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..