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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Deep Fried Oyster Mushroom 炸鲍鱼菇

Inspired by my mother-in-law, this is one of the few dishes that probably fits the Pringles' original slogan "once you pop, you just can't stop" really well lol. Thinking back, I am amazed with how that big serving of deep fried oyster mushroom never needed much time to be wiped off squeaky clean and still left me craving for more soon after. Intended to be served as part of a meal, I think we would have all agreed that it made a perfect snack even better judging from the fact that it was always almost gone even before we actually took our places for dinner. Getting a chance to watch and learn as she was making this in the kitchen during one of our trips back, she certainly did make the whole process looked simple enough  - preparing the batter, minimal coating and a gentle deep frying.

While her recipe called for a coating flour commonly used for frying chicken, I waas taught how it can always be substituted easily combining a bit of this and that. But even with that gold piece of advice in hand, it still took a lot more of a kitchen newbie like me to get all these right in the beginning - the ratio of flours, the batter consistency, the flavoring and the correct heat to begin with. A couple of experiments and soon things slowly took a change for the better. Done right, the end result will be a plate of golden brown fried mushrooms crispy on the outside while retaining their juicy and tender natures on the inside. 

Mushroom and the no-wash rule. This is something that I knew nothing about until the topic once came up in one of the episodes of Ugly Betty - a scene with Betty's papi (father) yelling at a chef on the TV about wiping the mushrooms instead of washing them lol. Well honestly, as silly as I can get sometimes, I actually did bother checking on the internet and tried looking for its relevance then. Unknown to me all the while, there indeed are plenty of ongoing comments and discussions about whether or not mushrooms should be handled in some specific ways. Some said that mushrooms are naturally good absorbents and rinsing will therefore allow part of the water to be absorbed rendering them less flavorful. And some have debunked that saying that water naturally constitutes over 90% of a mushroom so a little of water can hardly do harm. 

I do have to confess - despite the fact that it actually came out from a scene of a drama, I have stood by that very first idea that I came across since lol. Not all the time, however. There are still times when I would find it hard to be convinced that certain mushrooms are clean enough with just a few wipes, and then I will be catching myself giving them a real quick rinse still. So a truth or a myth? Obviously I am still a clueless me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pan Fried Tofu with Minced Meat 油煎肉碎豆腐

A tub of soft tofu is a common sight in our very own refrigerator here at home. Made from soybeans, tofu makes a highly nutritious protein, on top of it being an inexpensive one. Its versatility is unbelievable, lending itself well to pan or deep fried, braised, steamed, stuffed, stir fried and even boiled and made part of a bowl of soup. With what seems like an endless list to the possible ways to getting it prepared, it is not at all surprising that tofu makes a good dish completing a meal anytime, often creating miracles.

This very version of having it pan fried then topped with minced meat and finishing with a touch of specially mixed soy sauce is one adapted from a rather similar dish I had years back in a dining place by the name of Pak Su Restaurant back in my hometown. A specialty of theirs, "Deep Fried Tofu with Minced Meat" 油炸肉碎豆腐 is made with their tofu homemade. They are deep fried instead of the one pan fried here. Crispy on the outsidevelvety smooth soft on the inside, it was easy to fall in love with that simple yet appealing dish. Topped with chopped dried shrimps fried to a light crisp combined with the fragrant minced meat, they on a whole create a very appetizing dish indeed, easily whetting anyone's appetite.

While you may wonder if pan frying would have made a difference rendering it less crispy that what intended, I must say that as far as it goes, I have yet to get disappointed with the results I would usually get with pan frying. Doing it the right way, a tofu with a crispy, nicely browned crust is almost always a guaranteed achievement. There may be a couple of points worth noting, however.

  • Patience - allow enough time for each side of the tofu to brown and crust up evenly before flipping them over to another side. Any less and all the effort may be well wasted in the end, either torn or broken while they are still adhered to the pan undone or there just is insufficient time for the crusting to even begin. 
  • Temperature - I always have them done on high heat throughout and I do think that it is vital to have a well heated pan with hot oil to begin with. Avoid overcrowding the pan. Always leave a little space in between tofu pieces. Pan fry them in batches instead if needed.
  • Tofu condition - Medium or firm tofu are no doubt easier to manage but soft tofu is always all the same doable, with just a little extra care needed when dealing with them. Start with a good quality of tofu especially making sure that they are good in shape. Blot dry by gently pressing them in between layers of paper towels right before putting them into the pan. 
And a little of a last warning ahead of time - be ready to embrace yourself to some level of splattering once the tofu hits the frying pan.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Haemul Pajeon (Seafood Pancake) 해물파전

Whether or not related to the fact that I am a self-declared born bread lover, I have always had a thing for pancakes - the many varieties of Chinese pancakes, the very own Malaysian version of peanut pancake better known as apam balik, my all-time favorite southern India pancake - the dosa, and not forgetting Japanese's okonomiyaki too. My very first experience with this Korean pajeon was just a little past two years ago. Hubby was the one recommending this to me dining out in one of our favorite Korean restaurants here, saying that I would love that. Crispy with each bite accentuated by the tender squid, scallops and shrimps, I was amazed with how the piquancy of spring onions brought about yet another tremendous flavor to the dish. Hubby was of course right about it, I do adore that piece of pancake especially when served with a salty, tangy dipping sauce on the side. 

The idea of making it at home came only a year or more later, inspired by a friend, HueyShann when she made a couple of this during one of the few potlucks that we had had here. While the pancake mix is so readily available in the market, I had a pleasant surprise at my first attempt doing it from scratch. Needing nothing more than what I had already got in my very own pantry, preparing the batter mix was amazingly easy. The outcome was nothing less that satisfying, and soon I was convinced that pajeon is definitely something doable within the very comfort zone of home. Certainly comparable to those you get dining out, this is one of the few things that sometimes is really better homemade than having the professionals doing it - same good result minus the oil laden appearance possibility, plus generous topping readily customized to your personal preference.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Flour Noodle Soup (Pan Mee Soup) 清汤板面

Pan mee has been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember. This I must have picked up from mom, who in turn has gotten it from my grandmother. Dad and brother, however, not so. Despite losing the two biggest fans at home, mom would still be making this pretty often and especially when dad and brother were not home for some reasons occasionally. So counting back, my very first exposure of this must have happened at home, with the most conventional type - the broad, flat, non-uniformly shaped hand-torn pieces served in soup that mom would always make. "Mee hoon kueh" 面粉粿 is what we call this in Hokkien. 

With this being one of the many local favorites in Malaysia, soon I learned that they are plenty other types of pan mee around. Often involving the use of a pasta maker machine these days, there are the thin and round noodles 幼面 and also the wide flattened long strips noodles 面. Instead of the basic dough made of plain flour, water and sometimes the egg, some have even evolved to incorporate the use of some natural colorings from natural ingredients creating a multicolor pan mee. Thinking back, I remember how a shop selling the 3-color pan mee 三色板面 was such a hit back in my hometown when it first made its appearance years ago. They have the red from dragon fruits (pitaya), orange from the carrots, and green from the spinach.  

While the soup version remains the most basic one that I am most familiar with, the dry tossed pan mee is yet another common way of having the pan mee served. A lot similar to the dry version of wonton noodle, they are tossed in a specially mixed dark soy sauce. Either way, they are both served with the usual topping most commonly seen - minced meat, some sliced mushroom, fish balls or pork meat balls, deep fried anchovies and not forgetting some greens on the side. Fast forward a few years later during my uni years was when a close friend, Simon introduced me to the world of chili pan mee. A subgroup of the dry tossed pan mee,
the chili pan mee is mixed and tossed in fiery dry chili flakes fried to perfection instead of having it tossed in a special concoction of dark soy sauce.

a bowl of homemade chili pan mee commonly served with a poached egg
With all the years in between and more different versions of pan mee continue sprouting out, I continue to adore pan mee all the same, if not more. Entering my married life, my mother-in-law makes especially good homemade pan mee. Knowing that I am a big fan just as she is one herself, pan mee was a guaranteed dish that she would always be making time after time, again and again whenever hubby and I got to spend some time at home, enough to drive my youngest sister-in-law out of the house literally each time she was warned ahead of time of the upcoming lunch or dinner menu lol. Well it just so happens that she is one of the few that I know who really despises pan mee wholeheartedly. 

Moving here, a pasta maker machine is one of the first few items in the kitchen that we invested in. And that began the series to many trials and errors experimenting with the noodle making in our very own kitchen. Right until I stumbled into this pack of noodle in the Chinese grocer that I frequent weekly and decided to give it a try. Plain flour, water and salt are all that listed under the ingredients on the package and just like pan mee, it comes in all three different types - big cut pieces, the thick noodle as well as the thin one. I must say that I have been very happy indeed using this for all those bowls of pan mee so far. With all the time and effort saved minus the hassle dealing with flour, it is a shame on me to admit that the machine has since been kept away for a while now. A failed investment? Maybe lol.

As far as making a bowl of pan mee soup goes, balancing the noodle and the toppings with some good quality of soup base is crucial in defining its final quality. Living by mom's pan mee-making principle, the anchovy stock is what I will always make to go with the pan mee. While I am not particularly choosy when it comes to the type of greens used, the sweet leaves, better known as the "mani cai" 马尼菜 is probably the most common vegetable typically seen served in a bowl of pan mee. To spot or secure this here in the States was what I used to think as something totally out of the question. Moving in to a new town and exploring the different Asian stores around soon after, one of the Vietnamese grocer's place here was where I surprisingly spotted this for the first time ever here. Excited I sure was and there a day or two later, we finally had a taste of what seemed like the most classic version of pan mee soup, feeling all so satisfied.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Stir Fried Green Beans with Diced Shrimps and Tofu 粒粒脆

I have to admit that I had a real hard time trying to name this. I have always known this as "lap lap ceoi" 粒粒脆 in Cantonese, translated to mean "a crunch on every bite", a dish very well named indeed depicting the nature of the dish rather well. In an attempt to name this in English, any names that crossed my mind seemed somewhat lacking and insufficient, not doing enough justice to represent this well. I reasoned that to the fact that every single ingredient used in creating this - big or small, expensive or not so, holds a crucial role in defining this dish as a whole making naming a little challenging. Stir fried green beans with diced shrimps and tofu was what I decided on in the end. That I made a decision based on what I see and decipher with one quick glimpse at the picture on top - green beans, diced shrimps and tofu with the other two mostly hidden (possibly a blessing in disguise in my case? lol). 

One of the few regulars of mom's at home back then, this is a simple dish that easily shines almost like none others. The only challenging part it ever poses is the cutting part getting everything diced, uniformly sized preferably. This goes exceptionally well with a bowl of plain rice, congee or even as a snack on its own. Green beans cooked to the perfect crisp, springy and firm shrimps, moist yet bouncy tofu, crunchy and aromatic peanuts all further enhanced with the salty and distinct flavor of the preserved radish, each bite brings about a kaleidoscope of color, texture and taste guaranteeing a contentment at the end of a meal.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Anchovy Stock 江鱼仔上湯

Anchovy stock has always played a big role in my family's diet growing up, certainly unknowingly to me back then. It makes the basic to many different soupy dishes that mom always makes at home - bowls of noodle soup, the many more elaborated soups that we have had every now and then, and this even makes the soup base to which bowls of congee are made. Obviously oblivious to anything happening in the kitchen when I was a kid, this is a discovery that came way later in the years when I have grown up and learned enough to care. It all then make every sense as to how we have never failed to be awed by how flavorful, sweet and perfectly balanced those soups were back then - everything good minus the usual unquenchable thirst from soups you would get dining out. And if there were just one thing that mom was really proud of her cooking, it has got to be the absolutely MSG-free food that she has made over the years, and this is just one of them.

To have a special liking in a good anchovy stock is definitely something that I picked up from mom. To have a preference for a stock appearing to be slightly cloudy rather than an all-clear one, that I must have got the influence from my ex-room mate, ChanSee who has always been a natural in the kitchen. Having the anchovies lightly pan fried in just a little bit of oil is what needed to do the trick, giving it the right color and hue when made into stock later.

Anchovy stock is one that can always be made pure with no unnecessary additives or flavor enhancers needed. What really matters will be the amount and particularly the type of anchovies selected to begin with and the rest will then depend on the way this is prepared. Of equal vital importance here is the surprising fact that unlike many other different kinds of stock, anchovy stock is one that does not get better with prolonged simmering time. 10 to 15 minutes are all it takes, beyond which the sweetness diminishes and the bitterness then dominates. This is good to be made right there and then when required or even well ahead of time. They can be kept refrigerated or frozen in batches for up to two months and come in really handy anytime a good soup base is needed to prep a meal.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fall off the Bone Baby Back Ribs

A foolproof recipe with a guaranteed satisfaction especially for anyone particularly has a liking for fall-off-the-bone ribs, the end result came as a pleasant surprise for myself the time I made my very first attempt at it. This is a recipe so lovable we hardly do hunt for ribs at restaurants outside anymore these days. Barbeque baby back ribs is one of the many dishes that I probably would have never imagined myself having it in the past. Generally not too much of a meat lover, the thought of having the whole slab of ribs to myself is too big a picture for me to swallow. It does amaze me thinking back now of how I would have always conveniently overlooked them every time I screened through the menus, never failing to revert and target my attention to only those that I am more familiar with. Loyal? Maybe, although boring probably fits the picture better lol.

With hubby being an all-time big fan of this, my perception towards this took a change the very time hubby made an order for this dining out and I finally braced myself and had a fair try at it. And amazingly a bite (or maybe two or three even lol) was all that was needed to make everything else a history now. Juicy, moist and succulent, they are so tender that you see them falling off the bone the moment you try picking the rib up. So there it goes - the bite that change the close to three decades old of a perception that I once thought was unchangeable. Making this at home is unbelievably easy, almost too good to be true. Three steps (trim and skin, cook undisturbed and baste with sauce) and four ingredients - the ribs, a good sauce, salt and pepper are pretty much everything needed for a fantastic homey version of the ribs.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Yong Tau Foo Noodle Soup 酿豆腐清汤面

yong tau foo noodle soup served with flat rice noodle
Easily done, this is a post incorporating many others previously featured. Mixing and matching, they bring together a whole different dimension creating yet another sumptuous meal. Hubby has always had a thing for anything soupy, especially one served with noodles in it. Easygoing and hardly ever a fussy eater, you know he means it well whenever he says he has certain cravings kicking in. More often than not, noodle soup is one of the few that always tops his list, although not necessarily served in any specific ways (flexible he sure is! lol).

This is yet another follow-up from the Ipoh Bean Sprouts Chicken 芽菜鸡 made previously. With a good amount of chicken soup base made and saved up, the soup base makes the most important basic ingredient for this. The rest will be a work of imagination tailored to any personal preferences from the type of noodles used to the choice of toppings selected to complement the chicken soup. With some Yong Tau Foo 酿豆腐 made ahead of time and frozen Dumplings (Sui Gow) 水饺 in hand, this is a matter of assembling them all together creating this masterpiece in the end. Easy, convenient, fulfilling, comforting, hearty and healthy, you name it -  this makes too good to be true a wholesome meal, guaranteeing a satisfied tummy anytime of the day.

dumplings prepared ahead of time

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Stir Fried Romaine Lettuce with Fermented Bean Curd 腐乳油麦

A simple dish with a surprisingly robust flavor thanks to the cubed bean curds preserved in brine used here, this makes a great dish to go with any other dishes in a typical Chinese meal. The fermented bean curd 腐乳 is not something that is naturally well acceptable by everyone. For many, this is definitely an acquired taste. Generally salty with a tad of sweetness, this together with a few other simple ingredients are indeed the very few needed to bring out this dish it's unique characteristics - aromatically pungent, lightly spiced up with the birds eye chillies and leaves of lettuce cooked to the perfect crisp. A distinctive dish this sure is, making it an all-time favorite of mine perfectly balancing and completing a wholesome meal anytime.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Chinese Cilantro Scallion Dipping Sauce 芫茜姜葱油

This is a dipping sauce that I have come to love ever since I first had it at the house of my brother's mother-in-law. She made this to serve alongside the poached chicken that she made for dinner that very night, more commonly known as the 白切鸡 in Chinese, literally means the white sliced chicken. While I have never been a big fan of chickens served that way, I definitely had a little more than my fair share that very night, all thanks to the dipping sauce that paired so very well with the dish. My perception towards the dish took a change for the better that night after, and noticing my change in taste, mom soon started re-creating the same at home, which I truly loved all the same, if not any more. 

Cilantro is one of the many things that I have come to accept and adore only many years later in my life. I definitely had hated them when I was a kid, for a while too long in fact. As with plenty others - the eggplants, bitter gourds, beansprouts, cockles, green beans (man, that really is a lot! lol), cilantro, ginger and a whole lot other spices especially those with distinct pungent flavors are those that I had never learned to appreciate then. I probably can never explain what changed me over time, or more specifically my taste perceptions towards these. Whatever about them that disgusted me back then, they certainly no longer are these days. Acquired taste? Very likely indeed.

Moving here, both poached and steamed chickens are some of the few that I do enjoy making every now and then at home. I had since been trying endlessly to re-create this dipping sauce myself, having gotten verbal instructions from mom through the phone even. Sadly each time they were not even close to the one that made me fell in love with in the very first place. So with each try and disappointment, adjustments were done and after bouts of trials and errors, this is what I could finally bring myself to agree with. 

cilantro, spring onion, ginger and garlic
Having reserved a big half portion of the poached chicken I made earlier for the Ipoh Bean Sprouts Chicken 芽菜鸡, this dipping sauce was all that I needed to prepare to serve alongside the leftover chicken, creating yet another scrumptious meal on another night. With just a few basic ingredients, chopping was probably what took the most energy and time out of me to get this done. With that taken care, everything else came easily after that. Apart from the usual ginger garlicky dipping sauce that is often seen served with chickens prepared these ways, this is one that will guarantee a satisfaction, definitely worth a fair try.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fried Dumplings (Sui Gow) 炸水饺

A tasty snack almost comparable to wontons, these dumplings make one of the few items that can be made in bulk ahead of time and kept frozen for future use anytime perfectly. Rightly frozen, it makes an all-time convenient add-on to many different meals - soupy or dry noodle, as a side dish served with rice in our everyday meals, or a snack served simply on its own. Being somewhat related to wontons, dumplings are probably just another version of wontons, both within the same family with slight differences between the two. With both wrappers similarly based on flour, they differ only in shape these wrappers take - round for dumpling and square for wontons. Round dumpling skins are generally thicker in texture, probably designed to do a better job in encasing their relatively more elaborated fillings compared to the wontons. Otherwise, they both are generally wrapped pockets filled with a combination of meats and vegetables.

The filling mixture for dumplings often differs, chosen and tailored to personal preferences. The most popular few meat choices are pork, shrimp and chicken, all of which are commonly enhanced with mushroom, carrot, water chestnut, cilantro, spring onion, chives and I once had some with dill even, giving different hypes to the dumplings in terms of texture, taste and colors. As flexible as they can be, they are great boiled and served with soup, simply steamed and served with dipping sauce on the side or deep-fried to perfection, as featured here in this post. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Yong Tau Foo 酿豆腐

Yong Tau Foo, of which a direct translation will be "stuffed tofu" is probably a name very well depicting the dish itself. While the history may have started with just that, the dish must have evolved over the decades, tested against time, influenced by the food customs of different nations around the world, modified and molded along the way bringing us the versions that we actually see and savor today.  

My personal history of yong tau foo started with the very version featured here stuffed with fish paste, served on top of a bowl of curry noodles back in my hometown. And then there were these served on the side with a plate of smooth rice noodle roll 猪肠粉 bathed lightly in a sweet sauce, or served topping a bowl of plain noodle soup and not forgetting the one served in a big combination platter on its own to go with rice. 

Fast forward a few years dining at a relative's place was when I had my first try of the Hakka version of yong tau foo. While the choices of vegetables and soy products used for stuffing are generally the same - eggplant, bitter gourd, okra, red chilies, tofu, bean curd sheets and tofu puffs being the most common few, the main difference between this posted here and that of Hakka will be the stuffing used. Instead of plain fish, the stuffing includes two other ingredients that are often incorporated into Hakka cuisines - pork and salted fish. Served in gravy made with fermented bean paste, Hakka version of yong tau foo, infused with the aroma and taste of salted fish has a flavor distinctly different to this other version. I must however say that either version is nevertheless just as awesome in their very own specific ways.

Growing up in Malaysia with yong tau foo so easily found everywhere throughout the country, this is something that I must have taken for granted all along unknowingly. It was only after moving here to the States that I really do begin to appreciate this heavenly dish. The closest thing we have here is probably the stuffed eggplants often served at dim sum places with the stuffing made of pork and shrimps instead. Not as good maybe, but they do keep my occasional cravings in check most of the times.

Back at home in my younger years, I did know that making this from scratch was indeed very time-consuming and labor-intensive involving bouts of literally throwing, slapping and pounding all in the pursuance of a springy and bouncy stuffing in the end. I had personally seen mom in action making this every now and then and it indeed is a shame on me that never once had I got myself involved to learn from her back then. A spoiled brat I sure was lol! To make one from scratch over here is definitely made difficult with the limited choice of fresh, whole fishes available in the market. I may have seen some Atlantic Spanish mackerel every now and then in the Chinese grocer, but one single bad experience here with its freshness was more than enough to stop me from ever getting near it again. So with that coming to an end, my hope and dream for a homemade yong tau foo eventually got halted too. Right until the day I spotted this - frozen Cha Ca fish meat emulsion at the Chinese grocer.

Skeptical I indeed was initially of especially the quality but this being probably the only option to reliving my dream again, I bought one and gave it a try anyway. And - well lets just say that my dream came true soon after! While this may never be on par with those homemade ones done from scratch, this has indeed become my best choice since.

Ipoh Bean Sprouts Chicken 芽菜鸡

I have to say that I have little personal history with this. There was once when dad's work had brought us to Ipoh, the very city where this originates from. Having traveled long hours from our hometown and gone long enough without food, growling stomach got the better of me and dad knew he had better stopped by for our late lunch soon. Obviously unfamiliar with the roads around, we took turns here and there and ended up in an old, low-key restaurant or restaurants more like it. Plural because if I actually do remember anything about this restaurant, it would be the two shops side by side, linked by a small walkway at the back. And yes, you can be seated in a shop and order from another - not at all a problem. 

Charmingly old with a historical feel, this is one of the few shops that I know has done really well in preserving their heritage. Not forgetting the aged huge long mirror lining the wall right beside where we were seated and the slightly chipped antique marbled round tables and chairs they were using still. Surprisingly, this very mirror was what I used as my keyword in an attempt to search and relocate this restaurant online earlier today and finally getting to know it like never before. And so it is the Thien Chun Coffee Shop in Ipoh old town that I have been talking about. 

Reading about it, many have cited that they have the best shredded chicken rice noodle soup 鸡丝河粉 in town. And this was what we had back then - with extra servings of poached chicken and bean sprouts served separately. Not the conventional bean sprouts chicken posted here, the differences being:-
  •  the noodle soup base is made using chicken and additional shells of shrimps to give an extra favor compared to just the chicken used here
  • having made the soup with shrimps, each bowl then is served with a couple of fresh, plump juicy shrimps which will not be seen here
  • the chicken is shredded and usually served with the noodle as one in a single bowl, but of course you can request for additional servings which will then be served chopped up on a separate plate - just like how it is with that posted here 
  • the rice noodle soup won't be seen served with meatballs on the side, but bowls of meatballs (or even plates of sliced up chicken gizzard sometimes) will be a common sight when it comes to the bean sprouts chicken
But other than those, they both are pretty much the same having the same kind of smooth and juicy poached chicken, fresh and crunchy bean sprouts and the velvety smooth flat rice noodles. Having this close to 1½ decades ago and recalling this now - nostalgic? Yes, it is for me indeed.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Soondubu Jjigae (Soft Tofu Stew) 순두부 찌개

My first ever Korean meal was one that I had in Sri Petaling, Malaysia with all my housemates celebrating one of our birthdays. This part of the city was where we started our uni life together. Owned and run by Koreans, that restaurant in which I had plenty of fond memories was sadly no longer in operation the last time I returned to the same area. Being my very first time there, ordering out of the menu required a whole world of imagination on how it would look and taste like. Having very little idea of what to expect, every dish big and small that was served after that came as a pleasant surprise. As with all Korean joints, we started with banchan, each small plate so elegantly presented. Simply appetizing they sure were, they were made perfect for sharing. Our main entrées that followed were not at all disappointing in any ways too, although it remained a fact that I probably would never know if they tasted the way they should then.

Moving to the States, Korean was one of the very first Asian food that I had here. It was a hit right away and it sure did not take me long before I declared myself a Korean food fan. While I could not possibly compare this to the few experiences that I had back in Malaysia - with different menus and me trying different things, I think it would be fair to say that they simply are awesome in their own ways. Whether or not they are on par in terms of the standard and quality, the memories of my very first experience of Korean food stays unchallenged.

Getting more comfortable with food making over time, here in the US kitchen was where I started exploring into homemade Korean food. Like many other different cuisines, I started simple too - first with bibimbap, before engaging in more. This soondubu jjigae is one that I have come to love so easily. Bubbling hot and spicy, it warms a tummy on any chilly day so perfectly. And making it at home sure has its advantages - you get to decide on the choice of ingredients, spiciness level adjusted to personal spice tolerance and nothing beats homemade cooking simply said. These surely are good enough to satisfy my occasional random cravings at home without the hassle of getting a table and dining out, well lets just say at least for a while.

Oven Roasted Chicken Breast with Bacon Sandwich

Apart from wraps, sandwiches have to be the next best thing that I particularly love having for lunch. A bread lover since a kid, there hardly were many days that I recounted gone by without having a slice or two of breads in a day. Generously stacked, served plain with something fancy or simple to dip in or eaten as it is, I adore them all the same. Moving here, it has since played a bigger role in our lives than it was back in Malaysia. Bread is almost the item certainly guaranteed an appearance on the kitchen countertop. On most of the working days, homemade sandwiches are what fill us through our everyday lunches, sometimes even extended to weekends.
A sandwich needs not many fancy ingredients to make it stand out. A few basic ones as long as they are really fresh to begin with, mixing and matching is all you need to produce a variety of balanced, hearty and healthy sandwiches, probably with just a little imagination. Our lunches are usually prepared earlier in the day and finished just in time to pack hubby's for work. Biting into lunches that have gotten soggy at lunch time after long hours of anticipation can really be a huge disappointment and letdown. This I did learn it the bitter way, but sometimes a mistake or two are exactly what make you a little wiser along the way. Well they sure are in my case. Making sandwiches these days, these are what I will always take extra notes on-

  • Heartier, denser breads always make better sandwiches. They do a much better job at holding the fillings in place. Softer breads, as temptingly good as they can be, makes sandwiches collapse and they often are the main culprit in soggy and out-of-shape sandwiches by lunch time. My best choice - honey oat bran or anything multi-grain.
  • Streaking the bread with a thin layer of butter before assembling them does wonders. Apart from the slight enhancement in taste, these naturally make good protection layers keeping the bread from the moisture contained within the fillings in between.
  • Begin assembling the sandwich with relatively drier ingredients that make good barriers separating the fillings and the bread. Salad leaves, lettuce, pieces of deli meats, sprouts and cheese generally fit well into this category, making them the best candidates to be put into direct contact with breads.
  • Limit the amount of condiments (if any), and they are best positioned in the middle.
  • Likewise drippy ingredients like tomatoes, pickles or even cucumber, they are best placed the furthest away from the breads. 
  • An extra measure on top of all these will be setting all the ingredients on paper towels prior to assembling - this ensures that the extra moisture are taken care of to begin with.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Ketchup Fried Vermicelli 番茄酱炒米粉

A lot of times it really takes not much to satisfy a stomach. Glad to be home right before the storm hit, we decided to called our weekend dine-out plan off. Looking through what we had in the kitchen obviously limited with the weekend coming to an end, this was what we had for dinner last Sunday night. Simple it sure is needing not much preparation time prior to cooking. And soon enough, we were both enjoying a plate of this fried vermicelli each topped with a sunny side-up egg, watching our favorite drama, quickly turning oblivious to the deteriorating weather outside.

A favorite local dish in Malaysia, fried vermicelli is something that can be served anytime at all throughout the day - main meals, tea time or supper, it fits well just so naturally. Relatively easier to prepare, it involves a short moment getting the dried vermicelli reconstituted in water, preparing the preferred ingredients meanwhile, and then get it whipped up! The convenience in that probably explains why the pack of vermicelli in the pantry always seems inexhaustible, its space refilled as soon as it was gone the previous night.

Fried vermicelli comes in plenty of variations, each using a different selection of ingredients with difference composition of seasoning sauces in the making. This version of ketchup fried vermicelli is one that I first when I was in a kid. Naturally attracted to ketchup as a kid, anything with ketchup always wins hands down. While the name may have suggested a ketchup overdose, you may want to try it for yourself before you will come into an agreement with me - the ketchup did nothing more than just adding the right extra zing to the plate of goodness.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Turkey and Ham Wrap with Simple Guacamole

When I first started in the kitchen about a couple of years ago, I started small and simple - preparing lunch for hubby and myself for a start. Soon it became almost an everyday routine since. I have to admit that I certainly did not start well. It took plenty of experiments with taste pairing and especially learning what makes a good ingredient and which are best avoided to prevent soggy and mushy lunches especially considering these are made at least a few hours in advance before lunch time. It certainly did take more of my husband's patience enduring through all the not-so-good ones, finishing them each time as if they were the best he had had, and be ever so encouraging all the same still. As with other learning aspects in life, it takes me quite a while before it gets natural eventually.

Packing lunch for hubby to bring to work has since been a pleasure. Although it may mean waking up slightly earlier than he does most of the time, sacrificing some precious beauty sleep ladies can hardly get enough of, having the assurance that he eats well despite his busy schedule at work is a personal satisfaction worth everything else. Plus it always is a good measure taken because in the process, I will always be making one for myself too, ensuring that I have a lunch as good and healthy as he does, raher than grabbing anything on the go otherwise.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Luo Han Guo with Longan Drink 罗汉果桂圆茶

The moment the throat starts feeling dry, phlegm starts building up, body starts aching and lethargy dominates, these make absolutely good signs indicating an overworked body. Or more likely in my case, collectively they make a cue that too much good food must have been chomped down in the past few days or so lol - possibly involving too much grilled, charred, spicy or greasy fried good stuff. Left unattended, getting under the weather is almost certainly guaranteed - just a matter of time really. 

Overpowered with a sense of guilt, I would then be on a mission to attempt reversing the bad done in any ways possible - getting better rest, re-moderating my diet, and trying out remedies with promising rejuvenating and revitalizing powers, all in the hope for a fair fight against those winning bugs. Better late than never, no?

This drink then makes my personal remedy at home that comes in handy without all the hassle and needing not much time preparing it. While it may not miraculously banish all the symptoms right away, it sure works its way in taming down the excessive heat in the body regulating the internal temperature after a while. A natural herbal drink, the Buddha fruit, best known as "luo han guo" in Chinese, has always been a cooling remedy used traditionally in Chinese medicine. Naturally sweet, it is a pleasant cooling beverage on its own needing no other ingredients to enhance its flavor and taste. Adding the dried longan however does bring hype to the drink, making it a good dessert now while retaining its medicinal properties still. Great served both hot or chilled, this is just as perfect in quenching thirst on any days.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Tofu with Ridged Gourd 胜瓜豆腐

One of the many dishes that I especially like in most Chinese restaurants, this casual yet elegant tofu dish easily stands out among the other tofu options in their menus. Soft and smooth tofu met with the naturally sweet and good absorbing natures of the ridged gourd - when drenched in the savory, starchy beaten egg gravy, they make a simple but scrumptious dish on its own.

ridged gourd with plenty other names - luffa, angled loofah, Chinese okra or silk gourd
A ridged gourd appears to be elongated in shape, protected by a layer of toughly ridged green skin with tapered ends. The first step to handling this will be to have the skin removed using a peeler or a knife, exposing the white flesh within. These gourds get more fibrous as they mature, so it is always best to choose a relatively younger gourd to ensure the flesh at its peak tenderness.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lean Pork with Century Egg Congee 皮蛋瘦肉粥

One of the many staples in a typical Chinese family, congee easily makes yet another all-time comfort food. Mom has always been a congee lover herself; so growing up, we would have this served on the dining table more often than not. It sometimes would be eaten plain white alongside a couple of side dishes like salted duck eggs or omelet with preserved radish or plenty other options. Other times the congee would be prepared with additional ingredients added into the pot of congee itself. Regardless of the type of congee, it simply makes a great meal anytime throughout the day.

Relatively more digestible and gentle on the stomach, it is a great comfort food especially when one is under the weather. I grew up liking congee neutrally - loving it when it was served, not particularly missing it when it wasn't. Right to the day I got unwell and the misery stretched over a full week. Down with fever and zero appetite, congee was all that I had three times a day for the whole duration. The moment I got better was the moment I decided that I had had enough congee for the rest of my life (impulsive it might be, but that obviously was a history now lol).

For many years after, I despise congee altogether. Mom would have to prepare me an individual portion of dinner while the rest of the family had congee for meals and I would always skip the congee cart each time it was pushed passed our table at dim sum places. While I had fallen sick again and again many times after, I stood firm by my decision simply to be off it. Right until my very first trip to Hong Kong in 2009. Nathan Congee and Noodle 彌敦粥麵家 in Jordan was what changed me for good.

lean pork with century egg congee at Nathan Congee and Noodle (photo credit to ShingWei)

Velvety smooth like no others, I fell in love with the bowl of congee that very instant. I began to look out for good congee around ever since, and eventually started making my own at home. While they can never match the one I had back then, these are close enough, and definitely good enough. 

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