Sambal Ikan Bilis (I)

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The good news is, anchovy stocks have doubled because their predators – the type that doesn't have legs – have declined sharply in numbers. This is where we, the two-legged predators, need to step up our efforts. Eat more anchovies, people!

I don't know about you but I don't need much persuasion to eat sambal ikan bilis. The salty little fishies and deep-fried peanuts make a perfect ménage à trois with the sweet and spicy sambal.

Fried Wontons

Monday, 17 October 2011

Fried wontons are different from wontons in soup, apart from the fact that they're fried.

The filling for boiled wontons should have dried sole (大地鱼, aka 铁脯). The fish is toasted till brown, crisp and fragrant, then chopped into little bits. If it's not available, deep-fried shallots are a good substitute. With either of these ingredients in the filling, wontons cooked in soup would have a rich, intense aroma they wouldn't have otherwise. In Hong Kong, the motherland of Wonton Soup, the stock used is made with dried sole, amongst other things.

Soon Kueh/Turnip Dumplings (I)

Monday, 26 September 2011

Success at last at making the dough for soon kueh! It was my seventh attempt and sixth recipe. How's that for perseverance? As I kneaded the dough, I felt quite sure that this time it would work. And it did, beautifully. Mind you, I had spring roll wrappers standing by in case the dough failed again.

What was wrong with the five recipes that didn't work?

Kueh Bengka Ubi (I)

Monday, 15 August 2011

I was going to say it takes five minutes to put together a kueh bengka ubi (baked tapioca cake). But, thinking about it as I write, I'd say it takes only 90 seconds if, unlike me, you're not reading the instructions at the same time, and chasing cats out of the kitchen.

Yup, one and a half minutes is all kueh bengka ubi takes, or I'll eat my hat. Baking time is not included, btw, so please don't say it takes you an hour, and then tell me to eat my hat with sambal. Neither is shopping time or washing up. And I reserve the right to change this agreement any time I like, in whatever way I like. I assume your arms and legs are fully functional and . . . .

Hey, I almost forgot I don't have any hats!

Prawn Paste Chicken

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

I could smell the fermented prawn paste once the bottle was open. Phwoar! This is potent stuff!

It wasn't belachan, which is quite harmless until it's toasted or fried. Nor was it Penang hae ko, which is absolutely benign because it's got lots of sugar.

What I had was har cheong, a liquid prawn paste made in Hong Kong. It was a very appetizing grey – oh yum! – and the label on the bottle said, so reassuringly, 'Cooked [sic] Before Eating'. Thanks for the warning! You bet I will!

Your first whiff of har cheong might make you think of a rotting rat or, as a friend puts it ever so nicely, a mortuary with no power supply. But once you take a deep breath – be brave! – you'll get the aroma that explains why fermented prawn paste is cherished in Malaysia, the Phillipines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, and some parts of China. That's, what, easily several hundred million people? Oh hang on, I almost forgot Singapore. That adds another few million who eat lots of belachan (but don't make any).

Chicken Satay & Peanut Sauce

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Do you know how satay sauce gets its tinge of yellow? Turmeric? Wrong! The golden hue comes from roasted peanuts, which have to be finely ground and boiled to release their colour.

Thai Stuffed Chicken Wings

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

If you hate bones as much as this chap who's gritting his teeth, and staring daggers at the person who's making him gnaw his food like Bo, then . . .

Coffee Pork Ribs

Monday, 7 February 2011

I'm not a coffee addict. I have only seven cups a day . . . .

Just kidding, folks. I have three, max; most days I have two. I always have one first thing in the morning, sometimes with a couple of cream crackers for dunking. On days when I'm a good girl, that's the only coffee I'd have.

My favourite coffees are macchiato (espresso with a dollop of steamed milk) and romano (espresso with lemon zest) when I want 'proper' coffee. I also like latte, for washing down cookies or cake, but that's more like coffee-flavoured milk rather than coffee. Whatever coffee it is, it's always without sugar.

I love food that's slightly bitter, from bitter gourd to bitter chocolate, and anything made with coffee such as coffee cheesecake and coffee candy. Pork ribs deep-fried and coated with coffee? Yeah, baby, yeah!

Salted Crispy Chicken (盐酥鸡)

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

It's chicken; it's deep fried; and it's got lots of seasoning. How can 盐酥鸡 – salted crispy chicken – not be a winner? It's practically the king of nighttime street food in Taiwan, loved by young and old alike.

Eat your heart out, KFC, in the land of 盐酥鸡. (Hey, it rhymes!)

Using a recipe from the Taiwanese cookery teacher here, the 盐酥鸡 I made yesterday bore the classic hallmark of street food – it made me quite thirsty! Hah, so it really had the feel of night market food! There was quite a lot of salt in the seasoning, as well as sugar and spices which masked the saltiness. 盐酥鸡 isn't something that should be eaten too often, I guess, but it makes a great occasional nibble.

Besides being heavily seasoned, good salted crispy chicken must be, as its name says, crispy.

Kacang Putih (Frosted Peanuts)

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and for those having a white Christmas – lucky you – keep warm and have fun in the snow!

Oh look, there's snow on my peanuts! The snow's melted and turned into ice!

Sesame #$!☠&☠^♠‡!!! Balls

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

I tried making sesame balls last Saturday. You know, 煎堆, those deep fried glutinous rice balls coated with white sesame seeds. Thought it should be quite straight forward. Make a dough with glutinous rice flour, plus a bit of rice flour and sugar. Roll into little balls. Wrap with peanut butter (a stand-in for more traditional stuff like red bean paste). Dredge in white sesame seeds. Deep-fry over low heat. Easy peasy.

So, the little balls were deep-frying away when I noticed that they were going from round to pear shaped. That meant the balls weren't heating up and expanding evenly. Which was a bad sign but I didn't know at the time 'cause it was my first time making sesame balls. Suddenly, 'KABOOM!' One of the sesame balls exploded three feet into the air and shot out of the pot . . . . Ok, I exaggerate. A sesame ball did jump out but it was more like a dull 'boom!' Still, there was hot oil on my right hand. 'Aaaaargh!' I dropped the spatula immediately, turned off the stove, and darted to the tap. As I rinsed my hand, two more sesame balls exploded spectacularly, shooting out of the pot like cannon balls. I made another dash, this time to the freezer for some ice to put on my poor hand. My face was hit as well but it didn't feel as bad as the hand which had been next to the pot. I guess the oil had time to cool down a bit as it flew through the air towards my face. (Or maybe the skin on my face is really thick?)

Soothed and calmed by the ice, I surveyed the kitchen through my oil speckled glasses. There was oil everywhere on the floor and walls. The ceiling was spared but 'ground zero', the top of the stove, had a big puddle of oil. There were bits of peanut butter and white specks of flour here and there. #$!☠&☠^♠‡!!! I got some ointment for burns from the first aid box, grabbed an ice cold coke from the fridge, and scooted out of the disaster zone.

Safe in the living room, I started googling 'exploding rice balls'. Yup, these culinary missiles had attacked and claimed many victims before. A lot of unwary kitchen warriors, like me, had been caught by surprise. The enemy came out of nowhere; we had no time to run or hide.

An hour later, my hand stopped burning as the ointment took effect. I went back to the kitchen to clean up, thinking I should call it a day. There were fragments of Sesame Ball on the counter top, actually looking quite good with just the right shade of golden brown. From a solid little lump, the dough had expanded into a ball with a hollow in the middle, before detonating and exploding into fragments. I popped one of said fragments in my mouth . . . . Hey, it's good! It was still crisp after my hour-long recuperation, and it wasn't oily. If only it hadn't exploded, it would have been perfect.

Believe it or not, I decided to have another go after tasting the fragment of sesame ball. I almost succeeded, I thought. I figured the rice balls exploded because there wasn't enough oil, the oil was too hot, I wasn't stirring enough, or all of the above. All I had to do was add more oil (stop stinging!), keep the temperature really low, and stir more. In went the remaining raw rice balls, and . . . . out came the hot oil onto my hand. My right hand, again. 'Aaaaargh!'

Surrender? Hell no.

I tried again the next day. This time, I had a towel draped over my right hand! Plus a different recipe which mixed boiled, cooked dough with raw dough, and used only glutinous rice flour, without adding rice flour. The balls still exploded, but they stayed in the pot instead of blowing up completely. Hey, that's an improvement!

The fourth attempt was a combination of the first two recipes. A mix of raw and cooked dough, that was made with rice flour and glutinous rice flour. And the balls were wrapped with an air pocket inside instead of without. The results are what you see in the photos. Not too shabby, I think, even though they were little ones around 6 cm wide. Did you know those made by pros are as big as footballs? Like this one:



Notice the oil is so hot it's smoking? Yet the rice ball doesn't explode. If it did, it would really have gone 'KABOOM!' I might try making one that big one day . . . but only after I put on the protective gear worn by people who clear landmines!

Check these out:
Dry Chicken
Curry
Roast Chicken
with Mixed
Herbs
Soya Sauce
Chicken
Thai Basil Chicken

SESAME BALLS (煎堆)
(Recipe for 32 pieces)

240 glutinous rice flour
40 g rice flour
4 tbsp sugar (or 6 tbsp if not using filling)
¼ cup white sesame seeds, placed in a bowl for dredging
150 g filling, e.g. red bean paste or lotus seed paste, optional
vegetable oil for deep-frying

Stir rice flour and glutinous rice flour till evenly mixed. Dissolve sugar in 140 ml hot water, stirring till water is warm, not hot. Add to flour. Mix well. Gather 85 g of wet dough (some flour would still be dry). Make into small discs. Cook in boiling water till floating. Mix with raw dough whilst still hot but cool enough to handle. Knead till evenly mixed. If necessary, add a bit more warm water or glutinous rice flour so that dough is not too dry or too sticky. Roll into a ball and set aside, covered, for 10 minutes. This allows the flour to fully absorb the water added.

Divide dough into 32 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Keeping balls not working on covered, fill with chosen filling, around 1 tsp, as in this video:



Make sure there's air in the dough, i.e. don't wrap dough tightly round filling. If there's no filling, it would be just an air pocket inside the dough.

Dredge filled rice balls in white sesame seeds. If rice balls are dry, dunk quickly in water or pat surface with a bit of water before dredging. Press gently so that sesame seeds stick well.

In a pot or wok, add enough oil to cover sesame balls, about 4 cm deep. Heat till oil is moderately hot. Test by putting an uncoated wooden chopstick in the oil. If there's no reaction, wait a few more seconds. If there's rapid sizzling and big bubbles, turn off heat to let oil cool down slightly. If there're small bubbles and gentle sizzling around the chopstick, the oil is just right. Reduce heat to very low. For gas stoves, the flame should be slightly flickering or just steady. Add glutinous rice balls, not too many so that all can move around freely. Fry till Sesame Balls start floating, gently pressing any that doesn't expand evenly to get a round shape, with a spatula against the wok/pot or another spatula. After rice balls start floating, increase heat to medium. (If the heat is too low at this stage, rice balls would be too soft and chewy inside.) Sizzling should increase from slow to moderate speed, but not too rapid. Stir gently to ensure even browning.

Keep stirring and frying till rice balls are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels and cool down. Serve.
.

Spring Onion Pancakes (葱油饼)

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Spring onion pancakes – 葱油饼 – are a common street food in China and Taiwan. Available any time of the day, they're particularly popular for breakfast.

Contrary to its name, spring onion pancakes are an unleavened, fried bread, not pancakes. And "葱油饼", strictly speaking, means spring onion oil pancake. But I guess it's good marketing to omit the word "oil"!

A good 葱油饼, best enjoyed hot from the pan, is crispy and flakey outside whilst the inside is chewy, interspersed layers of dough and spring onions.

There're only four ingredients – flour, spring onions, oil and salt – but when done well, freshly fried spring onion pancakes are absolutely delicious, especially when they're washed down with sweet soya bean milk or teh halia.

Teriyaki Ribs

Thursday, 1 July 2010


A man and woman got into a lift together. She greeted him by saying, "T-G-I-F."

He smiled at her and replied, "S-H-I-T."

She looked at him, puzzled, and said again, "T-G-I-F."

He acknowledged her remark again by answering, "S-H-I-T."

The woman was trying to be friendly, so she smiled her biggest smile and repeated, as sweetly as possible, "T-G-I-F."

The man smiled back at her and once again replied with a quizzical expression, "S-H-I-T."

The woman finally said, 'T-G-I-F – thank God it's Friday, get it?"

Caramel Popcorn

Friday, 9 April 2010


A tub of popcorn costs $6-7.

Richard B. McKenzie, in a book titled Why Popcorn Costs So at the Movies, estimates there's a 1,300% profit margin on movie popcorn in the US.

In Israel, it was recently proposed to outlaw overpriced popcorn (link here). Will the Israeli parliament pass the law and set a precedent? Well, I'm not holding my breath.

For me, it's not how much I pay for the popcorn but the hordes of people at the cinema. I like movies during weekends but I don't like the weekend crowds. Easy solution: DVDs and DIY popcorn.

Weekend + movie + popcorn – crowds = happiness.

Garlic Bread

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

I've finally found a rustic baguette, or baguette à l'ancienne, in Singapore. Compared to the regular loaf, the rustic, traditional version is given a much longer fermentation. This gives the crust a darker colour and a rich, nutty aroma. It also makes the crumb – the white part of the bread – soft, chewy and really flavourful

When I was living in Paris, I used to stroll to Champs-Elysées most Sundays – took me all of five minutes – and grab a baguette a l'ancienne for breakfast. Most bakeries in central Paris were closed on Sundays but the really touristy areas had the odd one open.

Kong! Bak! Pau! – Pork Belly with Steamed Buns

Friday, 20 November 2009

PhotobucketThe monsoon season this year has started earlier than usual. It's been pouring by the bucketload practically every day for the past couple of weeks. And the weatherman predicts rain daily for the next 10 days! Wunderbar! Nice! Provided I'm not caught in traffic which jams up because of the rain, I really love this weather. It's a great change from the usual heat and humidity in sunny, tropical Singapore. I don't do it now but when I was a kid, I loved playing football with my brothers in the rain. Sliding and splashing around in a wet, muddy field was so much more fun than kicking a ball when the ground was dry and hard. Definitely worth the good scolding for getting our clothes muddy! In the rain, even walking home from school was fun 'cause we could stomp through puddles of water. Of course, that dirtied our white canvas Bata school shoes and got us another good scolding. Mind you, the fun didn't end when the rain stopped. After a heavy downpour, the lungfish in the pond next to our house escaped with the overflowing water, so we had to rescue them. These were fish which had lungs and could breathe air. Weird, eh? They could survive on land for quite a long time and were always wriggling vigorously on the ground when we found them. Unfortunately – or fortunately, from their perspective – they weren't very palatable, so we just chucked them back in the pond. The rainy season also brought lots of tadpoles in water puddles, which we caught and placed in glass bottles. It was fascinating watching them grow legs and eventually turn into tiny little toads.

PhotobucketThat was then, this is now. Older, sedate and aware of lightning risks, I don't run around in the rain any more. I love curling up with my cats (that's Princess Mel in the photo) for a snooze when a heavy downpour cools the hot, humid air. Or sitting next to an open window with a cup of tea, feeling the rain on my face. Back when we were catching fish with lungs, we had a corrugated zinc veranda which made a real ruckus when it rained. And the wave pattern in the zinc roof created a water curtain with strings of rain. It was very relaxing listening to the thundering rain and watching the shimmering strings of water. No such sound and visual effect now, I'm afraid.

There's one thing rainy weather always does to me no matter how old or young I am. It makes me really hungry! So hungry it's a good time to eat a piping hot stew. Not just any stew but a pork belly stew which might be too rich and filling when the weather is hot. Some call it Lor Bak (滷肉), others call it Kong Bak(扣肉). Or Dong Po Rou (東坡肉) or Tau Yu Bak (豆油肉). All these are pork belly braised Chinese style but the ingredients vary depending on personal preferences. I love the one I make because it has lots of vinegar to cut through the richness of the pork. And onions, garlic and ginger slowly cooked and caramelized in a dark, thick sauce. They are unrecognizable by the time the stew's done but these black blobs of stuff are, trust me, more delicious than the pork. I enjoy the stew with either rice or Chinese steamed buns, and every single bite is worth the extra time on the treadmill come payback time. Before I pay back, however, I wash everything down with a cup of strong Chinese tea and have a good snooze. Can't exercise right after I eat, right? Later lah.

Check these out:
Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket
Tamarind Pork
(Babi Assam)

Spareribs with
Dried Tangerine
Peel
Spareribs
with Fermented
Black Beans
Drunken Chicken and
Soft-Boiled Eggs

No-Steam Chinese Turnip/Radish Cake – Lor Bak Ko

Saturday, 19 September 2009

PhotobucketI got hold of Jacky Yu's cookbooks a few days ago, and have been poring over his recipes as bedtime reading. Who's Jacky Yu (余健志)? He's chef extraordinaire from Hong Kong and founder of Xi Yan Private Dining Restaurant. Famed for his originality in contemporary Chinese cuisine, Jacky Yu combines ingredients and techniques across different regions in China, South-East Asia and Japan. His signature dish is Chicken in Hot and Spicy Sauce (口水鸡), a traditional Sichuan cold chicken dish which he has made famous by adding century eggs. You know where he gets his creativity from? His mother! That's right, his mother is also quite inventive, so it's all in the genes. According to the son, Mum's Turnip Pancake (妈妈萝卜餅) was invented by his mother. Of all the recipes in his three cookbooks, this is the only one he attributes to Mrs Yu. That's gotta mean it's good, right? I must say it sounds quite original. The recipe's like Lor Bak Ko (萝卜糕) but it doesn't involve steaming, and has glutinous rice flour added. Usually, Lor Bak Ko is made with only rice flour, without any glutinous rice flour. And it's steamed, then pan-fried when it's cold. I reread Mrs Yu's recipe in both Chinese and English (the cookbooks are bilingual) to make sure there wasn't a mistake. Nope, it says 'Scoop turnip batter onto pan. Fry until both sides are browned.' It goes on to explain that the amount of glutinous rice flour should be 1.5 times plain rice flour. Like mother, like son; both of them break rules.

I woke up this morning and decided to try Jacky Yu's Mum's Turnip Pancake. That's what happens when I spend a couple of hours reading cookbooks before going to bed. Also makes me hungry late at night, but that's another story. So, does the recipe work? Is it good? Yes, it works. Yes, it's very, very good, and different. It's like a cross: 80% Cantonese Lor Bak Ko and 20% Nian Gao (年糕). Inside, it's soft, smooth and just a wee bit sticky and chewy. Outside, it's way, way more crispy than normal steam-and-fry Lor Bak Ko. Eaten piping hot, it goes C-R-U-N-C-H when I bite into it. For me, that's the killer part. I've never had steam-and-fry Lor Bak Ko that's so crispy. From now on, it's bye-bye traditional Lor Bak Ko and hello Mum's Turnip Pancake. Next Chinese New Year, I'm having Mum's Turnip Pancake and renaming it Lor Bak Nian Gao. Saves me the trouble of having both Lor Bak Ko and Nian Gao, which are traditionally eaten during the Chinese Spring Festival.

18 February 2010 update – here's a photo of the nian gao I bought for the Chinese New Year:



Check these out:
Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket
Spareribs with
Fermented Black
Bans
Char Siu Pau
(Roast Pork Buns)
Yam Kueh
Kong! Bak! Pau!

Cream Scones

Saturday, 5 September 2009

PhotobucketI can't remember what was the first Chinese dish I ever cooked. I started helping Mum in the kitchen from the age of . . . oh . . . nine? ten?

It's hard to say exactly when or what I first cooked something totally by myself. Baking, however, was different. Mum never baked, so I picked up baking only when I went overseas to study, and there was an oven in the common kitchen.

My foray into baking was gentle and gradual. I started as the kitchen hand for my neighbour who was an avid and experienced baker. Her pièce de résistance was apple pie in which I performed a crucial albeit non-baking role.

Fried Anchovies and Peanuts

Sunday, 23 August 2009

PhotoFried anchovies and peanuts is great with rice. In nasi lemak, for instance, it's one of the standard side dishes. For me, I find it a bit dry with rice. I like to eat it with Teochew porridge but mostly I eat it as it is as a savory snack.

You know how too much chocolate leaves a sweet aftertaste in your mouth and you long for something salty? That's a little craving I have not infrequently, especially in the afternoon after my Kit Kat break.

Being a well organized person who doesn't like to panic when confronted with such a culinary emergency, I like to keep a ready supply of the antidote in the fridge.

The key component of the antidote for sugar is, of course, salt, of which dried anchovies have plenty. So, I make a good size amount of fried anchovies, more rather than less because I want to make the most out of the oil I'm going to throw away.

PhotoFried peanuts make a classic combination with fried anchovies. The additional calories from the nuts doesn't spoil my diet since there isn't one. It flies out the window every time I set my eyes on chocolate.

The dosage for the sugar antidote is two tablespoons immediately after sugar consumption. Unfortunately, the antidote is addictive and more often than not, I eat a whole plateful.

You know how too much salt leaves you craving for something sweet? Back to Kit Kat . . . . Oh dear, I think I need help.

FRIED ANCHOVIES AND PEANUTS
(For 4 persons)

50 g dried anchovies (ikan bilis), without bones and heads
50 g dried, raw peanuts
150 ml vegetable oil
a pinch of salt (optional)

Wash and drain anchovies twice to remove excess salt. Squeeze and pat dry with paper towels. Heat oil in a pan till smoking and add anchovies. Fry, stirring occasionally, till almost golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Reduce heat to low. Let oil cool down slightly. Put one peanut in the oil to check that it's not too hot. Oil should not bubble on contact with raw peanut. Add all peanuts to oil when temperature is right. Stir to distribute heat evenly. Pick a peanut without skin and watch it. When it changes color slightly, turn off heat and quickly remove peanuts with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels and – if you think the anchovies aren't salty enough – toss peanuts with a pinch of salt. Combine fried anchovies and fried peanuts. Eat with rice, chocolate or beer. Have I ever eaten all of these together in one go? I'm not telling you.

Sam Leong's Batter

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

It was about two years ago when Sam Leong, celebrity chef and kitchen honcho of the Tung Lok group of restaurants, showed off his batter recipe on a local TV program. I got round to testing the recipe recently – better late than never, right? – and I must say it worked very well. I made a pile of fried onion rings for a group of professional judges – my 11 nieces and nephews – who showed universal approval by polishing off everything in five minutes. They even ate the bits of batter that had broken off. That’s gotta mean they really liked it!