Friday, November 28, 2008

7 Things You Don't Need to Know About Me

Lorrine of Ganache has tagged me. I'm new to this so bear with me.

1. I am ophiophobic. I can't look at snakes even on TV and magazines, or wear a pair of snakeskin Louboutin even if given to me free. And if Wey touches a photo of a snake and then touch me, I'd cry like crazy and scrub my skin off where he touched.

My father would swear at me ("Sui nui bao!!" which means 'bad daughter', and can be a term of endearment or disgust, depending on the tone used) when I suddenly shrieked at pictures of snakes in newspapers. He said I 'shock him to death' many times. I'm sure it wasn't me that last time. When Yi was a 2-year toddler, she discovered my phobia and chased me around the dining table with a copy of National Geographic which had pictures of these terrifying creatures.

My next fear is flying. Every time I fly, especially on take-off, I'm 99% sure it'll be the last time. I'll wonder if I'll be one of those who dies or one of those who just made it, intact, and I'd regret getting angry over small things. And I wonder too what happens to all my shopping, or the jewelry I'm wearing so I don't wear my favorite things when I travel. Once when we were taking off (the moment I hate most), I opened my eyes momentarily and saw the big guy next to me with his eyes closed, fists clenched white on the arms of the chair and praying frantically. I guess my phobia isn't that bad because although he heightened my fear, I still found him funny.

My 3rd fear (so I actually am giving you 3 in 1) is blue murky water, especially pictures of it taken underwater. So bad that I panic even at the sight of the underwater scene mural at Sutera's Marina Club. I never sit facing it.

I have a slight fear of National Geographic magazines (which I enjoy, the mags I mean), which Hub subscribes. It always has pictures of snakes and underwater scenes.

2. I love potato chips. Lays. Smiths. I've been gripped by a craving for potato chips since last week and I WANT TO KNOW WHY WE DON"T GET LAYS OR SMITHS potato chips here! I don't want those perfect, reconstituted Lays chips in a tube. I want those in a bag, sliced off a potato. Our local potato chips suck! "All I want for Christmas is a bag of Lays, a bag of Smiths..."

3. I was depressed turning 29. The end of youth. But I like myself most (physically) at 35. I wish I am 35 every day. I still get greeted as "Ah Moi" (Miss) when I go to the market. Swear. That lifts me up. I am vain. Then my daughter goes out with me and I'm "Aunty". I am afraid of the day she brings a baby along and I am addressed as "Ah Niong". Oh no.

4. I wish I could get Scrabble partners. I never played with Hub again after he won a game against me, to my disbelief, and then, he stood up, and extra tiles fell to the floor. I still can't believe he did that to me.

5. I love my children, my husband, my loved ones (siblings, mom, nephews & nieces) and my friends. Achievements and material things are nice but they are fleeting and meaningless if the people I love are not there. I also love waking up late, rainy days sitting out with a hot coffee and a mag, entertaining & dining with friends, talking with my girl while picking her pimples (don't tell her derm doc!), hugging & sniffing my Wey, peaceful moments with my big boy Ming, Hub's good nature, reliabillity and brains, choc truffles and flowers and nature and no big problems.

6. I wish there's no war, no racism, no crimes, no global warming and no hunger. And no injustice. When I finally meet Jesus, I want to know why He made us. 'Purpose Driven Life' and all other explanations only tell us to make the most of ourselves. I want to know WHY because so far, I've not heard any good satisfactory reasons.

7. I want to travel, write a book, live until 85 and have grandchildren from each of my kids.

I am to tag 7 others who are to pass this on. Make sure you provide the names and link the websites. You are to tell us 7 things (or 70, disguised as 7, like I just did) about yourself.

1. ? of Hungry Hamster
2. Yi of Animate
3. Joe of Lots Of Cravings
4. Ivy of Precious Pea
5. Meena of Lemongrass
6. Ming of A Thought To Share
7. Zurin of Cherry On Cake

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Steamed Beef & Waterchestnut Patty

Steamed beef patty on white rice

As a school girl, I loved coming home to find this dish on the table. Mom would cook this and beef liver with ginger and rice wine for those times of the month when she felt we needed some iron boost. This is a very humble home dish that only seems to be available in my family. I've asked friends when I was growing up and none of them knew this dish. I think the dish originated in Quilin, China where mom had studied, so most people here are not familiar with it as most KK Chinese are Hakka or Cantonese from Guangdong. Everybody has eaten a similar steamed meat patty of ground pork and eggs, one of the most homey Chinese dishes. These are dishes you don't find in restaurants but are eaten regularly at home.

It is best to use unfrozen tenderloin or sirloin, and the waterchestnuts must be fresh, not canned. Eat it with rice or congee. The flavor of the beef and the crunchy sweetness of the waterchestnuts, plus the ginger and doong choy goes very well with rice.


Steamed Beef & Waterchestnut Patty
400 g (or more*) lean tender beef
400 g (or more*) waterchestnuts
1/2 T ginger, cut into very fine strips
1 T doong choy (a preserved veg), washed well
1 egg, beaten
1 T cornstarch
2 t sesame oil
a shake of white pepper
2 t light soy sauce
1 t dark soy sauce
1/4 t salt
1/2 cup water
finely cut spring onions for garnish

* You can adjust these amounts to your liking

1. Chop the beef until fine. Do not use supermarket bought mince; too much fat.

2. Peel the waterchestnuts and chop them coarsely.

3. Put the beef, waterchestnuts, cornstarch, sesame oil, soy sauces, salt, pepper, egg and water into a shallow heat-proof dish and mix well (use fingers). Pat the patty until it is level. Drizzle about 2 T water all over the patty. Sprinkle the doong choy and ginger strips on top.

4. Steam at high heat for about 12 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the patty. It should be about 1"/2.5 cm thick only.

5. Garnish with spring onions and serve hot. Optional: heat up a tablespoon of peanut oil until smoking and pour over the cooked patty. This will give extra flavor.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Kedai Kopi 88

After my post on ding bian hu, a reader directed me to a stall in Asia City for Fuzhou noodles, which I love. My friend Sucy had also informed me of the place some time ago. So last Friday, I picked Yi and Wey up and headed to Asia City for lunch.

It is hard to park in Asia City, especially lunch time. I dislike the place. It smells filthy. It is neglected, dirty and a tranvestites haven. We searched for the Fuzhou stall but just couldn't find it and ate the most terrible prawn mee on earth. I've forgotten the name of the shop. It's round the corner when you enter Asia City from Kg Air.

On the way to our car, we passed Kedai Kopi 88 and asked a stall owner and she pointed out the stall, which was tucked in an open food court across from 88. The next day, the whole family was back to Asia City whereupon we again saw a group of pondans so that's why I said Asia City is where the action is if that's your preference.

!! The stall was not opened. "Maybe their house got flooded because of the heavy rain this morning, but you can have bbq fish in my stall," said the guy next stall. We looked around and decided on 88, a coffeeshop that also serves Fuzhou dishes.

This is what we had at 88 (which sounds like "prosper prosper" in Chinese) :

Prawn mee

Very impressive-looking bowl of prawn mee but looks are deceiving. It was just okay.

Kuey chap

Frankly, I've never eaten kuay chap before and this is the first time I've come across this dish in KK. I thought it was pretty good (the pieces of noodles were slippery-smooth) although the herbal soup was slightly kam (the 6th taste, according to my mom, not yet recognised by most but it's a taste between sweet and 'minty cool' in your mouth. You read it here first) which is quite normal for Chinese herbs I think. Does anyone know this 6th taste I'm talking about?

Mee suah or thread noodles in chicken wine soup

The bleh dish of the day. There was hardly any wine and the bottle of wine provided tasted like water. The noodles had a stale flavor, and that boiled egg should've been fried until crinkly. The chicken was bland. Really nothing was right here.

Sarawak kolo mee

Wey is our kolo mee expert. He said this was "Just okay." I like that they used ceramic tableware instead of melamine ones.

Pork innards soup

This was the best dish of all. The soup was yum & flavorful and the pig stomach, liver and kidney very tender & fresh. But it is getting harder and harder for me to swallow this stuff. Liver. Kidney. Stomach.

p.s. The next day, Sunday, we checked out the Fuzhou stall again. Third time lucky: it was open. But I forgot to bring my camera. I don't think I'll be back although the food was better than 88's. There were flies buzzing around and sitting on the char sau and sliced meat.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Shanghainese Chi Fan (Sticky Rice Rolls)

Good chi fan is not hard to make. Just make sure the rice roll is compact. In this case, I had boiled the rice instead of steaming it, and it was too soft.

If some of you saw me at Wey's school last Wed morning (he's back for extra classes during the hols), you'd have seen a crazy woman running after a teenage boy taller than her. We never have enough time to sit down for breakfast, the sleepy heads that we are. Now that my car is 2 years old, the kids are allowed to eat in it. What happened last Wed was Wey refused to eat his breakfast and when he was about to get off the car, I told him that there'll be no lunch money. He slammed the door, kicked the wheel and banged his fist on the trunk. This was the second time he had done that and it just wasn't acceptable.

To cut the story short, I sprinted after him, lost him, ran 3 floors up to his classroom (in heels) to wait for him and my calves hurt for a couple of days after that. You have no idea the things I have to do to discipline my boys. Is it me or is it them, I wonder all the time.

Breakfasts are hard to do. The boy's got a poor morning appetite unless it's bacon or dim sum from Sea Park Restaurant on the way to school. His breakfast preference is typical of most Asians: savory over sweet. I agonize the night before what breakfast to prepare for him now that I send him to school instead of his dad who could never get him to get up on his own. With me, he sets his alarm clock and is on time because my rule is 'I'm ready when you are'. That means I don't wake him no matter what time.

Chi fan ( 'fan' is pronounced as 'fun') means, word for word, sticky cooked rice. I never thought I'd make chi fan because it's one of my least liked Shanghainese snack. In fact, I've never eaten a whole roll of the thing. There's just too much rice, especially glutinous rice which I find hard to eat. My hub however, and all Shanghainese, love chi fan. Chi fan is like maki sushi, except there's no nori (seaweed sheets) and the rolls come thick, as thick as a big daikon/white radish. It is a humble roll compared to Japanese sushi. I think the Japanese stole the chi fan idea from the Chinese and as usual refined it, and called it sushi.

You'd need a big mouth to chomp on a chi fan and plenty of soya milk to ease the rice along your gullet. I try not to flip my eyelids when I eat chi fan like a seagull with a melted marshmallow. True story this. I was camping by a lake somewhere in Canada once (I love camping and fishing in Canada. The lakes are incredibly pristine, clear and beautiful and the fish like pike and pickeral are very gullible) and this seagull wanted some food from me. I threw him the marshmallow I was toasting and he swallowed it greedily and started to gag, flipping his eyelids. I'll never forget that. It was funny and horrifying at the same time. I've learnt never to throw a hot sticky marshmallow at birds. Where were we.

I saw how people wrap chi fan in Shanghai and Hong Kong and that is reason No 2 why I don't eat the stuff. Because there's no nori to hold the rice in place, chi fun is rolled on plastic wrap to keep its shape. The wrap is then twisted on both ends and when you buy your chi fan, they'd cut the chi fan in half like they do to sushi rolls in Oz. You take one and peel off the plastic and eat it like a banana.

Very simple everyday ingredients are needed to make chi fan.

I abhor plastic wraps and generally any kind of plastic, even bento boxes. You never know how much of the plastic bleaches into your food even if it looks quite inert. Plastic use is so prevalent in our modern age and I personally believe our health is compromised by the plastic shampoo bottles, plastic keyboards, plastic water bottles, plastic chopsticks, plastic cups, plastic in car interiors, plastic chairs, plastic bags, plastic/melamine milk, thanks to China, and even plastic money. If I do use plastic wrap, I make sure my container is big enough so that the wrap doesn't touch the food. You won't find artfully carefully stacked plastic boxes in my fridge. I use my mom's method of putting all leftovers in ceramic bowls and only if there's liquid would I use plastic wrap to seal. Otherwise, I use a plastic plate to cover. Plastic wrap, which is plastic film coated with chemicals to make it clingy, is more likely to release chemicals into your food than plastic plates.

So please use a a clean plastic bag to make your rolls or better still, use nori even though that's not authentically Shanghainese. No point serving tasty potentially deadly food.

Chi Fan (makes about 6 rolls)
3 cups glutinous rice*
3 pairs of crullers**
1 cup ja chai/Sichuan preserved veg, in thin strips***
1 cup rou xe/meat floss
3 T toasted sesame seeds

*I have used a combination of glutinous and ordinary rice with good results. Yi and I both prefer the chi fan I made with 100% short grain rice to the glu rice rolls. The only thing with short grain rice is it doesn't stick as much as glu rice so the rolls can fall apart easily. Since this is for breakfast, I can't be bothered to get up 3 hours earlier to soak the rice and personally boiled rice is acceptable to me.

**I don't like stall-bought crullers because they are deep fried in oil that's turned black because they never change it. I prefer to omit this ingredient from my chi fun for health reasons but also because I found that I could taste the ja chai & rou xe better without the crullers, and in fact the chi fan tastes better without the cruller. However, if the cruller is omitted, the rice rolls will be slim beyond unrecognition to the Shanghainese. "Je xhi shen mo?" asked my MIL when I gave her some of my chi fun.

***The ja chai in small packets are in strips and marinaded so they are perfect for chi fun. If you can't get them in packets, get the whole ones, wash well, cut into strips and soak 10 minutes (very salty), drain and mix in some sesame oil.

1. Soak the glu rice for at least 3 hours. Put the soaked rice (drained) on a heat-proof dish and steam for 20 to 30 minutes until cooked. If you want to boil the rice, use less water to get el dente rice. I'd use say 3 cups rice and water to level 2 in a rice cooker. When rice is cooked, you can choose to flavor it with some salt if like. I don't because I like the bland rice against the saltiness of the preserved veg and meat floss. Let rice cool a little, not too much or it gets clumpy.

2. Put a piece of clean plastic (I use a plastic bag that's split open) on your working surface. Spread 1 cup of cooked rice onto the plastic into a rectangular shape, long enough for the cruller. Use a damp wooden spoon to spread the rice. Spread 2 T meat floss along the center of the rice, add a piece of cruller, lots of preserved veg and sprinkle the sesame seeds along the filling.

3. Lift the plastic from the end nearest to you and fold over to form the rice into a cylindrical roll, using the cruller to stop the other filling from falling everywhere. Compact the rice with your hands (through the plastic) and twist the ends to tighten and compact the rice.

4. To serve, cut the rice into 1/2 to make two shorter rolls. Eat with either salty or sweet soya milk.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Black Eggs


Pi dan after the rice husks and shell are removed.

This is a century egg. Some people exaggerate and call it thousand-year old egg. Both these names must've been given by some foreigner, 'inspired' by the color of the egg. The Chinese will not know what a century or thousand year old egg is because they call it pi dan ( pronounced "pe dun") which translates as skin egg. If you have never seen or eaten this before, it is terrifying. I saw an episode of Fear Factor where the contestants had to eat pi dan, and another where they had to eat durians, and I wish I was a contestant. The guys were choking while the girls were crying. I was crying too because I knew that if I was there, I would've gobbled everybody's share of the durians and pi dan and walked home with the prize. If you are ever given a choice of pi dan or durians, both of which you abhor, go for the durian. It is after all a fruit, not some treated produce of an animal.

You can smell the presence of a durian within half a kilometre but the smell of a pi dan won't hit you until it's in your mouth. If eating it for the first time, I fully understand if you spit it out. It doesn't help that when people who are being 'initiated' to pi dan are often made to eat the whole egg in one mouthful. You just don't do that. It is after all raw ducks' eggs coated with rice husk , clay and ammonia and left for a month, resulting in a totally different looking egg: the white of the egg becomes a clear black-brown tasteless jelly with snow-flake like patterns due to crystals of salt (I think) while the yolk turns greenish. A soft oozy yolk is preferred over a hard yolk because it will give a creamy texture. The egg is edible straightaway; there's no need to cook. The taste is indescribable but it is more the pungency of the ammonia that breaks you. It is not something anyone will like at first bite so it definitely is a matter of getting used to. Sometimes the ammonia can hit you stronger than usual and it is disgusting. My mom used to tell me pi dan is duck eggs soaked in horses' pee. That's because most people in her generation really were told that, mainly because most animals excrete ammonia as urea. Of course now we know ammonia can be easily produced in the chemical plants. If you think that's disgusting and weird, so are blue cheeses because those large veins of blue are MOLD. Although I eat pi dan, I would rather starve to death than eat a Filipino balut which is a fertilized egg that is half way to becoming a chick. I hope you are thoroughly nauseated by now.

Because the taste is so unusual, pi dan is usually served cut into small pieces as a starter, with pickled young ginger to wash away the taste between bites, or more often, added to pork congee which makes it a delicious night or breakfast dish. A coffee shop in Iramanis used to sell pi dan pies, complete with a small piece of sweet pickled ginger, and they were heavenly. Unfortunately not many people, especially the young people, appreciate pi dan enough to eat it as a dessert and the shop doesn't make them anymore.

I once served two Canadian sisters pi dan to get back at them for laughing at my bowl of 'squiggly' instant noodles. The pi dan freaked them out and I was both thrilled and sorry.


To cut a pi dan (or any cooked egg) into clean, perfect pieces, you should use a piece of thread and pull it through without hesistation. Lack of practice will give pieces of dan (egg) like this::

A good pi dan has a soft, oozy center.


A common way to serve pi dan is as an appetizer, with young pickled ginger. You have to splash some soy sauce and sesame oil on the pi dan first.

Another way to cook pi dan is to cook a salted duck's egg, a fresh chicken egg and a pi dan in plenty of superior chicken stock, and add a bunch of 'emperor's veg'. or Chinese spinach. Since my garden is out of these veg, here's one way you can cook your pi dan. You also need these 3 types of eggs:

A salted duck's egg (I used this for impact. I prefer ducks' eggs salted in brine to this one packed in black ash which is too salty for me), a fresh chicken egg and pi dan.


3 Eggs Savory Custard
1 salted egg
2 fresh chicken eggS
1 pi dan, shelled
1 cup room temp water
a shake of white pepper

1. Break the chicken eggs and salted egg into a bowl and beat with a small whisk. Cut or mash the salted egg yolk and pi dan into small pieces and add to the beaten egg.

2. Shake some white pepper in, add some salt if like (the salted egg is quite enough) and the cup of water. Whisk to mix well

3. Scoop into ramekins or bowls and steam at medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dynasty Restaurant

(On a subsequent visit on 20/12/08, we were disappointed by nearly all the dishes except for the fried sayur manis. We also had a banquet dinner upstairs a week before that and we all rated it the worst dinner of the year. I don't know what happened. )

It was a pleasant relief to be invited out for dinner mid-week. No worries about balancing our nutritional requirements and pleasing Wey's palate when I think of what to cook.

I used to enjoy the food at Dynasty (in Promenade Hotel) many years ago, especially their dim sum even though pork was forbidden. If our hotels want to know why their Chinese restaurants are devoid of customers most of the time, it is because of the fact that the ban on pork from their menu in consideration of people who don't eat pork who don't much eat Chinese food anyway turns away the very people who eat Chinese food. That, plus hotel prices are twice as high as regular restaurants'.

It was a very pleasant surprise to find that Dynasty's Chinese restaurant still serves very good Chinese food and, even more surprising, big portions at very reasonable prices. There really aren't many good Chinese restaurants for formal dining in KK and if you take away seafood restaurants, you are left with the same old ones: Royal Palace (deteriorated), Supertanker (sunken), Mayflower (hopeless), Hyatt (generally bad more than good) and other hotel restaurants, Four Seasons behind Cottage (gone from bad to bad), Equatorial (edible the last time I ate there, a year ago), Port View at the old wharf (at best it's mediocre), Winner Hotel (used to be okay) and one at Asia City whose name I've forgotten which was pretty good but the chairs are backless stools, lighting very dim and the food portion very small. If you come to KK, only the seafood restaurants are worth eating in, and their high prices will bring some of your foreign $ in, so thank you.

Before you loose interest, here's what we ate last night at Dynasty:

Fish maw soup

Tasted better and more aromatic than any I've had in a long time.

Thai- style chicken with green mangoes

A hit among those who love sweet and sour dishes but I was wary of the thick, deep-fried batter on the chicken. I generally don't like chicken served this way for banquet dining.

Steamed fish slices

Most steamed fish slices are disappointing with bland flesh and the scent of refrigeration but these slices of soft, fresh and tender fish were good. Even Wey agreed this was good. He only tried it because he thought it was cod, the only fish he eats.

Butter n yolk crisps prawns

Although the flavor was very good and the jumbo prawns were crunchy and fresh, the yolk crisps were not light enough. In fact, with every bite I could taste the butter oozing out. I looked down and saw 'the southerners' --my tummy and thighs-- growing with happiness.

Tofu with fish slices and veg

Wey declared this the best dish and up to this point, I agreed.

Sichuan-style dry-fried french beans

A little sweeter and saltier than usual, but still very tasty. But be warned: a very oily dish because the beans are deep-fried.

Seafood claypot

This was the hit (especially for Yi & I) last night. This is a medium-sized serving but the pot was so big it was like the story book Magic Pot; it seemed bottomless. There were sea cuke, sea asparagus, Pacific clams, fish maw, dried oysters, mushrooms, cloud's ears and sea moss. A pot of this quality and quantity would cost at least RM100/US$29 anywhere, and not have as much ingredients. I'm not sure how much this cost.

Lamb slices

Lamb slices in what appeared to be a dubious sauce Mongolian sauce which you can find everywhere but Mongolia. This was not good. My advice is to stay away from lamb and beef in Chinese restaurants in KK, although I suspect this applies to most Chinese restaurants elsewhere too. Lamb and beef do not play big roles in Chinese cuisine and too much tenderizer is always used to soften the poorer cuts of these meat. Result is soft, tasteless, flavorless meat.

Chinese meals do not end with elaborate rich desserts. Sliced fruits and 'sweet soup' are the most common desserts. In Dynasty, you get a large platter of sliced seasonal fruits such as papaya, watermelon, honeydew and oranges free. Perfect.

The whole meal, including rice and tea and taxes but with a discount of 15% for dining members, cost only RM317/US$90, for 12 people which is amazingly reasonable these days. Good food, big portions, pleasant ambience and good service. If only they serve some oink.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Japanese Coffee Jelly


Over the weekend, I made crema catalana 3 times and all 3 times, I failed to get it right. I don't want to give up or in and cheat with a creme brulee or cream caramel which are easier to make because they are baked whereas crema catalana is slowly cooked in a pot and left to set. The first time, the whole pot of cream curdled 18 minutes into cooking. Heat too high. But the smell of milk, sugar, vanilla and cream--heaven! The second time, I gave up after stirring the cream for 34 minutes and it still didn't set. I then googled and found some recipes that include cornflour and that made a yukky, grainy, curdled custard that didn't set either. I felt like Napolean must have felt at Waterloo. To regain some confidence, I decided to try something easier: Japanese Coffee Jelly, CJC.

JCJ is often found in those sushi train restaurants, you know, those that serve sushi on conveyor belts made to look like train tracks complete with a caboose. A great idea to some but silly and juvenile to me. Once in a lonnng while when I do venture into sushi train restaurants (and always regret after), I usually make Wey (he loves sushi trains) pick the plates off the tracks for me. Sushi train takes the class and taste, literally, out of sushi. But this is about coffee jelly.

My friend Tina made this jelly for lunch one day, and as promised to someone who requested it, here's Tina's JCJ. I highly recommend it next time you need to serve a dessert and you don't have much time. It tastes great, looks simple but is very classy especially if you serve it in a fancy glass. It also doesn't pack as much calories than, say, a cobbler, and has all the ingredients a coffee addict needs--coffee, cream and sugar, basically all the wrong things.

You can either serve your cream whipped or as is. I prefer the jelly with the liquid cream. A simple dessert like this needs to be dressed up, so you should use some fancy glasses or unusual molds.

For a less coffee-y flavor, u can reduce the coffee powder and add cocoa powder instead but the jelly will not be clear.


Japanese Coffee Jelly (makes 4 to 5 glasses)
500ml water
10 g* gelatine powder
5 T** fine sugar
2 T instant coffee powder

serve with: whipping or pouring cream

*I don't have a digital scale and this amount is about 1 (slightly heaped) tablepoon. Do adjust amount of gelatine to your liking.
** This amount is just right for me. You may want to reduce to 4 tablespoons especially if serving with sweetened cream.

1. Boil the water. Put the gelatine powder into a small bowl, add 5 to 6 tablespoons of the boiling water to mix until gelatine is dissolved.

2. Switch heat off, add the coffee powder and sugar, stirring well to until sugar is dissolved.

3. Add the gelatine mixture to the coffee mixture, stir well. Pour into molds or glasses, leave to cool and chill until set in the fridge.

4. Pour cream/pipe a rosette over the set jelly and serve.

note: to speed up the cooling process, you can use 250 ml boiling water to dissolve the coffee & sugar (plus a few tablespoon to dissolve the gelatine) and top up with another 250 ml of cold water. The jelly won't set in hot weather until it is chilled in the fridge.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Nearly Buffalo Wings


If you've ever wondered why they call them 'buffalo wings' in those American-style chain restaurants like TGIF, it's because the dish originated from Buffalo, New York.

The story is that this lady who ran the Anchor Bar in Buffalo in the 1960s (which to locals is still the only place for true Buffalo wings) had last minute customers when she was about to close so she used whatever was left in her kitchen to prepare a meal, and the rest is history. Traditionally, buffalo wings are just deep-fried wings tossed in a margarine and hot sauce sauce, served with celery sticks and a blue cheese dressing to counter the fire from the sauce. Apparently if you switch the margarine with butter, you are considered to have committed a culinary crime as far as buffalo wings are concerned. Well, arrest me because I hate the flavor of margarine and I used butter in this recipe. Not only that, I believe in marinading all my wings. You'd want the flesh inside to be tasty as well as the skin so why not marinade it? Okay granted that the sauce is so robust and wings so lacking in meat that you won't notice the difference, but I will, so I marinaded the wings overnight with my favorite Maggi soy sauce and a little bit of sugar. Travesty, heresy you say. Are there really any rules any more when it comes to cooking?

But I didn't do further damage to the authentic recipe. I deep-fried the wings, not bake them. And I didn't add Worcestershire sauce or any other seasoning. Unfortunately, we don't get Frank's RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce here (Frank was the guy whose wife first whipped up those wings) and the most popular hot sauce here is Tabasco.

Unfortunately for Tabasco, my favorite hot sauce isn't Tabasco. I don't know if I should tell you that my favorite is Louisana Hot Sauce and cause a run at Merdeka Supermarket, the only place I've seen them so far. Just to make sure I won't be caught by another price increase, I've got 6 bottles of Louisiana Hot Sauce in my cupboard. I know there are hundreds of hot sauces in the US, with names like Obama's Jihad Hot Sauce, Burning Bush Hot sauce, Ass Blaster, Kamikaze, Kiss Your Ass Goodbye, The Slap Heard Around the World, Pain & Suffering, Mustard Gas, Dragons Blood, Dave's Ultimate Insanity, Ass Reaper, The Final Answer and my favorite, Sphincter Shrinker, but here we only get 3 hot sauces: Tabasco , Louisiana Hot Sauce ('The One With The Red Dot'/'One Drop Does It') and Red Devil. Of the three, Red Devil is the pits--or pitt, given his behavior (excuse me)--it's just not tasty. Tabasco is too thin, too sharp and flat for me. Louisiana Hot Sauce is thick, rich, tangy, tasty and a real pick-me-up. I splash it in noodles, fish, meat, eggs, bones, and one day soon I'll drop some into hot chocolate. Another plus about Louisiana Hot Sauce apart from its taste is that it's only RM3.90/US$1.10 a bottle, even cheaper than local chili sauce, and about 3 1/2 times cheaper than Tabasco. I only wish Louisiana Hot Sauce is hotter. Cayenne pepper just doesn't do it for me; I prefer habanero for the heat and flavor.

Next time the boys come over for a drink, I suggest you make a platter of these yummy yummy wings. Just make sure you have lots of beer and paper napkins.
Nearly Buffalo Wings
2 kgs wings, jointed
--marinade overnight in 2 T Maggi Soy Sauce & 2 T sugar if like.
--deep fry in oil until golden brown, drain on paper towels. You can also fry it in a shallow tray of oil in the oven.

Original Buffalo Wings Sauce:
3/4 cup hot sauce (your choice)
3/4 cup butter (margarine if like)
--melt the butter in a small pot and whisk in the hot sauce.I tried thickening the sauce by adding cornflour but it came out curdled.

Serve with:
celery sticks
blue cheese dressing

1. When wings are all fried, put them on a tray and pour the sauce over, tossing well to coat.

2. Serve with celery sticks and a blue cheese dressing for the celery. If you are not a blue cheese aficionado like me, just mash some blue cheese into a cup of mayo instead of buying a dressing you don't normally eat.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ding Bian Hu

Fourth try in cooking ding bian hu was this morning. I am quite happy with this bowl of yumminess. I forgot to garnish with crispy fried shallots and a splash of sesame oil.

My first try. Yi looked at the photo and said cilantro doesn't go with ding bian hu, and that there should be more soup.

The only way I can describe ding bian hu is that it is like a cross between ho fun (flat rice noodles) and congee. In this dish, the 'noodles' are not thin long strands but thin soft pieces of rice flour dough, and you only need a spoon to eat it, like you do congee. This dish involves an unusual way of cooking because rice flour is mixed with water into a medium-thick batter and poured around the sides of a hot wok in which a soup made of seafood and meat is being cooked. When the batter is cooked, it can be scraped off the wok onto the soup where it is further cooked and then dished into a bowl. Ding bian hu is eaten as a breakfast or late-night snack by the Fuzhous, one of the many southern Chinese. It really is comfort food, satisfying not just your hunger but your tastebuds and your smell receptors (you can tell I've been teaching somebody biology recently) with the mixture of seafood and meat.

Jo of A Feast was in Sibu, Sarawak (where there is a large Fuzhou population) recently and reported that the authentic way of cooking ding bian hu has disappeared (mostly) as people now cook the batter separately which makes it easier to cook in bulk.

This is one of the many Fuzhou noodles that I (and my two older kids) love and crave for. The best place for ding bian hu (what does it mean?) in KK was at the corner shop near Luyang Apartments. The Fuzhou family from Sibu, Sarawak who ran the stall went away in the late 90s, and ding bian hu was no more. We then found a Fuzhou restaurant at the Fuzhou Association Building, also near Luyang Apts, and we used to eat our Sunday lunches there, in 33 C weather, slurping delicious Fuzhou noodles like joo mi fun, chau joo mien, kolo mee, mien sen and ding bian hu while our sweat rolled down our faces and backs. The mother and daughter who ran the stall (a quiet, sullen pair) left KK many years ago and we haven't been able to find another Fuzhou eatery since.

I've always wanted to try cook ding bian hu but never got around to doing it because I couldn't get the recipe anywhere, and nobody I know can cook this. I was also told that it is not an easy dish to cook at home because you need a lot of skill to pour the rice mixture around the wok. So you can imagine how happy I was when I successfully cooked my first bowl of ding bian hu yesterday. The first bowl turned out nearly perfect to me even though the rice pieces were a little too thick. Then when the Yi came home and I demonstrated to her my new skill, everything went wrong. I had poured the rice flour batter too quickly so it didn't stick but instead ran down into the soup, making it cloudy and thick. Also, I cooked too much in one go, and the soup level in the wok was too high, leaving little space for the rice mixture to be poured. On my third try, I cooked only one portion and again the result was good so the trick is to cook ding bian hu in small portions and pour the rice mixture slowly and in greater amount so that you don't get trickles or strands of the rice mixture but whole pieces of thin crepe. The hard part is getting the rice flour batter right, because that would affect the thickness of the noodles.

This recipe is adapted from one I saw in a Chinese magazine a few months ago. Basically, you just cook up a good chicken or pork stock and add fish balls, pork slices, dried squid, 'cloud ears' (an edible black fungus) and 'golden needles', a kind of lily buds, and pour the rice batter around the wok and that's it. I may be wrong, but I think this may be the first time a recipe on ding bian hu is posted on the net because I couldn't find any when I googled.

Ding Bian Hu (for 2 persons)
100 g rice flour
130 ml water
--mix the flour and water until smooth. The batter should coat your metal spoon briefly before sliding off.

100g pork slices or mince, marinaded with white pepper, salt & cornflour
a small handful of golden needles or jing jen/kim jim, soaked & hard parts (the petiole) removed & knotted (so you won't choke)
a small handful of 'cloud ears' or wen yue, soaked & cleaned
6 to 8 home-made fishballs
a small dried squid*
1/2 T small red onions, sliced
1/2 T garlic, chopped
1 t fine ginger strips (optional)
3 1/2 cups chicken or pork stock (or use plain water & chicken granules)**

seasoning: a dash of white pepper
1/2 t salt
1/2 t chicken granules (restaurants use msg, which is really the same)***
a splash of sesame oil
2 splashes (2 t) of fish sauce
2 T shao xin wine
2 T red Fuzhou wine (optional)

garnish: fried crispy onions (chop the shallots finely & fry in oil) and spring onions
serve with: vinegar and chili sauce

* soak the dried squid in 2 cups of water + 1 T bicarb of soda for at least 12 hours or more. Clean and cut into 1/2 cm strips. Prepared dried squid from the market is not recommended as it is flavorless.

**use Swanson chicken broth if home-made stock not available.

***unnecessary if you use a good stock.

Note: I'd advise that you cook the above amount in two go unless you are very confident about handling the batter. Also, the space around the wok is limited so there wouldn't be enough rice crepe for two.

1. Heat up a wok, add 1 T oil and use a frying ladle to smear the whole wok with the oil. Add 1/2 T oil into the centre of the wok and fry the onions, ginger and garlic. Add the lily buds, cloud ears, dried squid and the wines (you must add them now or the soup won't be as fragrant) and fry for a few seconds. Now add the stock, the fish balls and the seasonings and cover again.


2. When soup boils the second time, take off the cover, add the pork slices/mince, stir to mix them into the soup and pour the rice flour batter around the wok. Don't pour too much too little too fast or too low or the rice flour batter will run into the soup. In the above pic, you can see I've poured the batter too low. If you pour the batter too high, it will take a longer time to cook because there's less heat. You can pour a second circle above the first round of batter if there's space. The idea is to cook the rice flour on the sides of the wok. Cover for 1 to 2 minutes. Add a bit more water if soup has dried up.


You can see the rice flour mixture has run into the soup, that's not good. But just give me a break, this is the first try and I was taking the photo with one hand and pouring the batter with the other. Didn't bother to take photos on subsequent tries because it was dark then.

3. Using your frying ladle, scrape the cooked batter (it should peel off easily. If it doesn't, cover and leave for half a minute or so) onto the soup, test again. Scrape the cooked rice sheet/crepe off into the bubbling soup, stir lightly to mix and dish up.

You need to use high heat and cook the rice crepes quickly because the soup will turn cloudy especially if some of the batter has crept into the soup.

4. Garnish with crispy fried shallots, spring onions and a splash of sesame oil. Eat when hot, with vinegar (I don't) and chili sauce (I do).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How To Make Rory Lion


I've had so many requests for the Rory Lion Cake recipe, and with the latest request from a Rachel, I've decided to post the how-to once and for all. Like I said in my first post on Rory Lion, I had copied the cake design from A Complete Guide To Cake Decorating so please do refer to it.

1. Use a round butter cake (or any cake as long as it isn't sponge cake because it would not hold the weight of the icing) of your desired size.

2. Get hold of marzipan or covering fondant/sugarpaste and roll the following shapes out:

i) Make the whites of the eyes using (or use menthos candy if lion's face is small) uncolored marzipan (not as ideal unless it is very white)/sugarpaste. Color 4/5 of the marzipan/sugarpaste yellow, for the face and features. Use a small amount of the yellow marzipan/sugarpaste to roll out a thin circle about 3 cm smaller than the cake for the face. Fix the face onto the cake using a little bit of jam. Use the remaining yellow paste to make ears and the whatucallit under the nose (make the holes with a wooden skewer) .

ii) Take a small bit of the uncolored marzipan/sugarpaste and color it deep red for the tongue. Color the remainder dark brown. Use the dark brown to make smaller circles for the shaded part of the ears, make smaller circles for the eyes and the nose (use skewer to make the nostrils). You can also use some to make the iris of the eyes, or you can use red beans. Use a bit of water or jam or royal icing to stick the features onto the lion's face. When I remember, I like to lift and twist Rory's tongue a little to give a 2-D effect.

iii) Make about 2 cups (depending on the size of the cake) of royal icing and divide into 3 portions. Color each portion brown, orange and yellow. Turn a plastic piping bag (fitted with a large star nozzle) halfway out so that the icing can be placed nearer to the nozzle. Now spoon the 3 colored icing side by side horizontally along the length of the piping bag so that when you pipe, the 3 colored icing will come out together. Pipe short swirls around the lion's face to make the mane. You can leave the sides of the cake free of icing, or you can use buttercream to ice it first before piping the mane.

iv) Lastly, stick uncooked spaghetti of different lengths on the lion's face for whiskers.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dinner At TA Resort & Spa

TA Resort & Spa (TARS) used to be known as Tanjung Aru Beach Hotel, back in the days when it first opened and Hub and I had our wedding reception. Of all the hotels in KK, western tourists love this hotel the best. It is more cosy and natural (less concrete with a beach of its own and the Tanjung Aru beach nearby) than its closest contender, the Sutera hotels of Magellan and Pan Pacific. I do feel the difference everytime I step out onto their beachside walkway. I am told repeatedly that TARS' service and hospitality are incomparable.

Last Saturday was my umpteenth birthday and I decided to check out Peppino at TARS since its re-vamp. When you get to my age, there's no longer a need for candlelight dinners and playing footsie under the table. I decided that from now on I will always bring my mom along when I celebrate my birthday because she went through hell giving birth to me at home.

Ma & moi.


(Btw, my bro Clive and his wife Lena welcomed their first child, a son, at 9.08 pm last night--10/11/08--in Singapore, after 8 years of marriage. Thank you God! Bring out the ice wine!)

TARS has a sister hotel in Pantai Dalit, where the Coast Restaurant I blogged about last month is. After the disappointing dinner at Coast, I needed to check out Peppino to see if there's a general decline in TARS' food quality. I am happy to report a "No". However, be prepared to wait at least 40 minutes for your food (not including the 10 minutes for your table). Still, the friendly and knowledgeable waiter made it more bearable. The funny thing was he was very attentive and very courteous until the end when he asked if the food was okay and I told him what I thought of the steak. He muttered that he'll tell the chef and scurried away, never to return. I wonder if the chef shot the messenger.

Assortment of (free) freshly baked bread.

You have to request for the pesto sauce. Thumbs up for all these: the pesto was fresh and full of herbal scent, the butter was extremely smooth and the bread tasted fresh from the oven. We were the typical free-loading Asians, filling ourselves up with 4 rounds of the bread.

Wey's osso bucco with saffron risotto.

I thought the portion was pitiful, since for RM89++/US$25++ I could cook a pot of this, but Wey loved it, especially when he found at the end that there were loads of buttery marrow inside the bone:

All gone.

"Mom, which part of the lamb is this? Can you buy some soon?"

Sauteed cod (forgot the fancy description on the menu), RM85++/US$24++

Mom enjoyed it although Wey said he prefers cod cooked in Chinese restaurants--more tender and flavorful.

Veal chop with an herb crust, RM78++/US$22, and a ramekin of baked mozzarella.

I thoroughly enjoyed my thick (albeit it being not so flavorful, since it was veal) chop although I wished it was slightly less done. I had asked for medium rare, not medium. The fresh sun-dried tomatoes were sweet and tangy, very refreshing.


Mushroom and duck ragout risotto, RM48++/US$14++

Yi said her choice was clearly the best among all our orders, and I have to agree although I thought the risotto could be better with more olive oil and cream/cheese. The duck ragout was surprisingly pleasant without a strong ducky flavor.

Australian rib eye steak, RM128++/US$45++.

The asparagus & leeks and tiny potatoes on the side were separate orders of RM12/US$3.40 each that Hub had to order because his RM128 steak came naked with just a sprig of rosemary, parsley and thyme! Even if the potatoes and asparagus came with the steak, I' d still stay away from this order. Look at that. Have you seen rib eye that color, like it was ham? And to me, any good satisfying steak must be at least 2.5 cm thick, juicy and tender with lots of flavor and grilled or charred with burnt bits of caramelised meat and juices. But this rib eye was less than 2cm thick, dry and flavorless. It wasn't tough or exactly tender, just chewable. It wasn't worth eating even if it only costs RM20! Aiyayaya.

Yi and Wey knew I wouldn't eat any bakery cakes and so they surprised me with something they had driven around town to find: wild jungle durians. Quite a unique birthday 'cake', don't you think so?


Monday, November 10, 2008

Flora's Chi Fa Bun

Chi fa buns

Once in a while, you come upon a perfect recipe, so good that nothing out there can compare. This is one of those rare recipes. It makes better chi fa buns than any store-bought ones. I am nearly reluctant to give the recipe away but because my friend Flora (one of the top 3 cooks I know) so willingly shared her recipe, so will I. The only thing I ask is that you give Flora credit for it; I've noticed that once a recipe is out there on the net, it's anybody's loot.Change the amount of sugar or oil and suddenly it's 'my recipe'.

I googled for chi fa bun to check what the English name for this Chinese snack is called, but couldn't find anything. This sweet snack is available everywhere in Malaysia for breakfast or tea time. My ex-colleagues taught me the Hakka name (trust it to the Hakkas to call a spade a spade) for these glutinous rice balls, and it is a hilarious name that refers to a part of the male anatomy when powdered. I needn't go on because I'm told many times that children read this blog. Does anyone know what these snacks are called in Mandarin?

Chi fa bun is really Chinese mochi with a peanut-sugar filling. Sold for about 70 sen a piece, chi fa bun is a yummy snack that you can easily make at home. I once made 120 chi fa buns for a church bazaar, all in less than 2 hours. Not only are they easy to make, the powdery balls (what else can I call them) are inexpensive and quite light in calories.

The freshest peanut brittle from Tawau

I prefer a slightly firmer and less sweet version so I've given my adapted recipe besides Flora's . You can make the filling from peanut brittle like I do, or you can toast some peanuts, pound or grind them up and add fine sugar.


Chi Fa Bun
2 3/4 cups* glutinous rice flour...)
2 3/4 cups water .........................)...'A'
3/4 cups fine sugar**..................)
extra glutinous rice
2 cups peanut brittle, pounded or grounded

*I prefer a slightly firmer bite so I use 3 cups
**I use 1/4 cup but this may not be sweet enough for some

1. Mix & steam 'A' in a cake tin for 20 to 25 minutes under medium-high heat. Meanwhile, bake the extra glutinous rice flour for 5 to 7 minutes, making sure it doesn't brown (this is so you don't eat raw glu rice flour, which may taste, well, raw. However, store-bought chi fa buns are packed in unbaked glu rice flour; they just don't bother and that's why store-bought chi fa buns don't taste as good as these). Pound, crush or grind the peanut brittle (depending on whether you want a fine or coarser filling) or make your own peanut filling with roasted peanuts and fine sugar.

When batter is done, let it cool 1 minute.

2. While still hot, drop the sticky dough by the spoonful (use another spoon to scrape the sticky dough off) onto the baked flour and make sure the dough is coated all over.

3. Use your flour-dusted fingers to stretch the cooked dough into flat rounds. Don't make the wrapping rounds too thick (will taste too doughy) or thin (will break & filling will spill out). Put a large spoonful of peanut filling into the center, gather the sides up and pinch to seal well. Roll in the baked flour so it doesn't stick to other balls. Makes 20 to 25 balls.


Thursday, November 6, 2008


Was it only 45 years ago that Martin Luther King gave his famous "I have a dream..." speech? For Obama to be the first 'black' (doesn't his being half white entitle him to be called 'white' ? Or is white so superior to black that you can't be called white if you aren't pure white?) to become the President of the United States in our time is almost an impossible dream. Yet with yesterday's election results, America has shown us that it has come a long way in a short time to overcome segregation, discrimination and racism.

Less than two years ago, I didn't know who Obama was, and now he's President of the USA. I'm not so impressed that he's black, or half black or half white or chocolate.I am impressed that such a man exists. He embodies all things we, whether Americans or Tanzanians or Norwegians or whoever, want in a leader especially in these times. It just makes me wish there were more Obamas around to kick out the Bushits in the world.

Will Malaysia too one day have a Prime Minister not based on race, religion and family ties but on caliber? Yes, dream on, Malaysians.

Fish Paste, Fish Balls & Fish Cakes

A quick bowl of noodles with fish balls and fish slices. Give me a bowl of this any time, with a hot chili sauce, and I'm happy.

A couple of months ago, Chloe, a reader living in Australia, asked me how to make fish paste. I directed her to Greg & Nee, where Nee had posted a fishpaste-making recipe. Today, I wanted a simple lunch of fish balls noodles and so had Vero, my helper, make the fish paste. I never make it as good as her; her fish balls can bounce off the floor. I do not eat or buy commercial fish balls because I want to eat only what is worth eating.

I only know of 3 types of fish that can be made into springy fish paste. The best one is the spotted mackeral, my fav for making fishballs because it doesn't have many small bones so it is easy to scrape the meat off. The second fish is the 'tofu fish' . This fish has sweeter flesh but plenty of bones so it is more work to get the flesh off. The 3rd fish is the yellow tail jook chim. I think jook chim is barracuda. The problem with the jook chim is that only the ones with the yellow tail will have enough gow, a kind of protein (please help me out food scientists!) in the fish that when worked correctly will make the paste firm and springy to the bite.

Spotted mackeral

Tofu fish

Just in case you don't know, fish paste is usually made into fish balls and fish cakes and a key criteria is that the fish balls must give a good springy bite. I've told you before that Chinese eat not for taste only but also for the food's texture. You can get that good springy bite from all commercial fish balls but remember that unscrupulous fish paste makers are only concerned about their profit margin, so a lot of additives, preservatives, starch and inferior fish scrapes are thrown in, resulting in springy, spongy but tasteless and flavorless fish balls. Fish cakes are more flavorful than fish balls because they are highly spiked with msg and fried, making them more palatable.

My FIL complains that home-made fish balls are too solid. He prefers the sponginess of commercial fish balls. The reason why home-made fish paste is solid is because it is 99.9% fish meat! I once bought some fish balls and despite stuffing one up my nose, I could not detect any fish flavor AT ALL. And when the fish balls were boiled, they bloated into golf balls but once the heat was off, they shrunk. Home made fish balls never puff up like that. I have no idea what people put into factory fish balls but I suspect there's no fish. I think how they get the fish balls so springy-spongy is probably with the addition of some konyakku-like substance, or it may well be konyakku. The Japanese are well-known for making processed food and many of their foodstuff is made of konyakku which gives a good bite.

Because there's no preservatives, home-made fish paste should be consumed within 2 days of making. One way my mom took care of extra fish paste, after making stuffed tofu balls and fish balls, was shape them into patties and fry them into fish cakes. The fish cakes can be sliced and served with a chili-lime dip or use to top a bowl of noodles. Fried fish cakes can be kept for upto 4 or 5 days, or kept in the freezer but upon thawing there'll be some holes in them.

Home made fish cakes

I can cook you a 10-course meal but making good fish paste is not one of my skills. I know the method, and once in a while my fish paste turns out okay, but Vero's the expert so I'll let her show you:

1. Scrape the flesh off the fish with a metal spoon. Remove any bones.

2. Put the scraped fish onto a wooden block and chop it with the back of your Chinese cleaver until the flesh is fine.

3. In between the chopping, add salt, white pepper and some cornstarch. Make a small bowl (1/4 cup) of salted water to pat sprinkle over the fish paste as you chop. Do not add too much water or the paste will be too soft.

4. This is the most important step but I couldn't get a good picture. You gather the fish paste in your palms and slap it onto the wooden block, again and again, and in between you coat the lump of fish paste with some salted water.

5. When the fish paste is done, it will be firm and slightly springy when you press it with your finger. It can now be rolled into fish balls and shaped into fish cakes patties and fried.

note: I was at a Magicmix demonstration and they made perfect fish paste by putting everything (using ice cubes instead of water) into a food processor.
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