Thursday, December 26, 2013
Christmas is normally a busy period for me, with the second part of my monicker kicking in (the Canon bit) and this year has been no exception.
Not that I mind, of course. With each passing Christmas, I always feel that there could have been more I could do to serve the One whom we are celebrating. The recent riots in Little India triggered again some reminders. One in seven persons I meet here is a foreigner. Truth be told, I loathed the idea of throwing yet another party and hand out more free or "pay it forward" meal coupons. Not that there is anything wrong with this but instinctively in our hearts, we knew that it had to be more than this.
So what kind of food do our Navy boys long for after weeks out at sea?
I had the opportunity to find out during a visit to RSS Endurance which was docked at Vivocity.
For a week in November this year, it was open house for the Endurance as the Navy sought to be more visible and connect with the public. Unlike our army which is more visible on our streets, along with reservist soldiers in their green fatigues, our navy men and women, in their sartorial splendour of white or light grey, are mostly out at sea and away from home when on duty.
XO Sauce was apparently invented in Cantonese Restaurants in Hong Kong in the 1980s.
Made of dried seafood, mostly dried scallops, I can recall being intrigued by it when I first saw it sold in Lee Kum Kee bottles. Soon enough, Cantonese stalls here started to sell veg, tofu or meat dishes fried in XO Sauce.
The term "XO" originally means "extra-old" cognac but today, even in Singapore, it has come to denote something that is prestigious, classy and special. And so, we have the popular XO Crab Bee Hoon, where the very ordinary fried bee hoon is elevated a few notches when cooked with crabs.
Editor's notes: I have re-written this recipe to better explain the method used.
Egg tofu is delicious, cheap, nutritious and easy to make.
Though not as quick as the 1-minute tofu assembling recipe, the additional work of making your own tofu can be fun and satisfying. Akin to making custards, you see various liquid ingredients turn into a luscious custard which you can easily cut and scoop with your spoon.
When egg is heated up, it turns solid. That is probably the first dish you help your Mum to make.
This is the magic of proteins as they coagulate, and the albumin in the egg white will. Of course, egg alone will not result in a soft custardy texture. You need to add water and the properties of both the water-clinging and water-repelling amino acids will react to form a soft tofu texture. Heat has to be applied gently for this to happen.
Review Saturday, November 30, 2013
|As pretty as Matilda|
Go the whole hog.
Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it's unbelievable...”
I thought these lines by Matilda (in Matilda, Roald Dahl) aptly described the whimsical dinner experience I had at Nutopia, hosted by Chef Stephan Zoisl.
A dinner set as a Tribute to Roald Dahl, his favourite childhood writer, Stephan set out to immerse diners with a "crazy" experience of sight, sound, taste and imagination.
By now, you would have heard of the Kale Revolution.
|Kale - Picture from here|
It is the vegetable equivalent of chia seeds. Like bees to honey, the Kale Revolution attracts those who treat food like medicine. Never mind the price as it is an imported veg. Or that it can make for awful eating if eaten raw or cooked the wrong way.
Kai Lan is called Chinese Kale.
I love to eat squid and I like it cooked whichever way.
Squid is prized for it's succulent texture. In Southeast Asian cuisine, it is often paired with strong and robust sauces.
If I were to order from a Nasi Padang stall, I would almost always choose a squid dish, especially Sambal Sotong or when it is cooked in it's own black ink: Sotong Goreng Hitam.
The fresh Arrow Squid is really cheap at about $10 per kilo and fresh when you buy it in wet markets. With the escalating price of prawns recently, I will say sotong will be the way to go.
beef Monday, October 28, 2013
This Thai dish, by the traditional name Pad Ga Prao is one of my favourite dishes.
A one-plate wonder, Chef McDang calls it a Thai national fast-food dish. Think of the aroma of fried minced beef - with Maillard flavours in abundance - combined with fresh basil leaves, chillies, fried egg and rice. It is indeed the perfect meal.
The good news is that you can easily cook this in your own home. I agree with Leela of SheShimmers in her post of the same dish that you don't need to be an experienced cook to do this well.
What are "Maillard flavours," you may ask?
Monday, October 21, 2013
We planned for 3 meat items: Beef, chicken and prawns. For the sides, we served mixed green salad, sweet corn, roasted potatoes and butter rice. Here are some notes that can guide future parties.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
The Malay Mail did an article on my late Mum, Auntie Ruby and this food blog.
You can read it here.
A plate of white rice with good sambal belachan and fresh cucumber has kept many generations of Kampung folk happy. Mostly eaten with hands, it is their version of a "Happy Meal."
In fact if there are days when your dishes are not "happening"(a local way of saying that it is not turning out to expectations), a good sambal belachan could make up for it.
Mediocre fried veg + bland meat dish = Miserable meal
Mediocre fried veg + bland meat dish + Sambal Belachan = Happy Meal (toy is superfluous)
Alpha Thursday, September 26, 2013
Dear Food Team
I thought we cooked a splendid dinner tonight.
I will jot down some notes here for our future remembrance, which means, please do cook this again.
Planning a meal is about matching various dishes together. If you serve a meal in a buffet spread, our guests will be piling food on their plates. The sauces are going to mix. Think of how sambal belachan will mess up delicately steamed pork ribs. Or how the pickled salad sauce will affect how a "Chai poh nung." So when you plan an Alpha meal, think of what will actually go on the diner's plate, how it will all come together.
Tonight's meal is almost a perfect combi. Food traditions are seldom wrong.
101 Friday, September 20, 2013
I am learning to enjoy good veg these days. Cooked the right way, it is just delicious.
Nope, I should correct myself and say that good veg can be eaten au natural. If you want to be able to judge some veg not just by how it looks, have a little snack.
It is not possible to do this in a super mart (for reasons like your conscience, CCTV cameras, you may bump into a friend, God is watching...). For this and some other reasons, I buy most of my veg from my favourite stalls in the wet market.
Ed notes: In this post, I have done a major update of the recipe and rewritten the cooking notes since I first published it two years ago. I have also written a series of posts with more photos, the "science" behind it and how to cook this for a large party. Check out the series of posts through this link.
My mum's Hokkien Prawn Mee was one of her 'signature' dishes.
It brings back many fond memories.
Annually, on Teachers' Day, she would cook for all the children teachers and helpers in my church's Super Powerkids Ministry. That tradition has of course ceased the year my mum passed away.
When news got round that she is cooking this, family members and friends will gather in anticipation.
And this is the dish she cooked for a a group of friends before she fell seriously ill. It was her last celebration. I still remembered how I visited my friend's place to enjoy it. When we meet, we still reminisce about this.
What is in a name, you may ask? Haven't you noticed how restaurant dishes are named?
Name it right, and you can increase the price or make your menu sound more attractive.
Kalamansi instead of just lime.
Arugula instead of rocket.
Pullet instead of Spring chicken
And yeah, Spring chicken instead of frog meat
Onsen eggs instead of soft-boiled eggs
And the list goes on.
Burmese Tuesday, September 10, 2013
We associate a good bowl of it as a signature of the cuisine.
Penang-nites can be proud of their Assam Laksa and Hokkien Prawn Mee.
Thais their Pad Thai (strictly speaking, served on a plate).
Malays their Mee Rebus.
Indonesians, Mee Soto.
101 Thursday, September 05, 2013
This is a short post to inspire you with some ideas for your daily dinners.
If, like me, you can only cook after you are back from work, learning to cook quick dinners is not an option. And tonight's was cooked in about 40 minutes.
The corn went into the microwave, high for 5 minutes. Added some salt and butter. Shake. Ready.
The boneless chicken chicken breast was Sous Vide-d for 28 minutes at 63C. Pan seared. Then some salt and drizzled with lime.
Noodles Thursday, August 29, 2013
We served 160+ bowls of Penang Prawn Noodle recently. This lot was good with nice balance of flavours with sufficient prawn stock. When we did not need to add too much of the other flavourings (esp Ikan bilis and chicken stock), we knew we had a good broth coming.
My mum's version does not use pork bones which changes the flavor and is nice in its own way. And it is often used commercially because dried shrimps and ikan bilis are expensive.
I normally cook my Mum's version to give diners a unique taste of good home cooking.
I will write my cooking notes here to guide the team when they need to do this again.
Veg looses flavour and freshness once it's harvested. That sadly is one reason why Singaporeans will not be able to taste veg at their best as we mostly eat imported ones. There is something to be said about those grown here and I will leave that to another post.
Of course Singapore is a huge importer of veg and fruits from down under.
Poke your fingers in my eyes and I will open wide my jaws.Using the right kitchen tools can make your cooking experience easier and more pleasant.
Linen cloth, quills, paper, chicken, carrots - I am greedy and devour them all.
What am I?
A good chef's knife, a slim wooden stirrer, the right chopping board for the right task, a good strainer etc can make a big difference to your cooking efficiency. A good tool need not be expensive. It just needs to be well designed and fitting for the task.
My wife thinks I sound like a housewife pedalling cookware like those at shopping centers when I talk like this. This is not an advert post but in sharing this, I trust a tool tip like this can be of some help to home cooks.
Apparently there is a shortage of fish from Malaysia during the Hari Raya season, leading to a ban on imports. The fish involved are those which are popular to the Malay community including kembung, cencaru and selar.
I love any fish in the mackerel family. I have blogged about my love affair with Chilli Fish (or Ikan Sambal Chilli - fish stuffed with chilli) using the Cencaru fish and how it is always a finger-licking-good experience. The only problem here is that it is hard to find this fish. With the latest shortage, I can imagine it will be even more scarce.
Essay Monday, August 19, 2013
You are back from work. It is dinner time.
It is bad enough if you are the diner. But you are suppose to be the cook.
You open your fridge. Nothing there. You did not have the time to do any marketing over the weekend.
"We will eat out tonight...", you promptly declared. You hear some moaning in the background. "Not another long dinner outing, Mummy."
Your girl has the PSLE coming.
Nasi Lemak Saturday, August 03, 2013
|I thought this sign gave the event a casual restaurant feel.|
It is the largest group we have cooked for thus far. I am glad to observe that the team worked well together to ensure a wonderful dinner and evening for all. Earlier, we were expecting to cater to a crowd of 120-150. As it neared 200 the day before, we switched some plans to better cater for this increase.
This is a pictorial post and I will let the photos and captions speak for themselves. There are some food and party tips in the captions.
Auntie Ruby Saturday, July 27, 2013
One of my favourite ways of eating prawns is the fried assam way.
The prawns are marinated in sugar, salt, dark sauce and assam paste (tamarind sauce). And then pan seared in a shallow layer of oil. The prawn is enjoyed with shells on. This way of cooking utilises the flavours in the shell to enhance the dish.
The prawns are marinated in sugar, salt, dark sauce and assam paste (tamarind sauce). And then pan seared in a shallow layer of oil. The prawn is enjoyed with shells on. This way of cooking utilises the flavours in the shell to enhance the dish.
An Italian cook once said, "Every risotto is only one risotto." By that he meant that risotto is never the same twice.
When it comes to curries, echoing the Italian's words, "every curry is only one curry."
This is my approach to curry-making and it depends on what is available in the kitchen.
Chicken Monday, July 15, 2013
A good Nasi Lemak is about getting the rice right along with a good sambal, fried anchovies (ikan bilis), roasted peanuts and sliced cucumbers.
I have blogged various posts on this and you can check them out here.
Of course this dish can be made more special for parties with additional dishes. For this particular party, I opted for fried chicken and dry seafood curry.
I love Hindi films. Surprising, eh?
I grew up as a kid singing Chal, Chal Mere Saathi oh Mere Haathi from the film Haathi Mere Saathi (Elephant my friend).
In those days, when you like a movie, you watch it many times. You pay 60 cents for the ticket and you laugh and cry again.
In recent years, I discovered The Three Idiots. My wife was sceptical about watching a Hindi film but she fell for the Idiot very quickly. It must be around 5-6 screenings now and each time, we laugh and cry again. It is an entertaining and powerful movie, poking fun at our education systems. Rated highly in Rotten Tomatoes...
Auntie Ruby Wednesday, June 26, 2013
I have written a lengthy post 2 years ago on making Auntie Ruby's Tau Yew Bak.
Here I will give some quick tips and the low down on making this. I don't work with a fixed recipe and this version will vary slightly from the earlier one. This is a very easy dish to do.
I repeat it here again - the key to good Tau Yew Bak is a very low fire. Keep fire low, cook patiently till meat is tender.
If the heat is too high, the meats will shrink and the oils will ooze out of the fats. You will end up with tough chewy meat and watery TYB.
Review Friday, June 21, 2013
(I have since got my hand on Codlo and did a little review here. Get your Codlo here.)
If you are still unsure about picking up Sous-vide cooking, Codlo may just help to get you going.
As followers of this blog will know by now, I am a huge believer in Sous-vide cooking for the home. You can check up on related posts and the devices I am using.
I have always been hoping that someone would design a Sous-vide device which is attractive and user-friendly. Currently, most SV appliances look like lab machines, more suited for geeks than home cooks.
So when Grace Lee from Codlo.com wrote in recently to inform me about their new Sous Vide project, it caught my attention immediately. Codlo is every bit how I imagined a Sous-vide device should be - and more.
Ed: I have revised and improved this recipe.
I am glad I can blog a dish which can be had for our daily dinners.
We are familiar with how good steamed fish can be. Do you know that steamed chicken or pork ribs, properly done, can be very good too? And when it comes to steamed chicken, the texture and sweetness stands out compared to other methods of cooking the bird. If you use Kampung Chicken, it will be fantastic.
My approach to this dish is inspired by the "Keong Choong Cho Yin Kai" served by the brothers at Public Pusing Restaurant in Ipoh.
You don't need to burn a whole house down to roast a pig
The last time I saw a whole roasted pig, I had to tip toe to peer at it.
A very young boy then, we were celebrating Chinese New Year. A roasted pig was brought in to celebrate the 9th day, an important day for Hokkiens to worship their deities.
I can still remember the faces of many adults, peering through the smoke from the burning joss sticks. Were they anticipating the offering or in worshipful devotion, I couldn't tell. There were unintelligible chants in the background. The lights seemed to be swaying and dancing through the smoke, keeping in step with the rhythms of the chant.
I suppose even deities need the right ambiance to enjoy their meals.
But I have never forgotten the sense of awe I had as I stared at a whole prostrated roasted pig, with it's head fully intact. Yes, pigs have heads and they come with pointy ears and all. Farmers do not rear headless walking roast pork bellies. We can easily forget that when we buy our cling-wrapped cuts off supermart shelves.
I was in Penang this week. We chanced upon a whole roasted pig. Again.
Now, 40-plus years later, I had a smartphone in hand to capture the experience. As the seller set up his stall, the queue was already forming. I knew this huge golden crackling beauty wouldn't be on display for long.
I did wonder - as I did when I was a boy - whether it was roasted alive. Its eyes were closed and as it laid worshipfully prostrated, it seem surrendered to it's destiny as an offering, may it be a deity or to a queue of hungry Penang folk (and one Singaporean).
It seemed like most did not bother which parts of the pig were being bought as long as there was some of that glorious crackling skin on it. Somehow, when the whole pig is roasted, the various cuts of meat become secondary to the skin. The "prime" rib becomes as anonymous as other cuts. Even the head with a higher skin-meat ratio is valued. I can imagine how good it will be in my Chai Buey.
The crackling skin is indeed a great equalizer.
It was a clever display of cleaver skills, as the seller reduced the whole pig, section by section, into bite-size slices. The cleaver was sharp, and you could hear it slicing through the pig effortlessly. It was a beautiful crisply sound.
Within an hour, the table was empty. A whole pig - gone in 60 minutes.
It seems to me that no one does roast pork as well as the Chinese. They taught the world that the tegument need not be cut off and thrown away. When roasted properly, it is even more prized that the meat itself.
So, how did the Chinese learn how to cook pork this way?
In a conversation with my Dad-in-law recently, who loves to cook (and eat) roast pork, he mentioned about this famous essay by Charles Lamb. I checked it up and indeed there was his rather humorous piece, "A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig." It appears that this English writer (1775-1834), like my Dad, loved roast pork too and came up with a theory of its origins. He claimed to have read about it in an old manuscript and published this essay in 1822.
|This is an illustration by Frederick Stuart Church from an|
1884 edition of "A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig".
A Chinese boy, Bo-bo, discovered roast pork by accident. Apparently, until that point people ate their meat raw, clawing or biting it from the live animal.
One day, while his father away, playing with fire, Bo-bo accidentally burned the pig house down. There was an unusual smell. He touched one of the burnt pigs and quickly licked his fingers to soothe the pain. Some of the crackling crumbs were on his fingers and for the first time, a human tasted crackling skin ("in the world's life indeed, for before him no man had known it"). It was so delicious that he gorged the skin and meat and excitedly told his father when he returned.
The father was horrified to see his son eating burnt pig. Bo-bo persuaded his father to try it. The father was equally enthralled, but warned that their roast pork must remain a secret. He feared their neighbours may kill them for thinking they could improve on the meat provided by God. Eventually, the villagers noticed that the house burned down more frequently than ever. "There was nothing but fires from this time forward", says Lamb.
A court was convened and they were doomed to be convicted. But their fortunes turned around when one of the jury wanted to take a look at the cooked pig. He too handled it, burned his fingers, licked them and from there, roast pork was no longer a secret. Soon everyone was setting fire to their home at regular intervals. Thankfully, the later realised they did not need to "burn the whole house down to roast a pig."
We can assume this is where the idiom originated from. This makes for a good and fanciful tale, somewhat like my April Fool food posts. You can read Charles Lamb's essay for yourself here. It is a good piece of literature.
And in case you want to try your hand at roasting pig but not the burn-down-your-house way, you can check out my modest methods.
You can't use my Sous Vide method for a whole pig though, unless you plan on immersing it in your long bath tub and then roast it in goodness knows where.
And if you burn down your house in the process, don't sue me.
|Cooking this at home? Don't even think about it!|
Hong Kong is just a 3-hour plane ride away from Singapore.
But it has taken me 50 years of my earthly life before I finally set foot on this famed city.
Taking in the scenic visuals, I got the impression that I had been in these locations before. Many scenes of this city have been embedded in my mind since I started watching HK TV shows and films as a child.
Auntie Ruby Monday, May 27, 2013
This should be properly called in Cantonese "Ipoh Kai See Hor Fun" (Shredded Chicken Flat Noodles - hmmm, it just don't sound right when translated).
The soup is basically a chicken-based stock with some prawns flavour added through the shells. The tasty light broth accompanies the silky smooth hor fun very well, along with strips of chicken meat, slices of prawn, chives and bean sprouts.
I am in the midst of writing a post about my recent trip to Hong Kong.
I brought back some food stuff and amongst them were packets of dried wheat noodles I bought this from an old noodle shop at Tai Po. It was recommended by our old friend, Irene (old as in friendship, not her age!). Thanks, Irene.
This shop carried many types and brands, including some made at the back of the shop. They claim that this particular noodle is their best and so we bought some home. They are flavored noodles, slightly saltish.
Auntie Ruby Sunday, May 19, 2013
I am writing up another post on my Mum's Char Siew recipe. I made it again today and followed her recipe closely. I have written a few posts on Char Siew making from your home kitchen.
It is good, no doubt. Not just good, I think it is great. And it is simple to make as well.
I started with 1 kg of pork belly in 3 strips. With skin off, it weighed 900g. I did not have time to marinate, not that it mattered.
Chinese Monday, May 06, 2013
While Chinese cuisine is not normally well known for their desserts, there are a few which I grew up eating and will miss fondly from time to time.
Top on the list is "Tong Yin" or glutinous rice ball soup. I am not talking about the ones which comes stuffed with peanut or sesame seed paste. I am referring to the small multi-colored balls. I can hardly find them these days, unless it is home made.
Another favourite is "Lin Chee Kang." This is how I first knew it as when I was in Malaysia. Here in Singapore, a similar version is called "Cheng Tng." Lin Chee means "lotus seed" and I suppose the M'sian version is centered on it. If you know how Cheng Tng is different from Lin Chee Kang, do enlighten me.
If you pick up a typical Chinese cookbook, you will find that the ingredients in many of their stir-fry recipes are very similar. As you glance down the list, you will find the usual suspects: soy sauce, sesame oil, shao tsing wine, oyster sauce and so on. 1 tsp of this, 2 tsp of that.
The is not a criticism of stir-fry recipes. It is good to know that the same few sauces can be used over and over again, with slight variations to create so many different type of dishes, with focus on the main ingredients. For this reason, I always think a good Chinese home kitchen should have bottles of good quality sauces. I have done a post highlighting some good sauces.
I don't post many veg recipes and glad to get this one up.
I love brinjal (eggplant or aubergine) and am always amazed by how so many cuisines have made good use of it,be it Indian, Italian, Malay or Chinese. It can be cooked in so many ways. The brinjal love affair started late for me as I did not like the bitter taste when I first ate it as a child. But since then, I have grown to like it.
One way of cooking it is my Mum's Hakka Yong Tou Foo and I have raved about how brinjal makes a perfect HYTF piece. I am making HYTF again this week for a big group of diners and am looking forward to some great HYTF again.
It's helpful to note that there are many ways to cook your CS and if you experiment enough and know where you want to go, you can use the technique that works for you.
A good slice of Char Siew basically has these qualities:
- Good Flavours: This comes from the marinade/brine, the meat itself (including fat content) caramelization & charring from the cooking process.
- Good bite: Properly cooked, the meat should have a good bite (Cantonese: "Song hou") and you are not looking for "pulled meat" or a "melt in your mouth" experience
- Succulent: The meat should not be dry but moist and juicy
Steaming is a way of cooking which the Chinese has popularised through their cuisine.
There are many advantages of steaming over stir-frying (wok) and deep frying, the other two popular techniques used in Asian cooking. For one there is no oily smoke to contend with which can be quite a bother for those living in small apartments. And if the air is dry (i.e those who live in colder climates), the vapors and smoke from your fried dishes will smoke the air. This may explain why vigorous wok-frying is less popular for those who live in Western cities.
Pressure-Cooking Monday, April 08, 2013
If you have been following this blog for a while, you will notice that I am very open to newer techniques of cooking and the better use of our kitchen appliances.
Staying in this busy and bustling city of Singapore, I am always seeking to "do more with less." The only way to get much cooking done - and with good results - is to be open to learning new ways of cooking.
That's right, I am learning all the time. I have some very useful cookbooks in my library. When I am cooking or conversing with other home cooks or career chefs, my ears are perked up all the time. If I have to sound stupid to learn something new, I will. I am not out to tell others how much I know. I simply want to learn so that I can cook better and more efficiently. From making Tim Sum to preparing suckling pig the Spanish way, I am just keen to learn. Whether it is attending a cooking class by a famous chef or listening to a domestic helper on how to keep her Fried Nian Gao crispy, I am a student all the time.
April Monday, April 01, 2013
Who can resist a piece of great steak? Especially when it is:
- of excellent quality, well-marbled tender and juicy USDA Prime ribeye cut (not even choice or select)
- nicely crusted on the exterior and wondefully flavored from Mallard reactions to browning
- warmed and juicy pink on the inside
Braised Chicken in Ginger, Tau Cheong and Rice Wine...and some tips for cooking Chinese chicken dishesTuesday, March 19, 2013
This blog is suppose to inspire home cooks. Recently, I was reflecting on this and realized that there may well be home cooks who may be discouraged by how well others are cooking or by complicated recipes.
So, is cooking a natural talent or something which can be learnt? As with everything else, it will always be a bit of both. Unless you are really hopeless at this, every cook can improve, may it be their techniques or recipes.
I want to give some attention to this rather understated ingredient which is not widely used outside of Malay and Nonya cuisine.
Not to be confused with starfruit, which also shares the same Malay name, this is a small sour fruit which adds a wonderful sour note to dishes with a crunchy juicy texture. It cooks very fast and this needs to be taken into consideration as you add it to your curries.
I like to add it to my mum's Sambal Prawns recipe, something we did at our recent Alpha Course evening. While Assam (tamarind) or Lime juice can be used to introduce a fruity sourness to the dish, belimbing is unique in the way it "encapsulates" the taste as an eating experience. In other words, instead of experiencing the tinge of sourness throughout the dish, biting a piece of belimbing gives a soury surprise, adding some variety to the experience of eating a good plate of Sambal prawns.