Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Xue Cai With Winter Bamboo

Xue cai with winter bamboo.

The Shanghainese are crazy for green soy beans (mao dou, hairy beans) and sun (bamboo; pronounced "sooen"). My MIL requests for mao dou and sun whenever someone is visiting from Shanghai. Recently we've been able to get frozen mao dou at Merdeka Supermarket (Recipes House in Damai has it too but at a much higher price and the peas are smaller) and winter bamboo (dong sun) in Thai Seng Supermarket next to Kian Kok High School.

Winter bamboo has a subtle, refreshing flavor and a crisp bite. If the bamboo is fresh and good, it will have a slight sweetness. Xue cai is a salted veg that is used widely in Shanghainese cooking. Xue cai is sold in little packets or tins or in large drums in Shanghainese markets. They look like rape leaves although I'm not certain.

You can fry the bamboo first, before frying the xue cai, especially of you don't parboil it. Season with salt and sugar, then push the bamboo to the side of the wok the old-fashioned way and fry the xue cai. I have fried the xue cai first because the bamboo were parboiled. Either way, the result is the same--a delicious plate of veggies that goes well with plain boiled rice.


Peel the bamboo until you get to the tip.

Cut off the hard sides and stem. The edible young shoot is only about 1/2 the size of the unpeeled bamboo.

Slice the bamboo thinly.

Xue cai comes in small packets or tin, or in large jars. They are well-seasoned and makes any dish awesome.



Xue Cai With Winter Bamboo
300 gm winter bamboo (after peeling and trimming)
150 gm xue cai
pinch of sugar
veg oil for frying
salt (optional)

1. Slice the bamboo thinly. You can cut them into strips too. Boil a small pot of water and plunge the sliced bamboo in, cover, and when water comes to a boil again, let it boil for 1 minute and then switch off the fire. Drain the water away. My MIL doesn't parboil the bamboo but I prefer to because sometimes the bamboo gives a strange sensation on the sides of the tongue.

2. Wash the xue cai twice and squeeze to remove the water. Do not soak or the taste and flavor will be diluted.

3. Put about 2 T oil into a heated wok and fry the bamboo. Add a tiny pinch of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of fine sugar. Fry, add 1/4 cup water and cover for a minute. Remove cover and fry until all liquid is gone. Remove onto a plate. Alternatively, you can also fry the xue xai first especially if you have boiled the bamboo.

4. Put a tablespoon (authentic Shanghainese cooking is greasy so you can add 2 T oil if like) of oil into the same heated wok and fry the xue cai until it looks dry. Takes about 2 minutes.

5. Add the fried bamboo, fry and toss to mix and blend the flavors. If there's liquid, fry until it's just evaporated. Dish up.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sweet Pumpkin Soup With Ice Cream

Sweet pumpkin soup with ice cream.

As you know, I am very much a happy farmer. Picking a winter melon off the vine, finding a mango that has fallen to the ground (I never pick them off my trees), biting into a perfectly ready guava (home-grown guavas are totally different from store bought ones), eating foot-long slices of papayas with my hands and munching on jack fruit from my 16 year-old tree are simple pleasures I am grateful for. We recently ate the most amazing custard apple from a small tree that we didn't even know we had. If I don't go to the market, I have a choice of choy sum, kang kong, taro, scallions, Chinese celery, basil, Chinese chives, sayur manis, emperor leaves, mint and okra from my garden. The bunga kantan (torch ginger) bush is blooming and my daun kesom are so lush that they look like grass. Time to cook assam laksa. The kampung chickens have been slowly culled from about thirty to two hens, a rooster and about eleven chicks. Stray cats come and grab the chicks and I've grown numb to the chicks' petrified chirps in the middle of the night. Instead, I listen for the thud of mangoes hitting the ground but the tree is too far away. If the chicks find the mangoes before me, I cut away the part they peck and eat whatever's left.

We don't use commercial fertilizer. All decomposable stuff--veggies and fruit peelings--goes into the big compose bin. I haven't bought any soil in years.

The pumpkin from my garden last week was sweet and flavorful with a texture I can't describe--fibrous yet tender? My pumpkin vines grow wild and untended from seeds we throw out. Don't fret if you don't have  pumpkins in your garden because I've found that pumpkins sold in the market are mostly home-grown. Look for pumpkins with the deepest orange color. They are sweeter and tend to not have a crunchy texture.

I gave half my pumpkin to a friend and cut off a small chunk from the remainder to make this dessert which I first ate in Singapore a few months ago. I couldn't get coconut ice cream so vanilla it was. I also didn't add any cream to the pumpkin puree because I wanted to taste pure pumpkin puree before the ice cream melted. A spoonful of tiny sago pearls gave extra texture to the puree. Served very cold, this is a good dessert to end a Chinese dinner.

You can substitute the pumpkin with taro. Taro would be even more delicious. I harvested two tiny taros the size of my fist and boiled them with sweet potatoes. The fragrance that filled my house was unbelievable and the taste was unlike any taro I've ever eaten. But I should save that story for another post.


Sweet Pumpkin Soup With Ice Cream
400 gm pumpkin
300 ml water
2 T sugar (optional)
1) Peel and cut the pumpkin into small chunks.
2) Put pumpkin and water into a small pot and boil until soft, about 15 minutes. Stir in sugar if using.
3) Puree with hand blender when still warm. Cool and then chill. If the puree is too thick, add some water.

1/2 cup small sago pearls
coconut ice cream

4) Boil the sago pearls with enough water to cover by 2 to 3 cm. When pearls are nearly transparent (solid white center still visible), switch heat off and leave covered for about 15 minutes. The pearls will turn totally transparent.
5) Drain away the cooking water and fill the pot (with the sago pearls) until half full, stir well to separate the sago pearls and drain through a fine sieve to remove the dissolved starch.
6) Fill small individual serving bowls 3/4 full with the pumpkin puree and add 1 to 2 tablespoon of boiled sago pearls to the puree. Stir well to mix. Put a big scoop of coconut ice cream (or vanilla if you can't find coconut) into the puree and serve immediately.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tom Yum-Flavored Steamed Prawns


I find it an excuse whenever people tell me that it's hard to cook for two. I thought they meant that cooking small portions is hard. Now that my nest is empty, I realise that it isn't the portion but the whole purpose of cooking is not the same when you cook for two or in my case, three.

You know what they say about motherhood, that when you are finally good at it the kids are grown up. It's the same thing about cooking. When I finally hone my cooking skills, my kids have left home.


Here's a simple way to steam some prawns. The idea came from a meal at Hub's cousin in Shanghai during our visit in 2010. For a spicier and speedier dish, I'd use bottled tom yum seasoning although you, the purist cook, can make the tom yum from scratch. Add additional seasoning, such as fish sauce, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves if you want to. Don't forget to serve with lime wedges.



Tom Yum-Flavored Steamed Prawns With Mung Bean Noodles
1/2 kg fresh prawns, deveined and unpeeled
a small handful of dried mung bean vermicelli, soaked in water for 15 minutes
1/2 cup fresh mushrooms
2 kaffir lime leaves, torn (optional)
2 stalks lemon grass, smashed (optional)
2 to 3 slices of lengkuas/galangal/laos/lam geong (optional)
1 to 2 red bird's eyes chilies, chopped (optional)
a few sprigs of coriander leaves/cilantro
2 T tom yum seasoning granules
2 T fish sauce
1 T light soy sauce
1/2 can chicken broth + 1 can water

Garnish with:
1 lime, in wedges

1. Season the prawns with 1 T tom yum seasoning. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a heat-proof dish.
2. Arrange the prawns over the noodles. The water should just about cover the noodles.
3. Steam 6 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the prawns.
4. Garnish and serve hot.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Portrait of Jay Chou Using Coffee Stains

Yi's latest painting of her sad songs idol, Jay Chou. Posted half an hour ago.

Guangxi TV in China showed her Yao Ming painting recently:

Old Farm City Park Seafood Restaurant

Frankly, I'm reluctant to tell you about this restaurant. They aren't getting the local crowds as much as they do the tourists who are there mostly because the location is so convenient, smack in town right in front of the DBKK town council building and next door to the new Horizon Hotel. I'm possessive about this place because I don't want it to turn into another Welcome Seafood Restaurant. I rated Welcome Restaurant in Bundusan very highly about 5 years ago but now they've become so popular that it's hard to drop by without a reservation. I've also seen rats running around because that's a warehouse area. Welcome's Asia City outlet is just as jam-packed. I ate there in early January and it was an unpleasant dining experience. I just don't get why Chinese focus on food only and not on the whole dining thing. Surely we've come further than eating just for survival? There were so many people at Welcome that the tables were placed all along the sidewalk, next to the road. The seating took forever, the food took forever (tasted what they were: mass-cooked and crappy), the bill took forever and the place was littered with used tissues and unidentifiable water and noise, not just from the customers but also from the waiters who were clearly overwhelmed by the chaos.

I was told that the food's good at Old Farm City Park Seafood Restaurant (gosh, decide which one's more important, 'City' or 'Park' or 'Old Farm' or 'Seafood" and cut customers some wordy slack), formerly Old Farm Restaurant in Foh San, and the prices lower (RM28 per kg live prawns) than most other seafood restaurants but when we drove by the back, it looked rather shabby especially since there was a public toilet attached to the building. We left and went to a new seafood restaurant in Hilltop that was better housed but the food was embarrassing and I was sorry I brought some visitors from Melbourne there.

One night during the CNY period, when we were all tired of heavy meat dishes, we went to OFCPSR ("Hey, let's go eat at Old Farm City Park Seafood Restaurant tonight!"--gosh) for congee. Congee is comfort food to most Chinese especially when appetite's down or when having a food hangover. Sorry no photos of the congee and seafood feast because I didn't think the place would be good enough and so I didn't bring a camera. 

B was right. I think OFCPSR serves the best congee in KK. Their congee was light, fresh and tasty without the salty sweetness of msg which is so prevalent in that other famous place in Old Foh San. I just can't go to that other congee place anymore: the floor is carpeted with dirty tissues, the tables are so tight food has to be passed over your head. Worst of all, the congee comes in cold clumps sometimes and after eating, my mouth feels dry and my lips smack of msg. The only snag about OFCPSR is that they don't serve pork and so the best congee combination of pork and century eggs is not available. The closest you get to that is chicken and century eggs. I like their fish congee (but wish there's more fish slices) but some friends from Hong Kong and China love their crabs congee. HK congee is the best so if HKgers give their thumbs up, you know you are at the right place. However, the consistency of the congee can vary so you should tell the waitress if you don't want your congee too thick.

There's no tax or service charge, believe it or not, and parking is easy too. This place is right in front of DBKK, next to the gas station next to the new Horizon Hotel. A Malay food stall operates under the same roof and I'm going for nasi kerabu next time I'm there. Hub and I have been back to OFCPSR five times since we first ate there 3 weeks ago. They should give me a loyalty card or something.

Old Farm City Park Seafood Restaurant (someone tell them!)
Near Anzec Memorial, Jalan Tugu,
Kota Kinabalu
Opening hours: 11 am to 2 am.

Medium pot of congee, RM15/USD5.00. Large (RM20) is a lot bigger.

Half kg of salt and pepper soft shelled crabs, RM30/USD9.80. The soft-shelled crabs were live, not frozen, and were plump but didn't have roe. If there's roe and the batter is thinner, this can be a close second to Hyatt Kinabalu's soft-shelled crabs.

HK style dry fry beef and flat rice noodles, something hard to find in this town. This was quite the best version I've had in KK. RM8/USD2.60 for a single portion.

This was very ordinary, boiled beef slices with bean sprouts, RM12/USD4.00.

Small portion of sha cha claypot fish head and belly, RM18/USD5.90, excellent.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

For those who can't be with their beloved, for those who are fighting, for those who won't be getting flowers, for those who can't forget their past love and for those yearning for the right one, have a blast still!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Meter Cake

Yes, literally, how lonnggg is your love?

Just in time for Valentine's Day, a meter cake recipe from East Europe. Six months ago I stumbled upon Chili Vanilla, a little cafe opposite Wisma Merdeka. The chef is a Hungarian lady, the menu is limited but generally the food is good although I would've been happier if the goulash was more of a soup than a stew.

I heard meter correctly but the cake didn't look one meter long. The lady explained that breaking the meter-long cake into two was easier for display. I love Chili Vanilla's meter cake. It was soft, the custard gooey and best of all, the chocolate coating was delicious and fun to eat because it was slightly sticky and springy. I was told by the waitress that it was ordinary chocolate ganache. I think otherwise though.

There's only one meter cake recipe on the Net, as far as I can search, and it's here in a lovely Croatian food blog. I made the cake for my bro Joe's birthday (other than signifying long-lasting love, the meter cake can signify a long life) and everybody liked it but like most first-time food that make a deep impression, I prefer Chili Vanilla's version for several reasons. The choc coating and the custard were too firm after chilling in the version I made. As usual, I reduced the sugar but the biggest mistake I made was not using Valrhona chocolate powder, which I usually do for all chocolate recipes. The cake texture was beautiful, moist and soft without being spongy. I would use this cake batter for other cakes in future.

I really like the idea of a long piece of cake which guests can slice off according to their appetite. It will be so dramatic and showy on a buffet table, especially if it's strewn with berries. But I'm in tropical Asia and berries are expensive so I got hold of a durian and added some durian in the custard in my second meter cake. Instead of chocolate ganache, whipped cream with mashed durian was faster and cheaper to make than chocolate ganache. Besides, choc ganache is so rich it softens before the cake can come to room temperature.

You know what? The durian meter cake was yummy, especially after a night of chilling. The custard was made without eggs so it stayed soft and gooey even after chilling. Even if you don't want to make it one meter long, make a shorter cake using half the cake recipe. My son Ming thinks that for the durian meter cake, plain vanilla cake without chocolate cake would be better. I agree. Great cake to make to express your long, long-lasting love especially on Valentine's Day tomorrow.

Sandwich the slices of cake with the custard. This cake is more dramatic and true to its name if you serve it a meter long.

Cover the cakes with the remaining custard. Chill.

Cover the cake with melted chocolate. The original meter cake.

Slice cake diagonally to get both flavors.

Durian meter cake.

Meter Cake
The Cake:
4 large eggs, separated
150 gm fine sugar (reduced from 250 gm)
150 ml water
150 ml veg oil
250 gm all-purpose flour
1/2 T baking powder (I used double action bp)
2 T cocoa powder (omit if making all-white cake) + 1 T cacao (I don't know what this is so I left it out)
optional: 1 t pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 180 C. Grease and flour two semi-circular loaf pans. You can half the recipe and make one cake first if you have only one loaf pan.
2. Put 100 gm sugar, vanilla, water, oil and yolks into a bowl. Sift the flour and baking powder over and mix well into a thick batter.
3. Whisk the egg whites with the remaining 50 gm sugar until stiff peaks stage.
4. Pour the batter into the stiff egg whites, folding to mix well. Divide the batter into two. Sift the cocoa powder into one batter, mix well.
5. Pour the white batter into one pan and the brown choc batter into another. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until a wooden skewer in the center of the cake comes out clean.

The Custard:
800 ml milk
2 yolks
200 gm sugar
80 gm custard powder (Bird's)
2 t pure vanilla extract
150 gm butter
1. Put half the milk, the yolks, sugar, custard powder and vanilla into a bowl and whisk to mix well.
2. In a small pot, put the remaining milk to just about boiling point and add the milk and yolk mixture in, stirring well with a small whisk over low fire until the custard is thickened but not too thick.

For a soft and less rich custard, you can use this recipe:
600 ml milk
10 to 12 T fine sugar
6 T custard powder
2 t pure vanilla extract

6. Cut the cooled cakes into 2 to 2.5 cm slices. Use the custard to glue the slices together, alternating white and brown slices.
7. Coat the cake with the remaining custard and chill.
8. Coat the cake with the chocolate glaze.
9. Slice cake diagonally to get both flavors in each slice.

For the chocolate coating, you can choose between the hard choc coating or the soft one:

Chocolate Glaze:
Hard Choc Glaze
300gm bittersweet chocolate
2 T milk
2 T butter
--Melt the choc and milk over a pot of boiling water. Remove and add the butter. Cool and use to coat the cake.

Chocolate Ganache Glaze:
300 gm bittersweet choc
150 ml dairy cream
--Melt choc and cream over a pot of boiling water. Cool and use to coat the cake.

For the durian meter cake, add about 70 gm mashed durian to the soft custard and use the custard to glue the cake slices together. Whip some (about 300 ml for one cake recipe) dairy cream until stiff and mix in 70 to 100 gm durian mash. Use to cover the whole cake. Chill before serving.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Standing Eggs On Lap Chun


My siblings and I couldn't have nian xiao (the 15th and final day of Chinese New Year celebrations) together as we all have our own in-laws to eat with so we had dinner together the next day instead, partly to celebrate my bro Joe's birthday. I always find nian xiao a 6 out of 10 on the depression scale. The festival is over, the lion dances are gone, people go back to work and all the red decorations and cheer disappear, like there's a before and after CNY decorum. We only had 2 kids present for dinner, my son Ming and my sis's daughter Chloe. All the other kids were either away at work or studies. I felt the empty nest for us all.

My sister asked during dinner if I made any eggs stand on lap chun, the spring equinox , the first day of spring, which fell on 4th Feb this year. Frankly, I've not heard of lap chun because I didn't go to Chinese school and my parents were not Buddhists or Taoists or superstitious. One of the things I appreciate about my parents was that they were not superstitious. My father especially disdained superstitions although he was very Chinese in regard to traditions. Because of this upbringing, I drink cold water anytime of the month without getting cramps and I go out into the rain without ever getting sick. I also give peddlers, water filters and food supplement sales people a hard time. Don't even sell me detox programs, especially enemas. I get my enemas from eating okra.

Lucky for me, I had seen some photos of standing eggs on Facebook on the 4th Feb and that led me to google on it. The Chinese believed since thousands of years ago that an egg can stand on its end only on lap chun. The theory is that the astronomic conditions--the moon and the earth are perfectly aligned and the gravity pull is optimal--are perfect for that phenomenon on that day. That's enough to make any of us who are astronomy ignorant to shut up and buy the standing egg. But not me, even though I can't tell Uranus from Saturn. If conditions are perfect, why can't everybody make eggs stand during those four or six critical hours on that day? And why eggs? Why not a walking stick or a rugby ball? It's optimal gravity after all.

While many Chinese believe in lap chun, westerners and those who never grew up in a household of lap chun egg believers debunk it as a myth. Somebody told me yesterday that his science teacher in TTSS made eggs stand on lap chun and from what I've heard, Chinese science teachers in Malaysia love to propagate the myth. Non-believers and the scientifically-inclined (meaning not Malaysian Chinese science teachers) say that anyone who has the patience can make an egg stand on its end, anytime, anyday, especially if an egg with a rough end is used. If all else fails, a pinch of salt or sugar (or sand, I think) will do the magic. And that's exactly what I did.

I used a pinch of salt and balanced the eggs on the smooth surface of a table. They stood.


My niece asked if the egg could stand on its pointed end too. It did.

With a bit of practice, I can make an egg stand on 3 grains of salt. The finer the salt, the easier the egg will stand without being found out. Fine sugar works too, I've tried it. You can either put the salt on the egg or the table but when you stand the egg, gently and firmly grind the egg on the table to crush the salt. It's all friction, baby.

Trivia from Wiki: An egg of Columbus or Columbus's egg refers to a brilliant idea or discovery that seems simple or easy after the fact. The expression refers to a popular story of howChristopher Columbus, having been told that discovering the Americas was no great accomplishment, challenged his critics to make an egg stand on its tip. After his challengers gave up, Columbus did it himself by tapping the egg on the table so as to flatten its tip.

Columbus needn't have tapped the egg. He didn't even have to wait until lap chun. He just needed three grains of salt.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Steamed Sesame Nian Gao


So CNY is over and you've given away RM2000 in ang paos (but your kids have gotten back more than that amount), spent thousands on CNY food, flowers, decorations, fireworks and firecrackers, new clothes, new brooms, pots and pans, new TV even because you can't loose to your friend's new 60" (or whatever, I have no idea what's out there now) flat screen. You've forked out another thousand ringgit on the unicorn troupe to come eat lettuce and mandarin oranges from your garage roof to ensure another good year for the family (so you really think happiness and prosperity can be bought). You've met old friends you meet once a year and you've been updated on where they travelled to last year and how well their kids are doing. You've eaten that obligatory dinner with relatives you can't stand (thank God it's once a year) and taken family photos that you'll never get to see. You've also gained 5 kgs on top of the 2 kgs you gained at Christmas. And of course you have leftover nian gao, sticky rice cake.

Tell you what. Instead of frying your nian gao in egg, try Chef Tay of Hyatt Kinabalu's simple way of coating the nian gao with toasted sesame seeds and steaming it for a minute, just enough to soften the nian gao. It's yum with Chinese tea.

Nian gao can keep for a couple of days without refrigeration but they start to go bad (they go moldy and can taste sour even if not moldy) about 5 days after they are steamed so keep any uneaten nian gao in the fridge. Better still, eat the nian gao asap. 

1. Cut into thin slices.

2. Toast the sesame seeds in a pan. It's faster and browning is more even.

3. If the nian gao is still soft and sticky, the sesame seeds will stick easily.

If the nian gao has gone hard, steam it for under 1 minute just to soften and wet the surface for sticking. Steam too long and the nian gao will be hard to handle.


4. Steam the sesame-coated nian gao for a couple of minutes, depending on how hard it is and how soft you want it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ginger Soy Sauce Duck Breasts

I posted this recipe years ago under a different name, 'Super Yummy Soy Sauce Duck'.  Since I now prefer to use duck breasts because they are all meat and easier to cook than a whole duck, and I like to serve the the duck slices in spring roll wraps, I'm giving the dish a different name.

This is a super easy dish to cook but it will impress your guests because they'll think it's otherwise. You need 4 ingredients only: the duck, cooking oil, sugar and light soy sauce. If you are serving the breasts with springroll wraps, and you should, or any other wraps, then pick up a cuke on the way out of the market. If you are really adventurous, make your own popiah wraps. I tried making the wraps but made a mess with the batter. It's another recipe to conquer, and when I do, I want to throw a popiah party.  House Of Annie has an excellent post that shows you how to make the wraps, here.

When choosing the duck breasts, look and feel for the larger, solid breasts (now, now) that are evenly thick from one end to the other. I was told that galangal (aka blue ginger, laos) can be used in place of ordinary ginger, for a stronger flavor. This is the perfect dish to impress anyone but best of all, it's easy to do.


Ginger Soy Sauce Duck
3 duck breasts, about 245 gm each
4 to 5 thin slices of fresh ginger (or galangal)
40 gm sugar
60 ml light soy sauce (Lee Kum Kee Premium is good)
100 ml water
1 T cooking oil

Serve with:
popiah wrap n cucumber strips

1. Put the oil, sugar and ginger in a cold wok or medium-sized pot. Switch on the heat to medium and stir the mixture until the sugar has melted and turned a golden color. Don't caramelize the sugar too much or the sauce'll be bitter.

2. Wipe the duck breasts dry with paper towels, place them skin-side down into the sugar-oil mixture and let the skin sear and brown. When the skin is golden and brown, reduce the heat to low to render more of the fat out. This will take a while. Do not let the sauce burn.

The sauce doesn't cover the breasts.

3. Add the soy sauce and water (the breasts will not be covered by the water), cover and let simmer 20 minutes, then turn over and simmer another 10 minutes. Remove the cover, turn breasts skin-side down again and increase the fire to medium for the last 15 minutes to reduce the sauce. If the sauce is not thickened after 45 minutes of cooking, take the breasts out and increase the fire to high to reduce the sauce until it is thickened but not too thick. Pour the sauce into a bowl and when cool, put the bowl into the freezer to get the oil to solidify at the top so that it can be easily removed. Leave the sauce at room temp until serving time. This dish doesn't have to be served piping hot so you can make it hours ahead but keep it well-covered so that it doesn't dry out.

4. Slice the duck breasts thinly and serve with popiah wraps, cucumber strips and the sauce.

Dinner For K & D

The last day of the CNY celebrations will be tomorrow, after which it's back to serious stuff like work and school. And blogging.

Our relatives and friends who came home for CNY have all gone back. There's been so many eating feasts that my tongue hurts. To give my mouth and stomach a rest, I've been eating congee (rice porridge) in between the feasts. It feels so good to eat light after all those rich carnivorous CNY dishes. Last week, I did two dinners and one lunch consecutively in two days, stressing myself because I didn't get into the kitchen until mid-afternoon.  I make the same two resolutions regarding punctuality and non-procrastination every year.

Since everybody's sick of rich dishes, I chose some lighter dishes and cut back on the portion of each dish. Instead of serving the dishes buffet table style, I seated the guests at two tables. This one's in my back patio where it's casual but cooler. Nice hand. I wonder who the owner is.

One of the dinners was for my ex-colleague and friend K and her American husband, and other colleagues whom I worked with in the same department. We practically grew up together, having joined the bank when we were fresh wide-eyed young graduates, going from being courted to getting married, having babies and now having children who are working or in uni. It is strange how we still feel the same, after all these years. I treasure these old girls.

I simplified my yee sang this year, using whatever I had in my kitchen. The pickled half-ripened papaya was from my garden. The yee sang was rather bland and the reason suddenly occurred to me when I was in bed that night: I didn't bother to buy apricot jam, had reduced the salt and totally forgotten to add peanut butter and toasted peanuts because I couldn't find them when I was making the dressing. Yes, WH was right. I need a better, more organized kitchen.

When chicken is free-range, the best way to cook it is to just boil it in low, gently bubbling water. I saved the hassle of making the traditional dip of ginger and spring onions and instead mixed sesame oil, light soy sauce and some of the stock from boiling the chicken and poured that over the chopped chicken.

Stir-fried kailan stems with stewed stuffed mushrooms (recipe one day soon), sea cucumber and black moss fa cai.

One of my no-fail dishes, marmite prawns.

This ginger soy sauce duck was the hit of the night, which was surprising because it was so easy to cook and I didn't even taste it when cooking it. I decided to use duck breasts instead of a whole duck because the breasts are the meatiest part of a duck and so much easier to cook than a whole duck. Recipe to follow.

Home-made Sichuan sausages stir-fried with celery.

Beef satay with blocks of compressed rice from a satay stall near my house.

I made Khong Aunty's  fa cai soup too. It's one of my fave CNY dishes and I was told that it was good (I was too bloated to eat any). There were 10  ingredients in the soup: pork bones, dried oysters, dried scallops, water chestnuts, chestnuts, fa cai, gingko nuts, dried Chinese mushrooms, beancurd sticks and red dates.

They're in season and the price has gone down so right after dinner we stuffed our faces with durians.

Dessert was my sakura swiss roll (a bit of a flop here because I lined the baking tray with ordinary baking paper, not greased proof paper, and the cake stuck to the paper) and a great Junior's New York Cheesecake

After everyone had left, I found that I had forgotten to serve my home-made prawn crackers. K and D will have to come back again next year.
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