Monday, December 21, 2009

White Christmas 2009

A white Christmas is a good way to end a year as well as to signify a fresh start to the coming new year - with the snow dusting away the unhappiness in the past year and coating the land white, giving a fresh new start to the year ahead.

Throughout Europe with countless Christians and Catholics, Christmas is the most important day throughout the year - similar to the Lunar New Year for the Chinese throughout the world.

On this special occasion, the main streets in every town - big or small - are lined with makeshift stores forming the Christmas markets.

And I found a cute bread on sale in the bakeries - Dinkel Hearst. Even the hot chocolate drinks at McCafé was decorated with a nice cocoa heart. This is so endearing.... :)

Finally, I would like to wish all of you bloggees (bloggers blog, bloggees read blogs) a Merry and Joyful Christmas!

Bak Kwa Tip

I might be ignorant creating such a post here, but for the benefits of other ignorants around like me, here's an invaluable tip for Bak Kwa fanatics:

If you ever happen to land yourself a box of thick, fat glistening bak kwa while chancing upon an irresistible bak kwa sale or given to you as a present, here's a simple tip on how to make your bak kwa look and taste better!

*Bake them in an oven*

(1) Darker coloured bak kwa that looks more appetising

(2) During baking, the heat burns the disgusting fat globules on the bak kwa and reduces it to a layer of oil on the baking sheet

(3) The bak kwa looks thiner and tastes leaner as well!

The before-after baking photo (pretty obvious if you ask me)

When a Girl Becomes a Woman

As an aunt, I practically watched Alicia grew up from an infant into a 2 years old toddler. And on one fine sunny morning, I woke up to find Alicia all grown up with nail polish on her tiny fingernails!

Ah...the wonders of nature...never fails to amaze me! ;)

Project Soon Kueh

Soon Kueh is a traditional Teochew snack and being a 100% "pure-bred" Teochew, I decided to give it a go.

The recipe seems relatively easy but requires the cook to have both the frying and pastry making skills. While I am better at kneading doughs, I can't say the same with my wok frying skills. Hence, the Mother was recruited in this Project Soon Kueh.

Soon Kueh - 笋粿

Ingredients - Filling:
garlic (chopped)
shallots (chopped)
dried prawns (soaked and diced)
mushrooms (soaked and sliced)
yam bean (peeled and thinly sliced)
black soya sauce
oyster sauce
chicken cube
water (needs plenty as the yambean absorbs alot of water while simmering)

Ingredients - Skin:
300g water
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbs fried shallot oil (may add more directly to the dough if it is sticking to the palm)
200g soon kueh flour (can be replaced with rice & tapioca flour in a 1:3/4 ratio)

Method (Filling):
(1) Heat up the oil in the wok and stir-fry garlic, shallot and dried prawns till golden brown

(2) Add in the mushrooms and stir-fry till fragrant

(3) Add the sliced yambeans, stir-fry well

(4) Add the black soy sauce, oyster sauce, chicken cube, pepper amd water. Stir well and leave to simmer over low fire till water is fully absorbed and yambeans are tender.

(5) Dish out and leave the fillings to cool before assembling with the skin

Method (Skin):
(1) Pour the flour into a mixing bowl

(2) Add the water, salt and shallot oil into a pot and bring to the boil

(3) Pour the boiling liquid into the mixing bowl and mix well with the flour. Do not pour the liquid all at once but knead and pour the liquid portion-by-portion till a smooth dough is achieved. Let the dough stand for 10 minutes.

(4) Turn the dough out from the mixing bowl and divide into 10 equal portions

(5) Roll the skin into thin sheets and cut into rounds

Method (Assembling):
(1) Wrap the fillings and seal the side to form a semi-circle

(2) Place the soon kuehs on a greased tray and steam for ~15 minutes over high heat

(3) Once cooked, remove from the steaming tray and brush with any remaining shallot oil (or just oil)

(+) The quantities for the filling ingredients are purposely left out as there's alot of room for flexibilities! For a lighter coloured filling, less black soy sauce should be added. If you relish a more salty filling, more chicken cubes could be added or alternatively, more oyster sauce.

(-) While rolling the skin, it should not be too thin as it tears easily during assembling.
(-) Try not to be too greedy with the fillings and leave some space for folding the skin over the edges

(=) With help from the Mother, the project became an obvious success! Received the thumbs-up from the Father!
(=) And not forgetting, it's quite a joy to be whipping up something delectable with your loved ones. :)

Kueh Bingka Ubi (Tapioca Kueh) - 木薯糕

Kueh Bingka Ubi (Tapioca Kueh) - 木薯糕

1kg tapioca
400g coconut milk
1 egg
150g sugar
1/2 tsp salt
100g melted butter
1 pc banana leaf

(1) Skin the tapioca and cut the flesh into small pieces

(2) Line a baking tin with banana leaf

(3) Pour all the ingredients into a blender and blend till a fine mixture forms

(4) Pour the mixture into the baking tin

(5) Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200°C for 1 to 1.5 hours till a skewer inserted comes out clean

(6) Remove from the tin and leave to cool before cutting into pieces

(+) Easiest foolproof "dump-all-ingredients-in-blender" recipe for such a traditional nonya snack!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ebisboshi @ Iluma

While the world is still recovering from the latest episode of dramatic economic meltdown and I was just away for a mere short period of four months, the tiny island country was blooming and developing like never before!

Yes, I was referring to my homeland - Singapore. Just over a period of four months, there were already three new shopping centres - Ion Orchard, Orchard Central & 313 @ Somerset - added to the shopping scene along Orchard Road. At Little India, there's the much anticipated eco-friendly City Square Mall - a definite first in Singapore. And then there's Iluma at Bugis. And for sure, there'll be more sprouting out like crazy mushrooms in the months to come.

Question: And what do these new shopping malls have in common to the many existing ones?
Answer: The numerous familiar brands of clothings, accessories, restaurants, supermarkets, pharmacies etc. 就如换汤不焕药.

Despite so, I managed to find a few new shops in these new premises:
* Prologue @ Ion Central - it's the upmarket 'relative' of the Popular bookstore family but Kinokuniya definitely has a wider book selection
* Filmgarde @ Ilumna - I hope they do show alternative movies apart from the commercially popular ones
* Ebisboshi @ Ilumna - a Japanese-themed restaurant very much like the Shokudo Japanese Food Bazaar and Marché but at a much smaller scale.

The visit to Ebisboshi was brought about after watching a recommendation of the restaurant by a local food program. I would have to admit that I was a little disappointed upon arriving at the restaurant. It was not as big as what I thought it would be from the television program and it doesn't help that there were only a few customers filling the tables. In any case, we decided to give it a try and were about to order only the finger foods when we were instead presented with a thick menu comprising of all the dishes from the various stores. This is different from Shokudo or Marché which requires the customers to order and collect the food at the respective food stores with all bills charged to a chip card.

And I must say our appetites opened up instantly while we were excitedly flipping through the colourful menu. The selections were so vast that we couldn't decide what to order! And the price was relatively cheaper compared to Shokudo or Marché.

Seafood fried noodles in tomato sauce - extremely appetising(超开胃!) and my friend ended up having to order another plate of sushi!

Similar concept to Don Buri except that the meat with eggs are separated from the rice - suitable for those who likes to keep their rice nice and dry. :)

So for sure, if I'm craving for Japanese food while in Bugis, Ebisboshi would be my top choice! Naturlich! :)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Icing Room @ Jurong Point

Being a central 'kid', I have hardly ventured beyond Toa Payoh in the north, Bugis in the east and no further west than Cityhall itself for shopping!

I can find almost anything within that tiny geographical area which I described above. So strictly speaking, why should I bother travelling to anywhere further in search of what is readily available within familiar territories?

But that is up till some smart aleck in BreadTalk came up with The Icing Room. And of all places, they have to have it in Jurong Point. Damn!

Wanting to explore the culinary creative side of me, I purchased a 4" cake just short of $12 and proceeded to let my creative juice flow out of me onto the cake. After about a minute or so, I realised that it can be a little difficult. There are crazy kids jostling and arguing around me with some trying to clamber onto the bloody unstable table top where my precious cake sits and at one point in time, a long-haired lady even tried to perform some acrobatic stunts by bending over my cake to talk to a cashier on the other side of the table and in the process, had a few strands of hair slightly skimming over the surface of my cake! Eeeks! I was darting annoyance glances in all directions annd could easily be the most hostile-faced customer in the midst.

So after what seem like ages, I finally completed decorating my cake with the limited selection of icings (strictly speaking, it's more like coloured whipped cream than icing sugar) allocated to me and hurriedly passed it to the cashier to have it boxed up before any misfortune befalls it.

And on my way back, while passing by Prima Deli, I saw the 'usual' selection of cakes on display. And it just occured to me that I'll never find such a selection of cakes in Austria. Perhaps something that looks alike but never one that tastes alike. Maybe it's not so usual afterall...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Coconut Pancakes

I was on a kitchen-wide rampage to use up or rid all the near-expiry ingredients sitting on the shelves or in the fridge. And my recent target was the - 100ml Coconut Milk.

Coconut Pancakes

275ml coconut milk
3/4 cup plain flour
4 tbs rice flour
3 tbs caster sugar
1 egg

(1) Place the plain flour, rice flour and sugar in a bowl.

(2) Stir to mix and make a small well in the centre. Break the egg into the well and pour in the coconut milk.

(3) Stir all the ingredients together to form a lumpy batter. Use an electric blender to blend it into a smooth batter.

(4) With a non-stick pan, you can do away with the oil. Pour the batter onto the heated pan and cook it over medium to high heat depending on the size and thickness of your pancake.

Steak It The Gordon Ramsey Way!

I do not know if it's got something to do with the Gordon Ramsey recipe or is it because of the edited clip. It seems terribly easy to cook a piece of steak which hasn't occured to me till recently!

And naturally, I feel so encouraged after watching the 1 minute video that I proceeded to cook three steaks all at once!

Well, It did not turn out so bad just that the steaks were a little on the tough side. And I gathered that while cooking the Gordon Ramsey "Way", one has to have sufficient common sense instead of simply following the recipes strictly. :)

Chicken Rice, Chicken and Cabbage Soup (鸡饭,白鸡,白菜汤)

Chicken rice aside, the chicken and cabbage soup are traditional dishes served up on the table by the Teochews during festive ocassions or when praying to the deities.

Chicken Rice, Chicken & Cabbage Soup

a whole chicken
button mushroom
cabbage (白菜)
ginger (sliced)

Method (Chicken):
(1) Buy the chicken a day before. Rub salt on both the inside and outside of the chicken. Wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it overnight.

(2) Dethaw the chicken. Pour boiling water over it before rinsing it with cold water.

(3) Cook another pot of hot salted water and just before it boils, add the chicken. Remember to flip the chicken while cooking.

(4) After about 20 minutes or when the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pot and chop it prior to serving. Garnish with parsley. Do not throw away the chicken stock in the pot as it will be used for cooking the rice and soup.

Method (Chicken Rice):
(1) To the washed rice, add the ginger slices, chicken stock (leftover stock after boiling the chicken) and salt.

(2) Then leave the rest to the reliable rice cooker.

Method (Cabbage Soup):
(1) To the remaining chicken stock, add button mushrooms and cabbage.

(2) Additional salt can be added for taste.

(+) Everything in this recipe goes right into the stomach...nothing goes to waste!
(+) The cabbage soup can even be used to cook noodles or the hot soup be simply poured onto cold rice!

(=) An easy recipe to hold on to the traditional Teochew culinary culture...

Potato Soup

After staring at a couple of old sagging potatoes with new shoots sprouting for like days, I finally decided to mash everything up in an attempt to turn them into soup - edible ones that is.

Potato Soup

Ingredients (serves 4):
50g butter
450g potatoes (peeled and diced)
2 onions (peeled and finely chopped)
435ml milk
435ml chicken stock (alternative would be vegetable stock)
moderate amount of salt
moderate amount of ground black pepper

(1) Heat butter in a saucepan and stir-fry potatoes and onions gently for about 5 minutes until onions are soft.

(2) Add milk and stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste and bring to the boil.

(3) Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender. Set aside to cool.

(4) Place cooled potato mixutre in a blender and puree. Return soup to rinsed-out pan and reheat.

(+) Fool-proof and easy method

(=) Easily tastes as good as those served in the restaurants without the use of creams

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Austria, Obervellach - Groppenstein

The mission was to trek along the waterfall all the way to the top and try not to get washed away by sudden floods as warned by the many signboards along the way.

The autumn sights along the way simply got better the higher we trekked. The sound of water trickling and the occasional gush alongside the trekking path stopped us in our tracks every now and then to check the progression of the waterfall, our trekking altitude, capture some wonderful sights and of course, to catch our breaths.

It was quite a vertical trek and took us close to an hour to reach the top.

For a change of sight and route, we decided to take the downward descent via a small winding road through some farm houses and the view was A-mazing! Having a clear view from the obstructions of the tall trees, we were blown away by the show of autumn colours continuing from one mountain to the next with the occasional snow-covered peaks in the backdrop.

Being populated with farm houses, there were inevitably the herds of cows, sheeps and ponies grazing on the still-green slopes. There were also some herds which were unguarded by fenches or wire barbs but were simply too lazy to attempt escape plots of any kind or even be bothered by the vehicles driving up the mountain.

Nearing the base of the mountain, we found the entrance to a castle - Burg Groppenstein. This castle dates back to the 13th century and unfortunately it was closed on the day of our visit.

There was also an abandoned, boarded-up little church where I managed to peek through the rusty window grills and spotted the cross left hanging across one end of a tiny congregation room.

It was a good trip all in all, good exercise for the legs, healthy for the lungs, and eventful for the eyes!
p.s. don't ever be a smart-aleck like me and try to pick one of these leaves to feed the animals. It'll instantly prick your itchy fingers and send a painful numbing sensation which will promise to last for the next few minutes...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Wörthersee in Autumn

Wörthersee is the largest lake in the state of Carinthia, stretching 16.5km from Velden in the west to Klagenfurt in the east.

Many told me that autumn is the nicest season for nature photography. Animals have their final feast before the harsh winter arrives while the trees are busy changing colours before finally shedding their thick green coats.

I wonder if the lake will freeze over this year and transform into a massive skating ring...

Baked Salmon & Pasta In Cream Sauce

Baked Salmon & Pasta In Cream Sauce

Ingredients (Pasta In Cream Sauce):
onion, finely chopped
garlic, finely chopped
mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
cream (whipping cream or cooking cream)
freshly ground pepper
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
pasta, cooked in salted water

Method (Pasta In Cream Sauce):
(1) In a large saute pan, melt butter.

(2) Add onion and garlic and saute for 5 minutes.

(3) Add mushrooms to pan and cook for another 2 minutes.

(4) Remove ingredients to a bowl and return pan to heat, stirring in cream. Gently boil cream.

(5) Return mushroom mixture to pan. Add salt and pepper to taste.

(6) Stir in grated cheese.

(7) Add cooked pasta to sauce and toss quickly. Serve immediately.

Ingredients (Baked Salmon):
1 whole wild salmon fillet
1 lime, sliced thin

Method (Baked Salmon):
(1) Preheat oven to 200°C.

(2) Line baking sheet with tin foil and lay the fillet on it, skin side down.

(3) Evenly space sliced lime on top of the fillet and add salt and pepper.

(4) Wrap the tin foil loosely over the salmon, making sure the edges are securely folded together so that no steam can escape. Place it in the oven.

(5) Cook for 30 - 40 minutes depending on the fillet thickness.

(+) The pasta tasted great! For those on diet but still dying for some cream pasta, go easy on the cheese and low-fat cream.

(-) I was too greedy and used additional lime slices to line the bottom-side of the salmon fillet. As a result, the salmon was not only sour but also had a tinge of bitter after-taste. Yucks!
(-) I might have cooked the salmon for too long as it tasted a little dry, So do your best in trying to estimate the baking time in relation to the fillet thickness. You might be able to get useful references off the internet!

(=) I managed to clean up the pasta-half of the plate but only half of the salmon fillet. If not for the cream sauce, I'm afraid most of the fillet would have ended up in the rubbish bin.