Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cotton Soft Japanese Cheesecake - Encore!

Related post: Tips & Tricks on getting that perfect cheesecake!

Cotton Soft Japanese Cheesecake 2

Does this look familiar? That's because you've seen it here. I made Cotton Soft Japanese Cheesecake this afternoon because I realised, horror of horrors, my Philly Cream Cheese was expiring next week!

Cotton Soft Japanese Cheesecake 4

I made 2 smaller cakes this time ... and almost had a kitchen disaster of epic proportions! My itsy bitsy teeny weeny oven couldn't accommodate the 2 cake tins comfortably! What was I thinking?!

I had to force the 2 tins in. It was such a delicate act manouevering cake batter in a hot oven. Sigh. Finally, I managed to balance one tin against the other on the rack, all these while allowing hot air to escape from my preheated oven. Thank goodness everything held in place for the baking. Phew, that was a close one!

Cotton Soft Japanese Cheesecake 3
I thought I'd show everyone the baby soft bottom of the cake ;)

I experimented not using a water bath. I was too lazy. I simply placed a tray of hot water at the bottom of the oven for some steam.

I did not use a loose base tin or springform, like I did previously, because I would have to wrap the bottom with aluminium foil to prevent seepage. I was too lazy. I used regular cake tins.

I did not line the tins with parchment paper. I was too lazy. I greased them generously, then floured them, and luckily, they unmoulded just fine.

Cotton Soft Japanese Cheesecake 1
One for me, one for you!

The eating though, made up for the near-kitchen disaster. The texture of this cake is out of this world. So soft and airy ... bliss at every bite!

Recipe here.

Notes from The Little Teochew:
1. Make sure you beat the egg whites till soft peaks form. This is critical.

2. I covered the tops with foil during baking to prevent browning. I only removed the foil towards the last 10mins. I also turned the temperature down, to about 140 degrees celsius so that the browning would be gentle and gradual. Know your oven. They all work differently.

3. I turned off the oven the moment the tops browned and left them in there for the next 20mins. After that, I left the oven door slightly ajar.

4. Turn the cakes out for cooling when the edges have separated from the sides of the tins.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pineapple Fried Rice

Pineapple Fried Rice is a great dish to make the next time you have leftover rice. Traditionally, this Thai dish is served in the hollow of a pineapple that has been halved. But this is home-cooking, so let's keep it real ;)

It's best to use refrigerated, overnight rice so that you get individual, whole grains in your dish. Good fried rice should not have any mushy bits. I used rice that was leftover from (same day) lunch, and you can see some of the mushy, lumpy grains from my photos. Thankfully, I am not an apprentice in a restaurant, or I would fail this dish spectacularly! ;P

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I used short-cut measures today, opting for canned pineapples instead of fresh ones, and store-bought roasted cashews, instead of raw ones (too lazy to fry them). And I make no apologies for making my job easier ;) Dinner was ready in 30mins (including preparation)!

No frills. No fuss. Just food.

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Recipe
- Cooked rice (enough for 2 to 3 persons)
- Fresh or canned pineapples (cut into bite sized chunks)
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 fresh chilli, deseeded and sliced thinly
- 1 handful of roasted cashew nuts
- 10 french beans, sliced thinly
- 1 large shallot, peeled and sliced thinly
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced finely
- Chicken fillets, cut into small chunks and marinated with light soy sauce
- Shrimps (optional), shelled and deveined
- Squid (optional), cut into rings
- Pork or chicken floss for topping

Seasoning (mix everything up in a bowl)
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- 3 tbsp chicken stock (have more on hand in case your rice gets too dry)
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- Dash of salt and pepper (if required)

1. Heat some vegetable oil in a wok. Scramble the egg and leave aside.

2. Add a little more oil in wok. Fry garlic, chilli and shallots over low flame till fragrant. Add in french beans and fry till cooked. You may add a little chicken stock if the ingredients look too dry but do not add anymore oil.

3. When french beans are cooked, throw in chicken chunks and/or other seafood (if using). Fry till semi-cooked.

4. Add in rice, followed by seasoning. Fry and toss all the time over high heat. Do not stop. As you fry and toss, make sure you break up all the lumps.

5. Add in scrambled egg, pineapple chunks and cashew nuts. Keep frying and tossing. Do a taste test - need more salt and/or pepper? Add them now.

6. When all ingredients are properly and thoroughly mixed, dish up the rice onto a serving plate. Top with pork or chicken floss.

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Remember, fried rice is one of the most versatile dishes, so get creative! Mix and match with whatever ingredients you like or have on hand.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chinese Dumplings - Filling & Dipping Sauce

Related post: Chinese Dumplings - Homemade Wrappers

Having experimented with various combinations such as pork & prawn, chicken & prawn, cabbage & leek, my favourite dumpling filling is pork & cabbage. Specifically, very little pork to a whole lot of cabbage. It gives a lovely crunch to the dumplings, and is incredibly light on the tum. It's true, you know. Whenever I eat at restaurants, I feel stuffed after eating a few pork dumplings. But at home, even after 15 cabbage & pork dumplings, I don't get that jelak feeling.

Chinese Dumplings

My daughter saw me salting the cabbage (to remove the water content) and I explained why. She said, "Oh yeah, cabbages have very water content at 90%. Potatoes are about 80% and humans, around 70%. I read it in a book."

I burst out laughing in amusement. I love hearing new things from my children because it means that they are getting smarter :)

So, back to the cabbages. Do remember to salt them when you make this filling. You will find copious amounts of water at the bottom of your bowl during/after the salting. Get a cheesecloth or a coffee sock to help you squeeze out all that liquid. Squeeze as much as you humanly can. Wet cabbages will yield soggy dumplings. Not good.

Recipe (for filling)
- 1 large Wong Bok (long cabbage) cut into small shreds for the leafy parts, small squares for the stem part
- Salt (to remove liquid from Wong Bok)
-
Knob of young ginger, peeled and minced very finely
* Do not use old ginger or the strong astringent bite will overwhelm everything.
- 350 to 400g minced pork
- Dash of sesame oil

- Dash of dark soy sauce
- 5 stalks spring onions (I have made dumplings without these and they turned out fine)

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Finely minced young ginger. Young ginger has a smooth, pale coloured skin. Old ginger has a slightly crinkled, drier, darker skin ... a much stronger astringent bite.

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Cut the leafy parts from the stems.

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Cube the stems, shred the leaves.

1. Prepare the Wong Bok by cutting it and salting it - about 1 tsp salt per large handful of cabbage. Leave for 15 mins for it to sweat. Using a cheesecloth or coffee sock, squeeze the cabbage as dry as you possibly can.

2. Marinate the pork with the rest of the ingredients.

3. When the cabbage has been squeezed dry, add it to the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Do not add any more salt.

That's it! The filling is done and you are ready to wrap. Next up, the fiery dipping sauce which gives the dumpling their kick.

Recipe (for dipping sauce)
For each serving saucer, mix:
- 1/2 tsp minced garlic
- A pinch of finely shredded young ginger
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp black vinegar (I use the Narcissus brand)
- 1/2 tsp sambal or chilli paste or chilli oil
- Dash of sugar (optional)
Note that these proportions can be changed according to your taste preferences.

Boiled dumplings collage
Now you are ready to eat! Boiled or panfried, they are both delicious. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chinese Dumplings - Homemade Wrappers

Related post: Chinese Dumplings - Filling & Dipping Sauce

I have a confession to make. I have been subsisting on boiled Chinese Dumplings (饺子) for the past 2 months. I have them as a main dish, as a side dish, as a snack, as a reward, as a pick-me-up ... oh, you get the idea ;)

This happened after I learnt to make my own dumpling wrappers. The texture of homemade wrappers is light years away from store-bought, frozen ones. I kid you not. It's silky, smooth and delightfully chewy. I love the taste and texture so much that I have been eating them boiled instead of panfried, like I used to (as Potstickers/Guo Tie/Gyoza). Boiling is the best way to truly savour their texture.

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Homemade dumpling wrappers - in perfect circles because I used a cutter :)

Now, making your own wrappers is so easy, I just wonder why I have never attempted to make my own. How difficult is it to mix flour, water, salt and oil together? If you can bake cakes or breads, this one's a no-brainer. I learnt this from Nice Mrs Tan who also taught me Teochew-Style Ngoh Hiang and Hay Bee Hiam.

Note that all these photos were taken on different days, so excuse the terrible "mix-and-match" quality!

Recipe (for wrappers)
- 500g plain flour
- 1 cup slightly warm water (1/3 cup boiling water + 2/3 cup room temperature water)
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
Yields about 800g of dough

1. Add salt and oil to the warm water. Stir till the salt has dissolved completely.

2. In a big pot or deep bowl, pour in plain flour. Add the warm water mixture slowly and stir (using chopsticks). Add a little water each time so that you can judge how wet or dry the dough is. Stop when it looks slightly sticky. Just continue stirring (or using your hands when it gets too sticky) till the dough comes together in a large, clumpy ball. As long as most of the dough clumps together, it's time to stop. Don't worry that it looks lumpy and dry.

3. Seal the bowl with clingwrap and allow to relax for about 10 - 15mins.

4. Now, start kneading. You will notice that the dough no longer looks as lumpy and dry. As you knead, it will become elastic and shiny. If you find that it's too dry, add a little more warm water; if it's too wet, add a little more flour - as simple as that! Throw the dough onto your work surface in between kneads to improve the structure. Those of you who have made breads by hand will be familiar with this routine.

5. The dough is ready to be rolled into wrappers as soon as it is smooth and pliable.

6. Nice Mrs Tan pinched off little balls of dough, one at a time, and rolled them into circular wrappers. Or, you can opt to roll the dough into a thin, flat sheet and use a cutter to cut out circular wrappers.
* Note that there is a reason why Nice Mrs Tan did it her way: wrappers should ideally be thicker in the centre and thinner at the edges (so that the pleats will not be too thick). I saw that as she rolled each ball into flat circles, she smoothed out the edges more, while avoiding the middle. Having said that, if you are a novice making dumplings for the first time, don't fret the small details.

7. Ensure that the rolled wrappers are not too thin, otherwise they will break where the fillings "sit". Sprinkle flour into each wrapper as you "pile" them up in a stack.

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Top left: Sticky mixture when warm water mixture is added.
Top right: The clumpy dough after some stirring and moulding.
Bottom left: After letting it rest, knead the dough, slam it against your worktop, and it should look like this.
Bottom right: Pinch into little balls of dough to be rolled out into round wrappers. Or roll out the dough into a flat sheet, then use a round cutter to cut out all the wrappers.

Now you can start wrapping the dumplings. One way is to pleat the edges (to get that gorgeous crescent effect), another is to press the edges firmly with your fingers (and get a simple semi-circle). The wonderful thing about wrapping with homemade, fresh dough is that there is no need to wet the edges with water. The wrappers are naturally adhesive.

These dumplings freeze beautifully. Simply place them neatly on a tray (sprinkled with flour) in the freezer for 10mins. When they have hardened into individual hard blocks, seal them in bags or containers, in quantities of your choice. I usually pack 10 in a bag, enough for 1 serving. When cooking these frozen dumplings, DO NOT thaw. Go straight from freezer to pan/pot.

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Pleating is easy - 3 pleats on the left, 3 pleats on the right. Gather the pleats inwards, towards the centre. You will get the "crescent" effect. Team work is highly recommended when making dumplings. When Nice Mrs Tan and I made them, we had an unspoken division of labour - she rolled the dough, I did the wrapping. Emile Durkheim would be proud!

Cooking the Dumplings
Panfried (aka Potstickers/Guo Tie/Gyoza)
1. Add some oil in a huge skillet. When the oil is heated up, place the dumplings neatly to fill up the skillet. Ensure there is sufficient space in between.

2. Allow the skin to crisp and brown.

3. Pour a little hot water into the skillet and cover for 5 mins, so that the steaming effect can cook the dumplings through. Once there is no more water left, dish up the dumplings and serve immediately.

Boiled
1. Heat 1 pot of water (salted).

2. Prepare another pot of cool water (at room temperature).

3. When the first pot of water starts to boil, drop in the dumplings and allow them to cook, about 4 mins.

4. Dish them up with a slotted spoon and plunge them into the pot of cool water for a few seconds.

5. Put them back into the boiling water again for another few seconds and serve.
Trivia: Do not discard the water used for boiling the dumplings. If you have eaten too much and feel like you're suffering from indigestion, drink some of that water. It will take away that full, bloated feeling. Apparently, all old folks who know will tell you that ;)

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I highly recommend eating plain, boiled dumplings to appreciate the texture of your homemade wrappers :)
Boiled Chinese Dumplings are now my everyday food. What's yours?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Rich Chocolate Cake

So I logged in to find that my blog crossed its 100,000th unique page view today :) Thank you, dear readers. I hope you enjoyed reading my posts as much as I enjoyed writing them.

* * * * *

Anyway, I was just telling Sophie (who hails from Belgium) that my aunt went to Brussels last week and came back with all types of chocolate imaginable. I was on cloud 9 when she passed me a huge bag of Belgian chocolate. Belgian chocolate!!! Oh, happy day ...

Naturally, I started pondering my options: Chocolate cake? Chocolate pudding? Chocolate bread?

Eventually the decision was made by my daughter. She wanted a chocolate cake, "with no peanut butter", as a compensation for the Peanut Butter Chocolate Ganache cake I made recently, which she didn't like.

Since I had dark chocolate in my stash, I settled on this Rich Chocolate Cake recipe. With a name like that, it's hard to resist ;) Not surprisingly, it was a very "grown-up" chocolate cake, thanks to the dark chocolate. I was wondering if my girl would like it? I watched as she sampled her first few bites of the cake ... and when her crumbed-coated lips curled into a gleeful smile, I knew that I had redeemed myself ;)

Rich Chocolate Cake
Sorry folks, but this is the only good pic of the cake I've got. It was not properly cooled and with my daughter persistently asking for cake, I unmoulded it against my better judgement. It cracked :( But still, look at that deep earthy colour! You'll only get this when you use good quality chocolate.

Recipe
(from here)
- 200g good-quality dark chocolate, chopped
- 200g butter, softened
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup milk
- chocolate curls or shavings (optional) - to make chocolate curls, run a clean potato peeler down the side of a block of chocolate, allowing curls to fall onto a plate.

Chocolate icing (which I omitted)
- 200g good-quality dark chocolate, chopped
- 1/2 cup thickened cream


1. Preheat oven to 170°C. Grease and line base and side of a 6cm deep, 22cm (base) round cake pan.

2. Place chocolate in a heatproof, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave, uncovered, on MEDIUM (50%) for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every minute with a metal spoon, until almost melted. Stir until smooth. Set aside for 10 minutes to cool.

3. Using an electric mixer, cream butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Add melted chocolate. Beat until well combined. Sift flour and cocoa together. Fold half the flour mixture into butter mixture. Add half the milk. Stir gently to combine. Repeat with remaining flour mixture and milk. Spoon into prepared pan. Smooth surface. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

4. Stand cake in pan for 15 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Spread icing over top and side. Top with chocolate curls, if using. Serve.

5. To make chocolate icing: Combine chocolate and cream in a heatproof, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave, uncovered, on MEDIUM-HIGH (70%) for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every minute with a metal spoon, until almost melted. Stir until smooth. Set aside for 30 minutes or until thick enough to spread.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Shark's Fin Melon Soup

Before I get angry, chest-beating shark activists condemning my soup, let me assure everyone that Shark's Fin Melon is a vegetable. I repeat, Shark's Fin Melon is a vegetable. It is a gourd. Green. With plenty of seeds. Harvested from land. No dorsal fins in this soup, I swear.

Sharksfin melon soup 1

I had a guest over for dinner a few nights ago. Being a light eater, all she wanted was soup. "It doesn't matter what you cook, as long as I have a nice bowl of home-brewed soup," she requested.

What an easy guest to cook for! ;)

Immediately I thought of making Shark's Fin Melon soup. Shark's Fin Melon gets its name from the way its flesh disintegrates when cooked. They fall apart into shreds, much like that of a real shark's fin.

Now, I love light, clear soups. But "light and clear" doesn't mean that flavour should be compromised. God knows how much I abhor drinking soups that taste like dishwater :(

So, whenever I make soups from melons and gourds (which are bland on their own), I always throw in a handful of dried oysters to get that deep, full-bodied, robust flavour. They truly give soups that x-factor.

Dried oysters
Dried oysters!

Well, my soup turned out very flavourful and rich :) My guest also commented that it was "very smooth". The key to that is to sieve it through a cloth-like wire-mesh sieve (see below) a gazillion times. OK, I exaggerate. Sieve the soup through that at least 3 times, although I go at it a lot more.

Oil remover
My trusty helper! It only costs a couple of dollars and it does a fantastic job keeping the oil out.

First, I would scoop the visible oil from the surface. Next, I would use a ladle to scoop and sieve, scoop and sieve, over and over again, over the pot of soup. You will be surprised how much more oil you can sieve out. And I promise, you will get a very clear and smooth soup. It's worth the effort.

Serve each bowl with the melon chunks. Soup you can eat! Yum!

Recipe
- About 3 large soup bowls of water (1 litre?)
- Half a Shark's Fin Melon, skin and seeds removed, cut into large chunks
- 4 to 5 dried oysters
- 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
- 3 chicken carcasses, blanched (you can use chicken parts or pork ribs/bones if you prefer)

1. Bring water to a rolling boil.

2. Throw in everything.

3. Boil on high for 10mins, then simmer for another hour? I used a pressure cooker and needed about 30mins.

4. Remove as much oil and scummy bits by using a fine wire-mesh sieve.

Sharksfin melon soup 2

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sicilian Orange Cake

When I first saw this cake at Almost Bourdain, I immediately wanted to try my hand at it because I adore citrusy scents and flavours. I knew I would love this cake even without tasting it. This is my third time making it, actually :) The previous 2 occasions, I didn't have time to take pictures :(

Sicilian Orange Cake 1

The star ingredient, clearly, is the orange. I used Navel Oranges and they were so sweet and juicy.

Although the recipe called for icing, I skipped it because my family prefers it plain. But still, the cake sans icing was divine. It was rich and moist without being heavy. And the fragrance! Oh, the fragrance was unbelievable!

This cake goes beautifully with tea. One slice is not enough.

Sicilian Orange Cake 2

Here's the recipe which I lifted verbatim from Almost Bourdain.
谢谢 Ellie!

Recipe
(Adapted from Rick Stein's Mediterranean Escape)
Makes 1 x 22-cm cake, to serve about 8

- 250 g lightly salted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
- 250 g caster sugar
- 4 medium eggs
- 1 1/2 tsp finely grated orange zest
- 250 g self raising flour
- 85 ml freshly squeezed orange juice

For the icing:
- 125 g icing sugar
- 5 tsp freshly squeezed orange juice

1. Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease and line a 22-cm clip-sided round cake with non-stick baking paper.

2. Using an electric whisk, cream the butter and sugar together for 4-5 minutes until very pale. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating very well between each one, if necessary adding a spoonful of flour with the last egg to prevent the mixture from curdling. Beat in the orange zest. Add the flour all at once and mix in well, then slowly mix in the orange juice.

3.Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer, inserted into the centre of the cake, comes out clean. If it starts to brown too quickly, cover loosely with a sheet of lightly buttered foil.

4. Leave the cake, in its tin, to cool on a wire rack, then carefully remove the sides and base of the tin and peel off the paper. Put it onto a serving plate.

5. For the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and stir in the orange juice until you have a spreadable consistency. Spread it over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides, and leave to set. Serve cut into slices, and store any leftovers in an airtight container.

Sicilian Orange Cake 3

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Banana Prawn Rolls

The next time you are left with some very ripe bananas, don't take the predictable Banana Cake route. Try this Banana Prawn Roll instead. Your family and friends will thank you for it :)

Banana and prawn rolls 1
The marriage of banana and prawn is a match made in heaven. When cooked, the softened bananas become creamy and sweet. Their flavours intensify ... and the crunchy, savoury prawns are the perfect complement.

The rice paper tends to become soggy after a while, so it's best eaten immediately. Which shouldn't be a problem, I promise ;)

Having said that, does anyone know what type of wrappers dim sum restaurants use to make these rolls? They are crispy and white, so it's definitely not the regular springroll wrappers (those turn brown after frying). I thought they were rice paper wrappers, but after tasting, I realised they were not (even though they were delicious).

Please drop me a comment or email if you know how to make this dish. I made these based on my own guesstimates, so I would love to hear from someone who has made these many times. Much thanks!

Recipe
- 300g prawns, shelled, deveined and smashed flat with a cleaver. Do not chop them up into bits because they will harden into lumps when cooked. I find that smashing with a cleaver prevents this from happening.
- Half a chicken stock cube (bouillon), crumbled
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of sugar
- 1/2 tsp tapioca flour or corn flour
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp Huatiao wine (optional if you don't have it, but for me, it's a must)

- 2 or 3 very ripe bananas, peeled and cut into small chunks
- Vietnamese rice paper (round ones sold in a pack), softened in lukewarm water one at a time, after every roll. Do NOT pre-soften all at one go.


1. Marinate the prawns with all the seasoning listed above. Mix them up throroughly by hand, until the mixture becomes "bouncy" and elastic. Leave aside for about 10 to 15mins.

2. Gently mix in banana chunks.

3. Soak 1 sheet of Vietnamese rice paper in a dish of lukewarm water. It should soften very quickly. Once it's pliable, remove and allow to "drip dry" to remove excess water.

3. Place on a flat surface. Arrange banana prawn mix in row and roll into a firm wrap. Resist the temptation to load up on the filling ... the rice paper will tear.

4. In a heated non-stick pan, fry the rolls, leaving ample space in between each one, else they will stick. I pan fried mine without oil and they turned out really well. No greasiness!

Serve hot off the pan.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dinner At Claypot Fun

Exam fever is upon us, and if you have school-going children, you will surely feel some pressure. All the stress, late nights, revision, cramming ... poor parents! It seems we are the ones doing the studying even though our children are the ones taking the exams.

Anyway, I decided a dinner out would be a nice break (from cooking, blogging and studying). So, off we went to Playground@Big Splash. Our dinner venue? Claypot Fun. What a cute pun on the name :)

When we arrived, the kids went wild. There was a mini-fair just steps away from the restaurant and not surprisingly, they wanted to "go there!" It was just as well, because we needed to wait 20mins for a table. It was only 6.40pm and the restaurant was already packed.

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Zorbing in water!

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There were many people making their way to the beach. Loads of cyclists, rollerbladers and joggers.

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Soon, dusk fell.

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But none of the children seemed to care.

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I saw a solitary kite flying ...

Dusk is my favourite time of day. It signals a time to wind down ... the day is done (except for stayhome moms and workaholics). I also equate it with sadness, for I remember the day a loved one breathed his last at dusk. I will never forget.

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The restaurant called and said our table was ready. So we made our way back, with much resistance from my older boy.

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When we walked in, it was like a blast from the past. The first thing that greeted us at the entrance was this really old record player (above). I thought it was just for display, until I saw one of the wait staff open up a compartment and change the vinyl record!

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The menu in chinese characters.


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OMG ... Adam Cheng! That was eons ago! LOL!

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Old fans and tiffin carriers for decor ... how about that? :)

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You have to wait for your food because they are prepared fresh.

Claypotfun is managed by Jumbo Seafood, so we expected a certain level of quality in our food, and they certainly didn't disappoint.

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We had 4 adults, 2 children and 1 baby. If you have young ones who can't sit still, I would recommend dining al fresco. The sitting configuration indoors, especially the booths (as seen above), can be quite claustrophobic.

First to arrive were the soups!

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Old Cucumber soup, which had lotus root in it. Check out the plate ... my granny used to feed me from such plates ;)

It was a pain taking photos with so many spotlights overhead. The soup was reflecting light from all angles. Apologies for the bad photos :(

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Watercress soup, which I got to try. It was nice and light. I didn't get to try the Old Cucumber soup because my children drank that up.

Then came the mains. We ordered a large Claypot Rice with Chicken & Mushroom, and a regular Claypot Rice With Preserved Chinese Sausage.

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Here's the Claypot Rice with Chicken & Mushroom, with its ingredients brimming over. The chinese mushrooms were meaty and chewy - lovely! I didn't quite like the chicken. They were fillets, and I still prefer chicken with bone on.

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The rice however, was top class. Fluffy, fragrant and firm. You know instantly that you are eating good rice. Just the rice and sauce alone are reasons enough to eat here again.

You're supposed to remove all the ingredients onto a plate, then drizzle a special soy sauce over the rice. I don't know what goes into the soy sauce, but I could see a layer of oil in the bottle it was provided in. I think that's what makes it so aromatic.

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The chinese sausages were very tender and moist, without that artificial sweetness that comes with inferior grade ones. I also spied chunks of salted fish. Ahhh ... salted fish makes all the difference. An absolute delight to eat with that rice. Pssst ... see the toy car in the top left corner? Sigh ... dining with kids ;)

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The charred bits were saved for last. For some, this is the best part of eating claypot rice.

After a very satisfying dinner (which came up to less than $50!) we had to take a walk by the beach. As we exited, we passed Yoshimaru Ramen Bar, which was located next door. We are going to eat there the next time.

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Here we are, at the beach and looking back.

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My 4-year old made me buy a shovel from 7-11 so that he could "dig for treasure". How do I tell him that he is the treasure? :) He shoveled tirelessly for a good half hour before we went home.

I'm looking forward to next week, when the exams end ... then we'll come back again for more food and more play.

Good luck to all parents for your children's final year exams!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Homemade Laksa

I happen to live in an area which has plenty of good food. One of my favourite dishes is Laksa. Obviously, all I need is a hop over to Katong and I get my fix. But today, I wondered if I could make my own, since I had a full tub of homemade rempah stored in my freezer. Besides, Katong Laksa is no longer the same anymore :(

I decided that perhaps it was worth a try, since it would be a lot cheaper to cook my own than to buy, especially for big quantities.

The lady at the market sold me $0.20 worth of Laksa leaves - the minimum amount - which was really a HEAP of Laksa leaves. If I could live through winter on Laksa leaves, I would survive very well! An old lady waiting her turn at the stall looked at me, then at the Laksa leaves, and we both burst out laughing. She asked in jest, "How much Laksa do you have to cook to finish that up?!" So comical, I tell you.

I also bought 1 freshly grated coconut and used the milk from the first press, which yields a very thick cream.

To enhance the flavour of the stock, I soaked some dried shrimps (hay bee/udang kering) and then pounded them. It lent a delightful sweetness to the coconut gravy.

Of course, when you are cooking for yourself, you can afford to load up on the good stuff. So it was nice, plump, juicy, whole prawns and plenty of crunchy bean sprouts for me :)


This was a great dish for a rainy night!

Recipe
Serves 2
- 2 to 3 tbsp rempah
- Fresh, thick beehoon (rice noodles), quantity depends on how hungry you both are ;)
- Freshly squeezed coconut milk from 1 coconut
- 6 fresh shrimps
- 2 large handfuls of beansprouts (blanched briefly in hot water to retain its crunchiness)
- 1 hard boiled egg, shelled and halved lengthwise
- 1 tbsp dried shrimps, soaked in water to softened and then pounded coarsely
- 2 sprigs Laksa leaves (remove the leaves from the stem and cut into bits)
- 1 fishcake, sliced thinly (optional)
- 2 to 3 tofu puffs, sliced into thick strips (optional)
- Chicken stock, on standby
- Salt (if required)

1. Rinse the thick beehoon, drain and leave aside.

2. In a pot, heat up a little oil and fry rempah till fragrant.

3. Add coconut milk, Laksa leaves and pounded dried shrimps. If the gravy looks too thick, add a little chicken stock to dilute. Simmer over a low heat for about 5mins.

4. Throw in thick beehoon and prawns. Simmer without lid for about 3mins.

5. Add in tofu puffs and fish cake slices and cook for another 1min. Add salt, if required.

6. Dish up ingredients into bowls and pour in coconut gravy. Add hard boiled egg and beansprouts, and garnish with Laksa leaves. Serve immediately.



Did you catch the episode where Singapore's food guru, KF Seetoh, taught Martha Stewart how to cook
Laksa? You can watch it here.