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Babi Asam

I have been cooking simple meals lately and am getting bored with them….so this morning I decided to dig out my New Mrs Lee’s Cookbook: Nyonya Cuisine. This was a gift from a dear friend some time ago and I haven’t really made good use of it.

So I flipped through some recipes and came across a Nyonya meat stew made with pork and decided to try it, since I had some tender pork meat in the freezer.

Babi Asam is a simple stew of pork belly (or lean pork for the healthy folks) stewed in a thick sauce of tamarind pulp, fermented soy paste and shrimp paste. It’s quick enough to prepare and my three-month baby Madelyn was even nice enough to sit quietly by the kitchen door while I sliced, pounded and prepared this dish. The end result? A yummy stew with the tangy hint of the tamarind. Simply delicious! Here’s the recipe; courtesy of my cookbook, of course 🙂

Ingredients:

600g pork belly

5 green chillies

3 red chillies

1.5 tbsp salted soy beans (taocheow)

1 rounded tbsp tamarind pulp

500ml water

5 tbsp oil

Sugar and salt to taste

Rempah (spices):

4 candlenuts

20 shallots

1 tbsp shrimp paste (belacan)

METHOD:

1. Rinse and cut pork belly into pieces

2. Slice the red and green chillies lengthwise

3. Pound the soy beans

4. Pound or blend the ingredients of the rempah

5. Heat oil in a wok in high heat, and stir fry the rempah until light brown and fragrant. Lower heat to a medium flame and sprinkle in some water

6. Add the salted soy beans, then the meat. After a few minutes sprinkle in some more water to prevent the mixture from burning. Add the tamarind paste, then bring to a boil. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half

7. Add the chillies and simmer until the pork is tender. Add sugar and salt to taste.

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Good Food Bad Food

When it comes to food for me, I am particularly fussy about doing it right. Yup, no half hearted effort or trying to pass a biscuit as a pie kinda trick will do for me. I’d rather not eat if a meal isn’t properly prepared to be what it is supposed to be. Perhaps this is a trait I inherited from my super fussy Nyonya grandma, but I ain’t sorry for it.

So when we dropped by my favorite cafe for my all time favorite fish and chips in beer batter the other day, I was all excited like a kid! That was until the waitress plonked my plate of measly looking fish with some chips in front of me. For starters, that fish was not fried in beer batter. And secondly, the portions were minute! It was like batter with fish, not the other way around. The boiled carrots were not peeled so it tasted funny of skin. I was extremely disturbed but had to grudgingly eat it anyway. I hate it when eating outlets think that they can serve you something obviously so different (but not better!!) from how it used to be and pretend (or hope) that the customers don’t notice. What, do I look dumb to you??
Another thing that sets me off at food outlets is when they start to use substandard ingredients after a while and hope that we customers don’t notice and still charge that ridiculous price. For example, hubby and I felt like treating ourselves to some fancy dinner at the only Italian place we have here. We used to go there for pasta, pizza and nice desserts but less now because that place is rather pricey. But that one time was a few weeks before my due date and I wanted to stuff myself. Hubby ordered his favourite Caeser salad; something we used to order from there. But when the salad arrived I stared at it in horror! It was a few sad pieces of lettuce leaves-and these were the kind you see Chinese chefs put under greasy pai kut ong…not the coarse lettuce that you supposed to use for Caesar salad!! Those lettuce leaves were just tossed with dressing and like five pieces of bacon bits. All that for RM 20.90?!?!?!?! Are they kidding me???!!!! I told hubby we were never going back again.

Now do I have to cook everything????

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Nasi Ulam Mania #2

I kid you not when I wrote some time ago that I am crazy over all food fresh throughout this pregnancy. Today again, I decided to make nasi ulam for dinner and this time did a variation of it with some added extra condiments – fried tau kwa (hard tofu) and a special sauce to go with the rice. Nasi ulam from Southern Thailand that my late grandma used to buy from the Siamese temples during festivities always came with this sauce, but we never really knew what went into it. Although, this much we do know – it is a mixture of fermented fish sauce, palm sugar and spices. So for tonight I added fish sauce, palm sugar, kaffir lime leaves, garlic and some shallots and boiled it for a few minutes. Tasted good to us !

I made an effort with the rice: steamed with 'blue bunga telang water' and pandan for that extra fragrance

Little treasures around the plate: cucumber, fried taukwa, salted fish, bunga kantan and finely sliced fresh herbs

Fish sauce palm sugar mix

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Thai-style Glass Noodle Salad

Incredibly simple and snappy on a lazy Sunday lunch when I just wanted to whip up something to fill my belly – and not wanting to go out get more ingredients! Just use ingredients that are in my pantry/fridge/storage. Took me about 15minutes from start to my first mouthful.

Ingredients:

A piece of chinese dried meat (bak kua) – finely chopped. Original recipe calls for fried minced meat

Carrot and cucumber – finely sliced

A handful of mint leaves and coriander – coarsely chopped

Toasted peanuts – coarsely pounded

Half a pack glass noodles – soaked in boiling water till soft and drained

Chilli flakes, brown sugar, lime juice and fish sauce – to taste

Method:

Toss all ingredients together to mix and serve!

How simple is that! I have seen variations of this with cooked seafood or more herbs. Just experiment with it! It’s a light and healthy salad, just filling enough till the next snack time 😀

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Vietnamese Rice Paper Roll

I love Thai and Vietnamese food! But we can hardly get any good ones here. Vietnamese…none at all. 😦

So during our  trip to Sydney late last year, I ate and ate and ate Vietnamese food to my heart’s content and bought this back:

From the Asian grocer all the way from Sydney!

Rice paper. I wasn’t sure if they sell this in KL or not, so I didn’t want to take any chances…

Vietnamese cuisine is very light as they use mostly raw vegetables, or simply cooked in a light spicy and sour sauce. This particular entree type dish is one of my favorite! And easy to make as well.

Minced and tofu mix cooking

My fav food at the moment - fresh vege. Baby is a vegetarian???This for show only...Hubby in the background saying "CAN WE EAT YET?????"Ooo..yummmmmmmmmm

Vietnamese Rice Rolls;

Ingredients: (the following amount is for 2-3 persons, 1 meal)

Meat filling-

Appx 1 cup chicken or pork mince

3-4 Shallots – chopped finely

2 pieces hard , cut into very small cubes – lightly fried till brown

3-4 pieces of chinese dried mushrooms, soaked and then chopped finely

2-3 tablespoons fried ground peanuts

A small handful of glass noodles (tang hoon), soaked

A handful of fresh coriander – finely chopped

Vegetables-

Salad leaves

Shredded cucumber

Shredded carrots

Beansprouts

Sauce:

1 tbsp fish sauce, 2 tbsp lime juice, 2 tbsp water, 1 clove garlic-minced, 1 small red chilli-chopped, 1/2 tsp brown sugar/palm sugar. Combine all ingredients and set aside for at least 15 minutes for flavours to infuse.

Method:

1. Heat some peanut oil in pan, fry shallots till slightly brown

2. Add in minced meat and fry till cooked

3. Add in the rest of the ingredients, except peanuts and coriander. Fry for a further 2-3 mins.

4. Season with fish sauce and some pepper

5. Turn off heat, and immediately stir thru peanuts and coriander

6. Take a piece of rice paper and soak in warm water for 10 seconds or until soft

7. Place a piece of salad leaf in the middle. Top with some of the meat mixture, and fresh vegetables. Fold rice paper like how you would fold a spring roll.

8. Serve immediately with sauce

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Comfort Food From Home: Nasi Ulam

I would like to start by saying, that I did not snap a pic of this before Hubby and myself both wolfed it all up for dinner. It was supposed to be just a side dish for dinner tonight. After all, I did not expect Hubby to even like it! I was thinking this was just going to be another one of the weird local dish that I fancied that he did not. I was wrong..

Nasi ulam or loosely translated into ‘rice with herbs’ was something I just grew up with. It is simply finely chopped fresh local herbs, some finely chopped french beans, finely chopped lemongrass and pounded fried salted fish – all mixed together and eaten with plain white rice. Some varieties include adding kerisek (grated coconut fried dry), chilli flakes for a bit of spicy kick and for the Thai variation, a certain black watery sauce made with a blend of fish sauce and some other stuff. One can also add grounded toasted peanuts if desired.

In the spur of the moment earlier this evening, I decided to pick some of the kaduk leaves and basil from our herb garden. I had some left-over french beans (you can indeed use other similar vege if you like) and lemongrass in the fridge – so scalded those with boiling water for a split second just to get the raw greeny taste away. The kaduk and basil must be chopped very finely, together with all the other stuff. I also added some salted fish meat, which I fried briefly in very little oil till crisp and then pounded to till fine. Next, mix everything together with some chilli flakes and thereafter toss the fragrant greeny mixture into steaming hot fluffy white rice and let the aroma infuse. Like I mentioned, LOVE IT!!! Now I do not have to beg Mum to ta-pau this from home anymore…!

For those of you who’ve never tasted this, I borrowed a pic from the web attached below. I have to admit, it is an acquired taste…the herbs do have a strong taste because they are eaten raw.

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Penang Hokkien (Prawn) Mee

We ushered in the new year with some home style goodness today.

Hubby loves his hometown hawker fare, so since the Aunty who used to sell Hokkien Mee in Miri decided to close shop some time ago, I thought why not cook this for lunch today. After all, it is a public holiday and I have some time on my hands.

The most important aspect of any noodle soup dish is, of course…the soup. So a well-prepared stock is most important for this dish. I found some real fresh prawns on NYE while grocery shopping, bought some and discovered I still have some pork ribs left in the freezer. Mum did give me a basic recipe for this some time ago but I forgot the stuff that goes into the chilli paste, so a quick check via Google returned this site and I give it two thumbs up for authenticity. So really, I have to thank that food blogger too for kindly posting her recipe online.

A few hours of simmering the stock and slow frying the chilli paste later, lunch was served! I have to say, going a little over-board with the prawn shells and heads and ribs was well worth it!!! Like I told Hubby…that was momentarily better than s*x…..(oops! :P)

Ingredients that go into making the chilli paste

Chilli paste; I didn't fry it with a lot of oil so it is a tad 'drier' than the vareity you get at the hawker's

I boil the soup for a few hours until the water reduced by about 2-3 cups...it is all about the stock baby!

Abovementioned food blogger suggested frying the prawns in some of the chilli paste as well. Tried it and quite yummy!

And the end product...simply divine! I miss Penang hawker food even more now 😦

For recipe, you may simply refer to here…. it’s mostly similar….you know me, I don’t cook with measurements….everything is agak-agak so I cannot really list down a good ingredient list. Hubby calls me a Frankenstein cook.. because he says I just put anything I can find together and somehow they work…hmmm….

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Dinner Tonight: Bak Kut Teh with Shallot Rice

I cook dinner almost every night now since I have developed a weird aversion to most ‘outside’ food. One can say that it is a good thing, since eating home cooking is better than eating out for an expectant mother. Well, I suppose that is the good side effect from it.

While most days I prefer simple dishes, occasionally I would catch some program on the food channel featuring some food that’s it – I HAVE TO HAVE THAT! These are usually relatively simple food as well; most of the time either I am not able to get it here (e.g. chee cheong fun Penang style, fried beehoon kosong the way a certain ah pek does it back home in Alor Setar, laksam) or I will just have to cook them myself. The most recent of such a craving – Bak Kut Teh!

So off I went on my mission to re-create that mouth watering bowl of simple peasant food featured on the Food Channel. Did you know Bak Kut Teh was first invented by the poor workers by the shipping docks in Malaya who did not have money to buy good food, so they collect herbs that fell out of the sacks that they carried daily, and boiled them with pork bones which was relatively cheaper than meat? Pure genius I must say!

Anyway, Bak Kut Teh is an easy peasy dish to cook. One is spoilt for choice of the various pre-packed Bak Kut Teh herb bag that are sold in any grocery shop or supermarket. Alternatively, just pay visit to any chinese medicine hall and request the owner to pack a bag for you.

How to cook it? Just slow boil the herbs with pork or chicken bones for at least 3 hours. The longer you boil them, the tastier the soup. I like to add pork ribs, chicken feet and a pinch of fermented beans (tau cheao) for a richer soup flavour so just a touch of salt would do at the end to complete the taste. Oh by the way, don’t forget to add a whole garlic (lightly crushed) as well.

For condiments one may also add:

Mushrooms (shitake, button or oyster)

Beancurd sheets

Meat balls

Whatever parts of the porky pig that one might like (it is best to cook the other meat parts separately and not boil them too long, they might disintegrate into the soup)

I picked up a neat trick from a local Bak Kut Teh shop, which is to serve it with shallot rice. To cook this;

Fry finely chopped shallots until lightly brown

Cook rice and when rice is boiling, add the fried shallots together with some of the oil they are fried in. The fragrant shallot oil will be infused into the rice.

Finally, season the Bak Kut Teh soup with some pepper and dark soya sauce just before serving if you like. Never boil the soup with the dark soy sauce as it will turn slightly sourish. Garnish with chinese parsley. Lip smacking goodness!

Couldn't find chinese parseley today so spring onions will do lah!

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Say Bonjour! To Freshly Baked Bread

Did I not mention my  newest coolest toy in the kitchen?

Introducing my automatic breadmaker… it is so idiot proof it is unbelievable! As long as one can measure up baking ingredients and follow instructions and then use the finger to press START, you are set!

My newest toy in the kitchen!

Oh yes, if you are wondering about that dent there, it happened when I dragged this machine back  from Singapore. It actually belonged to my mum, who passed it to my brother in Singapore, who now does not use it anymore. So I had to stuff it into my luggage during my last trip there and well, it got dented. But hey…it still works fine 😛

Anyway, once you press START and pop the lid on, about 3 to 4 hours later, you will have the heavenly aroma of freshly baked bread !

First trial results - basic white bread

....which I made garlic bread with for dinner that night...simply yummy!

Of course, from time to time I would like to make things from scratch with my hands… but hey, who doesn’t love a little help from technology sometimes?

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Sydney: A Beautiful Wedding, Glorious Food & Beachside dream houses

On this day a week before, I was having the most heavenly cannoli – light crispy shell and a delicate chocolate filling. Sigh… no more here. But before I write more about that, here’s a recap of our trip to Sydney last week.

After a restless 7 hours and 25 minute flight from KL, we finally landed at Sydney’s International Airport at about 9am Sydney time. I was suffering from somesort of a muscle ache on my right thigh, a peely and itchy chin from the dry cabin air and a grumbling stomach. Breakfast on the plane was a measly portion of yogurt (couldn’t take that because yogurt makes me puke) and a cold chocolate muffin (not interested). What happened to the days of nasi lemak on MAS flights???

Anyway, we had to wait for almost an hour for our luggage (I don’t know what happened…airport screwed up sending MH123 elsewhere) and then another hour or so in the customs queue. We were standing there for so long that the sniffer dogs probably got bored sniffing our bags for the goodness-knows-how-many time. At long last, we finally got out to the arrival hall close to 11am into the welcoming arms of my extended family members! It was so good to see them again. But I was STILL cranky, achy and hungry. So to cut the story short, we got home, hi hi hug hug and off to lunch we went. I had my Vietnamese pho fix No. 1 that day for lunch.

Weather during our trip started off pleasant enough, but it was cold, wet and windy during cousin May’s wedding. But Aunty’s constant prayers were answered as the weather held throughout the ceremony and only started to pour like literally 2 seconds after May and Steve were announced as Husband and Wife and walked back down the aisle. Of course, the rest of us were scampering off after them with raindrops on our heads. It was a small, intimate but beautiful wedding -held at a little function bungalow with the ceremony out in the garden. Lunch and dancing was in a beautifully decorated room, with absolutely good food.

The rest of the week in Sydney was spent wandering around the city and Sydney’s coastal suburbs. And of course, eat, eat and eat. The one thing I missed about Sydney is the food. Yes, food. Hubby and I stayed with one of my cousins who lives with her hubby in an Italian suburb. Needless to say, most of the shops sell Italian groceries, Italian magazines and of course, Italian food! We went back to the same restaurant twice because Hubby was hooked on the pizza. I was hooked on the pasta. Once I forgot that I should not take dairy on an empty stomach and had pizza and pasta for lunch (after a very light breakfast). Right on cue, it all ended up in the sink. But oh well, it was good while I was eating it 😀

Sydney is definitely a pretty city with breathtaking coastal suburbs that will make you wish you had a few million Aussie dollars to spare to buy a house overlooking the Pacific ocean. People are generally nice (except my cousin’s Italian neighbours who just wouldn’t smile at us no matter how many times we bump into them outside … what the….) and need I say more about food? We had dim sum, Vietnamese (fix No. 2 was a day after the wedding), seafood, Italian, Spanish and Chinese. I came back a kilo heavier (which is my weight gain achievement for pregnancy week 16).

We surely missed everyone there and hopefully to return for another short holiday with a little tot in tow in the near future 🙂

Some people are lucky enough to get a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Some people are lucky enough to get a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

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Bronte Beach - Wouldn't you want to wake up to this view every day?

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Private beach, anyone?

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Harry's meat pies @ Woolloomoolloo - supposedly a must-have when in Sydney, with mashed potatoes and peas on top. Sorry, too busy eating, forgot the pic

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