comfort food to-go

LaZat Malaysian Cooking ClassLaZat Malaysian Cooking Class LaZat Malaysian Cooking Class LaZat Malaysian Cooking Class LaZat Malaysian Cooking Class LaZat Malaysian Cooking ClassLaZat Malaysian Cooking Class LaZat Malaysian Cooking ClassIn Malaysia, food is everything. Food is the center of family and friend gatherings, celebrations, and everyday conversation. It's such a hot topic that even while you're enjoying a meal, you're already discussing what and where your next one will be. Malaysians are serious about their makan-makan - or "eat-eat" - and we've happily joined them, full bellies and all.

But now that we're leaving Kuala Lumpur soon, we've been loading up on our local favorites like roti canai, nasi lemak, char kway teow, beef rendang, chicken curry, and pandan flavored treats. What will we do when we can't simply walk down the street to grub on our newly adopted comfort food? The only option is to make it ourselves!

Enter LaZat, a local enterprise offering Malaysian home-cooking classes set in a typical Malaysian home nestled in the trees just outside of KL. I took an Indian cuisine class with them last year so when Joe said that he couldn't leave Malaysia without learning how to make his beloved beef rendang and curry chicken, I knew exactly where to go.

From the moment you arrive, you feel like family. Owner Ana and home-cook chefs Sue and Saadiah are warm, welcoming, and are equally excited to learn about where you're from (and where you've been) as they are to share their passions and skills in the kitchen. They take great pride in using fresh ingredients and have a way of making even the most intimidated wannabe-cook feel at ease. Everything for the day's menu is pre-measured and pre-arranged, laid out beautifully on woven straw trays and decorative dishes.

As soon as I saw (and smelled) the colorful and fragrant spices, I was ready to get down to business, work that mortar and pestle, and heat things up in a traditional brass wok. We spent the next few hours switching from watching how it's done to getting it done all while teasing our grumbling stomachs every time the wind picked up the aromas coming from our stove tops.

All of that teasing was worth it. We had our grand feast in the end but the true beauty was in the process. The simple things like remembering that some of the greatest food takes the longest time (patience is key), learning that it's okay to throw in whole spice seeds, rather than ground or crushed, and realizing that for any meal to be Malaysian, it probably has to have a decent dose of coconut milk (yum and yum).

Now that I'm a LaZat alum, I'm excited to take the confidence I got there and bring it into my own kitchen. I'd love to push my boundaries beyond olive oil and salt and pepper and get more creative with spices and herbs. I took a baby step a few nights ago while making applesauce and I was quite proud of my small kitchen victory. Instead of adding ground cinnamon for flavor, I let the apples boil and reduce with whole cinnamon sticks, a few star anise, and lemon juice for preservation. The results? Amazing. The Malaysian recipes we learned have a bit more to them but I think I'm on my way to being able to prepare the dishes we've come to love. We have a brass wok ready to go so the next step will be to buy a mortar and pestle. Hopefully we get a chance to use it before we have to pack it in a box but regardless where that box ends up, we'll know that we have the tools to satisfy our cravings and makan-makan our honorary Malaysian hearts out.



doing the wok

brass wok 2brass wok 4 brass wok 3

Last week I attended a local cooking class and while I completely forgot to take my camera along for photos, I did leave with a beautiful brass wok; crafted right here in Malaysia and just what our wet kitchen needed. What is a wet kitchen you may ask? It's a secondary room with a gas stove, sink, window, and a door - all for cooking and frying up your fish and meats without stinking up the rest of the house. So yeah, we have a second kitchen right off of the main one and it's totally at least ;)

Our wet kitchen also doubles as a laundry and storage room so we often forget to cook in it. But, now that we have a fancy new wok I'm more than ready to get in there and get dirty. The class I took was for Indian cuisine and my faves were the potato samosas and dhall curry. I'm hoping that I can make my home versions taste just as good since I'm pretty sure that most of the flavor came from the love and sweetness of our instructors Sue and Saadiah. They reminded me that a good meal is all about a pinch of love and dash of creativity ... and now, using an awesome brass wok to fry fry fry.

If you find yourself in KL and want to cook like a local, check out LaZat. I loved it and already want to go back for another course.

advanced home economics

The most formal training I'd ever had in cooking was in seventh grade during my home economics class where we learned how to make pancakes and fry an egg. Something obviously didn't stick because it took fifteen years to become interested in taking another food related course.

This past weekend I spent the day at the new lab kitchen of London Cuisine in Southwark. I found them online during the Christmas break after getting frustrated about not understanding the basics. Like, why does my oil always burn? What does all that steam mean - good or bad? I know it may sounds ridiculous to you long-time chefs but that's where I was at. Totally clueless. While trial and error is often the best way to learn new things, I didn't love that approach when food was involved. Getting things wrong kept resulting in a big wast of money and leaving us with a bowl of cereal for dinner. So, the way I looked at it was this one time investment in a class would save us money in the long run by giving me the confidence to cook well and more often at home ... Joe can't do it all of the time! Actually, I was perfectly fine with him doing all of the cooking but now I want in.

The class was called "Cooking For Blokes" but of course, ladies are welcome. It was a small group of five and the men who were there had been given the class as a Christmas gift.  We started at 10am and had two separate cooking sessions with detailed instructions and demonstrations before each one. It was a nice surprise to realize that we'd be making actual dishes and not simply learning to boil water! Those basics and principles were taught, however, through the preparation of each dish and open Q&A's throughout the day. We made nine items ranging from parmesan biscotti to french potato soup but my personal favorites were the neapolitan peasant pasta, smoked mackerel and herb fishcakes, and mediterranean tabelleh. Everything was super easy to prepare and to cook but what made all of the difference was understanding the methods to achieve the best consistency, texture, and get the most flavor.

Here are some of the tips I learned...

• never put oil into a cold pan. to get the most out of your oil before it reaches its smoking point you should always heat the pan first, add any high moisture ingredients and then add your oil. otherwise you waste the oil's lifespan and effectiveness for flavor.

• always add dry herbs last and cruch/rub in fingers before doing so to release essential oils.

• there's no need to add oil to water when boiling pasta nor after the pasta has been drained. instead, drain the pasta and immediately run cold water over it to stop it from cooking. then place back in dry pot to keep warm.

• salt burns before fat so unsalted butter is best when cooking with it.

• flour should be high in protein for the most flavor. supermarket brands are often low on this so it's best to compare when shopping.

• the thinner the cucumber the better because the wider they get, the more water content they have (less flavorfull)

• not one oil can/should do it all: olive oil is best for everyday cooking, virgin olive oil is best with indirect heat but should be not directly cooked with in a pan, and extra virgin olive - which has the lowest smoking point - should only be used for on-the-plate coating once ready to be served.

Did any of these surprise you? Agree or disagree? I'd love to hear from you seasoned cooks out there ... I've got more confidence now but I know that there's still a lot to learn!