Best potluck ever and a taste tripping party to boot!

I knew I was in for some good eats when I was invited to a potluck dinner party at A Canadian Foodie‘s gorgeous house (a.k.a Valerie), and then I found out that over 30 foodies and bloggers were invited. And when I found out that part of the evening includes a chance to try the miracle berry, well let’s just say that there was nothing short of the plague that was going to keep me away.

I started off trying to take nice photos but then I eventually gave up and took half-hearted, slightly blurry ones instead. There were lots of other people with better photos though, so don’t worry I’m sure there will be more popping up on blogs soon! I’m linking to recipes and blogs as much as possible but there were so many people there that it’s inevitable that I will miss some.

Valerie and her husband Vanja are great hosts and they made me feel welcome as soon as I stepped into their home. I thought I was going to arrive a little bit late but people were just starting to arrive when I got there. Valerie was prepared – name tags for all of us as well as tags for all our dishes!

potluck signs

potluck signs

more potluck signs

more potluck signs

Look at the dish names; this wasn’t just any old potluck! When foodies bring food (even “simple dishes” like we were instructed), we go all out.

Moose tongue and homemade saskatoon wine

Moose tongue and homemade saskatoon wine

Two different cuts of smoked moose tongue and homemade saskatoon wine by the talented Kevin Kossowan. Tasted like a heavily smoked ham and was delish. I think I preferred the texture of the back section of the tongue more though (dish on the left).

kefta, prosciutto and fig crostini, and tzaziki

kefta, prosciutto and fig crostini, and tzaziki

Kefta from XOX Lea Lea, prosciutto and fig crostini, and tzaziki from Take it and Like it.

OMG so much food!

OMG so much food!

Then so many people started to arrive all at once and I gave up trying to take photos of everyone’s dishes. Just look at that bounty! My mouth waters just thinking about all the yummy dishes. Yes, someone brought a rice cooker. And someone else brought a tagine! I’m glad Valerie let me borrow one of her dishes to plate my dessert, cause I think my plastic Ziploc container wouldn’t have looked nearly as impressive. Continue reading

Pandan Agar Agar recipe

I am going to a potluck dinner today! (More on that another day.) I wanted to bring something a little different that some people may not have tried before. This is a South-East Asian vegetarian and dairy-free gelatin dessert that uses a couple of ingredients that may seem exotic to people unfamiliar with food from Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines or Malaysia.

Pandan Agar Agar

Pandan Agar Agar

Pandan leaves (also known as pandanus or screw pine leaves) are a plant that is often used in South-East Asian cooking and appears in desserts, flavoured rice, curries, etc. The taste and smell of pandan is uniquely floral and slightly grassy. It is often paired with coconut; in fact, if you buy something that is coconut flavoured and it is green coloured, it probably has some pandan in it as well. People sometimes say that pandan leaves are as important to South-East Asian cooking as vanilla is to Western cooking. In Edmonton, you can purchase pandan leaves frozen from Asian grocery stores like T&T Supermarket and 99 Supermarket. I picked up pandan extract at 99 Supermarket.

pandan extract

pandan extract

Agar agar is a derived from an algae and is often used as a substitute for gelatin. It is most commonly used in South-East Asian and Japanese desserts, but sometimes gets used as a general thickener for food. You can sometimes find them in Asian grocery stores as long, dried strips, flakes or as a powder.

I originally was going to use a recipe that I found on the Internet or from a cookbook, but all of the ones I found weren’t quite what I was looking for. I ended up doing a test run and finally settled on these measurements as my preferred recipe.

Pandan Agar Agar

Ingredients
1 1/2 cup water
400 ml (approx 2 cups) thick coconut milk (use a higher fat milk – the one I used had 17 g of fat per 1/2 cup)
2/3 cup sugar
3 tsp powdered agar agar
approx 1/2 tsp pandan (also known as screw pine) extract (also sometimes called essence or paste)

Directions
Place the water, coconut milk and sugar into a pot and bring to a low boil.

Sprinkle the agar agar powder into the pot slowly while continuously stirring the mixture. Be careful because the powder can easily clump in the liquid if you add it too quickly. If it does clump, then break it up as much as you can and keep slowly stirring until the lumps dissolve in the liquid.

Slowly add the pandan extract until the desired green colour is achieved. I added 1/2 tsp, but really the amount added depends on your preference.

Place the mixture into molds or a casserole dish and let cool. Agar agar will become solid at room temperature, but it will solidify faster in cold temperatures. I generally let the agar agar cool down a little bit, and then pop them into the fridge. I recommend making your layer about 1/2 inch tall or less; once you get much bigger than that the mixture will settle toward the bottom and the top part of the agar agar will become translucent. The flavour will fall to the bottom as well.

Once cool, unmold or cut the agar agar into squares, rectangles, parallelograms. I used a small cookie cutter to create fun shapes.

N.B. Alternatively you can use pandan leaves and make a pandan juice instead of using the extract. To create the juice you take about 8 long leaves and rinse them. Chiffonade the leaves if you can, or at least try to slice them into as small pieces as possible. Place them into a blender with 2/3 a cup of water and puree. Strain the mixture with a cheesecloth. If you substitute the juice for the pandan extract, remember to reduce the amount of the water in the above recipe to 1 cup.

This dessert can be made vegan if vegan sugar is used. It is Celiac-friendly as well, but you probably need to use the juice instead as I am not 100% sure the extract is gluten-free.

Kek Seng Kopitiam, Malaysia

Laksa, popiah and ais kacang with durian ice cream oh my! Just a warning, this is going to be a long post. Kek Seng Kopitiam (coffee shop) is an institution in Penang. It’s been around for years and years, and frankly the atmosphere is a little dingy (although all the tables, plates, bowls, etc. were clean). The food is a little more old fashioned too; unlike at someplace like New World, the food is pretty much how it was served 30+ years ago (found something online that says Kek Seng opened in 1906). When we were there it was quite busy but we managed to snag a table.

One thing I miss dearly about Malaysia was the easy access to laksa. And by laksa, I mean Penang assam laksa. I talked about curry mee (curry laksa) a little while ago. That one is a coconut-based curry broth. Penang-style assam laksa is a sour, mackerel-based soup that is flavoured with tamarind, lemongrass, galangal, chilli, ginger flower buds, mint, pineapple and onion. You also usually get a soup spoon filled with a thick, sweet prawn paste called Hae Ko, and the whole thing is served with rice noodles (either thick or vermicelli).

The assam laksa at Kek Seng was one of my favourites that I had throughout the trip. A strong fish broth with all those spices and a slight sourness; my mouth is watering as I type this. This first photo is of the hawker stall; those pink things are the ginger flowers. When I’ve shown that photo to other people, the reaction I’ve gotten has been “you mean they actually use flowers and not ginger root?!”

Penang assam laksa hawker stall

Penang assam laksa hawker stall

Continue reading