Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chinese Fried Dough ('Yau Char Kwai'/'Yiu Tiao')

Who doesn't like deep fried food? I have never known a human being who would eat steamed and braised food only and if there is anything deep fried besides the 2 more healthy options, all appetites normally break loose and the hands reach out to the deep fried plate first.

While we quickly chow down anything good, crispy and light from the deep fried wok, it takes so much time and effort to deep fry anything in the first place. I am definitely not a big enthusiast in this method of cooking and yet, when I have an appetite and yearning for something that must be done in that way, I have no choice but to do it once and for all and satisfy my cravings.

This fried dough is found in every small eateries in Hong Kong which serves breakfast and teatime snacks. In Malaysia, we normally get it from the small stalls in open market or food court that cater to teatime hours. Basically it is a mixture of wheat flour and usual flour, baking powder and yeast and a big wok of hot oil produces the crispy dough that is eaten fresh and warm. I dip mine in congee and sometimes, I go the Malaysian way of slapping a spoonful of sweet coconut egg jam on the dough itself. Recently I have found out that some smart people have started to put fillings on the dough itself before the deep frying. That I will leave to next time and for today, I am just glad I made it through with the hot wok.

I think the most important thing in achieving a light dough with hollow textures in the inside when it is deep fried is to allow it to rest, raise and expand for long hours before the shaping and frying. In my case, I let the dough rested for 5 hours. The deep frying must not be rushed with over heated oil as to allow the inside of the dough to cook evenly before the outside part browns too soon. I had to engage my father in law in helping me shape the dough as he has more delicate hands than mine in the rolling part of the very wet and sticky dough.

Making this 'Yau Char Kwai' gets very messy when the shaping and rolling starts. The hands and all utensils must be coated with flour prior thereto or else the dough will stick like leech! As this is my first attempt, I only managed to do mini size ones and the stickiness when handling the dough actually made me preferred the deep frying part. I was so ready to dump the whole batch into the oil and make everyone just pull from one round whole dough like the American fried dough. The frying part was quicker than I thought.

After last night's rendang, we opted for congee tonight for dinner. And we will be eating like the Hong Kong people, dipping these oily goodies into those hot rice gruel. Well, no one ever said that these 'Yau char Kwai' is for breakfast and snack only.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lamb Rendang & Roti Jala (Malay & Indian)

I have always loved Malay dishes and this 'Rendang' dish is my favorite. Despite having a bland tastebud when I was young and never a big spicy food fan nor curry lover then, I never miss out on Rendang. It is possibly the addition of the grated coconut flesh which is pan fried dry, known as 'Kerisik' in Malaysia which makes this dish more appealing to me and the fact that this dish has a thicker gravy sauce and served without overflowing and soaking gravy like the Indian curry, makes the meat that is cooked to tender texture more succulent and presentable.

The favorite Rendang back in my hometown is beef rendang but I prefer Mutton Rendang, where goat meat is braised and simmered till tender and the gamey taste that it has never bothered me. The added shaved coconut flesh soaks up the gravy and gives a delightful juicy bite. As both goat meat and fresh grated coconut flesh are unavailable to me, I substituted with lamb and dried dessicated coconut of which I toasted instead of pan fried and surprisingly, the outcome is similar to those I always had in Malaysia.

As for every curry dish, it is best eaten with bread like side dish, mainly because bread soaks up the gravy and it is undeniable that the gravy is what makes any curry or Rendang outstanding in flavor. There are many types of flour dough made products that can be the choice of a curry person and the options are endless from Roti Canai, Murtabak, plain white bread to rice itself. I have chosen Roti Jala for today's dish as I have never made it before despite having bought the mould 5 years ago and I love the turmeric yellow color which goes well with the brown Rendang. 'Jala' is another Malay word that means Net as in fish net and this particular Roti is named so for its particular appearance that resembles a web of net all mingled together with its holes randomly scattered.

In the whole process of preparing this dish with its accompanying Roti, I would say the Roti was the one that tested my patience and I found the Roti Jala mould difficult to swirl around and some of its funnel holes simply get clogged after a few rounds of the batter filling. I was about to give up after making the third piece when I suddenly remembered I have a better tool to do the job. I used the usual condiment ketchup bottle that they have at the American Diners to complete the next 10 Roti Jala. It was much easier to handle and squirts out even amount of batter everytime. Still, getting one piece to cook nicely with slight burnt color is not an easy thing to do as each piece has to be made and cooked individually and it takes up a long time to make 12 to feed everyone in my household. Of course, I got the rice cooked too as I wasn't ready to spend another 45 minutes to do another round of 12 more Roti Jala!

The results were good and Curry and his father really enjoyed dipping those Roti into the spicy Rendang. Missy E was poking her fingers through all the holes of the Roti and munching away. It will be sometime before she picks up the spicy taste of Rendang though!

Recipe for Lamb Rendang

2.5 lb lamb leg meat
4 cloves garlic, minced
thumbsize knob of ginger, minced
2 tsp Chinese 5 spice powder
15 to 20 dried red chillis
3 tbsp cumin powder
2 tbsp coriander powder
2 tsp galangal powder
1 tsp tumeric powder
4 to 5 red shallots, minced
1 tbsp shrimp paste
2 tbsp tamarind paste
4 oz unsweetened dessicated coconut
2 -1/2 cups of water
1 can coconut milk


1)Cut lamb leg into chunks and marinate overnight with garlic, ginger and all the cumin,coriander,galangal, tumeric & 5 spice powder.
2)Bake/Toast the dessicated coconut in oven till brown and fragrant (350F). Leave to cool.
3)Heat pot on medium and fry the shallots and dried chillies with oil. Add in the lamb chunks and stir fry for 10 minutes, turning evenly. Add in tamarind paste and shrimp paste an coat evenly. Cook for 5 minutes.
4)Add in water and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes or till meat is tender and sauce is boiled down to 1/3 of water content.
5)Add in coconut milk and simmer for 5 minutes.
6)Add in toasted dessicated coconut by sprinkling to get the dry consistency of your choice.
7)Serve with boiled rice or Roti of your choice.
Serves: 3 to 5

Recipe for Roti Jala

1-1/2 cup All Purpose Flour
1/3 cup water
1 cup lukewarm milk
1 large egg (room temperature)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Non Stick Oil Spray or cooking oil

1) Beat the eggs and add in the milk and mix.
2) Sieve the flour, salt and turmeric together. Add in the water and mix till batter is formed.
3)Add the egg and milk mixture into the flour batter and stir to combine.
4)Strain the batter to remove any lumps.
5)Heat a non-stick frying pan and spray with non stick oil or drizzle in 1/2 tsp oil. Put on low medium heat.
6)Fill the Roti Jala Mould or a condiment bottle and drizzle the batter by swirling in a circular motion from the middle to the outer sides inside the pan and continue in a diagonal motion to form the netting effect. Let the Roti cook on one side for about 3 mins and do a half fold and another half fold to form a wedge triangle shape. Using the spatula press on the Roti for 10 seconds and leave it in the pan till you get the slight burnt marks. Lift out of pan and continue with the batter.

Makes: approximately 12 to 15 Roti Jala (thin)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cherry Custard Black Sesame Tartlets

It has been quite some time since I last baked anything! I have a weakness in this category of the kitchen culinary world and when I leave things for too long and not practising nor repeating the kneading of flour and butter or perfecting the skills of egg white beating, my next baking results will definitely turn out mediocre or disastrous. And when I need to get back on track, I always start small, in size and quantity so as to calm the nerves that in case I fail, I don't waste too much.

The cherries this year is extremely humongous and sweet. I first tasted cherries from the tree when I was in England pursuing my degree. And like a kid in a candy store, I overstuffed myself till the point of diarrhea. Despite the nasty aftermath, the experience of seeing a cherry tree for the first time and picking from it was enough to make me yearn for more. Back then, imports of cherries and berries were very limited and I hated those bottled and syrupy maraschino cherries that normally adorn the black forest cakes back in Malaysia.

One thing about my baking is that I love to experiment with every recipes in the cookbook and tweak it here and there. However, I have a bad habit of trying too much and I should learn to stick to recipes that I have already tried and tested before. As in this case, I have already found the best recipe for sweet pastry in making tarts long time ago and yet, I still ventured out from the obvious to the allure of the numerous baking books that boasts the best tart shell recipes.

I tried a new recipe and omitted its egg content while adding some black sesame paste and seeds into the sweet pastry dough. The tart shells turned out pale instead of the usual brown and at first I thought I should bake it longer but they really just stayed pale throughout while the cherry custard was already cooked and set. And after cooling down, they kind of turned a little soft rather than being firm like those egg tarts that we get at dim sum tables and thank goodness, they still possessed some strength to hold the custard. Luckily, the custard part tasted as good as the usual egg custard filling, smooth and firm to the right consistency. My father in law said so and I am glad that I have found the right recipe for baked custard filling.

For the custard filling, I pureed 12 huge cherries to get the juice and for a 200gm weight of cherries, I only managed to get 50ml of the liquid. I was hoping the dark red color of the cherries will prevail after the baking but once it was added to the eggs, it kind of turned brownish pink and I can surely pass the tarts as chocolate tarts! I am not sure on how the baking part will enhance the color, I just had to make it nice and not brown definitely and so I added 2 drops of red coloring! And I am so glad that I did as the baking kind of paled out the custard color and as you can see now, it is pinkish in the inside! I think the addition of custard powder and heavy cream made the custard smoother in texture, rather than using eggs alone.

After they were baked, the next mind boggling thing was how to get them out of those small tart moulds. It is really a hassle to roll and put the sweet pastry dough inside them in the first place and now I was not keen of digging each and every one of them out of it with the custard filling. I remembered seeing the Hongkong pastry shops taking them out of the oven and turning them over and whacked them hard on the surface. So, I followed suit, although I admit the whacking of each of those shells made me nervous as I didn't want the custard mushed up and breaking the tarts. And amazingly out of the 30 tarlettes, all 30 survived my mighty hand!

Although the tart shells was not as firm as they should be, it was still a delight to pop them into my mouth with the subtle burnt toasty aroma from the added black sesame paste. Same as my fascination with the green tea, I dare to say that I have grown to love black sesame seeds so much that I bought boxes of paste and packets of seeds. I am yet to confirm my father in law's claim that black sesame seeds have numerous nutritionous value but as long as it is good, I can eat and use it in everything. As for the cherry custard filling, I am just happy that it turned out the right color and texture and the cherries placed on top of each complete the pretty tartlets.

Monday, July 28, 2008

July Bento Days (3)

'What did you make today?' asked Curry. I didn't reply. 'Do I have to reheat it before eating, can I eat it cold?' he asked again. Now I know why other people said that he is very lucky.....if possible, I think he might prefer I spoon fed him! After so many Bentos, he still hasn't understand the element of surprise in opening a Bento box and asking me questions like a kid. Perhaps next time, I shall include a little Instructions note on how to devour his lunch.

My favorite breakfast meat product has always been the bacon. The smokey aroma that it lets out while sizzling in its own fat in the frying pan works better than coffee to perk up my spirit and senses in the morning. However said, I let my health conscious rule my head and seldom dare to relish this delicacy as often as I would like to! And I admit I was jealous of Curry and so, I took a piece of the bacon rolled kimchi with green pepper this morning and satisfied my cravings.
For today's Bento, I packed stir fry sesame chicken with carrot, served on rice and bacon rolled kimchi with sweet green pepper. Cherries and peach sections complete the main dish. I learned the trick of using a big frying pan to do both the cooking of the bacon rolls and chicken from the ever so efficient Japanese housewives. Save me on gas on the stove and the washing up!

I was going for something juicy, spicy and crunchy for the Bacon rolls. Initially, I pan fried them first at one side of the frying pan for 10 mins and started with the sesame chicken at the other end of the pan. As long as your stove top or pan is not tilted and stands firm, both dishes will not clash in terms of tastes. The Bacon fat cooks the kimchi and pepper while retaining the crisp texture of the green pepper and the kimchi gives a subtle spicy kick to the bite. The chicken was marinated in sesame oil with Ponzu juice and black pepper and stir fried with addition of toasted white sesame seeds.

This year's fruits seasons have been rather early and I see all kinds of peaches popping in every grocery stores and cherries are abundant too. We missed out on the cherry picking season this time as it was very short due to the constant heavy rain and it is kind of a novelty fruit to us which can be expensive by the pounds and yet we will fork out our money and forgo with the ordinary banana and apples. Like Curry said, it is worth every penny as long as it goes into our own stomachs! Well, I surely hopes he thinks the same of my Bentos.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Radish Dumplings (Sabah Style)

It is amazing on how many types of flour are available in an Asian market. The varieties are countless and they outnumbered any stocks in my regular neighborhood grocery store.

From glutinous rice flour to wheat starch, water chestnut flour to chinese 'pau' flour, I realized now that Asian cooking is no child's play! If I cannot get one type of ingredient, I find it difficult to substitute as Asian cooking is very particular on the taste of a certain ingredient that makes up a dish and any attempt to add condiments or other non-specified ingredient simply deviate from the original recipe. It is fun to create something new and yet we all like to retain something old, especially in the tastes of food that we usually eat and consider as comfort food.

Making this dumpling was new to me as this is the second time I attempted to use the glutinous rice flour but for a wet filling rather than a dry one as in the previous post on Green Tea Glutinous Balls. I wasn't sure what consistency of the wet flour should be to yield a stretchy and thin casing for the radish and dried shrimp filling. In fact I tried 2 different approaches to making it and luckily the second time round, I got hold of the required texture. The 1st approach that mixed glutinous rice flour together with rice flour with added water simply landed me in a mess and my fingers were simply mushed into sticky wet dough with no way to roll nor knead. I was about to give up till I took pity on the cooked radish and saved it from going into the trash! And also, I promised my cousin Agnes that she will see one of her favorite 'kuih' here. And in the second approach, I used the glutinous rice flour and water only. Sometimes, things are so simple and we shouldn't try too hard!

Known as 'Lo Pet Pun' in my hometown, this savory snack size dumpling which measures roughly 2 to 2.5 inches in size and pat to a flat round shape, steamed on banana leaves and glazed with oil is usually eaten as breakfast and sold at teatime. For people with sweet tooth, this snack might not appeal to them as it is pungent with the dried shrimp, mushy and wet with the radish and sticky chewy and oily with the glutinous rice flour casing. But if anyone who is like me who prefer savory to sweet, this one is lip smacking good and like Agnes described it, it is stuck to your teeth good!

The making process was quite laborious, from the slow mixing of the water into the flour and slowly kneading it to firm consistency and not sticky on the hands. At first I attempted to wrap the fillings using the Nyonya Angkoo style, which puts all the fillings in the middle and pinching and wrapping the dough all around. I find the dough breaking apart and the fillings kept pushing out. To me, cooking is a science and I have to put on my thinking cap all the time, despite all the patronising remarks that I always get from people who only eat and never made a dumpling in their whole lives! And so, I thought of a brilliant idea. I took one little piece of the dough and roll it out to 2 inches wide and put the fillings in the middle and proceeded to roll a second piece and place that on top of the filled one and pinched the sides to enclose them! I am not sure what is the real technique employed in making these dumplings but I am sure mine worked out perfectly. I just had to make sure that the dough is rolled out thin but my pinching of the sides made a rather rougher edge than a perfect circle.

The steaming process was the easiest part as with all other Asian delicacies, as long as you don't get impatient and crank up the heat too much. Half way through, I brushed some cooking oil on the surface of these dumplings to keep it moist and also to produce the oily casing as it is. The taste was good according to my father in law, who is the extra guinea pig besides Missy E. As for the little girl, she told me to take out all the fillings and she wanted the chewy sticky white part only. Well, obviously she belongs to the sweet tooth group! As for me, I was munching away, pulling away the stretchy casing while some stuck to my tongue and tooth and the fillings drooping out everywhere while my lips is coated with oil. I am a happy woman.

Monday, July 21, 2008

July Bento Days (2)

Curry must be very happy today. His Bento is super healthy and he still complains it has too much contents in it! Huh... men... spoiled!

Firstly, I extend my thanks to a new Blogger acquiantance that I have recently met here, Bento Pet for extending an invitation to me to join her Bento competition. I am very happy that my creations and blog has joined those who were already out there way ahead of me and needless to say, better than mine a million times. I agree with Bento Pet that every Bento is special and should be recognised. To me, a Bento box is a container full of my ideas, channelled into food form and presented to the person whom it is made for with love and appreciation of their health and well being. So, to all Bento Packers out there of whom I am yet to get to know, you are all doing a great job!

For today's Bento, I tried something new. The Vietnamese are so brilliant to have invented their rice spring rolls wrapper which needs no cooking nor prop at all and yet it yields one of the most simple and healthy food to enjoy. I will never give the fresh rice rolls a miss when I am in a Vietnamese restaurant and dipping these into those thick peanut sauce makes it extra good! I substituted the fillings with cold seaweed which comes in a bundled dried form, washed and soaked prior to cooking it the same way as the vermicelli. It yields a dark green color and as it comes from the sea, the sea smell does linger a bit after the cooking. Imitation crab meat was also used by shredding 2 chunks into strands, scalded in hot water and mixed into the seaweed noodles itself. I made a dressing by mixing sesame oil with some Ponzu citrus juice and rice vinegar, both of Japanese origin. Drizzled into the cooked seaweed and left marinated for 1 hour or overnight, the sea smell dissipated almost completely as the sesame oil is more pungent. I also threw in some toasted white sesame seeds to give the subtle bite when the rolls are bite into. As the rolls tend to dry up after a certain period, I refrigerated the noodles mixture overnight before wrapping it in the morning. The moisture that is released by the noodles as it warms up to room temperature in the container before lunch time kept the rolls moist.

I also made mini pork burgers, seasoned with minced ginger and scallion with salt and mild chilli powder mixture. The pan frying of these took 5 minutes on each side on medium low heat. As with all serious Bento packers, I prepped the burgers the night before so as to save time and energy in the morning. The choice of condiment sauce for these burgers was the French Dijon mustard.

The blueberries and raspberries were in full swing and we managed to get 2 lbs of each from the picking yesterday. I love the colors of both, although I prefer the taste of blueberry over raspberry. Curry will never let me get away without any greens and so I julienned some red leaf lettuce and chucked in some small carrots to complete the beautiful colors! On the side, I bottled some Ranch dressing.

Despite his little complaint of too much food, he finished the whole box. To me, I think this is the right amount of lunch items and varieties to get a grown up man like Curry going till dinner time. Mind you, he complains and yet he eats more than me in every mealtime! Well, as long as he enjoys whatever I pack for him, he can make all the petty complaints that he wants and just be sure not to overdo it or else the Bento box for him will be the plain bologna sandwich and banana!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Recipe of the Day: Ginger Honey Baked Chicken Drumstick

We had a friend with her baby daughter over for lunch cum play date today. Some people like lunching and dining out but these days, I like to do it the 'In style' . I don't mind the cooking nor cleaning up as I feel more comfortable not having to keep an eye for my kids whenever we eat out and myself ending up eating nothing at all. I hate to admit it that I have grown accustomed to those fast food places where they also provide kids play area and fancy dining places are out of my reach till my kids have been sent to table manners boot camps and returned to me in pristine pressed clean table napkin condition!

I have been making this recipe for countless times and I think most of my mommy friends have tasted this dish. Before it gets lost among the common food that I usually take for granted, it is only fair that it has a place in this blog.

When I was young, I didn't like the smell and taste of ginger as I thought it was too strong. But now, my cooking must have it or else the dish I am making will be bland and lacking the oriental flavor that this household favors. Having said so, my pickiness doesn't stop there.... I prefer my ginger minced and grated rather than being cut in a chunky piece and chucked in with the rest of the ingredients as in the Chinese way of cooking their meat and vegetable dishes.

Honey is seldom used in my cooking, although I do use it all the time to relieve the stuffed nose and throat discomfort when I have serious colds in winter time. Honey is the main liquid content in this dish and gives a thick sweet sauce to the tender cooked chicken drumstick. The presence of ginger gives out the effect to the smell senses while the honey dominates the taste senses. Overall, this is a light dish to serve during hot summer days and definitely a ladies lunch thing when beef and pork are just too heavy for the palate. I mixed up some salad greens with salami and drizzled a simple dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and black pepper over it to go along with the chicken.


6 to 7 Chicken drumsticks

salt & pepper

1 tbsp crushed oregano

1 cup honey

3 tbsp water

20g grated ginger

Juice of 1 lime


1)Wash and dry the drumsticks. Season with salt, pepper and crushed oregano.

2)Put honey, water, grated ginger and lime juice in saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil till the honey is diluted. Turn off heat and leave to cool completely.

3)Place the drumsticks in zip lock bags or big bowl. Pour the honey mixture into the bag/bowl and coat evenly. Let marinate at least 2 hours or overnight in the fridge.

4)Preheat oven to 350'F . Place the drumsticks into an oven dish and arrange compactly. Pour over the marinating sauce. Bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 mins till the sauce starts to bubble.

5)Take out, spoon some of the sauce over the top of the drumsticks and cover the dish with foil and continue to bake for another 10 to 15 mins.

6)Turn off oven heat and let dish sit for a few minutes before serving.

Serves: 3 persons

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sesame Salty Fried Dough (Sabah Style)

Firstly, a big thank you to my Aunt MC who actually went and asked for the recipe of this lovely snack from the vendor who prepares and sells this snack at the open market in my hometown state of Sabah, Malaysia. Aunt MC is one of my favorite aunts and I am always glad to hear from her and her kids. The recipe was already given to me last year and yet I haven't really thought about making it until now.

Known as 'Hum Chien Piang' in Sabah, Malaysia, this particular bread like snack which is deep fried at very low heat to produce a crispy crust outside while maintaining the softer bread texture inside is one of my favorite. There is another version of this deep fried bread in Hong Kong which has the same Chinese name but is shaped more like a round bun shape with sweeter fillings and without the sesame seeds. Needless to say, I like the Sabah version better as the taste is a bit salty with the sesame seeds swirled into the bread itself, giving it a pretty and fun appearance.

The original recipe called for red bean paste for its filling. Since it is spread very thinly and mainly there to give a color to the swirls rather than giving an overbearing taste to the end product, I substituted with black sesame paste, of which I preferred. I am sure anyone from Malaysia knows the brand name Maggi which supplies cooking condiments and sauces and there is this one Maggi ingredient which I didn't have over here, and again I substituted with dried chicken stock powder. I attempted this recipe 3 weeks ago and true to the fact that business people never give out all their secrets in their recipes, hence the dough then was too wet and sticky to be even rolled out for the filling in the first place. And I was clueless then as to how to form the swirls and shape of the dough until I looked far and wide on every recipe books for ideas. And 3 weeks later, I finally gathered my thoughts and re-do it again with some amendments to the original recipe that was given to me. Talk about obsession!

This snack is normally sold at open market stalls and I normally grab one for breakfast when I was really busy then rushing into the office. Slightly greasy on the hands from the deep frying and yet the mouth does not feel oily when eating it. The taste is a combination of savoury and a tinge of saltiness with the occasional subtle sweet taste from the paste filling. It is best eaten on the day it is made and can be slightly toasted the day after.

Overall, I would say making this fried dough was fun as long as you know the texture of the dough at the time it is kneaded. It cannot be sticky and yet it feels wet in your hands and definitely not dry. Adding the flour in 2 batches is important to achieve the right consistency and the stretchiness is not too much and yet can withstand the weight of a rolling pin and rolls out without much elbow grease. And the oil for the deep frying part must not be too hot as it cooks quickly and also to ensure that the whole dough is cooked throughout.

Ingredients :

Starter Dough :
100 gm all purpose flour
1/2 tsp yeast
150 ml warm water

Main Dough :
100 gm sugar
150 ml water

1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tbsp chicken stock powder
480 gm all purpose flour

Other Ingredients:
5 tbsp of black sesame paste or red bean paste
2 tbsp of white sesame seeds
6 to 8 cups of oil and a sauce pan. (If making larger sizes, will require bigger pot and more oil)


1)Mix all the ingredients for starter dough in a bowl. Mix in well and cover and let dough rest for 2 hours. Note that this dough is very wet.
2)Mix 250gm of the flour in the main dough ingredients with all the other ingredients and knead with hook attachment on mixer for 10 to 12 mins.
3)Add the Starter dough mixture into the main Dough mixture and continue to knead for 5 mins. Add in the remaining 230gm of flour from the Main Dough ingredients into the mixer bowl and continue to knead again for 7 minutes on low speed.
4)Remove bowl from mixer and cover and let rest for 2o mins.
5)Attach the bowl to mixer again and knead for 5 minutes on low speed.
6)Cover and let dough rest and rise for 2 hours.
7)Divide the dough into 3 equal batches. Work with 1 batch at a time.
8)Roll out each batch into a square or rectangle with 1/2 inches thick. Spread the surface of the dough thinly with the black sesame paste and sprinkle lightly with sesame seeds. From the edge nearest to you, roll up the dough into a log.
9)Use a serrated knive to cut the log into 2 inches pieces. Approximately 1 log will yield 5 to 6 pieces. Sprinkle some flour on the working surface before the next step. And sprinkle some flour on your hands.
10)Take one piece and turn it vertical so that the swirls faces up. With a flat spatula, gently flatten the dough piece and use your fingers to pinch the edges so that it forms a round circle shape. Place the flatten dough on a flour surface and continue with the rest.
11)Heat oil for deep frying. Always start with low medium heat. Drop a small piece of dough into the oil to check its readiness and if the dough rises up and sizzles, it is ready. Roughly around the same temperature for frying donuts.
12) Slowly drop 2 to 3 pieces of the flatten dough and deep fry each side for 20 to 25 seconds and turn. It is ready when it is golden brown. Lift and place on paper towel to drain the oil from the fried dough.
13)Sprinkle some sesame seeds on top of fried dough when it is still hot. Serve.

Yields: 15 to 18 pieces of sizes randomly at 3.5 to 4 inches (If required, larger sizes can be made by rolling out a bigger size rectangle and cutting to bigger pieces before the flattening of the dough)

Monday, July 14, 2008

July Bento Days (1)

It has been quite some time since I last woke up this early to do the Bento box for Curry. I guess summer really takes my mind off things and can make one lazy me. This year's summer has been alright, not too hot and sometimes rainy that makes me wanna just sleep in a bit longer.

Recently, I have realised the sudden growth of interests everywhere in the packed Bento lunch boxes idea. The numbers of whimsical gadgets, tools and different shapes and qualities of boxes available in the market is just countless. For a grown up like myself, I am drawn to all those lock features that adorn those glass containers while my kids always remind me that I can be childish too and go splurge on all those cute pink and blue charactered boxes with all those condiment bottles of animal shapes and adorable dividers and smaller containers that fits in the Bento boxes itself. One can really go nuts buying these things and I am glad that those inexpensive and ever so popular Japanese and Asian stores that sell all these things are not in the neck of my woods or else, I will go bankrupt amassing everything! But I do envy those who have access to it though.

Cooking for a Bento box is not that difficult as everything comes in a smaller portion and some part of it can be well prepared the night before the morning rush hours. During my school years, I never had a proper lunch box partly due to the fact that we only had 20 minutes break which was miserably slotted in between 10 periods of classes at 40 minutes each and Malaysian schools were small and they had to accomodate 2 separate sessions per day for different ages and grades. Hence no one really brings a proper lunch box to school unless there were extra curricular activities that stretch out throughout the day. Yes, Malaysian students have a hard life. And now, I am engrossed with every little idea that makes a good Bento and I do feel the need to try out all those Japanese cooking magazines that I have splurged on for years! And of course to make Curry and the kids happy when come lunch time, imagine opening up to a box filled up nicely and neatly and having them all to yourself. I would feel special too!

For today's Bento, I used the imitation crab meat, stir fried with the wheat gluten, carrot sticks and scallion. As the weather is still hot, I concocted a white sauce by mixing cornflour with water and adding sesame oil with a dash of salt and pepper. As the canned wheat gluten is already sweetened with a bit of sugar, I didn't bother to add anything more. To me, I always like the lighter tastes of things and not soaked nor drenched with other condiments. I threw in a bit of the kimchi to the toasted sesame rice. Shredded lettuce, celery sticks and freshly picked blueberries and black raspberries fit into the other smaller salad and fruit box.

My friend Ling had just sent me a Bento box book and it surely revitalizes my interests to explore further with the Bento craze. Thank you Ling!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Coconut Pandan Sticky Rice Kuih (Serimuka)

Although Asian desserts are not laden with butter nor cream, they are cholesterol packed and embedded with sugar. I seldom attempt any of the Malay and Nyonya kuih but I would like to make them once in a while as they are very interesting in terms of the cooking method applied as well as the combination of tastes and the outlook of the end product itself.
Serimuka is a very unique kuih, descended from the Nyonyas cooking repertoire and I believe there are strict rules required in terms of the thickness of the different layers of the bottom glutinous rice and the upper part of the pandan coconut milk custard. The steaming process must be done at the right heat temperature so that the custard part will be smooth and clean. Obviously, I have no Nyonya blood in me, hence the 'uneven' finish!

I always think any type of rice should be eaten plain or as a complement to side dishes rather than cooked as a dessert. However, I am not against this one because the taste of the rice is not sweet in the overall dessert itself, but rather lends a stable base for the soft custard and is itself fragrantly scented with the coconut milk and with a tinge of saltiness from the added salt at the time of the first step in steaming the rice. The sugar used in the recipe was a bit too much for my liking, but I guess it should be sweet enough to make the palate feels that you are eating 2 different textures with 2 different tastes at one bite. While the rice part is all sticky and pearly, the custard part is soft and smooth. That is why I consider this kuih an art to my eyes and palate.

I divided the recipe and made 2 varieties. One with the original green pandan custard and plain rice while the other, I retained the original custard without adding the pandan paste and instead added it into the rice itself, giving it a touch of soft green. Despite the non perfect appearance, I believe I achieved the right consistency of the cooked rice and firm custard. And the taste is decadent, with the richness of the egg in the custard itself and the sweet smell of coconut and pandan together makes the perfect aroma that pokes the smell senses when eaten. The cutting part was easier when it was completely cooled but obviously, my cutting skills needs a bit of practising here as I was struggling a bit with the rice part as they stood up to their name 'sticky rice' firmly throughout!!

Missy E thought they were sushi and I couldn't help but laughed. Kids do say the darndest things but not my Missy E. Obviously, she was smart enough to tell me that it is sushi because it has rice underneath and the same sizes as those that she sees in the restaurant. I wish I can explain to her more about the Nyonyas and Babas but she was already waiting with her miniature fork to dig in the plain custard slice.

As with sushi, you can only eat a certain number of pieces of this kuih before the stomach tells you that it is full! And also the mind will tell you to stop and try to think of the aftermath for taking too much.... it will take as long as the steaming process to walk off the calories on the threadmill and it is wise not to over indulge!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Steamed Mini Buns ('Pau')

These Chinese 'Paus' is an absolute delight to nibble and munch during tea time. If this part of the world has dinner rolls, muffins and donuts, the Asians have their 'Paus' which can be baked or steamed. The varieties of fillings is endless and the joy of seeing these steamed versions coming straight out from the steamer, all piping hot with steam clouding your vision is just part of the fun. Biting into a hot one with soft fluffy texture and slowly working through the fillings gives the mouth and palate the feel of a mouthful goodness!

When I was little, I was fed the BBQ pork or Char Siew Pau whenever my parents patronised the Dim Sum places. Partly due to the fact that it is easy for little hands to hold and the idea of giving me a complete meal of protein and carb at the same time, all in one package saved my parents the trouble of feeding me while they happily used their chopsticks and picked all the other goodies!

Making these 'pau' is an art in itself, from the forming of the dough to the pleating of the patterns and the stuffing of the fillings. But somehow I find it easier to do than baking bread and it is all about practice to achieve the best pleat. Normally, the making of the bread dough requires more steps if the usual flour is used and as with all other convenient products born from the mass production era, I used the instant Bun flour that I got from the Asian groceries. Needless to say, there were lots of frozen pau varieties too in the frozen section but I still prefer to make everything from scratch as I believe the making process is also the fun part besides the eating.

The fillings can be savory and sweet. The ones that I have in my hometown are giant enormous ones with steamed pork and egg, chicken meat and shiitake mushroom and also sweet red bean paste. Perhaps now, the craze of the famous Shanghai "Xiu long Bao" has got a hold of the food aficionados back there with its hot broth squirting out at the first bite but I still prefer these steamed paus that I can snack away happily with my hands. All these are normally eaten as snacks and perhaps sometimes as lunch meals for those office ladies who watches their weights all the time!

For my first attempt, I made 2 fillings, one sweet with lotus nut paste and the other savory with turkey ham. I would very much love to improve on this pau making and hopefully to produce more professional ones in future. At the meantime, I made these little versions for my kids' teatime treat and needless to say, they enjoyed it as much as I had enjoyed my first Char siew pau. The instant Pau flour did its job perfectly. The fluffy strands were already obvious when the dough was completed and yet to be filled. Once steamed on medium high heat, the paus expanded in size and I learned that sizing and weighing the dough for each individual pau is very important before making the pau itself in order to get a uniform size.

These paus can be eaten on its own without any fillings too and sometimes I would forgo my bowl of rice and go for the steamed 'Man Tou' at Shanghainese restaurants or any Chinese restaurants that serves it. Dipping it with dishes that has heavy sauce in them is also a way to eat it. Sometimes, the most plain and simple thing is the best and these paus are certainly one simple and nice food to eat at all times.