5-Minute Cantonese Porridge (Congee)

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Forget cooking Cantonese porridge the traditional way. That takes way too long.

On the stove, simmering raw rice in lots of water or stock till it breaks down and forms a smooth, thick gruel takes 2-3 hours.

In a slow cooker, the process is an overnight job.

Chwee Kueh (水粿; Steamed Rice Cakes)

Thursday, 30 May 2013

There're several types of steamed cakes made with rice flour. If you want to learn how to make these traditional delicacies, chwee kueh would be a good start. It doesn't take long and the ingredients are cheap, so you don't waste much time or money if you fail.

The first step in making chwee kueh is mixing the batter. The main ingredient is rice flour but that alone would make a rather hard kueh. To soften it, you need to add some starch. Some people use tapioca flour; I prefer a mix of cornflour and wheat starch. Of course, the amount of water in the batter is crucial to the success of the steamed kueh. If the ratio of water to flour/starch is wrong, the steamed cake will be too hard or too soft.

Hong Kong Egg Tarts (港式蛋挞)

Monday, 15 October 2012

The best tool for flattening pastry dough isn't a rolling pin but a plate. Just place a round blob of dough between two plastic sheets, then press it evenly with a flat-bottomed plate. Peel off the top sheet of plastic, then flip the dough into a tart mould.

Soon Kueh/Turnip Dumplings (II)

Monday, 30 July 2012

Making 笋粿 is a hell of a lot of work! There, I've said it before anyone moans about soon kueh being a hell of a lot of work. Even if you have a food processor, which I don't, and you're not making a video of the whole process, which I was, all that stir-frying and rolling is still a lot of work. Are you counting? I just said "a lot of work" three times . . . make that four times.

Fried Spring Rolls (Video #135)

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Regular readers of this blog would know I made my first cooking video last week. So why is this video #135 instead of #2? Heh . . . heh . . . heh . . . . Because I'm following a Chinese custom.

In the old days far, far away in China, an abundance of male heirs to carry on the family name was considered good fortune. So much so that if someone had only one or two sons – which was tantamount to a tragedy – he'd say he had 11 or 12. IOW, it was how many he actually had, plus 10. Hence, the eldest son became #11, and the second son #12. Note that the creative accounting applied to sons only. It was perfectly alright to have only one daughter, or even none at all.

Orh Kueh/Steamed Yam Cake (I)

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Making good orh kueh starts with choosing yam that's light for its size. Lighter ones have less water, and less watery ones are nicer because they're more fluffy, powdery and fragrant.

Next, be generous when trimming the yam. The outer parts are usually waxy and tasteless, especially when the yam is a dud. I usually cut 2-3 cm off the top and bottom, and 1-2 cm off the sides.

To enhance its fragrance, the yam should be fried and then seasoned lightly with salt and five-spice powder. Don't let the yam brown or it'd be leathery.

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.
.

Suan Pan Zi (算盘子)

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Sometimes, calculators just can't compare with abaci. Calculators aren't edible, nor do they bring you wealth and good luck . . . .

Of course, you can't eat an abacus either but you can make abacus beads, aka suan pan zi (算盘子). These little discs which look like their namesake are a delicious Hakka noodle that's served stir-fried or in a soup.

SPZ come with a feature that no calculator could ever have. If you eat suan pan zi during Chinese New Year, your abacus will be click-clacking non-stop in the new year, counting the amount of money you will have! Yup, hand on heart, that's absolutely true.

Tang Yuan (湯圓)

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

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Christmas has become the second biggest festival in Singapore, next to Chinese New Year. It's very commercialized but the loss of spirituality doesn't bother me. I just join in the festive fun and food orgy. Party spirit in place of religious spirit, sort of. It's end of the year, work slows down, kids are on school holidays, and everyone's in a partying mood. Any excuse to take a break and relax is good!

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:
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Tamarind Pork
(Babi Assam)

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

Steamed Pork Ribs with Fermented Black Beans

Thursday, 15 October 2009

One of my favourite dishes is steamed pork ribs with fermented black beans, a standard item at dim sum restaurants. But I don't like ordering it when I'm on a Sunday dim sum pig-out, because I like to eat it with rice. All that savory, fragrant and umami goodness from the ribs just begs to drench a bowl of steaming white rice! But I can't have rice during a dim sum pig-out because it would take away tummy space for the other goodies, right?

*sigh . . .*

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