When I was young, I thought that sus (or kue sus) is a local Indonesian dessert. They are sold everywhere and in fact, easier to buy from stores that sell traditional Indonesian sweets rather than the big bakery chains, no wonder the confusion right? Then, one day in college I got my hands on a copy of Joy of Cooking and lo and behold, I chanced upon choux pastry section and that was how I learned about sus being a non Indonesian sweets. I am no etymologist, but I bet the origin of sus is probably choux from choux pastry.
There are probably a million choux recipe out there, and you are free to stick to your favorite, but if you don’t have one, the recipe I have here is pretty good. Now, the more interesting part of this recipe is not the choux portion, but the pastry cream, which uses rice flour instead of the more common corn starch. I chanced upon this recipe from food52, and boy oh boy, the pastry cream indeed deserves all the rave reviews it gets.
The most popular Japanese pancake mix brand is Morinaga, and these are used not only to make pancakes (or lovingly called hot cake – ホットケッキ – in Japanese), but also cakes, bread, and so much more. Since it is not easy to find Morinaga pancake mix outside of Japan, and even when it is available, the price is crazy expensive compared to the more commonly found buttermilk pancake mix from Krusteaz. My experiments to substitute buttermilk pancake mix instead of Morinaga pancake mix has been pretty successful, and one such experiment is to recreate this beloved matcha muffin recipe. If you have a huge back of buttermilk pancake mix sitting pretty in your pantry, give this recipe a try so you get to make something new and fun with it and not just pancakes and waffles.
In many Asian dishes, you will find that we use a lot of fried tofu cubes. The most traditional way to make fried tofu cubes is of course by deep-frying. You can also pan-fry, but please make sure you have a non-stick pan or a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet or it will end up a horrible mess of tofu sticking on your pan. Or, if you have an oven or even a toaster oven, then you can make oven-baked tofu, a.k.a. fried tofu cubes with baking!
How to drain tofu properly before cooking/frying/baking
Regardless of your choice, please remember to drain your tofu as much as possible before cooking, especially if you opt for deep frying or pan-frying since more liquid means more splattering. You can buy some specialty designed tool to drain your tofu, but I usually do the following:
Cut each tofu block into small cubes.
Wrap each block (which now consists of many many small cubes) with a paper towel.
Place wrapped tofu in between two plates, and place a heavy item (like a cast-iron skillet) on top of the top plate.
After about 30 minutes, a pool of liquid will gather around the tofu. With the liquid drained from the tofu, I can now safely proceed to make fried tofu cubes.
How to bake crispy fried tofu in an oven
After we drained our tofu, we can now proceed with marinating and baking them. Here are what I do:
Marinate drained tofu with soy sauce for 30 minutes. If you just want to salt your tofu, simply sprinkle with salt and proceed with the next step.
Preheat oven to 200 Celsius (400 Fahrenheit), and line a baking tray with parchment paper to prevent tofu from sticking.
Lightly dust tofu with cornstarch or arrowroot starch, then arrange on the prepared tray.
Bake tofu for 30 minutes, though the exact time will depend mostly on the size of your tofu cubes. The goal is to achieve crispy golden brown skin but the inside is still soft. Please toss the tofu cubes every 10 minutes so they bake evenly.
How do you use this oven-baked tofu?
The easiest and most straightforward way to enjoy these tofu cubes is as a healthy snack, or add them to your favorite salads. If you are like me, then you will want to make a big batch of fried tofu cubes and then use them in these recipes:
As you can see, you can use them in so many different ways. So what are you waiting for? Let’s make your very own batch of oven-baked tofu cubes today. 🙂
Winter is a good time to enjoy a good spicy braising dish, and I find myself drawn to Korean dubu jorim many times this time of year. This dish is really easy and quick to prepare. Prep time is probably less than 15 minutes, and the cooking time is about the same. If you have a minimally stocked Korean seasoning in your pantry, you should be able to quickly replicate this recipe in your kitchen.
Korean dishes tend to look extremely scary spicy, but I think it is still tolerable for most Indonesians like myself. If you are not sure you can handle the spiciness, feel free to reduce the amount of Korean chili pepper (gochugaru) used in the recipe, but don’t completely omit it. There are two types of gochugaru, coarse and fine, you can use a mix of two, of just pick either all coarse or all fine, it really doesn’t matter in this recipe. Another key ingredient is gochujang, a chili paste that is also very commonly used in many Korean dishes. If you are familiar with Japanese cuisine, then you probably know that Japanese use katsuoboshi in most of their dishes. In this respect, the Korean is very similar to Japanese, but instead of katsuoboshi, they use anchovies. The store that I frequent sells Korean anchovies in the freezer section, next to miso paste. If you cannot find this in your nearby stores, you can always place an order of Korean anchovies with Amazon. Or in a pinch, katsuoboshi is also a good substitute, though the taste of course will be slightly different. I dare hope that the rest of the ingredients should not pose a problem.
Today’s soup is nothing fancy, a simple pairing of thinly sliced daikon an stew cuts to make a simple and light soup. Stewing the beef until tender is key and I especially love it when the meat is so tender it kinda melts in my mouth. Another thing that I love is when I cut the daikon really really thin, they are almost transparent and very pleasing to look at in contrast to the rustic looking beef stews. Thinly sliced scallions and cilantro adds a nice fresh touch to the soup, so they not only make for a fine looking garnish, and I honestly believe that the soup is missing something without them.
Normally I eat the soup as is, with a bowl of steamed rice, and a couple of dishes. But when I want a quick and simpler meal, I boil some rice noodles to make a rice noodle bowl for a quick and satisfying lunch, kind of like Vietnamese pho.
I was looking through the recipes that I have published so far, and I could not believe I haven’t shared this super delicious soto daging to this day. This is one of the very first soto recipes I learn to make when I started having to cook for myself back in college days, which is more than a decade ago, and this suddenly makes me feel old [depressed]. I was taking some college classes in Malaysia and then halfway I transferred to a college in the Midwest. I was freaked out that I still had so… many courses I needed to graduate, I played catch up and took like 22-24 credits each semester for 2 1/2 years toward my graduation. Crazy times.
Even when I was so swamped with school work, I still managed to find time in weekends to do grocery and prepare food for 1 whole week. Two reasons, the first one being it was so much cheaper to cook my own food than eating out, and the second one was because I was so sick and tired of eating out even if I had the money, which I didn’t, which probably contributed to the quality of the take-out food I resorted to in the first place. What I prepared back then was nothing fancy of course, and I gravitated to soups like this since I can make a huge batch that lasted for at least a week. I have to admit back then my dishes most likely didn’t taste as good as now, and definitely not nearly as pretty 😉
Chinese New Year is fast approaching and my parents and little brother are coming to the States all the way from Indonesia to celebrate the new year with me!
I am going to be on full gear, preparing many Chinese New Year goodies to share with my family. The first thing on my long list of food to make is, of course, lapis legit (thousand layers cake).
Lapis legit is probably not going to be on your to-do-list for Chinese New Year if you do not grow up in Indonesia, Malaysia, or Singapore. But since I did grow up in Indonesia, this gorgeous cake is a must-have along with nastar (pineapple tart).
What’s in spekkoek/lapis legit seasoning?
A bit of a history lesson. This cake is actually a hybrid Indonesian and Dutch cake, a legacy from the Dutch colonial era but is still widely enjoyed to this day. The Dutch call this cake spekkoek, which translates to bacon cake, because all the layers look like bacon! But, there is no bacon involved, only spices. 🙂
The most defining characteristics of a lapis legit, aside from its multi-layers look, is the use of spekkoek/lapis legit seasoning. I usually buy packaged spekkoek seasoning, but you can also make them yourself from an equal amount of cinnamon powder, mace powder, and nutmeg powder.
Ingredients for a lapis legit cake
This cake uses only very basic pantry ingredients. You will need butter (unsalted), cake flour, eggs, sugar, salt, sweetened condensed milk, rum, and cream of tartar. Of course, you need the requisite spekkoek seasoning too.
In Indonesia, the most premium lapis legit is the one made with Wijsman butter. It is a Dutch preserved salted butter and comes in a can. If you are going to use this, please omit the salt since the butter is already salted.
In the States, I usually either use Kerrygold or Plugra butter. Still a bit pricey, but not Wijsman pricey. 😅
Preparing the cake batter
We will need to prepare three separate batters for this cake before finally mixing all three together into one cake batter.
Batter A is simply creaming together butter, sweetened condensed milk, and rum until fluffy at medium speed for about 8 minutes. Then add in cake flour, spekkoek seasoning, and salt. Mix this just until well combined (probably 1 minute), set aside.
Batter B is the egg yolks. In another mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar at high speed until THICK! Please don’t stop before the batter is pale and thick. The color of the batter should turn a pastel yellow, and when you lift up your beater/whisk, you should see ribbons. This should take about 5 minutes.
Batter C is the egg whites. In yet another mixing bowl, preferably a stainless steel bowl, whisk egg whites until foamy, then add cream of tartar, and then sugar in 3 batches. Whisk until stiff peak.
Combining the three batters. First, add batter B into batter A, mix until well combined. You can use an electric mixer for this if you wish. Next, using a spatula, fold in 1/3 of batter C (egg whites) into batter A/B combo until well mixed, then fold in the rest of batter C until well mixed.
For the very first layer, you will need to first preheat the oven to 200 Celsius (400 Fahrenheit). Then spread a small amount of cake batter (about 1/8 inch) on the prepared pan, and bake in the center rack of the oven until golden brown for about 8 minutes.
Second layer onward
For the second layer onward, turn off the oven, but switch on the oven broiler instead. Then position the rack near the top closer to the heating element.
Spread batter evenly (about 1/8 inch), the batter will look more melted and runnier once placed into the pan, and bang the pan on the countertop to remove air bubbles. Then broil for 1-2 minutes until golden brown.
Take note to stand watch and be extra careful from here on out. Each broiler heats differently, and yours may need less or more time. But be extra diligent in the first few layers so you don’t accidentally end up with a burnt cake.
Once a layer is cooked and looks golden brown, add another layer, bang to remove air bubbles, and broil again. Continue doing this until all the batter is used up.
Fixing the air bubbles. Every time you forget to remove the air bubble before broiling, you may notice that the layer bubbles up instead of laying flat evenly. Don’t fret, take a skewer/toothpick, and poke any bubble that forms. Then gently press with a spatula to flatten that layer.
Serving lapis legit
The cake itself is very rich and indulgent, made of mostly eggs, butter, sugar, and not much of flour. Since this is a very high calorie count cake, we usually serve this in a teeny tiny portion, so a little goes a long way. It is not uncommon to divide an 8″ square cake into 40 portions!
Aside from Chinese New Year, lapis legit in general is regarded as a celebration cake in Indonesia, so every Idul Fitri, Christmas, and New Year, bakeries will be selling them like hot cakes (pun intended).
The price a bakery charges for this cake is through the roof. Last I check, an 8″ square cake easily sells for $50-$60, and that is in Indonesia where food in general is pretty cheap. And even at such astronomical price, it is still best to pre-order or risk running out. So much ouch right?
If you like this cake, the best way to enjoy one is master making it, so much cheaper and you can still make it at home even when you are not in Indonesia, like me 🙂
Chinese New Year cookies and sweet treats
Similar to last Chinese New Year, I am collaborating with other super talented food bloggers to bring you a collection of cookies and sweet treats recipes to celebrate Chinese New Year. Go all out and make your very own treats to serve your family and guests with our recipes 🙂
The city of Palembang on the island of Sumatra is famous for its seafood dishes, and this pindang salmon (salmon in spicy and sour soup) is one such dish. In Palembang, the fish most commonly used to make this soup is ikan patin (swai), but I use salmon since this is much easier to find in the United States. If you want, you can use catfish too, but I prefer salmon to catfish 🙂
To make this soup, you will need fish of your choice (salmon or catfish, or swai if you can find it), tomatoes, pineapple, limes, lemongrass, ginger, galangal, bird eye chilies, Thai basil leaves, and scallions. Just going through the ingredients, one can image the soup to be very fresh, with sourness from tomatoes and limes, sweetness from pineapples, and spiciness from bird eye chilies. The soup looks and tastes amazing, and I think a soup like this is just the perfect thing to ward off winter chill.
Sekba babi is a very famous Indonesian-Chinese peranakan dish. A peranakan dish typically means that the dish that has been adapted over time and has evolved into something quite entirely different from its original dish. I have never encountered this so called Chinese dish outside of Indonesia. To me, sekba babi is pretty similar to babi dan tahu kecap (taw yew bak/豆油肉), which I prepare quite often and is one of my favorite comfort food. If my guess is right, then somehow taw yew bak evolves into sekba babi, and along the way the ingredients list expanded to include preserved green mustard (Indonesian: sayur asam) and potatoes, on top of tofu and hard boiled eggs which are also present in taw yew bak.
Anyway, enough with my conjecture and let’s talk a bit about sekba babi. In Jakarta, this dish is very easy to find in Chinese neighborhoods such as Kota (the old city) or in Northern Jakarta. Most places will include not only pork meat, but also more exotic parts of the pig, such as ear, tripe, innards, and so on. It can be a rather shocking experience for the uninitiated, so I just use pork meat, specifically pork shoulder ribs, in this recipe. That said, for those who are adventurous and you can find the more exotic parts of the pig (which you most likely can get a hold of if you visit Chinatown or Chinese groceries), feel free to add them to the stew 🙂
Perusing through the dried Chinese ingredients in my local Asian groceries can be a fun time. It is messy and the organization is not always perfect, sometimes what’s being displayed and the price tag can be a mismatch, but I still love doing it all the same.
One of the more uncommon ingredients, at least to non Chinese, is probably going to be dried lily flowers. Unlike dried chrysanthemum or dried rose, at a glance dried lily flowers don’t look like flowers at all.
Dried lily flower are typically sold in a see-through plastic packaging. The flowers look more like 3 inches of golden brown stalks, and probably not the most appetizing thing judging from their appearance. But if you manage to find it in your market (or just buy from Amazon), these flowers have a mild flavor with crunchy and interesting texture, a perfect addition to your stir fry dishes, soup especially hot and sour, and of course I am going to use them in this recipe.
This is a very homely dish, something that my Grandma made for us when we were kids, and definitely not something you find served in fancy restaurants.
You will need to start preparing the dried ingredients the night before you want to cook the dish, I usually wash and soak all my dried ingredients (wood ear, shiitake, and lily flower) in separate bowls just before I am ready to go to bed so they have enough time to fully rehydrate by the next day when I prepare for lunch.
Once they are fully rehydrated, squeeze out the water, then thinly slice the wood ear and shiitake, chop off the stem (if present) of the lily flowers and tie each flower in a knot. If you are short on time, you don’t have to tie them in knots, but I think it is a nice touch and that’s how it’s been done in my family since my Grandma’s time.
The rest of the steps is very easy, but we will still need to marinate for 2 hours, so if you want to make this for lunch, it is best to do this step by 10 a.m. Simply combine all the ingredients (minus cornstarch) in a mixing bowl, cover the bowl with a saran, and marinate for 2 hours in the fridge. Remember to return to room temperature prior to cooking.
To cook, prepare a steamer and let the water boils on medium heat. While we wait for the water to boil, add cornstarch to the mixture, mix well, and transfer the whole thing into a steam proof bowl.
I use a 9″ pie dish and it is perfect. Once the water boils, just put the dish into the steamer and steam for 15 minutes. Remember to let the dish rest another 5 minutes before taking off the lid. Garnish with scallions and the dish is done!