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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Homemade Pineapple Jam - Chinese New Year Series

A short break from mom's recipe lol. I officially started my Chinese New Year baking just few days back. Our first year of celebrating it together here in the State, it's a a huge break from the usual family tradition of ours growing up. But that also marks the start to our very own family tradition here. No special plan, just a simple reunion dinner perhaps, and a relaxing weekend lazying away lol. We may have some friends over to make it a little merrier, but that's about it. So apart from the small family reunion dinner to think of (or a medium one with friends), I have another 10 days to go, free and easy!

Not going back has come with a price to pay too. That means a no to all the non-stop feasting back in our hometown, a no to a good chance for family and friends to get together and do crazy stuff together, and a no to all the special delicacies that you will only get to see and taste especially on a big festive season like this. The Chinese New Year cookies easily top the "Food that I shall Miss the Most" list of mine lol. To make things worse, I have never actually seen them sold anywhere around where we live here. So sad... So if you want it, then make it yourself! To make up for the rather low-key, unusual, fresh and out-of-the-norm idea of celebration that we will be having this year, I made a vow to make us feel good and at least contented with the decision of us to stay put this year. And I SHALL bake my own batches of cookies! Well lets just hope that the motivation won't dim off any moment soon lol.

I don't remember ever taking baking this seriously in the past. I'm not one who's so into festive baking. But I do bake for fun especially at times when it's least expected of me. This, however, is a whole different scenario. At least I myself am expecting something out of it as the New Year approaches lol. My very first attempt this year - the pineapple tarts! Whoa! Sounds like a big project! And it is! But honestly if I should just make do with one single type of cookies this year, it will have to be these tarts! I'm such a big fan that thinking about not having it for another year has sufficed in getting me started. Seriously! lol. And now I regret not learning it from Jin, a housemate of mine, when she made us all a batch when we celebrated that year's Chinese New Year back in Glasgow. And I regret not paying my full attention and helping my mom-in-law when she made that just a year ago when we were back in Malaysia.

Well then the Internet it is! This is a recipe I got from Wendy at Table For 2.....or More - the ever reliable source for cooking ideas and recipes! And sure enough, despite the hectic process with plenty of time invested and some hiccups in between, the pineapple jam turned out perfect! So good I could already picture how gooey and nice they will be when wrapped in the dough for the tarts soon, real soon! Now fingers crossed that the dough will turn out just as perfectly as this!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Chicken Rendang - Mom's Recipe #2

Updated June 13th, 2013 with new photos! :)

Added June 13th, 2013

When I pestered my mom for her Asam Prawns (Tamarind Prawns) 亚参虾 recipe, I made sure I took the chance to get a couple more other recipes too, all of which are specialties of hers. This chicken rendang is one of them. An all-time big favorite of hubby, I have been procrastinating forever to have a go and try making this dish at home. That makes the only chance he gets to indulge in this is solely limited to those times when a common friend of ours, Siew Gee occasionally makes her renowned nasi lemak that often comes paired with the chicken rendang and invite us all over. My excuses? I have not got a set of mortar and pestle to begin with. I probably would have considered giving it a try if I had had a good spice blender in replacement of that. But nope, I had never been bothered investing in a good one either back then. Having neither of those definitely had set some sorts of limitation here in my kitchen. Lame, but true! lol.

Things took a change last Thanksgiving when I finally convinced myself into getting a good spice blender. Sure enough there has been a lot of blending happening since. I slowly developed an interest in spices, I have a bigger and a more complete collection of spices these days, and I started to get all so intrigued with making things from scratch. That comes with a good feeling knowing that you do and can indeed have control over certain things, not forgetting the great sense of satisfaction you get at the end of it. I do owe this very episode in making this to mom, particularly for this long proven recipe of hers. It had not been a totally easy and breezy one to make I must say, considering that this was my first as a beginner myself. But to see especially how the end result had truly made hubby all so head over heels with it, it had certainly got myself well motivated to keep me going for now.

A sneak peak at some of the many spices used...

p/s If you are reading this, Siew Gee, please please please do not stop inviting us over for your nasi lemak, chicken rendang and everything else! lol.

Added June 13th, 2013

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Asam Prawns (Tamarind Prawns) 亚参虾 - Mom's Recipe #1

One of mom's specialties, this was quite a regular back at our home growing up. But there was a brief period when we didn't see so much of this; mom probably has got plenty more specialties developed and kept us so contented that we stopped craving for this. Right until a week or two ago, I suddenly found myself missing this dish terribly for some unknown reasons. The night after immediately witnessed me getting my mom's recipe for this tamarind prawn version of hers over the phone. I think it is a statement well made to say that this is a classic dish in which every household has a version of their own. Same name, minor differences, similar tastiness.

This is a dish simple enough to be made with prawns and tamarinds bring the two most important ingredients. Here in the States, the tamarind pulp can be found in a huge solid block, usually come seedless. I have tried using the liquid tamarind concentrate too in the past, but personally the latter always feels as if it is never quite on par with the other option I have. To have recreated this dish soon after really did bring me a real sense of satisfaction. Craving satisfied aside, tasting this after so so long really did stir some memories of mine; a moment of reminiscence it sure is.

Mom's tips:
  • This is best made with prawns of thinner skins. The idea with this tamarind prawns is that at the end of the preparation, every bit of these prawns should be all so flavorful, beautifully caramelized and crispy on the whole. So well created they are always had whole, leaving barely any remnants behind at the end of the meal. That will explain the need to have the thin skin variety in order to be pleasantly chewing them away. Over here, I think the white shrimps work best. Just be sure to get those with a considerably good size.
  • Leave the shells on. Trim the head especially off the horns and tentacles, and cut away the legs. You can choose to make a slit down the back to get it deveined. Or just leave it as it is, they are totally fine too. But if you somehow did not manage to get those of the thinner shells, having these slits will help in getting them better marinated over time. Plus your guests will come to appreciate the little assistance from you as they try to get rid of the shells later lol.
  • Leave the tamarind seeds and pulps all the way from marinating, cooking to serving. They maximize the seasoning and I think it simply looks good having those bits of tamarinds around when served later.

This was hubby's firt time having this tamarind prawns. For someone that does not particularly tolerate sourness that well, he surprisingly loved this! I guess this is the thing between tamarinds and seafood in general; they pair exceptionally well! Sour but not excessively so, it comes with a tad of sweetness coming from the caramelisation with a natural hint of fruitiness from the tamarinds itself.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Homemade Mee Hoon Kueh (Hand-Torn Noodles) 面粉粿

A post rather similar to the Flour Noodle Soup (Pan Mee Soup) 清汤板面, this was made to satisfy my sudden craving for a bowl pan mee out of the blue. So sudden I hardly had all the ingredients I needed to make this our dinner that day. Yet I wasn't quite that keen on making a trip out to get them all. With some store bought flour noodles left barely enough for an individual serving, I resorted to making my own dough this time. Not my first time, but definitely one that I have not done for a while now. Probably so since I have found the commercial pan mee that I got so contented with, one that I still think is somewhat comparable to those home made ones as mentioned in my previous post.

The good thing about making my own? I guess rather than having the usual thin and round noodles 幼面 that I regularly made my pan mee with, I can opt for the hand torn version of pan mee this time around. mmMMmm, suddenly all my taste sensations just felt so awaken simply picturing a bowl of this mee hoon kueh lol. Not having the "manicai" with me, I have that green substituted with the Chinese mustard green (choy sum). And instead of the fried baby anchovies that I previously used, I made a batch for garnishing with the regular kinds of anchovies. Simple variations, minimal changes, huge satisfaction!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Fried Tofu Puffs 香菇豆包焖鸡肉

This braised chicken with mushrooms and fried tofu puffs makes a classic home-cooked dish. So classic you can hardly see it printed in the menu, let alone served in most Chinese restaurants. But this is a dish commonly seen in typical Chinese homes. Probably not the exact version, but definitely one closely resembling this in one way or another. Simple ingredients with nothing much fancy, this makes a very appetizing dish that will definitely remind you of your childhood and all the home-cooked meals you used to have growing up at home.

There can be an endless variations to this. Apart from the fried tofu puffs and shiitake mushrooms, their places can be well taken by tofu, fried bean curd sticks or the wood ear fungus even . With the light soy sauce being the main ingredient constituting the gravy, it comes balanced with a tad of sweetness coming from the sugar and of course, the natural sweetness from the chicken. This dish goes exceptionally well with a bowl of rice. That tames the saltiness, counterbalancing the overall flavor. This is a case where simplicity is truly at its best! Whether to include a small bundle of the glass noodle is optional. But do try incorporating a small amount of these carbs into the dish. You will be amazed by how well they taste as they absorb the gravy so packed with flavor and taste. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Crispy Spring Rolls 香脆春卷

A street food that I have always loved as a kid, the idea to making these at home is one inspired by my mom-in-law. Probably something that is made easier naturally with skills and experiences, my mom-in-law sure had made the whole making process seem simple enough, one that is totally doable at home. That bit of memory and the little wrapping experience I have had with her was what started me with my first batch of homemade crispy spring rolls soon after I moved here. My first batch was the vegetarian version of spring rolls, pretty much a replica of hers. The idea of tweaking the filling along the way came later when I started getting more comfortable with the basic concept of making these spring rolls.

Made slightly different to include some meats this time around, this was a batch specially done when I had the impulsive idea of making and bringing hubby and his colleagues some finger food as the working week was coming to a close yesterday. I would personally think that this is more of a Malaysian version of spring rolls to have included the jicama, mushrooms and dried shrimps especially. This being a different version from the usual popular Chinese spring rolls here in the States, I was indeed a little concerned if hubby's colleagues would find these acceptable. Lets just say that my worry was proven unwarranted in the end lol.

Some personal notes:
  • A well drained filling makes a good filling. Make sure that they are cooled completely before being wrapped. Any excess moisture uncared for makes soggy spring rolls, some leaky ones even.
  • Once the spring roll wrappers packaging is opened, they dry out almost instantaneously. That makes them a lot less pliable and wrapping almost impossible. Be sure to cover the wraps with a damp cloth whenever they are not in use. That maintains their freshness at their best.
  • Likewise, readily wrapped spring rolls will have to be covered and protected from drying out prior to frying. Try to leave some gap in between each roll separating them. Leaving them in contact will make them adhere to one another over time and separating them will not be easy. If you have to stack them up, separate the layers with a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap until frying time.
  • Wrap the rolls neat and tight. So less is more in this case! 2 tbsps of fillings in a roll seems to fit just well. That makes sure that the roll stands no chance to leak either as it gets filled or fried later. Plus your guests will get to eat elegantly! lol.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Tricolor Steamed Eggs with Minced Meat 肉碎蒸三色蛋

This tricolor steamed egg was one of the first dishes that I tried making when I first started in the kitchen. Back then the idea of getting a bowl of silky smooth eggs had never crossed my mind, at least not with my first few trials. One that tasted good and right was all that I was aiming for. It was after I had got that taste and flavor parts right did I start paying a little more attention to the details that come with steaming eggs. Things did not come quite as easily though. I had had a good number of bad experiences with this; some was so wrong they had to go into the bin coming out of the steamer. 

Soon this steamed eggs started to feel very much like a piece of art itself. And when you finally get to open the steamer lid one day to reveal a velvety smooth eggs steamed to perfection, it will first be the self satisfaction and pride that get you so overwhelmed before anything else comes next. So much so that spending a good amount of time admiring the piece of work of yours quietly is almost always guaranteed before you can make do with the idea of presenting it away and indulging it next.

My two cents' worth:
  •  Having three different kinds of eggs will have really sufficed in making a good dish out of these. It is totally a personal preference that I love adding a touch of meat to enhance the general texture this dish takes. A bite in between the velvety smooth eggs - not too bad an idea, no? lol. Have them lightly stir fried with some minced garlic prior to steaming makes sure that the meats are at their best presentation, taste and appearance wise. 
  • The right amount of water to be used is to me a crucial issue that also poses as the biggest challenge I had had. My thumb of rule? Maintain a ratio of water:beaten egg at 1.5:1. Add in only bubbly warm water (not boiling hot). That will make sure that no time and heat will go wasted in regulating the internal temperature when put to steam later. 
  • The right heat to be used really does depend of your steaming apparatus. Settle for the lowest heat that your steamer can manage. This will mean a level where a continuous stream of steam can be seen. In my case with my electric stove top, I needed one close to a medium heat. Any lower and the steam flow will get disrupted as the element heats and cools periodically. So do adjust that part accordingly. 
  • Time needed will vary depending on the serving size and heat supply. Make the first 10-minute your first check point. Remove the lid (the steam needs some escaping which will do good anyway) and check the eggs. 
    • Watery? Let steam and recheck 5 minutes later.
    • Wobbly and looking set but not totally? Give it another 2 to 3 minutes.
    • All set and looking smooth and silky? They are good to go!
Sounds a little challenging, do they not? But this is one so worth mastering because once you have got the concept right, steamed eggs regardless of which variation you opt for will never look the same again!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Stir Fried Ridged Gourd with Eggs 胜瓜炒蛋

Apart from the Tofu with Ridged Gourd 胜瓜豆腐, this is another way of how I like the ridged gourd served. With just the ridged gourd and the eggs as the key ingredients, this is a dish meant to be light and easy, sumptuous and simply delicious. To have a good serving size of this, make sure that you have a good amount of ridged gourds to begin with - a medium sized ridged gourd for an individual serving will be good. 

Be sure to have them cut into chunks of some relatively larger pieces. With a good absorbing nature, they will shrink considerably with cooking. So having large chunks to begin with makes sure that the soft yet spongy texture these ridged gourds have will not be lost. I have always preferred to have them separately managed; the ridged gourds are lightly stir fried with some minced garlic and eggs scrambled next before they are both brought together for a quick mix-up. This makes a simple dish with a promising taste good for everyday meals. Do give this a try!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Steamed Chilean Sea Bass in Soy Sauce

It was barely a month ago when I first came upon the Chilean sea bass. And that was all that is needed to get me all so head over heels with this sea treasure. In Bellagio Hotel where we stayed throughout our trip to the Vegas, this Chilean sea bass was one of the many other upscale high quality items that they served in their dinner buffet line. I don't quite remember how exactly the fish was done then, pan-roasted maybe or plainly steamed even. But I do remember going all "ooooh and aaahhh"s with each bite I took. That naturally became the center of attention to my dinner that night. Even the Kobe beef and the Alaskan king crab seemed to come second behind this. Yea, that was how crazy I got over this lol. Unlike the many fish dishes commonly seen in a buffet line, this was nowhere close to those that tend to get overcooked in some manners. This Chilean sea bass literally melts in your mouth! But of course that has got to be attributed to the great team of chef behind its making.

Returning home, that experience had made hubby and I a better observer these days especially in the fish markets lol. Little did we know that the Chilean sea bass (not really a bass) can actually fetch a real premium price in the market, let alone in those high end restaurants where they can be found in their menus. The highest I have noted to date marks a good $37 a pound in a local market here near where we live. It is almost at the same time that I also started noticing how it has always been a debated issue if the Chilean sea bass is an endangered species. Turn out they are not. The problem with them has all along been one coming from the large, unreported catches coming from illegal fishing that makes keeping track and managing this valuable fish population difficult. But as far as the fact goes, they are not listed as an endangered species.

With that, I got our first piece of the Chilean sea bass home. I chose to have it steamed, pretty much resembling the Chinese way of doing it. Topped with some minced garlic fried to perfect golden brown, I had it served with a soy sauce specially concocted to include a tad of sweetness. Sweet and salty yes, but not too overwhelming on the whole that it may mask the exquisite flavor of the fish. And to finish up, I drizzled some hot fried garlic oil along the the center line of the fish. This is a tip I learned from my mom who has in turn learned from my nanny decades ago. The smoky hot oil plays a role in locking and binding all the different flavors together. And with that it adds a touch of richness in taste to the dish, especially coming from the spring onion curls and the cilantro leaves that lined the top. An amazing source of protein naturally rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, this piece of sea treasure simply makes a sublime meal!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Featured on... Bon Appétit

What a truly encouraging piece of news to make my day having just found out that my post on the Lobster Stew had been featured on the Bon Appétit magazine online! Totally unexpected, this came as a real pleasant surprise to keep me going! Unbeknownst to me, the Bloggers Cooks BA column in the online magazine has been choosing a recipe of theirs weekly and feature the dish as it gets recreated at home, blogged about and eventually submitted to them by bloggers from all around the world.

In the December issue where I got my inspiration from however, the recipes had got a little more personal than usual. They had all come from the families of their very own magazine editors! "Holiday Heirlooms", as how they aptly named them. It also looked like this time they have gone out to search for blog posts featuring these recipes. I guess that's how they found mine! Imagine my surprise when I chanced upon that first ever link to my blog on a magazine website. It feels... simply honored! 

If you have a second, check the page out right here. The many other posts featured there may just be the perfect encouragement to you as they did to me.

White Radish Soup 白萝卜汤

One of the few favorite soups of mine, this has been one that shows up rather regularly on our dining table ever since I started in the kitchen. Making Chinese soup has always been something relatively easy needing little skill. Some past dining experiences or a little imagination with how and which ingredient will go well with what others will surely help a big deal however. That little bit plus I have in me has got to be attributed to the many years of my mom's home cooked food I have had growing up at home. Likewise, this has been one of mom's regular too. Over the years whenever we had this served as part of our meals, mom would naturally start reminding us of how this particular white radish soup works exceptionally well in cleansing and detoxifying our digestive system, just exactly what we needed every now and then. Where and when has she got this piece of information from, I have little idea really lol. But despite having not a fact check done on it ever, I have always loved this soup for how simply tasty and refreshing it is nonetheless.

While I have never really tried studying the nutritional values these radishes have in the past, I do find myself accepting the claim mom has always had more than alright. One thing that I have never failed to notice myself each time I happily dig into the mounts of white radish chunks in the soup will be how extensive the mesh of fine lines within the radishes is. These lines are made visible to the naked eyes and I supposed they do get more prominent the longer the get cooked, turning translucent. Whether they are the digestible or indigestible fiber or both, they must be the very contributors to whatever digestive system facilitation these radishes have on us. That aside, taking a brief look on the white radish introduction anywhere will reveal that they come packed with a considerable good amount of the immune booster we all need, the Vitamin C. Low in calories with virtually no cholesterol, they naturally present themselves as a very good dietary option for many.

Commonly boiled with the pork ribs, mom's version always comes with a handful of white peppercorns in a wire mesh -  a little heat to balance the cooling nature white radishes have. This is definitely one particular addition that I have always accepted happily for the extra kick and spice coming from these peppercorns. With a touch of sweetness coming from the presence of red dates and an extra flavor coming from the dried oysters or the dried cuttlefish, they collectively make a hearty bowl of soup so comforting and nutritious anyone will easily appreciate on any days.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Boiled Peanuts 水煮花生

As a kid, I used to have this perception that naturally linked these boiled peanuts straight to the elderly. No offense intended! lol. But that was me growing up witnessing and yet not fully understanding how my dad and mom could have such an enthusiasm towards these boiled peanuts over the years. Never once could I remember them passing by a stall selling these mushy soft peanuts without grabbing themselves a good-sized pack of these popular street food in Malaysia. To say that to be appreciating these boiled peanuts is an acquired taste would not be totally true either. Personally, I do think that this is either one that you simply love at your very first try or you simply don't, at least not as much as you do with other peanuty stuff. While I have always found myself in the latter group not developing a particular adoration for these, I would still find myself nibbling away happily whenever I got hold of them, probably just not too overly so. 

The reminder to this particularly nostalgic memory of mine was recently brought back when hubby out of the blue mentioned (or hinted maybe! lol) that he had not had these boiled peanuts for a while now (and well, that in our conversation context would actually equal a humble request put forth by him lol). So with that, the raw peanuts went listed in my grocery list. And when I finally managed to get hold of a pack of these green peanuts (green for being fresh from the ground unprocessed, not literally so), that marked my very first in making these boiled peanuts at home (my parents will be really proud of me! lol).

Simple basic ingredients - the peanuts, enough water and salt, making this is really all about the timing set aside to have them boiled and simmered away. It is this that determines how soft they eventually get with the flavor intensified proportionally to the overall time spent on heat. Different people will probably have a different liking in terms of how soft and salty they should get; taste preference has always been something ever so subjective after all. Likewise, there may not even be a standard rule as to how they should be done. The time needed to make a batch that tastes at their very best varies from batch to batch; different sizes and the freshness of these nuts are a few of the plenty other factors that make each batch of boiled peanuts uniquely different from another. 

pre and post boiling

The basics to making a batch, however, should be simple to grasp - have them thoroughly rinsed and lightly soaked for a short moment to especially get rid of the debris, transfer the nuts to a large stock pot, add in enough water to cover them followed by some salt for seasoning, boil and let simmer away. Depending on how you personally like them - firm with a tad of crunchiness retained still, soft but not totally so or one that is simple mushy and soft, you will have to go on the "sampling" mode to get to the right texture. Sample periodically so you know exactly when to stop. Just what can be better than sampling them away as they get cooked? lol. Give them a try if you have not; you may just find these totally likeable.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Szechuan Dry Fried Green Beans 四川干煸四季豆

My liking for green beans did not come until way later in life when I started getting slightly more health conscious and soon finding myself either consciously or subconsciously getting rid of the forever bad habit of my picky eating. Like plenty other kinds of vegetables - the bean sprouts, okra, brinjal, bitter gourd and the list just goes on, these are some the many many treasures that I have come to appreciate only when I had finally managed to knock some senses into me years ago. And while I have since neither particularly despising them nor especially liking them any more than I should, my first dining experience in a Szechuan restaurant in Chicago by the name of Lao Sze Chuan was what made me actually fell in love with green beans particularly when they are prepared this very way - dry fried with bits of ground meat and came packed and so full with spice and flavor! 

Not to be deceived by the tiny pinkish red flower-shaped spice used in the making of this dish, the tongue-numbing Szechuan pepper is definitely one not be to underestimated. Uniquely aromatic, they probably make the very spice that defines the dish, alongside the heap of dried red chilies, garlic, ginger and spring onions that present themselves harmoniously with one another and more importantly with the plate of greens on the whole. Fresh and crunchy green beans retaining their texture even after cooking, having the ground meat and an additional touch of dried shrimps work exceptionally well in enhancing the mouthfeel as you dig into the dish. And with the inclusion of a tinge of the chili bean paste, they simply do their best at contributing wonderfully to the striking flavor Szechuan cooking always has.

While the version that I had had dining out was one made with the Chinese long beans or the yardlong beans, these long beans are one that I do not always manage to get hold of here that easily in the area where we lived. My next best options - the green beans. With the slightest difference in texture (thinner, more compact and slightly crunchier with the long beans), the green beans do make a very good interchangeable alternative to those. The beans, regardless of which is used, are usually dry fried or sometimes deep fried even. For a healthier option, par-boiling and steaming before stir-frying the beans should work just as well. But as far as the concern with frying the beans goes, this is one dish that will worth all the effort and the occasional sinful indulgence for its seriously likeable presentation.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Orange Chiffon Cake 香橙雪芳蛋糕

Chiffon cake is one of the many things that I have come to fully appreciate only years and years later growing up. As a kid, I loved and would only choose to fall in love with those really creamy and buttery cakes, and I especially liked those laden with my personal all-time favorite - the chocolate sprinkles! Chiffon cakes? Despite the fact that they are a common sight back at our home considering both my parents are big fans of these light and real fluffy desserts, I would usually give those a pass - thanks, but no thanks really lol. But at the years went by, things slowly did take an opposite turn in plenty different occasions in life. A change in the personal taste preference is definitely one of the many. For one, I started appreciating the light texture this cake has, and I eventually found myself getting awed with how rich in flavor they can be packed with and it was when you started to truly savor them would you be appreciative with especially the cottony soft and yet totally moist texture good chiffon cakes always have.

When I developed the slightest interest that get me started in baking, chiffon cake was one of the few items that I had my eyes and heart on. Ambitious? Oh I surely was! lol. Despite it being a widely discussed and commonly agreed statement that the making of one often comes rather challenging, I went ahead and tried making one anyway. And that was a real disaster! lol. Not having the slightest idea as to what went wrong - it could be anything really, I dropped that idea for a long long while. Using a different recipe from the previous first try of mine, this will be my second attempt at making a chiffon cake. This recipe is one adapted from the recipe by Wendy at Table For 2....or More. Reading through her post on her Orange Chiffon Cake was a pure enjoyment. Inspired I sure was, and soon the idea of making one did not seem that intimidating anymore.  

This time around, this orange chiffon cake of mine turned out just so perfectly. The original recipe called for the flour in general, a very minor question unanswered that I have in me still. Returning to Wendy's page after my whole baking episode and reading further on plenty of her other chiffon cake collection, it was then when I noted that the recipe could have actually called for the cake flour instead of the all-purpose flour that I had used here. Utterly glad that this had nevertheless come out awesome and turned out to be such a pleasant experience with a great satisfaction, this all-purpose flour version of the chiffon cake will be one for my personal keeping, that's for sure. But the next time I should see myself at this again, I'll be sure to have that switched to the cake flour for a try and anticipate any of the many possible unknowns then.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Pork Congee 猪肉粥

A nostalgic favorite of mine, making this pork congee had surely brought back plenty of the sweet memories I have had growing up. Memories of the many many uncountable bowls of pork congee that I had had with my dad and occasionally with my brother at one particular place back in my hometown, Kuantan. Sadly this particular shop right opposite the main post office in town had been out of business for quite some time now; memories, however, hardly fade once they get etched in our hearts. Moments of reminiscence, so please do pardon me. Back then we were the few regulars of this particular stall run by a loving old couple specializing in none other than their one and only specialty - the pork porridge. No orders were ever needed whenever we went; they knew just too well what we had come to love and adore after the first few visits that we made. Once seated down, the wife would come and line our cutlery ready on the table with the daily newspaper in hand to keep us occupied while the husband would be setting off cooking our porridge in swift movements, bowl by bowl.

There probably were nothing super WOW about this bowl of congee that I grew up knowing and eventually loving, but it had always brought us comfort unfailingly. And soon that became one of dad's and my favorite breakfast place to frequent (but then again, did I not ever have to attend school most mornings? Well they probably were those weekends then. lol.). A humble stall in a huge restaurant with plenty other stalls selling a good selection of other breakfast, every bowl of porridge the husband made was one that had been consistently good all the years. Despite being a real simple bowl of congee, it had always left us with not a single issue that we would have wished it done any differently from how he had always had it done. It was to me a bowl of heart-warming congee that could not have been any better than it already was.

Some homemade irregularly shaped fresh meatballs made from minced meat, thinly sliced pork loins, a small selections of pork innards (the intestines and livers among the few) which of course would only appear in your bowl of congee upon a personal order and a few springy and bouncy pork meat balls all topped with some finely shredded lettuces, each bowl was made complete with a small handful of the crispy fried shallot and a round of their precious aromatic oil for an enhanced flavor plus a few pieces of bite sized crispy crullers. And to top everything off, each bowl came with an egg cracked right into the middle of the bubbling hot bowl of congee. With a few light dashes of white pepper powder, that simply made the perfect picture to a perfect bowl of velvety smooth pork congee, at least to my very own personal definition.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Kailan (Chinese Broccoli) with Oyster Sauce 蚝油芥兰

Easily one of the few very popular vegetable dishes well known to everyone but certainly not limited to just the Asian community in particular, this kailan in oyster sauce is a common sight almost everywhere and especially so in Hong Kong where they are served in almost every restaurant from a small local coffee shop right to any huge renowned restaurants. A plate of kai lan briefly but perfectly blanched or steamed retaining their crunchy texture and their natural vibrant green color, this is one restaurant-quality plate of vegetables that can easily be created within the comfort zone of your home with some time and practice. While I personally may not be a huge huge fan of the oyster sauce in particular, this beautiful serving of green is still one that I do enjoy making once in a while; kailan and oyster sauce - they somehow seems just so inseparable, one that fits the line "a match made in heaven".

But despite the name, it takes more than just the oyster sauce to make this a perfect dish everyone will adore, a point that was only made known to me with some not-so-pleasant experiences - oh yea, I sure did learn it the hard way lol. As much as the oyster sauce makes the key to defining the sauce, it itself does not do much of a good thing when used standing alone. Rather, the appetizing savory gravy with a tad of sweetness in it is actually a specially concocted gravy combining this oyster sauce and a couple other simple yet essential ingredients. Topped with some fried garlic and crispy fried shallots adding some depth and giving this dish its unique flavor and aroma, this is a plate of our vital greens that when done right may even top those pricey ones served in restaurants.

Sweet and Sour Ribs 糖醋排骨

Sweet and tangy with a tad of tartness, it simply is hard to find something not to like about this sweet and sour ribs really. I stumbled upon this recipe by Yi from YiReservation while I was looking through lots and lotsa posts on the Malaysia style of sweet and sour ribs, better known locally as the "pai kuat wong" 排骨王 - a personal favorite of mine that I have adored forever now. Having seen and read through his page featuring this different version of sweet and sour ribs, it really did do a very good job at having me well convinced to have my attention slightly diverted from my original plan and give this very recipe a try instead. And WOW,  with just one or two very minor changes fine-tuning this to my personal taste preference, not only was this a much better call to answer and satisfy my craving for the childhood favorite of mine, this version came with a pleasant twist to the one that I have always loved.

If you were one like me, who do get a little disheartened with the tough and chewy bits of pork chops or ribs you do sometimes get from ordering the "pai kuat wong" 排骨王 (but they usually will still be good taste-wise that I probably will complain for just a short minute, happily chewing the next lol), then this is one that will simply make you so amazed just as soon as you have your very first bite at it. Succulent and fall-off-the-bone ribs so packed and rich in flavors, not only does this make a version so much tastier than my favorite "pai kuat wong" 排骨王 (ops, is that me with my loyalty taking a shift? Nah, they definitely will still be my pick dining out lol), this comes with another big plus in its making; while the conventional way of making the "pai kuat wong" 排骨王 always involves a round of deep frying prior to coating them with the finger-licking, thick-and-gooey sweet and sour gravy, this version comes braised over a duration of time instead. The outcome? One totally comparable to the other, if not better. Yes, that good! - minus the hassle of dealing with a good amount of oil for deep frying and all that splashing commotion, and of course the health-related concern that comes in a package with deep fried food too. Try it for yourself - kids or adults, this is one that anyone from all walks of life will easily fall for!

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