cut the cucumber into thick slices, with skin intact. Cut the beans into 2 cm in length. Grind the turmeric, galangal, shallots, garlic and dried chillies to a fine paste in a mortar or blender.

 

Heat the coconut milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the ground spices and whole chilli. Bring to the boil, stirring continuously for 10 minutes. Add cucumber and beans and cook for 3 minutes. Add the cooked fish and salt. Stir and cook for another 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. Serve with plain rice and a dipping bowl of tomato sambal on the side.

 

SPINACH in coconut milk (bayam masak lemak)

250 g leafy spinach
2 cloves of garlic
5 shallots
1 cm turmeric root
1 cm ginger
50 g canned tuna or salmon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
400 ml light coconut milk
1 red and 1 green chilli deseeded and slit lengthwise.

 

Wash the spinach and separate the leaves from the stalks. Cut the stalks into short lengths. Keep leaves and stalks separate.

 

Grind the garlic, shallots, turmeric and ginger to a fine paste in a blender, add water if needed. Pound the fish with the salt and pepper.

 

Heat the coconut milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the ground spice and fish to the saucepan, stirring constantly. Add the chillies and bring to the boil. Add spinach stalks and stir for 3 minutes, then the leaves. Simmer for a few minutes. Remove from heat and serve with plain rice

DELICIOUS DESSERTS Chocolate pots

200 g good quality dark chocolate
6 eggs, separated
50 ml Grand Marnier

 

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set resting in a pan of gently simmering water. Do not overheat!

 

Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks and set aside. Beat the egg yolks, blend them into the melted chocolate and stir in the Grand Marnier.

 

Carefully fold in the egg whites. Pour into six little pots and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

 

Lime panna cotta

600 ml cream
150 ml milk
8 mint leaves
4-5 sheets leaf gelatine
60 g castor sugar
finely grated zest of 3 limes
1 1⁄2 teaspoon tequila
lime segments to decorate

 

Pour the cream and milk into a small saucepan, add mint leaves, bring to the simmer. Let bubble for about 5 minutes to reduce by about a third.

 

Meanwhile soak the gelatine in a bowl of cold water.

 

Strain the boiling cream and milk mixture into a bowl and stir in the sugar, lime zest and tequila. Take the gelatine leaves, gently squeeze out excess water, then add to the hot cream and milk mixture and stir until dissolved.

 

Pour the mixture into 6 dariole moulds or cups and allow to cool, then refrigerate the panna cotta for 3-4 hours until set.

 

To turn out, gently tease the side of each panna cotta away from the mould, then invert on to plates and shake to release. Arrange a few lime segments on each plate and serve.

 

Hot chocolate fondant (makes two)

50 g unsalted butter
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
50 g good bitter chocolate
1 egg
1 egg yolk
60 g castor sugar
50 g plain flour

 

Heat oven to 160c. Butter two large ramekins, about 7.5 cm and dust liberally with cocoa. Slowly melt the chocolate over simmering bowl of hot water. Take off the heat and stir until cool. Whisk the whole egg and egg yolk and sugar until pale and thick, then incorporate the chocolate mixture. Sift the flour and gently fold in, using a large metal spoon. Divide between the two ramekins and bake for 12 minutes. Turn the fondants out on to warm plates and serve immediately.

A Chrissie tree that keeps on GIVING

CosmosI’m sometimes a grumpy old Scrooge pre-Christmas. I don’t think I’m naturally mean. It’s just that around this time I get fed up with commercial hucksters trying to convince me that in order to experience a happy, fulfilling Christmas and festive season I need to go out and splurge heaps on big dollar flimflam.

Who needs a $10,000 18-carat rose gold computer watch? A $1000-plus pair of Peruvian camelid hair socks? Or, for that matter, a $1500 food processor that does everything but feed the cat?

I don’t. I don’t want to have to extend the mortgage. I don’t want to waste money.

You can have a perfectly good Christmas without spending oodles.

Take Christmas trees. They might not have mammoth price-tags but what a ridiculously extravagant waste of money and resources it is to buy a recently-living tree that you decorate (and desecrate) and plonk in a corner for a month before chucking it out. Or worse, a tacky, and often high priced, artificial Christmas tree made of goodness knows what.

Why, for about the same price you can have the real deal. A living Christmas tree. Now wouldn’t that be a novelty.

Trim it up and bring it inside for the first Christmas, then move the pot outside for an outdoor Christmas tree for years to come.

How smart is that!

There are any number of trees to do the job. For traditional Christmas feel, a conifer such as a Norway spruce (Picea abies) is a definite contender. It might reach 20-40m in Norwegian forests but in a pot in Australia you can expect maybe 3-4m in a decade.

For a little Tassie patriotism, get yourself a Tasmanian cypress pine (Callitris oblonga), sometimes called the South Esk pine or pygmy cypress pine.

It’s got that droopy, spiky Christmas tree look and, once the last celebrating has been done, you can plant it in the garden.

It will grow to a few metres tall and, better still, because it is considered an endangered species, you will be doing your bit for the environment.

In fact there are so many ways to cheaply brighten your surrounds for the festive season.

One of my favourites is to mass plant cosmos. If you don’t know cosmos, it’s a daisy-flowered annual from South America and Mexico that blooms its head off in a mass of different colours through summer.

For a few dollars you can buy a couple of packets of cosmos seed that will transform the most barren bare patch into a meadow of colour and happiness.

You’ll need to dig over the soil, get rid of the weeds, and add a little fertiliser first but that’s about all. Look at the exercise as a free alternative to getting fit at the gym.

You can buy tall-growing or short growing cosmos. For best results, it pays to sow your cosmos seed in plastic trays until the seedlings are big enough to transplant into the ground.

Water seedlings regularly, fertilise a little, and then sit back for one of the best festive displays you can imagine.

A few cosmos planted among your vegies will also keep the bees interested.

If you’re a bit of a Scrooge like me, transplant a few of your
flowering cosmos into pots and give them away as presents.

If you’re got an old rusty wheelbarrow, fill it with potting mix and plant with cosmos too ... but ensure you have some drainage holes to allow water to get away.

There are heaps more cheap planting ideas to inject festive colour around gardens.

A Christmasy look is easily achieved with red and white-flowing geraniums (zonal pelargoniums), maybe in pots either side of an entranceway.

To boost the effect and save a few dollars, get a couple of old pots and paint them with leftover white paint.

In fact it’s amazing what results can be achieved with a few pots of old paint. Boring paling fences can be tarted up as a backdrop to complement flowering plants, down-at-heel outdoor furniture can be given new life, and how much better will the dog kennel look with a splash of colour.

Petunia Raspberry BlastWhile you’ve got the paint handy, get the kids to collect pine cones and paint them gold, silver, white or red and use them as Christmas ornaments, maybe in a fireplace or even as table decoration with a bit of greenery.

Even that pair of old gumboots with holes in them can be painted red and left by the front door as a Christmas touch.

Petunias are another colourful option, and a cinch to grow. They look sensational when overflowing wide-rimmed pots or bowls.

Most petunias available now boast good hardiness and with minimal care will bloom from now through to the end of autumn.

A proven one around Christmas for “waterfalls” of happy colour is the two- tone ‘Raspberry Blast’.

I notice the garden department of that big green national hardware chain has given it the flashy name of Supertunia ‘Raspberry Blast’. A bit pretentious as it’s really just a petunia. But as it’s so good and selling for less than ten bucks a plant, it’s a natural one for us Scrooges.