29 Dec 2014

cooking chinese

These holidays I have been busy practicing cooking Asian food on most week nights. If anything, measurements are thrown out the window and are done via constant taste testing and adding a bit more of this or that. Usual suspects include: oyster sauce, dark/light soy and fish sauce, sesame oil, shaoxing wine, salt, white pepper and sugar. As aromatics, we have: garlic, ginger, onions, shallots and spring onions. Once you get the swing of things, you'll know how much of each you will need to add. 

Cooking processes are generally the same, and I'm really glad that my parents forced trained me over the years by making getting me to help out in the kitchen (although I was more annoyed than grateful back then). Still, time and time again I still require their expertise and cooking knowledge.

Some of the dishes I made and documented during the past month include: Jason's kari ayampad thai, karaage, Vietnamese grilled beef and beef and mint stir fry

Of the two dishes I'm sharing today, both are special to me in different ways . First eaten at an Asian style cafe, the chicken mushroom steak wow'ed me during my early teens because it was different. It was western. As far as I was concerned, it wasn't stir fried meat and vege or soup noodles therefore special. The tofu dish, I can't really remember when I first ate it (here or Malaysia? hrm...) but I remember my jaws dropping when my mum fished it out of the steaming rice cooker one night. It's silly, but I thought you could only cook rice in a rice cooker...

Anyway, both make excellent dishes for dinner, served with a steaming bowl of freshly cooked rice. 


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chinese style chicken mushroom steak     serves 4
sauce adapted from cookpad

2-3 pieces of chicken thigh fillet
sea salt, as required
white pepper, as required
cooking oil, as required

a large handful of string beans, topped and tailed, blanched
2 carrots, peeled and sliced, boiled until firm
1 can of corn kernels, drained

mushroom sauce
20g unsalted butter
35g plain flour
300ml asian chicken stock (or water + 1 tsp chicken stock powder)
1/2 can champignon mushrooms, drained and quartered
3 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
sea salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
sugar, to taste

Trim excess fat off chicken thigh fillets, cut into two if necessary and make slits in the thicker part of the meat. Season with salt and white pepper. Cover and leave in the fridge until needed, but take out meat 20-30 minutes before cooking*. 

Prepare the vegetables.

For the sauce: Melt butter over a low heat and when fully melted, stir in flour until smooth. Add stock, mushrooms and both soy sauces. Stir until sauce has thickened. Season with salt, pepper and sugar. (Add more soy sauce if necessary.) 

Pan fry chicken until golden brown on both sides. Serve with prepared vegetables, rice and mushroom sauce.

*I like to steam fry; heat a pan with cooking oil, add chicken and a splash of water. Cover and cook on medium heat until the underside is golden. Uncover, flip and cook until underside is golden. Wash pan before cooking another batch.

steamed tofu with prawn and chicken meatballs     serves 4-5 as part of a shared meal
inspired by parents' cooking & 3 hungry tummies

4 leaves chinese cabbage, washed, cut into squares
1 small bundle green bean vermicelli, soaked in cold water until soft and drained (optional)
3 tubes silken tofu, sliced into 8 pieces each
250g prawn meat, chopped roughly
250g chicken/pork mince
1 heaped Tb potato starch
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chicken stock powder
a dollop of oyster sauce
a dash of sesame oil
a dash of shaoxing wine
white pepper, as required

finishing sauce*
oyster sauce (1 1/2 Tb), as required
light soy sauce (1 Tb), as required
dark soy sauce (2 tsp), as required (optional)
a dash of sesame oil
water (300 ml), as required
potato starch solution**, to thicken

spring onion, sliced, as required
fried shallots, as required

Arrange cabbage on two ceramic/steel shallow bowls. Divide vermicelli between two plates and scatter around the cabbage evenly. Top with tofu.

Mix prawn and chicken with potato starch, salt, chicken stock powder, oyster sauce, sesame oil, shaoxing wine and white pepper until it binds and forms elasticity. Scoop heaped teaspoons of meat on top of the tofu. Steam for 10-15 minutes over high heat.

Meanwhile, combine oyster sauce, light and dark soy sauce, sesame oil and water to form a broth. Bring to the boil. Gradually pour in the potato starch solution, stirring to thicken. When the dish is ready, ladle sauce over and serve immediately.

Garnish with sliced spring onion and fried shallots to finish.

*Bracketed amounts are estimates; please taste test.

**About 1 Tb potato starch dissolved in a bit of cold water. If the broth is not thick enough to your liking, you may add a bit more solution.

25 Dec 2014

christmas 2014

Merry Christmas everyone! 

I don't usually make a cake for Christmas, but I thought I'd make one this year. Not a conventional one, but a twenty layered mille crepe* cake layered with sweetened whipped cream. 

Our oversized pup, Bobby also got a share of the festivities by gobbling down some crepes and strawberries (after doing many tricks of course).

Happy holidays and stay safe!

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*The crepes were sugar and gluten free. The recipe can be found here. I made five batches of the recipe for the cake, with a few extra pieces for other things

3 Nov 2014

hakka pan mee

Recently at uni, I learnt that one's heritage language and culture is lost at a rate of roughly 30% through each generation. Realisation hit me a long time ago that it would be up to us - the younger generation to learn and preserve it for the future. I'm not referring to traditional Chinese proverbs but more of the food culture. Years ago, I used to lament how no one learnt how to make grandma's home cooked dishes so I made it a point to learn at least one when I went back earlier in the year. I did end up with more scribbled recipes that I would have imagined but haven't exactly replicated anything besides the chiffon cake which I learnt the year before. But I like to think the initiative is something I can use to draw back on in the future.

Making the kon lo (dry tossed) pan mee earlier today, it reminded me that there is still hope. The dish above reminded me of the time I ate out with my cousins by the roadside made by a group of youngsters complete with freshly made noodles and a queue to boot. I'm sure I'll be able to order pan mee at Malaysian restaurants, but I get a kick of learning how to make it myself. I've done it before (1 2 3) but I've been reluctant to share my notes because there are no proper measurements due to the spontaneous nature old school cooking in my house.

Since eating my mum's pan mee earlier last year, I waited until she made it again so I could document it properly. There is no proper recipe but the notes below are actually way more detailed than mine which is pretty much an ingredient list. But I think it's quite flexible if you use it as a guideline and adapt to your own tastes. Just remember to:

1. Look up a proper recipe first if you are unfamiliar with cooking this
2. Taste test continuously  

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Notes on my Mum's Hakka pan mee (客家板面)

Place two chicken carcasses and 0.5-1 kg pork bones in a large stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, drain and clean the 'dirty stuff' off the carcass/bones under running cold water. Return to the stockpot with a handful of shiitake stems and fill with water. Bring to a boil. Add some fried anchovies. Cover with the lid slightly ajar and simmer for at least 1.5 hours. Skim scum off the top occasionally. Season with salt, fish sauce (optional), a lump of rock sugar and chicken stock powder.

Fried anchovies (ikan bilis):
Wash a generous handful of dried anchovies and drain well. Deep fry in hot oil on low heat until crispy. Drain and reserve oil for later. Add 1/4 portion of the fried anchovies to the stock and drain the rest with a paper towel. Set aside for later. 

Wood ear fungus:
Soak with cold water overnight or hot water if using on the day. Trim off woody ends and cut into thick strips.

Pork mince:
Saute thinly sliced garlic cloves in reserved oil from the anchovies (flavour bomb!!). Add sliced wood ear fungus and stir fry before adding pork mince (about 100g per person). Season with white and black pepper and chicken stock powder. Finish by seasoning with soy sauce and sesame oil. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Blanch and drain leafy green vegetables of your choice. We had them with bok choy this time, but it tastes great with stir fried amaranth (yin choy) as well. 

Cook fresh noodles (we like thick Shanghai noodles) according to packet instructions/"the pinch test". Drain and run under cold water to cool to prevent sticking. Maybe we'll try making the noodles next time...

To serve (soup version):
Arrange cooked noodles and toppings (vegetables, pork mince, fried anchovies, fried shallots, sliced spring onions) into a bowl and carefully ladle in hot stock. 

To serve (dry tossed version):
Toss cooked noodles with oyster sauce, soy sauce, dark soy sauce, white pepper, garlic oil (or melted lard!) and a bit of the stock. Arrange toppings (vegetables, pork mince, fried anchovies, fried shallots, sliced spring onions) into a bowl and you're good to go.

31 Oct 2014

more bread!

Earlier this week, my relatives from Malaysia made a brief stop over in Melbourne and I took them to DFO (shopping outlet) after class where they shopped until they were kicked out! Instant A+ if shopping was an actual subject. In between waiting and running errands, I spent some time in a book store and picked up Bread Revolution: Rise and Bake by Duncan Glendinning and Patrick Ryan. I initially wanted it for the bagel recipe, but the more I read it in store, I liked how simple everything was explained. 

I baked two potato and rosemary loaves and was pretty happy with my first attempt! It was soft and had a slight bite to it and was exactly the same the following day despite not adding any additives to it. It had a thin crust straight from the oven but became soft when it cooled. This was my fault because I was careless and forgot to lower the temperature to suit my oven and fell asleep when it was baking (!) Thankfully, a friend messsaged me at the right time saving my bread from being burnt. Flavour wise, I'll need to put more rosemary and roasted garlic because I could barely taste it.

Whilst waiting for the bread to prove, I also made the dark and white mini muffins using salted dark chocolate instead of chocolate chips. Interestingly, the picture in the book was different to the recipe. I was surprised it contained no sugar because natural yogurt was used and it's quite sour. I did make a few amendments to it but l will try again with the original recipe next time. 

Edit: 03/11/14 The bread stayed soft for 3-4 days and made a great toast as well. I tried the original muffin recipe today and didn't like it. Possible misprint error??

10 Oct 2014

bo lo bao

Another Asian bakery bun ticked off the list! When I was a kid I used to always wonder why they were called bo lo bao (pineapple bun) when it didn't taste or have any pineapple inside. Apparently it is named like that due to the look of the bun especially when additional carvings are made on top of the cookie crust prior baking. The usual bakery I go to don't carve their buns, so I didn't bother.

Bo lo bao reminds me of the Japanese melon bread in which a cookie crust is placed on top of the bun prior baking. Some of the issues on baking this type of bread is explained in Yakitate!! Japan during the melon challenge. I think it was on the lines of the different optimum temperatures of the bread and cookie thus the cookie will either be under baked or the bread becomes too dry. Therefore Kazuma Azuma, decides to bakes them separately and sandwiches the cookie to the crust with whipped cream prior serving. Combining the two components together later helped maintained the softness of the bun and the crispiness of the cookie. (Japan #58 has been produced in real life too.) 

Fortunately, the problem doesn't apply to the HK version, but the topping does get soft and moist the day after. But if you have leftovers, not to worry! Cut them in half, pop them into the oven until the crust crisps and enjoy with a slab of butter in the middle. 

Serve with some milk tea for a proper Hong Kong style 下午茶 (afternoon tea)!

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HK style pineapple bun (bo lo bao)  (菠萝包)     makes 10 regular or 20 mini buns
method and topping adapted from Phoebe's More Than Bread

250ml milk (or 2 heaped Tb of milk powder + water)
60ml cooking oil
80g caster sugar
pinch of sea salt
1 tsp bread improver (optional)
450g bread flour
1 3/4 tsp dry yeast

60g unsalted butter, softened
80g raw sugar
100g plain flour, sifted
10g custard / Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted 
1/4 tsp baking powder, sifted
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda, sifted
1/2 large egg, beaten

1/2 large egg, for the glaze

Place bread ingredients into the bread machine bowl according to manufacturer instructions. Set to 'dough function' (30 mins knead, 60 minutes prove)*. Add a tablespoon of water or two if the dough appears to be dry after a few turns.

Meanwhile, make the topping. Put all ingredients into a food processor and pulse until combined. Form a ball, wrap with cling film and refrigerate until required.

Transfer dough onto a lightly floured surface after the first prove. Gently flatten dough and divide into 10 x 86g or 20 x 43g** dough pieces. Shape them into small balls and transfer to a lined baking tray. Ensure there is ample space for the bread to rise. Cover and leave to prove in a warm place until dough doubles in size***.

Roll bun topping thinly in between two sheets of cling film**** when the second prove is almost finished. Use a cookie cutter about the same size as your bun and cut out rounds.

Lightly brush bread tops with beaten egg and gently secure the cut out topping. Brush with beaten egg again.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees Celcius for 10 - 15 minutes or until crust is golden and crunchy. Transfer to a cooling rack immediately. 

▲ ▲ ▲

*Alternatively, combine all dry ingredients and form a well. Combine all wet ingredients and gradually pour into the dry ingredients to form a rough dough. Transfer onto a lightly floured surface and continue to knead until smooth. Leave in a warm place until doubled in size - this is the first prove.

**I find that the dough does not rise as well if I divide them into small pieces. I recommend making the regular sized buns (86g dough).

***For the second prove, I put them in a 28-30 degrees Celsius oven for 40 - 60 minutes. Brush with beaten egg every 20 minutes.

****Topping will crumble if it is too cold, take out 5 minutes prior using.

25 Sep 2014

taking a breather

Ploughed through eleven hard weeks and finished three assignments back to back to be rewarded with a sweet, break of twelve days for recovery (thought I wish it had been earlier). I've compiled a list of things I wanted to do during this break and getting my Ls is definitely one of them! Inspired by this post I read at the beginning of the year, I want to try making all the components I need to bake this choco moo cheesecake. These will include the milk jam (condensed milk), cream cheese (!!) and ganache. I am not sure if homemade cream cheese will work for this, but it is worth a shot.

To get the gears running again, my sister and I chose an easy chocolate chip cookie recipe from cookpad to bake. She was hoping it would turn out chewy, but it turned out kind of cakey, like a muffin top (yum!). The inclusion of rice flour gave it a nice texture too. I'm not a big fan of chewy cookies, so these worked in my favour but looks like we'll hit the drawing board again to find something she likes.

Oh, by the way - on my last day of placement, I was able to run a cooking activity with some of the students at the Language Centre! As we did not have access to a kitchen, we made chocolate truffles (the crushed biscuits type) and these coconut waffles which were hungrily gobbled down by everyone! It has always been a little dream to teach food tech so I was glad I was given an opportunity to do so.

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chocolate chip muffin tops    makes about 12
adapted from cookpad

I recommend you eat these whilst they are still warm so you get the gooey chocolate centers.

1 large egg
60g caster sugar
60ml cooking oil
100g plain flour
50g rice flour
1 tsp baking powder
50g dark chocolate with sea salt*, chopped into small pieces

Whisk egg and sugar until well combined. Add cooking oil and whisk thoroughly. Sift in flours and baking powder and mix. Fold in the chopped chocolate. 

Allow cookie dough to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. 

Place 12 equal sized blobs** of dough onto a lined baking tray. Leave 2-3cm of space between each piece to allow room for spreading. 

Bake in a preheated oven at 200 degrees celcius for 10 minutes or until golden brown. 

*Or just plain dark chocolate with a couple of pinches of sea salt
**I used a small cookie scoop

10 Aug 2014

the weekend cake

Since starting the new semester, I have been quite busy keeping up with the never ending list of things to do. Things keep amassing by themselves - emails to send, papers to write, research to do. This course I signed up for around this time last year, was far from what I expected. It's been challenging, but also very rewarding (most times), especially where I am placed for my rounds this semester. Halfway through my first round, I became kind of discouraged, but by chance, I was able to visit many of my secondary teachers for two days last week who gave me unconditional support and encouragement. Standing from a different perspective, my philosophy has changed from what it initially was. It's definitely something I want to work on improving.

The patience, dedication and time I received from one particular teacher is what keeps me going. I didn't tell him that, but I thanked him for the invaluable advice he's given me once again. "It's easy for someone to sit at the back and criticise, but doing your best is what makes the difference."

In case you were wondering, the cake has nothing to do with my reflection. It was something I whipped up late yesterday afternoon and it's too good not to share. Originally it was meant to be an apple cake, but after I discovered it was rotten inside, I crossed my fingers and switched to using pears. The cake is moist and spicy with the pear pieces giving it extra sweetness and textural crunch. It's only been less than a day and it's almost gone! Luckily it doesn't take long to make. Hopefully with apples next time.

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spiced pear cake     makes 1 x 17.5cm square
adapted from the 350 degree oven

2 packham pears, chopped in small pieces
200g raw sugar
juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp ground cinnamon, sifted*
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, sifted
1/2 tsp mixed spice, sifted
2 large eggs
65ml cooking oil
150g plain flour, sifted
1/2 tsp baking powder, sifted
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda, sifted

Mix pear pieces with sugar, lemon juice and spices. Combine eggs and oil in another bowl and set aside.

Make a small well in the sifted flour and powders and add the egg and oil mix. Fold in to combine. When flour is mostly incorporated, add the pears and fold in thoroughly.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake in a preheated oven at 175 degrees celcius for 30-35 minutes or until skewer comes out clean when inserted.

*The cinnamon taste is quite strong on the first day, but mellows on the second. You may want to reduce the amount if you don't like it so strong.

15 Jul 2014

toasted coconut waffles

I've made a few variations of waffles up to date, but my sister keeps coming back to these ones (I like liege waffles!). I worked out a recipe last holidays for these coconut waffles but I forgot where I put it...so I've come up with a different one that tastes just as good if not better. I made some with pandan paste last week and wanted to try making some without. Tastewise, my sister prefers the green ones but I'm ok with either. 

I still see them being sold in Vietnamese bakeries around my area and I think they're still as popular as they were back then. I'm not quite sure how much one costs nowadays, but back in the heyday they were about $1 each.

My sister is a crazy waffle eater so I often make double batches to be toasted later. If you're interested I've included an ingredient list at the end of the post since not all ingredients are doubled. For my previous waffle recipe that incorporates yeast, please click here

It's become a habit to do chicken scratchings on sheets of baking paper when I bake so I can adapt and perfect the recipe for another time. Actually, this is what my uni notes look like. Unfortunately there is no food involved.

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toasted coconut waffles     makes 7-8 
adapted loosely from the recipes in the manual

200g plain flour, sifted
1 1/2 tsp baking powder, sifted
120g caster sugar 
50g desiccated coconut, toasted
pinch of salt
2 large eggs
300ml coconut milk
60ml cooking oil
about 1/2 tsp pandan paste (optional)

Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, coconut and salt into a medium sized mixing bowl. Stir to combine and make a 'well'. In another bowl, beat the eggs. Add coconut milk, oil and pandan paste (if using) and whisk to combine. Pour into other bowl and stir to combine. Cook waffle mixture on a hot waffle iron according to manufacturer's instructions. I like to use the 'darker' setting.

◯ ◯ ◯

Edit: Photo added 8 January 2015

double quantity waffle batter

300g plain flour, sifted
3 tsp baking powder
200g caster sugar
100g desiccated coconut, toasted
two pinches of salt
3 large eggs
600ml coconut milk (or 400ml coconut milk + 200ml milk/water)
120ml cooking oil
few drops of pandan paste 

Cook as above.

8 Jul 2014

poppin' chicken

I came across this recipe in a local food magazine when I was in Malaysia. It's a home-style fried chicken dish but I was intrigued by "cekur powder" (沙姜粉/sha jiang fen). I asked a supermarket staff if she's heard of it/stock it but she said she wasn't quite sure. A Malay customer tried to help me find it, but we found something else instead. When I got home, I asked my grandma about it and she told me it's a type of ginger and she doesn't like the taste of it. I tried my luck at a herb shop near my grandma's and they actually stocked it. I bought a small quantity back just to make this. Opening the sealed bag, it smells quite fragrant and familiar. I haven't seen it on the shelves in Asian grocers here, but it might be available in traditional herbal medicine shops. If you can't find it, I think it's ok to leave it out since the recipe only requires a little bit.

This actually reminds me of the Taiwanese popcorn chicken (盐酥鸡/yan su ji), sold at a street vendor near my uncle's apartment in Taiwan. We'd pass the stand everyday and grab a bagful on our way out and some more with iced lemon tea on the way home. It was so so addictive just like these!

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Taiwanese crispy chicken     serves 4 as part of a shared meal
Adapted from Josten Tan’s recipe in Famous Cuisine 名食谱 vol. 85

2 pieces chicken thigh fillet (approx. 500g)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Half a thumb of ginger, finely chopped
30ml soy sauce
Dash of sake or shaoxing wine
50g self raising flour
25g rice flour
Water, as required
Coarse sweet potato flour (粗番薯/地瓜粉), as required* (or cornstarch)
Cooking oil, as required
2 handfuls of Thai basil leaves, roughly chopped
Five spice pepper salt, as required**
A good pinch of sand ginger powder (沙姜粉/cekur/sha jiang fen) powder, (optional)***

Trim excess fat off chicken and cut into thin strips. Cut chicken into bite sized pieces if you want to make popcorn chicken. Marinate with garlic, ginger, soy sauce and wine and leave for a few hours up to overnight.

To make batter, combine self raising and rice flour with enough water (approx. 125ml). Batter should be runny. Add in a glug of cooking oil if you want and mix in thoroughly. Leave to rest for 10-15 minutes and stir again before using.  

Dip chicken strips into batter and coat well with coarse sweet potato flour. Deep fry in hot oil until light golden. Drain chicken of oil and deep fry again until crispy.

In another wok, heat and toss crispy chicken with basil leaves, five spice pepper salt and sand ginger powder until basil leaves begin to dry. Serve hot.

*Should be available in Asian grocery stores near the packaged flour section. I didn't think the flour would fry properly because it was quite lumpy, but after frying, I was surprised those lumpy bits turned into crispy bits.

**My dad makes his own blend and cooks it over a low heated wok. The original spice blend in the magazine includes: 1 Tb five spice powder, 1/2 Tb fine salt, 1/8 tsp sand ginger powder, 1/8 tsp pepper.

***If you can't find it, just leave it out

Edit: 10/07/14 I'm submitting this post to Cook Your Books #14 hosted by Joyce of Kitchen Flavours.

4 Jul 2014

grandma's kitchen

① Indoor kitchen
② Cleaning fish
③ Frying stuffed eggplant
④ Snake (long) bean omelette  
⑤ Stir fried amaranth 
⑥ Stir fried amaranth
⑦ Stir frying dried shrimp and belachan
⑧ Stir fried okra (lady fingers) with dried shrimp and belachan
Rempah (spice paste) for acar (spicy pickled vegetables)
⑩ Vegetables ready for pickling
⑪ Mixing the cooled rempah with the vegetables
⑫ Pumpkin and red bean / pandan coconut bao (steamed buns)
Huat gao (steamed cake) made with sponge mix
Huat gao (steamed rice cake) made as offerings for the Gods and my grandpa

3 Jul 2014

larb gai

I just came back from a short holiday at my grandma's and I think I came back with a new found appreciation for the tropics. One of my main aims for travelling this time round was just to eat (chee cheong fun - steamed rice rolls) and learn some dishes from my grandma; which I am happy to report that I did. Something I miss was the availability of food in such close proximity. I'd often wake up and be taken to have noodles for breakfast. Some days I'd have roasted meat rice, yumcha or walk down to my favourite mamak store for roti telur (roti canai with egg) and teh ais (iced milk tea). Coming back, the food choices available aren't as interesting. Though I guess it gives me a good reason to go again in the future.

Speaking of larb gai, it wasn't something I learnt from my grandma nor did I eat it when I was in KL. Instead, it came from deciding what to do with the chicken mince! I remember eating something similar in a Thai restaurant a while ago and so I began to do a little research in attempt to recreate it. Sweet, savoury, sour and spicy, it tastes great by itself, with some freshly steamed rice or bun (thin rice noodles).

◯ ◯ ◯

larb gai (Thai minced chicken salad)     serves 4+ as part of a shared meal
adapted from Thai Food and Cooking by Judy Bastyra & Becky Johnson and Tiny Urban Kitchen

2 lemongrass roots (white bit), sliced thinly and finely processed
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
500g chicken mince
cooking oil, as required
sea salt, as required
fish sauce (Squid brand), as required
white pepper, as required
chicken stock powder, as required

nuoc mam pha*, as required
Thai sweet chilli sauce (Pantai brand) or chilli sauce, as required

To serve
toasted rice powder (khao khua)**, as required
1 bunch coriander, roots trimmed
1 bunch Thai basil/mint, leaves plucked
1 baby cos lettuce, leaves trimmed
1 lime, cut into 8 wedges

Heat up a wok and add some cooking oil. On low heat, sauté lemongrass, garlic and shallots until fragrant. Transfer to a small bowl. Turn up the heat and add some more cooking oil to cook the chicken mince, allow the bottom to brown before breaking it into small pieces, stirring in the process. When chicken is nearly done, add the lemongrass mix and stir thoroughly. As the meat juice begins to evaporate, season well with salt, fish sauce, white pepper and chicken stock powder. Stir fry until meat juice completely evaporates. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

For the sauce, combine nuoc mam pha and Thai sweet chilli sauce to your liking.

To serve, take out a portion of the mince and mix in 1 heaped teaspoon of toasted rice powder and some coriander and Thai basil/mint. Add a few tablespoons sauce and stir to combine, adding more sauce if necessary. Transfer onto a baby cos lettuce and squeeze lime wedge before eating.

*My dad makes his own dipping fish sauce which is made of combining fish sauce, white vinegar, sugar, water and smashed garlic cloves. Once you are happy with the taste, bring to the boil and allow to cool before storing in an airtight jug. Store in the fridge.

**Heat a wok. Turn the heat to low and add a rice cup full of glutinous rice. Gently stir fry until golden brown and fragrant – this may take around ten minutes. Allow to cool before processing it to a fine powder. For further information, see here.

Edit: 10/07/14 I'm submitting this post to Cook Your Books #14 hosted by Joyce of Kitchen Flavours.

9 Jun 2014

coconut tarts

One of my favourite moments during yum cha is when the lady comes around pushing the desserts cart. From colourful cubed gelatin jellies with an umbrella toothpicks to chewy mochi with peanut and coconut fillings. I generally like most of them (except almond jelly), but you can't really beat flaky egg tarts that are fresh from the oven. Another tart offered is the coconut tart - what I refer to as the less popular cousins of the egg tart. We used to get these when we were visiting our relatives in the east, but since the dim sum restaurant closed a decade ago, I haven't been able to source any good ones that are as good as the ones we used to get.

I tried making them a couple of years back, but the filling was different mainly because I was just mixing a bunch of ingredients I thought were in it. It was not until I recently came across wantanmien's post, I thought about making these again. This time the filling was very close to what I remember eating in the past. Compared to my old filling mixture which was very moist, this was quite dry and could be molded into a ball. 

You'll need a stack of individual tart molds to make these, but if you don't have any, you can try using a greased, loose based muffin tray or patty/fairy cake trays (cake tin with the rounded bottom). 

* * *

coconut tarts     makes around 16
pastry adapted from Lim Siew Chung in Yummy Street Fare 最想吃的...街坊美食 
filling adapted from wantanmien

200g plain flour
75g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
25g cold lard (or unsalted butter), cut into cubes
50g icing sugar
15g custard powder
pinch of salt
1 cold egg

filling (make a few hours prior or overnight)
200g desiccated coconut
120ml milk or coconut milk
60g unsalted butter
100g icing sugar (or to taste)
20g vanilla pudding powder* (optional)
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
pinch of salt
few drops of yellow food colouring (optional)

8 glace cherries, cut into half, for decoration (optional)

To make pastry: Put flour, butter, lard, icing sugar, custard powder and salt into a food processor. Pulse until butter and lard resemble small breadcrumbs. Add in the egg and pulse until everything comes together. Empty onto a lightly floured surface and knead into a ball. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

To make filling: Put all ingredients into a small saucepan, except for the desiccated coconut. Cook on medium low heat until butter melts completely. Stir in the coconut and leave to cool for a few hours or overnight for it to absorb the liquid.

To assemble: Take the pastry out of the refrigerator and divide into 30g pieces. Press pastry evenly around the molds**. Divide filling according to how many tart shells you have and lightly press into the tart shells. Press in a halved glace cherry in the center. Bake at 190 degrees celcius for 20 - 25 minutes or until golden brown. Don't worry about over baking, they are very forgiving. In fact, you'll get crispier tart shells - win! 

*I found adding this made the taste kind of artificial. If you add vanilla bean paste, essence or extract, I do not think it is necessary.
**Or roll out the pastry into 2mm and use a suitable cookie cutter to cut our rounds to line the mold.

25 May 2014

wonton noodles!

"If you don't ever try, you'll never know how. The first time won't be great, but you'll know how to make it better next time." 

And with that, I made my first bowl of wonton soup noodles with a bit of help from my dad. The method was quite simple and the only thing I struggled most with was wonton wrapping. Despite being taught how to wrap wontons on two separate occasions, I finally got the technique last night. Unfortunately, the wonton filling was on the bland side because I forgot to add the oyster sauce. At least I'll remember for next time. In the meantime, a few drops of soy sauce will have to do.