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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Satay Peanut Dipping Sauce

Phew... it has been a while! The week started real fast and the first few days of the week went by in a swoosh! Hubby celebrated his birthday earlier this week. So really, the chaos was all about me trying to have a plan laid out for the mini celebration that we had over his birthday lol. A plan - one with a cake as the clock struck 12 in the midnight, a hearty breakfast to start off his day and a dinner plan on the big day itself.

Well I guess I must have planned too big a plan for me to handle comfortably. That few days prior, during and a day after pretty much witnessed myself working non-stop around the clock. It wasn't like I was preparing a party for tens or hundreds. In fact, apart from a dine-out dinner with a couple of close friends of ours, the rest was basically a mini celebration with just the two of us in the picture.

So then what was the chaos all about really?

Well, that was me dealing with plenty of my FIRSTs in preparing all his favorite dishes. You know, that pressure that builds up when you have zero experience in hand, and you have a plan that you so wished that it would not go wrong in any ways, all within a specific time frame. Stressed! I guess I'm never the right candidate who works particularly well under pressure lol. But but but... the plan went on well, and the birthday man had a good time (and a big feast, of course!). Phew phew...

the many different ingredients in the sauce making

The whole thing was... taxing. So taxing I slept so exceptionally well every single night! And then - I got unwell. Arghhh! What a week in life! And I slept even more. Right until today! I woke up feeling great, and I'm as fit as a fiddle now! So, I'm back!

Back to the birthday celebration. This satay peanut dipping sauce was really just a small part of it. It comes on the side alongside the main character that it always pairs best with - the chicken satay! Which was of course, hubby's all-time big favorite! And then there was the green tea castella mini cakes - not particularly anyone's favorite; the decision to make it just hit me - totally randomly. And then there's also a dessert to end it all - the durian freeze! Woohooo! lol.

the green tea castella mini cakes 

As small as the dipping sauce seems and sounds, I sweated over its making like none others. Another FIRST aside, my biggest issue was that I hadn't got a ready-for-use recipe in hand. Searching hi and lo over the websites and flipping through whatever cookbooks that I had with me, deciding and securing a recipe was proven to be even harder a task. Each looks awesome judging from just how they are presented, but then again no two recipes were close enough for me to securely feel safe with settling on either one.

Eventually I did. This is a recipe developed from the one featured by Kitchen Tigress in her post on How to Make Chicken Satay & Peanut Sauce. A recipe originated from The Best of Singapore Cooking  cookbook by Leong Yee Soo, it adapted a method somewhat unique and different from plenty others (in which it involves parboiling the peanuts). This sauce turned out really great! Fragrant and packed with a good crunch in every spoonful, it came with the right reddish hue so attractive it's such a delight to even just have it on its own. With a little tweak to make it slightly spicier (all a personal preference yes), I reckoned that this is definitely a recipe worth noting down (and a feature) and keeping!

And a final note - I made it a point to make a lot more than what I actually needed for those chicken satay that we had over a few days (probably about 30 skewers in total? Oh, and they were jumbo skewers btw lol). That allows for a really generous dipping with each skewer, not forgetting the cucumber/onion sides that came accompanying them.

So please do adjust the amount according to what you essentially need... and you're pretty much set to go!

Next up: The chicken satay!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Stir Fried White Radish Cake 炒蘿蔔糕

Stir Fried White Radish Cake 炒蘿蔔糕 - it goes by plenty other names. There's the Char Chai Tau Kueh 炒菜头粿 and there's the Char Kueh Kak 炒粿角 too. Honestly, I have not an idea how exactly they differ from one another. I would guess different communities in different regions with all the local influences over time must have adopted different names at one point or another. But all in all, I really do think that they are essentially the same Stir Fried White Radish Cake 炒蘿蔔糕. They probably just differ slightly in terms of their cooking styles and their final presentations, in which each is made and tailored to suit the locals.

Perhaps someone cares to enlighten me on this, pleeeeease?

Variations in name aside, there is a couple different variations in how they are stir fried too. There's the plain white version, and there's the version which incorporates the use of dark soy sauce, and hence a version with a darker hue in general. Some are loaded with bean sprouts and chives; and some simply stir fried with eggs and nothing else. Of course, there's also the very basic version - no extra ingredients, just cubed radish cakes first pan fried and then stir fried over a high heat with some light seasonings.

My favorite of all would be the version stir fried with Chai Poh (preserved turnip) 菜圃, loaded with bean sprouts, chives and plenty of chunky eggs. Yes, huge huge bits of eggs... mmMMmm lol. And one that comes with a tinge of dark soy sauce (I don't particularly fancy the plain white version, but of course not the one that's all too dark beyond recognition either). Oh, and of utmost importance, the cubed radish cakes will have to be pan fried prior to getting stir fried. Crispy exterior, soft and fragrant interior - PERFETTO!

pan fried radish cake, preserved turnip, egg, bean sprout and chive!

This Stir Fried White Radish Cake 炒蘿蔔糕 has gotta be one the few favorites of mine that I have truly missed ever since I moved here. I have not heard or read about a place actually serving this here where I live, let alone actually eating it here anywhere nearby. So each time the craving hits, my best option would be to make do with the pan fried radish cake commonly served in dim sum restaurants.

Same yummy stuff, same yummy origin, but but but - they are somewhat different kinds of yumminess!

So make my own it is then! The steamed radish cake recipe was one adapted from Yi at Yi Reservation on his post on Dim Sum Classic – Turnip Cake (蘿蔔糕). The stir fried part was one slowly developed over time based on my very first trial (which failed big time btw! lol). Took me a couple more times to experiment with plenty of changes in between, but it's all so worth the time and patience in the end.

My wish for now - is that the craving doesn't come hitting me (AGAIN!) anytime soon. lol.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Economy Fried Vermicelli 经济炒米粉 (Updated)

Economy Fried Vermicelli 经济炒米粉 updated! With a couple more photos on the serving suggestions...

with the classic fried chicken

or sambal eggs!

Check out the Economy Fried Vermicelli 经济炒米粉 post for the recipe!

Stir Fried Asparagus with Shrimps 芦笋炒虾球

Spring is here! Well there's the light snow tapering off ever so slowly still, and yea it doesn't exactly feel like spring just yet, but the fresh asparagus is making an appearance in the grocery stores' produce isles everywhere. And that's one sure sign of spring!

A simple post featuring just that, this makes a pretty spring dish showcasing the beauty of the asparagus paired with the plain elegance of the shrimps. Pretty much the replica to the version commonly seen and served in those Chinese restaurants back in Malaysia. A serving of any greens with  the asparagus being the leading role is never exactly cheap. Well in fact, asparagus has never one of the really economical ones among all the other available greens in Malaysia. But there's just something about them that keeps the demand going and people coming back for it - the unique sweetness, succulence and tenderness all within the same bunch of spears, I would think.

As with many other stir fried vegetable dishes, this dish comes packed with minced garlic, loads of it in fact! Done in a wok over a very high heat, cooking it right is about retaining the mild, tender and slightly nutty-tasting of the asparagus, just perfect for serving. And having sweet and bouncy shrimps in the picture - they complement the delicate natural flavor of the vibrant green spears without overpowering them.

Plump or slim and skinny -  I personally don't quite think that one is exactly better than the other. It is commonly said that the larger the diameter, the better is the quality. While larger does usually correlate with succulency, sadly I have also had too many large ones with relatively tougher skins. Of course thick never equals tough and old; it could be all just a matter of freshness (which explains why locally grown ones always win hands down!). But take none of these comments - give them both a try and you be the judge for yourself!

Taste is after all so very subjective...

My key to some good spears? They snap well (well, just please don't go snapping each and everyone of them now lol), they LOOK fresh (duh! myself), feels firm to touch and they have nice, tight, neat and compactly closed heads.

And now into the making of the delicious treat...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Pork Noodle 猪肉粉

Cravings alert! Yea, that's how bad it was! My craving for this pork noodle has always been there left unattended, well technically ever since I moved here. But each time it hit, I would usually manage to brush it off, distracting myself making do with plenty other options - settling especially on those that are not as much of a hassle in their making and of course a lot less time consuming too.

But having seen Sonia (Nasi Lemak Lover)'s post on her 新山粿條湯 Pork Kuey Teow Soup (Johor style), that craving couldn't be crushed any longer! So Sonia, thanks for the real good push! With streams of photos so attractive in her post, it's just hard to convince myself (and especially my tummy) that we can and should still wait until our next trip back to Malaysia for a bowl of this swine-centered goodness.

Pork noodle is especially my dad and my brother's all-time favorite. They just love everything with pork! Mom - she's the total opposite of them. She despises almost everything with pork! Me - I got a bit of both. My affinity for them does comes with a limitation though; anything beyond lean is a strict NO, and liver is the only innard that I tolerate pretty well.

Me and the liver - that story started when I was first told that I needed a boost in my iron consumption. So I started taking pork livers and cockles! Took me a couple of trials (and rejections), but eventually I have decided that the liver's not bad and cockles are amazing! So, some kinda acquired taste in both cases? Maybe...

A bowl of pork noodle usually comes with all the essential pork-based ingredients - there's the thinly sliced pork loins, minced pork and pork meat balls. A step up the adventure ladder and you get the liver slivers, intestines and kidneys. Of course, all these come tailored to your order; you can opt for some and exclude the rest. Served with some greens on the side [most of the time the Chinese mustard green (choy sum)], each bowl comes finished with some crispy fried garlic (essentially with their oil) and the crispy pork lards. So artery clogging! But still I can't help having a weak spot for them!

Having an extra egg is optional; but I certainly wouldn't object to having that beautifully poached egg topping a bowl of this pork noodle. And when you finally do breach the protective layer and get the runny yolk blended into the broth... gosh! A classic case of taste buds overloading!

Ultimately the broth that bathes all the ingredients in the bowl of pork noodle is what makes a stall selling this different from another selling exactly the same. Made with what must have been loads of pork bones simmered over a substantial amount of time, the resulting broth is one so flavorful it's just hard to miss the natural sweetness infused in it. And that is how the real good ones defined.

This homemade version incorporates the ribs and some vegetables that are sweet in nature in its broth making. It does come with a light difference compared to those 100% porcine-based broth, probably with an extra light hint of vegetables while missing the slight cloudiness and murkiness coming naturally from the heaps of pork bones. But this version inspired by Sonia is great nonetheless! Sweet (nothing artificial, of course) and flavorsome! And the good news? It has got my immense cravings for this pork noodle totally checked!

A mental note to myself - my next try would be a broth made with plenty of just the pork bones and nothing else and I'll see how that turns out... *evil grin*.

And now... let's get to the making!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Butter Cake

It feels as if the basic to cake baking always starts with making the butter cake. I know it was the case for my mom, and it certainly was for me. I started as an assistant to my mom even when I was a kid still. And I think I actually took commands from my mom pretty well back then lol. That was where I got my very first exposure to cake baking - with weighing, sieving, beating and mixing. And those pretty much summarized my experience in cake baking prior to my very first attempt in baking a cake, all on my own ever.

That, started pretty soon after I moved here, motivated by none other than the endless cravings that tagged along with me as I made the choice moving abroad lol. Mom has an exclusive butter cake recipe that she has been using probably for decades now. No, not this one featured here, but someday, someday I'll make sure that that specialty of hers gets featured here.

This recipe is one I adapted from Amy Beh at Kuali. It marked the first ever baking recipe that I have actually noted down in my personal recipe notebook, tried and tested a couple of times along the journey of my cake baking here.

Minor modifications were made here and there as I baked it again and again from time to time. Some intentional, some not. Specifically, the amount of sugar used has been reduced intentionally since the very beginning and evaporated milk was used in replacement of the fresh UHT milk specified in the original recipe. Unintentionally (and as silly as it may sound), I omitted the salt, again for a silly reason - I ran out of unsalted butter and resorted to topping the rest with the salted butter and thus explained the absence of any additional salt. Well surprisingly, it turned out yummy!

So this final edited version to the original recipe (with all the changes in between - intentional and unintentional) has been one that I have been sticking to for probably a year plus now, now a favorite of ours at home and among some friends who have actually tasted it too.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Stir Fried Snow Pea Sprouts 清炒豆苗

Something green to balance the blog! I'm generally a big fan of greens, but these snow pea sprouts are not something that I have come to adore all along. It's pretty much one of the many things that I didn't know how to appreciate when I was a kid and only learned to do so growing up years later. I wonder if this change in taste is one of the things that really comes with age lol.

These snow pea sprouts are the immature tips of the snow pea plants, harvested when they have just started blooming and growing, before the reach the maturity level of a shoot even. This is how the cultivation is according to my own understanding (and please do correct me if it's wrong in any ways) - seedlings > sprouts > shoots > full grown plants where you get the snow pea pods. Interesting...

A delicacy in many places, these snow pea sprouts do not come cheap. Relatively, I mean. Which, is kinda justifiable considering how they are specially cultivated for the sprouts and shoots, and never the mature plants for the pods. Price aside, these are microgreens springing with life, naturally packed with flavors and loaded with nutrients. High in protein and fiber with negligible calories, they're all just too good to be true, are they not?

Young and tender, they hardly need much time exposed to heat to get them cooked and ready to be served. My definition to a plate of snow pea sprouts well done - it retains its natural tenderness with a crunch and a tad of nutty flavor. I personally like them stir fried with garlic, loadsa garlic to be exact lol. Healthy, tasty and refreshing, these sprouts with a vibrant green is just perfect in spicing up and balancing a meal, anytime!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pork Ribs with Bean Curd Sticks Soup 腐竹排骨汤

A classic soup that I grew up having at home, this is by far one of my mom's regulars, my brother's favorite. Mom's version comes loaded with whole white peppercorns and I used to dislike this soup for that particular reason. Nothing to do with its peppery nature; in fact I loved the kick! I just happened to really hate those chances of me biting into them randomly with every mouthful of soup that I took, especially those hidden in between the many foldings of those bean curd sticks.

So while it continued to make an appearance at home, I would usually give it a pass. Nope, I didn't even resort to just having the soup plain and simple - no ribs, no bean curd sticks, nothing at all; there's always a risk of stumbling upon a peppercorn still! Is there a term for the phobia for peppercorns, by the way? I think I must have had that! lol.

Things took a turn for the better when mom brought home with her something new for her kitchen collection - the stainless steel wire mesh ball! This has got to be the best invention ever! lol. So thereon, no more loose peppercorns swimming around in the pot, and especially none gone hidden anywhere at all. Now stress-free, I then declared myself a fan too!

Moving here, it didn't take me long before I found myself in the kitchen preparing the ribs, soaking the dried bean curd sticks, pitting the dates and crushing the peppercorns. Yup, just everything my mom did, all in the effort to make my own pot of Pork Ribs with Bean Curd Sticks Soup 腐竹排骨汤. And the good news? I have mom's wire mesh ball with me! Tadaaa...

Cute little thingy huh? lol. I'm not sure if mom eventually bought another one for herself after that replacing this, but this has ever since been a little treasure of mine. One that comes with a memory no money can buy, no time can erase...

Quoting from my previous post on the White Radish Soup 白萝卜汤,
"The longer the soup is left to simmer, the better it will be infused with all the flavors coming from the different ingredients. The water level will drop slightly as the simmering goes on but additional water will be unnecessary unless the water content has really decreased considerably. I would maintain it around 4-5L. Should you need to add in more water into the pot, make sure you add in only hot boiling water to ensure that the simmering does not get disrupted with the water of a different temperature. Add in just slightly more than enough to cover the ingredients comfortably. Any more will have the soup diluted rendering it less flavorful. If you are left with enough leftovers from this for the next day or two (I always do! lol), you will be amazed with how much better they taste after a night out. Try adding in some noodles of your preferred choice while using this as your soup base; you will have a good meal in a snap of time!"

And a few last notes to end this...
  • RECONSTITUTE The bean curd sticks come dehydrated in a pack. Before they are fit for the pot of soup, they have to be reconstituted in water. Depending on their quality and thickness, they can take some time in between half an hour and up to 2 hours. So do make an early start. Have them soaked in advance and leave them soaked until it's time to bring them into the pot.
  • COOK and TIME
    Different brand comes with different qualities and thus different time needed to cook them well and thorough. Some get cooked in a matter of minutes, others are just way tougher against heat and water. So you may want to get to know the ones you are using. If you have found a good one, stick to them.

    Get the soup base with the pork ribs started first (while the bean curd sticks are getting soaked). Add the bean curd sticks into the pot of soup and simmer with the rest only for the last two hours prior to serving. If you are unsure of their quality and texture, check them out about half an hour after adding them in. Well cooked and all soft - you should just stop the simmering there and then; intact and tough - let the simmering continue and recheck half an hour later.

    Keep watch to avoid over simmering; they break the bean curd sticks up. The taste will still be there, just not the mouthfeel, not to mention the not-so-appealing appearance in the end. Just for the record, mine took about 1½ hours.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sesame Orange Shrimp 橙汁芝香虾球

Revealing... the four seasons Chinese cold platter 冷盘! Well this is not a post particularly highlighting the platter itself, but I thought I could just make this a little continuation to the previous post on Scrambled Egg with Glass Noodles 粉丝炒蛋. The idea of making this Sesame Orange Shrimp 橙汁芝香虾球 a part of the huge platter came from Wendy at Table For 2..... or More, pretty much a love at first sight thingy really. A dish with an orange hue so pretty, the whole dish is made simply appealing with how well tangy pairs with sweetness, and the idea of fresh and springy shrimps fried to a perfect crisp.

This recipe is a crossover between two different recipes; the sweet sauce with a tad of tartness is a creation of Wendy herself; the crunchy coating is one I adapted from Bon Appétit magazine of the recent March 2013 issue in the recipe for Parmesan Chicken Cutlet by Jenny Rosentrach and Andy Ward.

My first attempt at making this was done solely based on Wendy's recipe - both its batter and of course, the sauce itself. And that was exactly what went up onto the cold platter 冷盘 that very day of my self-declared huge home project. The shrimps really did shine. The only setback would be the crunch that came with a relatively short half life. But that could be totally a personal case of mine, considering the fact that I had to juggle between making this dish and some other four different dishes for the platter, all within the same few hours. But it went well all in all; we had a big feast that night and the platter was wiped cleaned nevertheless. lol.

When the Bon Appétit magazine reached my doorstep sometime two weeks ago, the attraction to the crunch portrayed in the featured breaded chicken was almost an instantaneous one to me. Took me no time to get it bookmarked! lol. And have I ever mentioned anywhere that hubby makes a superb chef at home? Oh yes he does! A couple more days later, he made it a point to make his renowned spaghetti carbonara with this parmesan chicken cutlet on our date at home. WOW! The crunch was simply amazing!

hubby's renowned spaghetti carbonara... DELIZIOSO!

Well to cut a long story short, that was how the idea of matching the two recipes came about. Sealing in the moist and sweetness natures of the shrimps, the flour-egg-breadcrumb coating creates a perfectly satisfying crunch to the dish. A different batter, a different mouthfeel, same great satisfaction!

And now back to the four seasons Chinese cold platter 冷盘; it's pretty much a compilation of some different dishes that have been featured at one point or another in the blog, only each prepared in a cut-down portion size to fit the platter. They can be anything really; deciding on what goes onto the plate is almost like an art of pairing, mix and matching itself. And here's the version that we had for our first Chinese New Year reunion dinner celebrated here at home just about a month ago.

In no particular sequence, they are...

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Scrambled Egg with Glass Noodles 粉丝炒蛋

It all started with hubby's big craving for the four seasons Chinese cold platter 冷盘. Such an unusual huge craving he had! lol. Setting out to lay off a plan for the different small-portion dishes to fill the huge platter, this Scrambled Egg with Glass Noodles 粉丝炒蛋 came to my mind. It's more of a replica of the renowned scrambled egg with shark fin 炒桂花翅 commonly seen and served in these platters that always make it first to the table in Chinese banquets or multi-course meals.

But with the active anti-shark finning campaigns (oh yea, Say NO to Shark Fin! lol) going on especially over the past decade, what used to be the shark fin in the dish has gradually been substituted with the imitated shark fin instead. I think that is a real good call, well at least to me personally. And this version of scrambled egg with not at all a relation to the shark turns the dish up a notch further. With the glass noodles in replacement for the shark fin, this is one totally made simple and possible to be recreated easily at home. A way more modest version compared to its predecessor, it nevertheless makes an awesome dish still; it's a classic dish where simplicity meets elegance!

The credit goes to Wendy from Table For 2..... or More; this is a recipe adapted from a post of hers that goes by a real nice and fancy name Osmanthus Scrambled Egg 桂花炒蛋. And a last note - try serving it with leaves of fresh iceberg lettuce! Springy, fragrant and some flavorsome scrambled egg with glass noodle wrapped in crisp cold lettuce, REFRESHING is the word!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Steamed Crab 清蒸蟹

When I was way too young a kiddo to start appreciating anything spicy, having the crabs steamed was exactly how I had my crabs. Each time we had these Crustaceans as part of our meal, there would be two versions of them - mom's renowned chili crab, and another plainly steamed. That steamed version? That would be exclusively mine lol. And the best part of all - dad would be patiently doing all the cracking and meat picking for me, have them nicely incorporated into my plate of rice and tadaaa! A plate of steamed rice loaded with crab meat all ready for his baby princess by her dinner time. No, I wasn't spoilt! But yea, that's pampering perfectly defined lol.

This must be how the affinity for these steamed crabs has sprouted in me. And a couple of years later, I officially joined the rest of the family and became a big fan of mom's chili crab. That "Steamed Crab and I" story had since been stowed away, nice and secure. Right until sometime last year on our vacation to San Francisco; an evening spent at the Fisherman's Wharf had brought me traveling back in time.

Along the sidewalk stand was where whole Dungeness crabs were boiled in cauldrons and sold by the pound, readily served in minutes. And that was truly an eating experience on its own with the sight of seagulls roaming freely close by and the salty smell of the sea breeze as you enjoy the open-air food dining. Probably not for the faint of heart, but we loved it! lol. Here's a photo of me and the crab that stirred the "Steamed Crab and I" memory in me. Looking kinda familiar? Yea, I have this as my profile picture (on the right!) even lol.

That's where the idea of recreating these steamed crabs at home came from. But instead of having them boiled just like those that we had at the Fisherman's Wharf, I opted for the classic way that I am more familiar with - steaming them. I do think that it actually does a much better job at retaining their flavor at its best; plus they stand much lesser a risk at losing their precious fat and juices to the water (as opposed to boiling). And with them so fresh to begin with, even simple seasonings like the salt has become somewhat unnecessary.

The dipping sauce featured here was one adapted from Yi at YiReservation. Tangy and salty with a tad of spiciness coming from the hot chili oil, this dipping sauce brings a whole new dimension to this seafood fare on the whole. A very pleasant match indeed!

But all in all, whether you have it plain with or without the dipping sauce in the end, it's just hard to miss the sweetness and the old-fashioned charm these freshly steamed crabs have.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Crispy Deep Fried Baby White Pomfret 脆皮炸白鲳鱼仔

This is one of the plenty other dishes that will always bring me down the memory lane of mine. Kids being kids, I had always loved everything deep fried and crispy that came readily packed with a crunch in every bite. And this Crispy Deep Fried Baby White Pomfret 脆皮炸白鲳鱼仔 is one of mom's regulars back then. My dad and my brother are no big fans of fish and especially so after a couple of those mini episodes of theirs with the nasty fish bones in general. Mom and I - we love everything fishy! No, not literally that of course lol.

A simple dish it sure is, but getting it done right does take a little basics set right with plenty of patience to spare. But when you have got those checked off, this is what you get - crispy, golden brown looking baby white pomfrets that need basically no effort to literally break a bone lol. And as much as most people will find this unacceptable, they're so crunchy and brittle every little part is made edible! My favorite parts? The side fins, side bones and the tail! Eww I know, but yummm lol. And all those plus just a tad of saltiness coming from the light soy sauce further enhanced in the presence of the smoky hot oil drizzled in prior to serving... super yummm lol.

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