Thursday, December 30, 2010

It’s a fitting feast for the holiday...

When your kids turn into teens and need to sleep late after a late night outing, especially at this end-of-the-year festive season, it’s time to transfer breakfast to a late lunch or even early dinner. Our teen friendly recipe for Barbecued Pork Tenderloin is the perfect compromise for everyone — including the cook in the family.
This recipe is so easy to do that your teen can take over as chef. Don't you love that for a change! This recipe offers up the barbecue smokiness that we all crave without the hassles of firing up a BBQ. It’s a fitting feast for the holiday, and everyone is happy.

Baked Pork Tenderloin Barbecue in Hoisin Sauce

2 Tsp cooking oil
1 Tsp salt
1 Tsp black pepper
1 kg. pork tenderloin
1 Tsp finely chopped ginger
2 Tsp Chinese rice wine
1/2 cup Hoisin sauce or barbecue sauce of choice.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
In a 12-inch skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper the tenderloin, and sear on all sides, about five minutes. Drizzle barbecue sauce over the meat. Remove the meat to a roasting pan lined with nonstick aluminum foil or plain aluminum foil coated with cooking-oil spray.
Roast for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, and let stand for 10 minutes before slicing the pork. Serve with vegetables and additional sauce, if desired.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Your holly needs a spouse to produce baby berries...

We have just returned from a long vacation to China, Malaysia and Singapore and delighted to receive a spray of holly leaves as a Christmas gift from a friend who has a tree in her garden. Not only does it takes its place as part of the floral centre-piece at the table, it offers a beautiful study of nature.Take a simple leaf and study its shape, noting not only it has always been used in stencils and sprayed on shop windows as part of a traditional Christmas decoration, the serrations on the leaves require careful handling. They are not just jagged edge, but each little spine point towards the tip of the serrations can produce a painful prick to the fingers. Nature has a special purpose in arranging them, thus they defy the approach of predatory insects. Besides, the foliage of both evergreen and deciduous holly plants can provide cover for various small mammals and birds in the garden.During storms, birds often take refuge in hollies which provide shelter and protection from predators by the spiny leaves. Holly is considered a dioecious plant, meaning that there are male and female plants. In order for your holly to produce berries , it is necessary to have both a male and female plant next to each other for pollination to occur. Those bright red holly berries together with their dark, spiky, green leaves are often used to adorn wreaths for traditional Christmas decorations. Moreover, this plant with stiff, prickly foliage, can be planted in hedgerows to create a living fence and are favoured amongst homeowners to deter trespassing or access to buildings and windows. Legend also says that a holly's sharp leaves protect against evil spirits and provide shelter to fairies. With this holly, my family and I would like to wish you and your loved ones A Merry Christmas and A Prosperous New Year.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Not only for the birds and bees... the dragonflies too.

I've just finished taking photographs of a pair of dragonflies, joined in their somewhat acrobatic act of mating, hang from a stalk of reed growing in a small fish pond that I have dug in my backyard. Like an acrobat artist, the male dragonfly clings to the reed and extends its long segmented abdomen to grasp the female just beneath the head with a pair of pincers at the tip. Held in this lovemaking position, the female reaches up to the male until the tip of her own abdomen touches the male's genital organ just behind his thorax. To witness these magnificent dragonflies performing their mating ritual in an urban environment is indeed a rare sight, especially when it's happening in my own backyard. So what’s this got to do with my backyard? It has to do with biodiversity – how different species all manage (or not) to live together in an environment. How many times have I been asked why lemon grass or chili plants will grow in the front garden but not thrive on the backyard? How many times have I been told their neighbour can grow these plants but they can’t? How many times have I been asked about the conditions that exist for a successful harvest for their exotic tropical herbs? Why do they thrive in this area but not that? It very well may be that the front garden has a sunny location that encourages chili to grow but not the other. And a slight variation in pH in the soil might account for the vigour in one plant and the lack of same in another only a few short distance away.
In short, I have been exploring to create biodiversity in my garden since reading about it a couple of years ago. It has not been an easy task, trying to embrace organic and environmentally sound gardening practices such as suffocating the weeds with mulch or manually eradicating them with my hands without entertaining the thoughts of using the time saving and convenient spray-on chemical weed killer, easily available from the store. Having said all that – it strikes me the first step is to embrace a total organic and environmentally sound gardening practices. In which, I hope to enrich the environment in my backyard and create more spaces for my plants to thrive in a small plot of land in suburbia Sydney. Wish me luck.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Did I crack the pomegranate code...

We bought a couple of wooden looking fruits from the market today. We were told by our regular fruit seller to choose fruits with the richer red colour on the skin, the richer the flavour. Also, the heavier it is for its size, the more juice and flavour. As usual, ending his final advice for me to ponder not until I get home to find out, "Look for a little cracking around the crown or stem end. That means there is so much juice inside, those tiny jewels are bursting to get out". Just in case, you are still wondering what we will be cracking when we reach home, it is the pomegranate — of which only the seeds are edible — even is mentioned several times in the Bible, and ornamental depictions of pomegranates, in Hebrew, grace the tops of many Torah scrolls.

Most Singaporeans are able to recognise this fruit in its miniature form because dwarf pomegranate are widely grown as an ornamental in pots in the gardens and almost along every corridor in the housing estates. Steeped in history and romance and almost in a class by itself, the pomegranate is one of the oldest cultivated fruit trees in the world, the pomegranate has appeared in Greek mythology and hymns dating back to the 7th century, and in Singapore it is rather commonly planted not as a fruit but instead cherished as a symbol of good fortune, as well as of fertility and prosperity. This veneration of the plants is rooted with some old Singaporean Taoists rituals in cleansing away bad luck and inauspicious events. My mother would place a pomegranate twig in a basin of water outside the threshold and one is expected to use the water on the face and arms and symbolically wash away any bad luck and ill omens before entering the house after atteding a funeral or wake. I believe this once ancient practice continues today, and maybe finding new meaning in every Taoist household.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Granny Smith is the world's oldest favorite...

It is often said that many fruits and vegetables do not taste as good as they used to. You only have to walk through a supermarket to realise what a limited range of commercial fruit varieties we have available to us. I was thumbing through old garden catalogues and amazed to find pages filled with plums, peaches, pears and apples of every variety, few of which are grown today. It is sad to think of what has been lost, but fortunately there is one variety of apple known as Granny Smith is still available. This green cooking apple is appreciated around the world, especially as a filling for apple pie. It was named after Maria Smith who, in 1880s grew the first green apple in Eastwood, a neighbouring suburb very close to us. Every year a Granny Smith Festival is organised by the Ryde City Council in spring to commemorate this local heritage. It was held last Saturday and thousands of people flood the Eastwood town centre with colour, noise. parade and food stalls to be part of the annual event. We joined in the celebration by buying a dozen of this old favourite cooking apples and make them into three apple crumble pies for dessert. To give a delightful crimson colour to the pies, we added a handful of mulberries which we have collected from our backyard.

Apple Crumble Recipe.

4 medium Granny Smith apples
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup mulberries (optional)
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup rolled oats or desiccated coconut.
3/4 cup flour
75g butter

Peel and quarter apples. Remove core and add apples into a saucepan with the water,raisins and 1/4 cup of sugar. Bring to boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer for 15 minutes until apples are slightly softened.Add in the mulberries and cook for a minute. Preheat the oven to 180 degree C. Place the cooked apples and mulberries in a baking dish. Mix together the desiccated or oats, flour, butter and remaining sugar, rubbing the ingredients together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Sprinkle over the fruit.Bake for 20 t0 30 minute or until the crumple topping is golden brown.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Does Singapore observe daylight saving times?

Singaporeans are lucky to be spared the annoying imposition of having to change all the household time pieces from the clock to the microwave oven ( except the computers which generally have automatic adjustments), twice a year because we are located almost on the equator and there is hardly any seasonal variation in the times of daylight hours. In the past this task was easy for us, with only one or two clocks in a house plus a few wrist watches, but now almost every appliance has a built-in clock that needs to be adjusted as well as clocks in cars. However, it is useful to know the many other countries change their clocks when they move from winter standard time to summer time. Especially, when you are in those countries that practice Daylight Saving Time (DST) and do not want to be caught short or miss your appointment.
Daylight Saving Time is the practice of advancing clocks one hour during the warmer months of the year and turn back an hour during the winter months.
Today is the dawning of daylight savings for another summer in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, and the Australian Capital Territory and it will end on the first Sunday in April 2011.
Daylight saving can arouse strong passions because the institution of daylight saving time impacts in a fundamental way on the manner in which people lead their lives. This in turn means that there are many people who feel strongly on the issue and are vocal in their praise or criticism of daylight saving time and there are are numerous arguments for and against. The latter include the proverbial “it makes the curtains fade faster” while country people in the Australian outback sometimes have more serious objections as farm animals take their time from the Sun and not from clocks. Knowing our passion in food, it never seems to amaze me is this one question many of our vistors from Singapore always ask about Daylight Saving Time regards the time that restaurants and bars close. In many states, liquor cannot be served after 2 a.m. But at 2 a.m. in autumn, the time switches back one hour. So, why can't they serve for that additional hour in April? The debate goes on; the utter uselessness of having to defer summer sunsets to 10 pm and beyond. But on the other side of the coin, there still enough light to read your papers in the garden from having that extra hour of early evening daylight. In the winter, we do not
need it so much since we are indoors. Of course, there are a few expanded energy costs as a result since one will be looking towards turning lights on earlier in the evening in the winter due to the lack of sunlight but that is the common tradeoff. But if you are a bit cranky in the first few days, dont worry. According to Swinburne associate professor Greg Murray, who studies circadian rhythms in mood disorders, says the days and weeks after the changeover can create sleep problems as our bodies adjust to the change in the sleep-wake rhythm.
“Daylight saving is designed primarily to save energy by shifting human behaviours more towards the light phase of the day,” he said.
“But adjusting to the switch can cause sleep disturbances.
“On top of the chronic sleep deprivation that many people suffer, this additional loss of sleep appears to cause decreased alertness, concentration and mental performance.”
The professor says some studies show the sleep loss is to blame for the apparent increase in traffic accidents and heart attacks. A final note, especially with the change of Daylight Saving Time, it's a good time to change the batteries in your smoke detectors. Changing the batteries twice a year will make sure that the detectors will be working in case there is a fire.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Is The Rocks in Sydney the original home of the Sydney Rock Oysters?

We could not help but pondered over this question by one of our interstate visitors. Honestly, we do not know whether this oyster species which is found and farmed in estuarine areas and rivers north up to Hervey Bay Queensland, from the Victoria and New South Wales border and at Albany in Western Australia has any connection with the The Rocks in Sydney. Even it has recently changed the Latin name from Saccostrea commercialis to Saccostrea glomerata, we Sydneysiders love to claim them as our own. Just imagine for a moment to combine the two together. For sure, the world is our oyster, when we are getting everything we want from some of Sydney's finest food and magical harbour views found in The Rocks and the aphrodisiacal Sydney Rock Oysters, a unique experience not to be missed-and a wonderful place for our interstate visitors to start their culinary exploration of Sydney.

The Rocks was traditionally the home of the Aboriginal Cadigal people, where members of the First Fleet stepped ashore on 26 January 1788 and British settlement of Australia was first established. Today it is Sydney's historic old town, with its precinct steeped in history where charming cobblestone laneways and historic buildings are listed on the National Heritage List by the Australian Government to list places of outstanding significance to Australia. It is a stone throw from the Sydney's two most
recognisable landmarks, Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. The Rocks extends from the harbour in the north and east, to Kent Street in the west, and Grosvenor Street in the south. We are definitely sure it will provide an entertaining walking tour for our visitors or letting them simply wander about and experience a precinct steeped in history before going to the Sydney fish Market to have our popular oysters this weekend.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Instant dinner for unexpected guests...

It was a pleasant surprise to see inter-state friends whom we haven't seen for awhile at the door, after answering the door bell. Since it was near dinner time, we insisted that they stayed for dinner with us. When dinner was served, they expressed surprise at the short time I needed to whip up a dinner while still able to have a couple of beers with them during the preparation. Of course, the revelation that I often use some commercial flavouring should come as no surprise when time is a factor. It is an open secret that chefs have been adding commercially made ingredients to perk up their food ever since monosodium glutamate (MSG), bouillon cubes and chicken powder were invented. If you use them judiciously, your family and dinner guests need never know. The trick is to use them austerely and your diners do not get a MSG hangover. Or else they'll drinking be jugs of water after the meal or worst still nursing a headache not from the wine but from the end result of consuming the MSG laden food.
Be on guard, especially with ingredients such as canned stock and bouillon cubes, they taste pretty awful on their own if used straight from the carton to make a consomme. But they can be acceptable only if they are heavily diluted and mixed with other ingredients.
As for last night dinner, I used a popular commercially prepared Tom Yum paste for this chicken dish. I added the fresh kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass to the paste and if I hadn't told anyone that the store available tom yum paste was in there, my dinner guests would never have guessed. It was well disguised by the other fresh ingredients that I had added to this distinctive Thai dish.

Fried Chicken with Tom Yum Paste Recipe:

1kg. chicken pieces.
4 tbs instant tom yum paste
1 onion thinly sliced
1 pc. lemon grass bruised and cut into 50mm length
3 pcs. kaffir lime leaves bruised.
2 tbs. oil
1 cup water.

Heat oil in a wok and add onion. Cooked onion until soft and add chicken pieces. Brown chicken and add tom yum paste together with lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves. Stir fry the chicken with paste until fragrant. Add water and cook until the chicken is cooked.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Enter The Dragon

The dragon has joined the other Australian iconic natives’ animals such as the kangaroos, wombats and koalas as their latest road signage around the State of New South Wales. Unlike the other animals, whose signs beckon drivers to slow down to prevent these animals from becoming another roadkill, the dragon bears its teeth to warn motorists that they are entering and driving through a 40kmh school zone. The triangular dragon's teeth markings are painted on each side of the road for 35 metres at the start of each school zone.
It is meant to be combined with existing school zone signs and yellow ‘40’ road patches, will further alert motorists that they are in a school zone, that children may be around and to slow down to 40km/h around schools between 8am and 9.30am and from 2.30pm till 4pm.
The reason I am blogging this is because a newly arrived Singaporean friend was fined for inadvertently speeding in the school zones. Although the new line markings - known internationally as dragon's teeth - are fairly new even to many local motorists, I do not know whether they have been introduced in Singapore.
You may ask what if you are “sway” (unfortunate / unlucky) to be caught in the act. Well, I am going to copy and paste the RTA’s penalties here. So be warned, our island home is not the only fine country on earth.

Penalties for school zones

Fine and demerit point offences in school zones include:
Speeding – fine and demerit points.
Approach children’s crossing too quickly to stop safely – fine and demerit points.
Double parking – fine and demerit points.
Stopping on or near a children’s crossing – fine and demerit points.
Use a hand-held mobile phone while driving – fine and demerit points.
School zone penalties apply to offences committed in school zones during posted school hours.

Monday, September 13, 2010

How old is the mooncake?

Although mooncakes have been displayed for sales in many Kit Ai Tiam (grocery stores) since early June, I didn't realise that the Mid Autumn Moon Festival is next week (22/09/2010) until I came across this sign at the shopping mall, yesterday. It also explains the urgency for the shopkeepers to sell their stock of mooncakes by slashing their prices up to 50% cheaper as the date draws closer. I love mooncakes and I paid a premium price to have a piece of this "once a year delicacy", when it first came out for sales three months ago. I must admit that it is like eating the Christmas pudding before Christmas. I am amazed by the varieties of mooncakes available in the shops. The Chinese community in Sydney comes from different parts of China as compared with Singaporean Chinese who are mainly of Southern China origins. Regional differences have resulted in mooncakes of various appearances, flavors and tastes being imported to cater for the different groups. Starting from the north, the traditional Beijing mooncake, like sesame cake, is very crisp. Jiangsu mooncake have many thin flakes of dough cover. And when it comes to Guangdong mooncake which are familiar to many Singaporean Chinese, it is more like a pastry with stuffing such as lotus seed, red bean, or mung bean paste and with or without salted duck egg yolks. Of course, in Singapore, mooncakes nowadays come in different flavors and sizes. There are too many variants of the mooncake to be mentioned here. Every year, new type of fillings are offered. For instance, mooncakes containing durian paste and pineapple, which were considered novelty items at their time of invention have in recent years become history. I can remember as a child growing up in Singapore, piglet shaped biscuits were also sold together with the mooncakes as a child's snack. They often come individually packaged in small bamboo weaved baskets, to symbolize piglets being bound for sale. I do not know whether these traditional biscuits are still available in Singapore. Because those bargain priced mooncake at the shops are a season old (three months is ancient in the mooncake world), my wife and I have decided to try our hands at making these moon cakes colloquially known as snowskin mooncakes" or "ice-skin mooncakes" (冰皮 or 冰皮月餅) at home from a recipe sent by her aunt from Singapore.

Snowskin Mooncake Recipe:

150 gm fried glutinous rice flour
200gm icing sugar
65gm shortening
1/2 cup cold water.
500gm filling of your choice. (we use red bean paste)
1. Sieve glutinous flour and icing sugar.
2. Add shortening
3. Add water. Mix well to form soft dough. Set aside for 30 minutes
4. Divide dough into portions of 30 gm each.
5. Flatten dough to wrap up 60 gm of filling
6. Seal up and press into floured mould.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

I can’t tell the difference between the knee and the elbow when LCD and LED TVs are concerned.

Our old TV has finally died and although I know it’s time to get one of those fancy new high-definition digital and 3D televisions I’ve been hearing so much about lately, I haven’t really gone to shop for one as yet because I am at a loss. It is not so much a demise of our equipment that had dutifully delivered us so many years of some of our favourite TV programs including our morning and evening news in the family room, but I’ve don’t know quite how to replace it. Sure, we have decided we want the best that’s out there and have decided on an LED TV. We’re all set to get our new LED TV but don’t know quite where to start. To be honest, I lack the basic technical know-how with most electrical goods and can’t tell the difference between the knee and the elbow when LCD and LED TVs are concerned.
The main reason I have been spending some time on the Internets to do some homework before going to the shop is that I do not want to look like a goose in front of the salesperson at the showroom, asking the wrong questions. To better understand LED TVs, I have done some googling to look at the basic technology behind most LCD TVs. Of course, even the basic is rocket science to me. It took me the whole morning on the Internets just to learn an LCD TV is basically a grid setup in front of a light. To the savvy, the grid of course is divided into pixels and each pixel has its red, green, and blue sub-pixels. What is a pixel? I shouted this question across the room to my son. “Look up on the Internets, Dad” was his nonchalant reply. Now, I need not have to explain further, why I have to spend the whole morning on the Internets doing my LED homework. I have also learned that in order to allow light to pass through the screen a physical gate is opened allowing light to pass through. The degree to which the gate is opened will determine the intensity of the colour and by varying how far the red gate is opened relative to the blue and green gates will produce virtually any colour. As if that is not enough to add further confusion and make matter worst for me, not all LED TVs are created equal. Most LED TVs really aren’t true LED TVs, rather, they use LED backlighting. Most LCD TVs on the market today use CCFL lighting, similar to fluorescent lighting for your room. The downside to CCFL is the light is always on when the TV is on.
In our fast-paced world of technology, what I have just learned may become obsolete in a short time. I better hurry to the shop before I turned myself into a goose.

Friday, September 3, 2010

How to turn Pumpkin into Gold Nuggets

My wife and I had completely forgotten about a big pumpkin that we had bought from the market two months ago until it was discovered again when we were spring cleaning the storage under the house. To our surprise, it looked the same as the day we purchased it from the market except it looked a shade darker and lighter. We couldn't wait to cut it open to see whether it was still okay and edible. That's where my trouble begun. What to do with these two big halves of pumpkin? Since I had chopped the pumpkin into halves out of curiosity and could not perform the Mother Goose story of Cinderella, in which the fairy godmother turned a pumpkin into a carriage, but it later reverted to a whole pumpkin again, I had to cook them quickly. Well, I suppose pumpkin being a very versatile vegie, I can roast it, mash it, steam it and turn it into soup or scones and have a happy fairy tale ending. I did better. I turned them into golden Sesame Pumpkin Nuggets.

Golden Sesame Pumpkin Nuggets Recipe:
500 g pumpkin
21/2 cup glutinous rice powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup sesame seeds
300 g red bean paste
1 litre cooking oil

Peel pumpkin and cut into 1cm slices; steam for 20 minute until tender. Mash the cooked pumpkin and add sugar and glutinous rice powder. Mix and knead into a smooth dough. Roll into a long 30mm thick roll. Flatten
dough on the palm into 50 mm round circle and form a dimple in the centre. Place a ball of red bean paste in the centre and gather edges around the filling. Roll into oblong shape and then roll in sesame seeds. Heat oil for deep frying. Add the sesame coated rolls and deep- fry over medium heat for about 3 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and drain.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It's Spring and it's Wattle Day!

It's the first of September and heralds the start of spring in Australia. It's also Wattle Day in Australia and we all know, of course, that the golden wattle is Australia's national flower. Although the golden wattle has had enjoyed a popular acceptance as Australia's national flower for much of last century but it was not proclaimed as the national floral emblem until 1988, the year which Australia celebrated it's bicentenary. Golden wattle occurs naturally in the southern Eyre Peninsula of South Australia, western Victoria and southern inland areas of New South Wales. It can be argued that the main criterion for choosing golden wattle as the floral emblem is based on its natural occurrence in the Australian Capital Territory. Notwithstanding that its other desirable features included horticultural merit and design potential, both in naturalistic and stylised representations are well taken into consideration for the award. If you are in Sydney you can usually see the wattles in bloom at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney from as early as end of July.

Although spring is in the air, Sydneysiders have been warned to prepare themselves for a hotter than average spring according to a Weatherzone meteorologist, Brett Dutschke, who was reported saying in a newspaper two weeks ago. "Most of spring will be warmer than normal this year, with more than the usual number of very hot days and [We] can get 35 degree days in spring no worries,'' he said.
Today is also very special for my wife and me. It's our wedding anniversary. Another year just swept by and it has added another year to our anniversary again.

To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still.
William Shakespeare

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Peppercorn is still legal tender in Sydney Market...

The unexpected early winter frost had not only created havoc to our herb garden but also caused us to make frequent trips to the fresh produces market. Last weekend, we bee-dived to our favourite vegetables stall as we were running late. We managed to get there before the stall owner packed up to go home. To our surprise, he had set aside a kilo bag of fresh peppercorns and literally given to us for free. He simply added a dollar to the our total payment of the other items we have bought from the stall. "Isn't that a classic peppercorn payment" I told him. We thanked him and he jokingly brushed it away by saying " I can't sell them fresh next weekend and furthermore, I do not know how to use them in my cooking". "Neither do I but I'll plant them instead" I said in reply and walking away with a thought of what am I going to do with it. Although, peppercorn is found in most kitchen and is the most commonest spice used in cooking, it may be hard to believe it was once so valuable that it was used as currency.
I have not seen fresh peppercorn until now. My first priority is to learn how to grow them in my herb garden although conventional wisdom suggests that the best black peppercorns are the Malabar pepper hailing from India’s Malabar Coast which I can easily buy from the local spice shop is a better bet than germinating these berries. I know this plant only thrive in tropical climates and for those who live in colder climates, peppercorn plant does well when grown in containers moved inside during the cold months. I have inevitably taken the challenge to look after these plants and hopefully guarding them against any future winter frost and keeping you posted in the process.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Australian Chinese Beef / Chicken with Black Bean Sauce

Everybody loves this classic Australian Chinese recipe, and it works very well with any meat, especially when some meats will be considered taboo simply because they are outside the range of the generally accepted definition of a foodstuff, not necessarily because the meat is considered repulsive in flavor, aroma, texture or appearance. Like many older Singaporean Taoists, my mother had never eaten or cooked beef in her lifetime. She even discouraged us from the eating beef, although it is not considered taboo, she refrained from beef, because she felt that it was wrong to eat an animal that was so useful in rice growing.With her conviction, beef had been replaced with chicken in her cooking. Instead of beef rendung , we had chicken rendung at home. We did the same thing when we had to cook for a guest who shares the the same religious belief as my mother. We had chicken with black bean sauce instead of beef.

Beef / Chicken with Black Bean Sauce.


2 chicken breast or 500g fillet beef steak
1 red capsicum
1 green capsicum
1 large carrot
3 sticks celery
11/2 tablespoon of salted black beans
2 cloves of garlic finely chopped.
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour
4 tablespoon oil
2 chicken stock cubes
11/2 tablespoon light soya sauce
2 tablespoon dry sherry

Slice chicken or beef steak into 5mm thick. Combine with sherry, soya sauce and cornflour and mix well. Stand aside for 30 minutes. Soak salted black beans with water for about 5 minutes, drain and rinse with running water. Mesh drained salted black beans with sugar into a paste. Prepare and cut vegetables into strips. Heat wok and add oil, add vegetables and stir fry over high heat for 2 minutes. Remove vegetables form wok. Heat wok and add 2 tablespoon of oil, add black bean paste and garlic. Fry until fragrant and add meat and cook until browned. Add marinate and cook for another minute. Return vegetables to wok and mix well. Blend 1 teaspoon of cornflour with water, add to the beef and vegetables. Cook until the mixture thickens. Serve with rice.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Ever the twain shall meet.....

At times, even as a Singaporean, who comes from a multi cultural and racial upbringing, catering a makan (meal) session for a mixed group of guests from different cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs can require a lot of extra effort. That's what we found out recently when we had a gathering of friends of different nationalities and beliefs at our place.
When you are an omnivore like me, someone who has meat in their diet, you may often not realize that you are in fact cooking with animal products, because you don't think that way since animal products are not restricted from your diet or religious belief. There are some things that your guest may not feel comfortable eating. The best way to find out exactly what your dinner guest does not eat is to ask them. When you cook with animal products sometimes it isn't always clear. However, you can save a lot of work by making similar dishes for the group - a vegetarian version and a meat version. I simply started by cooking the vegetarian first and making sure it is enough to be divided into two portions. Once the vegetarian version is prepared and dished out, add in the non-vegetarian ingredients(e.g meat, prawns) for the non vegetarian version. Here are some vegetarian dishes that lend themselves easily to meat versions for your vegetarian guests without much fuss and effort. We were complimented and praised for the time and effort we put in but felt embarrassed by the fact that we only spent half the time and effort.

Vegetarian Version
Singapore Noodles (Fried Bean Curd)
Ma Po Tofu ( Chopped Salted Radish [Chai Poh] )
Stir-fried Vegetables in Black Beans Sauce

Non Vegetarian Version
Singapore Noodles (Fried Bean Curd)
Ma Po Tofu ( Chopped Salted Radish [Chai Poh] )
Stir-fried Vegetables in Black Beans Sauce

Monday, August 9, 2010

Homemade Kong Bak Pau Wrapper Recipe

Last weekend's lunch was the second dish for my 115 Dishes Heritage Food's personal cooking challenge. Although it has 115 dishes to choose from, my family decided on the Kong Bak Pau because I have never cook it before. Being a proud home cook, I always believe that I have been able to make pau that are at least good as the ones I bought from the kopi taims in Singapore and I have been able to duplicate most dishes I have had in food courts to the many great restaurants during my balek kampung, but making pau is a conundrum I found last weekend. The photo shows my poor attempt to make the wrapper for my kong bak pau recipe. I may be disappointed with the final result but it only heightens my respect for the traditional artisan pau makers who entail many years of practice to achieve perfection and usually far more superior to supermarket paus.

Kong Bak Pau Wrapper Recipe:
6 cups of flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp yeast (15 g)
2 Tbsp cooking oil
2 cups tepid water

Dissolve sugar in warm water, add yeast and let the liquid to proof for ten minutes. Sift flour and add cooking oil and pour the liquid and mix together. Bring the mixture together to form sticky soft dough. Knead dough into a ball. Turn the dough out onto a board or table with extra flour and knead. At this point the dough will be sticky, adding more flour if necessary. Knead dough until smooth and elastic but strong and it should resist your fingers when you press them into it and bounce back. Place dough in a large bowl and cover tightly with a plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a warm place for about 3 hours or until it has doubled or tripled in bulk. When the dough has doubled in volume, bring the sides of the dough to the centre and knead gently into a ball. Roll to a long roll and cut into 24 pieces. Flatten each piece of dough to a 2 inches circle on your palm of your hand and brush the surface lightly with cooking oil. Fold into half and lightly press the half circle with finger so that it tapers toward the edge so the edges are thinner than the middle. Place them on damp cloth in a bamboo steamer at least 1/2 inch apart. Steam for 5 minutes over high heat. Remove and set aside to cool.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Was Grandma a founding member of the Green Party?

When I was growing up, even a grain of rice left uneaten will bring a reprimand or a threat my mother that I will be married to an 'ugly' wife if I didn't leave behind a clean rice bowl after a meal. Did I take the threat seriously? Of course I did. The fact that I am married to my beautiful wife is the testamentary proof.
Does this threat work on a modern child? It did work for awhile when our son was young and believed that Santa Claus lived in North Pole. But not for long, when he was in kindy, he reckoned that he had the dumbest parents in the world to believe such a threat from his grandmother. Today, he still thinks his grandmother was a clever person and very much ahead of her time to dished out such a threat for her environmental conviction. We can't win, can we? We should have threatened him with climate change, carbon footprint getting bigger and the uncontrollable greenhouse gas emissions from a start. Well, it was too late, anyway it was nice to think that we did pass the same message to him when he was still writing to Santa in North Pole for his Christmas presents.
I do not wish upon the threat of "marrying ugly spouses" on those who have half eaten food left on the table whether at the food court, restaurant or home. But I do believe the best thing that can happen to food is that it makes it to our plates and is enjoyed. Although the vast majority of us already think throwing away good food is a dreadful waste, but do we really think about the serious environmental implications that go with it. Just think about all the energy, water and packaging used in food production, transportation, storage and food preparation before it arrives on your plate. This all goes to waste when we throw away perfectly good food. We may be asking ourselves, why does so much food that could have been eaten get thrown away? The only reason I can think of is "cooking or preparing too much" and serving too much rice or food and it gets left on the plate or "not using food in time" - for example having to throw out fruit and vegetables because they have gone off in the fruit bowl on the table or crisper in the fridge, or not eating food before it goes past its use-by date.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Traditional Taro Soup

Taro is considered the daily staple food in many Pacific Island countries including Papua New Guinea, whereas it is only commonly eaten during feast days in Singapore( festival of the hungry ghosts and the mid- autumn moon festival). The type favoured in Singaporean cuisine produces smaller tubers up to tennis ball size, which are often barrel shaped or roundish and the skin is purplish brown to brown and the flesh white. Whereas, the Polynesians, Micronesians and Melanesians prefer the more massive variety whose tubers are more often shaped like pawpaw or papaya, and their yellowy skin scrapes pink.
During my stay in Papua New Guinea, I have found that taro is both a common and prestigious food item, due to its importance as ceremonial presentations on communal events and occasions such as weddings, funerals, etc. The leaves of the taro plant are also featured prominently in West New Britain Provinces cooking, especially as cooked taro leaf has the consistency of cooked spinach for dishes such as Lakainai mumu. The Lakalai mumu traditionally contains pork, fish, and garden greens (pumpkin leaves and taro leaves). The tuber itself is also prepared in various methods including baking, steaming in earth ovens. In the Chinese cuisine, taro is used in a variety of styles, mainly as a flavor and texture enhancing ingredient. It is commonly braised with pork or beef with preserved bean curbs in home cooking. It is used in the yam chai or dim sum cuisine in Australia to make a small plated dish called taro dumpling, as well as a popular pan-fried dish called taro cake (woo tau ko) found in most food courts in Singapore. Today, I am posting my mother's popular taro soup. It is a combination of a creamy soup with prawns and Chinese mushroom, together with the soft intact texture of cooked taro, makes this recipe an all time favourite in the family.

Taro Soup Recipe:


600g taro, cubed
180g dried Chinese shitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water and shredded finely.
250g fresh prawns shelled and deveined. Use 150g Dried Prawns (hey bee/ har mine) for authentic taste.
3 cloves of garlic minced.
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp sesame oil /cooking oil
1 liter stock
1 pc. coriander
1pc spring onion sliced.


Heat the oil in the pan, and stir in garlic. Stir fry until fragrant. Put in the cubed taro and fry until slightly browned
2. Add stock and boil for 20 to 30 minutes at medium heat, stirring occasionally.
3. When the taro is soft, drain and divide into 2 portions. Keep the boiled soup.
3. Pour the one potion of boiled taro with the soup into a food processor or blender and process until it reaches the creamy consistency.
5. Heat one tablespoon of sesame oil in a pot and add fresh prawns (if using dried prawns, fry until fragrant), soaked and shredded Chinese mushrooms. Fry the prawns until its colour changed and pour the creamed taro soup into the pot. Add the other portion of cooked taro cubes into the soup and bring to a boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
6. Sprinkle with the coriander and spring onion and serve.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cantonese pig trotters braised with black vinegar and ginger

Browsing through the photo gallery of the recent Singapore Food Festival's Heritage Feast, which offered 5 different Chinese dialect buffets and 115 dishes to those lucky Singaporeans at home, I couldn't help but salivate at the flavourful Hokkien Kong Bak Pau (braised pork belly served in bun) to Cantonese pig trotters braised with black vinegar and ginger. At the same time thinking aloud to my wife, who was browsing at the photos with me, "wouldn't it be nice if I could only duplicate some of our heritage dishes at home". Before I could finish my thought, my wife seized the opportunity and said " you"ll be the chef and I'll be the food taster", as if cooking the weekend family meals have already been delegated to me from now on . One hundred and fifteen dishes menu is a tall order and making these popular dishes into a reality at our dinner table is definitely a real challenge for next 115 weekends.

Cantonese pig trotters braised with black vinegar and ginger:


2 pig’s trotters cut into serving pieces (get your butcher to do it).
500ml black vinegar
500ml water
500g ginger, cleaned and smashed lightly
300g rock sugar ( if unavailable use brown sugar)
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
Salt to taste


Blanch trotter pieces in boiling water for 3 minutes. Remove and drain to dry. Heat wok and add rock sugar and stir around until it is caramelised. Add blanched trotters to wok and coat well with caramel and cook for 3 minutes. Turn the heat off and set trotters aside. In a heavy sauce pan, heat sesame oil and fry ginger till golden brown and aromatic. Add the black vinegar, water and bring to a boil. Add the trotters and simmer till it is soft and tender.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

MasterChef Final versus Federal Election Debate

Just in case you haven't noticed, cooking is is as hot as the stove right now. It has been predicted that the the final MasterChef, a popular reality TV cooking show is going to overshadow the election debate between the first women Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. The original time slot has been rescheduled so that it does not coincide with each other.The only leaders' debate scheduled for the federal election campaign has been brought forward and shortened to avoid clashing with the rating bursting show. Call it clever marketing strategy or a new social phenomenon, if you will. But why an important election debate between two leaders is threatened by a estimated audience of four millions viewers tuning to a channel to watch who wins the reality TV show on a Sunday night. Is it because the debate is likened to a puff of hot air? Or because the contest of ideas between Julia and Tony is a leftover of their predecessors. Hmm.. maybe somewhat stale. Whereas the food-oriented game show has gone all out its way to nourish the dream, in both contestants and us of being able to be a MasterChef regardless of their backgrounds. Of the many people who successfully auditioned for this show, different professionals from lawyer to pharmaceutical scientist were among the finals, who went through the series of cooking challenges, pressure test and eliminations. What is it about at this time we live in that has so many of us trying our hands at cooking?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Simple food, simply prepared, can be the best to eat

You can blame squarely on our inherited cultural psyche of kiasuism for hospitality that there's always the temptation if you're entertaining, go out of your way and buy the most expensive produce available. I must admit that it is difficult not to feel that way. It doesn't have to be that way. As an experiment in entertaining on a tight budget, I have invited four families to my home for a potluck party this weekend but with a twist - each family is asked to bring a dish that served four to six and mustn't cost more than $10-$15, along with a wine that cost $10 or less. I will post the outcome of the potluck dinner party and the "bring a plate" recipes in the coming weeks. Since my philosophy is simple food, simply prepared, can be the best to eat I am going to shop around for some low cost ingredients and boost it with some flavour that will appeal to friends and family as my contribution. Maybe you can contribute your recipe to help.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Drying your invisible washing in the balconies is soon legally allowed in NSW.

As an Overseas Singaporean living in an ever changing world and so is my extended family. Recently a Swiss has been added beside the Malaysian, Australian, American, Indonesian, Thai and English as relatives; they are mainly related to me through their marriages into my extended family. I often bear the blunt of a joke of being from a "fine" country at family gatherings. I know that we Singaporeans get fined for everything, but do you know that there are three states in Australia - NSW, Queensland and Western Australia restrict putting washing on a balcony to dry. For once, I laugh last. We are not the only fine country to have silly fines, after all.
An article's headline in this morning weekend papers said that the NSW state government is proceeding with environment-friendly strata regulations to allow residents to hang their washing outside. The article stated that the Department of Fair Trading in NSW has proposed a change to strata by-law which prohibit washing from being hung on anything except designed clotheslines without the permission of the owners corporation - a measure many believe has contributed to high use of greenhouse gas producing clothes dryer. Equally interesting is that if approved next month , the proposal will allow apartment residents to dry their washing on the balconies, provided it is "not visible from the street". The new laws allow an occupier to hang washing that will be visible from street level only with written permission approval of the owners' corporation.
Trying to balance environmental concerns with fears the aesthetics of a building would be diminished by laundry hanging outside with a culture that sees it as messy or a blemish on the landscape would be tough act to follow. Surely that kind of culture needs to be transformed.

I grew up in a terrace house in Singapore. My mother washed our clothes by hand with the help of a washing board and hung them out to dry on bamboo poles in the inner courtyard or the backlane (aw bouy hung). I never really saw a dryer until I was in my mid twenties when I came to Brisbane. We have a ten year old dryer which looks as new as it came off its packaging. It is right there in our renovated laundry room and very convenient to use. Now even we are in mid winter, we hate to say that we use our clothes dryer far less often than we should. Still, my past forces me to examine my rationalizations for using our dryer. Didn't my mother hand washed our clothes and hang the laundry out everything in the open to dry. She didn't even have the luxury of a washing machine.She didn't use softener for the final rinse but starch instead. And, as a kid, I thought the greatest thing was to watch the clothes came in baked stiff from the hot tropical sun that our school uniforms would stand up by themselves. And on those rainy days, the laundry hung in the bathroom and kitchen to drip dry but not without a stern warning from mother that we were to wear our school uniform for a week if we continued to play in the puddles in the unsealed lorongs (lanes) to and from school. Sorry for the side track and mumbling but burning coals in the power house to run a dryer while the sun is shining just doesn't make sense. Here is my 5 cents worth:
1 Cent. Clothes last longer.
2 Cent. Clothes and sheets smell fresher
3 Cent. Save energy, thus preventing pollution.
4 Cent. Save money.
5 Cent. You get some exercise and fresh air outside.

Friday, July 16, 2010

What do Singapore have in common with Hong Kong?

The answer is - we both have a sweet tooth but called it differently. We called it cheng tng and they called it tong sui. Tong Sui, the Cantonese variety of sweet dessert hails from the cities of Hong Kong, Macau and Guangzhou in southern China. Literally translated, it means sugar water. The local populace simply love them just as Singaporeans love their cheng tng desserts. There are often shops or stalls which devote themselves just to selling different types of Tong sui desserts, may remind some of the cheng tng stalls found in nearly every food court in Singapore. Like our cheng tng stalls which offer a great variety of hot or cold sweet soup such as red bean, tau suan, sweet potatoes and the traditional gown bee tng or five flavours, soup made with dried longans, barley, ginkgo nuts, lotus seeds. Tong sui is a collective term for any sweet, warm soup or custard served as a dessert such as sesame soup, peanut, walnut with rice dumplings and my favourite dan tan ( double boiled egg custard).

Double-Boiled Egg Custard Recipe


1 cup hot water
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup sugar
6 eggs


Empty the sugar into a bowl and dissolve sugar with hot water to make a syrup. Set aside to cool.
Break eggs in a mixing bowl and beat eggs lightly. Whisk in the cool syrup and evaporated milk. Strain the egg mixture through a fine sieve into rice bowl or cups. Bring mixture to steam for 15 – 20 minutes.
Serve warm with sweet red beans.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How to chase away the homesick blues with Hokkien Prawn Noodles.

Shorter daylight and cold weather can make a new arrival from bright and sunny Singapore feel homesick. And what is the quickest way and easiest way to ease the gloom? When this happens, you need an ingestion of comfort food that gives the warm fuzzing feeling of home. There are two options. Firstly, you can go to the nearest food courts in the CBD or its surrounding suburbs where large ethnic groups live and congregate. Perhaps you may be able to find something similar to Singapore's hawker fare. You will be pleasantly surprised by its authenticity and originality of the dishes provided by the various ethnic groups as a meal.
Roast pork and char siew in Sydney, I reckon are very good, arguably even better than Hong Kong since many of their best chefs moved to Sydney in the 1990s and just before the British hand over Hong Kong back to China. Following the infamous students upheaval at Tienanmen, the nothern Chinese flavours including Shanghainese and Beijingnese were given a boost from the influx of Chinese migrants in their unique "food districts" scattered around the greater Sydney. Unfortunately, we do not have the numbers in Sydney to stake "a little red dot" to call our own. Take our Singapore food here in Sydney- it's the same old tedious same old Malaysian-Singaporean food - apart from a handful of exceptions serve roti prata and new Asian fusion food.
Surely, there must be room in our eat streets for a few real Singaporean ethnic kopi tiam (cafes) or restaurants, eateries that cater for people who like, say Bak Kut Teh or Prawns Hokkien Mee, Mee Rebus or Indian rojak.

I tried to duplicate Hokkien Prawn Noodles last weekend at home. It would have been a hard act to follow especially everyone knows how this popular hawker food should taste like, but thanks to the "sng kam"(calamansi lime), we have salvaged from the recent frost. It is "okay lah" after a squeeze of the indispensable sng kam on the noodles saves my pride of being the masterchef at home.

Hokkien Prawns Noodles Recipe

500 gm Hokkien Noodles
500 gm thick nee hoon (rice vermicelli), soaked in warm water for 10-12 minutes and drained.
5 eggs
1/4 cup minced garlic
500 gm prawns (parboiled)
250 gm belly pork (parboiled)
250 gm squid(parboiled)
250 gm bean sprouts
100 gm Chinese chive (ku chai)
1/2 cup light soya sauce
2 1/2 cup prawn stock.
6 calamansi (sng kam)

The trade secret for this dish is to have a good prawn stock. Start by shelling the prawns but keep the tails intact. Collect the prawn shells and heads for the stock. To make prawn stock, pour about 4 Lt of water in a stockpot. When the water come to a boil, put the belly pork to cook for 5 minute and drain parboiled belly pork, put aside to cool for slicing into strips. Next put in the cleaned squid and take it out once it turns white in colour. cool and sliced into rings. Do the same with the prawns, it shouldn't take more than a minute in the boiling water. Put in 1 kg of pork bones boiling water and keep boiling at medium heat. In the meantime, heat a tbsp of oil in a wok to fry the prawn shells and heads until fragrant about 8 minutes. Add the fried prawn shells and head to pot. Simmer stock for an hour.
To fry the noodles, heat wok and add oil and saute the garlic until fragrant about 1 minute. Break egg and spread the egg around to cook about 1 minute. Add soaked bee hoon and 2 ladle of stock into the wok and fry until bee hoon absorb the stock. Add hokkien noodles and fry for a minute and add 4 ladles of stock, cover with a lid and let simmer for 3 minutes. Remove the lid and add remaining ingredients except the sng kam and season to taste. Fry for a minute and add another ladle of stock. Dish up your Hokkien Prawn Noodles, served with the sng kam and sambal blachan or cut chillies

Saturday, July 10, 2010

How to make Hospital Corner bed just like Army boys.

Nobody loves a pushup, right? They're practically a hallmark of every basic-training Army scene farmiliar to every male Singaporean ever since the mandatory National Service started. Usually performed by a bunch new army recruits laboring under a brutal corporal and in a cold dark morning as part of the 5BX (exercise routines to muscle up scrawny 18 year old in a time set period of 3 months) or as a collateral punishment as a platoon when someone struck out his right leg at the start of a march in Enche's (Sargent Major) sacred parade square. Aside from their other newly learned strange traits of being new recruits, they soon able to stomach five roti pratas at one sitting when allowed to signed out for their first home visit and drinking themselves silly at parties, army boys (national service conscripts) make the best bed because they know how to make hospital corners like the nurses. While many may argue there are other far more important things to learn in this mandatory national obligation and life might seem far too short for this sort of trivial household chore, there are fewer things as pleasing and inviting as a well-made bed.

How to make a Hospital Corner of a Sheet

1. Take corner of sheet between thumb and
finger and draw around corner of the mattress.
2. At the same time, slip other hand under side edge of sheet and draw upward into a diagonal fold.
3. Lay this fold up over the mattress.
4. Now turn under mattress the part of sheet left hanging.
5. Drop upper fold and tuck in under mattress. This makes a box like corner.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Honey, I have strunk the cabbages...

These miniature cabbages are definitely not the result of the recent cold snaps that hit Sydney and its rural areas or those delicate handcrafted ceramic souvenirs you buy in Bangkok. These perfect miniature versions of cabbage known as Brussels sprouts come as no surprise to many, since they are closely related and both belong to the Brassica family of vegetables that include cabbage, collard greens, broccoli, kale, and kohlrabi. Unlike the leafy warm-climate Asian vegetables like choy sum, bok choy and ong choy which are susceptible to the slighltest frost, the Brussels sprouts love the cold. Without exception, they need a cold, frosty winter to grow and flourish. These quintessentially winter vegetables are tastiest after a good stiff frost. Although the sprouts look and taste like cabbages but they don't grow like a cabbage. They are buds which form like a spiral staircase up a central stalk of the plant. The stalk grows to about a metre high and the sprouts maturing over several weeks from the lower to the upper part of the stalk.
My son is not a great fan of the Brussels sprouts because he still remembers the sulfurous odour of the overcooked sprouts we mixed into his rice porridge and given to him when he was a baby. The odor is the reason many people profess to dislike Brussels sprouts, if they've only tried them overcooked with the accompanying sulfurous taste and smell. Generally 6–7 minutes boiled or steamed is enough to cook them thoroughly, without overcooking and releasing the sinigrin. When buying Brussels sprouts, choose those which are firm, compact and vivid green. They should be free of yellowed or wilted leaves and should not be puffy or soft in texture.Finally choose those of equal size to ensure that they will cook evenly. Before cooking, we usually cut a cross in center of the stem or cut the sprouts into halves, this aid the penetration of the steam or to allow the heat to permeate throughout the sprout while cooking.
Perfectly cooked Brussels sprouts have a crisp, dense texture and a slightly sweet, bright and "green" taste, which we find to be a good substitute and immensely compatible with my mother in law's karabu recipe.

Brussels Sprouts Karabu Recipe:

500 gm Brussels sprouts
5 pcs shallots or one small red onion (thinly sliced)
2 Tbsp kerisik (toasted grated coconut)

Dressing Sauce:

2 Tbsp sambal belachan
50g dried prawn, soaked and pound
1/4 cup lime juice
11/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt.

Before washing Brussels sprouts, remove stems and any yellow or discolored leaves. Bring a pot of water to boil and put in the Brussels sprouts. Cook sprouts for 5 minutes and empty them into a colander. Rinse the sprouts under cold running water to prevent further cooking. Halve or quarter the sprouts. Mix the lime juice into the dressing ingredient and stir until the sugar dissolves. Toss the Brussels sprouts, sliced onion and toasted coconut in a salad bowl. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Double jeopardy for my daun kaduk and laksa leaves

With Sydney recording its coldest June morning since 1949 when temperatures dived to 4.3 degrees and the cold snap has terminally ravaged my collection of exotic tropical plants and herbs in the backyard. I begin to understand why farmers are always at the mercy of the weather. It is too late to blame myself for not bringing those precious herbs and plants (daun kaduk, turmeric, laksa leaves) indoor earlier. I have also learned, it is worth knowing a bit about how they grow and where they originally came from with their geographically origins as well as between species, so that you can extend the growing possibilities and provide adatation even where you live is outside geographical regions. It is so easy to overlook the climatic needs of these tropical plants and if you ignore its needs and not providing the conditions that suit them, you are likely to be disappointed like me.
In the meantime, I have salvaged the frost damaged daun kaduk and the laksa leaves by freezing them for future culinary use in the deep freezer.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Have a nICE day, mate.

A white blanket of frost cloaked my car when I went to pick up the morning papers in the driveway this morning. The overnight temperature must have dipped to a couple of degree below zero, while everyone was in bed. I shivered through its coldest dawn in nearly thirty years as the weatherman confirmed in the early morning TV news. The popular ski resort town Thredbo in the Snowy Mountain and Cooma at its foot has dipped to minus nine degrees, while Armidale registered minus eight degrees and Glen Innes was seven degrees below zero in the early hours of the morning.
''There were pretty widespread frosts out to Dubbo and even as far as Cobar,'' said a Bureau of Meteorology forecaster, Jake Phillips.The frost must have created a freezing havoc on the fruits and vegetables gardens on the fringes of western Sydney, overnight temperatures dipped to a decidedly brisk minus two. '
Frost is becoming a challenge for some fruit growers west of the Blue Mountains, while the cold snap hit rural area, it will probably lead to a price hike in fruits and vegetables this week.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Has The Price of Ginger In Sydney Been Inflated by the Baby Bonus?

I can't help but to think the inflated price of ginger at $29.90 per kilo in Sydney is related to the historic baby bonus legislation that was passed through Parliament on 17th June 2010. From next year parents will be eligible to receive $570 a week, about $15 an hour, in parental leave after the birth of a child. Expectant mums must earn no more than $150,000 a year to qualify and work at least 330 hours in 10 of the 13 months before their due date. Families will have the option of signing the benefit over to stay-at-home dads if mothers want to return to work. The parental leave will not affect workplace maternity leave, but families who recieve the government's paid leave will not be eligible for the Baby Bonus payment.
Ginger has always been an indispensable ingredient in Chinese cooking especially when it comes to observing the month-long of diet restrictions by many traditional Chinese mothers, following child birth. For many Singaporean Chinese, the first 30 days after child birth is called the 'confinement period'. It is believed to be a crucial time where the new mother is to stay at home and avoid going out so as to minimise the exposure of any infection that may be harmful to the newborn or the nursing mother. Apart from being a preventive measure against infection, certain ingredients used in the special diet during the confinement period is also intended to help boost the body for milk production. There are variations in the type of food and the cooking among the different dialect groups. However, the main ingredients and herbs used are ginger, wine and black vinegar. So much so that the Cantonese and Hakkas distribute "ginger & vinegar" to friends and relatives to announce the arrival of their new addition to their family.
Fresh ginger can be found year round in the produce section of most grocery stores. Available in in two forms: young and mature and also a mark difference in their price. Young roots, also called green or spring ginger, has a pale, thin skin that requires no peeling, is very tender and has a milder flavor. It can be grated, chopped, or julienned for use. Mature ginger root is hotter and more fibroush and has a tough skin that must be peeled away to get to the fibrous flesh and is usually grated, chopped or ground for use.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Prawns on Toast is Hatosi in Cantonese

We made this Chinese takeaway favourite at home for a 'bring a plate party" last Sunday. Prawns on toast or hatosi ( 蝦多士), a loan word borrowed from English meaning prawns toast is a common appetizer in Australian Chinese finger food at parties. Many Chinese restaurants and takeaway shops especially in country towns in Australia serve this dish. Some also serve a variant made with minced prawns and water chestnut and sesame seeds, then cooked by baking or deep frying. I kept the prawns whole, just to keep the succulent texture of the green king prawns and also to reduces preparation time.

Prawns on Toast Recipe.
1 kg green king prawns
2 eggs
5 tbsp cornflour or potato flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
10 slices of sandwich bread
3 cups oil for frying
a small bunch of parsley leaves.

Shell prawns, leaving the tails intact. Cut down back of prawn with a sharp knife and remove back vein. Flatten prawn by pressing gently on the board. Combine beaten eggs with cornflour, salt and pepper and add prawns. Mix and coat well and leave to marinate for 10 minutes. Remove crusts from bread and cut the the bread in half. Put one prawn of each piece of bread, gently pressing prawn onto the bread and apply a little of the cornflour mixture to adhere a parsley leave onto the prawn. Heat oil in wok and gently slide the prawns into the hot oil. Cook only until bread is golden and prawn cooked through. Drain well and place prawns of toast on paper towel. Serve hot with sweet chili sauce.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Are n't we lucky to find Kao Luck in Sydney Market.

Mention kao luck (chestnut) and most Singaporeans think of bak chung (rice dumpling) or hawkers roasting and selling their chestnuts on the street corners, the delicious scent permeating the air with the aroma and memory of the sweet and velvety taste of this popular end of the year treat.When I was a child it was very easy to find the hawkers with their wooden carts parked in the street corners, working hard with a big shovel to stir the chestnuts with blacken gravels in the wok.Once again it's the time of year in Sydney where chestnuts are easily available especially in the Asian grocery stores. Although, a lot of imported Chinese ready-to-eat roasted chestnuts which are packed in plastic packs are sold in the Asian grocery stores, I simply love the freshly harvested chestnuts and having them roasted at home.When you purchase chestnuts, be sure to look for glossy, firm and lovely nuts. They should feel heavy for their size. If they feel light, then they are not fresh and are drying out.Prior to cooking you must slit the skin of the chestnut to avoid exploding during cooking. Using a sharp paring knife, cut a small 'X' on the flat side of a chestnut. Cut just deep enough to get through the outer skin and the pellicle (inner skin). Roast in a hot oven 200°C (400°F) for 20 minutes until they feel soft. Better still, cook chestnuts over a brazier or open fire, or you could put them over a gas flame until they begin to pop and the outer husk becomes slightly burnt.

If you plan to use your chestnuts as a bak chung filling or pork/chicken stew recipes, you can boil them. Using a paring knife, remove the outer shell. Place shelled chestnuts into a pot with the hot water in order to remove the pellicle that most likely did not come off with the shell. This is the inevitable and necessary labour intensive part of the process. Without removing the membrane, it leaves a bitter or astringent taste.If the water has cooled, bring the water again to the boil and remove from the hot water and place in tea towel. Peel away the pellicle while still quite hot. Now they are ready for cooking.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

How to make Chinese Meat Jerky alias Bak Kwa

Just the thought of Bak Kwa makes many overseas Singaporeans salivate and think of the smoky sweet and savory popular snack originated from Fujian (Hokkien) province in southern China, commonly made from pork, but also with beef and halal chicken in Malaysia. The texture and flavour of bak kwa is quite different from the strips of meat jerky you find in Australia, the United States and elsewhere.While the meat jerky found in Austalia is super desiccated and chewy, bak kwa is pliable, slightly moist and sweet savoury in taste. The best bak kwa, I was told by a friend, who is related to one of the popular bak kwa chains in Singapore, is traditionally made by slicing the thin slices of meat along the grain, which are then marinated in soya sauce, maltose, rice wine and other seasonings. The meat is air-dried to remove much of its moisture, then charcoal grilled. No wonder it is so expensive because the moisture lost through the processing means you end up with about a third of the amount there was at the start of the process. Last week was my first attempt to make bak kwa at home with pork mince - a less expensive version. I was pleased with the result and and due to popular demand, I am making some more this weekend. My son has found that it is delicious in sandwiches made with soft bread spread with a little butter, for his school lunch.

Bak Kwa Recipe

1 kg minced pork
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1 tsp 5-spice powder
1/2 tsp licorice powder
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp soya sauce
2 tbsp cooking wine
1 cup sugar

Mix minced pork with seasoning in a big bowl. Cover the mixture with a cling wrap and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight. Spread the meat on non-stick baking paper thinly with the back of a spoon. Cover the mixture with another piece of another piece of non -stick baking paper and use a roller to roll the mixture to 2 mm thick. Bake in preheated oven at 160 degree Celsius for 20-30 minutes or until mixture is about 70 % dry and slightly moist and firm to touch. Remove the meat mixture and cut into 100 mm x 100 mm squares. Grill each square under over a barbecue 1 1/2 minute on each side, until slightly brown or bake under a grill until brown.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Is Muar Chi alias to Botamochi and Gyung Dan?

We didn't know that this simple glutinous rice balls dessert has a string of aliases attached to its name until after it was served to our dinner guests, last night. We learnt from our guests that it is called ohagi or botamochi in Japanese, gyung dan in Korean and ginataan in Filipino. I stumbled for a moment to relate this favourite desert of our guests, until my wife prompted me with a clue that its closest relative has the same name as a coastal town in the state Johore. Of course it is known as Muar Chi (麻芝), how could I ever forget this childhood favourite snack! The chewiness accompanied with the natural sweetness of sweet rice flour and with the crunchiness of the toasted peanuts make muar chi a tasty and popular snack in Singapore. In my childhood days, the muar chi vendor would slice a piece and snip away with a pair of scissors into bite size pieces in a round metal tray of grounded toasted peanuts.Over these he sprinkles some toasted sesame seeds and yew chang (fried shallots). But the Japanese and the Korean prefer a dry coatings such as sesame seeds, roasted soybean powder, and cinnamon sugar cling readily to its surface.

To make the Glutinous Rice Balls:

1 cup of glutinous rice powder.
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup boiling water
1 cup grounded toasted peanuts
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1/2 cup caster sugar
In a bowl combine the glutinous rice powder and salt and mix well. Add the hot water slowly and knead into a smooth dough. Roll into a long roll and divide into 16 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball with the help of your palms. Heat 6 cup of water until boiling; add the rice balls and cook until they rise to the surface of the water. Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain. Roll the rice balls in the grounded and toasted peanut, sesame seeds and caster sugar mixture..

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Your hands are a tool in the kitchen too.

Walk into any modern kitchen, chances are you’ll be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of gadgets and machines at the ready to chop, dice, mix, press and knead. Sadly to say, we have become so mechanized in the kitchen that we tend to overlook the use of our hands. Our grandparents and parent frequently relied on their experienced hands for preparing dishes and even measuring the the amount of ingredient with their bare fingers.
Basically the reason why we can't cook like them is because we have forgotten that our hands are a tool. Your hands will tell you something your eyes can’t, and feeling something tells you the most possible information.You have to do it by feel and you can only tell that with your hands. That’s especially true when it comes to making puff dough, which loses its buttery, flaky texture if overworked by a whirring food processor. I grew up in a kitchen where there was no electrical machines or gadgets. My mother insisted on making all her pastries by hand, including the tiny sweet "kok chye" she made herself during Chinese New year for her family and relatives.To watch her prepare dough was to understand the simplicity of it but also the practice needed to turn out consistently her famous curry puff.

I can still remember how she would quickly use two knives to cut the lard into the flour. But once she added the ice water, her hands were the only instruments in the bowl as she converted the loose mixture into a solid mass until there are no longer any bits of flour clinging to the bottom of the mixing bowl. "You don’t want to knead it any more than that because you do not overly handle the pastry " she cautioned. Because cooking by hand was second nature for her, she sometimes found it difficult to put them into words the tactile sensation of preparing a dish that way. This explained the reason why mum would only say " I can't tell you why but this is how I do it with my hands".
So why not get back to basics and give it a try at home? Ultimately, it’s not the specific recipe that yields that perfectly tender biscuit or flaky pie crust, but the technique of using your hands as a tool.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Singaporean Table Manners and Tableware

There are few sights more intriguing to those born and reared in Singapore than the sight of someone eating rice with a knife and fork rather than scooping them up from a spoon. Different cultures observe different rules for table manners. Many table manners evolved out of practicality. For example, knives and forks, however, although common in Western countries, did not catch on in Singapore, perhaps as is the case in East Asian countries, Singaporean food is usually served in sizes suitable for picking up by chopsticks or fork and spoon. As a rule, every individual has his or her own chopsticks and a rice bowl or a set of fork and spoon(minus the knife) with a dinner plate at the table. An extra set of chopsticks or spoon is used to serve food from a communal food dish to each individual plate. The individual's bowl containing food is handheld and lifted close to the mouth, to which the food is delivered with chopsticks. While eating soup, it is not considered bad manners to make a slurping sound in Eastern Asian cultures; it is a major faux pas in the West.

Like many Singaporean families, each family sets its own standards for how strictly these rules of table manners are to be enforced, I am pretty sure we all shared the same threat from our grandparents when were young that leaving uneaten grains of rice in the bowl would eventuate marrying a pock-faced spouse.The moral of the threat as we know, is not to waste food. Of course, we continued to use this threat to our son when he was young, not so much on the wastage of the few grains of rice but rather it made the dishwashing easier.Beside finishing his meal with a clean rice bowl we also insisted that he addresses all of the elder members at the table before starting, perhaps telling them to please "eat rice" as a signal to help themselves, as part of the Confucian value of respecting his seniors, in which we are still trying to instil on him.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sweet Taro and Ginkgo Dessert (Orr Nee, 芋泥 /白果 )

While this traditional Teochew dessert called Orr Nee Pek Qwee ( 芋泥 白果 -Sweet Taro with Ginkgo Nut) originated from Gua Mah's recipe often requires somewhat rare and expensive ingredients and time consuming preparation, I managed to make the dessert last weekend. A friend had recently given us a kilo bag of ginkgo nuts collected from the ground of an old garden. It was unequivocally clear to us that such a rare find reserved a good treat. Although ginkgo are now easy available in the Asian grocery stores around Sydney, they are sold dried, frozen or canned. However, the fresh nuts are seasonal and not easy to find in their fresh form. I was told that the spongy outer covering of the ginkgo fruit was extremely odoriferous and luckily it was removed before the nuts were given to me. I was only left to cracked the nut case with a nutcracker; for the inner skin, I dropped the shelled nuts into hot water on the stove for a few minutes to loosen skins, then rub skins away (in the water) with my fingers when it was still warm. Ginkgo nuts are particularly esteemed in East Asian countries and are used in traditional Chinese food and they are believed to have health benefits. The Japanese cooks add Ginkgo nuts (called ginnan) to a popular steamed egg dish called chawanmushi.
Ginkgo nuts have a slight bitter taste and to overcome the bitterness, I candied the ginkgo to be used for this dessert. Here is how you candied the ginko nuts;

Candied Ginkgo Nuts Recipe:

In a saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to boil. Add the ginkgo nuts and cook over a medium heat for 15 minutes. Drain away the water and rinse a few times in cold water ( this helps to remove the bitterness) Drain in a colander and set aside. Combine 1 cup of sugar and 2 cups of water in a saucepan and bring to boil. Decrease the heat to medium low and add the ginkgo nuts. Simmer for 30 minute or until the ginkgo nut are cooked and caramelised into a shiny golden colour. At this point, the ginkgo nuts will have absorbed most of the syrup. Be careful not to burn. Set aside to cool and to be used as garnish for the sweet taro dessert.

Recipe: Sweet Taro and Ginkgo Dessert (Orr Nee, 芋泥 /白果 )


1kg taro
1/2 cup cooking oil or margerine( original recipe calls for lard)
1/4 cup of sugar
1 cup candied ginkgo

Peel taro and slice into thin pieces. Steam taro until tender. Put taro in a deep bowl and set aside to cool. Mashed taro with a potatoe masher until smooth. Press the mashed taro through a sieve with a spoon and discard any fiberous taro left in the sieve. Heat oil in a deep sauce pan. Add mashed taro and stir until oil and taro are blended. Gradually add 6 cups of water into the taro misture and continue to stir and cook for 20 minutes over low heat until thick. Add sugar and stir for another couple of minute. Serve warm with candied ginkgo topping.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Oats Porridge with Meatballs

Say the word “Quaker Oats ” and chances are, images of recuperation after an illness during of your childhood come to mind – when Mom served steaming bowls of the oatmeal porridge at the bedside to whet up your appetite and coaching you to eat up the last spoonful of this nutritious porridge to bring back your health. But it has changed for me, since coming to live in a country where the night time temperature may drop to single digit during winter. Instead, images of cold winter mornings come to mind – steaming bowls of the breakfast cereal topped with cinnamon, honey and cream. The image is cozy, and the dish is, too, but it's so limiting for such a versatile and tasty grain. Not only are oats compatible with sweet flavors such as fruits, cinnamon, brown sugar and maple syrup or honey. They are also compatible with savory foods and flavors such as chicken, fish and prawns. You can add texture to your soups with a bit of oats, especially the heartier, steel-cut variety. Furthermore, when you're making bread or other fruited breads, pull out this sweet mixture of oats, cinnamon and brown sugar and sprinkle a bit on top for extra flavor and crunch. Or try cooking it in chicken porridge ( kai chok) or pork porridge (chi yoke chok) instead of using rice. Hey, come to think of it, why not try a bowl savoury minced pork oatmeal on a cold morning instead?

Pork Oatmeal Porridge Recipe: Serve 6

3 cups of rolled oats
6 cups of water
500g minced pork
I egg
2 tbsp. cornflour
2 spring onion finely chopped
2 tsp soya sauce
2 tsp sesame oil

Conbine in bowl minced pork, egg chopped spring onion. corn flour, soya sauce and sesame oil. Place one tablespoon of mixture onto centre of palm and roll to form meatball. Place meatball on a plate and put it aside. In a saucepan add 7 cups of water and 2 3 cups of rolled oats. Let stand for 10 minutes. Bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes stirring occasionally. Add meatballs into boiling porridge and cook for another 10 minutes. Season to taste. Enjoy.