Thursday, July 28, 2011

Steamed Pork Patty With Tung Choi


Homey, yes. Humble, yes. Easy to cook, yes. And yet this is delicious as delicious does, if that makes any sense. What I want to say is, don't judge this dish by its unimpressive looks.

I grew up eating this Cantonese dish and I suspect my mom cooked it whenever she ran out of ideas. Sometimes she even topped the patty with little strips of pork kidney, very yum too. We were never tired of it and ate lots of plain rice whenever this dish was on the table. In those days, we kids would wait at the table for Dad to get out of his shower. We never complained about our food because we had to sit and drool at the dishes while waiting for Dad to come out of the bathroom. Dad would open the door and we would sit up, all 5 of us, and at his same daily gesture (a dismissive wave of his hand) and words ("Eat, eat"), we'd dive in with our chopsticks like a pack of hungry beggars. I think mom made us sit at the table to wait for Dad to teach us restraint and we were well-trained, all of us. These days, I have to holler for Wey to come to the table and when he finally appears, he sometimes just nibbles a mouthful and leaves the table, like the food is so unpalatable. With my parents, you don't come to the table after Dad sat down. No no. If you do, a big scolding and no dinner for you.

Oh, the point is, this is a homey dish that my mom used to cook which I think is especially good for kids because it is easy to chew--it's all ground meat. I think you can substitute the pork with beef but not chicken. I just can't imagine eating steamed minced chicken. Ew. If you do use beef--sirloin or tenderloin--you can add water chestnuts for the extra sweetness and crunch. Beef can be rather coarse and dry and water chestnuts soften the coarseness. If you use pork, allow some pork fat in it so that it'll not taste coarse and of course, to improve the flavor. Whatever meat you use, make sure it's fresh, not frozen, because this dish is simple in ingredients and cooking and any staleness will be very noticeable.


Steamed Pork Patty With Tung Choi
400 gm fresh lean pork shoulder
1 heaped tablespoon tung choi
1 1/2 T light soy sauce
1/2 t salt (or to taste, remember tt tung choi is salted)
a few shakes of white pepper
1/4 cup water
3/4 T cornflour
chopped spring onions to garnish
1 T 'cooked' peanut oil

1. Trim the pork of stringy fat. Leave some firm fat on, they have a better texture and makes the pork taste less coarse. Chop the pork with a Chinese cleaver until fine. Wash the tung choi in several changes of water to remove grit and salt. Squeeze dry. Chop tung choi if like but I usually leave it.

2. Put the pork into a heat-proof plate, mix it well (I use my hands) with all the ingredients except the tung choi, spring onions and cooked oil. Pat it into a flat pancake. Scatter the tung choi on the patty. You can prepare up to this point and leave the pork in the fridge until about to cook dinner. Or you can stream it and then re-heat before eating. That's what I usually do.

3. Steam the pork for 15 minutes if meat patty is about 3/4" thick, longer if thicker.

4. Optional step: heat oil until just smoking and pour over the pork. Garnish with the spring onions.

Serve hot with plain rice.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

From Pyramid To Plate

Was chatting with a friend and we were on the topic of diabetes, how prevalent it is now. This friend lost 3 kgs in 1 month just by cutting down on fruits, her favorite food. I was most excited to hear that because I've always suspected fruits to be the culprit for diabetes along with carbs. Most of us think that fruits are okay because they are not processed and the sugar is natural. The bad news is sugar is still sugar. My hub used to eat water melons by the half fruit, a few oranges in one go, that sort of excessiveness. Now the new health advice (I think I read it in a recent issue of Reader's Digest) is to go easy on the fruits too, especially for people who are overweight or pre-and diabetic.

My friend's doctor told her that the Food Plate has now replaced the traditional Food Pyramid. The USDA's My Plate's biggest difference, from what I see, is the decreased portion of carbohydrates. Carbs make up over 1/4 of the plate only and are to be wholegrains instead of refined white rice or bread. Dairy is now optional or just an occasional treat and should be low-fat. Fruits still figure quite a bit but I think if you are Asian (more prone to diabetes) or overweight, veggies should be nearly half the plate, reducing the fruits. The other change I'm trying to make is the kind of fruits to consume. Look up the sugar content of fruits and you'll be shocked that there's so much sugar in some of them.

The new food plate makes so much sense. It is easier to remember too and visualise, because you can actually serve your meals literally to the recommended portions on the plate.

The USDA's recommendations as of June 2011:


Balancing Calories
● Enjoy your food, but eat less.
● Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase
● Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
● Make at least half your grains whole grains.
● Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Foods to Reduce
● Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals ― and choose the foods with lower numbers.
● Drink water instead of sugary drinks. PDF

Queen Of The Night

Queen of the night, the size of my outstretched hand, is ethereally beautiful.


Queen of The Night, Nightblooming Cereus, tan hua (Chinese), 9 O'Clock Flower (Sabah/Malaysia) and many more names are awarded to this delicate and beautiful bloom. This cactus flower reminds me of my parents who stayed up to wait for the buds of the Selenicereus grandiflorus to catch their beauty at their fullest at 9 pm. When I checked on the buds of my pot of tan hua (given by my in-laws') at 9 pm last night, they were still not fully opened. It was 10 pm when they opened to their fullest and I realized that the delay was due to the one-hour backward adjustment when East Malaysia time was synchronized with West Malaysia's more than ten years ago. Do you also realize that 6:30 am in the morning these days (height of summer in the northern hemisphere; Sabah is slighlty above the Equator) is like 9 am in December, bright and already warm?

We were summoned to my in-laws' at 11 pm Saturday night to see the blooming of their tan hua (a name which when applied to a person means a someone who makes a big but brief impression). The flower's Chinese name is very descriptive of this flower because it rarely flowers and when it does, it is awesomely beautiful and scented but only lasts one night. The tan hua's ephemeral life evokes a kind of mysticism and romanticism. Each time I see a tan hua open, I am reminded of how brief life is, even when things are going perfectly well. It is a flower that epitomizes the briefness and bittersweetness of life.

MIL has about 10 pots of 40-year-old  tan hua. More correctly, they are descended from plants propagated over the years from the original plants. Last Friday, there were about 20 blooms and  the next night, about 27. That isn't the record because many years ago, we counted over 50 blooms in one night. I took dozens of photos of the beautiful flowers but in the end, only those photos taken with the flash turned out good. There's still so much to learn about photography, especially in low light.

I think the tan hua is related to the dragonfruit, another cactus. I remember my mom cooked a pork and tan hua soup once although she doesn't remember it now. I still remember how it tasted--pleasant and a little bit slimy on the stalks. I wonder if they are good stuffed with mozzarella and deep-fried, like zucchini flowers?


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Brinjals Alba


I ate this dish at a pot luck dinner a few months ago and thought it was the best dish that night. Just when I wanted to call Flora for the recipe, I bumped into her at the wet market. She ranted off the ingredients and I ran home to cook the dish for some special guests visiting from Holland and the States. It was a hit with my guests although I didn't taste it myself.

Brinjals are delicious and I prefer them to eggplants for Asian cooking. Brinjals are narrow and long with a thin skin and soft flesh while eggplants are large, bulbous and have thick skin and firmer flesh. The two most common brinjals here are the 'curry' brinjals with thick, deep purple skin and plenty of seeds and the Taiwan brinjals which have a lighter, thinner purple skin, soft tender flesh and very few seeds. Taiwan brinjals are very good steamed and topped with crispy fried red onions or garlic, the oil the garlic/onions were fried in and light soy sauce, Maggi seasoning sauce being the best for this dish. I love brinjals stewed with salted fish but with all the talk about salted fish having Ridsect sprayed on them (I have seen it myself) to ward away flies, I use canned anchovies and although the dish is not the same, it is delicious.


I bought some baby brinjals recently and cooked Flora's recipe but it turned out that the baby brinjals were too tender for this recipe. I would stick with the regular mature brinjals and use baby brinjals for steaming instead. I was told that this is an Indian-Malay dish and that cuisine is quite alien to me (I do love it once in a while, especially the roti canais and the curries), I'm naming this dish brinjals alba, after the alba seeds used. Of course if you google that you'll get a photo of Jessica Alba, one of the prettiest faces in the world.

The amount of ingredients can be adjusted to your taste and in fact you should experiment with this dish because the recipe here is a rough estimate. This dish goes well with plain rice and maybe a curry or a fried fish. YUM.

Brinjals Alba (for 5 to 6 persons)
1 kg brinjals
8 small red onions (shallots), chopped
8 cloves of garlic, chopped
5 (more/less) dried chilies, washed and soaked in hot water until soft
1 piece thumb-sized ginger, smashed

1 T alba (brown mustard seeds)
3 to 4 sprigs curry leaves, washed & stripped from the stalks

1-2 T (to taste) assam jawa (wet tamarind seeds)
1-2 t caster sugar
salt to taste
3/4 cup light chicken stock

Optional: small handful of dried shrimps, washed and soaked for 5 minutes to soften, then chopped finely. Save the soaking water.

1. Cut the brinjals into 2 or 4 lengthwise and then into 2 crosswise to get thick long slices.

Pound the ginger, onions, garlic and chilies in a mortar into fine paste. If the amount seems too little, make more. There should be about 4 tablespoons for 1/2 kg brinjals.

Put the assam jawa into a small bowl, add about 1/4 cup warm water and massage the seeds until the water is thick. Strain juice through a small sieve and discard the seeds and pulp.

2. Heat up 1 cup of veg oil and fry the brinjals in batches until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Note: I think that the brinjals can be brushed with oil and roasted in the oven too. It'll be healthier that way.

3. In a casserole dish (if serving in it) or frying pan, fry the pounded ingredients (if using dried shrimps, add that too) in 2 T of oil until fragrant, about 3 minutes.

4. Add the alba seeds and curry leaves, fry for a few seconds and then add the assam juice, sugar and salt to taste. Pour in the stock and water from soaking the dried shrimps, stir well and when sauce is slightly thickened, add the fried brinjals. Season with salt and sugar. Cover and let simmer (low fire) for 5 to 7 minutes. Carefully lift the brinjals from the bottom to the top so that those brinjals at the top will have a chance to soak in the sauce too. Taste and season if necessary. Let cook another 2 minutes before turning off heat. Good to let it sit and re-heat for better flavor.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Gong Bao Ji Ding


The spicy Sichuan dish gong bao ji ding (Gong Bao's--whoever he was--chicken bits) is equivalent to the Cantonese gu lao rou (sweet and sour pork) in terms of popularity. Chinese restaurants in the USA in particular will without fail have gong bao ji ding, gu lao rou and beef with black soy beans on their menus.

I used to cook this dish until I taught my MIL who then cooked it so well that I gave up cooking it. Through the years however, MIL's gong bao ji ding has evolved according to my FIL's taste and she now makes the dish a mild version with lots of soy sauce, Shanghai-style, so recently I started cooking my version again and since she doesn't read my blog, I'll declare that my version is not only better than hers but also better than all the restaurants in this town because their gong bao ji ding are a black sticky mess of burnt chilies and a few chunks of chicken. I dare say that this recipe is so fool proof that there's no need for tweaking. You just need to know how to fry the ingredients to get them at their best flavor and texture.

Sichuan dried chilies are smaller than our red chilies and much hotter too. Next to the chilies are Sichuan peppercorns, best if straight from Sichuan because they loose their fiery numbness with time and bad storage. The peppercorns should be kept in a glass bottle in the fridge.

What makes a gong bao ji ding better than just good? Firstly, it must not only taste good but look right too. By that I mean the dish must look dark, not pale, and the sauce must be thick, not watery yet not starchy. Secondly, chicken chunks should be small so that there's greater surface area for the sauce to coat and for that, the sauce must be caramelized enough to cling to the chicken. If the sauce is thickened mainly by cornstarch, it will not have that caramelized soy sauce flavor and thickness. I do add a very small amount of cornstarch to hasten the thickening but not so much that the sauce is starchy. Thirdly, the chilies--preferably Sichuan dried chilies because they are packed with heat and capsicum fragrance--must be done just right: crispy yet not burnt. I'm not particular about the Sichuan peppercorns; this dish is good even without those numbing explosives. Fourthly, the nuts. Some restaurants, especially the upscale ones, use cashew nuts instead of peanuts. I've tried using cashew nuts but found that the dish is far better with peanuts. This is a dish that you pick at with chopsticks, savoring the sauce-covered chicken or leeks or nuts and perhaps washing them down with a cold beer. Cashew nuts just fill the stomach up too quickly compared to peanuts. Finally, the chicken. Even when you get the sauce right, you fail if the chicken turns out tough or dry. To make sure that doesn't happen, marinade the chicken in egg white and cornflour a few hours ahead of cooking and do not overcook. I like to use chicken breasts for this dish because they are very tender when cooked right. Also, keep to the exact amount of chicken and other ingredients. If you want two portions, fry each portion separately. I've tried the easy way out once or twice, using more chicken and other ingredients instead of frying in two batches and while it's okay, it's not superb. Follow the recipe and you'll get a super superb gong bao ji.

Gong bao ji ding is best piping hot and I like to cook it when my guests are seated at the table. It's a simple dish but you may need to practice cooking it before it's perfect.

Gong Bao Ji Ding
250 gm skinless chicken breast (one side of a large breast)
3/4 cup dried chilies (if big, cut into 3 cm lengths)
1 t Sichuan peppercorns (optional)
3/4 cup Chinese leeks, cut diagonally about 2 cm long
1 large handful (50 gm) fried peanuts
2 t finely chopped garlic
2 t finely chopped ginger

Chicken marinade:
2 t cornflour
1 small egg white
a few shakes of white pepper
2 T rice wine
1/4 t of salt

The sauce:
1/2 T white rice vinegar
1 1/2* T black soy sauce (Lee Kum Kee is good)
1 1/2 t castor sugar
1 1/2 T chicken stock or water
1/2 t cornflour
*or 2 T if you like a darker dish
--mix all the sauce ingredients together until the sugar is dissolved

1. Cut the chicken breast into small chunks, about 1.5 to 2 cm square. Massage marinade into the chicken with your hands, cover and leave in fridge for at least 1 hour.

2. Heat 1 cup veg oil in a wok, add the chicken and spread it out into a single layer. When chicken has turned white at the sides (high heat), turn over and stir. Do not overcook. I check by cutting one piece of chicken with the frying ladle. It should take about 1 minute only, less if the fire's very hot. Remove chicken onto a plate, leaving the oil in the wok.

3. Pour away the oil into a metal or ceramic bowl until about 3 T is left in the wok.

4. Fry the chilies, in very low heat, until crisp but not burnt (be careful, dried chilies burn quickly). Remove. Pour away all the oil because it is chili-hot. You can keep the chili oil for other dishes.

5. Add 1 T of the oil used for frying the chicken to the same wok (this IS a greasy dish; be brave) and throw in the leeks, stir until they turn bright green. You can remove the leeks onto the chicken or push them aside in the wok and proceed to the next step. Add the garlic, ginger and Sichuan peppercorns (if using) to the wok, stir a couple of seconds. Pour the sauce into the wok, stirring all the time at high heat. When the sauce is very dark and thick, add the chicken, chilies and leeks, stir quickly, then add the peanuts and dish up. That's it. Serve straightaway.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Flower Buns

Flower twist buns (hua juan) with spring onions, salt and sesame seeds.

Plain flower buns.

The most common--correct--way to shape the flower buns is shown in this video and the buns look like these. Basically you twist the bun like I did but do not pile it high:

I know I've posted on mantou (Chinese buns) before but there's a good reason for re-posting: improvement to the recipe and a new way of shaping the buns, which I came up with based on the shape of the buns I ate  at a local restaurant.

The amount of water was too little in my previous Chinese buns recipe. Maybe it's true that some chefs don't teach you everything or reveal the full recipe. I've been testing and improving the basic bao recipe which I learnt in a bao-making course years ago and I found that if I add a lot more water to the original recipe, the buns will be softer and moister. I also don't bother to get special bao or Hong Kong flour, both of which are very fine and white (read: bleached) flours. I am sticking to plain flour, and I particularly like the good old Rose Flour for making Chinese buns. Rose Flour is not highly bleached so it gives a yellowish tint to the buns but the fragrance of the flour will more than make up for the less-desirable color. Last week, I had a craving for home-made (read: ammonia-free) buns. Home-made buns are good when just out of the steamer but once they cool, they loose some of the softness because ammonia and other additives are not added to the dough. The point of home-made food is to avoid all those commercial chemicals as much as possible but if you insist, then get Hong Kong flour or bao flour which will give a finer and softer texture. The dough must be kneaded very well, preferably with a machine. I've not had good results making dough with my hands in the past but because my cake mixer is still not repaired, I had to use my hands and the buns still turned out soft so I think if you keep to the amount of flour in the recipe, kneading by hands still gives good results.

I've updated my Chinese buns posts--the baos, the mantou and flower buns recipes are one and the same. Now get a packet of plain flour and practice making plain buns to go with one of my best recipes: spicy gong bao chicken, coming up next.


Flower Buns (makes 10 large or 15 to 18 small buns)

A Ingredients:
1 tsp dry yeast
2 Tbsp water
-mix A ingredients together.
(Sshh...if you know your yeast is active, just mix A and B ingredients together at once. I do that all the time)
B Ingredients:
350g Bao or HK flour or Rose (plain) flour
1 tsp double-action baking powder
50g (or less, say 30 g) fine sugar 
200 to 250 ml water* (amended)
1 Tbsp shortening (Crisco) or veg oil

*If you use 250 ml and you are kneading by hand, add 200 ml first and knead in the remainder slowly, 10 to 15 ml each time, so that the dough is not too sticky to handle. Depending on the type of flour, you may not need all the water.

1. Sift the flour and baking powder together (usually I don't bother if the flour is fresh). If using shortening, rub it into the flour evenly.

2. Mix A with all the B ingredients in a mixer bowl and knead at medium speed till very smooth, about 6-8 minutes. The dough should be quite soft. Never mind if it's slighty sticky. Continue kneading until it isn't sticky. If kneading with hands, put dough back into the bowl and cover with a cloth. Rest for 30 min or until doubled, depending on room temperature.

3. Divide dough into 50g portions for larger buns or into golf-ball portions for dainty buns.  Dust your hands and the work surface lightly with some flour. Sometimes I don't because this dough doesn't stick. Flatten each ball, roll into a small oval shape as long as your hand and about 3 to 4 cm wide. Use a metal pastry cutter and cut the dough into thin strips of 1/2 cm, thinner than that if you are making mini buns.

4. Brush the cut strips of dough with veggie oil.

5. Take the ends of the dough, one end in each hand, and twist around your thumb and tips of your forefinger.
6. Stretch the dough by pulling gently as you twist it around the tips of your thumb and forefinger. Tuck the end underneath the bun by pulling the last bit down to meet the other end that's at the bottom. Got it?
7. Here's how it looks from the top: a tight coil, like a chignon. I feel so clever that I figured this out. It must be from playing with my daughter's long hair.
8. Place the buns on a small square of baking paper to proof. Let the buns proof for 30-45 minutes or until doubled. Do not overprove or buns will wrinkle when steamed.
9. Steam at high heat for 4 minutes for small buns, 5 to 6 minutes for larger buns. A bamboo steamer basket gives best results because the steam can escape instead of dripping onto the buns and messing them.
Note: To make flower buns with spring onions (Lily from Jiangxi told me that this is how her dad makes the buns), mix finely-cut spring onions, salt and veg oil or sesame oil and spread over the rolled out dough. I used sesame seeds too for extra flavor.

Friday, July 15, 2011

It's Spam

I got a message purported sent by my pastor through www.myZamana and opened it. After logging in, I suspected it was spam but it was too late. Many of you wrote to ask; you are smarter than me. Please don't open it!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tomato Egg Flower Soup


A Chinese meal is not complete without a soup. Most quick Chinese soups are thin and rather bland because such soups are for refreshing the palate in between mouthfuls of food, and also to moisten the throat and help glide rice down the gullet. Many kids and older Chinese cannot swallow their rice without spoonfuls of soup. When they were toddlers, my kids survived on good nutritious soups and bowls of rice.  Simmered (usually 2 hours) Chinese soups are also thin but fortified with veggies, herbs, bones and meat into very nutritious and delicious soups. Such soups are drunk all through the meals with constant refills. Soups served at fancy banquet dinners on the other hand are always thickened with cornstarch to give them more body (and I suspect to cater to western palates) and are served as a one-off item at the beginning of 10-course dinners.

The tangy, oil-free tomato egg flower soup counters the greasy richness of meat dishes very well. Fan jeh dan hua tang, word for word, means tomato egg flower soup. The flower refers to the delicate strands of egg that float in the soup. Dan hua tang is good for emergencies when a soup is needed on the table. Only eggs and good chicken stock (make your own from chicken bones, or use instant canned stock) are required. Tomatoes are the most common ingredient to add to egg flower soup. My mom adds dried shrimps to her egg flower soups too, to give extra flavor.  For a slightly richer and more substantial version, ground meat, jai chai (a preserved veggie) and thin glass noodles can be added too. Whichever way it's done, the important thing about dan hua tang is that the egg strands should be wispy and light, not clumpy and tough. To get fine wisps of egg, the beaten egg must be poured into very hot boiling soup with one hand and stirred in a circular motion with the other hand at the same time. The soup must be very boiling hot or the eggs will not set immediately and so will cloud the soup when stirred. Watch out too that the soup must not be boiled after the egg is added, or the egg will be hard. When your egg strands look like fine cirrus clouds, you have mastered the making of the egg flower soup.

Do not confuse egg flower soup with egg drop soup. A lot of Chinese menus say egg drop soup when they mean egg flower soup. Egg drop soup, as far as I know, is a European soup.


Tomato Egg Flower Soup

3 medium-sized very ripe tomatoes, cut into thin wedges
2 eggs, beaten
1 T finely cut spring onions
4 cups chicken stock (from bones or can/granules) or water
1/2 cup ground meat (chicken or beef or pork, seasoned with salt & pepper)
1/2 t salt & shakes of white pepper
1 t sesame oil (optional)
2 T cornstarch mixed with 3 T water (optional)

1. Bring the chicken stock to a boil and add the tomatoes. If using water, add the tomatoes, bring to a boil and add the ground meat, stirring and whisking with a fork or pair of chopsticks to separate the meat so that there are no large clumps.

2. When the soup comes to a full boil again, switch off the heat and pour the beaten egg with one hand and  stir the soup quickly with a fork in circles. Don't pour too quickly or large thick ribbons of egg will form. Make sure the soup is boiling hot or it'll become cloudy. You can switch off the heat in the middle of boiling but do not boil after all the egg is in.

If you want a thicker soup, add the cornstarch mixture (adjust the amount to your liking) before adding the eggs, stirring eggs in using a fork in circular motion. Let soup come to a full boil after adding the cornstarch water, switch off the heat and add the egg, doing the same motion as described above.

3. Season the soup with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the spring onions on top. Drizzle with sesame oil if using.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Wedding Anniversary Fondant Cupcakes

Leon & Veronica's 25th wedding anniversary was the first I've ever attended (still looking good, you two!) and it was beautiful, with singing and dancing presentations from their talented nephews and nieces but the most entertaining and heart-warming presentation was by their three kids who re-enacted scenes from their first meeting. My favorite was the 'The Most Awesome Proposal In The World', something like that. I was probably the one who laughed the loudest in the ballroom of over 300 people.

And so we did it, decorated 328 cupcakes and a top cake in one day. I wouldn't have been able to do it if not for my friends Elaine, Aifuah and Lily. I started around 9 am while Aifuah came about an hour later and the others before lunch time. We worked so hard that we forgot about lunch (Hub bought some buns but nobody stopped to eat). I had planned to deliver the cakes (this part I hate; I didn't know that I'd have to deliver) by 4 or 5 pm so that the couple can take photos of my piece de resistance before the guests arrive but a near-disaster happened at 2:30 pm and I only got to the hotel at 6:40 pm (the cakes were delivered earlier) to oversee the setting up of the cake stand.

Aifuah is the expert in sugarpaste cakes, at least among us, but she got the flu early in the week so she couldn't make the covering fondant on Thursday as planned. She had made 1 kg of fondant on Monday for the flowers. So I had to get commercial fondant from the stores. Commercial 'rolled fondant' is soft, marshmallowy and very pliable. At RM10 a kg, commercial fondant is affordable and SO much easier to use than home-made fondant. With home-made fondant, I could make a small rose in 8 to 10 minutes but with commercial fondant, which doesn't need much kneading, I could get the same thing done in 2.5 minutes.

The near-disaster came when Aifuah draped the covering fondant over the very tall (3 stacked cakes, about 9"/22 cm high) American-style prune buttercake. The soft and stretchy fondant immediately pulled off at the edge of the cake top, leaving a piece of jagged-edged fondant on the top and the rest of the fondant around the bottom of the cake. We were stunned! I would have cried if I was the only one doing the job.

Aifuah suggested we cover the cake with Swiss buttercream but the butter needed to thaw and the icing would melt if the completed cake was not chilled. Lily suggested royal icing but I haven't made that in years plus it needed to harden. I decided to make our own covering fondant, even at that late stage, because Aifuah and I have made fondant before and it was better to go with something we know. Elaine ran to the nearest cake ingredients shop to get liquid glucose but she also got a kg of imported fondant (lifesaver!). Upon kneading, the fondant  was crumbly and dry. Arggghh! In a final effort, I threw the crumbly fondant, the salvaged soft fondant and lots of icing sugar into the mixer. The texture was much firmer and we held our breaths as Aifuah draped the new fondant over the cake (reduced to 2 stacked cakes now).  The fondant didn't pull away. By then it was about 4 pm. 1/4 of the cupcakes were still not done because of the fuss over the failed fondant.

What have I learnt? 1) Decorating 328 cupcakes and a main cake on the same day is asking for trouble! i should've covered the main cake the night before as planned. I couldn't because I couldn't find 6" round cake boards in the stores for stacking the main cakes. 2) Delivery is part of the deal (I didn't know that) and thank God I got last minute help from friends and their wonderful kids! 3) I have wonderful friends who didn't complain, and instead said they enjoyed themselves. Love you ladies, you did a wonderful job!

DSC_1057_1024x678We didn't cut the tops off the cakes at first and that resulted in gaps between the cakes and the fondant.


The top cake was covered in ivory colored fondant, flowers were made with home-made fondant.



The cake stand, made with the help of Elaine and my helper Vero, was based on a post by Cake Journal.

To Iona & sisters: Thanks for delivering the cakes!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sugarpaste Crazy

It's past 1 am and I can't sleep! I've been making sugarpaste (fondant) roses all night and just not getting them right. The first practice rose I made was a mixture of the techniques I learnt from a sugarpaste course when Wey was a toddler and from You Tube videos. I was pretty happy with the result, considering that the last time I made roses for a wedding cake was more than a decade ago, and proceeded to the second rose, sticking to what my teacher had taught: roses come in odd petals of 3, 5, 7 and so on. By the time I got to the 3rd row of 7 petals my rose looked like a pink cabbage. No good. I decided reluctantly to forget about rules.

The first rose.

The second rose: a pink cabbage.

Third rose, petals too thick.

The third rose looked better but still didn't look right. I plugged in Hub's laptop on the dining table and spent the next  1/2 hour ogling at Zurin's vintage roses, looking so real and beautiful that it's hard to believe they are made of sugar. They look too difficult and intimidating for me. I will have to fly to KL one day to learn how to make roses from Zurin. I spent another 1/2 hour at Cupcake Dlights, my top cupcakes and sugarpaste cakes blog crush. Zahirah's only in her late 20s and already made a big name with her creations. My sugarpaste teacher was trained in Australia, a world leader in sugarpaste work, and she mentioned South Africa as being one of the world's best in sugarpaste art and Zahirah is in Durban, South Africa. If you go to her blog, click on any photo and that will take you to her Flickr account which is filled with the most amazing cakes. I am just  AWED by her skills and her classy designs. Her work is so elegant and classy, I've not seen any gaudy designs, not one. Even her colors are incomparable. I think she mixes them and I don't think it's Wilton colors. If only she gives some tutorials on her blog. Her work is so amazing and breathtaking that going through them I felt like I was in a different world, a wonderland of roses, fairy tale characters and all things nice. My major crush for photography is Norjlus for travel and outdoor photos (another fairy tale world), Stone Soup for her to-die-for food photo skills (I absolutely adore her photos!) and Cupcakes Dlight for the world's most gorgeous gorgeous cakes and lately  photography too.

Inspired by CupcakeDlight, I made a simple violet pink rose that looks more like a gardenia.

I'm not as worried as I should be about this assignment because I have enlisted two of the best people for the job--A, who said she first learnt sugarcraft from  my blog only 9 months ago but now is so good at it (her cakes are awesome!) that I look up to her as my teacher and E, who's an excellent cook and expert at handicraft. What have I got to fear but the wet weather, which prevents the sugarpaste flowers from drying. I am a little bit anxious about whether V will like our creations because she came back from Australia last weekend to arrange her wedding anniversary celebrations and I haven't yet had a chance to see her. She's leaving everything to me, just giving a few instructions about colors and type of flowers.



I enjoy having a free hand at making the cake. It shall be 6 tiers, the 6th being the table. I will bake the top cake but the cupcakes will be baked by a professional baker because I just can't bake and decorate 320 cupcakes. Now I should get some sleep because tomorrow I'm going to make the actual roses for the cake.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Savory Egg Custard With Topping


It's been raining all day and I love it, especially when it rains in the morning. I think of all those people who have to go to school or work, and I curl up and smile under my comforter. Yeah, make your millions but I get to sleep in, I wanted to message to all those working friends whom I'm sometimes envious of. Cloudy days and cool weather are a great change to heat, humidity and sun. I was driving along the Likas coastal highway (our prettiest stretch of road) this afternoon and the wind was whipping up the sea and the palm trees and I had this feeling of freedom and joy. Weird, I know. I've lived in the tropics for too long. As I write this post, it's 11 pm, a cricket is chirping somewhere outside and there's a wind blowing through the house (my windows are always open; I hate air-con), making me chilly. The thermometer says 24 C on my window sill so I know it's colder out especially with the soft breeze. In such moments, I just feel so happy and blessed.

I am on an exciting project that will culminate this Saturday: I'm decorating 320 cupcakes and making a small cake for the first tier of a 5-tier cupcake cake for a friend's 25th wedding anniversary! I'll be cooking the simplest of meals this week so hang in there with me.

Plain Chinese savory egg custard is a humble home dish, a standby for times when there's nothing but eggs available. A more luxurious version of the steamed egg custard is the salted egg and pork egg custard, a crazily delicious dish that nobody can resist extra helping of rice to go with. Inspired by the tofu custard I ate in New Wong Kok Restaurant last week, where the meat and veggies are not stirred into the egg but are placed on top of the custard, I came up with a similar dish but instead of tofu custard, I made egg custard because it was a lot less work. I used whatever ingredients I had in the kitchen but I wish I had some carrots because the dish would've looked a lot prettier. The only thing I'll do differently next time is to cut the mushrooms smaller to go with the silky fineness of the custard.

I've found that the best egg to water ratio for soft, silky steamed egg is 1 large egg to 1/2 cup room temperature water. This makes very soft steamed egg, good for Japanese chawan mushi which is served in  individual bowls. Chinese dishes are served as shared dishes while Japanese food is served western style, in individual portions. Since Chinese egg custard is steamed in one large dish and spooned out, the amount of water should be reduced slightly to give a firmer custard. For four large eggs (enough for a family of 3 to 4 people, for a meal of three dishes), 1 3/4 cups water would make a custard that's smooth and soft but firm enough to hold up in a spoon. Steam at low heat for a smooth custard without holes and turn off the heat when custard is just set.

Eaten steaming hot, this is the perfect dish for a cool rainy night. Try it. Vary the topping to your preference. It's really good.


Savory Egg Custard With Topping
4 large eggs
1 3/4 cups water (1 1/2 cups if you prefer a firm custard), room temperature
pinch of salt and white pepper
--put the eggs, water and seasoning (very light on salt because the topping will be seasoned with light soy sauce) into a heat-proof dish and beat the eggs with a fork until well-mixed with the water. Steam at low heat for 15 to 20 minutes (depending on the depth of your dish) until custard is set. Leave covered in the wok or steamer.

--while egg is steaming, cook the topping:

1/2 cup meat (chicken, pork or beef), chopped finely
1 cup mushrooms (mixture of shiitake, white button or crimini), diced
1/3 cup peas/gingko nuts/baby corn/carrots/corm kernels/bell peppers/any suitable veggie
1 t minced garlic
2 T light soy sauce
1/4 t caster sugar
white pepper
1 T cornstarch + 2 T water, mix well
1 to 1 1/2 cups water or light chicken stock
oil to fry
spring onions, cut finely

1. Put 1 T veg oil into a frying pan, add the garlic, then the meat and stir, breaking up the meat to prevent lumps. Add the mushrooms, other veg, light soy sauce, sugar and white pepper and fry until meat turns white. Add about 1/2 cup water or stock. Stir well, cover and let simmer for about 2 minutes.
2. Stir in the cornstarch water and add another 1/2 to 1 cup water/stock, depending on how much sauce you want. Taste and season if necessary.
3. Carefully spoon the cooked meat and veg onto the cooked custard, sprinkle spring onions over and serve immediately. Goes well with rice.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Friday, July 1, 2011

New Wong Kok Restaurant

The New Wong Kok Restaurant (NWK) has replaced the New Emperor Restaurant in Luyang. I enjoy the dim sum and a la carte food at the original Wong Kok, especially when it just opened, so I was quite confident that the new branch would not disappoint.

In the last two months, I've been to NWK for dim sum twice and dinner 3 times. The dim sum is passable good for KK standards and the a la carte menu items are very variable, ranging from disastrous to very good. The first time I dined there, my hub and I shook our heads all through the meal. We had the stewed pork leg (awful) and the mayo prawns (awful) and a plate of stir-fried greens. I didn't want to go near the restaurant again but this week I had to go twice, for a birthday dinner and a pre-wedding dinner.

The birthday dinner was surprisingly good and made me think that maybe I picked the wrong dishes the first time. This is what we had:

Stir-fried spring onions and ginger grouper slices. The grouper slices were fresh, meaty, delicious and the skin slightly chewy.

Steamed lean free-range chicken. Served with a minced ginger dip, the chicken was sweet and moist.

Crispy pork knuckle was good too although my friend thinks Equatorial Restaurant does a better version.

Sabah veggies with egg, yum.

This is a more fancy take on the humble Chinese steamed egg dish. Unlike Japanese chawan mushi, which is served in individual bowls, Chinese steamed egg is usually served in one big dish to share. Here, NWK jazzes up the dish by topping it with diced steamed egg, meat and veggies. The surprise was that it wasn't steamed egg but steamed house-made tofu under all those toppings. Yum. I enjoyed this dish and I want to replicate it at home. 

The next night, we went for a pre-wedding dinner at NWK again and although overall the food was edible (6/10), I came away feeling that the dinner was rather coarse. From the hot platter (6/10) to the fish maw soup (thin, bland 4/10) to the dried shrimps prawns (5/10) to the sweet and sour pork chops (too sweet, pork was too bicarbed, 4/10), I tried to be kind but the food just didn't impress.

The only two dishes I liked was the smoked tea leaves chicken and the steamed cod fish but cod being such a tasty fish can't go wrong even in the hands of an amateur. The last dish, taro ring with mixed veggies, was the worst because the taro was off. When steamed taro's been left for too long, it has a slight sourish taste. I glanced at the next table of young people and they had finished all their taro whereas at our table, the taro was left uneaten except for one person who didn't have much taste buds. The older adults knew the difference between fresh and gone bad and didn't eat the taro. And that's one thing about young people these days. They can't tell if they are eating food that's off. They just wolf everything down. Except for my Sniffer, who, like me, dropped his piece of taro at first bite. We complained and the waitress said "Thank you, thank you". Thank you for what? No apologies, no offer to replace the dish or refund the money. The thing about most Chinese restaurants is, customers are always wrong. I supposed that's why Chinese dining is cheaper. I'm so not going there again except for the dim sum. It's not that I'm difficult to please. It's that a few hours later, my stomach ached. The next day, my mom said she made two runs to the toilet. Enough said.

Smoked tea leaves free-range chicken. Similar to the steamed chicken except that it had a slight smoky flavor. Very yum.

Steamed cod--delicious.

Make that three items that I liked because I asked for an extra plate of the free dessert, the coconut snow jelly. My son thought it was disgusting because it was foamy but I liked it.


New Wong Kok Restaurant, Luyang Phase 1, same block as Apiwon.

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