Myanmar

A New Direction, Burmese Food and Obama

A New Direction, Burmese Food and Obama

It’s 10:30 am on a sweltering Saturday morning in Yangon, Myanmar. I’ve already been up since 7 am, hand washed some clothes and had a leisurely breakfast. Life could not be more different than 2 months ago when I left a steady job in the UK looking for a new adventure… I think I found it! 😀

This is a pretty long post, sorry for taking the time to self indulge. The food bit comes at the end…

I’m not usually the adventurous type. I didn’t spend my youth backpacking around the world and I have worked hard, really hard, to build a career in the not-for profit sector in the UK. Saying that I did take a bit of a gap year when I was 27 and headed off to Tanzania, East Africa, to do some volunteer development work. Back then I’d been working for a few years after my Masters degree in Development Studies but I don’t think I had a huge amount to offer the world. Now at the age of 32, and with another 5 years of life experience under my belt I feel ready to make another stab at contributing something positive in the developing world.

Coming to this decision has been fairly easy for me. I’ve been feeling unsettled with my life for a long time, maybe two years or more. But like a lot of people I looked for distractions and kept myself busy so I didn’t think too much about how dissatisfied I was with my life. Don’t get me wrong, I was comfortable and surrounded by loving family and friends! It wasn’t that I was in a crappy job or looking to make more money… I just had a general feeling of discontent. Most nights going home in a bad mood, being no fun to be around and looking for a excuses to justify my unhappiness. I began to realise that I’m the only person who could change this!

Follow your heart!

Follow your heart!

When I started to tell people my plans to leave work and go abroad to ‘do something’, the most common reaction was “Wow, you’re brave!”. And my response was always “Or stupid!”… I made this decision quite early on in the year and as the time drew nearer to leaving my job I began to worry and about the consequences of my actions. But today I know for sure that I have made the right choice…

Right after I finished work, I went on a two week holiday to Sri Lanka. It was planned long ago and helped to cushion the blow of being jobless and without direction for the first time in a long time! It kind of felt like I was just taking a long vacation. Sri Lanka was amazing! We traveled right across the country and back, tasting delicious foods and picking up some new cooking techniques. On returning to the UK, I moved house and started doing some voluntary work. I found that not having a full time job gave me the space to explore working in other areas which I combine my passion for food and my skills in the community development field.

So that’s how come I’ve ended up in Yangon, Myanmar. You may know it by the old colonial name of Rangoon, Burma. I’m visiting a social enterprise called Harmoneat who are ‘Building Communities, Through Food’. Sounds perfect for me right?! 🙂

Harmoneat are currently looking for volunteers to help grow their business, a Burmese cooking school in Yangon, so they can start to raise funds for their community development work. Check out their website, if you have an interest in food you may find their work as exciting as I do!

I’m 7 days into my two week visit to Yangon. I’m here to see how the city is and get to know Harmoneat a little better. I wasn’t sure what to expect since Myanmar has been quite closed off from the rest of the world over the last 60 years. The military dictatorship in Myanmar officially ended in 2011, with the next general elections scheduled to take place around the end of October 2015. Arriving in Yangon, everything felt kind of familiar. My family are originally from Hong Kong and Yangon reminds me very much of Hong Kong, but maybe the way Hong Kong was 20 years ago… The city is vibrant and full of life, people live simply but technology and western influences have begun to take hold! Everywhere you see young people stuck to their smart phones and multistory apartment blocks are being built all over the city.

Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi- Nov 2014

Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi- Nov 2014 (www.abc.net.au)

President Obama has been in town this week too. I wasn’t aware of this until someone was complaining about the traffic jams, blaming Obama’s security for the massive delays it is causing to every day people going about their day to day lives. This is Obama’s second visit to Myanmar in two years and his visit has obviously caused a stir in the media. I’m sure that the Burmese people have mixed opinions about his visit and his speeches, but I can see that it is an exciting era in Myanmar! I look forward to being seeing the future of Myanmar and positive change for the good of the people.

Myanmar

Myanmar

So back to the food! Myanmar’s food is massively diverse due to the numerous ethnic groups that make up the population. Myanmar borders the countries of Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand, all having an influence on Myanmar food and culture! Can you Imagine the melting pot of ingredients and exciting flavours to be discovered?

In the mere 7 days I have been here, I have only just dipped my toes into the array of foods available to try. It is so unfortunate that there is such a limited amount of food that the body can consume when you are faced with having to make difficult choices every meal time… what to eat next?! My life is so hard these days, right?! 😉

I also had to fortune to attend a Harmoneat cooking class and market tour earlier in the week, learning 5 new recipes one one 3 hour cooking class. The tastes were amazingly varied and everything was made from fresh ingredients bought from the market that morning. I’ll be posting the recipes shortly! 🙂

Myanmar-Tea shop

Myanmar-Tea shop
(http://asiastreetfood.com/)

I’ve eaten out quite a lot here and food is amazingly cheap to buy! There is a variety of food outlets, from a basic road side tea shop to upmarket western restaurants selling nouvelle cuisine. Of course the prices vary dramatically depending on if you are eating local or imported produce, but considering you can get a bowl of noodles with dumplings for less than £1 in a decent restaurant frequented by locals and tourists alike I’d say that food is comparatively cheap…

Shan Chicken Noodles with Dumplings

Shan Chicken Noodles with Dumplings

 I have plenty of food pictures to share as I have been eating my way around Yangon, but I’ve also recipes to share too! Thanks for your patience in getting to the end of this long post, I promise the next posts will be going back to recipes… 🙂

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Coconut and Pineapple Layer Cake

Coconut and Pineapple Layer Cake

Coconut and Pineapple Layer Cake

Coconut and Pineapple Layer Cake

I’ve gone from hardly baking any cakes recently to two birthday cakes in one week! The first being a Chocolate and Caramel Cake (post to follow) and the second was this Coconut and Pineapple Cake. It is almost a year to the day that I last baked a Coconut Cake. I know this because the cake was made for my cousin’s birthday and this cake was made for her next birthday! What else do you bake a coconut addict than a Coconut Cake?

Since last year’s cake was a bit complicated, and this year I didn’t have as much time so I tried a simplified version with the additional flavour of pineapple to give it a twist! After lots of searching for Pineapple and Coconut cakes, I ended up using a mish-mash of recipes to tailor the cake to the ingredients I actually had to hand (I couldn’t be bothered to head to the shops!) 🙂

I am going to be the first to admit that this cake didn’t turn out too pretty, however for what it lack in the eye candy department it more than makes up for in flavour! I have a knack of trying to fit too many things in at the same time, so I was finishing the decorating of this cake whilst last minute packing for a trip to Myanmar (Burma) the next day. I’d like to think that if I had more time I would have spent more time on the presentation, for example getting some dried pineapple slices and making them into pretty flowers to top the cake. However my attempts to get some at the local supermarket were fruitless (excuse the pun!) and I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so a bit of quick chocolate writing was what I settled for… any suggestions for future cake decorating in the comments box below please! 😀

Although this cake has a few steps, it is actually quite simple to make as the pineapple filling and the coconut custard for the frosting can be easily made whilst the sponge is baking in the oven! The ingredients are mostly store cupboard basics so should be fairly easy to get together. Feel free to use fresh pineapple if you can get it (and have the time to cut it up and prep it!)

Cake: 

  • 175 g Self Raising Flour
  • 1.5 tsp Baking powder
  • 130 g Caster sugar
  • 3 Medium eggs
  • 130 g Butter, melted
  • 2 tbs Coconut cream
  • 60 g Desiccated coconut
Pineapple Filling

Pineapple Filling

Pineapple filling:

  • 540 g Can of pineapple (340 g drained weight)
  • 2 tbs Cornflour
Coconut Custard

Coconut Custard

Coconut Cream Frosting:

  • 370 ml Coconut milk
  • 2 Egg yolks
  • 20 g Caster sugar
  • 2 tbs Cornflour
  • 300 ml Double cream

To Decorate:

  •  20 g Desiccated coconut, toasted
Coconut Cream and Pineapple Cake

Coconut Cream and Pineapple Cake

Method:

For the Cake:

  • Using an electric whisk, beat the eggs and sugar until you see ribbons trails when stirred, lightly beat in the coconut cream
  • Slowly stir in the melted butter, try to avoid knocking too much air out of the mixture
  • Sift in the flour and baking powder along with the desiccated coconut, lightly combine so it is just mixed together
  • Bake the batter in a lined round 23 cm spring form cake tin for 25 minutes, 180 degrees C (fan oven)
  • Remove cake from the tin and allow to cool completely

For the Pineapple filling:

  • Pour the pineapple juice/syrup from the can into a jug and combine with the cornflour until smooth
  • Chop up the pineapple into small chunks and put into a saucepan
  • Warm up the pineapples in the pan and add the cornflour and juice mixture, keep on a low heat and the mixture will slowly thicken to look similar to apple sauce
  • Leave to one side to cool completely

For the Coconut cream frosting:

  • Make a coconut custard by combining the egg yolks with the cornflour into a smooth paste, warm in a saucepan and slowly add the coconut milk into the thicken egg mixture so you have a smooth custard
  • Keeping the pan on a low heat, add the sugar and continuously whisk until the mixture forms a very thick custard, don’t allow the custard to stick to the bottom of the pan
  • Set the custard to one side until completely cold. This can be made ahead and refrigerated, but ensure you cover the custard with cling film to prevent it from forming a skin
  • Whip up the double cream until peaks form, add the coconut custard and lightly whisk to combine

To assemble and decorate:

  • Cut the cake through the middle to create two layers, using the top as the bottom layer
  • Cover the bottom layer with a layer of the coconut cream frosting, then add the pineapple filling on top. I only used half the pineapple filling in the end as I was worried it would be too much!
  • Add the second layer of sponge then completely cover the whole cake with the left over frosting
  • Decorate with the toasted desiccated coconut
Coconut Cream Layer Cake

Coconut Cream and Pineapple Layer Cake

As you can see from the, slightly dodgy, photo of the inside of the cake it is packed with filling and cream. The contrast in textures and flavours worked well, the cake sponge was a little on the dry side but the cream helped to balance this out. All in all, a tasty version of the coconut cake in less than half the time of the original! 🙂

 

Turkey and Cous Cous Stuffed Peppers

Turkey, Feta, and Cous Cous Stuffed Peppers: Halloween fun

Turkey, Feta, and Cous Cous Stuffed Peppers

Turkey and Cous Cous Stuffed Peppers

Turkey, Feta, and Cous Cous Stuffed Peppers

Halloween party food can be full of food colouring and artificial flavourings, which I try and avoid as much as I can when cooking for myself. When looking up Halloween food recipes it was difficult to find something that would appeal to children as well as adults, as well as being filling and fun!

image

Turkey, feta, and cous cous stuffed peppers

This idea came from Google images of similar creations posted by people and is a great way of creating the Halloween look with little effort. It can also be adapted to suit any dietary requirements, I chose to use Turkey mince, feta cheese and cous cous. I found these huge peppers that were perfect for making the ‘pumpkins’ as I was worried they would shrink quite a lot upon baking.

I also made the ‘pumpkins’ with friendly faces so my 3 year old nephew would not be too scared to eat his dinner! 🙂

Turkey, Feta and Cous Cous

Turkey, Feta and Cous Cous

Ingredients:

  • 6 Large yellow bell peppers
  • 500 g Turkey Mince
  • 200 g Feta cheese
  • 2 tbs Tomato puree
  • 250 ml Passata
  • 1 Courgette (diced)
  • 1 Medium onion (diced)
  • 2 Cloves garlic  (crushed)
  • 150 g Chestnut mushrooms (diced)
  • 100 g cous cous, prepared as advised on packaging
  • 2 tbs vegetable oil
  • salt and pepper

Method:

  • In a frying pan, fry the onions and garlic in the oil until lightly browned then add the turkey mince and stir fry until half cooked
  • Add the courgettes, mushrooms and tomato puree stir frying until evenly combined
  • Add the passata and salt and pepper to taste, allow to simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes. Take off the heat and allow to cool before adding the prepared cous cous and crumbled feta, carefully mixing in so that the feta stays in large chunks
  • In the mean time carefully cut off the top of the pepper so the stalk remains intact with the ‘lid’ and remove the core and seeds
  • Carve the faces into the peppers, you’ll probably be better at this than me so be creative! 😀
  • Line up all the peppers in a deep casserole dish and fill each ‘pepper pumpkin’ with the turkey, feta and cous cous stuffing. Replace the top of the pepper to complete the ‘pumpkin’ look
  • Bake the pumpkins at 180 degree C for 30-40 minutes until the peppers are cooked through. The filling is cooked so only needs to be warmed through

 

 

 

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Turkey, feta, and cous cous stuffed poppers