Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dian Xiao Er, T3

We got in midnight last night and were told that Yi's Jetstar flight was cancelled and they had put her up in a hotel for the night. Which made me thankful we chose to transit Yi in Singapore and not KL. First thing in the morning we got a call from Sniffer's discipline teacher. It was Sports Day and he was not seen in school. We were told to search the Damai cyber cafes and if he failed to appear, he'd get a black mark. I dressed for the role--jeans, shirt and jacket, sunglasses and mean look, considered bringing a baton, and marched into all the cyber cafes in Damai. Sniffer got lucky because a junior boy's mom got to the cyber cafe first, slapped her boy (which I fully applaud her for) and the rest of them scrammed off back to school. Did I really think that life would be easier when I have only one kid to contend with? Such is my life, and there must be a reason God gave me more sons than daughters.

We had no access to the internet in Singapore and I purposely did not make a list of places to eat because I wanted a relaxed trip where I can eat wherever I happened to be. I can tell you that that's a doable thing in Hong Kong, where if the food's not good the restaurant will close within a week, but in Singapore, you better know where to eat. I know you are thinking 'She's dissing Singapore again' but hey, between Singapore and Hong Kong, I'd rather live in Singapore where it's safe, clean, efficient, not chaotic and Singlish can entertain and embarrass (gosh, I didn't realise until now that there are two 'r' s in embarrass) you at the same time. But as far as shopping and eating go, hands and feet down, Hong Kong wins by a million limbs.

I decided that on this trip, we'll just eat Sichuan food and some good wagyu. Hub as usual is happy as long as I let him eat without guilt while Yi'll eat anything as long as it's Chinese. She thinks western food is boring except for salads, which she loves. I can't remember any exciting salads I've eaten.

I remembered reading somewhere that the best Chinese food are found in Chinatown and Geylang and since I didn't like Geylang, we went to Chinatown. In fact, we went to Chinatown twice, and both times we were disappointed, but I'll tell you that some other day when I get my photos uploaded by Yi. I'll work backwards today and use photos from my camera.

Do you know that Singapore has a swanky new terminal, Terminal 3? We arrived too early for check in so we took the skytrain to T3 and had dinner at a Chinese restaurant called Dian Xiao Er, meaning, I'm told, 'shop's little waiter'. These days when you throw a stone in Singapore it's bound to hit a China Chinese. From the waiters to the cooks to the salesgirls, the whole of Singapore has turned China Chinese. One thing this means is that there's lots of authentic Chinese restaurants, many of them mom and pop owned and run. But, surprise--authentic means as authentic as the local Singaporeans' taste and we were told over and over again by the Chinese waitresses that dishes have been adapted to suit our tastes. They say this like they were doing us a favor (which they were I suppose) but who wants fake authentic cuisine? Which is maybe why we were so disappointed and ended up, by the 4th day, eating instant noodles and udon with lots of veg and beef and agreeing that it was the best meal we had upto then.


Dian Xiao Er gave us the best Chinese food we had eaten on this trip. Although the ma po tofu, a dish I judge Sichuan restaurants by, was definitely suited for local taste buds, it was tasty and I would recommend this place for a quick meal. We chose the meal set for 2 persons at S$38, which gave us 5 items, including rice and soup, and we added two extra dishes and the bill came to S$66 all-in which was acceptable for airport restaurants.

Part of the meal set, the herbal crispy skin duck was very good. I give it high marks for flavor, taste and crispiness.

Next on the set was tung po pork, which was good too although, as with all Chinese braised pork dishes, there was too much fat to meat.

The last set dish was a simple fried baby kailan, done very well. The lotus root soup was good too.

One look at the ma po tofu and I knew it was more 'outside of China' ma po tofu. You can tell by the fact that cornstarch is used to give it a thicker sauce, there's no red chili oil, and most of all there was no Sichuan peppercorns which are essential to this fiery fragrant dish. As with most unauthentic or 'American-style' ma po tofu, the sauce was a sweet and sourish concoction that is no where near the real thing. However, this dish was tasty (as compared to those we had in Chinatown) as long as you don't think of it as ma po tofu.

I like yee mien, the best of which can be found in Shatin, Hong Kong. This is the regular yee mien with dried scallops, mushrooms and yellow chives and it was okay.

If you check in at T1, you are allowed into the transit area in T3 where there are lots of new restaurants. We hadn't checked in and so couldn't enter the transit area. I'm told the shopping's quite good too. I love airport shopping. There's so much to see all in one place and everybody's travelling somewhere, all dressed up in coats and travel apparel and it makes me feel so...excited, like hey, look at me, I'm travelling. And then I go to my gate, and it's further and further away and there's less and less people, and that's when I feel, yeah, I'm a place called Kota Kinabalu.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Re-Post: The Best Choc Molten Cake

Here's one of my first posts. All these 'old' photos were never photo-edited (but now I do) because I hardly knew how to post without the help of my son Ming, let alone edit the photos. This is truly a super yummy cake. Everybody who loves choc should bake this!

mcc copy

Yummilicious molten choc cake.

I first ate MCC at the STAR Hotel but was not impressed because there was very little 'lava'. The next one I tried was at Benito's in Jesselton Point. It was good but pricey at RM10.00 for a small portion in a tiny cup. When a new friend and food lover told me about 'lava' cakes, I decided to try a recipe in Nigella Lawson's book 'How To Be A Domestic Goddess,' mainly because her recipe uses less butter and eggs compared to other recipes I've seen but be warned, she uses more choc than anyone! The cake turned out so good, with so much lava, that I've been telling everybody about it! I've reduced the sugar and don't bother with the muffin tins and turning the cakes out. Instead, just use small ramekin cups. This is a good dessert to make if you are short of time because you just mix everything together using a hand whisk and baking time is short. Try it, you'll impress everybody!

Perfect Molten Choc Cakes
350 g good dark choc (I like Lindt), melted & cooled
4 eggs, beaten
50 g unsalted butter
50 or 60 g fine sugar
50 g cake flour, or all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla essence
pinch of salt
  1. Set oven @ 200C. Put a baking tray in. Get ready 6 ramekin cups of 3"/7.5 cm in diameter.
  2. Cream butter & sugar (with hand whisk) till light & fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs, beating all the time, then add the vanilla essence, salt, sieve in the flour and fold in the melted choc.
  4. Divide among the cups.
  5. Bake 8 to 10 min for 3" ramekins, 10-12 min for bigger ones. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice-cream or just plain, the best way to taste the choc I think.

Note: I've updated this post on 30/1/08 regarding the baking time and ramekin cups size.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Re-post: Taro Rice

Another post from 2007:

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


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

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

Taro Rice

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

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

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

Monday, February 23, 2009

Chinese Baos

Here's one of my first posts, and nobody commented on it. Heck, maybe nobody even read it then. This is a really good recipe, so do try this out.

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Some people ask me why I give away my recipes. Hey, I can't take them with me...

This is one recipe everybody should have. I've made bao many times but never really been fully satisfied with the results. So a few weeks ago I paid to learn it from a chef who is also the writer of many cookbooks in KL.

Chef taught us four kinds of baos (you just have to change the filling). However when he came to the highlight, the Hong Kong smiling bao which the 24 of us were there for, Chef made a mistake with the starter dough and declared the baos may not crack open or smile. And they sure didn't smile. Some did, but like Mona Lisa, the cracks on top were reluctant smiles. Many participants were upset about that but didn't speak up (Asian thing). The smiling baos did have that sponge-cake texture but unfortunately the stink of ammonia was very strong. The regular bao dough taught by Chef was very good though.

Regular Bao Dough

A Ingredients:
1 tsp dry yeast
2 Tbsp water
-mix A ingredients together.
(Sshh...if you know your yeast is active, just mix A and B ingredients together at once. I do that all the time)
B Ingredients:
350g Bao or HK flour or Rose (plain) flour
1 tsp double-action baking powder
50g (or less, say 30 g) fine sugar 
200 to 250 ml water* (amended)
1 Tbsp shortening (Crisco) or veg oil

*If you use 250 ml and you are kneading by hand, add 200 ml first and knead in the remainder slowly, 10 to 15 ml each time, so that the dough is not too sticky to handle.

1. Sift the flour and baking powder together (usually I don't bother if the flour is fresh). If using shortening, rub it into the flour evenly.

2. Mix A with all the B ingredients in a mixer bowl and knead at medium speed till very smooth, about 6-8 minutes. The dough should be quite soft. Never mind if it's slighty sticky. Continue kneading until it isn't sticky. If kneading with hands, put dough back into the bowl and cover with a cloth. Rest for 30 min or until doubled, depending on room temperature.

3. Divide dough into 50g portions, roll into smooth balls without using flour.

4. Flatten each ball, roll into a circle with a rolling stick and fill it, seal it and put it on a piece of paper. Rest at least 30 min or till doubled. Do not overproof or bao will wrinkle when steamed.

5. Steam at high heat for 8 to 10 minutes for cooked filling (red-bean paste, fried mixed veg or bbq pork) and 10-12 min for raw meat filling.

*You can substitute 100g of this with equal weight of steamed, mashed sweet potatoes. It'll give a tasty orangey bao.

note: if you know the yeast is good/active, just mix A and B ingredients together at once.

BBQ Pork Filling

300 g bbq pork, diced small
1 brown onion,chopped
3- 4 garlic, chopped fine
1 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp dark soya sauce
1 light soya sauce
1/2 Tbsp fine sugar
1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
white pepper
msg (optional)
coriander leaves, chopped (optional)
toasted sesame seeds (optional)
1 T cornstarch + 2 Tbsp water, mixed

Heat 1 Tbsp oil in wok, fry oinions and garlic, add everything else and finally thicken with cornstarch solution.

Meat And Veg Filling

300 g minced pork
200 g wongbok, blanched in hot water and cut finely
spring onions or chinese chinves, cut fine
1 tsp ginger, finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp light soya sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp chicken stock granules
2 Tbsp cornflour
3 Tbsp veg oil
1/4 cup water

Mix everything together and chill in fridge for a couple of hours till it is set so that it'll be easier to handle because there's quite a bit of water. Its okay if its slightly frozen.

Some important tips:

1. Do not over-proof or the baos will rise too much and when steamed, it'll shrink and become wrinkled.
2. Use a bamboo steamer because it'll let out some steam. If you use a metal lid, the steam will condense and drop onto the baos, ruining its surface.
3. Almost all commercial baos have ammonia because it will give a soft, fine-textured bao.
4. At the shops, baos are steamed at high heat till cooked, then constantly steamed at low heat not only to keep them warm and soft, but also to get rid of the ammonia stink.
5. Both Hong Kong flour and 'Pau' flour can be used. These flours have a lower gluten level so the baos will be softer. Plus these flours are highly bleached to make them white, something most consumers like. Me, I'd rather eat ammonia-free unbleached yellow baos.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Re-Post: Pearl Rice Balls

Another old post. This is a good thing to cook for a small party. You can vary the ingredients. Try dried chinese mushrooms, shrimps, pork and waterchestnuts, or pork with curry powder, or beef and 5-spice powder.


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


Pearl Rice Balls

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Crumpets With Mascarpone


Sometimes I really don't know what to feed Wey for breakfast. He is not a cheery morning person and getting him to school is already a battle, let alone make him eat when he's still half-asleep.

I made crumpets yesterday morning and surprise, Wey ate two. Of course I psyched him by telling him that nobody serves crumpets with mascarpone (oh, heaven!) and blueberry preserves and so it's a rare treat. He also doesn't know that crumpets are just another type of pancakes. I tell him crumpets are home-made English muffins, something we like from McD's breakfast. One day he'll find out but by then hopefully he'll be making his own breakfast.

People ask why I go through so much trouble when I can just buy ready-made stuff. Well, first of all, we can't find crumpets here. Second, I don't trust our bakeries. I know what they put in breads and cakes, because I have taken a bread-making course with a big local bread producer. It's all about profits, friends, so don't think they mean it when they tell you your health comes first. I also read somewhere that 70-80% of the salt we consume is in drinks and processed foods. Think about that, and you'll understand why hypertension is the most common health problem these days. The more 'civilised' your living style, the more processed food you tend to eat. Everything has to be prepared and ready because after all the commuting, teleconference meetings, wheeling and dealing, nobody has the time and energy to cook from scratch. All the money made in the end goes to meds and hospital bills.

I like the slight chewy texture of crumpets. I could never make light and fluffy pancakes from scratch and please don't tell me about that french recipe where you whip the whites separately. That's just too much work for a couple of pancakes. Crumpets, however, can be made successfully from scratch. And they can be made ahead and toasted when you want them. Whether you serve them with butter and jam, or even kaya like Wey likes them, or mascarpone, which makes them heavenly, crumpets are my pick over scones right now because there's no butter or oil in them.

It's best to get same-sized rings. You may prefer those with a handle. I got mine at Daiso. Grease them well, or they'd be hard to ease out, like what happened to my crumpets:

2 cups plain flour*
1 t instant dry yeast (make sure it's active)
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 T fine sugar
1 pinch salt
1 t double action baking powder

* If using self-raising flour, omit the baking powder

1. If you are unsure about the yeast, mix the water with the yeast and wait 5 minutes. If the yeast is good, the mixture will bubble. Now add all the other ingredients and mix with a hand whisk until very smooth. If you are sure, mix all the ingredients in a bowl straightaway. Leave 10 minutes (if you don't, there won't be many holes, like mine in the photos).

2. Heat and grease a griddle or frying pan.

3. Grease a few egg rings and spoon enough batter into the rings to almost fill them. Heat should be low. If you have a big enough wok cover, or any suitable lid, cover until there are holes on the surface of the crumpets.

4. Turn over and let cook until done. ease the crumpet out of the ring.

5. Serve with butter, jam, kaya, honey, mascarpone and whatever you fancy.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Short Trip

Yi is going back to Melb tomorrow to do her masters degree and Hub and I will be going with her to Singapore where she transits for a couple of days. I've been so heartsick the last few days, missing her even before she goes, so much so that sometimes I feel a stab in my heart. She's been home the past 4 months, and we've been companions, friends and sometimes not so friends. Once in a while I get very bossy and she'll react by sulking but we get over it real quick. We both sometimes wonder what if I was not her mom. We'd be best best friends.

Do continue to check this site. As I won't have enough time and access to the internet, I will re-post my old posts, just in case you missed some of them.

And just so you feel good that you have better manners than this woman, here's one of last week's most popular Youtube clip. We had a good laugh at her hair flip at 0.13 sec. Apparently the plane was still there, she was late (airport shopping? HKIA has the best shopping in this region, tons better than Singapore's Changi Airport) but the gate was closed and they have off-loaded her baggage. She did however get on a later flight to San Francisco so tantrums do work although if I did it I know my Hub would walk away. Forever. A full, 3-minute drama queen tantrum. Don't they have tasers at HKIA? At the very least, slap her especially when she thrashed on the floor or when she called the airline guy an idiot.

Chat with y'all next Thursday! Cheers everyone!

p.s. And I say Elizabeth, DON'T resign! Everybody has the right to sleep in the nude! Especially a mature single lady. The question, Khir, is not why a man was in her bedroom, but rather why he took her photos and circulated them and why you are so obnoxious. And Chua, why you are so shameless. I never do this in real life, but on behalf of all my friends and I who are totally disgusted with the latest Malaysian political episode, "Pttui!!!"

"Pttui" if you agree on this!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Krill Meal


You remember how in Biology you were told that all forms of marine life exists because of microscopic plants--phytoplanktons--that can photosynthesize and become food for the next level in the food chain, the krill? Those little shrimp-like crustaceans that the biggest mammal--the whale-- feeds on?



I've always wondered if these are krill. They are shrimp-like. They come in swarms once a year, around Feb to March. They don't grow any bigger, I'm told. And they taste great. Let's just assume they are krill.

Krill used to be abundant in our fish markets. I remember eating them in scrambles eggs. A Filipino maid, Betty, who used to take care of Ming as a toddler, once fried little krill pancakes that were so good Yi still remembers them. The freshness of the krill gives a terrific savory-sweetness and crunchiness (since they are mostly shells) and when fried in oil, the flavor and taste are truly a gastronomic delight. Only thing is, the tiny black dots, the eyes, bother me. I imagine them as black pepper.


Another more common way to eat krill is in the form of salt-pickled cincaluk. I didn't grow up eating cincaluk, so the only way I eat it is the way Linda taught me, as a dip with some lime juice and chili padi. Slurp! I didn't eat cincaluk for a long time because they tasted more of salt than anything. Then Linda gave me a bottle made by her friend in Miri, and man, I was hooked. I still have half a bottle. There's no expiry date I hope...

Do I feel guilty competing with the whales and fish for food? I used to but then I think it is necessary to decimate the krill population too, because each year when the krill come, they are so abundant they usually cause red tides (probably due to depletion of oxygen, a condition that is favorable to the growth of certain algae), harmful algae blooms that kill marine life and humans who eat them.

Krill are now hard to come by. I'm not sure why, but I think it's probably due to the fact that they are not in demand and they don't keep very well. I've always imagined going out to the sea during krill season and scooping the krill with mosquito nets, or my long Bohemian skirt, because I was told krill are too fine for ordinary fishing nets. I've only seen patches of these shrimps once, long ago, in Tanjung Aru Beach before it became the polluted grey sea that it now is, with all the dirt from those stalls.My friend Su was out to sea with her family last Sunday and they spotted some fishermen harvesting krill. Lucky me, Su lives less than 5 minutes away.

I tried to scrimp on the oil and made pancakes instead, but Wey complained that the pancakes weren't crispy so I made some fritters too. The amount of ingredients are an estimate, as I added water and flour to get the right consistency. Su said the fritters are best made from self-raising flour with some chopped cilantro/coriander leaves, which I didn't have, so I added chives and spring onions from my garden. The pancakes/fritters go very well with a Korean pa jon (Korean pancakes) dip or a sour-sweet chili sauce.


Krill Fritters
300-400 g krill (I prefer more)
1-2 cups chopped chives or cilantro or spring onions, or mixture of
1 1/2 -2 cups of self-raising flour
1/3 t salt (or to taste)
shakes of white pepper
1 egg
1 1/2 + cups water

oil for frying

1. Mix all the ingredients together (except the oil) until smooth. The batter should be thin enough for a spoonful of it to drop easily.

2. Heat up oil for deep-frying, or shallow frying if oil-conscious. Drop a large spoonful of the batter into the hot oil, pulling the spoon horizontally just as the batter drops into the oil so that the batter spreads out to make thinner (and crispier) fritters.

3. When golden brown, remove onto kitchen paper and serve hot, with a spicy-sour dip made of white vinegar, light soy sauce, chili flakes, minced garlic, toasted sesame seeds and chopped spring onions.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Eat & Drop

I saw this on Lunch Guy's site and showed it to Wey who immediately pronounced The Heart Attack Grill heaven on earth ("Hot girls in nurses' uniforms and all the food that I love. Only thing missing is computer games!").

8,000 calories burgers! Fries fried in LARD! Truly, only in America.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Perfect Valentine's Day

Woke up to a passionate kiss and hug. "Happy Valentine's, darling! I love you now more than I did when I first met you..." He then grabbed my hand and put it on something. It was a powder blue bag, one that no girl will not recognize.

I opened the bag...inside was a blue Tiffany box, wrapped sweetly in white ribbons. I tore it did he know, my dream ring, the Tiffany Lucida, at least 3 carats there! Okay, it's only 1/4 of Rihanna's 12-carat ring from Chris Brown, but hey I don't need the throttling (low blow I know, but you'll understand the mood as you read on).

That would've been perfect. Nice. Nice dream.

Hub always sent flowers, no fail, until some years ago (2003 to be exact) when I told him to get me flowers after Valentine's (when prices return to normal) because being old lovers, we don't need to compete with the young ones. To say he was relieved is the understatement of the century. So why was I a teeny weeny bit upset when the door bell rang this morning and Yi got a bunch of lovely FTDed red roses but not me??


We used to dine out too, until one year it got so silly I told him we'd better stay home than do the commercial romantic dinners (2005 if you believe me, so we don't seem so pathetic). What happened was there were so many couples waiting for tables at TA Beach Hotel that we were sat two feet apart around the swimming pool, and there was Paul the architect, Nancy the pharmacist, Wong the dentist and all their respective spouses and it was too awkward all night, knowing we were all watching each other ("Wah, so and so was so romantic, did you see how he looked at her when she talked??" "So and so's out with another woman on Valentine's, the jerk!"). And anyway I could never keep a straight face, or know where to look, when those wonderful Filipino singers come and sing at my table.

Which leads to why when my niece was here this morning, I told her to never compromise Valentine's Day. Like her aunt did. Sigh. Girls, DO NOT help him scrimp on you! Because if you do, you'll be like me. Look what I ate for lunch on Valentine's today.


Dinner? Dinner, since I said I didn't want to jostle with the young lovers, will be two types of risotto--one cooked by Wey and one by Yi. They are at it now. Wey seems to be quite confident and so far is ahead--I think we may actually get to eat dinner. Yi, well, she's still running in and out, disturbing me as I write this, checking Pioneer Woman's risotto recipe. They think that secretly I mind not eating out, but I really (swear) am looking to not having to dress up, make up and dine out. Why, I want to stay home and watch DVDs (Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader). Did I tell you what Hub really bought today?

He bought a new DVD player an hour ago. Yup, that's how romantic he gets on Valentine's. Serves me right.



Make believe Valentine's gift...Happy Valentine's, especially to all the ladies out there!! Seize your day!

p.s. Just in case anyone wants to know, I made the Tiffany petit fours using a swiss roll and glace icing.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Durian Fresh Cream Cake


This was done especially for K, who had a piece of my durian cake 4 years ago by default (I gave a piece to a friend who gave part of that to her friend who gave it to her son, K) and has wanted to eat it again ever since. K came back for holidays recently and told me that he dreamt of eating my durian cake and that if I ever bake, to let him know, and he'd come and watch me bake. And he did come today, along with his cousin Kim, and their sponge turned out better than the one I made last night for these photos.

I didn't want to bother with my long-trusted fresh cream durian cake of sponge cake layered with durian mousse. That recipe is a lot of work and ingredients. It calls for coconut milk, gelatine leaves, eggs and durian to be cooked, chilled and then mixed with whipped cream and layered with sponge tiers, and set in a ring pan overnight. A much faster and easier way would be to just mash up some durian flesh and mix it with whipping cream. We used to get a very good whipping cream called Rich's, but now it seems to be impossible to find. I don't like the whipping creams available; they taste waxy and are heavily scented. I like fresh dairy cream but it doesn't have volume, can turn into butter and whey if you overbeat it and it melts easily. It doesn't make very impressive looking cakes but since I'm a health first and taste second kind of cook, I used dairy cream for this cake.

Durian cakes are hard for me to decorate. With carrot cakes, you can use nuts and miniature carrots, choc cakes and other cakes with fresh fruits. So I went wild and covered the whole cake with durian fresh cream. Wah, what a luxury! Trust me, even if you don't like durian, you'll like durian fresh cream cake. The hardest thing though when it comes to making durian cake is controlling myself from devouring the durians and keeping some for the cake. And then after making the cake, it's hard to stop eating until it's all gone.

I prefer this durian cake than the one I posted before. And it is real easy to make too. Durians have just come into season again I'm told. Grab hold of one and make this cake. You'll LOVE it.


Durian Fresh Cream Cake (amended)
A ingredients:
210g Softasilk cake flour + 30 g corn flour
2 t double action baking powder
6 large egg yolks
90g sugar
130 ml or 4 1/2 fld oz milk
90 ml or 3 fld oz corn oil

B ingredients:
6 large egg whites
75g sugar
1/4 t cream of tartar

1. Preheat oven to 160 C. Get an 11 or 12 " (28 to 30 cm) round cake tin.

2. Mix all the A ingredients in a bowl with a hand whisk until smooth.

3. Whisk the whites with the cream of tartar by machine until slightly foamy, then add the sugar and whisk until stiff. Do not overwhip or the whites will not be strong enough to hold the batter.

4. Mix A batter into B, by hand, very quickly and thoroughly.

5. Pour into the cake tin and bake 45 minutes. Test by plunging a wooden skewer into the middle of the cake; if it comes out clean, cake is done. Turn onto a cake board and let cake hang until thoroughly cooled.

6. Ease cake out by running a spatula around the sides, tap it and turn over onto a cake board. Cut cake horizontally into 2 or 3 layers and sandwich each with the durian cream, covering the top and sides too.

7. Durian cake is best when served very cold.

Durian Cake

Durian Fresh Cream
I didn't measure the amounts and this is an estimate. You can use more or less durian or cream to your liking.

300g to 400g durian flesh, mashed well with a fork
300-400 ml whipping cream or 500-600 ml fresh dairy cream
1 to 2 heaped T caster sugar (omit sugar if using whipping cream which is usually sweetened)
--whip the cream with the sugar until it just begins to come together and makes stiff peaks when the whisk is lifted. Add the durian flesh and mix well quickly.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Steamed Salted Fish & Pork

salted fish pork 1

Here's a dish that if your mom hasn't cooked before, she can't be Chinese. Correction: Cantonese Chinese, or Chinese from this region. I know my Hub didn't eat this as a child but he loves this dish.

This humble home dish is so tasty and appetizing that all you need is a big bowl of plain rice and a simple soup, such as a winter melon soup, to leave you a very contented person. Two things however threaten this dish with extinction--the bad news about preserved food and salted fish being a stinky humble food that smells bad. But tastes great. I hardly buy salted fish, given all those tales about how people spray fish salting in the sun with insecticide to keep flies away. I am however very lucky to be bestowed with a big salted mui hiong (prized salted fish that's salted to a point where the flesh is soft and moist) by Peter, who knows his source of Sandakan salted fish. I prize this gift and eat it very sparingly.

Stories abound of students living in apartments overseas and police being summoned by neighbors after the stink of the fish aroused the neighbors' fury and disgust. If you think salted fish is bad, it is nothing compared to preserved prawns paste, a Malaysian staple called belacan. Once in a while I catch a whiff of that and my brain quickly process the information: if it's belacan, take a deep breath appreciatively and if it's somebody's rotting feet, stop breathing. Sometimes, I get confused.

If you dare cook this in an apartment, please do not fry the salted fish. Just steam it along with the pork and pray the smell doesn't seep out under your door. Most people don't fry the salted fish so that it sort of melts into the pork. I prefer to fry the salted fish precisely for the opposite effect: so that it doesn't melt into but just flavors the pork and I can choose to eat the pork or the fish with my rice.

I'm not sure if this is an acquired taste dish. Mui hiong salted fish is very savory sweet, behind all that saltiness. I know a Spanish friend who loves salted fish and pork. Must be the balcalhau she's missing. Those of you who know this dish will be drooling. It's impossible not to, it's that good.
salted fish pork 2

Steamed Salted Fish & Pork (serves 4-6)
600g pork*
5 x 7 cm mui hiong salted fish (or more, up to you)
1/2 T very fine ginger strips
dash of white pepper
pinch of fine sugar
1 t sesame oil
1 T cornflour
1 t light soy sauce
1/4 t salt
1 egg (optional)
1/3 to 1/2 cup water

*Use shoulder pork with 10% fat on at least. You can either chop the pork until fine (the traditional way) or cut into thin slices (for this, a fatter cut would be best). The chopped pork is good with congee but the slices are very good with rice although old folks may prefer the chopped pork.

1. Cut the salted fish into 3/4 cm strips and fry with the ginger, or you can leave it unfried. It's good either way.

2. Mix all the seasoning ingredients with the pork. Egg is not usually added but I do that for a smoother taste especially since lean pork is preferred these days. I also like to add more water so that there'll be more gravy for the rice.

3. Pat the pork into a shallow heat-proof dish, top with the salted fish slices and steam at high heat for 20 to 25 minutes.

4. Serve hot with plain boiled rice.

Monday, February 9, 2009

CNY Vegetarian Zhai

CNY zhai

Today, the 15th day of CNY, is the last day of the new year celebrations. Endings are always tinged with some sadness while beginnings are exciting and hopeful. You get the feeling that after today it's back to normal routine and drudgery for the rest of the year, until 9 months from now in November when the kids return for summer holidays (for Oz students) and December when Christmas comes again. Ah well, that's how I mark my year, by my kids coming home and by the festivities.

This is a dish that is eaten on the 1st day of CNY, especially by the Buddhists who are vegetarians. Mom didn't cook this for the 1st day this year, so I thought it'd be good to have it on the last day of CNY especially after all the heavy meat dishes the last 2 weeks. Though not Buddhists, my parents made it a family tradition to eat this dish too on the 1st day of CNY, and Dad always sets the new year celebration into swing by frying the beancurd sticks and mung bean vermicelli after the reunion dinner on the eve. My younger bro, Joe, would always be the one assigned to grate tons of chinese radish for the radish cake on the eve. This year I sweet-talked Wey into grating the radish, and I hope he continues with this tradition.

Zhai was never a dish that I liked because it was, well, so zhai, so vegetarian. But now that I'm old(er), I'm beginning to appreciate this dish and once a year is good enough for me. My mom cooked it more as a stew and the reason why mom's zhai was more like a stew is because she cooked tons of it and we had to eat it day after day, and with each re-heating of the dish the ingredients became more flavored but softer. Maybe that's why I disliked the dish.

This is the first time I cooked zhai. It turned out pretty good but just before serving, I added the whole lot of fried mung bean vermicelli and they disintegrated into the stew and soaked up all the liquid. Next time I cook this (which would be next year), I would not fry the mung bean vermicelli. Mom's traditional version had no fresh veg in it so that it can keep for days (and weeks). It's really up to you but the basic ingredients are mung bean vermicelli, beancurd sticks, chinese dried mushrooms, dried lily buds, cloud's ears (an edible fungus), red dates (I forgot to add these) and red fermented tofu. You can cook a basic version without the fresh veg, keep it in the fridge and add the fresh veg such as carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, snow peas and enoki mushrooms when you heat up the dish. When you do that, it becomes the regular everyday zhai on the menu of most restaurants and food caterers, except that no fermented tofu is used.

CNY Vegetarian Zhai
50 g mung bean vermicelli, soaked & drained
50 g dried beancurd sticks, deep-fried until lightly browned, then soaked & cut 5 cm lengths
1 cup cloud ears, soaked & trimmed of stalks
1 cup dried chinese mushrooms
1/3 cup gingko nuts
1 cup loosely packed dried lily buds, soaked, trimmed & tied into knots
1/4 cup red dates, soaked
3 pieces red fermented bean curd + 2 T red beancurd sauce, mashed together
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t salt + to taste
2 cups chicken stock (important since there's no meat)

optional: veg such as chinese cabbage (in 3x3 cm pieces), carrots (thin slices) or broccoli florets

1. Put 2 T veg oil into a wok or pot and fry the garlic. Add the red beancurd mash, mushrooms and beancurd sticks and fry for a minute. Add 1 cup chicken stock and let it simmer for 10 minutes.

2. Add the red dates, gingko nuts and another cup of chicken stock, cover and let it simmer for 10 - 15 minutes. Now add the cloud ears and lily buds and simmer again for 5-10 minutes.

3. Taste and add more stock or fermented beancurd and salt if necessary. Test the beancurd sticks. If they have softened and you are fine with the texture, increase the heat, add the mung bean vermicelli and extra stock or water if necessary. Dish up quickly or the vermicelli will become too soft.

4. If including fresh veg, fry it in a little bit of oil and salt, or blanch it, until half-done and add it to the simmering stew for a minute or so before adding the mung bean vermicelli.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ma's Lion Heads (Shi Zi Tou)

Shanghainese lion heads meatballs

I'm talking about the famous Shanghainese meatballs, not real lion heads. If you've never heard of Shanghainese lion heads (shi zi tou), I don't blame you. I didn't know about them until I went out with a boy from Shanghai whose mom made scrumptious lion heads for her mom-in-law, who was in her 80s then, and didn't have much chewing power left in her teeth.

Lion heads are giant pork meatballs, seasoned, fried and braised in soy sauce and shao xin wine and traditionally served over chinese cabbage although my MIL uses bak choy too. This dish is to the Shanghainese what yong tau foo is to the Hakka. It is considered a humble everyday home dish and I think apart from old folks, most picky eaters of the juvenile kind will love it with plain boiled rice. Even if you don't belong to either group, you'll find lion heads very appetizing and tasty on a day when your taste buds are too jaded.

My MIL's lion heads are more cat heads now since we have all become more conscious about our weight. Her lion heads are now smaller than a tennis ball and one is just not enough. So don't make them too small or they loose their lion likeness although frankly, I've looked at lion heads from all directions with great imagination and still can't see their resemblance to the King of the Jungle.


Cat heads...adjust the amount of dark soy sauce to get the shade you want

Ma's Lion Heads
800g fresh shoulder pork, mostly lean with some fat*
1/8 t (or to taste) white pepper
1 egg
2 T cornstarch
2 T light soy sauce
1/4 t salt (depending on your taste)
2 t sesame oil (optional)
1 t minced ginger (optional)

*I've tried making with all-lean pork and the meatballs turned out very dry and firm. They should be soft and moist. I would suggest at least 700g lean meat: 100g fat if you are health-conscious but the meatballs would be slightly dry. If you dare, use more fat to get better tasting meatballs. It's best to use fresh pork and chop it (add the salt when chopping) rather than use ready-ground pork.

1. Mix all the above ingredients well, stirring in one direction forcefully 20-30 times so that the protein in the meat will firm up. Shape into 6-8 meatballs of 100 to 150 g each (I usually make them 120g each) and chill at least 1 hour.

2. Heat up 3-4 cups of veg oil in a wok, rub several slices of ginger (using a frying ladle) against the wok's bottom, then remove the ginger when the oil is hot. MIL insists this will give a flavor and make the wok non-stick.

3. Fry the meatballs in batches until quite browned and crusted outside (if not, they will break up when you braise them later) but not cooked inside. Remove onto kitchen paper.


4. Put the following into a pot, preferably a clay pot or glass dish like Corningware:

1 cup water or better still, chicken stock
2 T Kikkoman soy sauce (or a good light soy sauce)
1-2 T Lee Kum Kee dark soy sauce (1 T for light meatballs n 2 T for dark)
3 T Shao xin wine
1 piece (about 2 cm in diameter) rock sugar

Chinese cabbage or bak choy, in large pieces

5. When the sauce boils, add the lion heads. You may add a piece of fresh or the fried ginger if you like. Add enough water to just cover the meatballs. Cover the pot and simmer 1 1/2 hours. Thicken slightly with cornstarch if like although it is better to reduce and thicken the sauce by boiling at a high heat towards the end of the cooking time.

6. Fry some bak choy (use the small type & leave it whole) or Chinese cabbage (cut into lengths of about 10 cm) in a little bit of oil until it is cooked. Arrange the fried veg (do not add the liquid that comes out after frying the veg) in a claypot and top with the braised lion heads, then cover and heat until the sauce starts to boil so that the veg will have enough flavor. Serve with plain boiled rice. Traditionally 4 lion heads are served in one claypot.

If you are using Chinese cabbage, you can skip the frying and just put the cabbage into a clay pot, arrange the lion heads on top, pour the sauce over, lay more cabbage on top and braise until meatballs are done and the veg is soft. If you don't like the veg too soft, add it later but make sure not to break up the meatballs, and when you serve the dish, put the veg at the bottom of the plate. Take off the lid towards the end if there is too much liquid (from the veg, which would dilute the flavor and taste of the sauce) and boil at a high heat to reduce and thicken the sauce.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Su's Dinner

I learn so much from Su about entertaining guests at home. She not only cooks in quality and quantity, she serves her food with her best china and cutlery. Wine is in crystal glasses, coffee in fancy English bone porcelain and tea in the prettiest ceramic cups. Fresh flowers here and there, soft music and a comfy atmosphere among the guests make her dinner parties a real treat and joy to attend.

Tonight we celebrated her hub's birthday, and that of E. I was told to bake a cake, and I decided to make one each for the birthday boys. When I arrived, the dining table was overflowing with food. Including my tied pork leg, there were 13 dishes and 1 soup, which means you only need to eat one spoon of each dish and there'll be 13 spoonfuls of food (plus a bowl of peanut-chicken feet soup) in your stomach. After dinner, we moved on to the living room and had coffee, tea, the best chocolates (I forgot to check what it was but Hub was eating more than he usually did), CNY sticky cake sandwiched between taro slices and fried in a light batter (totally yummy) and my cakes, a green tea cake and a chocolate cake. And an assortment of fresh sliced fruits, which I passed because I felt my eyes were popping out.

I swear that this will be the last pig out for the next couple of months. Last Sat, my niece flew in with her family from Guangzhou and I had a barbie with my siblings and their families, the next day a no-holds-bar steamboat, and the next I had Louis, his wife Jas and two friends over for dinner to thank him for having Yi as his intern the last couple of months. Three big dins consecutively. I am so full of food, I don't think I'll be cooking anything but soups for the next few days. Until this Sunday, that is, when there will be another big reunion feast to celebrate the 15th day of CNY. No, make that two reunion feasts, one at MIL's on Sat and another at Mom's on Sunday. Oh. My. Goodness.

The buffet-like dishes of curry beef, cut white chicken (home-reared by Su's mom, so good I doggy-bagged the leftover), sweet & sour pork leg, soy sauce cinnamon chicken, koe rou (made by Su's mom, I could smell it from the gate), steamed pork mince and salted fish (my fav dish tonight, salted fish made by Su's incredibly capable 80+ year-old mom), fried long beans, fried Sabah veg with egg, fried kale, Thai-style grouper, mixed stir-fry of mushrooms, bamboo and waterchestnuts and my tied pork leg with Sichuan-style sauce. This is without doubt food overload--this amount was for 13 adults and 3 kids. Everything was yummy and there's so much you don't know what to focus on.

My Documents4
Wine in crystal glasses, fine chocs with coffee, my green tea cake, fragrant Chinese tea, a room scented with potpourri.

My Documents5
My favorite orchids, Phalaenopsis orchids, a bouquet of mixed florals that a guest brought for Su and a plate of sticky cake sandwiched between taro slices.

What I learnt from Su about dinner parties:

1. Have lots of help so guests can sit around like pigs after all that food. She had 2 maids and 1 butler. Okay, the butler was her hub. I must ask if she can spare him the next time I have a dinner party.

2. Presentation is just as important as the food, something Chinese dinners are short on. Use your fine tableware. It makes the meal more luxurious and special. Besides, what did you buy them for if not for entertaining? This I still have to learn. I usually use my daily tableware. My dinner presentation is too everyday fare.

3. Fresh flowers. Su is the other person I know besides myself who will splurge on flowers. Grow your own orchids, there'll always be at least one pot that is flowering. Orchids are so showy in a very classy way.

4. Keep the party small (10-15). It is more manageable, everybody gets to sit at the table and there is good interaction

Next post will be another dinner, at another great host's house. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Lou Sang / Yee Sang (Tossed CNY Salad)

Malaysian CNY special, lou sang

Lou Sang is, as far as I'm told, NOT a Chinese traditional CNY dish. It is unique to the Chinese in West Malaysia and Singapore. My China Chinese friends and relatives have heard of the dish ("It's a Malaysian dish") but never eaten it until they came here. East Malaysians like me have not grown up eating it, and the few times I've eaten it are always in hotels and restaurants. As a result, I didn't like lou sang. I hated it in fact, because of the bright green and red colored deep-fried crisps and the overly-sweet dressing. Jo of A Feast however, swore by the goodness of home-made lou sang, and urged me to try making it once. This year, with relatives (we don't have many relatives here except for my siblings and my in-laws) visiting from China, I decided at the last minute to attempt this dish, for the meaning and the fun behind it.

Lou sang literally means "mixed or tossed raw". The word sang is very much an auspicious word in the New Year because it also sounds like 'alive' and the raw fish (usually salmon) represents the play on the word in this dish. The other ingredients are mostly vegetables that are finely cut, and crackers or crisps to give the crunch. It really is a salad, a la Chinese style.

To attack a lou sang, everybody gathers around the dish with a pair of chopsticks in hand and then dig into the salad, shouting good New Year phrases such as high ambitions, high luck and such, in reference to the strive for excellence during the New Year. The higher you toss, the higher your good luck so grab a stool and peak over everyone if you are desperately seeking luck.




This recipe was from Jo, but I've had to substitute some of the ingredients for convenience (used whatever I had) and because many were sold out. Despite that, my lou sang turned out very well, and now I am going to make this a must-do for my CNY celebrations. You really can substitute many of the ingredients, but the essential ones are pomelo, radish, crisps and raw fish. I added lettuce for the auspicious meaning this veg carries, as it is called sang choy, 'raw veg' which also sounds like 'alive veg'.The only ingredient I think would greatly improve the dish is taro crisps which is in Jo's recipe but not my dish because there weren't any taro KK. I think all were taken for making koe rou which is on nearly every table for CNY. I also forgot an essential ingredient: peanut nibs, which I was going to substitute with cashew nuts but at the last moment and in the chaos, I had totally forgotten about it. I did add the toasted sesame seeds just before tossing, phew.

Lou Sang/Yu Sang
Fresh sushi-grade salmon*
1 medium sized pomelo, separated into sacs
1 stalk of butter or Chinese lettuce, washed, pat dry & cut fine
2 carrots, shredded thinly & soaked in ice water
1 Chinese radish, shredded thinly & soaked in ice water
2 green mangoes, cut into fine strips
1 cup pickled papaya (get it from fruit stalls), in very thin strips
4 kaffir limes leaves, sliced very fine
1/2 cup spring onions, chopped cut or into fine strips
3 T cilantro, in short lengths
1 red chili, 0r 1/2 bell pepper, in thin strips
1-2 T young ginger, in very fine strips
5-7 pieces popiah/spring rolls wrapper, cut into 1cm x 3 cm strips and deep fried until crispy
a small taro, cut into thin strips and deep fried until crispy

*I used 3/4 kg, cut into thick slices

3 T plum sauce + 2 T hot water, sieved (omit & use more apricot jam if you don't have this)
1 T apricot jam
3 T lime juice
3 T honey
1 T sesame paste (I used peanut butter)
1 T sesame oil
1/2 t salt
--Put everything in a bottle and shake it like crazy. Adjust to your liking.

Topping: 3 T toasted sesame seeds
1/2 t 5-spice powder

--Put sesame seeds and 5-spice powder in a red packet

1. Arrange the various ingredients on a large (preferably round) platter, with the lettuce in the middle and the salmon on top of it.

2. Scatter the crisps on top and pour the dressing over. Finally, just when everybody can't wait to toss, sprinkle the contents of the red packet over the lou sang and start tossing and shouting your hopes and wishes!

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