Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Spicy Fish Head Stew

For squeamish readers, please look away. Fish head is my favorite part of the fish to eat and I admit I can be pretty bizarre in my choice of food! In Asia and especially at banquet dinners or restaurants, it is not unusual to see a plate of chicken, duck, fish or even suckling pig served with their heads sitting on the plate. I rather not have the others present but a fish served without a fish head is simply a joke to me.

I normally get salmon head in the Asian groceries and sometimes in my local grocery too! It is very meaty and I always ask that the head be cut divided and cleaned as it is impossible for me to do it in my own kitchen and frankly speaking, I don't like doing it! I used to cook it with tamarind and lots of ginger to get rid of the fishy smell but it seems that Curry is not a very big fan of tamarind and its tartness.

Perhaps I am inspired by those kimchi stew that I always see in Korean dramas, on how the actors slurp from their earthen pot, piping hot and spicy and their satisfied looks with their puffing and panting, I wanted to make something similar too. It was raining the whole day and I was going to cook something hot and spicy to warm my soul and appetite. And I am sure Curry will be very happy too!

For this dish, I used only chilli powder with lime juice to create the stew soup. I think Thai style fish head dish would have included fresh chillis and also dried chillis with tamarind but I was ready to create something more similar to the Korean Kimchi stew version, where the soup base is more of a light broth consistency rather than sauce or gravy like and with a brazen red color, signalling spiciness awaiting to burn your lips! And this dish must be served piping hot with rice or else the effect of the spiciness is not that good.

Ingredients :

1 Salmon Fish head (around 1.5lbs)
1/4 cut of a radish (appx 10oz)
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 knob of ginger, sliced
2 small red shallots, sliced
4 stalks of scallion, white part sliced & green part, cut thinly and diagonally
2 tbsp red chilli powder
1 tbsp sugar
1-1/2 cup water
Juice of 1 lime

  1. Cut the radish thinly into sticks.

  2. Heat 2 tbsp cooking oil in a saute pan. Add in the ginger, garlic, white part of scallion and shallot. Saute for 30 seconds. Add in the salmon head and stir to blend in . Let sit for 2 mins on medium heat and turn the salmon head around.

  3. Sprinkle in the chilli powder. Add in the lime juice. Sprinkle in the sugar and stir to blend. Add in water and half of the radish sticks. Close lid and let simmer on low fire for 15 to 20 minutes, till the fish eyes are opaque. Stir in some salt.

  4. Garnish with the sliced scallion and remaining radish sticks. Serve hot.

Serves : 2 persons

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sausage Scallion & Sesame Bun

This design is adapted straight from the cookbook itself and by far, the most difficult to shape and turn. All methods from the hot water roux to the rolling of the dough is the same as the previous posts on Buns except that this one has a sausage filling. The sausage is first rolled into a rectangle shape dough and 4 deep slits are made on the surface of each roll. Then, taking each of the slit opening, the connecting dough between the sausage parts are slowly twisted to form a petal like shape with the last 2 sections of the sausage twisted and placed across the middle to join with the first sausage section. Even I find it hard explaining in words but pity I don't have extra hands to chronicle the process in pictures!

Perhaps the size of the sausages was a bit too large and I only managed to produce 6 buns this time instead of the usual 9 from the same amount of bread dough. And it took an extra 5 minutes to fully bake. My previous experience with sesame seeds is that they burn really quick in the oven but this time, it hardly brown from the 20 minutes of baking. The scallion and sesame seeds were added after the egg wash was applied and reapplied again thereafter.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pumpkin Mousse Cake

The last cake I made was in spring and with the autumn here, I am eager to try my hands on it again. Not that I have any preference to which type of baked goods but making a cake is more of a feat to me and I don't have many people to share an 8 inch round cake and Curry is more of a buttery tart and pie person and of course Missy E wishes she can eat all the cakes in the world but overeating one is never a good idea.

I am a big fan of all type squash and I grew up with it when my mum would fry it soft but not mushy with the dried shrimps and garlic. The most similar type of squash in taste and texture that I get here is the butternut squash and I cook it the same way. However, Curry is the opposite who thinks pumpkins and squash are a bit mushy for his palate and I think most men do too. I would love to bake a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving but first I have to make him practise eating this pumpkin mousse cake first!

As I have no idea on how to really cut up a whole pumpkin and wouldn't want to do it, I used canned pumpkin for this mousse cake. Straight out from the can, it tasted like a pumpkin, earthy and heavy but not sweet. For 1 cup of this mashed pumpkin, I added 1/2 cup of sugar. As I am a die hard fan of all things mini and cute, I used a mini heart shaped pan which has 12 sections with detachable bottoms, which is a must for mousse cakes. I guess I would have to use the whole can of pumpkin if I was to make a usual size cake. But for a start, I will do it small. Alot of work but worth it.

For the base, I made an ordinary genoise cake. Perhaps this is the first time I got to beat the eggs to triple the volume with the KitchenAid mixer, the sponge really baked beautifully. Initially I wanted to put some red streaks coloring into the sponge cake itself to reflect the autumn color but I forgot about it once the batter was already in the oven. The addition of jellied lingonberry jam was an afterthought and luckily, it turned out nice. As the mini pans were small, approximately 3 inches each if not less, it was quite difficult to estimate on how much batter should I scoop into each. I filled each to 1/2 full and true that the beating of the eggs was very successful this time, the sponge cake rose high and mighty during the baking! So I had to do the extra work of releasing each and every one to cut the sizes to 1/2 as to make space for the pumpkin mousse which is to fill the top part.

I added some gelatin to the red jam and spread a thin layer on each of the sponge cake. The Pumpkin mousse was made by first cooking the mashed pumpkin with the sugar till dissolved and gelatin was added immediately and the mixture left to cool to room temperature. I omitted the addition of the usual nutmeg as I don't like the smell it gives to pumpkin pies. I whipped up 1 cup of heavy cream and slowly folded it into the pumpkin mixture. With a zip lock bag, I piped the pumpkin mousse into the 12 sections of sponge cake and tap the pan to release any air pockets and the mousse levels itself without the need of further manual spreading. Then, I just let them stabilize and set in the refrigerator for 2 hours. This cake can be served cold straight out of the refrigerator and the mousse will be firmer then. If served at room temperature, you will feel the creaminess of the pumpkin mousse and the sponge base is softer. I sprinkled some powdered sugar on top before serving. Perhaps there was no eggs added to the mousse, it is not custardy smooth on the appearance. But that is pumpkin and squash to me, wild and rugged from the fields and robust in taste on the plate. Curry had one and so far, no comment yet but at least he gobbled one up less than 30 seconds. Pumpkin pie.... I will have a chance!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Carrot Ham & Cheese Bun

Carrot lends a very nice color to the bun that I made today. Initially I thought of using cilantro with ham for today's bread but since it is autumn, the color orange will suit well. And I was ready to do more to the water roux bread by adding and incorporating ingredients and flavors into the bread itself.

With the same amount of bread dough as in the previous posts, I grated half of a small carrot and added it into the dough itself while it is mixing. The carrot contains liquid and produced a wet and sticky dough. I had to add an extra tbsp of bread flour before taking it out to knead a little and leave in the bowl to rest for more than 1 -1/2 hours.

The idea for this bun is to wrap the diced ham with shredded cheese inside the bread dough itself and to expose the fillings with a slit cut. The dough was first divided into 6 pieces and rolled out into rectangular shape. Ham is piled inside and I grated Monterey Jack cheese over it to hold the contents together when it melts during the baking. The dough is then rolled up with its edges pinched and sealed, with a slit cut in the middle of the rolled up dough. With both hands and pressure on the bottom part of the slit, I gently pushed open the slit to expose the fillings and laid it down on the board and patted and shaped it round by turning anti-clockwise. As you will notice, this is different from the Salmon & scallion bun as the contents are inside the bun itself rather than piled on top of the bun itself. Once I am done with all 6 pieces, I scattered some dried basil on the filling itself and grated some more cheese randomly on the whole surface of the bun. I reserved some of the grated carrot and sprinkled on the filling as garnish. The buns are then allowed to rest and rise for another 1 hour.

Egg wash was applied before the baking and this time, I monitored the baking time carefully as I wanted the buns slightly brown and not too dark, so that the carrot color will still be obvious. This time round, the buns appeared to be more softer than the previous attempts and I figured it must be the cooking of the water roux in the first place. I never used a thermometer although the cookbook emphasizes the strict 65'C and I just estimate by the look of the water roux. This time instead of it being cooked to a paste like consistency, I removed it from the heat when it was still slightly watery, resembling thick creamed soup. My second guess would be the addition of the carrot made the dough slightly more moist and hence during the baking, it did not dried out too much. Overall, the appearance of this bun is pretty inside out. The strands of the grated carrot embedded into the dough is still obvious and the color of the bun itself is slightly yellowish. The presence of carrot gave the bread itself a very subtle sweetness. I just think it is a very healthy bun with carotene goodness.

Bon Bon Chicken (Chinese Szechwan)

My mood to blog spiraled down as fast as the stock market for the past 2 weeks. While everyone was talking about the economic meltdown, I was having a stamina meltdown! The lazy bug is always lurking inside of me and it kind of spread its wings and I added the excuse that Curry was out of town and I need not do anything fancy and rather watch repeated episodes of Lost and got Lost literally!

Well, after feeding on the same type of lunch and dinner for 5 days and Missy E starting to whine "AGAIN" & "AGAIN", I went back to my cookbooks. Flipping through everything, I only found one thing I wanted to make and it is this funny named dish called 'Bon Bon Chicken'. And frankly speaking, I should have picked another simpler one to make as this dish was quite alot of work and by the end of the day, I was exhausted, or maybe lazy again!

I first tasted this dish in Hong Kong 10 years ago. As they said, Hong Kong has the best Chinese eateries of all ethnicities and I agree. I like this dish at room temperature rather than cold as normally served in the restaurants. This dish is all about its sesame paste sauce that is drizzled sparingly over a bed of shredded chicken meat sitting on a pile of rice flat noodle. The sesame taste is very strong but very good to eat as it smells nutty and rich over the bland noodle and complements the chicken shreds well. Instead of vegetable salad, I will opt for this dish served with blanched shredded cabbage leaves on the side. The labor intensive parts are the shredding of the chicken and grinding of the toasted sesame seeds. Sesame paste is available at Asian stores and the Mediterranean Tahini is quite similar in taste. The rice flat noodle is normally called Rice stick, and a product from Vietnam or Thailand. I guess any type of noodle can be substituted as long as it doesn't have any taste of its own. One thing I am not sure is why the name is called "Bon Bon" or translated literally into Chinese "Bun Bun Tzi". And since it is a Sichuan dish, chilli oil is actually drizzled onto the dish too but I have to omit it as my kids and I cannot take chilli, although Curry would love it very much.

A) Sesame Paste
3 tbsp white sesame seeds
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp oil

B) Chicken & Noodle

2 large chicken thigh meat with drumsticks attached & Skin removed

150 gm rice stick

1 tbsp chinese cooking wine
1 tsp Kosher salt
1- 1/2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar
10 napa cabbage leaves (with white stalk part removed and all rolled up and chiffon cut to thin strands)


  1. Heat the sesame seeds in a frying pan without added oil. Turn on slow medium heat and when they are slightly browned, remove from heat and process or ground with mortar & pestle till paste form. Add in the water and oil and stir to combine well. Keep in refrigerator till ready to use.

  2. Clean the chicken thighs, apply the cooking wine and salt and steam for 15 to 20 minutes on medium heat till cooked thoroughly. Remove and let cool completely before shredding.

  3. Boil water and cook the rice sticks till soft, approximately 10 mins. Drain water and rinse under running cold water. Drain in colander.

  4. Boil water and blanch the napa cabbage leaves for 10 seconds. Remove and drain.

  5. Arrange the rice stick on plate and next the chicken meat.

  6. Add the soy sauce, vinegar and sugar into the sesame paste and stir to thin consistency. Taste first prior to drizzling on the chicken. If required, more of the 3 ingredients may be added.

  7. Arrange the cabbage leaves to make a nice presentation. Alternatively use cucumber.

Serves 2 to 3 persons

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Apple & Pistachio Roll

It is apple season and it is such a nice fruit to cook and bake with. Instead of apple strudel, I used the same bread dough from my earlier water roux bread attempts to make a sweet bun. This bread dough is really flexible and I love its texture, always soft inside and a slight chewy crust on the outside. Once the dough method is mastered, the choices of fillings are endless.

I used 5 apples, which was a mixture of gala, Red delicious and MacIntosh. Once cored, all were cut into small chunks and put into a pot with orange juice , sugar and cinnamon. I cooked it on medium heat for 25 minutes till all the juices are released and I drained out the apples and continue to cook them till soft dry consistency but not mushy. The blending of the citrus and apple gives a very pleasant sweet smell and taste.

I opted for the cylinder roll shape, similar to Asian spring rolls. As the dough is soft and stretchy, I spooned 3 teaspoons full of the apple filling into each rolled out square shaped dough measuring approximately 3x3 inches. Simply pinch the edges together and gently press with fingers from the middle of the roll towards the edges to spread the apple filling inside the roll. The pistachio were sprinkled after the egg wash and just before baking.
If I was to make these rolls again, I will cut down on the baking time as not to brown the rolls too much and crush the Pistachio more finely. The apple filling held up nicely inside the roll and did not turn the inside of the rolls soggy nor wet.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

October Bento Days (1)

After a whole week of laziness and cold mornings to sleep in, I finally gained my strength to wake up early again to do the Bentos. And luckily I have a human alarm Clock, made by me and named Prince D or else I will be sleeping Beauty OR Beast everyday! I was so ready to do my first October Bento and when I reached into the refrigerator, I noticed something amiss! Where the hell was it..... that overnight bowl of beef stew with infused meat and lovely carrots & potatoes? That beef stew that I saved from Sunday night so that I don't have to labor over the pots & stove this morning! That particular bowl of beef stew that I skipped last night just for this morning's Bento! And so I sniffed around and smelled beef stew in the microwave oven. Nothing in there. And I realised, the microwave was beeping late last night when I was already up in bed..... oh goodness! Curry has eaten his today's Lunch last night..... very late night supper snack!

Sometimes you meant well, people just have to screw it up for you! I had nothing in hand now and yet I was already up, might as well make something. As I am sure Curry will say that he is overstuffed from last night, I made him a Snack Bento box instead and with not much idea on a cold early morning, I opened a can of baby corns and cut up some enoki mushrooms. Pan fried them a bit and threw in some kimchi. And I was proud that I still went on and made some simple sushi rolls for him! Half way I was thinking... huh... this is love eh.....the married way? You lucky man, Curry!

As rushed things never come out good, so were my sushi. The shapes were not very uniform. I just made the simple omelet and turkey ham for fillings. And along the way, I ate my breakfast too, the odds and ends of the sushi rolls. As we have perhaps 30 apples sitting around from the picking on Sunday, I cut up half a Fuji and a Gala for the fruit box. Next time I know better to hide leftovers tight and sealed!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Salmon & Scallion Bun

Source: 65C Water Roux Bread (Taiwan Chinese publication by Yvonne C)
Preparation Time : 3.5 hours (Cooking,Mixing, Rising to Baking)

I find that freshly made Water roux yields a better rise bread compared to using left over/overnight dough. Luckily, the recipe for it is a mere combination of 5 parts liquid to 1 part flour and I just have to adjust the amounts of both to yield the quantity that is required by the recipe of the day.

The original recipe for this bun is for a scallion bun without any filling. I find the buns with fillings a bit difficult to make, partly due to the fact that the wrapping and sealing in parts are quite difficult to maneuvre if these procedures are not done on a daily basis. Sometimes, the bun can end up with too much filling and burst during the shaping and at times, it is impossible to get a uniform shape with one dough rolled too big and another too narrow.

I prefer canned salmon to tuna and firstly I drained all the liquid before flaking the salmon. To make 9 buns, I used 2/3 of a can. At first, it was quite difficult to shape the filled in buns. After the second one, I wrapped the rest like I used to wrap Chinese pot stickers.

After a resting period of 1 hour, the bread dough was divided into 9 pieces, weighing 60gm each. Each was then rolled out to 1/2 inch thin and brushed with some olive oil before 3 tsp of the salmon filling is placed in the middle. The top and bottom edges of the dough was then pinched, sealed and tuck in together. I turned it around and used the rolling pin to apply a little pressure on the smooth side to spread the dough a little and this in turn will gently flatten the bottom part and the tips. I didn't get to make the deep slit in the middle of each bun properly as instructed by the recipe and perhaps I should have done it after it further expanded after another resting period of 1 hour instead of instantly after shaping it.

The surface of the buns were then brushed with egg wash. The scallions were dipped into the egg and spread on the slit openings. I added some cheese shreds for fun. The buns browned very fast towards the last 5 minutes of the total of 15 minutes and it needs to be taken out immediately for cooling or else the buns will look too brown and perhaps burnt. The presence of the olive oil inside the buns retained the moisture in the salmon filling, hence it doesn't feel hard nor dry to bite into it. The bread texture was good, same as the previous bakings and the dough actually rises more during the baking than at the time of resting. When squeezed and pressed into, the bun gives out a springy texture but felt soft and light . I like it for the fact that it is not as oily as the previous Bacon bun.