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Friday, November 30, 2012

Kam Heong Crab 金香炒蟹

Kam Heong Crab 金香炒蟹 has got to be one of the many all-time favorites of hubby. While I probably shall never consider myself a big fan of Crustaceans in general, nibbling and getting my fingers dirty picking at these crabs are something that I do enjoy still once in a while - they really are a part of the pleasure of eating crab and joy of the occasional bare-hands eating experiences. My very personal history of crabs started with those nicely and patiently picked by my dad and mixed into my plate of plain rice when I was way too young. And then I started having them the most basic way - steamed whole before I developed a liking for spicy food like everyone else in my family. That was when I started digging into the huge plate of mom's very own specialty chili crab at home. 

So apart from those methods of preparing it at home, the rest was made known to me through the many years of dining out. There are this "kam heong" way of making it, the salted egg version, the sweet and sour, the salt and pepper, the ginger and scallion and it goes on and on. But of all, the "kam heong" way is by far my personal favorite when dining out. Literally translated to mean "golden fragrant", it does indeed come with a fragrance unique to the dish which I think I shall attribute to the presence of the curry leaves. Aromatic in nature, a sprig or two is always good enough to bring the dish a different dimension on its own and especially so when made to complement the many other aromatics used here - the dried shrimps, birds eye chilies, curry powder, shallots and garlic. Elaborated on the whole yet not too overwhelming that it conceals the freshness of the crabs within. As for the golden part, I guess the final appearance does somewhat justify the name after all. 

My first few attempts at making this had kind of failed. Or probably inconsistent will be a better word here. On some occasions they looked and tasted fine. On others, you just know it wasn't right when your plate of crabs looked slightly wet in general, lightly drenched in some unintended gravy even. So with enough wrongs done, I think my failures could be tracked down to me again and again easily succumbing to the temptation of adding in some water in the process. This is especially so when dry frying the aromatics in the well heated wok looked too dry as if they will get burnt any minute if left unattended. So with some water in, the dry frying process gets halted locking in the flavors prematurely. At the same time, they create a steaming effect and that is when I will end my crabs up in a mini pool of not-so-flavorful gravy. So lesson learned here - "kam heong" is very much like dry frying the aromatics bringing out the best flavor they can offer and have them coated all over the crabs. The crabs are deep fried prior to cooking. So with this bit of oil clinging on to them, plus a little more used for dry frying the aromatics later together with the wet seasoning, coating should be the last thing you will have to worry about really - they simply will and should cling and coat conveniently. But if you must introduce some moist at any points, do really limit them to a few sprinkles of water and nothing more.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Yeung Chow Fried Rice 扬州炒饭

This is what I will personally classify as one of the classic and most popular fried rice in the Chinese restaurants in Malaysia. I have not an idea what the history to this is like, whether or not it really originated from the city the name bears or if this version of fried rice is made exactly like it was intended when first created. But despite all the unknowns, I must say that these Chinese restaurants have at least been somewhat consistent in defining this Yeung Chow Fried Rice 扬州炒饭 on the whole as if a common ground to the definition of this has always been achieved and agreed on all along. They are always made with the same few ingredients that even I have since and still made believe are the essentials in a plate of Yeung Chow Fried Rice 扬州炒饭. They are the Chinese barbequed pork (char siu), shrimps (whole or diced), eggs and balanced with something green (most of the time it will be the sweet peas). Each looks simple enough on their own really, but have them tossed together with the rice plus a bit of this and a bit of that of some real simple seasonings, there is something about this fried rice that has always captured my heart. And if I were to really pin point at one - I guess it must be the Chinese barbequed pork in its sweet glaze with a tad of the char grilled taste that makes the key to defining a plate of good Yeung Chow Fried Rice 扬州炒饭.

Quoting from the previous post on Kimchi Bokkeumbap (Kimchi Fried Rice) 김치 볶음밥, "As with any other varieties of fried rice, leftover rice always makes better fried rice, having had the chance to slightly dry up overnight chilled in the refrigerator. But making fried rice is always still possible even without any leftover rice in hand. Cook some rice well ahead of time with, use a little less water than what usually is required (reduce by a 1/4 maybe), remove the rice from the cooker as soon as it's done cooking, spread them out to let the steam escapes well and leave to air dry right until cooking time. Same good result, same level of satisfaction!".

Friday, November 23, 2012

Homemade Crispy Fried Shallots 香酥红葱头油

Sweeter and milder than onions, shallots are often indispensable in an Asian kitchen. They are the essentials when it comes making making certain marinades, curry pastes, sauces and the various kinds of sambal, not forgetting its role as the very basic component to define certain dishes. Just like the garlic and ginger, shallot is what I personally think of as something elementary hardly substitutable with any others. Onions? Probably yea in some ways, but definitely not in others. They may give you a similar texture almost comparable between the two, but there always will be the fragrant exlusively coming from the shallots that will be slightly missing in the end. And very much thanks to their extraordinarily sweet nature, shallots make an awesome garnishing when thinly sliced and fried to perfect crispness. This is definitely one of the many popular garnishes that I easily adore.

It took me more than a single or a couple of trials before I was convinced that mine actually looked somewhat presentable and acceptable. From choosing the good shallots to begin with, rinsing and draining, slicing all the way to frying them up in the end, each comes with its own challenges needing a little more than just some tender light care to make it right. Making fried shallots generally takes a little more time than frying the other aromatics like the garlic and ginger, but fried shallot are good to be kept up to a week when store appropriately. So despite the little hassle, you will be rewarded with something that will keep you going for at least a little while. They are good to go with plenty dishes - the fried rice, fried noodles, bowl of noodle soups, steamed rice noodles rolls 猪肠粉 or some snacks even like the steamed yam cake 芋头糕. They simply really do make everything better. And a last note - as precious as these shallot crisps are, the resulting shallot oil makes an extraordinarily good essence on its own with an infused natural fragrance. Have them substituting the cooking oil or drizzle lightly over some dishes and you will be surprised with how it gives yet another dimension to the dishes, accentuating their flavor and taste easily. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cantonese Style Steamed Fish 粤式蒸鱼

When I first started in the kitchen, my first steaming self-taught lessons began with this Cantonese style of steaming. Probably the most classic way I am not exactly too sure, but on average eating in and out, I indeed have had this more than any other styles steaming can adopt. Steamed whole with ginger and spring onion and lightly bathed in a specially mixed light soy sauce, this gentle method of cooking works well in retaining the fish's tender and delicate texture. This is pretty much the very same version of steamed fish that I grew up having at home. So ultimately, this is exactly what I first intended and eventually attempted to learn and re-create in my own kitchen two years back. But honestly, the first couple of times were so meh. And as with many other things, making a steamed fish is definitely one that only gets better with experience. You adjust and readjust the sauce fine tuning it each time, you experiment with the steaming time until you can visualize well how it correlates with the size and especially the thickness of the fish and you then start perfecting it by regulating the heat locating the optimal point, and lastly finishing it with a refined garnishing. And when you have done enough wrongs and some rights, you will soon figure that you have got the steaming ABC right at your fingertips. 

Quoting from the post on the Steamed Fish with Ginger Puree 姜茸蒸鱼, "Regardless of which steaming styles with what kind of sauces you decided to adopt, they always do come back to the steaming basics - a real fresh fish to begin with, scale, clean and gut thoroughly, season and stuff, make a bed, set timer and steam, lift and transfer to a serving plate, pour prepared sauce over the fish, garnish and serve! Contrary to that precious essence we do always get with steaming a chicken, the pool of fish juice and the stuffing post-steaming is anything but good. Fishy and cloudy in appearance, having utilized them fully throughout the steaming process would have rendered them tasteless, flavorless and simply too unpleasant a sight when served alongside the fish. So yes, have them removed and always let the fresh fish start anew post steaming."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Shanghai Abalone Mushroom 上海鲍鱼菇

I should start with a credit to the very restaurant where I first heard and had this dish - Shanghai Abalone Mushroom 上海鲍鱼菇, a name probably exclusive to the restaurant itself. The restaurant goes by the name of Soo Ser Yen Restaurant 素食园冷气餐厅 back in my hometown, Kuantan. It was a love at first try for many of us that night years ago. Oyster mushroom deep fried to perfect crunchiness and then lightly drenched in a sweet and sour sauce - to plainly say that this is very appetizing seems like an understatement still. Not only it tempts your palate like none others, it leaves you craving for more with each bite taken. Exaggerating? I don't know, it could be just me after all lol. The last time I had it was when our parents met up with each other for the first time ever prior to our wedding. With my mom-in-law being a vegetarian, this was where we decided to have our dinner here together. There is a saying that goes "absence makes the heart grows fonder". Certainly true in some ways, but probably not so in others. To be back in the restaurant after so many years have lapsed was when I was reminded of this specialty of theirs. So I guess sometimes absence actually makes the heart conveniently forgets too lol. But all in all, I was truly amazed with how the restaurant had proven to be ever so consistent with their food quality throughout their operating years - this dish turned out exactly like how I have always remembered it.

This dish can be a continuation to the Deep Fried Oyster Mushroom 炸鲍鱼菇 that I had made previously although the thought of making this came way later after I thought I have finally perfected the frying batter for the mushrooms. With that essential part to the making of this dish covered, the sweet and sour sauce is what I am left to deal with. As the name suggests, it's both sweet and sour but not too much of either, accentuated with a tinge of spiciness in my case, and neither too thick nor too runny. With hubby's agreeable "ooooh and aaahhh"s as we had this that night, it probably is safe to say that this is surprisingly one of the rare and few too-good-to-be-true perfect first attempts of mine. And sure enough - you know you nailed it when it leaves you craving for more as the plate got polished at the end of the meal. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Brussel Sprouts Roasted on the Stalk

I simply adore brussel sprouts. Intrigued by their appearance and vibrant color, these were the reasons I went ahead and got my first very bunch of brussel sprouts during my final uni year in Glasgow. The first time I had them boiled, and the first eventually led me to many more - roasted, steamed and even stir fried. These are miniature cabbage-like sprouts with a flavor so distinct yet totally indescribable. Ermmm... like a cabbage? Yea, a wee bit of that plus a wee bit of broccoli too I think. And kinda nutty with a tinge of bitter-sweetness on top of all those. So yea, they can be rather overwhelming for some and I have gathered that this is something that you either simply love or easily hate.

Strolling through the isles in Trader Joe's as as we spent our weekend hopping from one marketplace to another, hubby spotted this - the brussel sprouts stalks. Mini heads of baby cabbages spiraling artistically around the stalk, each stalk is simply too-good looking a masterpiece it's not quite possible to just walk pass without stopping by to admire it. A fascinating sight it sure was! Plus when you have a choice between these sprouts on stalk vs those loose sprouts bundled up - the stalks always win hands down because the sprouts deteriorate as soon as they are off their nutrition pillar. Not only do the stalks resemble the limited editions of these sprouts in the Brassica family, the stalks keep the sprouts' livelihood better so they generally stay fresher over a longer period of time. And as if all those are not quite sufficient to convince you into getting one, the one in Trader Joe's comes complete with a recipe recommendation - just what this post is all about! lol.

Oh and an extra note on choosing them as how a crew on site shared her tips with me - as long as the stems show no sign of browning or drying and the leaves look all fresh and vibrantly green, they generally define a good and fresh stalk. And you will want the sprouts to be about the same size so that they will all cook at the same time. Go for those medium-small ones (well this last piece of tip is my own lol), because I do find them more tender and sweeter most of the time. A last note: don't overcook them. Like all vegetables, they are best served crisp-tender.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Ginger and Garlic Chili Sauce 姜蒜辣椒酱

This is one real simple, non-elaborated version of the ginger and garlic chili sauce that goes exceptionally well with especially the Hainanese chicken rice. Adapted from Steamy Kitchen, the recipe calls for chili, ginger, garlic, some lime/lemon juice, sugar and water. Basic few ingredients that are readily available in most typical Chinese pantries and despite it using the ready made Sriracha chili sauce rather than blending it from scratch, I must stress here that the end result is unbelievably spectacular. It is very much like how I have always liked it dining out, only better. This comes way spicier (directly correlated with how much Sriracha you reckon you can tolerate) and not even half as watery as those you sometimes get outside. Tangy, slightly salty with a tad of sweetness, this makes a good dipping sauce for plenty other masterpieces - steamed or pan fried yam cake, noodles or even a part of the many dipping sauces commonly served alongside the Chinese steamboat, pulling everything together perfectly well.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Gourmet Ham and Cheese Panini

Costa Coffee's Ham and Cheese Sourdough Panini was the first ever panini that I had in life. Knowing nothing about panini, I remember how enticing the sight was as the barista was getting it neatly pressed behind the counter. That was probably close to five years back, one of the rare precious moments to be out for a good and smooth cuppa with my housemate, Chuey Ee at the St. Enoch Shopping Mall back in our final uni year. And there I think I was instantly hooked on these melty stackers. As much as I love sandwiches, subs and wraps, there always is something extra about panini that I have always adored. Unlike hot sandwiches with the bread toasted before assembling, panini is about getting all the ingredients laid out readily, assembled and pressed. So yes, I would think with the extra care and patience needed on top of the basic creativity, making a perfectly browned and crisped up panini is almost like an art itself. It's about stacking them firm and steady, neat and elegant. And yea, you will have to limit and reserve the idea of having an overflow filling to the classic sandwiches and spare the panini.   

Just like how my first ever panini made and left its impression to me back then, there really is nothing quite like the comforting ham and cheese duo. Sliced ham with a perfect balance of flavor and texture with a slight hint of heat coming from the melting gooey pepper jack cheese, this panini is made complete with the creamy avocado and earthy, crunchy sprouts that complement each other really well. And with a dollop of dijon mustard scattered here and there bringing in a tangy flavor to the panini, together they make an incredibly scrumptious combo, totally hearty and healthy.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Steamed Fish with Ginger Puree 姜茸蒸鱼

This was totally impulsive - I woke up missing fresh swimming fish, and all of a sudden I was so missing the ginger-puree-style of steaming. I missed the ginger pungency with its heat factor and I simply missed missing it having last had it easily more than a decade ago. Now time sure flies! So off I went to the the Chinese grocer and got myself a tilapia fish at its freshest. One moment the fish was happily mingling with its kind in the large fish glass tank, the next moment the five-minute-dead fish was sitting still in the box beside me in the passenger seat as I drove home in my evil grin - obviously thinking about the dinner I was so anticipating lol.

When you have a fish this fresh to begin with, I would really think that you are already halfway there. And while there are plenty other ways to getting them done equally good, I would really love to think that steaming when done right, is the way to go. It brings out the best a fresh fish can offer - tender flesh flaking just so optimally and a texture so delicate it almost goes melting with each bite, held back by the very bit of chewy nature it retains still. With the right heat and duration, steaming lets you savor the freshness and natural sweetness with a minimal intrusion. 

Regardless of which steaming styles with what kind of sauces you decided to adopt, they always do come back to the steaming basics - a real fresh fish to begin with, scale, clean and gut thoroughly, season and stuff, make a bed, set timer and steam, lift and transfer to a serving plate, pour prepared sauce over the fish, garnish and serve! Contrary to that precious essence we do always get with steaming a chicken, the pool of fish juice and the stuffing post-steaming is anything but good. Fishy and cloudy in appearance, having utilized them fully throughout the steaming process would have rendered them tasteless, flavorless and simply too unpleasant a sight when served alongside the fish. So yes, have them removed and always let the fresh fish start anew post steaming.

The whole picture of dealing with a whole fresh fish may look so intimidating and too overwhelming especially for a beginner. But we all start as a newbie and there always is so many firsts in life. Surely this
is something that only gets better with experience. So keep trying, make mistakes and when you know that you finally have got them under control, you will then agree that steaming fish is something easy - pure, and simply delicious. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Buddha's Delight - Luo Han Zai 罗汉斋

Luo Han Zai in Mandarin is basically the stir fried mixed vegetables in general, a well-known common vegetarian dish among the Chinese community. Known to some as the Buddha's delight, I think apart from Buddha himself, this probably is every vegetable lover's delight. Surely that makes me exactly one of those too. A vegetable lover I sure am, that I have always known, but to think that I have liked this plainly because it is a dish loaded with vegetables will be an understatement. All in all I think what really attracts me most about this dish is the well-elaborated presentation brought about by the many different ingredients found within the same one plate. No, this is not those 2 or 3 or 4-in-1 kind, but it is one of the few dishes that can easily manage to carry double the types of different ingredients used to say the least, yet not appearing to be too suffocating or complicated in the end. Personally, I think this is one of the few classic examples of how different ingredients when chosen right can really be mixed and matched in harmony - no one really stands out and no one really masks any others. And to top things off, a perfect serving of luo han zai requires only the minimal seasonings - the red fermented bean curd 南乳 and light soy sauce to taste.

napa cabbage, fried bean curd stick, glass noodle, wood ear fungus, fried tofu puff,
baby corn, enoki mushroom, shiitake mushroom, ginger, garlic and red fermented bean curd

Monday, November 12, 2012

Peppered Pork Tenderloin 胡椒肉

A family recipe from dad's side, we have always known this better in Hokkien as "oh bak" translated to mean dark-colored pork, a color very much given by the seasonings used - the light soy sauce and plenty of both sweet and salty dark soy sauces. This is one of the few things that has got etched rather easily in my heart as early as the very first time I had a try at it. 

Tender pork tenderloin sliced thinly and drenched in a gravy both sweet and salty pleasantly balancing one another, this is further enhanced with a tinge of spiciness and pungency brought about by the heaps of white pepper powder used. Although loving spicy food is hardly an inborn personality trait, I must have had enough exposure of it through the years growing up. So despite me being a kiddo, I had always seemed to be tolerating this dish really well. So much so that whenever this dish made it to the dining table, I was almost on every occasion the last person to leave the table, polishing the plate of this dish with some plain white rice and grinning satisfyingly - an understated satiety. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Preserved Radish with Minced Meat Omelet 菜圃肉碎煎蛋

This was made on one of those lazy nights when I actually did dread spending too much of a day in the kitchen preparing meals, when time past by so fast I would usually be left with no time to go for a grocery shopping trip at all, marinate anything in advance let alone thinking about doing anything fancy or out of the norm. Yet I knew I had that little conscience left in me still that made me not quite ready to succumb to the temptations of dining out or having carry-outs. And so that very night, this came into mind. Simple, not at all time consuming and yet it worked its miracle in pleasing our palate nonetheless throughout the meal. This is an awesome accompaniment for plain congee especially, but oh yes, pair it with rice and you will see how good they are in balancing those staples.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Stuffed Tofu 豆腐塞豆芽

Better known as "tauhu sumbat" among Malaysian locals, this makes an all-time great finger food often not served hot but at room temperature. Simple it is sure, and for a while I had contemplated if I should even make a post on this. But on second thought, this blog is after all about what we make and have at home as part of our everyday meals, so I decided that it should deserve a place here nonetheless lol. Basically fried tofu stuffed with vegetables, this makes a healthy and simple snack, pairing exceptionally well with the Thai sweet chili sauce or peanut sauce. A snack simple as such is made unbelievably even simpler with me using firm tofu that comes pre-fried. Surely not merely chosen out of convenience, this is instead an intentional choice made having tried both frying my own and using these. And they certainly have not failed in proving their worthiness in making stuffed tofu at least as awesome as those homemade. With those in hands, a steamer is all that I need to get these done within minutes. Instead of having the fried tofu re-fried, I put them to steam. And instead of blanching the vegetables, I have them steamed too. So all in all, they collectively make a healthier version of stuffed tofu on their own, at least to my very personal standard.

fried firm tofu, carrots, cucumber and bean sprouts
- the keys to a good piece of stuffed tofu

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Wonton Noodle Soup 云吞汤面

This wonton noodle soup is made in accordance with the one request put forward by hubby. Not so much of the Hong Kong type of wonton noodle I would say, and I reasoned this with the different kinds of wonton used to begin with. Those in Hong Kong comes with wontons wholly made of shrimps, while this is shrimps:pork = 1:1. Chewy noodle cooked al dante on a bed of shrimp wontons served in a savory broth is what one sees at first glance of a typical bowl of Hong Kong style wonton noodle. This, on the other hand, comes lined with a portion of Chinese barbequed pork (char siu) on top of all those aforementioned. This of course is not limited to just that, it could have been the roasted duck, roasted pork or any of these combinations.

A good bowl of Hong Kong version of wonton noodle soup has the savory broth made with dried flounder and shrimps, some with shark bones even. This featured here had used a broth made of anchovies and chicken instead (or some made with pork bones simply). And last but not least, bowls of wonton noodles in Hong Kong are deliberately sold in smaller portions, an effort made to ensure that the noodle texture stays the same throughout the dining experience or so it seems. The one here comes in the size of a typical bowl of noodle soup, probably measuring up to about twice of that in Hong Kong. All things considered, this is the wonton noodle soup more commonly seen in Malaysia, having come under the many influences of the local Chinese community there.  

wonton noodles, wontons and Chinese barbequed pork
The wontons made for this bowl of noodle soup somewhat resemble the extended and a more elaborated version of the Fried Pork and Shrimp Wonton that I had posted on a while ago - the same few basic ingredients but lightly further enhanced with some additional additives and seasonings. Firm, springy noodle served with a generous amount of plump wontons and Chinese barbequed pork in a savory soup balanced with a tad of sweetness, these make a simple dish with a satisfaction somehow not-as-simple describable.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Egg Foo Yong 芙蓉蛋

Difficult not to love, egg foo yong is one of the most popular dishes commonly found in a typical Chinese restaurant's menu in Malaysia. Often this is something that anyone can easily relate to when it comes to ordering out of the menu, and especially so when one runs out of idea of what to have for a meal - all made possible pretty much because of its great compatibility with almost everything else in the menu. Eggs do amazing things really. Versatile they sure are, there are simply too many ways to have them presented - fried as it is, soft or hard boiled, stir fried, poached, stewed and braised. So much so that they easily could have been made one of the many essentials or staples in our everyday meals even (sigh, if only these goodies come cholesterol-free lol).  

I have very little idea about the origin of this egg foo yong, let alone the real history and meaning behind the name. Egg foo yong to me personally is an omelet perfectly pan fried to golden brown on the whole, preferably with the rim around it all appearing crisped up to perfection. Not an ordinary kind of omelet certainly, it is one made incorporating a few ingredients - simple ingredients that I think are the essentials and basic to define the egg foo yong. They are the Chinese barbequed pork (char siu), shrimps and plenty of onions. Without any, I probably will have named it an omelet simply rather than tagging it as the egg foo yong. But I have got to say that none of the above actually holds true against any references about egg foo yong. It may ring a bell especially to those who are familiar with egg foo yong often served in Chinese restaurants in Malaysia, but of course different people of different regions or nations may have totally different definitions unique to themselves. However it is, this very version of egg foo yong is one that I have come to learn, like and eventually love and adore.

char siu - one that easily stands out and gives a distinct flavor to egg foo yong in general

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Braised Chicken Feet with Mushroom 冬菇焖鸡脚

I remember having my first go at chicken feet when I was still a kiddo in a local coffee shop specializing in curry noodles soup back in my hometown. A humble and a relatively old shop by the name Teng Haw Coffee Shop 祥和茶室, I honestly have got a very fond memory of this coffee shop. This is the very coffee shop that my family had spent every Sunday morning in for our breakfasts growing up. And with every, I actually do mean each and every Sunday, apart from the very few weekends that we happened to be out of town, or the even fewer times that the coffee shop took some breaks from their never-ending business. That happened for at least a good two decades of my life until I moved out during my uni years. But even with my brother and I away from home, dad and mom had carried on with the little tradition of our family until my dad passed. And it remains as my mom's favorite place for a good bowl of curry noodle soup still to-date and of course, mine too whenever I get to spend some time back in my hometown. 

This coffee shop is probably the only place that I have seen serving bowls of curry noodle soups with chicken feet in it. That comes optional, of course. But growing up, this was how we had always had it - a bowl of chicken feet braised in curry broth on the side to go with the bowl of curry noodle soup served with assorted yong tau foo that we would be having individually still. I'm not sure if I had had a pause for thought when I had my first ever encounter with chicken feet. But if I really did have hesitated then, it must have been a short-lived one. I remember how I would always be looking forward to dining there, and how especially dad and I would be disappointed whenever they ran out of their chicken feet. I probably won't be able to tell what about them that really caught my interest, picking the many small bones of theirs or merely enjoying their texture maybe but over time I did discover a great affinity for them - braised, deep fried, simply boiled or those come steaming away in those carts at dim sum places.

Unused and considered inedible in some parts of the world, chicken feet make a delicacy in few others. Moving here, it was many months later before I spotted the first pack of chicken feet sold in a Chinese grocer and that was my first time ever dealing with chicken feet in my very own kitchen making this braised chicken feet with mushroom. And that was a disaster (!!!) with tedious cleaning before and after, and not forgetting the hot oil-water war that started the moment the chicken feet hit the heated oil. While I had somewhat expected some kinds of reaction then, to say that the massive splattering totally got me freaked out still is an understatement. And yes, I felt bad to have taken all the times that mom had made at home for granted all along, at least for a while lol. That battle, however, is something that gets better with experience. With myself getting better braced and more equipped against especially the mini volcano eruption, I soon got comfortable dealing with this doing it the second time and many more after that. That aside, you know it's worth the hassle with the conscious anticipation of a good bowl of chicken feet braised to extreme softness and tenderness as the cooking gets wrapped up at the end each time.

Ever since I started in the kitchen, strolling through the aisles at any grocer place has been my favorite thing to do. Spending all the time I do have browsing through all the shelves, picking up items and studying them not necessarily buying them at the end of it, I think I did learn a whole lot about the range of ingredients that can be incorporated into our everyday meals. And should I have not had the curiosity that got me started in the first place, I probably would have missed this - the spice tea bags. Decided to give this a try about a year ago, I have since been using this pretty much for braising and can never be more satisfied with the end result I get each time. Optional it is, but if there ever were a chance you can get hold of this, this is definitely something so worth a try.

an inexpensive bag of spice that brings hype to braising
ingredients: cinnamon, flennel, zingiber, clove

Monday, November 5, 2012

Claypot Chicken Rice 瓦煲鸡饭

I may not be a big fan of the claypot chicken rice, but this being one of the many popular local delights is something that I do enjoy having every now and then. I probably could have counted the few little times that I had ordered and had a personal pot all to myself dining out. This has always been more of a family affair with our family sharing a good pot or two for a meal at times. Dad and brother on the other hand, loved this like none others. This claypot chicken rice had even been a reason we would be exploring some cities or towns hunting for some renowned stalls specializing in claypot chicken rice, heard, recommended or seen advertised anywhere when we happened to be out of town. Nope, not at all exaggerating here. So despite me not particularly loving it, I grew up having plenty of it nonetheless. And good ones they sure are.

When you have two claypot chicken rice enthusiasts at home, over time you will find that you actually do learn and pick up some stuff from them subconsciously. For one, I have learned that it all starts with a queue and a long waiting time. Making a pot of claypot chicken rice traditionally involved the use of the charcoal flame as the main source of heat giving it an earthy flavor. That method of fueling is certainly getting less and less seen these days, largely replaced with the gas burners saving plenty of time and effort. Regardless of which is used, I do know that the basic to a good pot of this goodie starts with the rice. It should be cooked using the claypot itself rather than having it pre-cooked and assembled in a claypot simply after. With that slow and steady rule #1, that explained the wait. Thinking back, it was amazing how a good pot of this could actually test and tame the two men at home with the least patience back then lol.

Chinese sausage, shiitake mushroom and a good piece of salted fish
- the essentials to a good pot of claypot chicken rice
With the waiting over, a pot of smoky and aromatic chicken rice is what you should be anticipating - the aroma especially coming from the salted fish and the Chinese sausage or lap cheong 腊肠 , the pleasant sight of the color given by a good quality of dark soy sauce, grains of rice nicely separated looking firm and the steam seen as soon as the lid is removed suggesting a piping hot content right to the core of each grain of rice. Giving it a stir prior to serving, a good layer of crust should already be noticeable. "The best part" as how dad would describe the slightly burnt crust, he would always be the first one to claim that piece of treasure totally ignoring mom's disapproving look lol. With all those criteria scored, the result will be somewhat indescribable - lets just put it as "satisfaction in every spoonsful guaranteed".

fried salted fish broken down and sprinkled over rice prior to serving

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Stir Fried Bean Sprouts with Salted Fish 咸鱼炒豆芽

I remember hating bean sprouts growing up. Not the small handful served in a bowl of curry noodle or the few strands found in a plate of fried noodles or even those wrapped in a spring roll, but only when it was fried in a large amount and served as a vegetable entree accompanying a meal. I have not even the slightest idea as to what the reason was, but I do remember growing up thinking that a plate of stir fried bean sprouts was my mom's easy way (oops, sorry ma lol) to fulfill and satisfy my request to always have a plate of vegetables to go with our everyday meals. Not that it was simply done, it was never that. And it was not that we had to have it raw either. So honestly, I have no clue as to what was with me and the bean sprouts relationship. Maybe they are simply not green lol.

Over the years, I slowly did get my sense normalcy back in check and the relationship eventually took a change for the better - it turned neutral at the very least. I started to like it alright whenever it was served and the hatred feeling no longer felt. A few more years later was when an occasional craving did start kicking in once in a while. And venturing into the kitchen was when I truly started to adore bean sprouts and their crunchy with a delicate hint of sweetness nature. Pair with salted fish with some additional pieces of tofu just like how mom always makes it at home, I guess this is me traveling back in time reminiscing the love-hate feeling I once had for this.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Economy Fried Vermicelli 经济炒米粉

Fried vermicelli served on plastic plates or wrapped in brown greaseproof wax papers if carried out, the economy fried noodle has been a hit among the locals of all strata for as long as I can remember. Come in a few choices of noodles to choose from - the vermicelli (beehoon) 米粉 , noodles , flat rice noodle (kuey teow) 粿条 or dried noodle 面干, they probably make the simplest known stir fried noodle with minimal ingredients. Cooked using the two most common sauces seen in any Chinese kitchen - the light soy sauce and the dark soy sauce, some are further enhanced with a touch of flavoring additive like the oyster sauce, fish sauce or a dash MSG simply. As simple as it sounds, it does require a little work of imagination to understand how a stall specializing in a simple dish as such often can be the best seller of all times.

the few basic ingredients to a plate of economy fried vermicelli

Usually fried in a large batch at a time and therefore needing less time and energy on the whole, the name does define the dish really well. But instead of having the noodles plainly sold as it is, a stall selling the economy fried noodles these days is often seen serving plenty other dishes that are meant to be paired and served alongside these plates of fried noodle. I grew up having plenty of this, especially liking a particular stall in a marketplace back in my hometown. A fussy eater, this surprisingly had been one my dad's all-time favorite too. Among the popular items on the sideline include the sambal, fried eggs, vegetable curry, chicken or wild boar curry, spicy cockles, slices of fried luncheon meat, fried chicken or any combinations of these. 

a plate of economy fried vermicelli served with an egg over easy

Edited March 21st 2013 with more photos on serving suggestions:

a plate of economy fried vermicelli served with fried chicken

a plate of economy fried vermicelli served with sambal eggs

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Kimchi Bokkeumbap (Kimchi Fried Rice) 김치 볶음밥

Living in an area with a Korean grocer just a short distance away, it is a great opportunity to be getting the best supply I can get whenever it comes to making Korean meals. Kimchi is one of them. This is where I bought my first ever bottle of homemade kimchi, made right there in the kitchen at the back of the shop itself. Fascinated with the huge refrigerator filled with kimchi in bottles and jars of all sizes each at different stages of fermentation process, the lady owner must have seen the awestricken me when she approached and offered some help. Then began a series of bottles and jars opening, sniffing and occasionally even sampling as she tried to explain the differences and ultimately which is best used for cooking the many different Korean dishes. And so it is from this lady owner whom I learned that well fermented kimchi makes the best kimchi bokkeumbap and kimchi jjigae 김치 찌개 or basically the kimchi stew.

Kimchi bokkeumbap, literally translated as the "kimchi fried rice" makes a humble yet sumptuous meal anytime. A true statement especially when one has little mood to spend much time making a meal in the kitchen and yet a hearty and healthy meal is still in the picture. Well actually, that was me describing those once in a blue moon moments that I do get on and off. No fancy ingredients and very little time and talent needed really, I have always loved its convenience and yet never lacking quality of a wholesome meal definition. Slightly over-fermented kimchi stir fried to bring out its natural sweetness and balanced by the inclusion of rice, it is easy to be in love with this with just one single bite into it.

With a bottle of good kimchi in the fridge at all time, this fried rice is made easy with a few other additional simple ingredients. A choice of meat (bacon, ham, pork, chicken or any other preferred), some vegetables diced up and a tinge of sesame oil to finish with, collectively they do great in balancing and complementing one another. As with any other varieties of fried rice, leftover rice always makes better fried rice, having had the chance to slightly dry up overnight chilled in the refrigerator. But making fried rice is always still possible even without any leftover rice in hand. Cook some rice well ahead of time with, use a little less water than what usually is required (reduce by a 1/4 maybe), remove the rice from the cooker as soon as it's done cooking, spread them out to let the steam escapes well and leave to air dry right until cooking time. Same good result, same level of satisfaction!

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