Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nikujaga



I went back to basics and made Nikujaga today. Like all meat and potato stews across the globe, this is home-cooked comfort food ... Japanese style. If you are a novice in the kitchen, this is certainly something you can start with. It's a one-pot stew that is a cinch to put together.

For this dish, I ditched my regular Lee Kum Kee soy sauce and used Kikkoman instead. You will be surprised at how a small change can affect the overall taste of a dish. The result was a hearty stew, nuanced with a discernible Japanese flavour. Oishii!

Now, I am very particular about the types of potatoes I use. For stews and curries, I like spuds that keep their form and are firm to the bite. My favourite potatoes for simmered dishes are Indonesian Brastagi Granola. They hold up well even after pressure-cooking ... perfect for my Nikujaga.

And oh, how my kids loved this dish! They were practically scraping the bottoms of their bowls! Now, I shall take that as a compliment ;)

Recipe
- 200g lean pork or beef (in my case, I used pork since we don't eat beef)*
* It seems many Nikujaga recipes call for the meat to be sliced as thinly as bacon strips. However, I am lacking in the slicing department and so, decided on the easy way out ... I cut them into small chunks.

- 1 white onion, cut into 6 wedges

- 1 large carrot, cut into bite-sized chunks

- 4 potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks

- 1 large soup bowl dashi stock (I didn't have this unfortunately, so I subbed with regular chicken stock diluted with water, ie, half stock + half water)

- 2 tbsp mirin

- 2 tbsp brown sugar

- 4 tbsp Kikkoman soy sauce (more or less, if desired)

- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce (more or less, if desired)


1. Heat up some oil in a medium-sized pot. Add in meat, followed by onions. Fry till meat is nicely browned. About 5 mins.

2. Add in carrots and potatoes, and saute for another 5 mins.

3. Pour diluted stock and the rest of the seasonings. Stir well.

4. Cover pot and allow everything to simmer for about 40mins, or until the meat is tender and the hardy vegetables are cooked through. There shouldn't be too much gravy at the end, and whatever's left should be thick and very flavourful.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Herbal Chicken Soup

I like to make Herbal Chicken Soup once in a while, as a health tonic. I drank this soup quite regularly after giving birth and always felt revitalised after it. This, as well as Chicken Wine, were my favourite confinement dishes.

I may not have followed every confinement 'rule' faithfully - some may have been relevant back in ancient China, but certainly not in modern Singapore - but I sure observed the eating part! What's not to like? Confinement food is absolutely delish! All those herbs and tonics made a world of difference to my postpartum recovery and my body thanked me for it.

Today, I added a little Dang Gui to the chicken soup. Not everyone likes it for it's got a very pungent, earthy smell. But I do. And surprisingly, my daughter doesn't seem to mind either. Great, someone to share the soup with!

Herbal Chicken 1

Now, I can't quite recall when or where I saw this, but I remember very distinctly watching a documentary where a Chinese physician cautioned against brewing herbs in metal pots. It is said that metal reduces the efficacy of herbs drastically. I can't verify this, but I would rather err on the side of caution ... so, I have always used a crockpot whenever I want to make anything with herbs.

I love soups for the nourishment and comfort they provide. They fill your tummy and warm your heart. This Herbal Chicken Soup is a delight to partake in cool weather, due to its warming properties. Just give me a bowl of rice and a saucer of light soy, and my meal is complete.

Recipe
- 1 fresh chicken
- 1 large soup bowl boiling water
- 1 soup spoon cognac (optional)

Herbs (names in English / Cantonese / Chinese)
Wolfberries (aka Kei Chi / Gou Ji Zi) - 1 handful

Codonopsis Pilosula (aka Dong Sum / Dang Shen) - 2 or 3 sticks, cut in half (get the good quality ones; the cheaper type, which is shorter, tends to be bitter)

Polygonatum Officinale (aka Yoke Chok / Yu Zhu) - 4 or 5 slivers

Chinese Angelica (aka Dong Kwai / Dang Gui) - 2 to 3 small pieces

Red dates (Hong Zou / Hong Zao) - 1 small handful, pitted

1. Wash chicken and place it in a crockpot.

2. Rinse all herbs and throw them in.

3. Add 1 large soup bowl of boiling hot water.

4. Add 1 soup spoon of cognac, if desired.

5. Boil for 2 hours. Skim off as much oil as you can from the surface. Enjoy!

Herbal Chicken 2

Friday, July 24, 2009

Durian Cream Cake

Love it or loathe it, the durian is the undisputed King of Fruits ... at least in Southeast Asia, where I live. People willingly fork out good money to eat this enigmatic, thorny fruit, which appears to be recession-proof. Such is its allure.

I saw 2 durian cream cakes this week: one from Terri, the other from Elin. They both looked so tantalising, I went out and made it the next day. Well, for a good reason too.

My mother-in-law, who is passionate about durians, turned 84 yesterday. Being a diabetic for years, we have had to watch her diet (because she doesn't!) and durians being very high in sugar, are a big no-no. But since it is not everyday that you turn 84, I figured just a slice would not hurt. Yes, when you're 84, you can have your (durian) cake and eat it too!


Count them - 84 years old!

As with all durian vendors, mine tried to get me to buy the premium hybrids, which I steered clear of, since I was gonna turn them into cream! After doing the "poke-poke" test on a few durians, I chose 3 for $10 and had a hunch they would be good, from the way the seller raised her eyebrows and gave a knowing nod each time I chose a durian. And indeed they were! Velvety sweet cream. So good. So good.

Once home, I made my usual sponge cake first. As it was baking, I prepared the durians by removing the seeds and putting the flesh through a sieve so that there would be no fibres in my cream. I guess I am fussy that way :P I don't like stringy fibres being dragged out each time I slice the cake.

Anyhow, I was a little apprehensive with the frosting since I had only frosted a grand total of ONE cake in my life. The last time I frosted a cake, I managed to get it done by the skin of my teeth. Today, the stakes were higher - the cake being light coloured meant less room for error. Argh, I soldiered on and did my best. And it didn't turn out too bad, if I may say so myself. Not perfect, but still ... OK.

The pureed durian was so sweet I didn't even need to add any sugar to the whipping cream (I whipped up a 200g packet but only used a third of it). And by jove, the cake tasted absolutely divine! The birthday girl haggled for an extra slice, and I relented ;) Now, if you love durians, this cake is a must.

Recipe

Sponge cake (6-inch tin)
- 4 eggs
- 100g cake flour
- 100g castor sugar
- 12g spongecake stabiliser
- 25g milk
- 90g melted butter
After cake has cooled, slice into 2 or 3 layers, depending on how tall you want your cake to be.

Durian cream
(adapted from here)
- 3 durians
- 1 packet whipped cream (200g)
- Sugar (optional - depending on sweetness of the durians)

1. Put the durian flesh through a sieve to remove the fibres.

2. Whip the cream.

3. Add proportion of whipped cream to durian puree according to preference. I added 1/3 of the cream to the puree of 3 durians. Work quickly with the frosting - it melts fast! Ensure your cake is thoroughly chilled before serving.


Saying it with flowers! My first durian cake ... and it was a good one, thankfully! :)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Banana Buttermilk Muffins

Say it with me: "Banana Buttermilk Muffins".

I know.

Think fluffy, moist, aromatic ... you get the picture. Buttermilk is truly an unsung hero. I made these muffins using a recipe from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Healthful Cooking. Easy to put together and a delight to eat. Oh yes, trust me on that one!

Presenting today's snack of the day:

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Lesson of the day: check that you have muffin cups first! I assumed I had them and panicked when I realised I didn't. Doh! With the batter made and ready to be baked, I had no choice but to make do with the cupcake cups you see here.

Recipe
(adapted from here)
- 195g all-purpose flour
- 115g caster sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup buttermilk (which I made using 1 cup milk plus 1 tsp lemon juice)
- 3 medium sized (very) ripe bananas, mashed with fork
* If, like me, you like small chunks of banana in our muffins, don't mash them too finely.
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 190 degree celsius.

Spray 12 regular muffin cups with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda.

In separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, mashed banana, oil, egg and vanilla.

Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and stir just until blended.

Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling about three-fourths full. I ran out of these, so I had to make do with cupcake cups.

Bake until lightly brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.

Allow to cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes, then turn out onto rack and cool completely.

These muffins freeze well and can be warmed in the microwave.

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Very soft and light, with hidden chunks of banana ... the way I like it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Singapore Food Festival 2009

I was one of several food bloggers invited to attend the official opening of this year's Singapore Food Festival (SFF). It was an honour and privilege I happily accepted. The event was held in the evening of 17 July at beautiful Clarke Quay.

This year's theme is - no surprise - Peranakan! Thanks to the phenomenal success of the hit drama series, The Little Nyonya, the Peranakan culture is enjoying a mini renaissance :)

It being a Friday, the atmosphere was relaxed - almost carnival-like - with many people milling along the River Promenade, where the Singapore River Market was located. There were many stalls selling all sorts of handicrafts, accessories, and of course, FOOD! Yes, food glorious food! Let's walk through the events of the evening, shall we?



This is Clarke Quay by day. Thank goodness for lovely cool weather. For my overseas readers, this is a historical riverside quay that underwent restorations in recent years. The colourful buildings you see are actually restored godowns which now house restaurants and pubs. The photo on the bottom right is the G-MAX Reverse Bungy. I could hear shrilly screams every few minutes as I took these photos.



Beauty queen contenders, dressed in traditional kebayas, and sitting pretty in a row.



I don't think you can ever find a dull-looking kebaya. I love the rich, vibrant colours and intricate designs.



(Left) People were queueing for a place in the Peranakan Parade.
(Centre) Percussion band, Samba Masala, electrified the mood as they led the procession.
(Right) I walked behind this young girl who was dressed in her traditional dress. A real Little Nyonya!



This is Clarke Quay Food Street, which stands on Read Bridge. The stalls are located on both sides of this photo. You can buy and sample all kinds of Singapore favourites, from Chicken Rice to Satay to Kueh Chang. Take your pick - there are more than 30 stalls to choose from! The photographer standing on a chair was taking photos of the VIPs, who gamely took part in the Peranakan Parade.



The lady in blue and pink is Ms Violet Oon, who is synonymous with food in Singapore. (Right) The VIPs made a toast with their Kueh Pie Tees! LOL! I thought that was really amusing.



Here are some of the stalls I managed to photograph as I muscled my way from one end to the other. (Left) A stall selling briyani, (Centre) Peranakan favourites, (Right) Satay.



After walking through the food area, we arrive at Central Square @ Clarke Quay, where the official opening ceremony was to take place. Guests and performers gathered for what was to be a splendid evening ahead.



Gulp ... a moment of deja vu putting on that media pass.



The stage.



These are the real Nyonyas. You can be sure every single one of them can cook and joget!



Lovely ladies dressed in their resplendent best, with pretty flowers in their hair.



At the VIP table. And yes, the man standing in the middle of this photo is none other than KF Seetoh, founder of Makansutra. You may have read that he recently went on the Martha Stewart show and cooked laksa. Isn't that just awesome?



We were treated to a fashion show and the sweet chorus of the Nyonyas. I love those killer heels in the top left photo! Yup, a girl can never have too many shoes, especially elaborately beaded ones in red. OK, I digress ...



This must have been a welcomed sight to many guys. I was referring to the Chang beer.



Soon, night fell, and the entire place transformed into a twinkling wonderland of colours.



As you can see, there was a cooking demonstration on stage, but I was too busy talking to people (that's me in the brown dress on the right).



I let my hair down after 4 beers. Nah, just kidding! I don't drink, not even socially. These were cups left behind by others. THEY drank my share.



After the ceremony came to an end, I made my way back to the River Promenade. I saw people feasting on crabs, popiah, Hokkien mee and curries. The Peranakan stalls, in particular, were doing brisk business. Very crowded, but the overwhelming turnout can only mean good news to the organisers. Can you spot me?



Back at the River Promenade, I spied these tiffin carriers, which were given to guests of the event. How charming! I was given one too! Oh, happy day!



This is such a novel souvenir for guests to bring back. Kudos to whoever came up with this idea. I was stopped by passers-by several times, who wanted to know where they could buy it. And when I got home, my family oohed and aahed as they examined it. I absolutely love it!



By the way, the tiffin carriers were filled with food! Open them up and you will find these Peranakan dishes.



Tadah, dinner is served! The irony is, despite being surrounded by food, I didn't get a chance to eat anything until I reached home at 9pm! Too busy checking things out, you see. I have to say, the tiffin food was good, but the desserts were exceptional, especially the Kueh Dadar (the long green roll). Bliss at first bite! In fact, I went out to get more the next day.



Kueh Dadar, one of my favourite Nyonya kuehs.



The Executive Chef of Swissotel Merchant Court Singapore - who sponsored the tiffin dinner - being interviewed by a camera crew.



More food stalls lay in wait. This one sold beautifully packaged Peranakan specialties. (Top) Pineapple tarts presented in exquisitely wrapped jars, (Bottom) Packets of rempah for all kinds of curry dishes.



Final photo before I went home - The Little Teochew meets The Little Nyonya. Sorry, couldn't resist that!

Last but not least, my sincere thanks toNuffnang, and Singapore Tourism Board, for this invitation to a wonderful evening of food, fun and festivities!

For full details of the Singapore Food Festival, see here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Curry Rempah

Curries feature prominently in Southeast Asian cooking. The heart of every curry dish is the rempah (mixed spices, which can be wet or dry). The good thing about making your own rempah is that you can tailor make it to suit your taste. The downside is, it's backbreaking work.

Today, I realised I was running out of my precious rempah. I say "precious" because it is my lifesaver whenever I want curry-on-demand. Well, I spent almost 3 hours making it today. Lest you think diligence is my middle name, let you assure you that the reverse is true! The only reason why I dutifully expend so much energy smashing seeds, rhizomes and bulbs into smithereens is because I don't want to be caught without rempah the next time my curry craving hits. And THAT is a terrifying thought!

So off to work I went. For a few of the ingredients - like shallots and garlic - I threw into the food processor. The large part of the rest, I chose to tumbuk* the traditional way, using a stone pestle and mortar.
*Malay word for "pound".

Now, you might wonder: why not just throw everything into the food processor and let it blitz? The reason is because pounding allows you to control the texture of each item better. Furthermore, ingredients such as chilli seeds, are extremely hard to grind. And since there are quite a few ingredients involved, all of varying hardness, I have found through experience that pounding the hardy ingredients delivers the best results. I know many Nyonyas will be nodding their heads vehemently in approval! LOL.

Since it requires a lot of time and effort, I always make a heap to last me for a while. As long as you fry the rempah thoroughly, it will keep well in the freezer for months.

Below are the ingredients which go into my homemade rempah. You need to add oil as you pound and/or blend in the food processor. Tip: prepare each ingredient individually. This way, you can control the texture and consistency before you move on to the next. Only when all the ingredients are prepared according to your preference do you dump everything into the wok for frying.

Add about one rice bowl of oil in a wok (yes, that much). Fry for about 45 mins to 1 hour. You can add salt if you want. You need to keep frying constantly over low heat. Stop only when the oil floats to the top.

It's almost impossible to give exact measurements for the ingredients, so I figured pictures say it all. Is your recipe similar to mine? Or are there other spices/herbs which you feel I MUST include? I would be really happy to hear from you!


Candlenuts: make the rempah nutty and thick. I heart candlenuts! If you don't have this, you can substitute it with macademia nuts. Pounded this.



Shallots: provide a sweetness to the rempah. Sent to the food processor.



Turmeric: gives the rempah its gorgeous saffron colour. It stains easily, so be careful! Cut and sent to the food processor and then pounded for a finer finish.



Young Ginger. Cut and sent to the food processor.



Galangal (aka Blue Ginger / Lengkuas). It was tiring cutting this. Cut and sent to the food processor, and then pounded for a finer finish.



Big Red Chillies (de-seeded). Cut and sent to the food processor and then pounded for a finer finish. I also added a small handful of lethal Chilli Padi (Bird's Eye Chilli), with its seeds and all. Pounded the Chilli Padi because of its seeds.



Lemongrass. The key to giving the rempah that citrusy scent and taste. If you have kaffir lime leaves, you can add that in too. Cut and sent to the food processor and then pounded for a finer finish.



Altogether now! Oops, forgot to include garlic in this group shot!



Ugly, stained hand! That's why I don't do manicures. They are wasted on me.



The reward - nutty, gritty rempah! I like a little bite and texture in my rempah :) With this, I cooked:



Fish Curry with Lady's Fingers, brinjal, long beans and carrots!

I am one tired but happy girl :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fried Noodles (Chow Mien)

Like many kids, my children love those fried, springy egg noodles. I sometimes prepare all the ingredients individually and let them have some fun taking their own food and plating them ... like at a buffet! It doesn't take a lot of effort, but it makes the meal a lot more interesting. And I think children do eat better when they have fun.

Noodles
- Fry with garlic, shallots, oyster sauce and chicken stock.

Chicken fillets (marinated in soy)
- Fry in oil and garlic till just cooked.

Carrots (julienned) and leafy greens
- Boil in chicken stock till tender.

Egg (beaten lightly, seasoned with a little soy sauce)
- Fry and scramble quickly.

Serve all the ingredients in individual plates. Provide a pair of tongs for the noodles and you're ready to eat!


We had this last week ... my daughter plated it! :)

Today, I sneaked some enoki mushrooms, which camouflaged perfectly into the noodles. My daughter didn't even know till halfway through the meal, when she commented, "The noodles are a little crunchy today." How sly of mommy!

Sigh ... the things we do to make our children try new food!


This was for lunch today. As you can tell, one-dish noodle meals feature frequently on my menu. Can you see the enoki mushrooms?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Chicken Bulgogi

I made Chicken Bulgogi today. You know those moments when you just want that one particular thing and nothing else? Well, today was one such day. I wanted my Bulgogi, period.

In desperation, I scoured for a recipe ... a simple one, hopefully using ingredients I already had on hand. Fortunately, I quickly found this and launched straight into Operation Bulgogi.

After fixing up the marinade, I tasted it and found it a little on the flat side. Well, it IS a very basic recipe. So I upped the ante by adding a dollop of lethal chilli paste, a cut red chilli (de-seeded) and MORE garlic! Long live garlic.

Thankfully, the dish did not disappoint and I had an enjoyable Bulgogi dinner. Nothing worse than having a craving only to be let down at first bite. I had it with rice, and it was pretty darn neat :) However, if anyone (especially if you're Korean!) has a tried-and-tested, authentic Bulgogi marinade to share, please leave a comment or drop me an email. This is my first time making this dish and I am sure there are far better recipes and/or prep methods out there. Thank you in advance!

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Recipe
(adapted from here)
- 1 chicken breast, filleted thinly
- 4 or 5 cloves chopped garlic
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp sugar (I used brown sugar)
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp fresh squeezed juice from an Asian pear (I omitted this)
- 1 tbsp mirin
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 3 stalks spring onions, finely chopped (including white part)
- 1 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted

What I added:
- 1 tsp chilli paste
- 1 cut red chilli, de-seeded
- MORE garlic!

Mix marinade together until sugar and honey are dissolved/distributed. Add in the sliced chicken and let the flavours infuse for at least 30mins before cooking. I let it sit for almost 2 hours. The good thing is that since the meat is sliced thinly, they don't take too long to absorb the marinade.

Take the chill off the meat before cooking. I don't have a grill, so I simply panfried with a little bit of oil and some of the marinade. The meat cooks very quickly, so keep a watchful eye. Also, the sugar content in the marinade means there will be browning and caramelisation. Make sure your fire is not too big or it'll burn fast.

Place the Chicken Bulgogi onto a serving plate. Sprinkle (generously!) toasted sesame seeds and chopped spring onions. Jalmukesumneda!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fish Paste Egg Roll

This Fish Paste Egg Roll is not only healthy and yummy, it is also a breeze to put together. Ultimate fastfood!

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First thing is to get fresh fish paste. I'm lucky, I can easily buy some (already seasoned with salt) from the market. Second, beat 2 large eggs and fry them in a large, non-stick skillet over low heat. Make sure that the eggs set into a perfect circle for easy wrapping.

Next, carefully slide it out onto a chopping board. Be gentle so that you don't tear it. To be safe, I usually fry only on one side, ie, no need to flip. Place the fish paste onto the fried egg and wrap it like you're wrapping Ngoh Hiang. Place it seamside down on a plate and steam on high for 20mins.

Remove from plate and slice thickly. You can have it with a dip, but really, it's good enough to eat on its own. I usually serve this with a plate of stirfried veggies, and my simple meal is complete.

Fish Paste Egg Roll 1