First-time local cookbook author Annette Isaac’s delightfully simple recipes

Isaac is an experienced food stylist with a passion for food and a knack for creating simple, cost-effective recipes that are still packed with flavor. — WHAT DO YOU WANT TO COOK? For most Malaysians, food is the main force in their lives. But because of the variety of recipe ideas, cooking styles and combinations, there is one endless question that plagues the average Malaysian: what to cook?

This is exactly the conundrum food stylist Annette Isaac wants to tackle with her debut cookbook, aptly titled What to Cook Laaa…“I think if you cook every day, after a while it becomes a question of what to cook ? There are so many options out there, so sometimes it’s about going back to basics and making simple comfort food,” says Isaac.

Isaac is an experienced food stylist who has always had a deep passion and love for food. As a child, he played a lot in the kitchen and this later developed when he went to university to study law and assumed the role of cook among his friends. It’s a fun role in the house – I have six housemates and we always have dinner parties!” he remembered, laughing.

After graduation, Isaac helped set up a regional office for a university but still dabbled in the food world, catering to friends. Eventually, she landed a marketing role in a frozen food company where she met a wide variety of people in the food industry. This later led to him opening his own restaurant Dish Deli in Kuala Lumpur. After closing the restaurant a few years later, the enterprising Isaac then ventured into food styling.

I got involved by chance – I said ‘Good’ to help someone and found it interesting and challenging and I also found that I had a talent for it. So I started building my food styling experience and getting clients from there. Today, I also doing recipe development and working with companies to put together international food shows and exhibitions,” he said.

Having his own cookbook was an extension of Isaac’s overall love of food and also the realization of a long held dream. It’s always been on my bucket list – my original idea started growing when I was a student. Initially, I wanted to make a cookbook focused on simple recipes mainly for students. But this book has culminated in recipes that students, beginners and also an experienced cook.

I wrote this book because I know many students and also young couples who do not know how to cook. And cooking is a life skill that everyone can and should pick up easily because then you don’t have to depend on anyone to eat. I also really believe that everyone can cook,” Isaac said. To compile the cookbook, Isaac scoured his arsenal of recipes, from childhood favorites to dishes he picked up from his aunts, friends’ mothers and his own mother.

He eventually whittled down his long list to about 50 recipes that had special meaning to him and fulfilled his basic dictum of being easy to implement. The concept of the book is simple: I want it to be very accessible to beginners, so I don’t want to make it too difficult or scary. Sometimes when you open a recipe book, you can be very overwhelmed! So I made the recipes as simple as possible without losing the flavor, ” he said.

The book itself is filled with a variety of delicious everyday recipes that appeal to Malaysian palates, from local favorites such as eggplant chili, red-cooked chicken, claypot chicken rice, meat curry, steamed eggs, porridge, sambal-stuffed puffer fish and onde-onde to Western foods like spiced roast beef, creamy scrambled eggs and apple and peach crumble.

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Each recipe has an accompanying image – beautifully styled by Isaac himself of course – which also makes it easy to see what the final product will look like. What is clear is that this is a cookbook that even the most desperate of cooks will be able to navigate with ease. Most ingredient lists are very short (a joy for simple home cooks), so it’s no problem to buy and use 20 ingredients to make one curry. Everything is very, very simple and refreshingly uncomplicated.

Isaac’s basic ethos – as espoused in the recipes in the book – is that less is more. There is also a concerted effort throughout the book to use and reuse spices, herbs and other ingredients that can be easily obtained anywhere in Malaysia at minimal cost, such as chillies, garlic, tomatoes and limes. This is especially important, given that the average Malaysian is currently struggling to cook nutritious meals while swimming against the tide of rising food costs.

Most of the ingredients are generic, easily available here and cost effective. I also reuse a lot of the same ingredients, so the same thing can be used for different dishes, so you don’t have to fill the fridge or freezer with so many different things. Because of that nowadays even with the rising cost of food, there’s so much food waste, so I make sure to tell people that even if a recipe says to use certain vegetables, they don’t have to go out and buy them. if they don’t have it. They can just use whatever they have at home.

I wrote the cookbook this way because for me, as a student, I had to be careful to maintain a budget so I have taken that thought process from my student days to today, and I think many people will find this useful,” he said. Going forward, Isaac said he hopes to continue producing concise cookbooks focused on Malaysian cuisine as there is so much richness and diversity in the local culinary tapestry.

I always hope that having one cookbook will lead to another, because we have so many food stories to tell in Malaysia. So I want to make more cookbooks related to Malaysian ingredients that we have, including what is available in Sabah and Sarawak. And hopefully I will meet interesting people along the way and we can share our stories,” he said. Masak Apa Laaa… is priced at RM60 and is available at most major bookstores.

GRILL SEAFOOD PARCEL: Dish 4, 30ml vegetable oil, To blend, fresh green chili, green chilies, green tomato, red onions, clove of garlic, 60ml lime juice, salt and sugar to taste, For seafood packaging, 100g of clams, 50g lala, 10 mussels, 200g chunks of fish filling, 3 okra, thinly sliced, 3 square beans, thinly sliced, 100ml coconut milk

In a pan, heat some oil and fry the ground ingredients until fragrant. Let cool and season to taste, if necessary. Place all seafood, okra and square beans in a package made of aluminum foil. Combine the coconut milk with the stir-fried ingredients and pour over the seafood mixture. Tuck the foil around to make a sealed package. Place the package on a baking tray and bake in an oven preheated to 180˚C for 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate, unwrap and serve.

SPICY ROAST MEAT: Meals 6 to 8, For meat rub, tablespoons olive oil, tablespoon mixed herbs, teaspoon dried rosemary, small spoons of chili flakes, cloves of garlic, chopped, teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, teaspoons of salt. To roast, 2½ kg ribs, 2 shallots, cut into cubes, 2 carrots, cut into small pieces, 1 cup hot water

Mix all the ingredients for the meat rub. Rub into the rib eye and let marinate for 4 hours or longer in the refrigerator. Remove the marinated ribs from the refrigerator an hour before cooking to allow them to reach room temperature. Preheat the oven to 240°C. Arrange the onions and carrots in a single layer in the bottom of a sturdy roasting tin large enough to hold the beef. Pour hot water into the baking pan.

Bake at 240°C for 20 minutes, then reduce to 190°C. Roast for 75 minutes for medium doneness (60°C) or 100 minutes if you want your beef well done (71°C). Cover the pan with aluminum foil for 30 minutes before slicing the meat. Serve with roasted potatoes and other vegetables.

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