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