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Dr. Frank-N-Furter

29 Jul

My trip to the US entailed spending a lot of time at the Frankfurt airport — 6 hours on the way there, 8 hours on the way back. With a baby. There are, certainly, worse airports to while away the day — LAX comes to mind — but Frankfurt is no Changi. Or even Schipol (which, I hear, has excellent facilities for keeping your kids entertained). The biggest problem is that you have to go through passport control when exiting the terminal, so unless you’re willing to go through all the security, you’re kind of stuck. (I was actually game, but the nice man at the Lufthansa counter strongly advised against it, and I figured he knew what he was talking about.) On top of this, the Lufthansa lounge had no day passes, so I couldn’t even pay to get in. At least there were showers (though only Euros or USD are accepted, which is problematic when flying in from Malaysia.) And the free airport wifi only lasts 30 minutes!

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Lobstah! (And other delights)

18 Jul

I’ve finally recovered from the epic Tour de Bèbè, our whirlwind visit to the US spanning from Boston to Michigan to Chicago to downstate Illinois. Traveling with a baby meant our dining choices were dictated by convenience, but I did manage to have some spectacular meals. Unfortunately, I was so busy with baby that I forgot to take photos half the time. I’m thinking specifically of when I took my parents to The Bristol, where a longtime friend has found his calling as a manager. (Ironically, when I first met him he was quite the picky eater, but living with me broadened his food horizons, which were further expanded by his now-husband.) In my defense, the restaurant was so dark that the photos wouldn’t have turned out anyway, but still…

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Green Tea Oreo “Soft Cookies”

8 Nov

I can’t remember where I heard about this, but apparently Oreo is trying to cash in on the whoopie pie fad by introducing a variation they’re calling “soft cookies.” They’re also trying new ways to appeal to the growing Asian market (even including directions on how to eat an Oreo in their ads and packaging). I was shopping in the Japanese foods aisle of my local supermarket and I saw a bag of these in matcha, or green tea, flavor, and being as I have developed an enormous sweet tooth over the past 8 months (and have always been a sucker for novelty snacks), I couldn’t resist picking up a bag.

As you can see, they’re basically itty-bitty whoopie pies. The cookie portion tastes like, well, a soft version of the Oreo Original—not very sweet, with a hing of chocolate. The filling is also surprisingly restrained in sweetness, with the pleasant bitterness of green tea, and has a more whipped texture than the paste in the middle of the Oreo Original. The cookie could stand to be a bit softer, and I wanted more filling, but I think Oreo has something going here. I’m one of those freaks who likes the cookie portion but not the frosting. Though my mother would never have allowed Oreos in the house, I did get them occasionally at school (or at my after-school program), and I would try to find someone to split them with, or try to peel off the offending layer somehow. Needless to say, I am not a fan of Double Stuf.

I don’t know if the green tea flavor is limited to the Asian market, or if the Oreo Soft has debuted in the US at all. Maybe one of my Western readers could do some reconnaissance?

SOK Bake Sale, Part 2: Pandan Cupcakes with Gula Melaka Frosting

12 Sep

Whoopie pies weren’t enough for me, I guess. I decided to bake cupcakes the very next day, for a friend who’s moving back to the US. I wanted to make her something Malaysia-inspired, and, I admit, I was looking for an excuse to make this cake from Life is Great, which I found when I was making pandan-flavored madelines (which will have to be a later post, since I forgot to take a photo). Take a look at the link. It’s a gorgeous cake that practically screams “bake me!”.

My poor denuded pandan plant

Pandan, called screwpine in English, is an herb used widely across Southeast Asia in both sweet and savory dishes. (It’s also an effective deodorant and insect repellent; apparently one of the common ways to rid your car of durian smell is to line the seats with pandan leaves.) Rohani at Bayan Indah described it as “the vanilla of the tropics,” not so much because of its aroma—nothing like vanilla—but because of its ubiquity. And, much like vanilla, trying to describe pandan flavor is difficult. It’s sort of an herb-y, almost musty flavoring; think of freshly steamed basmati or jasmine rice. To make pandan “extract,” you take 10 to 15 leaves and grind them in a mortar and pestle, or if you’re lazy like me, you blend it to a pulp.

The creepily green pandan extract. Apologies for the dark photo.

The resulting liquid is a vibrant emerald green, almost unnatural. (The only other edible thing I can think of that’s this green is spirulina.) The color holds during cooking; anything flavored with pandan extract is usually bright green. Unfortunately, I had too much batter for the green to come through; while there was a barely perceptible hint of color in the cupcake, for the most part it looked like plain butter cake. At least it tasted like pandan, even if I didn’t get the visual hit.

The tasty but disappointingly not-green final product

I topped the cupcakes with gula melaka Swiss meringue buttercream, putting the previous day’s lessons into action. When my frosting started curdling, I walked away and Skyped my husband and his family; by the time I came back, the butter was sufficiently warm, and the frosting came together without incident. And it tasted divine. SMBC, as I mentioned before, is like warm ice cream, and gula melaka tastes like a cross between maple syrup and brown sugar. The frosting was definitely what the British call “moreish,” as in, “I’m going to eat more of this straight from the tub.” Together, the caramel of the frosting and the pandan cake were a classic pair. I’m going to have to work on my cake-decorating skills, though; the coconut garnish that you see in the photo is to cover up the fact that I can’t seem to frost a cupcake without bursting the ziplock bag I’m using in lieu of a proper pastry bag. Maybe the lesson here is that I need to invest in pastry bags?

SOK Bake Sale, Part 1: Chocolate-Passionfruit Whoopie Pies

10 Sep

I’ve been on something of a baking kick lately, thanks to a newfound sweet tooth coupled with actually having some events to bake for. (Even on my most dedicated sweets binge, I find it hard to finish a dozen cupcakes while they’re still fresh.) I wanted to bring something festive to a baby shower, but wanted to try my hand at something new, so I decided to make some whoopie pies. These have been something of a trend lately, though not as ubiquitous as cupcakes or macarons; it’s frosting sandwiched between two cake-cookies (basically, cake batter baked like a drop cookie). Though the classic combo is chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, à la Oreos or Ding Dongs, but any combination that you would use for a cake will work; pumpkin and red velvet are especially popular. I’ve been wanting to make something with passionfruit, and everyone loves chocolate, so chocolate and passionfruit it was.

The cake portion of the whoopie pies

First I baked the cake portion, using this recipe from Baked Explorations, via The Modern Domestic. I omitted both the hot coffee and the coffee powder and used extra buttermilk instead. The batter was sticky as the dickens (they don’t call it devil’s food for nothing), but they baked up beautifully—fluffy but not dry.

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Taiwan, Part One: Night Markets and Street Food

1 Aug

Taiwan has to be one of the most food-centric places I’ve visited…and that list includes Japan, Hong Kong, and of course Malaysia, so that’s saying something. I ate so many crazy things on this weekend trip that I have to split it into three posts!

The edible wonders of Taipei’s streets: fruit for juicing; squid on the grill; a Taiwanese pasty; various chicken bits; fresh waffles; sausages

You can’t talk about food in Taiwan without talking about street food. Taiwan’s night markets are famous around the world, and the most well-known, Shihlin Night Market, even has an eponymous chain in Malaysia.

The craziness of Shihlin Night Market on a Saturday

The atmosphere at SNM is part tourist trap, part glutton’s paradise. Like street food everywhere, there’s a lot of starch and meat (preferably pork), usually deep-fried, and there’s an emphasis on novelty foods: I saw one stall with an extra-long queue selling deep-fried musubi (Japanese rice balls) with cheese. Another popular item was a sort of filled waffle, which came in a mind-boggling array of shapes — everything from SpongeBob SquarePants to this very NSFW version (which I’m linking to rather than posting, because my mom reads this blog, too).  There’s also a basement food court if you prefer your claustrophobia served with a side of air-conditioning and seats. (It’s really hard to dine on an oyster omelet while walking.)

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“Are They Made With Real Girl Scouts?”

4 Jul

It’s Independence Day in the US, so I thought I would celebrate with a post about a true American institution: Girl Scout cookies. Non-American readers of SOK may not be familiar with the beloved institution that is the Girl Scout cookies, or for that matter, with the Girl Scouts. Inspired by Britain’s Girl Guides, Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts of America as a way to foster independence and resourcefulness in American girls. A couple of biographies of Low came out last year in honor of the GSA’s ? anniversary, and she sounds like a pretty progressive lady.

At some point the Girl Scouts started selling cookies for fundraising, and these achieved a cult status unmatched by any other fundraising comestible that I know of (except maybe huli huli chicken). I mean, when’s the last time your coworkers got excited about buying candy bars to fund some kid’s band trip? Part of the allure is that the cookies are only available at certain times of the year, and only from a Girl Scout (or someone who has a Girl Scout contact). Recently, though, I’ve noticed a trend in mass-market brands shilling Girl Scout cookie-themed products. First there was Edy’s/Breyer’s ice cream; on my recent trip to the US, I found Girl Scout cookie flavored Crunch bars.
I picked up what are the two most popular cookie flavors, Thin Mints and Samoas, which have been renamed Caramel Coconut due to a copyright issue, and not to appease sensitive Pacific Islanders, as I had previously thought.

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