Friday, November 30, 2007

Thai Beef Salad

This tangy, hot and refreshing Thai beef salad is great as a starter to your next Asian-theme dinner party. You can even get away with using leftover beef roast. Or you can also substitute the beef with seafood such as prawns, mussels and squid.

With beef that's cut thinly and then blanched

With beef that's pan-fried and then sliced

Thai Beef Salad
400g beef fillet/tenderloin
1 cucumber, halved & sliced thinly
1 large Bombay red onion, halved & sliced thinly
3 shallots/small red onions, chopped finely
6 cloves garlic, chopped finely
2 T coriander leaves, cut into 1 cm lengths
juice from 2 large limes
2 stalks lemon grass, stem cut very thinly
2 red chilies, sliced thinly
5 to 10 chili padi (bird's eye chilies), cut finely
4 T fish sauce
1 T chopped mint + whole leaves for garnish


1. The beef can be prepared either by frying it until it is almost done, then cut into thin slices or it can be cut into thin slices, marinaded with 3 T cornflour and then blanched very briefly in boiling water and drained. I usually cut and blanch it because it is faster and gives a more tender and smooth bite but frying the beef gives it that char-grilled flavor and better color.

2. Combine everything, adjust the taste by adding more fish sauce or lime juice. Chill in fridge. Good as a starter.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Moo Waan (Thai Glazed Pork)


I love Chinese braised belly pork, skin on, in soy sauce. This is braised pork Thai-style, with palm sugar that glazes the pork and it only needs a few simple ingredients to make a very delicious oink-oink dish that goes very well with plain rice. If you dare use belly pork, it'll be yummier!

Come on, boys, this 1-2-step recipe is for you all. Easy as instant noodles (just a bit longer to cook) and it's all meat but who's counting calories anyway.

Moo Waan

500g pork or belly pork
2 T garlic, minced
2 T fish sauce
2 T light soy sauce
3 T gula melaka (palm sugar)
3 cups water

1. Cut pork into small pieces, about the size of your upper thumb. Heat up a wok, add 2 to 3 T oil, throw in the garlic and fry 30 seconds. Add the pork and fry about 2 to 3 minutes, until all surfaces have turned white/lightly browned.

2. Add the fish sauce, light soy sauce and gula melaka and fry a few seconds. Add the water, cover, lower heat and let the pork simmer until it is tender (stir once in a while, easily burnt because of the sugar) and the water has dried up and sugar has caramelised. Adjust taste.

Goes with plain rice.

Yay, we are 63rd!

Shall we celebrate the news that Malaysia ranks 63 in the survey on the top best countries to live in? I heard it on the radio this morning but am not sure who did the survey. Tied for 1st place is Norway and Iceland (no kidding, Iceland??), followed by - surprise - Australia! I bet it'll get better with Kevin Rudd. But seriously, 63rd is not as bad as 64th...(you know, as in "But mom, at least I'm 49th and not 50th in class position!")

Update: For more details, go here. So to confirm the rating, it's: 1. Iceland (yes, no mistake this time) 2. Norway (must be all that klippfisk) 3. Australia (best kept secret) 4. Canada (how can my favorite country -other than Malaysia- rate lower than Oz?) 5. Ireland (so who's having the last laugh). All freeze-butts-off countries except for Oz. No. 12 : USA

I can accept Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea at 21, 25 and 26 respectively and even Cuba at 51, Mexico at 52, Saudi Arabia at 61 (ahead of us?! But did they ask the women??) but Brunei Darulsalam at 30?? China is pathetic at no. 81 but it would be interesting to see how they fare over the next 5 years. Gosh, Malaysia. Talk about that sinking feeling.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Pine Nut Tart


Did you know that most of the commercial pine nuts are produced in Korea, China, Pakistan and the Himalayan region? I used to think Canada and the US were major producers, with so many pine trees there. Then I went to Shanghai and found pine nuts were so much cheaper there because China is a major producer. The Chinese eat pine nuts as a snack/tidbits as they do other nuts and seeds and so most pine nuts in China are sold with their shells on.

The best way to use pine nuts, to me, is in pesto sauces. I'm not much of a tart-lover, and I have never tried pine nuts in a sweet recipe but this tart turned out good, although I kept thinking of the calories I'm consuming. There's butter, loads of pine nuts (which means oil) and as if that's not enough, I ate it with fresh cream.

I have combined ingredients from different pine nut tart recipes, taking away some butter here and some sugar there, adding honey but taking away lemon juice that would otherwise compete the flavor of the nuts but keeping some lemon zest, just to perk up the tart. To be honest, I still prefer pine nuts in pesto sauce, and I am going to make Korean pine nuts congee next...


Pine Nut Tart

Tart Pastry
2 cups all-purpose flour
8 T semi-hard butter
2 T icing sugar
1 egg, beaten

- Put flour into a large bowl and add the sugar. Rub in the butter until mixture is crumbly. Add the egg and mix with a fork quickly, then knead a couple of times till it all comes together. Do not overknead.
- Pat the pastry onto a greased, 9"/23 cm loose-bottom tart pan, all the way up to the sides. Put into fridge to chill while you heat up the oven to 160 C.
- Take pastry pan out and put a couple of stainless steel spoons/forks on it and pop it into the oven to bake blind, for 10 minutes. Take out, set aside.

Tart Filling
7 T semi-soft unsalted butter
1/4 cup honey, heated slightly so it's runny
1/4 cup fine sugar
3 eggs
zest of 1 lemon
1 1/4 cup pine nuts
pinch of salt
3 T fruit jam

1. Cream the butter with the sugar until fluffy and light. Beat in the eggs one by one, add in the zest and honey and lastly the pine nuts.
2. Spread a layer of jam on the bottom of the pastry shell and pour the pine nuts mixture into the pastry shell and bake 40 to 45 minutes until the middle of the tart is firm. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped dairy cream.

Monday, November 26, 2007

To James Bond

You took her to Nobu, and she didn't bring her camera!! I just want to kill her! You should've brought me, I would've appreciated it more, Al.

Pineapple Fried Rice


Did you know that the pineapple has loads of protein-digesting enyzmes called bromelain (extracts of which is used to make tenderizer for meat) which is anti-inflammatory and is recommended for treating of arthritis, repair of injured tissues, stomach ulcers and even reduction of blood clotting by removing cholesterial plaque from arterial walls?

A nice change to Chinese fried rice, Thai pineapple fried rice is tangy and extra tasty if you serve it in a pineapple bowl. Hub seems to order this every time we eat Thai and I'll be digging for and complaining about the miserly bits of pineapple. If you cook it at home, don't overdose on the pineapple or the fried rice will be heavy and soggy.


Pineapple Fried Rice

1 pineapple, about 2 kg
1 cup pineapple flesh, cut into small bits
5 cups cooked rice (must be day-old)
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 small red onions/shallots, sliced thinly
300g prawns (or crabmeat, or both), shelled and cut into small bits
100 to 200g pork, cut into 1 cm cubes
2 chinese sausages, cut into 1 cm cubes
2 T spring onions, chopped finely
2 to 3 T fish sauce (use Thai or Vietnamese but not Korean; too salty)
2 T light soy sauce
white pepper
red chilies, cut into thin rings

1. It is best to use overnight or day-old rice or the fried rice will be heavy and clumpy. If chilled rice is hard and clumped, put it in a colander and run water over, using your hand to separate the grains quickly. Drain very well, let it dry for at least 1 hour or more. This will give loose, separate grains of rice making it very easy to fry. This is what all restaurants do, an invaluable inside tip from my friend SM. You can use clumped rice straight from the fridge but if you are cooking a lot, it'll be hard to separate all the grains, an important criteria of good fried rice.

2. Cut the upper third of the pineapple off, lengthwise. Cut out the flesh all around, leaving about 1.5 cm thickness on the shell. Chop about 1 cup of pineapple into small bits, squeeze lightly to remove some of the juice. Add 1/4 t salt to the pineapple. This will reduce the acidity.

3. Put 2 T oil in a wok and fry the red onions until crispy, remove and set aside.

4. Add 2 T oil to the same wok and add the sausage, stirring well. When it is lightly golden, add the garlic, fry a minute, then add the pork, and then the prawns. When pork is cooked, add the pineapple (but not the juice that comes out), fry a minute or so and then add the rice.

5. Add the soy sauce, pepper and fish sauce to taste. Fry until rice is fragrant and dry. Add the spring onions. Put fried rice into the pineapple bowl and sprinkle the fried onions and chilies over to garnish.

note: raisins can be added in step 4 for extra flavor and taste.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Easy Herbal Chicken


The herbs (are you an "erb" or "herb" person?? I used to say it the American way, "erb" but people didn't understand me, or they correct me...I guess I should say "how-er" instead of "our" for hour but then again will I be let off saying " My 'ouse" instead of " My house"??) used in Chinese cooking are very different from western cooking. Although both western and Chinese herbs are supposedly medicinal, I think Chinese herbs are more so while western herbs are more for flavor.

This is an easy way to do herbal chicken. I like the herbal chicken at DJunction because it tastes good and because they don't use 'glass paper' which to me is another name for plastic. I'm not very knowledgeable about Chinese herbs, and my herbal chicken is very mild. I think it lacks dong gui or something like that. What I do is go to the Chinese herbal shops and point at whatever I want. Do not buy the pre-packaged herbs; they usually have been packed months ago. I don't put dried beetroot because it darkens the sauce too much, but it's really up to you to add whatever you like, like lotus seeds and others. Sometimes I only use wolfberries, red dates, dried longans and yuk juk.

Starting from 12 to 2 o'clock: red dates, 2 to 3: ??, 4 to 5: ??, 6 to 8: yuk juk, 8 to 11: ?? and 11 to 12: wolfberries. In the middle, dried longans (best if from southern China). Missing: dong gui. I always get my red dates, wolfberries and longans from Hong Kong where they are fresher and of better quality than what's available here.

Easy Herbal Chicken
1 free-range chicken or kampung chicken
Chinese herbs of your choice but must include wolfberries, yuk juk, dried longans and red dates.
2 thin slices of fresh ginger
salt to taste

1. Cut chicken into large pieces and remove the thicker skin if like ( I didn't, for the sake of the picture).
2. Wash herbs twice and soak for 5 min, then rinse again.
3. Put the chicken pieces into a shallow glass casserole dish (like Corning's) and arrange the herbs and ginger around it. Add water upto 2cm or 3/4" high from the bottom of the dish.
4. Cover dish and set over a medium flame. When it boils, use chopsticks or tongs to move the chicken a bit so skin doesn't stick to dish. Reduce flame to low, stir once in a while so skin wouldn't stick, and simmer until desired softness. It's not necessary to add water because the chicken will give out juice plus you don't want to water-down the essence5. Sprinkle 3/4 t salt (or to your taste) over and mix 1 T cornflour + 2 T water to make a cornstarch solution to thicken the gravy if like. If you, like me, are mindful of the oil, pour the juice out, skim off the oil and return the juice to the dish and then thicken if like. Don't make the gravy too thick though. Serve HOT with plain rice.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Pecan Ricotta Cake


Have you ever made culinary mistakes that turned out otherwise? This is one of them. My friends just oooed and aaahhed over how moist and soft and delicious and fragrant this cake was. This cake recipe is based on that given in a great cookbook, Mediterranean by Jacqueline Clark and Joanna Farrow. However, I've changed some of the ingredients based on whatever was available in my kitchen.

My stash of walnuts had gone bad and there were only pecans and almonds left. I decided on the pecans. I also used cointreau in place of the apricot-brandy glaze, lemon zest instead of orange. When I finished and looked at the book again, I had to kick myself because it said 'walnut pieces' but I had chopped my pecans very finely. I always make such mistakes; it's a good thing I'm not in the medical field.

This cake uses only 6 tablespoons of flour so it will deflate quite a bit after you take it out of the oven. But be surprised by the softness and moistness which are due to the ricotta cheese. I recommend this cake for your Christmas party. It has the nuts and the liquer but is not heavy like the tradional fruitcake. Like I said, my friends loved it. I hope you do too, because this is one of the best cakes I've tested and tasted this year.

Pecan Ricotta Cake
1 cup walnuts/pecans/almonds/other nuts
10 T unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
5 eggs, separated
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2/3 cup ricotta cheese
6 T all-purpose flour, sifted

To drizzle
2 T cointreau
icing sugar

1. Oven on at 180 C. Line bottom of a 9" round, removable-bottom cake pan.
2. Toast the nuts and either finely or coarsely chop them.
3. Cream the butter with 1/2 the sugar till light and fluffy, add the yolks, orange/lemon zest, cheese,flour and nuts and combine well.
4. Beat egg whites with remaining sugar till stiff. Fold whites in 3 batches into the cheese mixture.
5. Drop mixture into the prepared pan, level the surface and bake 30 minutes. Test witha wooden skewer - if done, there shouldn't be any batter sticking on. Let cake cool in the pan before transfering onto a serving plate.
6. Drizzle 2 capfuls or 2 T of cointreau over the cake, then when the liquer has all seeped in and surface is dry, sift some icing sugar over the top of the cake.


Are You A Tiewgai?

If Singaporeans are kiasu (afraid to loose, especially 'loose face' or be humbled), then what are Malaysians, or less sweepingly, Sabahans?

In Hakka, there's a term called tiewgai (literally stealing the chicken). I'm come to the conclusion that that's what we Sabahans/Malaysians are, a bunch of tiewgais, or people who consciously try to beat the system, or take short cuts, either to save time, money or work.

The most obvious thing they tiew/steal is traffic lights time. If the lights turn green, never go immediately if it's your turn. Never. There's sure to be at least 3 to 5 cars shooting past the red lights and you can almost feel their smugness as they make it across: There, I've tiew again today! I recently talked to the Chief of Traffic about this. A handsome, well-educated fella from West, he was attentive and soft-spoken (man, he should've been a psychiatrist!) but...well, at least he was good to look at. And he did give me a discount on my traffic summon. No, it wasn't for running a red. Apparently, here the authorities help you to tiewgai too. I was directed to see the Handsome Chief for a discount. Why? It was Operasi something, a campaign to promote safe driving. I thought that's when they should stand firm and show us they mean what they say! But hey, I shouldn't complain, I got to tiewgai.

Another common Sabahan habit: at wedding dinners, leave at the side doors before the party is over. Maybe it's a way to punish the hosts for starting dinner late (upto 1 1/2 hours late in a recent wedding dinner I attended, another peculiar Sabahan habit). The reason they always give is that they want to beat the traffic leaving the venue. Why bother to attend the function if you are more concerned about getting home early? This habit applies to watching the movies as well. Before The End, people are scrambling to get out. I used to think maybe they've all seen the movie except me, or maybe there was a fire outside. It has become such a common habit that now even I stand up before the credits roll.

Another tiewgai habit is when people are queueing. I've experienced it many, many times. Some man/woman will cut in and look like they have all the right. It's unbelievable. I have told people to get back so many times I'm afraid I'd get punched one day. I did once had my neck strangled by this guy who held up the line. I was studying for my SPM exams (Grade 10/ O Levels equivalent) in the British Council Library in town and I had to call home. The line was long and my friend Benny said the man in the telephone booth had talked for a long, long time. I went and knocked on the booth door. He came out later, asked who knocked and when I stepped forward, he said he was a CID man (plainsclothes policeman) and he could talk as long as he liked. I disagreed, and the next thing I knew, he reached out and squeezed my neck like I was a chicken. I reached back and squeezed the bully by his neck too but it was hard like a steel column! This was near KK's Central Market and I was just a schoolgirl still in school uniform for goodness sake! All the Chinese vendors called out for him to stop and for me to let go ("Ah moi, ng mou lau ge da loh!!"). When he finally let go, I was gasping and crying and saying I'm going to the police. You know what Benny reminded me? But that guy was the police! I harbored a vigilante kind of fantasy against policemen for a long time... Gosh, what was my point again?

Still not convinced? How about this? If your country doesn't have a certain x program, and sent a man to piggy-back on another country's, for a fee paid by all you hard-working taxpayers, then declared that it is now astronomically advanced, I'd call it tiewgai/short cut. Or when you think no one is looking and you want a certain position but don't want to work your way up, you give someone a call...ah ha, tiewgai again!

Come on, don't you agree that we are a bunch of tiewgais??

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Crispy Roasted Pork (ShaoRou)


It's been a porky week. With tonight's crispy roasted pork, Wey declared fatty pork makes him sick. He asked for a panadol, because whenever he gets queasy from eating fatty pork, he'd get a headache. He only told me tonight that he threw up after eating a lot of meicai kourou the other day. I am ecstatic! He's finally off fatty pork. "Not for long, mom," he tells me as he caught me writing this.

I've never made shaorou before but I've tasted home-made shaorou made by a friend. While it was very good, I wasn't totally impressed with the skin because it was hard crispy instead of light crispy, you know what I mean. I decided I'd experiment 2 ways: 1. my Dad's way, when he made meicai kourou, which is to boil the pork skin-side down in water for a couple of minutes (I boiled for 7 min), then prick the skin brutally with a fork. For Dad's meicai kourou, the boiled pork skin would be smeared with dark soy sauce and deep-fried until the skin is all bubbled and crispy 2. just roast it like my friend did, except I'd rub the skin with some vinegar, a tip I've heard of.

So I bought a medium slab of belly pork and boiled one side and left the other side alone.


This is the result:


Which side came up best?? I should've known. Can you imagine the amount of work if people had to stab and scar all the pork skin of the shaorou they make to sell?

The boiled portion (left side in the pics above and below, the middle left portion did not crisp) was crunchy-hard, it crackled so loud I could hear the crackling crackle in my brains as I gnawed on it. The unboiled portion (right side, all puffed up) was incredibly crispy and light - it is still crisp as I write this post, 6 hours later!

(The strip of shaorou in the middle corresponds diagonally to the slab at the back and you can see that the unboiled skin is puffier, while the boiled skin is thinner and unpuffed)

Crispy Roasted Pork (Shaorou)

1.7 kg slab of belly pork*, cleaned
2 1/2 T coarse salt
1/2 to 3/4 t 5-spice powder, depending on your liking
3 T natural white vinegar

optional: 2-3 pieces of nam yue (red fermented bean curd)

* choosing the perfect slab of belly pork is very important. It can't be too fatty or lean, and the skin must be of a desirable thickness.

1. Smear 1 T vinegar all over the skin, leave the slab of pork skin-side up an hour or two (or put in the middle section of your fridge overnight, uncovered, if you can wait) so the skin'll dry.

2. Switch oven on to 200 C. Take pork out, turn over and rub half the salt and all the 5-spice powder on meatside/underside evenly. Rub the nam yue on too if using. Turn over so skin-side is up. Rub 2 T vinegar all over the skin, then rub remaining salt over and place the pork on the wire rack of the oven. Put a tray under the rack to catch any drips and fill the tray with water so the drips won't smoke up your oven.

3. Bake without opening the oven for 1 1/4 hours (add 20 to 30 min longer if the pork is very thick; mine was not). Put the rack (use mitts!) higher up to grill the skin and increase the temp to 220 C for another 15 minutes.

When I sliced into the pork, I could hear the skin cr-cr-crunch! (doing a Zain here. Shan would know what I mean.) This is almost as good as the shaorou from our favorite shaorou guy at Merdeka Supermarket. Well, maybe I'm biased but I did say almost.

p.s. Wey has recovered. It's 11pm and he just ate a whole chunk of the shaoruo and said he rates it 10/10, with dark soy sauce, 9.5/10 without! I take his rating very seriously, because he has very sharp tastebuds and nose. Yay, sons are sweet sometimes!

Note: I've found out that crispy roasted pork should be well-roasted until the crackling is burnt. Just scrape off the burnt surface and there'll still be nice brown crackling underneath.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Fried Tofu Fingers


I liked the longqin tofu at Garden Restaurant, Luyang but can't quite remember what ingredients were in the tofu. Time for another visit. Anyway, I came up with this recipe which I'm not very satisfied with because it isn't as smooth as I wanted and the taste of calcium sulfate was very strong (I'm always amused when western magazines and books talk of the benefits of tofu. I don't think they have any idea that the ingredient used to coagulate the tofu is calcium sulfate/gypsum, which is used in making, among others, your ceiling plaster, blackboard chalk and even Twinkies ). If you try this recipe, do feel free to add other ingredients such as fresh waterchestnuts, chilies, carrots etc.

Fried Tofu Fingers

200g shelled prawns (or other meat), minced
4 pieces (200g?) white tofu*
4 dried chinese mushrooms, soaked and minced
2 T chopped spring onions
1 egg
2 T cornflour
1 t salt and 1/4 t white pepper
oil for frying
1 egg, beaten, for frying
cornflour for dredging
toasted sesame seeds (optional)

1. Cut off the harder outer skin from both sides of the tofu. Mash the tofu till very fine and add in all the other ingredients except the oil,cornflour, extra egg and sesame seeds. Mix well.
2. Oil a shallow metal (square is best) dish and put the tofu mixture in, patting it firmly. steam 15 minutes, let cool completely and then chill it before cutting into 1/2" x 2" or about 2 cm x 6 cm pieces.
3. Dip the tofu pieces into the beaten egg, then coat with the cornflour mixed with sesame seeds and deep-fry in very hot oil until crispy.
4. Serve with a sweet chili sauce and lime juice. I served my tofu with a wasabi-mayo dip which didn't go well with the tofu because it didn't 'cut' the greasy taste.

*Note: A small amount of tofu coagulated with citric acid is available in the Lido morning market.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Taro Rice

(Update: this recipe was amended on 24/11/07 to include mushrooms)


I can't remember if it was Meatball or Chickyegg who asked for a taro rice recipe. Frankly, I've never had taro rice before. I think it's a very West Malaysian dish, probably Fujian or Chowzhou in origin?

We had a couple of friends stay over the last few days and lunch was always a quick meal outside. Yesterday Ming found a large piece of plastic wrapper, complete with a sticker of the shop and name of the manufacturer of whatever it contained, in his soup noodles. I had wild imagination of what it held inside, and I'm totally put off eating outside. So I decided to try cook yam rice for lunch today. It turned out pretty good, tasty and fragrant, and I'm sharing the recipe (with some changes) from Betty Yew's The Best Of Chinese Cooking. Funny thing about Ms Yew's baking recipes - I never get good results, but her chinese dishes work fine.

Taro Rice

600g taro (weight after peeling), peeled and cut into 3/4" cubes or smaller
400g pork/chicken fillet, cut into 1/2" or 1 cm cubes
4 cups long grain rice, washed & drained
1/4 cup dried prawns, washed well
5 dried chinese mushrooms, soaked and sliced into slivers
6 shallots, sliced thinly
1/2 cup finely chopped spring onions
2 red chilies, sliced thinly
1 can Swanson's chicken broth
1 T light soy sauce
1 T dark soy sauce
veg oil

Meat seaoning ingredients:
1/2 t salt
1/2 t sugar
dash or two of white pepper
2 T light soy sauce
1 T dark soy sauce
2 t sesame oil
1 T shaoxin wine
2 t cornflour

1. Marinade the meat with the seasoning ingredients.
2. Fry the shallot slices till golden and crispy. Put aside.
3. Deep-fry the taro in 3 batches till lightly golden. Drain on kitchen paper.
4. Pour away the oil used for frying the taro until about 1/3 cup remains. Fry the dried prawns till brown and crispy, add the mushrooms, fry a minute and add rice and fry, adding 1 T light soy sauce and 1 T dark soy sauce (or more if you want more color), for about 1 to 2 minutes.
5. Put rice into a large rice cooker, add the chicken stock using a rice-measuring cup and measure out 3 1/2 cups (add water to make up to that amount), adding to the rice as you go. Add meat on top. Switch cooker on.
6. As soon as rice boils, add the taro. Do not stir to mix.
7. When the 'cooked' indicator is on, test a grain of rice to see if it's fully cooked. If so, fluff and mix the rice and taro thoroughly. Serve rice garnished with crispy shallot slices, chilies and green onions.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Megan's Nemo Cake


Megan came to me one Sunday and implored for a Nemo cake for her 9th birthday party. How can I refuse those beautiful big black eyes and sweet mouth? She remembers the one I had made for Wey years ago, "There was Nemo, a shark, fishes and..." I only remember a 3-D Nemo that Yi had painted. It looked so alive we kept it in the icebox for months.

Remember Nemo has a 'lucky fin'?

I learnt to work with sugarpaste (American) or fondant (Australian) icing about 15 years ago from a lady called Beeda who has since moved to Australia. She was a very good teacher, and I could make wedding cakes after taking her classes. Sugarpaste is really fun and easy once you practise and give yourself plenty of time, preparing ahead your sketches and designs. There are now many books on this craft, and Suyin is a good example of a creative sugarcraft artist. Sugarcraft cakes aren't really about the cake per se, but more about the design so don't expect the icing to taste any better than sweet plastic.

In KK, unlike Australia and other countries, you'd have to make your own sugarpaste or fondant. Not only that, I was quite frustrated about getting food colors because unlike 15 years ago, all the cakeshops now do not sell Wilton color pastes. My conscience won't allow me to make cakes, especially for kids, using colors from obscure companies. In the end, I found only red and yellow Wilton color pastes at Pelangi cake ingredients shop in Taman Winner, Luyang. Color pastes are recommended because they are thicker and more intense and so do not change the consistency of your fondant as much as liquid colors. Megan's cake should have had a blue background, but I was limited by my colors.


Due to our humid weather, it's best to use Beeda's fondant recipe (below, free for you even though I paid hundreds to learn it) than those in books because I took a chance and my appliques sweated. That made it harder to tranfer onto the cake without breaking although the shine did turn out desirable because it was appropriate for the sea scene.


I started making the appliques around 1 pm, and the cake was only ready at 5:30 pm. By then it was raining so unfortunately I had to use artificial lighting to photograph the cake, which didn't do justice to Nemo :) I was lucky to have Leila around to help. She did a wonderful job with the fish (forgot its name. Look at the 'face' and details of the eyes!) and the squid. I first drew the picture based on a party favor bag from Wey's party (thank goodness I kept one in my cookbook) and put the picture into a lightly greased CD sleeve so I can work directly on the pic to get the scale right. Leila and I had fun.

Modelling Fondant
2 t gelatine powder
1 t liquid glucose
30 ml room temp. water
160g icing sugar, sifted
extra icing sugar

1. Put water into a thin metal cup, add the gelatine, stir and set over a pot of boiling water to dissolve.

2. Add the glucose, stir till dissolved and remove. Let it cool slightly.

3. Add into the icing sugar, stirring all the time. Knead till very smooth. Add a few drops of water if too dry, more icing sugar if too wet. The more you knead, the wetter it'll go so sugarpaste has lots of hand sweat and cells!

4. Put fondant into a plastic bag all the time, even when you work on your appliques or figures, to keep from drying. If it gets sticky, use cornstarch to dust.

5. Fondant cakes are to be left at room temperature, never in the fridge because if you do, it will sweat when you take it out from the fridge. For this reason, fondant/sugarpaste cakes are very suitable for our country - it won't melt like buttercream or whipped cream.

6. Beacause the fondant/sugarpaste is heavy, the cake should be firmer, such as a buttercake.

Covering Fondant
1 T gelatine powder
60 ml room temp water
3 T liquid glucose
2 t glycerine
1 kg icing sugar, sifted

- do same as above recipe.
- this is more pliable so it can be wrapped around a cake. However, it will still dry out and harden slightly so you have to work fast.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sichuan Meicai Kourou (Stewed Pork Slices)


My Sichuan friend Leila always talked of her mother's kourou as being the best. I've only eaten Hakka pork and yam kourou and Cantonese meicai kourou, both of which I love more and more with age. Most families here will cook kourou only on festivals because it is not only a rather laborious and time-consuming dish to do, it is a heart-stopper that should only be eaten only a few times a year.

I brought Leila to the market recently and we went 3 rounds before deciding on the fattest slab of belly pork we could find. Apparently belly pork or '5-flower meat' (wuhuarou) is very much leaner here than in China where people love the jittery fat and would never take off the fat when they eat, which is what most of us do here. My son Wey loves fat, especially pork fat. Maybe it's from years of deprivation, but the fella will even pick up fat that we discard on our plates. And he pops it into his mouth so quickly I can't even stop him. I think half the plate of kourou in the pic was eaten by Wey, and this guy never cares for Hakka or Cantonese kourou so it does say something about Leila's mom's recipe.

The meicai that we get here are whole bunches of preserved veg while those Leila brought is all minced up and flavored. Our meicai has to be washed and soaked to reduce the saltiness but Leila's meicai is ready for cooking. I'm not sure if her kind of meicai is available anywhere else. If you can't find it, substitute with Cantonese meicai. Although Sichuan kourou looks more refined and better than Cantonese meicai kourou because honey rubbed on the skin, and the way the pork is prepared, gives a redder, lip-smacking skin, I prefer Cantonese kourou for the tons of meicai used with the meat but I like the taste of Sichuan kourou seasoning so a fusion of the two ways of cooking it, using lots of Cantonese meicai and the seasoning ingredients of Sichuan meicai should theoretically make The Best Meicai Kourou. I will try it one day when I have 5 helpers to assist me.

It is hard to give the exact amount of the ingredients used. Leila added this and that arbitrarily and I guess it's all about experience and cooking sense.
Kou Rou-2

This was the first piece Leila fried. The latter pieces were fried to a deep black-brown and turned out better. Look at the thin, neat and even slices of pork (and that impossibly soft, never-worked-a-day hand), and count the 5 layers: meat, fat, meat, fat and skin.


Sichuan Meicai Kourou

3 pieces belly pork with reasonable layers of fat, 5"/12 cm wide and 7"/18 cm long each

1. Put the clean pork belly into a large pot of boiling water and boil 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the belly pork (keep the pot of water) and let pork drain, skin-up, on a wire rack. Leave for an hour or till the skin is no longer wet. This can be done one night ahead and pork left uncovered in the fridge to dry.
2. Mix some honey and shaoxin wine and smear this over the pork skin.
3. Heat up 6 cups of oil in a large wok and deep-fry the pork, skin-side down, until the skin turns very dark brown-black.
4. Remove the fried pork and put it into the pot of water it was previously boiled in, and boil another 10 to 15 minutes. this will render the skin very 'crepey' and good to eat.
5. Remove the pork, leave to cool and slice into very neat and even slices of 1/2 cm only. Anything thicker would make you queasy because of the fat.
6. Arrange pork, skin-side down, in a deep dish and pour the following seasoning all over:

Seasoning: mix salt, minced ginger and garlic, dark and light soy sauces, sugar, msg, Sichuan peppercorn powder.

7. Top the pork with finely minced meicai. If using Cantonese meicai, soak it beforehand to reduce saltiness and mix with the seasoning. If using the ready-minced and seasoned meicai, scatter it all over the pork after the seasoning.
8. Steam kourou for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the fat is tender and a bit sticky. The point at which the pork fat turns sticky must be reached or the kourou is deemed not ready.
9. Pour the gravy out into a bowl and skim off the oil. Put a large deep dish (pref. the deep part of the dish should be just the area of the pork so the pork slices will remain in one block) over the pork and quickly and firmly turn the pork dish over onto the plate so that the pork is skin-side up. Pour the skimmed gravy over. Serve hot, with plain rice.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Plastic In Your Banana Fritters!

I haven't been able to enlarge the article, but The Sunday Post (what date, Nee?) has an article about plastic straws and bags being an ingredient in the oil that the vendors fry your favorite goreng pisang in, and all the other gorengs like chicken, fishballs and so on. I still find it hard to believe but didn't somebody do a video series called Shocking Asia in the 80s? And I live in one of those countries...

This is one reason we should be more knowledgable and careful about what and where we eat.

Italian Tomato-Garlic Prawns


Okay, so these curled up fellas look more Chinese than Italian but the reason I trimmed their feelers and rostrum (the pointed part of a prawn's head, according to Wey) ala Chinese-style is so you can eat these guys with your fingers so it's safer not to have all those needles around. I've experimented with substituting the passata and wine with assam pulp (mix assam/tamarind seeds with water) and a little sugar and found the seafood (fish or prawns) to taste even better. With assam however, let the fish/prawns simmer longer in the gravy. Malaysia Best has a recipe using assam and fried eggs that is unusual, at least to me.

Italian Tomato-Garlic Prawns

500g very fresh medium-sized prawns, unshelled
2 T garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine
4 T passata/canned diced tomatoes in puree
4 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 t salt
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
1 T fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1. Heat up a fry pan and add the oil. Add the prawns and fry in high heat till it has turned red on the underside. Add the garlic, salt and pepper. Turn prawns over. Add the wine and passata and stir well to mix.

2. Throw in the parsley and dish up. Serve immediately with some bruschetta or crusty bread.
Note: The next time I cook this, I'm going to make it a mixed seafood dish with squid, clams, crabs. And some assam pulp.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Secret Garden Korean BBQ Restaurant

(Update: Returned for lunch Tuesday and the portions were smaller, pa jon cold and the kalbijim, which I asked not to be too sweet, was watery, pale and not as well-flavored. Go for dinner.)

It was drizzling and very cool last night. Ming and I love soups in such kind of weather. Wey loves Korean food (mainly for the samgubsal bulgogi) in any kind of weather. Hub generally goes with anything but doesn't quite like Korean or Japanese - the portions never quite satisfy him. Our favorite Korean restaurant is/was Arirang at Api-api, where the owner always gives us a free plate of pa jon (Korean pancakes) or japchae (noodles). Free dishes don't come free because for that she always hugs Wey and calls him "My boyfriend!", while I have to tolerate insinuation that Wey's father is Korean. The first time we walked into the restaurant, years ago when Wey was obese and had a puffy round face, she spoke to Wey in Korean, and insisted he's Korean. Since then we've become friends; the lady is motherly and nice. Her food is also very homey. The only thing I don't like about the place is when the diners start smoking. The restaurant isn't big, and I just can't stand tobacco smoke.

I asked Ming to check with Chris, a Korean, where his family usually go for Korean food. The reply was, "The restaurant in Api-api and P-won near Merdeka Supermarket." Really. We'd only been to 'P-won' once years ago.

When we got to P-won (much shorter than Secret Garden Korean BBQ Restaurant), there were two busloads of Korean tourists, no locals. We sat down eagerly and ordered whatever the Koreans were having.

Samgubsal set meals, RM30/US$8.80 each. There are two sets here.

This is the most generous samgubsal set we've ever tried (we couldn't move after the meal; I was full of regret for I need to loose some weight before Christmas), and we only had 2 sets of bulgogi for the 4 of us. The side dishes kept coming. We must've had 5 plates of pa jon, kimchi and salted anchovies. The kimchi was very fresh and yummy (they sell kimchi for RM17/kg if you want to take out), the way we like it, still crisp and new instead of over-fermented. I found the kimchi soup too sour (made from over-fermented kimchi). The pork bulgogi was teppanyakied (so they can handle the volume), not grilled, but tasted the same.

For those who have thin kids and want to fatten them up (very Asian thing), try feeding them samgubsal. My Wey was pitifully thin as a little boy. He refused most food and threw up easily. Then one day our church, Skyline, which is situated in Sutera Harbour Resort, provided special discount coupons for the Sunday buffet lunch. That's how Wey's bingeing started. And with his improved appetite, he also he discovered plain pork bulgogi or samgubsal. I was so desperate I cooked samgubsal a few times a week for a whole year! That's how he got so fat. This year I've decided it's time he learns to eat what we eat, so I've been cooking lots of fish, and he hates that. It doesn't help him that I only cook my fish two ways: wok-fried or steamed. When pity overwhelms me, I make battered fish fingers for him.

Kalbi jim (beef ribs stew), RM25/US$7.40.

This was very good, tasty with a strong beefy aroma.However, the portion seemed small for the price and the sauce was too sweet for my Chinese tongue.

P-won doesn't have a large menu. From what I saw, people go there for bulgogi and soups, both very standard everyday Korean food. P-won is in Taman Emas, the turning on the left before the turning into Merdeka Supermarket. The place has a mini-golf course nobody plays on, is open-air, casual and best of all, the service from the all-Filippino team is the best I've experienced in a long time. They even massage your arm if it's sore. Next time, I'll ask them to sing.

Friday, November 9, 2007

YueFoo (Fish Omelettes)


That's what Wey called these little pieces of delicious egg-fish fritters. Fish omelettes. Yuefoo, as we call them in Chinese, are usually bought ready-made from the wet market and usually cooked in steamboats. Most people have never made it at home so I asked my friend Angie and she willingly shared this 'secret' recipe with us all.

I had intended to make yuefoo for my steamboat dinner 2 days ago but when I tasted them fresh off the wok, they were SOOOO TASTY there was no reason to dunk them in boiling soup. They had to be eaten hot, with fingertips dancing around the edges of these omelettes to prevent them (fingers) from getting burnt because the just-cooked omelettes are too hard to resist. The omelettes remind me of German pancakes, all soft and light but savory instead of sweet. This is a must-try recipe but do remember not to eat too much because they're deep-fried and full of eggs and oil!


150g fish paste (the paste for making fishballs; use doefuyue for smoother & sweeter taste)
3 eggs (I've reduced this for a less eggy flavor)
50 ml ice water
1/2 t salt
1/2 t white pepper
2 heaped T cornflour

1. Place everything in a food processor or mixer and whiz/whip until thick. Mixture consistency will be like waffle batter, runny but thick. You can keep it in the fridge until ready to cook, or fry immediately.

2. Heat a lot of oil in a wok or pot and when a drop of batter dropped into the oil rises immediately to the top, the oil is ready. Using a tablespoon (or teaspoon to make smaller ones), drop the batter by the spoonfuls into the hot oil, using chopsticks or tongs to prevent the omelettes from sticking to each other. Do not fry too many at a time and do not let them go brown (they should look pale yellow). Turn over and drain on paper towels.

The yuefoo will shrink when it cools. If you are going to go against tradition and eat them as snacks like we did, then fry them a little longer until golden. Otherwise, they should be a pale yellow if you want to cook them in steamboats and stews.

I once saw Toto of TVB's food program visiting a yuefoo factory in China. The yuefoos were big round balls, very airy and light and it is a practice in that part of China to dip them in fine sugar. Would be odd for me to eat a savory food with sugar, but these guys were popping the fish puffs into their mouths one after another, making me wish I was there. I tried making a choux pastry mixed with fishpaste today and although the yuefoo were more puffs than omelettes, they tasted blah because there was too much flour (I used wheat flour) and too little fishpaste. So looks like I have to find a way to make the puffs airier. Bear with me.

Experiment that failed...too doughy and burnt.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Mocha N Coconut Milk Agar


When we were young, there were hardly any bakeries and very few people had an oven at home. Birthday cakes were very rare. My mom improvised, influenced by her best friend Mrs Teo (whose daughter Daisy is mom's god-daughter), and she would make agar birthday cakes for us, with matchsticks for candles. If that's not creative!! The flavoring was usually Milo/Ovaltine and sometimes coconut milk.

Another thing we got on our birthdays was a whole boiled chicken drumstick. In those days when people struggled to feed a family, the Chinese way of serving plain-boiled chicken all chopped up into small pieces made sense. I always looked on longingly as mom chopped up the chicken, wishing that she'd leave the drumstick whole like those in cookbooks or the movies but she'd chop, chop, chop! all the way. On our birthdays however, the birthday person gets a whole unchopped drumstick and that really made the birthday person real happy as he/she chomped into the drumstick while the other siblings looked on jealously.I tried to continue this practise with my kids but they all refused to eat a whole drumstick. Like it was poison. This generation is just too well-fed.

And so, on my 40 + x birthday today, I proudly present my mom's agar cake. She can't remember she made these 'cakes' for us (so long ago), but my bros and sis and I had a wonderful time reminiscing about our cakes last night as we got together for a steamboat dinner. Sis insisted that her cakes were plain-clear (think lab agar in petri dishes!) with sugar but me and my younger brother remember brown Ovaltine cakes so we concluded that we were more favored, or mom got more creative :)

You can use Milo, but for this 'cake' I used cocoa and coffee powder.

Mocha N Coconut Milk Agar

2 pkts Swallow Brand white agar powder
850 ml water
1/2 cups white sugar x 2 (minimun is 50 g sugar per 850 ml for those who dislike overly sweet taste)
2 coconuts, grated
3 T cocoa powder
1 T Nescafe instant coffee

1. Put 850 ml of water into a small pot together with 1 packet agar powder and 1/2 cup sugar and set over low heat, stirring all the time till it begins to boil. Remove, add the cocoa and coffee powder, whisk vigorously and strain over a metal sieve into a wet bowl.

2. Let the agar cool and set at room temperature. Do not set in fridge at this point or the two layers will separate later when agar is served.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the coconut milk by adding 1 1/2 cups water to the grated coconut and massage it well. Then squeeze out the milk into a measuring jug with a sieve set over it so that the milk will be devoid of coconut bits. Add another cup of water to the squeezed grated coconut and extract enough milk into the jug to make 850 ml. If you don't get 850 ml, add some water to make up.

4. When the first layer has set about 90 to 95% (when you press the center of the agar, it is almost set but still soft), put the coconut milk into a small pot, add the 1/2 cup sugar and the 2nd packet of agar powder and whisk over a medium fire till the mixture begins to boil.

5. Carefully strain the hot coconut milk mixture over the set cocoa agar, moving over the surface as you pour the hot milk in so that no one spot gets dissolved by the hot milk. Let agar cool totally before putting into fridge to chill.

Note: If the coconut milk layer is not set enough, the hot cocoa agar will dissolve it and seep into it. If too set (as in very cold weather), the layers will not attach well and will separate when it thaws a bit upon serving.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Taro N Black Rice Soup


You like taro. You like black glutinous rice. Marry these together with some sugar, sago pearls and pandan and you get the perfect tangsui/sweet soup.

Yam N Black Rice Porridge
1 cup black glutinous rice (pulut hitam)
1/2 kg taro, peeled n cut into 1"/2.5 cm cubes
3 pandan leaves, washed and knotted
1 cup sugar or gula melaka
1 handful small sago pearls, unwashed
1 coconut, grated

1. Wash the black rice very well to get rid of any stale smell and put into a large heavy-based pot with about 4 litres of water. Add the pandan leaves and boil, covered, over medium fire for 40 minutes, stirring well once in a while. Switch off.

2. Meanwhile, add 1 cup water to the grated coconut, mix well with your hand and squeeze the milk out over a sieve. Add another 1 1/2 cup water and extract the second coconut milk.

3. Re-heat the pot of black rice, add the sugar (adjust to your liking), stir well, and when it boils, add the taro and sago pearls. Stir continuosly and let it boil vigorously for 4 to 5 minutes uncovered, then switch off the fire. Cover. After 10 minutes, all the sago pearls would have turned transparent yet not dissolved or gummy and the taro cooked yet firm. Add all the santan (coconut milk), stir well and re-heat until it just begins to boil(add some water if too thick) and remove from heat. Serve warm.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Ricotta Blueberry Muffins


Remember the 3-cheese sauce Wey wanted to cook? We couldn't find gorgonzola cheese here and Wey had opened the 500g tub of ricotta. We had to use it quick.

I have never made muffins before because I find the texture too heavy and the size too big - could never finish one and on those occasions my friends served them, I couldn't find convenient flower pots or waiters' behinds to stuff the unfinished food like Mr. Bean did. Then I read on my box of frozen blueberries a suggestion to make 'ricotta blueberries muffins', but there was no recipe. So I turned to Nee, and adapted the following recipe from her banana muffins.


These muffins turned out so soft I couldn't stop raving as I ate them, especially when they were still warm. However, I forgot that Nee's recipe had bananas which are sweeter than blueberries so the muffins were rather bland because I had used 100g of sugar only. For the recipe below, I've increased the amount of sugar but you can adjust it. I also used smaller muffin cups (so my muffins are like cupcakes) but to me, muffins aren't muffins unless thay are all puffed and cracked on top. My batter turned blue (esp. the second batch because it'd been sitting in the fridge) because I'd put in too much blueberries so in my recipe I've reduced the amount but you can always increase it.


Ricotta Blueberry Muffins
125g butter
130 to 150g castor sugar
2 eggs
100g blueberries, either frozen or fresh
2/3 cup ricotta cheese
125ml fresh milk
240g plain flour
1 t baking powder
1 t bicarb of soda

1. Oven on at 160 C. Line 12 large muffin cups with paper cases, or more if you make smaller muffins.
2. Beat butter and sugar till fluffy, add eggs one by one, beating well after each addition. After the last egg is added, turn machine on high for a couple of seconds so that the mixture turns from a thick batter into a light, airy whipped-butter like mixture . Add the ricotta cheese and mix well but do not overmix.
3. Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda together. Add the milk and flour alternately, using a hand whisk to mix. Finally add the blueberries and mix well quickly using a few folding strokes and a spatula (careful that you don't mash them up).
4. Spoon batter into the paper cups. I did fill my batter upto 60% as advised by Nee, but I prefer puffier muffins so I'd fill them a little higher (70%?) next time. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, test with a wooden skewer that should come out clean if muffins are done.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Bountiful Fresh Fruit N Cream Cake

Fresh cream cakes are safe bets when you don't know what cake to bake for a crowd. Personally I find them rather boring to eat so for my mom's birthday, I decided if that's what everybody likes, then that's what they get except I'm going to overdo it with all kinds of fruits.


This cake had layers of sponge filled with fresh cream and lemon curd, giving a light and refreshing cake. I wanted it grand, so I made it double-tiered by sticking lengths of disposible chopsticks into the lower tier of the cake for support, sort of like piling columns for buildings. Cut the chopsticks higher if you want to ice and fill the surface of the bottom layer, which is what I did. Then place the second layer of cake (which is on a same-size cake board) on top of the bottom layer of cake. I wish I had taken step-by-step pictures but there was no one around to help take pictures.


I baked two cakes in one go using the turbo fan and as usual, the results were not as good as when I bake the cakes one by one. The cakes usually get too burnt even though I lowered the oven temperature from 170 C to 140 C. Does anybody have any tips for baking cakes using turbo fans? How about the expert, Nee?

Mom's 80-4th Birthday.

We celebrated my mom's 80-4th birthday yesterday (one day early). Minus 4 because even though her passport says she's now 80, her chronological age is, we guess, 76. In those frantic days when families scrambled out of China, documents were left behind and somehow mistakes were made when they registered in their new countries. And so we had a small dinner at Royal China. Mom had wanted it at the new restaurant Shikei, but the lighting is very poor there and deemed unfestive for such an occasion.

We started out with a soup that's now not considered morally correct to eat so forget about the picture. I must profess I do love sharks' fins soup and see no difference between killing fish for their fins and their meat because according to sources, the sharks are killed and then their fins harvested, not the other way around. I also agree that there's a biasness here because sharks are killed for their meat in many western countries.

Crab mornay in shells
Although this tasted good, I didn't taste any crabmeat in it and it was a little too sugar-sweet for me.

Peking duck

I asked that the Peking duck be served with some meat on. Duck skin was crispy and the meat tasty.I always find it such a waste to just eat the skin and then the meat is served all minced up and over-seasoned and over-fried for the lettuce-wrap dish. I would've preferred the traditional pancakes than crepes.
Steamed black cod
I can never get enough of this!
Mitzi spareribs
Sticky, sweet and tasty but a bit too meaty for some of the guests.
Abalone, fish maw, sea cucumber and greens
Disappointing. The abalone was cut so thin and smothered in the too-sweet sauce, the sea cuke was tasteless (because it was plain boiled, not stewed) so it doesn't justify the cost of this dish.
Tiger prawns with sambal floss
This came steamy hot and the prawns were fresh.
Long-life noodles
Again I found the sauce too sugar-sweet and there was a slight ammonia stink in the noodles.

I made an over-dressed fresh cream cake to fit the occasion.

Turned out it was my FIL's 79th birthday according to the Roman calender. The peach baos with lotus paste filling is a traditional dessert for old folks celebrating their birthdays because the peach denotes a long life. Forget about ordering these if your folks celebrate their birthday at Royal China - these baos were dry and chewy.
Somebody's (guess who?) hiding in the picture because he turned red drinking too much champagne.
Overall rating for Royal China's banquet set? Overprized and could've been better...
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