Friday, April 18, 2014

snow fungus, red date, longan and gingko (dessert) soup

Go to an Asian market (we just call them markets here) and chances are, you would find some very strange looking things.

When I was a kid, I would go to the wet market with my mom every week. Back then, markets were a lot more exciting. I remember seeing pigs' heads being put up for sale. And pigs' brains too. They were pretty creepy.

Perhaps the most interesting sections of the market have got to be the dry goods stalls. There, you can find really alien-like items and while I would never buy something like dried seahorses (what would I do with them??) there are some other ingredients that one can buy and turn into really yummy dishes.

Today I am going to cook with one of these.

For the Chinese, this would be a pretty familiar sight as most of us would have grown up eating various Chinese Tang Shui (糖水), literally translated as "sugar water". Don't be put off by this, as the taste of a Tang Shui is really more than a concoction of sugar + water.

Today I am sharing a recipe for this very common, and very popular dessert.

To make this dessert, you would need some snow fungus (雪儿). They are usually sold dehydrated, so you would need to soak the fungus in hot water to re-hydrate them.

And the snow fungus looks, well, like a coral. Or something you use to wash yourself with.

But do not be fooled by its unglamourous appearance. It has a great texture.

I turned the snow fungus upside down and removed the hard bit in the middle. This part is not palatable. Then I cut the snow fungus into smaller, bite-size pieces.

I also bought some dried longan (龙眼干).

Into a pot, I added the snow fungus, dried longan, red dates (红枣), pandan leaves and rock sugar (冰糖). Most people add rock sugar at the end, but I simply added them together with the ingredients and make adjustments at the end. Either works.

I also added water, covered the pot with a lid and brought this to a boil. Then I lowered the heat and continued cooking for about 20 minutes.

Finally, I added gingko nuts (白果)and cooked for another 10 minutes.

Once cooked, I turned off the heat and allowed the soup to cool. Because we like our desserts cold, I removed the pandan leaves and placed the pot in the fridge for the dessert to chill.

This is a refreshing dessert with loads of contrasting and very interesting textures.

It is also super easy to prepare!

Snow Fungus, Red Date, Longan and Gingko (Dessert) Soup (Serves 6-8)
Adapted from Noobcook

40 grams snow fungus (also known as white jelly fungus, silver ear, white wood ear, 雪儿)
2 litres water
5 pandan leaves tied to a knot
50g dried longan (龙眼干)
20 pitted red dates (红枣)
100g (about 30) ginkgo (gingko) nuts (白果) use either canned (drained) or the vacuum-packed type
120g rock sugar (冰糖) to taste

1. Soak snow fungus in a bowl of hot water until it is puffed up and turn a whiter shade, then carefully drain soaking water. Using a pair of kitchen scissors, trim and discard the dark yellow hard part on the centre underside of the fungus. Cut the rest of the fungus to smaller pieces and set aside.
2. In a soup pot, add water, fungus, pandan leaves, longan and red dates. Bring to a boil and then simmer (with lid partially closed) for 20 minutes. Add gingko nuts and continue simmering for 10 minutes.
3. Add rock sugar to taste and stir through until the sugar is fully dissolved. Discard pandan leaves. Serve warm or chilled.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

cajun chicken pasta

Whenever I think of Cajun seasoning, I think of my friend, Yvonne. She makes a mean roast chicken marinated with Cajun spices.

Feeling very inspired by photos of Yvonne's roasts, I have been meaning to make something using Cajun spices for a while. Today I finally got my chance to do so. So I decided to make a pasta - The Pioneer Woman's Cajun Chicken Pasta.

To make this pasta, I fist seasoned the chicken with the Cajun spice. In addition, I sliced red and yellow peppers as well as an onion. Finally, I also minced some garlic.

That done, I browned the chicken in some olive oil in a Dutch oven. You can also use a skillet.


Once all the chicken had been browned, into the same Dutch oven, I added onions and garlic, peppers, the remaining Cajun seasoning and salt.

I did not have any tomatoes so I added canned tomatoes instead. On hindsight, I should have drained the tomatoes before I added them.

I transferred the contents of of Dutch oven into a bowl. Then I added white wine, and scraped all the bits of flavour that were stuck at the bottom on the pan. The chicken stock was then added, and this was left to simmer until reduced by about half.

Finally, I added the cream, and a little corn starch slurry to thicken. I added some black pepper to the sauce as well.

Both the chicken and the vegetables were returned to the Dutch oven and stirred to combine. I also added some Cayenne pepper at this stage.

The sauce was ladled over cooked pasta, topped with Parmesan and garnished with chopped Italian parsley and served immediately.

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Cajun Chicken Pasta (Serves 6-8)
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman"" by Ree Drummond

3 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed - I used chicken thigh
3 teaspoons Cajun spice mix, more to taste
1 pound Fettuccine - I used Egg Pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 whole green bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 whole red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1/2 large red onion, sliced - I used white onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 whole Roma tomatoes, diced - I used 2 cans chopped tomatoes, drained
2 cups low sodium chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup heavy cream
 Cayenne pepper, to taste
 Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
 Salt, to taste

 Chopped fresh parsley, to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain when pasta is still al dente; do not overcook!
Sprinkle 1 1/2 teaspoons Cajun spice over chicken pieces. Toss around to coat. Heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a heavy skillet over high heat. Add half the chicken in a single layer; do not stir. Allow chicken to brown on one side, about 1 minute. Flip to the other side and cook an additional minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a clean plate.
Repeat with remaining chicken. Remove chicken, leaving pan on high heat.
Add remaining olive oil and butter. When heated, add peppers, onions, and garlic. Sprinkle on remaining Cajun spice, and add salt if needed. Cook over very high heat for 1 minute, stirring gently and trying to get the vegetables as dark/black as possible. Add tomatoes and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Remove all vegetables from the pan.
With the pan over high heat, pour in the wine and chicken broth. Cook on high for 3 to 5 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Reduce heat to medium-low and pour in cream, stirring/whisking constantly. Cook sauce over medium-low heat for a few minutes, until cream starts to thicken the mixture. Taste and add freshly ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, and/or salt to taste. Sauce should be spicy!
Finally, add chicken and vegetables to sauce, making sure to include all the juices that have drained onto the plate. Stir and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until mixture is bubbly and hot. Add drained fettuccine and toss to combine.

This post is linked to Cook like a Star, ALL Stars Anniversary organised by Zoe from Bake for Happy Kids, Joyce from Kitchen Flavours and Mich from Piece of Cake

Monday, April 14, 2014

quick and easy assam fish head curry

I love to potter around the kitchen. And I love cooking things from scratch. Unfortunately, I don't always have the luxury of spending a lot of time in the kitchen, and more often than not, I have quite a few dishes to cook for a single meal. When this happens, I, like many home cooks, cheat.

Because my Dad is a picky eater, I tend to cook a lot of fish dishes for him. I had a fish head that had been chopped to smaller pieces in the freezer. I made fish head soup with half the head and had the other half left.

Hence, the decision to make a curry with the fish head.

This is a quick and easy curry because I used a store-bought curry paste instead of pounding my own paste.

In a wok, with a little oil, I pan fried the brinjal (eggplant) until they are slightly brown. The brinjal was then set aside. I repeated the same with the orka (lady's fingers).

While that happened, I sliced a couple of small red onions, one stalk of lemon grass and removed the leaves of a few sprigs of curry leaves.

Into the same skillet, I added a little oil and sauteed the onions until they became soft. I detest the taste of raw onions, so if you are like me, then make sure you cook the onions well at this stage to avoid the taste of raw onions in your curry later.

I added the lemon grass and curry leaves.

Then the curry powder and paste. I gave everything a good stir to combine.

And finally, I added coconut milk, water from soaking the assam (tamarind) and water.

When the curry had come to a boil, I added the fish and the brinjal and orka.

I simmered the fish and vegetables on low heat for about 10-15 minutes, or until the fish was cooked through and the vegetables had softened. I added some fish sauce, and garnished the curry with coriander to serve.

I simply love fish curries. Apart from being so fragrant, the slightly sour taste of assam is just so good with the fish!

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Quick and Easy Assam Fish Head Curry (Serves 2)

1/2 fish head, chopped into smaller pieces
1 medium brinjal, cut into pieces
3 okra, cut into pieces
1 small red onion, sliced
2 stalks lemon grass, white part only, sliced
4 sprigs curry leaves
1 tablespoon fish curry powder
1 packet (about 200-250g) fish curry paste
1 tablespoon assam (tamarind) soaked in 1/4 cup water
1/4 cup coconut milk
2 cups water
1 teaspoon fish sauce, or to taste

1. Saute brinjal in a little oil in a hot skillet until slightly brown. Remove and set aside. Repeat with okra.
2. Add a little oil to skillet. Saute onions until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add lemon grass and curry leaves. Stir to mix.
3. Add curry powder and paste. Stir until mixed.
4. Add coconut milk. Once combined, add water and liquid from soaked assam. Bring to a boil.
5. Add fish, brinjal and okra. Lower heat and simmer 10-15 minutes, until fish is cooked through and vegetables have softened. Add fish sauce.
6. Garnish with coriander and serve, hot, with rice.

Friday, April 11, 2014

ultimate chocolatey-chocolate muffins

I love being a mom. I love being the cook-of-the-house.

Well, most of the time, anyway.

In the last couple of weeks, I had been pretty frazzled. The little boy was ill for a week, then gave the virus to his Daddy, who was so sick he was down for a week, and now when everyone is better, the little girl has decided to go through some insomnia cycle.

Hence, the reason why I am here, at 6 in the morning, writing a blog post before having to take the little boy to school (God knows what time the LAM finally got the little girl to sleep last night) and then going to the market.

I am a Mom. Hear me *whimper*.

I guess when my helper told me yesterday that I would have to bake soon because our supply of breakfast was very low - and it must be pretty bad for her to come to remind me - I was all ready to crawl under the bed to suck on my thumb and continue to whimper.

But I decided that was not the solution, so I went to my stack of to-do-very-soon recipes and pulled this one out.

If you ever need to bake something simple, and want to impress, this is the recipe to go to.

What drew me to this recipe, besides the extra chocolate that was added to the muffin, were, firstly, the use of buttermilk. I am convinced that the addition of buttermilk makes the best muffins in the word. The second reason was the use of oil instead of butter. For some reason, this combination always results in moist and flavourful muffins. The best sort, really.

So to make these muffins, you have to melt some chocolate in a ban marie. Use the best chocolate you can get your hands on.

Once the chocolate has melted, remove the bowl carefully from the water bath, and set it aside to cool. Be careful not to let any water get into the chocolate!

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, I whisked the eggs and sugar until the mixture turned light and creamy.

Into this, I added olive oil and vanilla extract, since I did not have any vanilla powder. I continued whisking until the mixture thickened even more.

Then I added the flour/cocoa/baking powder/salt mixture and the buttermilk in the sequence flour-buttermilk-flour. Finally, I added the cooled melted chocolate, and mixed everything well.

I transferred the batter into a muffin pan that had been lined.

And topped the muffins with chocolate chips.

Finally, I baked them.

Every single muffin came out perfect.

They were moist, not overly sweet and really more-ish.

And so so pretty. :)

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Ultimate Chocolatey-Chocolate Muffins (Makes 12)
Adapted from

¾ cup buttermilk (or ¾ cup lukewarm milk + 2 tablespoons lemon juice)
100g dark chocolate chips - I used Valrhona 70%
2 eggs
¾ cup sugar - I used 1/2 cup
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla powder - I used 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup and 2 tablespoons plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder - I used Valrhona cocoa powder
1 tablespoon chocolate chips, for topping
1 tablespoon coarse sugar, for garnish - I omitted this

1. If you want to make your own buttermilk, mix lukewarm milk with lemon juice and wait for 20 minutes.
2. Melt chocolate chips in double boiler and wait it until it reaches room temperature.
3. Preheat oven to 180C.
4. Whisk eggs and sugar until creamy.
5. Add in olive oil and vanilla powder. Mix well.
6. Mix flour, salt, cocoa powder and baking powder in a separate bowl and sift half of it into the egg mixture gradually. Stir with a spatula.
7. Pour in buttermilk and mix until combined.
8. Stir in the remaining flour mixture gradually.
9. Fold in melted chocolate.
10. Share the batter into 12 muffin liners and top with chocolate chips.
11. Bake for 20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
12. Cool them on a wire rack and sprinkle coarse sugar on each when they completely cooled.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

shanghai style braised pork belly (紅燒肉)

I had a pack of pork belly that I wanted to cook for my Dad. I kept staring at it, and felt a need to cook SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

The question was, WHAT???

Well, when I need answers, I turn to Uncle Google. And I found this recipe for braised belly, Shanghai style.

I really liked the sound of this recipe because I love braising pork belly. Braising makes everything so soft and melt-in-your-mouth pork is really yums!

To make this, you need to start by blanching the pork belly in boiling water to (1) start cooking it; and (2) get rid of the impurities and any porky smell.

So into a boiling pot of water, I added the pork belly, and gave it a few minutes to cook. Then I removed the pork and set it aside.

Into a clean skillet, I added a little oil and rock sugar. Once the sugar had melted, I added the pork.

BE VERY CAREFUL! It may splatter quite a bit!

I cooked this until the pork turned light brown. Then I added Shaoxing wine, light and dark soy sauces, water and pepper. This was stirred to mix.

I covered the skillet braised the pork on low heat for about 45 minutes, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes.

Once the pork had softened, the dish was ready. I added some spring onion, and turned the heat off.

If there is a lot of liquid, you may want to continue cooking on a higher heat with the lid off until some of the liquid has evaporated.

This was really good. The pork was tender and flavourful, and while it was a little sweet, it was not over-overwhelmingly so.

The kids loved this. Which made my day because Mr Picky Eater ate meat!

So I guess I will be cooking this again pretty soon!

Shanghai Style Braised Pork Belly (紅燒肉) (Serves 4)
Adapted from

500g lean pork belly (cut into 2cm thick pieces)
2 tablespoons oil
1 ½ teaspoons rock sugar
3 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
½ tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 cup water
spring onion, chopped, to garnish

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Blanch the pork for a couple minutes. This gets rid of impurities and starts the cooking process. Take the pork out of the pot and set aside.
2. Over low heat, add oil and rock sugar to your wok. Melt the rock sugar slightly and add the pork.
3. Raise the heat to medium and cook until the pork is lightly browned.
4. Turn the heat back down to low and add cooking wine, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, and water. 5. Cover and simmer for about 45 minutes to 1 hour until pork is folk tender. Every 5-10 minutes, stir to prevent burning and add more water if it gets too dry.
6. Once the pork is fork tender, if there is still a lot of visible liquid, uncover the wok, turn up the heat, and stir continuously the sauce has reduced to a glistening coating.
7. Garnish with chopped scallions and serve.

Monday, April 7, 2014

40 minute bread rolls

I must browse through hundreds of recipes every week. It is a hobby, you see.

And once in a while I chance upon a recipe that just looks too good to be true. Indeed, I try out dozens of recipes and many simply don't work.

But those that do, well, they really make my day.

This particular recipe has been in my to-make folder for a while. Because I was so doubtful that I could make edible (much less delicious) rolls in 40 minutes, I didn't make them. But after having cooked dinner last night, I had a bit of time to spare, so I thought, why not? The worst that could happen was that I would waste some flour and yeast.

So I made them.

And for something that can be made in such a short time, these rolls are so, so soft, and so, so fragrant!

The LAM and my helper were both impressed. Hell, I was impressed with what came out of my oven!!

You might be skeptical too, but let me show you how I made these rolls in about 40 minutes.

Into a mixing bowl, I added yeast, water, oil and sugar.

I stirred everything together, then walked away for 15 minutes for the yeast to come to life.

After 15 minutes, this was what the mixture looked like.

Then I added bread flour, salt and egg.

And using the bread hook on the mixer, I mixed this

Until the dough started coming together and was smooth. This took about 3 minutes.

Then I oiled my clean work surface. And tipped the dough out. I formed 12 balls and placed them in a greased 13x9-inch casserole (or baking pan).

They were left to rest (covered with a piece of damp cloth) for 10 minutes and then glazed with egg wash.

Then they were baked at 220C for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.

And that was it!!

Because they were so soft, even the next day, I went to buy some kaya to make kaya butter bread for breakfast as well.

Only to find there was none left.

Guess what I shall be baking again today? :)

Sausage Rolls
Luncheon Meat Buns
Otah Buns
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30 Minute Bread Rolls (Makes 12)
Adapted from YourHomeBasedMom

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
1/3 cup oil
2 tablespoons (about 16g) active dry yeast (or instant yeast)
1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 egg
3 1/2 cup (or about 476g) bread flour (seems to work better but all purpose flour will also work)

1. Heat oven to 220C.
2. In your mixer bowl combine the water, oil, yeast and sugar and allow it to rest for 15 minutes. Using your dough hook, mix in the salt, egg and flour.
3. Knead with hook until will incorporated and dough is soft and smooth. (Just a few minutes) The dough will be a little sticky. I oiled my hands, knead it one to two times, and it became really easy to shape. If your dough is too wet, add a little more flour and knead a few times.
4. Form dough into 12 balls and then place in a greased 9 x 13 pan and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Glaze with egg wash. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

1. Dough is too wet or sticky? Add a little oil and hand knead a couple of times. The dough should become easy to work with. Still too wet? Add a little more flour.
2. You can use any oil. Maybe not peanut oil. Unless you want a peanut-y bread. Olive oil, Canola oil, Sunflower oil, Grape seed oil... all can be used.
3. Personally, I have not had any problems with the bread being too yeasty. If you find it so, change the yeast and try different ones till you find one that you like.
4. Conversion of flour from cups to grams: This is a conversion I got online. You may still need to adjust.
5. Oven temperature: Every oven is different. You need to understand your oven, so if you have one that tends to be hot, lower the baking temperature, and vice versa.
6. I do not recommend that you reduce the yeast quantities because this is a quick bread. You need the yeast to make it work. Similarly, you need the sugar to feed the yeast so it works.
7. You can put any filling you like in this bread. It is very versatile.
8. You can also glaze with milk (full-fat, low-fat, skim, etc), sprinkle any toppings you like.
9. I don't recommend that you rest the dough for more than 10 minutes. From feedback I received, the bread may be less soft.
10. You can use 1/2 bread flour, and 1/2 wholemeal flour, or 100% plain flour. The results are the same. You can't use top flour. There isn't enough protein to form gluten. 
11. Every environment differs. You may live somewhere humid, or dry, or hot, or cold. If in doubt, check what other bakers recommend that you do for the weather conditions you live in, and experiment! You may need to tweak timings/ baking temperature, etc. Don't give up!