Sunday, May 31, 2009

Kuriya Dining (Shaw Centre)

So the school holidays have descended upon us. Unfortunately, I injured my foot and had to be homebound for most of last week. The kids were pretty good about it - they didn't give me grief by pestering me to take them out. However, 1 week of staying home had probably taken its toll on them and they were so hyper this morning, they were practically bouncing off walls! I didn't blame them. Heck, even felt like bouncing off walls, having missed a week of exercise. 

Then, my dear sister called up and suggested doing lunch - her treat. I jumped (ouch!) at the invitation even though my foot was still swollen and red. But when it is a toss up between your foot or your sanity, I think the decision's very clear. The 2 older kids hooted with joy when I told them to get dressed, which they did in record time!

We ended up lunching at Kuriya Dining at Shaw Centre, which was a lovely place to while away a leisurely Sunday. Even though the restaurant was well patronised when we arrived, we were briskly whisked to our table and attended to immediately. We quickly decided on their Lady's Set for the adults and Gindara Teriyaki bento for the kids. We also ordered a Hotategai (scallop sashimi) to share.

Salad served very cold - the way it should be.
What a delight to find slices of maguro embedded within.

The kids (and us!) were wowed by the food. Ah, the Japanese are truly masters of food presentation. Every dish was so pretty and dainty, and very well-executed. I liked that we were served one dish at a time. I especially loved the salad. They came with hidden slices of maguro, which were supremely fresh. And the scallop, oh the scallop! So firm, sweet and succulent.

Hotategai. Just ONE scallop. Savour each sweet bite.

An medley of wraps (veggies and meats). Very nicely done.

Zaru soba (which my son would stir vigorously in the dipping sauce with a fork).

Assorted sushi.

Even the dessert was exquisite. It was a matcha tiramisu topped with azuki beans and a dollop of cream. Heavenly! My kids were served matcha ice-cream, which I managed to sneak a spoonful of. It was creamy and very icy. I don't quite know how to describe this, but whenever I am served ice-creams at good Japanese restaurants, I can always taste the iciness in them. It's something you can't replicate in a tub of store-bought ice-cream. So yes, the ice-cream was matcha full of yum!

Matcha ice-cream. No need for any toppings. It was so good on its own.

Matcha Tiramisu :) Just the right hint of sweetness.

We washed everything down with freshly brewed coffee ... very smooth and none of that acidic after taste. In fact, it was all hits and no misses for the entire meal. For sure, I would return. It's a great place for good food and cosy ambience. And I would highly recommend their set meals* for the excellent quality and variety. We actually had 1 more dish which I forgot to photograph: grilled salmon topped with a runny, sweet omelette. Very nice.
*Note that the set meals change according to seasons.  

I have to say, the kids also played a big part in making this an extremely pleasant dining experience. They were well-behaved and co-operative, which meant I could slowly sample my food (as opposed to my usual wolfing down) and not have to fuss over them. I think they enjoyed their lunch too, because on the way home, they were already asking when we were going back! Soon, my dears. Soon.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Milk Bread

Milk bread for strong bones and healthy teeth. Get your loaf today! Do I sound like a commercial already? Haha, I made 2 mini loaves of Milk Bread on a lark this afternoon. By the time the bread was out of the oven, it was already evening. Which explains the awful colour of these photos. I hate taking food pics without natural light. It's just so unflattering. Grrr ...

But the bread ... oh, the bread! It was pure addiction. Or is it the case for all freshly baked breads, I wonder? We couldn't resist eating slice after slice, despite having just finished dinner. It was chewy, warm and just so wholesome!

One loaf down. Another one left for tomorrow's brekkie. How does one ever go back to eating mass-produced breads? Sigh ... what have I done?!

(Originally from here but I got it from here)
*Note that the recipe uses a bread machine which I don't have and will never buy because I am short of space! I hand knead the dough for all my breads.

- 143g fresh milk 
- 35g egg
- 25g caster sugar
- 5g salt
- 250g bread flour
- 4g instant yeast
- 38g butter (unsalted)

1. Place milk, egg, followed by caster sugar, salt, bread flour and yeast into the pan of the bread machine. Set to Dough function. Add in the butter after 8-10 mins into the kneading cycle. Continue to let the bread machine do the kneading. Stop the machine after the kneading cycle. Re-start the machine and let the dough knead for another 10mins before stopping the machine.

2. Remove dough from the bread pan, let it proof in room temperature in a mixing bowl, covered with cling wrap. Let it proof for 60mins.

3. Remove dough and punch out the gas. Divide dough into 3 equal portions. Roll and shape into balls. 

4. Let the dough rest for 15mins (this is needed so that the dough will be easier to roll out and shape).

5. On a lightly floured surface, flatten one dough and roll out into a longish shape. Roll up the dough swiss-roll style. Do the same for the two remaining balls.

6. Flatten the rolled-up dough and roll out again into a long rectangular shape. Roll up tightly, and make as many rolls you can, swiss-roll style for the second time. Do the same for the two remaining balls.

7. Place dough in lightly greased bread tin/pan. Let the dough proof for the second time, until it fills up 80% of the tin/pan. Cover with cling wrap.

8. Bake at pre-heated oven at 180-190 degree celsius for 30-35mins.

9. Unmould the bread immediately when removed from the oven. Let it cool completely before slicing.

Cod In Teriyaki Sauce (Gindara Teriyaki)

I bought a big pack of cod steaks recently. My children generally like fish, but their preference skew towards cod, salmon and mackerel ... yup, all the fatty, oily fishes. 

Today, I decided to go Japanese again and make them cod in teriyaki sauce. Yum ... teriyaki sauce. Give them anything slathered in teriyaki sauce and they will wallop 'em up! The printing on the package of cod said "Product of France", so I wonder if they are any different from the Japanese Gindara which we are more familiar with? Anyway, this dish was a breeze to put together and better yet, has a very short cooking time. I like!

Teriyaki Marinade/Sauce 
(For 2 small cod steaks)
- 1 tbs sugar
- 1 tbs mirin
- 2 tbs soy sauce (I use Lee Kum Kee and it works fine but you may want to use a Japanese brand like Kikkoman)
Adjust accordingly if you are cooking bigger steaks or would like more teriyaki dipping sauce. 

1. Marinate for at least an hour. Heat a little oil in a skillet. When the oil is hot, lower the flame. Hold up the marinated cod steaks and let them "drip dry" a little before you toss them into the pan. Do not throw away the marinade. 

2. Make sure you cook over a very small flame because the fish will char (due to the sugar in the teriyaki marinade). The steaks cook very quickly, especially if cut small, so make it snappy - about a minute each side. Place on serving plate.

3. In a separate saucepan, bring the marinade to a quick boil. Serve in a saucer.

This is best eaten hot off the pan. With the advantage of a short cooking time, this dish is always cooked only when the kids go "I'm hungry!" Now excuse me while I go get a bowl of steaming hot gohan ...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Shrimp Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Kai)

I swear, one of my readers here is psychic.

I received an email from her yesterday, asking if I knew a recipe for Shrimp Paste Chicken ... just as I was finishing up this post! So, before I go on, I just wanna give a big holler to G from Down Under, "G'DAY MATE!"

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I hope you like this :D

* * * * *

Fried chicken ranks high on my children's list but I don't indulge them too often. Today though, I gave them their greasy fix because it's been a couple of weeks since they had this. I had already marinated a bag of wings and stashed them in the fridge for a couple of days, so that the flavours would have been thoroughly infused. There are a few fried chicken recipes that I make often, which my children all enjoy, but on the menu today was Shrimp Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Kai).

I used 10 chicken wings, cut at joint. I always eyeball where seasoning is concerned. You just have to look, feel and judge. A couple cubes of nam yee (red fermented bean curd which gives the chicken its rich reddish colour - "Fu Chung" is a popular brand found at supermarkets and Asian stores), a small chunk of belacan (lightly toasted), dashes of fish sauce, sesame oil, brandy (which you can substitute with rice wine) and some pepper. Mix all up into a paste and coat the wings evenly. If the marinade is too dry, use some of the nam yee liquid from the jar. There is no need for salt because nam yee and belacan are both very salty.

I marinate at least 24hrs in the fridge. When ready for frying, remember to take the chill off the meat first. Get rid of excess liquid, then dredge in rice flour before sliding the wings into a very hot pan of oil. I like rice flour among all the flours because it gives the crispiest effect. Fry till crispy or when the chicken takes on a deep golden hue (see picture).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Moist & Fluffy Banana Cake

You'd probably have read this a gazillion times in flogs: "I had 3 very ripe bananas left and I didn't want to waste them, so I decided to make banana cake."


Well, lemme tell ya, I am just the opposite. I buy bananas with the sole intention of making banana cakes. In fact, while I enjoy eating bananas as a fruit, I absolutely go bananas over banana cakes! Sorry, couldn't resist that ;P

I am always in high spirits whenever "banana cake day" arrives - when the once glorious comb of sunny yellow bananas becomes a shrivelled bunch of 3 miserable, speckled fingers. They would be precariously dangling from the stem, threatening to fall off any moment. THAT would be when I swoop in and make them into delicious banana cake.

And yes, today was THE day. :)

I baked the cake using this recipe but I halved everything. I like this particular recipe because it yields a moist and fluffy cake (as opposed to moist and dense).

Recipe(from Baking Mum)
- 180g unsalted butter
- 180g castor sugar
- 2 extra large eggs, lightly beaten
- 250g cake flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking Soda
- 220g bananas, mashed
- 50 g dairy whipped cream (I used evaporated milk)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Cream butter and sugar till light and creamy.

2. Pour in eggs gradually and beat till creamy.

3. Add in whip cream, mashed bananas and banana essence and mix well.

4. Add in cake flour, baking powder and baking soda, and beat for a short while, just to make sure everything is incorporated.

5. Pour into an 8-inch round tray.

6. Bake at 175 degree celcius for about 50 to 60 mins, or until cooked.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Simple Fried Rice

What do you do with leftover rice? Why, you fry it, of course! Fried rice is such a quintessential Asian dish. I love fried rice, whether it is the Chinese Yangzhou chao fan, Indonesian nasi goreng, Thai olive rice or Japanese garlic rice. However, like all deceptively easy dishes, a lot of skill is required to produce a good plate of fried rice. In fact, it is widely regarded that the best way to test a Chinese chef's skill and experience is to get him to cook a simple plate of fried rice. 

For a start, you need to work fast because the fire has to be big, else you'll never achieve that wok hei which is essentially the X-factor in frying rice. Second, you have to ensure that the rice, ingredients and seasonings are thoroughly tossed so that you have a homogeneous mix. Third, you've got to ensure that the rice is separated into individual grains, unbroken and coated in seasoning. Now, try doing all that in a short span of time over high heat without burning anything, and you'll know it ain't child's play.

For me, fried rice is a dish I serve up whenever we have leftovers. It's the most convenient way to use up whatever has been lying in my fridge. And the best part is, it's quick, fuss-free, and very delish! As such, my fried rice is as unauthentic as you can get ;P It's neither Chinese nor Indonesian nor Thai nor whatever. Oftentimes, you'll find strange combinations, like sausages with long beans, or bacon with sprouts, or fish cakes with frozen corn. Ah nevermind ... my kids love anything in fried rice :) 

Actually, I remember learning how to fry rice years back when my eldest was a fussy lil eater (she still is!). I would use only rice, egg and ham. Yes, ham! She loved ham and would chow down this savoury combination with nary a struggle. From then till now and 3 kids later, I still can't claim to churn out perfect fried rice. But at least I can now fry up a decent plate ;P In fact, I've even gotten the hang of that awesome wrist-flicking action while tossing the rice ... something which used to intrigue me to no end. 
Digression: I've watched a documentary where young Chinese chefs use a wok full of sand to practise their tossing skills!

Last night's dinner was the result of having overnight rice and a bowl of leftover egg wash in the fridge. To these, I added some chicken fillets. As the combination was rather plain, I loaded up on garlic and added a tablespoon of butter to enhance the taste (anyone who has tried garlicky, buttery Japanese fried rice will know what I'm talkin' about). Finally, I topped everything with crispy ikan bilis (anchovies) for crunch.

Fried Rice
- Rice (overnight, cold rice is best)*
- 1 or 2 eggs
- Minced garlic 
- Whatever else you like, for eg, prawns, chicken meat, peas, bean sprouts, fish cake, crab meat, char siew, chinese sausage, etc. Today, I only used chicken.
- Seasoning: Mix a dash of fish sauce, a dash of pepper, 1 tbsp oyster sauce, 2 tbsp water and a pinch of corn flour.
- Garnishing: crispy ikan bilis (anchovies), spring onions, coriander, fried shallots, pork floss, peanuts ... whatever you fancy!

1. Heat oil, scramble the egg quickly and take it out. 

2. Next, add chicken (which I marinated for 10mins in light soy sauce) and/or other ingredients you desire. Fry each ingredient separately till about 70-80% cooked and remove. You will be re-introducing them to the rice at the end.

Make sure you have a strong fire throughout, else you will be missing the element of wok hei, which is so essential in a good plate of fried rice. However, work quickly! Else you might burn the ingredients. Like I said, frying rice deceptively simple.

3. Add a little more oil if necessary, throw in the garlic and fry briefly (do not brown them). Add the cold rice and stir to loosen up the grains.

4. Pour in seasoning and toss, toss, toss! Towards the end, throw in the rest of the semi-cooked ingredients. Continue tossing. If you can't toss, stir gently. Do not poke or "mash" up the rice. The grains will break and you will get a starchy, messy mush. Allow the wok transfer its heat over to the rice. Turn off flame.

5. Garnish with condiments. I love topping with crispy anchovies because they give crunch and extra protein (good for my growing kids!) For myself, I must have a dollop of kick-ass sambal chilli made by my dear granny. Yums!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Soft Honey Dinner Buns

Yes, yes, yes. I have been bitten by the bread bug! Worked up a sweat today kneading the dough for these Soft Honey Dinner Buns. I guess due to the high liquid content, they were of a stickier consistency, so I had to knead longer to get the dough together. It was a 30min "workout" for me, even though the recipe stated only 10! But it was worth it. The texture was soft, with a slight chewy bite (as opposed to the airy type which I abhor). Next time, I will make them just a tad sweeter. I opted to omit the recipe's call to glaze with an egg wash. Instead, I brushed melted butter right after the buns were baked, and true enough, it yielded a softer crust :) Happiness!

(Left) Fresh out of the oven, (Right) With olive oil.

My girl smartly declined her plate of rice for dinner, preferring to pair the freshly baked buns with her fried chicken. Very clever indeed!

(Left) Plain buns, (Right) With cheese.

I also made a cheese version. I think I should have enclosed it within the bun to protect the cheese from drying out. Ah well, the next time then ;)

Soft Honey Dinner Buns
(makes about twelve 80g buns)

Recipe from here
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 2 tbs shortening
- 2 tbs butter
- 1/4 cup liquid honey
- 4 to 4 1/2 cups bread flour
- 2 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt

Pour milk into a saucepan and bring to a scald. Set aside. Pour your honey into a large bowl, add in shortening and butter. Pour in the hot scalded milk. Stir till all the shortening and butter is melted. Add in 2 cups of flour and mix till smooth. Allow to cool to 110F (43 degree celsius). Add in salt and yeast. Mix till smooth and allow to rest uncovered for 15mins. Add in another cup of flour and stir. Pour mixture on a flat, floured surface. Begin to knead and slowly add in more flour as you need. You may or may not need all the 4 1/2 cups of flour. You just don't want the dough to be too sticky. Knead for 10mins. Place dough into a lightly oiled bowl and turn till all sides are very lightly coated. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 1 hour or till double in bulk. With a weight scale divide dough into 12 equal parts. Roll each piece into a ball and cover for 10mins. This will help the dough to relax and will be easier to work with and shape. If you want to make round buns, (or go to cooking class to get ideas for different shapes at this point) you can place them on a parchment lined cookie sheet at this time and cover with plastic wrap for 1 hour or till double in bulk. You can brush the tops with an egg wash to get that shiny coating. Take 1 egg white in a bowl and beat with a wire whisk till foamy. Brush just the foam on top of each bun. You can also garnish the tops of the buns with poppy seeds, sesame seed, parmesan cheese. Bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for about 12 to 14mins. Serve hot.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bakery Style Sweet Buns

Before I even begin writing anything, I just want to give a big shout out to everyone who has dropped by my blog these recent weeks. Thank you for reading. It makes me want to cook more, bake more, blog more. This blog is less than a month old, so it astounds me to see visitors from all over: London, Tasmania, Melbourne, Sydney, Texas, California and gulp, Tallinn (Estonia)! And to the few who emailed me with specific queries, I am just happy to share whatever I know. I am humbled. I truly am. Thank you so much! :D

Alrighty then. Let's talk about bread-making, shall we? LOL. Having already conquered soft pretzels, I've became emboldened overnight! Yesterday, I had an afternoon freed up for baking because my daughter had school till late.

*rubs hands in glee*

I browsed around for something simpler to bake and quickly decided on this. Oh my, I love these sweet buns you find at the bakery. Mmm, Mmm! And better still, this was sooo much easier to make! Now, WHY did I have to choose a complicated number for my maiden attempt?! Argh.

Anyhow, I managed to get the kneading part down pat pretty quick. None of that "quicksand" drama. In fact, everything moved very smoothly. Then the husband called to send me out on an errand. Which was just as well, because the dough had to be left to proof.

So I dragged the other 2 kids out with me for a little "detour" before I returned to do my "roadblock" :) I love The Amazing Race and I am sooo glad Tammy & Victor won!!! *starts doing the happy dance* Ooops, sorry! I have a tendency to go off on a tangent :P

Anyway, when we returned, the dough was nice and poofy. I made 8 rolls (of 60g each): 4 plain, 2 cheese and 2 cinnamon sugar. I used whatever was left over to make 1 hot dog roll for my son's teatime snack.

Tadah! Here they are:

(Left) Bakery Style Sweet Buns
(Right) The inside was soft soft soft! Even my baby had some for nibbles.

Sigh, my hot dog roll was a queer imitation of those you'd find in a Japanese bakery.
Still, it was wolfed down without complaints, so I reckon it must have tasted alright *grins*.

My absolute fave: sweet bun with cheese filling! I used the President brand of Emmental cheese. 
Next time, I will try something sharper, like cheddar :)

Overall, I was happy with the texture. In future, I will omit the egg wash because it makes the crust a bit too crisp for my liking. I prefer a softer crust, which I read can be achieved by brushing butter once out of the oven. Also, I am sorely lacking in the aesthetics department. The rolls looked so "rough around the edges" :/ Well, practice makes perfect. Which means, the provision store where I buy my bread won't be seeing me in the next few weeks!

Bakery Style Sweet Buns
(makes around nine 60g portions)

Recipe from here
- 150g bread flour
- 150g cake flour
- 5g active dry yeast
- 3g salt
- 125g milk
- 1 egg
- 60g caster sugar
- 50g butter
- 1 egg, beaten, for glazing (which I shall omit from now)

1. Mix all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add in milk, egg and butter. Mix into a dough.

2. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough until the gluten is fully developed (see tip below) and the dough is elastic, smooth and non-sticky. It will take about 25 mins to knead the dough by hand. Initially the dough will stick on to the work surface. Do not be tempted to add more flour or even give up kneading! After continuous kneading, the dough will no longer stick to the work surface.

3. Place the dough in the mixing bowl and cover with a damp towel or cling wrap to seal in the moisture. Allow the dough to proof until double in bulk. This will take about 1hr in Singapore weather. To test whether the dough has been fully proofed, press a finger into the dough and withdraw quickly. It should leave a deep impression and spring back very slowly. For an insufficiently proofed dough, the impression will spring back instantly.

4. Take out the dough and punch out the gas produced. Let the dough rest for about 15mins.

5. Divide the dough into 60g portions. Shape and add fillings as desired. Arrange dough in a greased or lined pan. Rest for about another 15mins.

6. Brush the top with whole egg mixture*. Add almond flakes on the top of the buns, as desired.
* I prefer to brush with butter because it gives a softer crust. 

7. Bake for about 15mins in a preheated oven at 190 degree celsius. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack.

To check whether the dough is fully developed, take a small piece of the dough and stretch it with your fingers. If it can be stretched into a thin layer without tearing easily, the dough is fully developed.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels

Pretzels. Whenever I hear that word, an image of George Dubya choking on one will invariably come to mind. How that happened continues to mystify me. I mean, a pretzel! What are the odds?! Just like, shooting your friend because you thought he was a quail. Thankfully, there were no fatalities in both incidents because that would be so NOT funny.

Homemade cinnamon sugar. Looks like sand, doesn't it?

Anyway, back to pretzels. I made a small jar of cinnamon sugar the other day, with the intention of sprinkling it on toast. Then the idea of making soft cinnamon pretzels came about. Hmmm ... warm, toasty cinnamon pretzels, the type sold at Aunty Anne's outlets ... yum yum. But, there was a catch: I've never tried baking breads before. I've always thought it would be too difficult. However, the lure of warm cinnamon pretzels was too great to ignore, and I meekly conceded defeat. So out I went, to get the ingredients.

I decided on this recipe. It looked fairly straightforward, but I was still apprehensive, since I was venturing into unknown territory. The first few steps were a no-brainer. It was the kneading of the dough that stumped me. Just how do you know when to stop? It was a gooey, sticky, messy, uncontrollable glob with a mind of its own. 

As I tried my darndest to get out of that sticky situation (pun intended), I imagined how it would be like trapped in quicksand (yes, I have a fertile imagination). The more you move, the more it swallows you up. Kinda like what was happening to my fingers. At one point, they were well and truly cemented.

I knew I was a long way off. I had seen enough on TV to know that dough had to be kneaded till you can effortlessly shape it into a ball. And it should not stick to your fingers. So persevere I did ... I was even breaking a sweat!

Kneading is hard work, period. I think I might just develop biceps if I do this thrice a week. Is it any wonder why artisan bakers (like those in a boulangerie) tend to be men? Think about it: it takes a whole lotta arm power to handle sacks of flour and sugar AND knead, knead, knead.

Anyway, I think I was entangled in that gluten-y glob for a good 25mins. Then, the magic that is bread-making took place. At some point, the glob of stringy gluten just came together. And I finally understood what it meant to knead till it feels "as soft as a baby's bottom", because that dough was as delicate as my baby son's bottom!

At this stage, I was just relieved that all my ingredients did not go to waste, never mind how the pretzels turn out. As I left the dough to proof, a part of me berated myself for even attempting this at all: "Couldn't you have picked something easier for a start?" But hey, what was the worst case scenario? Just dump everything ... and try again :) 

An hour or so later, my daughter and helper ran to me, squealing in excitement - the dough had risen! Remember, we all knew diddly squat about bread-making, hence the buzz ;) So yeah, I proceeded with the rest of the recipe, ie, shaping the pretzels, boiling them in a water bath, drying them, baking them and eventually adding the cinnamon topping. 

How did they turn out, you ask?


Pretty darn good :) 
Better than expected results!

My kids and helper went for the jugular and had two each ;) I tried a small one and was pleasantly surprised myself.

Cinnamon. Sugar. Pretzels. 'Nuff said.

By the time the second tray of pretzels were done, I was too beat to finish the small mound of dough left. So, I took the easy way out and made rolls! LOL. When they came out of the hot oven, everyone simply tore them apart, dipped 'em in melted butter before going for a good frolick in the tray of cinnamon sugar. Instant gratification, I say!

All in all, I am greatly inspired and encouraged to try bread-making again. Next time though, I will do it during the school hols, when I don't have to send and fetch the kids in-between kneading and baking. I also have a strong feeling that there will be more requests for cinnamon sugar pretzels from now on, seeing how there were no leftovers at all!

Recipe for easy reference (adapted from here):
Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels
- 1 1/2 cup warm water
- 1 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 4 cups regular flour
- 1 1/8 teaspoon salt

- A tray of cinnamon sugar
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted

For boiling the pretzels
- 2 cups water 
- 2 tablespoons baking soda

1. In a mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water. Add sugar and stir to dissolve.

2. Add flour and knead dough until smooth and elastic. Let rise for 40-60 minutes at least.

3. Shaping the dough: Divide the dough into parts and roll it out. Make sure to keep both the ends thinner than the rest of it since the ends will be tied together and become thicker eventually. Also, make sure that you roll them out thin, not more than 1/2 inch in diameter, because they will swell up twice - once after the water bath and then when they are baking.

4. Next, boil the two water and add the baking soda. Reduce heat till you get a gentle simmer. Drop the pretzels in the water bath and let them stay in for about 5 seconds. After the pretzels are removed, make sure you dry the excess liquid on a kitchen towel before placing on the baking sheet/silpat/baking stone. 

5. Place the pretzels on a baking sheet and brush with a lightly eaten egg. Bake in a preheated oven at 220 degree celsius for ten minutes or until golden. Let cool on a wire rack. Brush with the melted butter and sprinkle the sugar cinnamon all over it. 

Monday, May 18, 2009

Claypot Rice (Improvised)

It was gloomy and grey all of yesterday. Add to the saddening events of the week before, and the only thing I wanted to do was to curl up in bed to do some navel gazing. But since I couldn't afford that luxury, I reckoned the next best thing would be to make myself some good ol' comfort food. Something piping hot. Something savoury. Something like claypot rice.

You know, there is something uplifting about eating hot food on a cold, depressing day. I remember being in the States some years back ... on the road ... cold and famished ... looking forward to the next pit stop, so that I could find some hot food ... to satiate my hunger and invigorate my fatigued senses.

Instead, what greeted me was nothing more than a sleepy Subway outlet amidst some hardware stores and a pharmacy. All my hopeful anticipation of tucking into hot, greasy grub was dashed. Woe betide me! The only hot item that came with my Subway meal was a sorry cup of dishwater tea. When I took my first bite of that cold, limp sandwich, I had an epiphany (cue dramatic drumroll):

Fire is indeed one of the greatest human discoveries ... EVER.

Anyway, I digress. As I was saying, I wanted some claypot rice to cheer me up. Problem was, I didn't have one. Desperate times called for desperate measures, so I improvised using my rice cooker instead. Obviously I couldn't achieve that caramelising effect - it was a non-stick cooker, for crying out loud. So, no crispy burnt rice at the bottom. Nevertheless, it met my criteria for comfort food: hot, hearty and something I could tuck into

My favourite part was the rice. It was drenched in savoury braising sauce and subtly perfumed by the slices of chinese sausage. Oh, what a delight! I could just eat the rice alone. Hmmm, maybe I should seriously consider getting myself a proper claypot ...

Arrange all the ingredients on top of the rice evenly before cooking

Claypot Rice
(serves 4)
- 8 chicken wings (cut at joint), marinated in dark sauce, soy sauce, hua tiao wine and sesame oil
- 1 chinese sausage, sliced thinly
- 1 handful pre-sliced dried mushrooms, soaked (I soaked -> discarded the water -> re-soaked, a total of 4 times to get rid of the pungent mushroom smell)
- 2 1/2 cups of raw rice grains (to be cooked in advance)
- Some minced garlic
- 1 pack quails' eggs (boiled and de-shelled)
*I know quails' eggs seem out of place, but they are very nutritious and I added them for the kids, since this was gonna be a one-dish meal.

Braising sauce
- 2 tbsp dark sauce
- 6 to 8 cloves garlic, peeled
- A dash of sesame oil
- A sliver of ginger
- 1 small lump of rock sugar
- 1 rice bowl of water

1. Cook the rice as you would normally. When cooked, open up the rice cooker and leave it to cool.

2. In a saucepan, bring the braising sauce to a boil. Add in the mushrooms and boil over a gentle flame for 15mins. Add in chicken wings and quails' eggs. After 30 mins, turn off the flame. Take out all the ingredients and leaving only the sauce.

3. Once the rice has cooled down, heat up some oil in a skillet. Add some minced garlic and fry briefly. Add in the rice and give a good stir to loosen up the grains. Pour half of the braising sauce in and coat all the grains thoroughly.

4. When the rice has been well-coated in sauce, put it back into the rice cooker. Arrange the ingredients on top of the rice, including the chinese sausage. Pour the remainder braising sauce over the rice and cook for another 5-8mins. Leave it in the cooker until ready to eat. Let the flavours infuse. 

Enjoy! I certainly did :)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mango Pudding

I have been seeing mangoes everywhere I go. I smell them even before I see them. It's true! The first thing that greeted me at the supermarket yesterday was the sweet, fragrant smell of mangoes :) I wanted to check them out but couldn't, because I was in a grab-and-go situation. It was just as well though, because that very night, we had visitors from out-of-town who came bearing gifts. Among them, 3 beautiful, luscious mangoes! Oh, what luck ;) I could literally see my daughter's eyes light up in anticipation of what is to come - mango pudding!

My girl loves mango pudding - the wobbly type served at Chinese restaurants. She will always order a serving (sometimes two!) for dessert. In fact, it would be the highlight of her meal. She would gobble down her food and then proclaim, "I'm done! I want my mango pudding now."

I know that the wobbly nature of restaurant-style mango pudding comes from using gelatine, which is either bovine or swine-derived. However, as there are people in my home who either: (a) don't take beef, (b) don't take pork or (c) don't take either, I have to find an alternative. Yes, I have multiple dietary restrictions to contend with on a daily basis!

Some time ago, I chanced upon this brand of instant mango pudding called HollyFarms. The ingredients are gelatine-free, so it is suitable for use as my base. I experimented by adding evaporated milk and mango puree. Although the pudding lacked the gelatinous wobble of the real McCoy, it was still a pretty close substitute.

As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and since we never have extras left, I can only deduce that everyone loves this!

Put aside some mango cubes for garnishing

Mango Pudding
- 1 box HollyFarms Instant Mango Pudding
- 2 big, very ripe mangoes
- 2 tbsp evaporated milk
- 200ml hot water
* If you have a sweet tooth, feel free to load up on sugar. For me, the mixture is already mighty sweet.

1. Peel the mangoes. Make sure you don't cut the mango too close to the seed because the flesh tends to be more fibrous there. You don't want fibres in every mouthful of mango pudding! Keep aside some mango cubes for garnishing.

2. In a blender, puree the mangoes very briefly until you get a lumpy pulp. This gives the pudding some texture.

3. In a saucepan, dissolve the sachet of instant pudding in 200ml hot water. Keep stirring over a small flame until everything is dissolved. Add 2 tbsp evaporated milk and continue stirring. When the solution reaches a gentle boil, turn off the fire.

4. Add in the pureed mangoes, juice and all, into the hot mixture. Stir to combine.

5. Pour into pudding moulds or glasses. Make sure you get rid of any bubbles on the surface to ensure a polished finish. Be quick before the pudding begins to set.

6. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

7. Garnish with mango cubes and drizzle with evaporated milk before serving. Serve in classy wine glasses for a sweet end to a meal.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Zaru Soba

Zaru soba never fails to make its way into my menu every week. It requires minimal preparation and can be put together in a jiffy. Best of all, it is the perfect food for hot, humid days. My children are extremely fond of Japanese cuisine, especially their noodle dishes - soba, ramen, udon, somen ... hot or cold, dry or soup.  

However, I tend to favour soba over the rest. Made of buckwheat, it is the healthiest option. And cold noodles just taste so refreshingly good! 

My children usually have a plate of panfried saba to go along. Sweet, fatty and meaty. Most of the time, we make agedashi tofu to complete the set, but today, we all had a late, heavy breakfast. This was the welcomed light lunch that we all needed.

Zaru Soba Dipping Sauce 
(for 2 Adults and 2 children)
- 1 cup soy sauce (I use Lee Kum Kee as it is less salty)
- Half cup mirin

- Chopped spring onions
- Toasted sesame seeds
- Toasted nori, cut into strips
- Wasabi
- Raw quail's egg (which I only add to the adults' portions)
* I know many recipes call for dashi stock to be added, but so far, this self-concocted sauce seems to work for my family.

1. Boil the zaru soba till al dente.

2. Rinse briefly under cold water. 

3. Leave it in a basin of ice cold water while you prepare the sauce.

4. When sauce is ready, serve soba atop ice cubes. I don't have the bamboo sieve, so I make do with my Japanese lacquered bowls (for some authenticity!). Provide a separate bowl with dipping sauce.

5. Place spring onions, sesame seeds and nori strips in individual saucers. Everyone can then add whatever or however much they like of each ;) While the kids make a beeline for the nori strips, I prefer more spring onions and sesame seeds in my serving. To give the sauce a richer flavour, add wasabi and raw quail's egg (only for us adults).

Friday, May 15, 2009

Snack Attack!

Some things never go out of fashion. Like chocolate chip cookies and a tall glass of milk. I like to make a whole lot of cookie dough and freeze them in batches. Whenever my cookie monsters have a craving, they can always have freshly baked cookies pronto. Nothing beats fresh ones right outta the oven!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Homemade Radish Cake (Lor Pak Kou)

This morning, I spied some gorgeous radishes at the market. They were a pristine hue of white, unblemished and they calling out my name. I grabbed three at a go, knowing exactly what I wanted to make.

I have been eating Radish Cake ever since I was a little girl. My very first taste of this popular hawker dish came from a corner stall at the now defunct Siglap market (where Siglap Centre now stands). I think longtime easterners in Singapore will know what I am talking about :) The makeshift stall was situated at the entrance of the market. An old lady would be sitting in a corner, using a piece of thread to slice the huge slabs of radish cake into bite-sized pieces. The younger one would do the frying in a colossal skillet. In the those days, you could BYO - eggs, squids, shrimps - and the hawker would add them into your order, free-of-charge. Ah, nostalgia! Can you guess my age now? ;P

Today, Radish Cake is reserved as the occasional treat for me because it is calorie-laden and artery-clogging. And since the days of my incredible metabolism are over, I had better watch what I eat ;P

A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips!

However, I don't restrict my kids whenever they want their fix. And boy, do they love their Radish Cake! I used to buy the "Chai Tow Kway" version from the market hawker until I learnt to make this from Aunty Elizabeth. Hers is the "Lor Pak Kou" radish cake, commonly found in dim sum restaurants. In her recipe, you add scant quantities of dried cuttlefish and minced pork. If you omit them, you'll get plain radish cake which you can use to fry the "Chai Tow Kway" style. My kids seem to prefer the "Lor Pak Kou" version, although I still like "Chai Tow Kway", being the Teochew girl that I am ;) 

Homemade Radish Cake (Lor Pak Kou)
- 2 large radishes (or 3 small ones), grated coarsely
- 1 cube chicken stock, dissolved in 1 cup water*
- Some garlic, minced
- 100g minced pork
- 2 tbsp dried cuttlefish, cut into tiny crumbs (see photos)
- 200g rice flour (you can use more flour if you want more 'bite', but I like my Radish Cake tender and moist)
- Salt and pepper to taste (use at your own discretion)
* If you are not comfortable using reconstituted chicken stock, you can use liquid chicken stock instead - like Swanson's or Heinz - but take note that different brands vary in saltiness. So, adjust your salt/pepper seasoning accordingly.

(Left) Dried cuttlefish strips from the market   
(Right) Cut into very fine pieces

1. Dissolve 1 cube chicken stock (Maggi or Knorr's) in 1 cup water by boiling in a saucepan. Once the cube has completely dissolved, turn off the fire and leave to cool.

2. Put the grated radishes in a large pot and cook over a very, very low flame for about 15 mins. The radishes will sweat and leave their juices at the bottom of the pot, sometimes in copious amounts. Don't throw it away. Save it in a small bowl. When the radishes are cooked, leave them to cool. After cooling, press them through a sieve to extract whatever liquid content is left. Again, don't discard the juices.

3. In a skillet, add some oil and fry the cuttlefish till totally crisp and browned. Make sure your flame is small, otherwise it will burn quickly. Note: if you don't fry till it is crisp and browned, your Radish Cake will stink of cuttlefish! As such, I like to cut the dried cuttlefish till very, very fine. This ensures that they cook quickly and thoroughly. 

4. When the cuttlefish is nicely crisp, add in the garlic. Fry briefly and then add the mince pork. Mix well. Use your spatula to break up the minced pork as finely as you can. You don't want meat balls in your Radish Cake! 

5. In a big bowl, mix the cooled chicken stock with the rice flour. Make sure it is completely cool, else it will congeal.

6. Add in the cuttlefish/minced pork mix.

7. Add in the cooled radishes.

8. Mix everything till well-combined. If you find that it is too dry, add some of the radish water that you have saved prior. The final mixture should look like coleslaw.

9. Pour the mixture into a round cake tin (I usually use my 6-inch tin). Place in a wok or steamer on medium heat for 1 hour. The bottom of the cake tin should not be touching the bubbling water below.

After mixing in the stock, rice flour, radishes and minced pork/cuttlefish. Texture should resemble a coleslaw.

Recap in photos:
(A) Shredded radishes, minced pork, minced garlic
(B) Fried cuttlefish with minced pork
(C) Combine chicken stock with rice flour, then add everything in and mix well
(D) Pour into a 6-inch cake tin, flatten the top nicely, place in steamer for 60mins  

10. Take the steamed Radish Cake out and cool. I usually keep it in the fridge for a few hours so that it really sets and keeps its shape. It can be eaten as is, but many people prefer it panfried. Cut the Radish Cake into rectangular slabs. Lightly panfry till nicely browned. I usually fry a wee bit longer because my kids like their edges a little crusty ;)

Cooled for a few hours after steaming


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Golden Tau Pok Puffs

I have this neighbour who's always plying me with food. She's an elderly lady who lives with her husband and unmarried daughter. Almost every week without fail, she will pass me bags of food - veggies, fish, meats, eggs, condiments, dried goods, whatever. Once, bless her soul, she gave me twelve bottles of Maggi tomato and chilli sauces! Twelve

See, she has another daughter, who is married. This daughter comes by every weekend with a cart full of groceries ... and I mean a cart FULL. On a few occasions, I happened to be at the lobby of my apartment when the delivery was taking place. I would see packs of fish and meats, tins of canned food, packets of noodles, rice, drinks, a full carton of eggs (I'm talking 30 here), sauces, what-have-you. And those were for ONE week's supply. Repeat this every week and you probably get an idea of how much food this old lady has to try and finish! 

I guess this is her daughter's way of saying "I love you"?

Anyhow, I'm not complaining! It's like having an extra Granny to feed me silly ;P In turn, I reciprocate by giving her some of the dishes I've cooked with the food she gives. Such is the 'kampung spirit', no?

Today, she gave me a small packet of minced pork, among other things. I was mulling over what to make with it - there was way too little to make Ngoh Hiang with, and way too much to steam with eggs. Then I suddenly remembered something I haven't cooked for a while. Golden Tau Pok Puffs! Well, that's what I call them anyway.

The pork was just a tad too little, so I went down to the wet market and bought a very small portion of fish paste to mix in (ratio of 2 parts pork:1 part fish). Not all fishmongers sell them. Those who do, though, will unmistakably display a huge wooden bucket in which they work their fish into a paste. Often times, they would be using 'Sai Tor' or Yellow tail. Today, I got the Sai Tor paste.

The fish paste actually lends a 'bounciness' to the Tau Pok Puffs. If you prefer using all pork, it is perfectly fine too (especially if you want the Puffs to be juicier). I have tried both versions and they are equally good. 

Tau Pok Puffs are wonderful at any time of the day, especially when you're feeling peckish. They are crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, and savoury enough to eat on their own. Today, I was feeling like a lotta chilli, so I devoured mine with a spicy dip. Gone in 60 seconds ... well, almost!

Tau Pok Puffs
(makes about 10-12 pieces)
- Approximately 200g minced pork (or use 300g pork if you don't want to mix with fish)
- Approximately 100g fish paste
- 10 to 12 pieces Tau Pok (the small square type)
- 3 to 5 water chestnuts, chopped roughly
- Garlic, minced finely
- Spring onions, chopped finely
- A small dash of fish sauce (cos my fish paste was already salted)
- A dash of white pepper
- A dash of sesame oil
- A dash of Hua Tiao wine
- Some beaten egg, which acts as a binder. Just add in a little by little until you get the sticky consistency you want. You don't have to finish adding the entire egg. 
* I had some soaked chinese mushroom slices next to me (for braising another dish), so I added in a few slices just because.

1. In a big bowl, combine all your ingredients except the egg and tau pok.

2. Mix till well-combined. 

3. Add in your beaten egg a little at a time. Stop adding when the ingredients gel together. 

4. Take a tau pok and make a small incision at the side (any side). Gently turn the tau pok inside out (see photo above, click to enlarge). Be very gentle.

5. Stuff the tau pok with the filling. Using a small, long-handle spoon helps. Pack to the brim.

6. In a skillet, heat up some oil. Fry the Tau Pok Puffs till they turn golden brown.

7. Garnish and serve. 
Cross-section view

As the Tau Pok Puffs are all so petite in size, they cook through very quickly. The outer skin (which was originally the insides of the tau pok) crisp beautifully on their own without any need to dredge in flour or deepfry in oil. The best part about biting into that juicy centre are the delightful bits of crunchy water chestnuts!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Good Morning!

The most important meal of the day. Teh-si, kaya toast and soft boiled eggs with soy sauce. A lazy Sunday brekkie at home. Such a nice change from the frenzied weekday mornings!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Lao Po Bing

This was a gift from a friend who flew in from Hong Kong. Traditional Lao Po Bing ("Wife Cakes"). Not my fave snack, but my daughter had a field day helping herself to them.

Vegetarian Chap Chye

It's Vesak Day today. I made a big pot of vegetarian chap chye to eat throughout the day. Seriously though, I have no issues eating chap chye with rice all day long, simply because it's so savoury and soupy. That's all thanks to the magic ingredient, nam yee (red fermented beancurd).

I learnt to make this dish from my mother-in-law. She takes the extra effort to fry the ingredients individually before dumping them in one big pot. She says it enhances the taste. But if you prefer not to, it's OK too. Just throw all the ingredients in and simmer till it's one big dee-licious mess!

Vegetarian Chap Chye
- Wong bok or chinese cabbage (or have them both!)
- 2 or 3 cubes of nam yee (depending on how big a pot you're cooking)
- 1 can of button mushrooms
- 1 packet enoki mushrooms
- A handful of dried mushrooms (soaked and sliced)
- A handful of black moss
- A handful of wolfberries
- A handful of dried woodear fungus (soaked)
- A handful of gingko nuts (buy pre-peeled if you want to make life easy)
- 3 tbsp of vegetarian oyster sauce
- 1 soup bowl of water (or more, if you want it more soupy, but remember, the cabbages add to the liquid content as they soften and cook)

1. In a pot, over a medium heat, fry your nam yee with some oil. Mash up the cubes as you fry. Add in the oyster sauce.

2. Lower the heat. Throw in all your ingredients except the cabbage and black moss. Try and coat all the ingredients with nam yee. Use some of the nam yee liquid from the jar.

3. Now add in your cabbage, black moss and water. Cover and simmer over a very low heat.

4. Cook for about 30 minutes until the cabbage is soft.

In the event that you want it more salty, just add a little more vegetarian oyster sauce + nam yee cubes. All up to your preferences, really.

Just look at that scrummy black moss!

Ji Dan Gao (雞蛋糕)

I am a strange person. When I am busy and tired, I seem to find more things to add on to my load.

There is this bottle of 7-Up on my kitchen table. I very seldom take soft drinks, and I only bought this because I was planning on baking something with it. I have seen many recipes using fizzy drinks while trawling the Net - cola ribs and sponge cakes being the most common ones. I wanted to try the latter.

Today, I was really physically exhausted. But my mind was oh, so alert! I was itching to bake something, and decided to make Ji Dan Gao which called for that bottle of 7-Up to be used. 

The recipe was straightforward, as was the making. I'm happy to say that it was very well-received by the young and old in my house :) The kids had this as a bedtime snack.

Ji Dan Gao
(I adapted this recipe from a random forum thread, dated Nov 2006!)
- 4 large eggs
- 210g caster sugar
- 230g low gluten flour, sifted (eg, Cake Flour or Top Flour)
- 1 tsp ovalette (optional, though cake may not be as soft)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract (which I omitted cos I wanted to taste the natural egg flavour)
- 6 tbsp ice-cream soda or 7-Up 

1. Whisk the eggs and sugar till creamy and stiff. The mixture should look a very pale yellow and the volume should double. In baking terms, beat till "ribbon stage".

2. Add in ovalette and vanilla extract (I omitted this stage).

3. Fold in the flour in thirds, alternating with the soda, and ending with flour. I had sifted my cake flour 3 times prior, to give make it light and airy.

4. Pour mixture into a bamboo steamer lined with greaseproof paper (I used my 6-inch baking tin, lined, and it turned out well too).

5. Steam the cake on high, for about 20-30 mins (I steamed for 30 mins).

6. Ensure that the cake is cooled before cutting, else it will crumble. 

Just moments ago, I had 2 slices of this eggy sponge cake with some milk tea and it was yummilicious!

Stirfried Chayote With Vermicelli

My daughter loves mung bean vermicelli, or tang hoon, as it's more popularly known. It's lovely when you add them to dishes where there is gravy/stock, like the stirfried chayote we had for dinner tonight. Just julienne the chayote before frying them in oil, garlic and stock. You can make your own stock by using dried shrimps. Soak a small handful in water beforehand, and when they have softened, bash them up with a mortar and pestle. Don't throw away the water! Add it in with the shrimp. Add a small bowlful of liquid chicken stock diluted with water. Let the chayote simmer over a covered saucepan for about 6-8 mins, or until softened. Finally, add in some vermicelli and watch it soak up all that stock! Umami goodness :)

* If you want to make this a one-dish meal, you can add some meat slices and tau kwa cubes. Pre-fry them earlier and set aside. Toss them in with the rest of the ingredients when you're ready to turn off the flame.