Thursday, August 14, 2008

Debunking the Myth of Paris

We've heard so many horrible things about Paris way before we even thought about going there. Naturally, we did our little research by talking to as many people as we knew. But the funny thing was, nobody seemed to have enjoyed it. This is a straight-to-the-point, cut-to-the-chase summary of the typical responses that we got concerning Paris:

1) Paris is extremely hot in summer. It's sweaty & unenjoyable.
2) Paris is so full of immigrants that it doesn't feel like Paris anymore. It's like a Third World country.
3) Beware of pickpockets & Gypsies. They are everywhere.
4) Parisians, especially the waiters, are rude to people who don't speak French.
5) Nobody speaks English.
6) There's dog poo on the streets everywhere in Paris.

Imagine what that could have done to both of us. It could have smothered our spirit of travelling & adventure in Europe. But we thought, how could we ever resist this?

And we found out that Paris was all that Ratatouille portrayed it to be.

1) We were there in early July, which was at the very beginning of summer. So the temperatures were hovering around low 20+ deg. cel. So most of the time, we went out dressed like this & it was fine.

2) We found Paris to be very excepting towards different cultures, & there certanly were a lot of them, but because they all speak French, we couldn't tell.

3) We only came across Gypsy beggars about 2-3 times. Once in the subway,

twice on Eiffel tower grounds.

But they were just begging. Ignore them & they'll go away.

4) Parisian waiters were on the contrary very entertaining & funny. They speak surprisingly good English.

5) Almost everyone knows how to speak English.

6) We only came across dog poo once on the streets. And it was already faded.

There were definitely more pigeons than dog poo on the streets.

Maybe Paris has changed, or maybe we were just lucky, but it was one of the most wonderful places to visit. You'd know that when it makes you feel like wanting to stay & to work there. It did that to me.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Hainan Chicken Rice

A while ago, our good friend and an accomplished violinist, who played at our wedding, Sie Ai, left for the States for her PhD. Before she left, I was supposed to write her a list of recipes for local food (as payment for her services - just kidding). And one of it is this dish which I have been procastinating.

And guess what? Two nights ago, she actually popped up at our place. It was a surprise visit and we were totally shocked. Greg's teeth nearly dropped out. She was back to collect some data and decided to surprise us. Thank you Sie Ai for thinking of us. But it kind of reminded me that I had not blogged any of the dishes which she requested before. How terrible of me!

So since I had cooked this a week ago, I thought I must write it down before I get lazy again.

Hainan Chicken Rice is basically a set meal of rice with chicken, served with chicken soup and chilli and ginger dip. From rice to all the accompaniments, the chicken soup stock from cooking the chicken is used. And it is really not difficult to make. My problem is always cutting the chicken up nicely and evenly and of course picking the right chicken to use is important too.

Serve 4-6

The Chicken
1.8 to 2 kg of chicken*
1 tbsp of salt
1 tbsp of minced garlic
1/2 tbsp of minced ginger
3-4 stalks of spring onion
1 no of thumb size ginger smashed
Water to cover chicken

1) Mix salt, minced garlic & ginger together and rub it all over the chicken. Stuff the spring onion and smashed ginger into the cavity of the chicken.

2) Boil a large pot of water and place the chicken in tummy side down, water covering the chicken. Boil over med-hi fire for 10-15 min depending on the size of the chicken. Turn the chicken over and continue boiling for another 9-12 min. Check for doneness by piercing the thigh area and check for the juice that runs out. If it is still pink, continue boiling for another 5 min or so. Turn off fire and let the chicken soak in the soup with lid of pot closed for 30 min. Soaking will help the chicken texture to be smoother.

* Choosing the right chicken is essential. I personally like corn fed or free range ones with nice layer of skin for chicken rice purpose And I would normally ask whether the chicken feather is hand plucked or machine plucked. Machine plucked one usually thins out the skin, causing it to tear during boil cooking. But it is a matter of preference. Some people actually like whitish looking, naked fatless chicken with practically no skin on.

3) Carefully dish out the chicken and place on a plate to dry. You can hang it if you want to. Spoon some chicken oil sauce over the chicken, gentlly rub the sauce all over chicken and let it cool before cutting.

Chicken Oil Sauce:
1 rice bowl of top layer of chicken soup and oil, especially the oil bit
1 tbsp of sesame oil
3 tbsp of light soya
1/2 teasp of sugar

1) Mix all ingredients together.

The Rice:
450 - 500 gm of jasmine rice
50 gm of glutinous rice
2-3 stalks of pandan leave
2-3 slices of ginger
1 tbsp of minced garlic
1 teasp of salt and pepper
500-600 gm of chicken soup and oil, more if you like your rice wetter

1) Wash the rice and strain off water.

2) Heat wok with oil. Stir fry garlic and ginger till fragrant. Add rice and continue stir frying. Add salt and pepper.

3) Place in normal rice cooker. Add pandan leaves and chicken soup and cook like usual.

The Soup:
1.5 litres of Chicken soup
1 no of Szechuan vegie, size of baby fist, washed and sliced thinly
1 stalk of salty vegies, washed

1)Boil chicken soup and add the vegies. Simmer for a little while before serving

The Sauces:

a) Chilli Dip

5 no large chillis
10 no of limau
2 tbsp of sugar
3/4 tbsp of minced garlic
some salt approx 3/4 to 1 teasp
5-6 tbsp of chicken oil from the soup

1) Chop or blend chillis and 3-4 limau skin into fine bits.

2) Squeeze limau juice. Mix all the ingredients together. Set aside.

b) Ginger and Onion dip

50 gm of ginger
50 gm of spring onion bottom white part
1 tbsp of sesame oil
3-4 tbsp of chicken oil from the soup
1/2 teasp of salt

Edited: I realised that I did put instruction for my dip. Shred the ginger to fine bits. Chop the spring onion bottom to fine bits. Add oil and chicken oil and seasoning.

c) Dark soya Sauce

Dish rice and press tightly into a rice bowl and flip it onto a serving plate. Cut chicken and place them on individual plates or a large centre plate. Spoon more chicken oil sauce over meat right before serving. Garnish with cucumber and top with coriander leaves. Serve with soup and dips and soya sauce.

According to Greg's Uncle Francis, chicken rice in Hainan does not taste like ours and is certainly not so flavourful. So let's enjoy our version. It is not sooooo difficult to make. So if you are worried about commercial chicken rice outside, DIY.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Yang Zhi Kang Lu

This Chinese dessert does not only have a nice name with a poetic ring to it, it tastes good too. I tried it out twice and here are the results:
Greg & my brother Raymond practically drank one whole bowl dry within two nights. And that was because I rationed them.

Despite its complicated name, it's amazingly easy to do. The key is to use the very sweet fragrant mangos and pomelos of the sweet kind.

2 no of large-medium or 3 no of small mangos
2-3 pieces of pomelo, approximately 250gm
Sugar water ~ 120gm of sugar boiled with 1 1/2 cups of water, set aside to cool
4 tbsp of cooked sago pearls
100gm of cream
100gm of vanilla ice cream
some more ice cream

1) Prepare sugar water. Also cook sago pearls, wash it and set aside.

2) Divide mangos into two parts. Cut one part into small cubes and blend the other parts into juice with some sugar water. Loosen the pomelo up into separate bits.

3) Combine cream, sugar water and vanilla ice-cream.

4) Add cooked sago pearls, mango juice, mango cubes and pomelo bits.

5) Chill and serve with one small scoop of ice cream per dessert bowl.

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