Monday, July 27, 2009

To Every Season There is a Reason

George Musser an editor at Scientific American magazine wrote, " there are two kinds of people: Those who enjoy the ebb and flow of the seasons, the dapples of autumnal color, the hoary headed frosts of winter, the flowers anew of spring, the live murmur of a summer's day. And those who don't find anything romantic in blinding snowstorms, ice-covered roads, or gangrenous frostbite; who would just as soon go south in the winter, and stay there". I definitely belong to the first group so much so that I am living my dream even in my waking hours, of thinking and planning to build a mud brick house for retirement in Tasmania,where the four seasons are most distinct in Australia. But the four seasons of the temperate climates don't mean much to people who live in the tropics, where two seasons are more common: the rainy season and the dry season. In Singapore,the year long summer is only divided into two seasons: the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season runs from November to February in which the North East Monsoon brings forth the annual floods to the Eastern states of the Peninsular of Malaya. Like most Singaporean, I didn't know how much the annual seasonal cycle is imprinted on everything I do until I left to live in a temperate place. The seasons tell me the time to plant my chili in my backyard and the time to reap, the time to bring out my winter clothes and the time to have a BBQ in the veranda.
I also learned to eat seasonally. Buying mangoes in middle of winter or asparagus in the heat of summer is not a good idea on so many different reasons. Not only has this food been flown half way round the country but such produce was probably harvested early to withstand the rigours of transportation. You"ll pay top dollar for an out-of season item that is less fresh and nutritive. Therefore I only buy when the fruits or food items are in season and thus cheap. Just like the box of navel oranges for $10.00 and bag of onions for $6.50. we paid at last weekend-market. We are known to glut on mangoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner when they are in abundance during the summer months. When the season is over, you will probably be sick of them anyway. Then it'll be time to move on to the next seasonal food that's at its peak nutritionally and at its cheapest in the market again.
To be continued...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Homebrew Chinese Rice Wine aka ang chow, ang chew recipe.

Chinese rice wine is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented glutinous rice and in general has a wide colour variations from an old port or dry Sherry to the clarity of a Japanese sake. But I've had a few requests for a homebrewed Chinese red rice wine recipe, commonly know as 'ang chiew',or ang chow in most Southern Chinese dialects. I do not know whether it is illegal to brew your own wine in Singapore but it is an opened secret among the older folks that this homebrew can be easily purchased from openly known moonshiners and stocked up in the pantry in preparation for the arrival of a child. It has always played a major role in the "confinement diet" of new mother, when it comes to the observation of the month long period of restrictions and food following the birth of a newborn. It is perhaps the oldest alcoholic beverage and hailed from generation to generation among the Chinese Singaporeans, so there's little that can be said with absolute authority to doubt the goodness of this home brew red rice wine. The only thing that always holds true with this home brew with my family is that it is simply delicious with my mother-in law's "ang chow mee sua" (Chinese red wine with chicken and wheat noodle). Many Singaporeans tend to associate ang chew with the vivid red colour they impart to the chicken noodle soup. I am sure that the red colour which is considered lucky to the Chinese, has made angchew mee sua a popular dish for the Chinese Year or birthday celebrations. But in my family, we'll find an excuse to have this delicious dish, anytime.

I don't have a set in stone recipe for my ang chow recipe, but I have to rely on my memory to retrieve the recipe my late mother-in-law left me. Since I was asked for one, I'll give it a shot, in my usual 'can do' fashion with cooking. I have only started this homebrew a week ago and would like to share my first attempt to moonshine this homemade samsu ( illegal brew) with you. Wish
me luck.


1.1kg glutinous rice
2. Two pieces of wine yeast cake (chew pia)
3. 90g red rice yeast "ang kark" (Monascus Purpureus),
4. 500cc. Boiled cool water.

Preparation :

Soak Glutinous rice for at least 8 hours. Drain and then steam the rice over a bamboo steamer lined with a piece of cheese cloth over boiling water for at least 30 minute or until rice is cooked. Spread the rice out on a tray and allow to cool for 3 hours. Blend ang-kark and chew pia together until powdery in a electric grinder.
Set aside a bowl for mixing the glutinous rice with the blended dry ingredients. Mix a generous amount of glutinous rice with some red powder ( blended ingredients ). Continue mixing till all are used up.
Store in a cool dark place for example, in your store room .One week later from the first day, pour the fermented ang chow into the white cloth bag allowing wine to filter through. And let ferment for as long as 2 months. When ready, dish out all the rice wine storing it in another clean bottle.
Tips: The wine yeast and the red rice yeast (monascus purpureus) can be purchased from many Asian grocery stores around Sydney.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Nothing is quite synonymic as Preserved Kumquat is to Kuala Lumpur.

As a child growing up in Singapore, I could tell someone had just visited or came from Kuala Lumpur. The answer lies on the box of preserved kumquats. Nearly every Malaysian town is associated with a fruit or foodstuff or sometimes both, as compulsory souvenirs for visitors to bring home. Just as Penang is famous for it's nutmeg and shrimp paste (hae ko) and Malacca for it's chinchalok, nothing is quite synonymic as preserved kumquat is to Kuala Lumpur. It was customary and mandatory to a point, to bring home all the souvenirs from the towns you had visited and to be distributed amongst your family and neighbours. But most of all to announce to everyone that you had just came back from a 7 days coach holiday to the Malayan Peninsula. Although travelling by coach was a popular and cheap way of having a week long holiday to Malaya in those days, it was totally a different experience when I boarded a for one-way trip from Singapore to KL on my recent visit. You will see not more than 16 seats on the luxurious Super VIP coach as compared to those standard express bus with a capacity of up to 40 passengers in the past.The spacious seat can be reclined back 75 degrees, just like a plane seat! They even have a LCD panel in front of each seat provides movies and music videos entertainment - the level of comfort and service even outweigh the one-cent air-fare offered by budget airlines.

Even though, kumquat plants are popular traditional decoration during the Chinese New Year season, as they are a symbol of prosperity for the coming year. I didn't know fresh kumquats are eaten whole, candied, pickled, and used to make relishes, preserves and marmalade until I came to Australia. I have a kumquat plant in my garden but it didn't yield enough fruits for me to preserve them until now. I have harvested about 50 fruits and have rung our former neighbour who is now living in a retirement village for a recipe on how to preserve them.


500g kumquats
2 cups sugar
1 cup boiling water


Use a knife to cut a slit at both sides of the kumquat. Add the sugar to the boiling water at medium-high heat and keep stirring. Turn the heat down to low, cover and simmer for 10 - 15 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved. 3. Add the fruit. Simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until the kumquat is tender. Place the kumquat in sealed jars and refrigerate.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How to raise Phoenix from its ashes ...

Whenever we have visitors from Japan or England, we would insist that they try the yummy dish of "phoenix feet" at our favourite dim sum restaurant. It always present a surprise to our visitors when the bamboo container's lid is lifted to reveal the dish of chicken feet. Well, last weekend, I decided that if I could cook this dish at home. I did a good job of of raising the phoenix from its ashes but my wife was not impressed with the splatter of oil on the splashback and the floor of the kitchen.

Spicy Chicken Feet aka Phoenix Feet Recipe:
2kg of chicken feet
4 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine
4 cups of water
2 spring onions
4 cloves of garlic
4 pieces of star anise
4 slices of ginger
2tbsp of black bean paste
3 cloves garlic
2 tsp sugar
Dash of sesame oil

First clean your (chicken) feet and clip their nails. Dry them thoroughly.
Deep fry chicken feet until golden brown. Be very careful with the oil splatter when the chicken is lower into the oil. Drain them well from the oil.
Prepare your stewing sauce. To begin, smash the garlic and ginger, chop the spring onions into 2 inch lengths, then combine all the ingredients into a pot and bring to a simmer. You can save the liquid for weeks and stew just about any kind of meat (or eggs!) in it. It gets better as you use it more.
Put the chicken feet into the stewing sauce and simmer for 45 minutes. Alternatively you can pressure cook them for 15 minutes - this will give a stronger flavor. Drain the chicken feet from the stewing sauce.
To prepare the glazing sauce for the chicken feet. Mince the garlic and chilies. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a wok to high heat, and add the garlic and chilies, cook until fragrant. Add the black bean paste. Stir it so that it starts to get really really fragrant. Add the wine, sugar, soy, water and sesame oil, stir. You have just raise the phoenix from its ashes.

Monday, July 13, 2009

You may be eating Offal in your favourite meat pie...but in kueh chap, you get what you see...

I am pretty sure that many senior Singaporeans won't bat an eyelid to see fresh offal display for sale at the butcher shop or grimaced at the sight of cooked offal at the hawkers stalls. But last Saturday, I was surprised that I was able to purchase pig intestines and pig stomachs from an Asian butcher shop in Sydney. It was a rare buy indeed. Unless you can read Chinese ( I later found out that it was written in black brushstroke calligraphy on the oblong slip of paper pasted on the wall) or speak the butcher's northern Chinese dialect, the offal are not on display with the prime cuts like fillet, chop or loin at the counter. They are hidden in the the cold room as if they are an embarrassment and not fit for human consumption. It isn't always easy to find brains, hearts, trotters and tails, either, as supermarkets rarely sell them, it they do the offal is normally displayed next to the pet food.
Although many Australian not knowingly consumed offal in meat pies or in ethnic dishes (tim sum's chicken feet, tripe in black bean sauce). It was not until 2003 that food regulations have lifted the prohibition of offal in the meat standard, which had previously specifically banned things such as snout, genital organs, lips, lungs and scalp. These may now be added to foods, but must be named specifically in the ingredients list (not just as "offal"). Thus allowing meat pies to contain snouts, ears, tongue roots, tendons and blood vessels without specific labelling. The commercial pie makers may be doing for profit margin but what they have done is not new. The art of charcuterie in France and salami-making in Italy ingeniously preserves the less-promising bits of the pig and traditionally to tide families over the leaner winter months.
In Singapore, pig's organ soup (ter hwang kiam chai) and kueh chap are common features of hawker centres. The former comes in clear a clear broth and consist of congealed pig blood, big and small intestines, stomach, and lungs with the preserved vegetables (kiam chye). Where as the latter is cooked in soya sauce and served as a topping for a rice noodle squares (kueh chap). Offal is not only a hawker fare, many fine nonya dishes also include them. One of my favourites is my mother's nonya tu kua kean (pork liver roll). made from thin strips of pig offal (mainly liver) prawns, minced pork, herbs wrapped in pig's caul. I will post this family recipe as soon as I can get the pig's caul. In the meantime, I am going to share with you the spicy rice sausage recipe that our grandparents enjoyed but many of us have now forgotten.

Spicy Rice Sausage Recipe:

500g pig intestine
500g glutinous rice (soaked for at least 6 hours)
4 cloves minced garlic
50g dried shrimp soften with water)
1tsp salt
2tbsp soya sauce
1tsp sugar
1tsp chicken powder
1tsp 5-spice powder
1tsp sesame oil
1/2 pepper powder
11/2 cup water

Rub intestine with salt and vinegar; and knead again and again until mucus and bad odor are removed. Rinse with cold water. repeat 3-5 times and drain. Heat pan and add 4 tbsp of oil. Stir fry garlic until fragrant, add glutinous rice and add remaining ingredients. Stir fry together with rice until dry. Tie off one end of intestine and attached a funnel to other end and gather the intestine on funnel tube . Stuff casing with rice filling and tie off every 15cm. Place sausage in a stock-pot and cover with water. Cook over medium heat for 40 minute, drain and serve with sweet dark soya sauce (kecap manis) and or sweet chilli sauce.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Chinese Dumpling aka Potstickers Recipe

Today, cuisine from all over the world can be found in Singapore, including Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, and other international tastes. Eating in Singapore is an exciting and rich experience from the Fast food chains to the latest Japanese restaurants in the housing estates around the island, and are rising in popularity due to convenience and their family oriented style. To many Singaporeans, having sushi or sabu sabu in the Japanese restaurant and the Korean tabletop BBQ have become casual everyday fare. However, how many of us know how to duplicate and cook these food in our home kitchen without paying restaurant prices. The thought of preparing and cooking these popular restaurant dishes at home may be daunting with their parade of unfamiliar ingredients, but the actual cooking technique is relatively simple and easy. Besides tabletop butane burners, electric skillets specifically for these cooking are also easily available in most Asian stores. We bought our electric skillet in Tokyo twenty years ago, and we have been using it for our tabletop cookings and BBQs ever since. Last Saturday, we used it to cook pan-fried Chinese dumplings, also known as jiaozi (Mandarin), gau gee or gow gee (Cantonese) or gyoza (Japanese). Although it can be cooked as boiled jiaozi. I still prefer them pan-fried otherwise known as potstickers.

Chinese Dumpling aka Potstickers Recipe:


500g ground pork
500g prawns deveined, coarsely minced
4 large napa cabbage leaves, minced
3 stalks green onions, minced
7 shitake mushrooms, minced (if dried - soaked with water until soften and rinsed)
1/4 cup ginger root, minced
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp corn starch


2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup warm water
flour for work surface

dipping sauce:

2 parts soy sauce
1 part vinegar (red wine or black)
a few drops of sesame oil
chili finely chopped
minced ginger
minced garlic
minced green onion
sugar (optional)

Combine all filling ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Make the dough, In a large bowl mix flour with 1/4 cup of water and stir until water is absorbed. Continue adding water one teaspoon at a time and mixing thoroughly until dough pulls away from sides of bowl. We want a firm dough that is barely sticky to the touch. Knead the dough about 15 minutes or until the dough becomes smooth and elastic then cover with a damp towel for 15 minutes. Cut into strips about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. Shape the strips into rounded long cylinders. On a floured surface, cut the strips into 3/4 inch pieces. Press palm down on each piece to form a flat circle (you can shape the corners in with your fingers). With a rolling pin, roll out a circular wrapper. Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of each wrapper and fold the dough in half, pleating the edges along one side.
Place dumplings in a frying pan or skillet with 2-3 tbsp of vegetable oil. Heat on high and fry for a few minutes until bottoms are golden. Add 1/2 cup water and cover. Cook until the water has boiled away and then uncover and reduce heat to medium or medium low. Let the dumplings cook for another 2 minutes then remove from heat and serve.
To serve: Serve dumplings or potstickers hot with dipping sauce combinations.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Steamboat aka "juan lor" is perfect for winter in July

Whenever steamboat is mentioned, the first thing that comes into the minds of most Singaporeans is the reunion dinner with loved ones on Chinese New Year's Eve. It is a traditional thing for many of us to do, Besides, it has passed through many generations and been enjoyed along the way under very different climatic condition. Most likely our forebears enjoyed their steamboat in natural wintry condition whereas it was only until recently, that air conditioning relieves us from this sweat-drenching traditional practice in tropical Singapore. Although Sydney has a mild winter as compared with our compatriots living in the Scandinavian countries, it can still be freezing cold to some of our new arrivals from home. But there is no better way to beat the chill than around a table, with friends and family, tucking into the best winter has to offer. The best thing you can say about the winter season, is that it is good eating weather especially for steamboat or hotpots dinner. I can still remember the steamboat is always served in a 'juan lor', a charcoal fired hot pot made of brass, nickel or silver. This cooking vessel resembles a brass incense burner on a cone shaped base with a chimney at the centre.Today in many modern households, the traditional charcoal-heated steamboat or hot pot is made of aluminum or stainless steel, and uses a gas or electric source of heat. Not much cooking is involved in this scrumptious dish. Simply placed the steamboat in the centre of the dining table. While the stock is gently boiling, placed the meat, seafood and vegetable in the pot and cooked at the table. The cooked food is usually eaten with a dipping sauce of chopped chilli and garlic in a mixture of soya sauce and malt vinegar. One of the most flavourful vegetables and closely associated with this dish is the chrysanthemum greens aka tong hao in Chinese (茼蒿), shungiku (春菊) or kikuna (菊菜) in Japanese.

5oog Chinese Cabbage cut into 50mm strips
500g Chrysanthemum Greens (tong hao in Chinese (茼蒿), shungiku (春菊) or kikuna (菊菜) in Japanese)
500g prawns shelled, deveined
200g squid, cleaned and sliced
250g firm tofu cut into 25mm cubes
150g oyster mushroom or shitake mushroom
500g lean beef tenderloin or chicken thigh fillet
250g fish balls
3 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste.
Shortly before serving, add the stock in the steamboat and bring it to a boil. Add half of the vegetables except the Chrysanthemum greens (tong hao) since it easily loses its structure when overcooked. Place half the chicken or meat and also add the fish balls except the squids and prawns. With a large spoon, gently stir the boiling stock. Boil gently for 3 minutes before adding the squids and prawns and cook until the prawns and squid changes its colour. Add the chrysanthemum greens cover and cook for 30 seconds or until they turn bright green. Serve with dipping sauce of vinegar with soya and chili sauce.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Turn the pan juices into gravy for your roast.

Do not throw the pan juices away. Turn them into gravy for your roast.This traditional gravy can be easily made while the roast is resting. Pour the pan juices from the baking dish into a sauce pan but leave 2 tablespoons behind in the dish. Place the dish on the stove top on medium heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of flour into the dish and stir with a spatula until the flour is well browned. Removed from heat and gradually add back the previously removed pan juices (remove some of the fat beforehand) In addition, add either water or beef or chicken stock, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and 2 tablespoon of red wine, enough to make 2 cups. Return to heat, stir until gravy mixture boils and thickens. Season the gravy with salt and pepper, to taste.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Curry Powder Update

Isn't wonderful that Nonya Vin aka Bibik Modern of Florida is pleased with her homemade curry powder from a recipe wrought from its 'agak agak' (crude measurement) in kati and tael. Please do write in to share your recipes and cooking tips before some of these 'family secret' recipes slipped beyond the realm of recall.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Mrs Otley's Pork with Apple, Walnut and Prune Stuffing Recipe.

As the days grow short and cold, the heat radiating from an oven in the kitchen has a special appeal. Believe me, winter is a great time to spend in the kitchen. That's when we use the oven a lot in our cooking. Besides, winter food is always wonderful and comforting. It's the season for Western roast meat and vegetables, warm gratins, steaming Chinese double boiled soups and the rich Itatlian creamy risottos all come into their own in the cooler months. Coming from a tropical country where it has only summer throughout the year we have adapted well to colder climate changes and with the different types of food available to us. Here is the recipe of our last Sunday roast which I have inherited from Mrs Otley whom I met in the plane, on the way to Brisbane, 36 years ago.
Pork With Apple, Walnut and Prune Stuffing.
1 green apple chopped
1/2 cup walnut chopped
1/3 cup pitted prunes chopped
2 table spoon brandy or dry sherry
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2kg deboned pork loin
olive oil and salt rub into pork

Preheat oven to 240 degree C. To make the stuffing, combine the apple, walnut, prune, brandy and parsley. Lay the pork loin on a board with the skin underneath. Spread the stuffing evenly along the meat side of the loin. Roll up and string at regular intervals. If some of the stuffing falls out while tying, just push it back in. Score the pork skin with a sharp knife at 1 cm interval and rub salt and oil liberously into it into it. Place on a rack ion a baking tray and bake at high heat 240 degree C or Gas 9. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce to moderate heat 180 degree C. Bake for 1 1/2 - 2 hrs or until the pork is cooked. The juice will run clear when a skewer is inserted into the pork. Stand for 15 minute before removing the string and carving. Reserve the pan juices for making the gravy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cooking for one

If you're like most Singaporeans, you're not interested in making a habit out of meal planning and preparation. And honestly you don't have to. The simple reason is: you can easily get food within walking distance and available 24/7. These days, it is not surprising that most Singaporean are not used to cooking for themselves. Cooking can present a special challenge for a few people, when they are living abroad and suddently find food is not as easily available as if like turning on a tap at home.Unless you are motivated to cook and eat healthier food at home, you probably lived on takeaways. The challenge is how do you eat a varied, healthy diet without relying on the takeaways. And the answer to the challenge is to learn some basic economical cooking. Economical cooking for yourself calls for careful planning so that you do not have tons of leftovers and having to throw away food. But what about number of meals? Portion sizes? Freezing factors? Large versus small portion purchase? It can all boil down to frugality.

What has worked well for us is to double the portion of what we cook but divide it into two smaller portions after it is cooked. Eat one right away and wrap and freeze the other (well labeled, of course). In that way you have already cooked for lunch or dinner for another day. Think about cooking once and eating twice whenever you are cooking. In order that the energy or fuel for cooking is not wasted, we carefully plan our meal, for example, if roasting our meat, we try to cook a pudding or cake at the same time so that the oven is fully used. Or have a 2-3 hours cooking session, which should give us food for two ar three days and thus save us time, trouble and fuel. Furthermore, you may just be able not to cook everyday in the kitchen, if you are really efficient!