Friday, April 25, 2008


Today the Faculty of Engineering had one of its marathon faculty meetings again, unfortunately not to announce salary increases or bonuses, but to dispense information to it's academic staff. So I was among the 70-80+ people trapped there for about 3 hours. The meeting started at a good 2pm, but it dragged on as usual, to a ridiculous 6pm.

While I was there in physical form, my mind had raced home. I was cracking my head on what to cook as Greg needed dinner at 7pm to be able to start working at 7.30pm.

So this is one of those times, when a one-pot cooking, instant meal comes to the rescue. Luckily, we have very thinly sliced beef from Ta Kiong and they did not take long to defrost.

is basically the Japanese version of one-pot cookery, which is really popular during winter. Of all the different versions, the two famous Nabemono we are accustomed have to be Sukiyaki and Shabu Shabu.

Sukiyaki is perhaps one of Japan's most classic one-pot dish. The dish mainly consists of paper thin beef and vegetables such as mushrooms, chinese cabbage and a raw beaten egg dip. And ingredients are normally cooked in a shallow iron skillet (preferrably Japanese ones) over an electric hot plate or a table top gas stove on the table. A small portion of the beef is lightly cooked and a small quantity of the rest of the ingredients and little stock are added and to be refilled as the meal progresses.

(Serves 2-4 persons)
200gm of paper thin beef slices
2tbsp of corn oil
1 no of piece of tofu, cut to cubes
8 no of pieces of fresh or dried shitake mushrooms, stem off and cut a cross on top of each
1 no of onion, sliced to rings
1 no of small baby chinese cabage
2 no of leeks, cut to finger lengths
some enoki mushrooms
2 no of eggs

Dashi stock:
200gm of water
1 tbsp of Dashi Granules
2 tbsp of sake
2 tbsp of Japanese soy sauce
1 tbsp of sugar

1) Clean and prepare all ingredients and lay nicely on clean plates, especially if you are getting the guests to cook by themselves.

2) Prepare stock by mixing dashi ingredients together.

3) Heat skillet with some oil. Lay beef in single layer to very lightly sear it, then scoop out. I cheated by doing the whole lot so I scooped out the meat first to prevent overcooking. Then proceed to step 4, 5 and 6. If you are doing the table cooking style, add small portion of beef followed by step 4.

4) Lay all ingredients nicely in the frying pan. Add stock. Bring to boil and simmer for a little till all ingredients are cooked.

5) Add beef back to skillet and also tofu. Bring to quick boil.

6) Bring the whole pot onto the table and eat with rice and raw egg beaten up. If you are cooking over fire on the table top gas stove, continue with the above till all ingredients run out.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Italian : Pizza Capricciosa with Homemade Tomato Coullis

Capricciosa basically means anything you like. So as Greg would say, this is the mother of all pizzas. There is really no fixed what-must-mix-with-what. So it's just a matter of your own personal thaste of what's nicer with what. This is what makes pizza so easy to cook, especially for those need some quick fix for dinners or lunches. For those with children, this is a never-fail popular dish.

1 portion of crispy pizza dough in previous post

5 tbsp of Homemade Tomato Coullis

50 to 80 gm of grated mozzarella cheese

Toppings of your liking or suggestions:

1) Beef pepperoni/Salami/Chiros with ham (parma, prosciutto or bacon) and button mushrooms. 2) Left over chickens with pineapple.
3) Seafood such as oysters meat, squids, prawns. Saute to semi cook with garlic, onion, salt and pepper and olive oil. Don't throw on fresh seafood as they will sweat and make the pizza soggy.
4) Assorted mushrooms. Saute like seafood.
5) Grilled eggplants and fresh tomatos and olives.

1) Place rolled out dough on pre-heat pizza pan. Spread the tomato coullis and top with 1/2 of mozzarella cheese (Placing some cheese first will help to make the topping stick better).

2) Add toppings and finish up with the other 1/2 of mozzarella cheese.

3) Bake at 250 degree celcius non-fan forced for 12-15 min at the floor of oven or lowest possible rack. Check at 8 min and subsequent 2-3 min. If the base turns lightly brown with little patches of darker brown, it is ready.

Basic Tomato Coullis

2 no of med onion, diced
8 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 no of big tomatos, diced
2 can of 400gm of tomato puree/core peel tomatos
1 teasp of oregano
4-5 tbsp of olive oil
Salt, pepper, sugar to taste

Tomato bases are the basic sauces for pizzas. Normally there are the traditional one and sometimes a fiery one. This recipe calls for core peel tomatos, or if you are more hardworking, cook your own 1 kg of plum tomatos. Or if you are lazy, then use ready-made tomato puree. So I usually go for an in-between with whole peel from the can.

1) Heat up a good quality pot with olive oil. Add chopped garlic and diced onions. Saute till light brown and soft. This step is important. If it's under saute, you will get a sauce with a raw taste or too garlicky. Should take approx 5 min or so.

2) Add diced fresh tomatos. Continue sauteing. Add oregano.

3) Add core peel tomatos with the juices all together. Let the sauce boil then turn to simmering flame to evaporate the water in the sauce, while stirring all the time to prevent burning and also to break up the whole peel.

4) When the sauce thickens, turn off fire and using a hand held blender, bamix the mixture till smooth. If you dont have a hand held, cool the mixture before blending it in the blender. Please remember to cool the mixture or you may explode your blender.

Coullis can be used for pizzas and pastas. It can be kept in refridgerator for up to 2 weeks or so.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cripsy Dough Pizza

Italians have their pizzas thin and crispy, and the topping simple. Yet it is that simplicity that carries the freshness, and the taste of the ingredients, and the skills of the chef through.

The bread-dough kind of pizza is, I believe, a little too Americanized. Pizza Hut is one example. It has become the main culprit & has cleverly positioned itself to be the generally accepted version of what a pizza should be. Actually, it's also a matter of personal taste. Some people like the doughy-bready effect on the crust (like my parents), but for us, that is a no-no. We'd go for the thin crispy crust instead.

I've had many excellent cooks giving me their theories of how to make good Crispy Thin Based Pizzas. Some of them have strongly suggested to use high protein flour, while others insisted that it must be well proven for many hours, and Aunty Linda insisted on putting it in the fridge before shaping.

It's all too confusing for me as none of them really worked out well. Usually, it's either not thin and crispy enough, or it's too difficult to roll into a nice round shape. Besides, I get suspicious when theories are too complicated because I believe the basic underlying reason why humans cook is still just to eat and survive. So there should be some sense of simplicity in the process.

Granted, ingredients may be complicated because some may be unavailable in different parts of the world but the process in cooking & the recipes themselves should be much more simpler, since they originated from someone's simple kitchen a long time ago. And when the cooking process & recipes are commercialised for mass production, they become even more simpler to reduce cooking time.

Therefore, it is always a challenge for me to unravel the mystery of simplicity in every complicated dish.

I have actually thought of a simple rule to 'de-confuse' myself:

Bread dough type of pizza, which is classified more like a bread, is made differently and ingredients differ slightly from crispy dough ones. They have different recipes and of course different end products. Dont try making the bread dough type of pizza using thin crispy dough recipes and vice versa.

I had recently obtained some tips about making this dough from a well known Western cooking chef in Kuching, Chef Sarah, at her cooking demo. The results were excellent and the steps were simple, almost cooking-idiot prove. For the first time, Greg actually finished almost the entire 12-inch pizza by himself. His actual words, "I did not know that pizza can be nice." Pizza Hut had really traumatized him and spoilt pizzas for him.

Here's what you need:

400gm of plain flour
100gm of semolina
250 gm of plain water
25 gm of olive oil
12 gm of salt
3 gm of active yeast instant

1) Sift flour and mix all dry ingredients together.

2) Start beating on no. 1 with a dough beater. When ingredients are mixed, slowly add in water. Then finally oil. If you find that the dough is still dry and has not fully come together, add a little water (be very sparing).

3) Beat on speed no. 2 to 3 until the dough completely leaves the side of bowl, and if you lift from machine, it does not stick onto your hand at all.

4) Sprinkle a little flour on your work surface. And hand-knead the dough to release all air bubbles. The dough will feel tight as you knead, if there are little air bubbles. Knead into a big round tight dough as shown above.

5) Leave in a clean bowl, lightly flour for 20-30 min or slightly longer depending on humidity and weather.

Test for doneness:
Poke two holes in the dough with your fingers. If the holes become really shallow, it is ready.
You can also light press the dough: if it bounces back slowly, it is ready.

6) Divide the dough into 4 equal parts, about 200gm for each part. Lightly knead each part into a round tight dough. Put those that you don't need in the fridge in zip lock or airtight container. The dough can keep up to a week.

6) Lightly dust the dough, the work surface and rolling pin. Using the rolling pin, roll from middle out into a thin round sheet of 10 inch - 12 inch. Turn the dough over so that the rolling is done on both sides of the dough. Lightly flour surface after each turn. This method gives a very thin, easily rolled out dough that will not tear easily.

7) Preheat oven at 250 deg with your pizza pan. Place dough sheet on a pre-heat pan. Put on tomato coullis, mozarella cheese and toppings, followed back by some more mozarella cheese.

8) Bake at 250 deg celcius NO FAN FORCED for home oven, for 12-15 min (for my ovens) on the floor of the oven. Check the pizza base at around 8 min, and subsequent every 2-3 min to understand your own oven. If it is lightly browned with little batches of darker brown, it is ready. Results are guaranteed very crispy pizzas. Good Luck!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Poot Chai Ko

IF there is a legend that says one never stops eating in Hong Kong, then I'd have to asure you that it's true. Unlike Macau, food is never out of reach in Hong Kong. On every street, every corner, in any crack on the wall that you can find, there is food.

This is one of the most famous street stalls around selling food in true guerilla style. The stalls are modular & mobile, just in case the authorities appear. Any physical sections of the stall can be dropped off, like the cicak's tail when threatened.

This is the famous infamous Poot Chai Ko in all of Hong Kong.

I know the name doesn't do justice to this dessert, but these are the true originals in Hong Kong.

Most guerilla street vendors do not allow photographs to be taken for fear of the authorities. They would sometimes throw their pots & pans at you. But we had our way with them heheheh.

"Auntie ah, we heard your stall is very the famous. Can take picture ah?"

In fact, we were so good at it, they even posed with a smile.

These women were the archetypes of the old economy, the perfect example of hardwork for survival.

When you see these old folks working hard, earning by the dollar, you can't help to appreciate what they do.

However, for me personally, I thought these things tasted a bit bland.

They're probably made of glutinous rice flour or something similar.

Maybe it's one of those things with acquired taste. It probably takes some time for the taste to sink in. But we know that we'll definitely be eating this again when we return to Hong Kong. With a name like Poot Chai Ko, how can you resist?

This famous snacks are available at Central of Hong Kong Island at the junction of Wellington St and D' Aguilar St.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Mum's Hearty Beef Soup

Both of us had an exhausting week. And whenever that happens, it is a pain to us; to me because I could hardly muster any more enery to cook at all especially when I only got home around after 6pm, also throwing in a one day trip to KL; to Greg, he had to put up with outside food. We are a little spoilt because we would rather have a simple, home cooked meal rather than the generally oily food outside.

So when I finally got down to it towards the end of the week, I realised the menu for the week has been rather beefy because shopping is done at Supermarket rather than wet market. We started with my Mum's beef soup and other chinese dishes, followed by some Korean beef stew with Bimbimbap (also has beef mince) the next day and some beef pepperoni pizza over the weekend. And I still have some more beef at home. A little overdone with beef. But Greg is more than happy that his wife is cooking again.

This recipe is my Mum's and she cooked this since we were young but stopped when Dad was too highly ladened with cholesterol and start cutting out more salt, carbo and meat from his food. I love it. I could eat this with rice alone only.

800 gm of stewing beef cut like muscles
2 no large potatos, cut to big cubes
2 no of medium carrot, cut to big cubes
3 no of big tomatos, sliced wedges or round
1 no of medium szechuan vegies, cut to big cubes
1 no of big onion, diced
1 pip of garlic, washed and slightly take off the skin
2 - 2.5 litre of water

1) Boil water. Add onion and garlic. Continue boiling for another 5 min or so.

2) Add beef. Boil and simmer at low heat for more than 1 hour or beef becomes tender.

3) Add hard vegies like szechuan vegies, carrots and potatos. Continue simmering till all vegies are cooked. (Note: Wash szechuan vegies really well to prevent over saltiness. The vegies tend to release more saltiness as you simmer)

4) Finally add tomatos. No salt and pepper are added.

Makes a really hearty meal if you have it piping hot and if leave overnight, it is even better as the flavour tend to release better after reboiling. Serve with rice and/or other chinese dishes.

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