Sunday, February 27, 2011

Party Play, Lintas

My wish has come true. Now there's a place for sandwiches worthy for my alimentary canal. There aren't any good delis in this big town small city and the only places for a decent sandwich are the 5-star hotels where a sandwich with drinks can set you back by RM50/USD16.40.

Party Play has come to the rescue, with set meals at RM12.90/USD4.20 which can be a sandwich or pasta or curry that comes with a small salad, a dessert and a drink. I've been to PP twice this month and each time my craving was for their sandwich set.

PP's very delicious sandwich is loaded and large enough to feed two small eaters. The set sandwich comes with a nice Caesar salad but a better replacement (which they allow) is PP's house salad, which is loaded with pine nuts and other goodies and a divine dressing. Pity though that the salad greens are finely cut up and confined to a small bowl, making them soggy.  PP's baguettes are extremely crispy-crusty and thin-skinned; they remind me of Spanish flat baguettes, unlike the thick-skinned baguettes in many hotels (Hyatt for example), which are made for prehistoric men with sharpened canines. PP's baguettes are for tai tais.

Creamy mushroom pasta, very tasty. I stand corrected by MG, who said the cream was too runny and she's right. I only had two bites of my friend's pasta.

Sticky date pudding, RM10/USD3.30. Hmm. This one's tricky. While the flavor's great, I'm not sure about the texture, which was sticky, gummy and very much like a pudding. You know how it's like with first great  impressions of food/boyfriends/dogs: you measure all subsequent ones against them. My first sticky date pudding was warm and cake-like and I think that's the way I like it.

The set meals came with green tea tiramisu which all my friends enjoyed but which I thought was just okay. I'm suddenly tired of the wet soft texture of tiramisu. But I do like PP's desserts. Quality. Taste. Simple presentation (that's a mini macaron on the tiramisu). Affordable. I also liked that their desserts are not too sweet. I'm making this my regular lunch joint.

Party Play
Lot 21-0
Lorong Lintas Plaza 3,
Lintas Plaza, 88300
Kota Kinabalu

--to locals, this means PP is diagonally across from Bake With Me. You should know where that is.

Tel: 088 218 210

p.s. PP's set lunches are value for money. Otherwise, expect to pay as much as other western restaurants.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chicken, Tofu Bok and Glass Noodles Stew

Chicken, Tofu bok and glass noodles stew.

Casseroles are easy for times when all you want is to just feed the brood. No fancy elaborate dishes, just plain one-pot feeds all, from stove to table, very no-fuss cooking and serving. Saves on money, time and washing up too.

Here's a Shanghainese stew that you can cook ahead upto Step 3, although it's not necessary because the cooking prep and time are short. Add the glass noodles when re-heating and voila, a meal. You can serve some stir-fried greens to balance the diet or better still, serve it with a hearty soup. It doesn't look impressive but is very tasty. In my family, the glass noodles and tofu bok ( deep-fried spongy tofu balls) are finished before the chicken and it's no wonder because all the flavor and sauce are absorbed by the noodles and the boks. Try it and tell me what you think.


Chicken, Tofu Bok N Glass Noodles Stew

1/2 chicken (500 gm) or about 3 whole chicken legs, chopped into serving-sized pieces*
2 packets tofu bok (about 20 boks)
a large handful of dried mung bean/glass noodles, soaked & drained
2 slices of ginger
2 large stalks of spring onions, washed and tied in a bundle
3 to 4 T light soy sauce
2 T shaoxin hua tiao wine
1 piece rock sugar, about 1 teaspoon
1 T veg oil
2 to 3 cups water plus 1/2 chicken stock cube or 2 to 3 cups chicken stock (plus extra, if necessary)--the dish should be quite soupy

* in Chinese cooking, the chicken skin is not removed because it adds to the flavor and keeps the flesh moist.

1. Boil a small pot of water. Switch off and add the tofu boks, pushing them down with a wooden spoon. Cover and let soak for 3 to 5 minutes. Drain away the water and rinse with tap water. Squeeze out all the water gently. This step is done to remove as much oil as possible from the boks.

2. Heat up a clay or glass pot or an ordinary heavy-based pot and add 1 T oil. Put in the spring onions and ginger and fry for 1 minute. Add the chicken pieces, turning them over until they shrink and turn white.

3. Add the soy sauce, salt, cooking wine, rock sugar and water + stock cube or chicken stock. Cover the pot. When the liquid boils, add the boks, stir well and reduce the heat to low until the liquid just bubbles. Once in a while, stir to make sure the chicken or boks don't burn.

4. When the chicken is tender (about 25 minutes), add the mung bean noodles. Taste and season with more soy sauce or wine or sugar if necessary. If there's not enough liquid, add more. Depending on preference, this dish can be very soupy or not. The noodles are very absorbent.

Serve hot with rice.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

One More Shanghai Lunch.

I met a young architect recently who works in Shanghai and his advice to my daughter is "Go north, to Shanghai! SH is at the forefront of the economic boom in China and since she's lucky enough to be in a profession that takes her places, SH is the place!  The city's energy, the thousands of young professionals from all over the world, the upbeat lifestyle, the opportunities...I missed SH in its glory days in the 30s and I'm lucky to be there in its second boom. Tell her not to miss it!"

While I'm not sure about the working life in SH, I'm very sure that there's no shortage of excellent food in that city. Everywhere you turn are bustling restaurants offering hundreds of dishes, making ordering an agonizing decision. In China, forget about Chinese chain restaurants unless you want crappy food. Ditto too, with the little holes-in-the-walls restaurants. Head for air-conditioned modern restaurants where you can eat like a king without risking your mortgage instalments. The quality and variety are reasons why Chinese food is one of the top three cuisines of the world (my  two oldest kids rate it The Best). Look at this lunch in a restaurant on the Pudong side of Wai Tan (The Bund):

First the cold dishes:

A combination plate of cold cut--pork tongue, pork shoulder--in chili oil and garlic.

A spiced aspic of pork.

Another unbelievably delicious dish of tender beef cubes.

Smoked pork slices. Chinese are serious pork lovers.

A tower of vegan imitation duck.

Korfu is Shanghainese style wheat gluten balls. The spongy dough balls were braised in a delicious sauce of soy sauce, wine and spices and each mouthful burst with flavor, taste and bite.

If you aren't still convinced about the food, watch out. The hot dishes:

Mouth-watering mini pork chops, crispy-tender to the bite.

Sandwiched between pillow-soft mini buns.

Another yummy dish of Chinese salted seasoned pork, prawns, duck...It was like a mini poon choi.

A large pot of goodies, like a soupy poon choi, in a delicious soup. Not as luxurious as the Prime Minister's Pot, which is a soup of a whole chicken, a whole fresh pork knuckle and a whole knuckle of ham, but wonderfully delicious (I'm running out of adjectives).

After all the meat, a veg dish is a good change and instead of a boring plate of fried greens, this was a dish of fresh straw mushrooms (one of my fave mushrooms, available in summer in China and HK) and a Shanghai veg, cooked in 'superior' broth.

Stir-fired pea sprouts with some mysterious meat.

Peking duck, delicious beyond words.


I've met many Caucasians who've never eaten duck before and it was love at first bite for them. But there's a bird that tastes even better than duck. It's goose. And for that nobody does it better than the cooks in Hong Kong. I haven't eaten roasted goose in southern China but since roasted goose is a Cantonese dish, they should do it just as good there too. Don't die until you have eaten roasted goose.

Pumpkin puffs.


DSC_0663 - Copy

View from the restaurant of the 'western' side of Wai Tan.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Nanling Restaurant, Shanghai

Here's a post on one of the most memorable lunches I had in Shanghai last October. The hosts were the Fang sisters, whose father, like Uncle Ma, and my FIL were childhood friends and university mates. The meal was especially memorable because the food was absolutely delicious and our hosts had ordered most of the restaurant's top popular dishes, a total of 20 dishes including two desserts! By the end of the meal, I was ready to go home and lie down, unable to move from over-eating. It was almost painful when we were reminded that we had a dinner invitation that same day. We knew that Shanghainese were serious when it came to being hospitable. This was the meal that made me consider bulimia as a way to cope, but of course it was just a fleeting thought.

Nanling Restaurant occupies a renovated mansion (168 Yueyang Lu) which in the roaring 1920s was home to opera artistes. The mansion seemed lacking in upkeep compared to the modern upscale restaurants now teeming in Shanghai but this is where the locals come to eat, and the food at Nanling is favored by older folks who want their Huaiyang food the old school way.

First the 8 cold dishes:

Jelly fish 'head'--tender, crunchy and delicious, the 'heads' are much better than regular jelly fish. The bite is very different from regular jelly fish.

Pork in aspic tasted like ham. Refreshing.

Lotus root stuffed with glutinous rice in osmanthus sauce was delicate and yummy.

Spring onions and oil on boiled chicken was very good, the chicken full of flavor.

Squid in a delicious soy sauce.

'Sween yu' is a highly fragrant fish that's fried and soaked in a sauce made with soy sauce, crystal sugar, wine and star anise. My MIL does this dish very well.

Potato salad, Russian-style, is perhaps influenced by those days in the 1930s when Shanghai was the 'Paris of the East'.

I've forgotten what this was, but it's likely it was lamb.

Now the 10 hot dishes:

Eel in soy sauce--I get uneasy eating eel so I had only one piece of this. It was good, very tender and sweet.

Gunxi tang, a popular Shanghainese soup of bean curd, winter bamboo and Chinese ham. The old folks complained that the bean curd strips were too fine and gave a different feel on the tongue. I nodded and learnt, trusting their taste buds which have been seasoned through  decades of eating the best food.

Crystal prawns, so-called because they are seasoned to be almost transparent, or translucent, and are very crunchy.

P1040657_1024x768 Peking duck is usually served as crispy duck skin wrapped in a pancake with scallion strips and a thick hoisin sauce. Nanling serves their Peking duck skin with some meat on. Yumm... just the way I like it.

Of all the dishes, I was most awed by this: lion heads. Nanling's Yangzhou lion heads with prawn roe are braised in a superior soup while Shanghainese lion heads are braised in a wine and soy sauce. The meatballs were also different in that the fat was not chopped with the meat but rather they seemed to have been cooked and cut into bits and mixed into the meat, so that you can taste the butter-soft fat bits on your tongue. To this day, I think about this dish and I know this is what I'll eat on my next trip to Shanghai. Absolutely heavenly, a gorgeous dish.

 'Little dragon buns' give a mouthful of delicious soup that's not to be wasted so you have to be careful not to break the buns before popping them into your mouth.

A delicious stir-fry of fish maw and crab meat.

Another dish that makes you wonder if you're in heaven. This was a special fish cooked with a super delicious sauce.

One of the simplest but absolutely delicious greens, doe miao which is the tender tip of the pea sprouts.

There are many versions of fen jen rou ('flour steamed meat') and Nanling's version wraps the meat in lotus leaves. Another yum dish but I was weary by then.

But wait, what was this? I thought that the transparent bits were water chestnuts but when I put one into my mouth, there was no crunch and instead, the 'chestnut' just melted in my mouth. I was astounded and took another bite, just to feel the 'chestnut' melting in my mouth again. The other diners knew what they were eating and didn't have a stupid look on their faces like I did.  My host graciously explained that this was steamed cake with pork fat. The fat is not ordinary pork belly fat.  Pork caul (what I used to call omentum) is a net-like piece of transparent membrane with bits of white fat here and there. The fat bits are painstakingly cut out from the membrane for this cake.

Something this special needed more attention so although I had food running out of my ears, I reached out for a whole piece of the steamed cake and bit into it, savoring everything about it, the texture, the flavor, the taste, the experience of eating something new and unusual. The other diners had given up eating and I had the whole plate of pork fat cake to myself. I didn't disappoint them because I ate another piece, three pieces in all. I said a silent prayer for my heart (and thighs). The cake was subtle in taste but was soft, delicate and exquisite. Wow.

Shanghai pancake was greasy but so tasty.

An excellent meal full of variety that included all the top Huaiyang dishes. Very well done, Fang Sisters.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gyuniku Negimaki

Japanese beef rolls

Sushi Tei opened recently in KK and the whole town is checking the place out. We've been there twice, both times unplanned so I don't have photos to show. I must say that the restaurant is the most impressive Japanese restaurant in KK, with a good view of the sea and the nearby islands. The wait is long, especially for dinner. I found the food good (for KK standard) but portions are stingy. An example is the gyuniku negimaki or beef rolls, an appetizer I love.

Sushi Tei's beef negimaki is RM19.60 for 4 skinny rolls, if I don't remember wrong. We had two orders and that set us back by about RM39.20, before tax. I immediately set out the next day to prove to my kids that I can make enough negimaki with RM40 to make them wish they never crave for negimaki again.

I bought RM31 worth of shabushabu beef and 4 packets of enoki mushrooms at RM2.80 each. Ok, that makes a total of RM42.80. Each packet of enoki made 6 beef rolls, giving us 24 negimaki and that still left us with 1/2 packet of beef for our instant noodles. See how much restaurants make?

I sauteed the first batch of negimaki in butter and then glazed them with a thick teriyaki sauce. For the second batch, I noticed that the negimaki caramelized nicely and seared really well because of the teriyaki sauce from the previous frying and that's how I did the rest of the negimaki: melted the butter, added a spoonful of teriyaki sauce to the pan and sauteed the beef rolls briefly at high heat. That way, the teriyaki  sauce was cooked into the beef. Yum.

My kids found the spring onions too strongly flavored for the negimaki. You can leave the spring onions out and replace it with blanched asparagus or carrot strips or even french beans, or omit the veg altogether. I prefer steaming the enoki which keeps them in tidy little bundles whereas blanching them in water can make them soft and soggy. The enoki need to to pre-cooked because the beef will only take a couple of seconds to cook. You can use chicken breasts, flattened with a mallet, for toriniku negimaki but for the best negimaki, use wagyu sirloin. Oh boy.

And yes, my kids have had enough of gyuniku negimaki.



Gyuniku Negimaki
12 to 14 slices of paper-thin beef (the thinner the better; makes meltingly soft rolls)
2 packets of enoki
butter for frying

1. Make the sauce:
2 T light soy sauce
2 T mirin
1 T sugar
optional: 1/4 t dashi granules

--put everything into a pot or pan and cook until thickened but not too thick. Adjust the taste to your liking.

2. Trim the bottoms off the enoki. Pick any dirt off or give the enoki a quick wash. Separate into 6 to 7 equal portions. Lay on a steaming plate and steam for a couple of seconds only, just enough to slightly wilt them. The enoki in the middle of the bundle may not be wilted but that's ok. You don't want them too soft or they'll loose their bite and also be hard to handle.

3. Wrap a slice of beef snugly around each bundle of enoki. There's no need to secure the ends; cooking the beef will seal them.

4. Heat up a non-stick frying pan, add 1 t butter and 4 to 6 rolls. Add a spoonful of the sauce to the pan and sear (use high heat) the rolls on all sides. Do not overcook. Repeat for the remaining rolls.

5. Use a very sharp knife to cut the rolls into 2 or 3 each because the enoki is stringy if left whole.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Sexy red velvet cupcake. I think a big part of its appeal is the thrill of eating something you shouldn't. It's like taking a bite of the forbidden fruit.

I avoided making and eating red velvet cake for years. I just couldn't bring myself to use two tablespoons of red food coloring to make a 9 " round cake. I was so adamant about not eating the RV cake that when I was in Hummingbird Bakery in London's Portobello Market last summer, I was able to walk away. When I found out later that tourists actually search Hummingbird out for its red velvet cupcakes, their most popular item, I developed a curiosity about the RV cake.

A few months ago when I was in Melbourne, I finally had a taste of the lethal cake. Little Cupcakes in Melbourne makes really yummy cupcakes. I was impressed most by their RV cupcake. It was of medium density, not fluffy soft or dense and it was delicious. The thing about the RV cake is that it doesn't have any distinct flavor. There's not enough cocoa to stand out and the color doesn't add to the flavor. I think if you were to eat RV cake blindfolded, you won't be impressed. The whole hoo-ha about the cake is its looks, like how a red dress or red lips can instantly up your hotness rating, as pointed out in this wonderful blog from where I got the recipe. The recipe is adapted from--guess where--the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. How great is google.

Red velvet cupcakes for my kids' singles party this Valentine's Day.

I think RV cake should come with a warning. My fingers were stained when I made the batter and a spot of coloring on my daughter's top just wouldn't come off. I ate a full mouthful of the RV cupcake and am waiting to see if my body absorbed or expelled the coloring. I used Wilton's 'Red Red' color paste, 1/2 teaspoon instead of the 2 tablespoon (20 ml) required. That's 1/8 of the original recipe amount. Commercially, there's a likelihood that the cheaper red coloring used for staining birthday eggs is used, so beware.

I've reduced the amount of sugar and coloring and used my preferred cream cheese frosting, which has less sugar and more cream cheese. Making this cake'll stoke the chemist in you. There's not only coloring to play with but also buttermilk (which I substituted with milk and lemon juice), vinegar and bicarb of soda, all of which are supposed to make the cake moist and heighten the red color. If you have no conscience about using food colors, do use more coloring to make a bright red cake and against a white frosting. The rainbow cake may be more dramatic but the RV cake is classy and womanly.

Trivia about RV cupcakes: the RV cake was the signature cake of Eatons, a departmental store in Canada, in the 50s and 60s. Other accounts credited the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York as the origin of the cake as it was served in the hotel in the 1920s. The RV cake is thought to be a redder version of the devil's food cake, a rich chocolate cake thought to have originated from the southern US.


Red Velvet Cupcakes (makes 12 small cupcakes)
60 g Unsalted Butter, room temp
120 g (reduced from 150 g) caster Sugar
1 large Egg, lightly beaten
10 g Cocoa Powder
1/2 t (reduced from 20 ml) Red Food colouring, gel/paste*
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
120 ml Buttermilk (or use milk and add 1 T lemon juice, let sit 5 minutes)
150 g Plain flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Bicarb Soda
1 1/2 teaspoon White wine Vinegar
*paste or gel coloring is more intense. If you use liquid color, you will need more than the same amount in paste/gel. I suggest that you use 1 teaspoon paste/gel coloring to get a decent looking cake. I just couldn't do it so I stopped at 1/2 teaspoon.

1. Line a 12-cupcake pan with cupcake cases. Oven at 170 C.

2. Sift the cocoa powder into a small bowl, add the coloring and vanilla extract. If you used the reduced amount of coloring, top it up with an equivalent amount of water to make a paste.

3. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, beating until mixture is well-blended.

4. Stir in the color paste, mixing well with the batter.

5. Add half the buttermilk, then half the flour and repeat with the remainder.

6. Add the salt, sift in the bicarb and throw in the vinegar and mix well.

7. Spoon batter into the paper cases until 2/3 full and bake 20 to 25 minutes until a skewer inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Remove and let cool completely on a wire rack.

8. Frost the cupcakes with the cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
300 g Icing sugar, sifted (I decreased the icing sugar by half but that gives a softer frosting so it's your preference)
50 g Unsalted butter, room temp
125 g Cream Cheese, slightly softened

--beat together until light and fluffy.
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