Saturday, May 25, 2013

A breather

I get asked by friends why I don't blog anymore. There are so many reasons, but I think the truth is I need a break. I miss baking like crazy but the oven where I'm living now doesn't work. Monitoring the house renovation and shopping for fittings and finishing take up a lot of my time, and I have even stopped my baking classes because I'm tired from running around. Doing a house is very challenging in KK. If I want something more fancy, I'd have to wait about 6 to 8 weeks for it to be shipped in from KL. Right now I'm totally stressed out searching for an oven that is at least triple glazed--or preferably quad--and has pyrolytic cleaning function but there's none here, and there are very few choices even in KL. Brands of ovens are very limited too. If you have a good triple or quad-glazed oven with quick and even heating and pyrolytic cleaning  function, please tell me!

After foreveerrrr, we've reached the stage where we just have to put in the flooring, which is dependent on the window glass being installed which is dependent on a very busy glass & aluminium guy who can't be rushed. Or contacted. I'm at the house everyday--I enjoy going through the process of building a house, but am beginning to hate making decisions--and I am living breathing house renovation, nothing else. Cross my fingers and toes, but I think the house should be ready by June. I'll have a 9 feet by 3.5 feet kitchen island then, and I'll be back with a vengeance. Promise.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Vietnamese Long Beans With Thai Basil & Pork Mince

          Vietnamese long beans, basil and pork stir-fry.

Here's a very simple, easy-to-cook but delicious Vietnamese/Thai dish that my new friend from Hong Kong taught me. Amy's Vietnamese long beans with Thai basil and pork mince was totally devoured within 5 minutes on the table. 

This dish is best made with the old-fashioned green long beans. I couldn't find Lee Kum Kee's shrimp paste so I had to use oyster sauce for the xien/umami taste. Adjust the heat level by the amount of chilies (I didn't use bird's eyes chilies) and chili oil. For those who love the flavor of Thai basil (which is stronger than sweet basil) and veggies, this is a great dish to eat with rice. If I had iceberg lettuce, I'd use them as wraps. Kids will find this dish too vegetarian and 'minty' as my son did. Still, cook this and I know you'll like it.

Vietnamese Long Beans, Basil & Pork Stir-Fry
1 bundle (400 gm) green long beans, cut into 1 cm lengths
300 gm (or more if like) minced pork, seasoned with 1/2 t castor sugar, 1/2 t salt, 2 t light soy sauce
1 bundle (200 gm) Thai basil, leaves only
2 big red chilies, cut into small 1 cm pieces
2 bird's eyes chilies (optional)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small red onion/shallot, chopped
2 t shrimp paste (Lee Kum Kee brand)
salt to taste.
3 T chili oil or use veg oil, or a combo of, for a less hot dish

1. Heat up a wok. Add oil and fry the garlic, onions and long beans, adding a large pinch of salt, under medium heat. Push the beans to the side of the wok, or dish it out. Add the pork (I prefer not to add more oil but you can), stirring well to break up it up, and then add the chilies.
2. Add the shrimp paste (substitute with chicken stock powder or oyster sauce as last option) and stir well to mix. Continue to stir-fry until all the liquid is gone (the dish tastes better dry). Season with more salt and shrimp paste if necessary.
3. Turn the heat to high, add the basil leaves, stir through and dish up.

Serve with hot rice. I like it with crisp iceberg lettuce.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tiger Prawns In Rice Wine

Here's an easy one but it's oh-so-yummy especially when done with very fresh tiger prawns!

Tiger Prawns In Rice Wine
1.5 kg tiger prawns (or any marine prawns)
1 bottle (1 litre) Chinese yellow rice wine
1 T finely cut fresh ginger strips
salt to taste
1/2 T sesame oil

1. Devein and trim off the feelers and sharp tips of the prawns, and legs as well if like.
2. Heat up a non-reactive pot (glass or ceramic), add sesame oil and fry the ginger and prawns on both sides until shell is bright red.
3. Add all the wine, cover and let wine come to a boil.
4. Remove cover, add salt to taste and turn heat off. Glass or ceramic pots stay hot for a long time so do not overcook.
5. Serve hot as a soup. Very comforting and nourishing.

Creativity With Food: Days 21 to 31

                                                           Day 21: My Butter Half

                                                           Day 22: Carnivore Vs Herbivore

                                                              Day 23: Eggplant Circus

                                                            Day 24: LV Mushrooms

                                                          Day 25: Field of (Chili) Tulips

                                                         Day 26: Parliament Is Dissolved

                                                        Day 27: Nasi Lemak KL Skyline

                                                       Day 28: Red Cabbage Marchesa Salad

                                                        Day 29:  Goldfish In My Consomme

                                                        Day 30: Tropical Fruits Pufferfish

                                                              Day 31: Thank You!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Fish Head & Taro Claypot

    Delicious claypot of fish, taro and Chinese herbs, blended with milk and chicken stock.

I've been busy and lazy--bad combination. It's really hard to cook now that both boys are not home and the rest of my family--me, my mom, Hub and my daughter, who is based between Shanghai and here for this year--is always on a diet, either to loose weight for health or to fit into apparel that are one size too small. I used to be skin and bones, weighing 52 kgs after my third kid was born, and was known (and envied by less lucky friends) for eating huge portions without gaining weight. Now I can't loose weight even when I starve myself. Last week, my daughter forced me into a hip hop class at her regular gym. After 15 minutes and feeling stupid always being a step behind, I caught myself in the mirror rolling my shoulders and shrugging my body and I looked so stupid, I ran out of the class. I'd rather be fat.

So, did you read recently that a diet big on fish can reduce your chance of a heart attack by a whopping %tage? The more fish I eat, the more uncomfortable I get about eating other meat. Maybe it's time I turn vegetarian, which is not hard because good bacon and beef are hard to find here.

Alu Alu Restaurant's taro fish head claypot is their best dish, in our opinion, but lately while the taste is still awesome, getting a piece of taro is like going on a treasure hunt. Sometimes they even forget to spike the dish with dong gui, a Chinese herb that makes the dish so extraordinary. So, as every decent mom would do, I cloned the dish at home and got it right first time, with the help of my kids who told me that Alu Alu's white sauce is definitely milk, not cream, and that there is plenty of chicken stock powder flavor. Better than Alu Alu's said my daughter at first bite, which prompted her brother to call her an ass-kisser.

I cooked the dish again recently, this time adding the sauce to the fish just before serving so that the fish doesn't break up. I am so pleased with the results. I hope you like it too. If fish head is not to your taste (poor you), you can use fish fillet slices (poor you) with skin on so that the fish won't break up.

Fish Head & Taro Claypot
400 gm fish head (grouper is good), in chunks, or thick slices of fish fillet skin on
300 gm taro, in small chunks
6 to 8 pips of whole garlic, peeled
10 to 15 dried lily buds, soaked, hard tip removed & tied in a knot
6 to 8 red dates, soaked and slit once on the side to release flavor
2 to 4 very thin pieces of dried dong gui
1 thin slice of fresh ginger
2 T dried cloud ears, soaked, or 2 pieces dried Chinese mushrooms
cilantro for garnish
2 tsp chicken stock powder
3/4 cup fresh milk
1 to 1 1/2 cups water
salt & white pepper to taste
1/2 tsp castor sugar (optional)
veg oil
1 cup potato starch flour
1 egg white

1. Season the fish with salt and pepper. Massage in the egg white. Put potato starch into a plastic bag and add the fish piece by piece, shaking to coat thoroughly. Shake off excess flour. Deep-fry the garlic pips until golden, remove and then fry the fish until just cooked. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.

2. Put the lily buds, red dates, mushroom or cloud's ears, ginger, dong gui and taro into a pot over medium heat (if like, add some oil before adding these items) and add the water and chicken stock. Cover. When sauce boils, lower the fire and season with salt and pepper, and sugar if using. When the taro is tender, add the milk. Season to taste, adding more milk or water or chicken stock if necessary. At the same time, heat up a large claypot until a drop of water sizzles when dripped into the pot. Arrange the fish slices into the claypot and pour the sauce over the fish. Top with the cilantro and serve immediately. Eat with rice. You can also cook everything in the claypot (but the dish won't have a dramatic sizzle) but be careful when turning the fish because it can break up and disintegrate.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Creativity With Food: Days 14 to 20

                                                              Day 14: Artic Melting                              

                                                             Day 15: Guess Who Stays Here?

                                                           Day 16: Three Little Pigs

                                                         Day 17: How The Third Pig Got Away

                                                             Day 18: Cucumber Landscape

                                                            Day 19: Owl-nion!

                                                                Day 20: Tiny Tutus

Miri 1

Miri is a big town small city about 40 minutes by plane from Kota Kinabalu. Borneo Island looks sort of like the profile of a terrier, with its face towards the right. Miri is just a little bit further south of Brunei, a country famed for its wealth from oil and gas, and for the exciting lifestyles of its rulers. This is my first trip to Miri although 20 years ago I was nearly there when I spent a couple of days in the famous limestone caves of Miri called Mulu Caves. The caves are worth a visit. You can skip the town unless you like hot open spaces, chaotic roads, bad drivers and randomly located buildings.

Miri looks like it's on a booming roll, with thousands of new houses and super straight wide roads (envy). Other than the oil and gas industry, Miri's economy is fueled also by the presence of 3,500 Curtin University (of Australia) students. Beats me why anyone would want to spend four years seeking knowledge in a place like Miri but then who am I to judge, especially when my own son is enrolled there for foundation studies. I've always advised kids that university life is not just about studying, but also being exposed to different cultures and ideologies.

I was so looking forward to eating Fuzhou noodles; just love them. From the airport, we went straight to Hong Yung Cafe in Morsjaya, less than 10 minutes away.

    Look at that, only RM4 for a bowl of noodles! 

    The people sitting at the next table were having this, steamed tofu with pork and salted fish, but it had to be pre-ordered a day before. Darn it, it looked good.

    This is baiguogang, fried sticky rice noodles. It was yum. The Shanghainese has a different way of frying these noodles, here.  

    This is one of my fave Fuzhou noodles but this bowl of din bian hu was rather bland. It didn't have the deep flavor of pork bones and cuttlefish stock that lady at the Fuzhuo Association building in Kota Kinabalu used to serve.

    Again, maybe because I was comparing all these noodle dishes to those I ate at the Fuzhuo Building in KK, I found this rather bland although I did like it because the fish balls were home-made and the sourish jowcai (a preserved veg) was refreshing.

    Pork liver and heart soup. I ate a slice of liver; it was tender and tasty.

    About 10 years ago, a friend used to bring delicious Sarawak kolo mee back to KK every Friday night. This plate of kolo mee is not as good as my favorite kolo mee in Inanam, KK. 

It was an eating spree all day in Miri. We ate pork and taro buns at tea time but I wasn't impressed (the bao was fine and soft but the filling was just a bit of meat with lots of chopped onions held together by thick gravy. The taro filling looked dyed and tasted of cheap margarine) so I didn't bother with photos.

My son had a good meal at Mei Xiang Cafe (second shop on the right, Jalan Jee Foh Utama, Krokop)  a couple of weeks ago and dreamt about eating the pork dishes again.

    Midin is a fern that is to Sarawakians as sayur manis is to Sabahans: very loved and ubiquitous. The midin here was fried in rice wine--utterly delicious.

    Another hit, chicken cooked in wine--awesome fragrance and flavor!

    My son's fave dish, thin slices of pork belly fried with salted fish served piping hot in a claypot.

    Pork belly slices fried with salt (joo rou chao yen). This tasted quite ordinary, like Korean samgyusal and it went well with rice.

    House tofu.

    A simple dish of bean sprouts with salted fish--crunchy sprouts, tasty sauce and a strong 'wok fire' made this the best dish to me.

The bill came to RM73.40 for 6 of us. No wonder Hub thinks Miri is great. I was not so sure because by the time we got to our car, my stomach was churning. I spent the whole night in discomfort. I couldn't figure out what--the lunch, the tea break or the dinner--caused the runs because only three of us got sick.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Taro & Pork Ribs Congee

I couldn't find taro in the market or supermarket so I waited for the Donggongon tamu (a local market that is held on Thurdays and Fridays in Donggongon). Look at the stuff I picked up there this morning:

    Baby jicama, RM5 per kg.

    An Indonesian fruit called salak, RM2 for all that. 

    Taro, RM4 per kg.

    No idea what this is but it's sour and the vendor said it's for cooking fish.  RM1 for all that.

   Rm3 for the sweet corn (pretty expensive for 4 but this is Malaysia), RM2 for the limes, RM2 for the very fresh and young petola and RM1 for each bundle of tender Chinese spinach and long beans.

When I got home from the market, the congee that Vero cooked was purplish in color. She had added pulut hitam (black glutinous rice) because we had run out of brown rice (we are mostly on brown rice now because my mom's diabetic). It was too wasteful to cook another pot of congee so I went with what Vero had cooked. When we sat down for lunch (congee for lunch in tropical weather is a big mistake), the kids wondered if the congee was savory or sweet.

Surprisingly, it was good congee. Taro never fails, never.

Taro & Pork Ribs Congee

400 to 500 g pork ribs, chopped into 3 cm pieces & blanched with boiling water & drained
400 to 500 gm taro, peeled and cut into chunks 3 cm square
1 1/2 cups white or brown rice, washed
2 cloves garlic, 1/4 of a small brown onion and a very small knob of fresh ginger, all smashed and chopped finely

1. In a heavy-based pot, fry the garlic, onion and ginger in about 1 tablespoon of veg oil until soft and fragrant but not brown. Add the rice and stir, then add water about 15 times the volume of the rice. Cover and simmer, stirring once in a while. Add more water to make the congee thinner if like. Note: Do not add water to ready cooked congee or it will turn watery when cold. Some congee purists (usually HK people) start with the right amount of water and never add anymore, controlling the consistency of the congee by controlling the heat.
2. After one hour, add the spare ribs and simmer again for 30 minutes. Usually, at this point, I like to turn the heat off and let the congee swell. If you are doing that, you can add the taro now. It will cook but if it doesnt go soft enough, go to Step 3.
3. Add the taro and simmer until the taro is tender but not too soft. Season with salt and pepper. Let congee steep for a while before serving.

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