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Labour of love…

I do think that cooking is an art, a labour of love – something one would do with a whole lot of passion and patience…and once all is done, one would sit back and enjoy looking at the end result and feeling pleased when the fruit of one’s labour is well-received and appreciated. Unfortunately, I do not think I fall into that category as most of the time, I would not bother about the ingredients – just see what I have in the fridge or the pantry and do it chin-chai chin-chai (anyhow) as long as I get to eat in a jiffy.

Well, I still had some of the pastry left in the freezer from that near disaster that, fortunately, did not turn out too badly in the end. I did use a bit more to make some pies with just cheese and ham and they were pretty good and that day, I decided to use the rest to try and make some curry puffs. For the uninitiated, if you’ve never tried making shortcrust pastry, the steps and photos are here in this post that I shared a long time ago. For one thing, I do think that if you use chilled egg, diluted with a bit of cold water, the pastry would be more crumbly – I would prefer that…and cutting down just a little bit on the flour would help somewhat.

For the filling, I fried one Bombay onion, peeled and chopped till fine, in a bit of oil and then added one stalk of serai (lemon grass), bruised (which I removed after cooking) and two sprigs of curry leaves, removed from the stems and cut into fine strips. Then I put in the potatoes, peeled and cut into tiny cubes…and pre-boiled to shorten the cooking time and finally, I added a can of tuna curry. Seeing that one can was not quite enough and I did not want to open another can, I added a spoonful or two of curry powder to add to the fragrance and taste. This was what I got in the end…

Curry puff filling

I also boiled two eggs and cut them into wedges for use.

Having done that, I took a bit of the pastry and rolled it out and placed it in a small pie dish. I put in a bit of the filling and the egg on one half of the pastry…

With egg

…and then I folded it and pressed the edges together and twisted it diagonally to seal…

Closed and sealed

Of course this was my first time and I was not good at it (plus I had a nasty fall a week ago and sprained my wrist and it did hurt quite a bit!!!). In fact, I thought we had the plastic mould in the house (my cousin says her son calls it denture holder) and when I rummaged through the drawers, I found it…but it turned out to be an egg slicer!!! *face palm* That was why I had to do it manually and considering that I had not done it before, I would say that it turned out rather well…

Curry puff. pre-baked

However, I felt that was slow and tedious and I was running out of patience so I decided to just do the rest without using the pie dish and of course, they all came out in different sizes…

Baked curry puffs

…though the shapes did remain quite consistent. In my hurry, I also did not bother to egg-wash the top nicely and that explains the rather unsightly patches of gold on them.

My girl tried one first and she said it was very nice – the pastry was good and the filling too. I took one myself to see…

Cross-section

…and yes, it was good. I would think it would be nicer with beef though as it had a bit of that taste that one would get in sardine rolls or puffs which I am not particularly fond of and thank goodness I did not use another can of the tuna.

Well, I can always make some more and when that happens, I do hope I would have enough self-control to do it all slowly and properly but anyway, despite all that has been said about them, I would think that, at least, mine did look a bit nicer than the ones sold at one of the bakeries here…

Curry puffs
*Archive photo*

Right or not? LOL!

Two worlds…

When I was in Miri sometime ago, I got to try the Filipino dish, the Tortang Talong

Tortang Talong
*Archive photo*

…which is actually an eggplant/brinjal omelette.

Well, it so happened that there were two of the vegetable/fruit in the fridge that day so I decided to create my own version of it…

TT + CO 1

I saw how my friend, Kelly, did it in her blog when she cooked this dish…but instead of doing it her way, I just put the brinjals into the oven till they were all wrinkled a bit like this…

Brinjal

Then, I could remove the skin quite easily…

Peeling the brinjal

…after which I cut what was left of it into strips like this…

Stripped

In the meantime, I broke the eggs into a bowl, added a spoonful of cincaluk (fermented shrimps) and a spoonful of my missus’ pounded chili and some curry leaves, cut into thin strips and chopped daun sup

For the omelette

…and beat everything together well. Of course, you may choose to add whatever you want – sliced Bombay onions and fresh chilies, tomato wedges, chopped carrot, spring onions…whatever you may fancy. The world is your oyster!

I heated a bit of oil in a pan and poured half of the egg batter into it and spread thinly before putting in one of the brinjals that I had…

Cooking the first one

Once, it had tuned into a nice golden colour on one side, I flipped the whole thing over to get the same on the other side.

I repeated this same process for the second one…

Second one

…and it certainly looked like the cincaluk had sunk to the bottom of the batter so there was a lot more in this piece.

Once each was done, I dished it out on to some kitchen towels and  let it stand for a while to soak whatever excess oil they might be before serving it in a plate…

TT-CO 2

So, there you have it – my combination of two worlds, the union of the Filipino Tortang Talong and the Peranakan/nyonya cincaluk omelette.

For one thing, I thought they looked like two kiwis sleeping under a blanket…

TT-CO 3

What do you think? LOL!!!

So red…

When we cook our own mee sua and serve it with traditional Foochow red wine and ginger chicken soup at home, it would look something like this…

Birthday mee sua
*Archive photo*

…and despite the red wine used, it is not really red in colour.

I noticed that those that I had had in town seemed so very red…

Red mee sua 1
*Archive photo*

…right down to the colour of the meat served with it…

Red mee sua 2
*Archive photo*

…but when I asked around, I was told that this was because they used the cheaper low-grade ang chiew (traditional Foochow red wine), the not-very-well-filtered ones selling at around RM4.00-5.00 a bottle. We usually use the best available, RM8.00-RM10.00, that is usually very clear. No wonder when I ate at the shops, most seemed to lack the very nice fragrance and taste of the wine.

I also noticed in some blogs that the ones at Sitiawan, Perak and elsewhere in the peninsula are also very red in colour including this one that my friend, Claire, had when she was there not too long ago…and even the one my sister-in-law’s gave us once was of this darker shade of red.

Well, I felt like having some mee sua that day and instead of just marinating the chicken in the red wine we had in the house, I added a pinch of ang chao – the residue from the red yeast rice left over from making the wine…

Marinating the meat

I cut a few slices of ginger…

Ginger slices

…and fried them in a bit of sesame oil till golden brown before adding the meat…

Add the meat

You can add more ginger if you like or just bruise one whole chunk of it for use or if you love ginger a lot, like my missus, you can pound it and use in your cooking. I am not all that fond of a lot of it as it is very heaty and I would feel somewhat unwell after eating too much of it.

After cooking the meat thoroughly, I let it simmer till the juices had come out before I added some water…

Add water & wolfberries

…and a handful of Chinese wolfberries (枸杞 or kei tze) which people say are good for one’s eyesight. For one thing, they’re sweet and will subsequently complement the taste of the soup. I would have added some dried shitake mushrooms (soaked and softened, stalks removed) as well but there wasn’t any in the house so I had to do without those.

After simmering for some time, I transferred everything from the wok into a pot…

Into the pot

…and continued simmering for a while longer. There! I could see that the meat was red and so was the soup, just the way I wanted it to be. I tasted the soup and it was nice enough so I did not add anything else to it. You may want to add some seasoning – salt and msg or chicken stock granules, if you are thus inclined.

For one thing, the longer you simmer, the tastier the soup will be but you have to be careful as the chicken these days may not be able to withstand all that heat and may disintegrate and fall into tiny bits and pieces. The best would be corn-fed or kampung (village) chicken and not the ones fed and fattened with those factory-produced chicken feed and hormone injections so that they would be ready for sale in a jiffy!

After I had cooked the mee sua, I poured the soup over the noodles and served them with a piece of the meat…

Mee sua in ang chiew ginger chicken soup 1

It was very nice but it became even nicer after I had added a spoonful or two of the red wine straight from the bottle…

Mee sua in ang chiew ginger chicken soup

They say that alcohol evaporates in the process of cooking so for that extra kick, it is best to add a bit more prior to eating. Brandy would be nice too for this purpose, if you have any in the house. I did not have any hard-boiled eggs with it as those would usually be served in conjunction with somebody’s birthday…plus I was thinking that I already had quite a few over those days leading to this one.

There you have it! My very delectable bowl of mee sua served in traditional Foochow red wine and ginger chicken soup in the desired darker shade of red and if you are thinking that it is so easy too cook, you are absolutely right. That’s the beauty of Foochow cuisine – so simple and yet so very very nice!

From the other side…

Bakso is quintessentially a dish from our neighbouring country on the other side, Indonesia.

The name intrigued me as bak in Chinese (Hokkien) is meat…as in the name bak kua (barbecued pork slices) so I googled it up and this was what I found on Wikepedia:  “…The name Bakso originated from bak-so (肉酥, bah-so), the Hokkien pronunciation for “shredded meat”. This suggests that bakso has Indonesian Chinese cuisine origin…” Well, I don’t know whether it is due to the territorial differences or what but here, we call minced meat bak chor and that’s pretty close, I guess. Of course, in Indonesia, being predominantly a Muslim country, they use beef and at times, chicken as well.

The first time I tried it was at a cousin’s Hari Raya open house…

Cousin's bakso
*Archive photo*

…though I would not say that it swept me off my feet.

Sometime later, I spotted a stall selling it

Bandong bakso stall
*Archive photo*

…right beside the ayam penyet place at Bandong that we do frequent quite a lot. I wouldn’t know whether it was because we already had our dinner earlier that evening but I thought it wasn’t all that great either…

Bandong bakso
*Archive photo*

…plus I felt there was a bit too much msg for comfort.

Not too long ago, I was invited to this food tasting session at the food court beside the Sibu Bowling Centre and I had the bakso from one of the stalls there…

BBCCafe bakso
*Archive photo*

…and I really enjoyed this one. However, somehow or other, I have not had the opportunity to go back there since to have more of it.

Anyway, recently, my niece, working in Singapore, went to Bali and when she came home, she gave us a packet of instant bakso. I did not take a photograph of the packet as it did not look all that attractive and I was feeling somewhat skeptical – I did not think it would be all that nice and at best, it was going to be something like all the rest, the multitude of instant noodles on the shelves in the shops and supermarkets here, there and everywhere. Nonetheless, one morning, I thought I would just cook and have it for breakfast.

I had some udang galah (freshwater prawns) in the freezer and I threw two of those in…

Instant bakso noodles 1

…and I did garnish it with some chopped spring onions from my garden before I started eating it.

Everything else came from inside the packet – the little meatballs and the garnishing, the bumbu (seasoning) and the chili powder and even a bit of fried onion oil…

Instant bakso noodles 2

I tried it and good golly, it was VERY nice!

Unfortunately, my niece only gave me one solitary packet and that was all that I had…and I don’t think anybody else is hopping over to the other side anytime in the near future. I don’t know if it will be the same or not but I suppose I can always cook my own…or be happy with those that I can get at the stalls around here.

STOP PRESS:
Well, I’ve tried cooking my own but I did not really go full swing as I was afraid that it would not turn out nice. I used these beef balls…

Marina beef balls

…that we enjoyed a lot but I only used a few of them, just in case! They turned out to be a whole lot nicer than those fishball-like ones that they use in the shop as they still have that texture of minced meat in them.

Well, since what I managed to dish out was really good and was well-received by all, I certainly would want to go all the way the next time around – the complete works. No holds barred! Watch out for my blogpost on that!

Salty…

Sometime ago, I got this pack of made-in-Johore mee teow from my friend, Pete, in KL

Mee teow & grilled clams

…and the other day, I decided to cook it.

It looked like our hung ngang (big bihun) but that would not be salty.  Our mee sua (longevity noodles) is salty and that is why when we cook the chicken soup to serve it with, we do not add salt…or I will use a lot of water when boiling it, the same as what I did with these noodles from Pete…

Boiling

The salt would be dissolved and go into the water and after cooking, I would rinse in water some more…

Rinsing

…a few times, to get rid of whatever saltiness that may be left and also to remove any excess starch so the noodles would not be sticky and would not stick together when tossed or fried.

My cousin in Australia told me that she liked the grilled clams, this particular brand, so I decided to give it a try and other than those, I also had these ingredients…

Ingredients

- some shallots and garlic, peeled and sliced…and what was left of some fish cakes that we had in the freezer.

I tossed the noodles with a bit of mushroom soy to give it a little bit of colour…

Tossed with mushroom soy

…not too much in case it was still too salty.

Then, I fried the shallots and garlic in a bit of oil, added the clams and the fish cake slices…before putting in the noodles and after frying everything together thoroughly, I added some eggs and a pinch of ikan bilis (dried anchovies) stock and when I was satisfied that it was done, I dished it all out and served…

Fried mee teow 1

…garnished with a bit of chopped spring onions. It was very nice, the noodles…

Fried mee teow 2

…nothing like bihun or kway teow or mee sua – I think it is in a completely different category of its own. I did not think the clams were very nice though – they lacked the taste and fragrance of the Amoy ones that I would usually use even though the clams in the latter would be so small you would need a magnifying glass to be able to see them.

We all enjoyed that and even though the pack did not look all that big, there was so much that we had that for breakfast and also for lunch that day.

Good old days…

Way back in the good old days when I was growing up, life was simple and we did not have much and we found delight in whatever treats there were at the school tuckshop or canteen or one of the few coffee shops in town. Most of the time, if my mum did not cook it at home, we would not get to eat it at all like this fried bihun (rice vermicelli) with canned clams in soy sauce…

STP's fried bihun with soy sauce clams

…and each time we got to enjoy something like this, it was such sheer ecstasy, believe you me. These days, you can get this quite easily in some shops in town and some would even add bits of cangkuk manis to it but we never had it that way then.

There was some bihun in the house that day – I think my missus had opened a packet for Melissa to take some to her jungle school to cook and eat so I decided to cook that for breakfast.  Instead of the usual Amoy clams, I thought I would like to try a local brand to see if it was any good but unfortunately, it paled in comparison. The clams were a bit bigger but it lacked the very nice fragrance and taste so at best, it was nice, just that it could have been a lot nicer.

I only managed to use half of what was lying around in the house so the next morning, I decided to fry and use up the rest of it and for a change, I decided to use as the main ingredient, those canned stewed pork chops instead…

STP's fried bihun with stewed pork

…and to get rid of the oil/fat, I put the tin in the fridge overnight. The oil would float on top of the sauce and can be removed easily with a spoon…

Canned stewed pork

In the past, my mum would always use the Ma Ling ones but we had had some not very pleasant experiences with their products, including their luncheon meat, so we would never buy any of that brand ever again – I don’t know how true this is but they say there are a lot of imitations and that is why many have been disappointed and are boycotting their products as well. On my part, these days, I would go for the Narcissus brand instead but oh me oh my!!! Only after I had opened the can did I realise that I had bought the wrong thing!!! This was stewed pork and not stewed pork chops! The latter would be mostly lean and would not have so much fat but this, as you can see in the above photograph, was actually pork belly with all the layers of fat.

Never mind! Left with not much choice, I just had to make the best of the situation so I took the pieces of meat in the can and removed all the fat, keeping only the lean meat for my fried bihun

Canned stwed pork, shreded

You can shred the meat if you like into something like what people call pulled pork these days but in fact, in the process of cooking, it would all come apart in strips so there is actually no need to go through all that trouble of doing it by hand.

I poured the sauce onto the pre-soaked and softened bihun

Stewed pork sauce

…so that it would have its very nice flavour when cooked and these were the ingredients that I used…

Ingredients

- one or two shallots and two or three cloves of garlic, thinly-sliced…and since I had one tomato and some daun sup (Chinese celery) in the fridge, I decided to use those. These would be optional, of course – when my mum cooked hers, she never had these add-ons and despite it being so very simple, it was nonetheless very nice. I also had a spoonful of my missus’ pounded chili at hand, and two eggs as well.

Firstly, I heated a bit of oil to fry the shallots and garlic till golden brown…

Shallots & garlic

…after which I added the meat…

Adding the meat

…followed by the tomato and daun sup

Tomato & daun sup

…before putting in the bihun and the pounded chili…

Bihun & chili

Once everything was mixed thoroughly and sufficiently fried, I added the eggs…

Eggs

…and when the eggs were cooked and I was satisfied that the bihun was nicely done, I dished it all out, garnished it with some chopped spring onions and served…

Fried bihun served

Yes, it turned out pretty well. I know self-praise is no praise but I enjoyed it…and my missus had some too and since she was going over, she took the rest to my mother-in-law’s house for her to eat. My missus said that she loved it and finished it in no time at all. This was probably like what we were like before when we were kids – savouring and enjoying every bit of it and licking our plates clean each time we had had something that to us, in those days, was such an awesome and special treat.

I wouldn’t be surprised if kids or even people in general nowadays would not even cast a second glance at it…and would head to the nearest fast food franchise for a burger or some Japanese or Italian restaurant for a bowl of ramen or a plate of pasta. Time certainly has changed a lot, hasn’t it?

When things go wrong…

…it’s best not to panic. Just carry on and do the best one can in the situation in the hope that to some extent, everything will turn out all right in the end.

I wanted to make some quiches for my girl when she came home for the weekend and no, I did not have any particular one in mind. I thought I could just play it by ear, you see – after all, I am hopeless at following any tried and tested recipes, a sure one-way ticket to disaster. So, I went and bought some ingredients that I felt I would need and got down to work hoping to give her a pleasant surprise…

Q1

I sieved the flour and rubbed in the butter but somehow or other, I did not quite get the usual breadcrumb-like result when I did that in the past. To my horror, I realised that for the 1kg of flour in the box that I had bought, I would need 500 gm of butter and that block that I used was only 250 gm. Oh dear! There was still some butter in the fridge, more than half a block so I quickly added that in. It did look like there was quite enough but I was not too sure. That was why I decided to just try using less than half of it…and leave out the ham that I had bought – it would be such a waste to throw that away if things did not turn out all right and it sure did not come cheap.

I fried some chopped Bombay onions in a bit of oil, threw in some oyster mushrooms, cut into bits and pieces, and tomato too and a bit of chopped Chinese celery and I added some salt and pepper to that. Once the filling was done, I put that aside to cool while I rolled out the pastry and lined the cups that I usually use to make pies. In went the filling with a lot of grated cheddar cheese and some smoked cheddar cheese that I had cut into small bits as well. After that, I poured in some of the milk and egg mix that I had prepared and once done, I put everything into the oven to bake…

The fragrance filled the whole house and I thought it was going to be really great! Unfortunately, it was a little bit burnt at the sides…

Q2

…but I did not think it was the pastry. It looked like the milk and egg mix that had overflowed, probably because I had poured in a little bit too much.

I tried one as soon as they were ready, piping hot from the oven, and it certainly looked like other than those dark bits by the side, the rest was perfectly unscathed…

Q3

On the whole, it tasted really great…

Q4

…but I did not quite like the bits of Chinese celery when I bit into them.

The pastry turned out just right – nice and crumbly, not hard at all, so that meant I would be able to use the rest of it that I had stuffed into the freezer in the meantime…and the ham that I had bought too but I think I would just use them to bake some pies – I reckon I would do a much better job at making those instead. Luckily, I did not simply give up and assume that it would not turn out good and just throw the whole lot away…