Thursday, April 03, 2008
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Where have I been missing for so long? Happily busy as commented by a new reader of mine? Yea, I would say so. Currently my tasks are getting heavier, where I see myself working later and later but there is one other thing that is making me go crazy, preparing to be a bridesmaid and helping out in my sister’s wedding! Oh boy, now I know that planning for wedding needs so much of an attention. Every little details counts for big things.
Anyway, enough bout me as I am here to tell you a story about an amazing woman. I mentioned about my Lai Ma in my Chinese New Year great feast at her home. I practically spend the first 4 years of my life at her humble home, surrounded with lots of love from her, her husband and her children. There were also chaos and mischief as I had my dear god sister U and her brother as partners in crime.
The story of how Lai Ma became my nanny started like this. My first nanny was not her, but another lady somewhere in Aulong (a suburb of Taiping) and at that time I was about few months old. My mum had to send me to a nanny because she was working and could not take care of me full time. So one fine day, my Pho Pho(grandma) decided to give me a visit, and took a cab to Aulong. She found me at the hall, crying pitifully, desperate for a nappy change and yet with no one attending to me. As she reminisced to me, she found the nanny happily cooking in the kitchen seemingly unaware of my predicament. That was enough for Pho Pho where she called up my mum immediately, and with a recommendation from a distant relative, my mum drove right over after work, pick me up and drove me straight to my Lai Ma’s house. That was how Lai Pa described, where I came in my mum’s car late in the evening, in need of love and attention right into their home that was never deprived of those. And so begin my years of growing up there.
I would say it had been the shaping years of my life, trust me we children do absorb everything like sponge during the first 5 years of our lives from family and people surrounding us. So environment counts and lucky for me, it was a great one. After that it is the school, the teacher and then to friends. So if you had just turned into a mum or are expecting, remember this, the next 5 years is the time you take to shape your child. Anyway, not to divert, so my Lai Ma, her husband and her three children (all in their teens then) had shaped me in many ways. When I finally move back permanently with my family, I somehow felt I was different, albeit a bit on the stubborn and naughtier side due to fact that I was exposed to peers other than your own siblings, so I was somehow the stronger and mischievous one in school, but that would be another story.
Quite a pity though as when I was young, I was a rascal who refused to eat. All I want to do was play, play and just play. So when it comes to meal time, it was either wham bam thank you ma’am and then rush off to continue whatever game that we were in, or it would be a long torturous road of trying to cheat me into finishing my meal. This was how un-tham jiak I was when I was young. Maybe I did not know how to appreciate food then, which I make up real well now, I hope. I even shied away from Malaysia’s king of fruit, the durian when I was young and no amounts of coaxing or brain-washing can make me eat it. This was another real pity thing as my Lai Pa goes to an estate all the time, to hunt wild boars (yes, hunting with big long guns that you would only see in the movies) and also harvest many wonderful fresh local fruits, and one that always came back fresh from falling off the tree is the durian.
So now I am all grown up, appreciating food in its myriad of tastes, smells and textures, that I see how much I have missed then, oh and yea, I do eat durian now and enjoy it very much. Funny how much one’s taste can change so much as they grew up. My Lai Ma’s cooking was superb, sadly that I realized this so much later, but still not too late fortunately. I also learnt that she was an excellent baker only after I had left Taiping for studies, where her husband and children had once bought her a huge mixer (maybe it was smallest at that time), that lasted her for more than 20 years until now, where in occasions I got to use to bake a few cakes with her and even made my first virgin cheesecake at her place, her acclaimed best recipe from those who had tried. It was a really cool stand mixer, like a KitchenAid of that time, where I believed I would have dream and wish for it then like how I wish for KitchenAid now.
From the recent Chinese New Year (the most celebrated occasion for the Chinese every year is still vividly fresh in my mind), I had managed to learn one of her ‘secret’ recipe, the young papaya pickle. It is thinly sliced young papaya soaked in Chinese rice vinegar, sugar and sliced chillies, in glass containers, which can last for ages but it never does, not in my household anyway. I was lucky last year when once during a visit to her house, she had just made a big batch, soaking in few glass containers of various sorts such as jam jar, taucu jar (her favourite) and other sauces jar, just like how we Chinese like to keep these containers/bottles/boxes for ‘just in case’s, which this time, rarely I might say, was really put to good use. She even reminded me to bring back the container the next time I come back so that it can be reuse for more pickled papayas! So, this year when I visit her again, I casually mentioned that I had brought back the containers for her (proudly as I was really famous for forgetfulness, especially in her household of really keen and responsible people), and she was indeed surprised and happy. Then I also casually mentioned that I simply looove those pickled papayas, where I polished off in just a week and had been yearning for more since then. She perk up immediately to know I enjoy it so much and offered immediatly “it is so very easy to make, let me make a batch for you to bring back tomorrow!” I was thrilled yet worried as my plan was to go back with my cousin was right after breakfast, which she waved off as no problem as she said it can be done in a jiffy.
Come the next day, my mum fetched me to Lai Ma’s house early in the morning before meeting my cousin for breakfast to pick up my precious pickled papayas. My mum was also very intrigued and want to give it a try, which later I passed one jar to her (later claimed by her to be excellent) and took two jar back home to PJ. Yes, my dear Lai Ma had made a huge batch for me, where she had skipped her daily morning walk that day just to get to the market early to buy papaya, come back and then slice and soak them just in time for me to pick up before I leave. I felt so loved, people say food is the way to a man’s heart, for me that is the way to a child’s heart, yes I am still very much a child to her, for me at least, and for all time to come I’m sure.
Young Papaya Pickle
When I asked my Lai Ma how do I know how to pick an unripe papaya that is just right for this pickle, my Lai Pa was right there listening, and as I said that he was a wise food enthusiast too, he told me straight away “when you just see a tiny hint/streak of yellow on a green papaya, then that papaya is just right for pickling”. See, I told you my Lai Pa was a wise food enthusiast (and also in many other areas of life, I’m compelled to add), he gave me such an easy and fool-proof method to my pickling journey! The recipe below is more of an estimation as it really depends how much papaya slices you can get from your papaya, how strong your rice vinegar is, and how sweet and spicy you want it to be, so follow it as a guideline and then taste as you go on.
Green with a hint/streak of yellow papaya (sliced thinly)
Chinese Rice vinegar
Red chillies (sliced in inches)
Put the sliced papaya into a jar (from your stashed of ‘just in case’ glass containers)
Pour in rice vinegar to 3 quarter full (do not add to full as the papaya will produce more water as it pickle)
Put in sugar to taste, stir in each addition and continue tasting to just right
Throw in few slices of chillies (as many as you like, but for mine I saw bout 1-2 chilly for a jar)
From time to time, give it a turn around (i.e. spoon bottom to top and vice versa so that all the papayas could get to soak), with a really clean dry spoon.
After a while all the papaya will be happily soaking in rice vinegar and its own juices, so then onwards you can keep as long as you want, just remember to take out with clean spoon every time. (Psst, sometimes I dip in with my fingers when I could not resist but no worries, mine do not need to be stored for long anyway).
P/S: I am submitting this entry to Apples & Thymes to celebrate my Lai Ma, just like a mother to me and a mother to her lovely children, and how she play a big part in my life and my love for food.
Update: The lovely round-up of Apples & Thyme can be found at Mele Cotte.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Although I had eaten so much within that long weekend regardless that I had forewarned myself, I can vividly remember all the wonderful feasts. Few of them was taken outside in restaurants as we do not want to tire our dear grandmothers and mothers, but those few home made feasts was what I treasured most.
On my Ah Ma side, it had been many years since she cooked a feast for our Chinese New Year as all her children want her to rest and relax, while on my Pho Pho side, it would be the usual feast of my favourite dishes such as jiu hu char, which had me standing by the side of the bowl, nearly finishing off by wrapping it in fresh raw lettuce and popping it into my mouth again and again, ah bliss, and also the must have heart-attacking duck soup, I swear that it is more of duck ‘oil’, but nonetheless irresistible! These home cooked feasts will have me gobbling up as if there were no tomorrow while I just nibble on the restaurant food, which once I got so sick off I cheated my way out of dinner by saying I wanted to visit my Lai Ma (Nanny), which I did of course but with no food.
Speaking bout my Lai Ma, she is another wonder woman in kitchen, apart from being a wonder woman of raising kids, which would be another whole story I will share soon. Last year, when I got real lucky, she had me sit down and feasted on her food during my visit. At that time I was already full from lunch at Pho Pho’s but staring at her version of Chinese New Year home feasting; I could not resist and proceeded to have second lunch of the day! I cursed myself for eating too much beforehand while continued on feasting anyway. So this year, with the reminiscence of the wonderful feast I had with the tastes still vividly at the tip of my tongue, I smarted my way out from a lunch out with my relatives in a restaurant and ‘visited’ my Lai Ma on Chor Yat (first day of Chinese New Year) itself. Beside the fact that I was really yearning to see both my Lai Ma and Lai Pa (her husband) after a long time, I was also secretly yearning for her special dishes.
When I got there, many people were there visiting already, including U and her brother which grew up with me together under my Lai Ma’s care. I waited patiently while enjoying their company and once they leave, I casually asked if there is lunch. My Lai Ma was extremely surprised “What! You haven’t had your lunch? Why didn’t you say so just now?” Glancing at the clock which was showing only near to 3pm, it wasn’t that late from lunch but from my Lai Ma’s reaction, just like how a typical Chinese would react, it would had seemed like I had been starving for years. Quickly, she had me get the rice while she got me a big bowl of ham choy thong (salted vegetable soup). I stared at the spread in front of me and proceeded to enjoy the feast, this time with lots of room in my tham jiak stomach to fit in.
The ham choy thong is how I always remembered it would be, as she cooks it quite frequently, salty, slightly spicy and sourish, which serves real well as an appetizer. Then there was the must-have steamed chicken, eaten with her homemade green chili sauce. Another meat dish is the lor bak (deep fried marinated minced pork rolled in thin soybean sheets) which was home made by my Lai Ma’s sister was really good too. The chunky minced pork was really juicy and fragrant while the soybean sheets were perfectly crunchy. My Lai Ma made pickled cucumber to eat with it, which surprisingly pairs really well together and to me, it was better than the usual Loh sauce (dark sauce thicken with corn starch, usually served at the hawker stalls).
Then next is my favourite chow mangkuang (stir fried sliced yam bean) which tastes like my Ah Ma’s Cantonese version with added cuttlefish strips. This dish has similarity to my Pho Pho’s Hakka darker and much more sinful version, which is to be eaten best wrapped in fresh lettuces.
Finally, it was the star dish of the day, which was the first that came to my mind when I was reminiscing about her dishes of last year. It is the stir fried ngaku (arrowhead/arrowroots) with nam yue (fermented red beancurd) that despite looking weird with its pinkish hue, it was a real delight to the palate. Slight sweet yet salty and with just hints of nam yue (many people find this an acquired taste, but trust me it is just a slight complement here). This dish is also a darling to eat wrapped in fresh lettuce, but first slathered generously with tim cheong (sweet sauce). I once asked where to get the tim cheong and my Lai Ma said “Aiya, make it yourself. Very easy! Put this this and that that together, and ta-da – you got your ultimate tim cheong”. Sorry though I cannot remember those ‘easy’ steps, aih, they all make it sound so easy, time for me to buck up! I must start cooking and making more Chinese cuisines. This is definitely one better way to enjoy ngaku apart from the usual addictive fried ngaku crisps which are widely available (both homemade or store bought) at this time of the year.
I ate with such gluttony and tham jiak-ness that halfway through my feasting, Lai Pa took second helpings of rice and joined me together at the table. Now the real family feast has begun!
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Nevertheless, today I was lucky to be release early from a work training today, therefore this post. I have been meaning to post is since the beginning of this month, which was my dad’s birthday. Yes my dad, the pillar of my house and the foundation of my family.
Every dad is special to every little girl, just like how my dad is. Since the day I was born, he had never really raise his voice on me, not to mention laid hands on me. But he had his ways to keep us (my sister and I) in check, his “because I say so” and his silent treatments. No matter how though, I always see through his scheme. I am the little girl of the house, hardheaded at most times but usually using her charms to manja (pamper) her way through his heart. Whenever he tried to put up his steel manner, I would manja if I ever see there is a chance to get what I want (opportunity sighting is learnt throughout the years of living together), so I usually end up with what I want. But I had never abuse this power though, cause at times I know there are many things that even the best charm can never change or get.
My dad is in someway whom we like to tease in Malaysia, China-man, which actually loosely translated to the same style of the ancient Chinese people’s thinking, but not necessarily meaning it in a bad way. He was strict and conservative in his sense, protective towards his only two daughters, and manly about his house rules. Anyway, as my sister and I grew older, he had learnt to take off his protective net, and let us roam ourselves out in the world. So far, as he is always nearby, traveling forthnighly back to Taiping, we always find chance to come out for a dinner during Sunday nights, just like how we used to do as a family those days. During our Taiping days, we always go out for a full fledged Chinese dinner on Sunday night, its like a ritual. Then we would always go to the same restaurant again and again until we are so bored of it we would change to another, and then the vicious cycle begin again. Anyway, no matter what, I love you, dad!
So back to dad and his birthday, this year, mum insist that all of us go back to Taiping to celebrate. So of we all drove back in 3 separate cars, sis and her boyfriend, J and I and then dad, pardon us for the pollution, but as I told you, my mum insisted. Oh well, since she had came up in our numerous occasions, we all agreed to head home. Then during one of our MSN sessions, yes my mum DO surf the net and chit chat on messengers, she casually mentioned that I should bake a cake for dad. It tugs at my heart, I badly wanted to, but I know time is not on my side. Anyhow, due to perseverance, I got up that early Saturday morning, after arriving the night before in Taiping after midnight, and got over to my Nanny’s house and bake a cake, no so direct as I had to decide a recipe then from one of her old cookbooks, drove out to get the remaining missing ingredients (fortunately everywhere is near in Taiping), and came back to bake the
Chocolate Cake with Sliced Peaches
100g chocolate (use the rich kind, I used Varlhona)
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of baking soda
½ tsp baking soda
5 eggs, separated (I hope I got this right from memory, missed it out from my handcopy)
¼ tin condense milk
1 tsp vanilla essense
1 tbsp brandy
Heat oven to 175 degrees.
Melt chocolate over steaming water (like the usual bain marie kind or my Nanny’s bowl-in-water-Asian-style kind)
Beat egg whites with half the sugar till fluffy. Add baking soda and beat till stiff but not dry.
beat butter and remaining sugar till light and fluffy (old books love this word)
Add condense milk by spoonful into the batter, beat well.
Add in melted chocolate bit by bit and beat till incorporated.
Add egg yolks, one at a time, beat well each time
Add vanilla and brandy, beat till blend.
Pour into the prepared and lined 8-inch pan.
Baked for bout 45-55 minutes (we had some trouble during baking, so do not have the exact right time) or till skewer comes out clean (use this method then)
Whipped up by me out of memory of many food blogs’ recipes I read and the remaining ingredients lying around
Melt them together over slow heat
Let cool a little and then scoop over chocolate cake
Cut the cake in half (this was done skillfully by my Nanny)
Put the top side down, hiding the cracks if any
Slather chocolate icing liberally over the cake (cut side)
Arrange the slices of peach around it
Put the other cake slice over, cut side down
Pour the rest of the icing over the cake, forming a lovely overflowing chocolatey fountain
Nanny and I wish we could devour it then when the chocolate cake is dousing in the chocolate sauce, but we put it in the freezer instead and let it set
Then bring to the party and serves 8 people after a full Chinese course meal for sweet endings
Saturday, November 10, 2007
It had been a long time since I last join a food event, but this time it got me out of my cold storage box again, just because the theme really got me at my heart. This event is about, quoting african vanielje, celebrations of mothers and grandmothers and time spent with them in the kitchen, in dedication to Jeni’s mother. Apples and Thymes, it seems like the perfect name for the theme today, though I cannot explain why.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you would have read bout my stories about my Ah Ma (grandmother) in so many occasions. For Ah Ma, the ever diligent wife, mother and grandmother, the always seeking of self improvement, the only bind now to our big family tree, the reason we all should appreciate and celebrate life and the ties to our roots back to China itself. I bet these reasons are truly strong enough for a celebration, a big one at date. So let’s toast to my Ah Ma and all the mothers and grandmothers in the world. You all somehow make this world a better place.
Looking back, it seems that I did not spend enough time with my Ah ma in my earlier days. What a shame, I certainly could have learned a lot. It was not until I went to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, to study and now to work, that I learn what I have all these while been taking for granted – real food laboured with real love. Maybe it is also our Asian way of life, where kids are not allowed to play in the kitchen; too dangerous, too troublesome, going to cut self with knife, breakables would be broken, edibles made inedible and the list would go on. That is how then, this little Chinese kid got left out of her Ah Ma’s kitchen, much to her lament.
But I remember the festivals, the time where we (kids) just might have the reason, or rather the chance to help out in the kitchen. I remember once, during Tanglung (Lantern) festival, I don’t know why this event was etched firmly in my memory where I can picture it vividly in my mind, where my sister and I walked into the kitchen where there were hundreds of mini Tong Yuens (glutinuous rice dumplings balls) in plethora of pinks, whites, greens and yellows in a huge metal tray. Ah Ma’s version of Tong Yuen is more of the north Malaysia style, small and plain with no fillings. My sister and I would eagerly help to shape the balls. I still remember Ah Ma saying, “Aiya, not like that, one big one small. Aiya, not round enough, let me show you”. She then will show her spectacular skill of rolling Tong Yuen into a round ball at the right size at amazing speed, due to years of making of thousands of them. Although she would try her best to advise us, we end up with Tong Yuens of various sizes and some oval, some round, some flat. In the end, she would still smile, praise us for our help and then throw it all in boil and then add into the prepared sweet ginger soup. I found a video here at Malaysia Best, where there are two little boys helping out with making Tong Yuen.
Anyhow, after I went to the big world out there, I do also always try to return to my little hometown, where every time I would bombard my Ah Ma with various questions on how she make this or that dish. Just like every cook, especially the ones who enjoy it, she would go into a long and detail description from picking of the right vegetables to the right cut of meat, then to right preparations and the many seasonings up to the right way of cooking and down to the right time itself. I would sit there fixated, nodding occasionally and try to absorb everything. Sometimes when the list got too long, I might whip out my PDA or a paper to note things down. When I got home again, I would try to replicate some of dishes that I learned, mostly a success as Chinese cooking when once you understand its basics and have spent years in eating them, you can easily make it, but mostly it is never up to par to Ah Ma. Maybe in the future, after years of practice, I might make it as good as her.
Although there were many of her dishes that I loved, there was one dish that I hold really dearly to my heart personally. This one dish that I always beg her to make is ho lan shu chu yok (stir fry potato and pork in dark soy sauce). Whenever she cooks this dish is I would be eating and eating it way after I finish off my rice. I would have to pry myself from the table in risk of finishing it before anyone else can have the chance to eat it. Then, after a while off, I would then pester her again, “Ah Ma, when are you going to cook potato chu yok (this mixed term was coined since I was really young) again?”. She would then just smile and ask if I am ever bored at it, which I would shook my head vigorously. Even after long gone from home and back again, I once again request for this comfort dish of mine. I am so excited when we finally cook it together in her kitchen; after all I am not a kid anymore right, where I would be more of a help than a nuisance, then again, arming with camera in hand, I do seem worst off, but a food blogger got to do, what she got to do – shoot!
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Both my grandmas, Ah Ma and Pho Pho, which I have so fondly talked about all the time, have gone through hardships in their own way. I had told a really extensive story before of Ah Ma, of how she a princess when she was young, thrown to hardship during the war times and then got into marriage and ended up raising 11 kids. For my Pho Pho is a whole new hardship of life, a whole new tale to spin. Ah well, that would be another post of another day, where I would be featuring a dish especially by her. A look at how she always put up a feast for every Chinese New Year shows what an experienced great cook she is. She just needs the morning, waking up at wee hours of 4am and then has the entire 10 course meal ready by lunch time for all. On the other hand, my Ah Ma cooks with her due time, cleaning every inch of the food, slicing everything to perfection and cooking each to the right time. Therefore Ah Ma need at least a day to laboriously churn out good food for the night. Both are entirely different, with entirely different taste of food, where my Ah Ma’s is usually simple and light Cantonese dishes while Pho Pho’s is thick, in depth and full of complex flavours Hakka dishes. For me Ah Ma’s food should always be for the no-nonsense everyday fare while Pho Pho’s food is for the elaborate all-out special occasions fare.
Anyway, far away from home, and lack of good grandma’s home-cooked food, I had to make do with outside food. Though it has been quite sometime since J and I went out in venture for food, due to work as well as more laidback life and cutback on our calories resolution, we found ourselves driving out one day in search of food without a direction. J had just got rewarded with Baskin Robbins (which is one of my icy treats indulgence) voucher for being a good employee, such a nice company right, and so we decided to head to Uptown where I know there is an independent BR outlet there. So we decided to have our dinner around that area and cruise around for the right shop to eat. Suddenly J spotted a restaurant, boasting of home cook food and dim sum choices. On the first trip we had really good dishes that even J, the renown food critic (only to me ha-ha) praises it. So promptly on that weekend itself, I met up with dad and uncle at the same restaurant for dinner, of course base on recommendation from J and me. The second trip was a bit of hit and miss, but overall it is still good enough for me to return for more tryouts.
First we had to have our fix of siu long bao, which came in 5 dumplings for one basket. For this I would say the skin was a little too thick for my liking, especially in compare to the Hong Kong ones I tried (look at the nearly translucent skin), yes I know it is unfair to compare, but the upside was the soup are all sealed in well here and was really well flavoured. For J, THE food critic, said this was even better than Dragon I’s as the one we had there last time leaked out all the wonderful soup, where from then he swore never to have it again at Dragon I, yes a really adamant critic. This one to his delight, when he bit into it, the juices shot out and got to me, luckily just my hands, yes, it was THAT soupy, so J gave it the thumbs up. Too bad they ran out of the big version where KY had, else we would really enjoy the ‘soup’ in the pao. Oh well, maybe next time.
Next up was the main dishes. J was already really hungry thus the bias review, but to me it was good as well, really with the home-cooked feel of grandma’s cooking. One I immediately have to call for was the Jiu Hu Char (stir fried yam bean with cuttlefish), which I say my Pho Pho makes a mean one, but this one was more of the lighter version, which my Ah Ma does cook minus the jiu hu (dried shredded cuttlefish) which we called chau mang kuang (stir fried yam bean), so this was like a cross version of my Ah Ma’s and Pho Pho’s, all the better. I am really missing them now. I found a recipe of this dish here, if any of you are brave enough to try.
Then J had to have his fix of egg, which was one of his favourite must-haves, he ordered the foo yong tan (fried egg with onion slices), which came like just out of a Chinese home kitchen. We love the simplicity!
Of course we then need meat in our fare, so J took the liberty and ordered butter curry leaves chicken. It was special, not really an everyday fare of grandma’s kitchen, but it was good. The chicken was first deep fried then poured on with butter and curry leaves thick sauce. Just describing it makes me want to eat again.
On the separate occasion with dad, we ordered chicken rendang, which came in Chinese-fied version, which tasted quite good as well. It reminds me of my Pho Pho’s curry chicken which was not too spicy yet very flavourful, but this one the drier version, hence rendang, which is cooked till dried.
Since twice our visit, the waitress recommended us to try the assam fish, therefore we give in on this time. Turn out, it was not so good. The fish was not so fresh, definitely a no-no in both my grandma’s kitchens, as well as it is not ‘assam’ (sour) enough and the soup was just bit too thick. Even my version of it was way better.
Last dish which we had different from our first trip was the lou tau foo (braised tofu in soy sauce) and eggs. This is a typical home cooked food, where it is a simple dish of braising the tofu and egg together with soy sauce, sugar and herbs.
Though we had a miss with the assam fish, we would definitely return again to have the thick-skin but soupy siu long bao, the cross version of both my grandmother’s jiu hu char and other dishes that I had noted down to try. I kept the receipt so that I have the address but somehow it got lost somewhere during my writing and finally my publishing of this post. Luckily, I found that KY did a review as well, so I just copied the address from his, thanks KY! As for the prices, it was really affordable, somewhere just smaller portion with same price as the usual Chinese cookout restaurants, but with a home cook taste.
Restoran Grandma Kitchen Cafe
6, Jalan SS21/39, D.U.,
PJ, 47400 Selangor
P/S: This review appeared in The Star (Malaysia leading English newspaper) Sundaymetro! I'm so happy, so if you're readers from there, welcome! The link is here (though I don't know how long before it will be archived).
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
I remember days when I was in the morning school (we in Malaysia had two sessions of school in a day, depending on which year you are in), I would rush back in the afternoon waiting to see what is on the table. Then there are years when I was in the afternoon school, where I usually had to go to school earlier than lunch, thus I had to endure the time when I come back for dinner to eat the leftovers, usually listening to my sister (who always happens to be of the opposite school time) bragging about the finished favourite dish.
When I was near my teens, my Ah Ma’s children all chided her from cooking, as they want her to enjoy her life and relax. Thus begin the years that I had to cater for food (really bad food memories, but which should be the beginning of my interest in own cooking) and only occasional treats from my Ah Ma’s cooking. From then, we missed her cooking so much, once a while we would beg her to satisfy some of our cravings. As for now, let me list down the top 10 food (pictures here are my cooking for illustration only) that I missed dearly, though there are many more, I have to say my favourites are:
Ah Ma’s chow fan is the best. Ok, this may seem like a cliché but it is true, for me at least. She can do the meanest ‘white’ chow fan, with no dark soy sauce, big succulent prawns (her secret) and sometimes chopped long beans, chicken or pork and that’s about it. Real simple but good eats definitely. I had yet to achieve her white chow fan level, usually succumbing to the dark ones as it is easier to flavour them. My Ah Ma’s chow fan is good to eat just on its own (though my sister and cousin like to eat with lots of tomato sauce) and I can never ever get enough of it. Sigh, I miss it so much. Before this, long time ago, she used to add in frozen mixed vegetables (green peas, cubed carrots and corns), which I would pick out one by one when I eat it. Frozen stuffs are just not good, the peas are too tough, the carrots are tasteless and the corns just don’t belong there). Then one day she knew about it and fried a separate chow fan for me without those, and oh boy, was I touched. She loves me, doesn’t she? Then finally she evolved to leave it out completely, which become to now her ultimate chow fan!
Chow Mang Kuang (Stir-fried yam bean)
My Ah Ma chow (stir-fry) the meanest mang kuang. The mang kuang will be sliced uniformly with mandolin then stack up neatly to slice into sticks. Her secret is that all the mang kuang is of about the same length and thickness so that it will cook together thoroughly. The same thing goes with the carrots, though she would put less of it. The carrots lend to more complex texture, colour and taste of course. Superb! She chow it with some minced pork, small prawns and lots of garlics! Yummy!
Of course I love ALL of my Ah Ma’s cheng tong (clear soup). As a Cantonese, she boils soup frequently. Her usual soups are lou wong kwa (old cucumber), lotus roots with peanuts and yok choy kai (herbal chicken). All these soups deserve an individual post themselves, but oh well, when I cook it next time, I’ll talk about it. But if I had to choose between the soups, I would have the ABC soup. Why? Well, my Ah Ma just do this one best, her secret is the crushed peppercorns that she added in with the carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, big onions and of course pork ribs. She just know how much to add of each ingredient bringing in the right blend of the perfect soup. It serves well for cold and rainy days and also for the sick. But to me, it serves best whichever day or weather or condition.
Zhao Har (Prawn fritters)
Ah Ma had somehow perfected the method of zhao har (fry prawns). She uses the right mixes of flour, with enough seasoning (pepper and I forgot what else) and then the right amount of water and eggs to dilute it to the right consistency. She told me the process once long time ago but I forgot (shame on me)! Anyway, she would then dip the huge prawns into the mixes, holding by the tail, and submerged it into the hot oil. She said no overcrowding, the oil must be hot, and to lower the prawns slowly to avoid the dough spreading (and of course oil splattering). Thinking bout it makes my mouth water. Soon there would be big prawn fritters, with the crust all puff up leaving the prawns inside soft and succulent. When you bite into it, it tastes like heaven!
Fan Shu Chu Yok (Dark sauce Potato and pork)
This one is my personal favourite. Whenever my Ah Ma cooks this, half of it is usually finished by me alone. It was never enough for me. Even after I finished my rice, I would sit there and keep poking at more potato and more pork and devour it. I had to pull myself away from the table, telling myself to leave some for others. Ha-ha. Yes, it is that good. I craved for it a lot when I first came down to study. Ah Ma’s secrets are, first the potatoes must be sliced thinly and uniformly (her personal skills), then it is shallow fried in batches to perfection, crispy on the outside but still soft and crumbly inside. Then she would sliced the pork (she uses the loins) thinly and then marinate it first with soy sauce, dark soy sauce and sugar. Then she would stir fry it with the potatoes. Now though I had learn to make it, I can never achieve the same results (maybe I was too lazy to slice all the potatoes uniformly and fry it batch by batch diligently) and usually now, I would use the shorter way, just parboiling the potatoes and then chop it up and make my own fan shu chu yok. I kid myself it is healthier, thus less tasty than Ah Ma’s.
Why would I miss my Ah Ma’s hong tao sui? Well hers is usually different from the outside (not to say better, but different), as she would not boil all the beans to mush, usually leaving them with enough crunch and resulting in a clearer soup. Then she would add in dried mandarin oranges skins (her secret, she always have one doesn’t she) which would lend a citrusy taste to the else usual hong tao sui. Every time after Chinese New Year, I would see her diligently put the orange skins out to sun for few days in a row (yes she makes her own dried mandarin orange skins), usually keeping an eye for the rain (which is superbly frequent and unpredictable in Malaysia weather, worst yet, Taiping, which is well known for the name raintown). Then when the time is right (which means the skins are ready for use) and her mood is right, she would make us her ‘different’ hong tao sui.
Chow Pao Choy (Stir-fried cabbage)
This is one of the simplest dish that Ah Ma can make it so good that it tops any other complicated dish out there. This one might not have a secret. Ah Ma just chow (stir-fry) the sliced cabbages with lots of garlics. Maybe she can chow to the right softness yet still with crunch and enough taste but not too overpowering. I do not know why, but when she cooks this, I can’t stop eating it. Somehow, the outside ones does not taste as good, and I absolutely do not like those chow with har mai (dried prawns), which I felt it takes away the simple goodness of the dish.
Baked beans with cubed potato, cubed onions and minced pork
This one must be my Ah Ma’s creation. She came up with it one day and we all got hooked onto it, thus it became a household favourite. She would cube the potatoes and onions into tiny 1cm cubes, all of the same size (again, I do not know where she gets her skills and patients to do this). Then she would stir fry the pork with garlic then add in the cubes and in the end, pour in baked beans (from the can, yes semi-can food but I swear it is superb). It results in a dish only found in my Ah Ma’s house, which is absolutely delish!
Fu Kua Tan (Bittergourd Eggs)
Ah Ma cooks her fu kua tan, by first soak the bittergourd in water, then squeeze out water and then repeat process with new water for a few times to remove bitterness. After bout 3 times, she would then slice it thinly (and I mean really thin) and of about the same size (need I say more?). Then she would fry it briefly, and then add in beaten eggs to hold all of it together. The result is a really thin fu kua tan that are soft and eggy plus bitter and crunchy at the same time. This dish actually came later in my Ah Ma’s culinary years. Someone introduced it to her and from then on she made it all the time. At first, as a kid, I absolutely hate it. I do not like the bitter taste of the gourd. I would usually pick out the eggs from the side and middle or wherever and leave out the gourds. Though the eggs are already ‘stained’ with some bitterness, I still eat it anyway. Then, soon I got lazier and sometimes some gourd sneaked into my picked eggs, I still eat it anyway. Then soon, by some evolution theory, I got addicted to it and start eating it the way it is, with lots of bittergourds held together by the eggs. This is how I learnt to eat my bittergourds, which now I absolutely love, no matter how it is cooked.
My Ah Ma cooks lovely honey chicken in her huge orange non-stick pot-pan. With this she would cook the chicken parts into perfection, after marinating it with dark soy sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce and so forth, and then add in the honey by taste. It would result in a honey chicken that is not too sweet, with distinct honey taste and enough soy sauce salty. I hope I’m making sense here. Besides, the chicken would be soft and juicy while soaking in a thick deglazed honey soy sauce.
So there goes my favourite list of my Ah Ma’s cooking. As for me, where have I been lately and why have I not been charging my culinary skills in my kitchen as I had promised? Well this is because I had just shifted! Oh yes, I’m in my new house now, and of course new kitchen! I am so excited to show you all but right now it is just all boxes lying around. The plus point of this kitchen is the extra extension at the back of the house which can be made into my wet kitchen! My dream came true. Besides that, I went around my neighbourhood and found that there is a whole day market nearby that caters to every need of a home cook enthusiast, that’s me! With that I have no more excuses for not cooking more often! Stay tune then for more of my culinary adventures.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Alright, what is this naughty girl doing here when she is supposed to be studying? Well, she just misses her blogging life and intended to at least post something. I have just tackled the first paper this morning, and hopefully I’ve done well, I wrote till my hand got sore. That should be good news right?
Anyway, mum had just bought a yummy biscuit made in my home town, Taiping, which she had dad brought up to KL for me. My dad works here and he travels back fortnightly. I’ve tried biscuit before, and had an almost addictive liking to it, which I “naturally” mentioned to mum, and so, she bought 2 boxes for me this time! Thank you mum!
It is just what I needed, a non-homemade-as-I-do-not-have-the-time comfort food to fight the exam blues.
Gula Melaka Biscuits
It's a sort of biscuit, with thick floury and buttery skin, wrapped around gula melaka, which is already all chewy and sweet. It has good combination of texture and taste which just have your hands keep crawling back into the box for more! By the way, the box is really cool, it has the picture of the Taiping lake garden at the top.
Now, I have to stop ranting or I’ll start to sound like a girl gone mad from studying, back to where I belong now, the books!
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
As I am getting back on track from my holiday mood to my working routine, time is slipping away pretty quickly. As for now, I’m leaving you guys with pictures of the wonderful tummy-filled CNY celebration that I had. Enjoy!
Pho Pho (mum's mother) shredding the pre-soaked black fungus
Loh Hon Chai (Fried Mixed Vegetables)
My absolute all time favourite Jiu Hu Char (Stir fried shredded Cuttlefish with Yam Bean)
Another Stir Fried Mix Vegetables with Chinese Mushrooms
Live crab waiting to be cooked. We Chinese only eat the freshest from the sea.
Cooked Crab in Tomato Sauce, a little kick from ginger, spring onion and chillies
Steamed chicken, a must have for every Chinese household on reunion
The steamed chicken chopped and served sprinkled with chinese parsley
My aunt chopping the boiled pork tripe from the soup to bite sizes
Taking out the steamed fish (fresh from the sea too)
Pho Pho enjoying the food while waiting for the fish to steam
Yee Sang - We have it every year over at my mother's side, whenever we can meet up either the reunion day or Chor Yat/Chor Yee (first/second day of Chinese New Year). This Yee Sang of ours is self made, with the carrots and radishes freshly sliced thinly (no shredding as it will sweat too much) and then Pomelo freshly shred to pieces. The hues of greens and beige stripes are papaya pickles. In the middle is our main ingredient of the dish – abalone slices. The red packets contained Five Spice Powder and crushed peanuts ready to be sprinkled over the Yee Sang later.
Once ready to serve , crispy dough crackers are scattered all around the dish. Next the spices and peanuts are sprinkled over follow by pouring of plum sauce over it. We would then gear ourselves with chopsticks and then simultaneously toss the Yee Sang all over. As belived, the higher you toss the better. We usually end up with bits and pieces on our hand due to the crazy tossing by everyone.
Then all of proceed to scoop everything out onto our bowls and devour it. We would of course aim for the abalones but at last, we would end up distributing to each other anyway. The Yee Sang definitely tasted good, with fresh ingredients, right plethora of tastes of sweet and sour plus right textures of soft, chewy, crunchy and juicy all together. I looked forward to it every year. If you want to know more about this, Foodcrazee have an extensive information on his own deconstructed Yee Sang.
Overall, a lovely Chinese New Year, with jeans a little tighter, wallet a bit fatter (from all the Ang Pows), heart a little fonder and of course, smile a little wider!
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Then other times, when it was not knitting season, I would sit around listening to her talk. She taught me a lot of things, from general knowledge to stories of yesteryears. I even remember that I learnt to read the time from Ah Ma. For one, Ah Ma is very much educated unlike most old people here. I did not mean that old people here are uneducated, it is just that most of us Chinese here, at that time, does not have the luxury to get proper education and mostly would be working since young to feed themselves, like my mother’s mother who came from China. This is mainly because Ah Ma was born in a rich family and had proper education up till she was 12, where the war started and her whole family was forced to hide in plantations. From there, she had continued to read and learn herself. For a grandmother from her era, she can practically read any English book, watch documentaries and converse in it fluently, much to amazements of my friends. This is also partly because she is still quite young as she got married to my Ah Kong (Grandpa in Hokkien), when she was just merely 17.
From the stories I heard from her and also my dad and aunts, I had gather a pretty thorough life story of Ah Ma. Ah Ma is a first born in her family, and had been pretty bossy since young, acting as the big sister. She took care of her lot of young siblings and had assumed whole authority when the women and children had sought refuge in the plantations during war time. After that, peace came and the whole family moved out to town again (Taiping) and so happened she stayed right next door to my Ah Kong. Little did she know she would be marrying her neighbour, one of the richest man in Taiping, at the tender age of 17
My Ah Kong is another remarkable man. When he was just in his early twenties, his brother passed away leaving behind four children. Being a compassionate man, Ah Kong took them as his own kids and raised them the best he could. At that time, he was just venturing into tin ore business and he had already decided in his heart to just concentrate on career and treat all his nieces and nephews as his family. By the time he was nearly 30, he had became one of the most successful man in business. At that time, tin ore business is a flourishing in the rich soils of Taiping. So after being really stable in his business, someone decided it is time he thinks for himself. Therefore, he was introduced to the girl next door, my Ah Ma, and then, to make an arrange marriage short, they got married.
Back to my Ah Ma, just imagine, at the age of 17, she was all of the sudden, married to a rich man and not only that, became a mother of four pretty grown up children. She could even be their sisters, but no, Ah Ma is more than that. For a young girl, she was pretty tough, trained from being a big sister since young, she assumes authority in the household quickly and took care of all the young ones. She then bears my Ah Kong, seven children all together, two daughters and five sons. It is a wonder how last time people can handle so many children altogether. I guess my Ah Ma had a big heart, as in overall, she would be giving love out to 11 kids now. According to Dad, Ah Ma treated them real strict, unlike how she had treated the 4 children earlier. Maybe it was her motherly instinct kicking in. Dad said, all of them would have to sit down to do their school work every night after dinner and no noise is allowed. By 9pm, all would have to be in bed and no objections allowed. Of course when they grew up, my Ah Ma tame down, don’t they always do?
As a grandmother, Ah Ma is a real softie. She had never once scolded any of her grandchildren and with her big heart still, she showered all of us with love. Once a while she does give some advice but she never nags for long. She had even taken care of my cousin brother his whole life, because his mother was away working in America.
Ah Ma cooks really good home cook food, we all says our home cook food is the best, and I guess it is true in our very own way. Food laboured with love is always the best. I am really lucky to be able to enjoy her cooking, as we stayed next to each other in Taiping, after the shift from the rented house. although she stopped cooking daily since my teens, for my uncles all objected it and wanted her to “heong fook” (which means enjoy prosperity) instead, she did whipped up some of my old favourites occasionally. One my favourite for all time is the Pork and Potato in Sweet Dark Soy Sauce. Oh, I must make it again, the way Ah Ma would, another worthy “exploring my origins” project. Ah Ma is not the type to cook fancy food. Her cooking style is in some ways like her roots, Cantonese, which is famous for simple yet delicious food. Cantonese people are good in bringing together simple few ingredients that complements real well and thus showcasing the authentic taste of each ingredient. It is never laden with spices, mostly just soy sauce or salt, as most flavours comes from the main ingredient itself. As far as I know, our famous Chinese soups mostly originated from the Cantonese who had brought together wholesome ingredients and brew to fuse all the wonderful flavours together which are light but a delight to the palate. It is from Ah Ma that I learnt to appreciate simple food, and I am really accustomed to food that is bland. When I go out to eat, I sometimes find food too salty or too sweet or too pungent. But of course, I still enjoy flavorful food laden with spices like the Indian and Malay cuisines, and some other more adventurous Chinese cuisines. But when I seek for home cook food, I always crave for the simple fare of Ah Ma’s cooking.
Ah Ma had came a long way since, and now, as the oldest in the family tree, she is really well respected. During Chinese New Year, all relatives will gather at her house without fail. Every year, on the first day of New Year, her house would be full with relatives from far and wide, her brothers and sisters, her cousins, her four step-children and her own children, which all bring the next generations and some even with the following generations. Ah Ma had just become a great grandmother last month as my cousin; the first boy in the family just had a new born baby girl.
During the weekend, I had went back to celebrate Ah Ma’s 80th birthday, which was attended by relatives from near and far, even my aunt, uncle and cousin from Australia came back. We occupied about 3 wedding sized table, accounting to more than 30 people. What a bash it was and my dad had ordered nine dishes all together (which we found out that it was just too much later) and it was certainly a wonderful tummy-rubbing feast.
I had mentioned earlier that I would be baking a cake for her, which is non-dairy as Ah Ma could not stand butter or milk or cheese. Thus I decided to go on a quest to make a cake she would not only be able to tolerate; it would be one she would enjoy. After some tweaking, sweating and praying, yes I did, I had finally came up with a cake for Ah Ma:
Chocolate Blueberry Cake with Chocolate Soy ‘Ganache’
A fellow cooking friend, C, from KC, recommended black forest Cake that she had just made. Looking at her delicious looking cake, I decided to give it a try. I saw the absence of butter but it called for whipping cream, which I’m sure, is a no no for Ah Ma. C had suggested non-dairy whipping cream but I’m not too keen as the look itself would still deter Ah Ma from trying it. Thus I tweaked the recipe a bit. Well actually a lot. I practically changed the whole thing and only used the basic chocolate cake. I had substituted black cherries with canned blueberries and forego the whipping cream altogether.
It was my first try at whipping the egg whites and I had troubled whipping it to stiff peaks. I was worried I might over whipped and thus ended up under whipped it. In the following recipe, I had added extra instructions in whipping the egg whites and how to incorporate the ingredients, a tip I learnt later from C. It was still bit runny but I gave up on it and use it anyway. This resulted in a disastrous not-fully-risen cake. To make matters worse, I had overlooked the recipe calling for 8-inch pan and had used a 9-inch one instead. Now you can imagine how short the cake it. Nonetheless, I persevered and sliced it anyway and sandwiched blueberries in between. I got a crack at the top of the cake, which C had also experienced and I had thought of a sly way to hide it. I sliced the cake into two, and put the cracked slice face down at the bottom instead and top with the other better looking slice. How would this affect the cake I’m not sure though, but if any of you do, please let me know. Anyhow, it solved the ugly part, but somehow it still lack the lustre of a cake fit to cater for a birthday bash.
After some head cracking, I had decided to do a ‘ganache’ for the cake. But of course, this would mean I need whipping cream again, thus I substituted and used soy milk instead and somehow came up with a spreadable cream which frosted the cake pretty well. Then back in Taiping, I rushed to the supermarket and got myself fruits to decorate the plain top. Should had gotten the strawberry instead as the canned pineapple was dull looking, much to my horror when I open it and I found that I overlooked that the dark purple grape would not stand out against the chocolate cake. Anyhow, my relatives were all very supportive, they said it looked wonderful and they ate it up with a resounding yum. I guess there were just being nice, as for me, I found the cake a bit tough, due to poorly risen, but other than that, it tasted great and no one realized the absence of dairy or the presence of soy. Even me. What a healthy alternative to a decadent looking and tasting cake.
4 egg yolks
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp brandy
85ml corn oil warmed (I used EVOO)
25g cocoa powder
135ml warm water
125g cake flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 can blueberries (bout 500g)
150g dark chocolate
4-6 tbps of Soy Milk
80g shaved dark chocolate(I did mine with a knife on a block of cooking chocolate)
For the base:
Mix the A well with a hand whisk
Next stir in cocoa powder into a warmed oil (I used the microwave) until dissolved and then pour into wet mixture.
Stir warm water into the mixture.
Next, sieve the dry ingredients and then stir into the wet mixture.
Whip egg whites in a mixing bowl until bubbles form. Add in the cream of tartar and whip until white. Then divide the sugar into 3 portions and add one at a time slowly into the egg white while whipping. Whip until stiff peak.
Pour some of the egg white into the mixture, incorporating it with a cutting movement of a spatula.
Pour in the rest of the egg white and mix till well blended.
Pour batter into a clean 8 inch baking pan.
Bake at 175C for 45 minutes or until the tester comes out clean.
Remove from pan and let cool on the rack.
Cut the cake into half.
For the ganache:
Put the dark chocolate and the soy milk in a microwave proof bowl and microwave on medium for about 4-5 minutes.
Then stir to incorporate.
Add chocolate if it’s too thin or add soy milk if it’s too thick and microwave a minute more. Stir.
Next spread out the blueberries on top of the bottom half of the cake slice.
Top up with the other cake slice.
Slowly spread the ganache onto the cake with a spatula.
Freeze till harden and then return to chill overnight.
Decorate with fruit slices as deem appropriate.(Strawberries would look good, and don’t get dark coloured fruits as it would drown on the dark cake, oh I nag like an Ah Ma)
Make a good 8 inch cake
(or a short 9 inch- which actually served more people, *laughed evilly)