p.s. Okay, I know what Google Alerts are because I just googled it. Wow, I'm learning new things.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
p.s. Okay, I know what Google Alerts are because I just googled it. Wow, I'm learning new things.
Oden in the early stages of cooking and before addition of fish cakes, fish balls and cuttlefish (in place of octopus).
Leftover oden, two days later.
I was reading Blue Lotus' wonderful blog recently and she did a post on oden, a Japanese dish that is available in the street stalls of Japan in the winter. Bento Pet had also raved about oden, and I thought I had never seen or eaten this until I decided to cook it, and that's when I realised that I have seen simmering pots of oden in small conveniences stores in Tokyo and also at Hyatt Hotel where it is placed near the kitchen counter during their weekend Japanese buffet. I have tried it once or twice but was more into eating all the money for value dishes (buffet remember) like teppanyaki beef, sushi and tempura.
With the recent rainy days and temperatures at night in the nearly low to mid-20s (cool compared to the usual high 20s), I cooked oden last Sat for my sister and family, and friends Linda and Arthur. When I announced that dinner was to be 80% root veggies and tofu products, Arthur nearly stormed out of my house, the meateater that he is (okay, I exaggerated. Again.). But he stayed and ended up having at least 3 large bowls and didn't even bother much with my side dish of boiled organic chicken, alongwith two cans of Tiger Stout so I think it went down well with him, literally. It helped that it rained and we had a great time discussing the upcoming elections and the exploits of the super hunk from Canada, E.Chan (what an entertaining world).
Oden is basically a soupy stew of winter veggies such as those you see in the pics above. Meat is limited to beef tendons, octopus and surimi or processed fishpaste (I think that is one of the worst culinary contribution by Japan, in terms of health) in various forms. According to Blue Lotus, some restaurants in Japan have been using the same stock for generations, replenishing the soup and veg daily I suppose. Like most stews, oden gets richer in flavor and tastes better after a day or more as the veg and surimi soaks in the broth and at the same time add flavor to it. Because of that, I started cooking the stew at 2 pm, then switched off the fire after 2 hours to let the veg steep in the broth. An hour before my guests arrived, I started simmering the stew again, adding the softer and easier to cook ingredients then. This dish can feed an army; a bit of this and that will add up to an unwieldy stew and I needed a big wok and a pot to cook all that stuff you see in the first picture.
Next time you have eaten too much meat, and you need to detox, oden is a good dish for that. There's no oil or meat except for the processed fish products. I don't like processed products which are basically made of flour, flavorings and color so I made fresh fish paste into fishballs and slices. Actually my helper Vero made that; she makes the smoothest and springiest fish balls (all gone in the first round!) so to this day I haven't mastered that skill.
Choose a rainy/cold day and some good company (who need to detox on meat. Haha, that's why I invited you, Arthur and Lim), set the oden stew over a small stove at the table and let the small talk begin.
Kikkoman soy sauce
2 large pieces of Japanese kelp
Use veggies such as carrots, radish, potatoes, lotus root, dried shiitake mushrooms, tofu products such as semi-soft tofu, fried tofu balls, fish paste products, hard-boiled eggs and--fun to eat--konnyaku jelly.
1. Put the kelp in a large pot of water and put on the heat. When it begins to boil, remove the kelp. Add the seasoning and then the harder to cook veg such as lotus root, mushrooms and radish and let it simmer, really simmer under low fire, for about 1 1/2 hours. After that, add the other veg and ingredients in stages according to their tendency to soften and simmer again. Adjust the soup with more seasoning or water. The soup shouldn't be too salty; it's a soup not a gravy. I cheated a bit. I used the water in which I boiled my RM86, 5kg home-reared meant-for-CNY chicken.
2. Meanwhile, make a ponzu dip of soy sauce, mirin and lemon juice . I wouldn't add dashi because the soup's dashi-y enough. You can go Malaysian and serve with a chili-lime sauce like I did.
3. When oden is ready, tranfer a portion of it into a claypot and set it over a small stove at the dining table. Serve a bowl of rice to each person to go with the oden.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Initially I wanted to make 'green eggs and ham' from Nigella Lawson's new book, Nigella Express. But since the book just came out, and I didn't want to be accused of recipes plagiarism, I made scrambled eggs instead. I also drizzled some truffle oil over for extra flavor. Try it, the pesto goes really well with the eggs. If you want the scrambled eggs greener, remove some of the yolks or use non-organic eggs.
Nigella's green eggs and ham, sort of.
1 T pesto sauce
1 T milk
50g (or more, upto you) ham, diced
pinch of salt
1 T (or less) oil for frying
truffle oil (optional)
1. Mix the pesto, milk, eggs and ham well using a whisk. Heat up a frying pan, add the oil and pour in the egg mixture. Keep temperature at medium.
2. When the eggs start to set a little around the edges, stir round and round with your frying spoon continuously under medium-low heat until eggs are no longer runny. Do not overcook, the eggs must still very wet.
3. Dish out onto a serving plate. Drizzle some truffle oil over and serve with a good toast.
I woke up at 6:30 am to do these eggs for my boys (pesto sauce made last night with basil leaves from my garden) so the pics didn't turn out well because of the poor lighting. Hub spotted an 'adolescent' kingfisher calling among the hibiscus bushes, and took a pic which didn't turn out too bad considering he didn't use a tripod.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Salak: Smelly Feet Fruit
Snakeskin fruit. Everytime I touch one of these, I have to control my urge to shriek and run. Look at that, isn't it like the skin of a snake?
The reddish-brown scaly skin even peels like a snake, breaking along the scales.
Smelly feet. That's what I thought when I passed by my dining table just now, where a bowl of salak, given by my neighbor, was placed. It smells like somebody's feet after a long day wearing boots. No wonder Wey asked me if these strange fruits are rotten.
Salak is a fruit (related to the oil palm) that has only recently (last 10 to 15 years) appeared in KK. When I was growing up, I never saw this fruit. I'm told it's from Indonesia. I've never bought them because they look so...reptilian, but I do eat them although I wish someone would peel them for me. They are really quite good and fun to eat. My girl likes them (and I think of her whenever I eat salak) because they taste tarty-sweet and crunchy (they are more of a girl's fruit) and when opened, they don't smell like smelly feet. They just smell like...salak.
Monday, February 25, 2008
A Place Called Mizoram
I just read this article in Vanity Fair about this remote state in northeast India near Myanmar where the inhabitants look (to me) more like Myanmese than Indian. You may hear more about this state in the months to come because Mizo is expecting a plague of rats and ensuing famine in the next few months.
Apparently a specie of bamboo (mautak to the Mizos, Melocanna baccifera to the botanists) that flowers once every 48 years produce nectar that attracts corn-kernel sized bugs that suck the nectar and grow so fat that rats from all over India would rush in and eat everything that exists. The last time this happened, in 1959, thousands of Mizos starved to death and guerillas raged a war against the Indian govt for not doing enough to help.
Guess what? The bamboo in Mizo have started flowering again. What will happen this time, or rather what can be done to help the Mizos?? The state is very poor (update: I stand corrected here. This was my own impression from the pictures in the mag) very isolated and unknown to the outside world. The people are 90% Christians, thanks to early missionaries, and have a surprisingly high literacy rate. The place is so unknown that there has only been 2,319 foreign visitors in the last five years!
Fascinating isn't it, that this world is still so undiscovered. If you are interested, the article appeared in VF's December 07 issue. And the name of Mizo's capital? Aizawl.
Update: I've had some comments from the Mizos themselves regarding this post and their country. If you are interested, do check the links in the comments. I also found an interesting article from which one can grasp some idea of the current situation in Mizoram regarding the issues they face.
Yesterday was Nomination Day in Malaysia, TWO WEEKS before the general election on March 8. The election will be 15 months ahead of the expiry of the present gov't's term, a full 15 months ahead. Everybody who is above 8 years old know the reason for the early election ("Premature election", Mr. Information Minister?) is because the ruling party, BN, wants to prevent the unfortunate ex-deputy prime minister, Anwar, from being elected as he is banned from running for posts/politics until April.
As I watched the Obama-Clinton debate, it occurred to me that while the electorate in the US will have a hard choice deciding the next Democratic Party leader/new US President because they are both excellent candidates, we here have the opposite situation: all the candidates are lousy. That should make it easy for us. But that's exactly what the gov't wants us to do: NOT THINK, just accept whatever. Where else do you hear of an election only one month from the day of announcement? Which other country boasts of racial harmony and yet has a ruling party made up of 3 different parties of the three major races so that they are well segregated and controlled by the prominent party component? And so that the votes of the 2 non-prominent groups are split?
Look at our banners. They are 95% ruling party's banners, paid for by your and my money. Read our papers. Listen to our radios. Watch our TV programs. They are 100% controlled by BN people. From appointment of the highest posts in our judiciary to unexplained access of military bombs used in blowing up unwanted mistresses to IC scams, there are a lot of things not going right. Where is the transparency you promised, oh PM, whom I had so much hope in?
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Suppli Al Telefono
Walking on Lygon Street, Melbourne one day, Yi and I popped into a small restaurant for a bite and saw these golden balls on a plate. We ordered one, and I was ready for an unpleasant experience. To our surprise, the golden ball of rice, called suppli, was good and we both devoured the whole thing even though the suppli was as big as my fist and we were watching our waistlines.
Suppli al telefono or, from my non-existent knowledge of Italian, telephone rice croquette, is called as such because the mozzarella inside will draw into a string when you break and pull the suppli apart. The string of mozza looks nothing like telephone lines but I guess my imagination's just not wild enough.
Suppli is easy to make and and is a good way to use up leftover rice. I used leftover cooked Calrose rice (for making sushi) but I think any rice would do. Wey said "Smells like Pizza Hut!" when I was frying the rice balls and I was insulted (I've not eaten there in years) but I think what he meant was it smelt Italian so that's a compliment I suppose.
When we were in Tokyo, Ming would buy an onigiri (molded rice balls) every morning. Somedays it was with tuna filling, some days ikura (salmon eggs), somedays ebiko and so on. As I was eating these suppli, it occurred to me that suppli are the Italian version of onigiri, except they are fried and stuffed with cheese. Fattening but tasty as a snack, so do try it if you like Italian. If not, stick with onigiri.
Suppli Al Telefono
2 cups cooked rice (short-grain or arborio)
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 T olive oil
100g finely grated parmesan cheese
1/4 t salt + some black pepper
1 large egg
1/2 T dried oregano
1 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
100g mozzarella cheese
1. Fry the garlic in the olive oil until it is fragrant but not golden. Mix the cooked rice with the garlic, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, oregano and egg. Divide the rice into 8 portions or more.
2. Cut the mozza into 1 cm or smaller cubes and divide into the same number of portions as the rice balls.
3. Wet your hands (wet hands each time you work on a new clump of rice so that the rice won't stick to your hands) and squeeze one portion of rice firmly into a ball. Push a dent into the middle of the riceball using your thumb and stuff the mozza cube/cubes in, then push rice over to cover the hole and mould firmly into a round ball. Repeat with the remaining rice balls.
4. Roll the riceball into the dry breadcrumbs to cover all over. It is not necessary to dip the rice balls into beaten egg before you roll it onto the breadcrumbs because your wet hands will moisten the rice balls.
5. Heat 4 to 5 cups of oil in a wok or small pot and fry the riceballs in batches. Fry until the rice is golden-brown and crispy.
Note: this is not authentic but I'm thinking that if you fry some bacon bits with the garlic and add some tasty cheddar (in this case, don't add the salt) to the rice, it will be tastier.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Cantonese Steamed Fish, Restaurant Style
This is the recipe for steamed fish, as requested by Veronica of Melbourne, in which the liquid from the steamed fish is drained off. What a waste you say? That is done just in case the liquid is too fishy. In the past, our moms would just dress the fish with ginger strips, drizzle some light soy sauce and cooked oil over and steam it. But somehow fish steamed this way just doesn't taste as good as those in restaurants. My friend Wendy to the rescue.
Wendy taught me how to steam fish 'just like the restaurants' and I have stuck to this method ever since. If it is not as good as your favorite seafood restaurant, I'd say it is not the method but the brand of soy sauce used that makes the difference. If the restaurant people are willing to tell you what brand they use, well, you should be able to re-create the exact or even better dish at home provided you keep Wendy's commandment in mind: Thou shalt steam your fish until there's only one speck of red remaining in the flesh. That means the fish should be 99.99% cooked, and not more or less.
Steamed Fish, Restaurant-Style
1 fresh fish, about 1 kg in weight
1/4 cup very fine fresh ginger strips
1/4 cup very fine spring onion strips
a few sprigs of fresh coriander/cilantro
4 T light soy sauce
1 t chicken stock powder + 2/3 cup hot water or 2/3 cup hot superior chicken stock
1 t castor sugar
4 T oil
1. If the fish is thick (such as a grouper), butterfly it. Lay the fish on a heat-proof or suitable plate for steaming, such as a metal plate. Scatter ginger strips over the fish, shoving some of it under the fish. Put enough water into your wok and heat it up.
2. Mix the hot chicken stock with the sugar, light soy sauce and stir until the sugar is all dissolved. If using chicken powder (I suspect restaurants use msg instead of chicken stock), mix it with the hot water, sugar and light soy sauce. Do this step when the fish is nearly cooked, because you want the sauce to be hot.
2. Steam the fish at high heat for 10 minutes. Using a fork or chopstick, dig into the thickest part of the fish (usually middle of the body) and lift up the flesh. If it comes clean off the bone easily, the fish is done. If not, leave it to steam another minute or so. Test again. Do not overcook, as the fish will still cook as it is taken off the heat. Overcooked fish tastes coarse. When fish is cooked, carefully take it out of the wok and pour 80% of the liquid away. Pour the prepared sauce (which should still be hot) all over the fish. Add the spring onions and cilantro now, or after the oil is poured, depending on your liking. Work quickly now, because the fish should be served hot. I usually do Step 3 just before I take the fish out of the wok.
3. Quickly heat up the oil until smoking, really smoking hot (be careful!), and pour all over the fish. There should be a hissing sound as the hot oil hits the skin.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Ginger Spring Onion Crabs
Hub's tangje (cousin) Huiyi and her hub from Shanghai were in town for the last three weeks. If I may drop names for any basketball/NBA fans out there (Daisy?), Huiyi was a national basketball player for China and played alongside Yao Ming's mom. How's that. And this: Yao Ming's mom is 1.9m tall, his Dad 2.0m tall and he's 2.3m tall. His wife is 1.9m. Can you imagine how tall their kids will be?
Apparently crabs are very expensive in Shanghai, and all Huiyi and her hub wanted to eat were crabs, crabs and crabs. They found Luyang Restaurant's crabs very good but they thought Welcome Restaurant gave the best value for $ (although I find their crabs too small and the portions have gone down). I bought some mud crabs last Saturday and Huiyi immediately dissected them. I told you she's hyper. Here's what she did with them.
Ginger Spring Onion Crabs
2.5 kgs crabs
1/2 cup smashed & minced fresh ginger
1/2 to 1 cup spring onions, in 2 cm lengths
1 to 2 t salt
chicken stock powder (optional)
1/2 cup water
2 T cornflour + 2 T water
1 t sugar
1. Clean the crabs well. Cut the body into half (quarter it if it's big), and smash the claws lightly. Keep any juice that comes out (so, crack the claws over a bowl).
2. Stick the cut part of the crab's body into cornflour, dabbing it quite forcefully to stick.
3. Heat up about 2 cups of oil and fry the cornflour-coated crab pieces until slightly golden and half-done. Remove and fry the claws until half-done.
4. In a clean wok, put in 3 T oil and fry the minced ginger until fragrant but not brown, then add the fried crabs and fry, adding the water (and retained juice) in as you fry. Season with salt n pepper, sugar, chicken stock powder if using and light soy sauce. Cover for 10 minutes to simmer at medium heat.
5. Taste and adjust seasoning. Increase heat to high. Add the cornflour water, stir well to mix and when starch thickens (there won't be much sauce but if you like it more saucey, you can add more water) add the spring onions. Dish up.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Thanying Restaurant, Singapore
I was disappointed. It wasn't so hot or special anymore
Claypot glass noodles with king prawns
A sign of authenticity to us --slices of belly/bacon at the bottom. This looks like a simple dish but I've never quite gotten it right at home. Love it.
Fried kangkong with fermented soy beans.
I could eat this with a whole plate of plain rice.
Spicy pork ribs.
Although the ribs were tasty, there was hardly any meat on them. Waste of $.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Deep Fried Nam Yue Pork
Nam yue is red fermented beancurd, very salty and tasty, with its distinctive flavor and a hint of wine. Nam yue is most commonly used in making a Hakka dish called kew nyuk, which is stewed pork slices with taro. Another nam yue dish I love is nam yue stewed pork belly with black 'wood ears', a type of --horrors-- fungus that doesn't have much flavor, but gives a nice bite. Wood ears are also said to lower blood pressure and since they hardly contain much calories, they are good as fillers if you are on a weight-loss diet.
My son Wey loves deep-fried nam yue pork and I've found most men do too. It is one of those no-nonsense macho meat dishes that men can enjoy with a can of beer. My Dad used to drink a small glass of brandy everynight at dinner and to go with it, he liked pork coated with cornflour and deep-fried because the cornflour gives a very crisp, hard coating that doesn't go soft easily in our humid weather.
The 'Fu Chung' brand of nam yue has a good taste and strong flavor of 5-spice powder.
Deep Fried Nam Yue Pork
500 g belly or shoulder pork or spare ribs
2 pieces nam yue + 1 T of the sauce
3 T shaoxin wine or brandy, sherry
1 t sugar
1/4 t white pepper
2 shakes of msg/pinch of chicken stock powder
3 T cornflour, 1/2 T water
oil for deep-frying
extra cornflour for coating
optional: 1/4 t 5 spice powder
1. Cut pork into 5 cm x 5 cm (2" x 2") pieces. If using belly pork, score halfway deep on both sides or the pork will be too tough. Make sure the pork has a bit of fat or it'll taste dry after deep-frying.
2. Put the pork into a deep glass bowl and add all the other ingredients in, mixing very well with your hands. Cover and leave to marinade at least 3 hours, preferably longer.
3. Put 1 cup cornflour in a small bowl and dip the pork pieces in one by one to coat all over, shaking off excess flour.
4. Heat about 3 to 4 cups of oil in wok until very hot, lower the temp, then add 1/3 of the pork pieces one by one. Turn and fry the other side till done. Remove onto kitchen paper to drain and fry the next 1/3 batch and so on.
5. Serve hot with plain rice and a beer/wine.
Note: You can add garlic powder for extra flavor, but do not use fresh chopped garlic because that will give bits of burnt garlic on the pork.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Chinese Radish Cake
This is a very Cantonese 'cake' that many families with a link to Hong Kong will make for CNY. My recipe is a combination of Chin Auntie's ingredients and my Hong Kong friend Ann's method. While Chin Auntie cuts her Chinese radish into thin fries (so you can taste the radish) and fries them in oil, Ann grates her radish (I prefer my radish grated finely too) directly into a wok and doesn't use oil to fry. However, Ann's recipe calls for 'dai tung choy' which I have no idea of because it isn't 'tung choy' or 'dai toe choy'. She also adds a slice of brown sugar and I want to cut back on sugar consumption. So you can say this is a healthier recipe, combining the best of both great recipes.
I like to use waxed belly pork, which is only available here around CNY. If that is not available, substitute with Chinese sausages or even fresh pork.
The batter becomes very thick and hard to fry.
Chinese Radish Cake
2 kg Chinese white radish, weight after peeling
500g rice flour
1/2 cup finely diced dried shrimps
1/2 cup finely diced dried mushrooms (optional)
1/2 cup finely diced waxed pork belly
700 ml room temp. water
2 1/4 t salt
1/2 t white pepper
1 t chicken stock granules
1/2 piece brown slice sugar (optional)
1/3 cup minced dai tung choy, if you can find it (optional)
5 T veg oil
1. Fry the waxed pork belly for a minute or so until oil starts to seep out. Add the dried shrimps and mushrooms and continue to fry over low fire until fragrant. You can keep the oil that comes out or you can discard it if concerned about the cholesterol.
2. Grate the radish directly into a big wok. Switch on the fire and fry for about 5 to 7 minutes. Add all the water, stirring well, then add the salt, pepper and chicken stock granules, mixing well. Add the fried meat and mushrooms alongwith the oil from frying if using, mixing well. Now add the rice flour and the cornflour, frying and mixing well. Mixture will become very thick. Add the veg oil (decrease by 1 or 2 spoons of oil if you added the belly pork oil).
3. Oil a 30 cm/12" round tin lightly and scoop the batter into the tin, making sure you compact the batter firmly. Level the top. Steam at high heat for 1 hour. The cake will be very soft when hot but firm when cool. You can eat it straightaway when it is still warm (but it'll be soft) or chill it, cut into small slices and fry in a little bit of oil.
note: It is best to chill the cake for 24 hours so that when you slice it, it won't stick to your knife. I've tried cutting about 14 hours later and it was quite messy and broke up easily when frying.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Teachers As Barbers
He walked around the house last night with a towel around his head. He said his classmates are calling him 'monk'. I call him 'botak'. I've always quoted my friend Linda, "If mom and Dad can't teach you, let the authorities teach."
P.S. It is a funny scene at pick-up time in Wey's school. Monks playing basketball. Monks throwing out the thrash. Monks crossing the road. Wey said, deadpan, his classmates are greeting him with "Ami tofo" (amitabh). He's one of 4 in a class of 50 who had his head shaved. Although I support the teachers (and he told me its not the teachers who do the cutting, they brought in a barber), I was quite upset to see that there's a No. 3 haircut, a longer and less severe hairstyle. Shouldn't all 'offenders' get the same punishment, especially for 1st timers like Wey? SM Kian Kok, I am disappointed.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Fresh cream durian Valentine's Cake with durian custard topping, made last night.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Khong Aunty's Prosperity Soup
Looks like I put a handful of hair into the soup??
My friend Khong's mom used to cook the family a special fatt choy soup for CNY. Upto that point (more than 10 years ago), I had never heard of fatt choy soup because we ate fatt choy as a stew instead. Since then I have cooked fatt choy soup only a couple of times on CNY so it makes it all the more special.
I was told that black moss (called fatt choy in Cantonese, which also sounds like 'to prosper') has been found to have some toxins that can attack the nervous system (is that why my motor skills are so bad today? I kept typing 'p' instead of 'o') so it is a good thing we only eat it once in a few years. Maybe it is wiser not to add the moss to the soup because it has no particular flavor at all. The other thing about black moss is that it is found in the wilds of Mongolia, making it very rare and expensive. Which means the black moss we eat may not be the real thing, because at RM300 per kg, it really is not expensive as it is light as air.
Ming, a soup lover, took a sip of this soup last night and said "Perfect!" I was surprised that even Wey drank half a bowl. Some may not like it because the dried oysters will give the soup a fishy smoky flavor and the addition of so many ingredients makes it a delicious but rich and heavy soup. I could only manage one bowl.
Khong Aunty's Prosperity Soup
1 kg pork bones, washed & fat trimmed off
1 handful black moss, soaked & washed well
6 to 8 large dried oysters, soaked
10 dried chinese mushrooms, soaked
1/2 cup peeled gingko nuts
1 cup sliced sea cucumber (optional)
1/2 pkt dried beancurd sticks, soaked till soft, in 6 cm lengths
1 cup peeled water chestnuts
10 red dates, soaked & washed
2 thin slices ginger
salt and white pepper to taste
1. Blanch the pork bones with plenty of boiling water to get rid of any dirt and smell. Put bones into a large pot with the ginger, red dates, mushrooms and plenty of water and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until the meat falls off the bones.
2. Add the gingko nuts, water chestnuts and oysters and simmer another 30 minutes. Add the sea cucumber. The soup will turn cloudy because of the dried oysters. If you like to, remove the bones and meat because they are tasteless by now.
3. When the sea cucumber is tender, you can add the beancurd sticks, salt and white pepper to taste. Lastly add the black moss (this softens and disintegrates easily) and switch off the heat.
Chinese New Year 2008
CNY lions used to be raggedy and dirty but I've noticed that this year, most lions have had makeovers, in untraditional colors of psychedelic blues and greens. Maybe they went to the same tailor?
I can hear "tak dong chang" as the lion troupe comes closer and closer to my house. I love it. I love CNY. If you are overseas and can only come back once a year, CNY is the best time. This is when relatives and friends meet up to EAT, talk, laugh and just forget about whatever problems they have. Everybody would wear new clothes (especially red clothes because that is the happy color for Chinese) alongwith new underwear, get newly-styled hair, the works. Houses will be cleaned, new brooms bought, and for some super superstitious people, there would be no sweeping (so as not to sweep away their good luck) or even washing of clothes. I suspect this is one superstition some housewife cooked up. There should be no swearing or fighting as it is believed that to do so will set the trend for the whole year. Kids love CNY too because they get a week off school and get their parents off their backs because they are too busy gambling/eating. Children and unmarried people get compensated (or rewarded, depending on how you view it) in the form of 'lucky money' called angpows (money in little red envelopes). This year Wey reported that nobody gave anything less than RM10/US$3. About time too.
Look closer -don't blink- and you'll see the Swarvoski crystals on the angpow.
Chinese love noise and merriment (evidence: supermarkets, restaurants), and during CNY, the traditional belief is that the more noise, the better to drive away evil and bad luck. If only it were so easy. I love being woken up on Day 1 of CNY by the lion troupes that come banging and clanging. The hyperactive lions and unicorns prance and bow to bring good luck, but mostly they come for the angpows that you are obliged to give once they get past your gate. Weeks before CNY, the fireworks and fire crackers had already started and I must say it irritated me because nowadays (despite the ban), instead of fire crackers, people are letting off bombs. These explosions are big, public-display type fireworks that give off an earth-shaking BOONG! that can give you a heart attack.
I love to stay up for the countdown at midnight of the New Year, when fire crackers burst everywhere to usher in the year. The smell and smoke of the gunpowder that fills the air and light up the sky remind me especially of the years when I was still unmarried and living with my parents. In those days, fire crackers weren't banned/just got banned, and we'd stay up as a family so we can light our best and longest fire-crackers at midnight but we'd always loose to a certain family a few doors away whose dad worked in the Customs and Excise Dept and they get the best (confiscated) fireworks. Sometimes they'll give some special fireworks to us. Playing with firecrackers was so thrilling. Once, I even lighted a fire-cracker in my hand (to prove I'm not a wimp) and 'accidentally' threw it at my sister. Fire crackers are good for letting off your grudges.
There were so many fireworks this CNY midnight it sounded like war zone. This year, Ming was out with friends, Hub went to bed early, Wey was watching cartoon (couldn't be bothered by all that bombing), Yi in Melbourne, so it was just me out there on the road in front of our house at midnight. Then my neighbour came out and we enjoyed a little chat as we admired the kaleidoscopes in the night sky.
Although we are Christians, I still boil a pot of pomelo leaves water for us to bath on the eve of CNY. For me, it is more ritual (handed down by my mom) than belief that washing in pomelo leaves water would wash away any bad luck from the year before. Most years I don't even buy the pomelo leaves bundled with some lengkuas ginger leaves - I just make do with kaffir lime leaves and serai leaves from my garden. After all, it's the scent I want. But the tree died last year, so I reluctantly paid RM2/US$0.60 for a bundle this year. But what a lovely citriousy scent it made the water; I felt very refreshed.
The 1st day of CNY was spent visiting/'bai nien' my in-laws, my mom and friends. It is a tradition to go bai nien to friends and relatives' houses where people who never meet up the whole year get to do so. You wouldn't go empty-handed too, and the most common gift to bring is mandarin oranges, called 'kam' in Cantonese, which also sounds like gold so it is auspicious.
2nd day of CNY I opened my house for a late breakfast at 9 am, impromptu because I met up with some classmates from high school the day before and one of their hubs teased me about not opening my house. And so I decided I would. I woke up at 7, which is early for me, and whipped up a prune cake, California maki sushi, Shanghainese fried rice sticks and a tang sui and fried the chinese radish cake and water chestnut jelly cake I had made on CNY Eve. Alongwith the prawn crackers and pineapple tarts I'd made earlier, everything was home-made. Unfortunately, I was so flustered and busy I didn't take any pics of the food but here are pics of the leftovers...
These are the best pineapple tarts I've made and tasted, and the recipe is from Greg & Nee's on my links. Thanks, Nee! The pastry is melt-in-your-mouth and buttery, and there's lots of sticky pineapple jam inside. Making pineapple jam takes hours so I bought the jam from the cake ingredients shops, Pelangi and Bake With Me. (I recommend that you get one packet of jam from each shop because Pelangi's a little too sweet while Bake With Me a little too sour. Mix the two. And make the tarts small. Just big enough for one bite is best). I tried a commercial pineapple tart at a friend's house and it was downright yukky, with what my mom would call 'nose booger-sized' pineapple jam filling and pastry that tasted of cheap margarine.
This is that very Cantonese water chestnut jelly cake that you find in dim sum places. I served it 2 ways: fried and chilled. I'm very lucky to get this recipe from Chin Aunty; it makes perfect waterchestnut jelly cake. Last year I used a recipe from a cook book and it turned out greyish and dull-looking instead of translucent and the texture was weird.
This is Chinese radish cake (lo bak go in Cantonese or daikon in Japanese), adapted from Chin Aunty's recipe again. Made with waxed belly pork, dried mushrooms, dried prawns and lots of white radish. My Dad would make this cake with my younger bro assisting him, on the eve of CNY. Unfortunately, none of us bothered to record his recipe. I continue his tradition and this year got Ming to stir the batter for me.
Wey' s favorite, California rolls, and he's always telling me to blog this...
Black and red melon seeds.
White pumpkin seeds are never served during CNY because white is the traditional color for mourning.
Two of my closest friends and their families stayed back, some resting (there was a cool, strong xi bei feng or north-west wind that always blows from China this time of the year, when it is winter there) and some playing blackjack, Russian poker, 'red dots' and even 'prawns and crabs', all the while nibbling on melon seeds and prawn crackers and sipping Chinese tea. Very enjoyable and comfortable afternoon. Too bad I can't put up the pics here, because some players were kids. For most families, card games/gambling is strictly allowed only on CNY. Dinner was all my leftovers from the reunion dinner, and then we all adjourned to S's newly renovated house for wine and chit chat. The hot topic was 'Why are we unable to discipline our kids?' That took us well past 1 am, and there was no conclusion! All-in, I had a lovely day with lovely friends.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Reunion Dinner II
Reunion Dinner I
This year, MIL has relatives from Shanghai and they were in Mulu Caves during the new year eve, so reunion dinner was postponed from the traditional eve to the 1st day. Which meant I could have reunion dinner with my mom and bros, SIL and niece! And since mom's too old to cook, I got to do that in my house. And so we had a simple dinner, bearing in mind that we would be having another the next night.
Reunion dinner spreads have changed a lot since we were young. In the past, Dad would have 8 dishes to symbolise 'fatt' (good luck). The chicken for the reunion dinner must be a spayed, home-reared cockerel reared specially for CNY, which means it will weigh about 4 to 5 kg! These chickens, called 'yim gei' (spayed chicken) in Cantonese, are usually plain-boiled and have tougher flesh that is aromatic, oily and delicious! The next must-have dish is the stewed 'fatt choy' oysters dish that symbolises prosperity and success especially in business, then a stewed pork koe yuk, then a fish to symbolise lots of wealth because "yaw yu yaw jing" (plenty of leftovers; abundant wealth), raw lettuce (one of the few times when Chinese don't stir-fry their greens) to symbolise health and long life because lettuce in Chinese sounds like the Chinese word for life, alive and to give life/birth. As for the other dishes, in the old days, the best and most expensive would be reserved for this most important dinner of the year. One of these dishes we used to have was abalone slices with kailan greens. But now that a can of good abalone costs more than RM200/US$62, some people go for substitutes like clam slices or even gluten/vegetarian imitation abalone slices . Another was sharks' fins soup, which we used to look forward to. In those days, you get real fins and the soup is thick with them, some of them in whole pieces, and not thick with cornstarch like those served these days. Btw, all prepared sharks fins now, especially the wet ones, are fake. Go ahead and pay rocket prices for gelatine strips if you want.
I made Foochow fish maw soup with prawns and pork mince balls, and dried scallops for that extra flavor. Topped with fried garlic, this soup is heavenly. For a richer version, go to Greg n Nee's on my links.
Now that the whole world is getting diabetic, I realise why our ancestors created a Chinese cuisine that is weak on desserts. Usually fruits or a light, sweet soup is served after a banquet meal. For CNY, most families would make 'tong yuen', which is glutinous rice balls and I think it symbolises family unity. Being Cantonese, I did a simple sweet soup of Chinese brown sugar (those that come in slices) and old ginger for flavor, and since the soup is already sweet, I added unfilled glutinous rice balls (just add water to glutinous rice flour, roll into small balls, drop into boiling water and scoop out when they rise to the top of the water). If you use filled glu rice balls, balance the sweetness by serving it in plain hot water.