Chai Tow Kway (菜头粿; Fried Carrot Cake)

Monday, 15 April 2013

If you're looking for a good chai tow kway recipe, you've come to the right place. How do I convince you my CTK is good? By comparing to one that's bad, here, from The Little Teochew in a guest post for Rasa Malaysia

I've read many recipes for various sorts of steamed cakes made with rice flour, such as chwee kueh, orh kueh, lor bak gou, pak tong gou and, of course, chai tow kway. What's the one common feature they all have? The batter is cooked on the stove before it's steamed. The Little Teochew, unlike everyone else, mixes rice flour with room temperature water, then steams the batter straightaway. Why do the rest of us do extra work? Because unless the batter is thickened before it's steamed, the rice flour would sink and form a hard layer at the bottom of the cake. If you steam rice flour batter without thickening it first, your kway is doomed for failure.

How to Make GOOD Fried Rice

Friday, 2 March 2012

When I was nine years old, I went to primary school in the afternoon. I was the only person at home at lunchtime, so I cooked for myself and ate before heading off to school. Fried rice was what I rustled up most often, plus an egg flower soup to wash it down.

Hmm, now that I think about it, a nine-year-old doing a two-course lunch wasn't too shabby. *immodestly and belatedly pat self on the back*

As I got older, I made fried rice only as a last resort, when I didn't have ingredients for something else or when I had leftover rice to finish up. Why? Because, try as I might, my fried rice wasn't terribly impressive even though I'd been frying rice since I was nine. Eminently edible, yes, but nothing more.

15-Minute Flower Crab Dry Curry

Sunday, 26 February 2012

If you like crab but can't stomach the idea of being a crab killer, flower crab would be right up your alley. The blue crustaceans are mostly sold dead; live ones caught by local kelongs are available only once in a blue, blue moon, when you're extremely lucky. Or maybe unlucky if you're not into buying food that's still moving.

Nyonya Fried Rice

Friday, 14 October 2011

Fried rice is one of those things. It may be a great chef's finale for a grand Chinese banquet, or it may be something rustled up by a hungry youngster snooping round the kitchen when Mum is out. Brilliantly executed, fried rice is sublime. If not, it's (usually) at least edible.

Baba fried rice is easier than the Chinese version. The latter requires fierce, intense heat for best results (imagine a massive fire breathing dragon underneath the wok). The Straits Chinese, however, use spices to create an alluring aroma. Finely pounded shallots, dried chillies, fresh chillies and candlenuts, along with belachan and dried prawns, are slowly persuaded over gentle heat to release their fragrance. Each and every grain tastes of the spicy, aromatic and umami paste, so the fried rice is delicious even when it's lacking in wok hei.

Minced Pork Stir-Fry with Ketchup & Fermented Black Beans

Friday, 19 August 2011

Minced pork stir-fried with fermented black beans is one of the standard items served at places that sell Teochew porridge. It's different from other fbb-based recipes because it's got a good amount of tomato ketchup, a decidedly non-Teochew ingredient which, I suspect, my cousins in China don't use. But ketchup actually goes well with fbb's salty fragrance, adding a distinct dimension not found in fbb dishes that are more traditional.

Diced Chicken in Spicy Fermented Tofu Sauce

Friday, 12 August 2011

One day, whilst shooting the breeze with me somewhere, an ang moh acquaintance said he had a tattoo. Without any encouragement on my part, he rolled up his sleeve to show me the Chinese word on his arm. He seemed quite proud of it, and I was all prepared to 'Oooh!' appropriately (whilst running my fingers gently over his bulging biceps *wink wink*). Instead, when I saw the word he had chosen, the beer I was drinking took a detour into my lungs and up my nose. My face turned red; I thumped my chest; he thumped my back; it was a while before I could stop coughing. By then, Acquaintance probably suspected there was something wrong with his tattoo 'cause I was laughing and gesturing at it even as I choked on my drink. Indeed, there was, for the word on his arm was "腐".

Pork Stir-Fry with Sesame Oil

Sunday, 7 August 2011

I stir-fry pork with sesame oil; so did my mother, my mother's mother, my mother's mother's mother . . . . I'm guessing that since sesame oil was invented discovered in China, which was supposedly some 2,300 years ago during the Three Kingdoms period, Chinese have been cooking pork in it one way or another. 

The version I make is with garlic, ginger, light soya sauce, oyster sauce, Shaoxing wine and salt. I've done it so many times I can practically do it with my eyes closed.

Fried Glutinous Rice

Thursday, 21 July 2011

I've been eating glutinous rice for about a year now, in place of the non-sticky variety. I steamed some one day 'cause I was out of regular rice, and I haven't looked back since. It's more fragrant than regular rice though the quality does vary from brand to brand. I've tried three so far, and my favourite is Golden Pineapple; the other two being New Moon and Golden Phoenix. I can't say if Golden Pineapple is the best brand in the market, but it's good enough to stop me from looking for something better.

Non-sticky rice can be steamed or boiled but the sticky one can only be steamed. If steamed without the rice sitting in water, it should be soaked for several hours, which was what I did when I was a sticky rice novice. Of course, I didn't always have several hours' foresight into when I wanted to tuck into a bowl of piping hot rice, and hunger made my brain tick.

Gong Bao Frog Legs

Monday, 20 June 2011

Back when I was a little girl and living in a kampong, I would jump with joy whenever it rained at night. Why? Because my father would go frog hunting, and there would be a big pot of frog porridge for supper – Teochew style, of course; none of that sticky Cantonese stuff like in Geylang!

The frogs my father caught were wild and, of course, live. If my memory serves me correctly, he didn't use any bait or special equipment except a torchlight. He basically just reached out and grabbed the ones that were croaking the loudest.

(If you're a frog reading this, remember not to croak too loudly when it rains, and my father is in your neighbourhood. And you should leave this blog post immediately, because you really don't want to read the next bit.)

Sambal Udang

Monday, 13 June 2011

It wasn't just any ordinary sambal udang. It was Sambal Udang made with a recipe from Cooking for the President.

Who was cooking for which president? That'd be Mrs Wee Kim Wee cooking for her husband, as told by their daughter, Wee Eng Hwa.

Sambal udang was the first recipe I tried from Cooking for the President – Reflections & Recipes of Mrs Wee Kim Wee.

How was the Wee family recipe for prawns smothered in chilli paste?

It was excellent!

Sambal Kangkong

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Do you know that there's a connection between kangkong and the God of Fortune, aka 财神爷?

I'm guessing you don't, so here's the story:

3,000 years ago, China was ruled by an emperor who knew diddly squat about everything. As with all useless emperors, he had a wicked concubine, and his was called 妲己.

One day, 妲己 pretended to be ill and said she needed to eat 比干's heart to be cured. 比干 was the good guy who was trying to set the useless emperor on the right path, so the concubine – actually a 'fox spirit' in human form – wanted to get rid of him.

Black Pepper Crab

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Rule number one of crab handling: Make sure it's dead before cutting the string! Ask the crab politely, whilst tapping its legs with a knife or chopstick, 'Hello? Hello? Are you dead?' If it nods its head or says, 'Yes, I'm dead,' beware of the crafty crab! If there's no response and the legs aren't moving, then and only then should the string be cut. I never forget the rule so no, I wasn't bitten. I was just kidding!

Dry-Fried Bitter Gourd

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

There're two types of bitter gourd in my neck of the woods: big and small. I think some health freaks enthusiasts buy the small ones to make juice? Ewww . . . . They look really bitter – the gourds, not the fr . . . sorry, health enthusiasts.

Bitter gourds that are really bitter have hard, narrow ridges and are darker green. The less bitter ones are relatively softer, less green, more yellow, and have wide ridges. The bitter gourds I cook are the big ones that, over the years, have become less bitter. I used to sweat them before cooking but that's not necessary now.

Three-Cup Chicken (三杯鸡)

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The most difficult part about cooking, for me, is finding good ingredients. The quality of a lot of products is really quite bad nowadays.

Some chicken is so tasteless that if you ate it blindfolded, you wouldn't know what it is. Likewise with fish that's farmed. Groundnuts, even if freshly roasted and freshly ground, may not have much aroma. Bitter gourd is barely bitter. Mangoes taste just sweet at best and smell of nothing.

When I was a kid, they had such a heady fragrance that holding one to my nose was (almost) better than eating it. So thank goodness there's basil that still smells and tastes like basil.

Taiwanese love basil. They add basil to chicken, pork, clams, prawns, omelette, soup, etc – just about everything. Three-Cup Chicken, or 三杯鸡, is one of Taiwan's 'national' dishes that uses lots of basil. Invented by the Hakkas in Taiwan, it's extremely popular in the home as well as restaurants.

Three-Cup Chicken is quite similar to Sesame Chicken (麻油鸡) since both use lots of sesame oil, wine and light soya sauce. But there're some differences too. Sesame Chicken doesn't have any 
basil; it isn't sweet or spicy; and it has a watery sauce that may be thickened with cornflour. Three-Cup Chicken, OTOH, is a bit sweet and spicy; it's quite dry when it's done because no water is added during cooking; and basil is the soul of the dish.

Let's see, anything else . . . ? Oh yes, presentation. Three-Cup Chicken is typically served in a claypot that's covered. When the cover is removed at the table, everyone gets a full whiff of the fragrance from the basil, sesame oil, rice wine . . . the whole lot. Mmm . . . .

'Three-Cup' supposedly means one cup each of rice wine, light soya sauce and sesame oil, which would make some really oily and salty chicken. Maybe people in the old days liked stronger seasoning so as to stretch the meat?

I prefer to use one cup of rice wine to 0.5 cup of light soya sauce and about 0.2 cup of sesame oil. Strictly speaking, what I make is 1.7-Cup Chicken!

But I guess 'Three-Cup' could be reinterpreted. How about one cup of chicken, one cup of basil, and . . . one cup of rice? Or if you prefer a cup of ice cold beer over rice, that would do too. In fact, why not have both and make it four cups? Three cheers for Four-Cup Chicken – 四杯鸡! Yay!

(Recipe for 4 persons)

2 chicken legs (450 g), rinsed and chopped bite-size
1½ tbsp white sesame oil
2 pieces ginger, thumb size, washed, and thinly sliced
10 cloves garlic, topped, peeled, and rinsed
2 sprigs spring onion, washed, trimmed, and cut 5-cm (2-inches) long
3 large chillis, washed and cut 2-cm (1-inch) long
6 small chilli padis, or to taste, washed and roughly chopped
½ cup rice wine (8 tbsp)
4 tbsp light soya sauce
2 tbsp sugar
1 cup Thai sweet basil (九層塔), leaves only, washed and drained well
¼ tsp black sesame oil
The chicken should be cut fairly small so that it can be coated with lots of sauce. Otherwise, it's quite tasteless because it's not marinated or braised.

Preheat a small claypot, if you have one, over medium-high heat whilst stir-frying chicken. Don't forget the cover.

In a stonking hot wok, stir-fry ginger in stonking hot sesame oil over high heat till slightly golden.

Add garlic, chillis and spring onion. Stir-fry till garlic is lightly golden and wok is stonking hot again. 

Add chicken and fry till lightly brown, stirring occasionally, and wok is stonking hot.

Drizzle with 2 tbsp rice wine. Stir till wok is stonking hot (again!) and dry, a few seconds.

Drizzle with another 2 tbsp rice wine. Repeat stirring till wok is stonking hot (!) and dry again, a few seconds.

Add light soya sauce and sugar. A few quick stirs. Add remaining rice wine. Stir to mix thoroughly.

When sauce is slightly thickened, turn off heat. Transfer to preheated claypot. Increase heat for claypot to high. Stir till chicken is coated with sauce, which should be gleaming, dark and sticky. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Add basil. Mix a bit, quickly so that basil is only a bit wilted. Drizzle with black sesame oil. Cover. Turn off heat.

Bring covered claypot to the table. Uncover when everyone's seated. They should then go 'Oooooh!' and 'Aaaaah!' Otherwise, don't cook for them again, ever.

If not using claypot, cook chicken in the wok till sauce is sticky. Stir through basil till fully wilted. Plate and drizzle with black sesame oil. Serve.

Thai Basil Chicken

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Why are fat people fat?

The finger has pointed at sugar, carbs, fat, high-fructose corn syrup, metabolic rate, genes, not having breakfast, having a heavy dinner, having a late dinner, some virus (!), fast food, packaged food, soft drinks, portion sizes, depression, boredom, childhood obesity, hormones, mixing with other fat people, lack of information, lack of education, lack of exercise, lack of will power, etc, etc.

Anything and everything under the sun that can be blamed has been.

Minced Pork & Olive Vegetables Stir-Fry

Sunday, 17 October 2010

If you're wondering what on earth "olive vegetables" are, it's olives and salted mustard greens cooked in vegetable oil till everything is a dark green mush. And what a marvelous mush it is!

The strong flavours from the olives and mustard greens meld together and mellow during the long hours of cooking, creating something that tastes like olives, but better. It's more complex, more nuanced, rounder, smoother . . . an absolute delight with plain rice porridge, straight out of the bottle. But I would say that, wouldn't I? I'm Teochew and "olive vegetables", aka 乌橄榄菜, is a Teochew specialty. It's one of our many ways of preserving vegetables.

Honestly though, I swear I'm not biased. Why would anyone eat an oily, inky black mush – since the Sung dynasty, apparently – unless it tastes really good?

15-Minute Dry Chicken Curry

Thursday, 30 September 2010

15 minutes is all it takes to make dry chicken curry. ... . . .... . . .
....... . . . . . .. .. ... . . ... . . . . . . ... . .. . . .... . .. . . . . . .

Buddha's Delight (罗汉斋)

Monday, 20 September 2010

It was my mother's birthday a few days ago. To commemorate her, I made a big pot of Buddha's delight (罗汉斋) or, if you prefer the less elegant name, chap chai (什菜). It was a dish she always made for our first breakfast of the Chinese New Year.

Chicken with Rice Wine Dregs

Thursday, 12 August 2010

I was wandering round my favourite hangout in the neighbourhood – aka supermart – when I noticed some cookbooks in the fruits and vegetables section. Instead of being tucked away in some obscure corner, they were occupying prime real estate, right under my nose.

If you want the customer to buy something, put it where he's bound to walk past, at eye-level. This is one of the oldest tricks of supermarkets.

True enough, I stood amidst the apples, oranges and Russet potatoes and started browsing the cookbooks.

Sesame Chicken

Thursday, 20 May 2010

According to my mother, my Sesame Chicken was better than hers. Which was a bit strange since, as far as I could see, we cooked the dish in exactly the same way. 'No! There's something different. Yours is much nicer,' she said.