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Onigiri おにぎり (Japanese Rice Balls)

Sunday, February 27, 2011 | Labels: , , | 15 Comments »

Onigiri or Japanese rice balls are commonly packed in bentos and are used as travelling food - these are basically shaped rice balls with fillings that you can tailor make however you wish.  What could be more convenient than that? What's more, they are easy to prepare - cook some rice, add some filling and shape!  To untrained hands however (like yours truly I must admit), the shaping part is probably the trickiest.  Onigiri are traditionally shaped into a rounded triangular shape, tubular shapes and just into rice balls.  Nowadays of course there are a myriad of shapes one can make depending on what you fancy with the many differently shaped moulds sold.  I still remember that the first time I saw these cute rice balls was in a Japanese tv series years ago, "Love Generation" the highly popular series that starred Takuya Kimura and Takako Matsu.  I think there was one scene when the lead actress was trying to impress the lead actor with some homemade onigiri which unfortunately were criticised by him for the odd shapes and sizes.  Somehow, that scene stuck in my head, I was probably thinking along the lines of 'how hard can it be to shape some rice?"


I was wrong! True, if you have been doing this for a while, it should come naturally but I find sushi easier to shape than onigiri (sans moulds) - the vinegar in the sushi definitely helps the rice to hold its' shape better.  Anyhow, it was still a fun process to make these, I think the trick is that you really should shape these while the rice is still pretty warm and don't forget the salt water which you dip your hands into to avoid the rice from sticking to your hands (instead of to each other).  Rather much like making sushi where you dip your hands into hand vinegar while shaping the sushi.  Apparently though, if you are skilled enough you don't even need the hand vinegar while making sushi if your hands are nimble and quick enough - unfortunately I am not going to be a sushi master anytime soon so hand vinegar it is. 


Anyway, I digress.  For part of today's feature, I used a simple filling of tuna flakes and cherry tomatoes for a nice hint of sweet tartness, does that sound a tad conflicting?  Somehow, the tomatoes I bought today were just that, sweet and tart.  I wrapped some of the onigiri with some toasted seaweed strips (nori) and although not perfectly shaped the taste was good.  For the other part, I just used some dried wakame mix which was a savoury mix of wakame and tiny dried shrimp, good simple flavours with a traditional filling of umeboshi.  If you want yours to be perfectly shaped, do get the moulds that are sold in most Japanese grocery stores.

Chinese Sweet Lotus Pancakes 莲蓉锅饼

Friday, February 25, 2011 | Labels: , , | 11 Comments »

These pancakes are a Chinese favourite and are popularly served as dessert in Chinese restaurants, usually with another sweet dessert soup like red bean soup or sweet peanut soup.  I thought my pancakes were not crispy enough but surprisingly one of my guests preferred it this way. These pancakes are usually made with red bean (azuki) paste but since I still have an almost whole packet of lotus paste from my steamed buns I decided to use lotus paste instead.  Both work equally well in my opinion.  As some of you may know, I really don't have much of a sweet tooth but these pancakes are one of my exceptions - I am also usually the one hoping to get the end-pieces at the table since I actually enjoy the pieces with more skin compared to the pieces with more filling.

Chinese Sweet Pancakes

Literally translated, 锅饼 means wok cakes, an apt description.  The pancake batter is extremely simple where flour, water and eggs are mixed together.  The harder part I think is that the pancakes have to be thin enough yet pliable as you will have to 'wrap' the pancakes around the lotus paste filling.  I shall aspire to do a better job next time in terms of the thinness of the pancakes but luckily for me these thicker pancakes were still quite well-received by my guests.  Funnily enough, my mom said that when she was a child this was how she remembered Chinese pancakes, a thicker and softer version of the ultra-crispy ones served in many Chinese restaurants nowadays.  These pancakes are best served freshly fried.

Chinese Sweet Pancakes

Chinese Pan-fried Fish (Dragon Garoupa) in Bean Sauce Recipe (煎龙胆) ~ Mom's Recipe

Thursday, February 24, 2011 | Labels: , , | 1 Comment »

The dragon or giant garouper is a highly prized Chinese delicacy and monster sizes have been sold for very high sums.  This rather fearsome looking fish consumes a lot of other fishes, crabs and even lobsters and are usually found in deep-sea areas.  I used just a chop of the fish today and from the size of the fish 'steak' I am sure you can guess that the whole fish would have been pretty massive.  The texture is quite tender and the flavour delicate - this is a great type of fish for most methods of Chinese cooking from steaming to braising.  Today's feature was first pan-fried then topped with rather copious amounts of ginger slivers, red chilli slices (for a touch of heat) in a savoury yellow bean sauce.

Chinese Pan-fried Dragon Garoupa

Yellow bean sauce differs from black bean sauce, another popular Chinese condiment as although both are made from fermenting soybeans, yellow bean sauce has a lighter flavour. As the bean sauce is already salty, you only need to add a tiny splash of light soy sauce to bring out the flavours of the dish.  This recipe works well with most kinds of white fleshed fish.  The key to pan-frying fish is low heat and of course patience.  If you don't have the time or inclination to stand at the stove for at least 20-30 minutes depending on the size of your fish, by all means do go ahead and deep-fry the fish!  I actually love both pan-fried and deep-fried fishes though the former feels a bit lighter on the palate at least for me. 

Chinese Pan-fried Dragon Garoupa

A traditional Chinese wok works best for this dish as you can really taste the elusive wok breath that kicks this simple home-styled dish up more than a notch.  Just be sure to heat your wok until almost smoking BEFORE adding oil and also rub some salt onto the surface of the fish which will also help minimise sticking.  I used to be hesitant in using Chinese woks and preferred to stick to the safer non-stick pans but after I started using this trick, I totally love my traditional wok now and would (probably) never go back to non-stick pans at least for Chinese dishes.

Note: This dish was cooked by my mom, I was in charge of photography and of course eating!

Steamed Chinese Braised Pork Buns Recipe (includes Photo Tutorial for Sliced Buns) ~ 割包

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 | Labels: , , , | 16 Comments »

Another steamed bun feature? Ok, I know I just very recently featured a sweet version, steamed lotus paste buns but today's feature is a savoury version filled with gorgeous caramelized pork and the buns look significantly different, I just could not resist posting these. I love these cute little buns for the versatility (you can insert any filling of your preference) and of course for their soft and fluffy texture, finally another plus that these Chinese buns are easy to make at home, anytime by anyone.  Once you discover how easy it is to make these delicious buns at home, you will be hooked!  These style of Chinese buns are extremely popular snacks (小吃) in Taiwan and are said to be of Fuzhou origin and are known as 割包 or 'Gua Bao' in Mandarin, literally 'sliced-wrappers'. These sandwich-style buns are probably one of the easiest Chinese buns in terms of shaping as well. When making Chinese buns, I prefer to use pao flour which is a bleached version of all-purpose flour to avoid a rather unsightly yellowish tinge.

Steam Chinese Pork Buns

For today's feature, I used a simple braised pork in sweet soy sauce  filling sandwiched with some crisp lettuce.  Cucumber or green onions/ scallions will also work great.  Other ideas for fillings that come to mind include roast duck slices with green onions and barbequed pork with generous dabs of hoisin sauce.  These buns were very well received and were filling yet refreshing (courtesy of the crisp lettuce),  if you make these smaller-sized, these Chinese sandwiches will be great served as hors d'œuvres at your next party. 

Steam Chinese Pork Buns

You can always opt to just get store-bought versions of this popular bun which are available in most Asian grocery stores, but it is just so much more satisfying to make these on your own - don't you think? In addition, your family and friends will definitely be impressed with your amazing bun-making skills! 

Chicken and Chinese Ham Congee (Porridge) Recipe 金華火腿鸡丝粥

Monday, February 21, 2011 | Labels: , , , | 12 Comments »

Congee or porridge is one of my favourite Chinese comfort foods.  Congee can be served as breakfast, lunch and is also popularly served at dim sum restaurants, the most popular being congee with pork and preserved eggs.  The Chinese believe that eating congee helps to alleviate 'heatiness' in the body and is a great antidote especially when one has been consuming too much rich food.  The consistency of congee is different in various parts of China, we have the silky smooth consistency from the Cantonese which is my favourite and we have a version where the grains of rice and broth are clearly discernible, from the Teochews.  The consistency of congee is very much a personal preference and you can add more or less water depending on how thick you want your congee to be.


I used homemade chicken and Chinese ham (金華火腿) broth to boil the rice grains today.  There's really nothing like homemade chicken broth, I also love how Chinese ham (Yunnan ham) lends a rich and savoury flavour to the stock resulting in a pot of congee filled with delicious umami flavours.  For a pot of silky smooth congee, you should soak the rice in water for at least 1 hour prior to boiling, I also used the old trick of putting a porcelain soup spoon into the pot of congee today - as the congee boils, the spoon will spin around helping to further break up the rice grains resulting in the smooth consistency. 


Congee is also sometimes boiled plain with just a pinch of salt and takes the place of rice, served with various dishes at the table.  Congee is extremely easy to make, it just requires some boiling time and your attention to the stove!  My method is more of the traditional method however, nowadays you can use a crock pot where you don't have to 'look after' the pot of congee at the stove, but to me there is nothing like tradition (sometimes!).

Steamed Chinese Lotus Buns Recipe 莲蓉包 (with Photo Tutorial)

Friday, February 18, 2011 | Labels: , , , , | 35 Comments »

I am so pleased to present today steamed Chinese lotus paste buns from my humble kitchen - I'm still a little surprised at how good they were since this was my first attempt at making steamed buns or pao/ bao at home, I guess with a bit of determination and a decent recipe, one can't go too far off the mark, yes even for a novice like yours truly.  Biting into these piping hot soft buns with just the right amount of lotus paste oozing out was pure bliss - steamed buns are one of my favourite Chinese snacks and are something I must order whenever I have dim sum at restaurants.  I was a tad apprehensive before and while making the buns as I have heard that the dough for the buns may be a little tricky in different weathers but luckily the stars were aligned right today - oh and did I mention that it was a really fun process?  I used pao flour which is a highly bleached version of all-purpose flour and this is because if you use regular all-purpose flour, the buns will take on a yellowish tinge as the flour is not bleached.  The dough was quite easy to make and proofing time required was only around one hour.  I used store-bought lotus paste as the filling but of course if you are ambitious enough, you can opt to make your own lotus paste.

Chinese Lotus Buns

Whenever I eat steamed buns, I actually prefer to eat the skin more than the filling - I loved the soft texture of the skin on these buns and you can also substitute the filling with red bean (azuki) paste or coconut jam (kaya).  Chinese steamed buns can be either sweet or savoury, fillings range from meat and vegetables or just vegetables, custard and of course the version presented today, lotus paste.  I made these buns totally by hand - it is quite important to ensure that you don't skimp on the kneading parts, if not the skin will turn out too doughy.  In addition, steam the buns over high heat to ensure the skin does not turn mushy.  I love steamed buns piping hot and served with some good Chinese tea (also piping hot!).

Steamed Chinese Lotus Buns

Do give this easy recipe a try and have some homemade Chinese steamed buns whenever you want!

Steamed Chinese Lotus Buns

Step-by-step photos after the jump.

Cauliflower and Shimeji Mushrooms Stir-fry Recipe

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 | Labels: , , , | 3 Comments »

I love stir-frying food and the Chinese believe that stir-frying is one of the best ways to preserve the nutrients and the natural flavours of many ingredients like vegetables.  Although a stir-fry is relatively simple, it is important to remember a few steps for a guaranteed delicious version.  I like my vegetables to retain some of its' crunchiness in stir-fries and that is why I usually blanch the vegetables briefly so that they don't have to be stir-fried in the wok for too long.  Apart from texture, vegetables staying too long in the wok will also result in browning of the vegetables (especially in green leafy vegetables) which is in my opinion not visually appealing.


Another important element is the magical wok breath which really ups the ante on this seemingly easy dish which unfortunately is not really attainable with electric stoves and non-stick pans.  However, if you are not too picky like yours truly, using a non-stick pan will still produce a yummy and healthy stir-fry dish.  I used to be hesitant in using Chinese woks as I always had the misconception that everything will end up sticking to the wok and the cleaning up would be a nightmare.  But as I found out soon enough, as long as your wok is hot enough, there will be no sticking - simple right?


I hope you enjoy this simple stir-fry which happens to be one of my favourite home-cooked Chinese dishes.  The shimeji mushrooms add great texture and lend a pleasing earthy flavour to the dish.

Heart-Shaped Buns (Tangzhong Method)

Monday, February 14, 2011 | Labels: , | 4 Comments »

Happy Valentine's Day my dear readers!  I still remember that last year's Valentine's day fell on the first day of Chinese New Year and I thought it was a cute coincidence.  Over the weekend, I baked these heart-shaped rolls using the ever-reliable tangzhong (water roux starter) method.  If you still have not tried this method of making bread at home, you should and I promise you that you won't be disappointed!  Imagine a baking novice like yours truly is able to produce soft and fluffy bread at home and sans a breadmaker too - seriously anyone would be able to make these breads at home. 


I think I was a little overzealous on the jam so some of the jam did squirt out a little while being baked but I thought it contributed to the cuteness of the 'hearts'.  I filled half of the buns with raspberry jam and half with peanut butter for sweet and savoury 'hearts'.  If you are not using a breadmaker, the dough may seem sticky at first but just perservere and try your best not to add too much bread flour while kneading (you will be tempted to!), your tangzhong bread will still turn out wonderfully soft and pillowy.

tangzhong bread

I am sending this as my first entry to Aspiring Bakers for its' Love In The Air theme created by Small Small Baker and hosted by  Cuisine Paradise this round.

Kimchi Bokkeumbap ~ 김치볶음밥 (Kimchi Fried Rice Recipe)

Friday, February 11, 2011 | Labels: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Oh My! Omo!  Yet another fried rice feature from yours truly - yes I do have a fatal fondness for fried rice and noodles along with handbags, shoes okay the list goes on.  Anyway, I thought another feature on kimchi fried rice or kimchi bokkeumbap was in order especially since I had a jar of 'aging' kimchi sitting in my fridge.  As you may know, fried rice is based on the leftover philosophy and can be highly personalised in a myriad of delicious ways.  Kimchi fried rice or kimchi bokkeumbap is no different in that usually 'older' kimchi which may become a little too sour to just eat on its' own is used to finish up leftover kimchi in a quick and delicious way.  Older kimchi is also used in another popular and extremely heartwarming dish, kimchi jjigae or kimchi stew.  Strictly speaking, today's fried rice is 'Sino-Korean' as I used Chinese waxed sausage which is a kind of preserved sausage that is sweet tasting and is firm in texture.  The sweetness from the sausage added good contrast to the pungence and acidity of the kimchi, I think my Chinese-influenced kimchi bokkeumbap was quite successful if I may say so myself.

Kimchi Fried Rice with Chinese Sausage

To flavour the rice, I merely added some gochujang (Korean red pepper paste) which is probably the most popular condiment in Korean cuisine and some garlic.  Gochujang is already salty as it is a combination of fermented soybeans and chilli peppers so there is no need to add salt or soy sauce.  The rice is usually topped with a sunny side-up egg but I decided to use sliced up omelette instead.  The ingredients for fried rice can be as simple and bare as you want or as luxurious and abundant as you want.  With kimchi fried rice you will need kimchi (of course!) and day-old rice, the other ingredients are entirely up to you so just be creative and have fun!

Kimchi Fried Rice with Chinese Sausage

Note:  I used a Chinese wok as I like my fried rice to have some wok breath. 

Udon in Chicken Broth Recipe & a GIVEAWAY! (Closed)

Tuesday, February 08, 2011 | Labels: , , , , , | 42 Comments »

The winners of this Giveaway are Jeannie, Benny and Rosa.  Thanks to everyone who participated!

Noodles are one of my absolute favourite foods to cook and of course to eat!  Today's feature is an extremely simple dish of udon noodles cooked in some wholesome homemade chicken broth and flavourful abalone sauce (pictured below and included in today's giveaway!) .  If you are not a fan of udon noodles, you can of course substitute with your favourite kind.  The noodles are first cooked very briefly in boiling water then set aside.  What I love about using udon noodles is that I can skip the step of running the noodles under cold water after boiling.  I then prepared the soup based with my homemade chicken broth, a bit of abalone sauce, dashes of soy sauce and Chinese rice wine for some added fragrance.  The noodles are finally topped with some chopped green onions and a tiny bit of garlic oil.  As with a lot of noodle dishes, this recipe can be personalized however you like it, simply add some fish cakes for an easy meal or add some abalone slices for a luxurious bowl of noodles.  After a few days of feasting during Chinese New Year's, I hope this simple dish will be a nice deviation for you from all the rich dishes we have been enjoying.

Udon in Broth

Now, for some little cooking gifts from me! This is the first ever giveaway on Tastes of Home and I am pleased to announce that this giveaway is being generously sponsored by Yuen Chun.  As my regular readers may know by now, Yuen Chun has been the preferred brand of Asian cooking sauces in my family ever since my late grandmother started using it in her kitchen.  I am pleased to have a chance to share with you the products that I have been using in a lot of my recipes so that you can try them out for yourselves.  For some inspiration, check out my range of Yuen Chun recipes that I created, ranging from Chinese-French fusion to classic Chinese homestyle dishes.  Also, there will not be one winner but three winners for this giveaway.  Kindly leave a valid email address so that I can contact you and please note that this giveaway will close on February 22, 2011 at 10 am (Malaysia time).  A great selection of sauces by Yuen Chun will be given out which will include their range of oyster sauces, soy sauces, abalone sauce, Thai stir-fry sauce, vinegar, plum sauce plus a bag and an apron. 


TO JOIN, choose one from the four options below OR do as many as you want!: (each task will be considered a separate entry, doing more will increase your chances of getting picked, please leave a separate comment for each thing you do )

1.  Leave a comment here stating your favourite kind of noodles;
2.  Visit Yuen Chun's official website, check out the products and leave a comment here stating which product you most want to try;
3.  Link to this post on your facebook then leave a comment here staying you did so;
4.  Visit Yuen Chun's facebook fan page, 'like' it and leave a comment here saying you did so. 

Additional Information:

The first prize winner will get 3 bottles of each sauce, second will get two bottles and finally the third prize winner will get one bottle of each.  All winners will receive a 'special edition' bottle of Yuen Chun's premium soy sauce, an apron and a bag.  Winners will be randomly picked.

Just some of the sauces that will be included

I am also sending this simpe recipe to this week's Presto Pasta Nights, one of my favourite blogging events created by Ruth of Once Upon A Feast and hosted by Helen of Fuss Free Flavours.

Roast Pork in Garlic with Lettuce Wraps

Sunday, February 06, 2011 | Labels: , , , | 3 Comments »

This is such an embarassingly simple 'recipe' - roast pork simply cooked with some garlic and a small splash of light soy sauce wrapped in fresh lettuce leaves.  My family likes eating certain meats wrapped in fresh lettuce leaves, probably something passed down from my dad's side of the family as my late paternal grandfather used to be an avid farmer and fresh vegetables were always readily available.  I love eating meats wrapped in lettuce and this method of eating is probably reminiscent of how a lot of Korean barbeque meat dishes are served.  The lettuce provides a refreshing contrast to the aromatic fragrance of crispy roast pork.  You can opt to add some sliced arrowroots to this dish as well, the powdery texture of the latter add even more texture to this simple dish.


This is a great way to use up leftover roast pork and is an extremely quick dish that you can whip up in a matter of minutes!


Sweet and Savoury Chicken Wings Recipe (Fusion)

Friday, February 04, 2011 | Labels: , , , , | 7 Comments »

I hope that everyone is having a great Chinese New Year and as we officially cross into the year of the Rabbit, I wish everyone a better year ahead.  Although not traditional fare at Chinese New Year's, chicken wings are perfect for all seasons and festivals (at least to me!).  Today's chicken wings are first deep-fried till golden brown then coated in a flavourful and citrusy sauce which contains lemon and plum flavours.  The sauce have some 'east meets west' elements in that the famous British sauces of HP and worcestershire plus soy sauce are used.  While doing some of what I call my 'culinary research' online, I thought it was interesting to discover that worcestershire sauce is actually a unique culmination of Britain's vast colonization in the past as it contains soy sauce and tamarind, both traditional Asian condiments.  Fresh lemon slices and Chinese plum sauce provide refreshing citrusy flavours with a bit of spice from the Asian chilli sauce used.  I have been a big fan of using Chinese plum sauce in my dishes lately as I find the latter produces a really rich and natural fruity fragrance in a lot of dishes that call for sweet and sour flavours like my Cantonese sweet and sour pork.


This fusion recipe is another one in my series of Yuen Chun recipes, an ongoing project on Tastes of Home.  As my regular readers may gather by now, the Yuen Chun brand of sauces has been a preference in our family since the time of my late maternal grandmother who was an excellent cook.  I used their plum sauce today which provided rich sweet and sour notes that complemented the lemon and ketchup perfectly. 


These finger licking good chicken wings will definitely prove to be crowd-pleasers! 

Plum sauce used

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