Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Japchae (Korean Noodles)

Japchae with egg white and yolk strips topping

A few years back, we had a Korean family next door. The wife looked like she came from one of those Korean soaps: pretty, elegant with an oval face and the clearest skin I've ever seen. But Youngsook wasn't just a pretty-faced xiaoje. She could cook. From her, I learnt to make a few types of kimchi, all kinds of soups (Korean cuisine is big on soups because a long time ago when the country was starving a soup with rice could feed a whole family), cook rice in a pressure cooker which gives rice an el dente bite, and make japchae which sounds like 'chupchoy' (mixed veg) in Cantonese/Hakka.

I highly recommend this dish the next time you have a pot-luck. A bit of this and that makes a whole mountain to feed a whole army. The only problem is this dish doesn't keep well. It goes sour easily because the whole dish is not fried together, and also at pot-luck parties we tend to just leave the food out for too long. It is a better idea to dish out the jabchae in batches. If you do have leftovers, you can fry or steam it to re-heat.

Jab Chae
250g sweet potato noodles (dangmyeon), soaked in room temp. water
5 dried Chinese black mushrooms (not flower mushrooms), soaked n caps sliced very thinly
1 carrot, cut into toothpick-thin strips
2 small stalks of leeks, sliced thinly diagonally
1 handful spinach, blanched and cut into 1.5"/4 cm lengths
1 brown onion, cut into thin slices
2 eggs, separated
1 cup pork (not too lean) or beef, cut into very thin strips
1/2 cup ham or fish cake, in very thin strips (optional but the ham does give extra flavor)
2 T toasted sesame seeds
sesame oil, sugar, salt and Kikkoman soy sauce

1. Soak the noodles in room-temperature water for about 3 hours. Then put them in a large pot of boiling water. Test a strand with your fingers. Remember that noodles will firm up a bit when cool but you also don't want them too soft. Take noodles off the fire, drain well, put them into a big bowl (in which you are going to mix all the ingredients) and snip here and there with scissors because the noodles are very long.

2. Put mushrooms (squeeze out water) and pork/beef into a bowl and marinade with 2 T Kikkoman sauce, 1 T fine sugar, 1/2 t sesame oil, 4 to 5 garlic that's chopped fine and 2 T finely chopped spring onions.

3. Fry the egg whites and yolks separately (or together if like) into thin omeletes and cut into very thin strips. You should use low heat because high heat will cause the omelete to bubble and crisp, like mine (blame it on Vero again) and that would make it hard to cut into fine strips. Sprinkle some salt and black pepper over the egg strips and mix.

4. Squeeze water out from the spinach and toss with 1 teaspoon of the sesame seeds, sesame oil and salt.

5. Fry the leeks, carrots and onion separately in a little bit of oil and salt, and sprinkle some black pepper over each.

6. Now put all the ingredients (leave some egg strips for topping) into the bowl of noodles and add salt, sugar, soy sauce, sesame seeds (leave some for topping) and LOTS of sesame oil, tasting and adjusting as you mix. Youngsook liked to use her hands to mix; said they mix better than chopsticks.

Serve at room temperature. Make sure you serve this dish within 2 or 3 hours of mixing. Otherwise, chill it and re-heat although that way the dish doesn't taste as good.


Dangmyeon (picture, right) is available in Korea Market at Tanjung Aru Plaza (RM22/500g) and Recipes House in Damai (RM27/500g). Giant Supermarkets stock China-made dangmyeon (picture, left) for only RM6.90/400g but DO NOT use this brand because after scalding with hot water, the noodles become a sticky tangled mess!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Stewed Pig Offal

(Note: The following pictures may not appeal to some, so proceed with caution. It's Halloween food.)

Thank goodness Chinese stewed offal is not even close to Scottish haggis, the later being a disgusting mince of sheep innards boiled in sheep's stomach. In Cantonese, Chinese stewed mixed pig's offal is ho yup mei. I don't know what that truly literally means but it sure sounds like one of my friend's name, way back in primary school.

We were at Foh Sang yesterday checking out the shops when I saw this stall selling ho yup mei. It's been decades since I've had this dish and frankly I was a little nervous about eating it. It's not just that it's innards or offal (sounds better?) of a pig, but is it hygenic and can we take all that cholesterol? But I remember how I loved it as a kid, when my Dad would come home with a brown-paper packet of my favorite ho yup mei whenever he won a majong game, so I bravely ordered a small RM5/US$1.50 portion.


The offal was presented quite decently in little plastic containers. There were pig's ears (I had that, but I kept wondering if pigs have earwax...), pig's heart, pig's lungs (had that too, the best), pig's intestines (had one piece of that), pig's stomach (that too), spleen (yes) and liver, tongue...


This dish MUST be eaten with hot mustard sauce. And lots of guts (pun totally intended). I was secretly admiring Ming who unflinchingly ate what I ordered even though he didn't grow up eating offal. I was thinking, wow, Ming's a real man but he told me if Anthony Bourdain (whose shows Ming enjoys) can do it, so can he. There must be a whole generation of grasshoppers, bull balls and sheep's eyes eaters out there, all inspired by Mr. Bourdain.

We also ordered the deep-fried spring chicken which the stall-keeper insisted is the best in town. It was pretty good, but on the whole this was a meal that made me queasy till now. However, just so you don't think so badly of me, do check out this Wikipedia page. You'll find that in almost every culture and country (except the less 'cultural' ones like Canada, Australia, USA) some form of offal is eaten. And to be truthful, all sound pretty disgusting no matter how they cook it.


I'm told by Denise that the name of this coffeeshop is Khen Hin. It's in the middle of the right side of the block of shops in old Foh Sang.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Stirfried Salted Mustard Greens With Beef (Xiencai Nurou)


This is a dish you find at home but never in restaurants. Tell you a Chinese cuisine best-kept secret: many delicious Chinese dishes are never served in restaurants and only those who grew up eating them will know how good they are. I'm talking about 'home food,' jia changcai.

As a kid, whenever I got back from school and found that my mom was going to cook this dish for dinner, I'd be very happy. Another dish she cooked well was steamed beef mince with waterchestnuts. Very Cantonese. When I got married, I ate xiencai nurou often at my MIL's. Made me very happy also. Her version was more elegant (Shanghai ngin, you know), with more oil and no gravy, and slivers of chili and chinese celery for color which my mom didn't bother with. I like both versions but this is my MIL's version I'm giving here.

Xiencai Nurou
300g tenderloin or sirloin beef, cut into thin slices of ~ 3cm x 5 cm
--marinade with 1 T each of shaoxin wine, light soy sauce and cornflour
--also add 1/2 T fine sugar and a few dashes of black pepper
--leave 1 hour in fridge
300g (or more, if like) xiencai/humchoy, cut fine (1 cm lengths)
1 red mild chili, cut into fine strips
1 T fine ginger strips
1 T Chinese celery, cut into 1 cm lengths (optional)
2 t fine sugar
1 T oyster sauce
6 T veg oil

1. Soak the xiencai if too salty, wash a couple of times if not. Squeeze all water out.

2. In a wok, dry-fry the xiencai and ginger under medium heat without oil until all water is gone. This will take about 8 minutes. Add sugar and fry for another minute. Remove, wash the wok.

3. Put 6 T (or more, if you dare) oil in the wok, when it smokes, put the beef in and spread it on the wok in a single layer. When the edges start to cook, turn beef over, cook a couple of seconds and stir quickly. This is the right way to cook beef so that it remains tender, according to my friend Su who learnt it from her father. Remove beef when 3/4 done, leaving the oil in the wok.

4. In the wok (use very high heat) where you just fried the beef, fry the chili and celery for a second, then add the xiencai, beef and the 1 T oyster sauce, fry quickly mixing well the beef and xiencai and dish up.

Note: You can cook this dish with less oil and add cornflour solution (1 T: 5 T water) to thicken. This will give more sauce; my mom's method.

To make your own xiencai/humchoy, go to my previous post. I would advise that you not buy the xiencai from China, which has yellow coloring. The xiencai from our markets are free from coloring but remember they usually use leftover unsold veg and worse, they pickle them in plastic tubs and pails. All acidic food should be kept in glass containers which are non-reactive.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Chocolate Rum Truffles


I used to wonder why people call these tiny delights truffles, because the much-prized fungi from Europe is also called truffle. It turned out that it's because choc truffles, rolled in cocoa powder, resemble the turd-like fungi truffles especially if you don't roll them into round balls. Did I just spoil truffles for you?

Choc truffles are basically choc ganache that's chilled and rolled into cocoa powder, shaved choc or toasted nuts. These truffles remind me of last Christmas when Yi made a batch of lovely cornflakes truffles. I'm sticking to the classic truffles, sure to please every palate. Christmas is less than 2 months away, so get into the holiday mood and plan your menu now!

1/2 cup heavy/thick cream
2 T unsalted butter
1 t corn syrup*
250g good semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 c cocoa powder, sifted
3 T rum
1/2 cup dark choc,melted(for dipping)

1. Put chopped choc, cream, corn syrup and butter in a small pot and melt in a pot of boiling water. Do not overheat. Remove from heat, add the rum and let cool. Chill in the fridge till semi-firm.

2. Using two teaspoons, shape choc into tiny balls and chill again. You can work in batches because the ganache melts easily in hot weather.

3. When choc balls are very firm, dip them into the melted dark choc, drop onto the sifted cocoa powder, roll into round balls in your palms and put into tiny paper cases. You can omit this step of dipping into melted choc if it's too much work and roll the choc balls in step 2 into sifted cocoa powder but it's not as luxurious...

You can also roll the choc balls over some toasted, chopped nuts such as almonds or hazelnuts. Other variations are adding coffee liquer such as Kahlua, or Grand Marnier and so on. Try putting a toasted hazelnut in each for a crunchy truffle. There you go, forget about buying those expensive truffles this Christmas.
* refer to 'comments'

Friday, October 26, 2007

Cheese-Garlic Biscuits


I keep a handy box of Bisquick for making pancakes. Recently I made cheese biscuits/scones from the recipe on the box and the boys liked them . On my second try, I changed the recipe just a little bit and I think it's good enough to share with you.

Eat them warm. Add a soup, some sausages too. Mmmm... Guess this is not something you should eat often ...

p.s the Americans, just to be different, call scones 'biscuits' and 'shortbread'.

Cheese Garlic Biscuits
2 cups Bisquick mix
2 T cold butter, diced
2/3 cup fresh milk
1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese
1/4 t garlic powder
2 T butter
1/2 t garlic powder
1 t dried parsley

1. Oven at 200 C. Using a pastry cutter, mix the flour with the butter but don't cut it too fine. Add the garlic powder, then the milk, stirring well with a fork or your fingers and then knead quickly (less than 10 times) and lightly till it all comes together. Do not overmix.

2. Scoop (you'll need to ease dough off and kinda pat them into shape) by tablespoonful onto an ungreased baking tray (I went against it the first time and greased the tray. The bottom of the biscuits burnt). Bake 15 minutes or till top is lightly golden.

3. While biscuits are baking, melt the butter and mix the other ingredients in. When biscuits are out of the oven, brush the tops with the melted butter mix. Serve hot.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Caponata (Eggplant Salad)


We've been eating Italian this week because my boys are experimenting with the new pasta machine. Frankly, and I never thought I'd say this, I'm now sick of pasta ! I can still eat it, but it's just that it's so much carbs and that's really bad for dinner. This dish is a change from the usual leaf salad. I think we 'll eat Korean next week.

1 large aubergine/eggplant or 1/2 kg brinjals
1/2 cup stoned green olives
2 T capers
grated rind & juice of 1/2 lemon
3 to 4 T olive oil
1 T chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/8 t freshly ground black pepper
2 T toasted pinenuts & some shaved parmesan

1. Cut the eggplant into 1"/2.5 cm cubes. Heat a skillet, add the oil and fry the eggplant over low heat, stirring frequently. Add a sprinkle of water now and then. Fry about 7 to 8 minutes till eggplant is softened (but not mushy).

2. Toss fried eggplant with the remaining ingredients, except pinenuts and parmesan, which are sprinkled on top. Add salt if like. Serve warm, with bread or pasta.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Veg Acar


I'm not good at cooking Malay food. The use of so many spices confuse me and I'm also wary of the large amount of oil and sugar used in most Malay dishes. I've only made acar once, and it was a failure because the pickle went bad after only 4 days. Apparently I hadn't squeezed-dried the veg enough. After all that effort!

My friend B recently gave me a jar of acar that her mom had made. I didn't even bother to try it because the last time a friend gave me a large precious jar of acar she'd carried from Miri, I gave it away. The acar was way too sweet for me, so sweet that the cuke slivers were transparent, almost crystalized. When I made nasi lemak a few weeks ago, I took out B's jar of acar and almost ate the whole bottle by myself. The perfect acar! Crunchy, tasty veg with lots of crushed peanuts, very little oil and just the right level of sweetness.

B's mom has given her the recipe for me to share with you all. This will be the first recipe I'm posting which I have not tried out myself. It's just too much work when I can get it free...Quantities, like most Asian hand-me-down recipes, are adjustable according to your preference and also dependent on your experience. Good luck.

The Veg

carrots, in thin strips
cauliflower, in small chunks
cabbage, cut into fine strips
long beans, in 3 cm lengths
cucumbers, in thin strips

The Spices

garlic, peeled
shallots, peeled
fresh tumeric root, pared
dry chilies, washed and soaked
candlenuts (buah keras)
dry prawns. washed
--blend the above ingredients till fine.

Other ingredients:

white sesame seeds (dry-fry in a wok or pan till fragrant but not burnt)
peanuts, chopped coarsely
natural vinegar, salt and sugar

1. Boil water and vinegar. Scald the veg separately with the boiling vinegar water, except for the cucumber which is to be rubbed with lots of salt. Drain the veg and squeezed out as much water as you can. This is a back-breaking but important step. Leave to cool completely.

2. Heat oil in a wok and fry the blended spices in low heat without adding any water till spices are fragrant. This should take quite a while. Add salt, sugar and vinegar; taste should be quite intense because you've got all that veg to pickle. Let it cool.

3. Mix the dried veg, fried spices, sesame seeds and peanuts and fill into dry, clean glass bottles. Keep in fridge. The drier the veg, and the more sugar/salt/vinegar, the longer the acar will keep.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Making Our Own Pasta

I was typing some notes yesterday when Wey came to me and said, "Mom, let's make pasta!" What a horrible suggestion. Images of messy flour and dough and taking out the machines and so on, plus the fact that I've never made pasta before, just drained me, so I said, "Oh, you go have fun." And he did. Now and then he'd ask,"Is 300g of flour a lot?", "Do we have ricotta cheese?" and I just shouted back my answers until I heard my Kenwood mixer running. I rushed into the kitchen and saw that he had the dough going and the kitchen wasn't even messy.

If you don't know the trouble, you won't be deterred, and I think Wey taught me that yesterday. It turned out making pasta is very easy. And I shouldn't complain because we have Vero to clean up the mess!

Our new pasta machine - how did I live without one all these years?

Hanging out the black pepper pasta sheets to dry

Drying the fettucine on a chair

While the pasta was drying, we went to get some cheese because Wey wanted to cook 'Black Pepper Fettucine With 3 Cheese Sauce' from Ann Wilan's Look & Cook book. We couldn't find any Gorgonzola cheese so he decided to chill his pasta for the next day while we check out Tong Hing for the cheese. On the way home, he said to me happily, "Mom, anybody can cook!" and I realised what an inspiration that Remy was in Ratatouille!

Ming was a little jealous, I think, when he got home and saw the pasta hanging on the chair. His little bro had upped him in his area (Ming is quite the cook in the fam). He said he is going read up on pasta making too. I was so happy. Maybe after a while they can cook all our dinners. Heck, maybe they can do all the shopping too.

By 9 pm, Ming had cooked all the pasta (asked Wey's permission, for once) and tossed them with olive oil, capers, black olives, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and fresh parsley for a very light and tasty supper. We all agreed that fresh pasta gives a different el dente bite, and is so good that the best way is to dress it light and not overwhelm it with heavy cream and sauces. Looks like my weight will never go down. Wey said "Let's make more tomorrow!"
Wey cooked penne with parma-ham and cream a few days ago. I was astounded; he had been watching.

Eat With Us: Spice Garden

Once in a long while I crave spicy and exotic Northern Indian food. I've been told by friends that this new Indian restaurant is excellent so off we went for a simple lunch last Saturday.

Spice Garden is a chain restaurant from Kuala Lumpur. The place has only been opened about 2 months and was desolate, with only two other tables occupied. Given that, you'd think the food would arrive quickly but it took half an hour for our small order of 3 naans, a briyani and a butter chicken. Points deducted, the food better be worth the wait, Wey said. Service however was excellent, with very courteous and helpful Indian waiters (straight from the motherland, judging by their accent). Hub joked that they must've trained the waiters in New York because they serve plain water in bottles only (RM2.90 ++, small bottle), which is something KK people aren't used to (we were told by a friend to avoid their lassies, which are too spicy).

Modern, casual and pleasant interior of Spice Garden

Left: lamb briyani (RM14.90/US$4.40). right: cheese naan (RM5.90/US$1.70) and methi parantha (RM3.90/US$1.10), bottom: butter chicken (RM12.90/US$3.80)

The briyani was okay but a little more wet than what I'm used to. Btw, my briyani epiphany was at a members-only yacht club in Aberdeen, Hong Kong, of all places. One mouthful and I thought : this is how briyani should taste! I've never had briyani like that again, sad to say. The chicken Makhani (butter chicken) was good but not as good as that in the Indian restaurant with the forgettable name in Waterfront. We seem to eat butter chicken everytime we eat Indian, mainly because Wey likes it and we don't really know what to order. The naan and parantha were very good, much better than those in Choice (a restaurant whose food I never really liked).

Raita (RM4.90/US$1.40) and aloo parantha (RM4.90/US$1.40)

The raita was 90% yogurt (VERY good yogurt) and I was wishing they'd put in more cucumber and veg because it was like eating soup. That aloo (potato) parantha was absolutely delicious. Unfortunately we had stuffed ourselves with my banana choc cake that morning and we couldn't try more dishes. I saw a beautiful platter of mixed grilled kebabs passing by, and my eyes were lusting after it but my stomach said no.


Naans are slapped onto the sides of this charcoal oven, giving them that slight smokey roasted flavor that home ovens can't give.

Spice Garden is next to Umai Restaurant and below Royal Palace Restaurant in the new D Junction Building, just off the intersection of Jalan Lintas and Jalan Penampang. Tel: 088-257 7896

Rating: 7.5/10

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Banana Choc Hazelnut Cake

Banana Choc Hazelnut Cake

The recipe in the magazine instructed that I beat mashed bananas, eggs and butter mixture into flour, which was an unusual way of making cake. I have had enough baking failures from testing magazines and cookbooks recipes but I really wanted to try this recipe out because I love banana choc cakes. I looked at the recipe on and off for months before I decided to unscramble it and put it together into something that may or may not turn out good.

I whipped the whites with some sugar and cream of tartar (so it'll hold up stiffer and longer), then beat the butter with sugar till light and made up for the reduction in butter by adding canola oil. Reduced the ground hazelnuts substantially rather than end up with 20g (because they come in packs of 100g here), used all the yolks rather than throw the odd one away, reduced the sugar by 25% and used cake flour instead of plain flour. The result was a cake that had a slight hazelnutty texture and a yummy banana-choc flavor, definitely a cake that I'll make (and eat) again and again. And Kenneth, whom I made this cake for (his Xth birthday), loved it too.

A Ingredients
250g cake flour
100g ground hazelnuts
1 t baking powder
3/4 t baking soda
1/3 t salt
--sift cake flour, baking powder and baking soda together into a bowl. Add the salt. Add the ground hazelnuts and stir well to break up any hazelnut clumps.

B Ingredients
80g fine sugar
5 large egg whites
1/2 t cream of tartar
-- whisk by machine till stiff.

C Ingredients
150g fine sugar
225g unsalted butter (firm but not hard)
1 t pure vanilla extract
5 egg yolks
1/4 cup veg oil
380g peeled bananas, mashed well (I used pisang emas)
-- hand-whisk sugar and butter together by machine till light and fluffy, add the vanilla and then the yolks one by one, whisking all the time. Finally add the oil and the bananas, whisk to mix well.

1. Line a 14" x 14"/35cm x 35 cm square cookie tray (only 1"/2.5 cm) deep with paper and grease the sides. Or use two 8" x 5"/20cm x 12cm loaf tins, bottom and sides lined. (This cake breaks very easily so it is not easy to make a large square or round cake. You'll have to join sections into one large cake. I made a very long loaf cake with the cookie tray.) Switch oven on to 170 C.

2. Fold A mixture into C mixture,mixing well with a spatula. Then mix (using your hand) 1/3 of the beaten egg whites (B mixture) in, then mix another 1/3, then the remaining egg whites in, stirring well and quickly.

3. Pour batter into the prepared tray/tins and bake 30 (for tray) to 40 min (for loaf tins), testing with a wooden skewer at the end of cooking time. If there's batter sticking to the skewer, allow another 3 min or so and check again. Let cake cool.

Filling and Frosting
400g dark chocolate, chopped into chunks
300 ml heavy cream
7 T Nutella
-- Put choc and cream into a thin-base pot, put the pot over a simmering pot of water and melt the choc, stirring to mix the cream in. When choc is fully melted, remove and let it cool. Mix in the Nutella.

To Assemble
1. Cut the cake into three long equal strips if baked in a tray. If baked in a loaf tin, layer it into 3 layers. This cake is quite friable.

2. Sandwich the layers with a thin layer of the filling (the loaf cakes can be joined, using the filling) and frost top and sides also.

3. Drizzle some melted white choc all over the top and chill before serving.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Bun Mein


We eat bun mein once or twice a month because there's a very good bun mein shop nearby. Bun mein seems more healthier and nutritious than say, konlo mee which is 90% carbs and 10%pork oil, meat and msg (unbelievable amount of msg) whereas bun mein hardly has oil and there's a good mix of meat and sayur manis.

So what makes a good bun mein?For me, the soup should be light (although some prefer pork bones soup) but tasty, the mein should be torn into pieces and not in long strands like other mein, and it should be el dente and slippery smooth. There should be a good sprinkle of crispy ikan bilis/anchovies and, very importantly, there should be a dip of calamansi lime, bird's eye chilies and chopped raw garlic. Most important of all, the veg must be sayur manis, nothing else. Agree?

Making bun mein at home is a little bit of a hassle. For best results, make your dough in advance and have all the ingredients lined up by your stove. Bun mein's only good if you cook it bowl by bowl because the mein is not rinsed in cold water as you would other noodles, and you want to cook everything quickly in high heat. So let's start.

Making the Dough

150g Blue Horse flour (or wheat flour)

1.Put flour into a machine mixing bowl, add 1/2 cup water and knead (I usually use my mixer if I make larger portions). If too wet, add more flour; too dry, add more water. You want an el dente bite so make the dough harder.

2.When dough is smooth, cover and let it rest. Just before you start to cook, dust the working surface, divide dough equally into 2 portions and roll each piece of dough out thinly or to your desired thickness.

The Other Ingredients

a large handful of sayur manis
100g (more or less)thin pork slices
--marinade pork in salt, white pepper and lots of cornflour + water, leave in fridge overnight
combination of: pork balls, pork liver slices, egg pork roll
2 T crispy fried ikan bilis
1 T dried cloud ears, soaked and sliced into thin strips
1/2 chicken stock cube or chicken/pork stock


bird's eye chilies, minced
garlic, minced
calamansi limes

Cooking It

1. In a small, thin-base metal pot, add 2 cups water (or pork/chicken stock) and 1/4 of a chicken stock cube and 1/3 t salt, a dash of white pepper. Add the meatballs.

2. When soup boils, add the pork slices and clouds' ears. Stir well, and when soup comes to a full boil, tear off 4 or 5 cm square (roughly) pieces of the dough and drop into the boiling soup. The heat must be very high. Work quickly. Add the liver slices in between (too early and they get tough, too late they aren't cooked through). Stir well all the time. Lastly add the veg in and pour into a noodle bowl, top with 1 T of ikan bilis. Serve with the dip. Get ready some tissues.

Makes 2 large servings.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Making Salted Chinese Mustard Greens

I don't know if this pickled veg is available in other parts of Malaysia, but humchoy (xiencai in Mandarin), like the sayur manis, is something I'll miss if I'm away from Sabah. In fact I have something embarassing to tell.

You know how you cringe at tales of overseas students frying blacan kangkong in their apartments, causing other students to call the exterminators/CSI team? I've even heard of (HK) students cooking rice and chinese sausages in the library!! (This was somewhere in Canada where it's so cold the buildings are connected by huge underground tunnels with libraries/reading rooms.) Ok, that was during my time when the only decent Chinatowns were in Toronto and Vancouver causing homesick students to do unthinkable things (these days our kids have it so good they can eat out anytime, any cuisine). One time, I so wanted to eat humchoy I actually tried making my own (I've seen my mom make it before). To shorten the story, I got a call from the apartment management warning me to please take those veg off my balcony. I can't remember what I did with the veg after that; I was so embarassed (I still can't believe I did that! My apartment faced a large vacant field...) And indignant. How come that girl in the corner apartment could sunbathe topless and nobody complained?? Yes, a topless woman looks better than a row of wilting veg and I confess I did peek at her now and then too, you know, to check out the competition. Remember that, Cheeyan? I wonder if she's still, um, never mind.

Ooops! How do you make humchoy?

1. Get some thick-stemmed organic Chinese mustard greens. Wash the veg well to remove all dirt, snails etc. Hang them up to dry for 2 days.

2. Put wilted mustard greens into a dry, clean bowl and add 1 T salt for every bunch, rubbing some salt into the inner leaves and stems.

3. When you cook your rice, pour the first cloudy wash water into the greens. If rice water is very dirty, use the second washing. Bear in mind that if water is not very cloudy, the mustard greens will not pickle so well. Throw in another 1 T salt. You may add some sugar but I find that unnecessary.

4. There should be enough water to cover the veg. It's best to put the veg into a clean, dry glass bottle with a tight lid but I didn't have one large enough so I used a glass bowl. Cover tightly (if using a bowl, put a ceramic plate directly on top of the veg and weigh that down with a heavy weight) and leave at room temperature.

5. After a week, check the inner stems to see if they are still green. If so, leave them for a couple more days. If they are ready, you can put them in the fridge where they'll last longer.

Now, can anyone tell me how to make Fuzhou (Foochow) red preserved veg?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pearl Rice Balls


This is based on a recipe I saw on TV some time ago. I've eaten a similar dish in Guangzhou last year and found it rather bland, so I've added yam into the filling. I've also added 5 spice powder. The balls are soft inside so if you want a firmer texture, you can add minced prawns and omit the yam. You can change the mixture by adding whatever you like, such as dried chinese mushrooms, carrots and so on. It's quite a fancy dish to bring to the table.


Pearl Rice Balls

1 1/2 cup glutinous rice, washed and soaked 6 hours
400g lean pork, minced + 1 T fat, cut into very small cubes (optional)
2 t dried orange peel (washed, soaked and minced)
200g peeled fresh waterchestnuts*, diced fine (coarser if you want more crunch)
100g yam, cubed finely (optional)
2 t fresh ginger, minced
1/4 cup finely cut spring onions
2 t cornflour
3/4 t salt
2 T light soy sauce
1/2 t white pepper
1/2 t 5 spice powder (optional)
1/2 t chicken stock granules
1 egg
2 t sesame oil

1. Mix everything well (except for the rice) and chill in fridge so that mixture becomes firmer and easier to shape.

2. Drain the rice. Shape the mixture into small balls (1"/2.5cm in diameter) and roll onto the uncooked rice.

3. Place a piece of baking paper on a bamboo steamer, oil it and arrange the pearl balls spaced slightly apart. You can also oil a metal dish and place the pearl balls on it. Steam at high heat for 30 minutes. Halfway through, sprinkle some water generously over the pearl balls. Serve hot, as a snack.
Makes 28 to 30 rice balls.

*If you have to use canned waterchestnuts (which are bland), squeeze half the water out after chopping them.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Focaccia Bread


This crusty, dimpled flatbread goes best with saucy dishes. I like it with a thick tomato-ey soup for lunch. Most times, I can't even wait for the soup and I just eat it with cheese and parma ham (if the boys haven't discovered my loot).

Focaccia Bread

500g bread flour
300 ml chilled water
70 ml olive oil
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
1 t salt (add 1/2 t more if like)
2 1/2 t dry yeast
3/4 T dried rosemary or 2 T fresh rosemary, chopped finely
extra olive oil

1. Put bread flour, water, olive oil, salt, pepper, yeast (make sure it's active) and rosemary (if using dried, rub it between your palms to release the flavor...a tip from Daisy) into a good mixer, like the Kenwood Major and, using a dough hook, knead the dough at speed 2 for 7 to 8 min until it's soft. (As with all machines, make sure you don't overheat it so stop halfway and give it a 30-sec rest).

2. Cover the dough with a cloth and let it proof 1 1/2 hours in a warm place, such as the oven.

3. Grease the bottom of a 13" x 13"/33 cm x 33 cm Swiss roll tray or oven tray with some olive oil. Sprinkle some flour all over the tray.

4. Take dough out of the bowl and knead it on a lightly floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll dough into a large rectangle, making the center thinner than the sides (so it's easy to pat the dough out to fill the tray). Now transfer the dough by using the rolling pin and place dough onto the oven tray.Pat with your hands or use a small rolling pin to roll the dough out to fill the sides and corners of the tray. Leave to rise 1 hour or more, till very puffed/doubled.


5. Switch oven on to 200 C. Brush the surface of the bread with 1 T olive oil. Be gentle or dough will sink. Scatter some rosemary all over, then make the characteristic dimples on the bread using your fingers. Leave 5 min. Put into oven and bake 16 to 18 min. You can sprinkle some coarse salt all over when still hot. It should be crusty outside, soft inside. Yum.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sayur Manis

Stir-fried sayur manis with garlic

The sayur manis ('sweet veg') is native to Sabah so in restaurants it is usually labelled as 'Sabah Veg'. In Malaysian-chinese, it somehow is called sujaicai, which either means potato veg or small tree/shrub veg (I'm not sure about the Chinese characters for this veg, can anyone help?), which makes it very confusing doesn't it? I think the Malay name is the most appropriate because this veg does taste sweet.

Sayur manis shrub

This is a very hardy veg that grows easily from stem cuttings into shrubs of 1.5 to 2m high. It needs minimal nutrients but lots of sunlight and is seldom attacked by pests although a planter friend has told me that because the veg is grown on a large commercial scale, it requires a lot of pesticides, especially against white flies. I've been lucky. I have two clumps of this veg that I first planted 10 years ago when I moved into my house and so far it's been pests-free. I think it's a neat plant to grow. The sayur manis is a perennial, meaning it can grow on and on unlike annuals which last for a year only. Each time you harvest it, you just cut it down to about 1.0 m above ground and new shoots will come up almost overnight. That means we get to harvest the shoots about once a week! We like to step out and pluck a bunch of shoots and leaves to throw into our instant noodles whenever, sometimes near midnight if we feel like a snack. In fact, writing this now I feel an urge to go get some. The flavor is just mmmm...

The young shoots of the sayur manis.

This veg is SO yum that I haven't met anyone who doesn't like it, including foreign tourists. The best way to cook it is to stir-fry it with minced garlic, or with blacan (stinky but yummy fermented shrimp paste). However, the true Sabah way is to fry it with a beaten egg. This is especially if the veg is the original leafy type. A new type (or rather the same type but cultivated in a special way to get more shoots than leaves), is the shoot sayur manis with very little leaves. Most restaurants serve this type of sayur manis which people like because the shoots are very sweet, flavorful and crunchy.

A warning though. This veg, like spinach, amaranth (chinese spinach/hunchoy/bayam) and rhubarb is said to contain a lot of oxalic acids so those with kidney stones and gout should go easy on that next plate of sayur manis blacan.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Garlic Butter Scallops


I spied newly arrived US scallops at Recipes House recently and decided life's too short to scrimp on luxuries. Actually, that's my habit whenever I'm not feeling good. As a student I used to indulge in giant fresh scallops whenever I was unhappy and if I was really, really unhappy I'd eat something like a giant chocolate eclair. That was better than taking valium which my French-Canadian landlady used to pop every morning. The only way I cooked fresh scallops was in congee (in place of dried scallops, which were hard to find then), and I'd eat my congee with Marmite! What a waste huh? But my spirits were always lifted after I indulged my stomach.

Today I butter-garlicked my scallops, and teri-yakied one of them, just to see. I think both were good but at RM4.50/US$1.30 each (RM99/kg) I couldn't help but think: is it tasty just because it's so expensive?? And how come food I used to think taste heavenly are so-so when I'm older or when I can afford to eat them? Is it that 'the harder things come by the more you want' syndrome?

I've done garlic-butter prawns and they taste even better besides being much cheaper:

Garlic-Butter Prawns
1/2kg fresh scallops or yellow prawns (shelled, tails on)
1/4 cup veg oil
50g salted butter
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 T fresh parsley, chopped finely
1 small bird's eye (or others) chili, minced
1/4 t salt, pepper & pinch of chicken granules

1. Marinade the seafood in the salt, pepper and chicken granules (optional;will give it a more umami taste) for 20 min.
2. Put oil and butter in fry-pan over low heat and melt the butter. Add the garlic, saute a few seconds and add the seafood. When almost done (do not overcook), add remaining ingredients. Best served immediately.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Best Wishes!


Ah, I love weddings. Such happy and hopeful occasions. I was in town 3 Saturdays ago and saw about 20 Harleys (I think) surrounding a young couple who had just got married. The whole gang then got on their bikes and rode around town, honking and waving. Every onlooker whipped out his/her handphone/camera and for a moment everyone was friendly and smiling at each other...I thought, hmm, I must be getting younger because I actually wouldn't mind if Yi got married wearing a mini and boots. Just as long as she's happy...

Melamine Alert

The next time you have your favorite ban mien or tomyum noodles, make sure it's served in a ceramic bowl and not a melamine bowl. Sure, the Malaysian Plastics Forum have responded to The Consumers Association of Penang's (CAP) call last week to all consumers against using melamine tableware by stating that "The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and many other international agencies have determined that melamine ware products meet stringent standards for food and beverage contact...", skipping around the fact that the CAP specifically stated that melamine melts at high temperature and harmful substances can enter our body causing cancer, skin allergies and blindness.

Did any of the FDA eat a bowl of boiling hot mee soup from a melamine bowl? All over South East Asia, boiling hot food is served in melamine ware. The strange thing is, in my parents' days when the income per capita can only buy one pair of Dior sunglasses now, restaurants and vendors could afford to use nice heat-proof ceramic ware. So either we are getting too poor as a country so we have to eat from plastic ware, or people in the food business are making quick money at the expense of our health, or the relevant authorities just aren't doing their jobs in safeguarding the public's health.

Have you not noticed after slurping that last bit of sup soto, that your melamine bowl is discolored at the bottom (where did the color and plastic go?) and the bowl actually is kinda bent? We Asians eat boiling hot soup in scorching weather so for goodness sake, let's support the CAP's call to the Government to ban all melamine table ware. Start by boycotting your favorite noodle place if they use melamine, and tell them why. Count the number of times you eat out and ask yourself if you should heed the CAP's warning.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Wey Is 13!


Wey became a teenager today, no more at that awkward 'tween' age. I've made almost all of my kids' birthday cakes and Wey was the fussiest. He'd go through my Wilton books and choose his cakes. One year it was a toadstool, another a porcupine, and I've done all those train and dinosaurs cakes. So when he wanted a chocolate cake this year, I was relieved. What kind, a dense or light chocolate cake? I asked, but inside I was going: please say dense, please say dense! He said "Dense." Great! I'm so tired of making that ever popular choc supermoist cake which is nice but a little too eggy and common for me.

His cake turned out as dense as a brownie, and he liked it! A typical boy, he said to me as he ate the cake, "I don't care for light cakes. They are just full of air!"

Dense chocolate cake with choc ganache frosting

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Salt N Pepper Squid


Was at the fish market today. Did you know squid has gone up to RM12/kg (US$3.50)? I didn't know because we don't eat squid that often now that we are 'at that age,' you know, the age where Murphy's Law applies to every part of our bodies, external and internal (Al, hold the botox for a couple more years; I want to frown or my sons won't take me seriously).

Salt n pepper squid is what you should serve your friends when they come over for a beer or snack, provided you/they are below 29 or you/they are safely on Lipitor. You've been warned.
Salt N Pepper Squid
500g squid (NOT cuttlefish)
1/2 t salt, or to taste
1/8 t black pepper or Sichuan peppercorn powder
1/8 t cayenne chili or other chili powder (optional)
1/8 t 5-spice powder
1 egg white, whisked
2 dashes of msg
5 T cornflour or riceflour

1. Clean squid. Score the inner side diagonally with diamond cuts and cut into 6 x 4 cm pieces so they'll curl when fried. Drain in a colander and dry with paper towels, then add egg white and mix well.

2. Put 2 cups oil in a wok and heat it up.

3. Put remaining seasoning ingredients and flour together in a plastic bag and drop in the squid pieces. Shake well.

4. Fry the squid pieces a handful at a time in very hot oil, use a slotted spoon to take out after 1 minute. Serve with lemon/lime wedges.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Nothing For Dinner Anyway

The last 10 days were stressful for me as I helped Wey through his final exams. Sure, he's in Form One (grade 7) so what's the big deal. Well, he has about 10 subjects (English, Math, Science, Bahasa Malaysia, History, Geography, Kemahiran Hidup (Life Skills), Civics, Computer and Art). All but the first three are in Bahasa Malaysia, our national language which, if you don't speak at home, will be a toughie to master even though it really is an easy language to learn. If he doesn't do well, Wey may have to attend a month of extra tutoring during the upcoming school holidays and re-sit the remedial exam or face staying back in Form One. Chances are he'll have to stay back for remedial classes since he didn't do homework and assignments which account for half of the final exam marks. There goes our plan to spend a month or two together with Yi in Australia.

I was so upset (an understatement) with Wey when I found out that he's lost some of his textbooks for the 3rd or 4th time, and also lost most of his workbooks for the whole year, that I didn't give him dinner because food is all he cares about. He happily made half a dozen of grilled cheese sandwiches himself, defiantly tilting his head in a way that said "So what!" as he walked out the kitchen. That reminded me of the last time (last year) I said "No dinner for you!" and this was what he put on my door*:



*My daughter used to tell me what she thought of me when she was 8 or 9 by tapeing messages on my wardrobe door. I would reply her likewise. I won't embarass her here. Middle child is the only one who never wrote me messages--he just socks it to me when he's mad with me.

Note: Wey was doing his History project just now and we talked about his accomplishments so far. He reminded me that he was his class' 'Best Improved Student' last year, a feat I've totally forgotten.
Good thing Wey doesn't read my blog.

Lettuce Wraps (Bao Sang)


This is a Cantonese dish my Dad cooked whenever we had leftover duck or pigeon. He liked to throw in some fresh corn which sweetens up the dish. Yes, pigeons. Dad reared some and we loved them marinaded in dark soy sauce and deep-fried. My kids gag and roll their eyes when I tell them.

This is a simple dish of finely diced mixed veg, fried and served with lettuce (usually iceberg, which we tore into smaller pieces but now restaurants usually make the greens fancier by cutting them into neat cups). There's a lot of crunch in this dish--from the waterchestnuts, corn, celery and the deep-fried mung bean vermicelli. You probably have eaten a similar dish when you order Beijing Duck but this recipe uses very little meat and lots of veg. The only thing about this dish is you have to use your fingers so I think it is a better dish to serve at casual finger-food dinners/parties.

Lettuce Wraps
2 fresh corn on cobs, kernels cut off using a knife
1/2 chicken breast, diced finely
2 stalks celery, diced finely
4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked n diced finely
10 waterchestnuts, peeled n diced finely
1 small carrot, diced finely
1 small handful mungbean vermicelli
1/2 T cornflour + 2 T water, mix well
1 cup veg oil
lettuce (iceberg, butterhead, Chinese shengcai), washed n spin-dried

1. Marinade the diced chicken with salt, white pepper and 1/2 t cornflour, 1 t sesame oil and 1 T water. Heat 1 cup oil in a wok till hot and throw in the vermicelli. It will expand into white threads. Quickly swirl it around the wok to make sure all threads have expanded. Remove quickly or it'll brown. Drain on paper towels. When cool, scrunch lightly to break threads into short bits of about 2 to 3 cm.

2. Leave about 4 T oil in the wok, heat wok up till smoking and add the chicken and mushroom, stirring well to separate. When chicken has turned all white, add the other veg (except lettuce!) in this order: corn, carrots, waterchestnuts and finally celery, each time adding a pinch of salt and frying about 30 seconds before each addition. After the celery is added, add 1 T light soy sauce and stir-fry another minute. Adjust the taste. Then add the cornflour solution, stirring to mix well all the veg (add 1 or 2 T water sauce/veg gets too 'pasty') and dish up.

3. Arrange the fried vermicelli around the plate of fried veg and serve the lettuce separately. Just before eating, mix the veg and fried vermicelli together. Serve immediately or the vermicelli will soften when it absorbs the sauce.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Pumpkin Japanese Style

This pumpkin was not exactly good because it was too young and gave out too much liquid, diluting the taste of the dish. The younger the pumpkin, the lighter the color, with a bit of translucency, and the less intense and sweet the taste.

Packed with beta-carotene like all red and orange-colored fruits and veg, pumpkins are one veg that most of us overlook when planning our menus. I think I've eaten more pumpkin seeds than the fruit. It's really weird how we dislike certain food our parents liked and then when we get old(er), we find ourselves liking those very same food. Has it happened to you yet?

This is a great dish to eat if you need to loose those stubborn 3 kgs by Christmas. No oil, no meat and very little salt is used in the form of soy sauce. Perfect for cleansing whatever sinful stuff you've loaded your body with all year. And you have to believe me, it tastes good!

This Pumpkin Test can reveal whether you can turn vegan, especially if you eat it 3 days in a row...

This photo was uploaded on 7/1/09. This is how a good pumpkin should be--very dark orange in color. These kinds of pumpkin are mature and will have very little liquid and so give a sweet, 'powdery' sweet flesh with a nice pumpkin flavor.

The Pumpkin Test (Simmered Pumpkin)

1 kg pumpkin (choose deep orange ones), cut into 3cm chunks
1 tsp dashi granules
1/4 cup water
1 T Kikkoman soy sauce
1 T fine sugar (optional--I don't add this)

Put everything except pumpkin into a small pot. When sauce boils, add the pumpkin and simmer (low heat), covered, till pumpkin is half done. Taste and season if necessary. Put heat on high and remove lid and let it bubble (stir once in a while) till water is mostly gone (I forgot this step; I was blogging). This doesn't take long, so do make sure you don't cook the pumpkin till it's too soft like I did.

Serve it with rice.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Free Burma!

Free Burma!

Free Burma! --sign up to show your support for freedom, democracy and basic rights for the people of Burma.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Sago Gula Melaka

Sago gula melaka--simple, inexpensive but super yummy

This is my favorite Malaysian dessert! There's no pretense in this number at all--just four inexpensive ingredients simply boiled and served. The combination of cold, smooth, springy sago pearls (albeit tasteless), the sweet and scented gula melaka (palm sugar) and the fragrant creamy santan (coconut milk) works so well I often tell my kids "This is my death row dessert." This dessert is especially refreshing after a BBQ. It just washes the char and heatiness off your palate.

Sarawak, that other Malaysian state in Borneo, is probably the largest producer of sago. It takes 10 years for the sago palm to grow until it can be fell. The stuff in the trunks are dried and processed into sago flour, then into sago pearls for the market. The natives of Sarawak however, eat their sago differently. The flour is cooked into a glue in a large pot and you dip a stick in and twirl it around to get as much glue as you want, and then you just slurp on it. It tastes good. At least that's how the people on TV wants us to think, because I haven't seen or tasted sago paste. And frankly most of this information is regurgitated to you because I've been going through history/geography books with my son for his exam this Friday...and oh, Wey wants to tell you he'd like to try sago worms if any of you can get it for him. Yup, big fat chubby sago worms are a delicacy among some natives of Sarawak (yay, natives in Sabah only eat rotten meat stuffed in bamboo tubes!).

sago palm
I just googled and found out that the sago palm is that ornamental palm that most of us grow! And if that is so, maybe I should've harvested those worms or whatever that attacked my plant and made a meal out of them instead of cutting the plant down.

Sago Gula Melaka
1 cup small sago pearls (pick through but do not wash)
5 cups water
4 pieces pandan leaves*
200g gula melaka**, chopped into small pieces
1 coconut, shaved/grated
a pinch of salt (optional)

1. Put water and pandan leaves into a pot and boil 10 minutes so the pandan flavor comes out. (You can omit the leaves if you prefer the sago to stay transparent-white. The leaves taint the sago slightly yellow). Remove the leaves. Throw in the sago pearls, stirring well so they don't clump. Let it simmer 10 minutes, stirring all the time. The pearls will turn transparent but there will still be a dot of white in the middle. If you continue cooking till it all turns transparent, most of the pearls will just become glue. So turn off the heat, put the lid on and leave 10 minutes.

2. The pearls will have all turned tranparent. If not, heat through but not boil, turn off heat and let it sit, covered, for two minutes. Bring pot to the sink, add lots of tap water to the hot sago in the pot and stir so that the sago pearls separate. Pour the sago through a metal sieve over the sink and stir with a spoon so that the glue will run through the sieve, leaving just the sago pearls. Rinse enough individual moulds or glasses or a big bowl (more convenient if you are serving it to a large group) and scoop sago pearls in. The rinsing is to wet the moulds so that it would be easier to turn the sago out. If you like the sago chewy and compact, drain off as much water as you can but if you like a softer pudding, which I do, do not drain till the last drop of glue. Let sago cool in the glasses, then chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours until very cold.

3. Meantime, put the gula melaka and about 4 T water in a small pot over low fire to melt the sugar. Do not stir, just let the sugar thicken into a thin syrup. Yummy sugary-coconuty smell! Let it cool; it will thicken slightly. If you let it cook until it is thick, the gula will become hard upon cooling.

4. Add 1 cup water to the grated coconut, 'massage' the coconut well to release the milk (yup, you read me) and squeeze out the santan. Strain santan into a small pot and let it heat through but not boil. I actually prefer not to heat through because I prefer the raw taste of coconut milk which is stronger and tastier. Just make sure everything is super hygenic and that you have a strong stomach if you don't heat through. Add salt if like but I don't because fresh, authentic coconut milk has a sweet and slightly saltish taste. The most important ingredient for this dessert is the santan, which MUST be thick and fresh.

5. Serve chilled sago pudding with the gula melaka syrup and lots and lots of santan. There's only a little santan in my photo above because I had spilled it.

* common flavoring ingredient used in most South East Asian desserts.
**raw brown sugar made from coconut palm.


Monday, October 1, 2007

Japanese Curry


This is one of my lazy-day dishes. To those who don't eat any curry but Malaysian or Indian curries, this is not for you. Japanese curry tastes like a westernized curry stew. It is so easy to cook. Almost all the Jap curry mixes make good curries but some, like the S&B mix that I used, are slightly too sugar-sweet. I also find that you can add more meat and veg than the recipe calls for on the box.

Japanese Curry

500g meat (beef/lamb/boneless chicken/pork, in 3 cm cubes)
300g firm young potatoes, peeled & in 3 cm cubes
2 large carrots, in 3 cm chunks
1 large brown onion, in chunks
1 pkt Jap curry mix

1. I don't bother to fry the meat. Just put the meat (and the onion chunks if you like it all dissolved into the sauce) into a pot, add enough water to cover and simmer till almost tender.

2. Add the carrots and potatoes and simmer till almost soft. Make sure there's enough water to cover the meat and veg. Break the mix into small pieces, add to the pot and stir well. The curry will thicken. There's no need to season. Serve with white rice or bread.

P.S. Wey starts final exams today and we've been up late revising. I just feel so frustrated and angry with him for not doing his assignments throughout the year. I know it isn't the teachers' fault but I wish schools would call or write to parents about missed deadlines, especially if it's PMR projects. I can't even cook; so upset.
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