Friday, April 27, 2007

Using Zha-Cai with Meat

Zha cai (literally "pressed vegetable") is a type of pickled mustard stem originating from Sichuan, China. This versatile pickle can be used in many preparations. I used them in a stir fry with chicken fillets.
Here's what you start with the plain version.

Stir Fried Zha Cai
2tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
400 g Zha Cai
2 large chilies, thinly sliced
1/2 cup water
a few drops of sesame oil

Wash the zha cai and soak in water for 2 hrs. Drain well and cut into strips.
Heat oil and fry garlic till fragrant. Add the zha cai and chilies and fry for 1 minute till fragrant.
Add water and a few drops of sesame oil. Bring to a quick boil, and cook for another minute or so, before serving.
Eat with steamed rice or porridge.

Here I seasoned sliced chicken fillets and added them into the stir fry. You can also use pork.

Authentic Korean Food in Singapore

There are roughly over 7,000 Koreans in Singapore and there are some authentic Korean food in Singapore these days. One such place is Auntie Kim's at 265 Upper Thomson Road, owned and managed by a Korean lady who has recruited chefs from Korea to staff her establishment.
I decided to walk over to try this much talked about restaurant while waiting to pick my mother up from the hospital. It was an interesting experience as I was served with 6 different starters with my order of beef bibim bab. The starters included mash potatoes, apple salad, boiled spinach, mung bean sprouts, kim chee, zucchini in chili paste and they were all tasty.
When my order arrived I had polished off 3 of my starters. Unfortunately, the bibim bab bowl wasn't as hot as I had expected it and there was no sizzle in it nor did the rice burn at the bottom to form the crunchy bits that give the dish added flavor. The rice in the bowl too was cold and it looked like left over rice had been used. Overall, the dish did not quite live up to my expectations.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Chestnut and Pork Soup

I'm not sure if this is the correct name for this soup but it is a soup that I remember from childhood. I've recreated it from memory and it is the simplest soup to prepare. You can also just leave it in a crock pot to slow cook. Yummy!!!
My mother used pork ribs but I have chosen to use leaner pork to get a clear soup with very little oil. Color of the soup is from the chestnuts.

250 g fresh chestnuts, cleaned and shelled
250 g lean pork ( I use soft bone)
500 ml water
Salt and sugar to taste

Start by boiling water.
When the water is boiling add the chestnuts and pork.
Cook the soup over a slow fire or in a crock pot till the chestnuts and pork are soft.
Add salt and sugar to taste. The sugar is added to help enhance the sweetness that the chestnuts impart to the soup.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bubur Pulut Hitam

I decided to make bubur pulut hitam (black glutinous rice porridge) for today and had soaked the black glutinous rice yesterday. It turned out to be perfect for day like today, the weather has been wet and cooler than normal just right for a warm desert.
After soaking overnight, the black rice has soften and this morning I put them into a crock pot to cook. Saves time and no need to slave over a hot stove stirring the rice. This is how my warm desert turned out.

Bubur Pulut Hitam Recipe
Ingredients150g black glutinous rice
50g glutinous rice
1.5 litre water
100g sugar
100g palm sugar
75g dried longans, rinsed
2–3 pandan leaves, knotted

Combine thick milk from 1 coconut with 1/2 tsp salt (to prevent coconut milk from spoiling) set aside

Wash glutinous rice thoroughly and soak in water over night. Put rice and water into a crock pot and cook until rice is broken up and almost creamy. When rice has reached the desired consistency, add dried longans and pandan leaves.

Add both types of sugar and simmer for a further 10–15 minutes over gentle heat.

To serve: put two to three tablespoons of thick coconut milk into each bowl of glutinous rice porridge.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Deep Fried Geragau Batter

We deep fried the geragau this evening for dinner and made the chili and garlic dip. This is how the geragau batter looked before they went into hot oil.
What is in this bowl - tempura flour, an egg, iced water, a pinch of salt and geragau.
Chili and garlic dip - chili and garlic pounded together in a motar and pestle. Add lime juice and salt to taste.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sedak Skali - Malay Dishes Finished Off With a Thai Desert

mee soto with bergerdilI had planned a simple two dish lunch followed by a Thai desert sticky rice with mango. Instead of 4 additional people for lunch, I ended up having 9 people coming over. Last minute guests who decided to come over for lunch this morning. Yeeks!! Although it was just two hawker fare dishes, these two dishes required lots of prep work - to get all the ingredients ready for the final assembly of the dishes themselves.
As I wasn't planning a mixed menu, I couldn't just get the additional family members to buy takeaway to add-on. It was a good thing I had bought a medium size chicken and had added on 5 pieces of the chicken back bone to my order so I had enough meat. I did however, had to go out to get additional egg noodles, quails eggs, potatoes and soto paste. sticky rice with mangoHowever, I couldn't increase my Thai sticky rice with mango desert since the sticky rice was already cooked by 10. I soak the glutinous rice over night so I wasn't going to try and do a short order.
What I did eventually was served up the desert as a large dish with the rice in the center encircled by lush sweet honey mangoes instead of individual portions. The toasted sesame seeds sprinkled on the rice and mangoes added a crispy crunch. The salty-sweet coconut sauce just added to the wow factor of this desert. Handed everyone a fork and we dug in. It's a good thing communal eating isn't frowned upon here. The plate was cleaned in no time.

Ingredients4 medium local potatoes, nuked in a microwave till cooked
1 can of tuna
Spring onions
pinch of salt
1 egg for coating
Oil for deep frying

1. Microwave potatoes, peel off the skin when cooled, and mash them
2. Blend tuna, potatoes, spring onions and salt and mix till well incorporated
3. Form the patties
4. Heat oil in wok
5. Dip into egg mixture and deep fry till golden brown

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The King of Tropical Fruits

It had to happen eventually. I bought durians (durians are widely known and revered in Southeast Asia as the "King of Fruits", the fruit is distinctive for its large size, unique odour, and a formidable thorn-covered husk) today from a street side peddler who sells his durians off his bicycle. These are Singapore grown durians, yes we still have land to grow them. The family use to have durian and mangoesteen plantations but they are all gone now. Made way for modern Singapore.
I thought I'd give my mom a treat but she wasn't too keen on eating them today. These were creamy yellow and the flesh was a thick custard with a sweet after taste. I ended up bringing them over to my aunt's place and we polished them off there before lunch.
I'm adding this on 27 April as I came across a durian tree in fruit while walking back to my car after lunch. The lucky people are going to have lots of durians if these fruits do ripen.


I finally found geragau at the wet market today, there is only one fish monger at the market I go to who sells them and they sell pretty fast. According to the fish monger these were still alive when he put them out at his stall and I believe him as they were all still shiny and fresh.
I am pretty sure that they are krill or Euphausiids, a shrimp-like marine invertebrate, as krill occur in all oceans of the world. The fishermen in Southeast Asia commercially fish them to make belachan (shrimp paste) and cincaluk (prepared from fresh shrimp, which is mixed with cooked rice and then left to ferment) which are used in some Asian cooking like peranakan.fisherman in Malaysia with his geragau net
I cook them in the style my mom use to make them. Mixing the geragau into a flour and egg batter, and deep frying them into crispy shrimp cakes. There is also the all important accompaniment pounded chili and garlic with lime juice.cinchaluk
I found this recipe that uses cinchaluk, I've got to try it to see if it's tasty.

Cincaluk Chicken
  • 2 green chillies - cut length wise bird’s eyes chillies, if you prefer it hotter (optional)
  • 1 large onion - quartered
  • 2 chicken thighs - slice into small pieces
  • 1 lemongrass
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 2.5 tbsp cincaluk
  • Some oil

Marinate chicken in cincaluk, sugar and lime juice. Heat oil and stir fry lemongrass, garlic and onion till fragrant. Add in chicken and let it simmer till chicken is cooked. Taste. If it is not salty enough, add a little bit more cincaluk. Serve with hot white rice.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Tropical Fruit Season - Mangoesteens

Going to the fresh fruit stall now is probably the best as most of the tropical fruits are in season. We're getting mangoes from Thailand and the Philippines now. Soon there will be those from Indonesia and India too. I have many favorites which I will slowly introduce as they come into season.
Today, I picked up 3 kilograms of mangoesteens for S$5.00 and 2 kilograms of Thai honey mangoes for S$4.00. I'm going to turn some of the mangoes into desert this weekend. The mangoesteen I'm just going to let the family consume.
Selecting mangoesteen are an art, one has to carefully press each fruit to select only the ripe ones. The fruit is should still be firm but you should be able to depress the skin between you thumb and finger to test ripeness.
The flesh inside is white and firm and there will be a number of seeds in each fruit. They can vary in taste from semi-tart to sweet. This batch is very sweet and will go fast for sure.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Stuffed Re-Fried Tau Pok (Fried Bean Curd)

raw state I finally let Lilik in on what I was doing with my face constantly stuck to a camera. I showed her the blog and explained to her what it was all about. Lilik, by the way, is my Indonesia domestic helper, who is helping to take care of my mother.
Hence, her sudden interest in trying out dishes from home because I end up plating, photographing and showing her the photos much to her amusement. She now comes to me with suggestions to cook some of her street type food.coating

oil bathFor a lack of a name for this dish, I called it stuffed re-fried Tau Pok. The stuffing consist of bee hoon (rice noodles), bean sprouts and carrots. The stuffed tau poks get dunked in a flour and egg batter, and then deep fried. The tau poks have a way of absorbing things and in this instance oil. Yes, it's not really healthy but I will try it once.
The re-fried tau pok is then eaten with a raw chili much like the Indian Vedai only this version does not feature spices which brings up the flavors in the vedai.

looks goodI plated, shot and then sampled it. I added cucumber which is not how it was to be eaten but the raw cucumber helped to cut the grease. The two pieces was my dinner as I could not eat anything else after which. taste could be better

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I Shot a Tree Frog

This four-lined tree frog was minding its own business in my garden when Lilik spotted it. She is now my trained spotter for wild animals that make my garden their home or food larder. We know the tree frogs are around as they croak every evening but they are hard to find amongst the heliconia. They have been using my water lily pots and ponds as their hatcheries. Sometimes we find the egg mass high on the wall above the pots.
This poor little frog became my subject for today's evening photography session. It must have been blinded by my flash as it went off over and over again. It only leaped away when I tried to get it to change its position so that I could get a different angle.
About the Frog
This frog is a common yet charming species of the secondary forests, scrub land, parks and gardens. Its repetitive monosyllabic call is an instantly recognisable sound in much of rural Southeast Asia. Most commonly encountered a few feet from the ground clinging to small stems, it may also be found in puddles on wet ground.
Its colour varies from green-grey to a less common ruddy-brown; the four lines on its back may be absent in some populations. Its eggs are laid next to ponds in a foamy mass glued to overhanging vegetation. Once hatched, the young tadpoles fall into the water below to start a new life.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Caught on Camera

OK, I have been stalking everything that moves in my garden and in the general vicinity of the catchment area. Not being the most patient person, I have had to be extremely patient in waiting to capture these shots with my new toy. It helps that my plants are in bloom and I get creatures big and small right up close. The skill is not only composition but the art of being really still so as not to spook your subjects. Believe you me when dealing with nature it can be absolutely frustrating as your subjects refuse to cooperate or fly off just as you hit the shoot button. I caught a small troupe of young male monkeys foraging and this one looked startled by the camera pointed at him.
Bee in flight
bee's legs laden with pollentiny sunbird feeding on my heliconiadove Oh no I've been caught

Sambal Tapioca Leaves

tapioca leavesLilik had seen her friends with harvested tapioca leaves while walking the doggie in the evenings and asked me where were the tapioca grew around the area.tamarind fruit
She discovered tamarind trees growing in the car park area leading to the tree top walk. I finally found them this morning while on my morning walk with camera in toll.
I showed her where this afternoon and we harvested wild tapioca leaves today from the edge of the secondary forest that rim the Pierce Resevoir catchment area. sambal tapioca leaves
She decided to cook a dish her mum would prepare for her when she goes home for her vacation. So I had sambal tapioca leaves for the first time ever. Laugh if you must but I didn't know that tapioca leaves could be eaten. Did I like it? Takes a little getting use to but not too bad. Style of cooking is quite similar to sambal sweet potato leaves.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Marutama Ra-men Revisited

I went back to Marutama on Saturday and today as I wanted to introduce a friend to the ramen. My visit on Saturday was to understand the menu and to try the chicken broth version.
The menu wasn't that hard to understand – there are two basic broth and two special ones made from beans or prawns. Then came the toppings like pork belly, char siew, stewed egg, spring onion and seaweed which you can add to your basic ramen order. You could also order side dishes but frankly a bowl is very filling on its own.
The two basic ones are a plain chicken and spicy chicken broth. Both come with standard toppings of one slice of char siew, some spring onion and seaweed.
On Saturday, I ordered the Marutama ramen (plain chicken broth) and added pork belly - Kakuni ramen with negi. The broth was rich and full-bodied but I still like the aka broth better. But I did struggle with the Kakuni as it was just too much pork for me and thick chunks at that.
Today, I went back and ordered aka ramen with char siew and spring onion. However, when my order arrived it had an egg in it. I suspect that the cooks mix up orders as they are really busy. The broth was a little more salty than the first bowl I tried on 06 April too. My friend ordered aka ramen too with pork belly and she enjoyed her bowl.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Camera, Subjects and Action

A tranquil pool of reflection within the purple water lily. I discovered that water had collected in the center of the lily as it started to bloom as the sun heated up the morning. It must have pooled from the rain yesterday and it created a great shot with the contrast of color and the translucency of the water.
The other pot of water lily was also in bloom, this white flower has a sweet scent to it. it was charming little bees with its scent as it slowly bloomed while I waited patiently for the bees to start feeding and collecting pollen on their hind limbs.
I must have shot over a hundred photos in trying to catch these little masters of flights in flight.I am pleased with the results of the new camera but I suspect I need a proper macro lens to achieve the clarity and sharpness that I want in these shots.

A Sweet Ending

After all the spicy food, I wanted to serve up something sweet and chilled. I could have made bubur cha cha but it was too much carb and coconut all round. It's a Nonya dessert of sweet potato and yam in thick coconut milk. Too much work cleaning and dicing up the two main ingredients.
I pulled out my old trusted tiramisu recipe this morning and churned up the desert in 30 minutes before we started lunch prep.
By the time we finished lunch the desert had set and was ready to be served.

Nasi Lemak Sunday

It has been a while since Lilik and I prepared Nasi Lemak. Since she had cooked Sambal Goreng tempeh (tempeh, taukwa, french beans in sambal sauce). I decided that we shall have Nasi Lemak for our Sunday lunch.
So it was off to the market with a list of items for my Nasi Lemak lunch - ikan kuning (Yellowstripe scad), fried ikan bilis (anchovies) and roasted peanut, cucumber, coconut milk, fish cake and achar. I wanted otah otah but my usual supplier at Whampoa has closed while the food center is being rebuilt.
In addition to the above items, I had already cooked up a batch of sambal chili which I store in my freezer. I also used eggs in two preparation depending on the eaters preference - hardboiled or sunny-side up.
We had a feast as my brother supplemented the spread with rojak (a fruit and vegetable salad dish) from the famous Hoover Rojak.Hoover Rojak Sambal Goreng Tempeh

New Camera Equiment

I bought myself a present as I felt a girl should always treat herself well. No, I did not buy diamonds but a rather unfeminine thing. I got myself a dSLR camera, a Canon EOS 400D from my favorite photographic shop Cathay Photo. My plan was to buy the 350D which is the best-selling model for Canon but the model was sold out so I had to settle for the newer 400D.
The 400D has a brand new 10.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor, a self-cleaning sensor which shakes off dust particles. After spending almost an hour in the shop at Marina chatting and trying out various brands I stuck to my choice. I have a Canon EOS SLR out fitted with a Sigma lens and I wanted to see if I could use the lens on the new dSLR. We tried the lens out on the 400D and it works although I lose the wide angle on the lens. Overall, it was a good deal and within my set budget and I got a free 2GB CF card along with a camera case.
My dream camera is the medium format Mamiya camera but the price for the ZD was just a little too steep for me at S$20,000.
I'll still be using my trusted Minolta DiMAGE F300 for many of the photos that I post on my blog. Canon material goes on TrekNature where I'm learning from fellow photographers.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Update - Project Raising Dragon Fruit Plants

These are the red dragon fruit seedlings thus far. In another two weeks they will out grow the pot that I have them in.
I will leave it to mother nature to decide how many of these will grow up.

Sambal Udang Bilimbing - Old Peranakan Recipe

I cooked sambal udang bilimbing this evening. What I didn't say is the recipe is a traditional Peranakan recipe.
Peranakan cooking combines Chinese, Malay and other influences into a unique blend. Peranakans are descendants of early Chinese migrants who settled in Penang, Malacca and Singapore, inter-marrying with local Malays. The old Malay word nonya (also spelled nyonya), a term of respect and affection for women of prominent social standing, has come to refer to the cuisine of the Perakanans. Daughters of well-to-do Nonya women were trained in household and cooking skills from early childhood.
Peranakan cuisine is the result of blending Chinese ingredients and wok cooking techniques with spices used by the Malay community. The food is tangy, aromatic, spicy and herbal. Key ingredients include coconut milk, galangal (a subtle, mustard-scented rhizome similar to ginger), candlenuts as both a flavoring and thickening agent, laksa leaf, pandan leaves (Pandanus), belachan, tamarind juice, lemongrass, torch ginger bud, turnip (jicama), fragrant kaffir lime leaf, rice or egg noodles and cincaluk - a powerfully flavored, sour and salty shrimp-based condiment that is typically mixed with lime juice, chillies and shallots and eaten with rice, fried fish and other side dishes.

Sambal Udang Bilimbing
Rempah (spice paste):
3 candle nuts
10 shallots
1 tsp belachan (shrimp paste)
7 dried chillies, deseeded and scalded briefly in hot water

1 stalk lemongrass
350 g bilimbing
1/2 coconut, grated
7 tbsp oil
7 shallots, sliced thinly
350 g prawns, shelled and deveined
2 limau purut (kaffir lime leaves)
salt and sugar, to taste
thinly-sliced green chillies, for garnish

  1. Pound all rempah ingredients togehter to a fine paste with a pestle and mortar (or blend in a food processor). Set aside.
  2. Cut off and discard all but 3 cm of the thick end of the lemongrass stalk. Slice both lemongrass and bilimbing across into 3 mm thick slices. Set aside in separate bowls.

  3. Add 120 ml water to grated coconut and squeeze to extract coconut milk. Strain milk and set aside.

  4. Heat oil in a large, heavy based pan over medium heat. When hot, add shallots and lemongrass and fry for 3-4 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

  5. Add rempah to remining oil in pan and fry for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly, until fragrant. Add bilimbing, prawns, kaffir lime leaves and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes. Pour in coconut milk and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Season with salt and sugar to taste.
  6. Garnish with fried shallots and lemongrass, and thinly sliced green chillies and serve immediately.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bilimbi Fruit

Bilimbi is another fruit that is hard to find these days at local wet markets.
I came across a small batch at my Indian spice seller's stall when I dro pped by to buy ginger and kaffir lime leaves.
Used in Nonya cooking Belimbi or Belimbing Assam is a small, green, sour fruit, from the Averrhoa Bilimbi tree. The Belimbi is actually related to the Starfruit (and also known in Malay as the Belimbing or the Belimbing Manis ).
I've seen plants growing around the area I live but I have not seen them flower or fruit yet.
I use to get the yellow Belimbi from a neighbor but personally I prefer the green ones for cooking. You can also pan fry them with pork and garlic.
I was going to prepare sambal udang bilimbi this evening but a last minute work request changed things. May be tomorrow?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Served Up Thai Food For Lunch

I made Thai fish cakes (Tod Mun Pla) with cucumber pickle, Pandan Leaf Chicken (Gai Haw Bai Toey) and stir fried morning glory (Paad Paak Boong) for the Sunday family lunch.
Ground up a whole spanish mackerel, added fresh kaffir lime leaf, long beans and red curry paste. Combined rice vinegar, sugar and salt to make the sweet and sour sauce and sliced up cucumbers and chillies to make the pickle chill till ready to eat. Next harvested pandan leaves to wrap up the chicken meat which I had left to season from yesterday. I grilled the chicken meat instead of deep frying them (healthier). Then more family arrived after lunch since I had not planned on having people for tea. Had to drive out to get cakes for tea.
It is always nice to have a house full of people but it has been a long day starting with the market, working in the garden, food prep, cooking and then entertaining till almost 6pm.
Thank god, dinner was a simple affair of gado-gado (Indonesian salad) blanched vegetables with Lilik's spicy peanut sauce from Indonesia.