Sunday, February 28, 2010

Chicken Curry with Baguettes (Chiam Tow Loti)

Although picnic is not a popular activity for most Singaporeans, I was delighted when a couple of families came to join their Singaporean compatriots for a picnic lunch at the Bicentennial Park in Sydney Olympic Park, today. I do not know the exact reason why picnic has lost its popularity as a weekend pastime back home but one of the most likely reasons could be directed and blamed on the numerous air conditioned shopping malls and shopping complexes found in Singapore. Without a doubt, shopping and eating out in air condition comfort have become a favourite weekend family outing for most.

One of the most memorable picnic spots in Singapore that stand out in my mind is Changi Point. It has indeed casted a magical spell upon me. My childhood memories of picnics, fun and games and camping on the beach during those long school holidays were created right there amongst sandy beach, Malay kampung trails and the bridge across the creek. (The bridge is still there when I balek kampung last December). To this day, there is something special about having picnics and eating outdoors, whether it is having a barbecue in my own backyard or traveling some distance with my family and together with a picnic basket to eat our lunch beside a babbling creek under a shady Casuarina tree.

My childhood memories of picnic food often included mum's curry chicken with baguettes(Chiam Tow Loti / Roti Perancis)

Chicken Curry(Kari Ayam)Recipe:

1kg. Chichen cut into pieces
400 ml Coconut milk.
1/2 cup Cooking oil
Ingredients to be finely grounded.
350 gm shallots (abt 25pcs)
10g 2 cloves garlic
50g 2 stalks Lemongrass (serai)
10g 3 Candlenuts (buah keras)
20 g Galangal (3 slices)
10 g (1 cm )Tumeric
20 g Ginger (3 slices)
20g Dried Chillies (soaked)
20g Belachan (toasted)
2 tbsp Corriander seeds(ketumbar)
1 tbsp Cumin (jintan puteh)
1 tbsp Fennel (jintan manis)
2 pc Kaffir lime leaves (shredded)
1tbsp salt, or to taste

Heat oil to saute the shallots and spices until fragrant. Add chicken pieces and cook for 5-7 minutes over medium heat. Add coconut milk and kaffir leaves. Simmer until chicken is tender and gravy become slightly thick. Serve with rice or bread.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How to Cook and Steam a Caponised Chicken for the Emperor Ti Kong

I doubt if anyone today is able to buy a capon in Singapore. I am cocky sure that many young Singaporeans even know what a capon is. Well, I'll save you the trouble to google for it. A capon is a castrated rooster or is known in Hokkien as "Yam Kay" (阉鸡) which the bird's testes are completely removed by a surgical procedure. As a result of this procedure, it changes the way in which their meat matures.Caponized roosters grow more slowly than normal roosters and accumulate more body fat. They also tend to taste less gamy, because they do not develop sex hormones, which can impact the flavor of the flesh. The meat of uncastrated cockerels tends to become rather coarse, stringy, and tough as the birds age. This is not the case with capons as they have more tender, fatty flesh because they are not as active as roosters are.

In my childhood, capon had a role that was more ceremonial than culinary. It was offered on the altar table on the night of eighth day of the Lunar New Year to pray to the Emperor of Heaven (Pai Ti Kong). I remember watching this surgery been performed by an old uncle doing his round in the neighbourhood, where roosters were kept in the backyards specially for this sacrificial role. In exchange for this sacrifice on the rooster part, the castrated roosters were pampered and given the best table scraps until their fateful day. My mother took this annual ritual seriously and always saw to it herself to raise the fattest rooster in the neighbourhood, perhaps because it was her family's favourite dish but also because it was an important dish for Pai Ti Kong.

How to Cook A Caponised Chicken.

Rub plenty of sea salt well into the chicken inside and out. Rinse the chicken thoroughly with water. Put the chicken into a large stock pot and pour in enough water to cover it by about 2 inches. Remove the chicken and bring the water into a rolling boil. Place two cloves of slightly crushed garlic, two slices of ginger and a stalk of spring onion in the cavity of the chicken. Put the chicken into the pot and heat until the water returns to a boil. Reduce the heat so that water is at a very low simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Cover the pot with a lid and turn off the heat and let the chicken poach for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and plunge it into a large bowl of ice water- this stop the cooking process and tighten the skin. Take the chicken out of the ice water and remove the herbs in the cavity. Lightly sprinkle the chicken with sea salt and gently massage sesame oil into the skin.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

How we used to Celebrate our Chinese New Year...

Food had always played an important part in my mother's life whether she was cooking for her family or preparing traditional ceremonial food for her gods. I cannot help but remember the time and effort she took to celebrate the Emperor of Heaven's birthday which incidentally falls on this Sunday. Looking back, it's the merriment and atmosphere around the house that stand out in my memory. Even as a child, I could tell a feast day was coming. For days, the grown-ups were all talking about food preparation. Soon the sights, sounds and smells of food would waft around the house. When the special day was almost upon us, the kitchen would be busy with extra help from aunts to our neighbours and even older children were assigned to polish the pair of candle sticks and the big brass josstick urn with brasso. At mealtimes, our house would end up like a bustling eating-house and inevitably turned into a gambling den with two tables of mahjong and a table of "Si Seck Pai" in the evening. Everyone seemed so happy and content. This was that rare occasion when grown ups with unbelievable patience would put up with the whole neighbourhood of children running amuck in the house, staying up late in the night and letting off a fire cracker or two to scare away the scrawny stray dogs looking for the food scraps amongst the festive pile of rubbish in the street. Like all other mothers in our neighbourhood, my mother would say "Eat all you want," in their incredibly amiable tone of voice, even it was her umpteen time to fill up the octogon lacquer candy tray with kuih kapit (love-letter), kuih bangkit and kuih budu (kay nui koh). Perhaps, it was these festive occasions that I began to learn how good food makes everyone feel. Even our scrawny strays seemed to be wagging their tails happily with excitement.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why the Hokkiens pay homage to the Emperor of Heaven with a pair of Sugarcane...

For the Taoists in Singapore, the most important day during the Lunar New Year celebration is the ninth day of the first lunar month. On this day Taoist families, especially to the Hokkiens, will hold a Emperor of Heaven ritual (拜天公, literally "heaven worship") and offer thanks-giving prayers to him for protection from evils and disasters, as well as for blessings and answering prayers. Numerous offerings such as ang ku kuih (red rice cakes in the shape of tortoise shells), fruit, vegetarian food or roast pig, and gold joss papers and incences are set out in front of the house or five-foot ways of terrace shophouses to celebrate the birthday of the Emperor of Heaven, who was believed to have been born immediately after midnight on the ninth day. One of the most important items included in the offerings is sugarcane as it was the sugarcane that has protected the Hokkiens from a certain battle calamity generations ago. During which the Hokkien hid in the sugarcane plantations.Following their liberation, the Hokkien people came out to celebrate the Chinese New Year for the first time in years.They used sugarcanes as their offering to give thanks to the Emperor of Heaven and to honour him on his birthday on the ninth day of the lunar new year.This tradition is still closely observed by the Hokkiens families in Singapore until today.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Lunar New Year

May the Year of the Tiger bring you and your family Good Health, Good Luck and Prosperity.I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your family a very happy Lunar New Year.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Perfect Nian Gau (Ti Kueh) for the Kitchen God.

Of all the most traditional sweets eaten during the Chinese New year, the Nian Kau or Ti Kueh is the most important as it has festive standing. The art of making Ti Kueh has almost disappeared in Singapore and it is also rarely made at home.these days. Not only its time consuming preparation has made it unpopular, but rendered with its finicky and unpredictable end result to cook a perfect ti kueh for the gods and family could be the main reason for its demise in the kitchen. Its preparation was predominated by the whims of superstitions (pantang) that I remembered my mother scattered rice and salt around the stove to ensure a perfect end product. Fortunately, these days excellent sweet Nian Kau (Ti Kueh) are commercially available.

Sweet Ti Kueh Recipe:

600 gm glutinous rice powder
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups boiling water
Banana leaf (if unavailble, use cellophane paper)

Mix 2 cups of brown sugar with 2 cups of boiling water and stir until disolved. Add glutinous rice powder and mix well into a gluey rice paste. Lined a 8-inch bamboo steamer with banana leaf or cellophane paper.Pour rice paste into bamboo steamer and steam for 2 1/2 hours over high heat. Insert a skewer to test whether it is done. Remove and set aside until cold. Let it sit for 2 days in the bamboo steamer to set.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cook a sweet and sticky New Year Cake (nian gao) to ensure that you'll get a favourable report from the Kitchen God.

Each year, as the eleventh month of the Lunar calender approaches, bustling street markets and homes in the heartlands of Singapore become even more busier than usual,thrown into a frenzy of activity by the customary spring cleaning of their homes in preparation for the Chinese New Year. The street stalls and shops are well stocked and festooned with New Year decorations and auspicious characters such as 春 (spring) or 福 (luck) and spring couplets hangings (春联) are sold. Many Singaporean Chinese families make it a point to paste these auspicious characters and couplets at the main door, in the hope of obtaining good fortune in the coming year. The Chinese character 福 is deliberately placed "upside down" because is a homonym for arrival ( 到)Thus an upside down 福 infers the arrival of good fortune and luck.
Like many Singaporean Taoists, my mother practiced many traditions associated with this annual celebration in the hope of obtaining good fortune for her family and her future generations. Customarily, Nián gāo, Year cake or Chinese New Year's cake, is always prepared and consumed during the festive season. It is considered good luck by many Singaporean Chinese families, to eat nian gao during this time, because "nian gao" is a homonym for "higher year." (年年高升). The sticky texture of the cake (粘), is identical in sound to 年, meaning "year", and the word 糕 (gāo), meaning "cake" is identical in sound to 高, meaning "high". As such, eating nian gao has the symbolism of raising oneself higher in each coming year.
Besides, for Mum and many Taoists, the most important day of the 12th month (lunar calendar) is the 24th which falls on the 7th February this year, when the kitchen god returns to heaven to summit his annual of the household. Hmm...Sound familiar? Just like Santa Claus, he's making a list and checking it twice. He's going to find out who's naughty and nice. To ensure he makes a favorable report, Mum would usually prepare sweet offerings for him on this day What can be a sweeter treat or bribe than nian gao?