Friday, December 21, 2012

Kastengel--Savory Cheese Sticks

Santa don't want no cookies this Christmas Eve.  All that milk and sugar brings him down with a blood sugar crash, a Christmas day funk that lasts through New Year's.  So this year we're leaving him some kastengel and a glass of thick red wine, or maybe some scotch.

The Dutch didn't leave Indonesia much from 350 years of colonialism.  They were more interested in what they could take from the archipelago than in what they could contribute to it.  One thing they did leave was an appetite for kastengel.  Look at the ingredients and you immediately recognize they did not spring from the Indonesian islands.  Yet, kastengel are a favorite treat to celebrate Lebaran and other major holidays.  Cheesy, buttery, and utterly lacking in nutritional merit, kastengel make tremendous sense as a way to celebrate the end of a month of fasting. 

Kastengel are also a nice change from the overabundance of sweets following Ramadan and during the holiday season in the US.  Cookies are everywhere at this time of year.  Snickerdoodles, ginger snaps, candy cane meringues, almond crescents, and Russian tea cakes abound.  That Santa doesn't slip into a diabetic coma is a Christmas miracle in itself.  Leave a few kastengel in place of the usual cookies and Santa will be pleased.  He may even be extra good to you.

I had never heard of Nyonya Liem or Ibu Liem until Tjing asked me to make some kastengel, but a google search for kastengel resulted in her name appearing again and again.  So I adapted her recipe, simplifying its directions, and translating it into English.  I'm sure the cheddar cheese her recipe calls for is the Kraft processed cheddar that one can find fairly easily in Indonesia.  It makes a more decorative topping of the kastengel as it could probably be baked in a potter's kiln without melting.  A grated parmesan or other relatively dry cheese will produce similar results.  I used a mix of parmesan and a good English cheddar.

Kastengel ala Ny. Liem

I am giving the measurements most Americans are comfortable with; however,  I use a scale when making these as it just makes it easier.  The original recipe calls for equal parts butter and margarine, 150 grams each.

2 cubes butter (8 oz/227 gr), room temperature
6 TBS margarine, room temperature
2 egg yolks
1 tsp salt
3 1/3 TBS (50 ml) half and half
4 oz parmesan cheese, grated
4 oz cheddar/edam/gouda, grated

3 TBS (25 gr)corn starch
5 TBS (25 gr)powdered milk (the original recipe calls for full cream powdered milk, but I used non-fat as that is what is readily available in the US and it worked fine)
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups (500 gr) all purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder

Egg wash of egg yolks mixed with a little oil and water
Finely grated cheddar/parmesan cheese

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, margarine, and egg yolks.  Using a mixer, beat the ingredients for 3 to 5 minutes until light and fluffy.  Beat in the cream to further lighten the mixture.  Add in the cheese and continue to beat until thoroughly mixed in.

In another bowl mix together the dry ingredients.  Slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter/cheese mixture until all the flour has been incorporated.  You will have what looks like a bowlful of crumbly particles.  The dough will not come together until you press it together with your hands.

To make the logs, press together a handful of the mixture and roll it into a rope, like making a playdough snake.  You want the rope to be not quite as thick as an AA battery.  Using an AA battery as a guide, cut the rope of dough into pieces the length of a battery.  Place the cut pieces about 1 inch apart from each other on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Once you have filled a baking sheet with the cut pieces, brush them with the egg yolk wash.  I make a wash with one egg yolk at a time and have found that will usually be enough for one baking sheet (about 50 kastengel).  Sprinkle the finely grated cheese atop the pieces.

Bake in a pre-heated 300º oven for about 20 minutes.  Lower the heat to 200º and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until the kastengel are cooked through, but not really browned.

This makes a lot.  10 to 12 dozen.  The dough can be frozen.  Bring it to room temperature before attempting to roll it out and make the kastengel.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sop Buntut--Indonesian Oxtail Soup

Sop buntut is not my favorite Indonesian dish.  It is, however, extremely popular on Java.  It is a soup that is at once hearty and delicate, the oxtails being a rich, surprisingly fatty meat, yet the broth is light and fragrant with spice.  As with Vietnamese Pho Bo, it is the broth that is the mark of a good sop buntut.

The broth should be clear and fragrant, not muddied from simmering the ox tail.  The spices--cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, pepper--should flavor the soup as the flute accents Sundanese gamelan.  Carrots and potatoes are included with the broth.  In most recipes the potatoes are simply added to the broth towards the end of the cooking.  I like James Oseland's method of frying the potatoes before adding them to the broth at the end.  It provides another note to the soup.

My wife, Tjing, is not much of a beef eater, but she does like sop buntut.  While oxtails are a cheaper cut in Indonesia, here in the US oxtails are relatively expensive.  I'm sure most Indonesians would consider it shocking that a kilogram of oxtails goes for around 95,000 Rp.  Considering the amount of bone and fat you get, they are definitely not a bargain.  Still, happy wife, happy life, so if Tjing wants some oxtail soup, that's fine with me.

Sop Buntut--Indonesian Oxtail Soup
(adapted from Cradle of Flavor)

2 1/2 pounds oxtails, cut into sections at the vertebrae
3 quarts water
1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and bruised
1 piece cinnamon stick
7 cloves
1 whole nutmeg, cracked into several pieces
1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 TBS sugar
2 tsp salt
3--4 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal about 1/4-inch thick
3--4 yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1--2 ripe tomatoes (I used cherry tomatoes), sliced into wedges
1 stalk of Chinese celery (seledri), finely chopped
2 green onions, white part only, thinly sliced
2 TBS fried shallots
2 TBS fried garlic slices
peanut or vegetable oil for frying the potatoes

In a large soup pot, bring the oxtails and water to a steady boil over high heat.  Use a spoon or a fine mesh skimmer to skim off any foam that rises to the surface.  After you have removed as much foam as possible, reduce the heat to medium-low and add the ginger.  Cover and simmer for about an hour.

Next, add the spices, including the sugar and salt, to the pot and continue to simmer, covered, for another 30--45 minutes.  The meat should be just beginning to come away from the bones.  Taste the broth and add salt to taste.

While the broth simmers, prepare the carrots and potatoes.  Bring a medium-sized saucepan of water to a boil.  Add the carrots and boil until just tender, two to three minutes.  Drain them in a colander and rinse with cold water.

Lightly fry the potatoes until they are light brown.  They should be just cooked through the center.  Drain on paper towels.

To serve, place some oxtail, carrots, and potatoes in a bowl.  Ladle in some hot broth.  Top with some wedges of ripe tomato.  Sprinkle with the fried shallots, fried slices of garlic, sliced green onion, and chopped Chinese celery.

Serve with rice and sambal.  Emping melinjo (melinjo crackers) are a nice accompaniment.