Friday, June 13, 2008

Xuan Pi Nai (Steam Milk Custard)

Milk has always been one of my favourite indulgence. For me, it goes well with cookies, crackers, biscuits, pastries, cakes, chocolates & even ice-cream. Besides, it's good for strong teeth & bones which I am in dire need of.

In fact, I am such a fan of milk that even a super cutey-pie 5-year old girl once said this to me, 'Hah? You still drink milk?' Her name was Ashleigh, & I will remember her till the ends of my days.

So I was naturally drawn to this shop like a cow when I was told that they had this Steam Milk Custard which I knew nothing about.

This is what they looked like. I guess they were pre-made, so when tourists like us dropped by, they would just microwa-- uhh, steam them for us in a jiffy.

The interior of the shop looked like any food shop in Hong Kong. There wasn't anything spectacular about it.

I don't know what these were but they sure looked like instant mix-with-water milk custard pieces.

This is the owner of the shop. You can tell he's extremely passionate & proud of his creation, & he likes cows.
The uncle looked like the type who would breed his own cows, nurse the calves to maturity, & milk them himself.

And if you didn't like his milk, he will take offence. But of course, when the Steam Milk Custard looked like this, how can you not like it.

This is the real deal. It's whiter than snow, softer than cotton wool, & smoother than tofu. I don't know how the uncle did it. It looks like thick custard, but when you put it in your mouth you realise that it is actually a very fine & thin layer of milk.

It's almost like drinking milk, but you know it's different. How shall I put it - it's like bordering between being a custard & being just plain warmed up milk. I guess the success of it is that the uncle found the perfect balance.

There were other types of flavours, but at that point of the trip we didn't care anymore cos we were full up to our eye balls.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Claypot Chicken Rice with Salted Fish

"Ham yu gai lap poo chai fun" is basically one dish, which is a member of the claypot rice family along side with Lap Mei Fun (Perserved meat rice). It is very interesting to note that cooking rice in a claypot over stove fire is so fast, something like less than 10 min. And claypot gives the whole dish a very nice flavour, somewhat more fragrant, I suppose.

And by the way, you can buy very nice cheap chinese claypots at the Super Discount Store near 3rd Mile Flyover. I bought three ~ big, medium & small for RM 5, 4, 3 respectively. As Greg would say in Hokkien "Pee kao lau sai" ~ Cheap until diarrhae. No point buying those RM20 over or RM50 claypot. These Chinese ones are super durable and of course if you break them, you don't have to cry. And they look pretty presentable too.

Serve 3-4
350 gm of fragrant rice
1/2 tbsp of garlic
1 teasp of salt
1 teasp of pepper
1 tbsp of dark soya sauce
3 tbsp of cooking oil
450 gm of water

1) Heat up wok with oil. Add garlic and stir fry till fragrant. Add rice and stir fry till rice feels a little sticky and heavy. Add soya, salt and pepper.

2) Dish out into a claypot and add water. With med-high fire, cook the rice with lid closed for about 8-10 min till rice is almost cooked and water is almost all gone. Rice will look very wet at this stage.
You can start to cook the rest of the ingredients before the rice so that the chicken can be well simmered.

450 - 500 gm of chicken meat, you can use thigh fillet and diced it up (hence, the gai lap), but i normally go the whole piece with bone attached. Just chop up into 7-8 pieces
1 tbsp of garlic
3-4 pieces of sliced ginger, shape of the thumb
1 tbsp of sesame oil + 1-2 tbsp of normal cooking oil
4-5 pieces of shitake mushrooms, soaked to soften and cut into halves
1 no of good quality chinese sausage (optional)*, sliced thinly
1 small piece of salted fish, size 2 cm square X 4 cm long, deep fried, cooled and chopped to fine pieces.

2 tbsp of oyster sauce
2 tbsp of dark soya or 1 light + 1 dark
2 tbsp of cooking hua tiaw wine
1 tbsp of sugar
3/4 teasp of salt and pepper each

3) Marinade chicken meat with marinade for more than one hour.

4) Heat up wok with oil and lightly stir fry sausages slices till fragrant. Dish out, set aside and using the same oil, stir fry ginger till fragrant. Add garlic and continue stir frying till garlic turn slightly brown. Add marinaded chicken. Stir fry till fragrant and let it simmer while rice is cooking in the claypot.

5) When rice is ready, spread sausage, fine salted fish pieces and chicken over rice. Close lid and cook at medium fire for another 5-7 minute. 5 min if you like the bottom and side only slightly burnt and crispy. Longer like 7-8 min if you like it more burnt. Edited: The burnt bits are nice and in Hong Kong after the rice is eaten, the restaurant can help you add water to the burnt bits and cook into porridge.

6) Remove from stove and serve.
* optional sausages: please buy good quality ones. Otherwise the taste may be weird. Mine I got from Hong Kong. Really fresh.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Linguine Carbonara

I'm terribly busy attending courses in the University for these two weeks. So that means only one thing - it's a one-dish week at home. This is a recipe, which I prepared for Emy but coming almost two weeks late. It serves 4 adults as main course or 5-6 adults in a party environment.

Serve 4-6
1/2 packet of linguine or spaghetti, cooked as usual till al dente/soft.
Once cooked, add 2-3 tbsp olive oil to the cooked noodle so that they do not stick together if you don't use immediately.

The sauce:
4 egg yolk
3 tbsp of parmesan powder
350 - 400ml of cream (heavy cream)
1 heaped tbsp of chicken powder

1) Mix everything together well in a bowl.

3 tbsp of onion, chopped finely
2-3 clove of garlic, minced finely
120 gm of fresh button mushroom
6-8 strips of bacon (if you can buy the streaky thin type then use about 8 pcs), cut into small pieces

2) Heat pan with some olive or corn oil. Saute onion and garlic till fragrant and golden brown,

3) Add bacon and mushroom. Continue saute over medium heat.

4) If you are cooking half a packet of noodle or more, it is better to cook it well done by adding the noodles at this stage and toss it with the bacon and mushroom. Then turn to low heat and pour in the cream mixture. Do not let the mixture boil, else egg yolks may curdle. Keep it to low simmer till the whole dish is hot (not boiling). Add a dash of pepper, dish out and garnish with parsley flake & serve.

The traditional carbonara is done by adding the freshly cooked hot noodles, bacon and mushroom into cream mixture and toss the dish. Cooking/simmering with cream is not required. But there are some who are not comfortable with not cooking the egg. Also if you are cooking a lot at one go, this cooking method may be slightly better.

Spring Rolls with Banana and Red Bean Paste

This is a really simple and easy to make party finger food. I had it the first time when my Grand Aunty (YiPo) made them many years ago during one of her trips to Melbourne (I was a deprived student then). I almost kowtowed to her then for putting these two ingredients together to form such an amazingly delicious creation. This is just one reasons why I have idolisd her eversince I was a child because she has always been the best cook in the family. So to me, everything that she makes is guaranteed to be nice.

But seriously this is a nice snack. I only made them recently because I finally got the courage to make my own red bean paste which turned out pretty well. Usually I'm told just to buy ready made ones because there is no difference. But excuse me..I beg to differ. The taste of homemade ones is PURE and not so sweet. But of course because of the reduced sugar, we would not get the super silky smooth texture like the ones on the commercially made ones.

Making red bean paste is not really difficult but it does take a fair bit of work. And the ones I made are good enough for white red bean pau, tang yuan and of course this snack. I will blog the recipe soon. But if you find it too much work, by all means buy the paste from the shops. They only cost about RM6-7 per kg.

Aunty Yeo also gave me a nice bunch of Pisang Keling from her own backyards. So there was no excuse for me to delay this project. You can use Pisang Hijau (Chay gay) or Pisang Emas too if you like your snack sweeter.

Make 20 pieces
20 pieces of popiah (spring roll) skin 4 inch sq type available in most supermarkets
6-7 pieces of bananas, cut to 6-8 strips per piece
100-120 gm of red bean paste
5 cups of cooking oil for deep frying

1) Unroll popiah skin and place 2 strips of banana near one of corner of the skin, followed by 1-2 teasp of red bean paste.

2) Roll up like a spring roll. Seal ends with water. Place in container and freeze/chilled for 30 min or so before frying. This way it helps to set the shape of the rolls.

3) Deep fry till golden brown. Cool slightly before serving.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Zong Zi Dumplings - Nyonya Style

Zong Zi is basically glutinous rice with fillings wrapped in bamboo or pandan leaves (screwpine leaves) in South East Asia where they are widely available. For many who love this snack, you will know how tasty the nicely cooked glutinous rice dumplings can be, especially with a hint of the aroma of the leaves which they are wrapped in, and of course the fragrance of the nicely balanced fillings, which commonly consist of pork, salted eggs, yam paste, chestnuts, shitake mushroom and many others.

Zong zi, also called Chang in Hokkien and Ch'ng in Foochow, is a common daily sight in wet markets and many coffee shop eateries in Sarawak. Many kuih-muih sellers would sell them as one of their products. Because it is so commonly made, many of us have taken it for granted and have forgotten its real historical and cultural significance. Zong zi does not only have a unique story attached to it but the way it is made, the way it is wrapped and the type of fillings used define the group of people making them.

Zong zi is actually eaten on the 5th day of the 5th month in the Chinese Lunar calendar (Duan Wu Festival) which is usually between June and July of the Western Calendar (8th of June for 2008). The story goes that during the period of the warring states in Chinese history, there lived a famous poet in the State of Chu called Qu Yuan. He was sent to exile due to his patriotic calls, which were against some of the government policies. So in the state of sorrow, he tied himself to a big stone and drowned himself. The people who loved and respected him at that time went searching along the river for his body and could not find it. They then made rice dumplings wrapped with bamboo leaves and threw them in the river to feed the fishes, hoping they would leave his body alone. It has then become a tradition to eat zong zi during this time of the year in remembrance of him. Also dragon boat races are held to mark the occassion.

In Malaysia, with Chinese coming from various dialectic background, Zong zi are actually defined by the dialects. For example, Teochew Zong Zi, Hokkien Zong Zi, Cantonese Zong Zi, Foochow Zong Zi and so forth. Most of the Zong Zi availabe in Sarawak are pyramid shaped ones while Cantonese and Hainanese ones resemble nice fat pillows. The fillings are definitely defined by the dialects making them.

I began making Zong zi last Saturday and the final batches were done on Tuesday as I wanted to make full use of the public holidays. For me, Zong zi is a yearly feat, done to be given away to the elders as a show of respect. So, when making things to give away, I always think it is not so nice to give them away last minute or too near to the actual day.

On top of that, Greg's 90+ year old grandma has officially declared her retirement this year from making Zong zi. So I thought all the more reason for me to be making them!

I ended up making 60 plus pieces of Zong Zi, which were really not quite enough to go around. I did the Hokkien ones (pork with cuttlefish), Teochew ones (pork with yam paste and chestnuts) and Greg's favourite - the nyonya ones (pork with sweet 'kundur' and katumba).

Without sounding too mean and arrogant and no offence, Greg and I don't buy commercially made Zong zi because we are greedy pair who wants lots of meat and fillings in our Zong zi. So we only eat Zong zi once a year when his wife makes them. This year, with two over-60-year-old men, confirming that my Zong zi are just like how their mums used to make them, and with Greg also declaring his newly found affection for Zong zi and would even have them as his main meals, I am completely esctatic about it and thus, dont mind sharing the recipe.

The rice:

850 gm of good quality glutinous rice (find the purest you can grab hold of as it does affect the bites if the rice is mixed with other types, which happen sometimes)
2 teasp of salt
2 teasp of pepper
1heaped tbsp of katumba powder (coriander seeds)
4-6 tbsp of cooking oil

1) Clean and soak rice for about 2-3 hours.

2) Wash and dry coriander seeds. Pan roast till it can fall apart if you press it with your fingers. Blend it to fine powder. Set aside.

3) Heat up wok with oil and stir fry the rice. Add salt and pepper and katumba powder half way and stir fry till you can feel a slight heaviness as you stir. Dish out and set aside.

Clockwise from top: Soaked and drained Glutinous rice, half cook pork dices, diced dry sweetened melon, katumba powder, minced garlic and minced onion

The Filling:

650gm of five flower meat or good grade pork front leg meat, preferrably with some fats
250 gm of dry sweetened melon (kundur/tang tung kua), diced into small cubes
4 heaped tbsp of katumba powder
3 heaped tbsp of chinese red onion, minced finely
1 tbsp of minced garlic
2 tbsp of black soya sauce
4-6 tbsp of cooking oil
Salt, sugar and pepper to taste

1) Blanched pork in boiling water for 2-3 minutes or till half cook and diced into 1 cm or so cubes

2) Heat up wok with oil, stir fry red onion till soft. Add garlic and continue to stir fry till fragrant and lightly brown.

3) Add pork cubes and continue stir frying till meat looks white. Add diced melon, soya sauce, katumba powder, salt and pepper and sugar and cook well. Mixture will look slightly dry not wet. Dish out and set aside to be used.

Bamboo leaves, cut pandan leaves, cooked rice for Teochew Zong zi and nyonya zong zi and filling for Teochew Zong zi (pork with chestnuts, mushrooms)

The Wrap:

Bamboo leaves or pandan leaves*
Hemps or just use strong threads/strings. Dont use colour straw strings.

Bamboo leaves are easily available in supermarkets. Wash and soak them overnight. Wipe them clean before using. Overlap two pieces of leaves with smooth side facing in and shape into a cone.

* Pandan leaves give a very nice aroma & these pandan are of a special type which is long and wide (at least 2/5 inch wide). Greg's Granny actually planted them. If not, it is usually available in wet market at this time of year for now 50 cents or so a piece. Geez.. crazy I think.
Cut off the hard ends, thorns on both sides and divide each leaf into half. Run the upper stem, which is softer, quickly through a wok of hot boiling water. With the lower harder stem, press the stem and run them through the wok of hot boiling water slowly to soften and clean. Wipe and shape into a cone with smoother part on the inner side.

1) Fill up the cone first with one tbsp of rice. Spread rice to side of cone. Add fillings. 2-3 tbsp, followed by another thin layer of rice. Press to tighten.

2) Start wraping into pyramids. And tie them with strings hanging.

3) Prepare a big pot of boiling water enough to cover the over 2-3 cm of all the dumplings. Add 1 tbsp of salt and cook for 1.5 -2 hour, depending on your dumpling size. Add boiling water as you go along. Change dumplings position once or twice half way through. The water must remain covering dumplings all through cooking.

4) Hang the dumplings to dry for about 20-30 minutes before serving.

Happy Duan Wu Jie!

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