Thursday, September 30, 2010

September Bento Week 5

September has come to an end and Miss E completed her first month of 1st Grade! It was a bit hard during the first 2 weeks but now everything is smooth sailing again with her trotting to school every morning with the biggest schoolbag (empty),a lunch pack and fashion of the day. Now that everything is a routine for her and having met her teachers, I am all settled down emotionally and ready to start homeschooling my little son, Prince D. I would love it if it was a repeat process but my son is a different species all over and needs a bit more intervention in everything from writing to pronounciation of words. Boys are always so challenging and yes, mommy has to do it no matter how hard!

This week's Bento comprised mostly of rice. Now that the weather is cooler, Miss E needs something more substantial and being Asian, rice is a staple. For the rice balls, I used Japanese short grain rice while everything else was jasmine rice. As Bento is a Japanese idea, I tend to follow and use Japanese ingredients in most of the Bento for my girl. For Curry's Bento, I tend to pack more on Asian and Chinese dishes. When the weather gets colder in the last 2 months of the year, I am looking forward to use the thermo flask to pack for more warm and hot soups and also stews.

Day 17
Turkey Bacon & Carrot Strips Roll are very easy to make. I just cut up some slim sticks of carrot and used a slice of bacon to roll and wrap them up and then pan fried. As turkey fat has less fat than the pork bacon, it cooks drier and will not be soaking greasy by the time of lunch. The egg was hard boiled first and then carved out with a knife to create the jagged rims to mimic the sun. I also packed left over minced pork fried rice in soy sauce, decorated with cut out carrot flowers and corn.

Day 18

I made 3 Bento Boxes today, one for each of my family members. And I get to eat any left overs. And I believe all Bento moms do the same thing as me, just scoop up the left overs of carrots, rice and meat and throw everything into the pan and just mix it and proudly eat it! Instead of carrot sticks, I used celery sticks for the Bacon Rolls. My kids can eat both raw carrot and celery without dipping and I think that is very good of them. The celery stayed crunchy and crisp after the pan frying with the bacon. I tried to make Panda shapes for the rice balls and only realized the ears part were too small! Now I know how to accentuate the features next time, by adding a smaller rice ball on the nose and ears part... next time maybe! Prince D had a playdate and I packed the same Bento as Miss E's with some little extra so I can nibble along too. For Curry's Bento, I used left over braised pork meat with potatoes from our dinner last night. All I had to do was stir fried the celery with carrot in black pepper and salt. I haven't made a Bento for Curry for a long time as I was still juggling on how to complete 2 or more Bentos in the morning. I think left over stews or dishes will make packing Bento for an adult quicker as compared to the kids ones as they are more picky and only easy to eat food types can be packed for them to eat within a very short lunch period.

Day 19

Egg sandwiches for Miss E today. Before she started school, I always thought hard about everything. Since we are Asians, the stigma of different cultural clashes will always be present in my mind. Although I must say so far, living in the East Coast of USA hasn't been bad at all and people are open minded and accepting to different cultures, practices and also palates. My concern about the school's food got to the point that I even thought of getting the list of what they serve during the month and make the same thing for my daughter to bring to school on that particular day, just so she blends in well with the other American kids, eating the same type of food and yet I have the peace of mind that I prepared it myself! Talk about extreme motherhood, I qualify in every sense! But luckily I ditched the idea and just pack whatever she wanted and most of the time, she prefers home packed lunch. Until she realized that every Friday is Pizza day and she told me that she was giving me a break for the week and will get her food from school on Fridays only. Despite my craziness in Bento, I do let my kids have rooms for choices if they can make sensible selections. And Miss E certainly has it and I am happy.

Day 20

Anyone wondering how long I can do this Bento blogs? With the sky more gloomy in the autumn mornings, I have difficulties in getting my pictures the way I want. But the interest of capturing each and every Bento I packed during the whole week has not wavered a bit. Sometimes my energy level drop in the mid morning and all I can thank is the bliss of power napping in the afternoon to keep me going. I do not whine for having to do this as all I care about is I have done my best for the day as a mom :). Today's Bento are plain sushi rice with pan fried turkey burgers. We are still harvesting baby tomatoes from our little patch despite the cooler weather which dampens the reddening of some of them. Fresh strawberries and blueberries are dwindling in supply and apples, bananas and oranges are back and fully stocked at all stores. I never bothered to add lemon juice to the cut apples as I think the kids don't see the difference.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pattern Sushi

I finally attempted the Pattern Sushi that I wanted to make long long time ago! Thanks to my friend, she showed me how to make the first 2 rolls and I practised over with the rest of the sushi rice. I am particularly drawn to this flower shape as it looks very simple and yet very eye catching. I have a book on pattern sushi making of which I always only glance through but never made one till yesterday. And it was so much fun. Anyone interested in this should go down to your local bookstore and have a glance through! All instructions are clearly printed out but I am one of those who tries everything hands on rather than learn from a book solely.

For the filling or color accent, I used omelette, carrots and celery. Other ingredients can be used too as long as they can be easily slotted in and rolled up with the sushi rice and nori.

I am looking forward to do other shapes in future. And yes, it can get pretty messy :).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Apple Pie

With apples all around, I thought up alot of recipes using this fruit. Today I made the American Apple Pie, the much loved pie that sits next to the pumpkin pie at family tables during the fall season and at the upcoming Thanksgiving celebrations. The French Apple Tart last week was great, with its fancy apple decoration and yummy inside filling, all encased in the best buttery tart.

Apple Pie is slightly different in a way the crust is made up solely of vegetable shortening or with a mixture of butter. I find that vegetable shortening is very hard to work with as it produces a very tender and soft pie dough and I always have problem rolling it out perfect to line the pie dish. Extra flour for dusting is required on hand and the bigger working surface you have, the better it is. Everytime I attempt a pie, my small kitchen turns into a mess and I have to work extra hard within a small space and clean up immediately.

I made an Apple Pie recipe last year, solely on vegetable shortening and this time, I mixed it with butter to see if there is any difference. Truly, I find that the dough was easier to work with but still tender if rolling it too hard. The omission of the vegetable shortening is not an option here as it is there to provide the flakiness of the pie crust which complements so well with the apple slices that cook in their juices but still retaining their shapes and soft but not mushy after the baking. If you find that your dough breaking during the rolling out, dust flour as you go and roll the dough out as big as you can. If unable to lift it to line the pie dish, just lift the part you can and pat it into the pie dish and patch up with the remaining dough. I used my small rolling pin to gently roll out the dough to even thickness once the dough was inside the 11 inch pie dish and gently patted the sides. It is ok to get uneven thickness on the sides and if any extra dough moving up the side rims of the pie dish when you are patting the sides, do pat it down gently meeting the upper rim of the pie dish. Apple pies are meant to look rustic, so any imperfection of the crust is not a big deal. I made mine into a lattice shape, of which I cut the dough with a jagged pizza cutter.

The addition of lemon juice to the apple filling mixture was done last after all the ingredients are mixed together first, so that the juice will bind up all the ingredients together. I used both nutmeg and cinnamon to flavor the pie but these or one can be omitted. Nutmeg is more pungent than cinnamon, hence the lesser quantity in this recipe.

Pie Base
475g All Purpose Flour
140g Butter, cold 
140g Vegetable shortening, cold
1 tbsp Sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 to 4 tbsp Cold water
1 egg, beaten for egg wash
extra flour for dusting
1 tsp sugar (extra for sprinkling)

500g/3 large apples (peeled,sliced into thin wedges)
50g Raisins
75g to 100g Sugar (depending on your sweet tooth)
1 tsp Cinnamon Powder
1/4 tsp Nutmeg Powder
2 tsp Corn flour
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Pie Crust
1)Sift the flour, sugar and salt together. Put contents into a food processor.
2)Cut the vegetable shortening and butter into smaller pieces and drop them randomly into the flour mixture.
3)Pulse and process to mix and to obtain loose crumbs. Process for 1 min only.
4)Add in 3 tbsp water and pulse to mix and the dough will come together. Add extra 1 tbsp water if not enough. The dough will look yellowish and feel tender and soft when touched.
5)Form into a flat disc and  place in a plastic bag and let the dough rest for 1 hour in the fridge.

1)Mix all the ingredients, except the lemon juice together. Stir to mix thoroughly.
2)Squeeze in the lemon juice and stir to mix. Leave aside.

To Assemble
1)Preheat oven to 400F. Grease a 10 or 11 inch pie dish.
2)Take out dough from the fridge, divide it into half.
3)Dust the rolling pin and working surface with flour. Take half of the dough and roll out to more than 1/4 inch thick. If the dough is too soft, continue dusting with flour. Gently lift up the dough and transfer to the pie dish. If unable to do so, just patch up the dough inside the pie dish itself and use a smaller rolling pin to roll even the dough surface inside the plate. Do not apply too much pressure.
4)Take out the rest of the pie dough, roll out and cut out strips to form the lattice. Leave aside.
5)Take the apple filling and spoon into the base of the pie dough and spread out evenly. Pour in the juice too.
6)Arrange the strips on top of the fillings to form the lattice. Do the straight patterns first and finish off with the diagonal ones.
7)Brush with egg wash.
8)Bake for 15 mins. Reduce the heat to 375F and brush extra egg wash and sprinkle some sugar on top of the pie. Continue baking for another 1 hour & 15 mins. For the last 20 mins of baking, apply more egg wash and finish off baking.
9)Remove from the oven and let the pie cool down for about 15 mins before serving.

Serves: 6 to 8 person

Thursday, September 23, 2010

September Bento Week 4

Day 12
On a Monday, all moms will tell you that they have no interest and ideas on what to pack for Lunch! I am one of them and the simpler the lunch, the better. And so I packed a ham and cheese sandwich and yogurt pack. And boiled quail eggs with tomatoes and sausages.... with simple decorations.

Day 13
I pan fried some mini beef patties and cut out round shapes from the bread and put them together. Still lazy to think of anything else.

Day 14
Miss E is requesting for more in her Bento box and I had to pack 2 tiers today. Spaghetti noodles are not meant for tomato paste and carbonara sauce only, they taste equally good in the Asian soy sauce. I used Japanese fish rolls (Chikuwa) and inserted an okra into its tube before cutting it into smaller pieces and pan fried it to decorate the noodles. Cucumber is currently my favorite Bento stuffer and they simply slot in anywhere to keep the Bento contents compact. Miss E came home and told me the lunch today was great and finished everything. Now, that is music to my ears.

Day 15
We went out for dinner to celebrate the Chinese Mid Autumn Festival and had left over braised chicken. It is always a good idea to jazz up left over dinner meals and pack them in Bento. For this Bento, I pan fried some mini mushrooms with the left over chicken and steamed a broccoli floret together with the Japanese fish cake tube, Chikuwa. I just had to program the rice cooker to cook the rice in the morning and cut up a baby tomato into wedges to decorate. Simple, quick and nutritious. It doesn't have to look cute all the time, but the Bento must look neat and presentable every time !

And to my delight, Miss E told me that she will join her friends in the queue for Pizza on Friday.... Yeah! Mommy gets to sleep in till 7am!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

French Apple Tart

We picked our first batch of apples from our neighborhood orchard 2 weeks ago and I only got to bake this now. That is the good thing about apples, they last long at room temperature and retain their crisp and crunchiness long enough for me to get ready to attempt to bake with them! And this year, I started using the Gala and Rome varieties. The Gala variety has a very sweet smell and its crispness together with sweet taste makes it appropriate for the filling of this tart. For the outer layer, I used the Rome variety, which kind of resembles the Red Washington in crunch and taste and can withstand to baking for a longer period without affecting much of its shape.

This tart is different from the apple pie as the tart crust is purely loaded with butter and has a firm crunch to hold in the cooked and moist apple filling. And the filling is purely apple chunks cooked in sugar and water and no cornstarch added. The sugar sprinkled and melted butter brushed onto the top layer slices made so much difference to the taste of the tart, with a slight crunch on top and moist in the filling. All in all, this is really apple tart at its best !

For a tart to be perfect, it is really in the skill of making the tart dough. Cold and malleable butter must be used and I cannot stress enough the more effective way of rubbing the butter into the flour with bare hands rather than the food processor. Through your hands, you can feel that every drop of flour is coated with the butter and the temperature of the butter is still cold once the mixing is done. To get a perfect crust, the idea is to mix the flour and butter like mere coating of each other, rather than mixing it all up and crushing the butter pieces, hence melting it too fast and producing a tough dough. I added egg to this dough to get a better color in the end result as I often omitted the egg in previous attempts when the fillings of the tarts exudes alot of colors. But for this tart, the color of the apple fades and becomes lumpy after baking, hence the tart shell itself must look nicely brown.


Tart Case
300g All Purpose Flour
180g Cold but malleable butter
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg

3 medium size Gala apples, cut to small chunks
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp Cinnamon powder
1/2 cup water

Top Layer
3 large Red Washington apples, sliced thinly into wedges (as in picture) or use a mandolin
3 tbsp melted butter
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp Apricot Preserve, thin with 1 tsp water

Tart Case
1)Sift the flour with the sugar and salt.
2)Cut the butter into small pieces and drop into the flour. Using hands, rub the butter into the flour to coat. Do not overmix, when there is no more obvious separate chunk of butter, the dough is ready. Mixture will be a mess. Or use food processor but do not over process.
3)Beat the egg and pour into the dough and mix to incorporate. Do Not overmix. Form into a disk and wrap up and let it rest in the fridge for 1 hour.

1)Put the apple chunks, cinnamon, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and water into a small saucepan.
2)Cook at medium low heat for about 15 to 20 mins, till the liquid is evaporated. Stir gently to retain the shapes of the apple chunks and don't squash it. Remove from heat once ready and let it cool down to room temperature.

1)Preheat oven to 375F.
2)Take out dough and let sit at room temperature for about 10 mins. Roll out to a circle and line an 8 inch tart pan with removable bottom. As the dough is high in butter content, there will be no need to grease the pan.
3)Spoon the cooked apple filling into the tart case, spread out evenly with a spatula.
4)Using the apple wedges now, place them one by one in a circular motion, with each overlapping the previous one, starting from the outer side first. Don't worry if the first round doesn't look compact and arranged, you just have to slot in apple slices in between the gaps to make it up.
5)Do the same thing with the middle part of the tart, using less apple slices and move in a circular motion.
6)Gently brush the apple slices with melted butter and sprinkle sugar all over.
7)Bake for 55 to 60 mins till the tart case is slightly brown. Prior to the last 15 mins of baking, brush more melted butter and sprinkle sugar onto the tart.
8)Remove from oven, brush with apricot preserve and let cool in pan for 15 mins and then remove from tart pan. Serve warm.

Serves : 6 to 8 person

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Preserved Mustard Leaves with Pork Ribs (Hakka 'Moi choy Chu Nyuk')

Back to my Hakka roots, this dish is the ultimate comfort food in my mom's house. She has been cooking this dish for as long as I know and one of her favorites to bring to her own family gatherings. And to tell the truth, this  was my first time making it and it was the easiest dish to make.

The Hakka people use alot of preserved vegetables and ingredients in their cooking and one of the very frugal clans that prepares the most simple dishes with minimum effort and time. This particular vegetable is made of large mustard leaves, which in its original state is a bit bitter but has a cooling effect when made into a soup dish. In this preserved state, this 'mui choy' is soaked in tonnes of salt that pulls out all the excess liquid from the leaves itself and lends a subtle fermented aroma to it. There are 2 types of this mui choy, one is salty and the other is slightly sweetened with the addition of sugar. Both can be combined to cook this dish or either one can be used if you have a very typical and distinct palate for one taste only at a time. Prior to use, both types must be washed under running water to get rid of the grits of salt and all excess water squeezed out and cut down to little pieces.

For this dish, I used pork ribs of which I cut down to chunky pieces but the more preferred cut of meat is belly pork with all the fats attached. By using ribs, I got a more drier dish with less oily gravy soaking up the meat pieces but the dish is moist and soft with the crunch from the vegetable. This dish needs a longer cooking and best eaten the next day when all the flavors from the vegetable is absorbed into the meat itself. And the best complement to this dish is white jasmine rice, piping hot and eaten from a bowl!


900g Pork ribs (cut down to chunks)
300g Salted Mustard Leaves (1 package)
2 small shallots (sliced thinly)
5 cloves garlic (grated)
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp sesame seed oil
3 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
1/3 cup Dark Soy sauce
3 cups water
1 tsp white pepper

1)Wash the mustard leaves thoroughly and cut into small pieces. Retain the leaves part too. Squeeze out all excess water.
2)Heat a large pot with 2 tbsp cooking oil. Saute the shallot, garlic and ginger for 1 min. Add in the pork ribs, cooking wine, pepper and 1 cup of water and coat evenly. Cover the lid and let it steam and cook for about 5 mins, stirring occasionally.
3)Add in the mustard leaves and stir to mix. Pour in the dark soy sauce to mix. Pour in the remaining 2 cups of water and turn up the heat to boiling.
4)Turn down the heat to simmering heat and simmer for about 45 mins to 1 hour, till the meat is tender. Stir occasionally and add water by additional 1/2 cup if getting dry.
5)Dish up and serve with white rice. Can be freeze for up to 1 week.

Serves: 6 to 8 person

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Vegetable Platter with Dried Scallop and Mushroom Sauce

Although we eat alot of vegetables, I don't have many ideas on how to cook vegetables besides stir fry or steam. The hard part with cooking them is the timing as most green leafy vegetables wilt within minutes they touch the heat and some stalky types like broccoli, asparagus and beans require more longer period of cooking but must be right to retain their shape and color.

Chinese cooking uses alot of other vegetables besides the ordinary broccoli and peas that we usually get at the local groceries. To see the total varieties, one needs only to visit an Asian grocery store where they stock everything from watercress, baby bok choy, water convulvulus, Chinese Broccoli that has large leaves rather than florets to fresh bamboo shoots, white and purple taro and fresh water chestnuts. I myself haven't even tried all of them and would really want to try out more root and tuber vegetables cooking in the future.

I made this vegetable platter for our annual Mid Autumn Festival celebration, which is more known to the kids as Mooncake Day! Every year, we have a potluck gathering with our family friends and this was my first time making a vegetable dish for the occasion. To make the dish more appetizing, I chose the colors green, white and black. To meat lovers, a vegetable dish must strike in color and presentation to entice them to try the dish out and this can be achieved with a combination of different types of vegetables, all cooked accordingly to their specified cooking time and arranged altogether in a unique way with gravy poured over them just before serving time.

I boiled the cauliflower and broccoli separately. The heat was maintained at a low rolling boil temperature throughout as not to quickly overcook the vegetables and break them apart from the floret shape. Once cooked, I soaked them in iced cold water to stop the cooking and also maintain the colors. Once drained on a colander and patted dried gently with a kitchen paper towel, I then arranged the white and green vegetables alternately, starting from outside working towards inside. For this platter I used a 12 inches size deep dish plate. Prior to cooking the cauliflower and broccoli, I started simmering the shiitake mushrooms in chicken stock, water and condiments with softened dried scallops threads. The liquid made up the sauce and needed to be cooked down for about 40 mins to get the deep flavor of the mushrooms and the umami flavor from the dried scallop. After cooking, the mushrooms are then arranged into the platter and the sauce was drained out from the scallop threads. The threads were then arranged onto the platter to complete the vegetables presentation and the sauce was further thickened with cornstarch and poured over the platter just before serving.


300g Broccoli Florets
250g Cauliflower Florets
1 dozen Dried Shiitake Mushroom, soaked and softened
3 Dried Scallops, soaked for at least 4 hours and shred to threads
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp grated garlic (3 cloves)
1 small shallot, sliced
3 tbsp chicken stock powder
4 cups water
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp white pepper
1 tbsp corn flour, added to 1/2 cup water

1)Heat 1 tbsp cooking oil in a small cooking pot. Saute the grated ginger, garlic and shallot for 1 min.
2)Add in the 1 dozen mushrooms and mix and let it cook for 5 mins.
3)Mix the chicken stock powder with the 4 cups water and pour into the mushroom mixture. Add in the sesame oil, soy sauce and white pepper and stir to mix. Sprinkle in the scallop threads. Simmer for 40 mins with the lid on the pot. Stir occasionally to cook evenly.
4)In another pot, boil 5 cups of water and maintain at a rolling boil. Drop in the broccoli florets and cook for about 10 mins. Prepare a large bowl of iced water. Remove the broccoli and plunge them into the cold water. Drain on a colander and arrange on the plate.
5)Drop the cauliflower florets into the boiling water and cook for 8 mins. Remove and plunge into cold water and drain and arrange like the broccoli on the plate.
6)Scoop up the mushrooms from the sauce and separate the sauce from the scallop threads through a small hand held sift.
7)Arrange the mushrooms on the plate and insert the scallop threads in the empty spaces to complete the arrangement.
8)Bring the sauce to a boil and add in the cornstarch and stir to mix.
9)Pour the sauce onto the vegetable when ready to serve.

Serves: 6 to 8 person

Friday, September 17, 2010

September Bento Week 3

Day 7

After 3 years of school, I thought I would never have to go through it with crying mornings and dreadful whinning. Last week was a bit of a let down by Miss E who seemed to find crying in the mornings a good thing to do to get some attention from us! All of a sudden, a carefree and happy go lucky little girl starts getting separation anxiety, giving me the 'you are abandoning me' look moments at drop off and by the time school was done, she came home happy and  talking about the day. This week seems to be getting better but still not perfect. What is a mother to do in this situation? Learn to discern what is real and faked tears and also ignore! And never underestimate a 6 year old and her emotions, they are equally as bad as an almost 40 year old woman like me..... hormones rule from young!

Today's Bento was pan fried pasta with tomato ketchup, peas and ham. I love to go around pasta aisles to search for shaped pasta and during festive seasons, my local HomeGoods store stocks up on themed pasta shapes. For this Bento, I used the turtle and elephant shapes to accent the more common and available pinwheel shapes and a good idea to retain the shapes of the animals pasta is to cook them later after the main pasta has been cooking for 7 mins. They will soften after cooking but not squashed due to overcooking in the boiling water with the rest of the pasta. Miss E was complaining that they didn't have enough time to finish lunch before they had to rush out to recess and so I am still experimenting with the best sized Bento box for her throughout the week. At times she comes back half finished and sometimes, she said it is not enough. I can just say that she is lucky that she doesn't have to go queue up to get lunch with the rest of the kids or else, she wouldn't have eaten anything at all and famished by end of school!

Day 8

In my household, the anytime favorite to eat dish is fried rice. I can feed my kids 7 days on fried rice and they will have no complaints. It is the easiest thing to make as long as you have left over rice, and any other ingredients can be added to it to complete the balance of nutrition. For today's Bento, I mixed it with minced pork, peas, corn and egg. With minimal decoration of star cut out carrot, it looks more appetizing. On the side, are mini crispy tofu stuffed with minced pork, baby tomatoes and grapes.

Day 9 & 10

I packed the same Bento for these 2 days as requested by Miss E, with a cup of yogurt on the side. The sandwich was made up of 2 slices of white bread with pan fried turkey ham slice and mayo. The mayo keeps the ham from soaking up the white bread. I overboiled the quail eggs, hence the yolk looked a bit dark. Miss E's favorite cute character are these baby chicks of which I started making last year. I recommend buying fresh quail eggs rather than cooked and canned ones as there is really a difference in taste.

Day 11

Miss E's appetite is getting better and so I went back to the rice balls again. Sushi rice tends to make you feel fuller and I made 2 small ones and included 2 little shrimp and pork dumplings together with okra and omelette.  Despite being 2 tiers and there seem to be alot of kind of food here, the quantity and sizes are actually very small. Infact everything is as small as the baby tomato and grapes!

Here is to another week of Bento and yeah..... Friday again. :)

Friday, September 10, 2010

September Bento Week 2

Day 3
I have been checking out some new frozen stuffs for the Bento and I found these little sized shrimp pork dumplings, which we usually get at Dim Sum meals. They are mini sizes and just right for kids bento if you are running out of ideas on what meat fillings to fit into your kids bento box. I included a small bottle of dark soy sauce for dipping. Japanese mushrooms like Enoki and Bunashimeji are available at Asian stores only and for today's Bento, I just steamed the Bunashimeji together with the Broccoli, cauliflower and dumplings all together for 15 mins. All I had to do were form the rice balls and attached their smiley faces. The theme today is shapes.

Day 4, 5 & 6
These 3 days were not very good days as Miss E throws an emotional outburst every now and then about going to school and all I packed for her were banana, yogurt and sandwiches. And myself too being sucked into all these abrupt emotional roller coaster and simply drained in energy! Gosh! Being parents are just darn hard! Hoping for a better week next week....... Yeh! Friday!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Crispy Tofu Pouches

Over here, tofu is a healthy choice and one of the top recommended protein food for a vegetarian. Rarely do I hear people who are meat lovers will like tofu and people who eat tofu are usually vegetarians or have no idea that it is actually a soy product. On the contrary, in Asia, people eat both meat and tofu together! Usually the meat is stuffed into the tofu or the tofu is braised with meat and sauce poured over it.

These small cube tofu are available mostly in Asian markets, which are deep fried prior to packaging and must be re-cooked before eating. They are of a different texture than the more available white silken tofu and actually hollow inside and absorbs flavors easily. Their hollow inside makes them ideal for stuffing and when deep fried, they puff up and when braised they retain their coarse texture. For a healthier option, I pan fried these tofu.

This dish is good as a side dish or to be served as an Asian inspired appetizer. My kids are always enticed to eat deep fried stuffs with a dip of mayo or Dijon mustard on the side. I used minced beef for the stuffing but minced pork, chicken or fish can also be used. I put in some peas to make them more appetizing as beef darkens after pan frying and the tofu needed to be pan fried longer to get it crispy, since I skipped the deep frying process.  This recipe can be doubled or tripled.


Ingredients :

350g minced beef
1 tsp grated ginger
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp corn flour
salt & white pepper
2 dozen small deep fried tofu pouches
2 dozen peas

Method :
1)Snip a small hole on one side of the tofu.
2)Mix the minced beef with the ginger, sesame oil, corn flour, salt & white pepper in a bowl. Stir and mix it for 2 mins.
3)Take one small portion of this mixture and push it into the cavity of the tofu. This is best done with pinching fingers. Insert a pea on top. Continue with the rest.
4)Heat 2 tbsp cooking oil in a non stick frying pan. 
5)Put in the tofu pouches, with the stuffed meat facing down. Turn down the heat to low and let it cook for 4 to 5 mins. Turn the tofu pouches with the meat filling facing up and let them cook further for 4 mins.
6)Drain the tofu on a piece of kitchen paper towel. Dish up and serve with baby tomatoes and mayo.

Makes: 2 dozens

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Onion & Scallion Wings

When I first started my cooking journey, I never thought it was difficult. Regardless of a recipe calling for hours to simmer or stew, piles of ingredients to slice, chop and mince, steps to follow and avoid, I will cook or bake whatever that fancies my eyes and tempt my appetite. In fact I still don't mind losing myself and spending time in my humble little kitchen stirring up and firing up the best I can do as long as no other human beings walk in and out bothering me or I am short of time.

Having said that, the reality now is that I have alot of tasks on hand and with 2 growing kids who constantly require different attention and seem to hover around the kitchen more than anywhere else, I am cooking up more simple and speedy dishes these days.

It was still very hot today and I am starting to wonder if the summer heat is ever going away. And so I made up something very simple and quick for dinner. I dissected and marinated a few chicken wings, sliced up half of a large yellow onion, cut up some large scallion leaves together with its white peppery & fragrant white root part and heated up the frying pan. My favorite part of the chicken meat is the wings and I am not a very big fan of the drumstick. I like the fat on the wings that exudes itself when cooked, especially deep fried and also pan fried. It is best to dissect the wings into parts for easier eating. The onion added crunch and I always love its natural sweetness complementing any savory dishes. The scallion were cut about 1 to 2 inches long and added at the last 2 minutes of cooking to retain its color and shape.


Ingredients :
5 chicken wings (all dissected into 3 parts)
1 small knob of ginger, grated (about 2 tbsp)
1/2 yellow or white onion ( sliced thickly)
2 large scallion leaves (cut into 1 inches parts & retain the white bulb part)
1-1/2 tbsp Dark soy sauce
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp white pepper
1/2 tbsp sesame oil

Method :
1)Marinate the wings with the grated ginger,dark soy sauce, soy sauce, pepper and sesame oil. Marinate for 30 mins.
2)Heat the pan with 1 tbsp cooking oil. Saute the onion for 2 mins. Turn up the heat and add in the wings, retaining the marinate liquid aside. Mix the wings into the onion and lie each wings and parts separate from each other and pan fry for 5 mins on one side. Turn down the heat to medium.
3)Flip the wings and parts to the other side and drizzle in the marinate liquid and 2 tbsp of water. Cover the pan with lid and let it cook through for another 7 mins.
4)Sprinkle in the scallion, close the lid and let it cook for another 2 mins. Turn off heat and let it sit for 3 mins.
5)Dish up and serve.

Serves : 4 person (side dish)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

New York style Cheesecake

As the weather turns cooler and preparing for the coming of the Fall season, my eyes and appetite for something creamy and heavy are searching everywhere. Currently I am very into chocolate and cheese. Although I don't really go for much of baked stuffs with chocolate, I really love cheesecake. And this New York style cheesecake is still the best one to eat and sink my teeth into! It is so decadent, rich and sickeningly good when your craving for it is at its peak!

I think this is the easiest and simplest cheesecake to make with store bought graham cracker, crushed to make the base and nothing fancy about the cheese part when all the ingredients are mixed up and then put into the oven for 1 hour. There is really nothing that will go wrong with this cake and any types of cracker can be used in place of the graham cracker. The best way to crush graham crackers is to put all the crackers in one large kitchen Ziplock bag and using a rolling pin to roll over the content. The crushed pistachio coating at the sides of the cake added crunch to the velvety smooth cheesecake and needless to say, it added a lovely color to it. I think this cheesecake is best flavored with lemon and complemented with some berries at the side. I like it cold but it is equally good served at room temperature. I use an 8 inch pan with a removable bottom rather than a springform as I find that I always crack the perfect cake slightly when I pop open the spring. One thing about this cheesecake is that it is very easy to make and rather quick but you have to wait and let it firm up beautifully overnight in the fridge, hence the wait for a little while to savor the fork licking goodness of it!


175g crushed graham crackers (about 9 to 10 rectangular crackers)
60g butter, melted
1 Tbsp sugar

450g cream cheese
140g sugar
1 Tbsp all purpose flour
2 tsp fresh lemon juice & grated zest of 1/2 of a lemon
3 eggs, large
1 large egg yolk
Garnish: 150g pistachio (crushed) & summer berries

Method :
1)Preheat oven to 375F. Crush the graham cracker. Using a fork, stir in the sugar and pour in the butter to mix. This will form wet clumps of crumb but still loose.
2)Pat this crumb into an 8 inch springform pan with removable bottom. Pat in tightly and to level pat in the sides with fingers and press down firmly with your palm for the bottom base part.
3)Bake for 15 mins. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for at least 15 mins. Proceed to do the filling.

Filling :
1)Reduce the oven heat to 300F.
2)Beat the cream cheese and sugar till creamy and light, about 3 minutes.
3)Beat in the eggs and egg yolk one at a time till well combined.
4)Add in the lemon zest and lemon juice and lastly fold in the flour to incorporate. The mixture will resemble very thick cream pouring consistency.
5)Put the springform pan with the baked base inside a larger shallow baking pan.
6)Pour the filling mixture into the springform pan and level the filling with a spatula.
7)Bake at middle rack for 1 hour.
8)When done, the sides of the cheesecake will be slightly browned but the middle will remain jiggly. Remove from the oven and let it stay in the pan and let it cool completely before putting it into the fridge to set further for at least 2 hours or overnight.
9)Remove from the springform pan and coat the sides with crushed pistachio. Easiest to do this by placing the cake on a pedestal with a catching shallow pan or plate at the bottom. Take some crushed pistachio and gently pat it to the sides of the cake.
10)Garnish with summer berries. Cut every slice with a clean knife and serve cold or at room temperature.

Serves : 8 person


Friday, September 3, 2010

September Bento Week 1

Day 1
Miss E is off to 1st Grade today. The first thing I did was congratulated Curry and myself for having gone through all these past 6 years raising our first born to be the girl she is today. Our expectations are always high and of course, we hope for the best education option for our girl and always hopeful that she will excel in everything she does. To see her carrying her own backpack with a lunch tote and  finally sitting on a school desk with anticipation of a new teacher and new peers, makes me feel happy. Compared to last year, I was more in control of my emotions this year and did everything to appear strong for my daughter who was a bit jittery this year. And luckily, the first day went by without any glitch and she seemed to be very happy with her new surroundings.

First Grade is a very important milestone. It is the period when a kid goes through different emotions all the time, trying to keep up with everyone around them, learning at a faster and more structure environment, trying to understand what is right from wrong and last but not least, to be independent on their own thoughts and actions. It took me some time to understand this transition and finally I realized it is not that my daughter is being difficult when she turned 6 , but it was me who didn't adapt to the emotional development that every normal kid her age will go through. In the growing up period, parents can never outright win with the kid, so patience and flexibility in different situations are the new parenthood lessons I am going through now.

For her first day Bento lunch and snack, I made something fun. For her snack time, I packed 2 mini sausage rolls which I made with mini sausages and my simple bread dough. For lunch, it was stir fried Udon noodles in soy sauce with turkey ham cut outs together with fruits and cucumber. I managed to find the mini grapes (known as Champagne Black Corinth) that I always see in some cheese platters in my cooking magazines and gave it a try. Their sizes are slightly bigger than fish roe and they come in huge clusters bunch. They are very sweet and juicy and just right for kids Bento boxes. My kids love them!

Day 2
More on a simple theme today, I used carrot to decorate this Bento. To indent and create the cavities on the quail eggs requires very small and sharp cutters and I managed to find some at the soap making section at my local craft store. Yes, sometimes you just have to look to other options when you can't find a tool at the kitchen section. I boiled the carrot slices together with the broccoli florets and let it cool before cutting out various shapes from the carrot slices. For the quail eggs, I firstly indented the cutter shape onto them gently without puncturing too deep to keep the shape intact. With a toothpick, I digged out the indentation and cut out the egg white and then insert the similar carrot shape into the egg cavity. The rice was pan fried with turkey ham and flavored lightly with soy sauce.

Glad that I was able to come up with these neat and cute lunches and I am sure they in a way helped my daughter ease into the routine of school life!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pork Ribs & Fermented Black Bean

I hear: "finally no more Bento!" This is what blogging too much does to one, talking things and hearing things in my ears when in fact no one else is complaining, or at least not that I can hear of! But my picnic Bento days are not over yet, at least for the remaining of the sunny days and early Fall season of which I still want to do till the first snow of winter boxed me inside! And not mentioning my excitement of making Bento lunch for my daughter everyday starting tomorrow, and so much more for me to experiment with the cute little boxes.

I have been cooking this dish for as long as I know, in fact one of the dishes that taught me how easy it is to put together a few ingredients to create a side dish to complement my bowl of white rice.

Pork ribs or more known as spare ribs is a good piece of meat to cook in stew and the fat content keeps the meat moist throughout the long cooking process. Fermented black beans are soy beans, salted and dried. Chinese cooking uses this ingredient alot and usually as a sauce ingredient, with a pungent smell and adds saltiness to any dish.

The ribs were firstly marinated in dark soy sauce, sesame oil, chinese cooking wine, pepper, salt and corn flour for an hour. The ribs were then sauteed first with garlic, small red shallot and the black beans before being transferred to the steamer for a further steaming of 30 mins. I find that the addition of cornstarch gives the ribs a silky coating and succulent when bite into, rather than a tough piece of meat. It can be steamed straight without the pan frying but will produce more liquid in the cooking. The pan frying ensures that the juice in the meat is sealed in and all the ingredients are well mixed and coated.

Ingredients :
600g (about 1-1/2 lbs) pork ribs meat
2 tbsp fermented dried black beans
1 small Asian red shallot, sliced
3 large cloves of garlic, sliced
2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp Sesame seed oil
1-1/2 tbsp cornflour
scallion for garnish

1)Cut the ribs into chunks. Retain the bones part. Marinate all in the mixture of dark soy sauce, cooking wine, sesame seed oil, pepper, salt and cornflour. Let it marinate for 1 hour.
2)Prepare steamer.
3)Heat frying pan with 2 tbsp cooking oil. Fry the shallots and garlic for 1 min. Add in the black beans and mix.
4)Pour in the meat together with the marinate sauce and mix in with the black bean mixture evenly. Cover with lid and let it cook for 5 mins.
5)Transfer to a large deep dish and steam for 30 to 35 mins on medium heat.
6)Remove and garnish with scallion, serve with white rice.

Serves: 3 to 4 persons as a side dish

Pumpkin Seed & Black Sesame seed Bread

I bought a pack of roasted pumpkin seeds last month with the hope of using it in my bread making. Haven't been active in anything besides making Bento and still I haven't attempted any new recipes of bread. This summer had been great and I hope to pick up my bread making from today as I am really finding store bought breads are getting tasteless these days! And I am more aware now about the types of flour available in the market and my first step on baking and eating healthy is buying unbleached flour. And also I hope to use other types of flour to produce more interesting flavored breads.

I used my old recipe but tweaked some of the ingredients and their quantities. This bread dough recipe  requires a short time in proofing and must be made fresh or proofed covered in the refrigerator if done overnight. Because of the high quantity in yeast to the ratio of the flour, the bread can smell funny if over-proofed. For this recipe, I used almond milk rather than ordinary dairy milk for the main reason we don't drink dairy milk anymore in my household. But I think I would prefer to use dairy milk with a little fat content that makes the texture of the bread even softer. I brushed milk on the bread before and during the baking and I find that over numerous times, milk produce a more crustier crust than egg wash. As for this bread, as soon as it came out of the oven, the crust was pretty hard to the touch but after cooling for 15 mins, it softened but still crusty to easily break apart.

Ingredients :
3 cups Bread Flour
1 tbsp yeast
2 tsp sugar
1 cup Almond milk or dairy milk, warm
1 large egg, beaten
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp toasted black sesame seed
3 tbsp toasted pumpkin seed
extra milk for glaze

Method :
1)Prepare 2 small loaf tins and grease them with butter. Stir the bread flour together with the yeast and sugar in a mixer bowl.
2)Attach the hook on the mixer on medium speed and add in the warm milk. Let it churn for 1 min.
3)Add in the egg next and let it churn for another 1 min.
4)Lastly add in the butter and let the mixture knead for 5 mins till it forms a dough.
5)Shape dough into a ball and cover with cling wrap and let it proof for 1 hour maximum.
6)Remove dough and divide into 2 equal half. Take one half and put the other one back to the bowl and covered.
7)Divide one half of the dough into 4 equal parts. Using a small rolling pin, roll out slightly to an oval shape bigger than your own palm. Sprinkle some black sesame seeds on the surface, turn around and sprinkle some on the other side. Take one edge, slowly roll  up to form a rolled blanket with sides slightly patted in and place into greased small loaf pans. Continue with the rest of the bread dough. One loaf tin should be able to contain 4 rolls.
8)Cover each loaf tin loosely with cling film, and let it proof for a further 30 mins, maximum.
9)Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Brush the breads with some milk and pat in the pumpkin seeds on top.
10)Bake for 20 mins, with 12 mins into baking, take out the breads and brush with milk wash again. Return to oven and finish off baking.
11)Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 10 mins. Remove and cool completely on rack.
12)Tear apart or cut to slices, serve with butter .

Makes: 2 small loaves