Finding my roots

I rarely cook Chinese dishes even though I live in a home where we have Chinese food everyday. My dad has tried teaching me, but I always fail in getting the flavour right. He remarked that it’s because I suppressed my “inner-cook skill*” due to my dependance on measured ingredients. I think it’s mainly because we have different taste buds :P

(*My dad always assumes that all Hainanese have innate cooking skills)

I will be moving into my new home in a few months time with my soon-to-be husband. My future husband is a typical Chinese who favours Chinese food over everything else and can’t live without chili. I can never understand his preference considering we have a lot of good non-ChineseAsian restaurants all over the Klang Valley but this guy will pick a bowl of fish head meehoon over a plate of spaghetti anytime.

So I figured that I need to learn some Chinese dishes, pronto. The first person I asked for help was of course, my dad.

For the basics, he taught me his own Hainanese Fried Meehoon recipe which was really easy to cook. His secret ingredients: oyster sauce and brown sugar.

He stood next to me giving me directions on what to pour into the wok but never gave me measurements – “just agak-agak (estimate) the sauces, then you need to taste it with a spoon. If it’s a little salty, has a light sweetness with a hint of peppery taste, you are on the right track.”

So after 10 minutes, here’s my Hainanese Fried Meehoon:

I sent the above picture to my fianc√© and he asked me, “Singapore Fried Meehoon?”

(-___- “)

Looking forward to recreate familiar dishes at home with my parents before I move out. Otherwise, there’s always Google ;)

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Mid-Autumn Festival

The mid-autumn festival in KL isn’t a grand celebration like in China but we do love our mooncakes (and lanterns!) and exchange them as gifts during this festival.

I love red bean paste mooncakes more than anyone in my family while they prefer lotus paste mooncakes with salted egg yolks — so it works out fine for all of us! However, no one in the family were keen in buying mooncakes this year so I took the effort to google recipes in order to bake my own batch of traditional mooncakes.

My first batch was from Christine’s recipe but they turned out hard, cracked and burnt. I may have baked them for too long in the oven.

I didn’t give up hope so I made further research & decided to test on this recipe. The verdict?

Yummy browned mooncakes!

I did not alter the recipe so you can refer to hers for instructions. I made lotus paste & red bean paste (both pre-packaged) mooncakes with melon seeds.

I do have a few tips which I gathered from other blogs that helped me in baking mooncakes:

1. Preferably, let the dough rest, wrapped in cling wrap, in room temperature, for at least a day before making them.
I have tested using it after 3 hours but the skin was tough. I had to wait 3 days after baking for the skin to soften. I made another batch after 1 day, and the skin was softer and tastier but had to wait for the next 2 days after baking for the right texture to set in. I also made a third batch on the third day of ‘resting’ and the skin softened a day after baking.

2. Spray water onto mooncakes before placing them into the oven to prevent cracks.
This extra step worked well for me. If you noticed in the picture, I do have rough-textured mooncakes that look like cracks but it’s actually my method of covering the paste with the dough. That brings to my third tip.

3. Once the paste is covered with dough, smoothen out any breaks that formed on the skin.
I’m not patient when it comes to smoothening the dough, but if you want nice looking skin, go for this step! I also recommend placing the smoothly formed texture onto the mould’s imprint and the folding (where the outer edges of the dough meet) as the base of the mooncake. I’ve tried vice versa & found too many imperfections on the imprints.

4. Watch carefully over your mooncakes as they bake in the oven.
Depending on your oven, the skin might bake faster than the suggested time. My first baking period was 10 minutes, and after which I let them cool down for another 10 minutes before brushing with egg wash. I baked them for another 8 minutes to obtain the glossy texture. Both baking periods were done in 200 degrees C. Just watch them very closely and you won’t get burnt mooncakes.

There are many precautions to take but mooncakes are really not difficult to make.

If you’re planning to make a batch, have fun!

Rice Cooker Mac & Cheese

Oh, I love mac & cheese.

While living in Brisbane, I was so addicted to Kraft’s Easy Mac and never grew out of it. I found a box in one of the higher end supermarkets in KL but since the inflated price does not do justice for microwavable food, I stopped having my favourite snack.

Not until I thought of my rice cooker!

This recipe is made in rice cooker where the elbows (or macaroni) are added into the pot with the chicken stock and water. Instead of milk, I used cream and poured over the pasta while it was still cooking, approx. 15 minutes from the beginning of the cooking stage, and added in shredded cheese.

I used Monterey Jack & Cheddar, both costed RM 14 each from Cold Storage. The shredded ones are slightly more expensive so I purchased cheese blocks and shredded them myself to save cost. I am frugal, that way.

Recipe from Weelicious, modified by me
Serves 2

1 cup pasta (I used macaroni)
1/2 chicken stock cube added into 1 cup of water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cream
1 cup cheese (I used 1/2 cup cheddar and 1/2 cup Monterey Jack)
Sliced ham (Optional)
1/2 cup white button mushrooms (Optional)
Black pepper, or your preferred seasoning to serve (Optional – I used garlic pepper)

Instructions
1. Place the first 3 ingredients in the rice cooker and cook for 15 minutes.

2. Open the lid, add the cream, cheese, ham & mushrooms, stir to combine, close the lid and cook for an additional 15 minutes.

3. Once cooked, open the lid and stir thoroughly. While the rice cooker is still in “warm” mode, wait for about 5-8 minutes for the sauce to dry up.

4. Serve with your favourite seasoning.

The magnificence of a rice cooker

I heart my rice cooker. It was a gem when I was a student because I could cook almost anything in it – santan rice, nasi briyani and red bean soup! To you university students who will be/are living off-campus, bring a rice cooker along with you!

It’s still a gem now, of course, but I rarely use it to cook other foods except rice. The only time I cooked in my family’s rice cooker was pumpkin rice with chicken. It was a really good recipe but I lost it :(

While in the office today, I thought about my rice cooker days and decided that I should cook tomorrow’s lunch with it. I didn’t think much of the ingredients so I grabbed whatever I could from the kitchen to cook something simple.

I didn’t measure anything as I estimated the ingredients based on my own experience, but briefly:

1) Cut 1 chicken breast into cubes.

2) Pour light soya sauce (more) & dark soya sauce (less) onto chicken cubes. Add in white pepper and mix thoroughly until chicken cubes are fully covered in the sauce. Let the chicken marinade for at least 20 minutes. While you wait, wash the rice and proceed to chop some garlic (I used 2 cloves).

3) Once 20 minutes are up, heat up oil in wok and fry the garlic until aromatic. Put in the marinated chicken cubes and cook together with the garlic until it is almost done, then add in about 1/2 cup of water. Let it simmer for another 5 minutes. If the chicken is not cooked yet, don’t worry, we will be cooking them again in the rice cooker.

4) Place the chicken (together with the sauce) into the rice cooker with the washed rice. You don’t need to put much water into the rice cooker so do a rough estimation yourself based on what’s required. Stir the uncooked rice and chicken together and let the rice cooker do the rest of the job! :)

The smell is heavenly when the rice is about to be ready and the taste is not bad too! However in future, I would add a pinch of salt, spring onions and mushrooms.

If you have a rice cooker recipe to share, let me know!

Toasted Coconut Marshmallows

I have a confession – I do not like marshmallows. They’re sticky & chewy and taste so much of icing sugar. When one of it is placed into a cup of hot cocoa, its soft soggy texture leaves an unpleasant feeling on my tongue.

Why did I make a batch if I don’t enjoy them? Out of curiosity — and because I found a recipe that contains toasted coconut. I love the smell of shredded coconut!

I did not want to drive to my usual bake supply shop for the ingredients so I shopped at Aeon Big for the light corn syrup and gelatine. Both were imported and costed me > RM 31: RM 20+ for Karo light corn syrup and RM 10+ for Davis gelatine. I am pretty sure you can find cheaper brands elsewhere.

For the shredded coconut, I bought a fresh bag (about 2 cups) from PJ Old Town market for RM 1. The recipe asks for 4 cups but it can be reduced to 2 1/2.


Marshmallow making is a messy & sticky process so be sure to get your hair tied up or else you’ll have a hard time getting it out, like me.

Recipe from Sweetly Serendipity, altered a little by me
2 1/2 cups finely shredded coconut (+ 2 tablespoons icing sugar)*
3 envelopes unflavoured gelatin
3/4 cup water (1/2 cup cold water + 1/4 cup room temp water)
2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Instructions
*If you bought a fresh bag which comes unsweetened, you will need to add 2 tablespoons of icing sugar. Directions below.

1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees C.

2. Line a baking sheet onto a baking tray, and spread coconut evenly over it. Toast coconut in the oven. Depending on your oven, those on the sides of the baking sheet will start to brown after 7 minutes. Once you notice this, remove the tray from the oven and mix the toasted coconut together with non-toasted ones. Spread the coconut evenly again and place them back into the oven for another 7-10 minutes. As soon as the desired colour is obtained, turn off your oven and place the toasted coconut into a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of icing sugar (or more, depending on the sweetness level you prefer) into the bowl and mix the coconut and sugar together. Set aside.

3. Lightly oil a 9-inch square baking pan and place a parchment paper on it. Lightly oil the paper, and set aside.

4. Place 1/2 cup cold water in bowl of a stand mixer, and sprinkle gelatin over the top. Let soften while making the syrup.

5. Combine sugar, corn syrup, remaining 1/4 cup water, and salt in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved. Once dissolved, increase heat to medium, and bring mixture to a boil. Insert a candy thermometer and boil, without stirring, until it registers 240 degrees. Remove from heat and let stand until bubbles are gone.

6. With mixer at low speed, pour hot syrup into gelatin in a thin stream down side of bowl. Try not to let the hot syrup touch the sides of the bowl. Once all of the syrup has been added, increase mixer speed to high and beat until very thick, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add vanilla extract and beat for 1 minute more.

7. Sprinkle bottom of prepared pan with 1/2 cup toasted coconut. Pour marshmallow mixture over toasted coconut in baking pan. Sprinkle top evenly with 1/2 cup toasted coconut. Let stand, uncovered, at room temperature until firm, about 12 hours, or overnight (original recipe stated 2 hours but mine was still very sticky after 4 hours).

8. Once marshmallows are completely set, cut into one inch squares with a knife coated in icing sugar. Cover the sides with the remaining toasted coconut. Store in an airtight container.

If you prefer to have marshmallows plain, coat them with icing sugar instead.

Homemade Pandan Kaya

When I was in uni, my friends were delighted to share a kaya recipe as they claimed that it’s really simple. Unfortunately, we never got to make any because there were no fresh pandan (screwpine) leaves around and those frozen ones from Chinatown didn’t emit any pandan odour.

Fast forward to the present, I took a break from testing cake recipes and decided to make myself a bottle of pandan kaya. I’m not fond of stirring the jam for 2 hours or making green-coloured jam, so I chose the recipe from everybodyeatswell where it requires only 15 minutes of cooking time and a favourite ingredient that gives a distinctive flavour — gula Melaka (palm sugar). The result? Creamy kaya with the right amount of sweetness and pandan taste.

Recipe from everybodyeatswell, altered a little by me
4 egg yolks, room temp
3 tablespoons gula Melaka (palm sugar)*
3 tablespoons castor sugar
200 ml undiluted coconut milk, fresh or canned (I used canned)
4 fresh pandan leaves, tied and knotted (I used 5)


Instructions

*I only have palm sugar in cylindrical blocks so I used a pestle & mortar to break it into paste.

1. Beat the 4 egg yolks thoroughly using a hand whisk.

2. Combine the palm sugar, castor sugar, coconut milk and pandan leaves in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon. When the mixture begins to simmer, turn off the heat.

3. Pour 1/2 of the coconut milk mixture into the egg yolks, stirring at the same time with a hand whisk.

4. Pour the combined mixture back into the remaining coconut milk in the saucepan and turn the heat back on to medium-low. Keep stirring until it thickens. The original recipe suggests to stir for 15 minutes but at the 8th minute my kaya became curdled. If you have smooth & silky jam – good, if not, do not worry.

5. Remove the pandan leaves. Depending on your preference, you can have chunky kaya or if you’re like me who prefer smooth & creamy kaya, transfer the hot curdled kaya into another bowl and start whisking by using a hand mixer until the kaya becomes smooth.

6. Transfer the thickened kaya into a clean sterilized glass jar, without the jar lid, to cool.

7. If you can’t wait for the jam to cool completely, you can take a spoonful of kaya and lick it — trust me on this, it’s really good when it’s warm. The pandan kaya can be kept up until a week in the fridge.

This homemade kaya in a jar works great as a gift. I made a jar for a colleague of mine as a farewell gift and attached a wooden spoon together with a “good luck!” note by using a brown string.