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Chinese Steamed Salted Chicken 蒸咸鸡 (Revisited)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 | Labels: , , | 17 Comments »

This simple chicken dish is a perennial favourite in our household and probably in many other Chinese households.  A whole chicken usually is simply steamed after being rubbed with salt - very straightforward.  I would rate this dish as deceptively simple however, as to achieve a decent dish of steamed salted chicken, the time the chicken is steamed is very important to avoid toughness and dryness while ensuring the chicken is cooked of course.  I want to also share a short-cut of sorts from my mom where the whole chicken is halved, lightly rubbed with salt and then steamed till almost half-cooked then rubbed with salt again to marinade and then chopped up and steamed again with scallions and cilantro (optional) right before eating.  This makes it more convenient for the homecook especially if you're cooking a variety of dishes as it only takes a short time for the second steaming step.  The extra marinating step also ensures that the savoury flavours seep deep into the chicken meat.  It used to be that steamed salted chicken always tasted better the next day due to the chicken sitting in the juices but with this method, you can produce similar deeply flavoured salted chicken on the same day so I hope you will give this a try.


My mom loves to steam the chicken with just cilantro and scallions (the second step) although I myself almost always can't resist adding a few drops of Shaoxing rice wine for added fragrance although maybe it's my conditioning, mom's steamed chicken always tastes the most comforting.  With the simplicity of this dish, the quality of chicken used is really important - I always use free-range chicken for this dish and even while studying in the UK, I loved to steam the widely available corn-fed chicken for an easy and satisfying dish.  If you don't want to steam a whole chicken, you can just steam chicken legs (free range), so please adjust accordingly, another plus for this is that you don't have to deal with chopping up the chicken into nice looking pieces :O.


This is also a relatively healthy dish as there is not much oil involved (except natural oils from the chicken itself), sometimes I think one of the reasons I am continuing to blog Chinese recipes is to hopefully debunk the myth that Chinese food is 'always' just greasy and unhealthy mush.  I can't tell you how bothered I used to be when some old acquaintances in the US would remark that 'all Chinese food are unhealthy and greasy' which I find to be a very unfair statement.  As with cuisine from all cultures, there are bound to be unhealthier dishes which require deep-frying (or sugar anyone) but then there are also a lot of healthy steamed or stir-fried (with very little oil) Chinese homecooking dishes that probably will never see the light of day in a typical take-out.  China is such a vast country and there are so many different cuisines from the various provinces that one would find it hard-pressed to make such an umbrella statement.  As for me, I love a lot of different cuisine and I am always interested to learn about the diverse dishes the different cultures have to offer.  If you closely observe the culinary methods or dishes of different cuisine, most of the time you can draw similarities and that is also another reason why I love blogging about cooking so much as tracing or at least trying to trace the rich history of many dishes is something I find extremely enjoyable, albeit this is probably the history nerd in me coming out.

Anyhow, this dish is just simplicity at its' best.

Korean Braised Spare Ribs or Dwaeji Galbi (à la Galbi Jim) ~ 돼지갈비

Monday, June 27, 2011 | Labels: , , | 8 Comments »

I just love love braised dishes and it's quite interesting how there are many similarities between the braised dishes of various cultures.  For instance, today's dwaeji galbi which is the spare ribs or pork ribs version of popular Korean dish, galbi jim really reminded me of the classic Chinese braised spare ribs with daikon and the popular Japanese homey dish of niku jyaga.  Daikon is usually a common denominator in most Asian braised dishes, at least based on my experience as daikon lends a natural sweetness to dishes and absorbs all the flavours in braised dishes perfectly.  Today's dish is usually considered a fall dish as mostly root vegetables are used and also chestnuts.  This is in fact the first time I cooked with chestnuts, chestnuts always remind of my childhood as we loved (and still do) enjoy eating them right out of their roasted shells.  I always considered it a treat in my childhood also maybe because it required quite a bit of peeling to get to the tasty chestnuts and it was always a challenge between my siblings and I to see who peels the quickest or is able to peel one whole without breaking.  Biting into the almost powdery chestnut inside then becomes just so much more fun.


Anyway I digress - apart from the usual 'suspects' in braised dishes, cue daikon, onions, garlic, today's dish includes potatoes, shitake mushrooms, red dates, sesame seeds and of course chestnuts which I don't see being used in Chinese or Japanese braised dishes.  One of my favourite things about Korean cooking is the ingenious use of a variety of vibrant and delicious vegetables all in one pot and today's dish displays that perfectly.  You can use this recipe if you are using beef short ribs as well, being Chinese, I always add rock sugar when I braise beef instead of just granulated sugar as rock sugar helps to tenderise the meat.  The Korean method of tenderising meat however is usually Asian pear or kiwi juice - interesting is it not?  Anyway, I like both methods but the fruit juices do add natural sweetness but if you don't have these fruits readily available, you can try rock sugar.


Healthy Yoghurt and Oats Cookies (Eggless) Recipe

Thursday, June 23, 2011 | Labels: , , , , , | 32 Comments »

Sometimes you just want something easy (and relatively guilt-free) to feed your baking bug.  I do have baking bug days although I would still like to maintain I don't have much of a sweet tooth (my baking confections are usually given to family and friends).  You know what inspired today's post? Well, for the very simple and practical fact that I still had a few jars of natural yoghurt left in my fridge and I really wanted to use them up before they reach their expiry date.  True that I bought the yoghurt mainly for the cute little jars they were sold in (ooh so many possibilities with those jars, think jellies, mud cakes, cheesecakes and so on), but perhaps it's the economist in me, I felt I needed to maximise what I had on hand to minimise losses (well wastage in this sense).  I was thinking of a parfait, maybe some mango lassi and finally decided on some easy cookies since cookies are always welcome and they can always be kept for a few days unlike the others mentioned.  Ugh, how practical and so not romantic - I guess my Libra tendencies were temporarily taken over by the practical economist/ analyst in me :O


So I set about looking for a yoghurt cookie recipe and unfortunately nothing appealed to me at least from what I was able to find, so I let myself have free rein and just created a recipe for these easy (and healthy) cookies but of course I do have some experience baking cookies by now so maybe that helped.  With the yoghurt incorporated, these cookies turned out incredibly moist and chewy.  I basically tried to replace the usual milk in most cookie batters with the natural yoghurt which turned out to be a very good idea indeed, well at least to me.   The oatmeal was added for some crunchy texture to the cookie and well I like oat cookies so that could also probably be why.  If you like oat cookies and prefer your cookies chewy and moist, you will most probably like these too.  Big plusses- these are incredibly easy, quick to make and of course not forgetting delicious and are perfect for a freshly baked tea-time snack.


Thai Style 'Bolognese' Spaghetti

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 | Labels: , , , | 22 Comments »

I know it has not been that long ago that I just featured the classic spaghetti bolognese  but I just could not resist making a Thai version of sorts, hence culminating in today's post.  As a self-confessed noodle fiend I guess my recent frequent noodle posts should come as no surprise eh? Anyhow, I know I've been displaying a penchant for fusion foods lately as I have been so excited to discover that Thai spices seem to be very versatile and add just enough of a twist to otherwise classic Western dishes.  For my Thai bolognese today, I used Thai basil, shallots and a little lemongrass to flavour the sauce, oh and not forgetting the small handful of bird's eye chilli peppers thrown in for added heat.  In addition, instead of using tomato paste as is traditional, I used a Thai sauce (from Yuen Chun) which has spicy, sweet and slightly tangy flavours, you can probably find this in most Asian grocery stores.  If you are unable to find Thai basil, you can substitute with Italian basil where the latter is slightly milder in flavour so feel free to be more generous with the portion used and also have fun experimenting with different spices in your kitchen. 


In other news, I have been reading about how food bloggers have been receiving a especially restaurant reviewers have been receiving lot of flak from say print-media journalists, chefs, restaurants etc and like many others, I do find the phenomenon interesting.  I guess if you 'put yourself out there' for lack of a better description (I know that phrase is badly overused), criticism is bound to come and you obviously can't expect everything to be positive however I think that readers should be able to judge for themselves and obviously the onus is not on the blogger entirely.  I guess I'm 'safer' in a way since I just feature recipes for home cooking and despite the rude comments that come in now and then, my blogging experience has been nothing short of fun and inspirational.  By the way, I shall disclose though that I usually delete rude comments immediately :O.  Update: I may have spoke too soon! I entered one of these photos for a spaghetti contest here and there you are, one of the rudest (and rather childish what with the 'ewww') comments I've seen.  Anyway, open contests seem to be breeding ground for rude commenters, this is not the first rude comment I've seen on these contests and I'm sure it will not be the last.  Funny how rude commenters are never the participants...boggles the mind...oh well :O

This post is part of my range of Yuen Chun Recipes, an ongoing project on this blog.


Malaysian Squid Curry Recipe (Kari Sotong)

Saturday, June 18, 2011 | Labels: , , , , | 16 Comments »

I can't believe it but this was my first time cooking with turmeric.  If you have been following my blog, you may notice that I have been delving more into the world of fragrant spices mainly due to my newfound interest in making curries from scratch.  There are many decent store-bought curry pastes but honestly there's nothing like making your own, at least for me.  This was of course something I did not realise until I started to make my own.  The bright orange shade of the curry comes mainly from the mixture of the red chilli peppers and the yellow turmeric powder.  Turmeric is very pungent and to be honest when I first took a whiff I was a little doubtful as I'm not a fan of certain spices like say star anise.  I know, weird but no one in my family likes star anise, maybe it's just hereditary!

Anyway, apart from adding vibrant colour, the turmeric provides a hint of slightly gingery fragrance to the curry.  Apart from turmeric, I was 'introduced' to yet another spice, candlenuts or known as 'buah keras' in Malay.  I know, nothing ground-breaking but I was so excited as it was my first time cooking with all these exotic spices.  I did indulge today as I used heavy coconut milk in the curry and seriously it's alright once in a while.  The coconut milk adds an unbeatable fragrance and creamy texture to the curry which will be rather difficult to exactly replicate with natural yoghurt although the latter is still a good substitute especially if you're counting calories.

I always like to add a tiny splash of light soy sauce to curries even though it's not the 'conventional' thing to do but do give it a try the next time you make curry, it really brings out the savoury flavours of the dish and makes the curry more 'full-bodied' for lack of a better term.  I can't take credit for this however, this is a little tip from mom :O

Stuffed Cucumber Kimchi ~ Oisobagi 오이소박이

Friday, June 17, 2011 | Labels: , , , | 6 Comments »

When one thinks of kimchi, most of the time cabbage kimchi automatically comes to mind.  However, the Koreans use a large variety of vegetables as kimchi and I still remember my surprise the first time I came across kimchi other than cabbage at a Korean grocery store a few years ago while living in the US.  I had long wanted to try making my own kimchi but I do admit that the task seemed a little daunting so for today's feature I opted for a more 'beginner' kimchi of stuffed cucumber or oisobagi.  This also comes at perfect timing since cucumber kimchi is a popular summer kimchi dish - the refreshing flavours and crunchy texture of cucumber are particularly appealing in the hot weather. 


I'm sure there are many different ways of creating this dish, the method I used today is very simple where sliced green onions, chives, garlic, onions and of course gochugaru (Korean chilli flakes) are used to season the cucumber.  It is best to use pickling cucumbers for this dish and not the regular (English) cucumbers as the latter have too many seeds and will not pickle well.  I could not find pickling cucumbers so I used Japanese cucumbers as I was desperately wanting to eat these :O They worked pretty well as the skin is not too thick and there are not many seeds.  The sour flavours will only come after fermentation (say about 10 hours in room temperature) but I like these both freshly made and fermented.  These spicy cucumber pickles make a quick and healthy snack too with some rice.


I hope you will give this a try but do note that kimchi is very much considered an acquired taste and can be a little overwhelming for the uninitiated due to the strong and pungent flavours.  They can be very addictive though once you get to like them!

Indian-Inspired Grilled Spicy Chicken Skewers/ Satay Recipe

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 | Labels: , , , , | 12 Comments »

As I've mentioned earlier, the world of Indian spices is mostly foreign to me as in the past, I had mostly taken the easy way out and made curry with store-bought pastes, doctored-up of course but still store-bought.  So, after making my korma chicken earlier, naturally I still had a lot of spices left i.e. cardamon, fennel and cumin.  My mind set to work thinking of the myriad of ways I can use up these fragrant spices - that is how today's chicken skewers came about.  I was deliberating between deep-frying spicy nuggets, grilling chicken and finally decided on today's easy grilled chicken skewers or satay so to speak.  The chicken is first marinated in a mixture of the spices, smashed garlic, curry powder, curry leaves, some sea salt and natural yoghurt.  The yoghurt serves to tenderise the chicken meat and if you feel like indulging, you can replace the yoghurt with thick coconut milk.  If you have the space and time, these will taste even better if you could roast on a barbeque grill but in the interest of ease and uh, laziness, I merely roasted these skewers in the oven.  The chicken skewers are packed with intense flavours from the spices and of course are quite spicy, if you wish, you can simply omit the bird's eye chilli peppers or use large red chilli peppers for milder heat.


I am slowly discovering the wonderful or spices and seriously can't wait to experiment more.  The possibilities are definitely boundless.  I've always loved food on a stick, who doesn't? I only realised today that since my rather old post of fried shrimp balls, I had not feature any food on a stick since and that was back in 2008! Ooh, how time flies. How cliché but oh so true. 


These easy skewers will be perfect for parties as they can made ahead and especially if you're up for a barbeque with friends, these will be good alternatives to the usual though no less delicious choices.  In fact, I think I will be including these on the menu for a little party I'm planning for my brother and his university friends.  I do envy them when I see them and wish I could go with them to UK and relive my student days - they are also frequent visitors of this blog and have actually made some of my dishes, yes even while studying abroad.  In fact, they even made egg tarts earlier which I am a little embarassed to admit, I keep procrastinating on to make although I bought the tart moulds weeks ago.  I digress, anyway I hope you'll give these easy skewers a try and if you don't like the spices used, please feel free to substitute with other condiments of your choice and create your very own 'signature skewers'! :O (If you do that, I would love if you could give me some feedback on what you adjusted)

Easy and Healthier Baked Pasta with Rosemary

Monday, June 13, 2011 | Labels: , , , | 10 Comments »

This is my updated and healthier version of the ever-classic mac and cheese.  I have been rediscovering the wonderful world of herbs recently and one of my favourites is rosemary.  For today's easy baked pasta dish,  I used a little bit of butter, olive oil, natural yoghurt in place of cream, sausages and a few sprigs of rosemary.  If you don't like rosemary, you can of course replace with a herb of your choice like thyme or just skip the herb altogether and add some spinach.  I had limited ingredients on hand today so I made do with just sausages and rosemary, for added bite you can add some sliced button mushrooms. 


With regards to the yoghurt, I was really happy when I found these imported natural yoghurt from France at my local grocery store - I have to admit I bought them mainly because I really wanted the jars they came in.  I do like eating yoghurt but am not a big fan and I much prefer frozen yoghurt.  Nevertheless, the yoghurt came in handy when I decided to make baked pasta.  I am not a big fan of heavy and creamy foods so after taking a look inside my fridge, I decided to replace the usual heavy cream with natural yoghurt.  The yoghurt provided good creamy texture and a slightly tart flavour to the pasta which I thought was very pleasing.


Separately, I know I have been complaining constantly about the terrible heat wave that has been going on in Malaysia on twitter and elsewhere - well the skies (Zeus?)  have been obliging recently and there has been quite a lot of rain.  Funnily enough, it seems to want to rain when I set up my photo shoots for my blog posts and I am such a slave to natural light for my food photos so go figure. Hmm...

Homemade Naan Pizza (Thai Chicken) Recipe

Friday, June 10, 2011 | Labels: , , , | 31 Comments »

The first time I made or rather helped made pizza was probably when I was in primary school or so.  We got to know an English lady who absolutely loved baking and we were frequent visitors to her house.  I remember being so intrigued with the various stages of the process, waiting for the dough to proof, getting to pick whatever toppings we wanted to put on the pizzas and so on.  If I remember correctly, the crust her recipe produced was really good despite the fact that she did not use a pizza stone or baking tiles to bake on.  Anyhow, for today's feature instead of using a classic pizza crust I used my favourite fool-proof naan recipe as the base and for the topping, I used Yuen Chun's Thai Stir-fry sauce in place of the usual tomato-based sauce and added some grilled chicken with a handful of fragrant of curry leaves (and of course cheese).  The results of my little experiment was extremely delicious with the spicy, slightly sweet and sour notes from the sauce, the unbeatable fragrance from the curry leaves blended with the grilled chicken and surprisingly (or not?) the cheese provided the perfect 'glue' for all the ingredients.

In other news, I was voluntarily unplugged for most of yesterday and at first I felt so uneasy without my beloved internet access and then I slowly got used to it.  Hmm, I guess it's true that humans are really creatures of habit.  I do hope you will give this naan pizza experiment of mine a try, if you are not interested in making naan from scratch, you can always substitute with store-bought versions although kneading dough to me is very therapeutic albeit a little tiring. 


I am also sending this to Susan of Wild Yeast  for her weekly Yeastspotting event.  This post is part of my series of Yuen Chun Recipes, an ongoing project on this blog.  Yuen Chun products have been in my family kitchens since the time of my late maternal grandmother and I am very pleased to be given the opportunity to work on this project with them.

Homemade Bolognese with Whole Wheat Spaghetti Recipe

Wednesday, June 08, 2011 | Labels: , , | 25 Comments »

I love love pasta, being the self-confessed noodle fiend that I am, I guess that should come as no surprise.  Apart from cooking and eating (of course) I am always interested in the origins of dishes and more often than not, you can find many similarities in cuisine from markedly different cultures.  Many apparently subscribe to the theory that when Marco Polo visited China and saw the variety of noodles in the Middle Kingdom, he introduced pasta to the Italians when he returned.  Now, I am not sure if that is fully accurate but it does sound logical since the Chinese civilization is one of the oldest.  Bolognese in particular has been said to have originated from China's famous zhaziangmian which is a noodle dish served with a meat-based sauce. Nevertheless, origins aside, can I say I love both zhaziangmian and spaghetti bolognese?


Today's feature is the result of yours truly trying to make bolognese sauce from scratch for the very first time. I used ground pork instead of beef as my mom does not eat beef for religious reasons and pork worked great, better than chicken as the texture of ground chicken is a bit dry (I am not a chicken breast fan) so that may be why.  I added some mushrooms, garlic, rosemary and this may sound blasphemous to you purists out there - I added some ketchup for a bit of refreshing tang .  I prefer my bolognese sauce with more meat and less tomato which is apparently the authentic style, so maybe that may sound a little 'redeeming'.  This was served with my kaffir lime fritto misto for a little Asian twist to an 'Italian' dinner. 


Since this is such a hearty dish, I used whole wheat spaghetti to lessen the guilt (and carbs) factor.  I am submitting this as an entry to Presto Pasta Nights created by Ruth of Once Upon A Feast and hosted by Kirsten of From Kirsten's Kitchen To Yours this week.

Korma Chicken Curry Recipe

Tuesday, June 07, 2011 | Labels: , , , | 25 Comments »

My entire family loves korma curries and today's dish is a classic korma curry made with chicken.  Korma curries are usually milder but you can of course kick up the heat by adding more chilli peppers.  Growing up in Malaysia, I am lucky to have been exposed to Indian curries at an early age and kormas remain one of our favourites, serving with steamed rice is a given for us but kormas served with Indian breads make a great meal as well.  I have to admit that the world of Indian spices is a little foreign to me as I had always taken the easy way out and made short-cut curries with store bought pastes, doctored up of course but still essentially store-bought.  So, that explains my predicament at the grocery store earlier when I was trying to buy the spices for this dish, I was totally confused as I only had the names of the spices in English whereas the local grocery store I frequented only had the names in the Malay language - I was so lucky as there was a very kind Indian lady who patiently showed me the spices I required.  Hence I shot a photo of the spices labelled with their names for your easy reference just in case.


Instead of coconut milk, you can also use natural yoghurt as the cream in this curry - the recipe I adapted this dish from suggests the addition of some fresh lime juice to thick coconut milk which results in your very own coconut yoghurt which was extremely delicious I must say.  Korma curry is also a little more unusual in the sense that tomatoes and ginger are added which differ from the other curries I have attempted but then again I still consider myself a curry newbie not in eating of course but when it comes to cooking (from scratch).  This dish combines flavours that are slightly spicy, tangy, fragrant from the herbs with smooth creamy textures that are altogether just so delicious and comforting.  I did add my Chinese influence to the dish by adding some light soy sauce which I thought did a great job in bringing out the savoury flavours of the dish.  I do hope you will give this a try but then again, I suppose you can always opt for store-bought curry pastes.  A disclaimer, I cannot vouch that this recipe is a hundred percent 'authentic' (there seems to be many different versions) but I can vouch that this was delicious :O


Crispy Prawns and Squid with Kaffir Lime Sea Salt

Monday, June 06, 2011 | Labels: , , | 14 Comments »

Today's feature is inspired by the classic Italian appetizer of fritto misto, essentially 'mixed fry' with a little Asian twist via the addition of some kaffir lime leaves to imbue the dish with some citrus fragrance apart from the more traditional lemon.  I eschewed the buttermilk and simply marinated my prawns and squid with some smashed garlic, lemon slices, kaffir lime leaves and sea salt.  You will just need to dust with some flour before frying and to infuse the seafood with a delicate hint of citrus freshness, fry the lemon slices and kaffir lime leaves first.


It was not only until recently that I discovered the versatility of kaffir lime leaves and one should really not limit these wonderfully fragrant leaves to Thai dishes or even just curries in general.  These leaves lend a rather flowery yet fruity fragrance to many dishes and it would be pretty hard-pressed to find a good substitute.  The aromatic scent will definitely leave a lasting impression on your taste buds whether you are in favour of the scent or not, I am most definitely in favour! By the way, I read before that using exclamation marks too many times while writing a blog post is a big faux pas or rather a no-no since using foreign words 'unnecessarily' is also a faux-pas er I mean no-no, oh well I guess some rules are meant to be broken!

Notes: As with all seafood dishes, do try to source for the freshest available ingredients as more than half the 'battle' is won in cooking a seafood dish when your ingredients are fresh. 

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Smoky Wok

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