Sunday, September 25, 2011

Prawns & Macadamia Stir-Fry


A quick stir-fry post in between my jelly experiments. Made three jellies and two failed. It's not as simple as I thought it would be.

Macadamias are delicious and crunchy. I don't know if it's because of the macadamias I've been ingesting recently (thanks to Annie) but everybody's telling me how "fat" I've become. To think that I used to be so thin that after three kids I wore size 6 (US) for years. The perils of food blogging is that you have to eat.

This dish will only take 5 minutes to fry. It's light tastewise although macadamias are loaded with fat and apparently not of the good kind. Mac nuts are high in omega-7 palmitoleic acid, a saturated fat highly priced for making skincare products. Mac nuts are also toxic to dogs so make sure you don't feed your oversized rat (official name: chihuahua) Hawaiian chocolate-coated mac.
This dish is best fried quickly under high heat so that the veggies remain crisp and half raw and the prawns just tender.
Prawns & Macadamia Stir-Fry (serves 2, maybe 3)
8 medium-sized prawns
1 stalk celery
5 baby corn
1 handful macadamias
2 garlic cloves
oil for frying
2 T chicken stock
2 T Shao xin wine
1/2 t cornstarch mixed with 2 T water or chicken stock
1. Peel the prawns and remove dirt veins. Season with a shake of white pepper and a pinch each of salt and sugar. String the celery to remove the hard fibers. Slice celery into small diagonal pieces. Do same with the baby corn. Slice the garlic into slivers.
2. Boil a small pot of water and blanch the baby corn for 20 seconds, then add the celery and boil for about 20 seconds. Drain. Soak in cold water for a second and drain.
3. Heat 2 T veg oil in a frying pan or wok. With heat at high, add the garlic, stir for 20 seconds, then add the prawns. Stir until prawns turn all pink, then add the celery and corn. Season with a pinch of salt. Drizzle the wine over, stir well, and then add the cornstarch batter. Plate up and scatter the macadamias over. Serve hot. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Royal Selangor Pewter Challenge

A beautiful gift set of two designer jelly moulds, an Olympus camera, recipe cards of jelly creations by top chefs and a RSP Pink Ribbon apron from Royal Selangor Pewter.

So the cat's out of the bag. I just clicked on the link which Royal Selangor Pewter (RSP) had provided in its email today and here's the list of 10 international bloggers invited for RSP's Pink Ribbon "Get Your Jelly On' competition.

My arms went weak as I clicked checked out the list of bloggers for the competition. My scalp contracted. I couldn't breath for a second. They are all better than me! Their photos are better, their posts are better, one of them has nearly 7,000 followers and was a contestant in the Australian MasterChef (oh come on, he should be in a different category!) and one has over 5 million clicks! 5 million! I'll get 5 million in 10 years!

I am shaking as I type now. Can I back out? I don't mind sending the gift pack back. I can always buy my own RSP jelly moulds. I don't have to make a fool of myself. And I don't have to appear in front of a crowd and make jelly should I win. DANG! I don't need this stress! And jellies aren't even my thing. I love jellies but I haven't made many. What have I gotten myself into?!

So dear readers friends (you've got to be my friend!), here's where you come in. Send me your ideas, recipes, advice...anything. Tell your friends about this blog too--I need the clicks badly because the number of clicks matter too in this competition, especially the clicks on the RSP banner. Remember to visit this blog daily because there'll be a post everyday for the month of October!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Iced Summer Somen


Sounds like an oxymoronic dish but iced summer somen is the best way to describe this Japanese noodle dish. Somen are the noodles most eaten in the summer in China and Japan, maybe because they are lighter and less filling than udon and other noodles. I find it strange that here in tropical Malaysia we slurp noodles in hot boiling soup. Maybe it's because most Chinese in Malaysia are from southern China where the summers aren't as hot as those in the middle and northern parts of China. In those parts of China, the heat can go up to 40 C in summer, the walls weep with humidity and people actually sleep out in the public.

Somen are thin wheat noodles and I've found Korean somen to be as good as (smooth, slight el dente, no stale flavor) and half the price of Japanese somen. They are sold dried so it's a good idea to keep some around for emergencies. The best thing is, somen take less than 5 minutes to cook.

The first time I ate iced somen was in, of all places, Knoxville, Tennessee one summer decades ago. Donna's mom was Japanese, Dad was Caucasian. Donna had invited me for lunch and I arrived at her apartment to see (my heart fell, I remember that) a large bowl of white noodles, tomatoes, prawns and ice. I thought that it must be the Tennessean heat that got Donna or maybe her mom had lived away from Japan for too long. Turned out that the Japanese really do eat somen with ice cubes.

If you are having blistering hot weather, this is the perfect lunch to serve. Boil the noodles early and keep them in a large bowl of cold water in the fridge. Make the dip ahead too. If you want prawns, prepare those too but it's okay to just have somen with some tomatoes and cucumbers. If serving somen plain, it's a good idea to make some teriyaki chicken or pork schnitzel to go with it, especially if your family and friends aren't into the vegetarian thing. It can be quite a shock for the uninitiated to eat cold noodles with cucumbers and tomatoes. Hey if my Hub said the iced somen were good, they must be because the guy's a meat eater. Even if you doubt him, take it from me: iced somen is yummy.

The Japanese way is to dip the somen into the sauce. Slurping is encouraged.

My way is to put everything into the sauce; so much easier. Slurping is optional.

Iced Summer Somen (serves 3 to 4)
250 gm dried somen
1 cucumber, sliced
1-2 tomatoes, in wedges (or cherry tomatoes)
about 12 to 15 medium-sized prawns
2-3 eggs
wasabi paste or grated fresh ginger
thinly sliced spring onions
Garnish: cherries, lemon slices

1. Remove the dirt vein from the prawns using a metal skewer. Boil a small pot of water and add the prawns. Switch off the heat and leave the prawns covered. The prawns'll be more tender this way. When cool, remove the shells leaving the tails.
2. Boil a large pot of water. Add the somen, stir and cover. When the water boils again, add 1 cup of room temp water and cover. When it boils the second time, check the noodles (nip one in half to see if it has cooked through, or eat it) and if the texture is to your liking, drain the water. Rinse the somen with cold water and then let it soak in a large glass bowl of cold water.
3. Whisk the eggs with some salt and white pepper. Fry into a thin pancake and cut into thin strips.
4.  Make the sauce:
           1 T dashi granules
           2 cups (2 1/2 to 3 cups if you don't want it too salty) water
           1/2 cup light soy sauce (Kikkoman)
           1/2 cup mirin
           --Heat 1 cup of the water and dissolve the dashi granules in it. Add the soy sauce and mirin, switch off the heat and add the remaining water. Let cool and chill in the fridge. When ready to serve, top the somen with the prawns, cucumber slices, tomatoes and the garnishing and lots of ice cubes.
5. Each person is served a bowl of somen and a bowl of the sauce. Customize your bowl of sauce with the wasabi/ginger, spring onions etc. With a pair of chopsticks, dip some somen into the sauce and eat.

Lookie, a plate from Kappabashi with a fugu on it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wine-Flavored Stir-Fried Greens


A bowl of salad greens looks like a lot of veggies but is actually more volume than substance. If you want to add more greens to your diet, stir-frying veggies is the best way because the quick frying wilts the veggies (and destroys the germs and bacteria) and you are tricked into eating more of it. Despite growing up eating stir-fried greens, I never tire of it. Stir-fried greens are sweet, refreshing, delicious and fast to cook. The reason why most of us can't fry a good plate of greens is because most home stoves do not heat up enough to give the greens that wok hei or 'breath of the wok' flavor and taste. Just as pizzas need an oven that can go up to at least 400 C, if the burners in a Chinese restaurant do not burn intensely enough for flames to dance inside and outside of the wok, the restaurant is not considered authentic and the stir-fries will never have that restaurant flavor. At home, the only way to get some of that wok hei is to smoke the wok up as high as it can go before adding the veg and to cook in small portions so that the heat is intense all through the frying process.

Some of the best fried greens are served by dingy coffee shop restaurants where burners are so intense that you can hear them roaring. The burners can go from low to super high within seconds, allowing the cook to adjust the heat easily. I read somewhere that western chefs usually judge a new apprentice by his/her omelettes (or is it scrambled eggs). IMO, Chinese chefs and cooks should be tested by their plate of fried greens. A great plate of stir-fried greens looks simple yet is not. To fry a great plate of greens, you need experience, judgement, speed and skills without which all the heat won't help a hoot.

This recipe uses Chinese wine to add flavor to an otherwise delicate dish so save your best Chinese rice wine for frying your greens. I recommend Chinese rice wine over Shao Xin wine because it is sweet and not as strongly flavored. Shao Xin wine can overpower the delicate flavor of most greens but it is really up to you which you prefer. The cornstarch is to make the sauce smooth but not thick. Served piping hot, this simplest of dishes can be utterly satisfying.

Wine-Flavored Stir-fried Greens
200 gm Taiwan bak choy or any other Chinese greens
1 cloves t garlic, chopped or whole or in slivers
2 T Chinese rice wine
1/8 t salt (or to taste)
2 T veg oil (restaurants add more, about 3 T*)
1/2 t cornstarch

* be careful about adding too much liquid if your burner doesn't give intense heat because then the liquid will not evaporate fast enough and the veg will taste more boiled than fried.

1. Wash the bak choy and cut into smaller, even-sized bite-size pieces so that they cook faster.

2. Heat up a wok, add the oil. When oil is hot, add the garlic , stir 3 seconds. At this point, crank the heat up as much as it can go and add the cornstarch (NO water added) into the oil and then add the bak choy. All that action flows so that the garlic and cornstarch do not burn. Stir, flip and turn the veg. Add the salt, then the wine, stir, and cover the veg with the lid of the wok. Count to 20 (more if the your burner isn't strong), remove the lid and stir to get the veg to cook evenly. Cover again and count to 20, remove the lid and dish up. Cook the veg longer if that's how you like them.

If you want the savory-sweet taste of restaurant fried greens, shake a dash of msg or a pinch of chicken granules into the veg along with the salt.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

RM5.80 Noodles


Just 3 years ago, you could eat a bowl of noodles for RM3.50/USD1.10 but now, you'd have to pay at least RM6/USD1.95 for less than the same. I've eaten fish noodles for RM8/USD2.60 and the ingredients were noodles and only TWO slices of fish. It is just crazy.

While shopping at the market recently, I challenged myself to cook lunch for less than RM5 to feed 4. It had to be nutritiously balanced, meaning there should be meat and veggies on top of the basic starch. I also wanted a simple dish that doesn't take much preparation and cooking time. The dish that fits all that was fried noodles, with the least expensive ingredients I could think of: bean sprouts (RM1), wheat noodles (RM0.80) and pork roll (RM4). The total cost came to RM5.80/USD1.88, RM0.80 more than my budget. I could push the cost to less than RM3/USD1 if I used two eggs instead of the pork roll but that would be too much of a shock to the family although Hub would probably be very pleased.

Despite the scrimping, the noodles were delicious and went very well with a chili-lime sauce.

Any suggestions for more budget meals?


RM5.80 Noodles (serves 3 to 4)
1/2 kg yellow 'oil' noodles
1 pork roll, sliced
1/2 kg bean sprouts
2 T oyster sauce
1 to 2 T light soy sauce
pinch of salt
2 T veg oil
1 T garlic, chopped (optional)
spring onions from your garden for garnishing

1. Heat up a wok or a non-stick frying pan. Add the oil and fry the garlic until gragrant but not brown. Toss the noodles (which are pre-cooked) under medium high heat, mixing well with the oyster sauce and the light soy sauce. This will take several minutes, to heat the noodles through and to sear some of the noodles to give a smoky fire taste. If you like softer noodles, sprinkle chicken stock or water by the spoonful over the noodles. Adding too much water or stock all at once will make the noodles starchy.

2. Push the noodles aside, throw in the bean sprouts and a pinch of salt and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the pork roll and push the noodles into the center to mix by tossing and turning. Taste and season if necessary. Throw in the spring onions and dish up. Serve with a chili sauce.

note: if you prefer saucy noodles, use one tablespoon of the oyster sauce and one tablespoon of the light soy sauce to mix with 1/2 T of cornstarch, a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar (if like), some white pepper and 1/2 cup of chicken stock or water and add that to the wok/pan (push the noodles to the side of the wok) just before adding the spring onions. Make sure to let the cornstarch sauce boil or the sauce'll taste floury. Push in the noodles and toss to mix.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hinava, Borneon Ceviche


Ceviche is a raw seafood dish that has Polynesian, Central and South American origins. The common ingredients are lime juice, chilies, onions and raw seafood. Here in Sabah, the Kadazan tribe has a raw fish dish called hinava that is very similar to ceviche. I have posted on hinava before but those posts were in the early days of this blog when my photos didn't do justice to the appetising dish.

The king mackerel, abundant in the waters around Borneo Island, is the most commonly used fish for hinava. People are getting more innovative and my friend F made a pork hinava recently. I couldn't tell that it was pork. I thought it was overcooked mackerel because it tasted coarser than usual. I never make hinava unless I'm very sure that the fish is caught by amateur anglers whom I (or my friends) know, to reduce the risk of getting chemically-preserved fish. King mackerel straight from the sea is very savory sweet and lime juice makes it even more delicious.

Hinava can bring your jaded taste buds back to life. This dish can be made in 5 minutes because there's no cooking at all. Make sure the fish is very fresh. Apart from contaminants, raw fish can carry bacteria, viruses and parasites which I don't have to (but still do) tell you can make you seriously ill. Just so I feel less uneasy about consuming raw fish, I do a quick blanch of the fish before marinading it with lime juice. The acid in citrus juice turns the fish an opaque white, almost like it's been cooked. You can blanch the fish longer but the 'mouthfeel' will be coarser and the fish can break up too finely. In fact, the fish is usually cut into small pieces and mashed up so that the fish is well-seasoned but I don't like that flaky mushiness. Cutting the fish into very small pieces increases the surface area so that the boiling water and the acid of the limes can max their effect. If you can't get dried grated bambangan seeds, it's okay. The seeds don't have much flavor but they do give the dish a salty-savory sweet taste. Too much bambangan seed shavings can ruin the dish too, making the fish taste coarse and giving a pull in the mouth.


1) Cut 500 gm of the freshest raw fish into small chunks. The larger the chunks, the more raw the dish. Traditionally, the fish is cut smaller than that in the photo but I prefer a chunkier bite. Pour boiling water over the fish (enough to more than cover), stir and immediately drain it. You can skip this step if you prefer a totally raw dish. Mix the fish with juice from 4 to 5 large limes. Cover and leave 10 minutes in the fridge.

2) Slice 200 gm (more or less, to your liking) bittergourd very thinly and rub in 1/2 t salt. Wait 15 minutes. Wash the salt away twice and squeeze all the water out. Sorry no photo.


3)Prepare the other ingredients: chop or slice into small bits 2 to 3 bird's eye chilies, 3 small red shallots, 1/2 T of very fine julienned ginger, 2 large chilies and 1 to 2 T dried grated bambangan seed (use less and add more later if needed).


4) Mix everything together in a large bowl. Season with more bambangan seed shavings, lime juice and salt if like. Chill until ready to serve.

5) Here's your bowl of hinava:

Traditionally, the fish is mushed up to blend the ingredients and seasoning and tastes good if you like flaky mushiness.

Salmon hinava (overload of bambangan seed gives a coarse, 'pull the mouth' feel).

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hummingbird Cake



Here's a failed cake. Failed because nobody liked it. Not myself or my friends who came for coffee. Thing is, it didn't taste bad other than being too sweet and that's after half the sugar was reduced. I give it a 6.5/10. It just wasn't something people would want to eat a second slice of and that is bad for a cake.

I've never eaten a hummingbird cake before and Saveur's list of layer cakes are bookmarked for times when I feel like baking, which is not very often these days because there's now only 4 of us at home, and all of us are trying to whittle our waistlines. Cakes, I've always said, are one of the worst things to eat. Sugar. Butter. Cream. Only the eggs make some nutritional sense. I would advise eating cakes only on special occasions.

The hummingbird cake is a Southern US cake. Southern cakes are real cakes (not those fluffy airy commercial nonsense you find in Asian bakeries) made with real butter, nuts and lots of sugar and they must be at least 4 layers high, probably to match the big hairdos of Southern belles.

 I don't know why the cake is called hummingbird because hummingbirds are not one of the ingredients (Su's daughter Sash asked if they were; valid question). I read somewhere that maybe this overly sweet cake is named after the hummingbird because it feeds on nectar. The hummingbird cake is nearly like the carrot cake except bananas are used in place of carrots. The texture of this cake is dense, slightly sticky but not heavy and is surprisingly moist. Somehow the combination of bananas, pineapple, pecans, cinnamon, cream cheese--all the things I love-- and a ton of sugar didn't work for me. It's strange that I don't like the hummingbird cake because it's only a carrot away from a carrot cake. By the second spoonful, I was reminded of cough syrup. It was the cinnamon powder I think. This cake just overloads on everything.

Never mind, if I didn't try I wouldn't have known. Next up, I must make that other Southern cake that I've wanted to for years. The coconut cake. I have high hopes for that one.

The recipe I used was from here. I made 1/3 of the recipe and reduced the sugar by nearly half, which means 1/2 of 1/3 recipe which made a cake with a sweetness level just about right for me. However and although I made only 1/4 of the frosting so that the frosting layer was thin, it made the cake too sweet. I can't imagine how horrible the sweetness will be if I didn't reduce the sugar in the cake and the amount of frosting. It makes me suspect that most recipes online have not been tested and brings me back to what I prefer, true and tried recipes by home cooks. Another thing. I think self-raising flour would make a lighter cake for this cake. Not too light but not as sticky-dense as this one. Oh, and another thing about the recipe. It says to bake the cakes for 50 minutes. That's way too long because the batter is divided among three cake pans, giving a thin 2 cm batter. My cakes took only about 30 minutes to bake.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Fried Rice Noodles With Bittergourd


I love bittergourds and can't find enough ways to cook them. Stir-fried bittergourd with beef (traditional),  bittergourd fried with tomatoes, scrambled eggs with bittergourd (economical), stuffed bittergourd (yum), bittergourd stewed with pork ribs (super yum), bittergourd fried with salted egg yolks (relatively new dish), cold bittergourd salad (refreshing), crispy deep-fried bittergourd,Indian-style (too greasy and doesn't taste like bittergourd) and the acid test, bittergourd soup (oxymoronic but I like this only when the soup's not bitter). I'm so happy to discover another way with bittergourd. I was at a restaurant last week and the guy next table was eating a plate of fried meehoon (rice vermicelli) with prawns and bittergourd. It looked so good. The pink of the prawns and young green of the bittergourd stood out against the white rice noodles. Noodles are usually fried with soy sauce to give flavor and white noodles are not common. In fact, white rice noodles can taste totally bland, just like white rice. To give it flavor, noodles fried without soy sauce must be fried at high heat to give it wok hei ("breath of the wok," a flavor that's more of fire than smoke) and generously seasoned with msg to give it that savory-sweet taste.

Instead of msg, I used Vietnamese fish sauce to give flavor and taste to my first plate of white rice noodles. My fish sauce is pretty aged and it colored the noodles, which I didn't like. I forgot to add in an egg which would help blend all the ingredients and balance the bitterness of the bittergourd.

The next plate of noodles was fried with beef instead of prawns. Beef gives better flavor and taste than prawns so I didn't use fish sauce. I remembered the egg this time and the plate of noodles was delicious, eaten with my favorite chili-lime-Maggi soy sauce dip. As with most stir-fried dishes, this dish tastes best fried at high heat so control and speed in frying is the key. If you are cooking more than the amount in the recipe, do not fry the dish in one go especially if your burner doesn't have a strong flame or the much desired charred flavor of wok hei will not be in the noodles.


Fried Rice Noodles With Bittergourd (serves 2 to 3)
1/3 bittergourd (about 100 gm, or more), sliced very thinly
150 gm dried rice noodles (about 1/2 pkt)
8 to 10 medium-sized prawns, shelled or 150 gm beef tenderloin, in fine strips
1 red chili or a couple of bird's eyes chilies, chopped
1 egg
1 heaped t minced garlic
1 T fish sauce (very optional)
two pinches of salt
a pinch of msg (optional but recommended)
oil for frying

1. Soak the rice noodles in room temp water until softened, about 45 minutes.
2. Season the prawns with a pinch of salt and white pepper. If using beef, season with a pinch of salt, some white pepper and 1 teaspoon of corn starch. No soy sauce unless you want color in the noodles.
3. Drain the noodles well. Heat a wok and add 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the prawns/beef and fry for about a minute until just cooked. Push the prawns to the side of the wok and add another tablespoon of oil and add the bittergourd and a pinch of salt.  Fry the bittergourd for about 1 minute (depending on the thickness and how raw you want them), push the prawns in to mix with the bittergourd and dish up onto a plate.
4. Add 2 tablespoon of oil to the wok, add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Throw in the noodles and add the fish sauce, salt and msg if using. Stir and toss to mix well. If adding egg, push the noodles aside, add a bit of oil and then crack in the egg. Scramble the egg, cutting it with the frying ladle and push the noodles in and mix well. If you like the noodles coated with egg, crack it onto the noodles and stir-fry using quick, short circular movement until the egg is dry. Add the chilies and the fried prawns/beef bittergourd mixture, stirring all the time to mix well. Taste and season if necessary. Dish up quickly before the bittergourd looses its green color and bite.

Eat with a sauce made of kasturi limes, bird's eyes chilies and Maggi soy sauce. 
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