Hangin’ tough…

How do you all get your meat to be nice and tender, I wonder?

I used to have a slow cooker, two in fact, and be it beef, lamb…or even pork leg/trotters/knuckles or wild boar, the meat would turn out really tender, just the way I would love it. Well, the first one, I think, was a gift I got for my wedding. One fine day, I got impatient and moved the crock pot to the gas stove and turned on the heat. There was a loud crack…and my slow cooker went straight to Slow Cooker Heaven, just like that. Then I bought another one real cheap – RM60 something only with the coupons collected at a departmental store here. It was very good too…but not for chicken unless you are into chicken floss, all separated from the bones. For other types of tougher meat, it was absolutely great. Eventually, my missus spotted a hairline crack at the base, not that it was leaking or anything so I got rid of it. Now I am slow cooker-less…and my birthday and Christmas are both in December, still a long way to go. Hehehehehe!!!!

Now I would have to resort to one of the more traditional ways and those would include using papaya leaves…

Papaya leaf

I would pound them well…

Pounded

…and rub the meat with it and leave it to stand…

Leave to stand

…for an hour or so. After that, rinse the meat well to get rid of all the bits of leaf but I guess if there are traces of any left, it is perfectly all right. After all, I have heard of the wonders of papaya leaves in the treatment of dengue fever patients.

Of course, for those of you living in the big cities, it may hard for you to get hold of any of those leaves but they do sell this in bottles, liquid form with a picture of a papaya on the label. That is good too! Once I marinated the meat in the morning for a barbecue at my house and left it for the whole day till evening. The meat turned out like tofu…or one of those vegetarian meat, so soft that it hardly had the meat texture anymore.

Another way would be to make sure that you cut the meat across the grain…

Across the grain

…so that it would come apart easily when chewed or maybe, you would like to try my mum’s way which would be to put a porcelain spoon in the stew or soup. She said that according to the old folks, the hardness in the meat would “fight” with that of the spoon and of course, the meat would lose and be rendered all soft and tender.

Anyway, I bought some beef that day as I wanted to try this…

Beef casserole mix

…that my cousin in Australia sent me sometime ago.

I got all the other ingredients ready – the onions, carrots and potatoes…

Onions carrots potatoes

…and since we can’t get fresh button mushrooms easily here, I just used the canned ones…

Mushrooms

They sure made it sound so easy…

Easy

…on the label and I would say it was!

Incidentally, I had no intention of cooking it in a casserole in the oven – my plan at that point in time was to cook it as a stew so what I did was to put the meat in a pot and let it cook on very low heat till all the juices had come out…

Cook on low heat

…and then, I mixed the contents of the packet with water…

Mix plus water

…and poured that in. I did not have any tomato paste in the house so I added this…

Barbecue sauce

…instead – barbecue sauce. After all, there is tomato paste in the ingredients along with all the other things.

Once I had brought it back to boil, I added all the aforementioned ingredients, brought it back to boil again and let it simmer on low heat for an hour or so.

It turned out really nice…

Beef stew

…except that initially, when I tasted it, I thought it was very strong on those herbs and spices that one would find in western cuisine and some people may not be all too fond of those but when all the flavours from all the ingredients added had come out, it tasted really great and we sure did enjoy it a lot.

The beef was all right, not tough, quite tender…and if you’re wondering which method I used, I actually used all three – except that I do not have a porcelain spoon in the house so I threw in a stainless steel teaspoon instead. Hehehehehe!!!!

Hello Dolly!…

…or Dollee, to be exact!

Well, if you’re wondering what I am going on about, not too long ago, my friend in Sydney, Australia cooked some curry laksa using this instant paste…

Tean curry laksa paste

…and the bowl in the photograph that she shared on Facebook sure looked good. Obviously, you can buy this Down Under and in that post, she also asked if this…

Dollee curry laksa paste

…was any good. A friend of hers was quick to point out the error in their spelling of kari (curry in Malay) as cari (pronounced as cha-ri, search) but when I looked carefully, they did get the “Pes Kari Laksa” absolutely correct – I wonder if that is in another language.

No, I had no intention of cooking that very popular noodle dish in the peninsula – what I had in mind was to try and use the paste to cook some sayur lodeh or what we call sayur masak lemak here. I’ve tried this brand but no, it did not turn out like the real thing, not at all. The only time when I did manage to get it exactly the way I wanted it was when I used this brand from Singapore but that is extremely expensive – around RM18.00 a box now, if I’m not wrong, and I certainly would not want to fork out that amount of money just for this.

Well, I had some prawn stock in the freezer (from boiling the heads and shell of some prawns that I bought some time ago) so I did not need any seafood to enhance the flavour of the broth. I just brought the stock to boil and emptied the contents of the packet, the Dollee, that is, into it. Then I added the sweet potatoes…

Sweet potatoes & baby corn

…peeled and cut into chunks and boiled those for a while first, considering that they would take a while to soften. Then, I put in the baby corn, cut into quarters.

The bean curd sticks, soaked in hot water to soften…and the tofu puffs, cut into quarters, went in next…

Bean curd sticks, tofu puffs and cabbage

…and after that, I added a box of santan, the same brand I used for my pankek that day, and once it had started boiling again…

Boiling

…I added the cabbage…

Cabbage

…and turned off the heat to let it cook in the residual heat and that was it!

A word of caution here – do not add too much of everything unless you want to end up with a huge cauldron that would take ages to finish. Other things that we sometimes add to our sayur masak lemak include paku (wild jungle fun) or cangkuk manis, for a bit of green colour, young buah tupang/pulo and corn on the cob cut into short lengths would add to the sweetness, that’s for sure. Usually, we would use our udang galah (bamboo prawns) – our freshwater prawns and that would give the dish a touch of red and you can add fresh chilies for that same purpose too, if you want. My mum would add tang hoon (glass noodles) as well but that would be best added right before serving or they would soak up all the broth and you would end up getting something quite dry.

So what was my verdict? Well, I would say it was very nice…

Done

…and spicy though a little bit salty (maybe I did not add enough water or there wasn’t enough stock) but generally, I would say that the soup would make a lovely bowl of curry mee, as nice as any that I had had before in KL or in Penang or here, maybe even nicer…but no, it was nothing near what our sayur masak lemak would taste like.

Now, if you are not familiar with the dish and are wondering what it is like actually, you can go for a bowl of Katong 328 nyonya curry laksa – that, I would say is exactly like it! Perhaps if I use half a packet of the paste instead, and dilute it a bit more so the curry taste will not be all that strong…and maybe, add a bit more santan, I may get something a little closer. I will try that with the other brand.

Anyway, the next morning, I still had a lot of the broth left, not much of the ingredients so I used it to cook this curry laksa bihun

Curry laksa bihun 1

…for breakfast and yes, it was absolutely perfect. Very very nice…

Curry laksa bihun 2

…and not salty anymore (I did add a little bit of water to it.). I most certainly enjoyed that bowl of goodness! Yum! Yummmmm!!!!

Pretty flowers…

I shared in this post some photographs that I took at my girl’s school of the bunga raya or the hibiscus – the national flower of Malaysia. It seems that there are so many different varieties these days unlike my growing up years, when usually, we would see this one…

Hibiscus 1

…and another variety that is not so curly.

I do recall those times in school when we were asked to bring some of the blooms to class and we would study the parts and examine the cross-section and then draw pictures and diagrams in our exercise books and label them. I wonder if those of you who are much younger than me did the same thing too – maybe you would get everything in one of those commercially-produced and sold workbooks or activity books and all you had to do would be to label them? Those were the days when we had to bring everything ourselves to the science labs – snails, frogs, rats! Nowadays, if you ask those students in the big cities to bring any of those things to class, I don’t think you will get to see any at all, I’m sure.

I remember when I was in Form 1, my Science teacher was this thin and tall lady with a somewhat nasal voice called Miss Tiong – I gathered from hearsay that she was from Singapore. At one time, we had to bring garden snails to class…and while the lesson was in progress, two of them turned horny and started getting into the act. All of us saw that and had a hard time trying to stifle our laughter and when Miss Tiong saw that we were all distracted, she turned to look and saw what the attraction was. She walked straight up to the two and tore them apart and went on with the lesson, looking quite pissed off. LOL!!! Teachers in those days were all so prim and proper, no nonsense in class….and that brings to mind this very funny Thai commercial…

…that some of you may have watched before. LOL!!!

Anyway, going back to the hibiscus, I remember we had these pink ones…

Pink hibiscus 1

…in our garden but they were much bigger. This one is quite small, about the size of carnations and I do think that the blood red ones are very nice – they look quite like carnations, actually. Unfortunately, I could not find any of those in full bloom and all I have at this point in time is this old snapshot of the bud…

Hibiscus bud
*Archive photo*

This one is  pink too…

Pink hibiscus 2

…and yes, it is small as well, one of those seemingly stunted varieties, though that is not so obvious in the photograph.

I wonder if all countries have a national flower. If I’m not mistaken, the Vanda Miss Joaquim is the national flower of Singapore and of course, the rose is England’s and hence the title of Elton John’s tribute to the late Princess Diana. Come, let’s see how many others you all know…

STOP PRESS:
I did manage to snap a pic of the very red carnation-like hibiscus eventually so here it is…

Striking red

I do like this one very much…with its striking red colour.

Once more…

Yes, I dropped by this place once more the other day with my missus. I think I did mention before that my house is close by so it is quite convenient for us to stop by for lunch before going home and we would not need to worry about cooking…till later in the day, for dinner.

So what did I try this time around? I’ve had their nasi lemak and the char kway teow, the Sarawak laksa and the beef noodles too so that morning, I decided to order the chicken curry rice (RM5.50)…

Colourful Cafe chicken curry rice

…to see if it was any good. The curry was nice though it was not at all spicy so I was not too thrilled by it. Other than that, I think it came with plain rice – I was hoping it would be something like what they have in Kuching where they serve chicken rice, topped with char siew, roast pork and steamed or roast chicken and drowned with curry gravy (never mind that it is rather diluted usually) but of course, that would not be possible here as it has been designated as a “serves-no-pork” place.

I do think it would be nicer if I had ordered the nasi lemak special (RM7.00) and asked for the chicken drumstick curry to go with it but between this and the masak hitam beef that I had the other day, the latter wins hands down, no question about that.

My missus had the Sarawak laksa (RM5.00)…

Colourful Cafe Sarawak laksa

…that I had the other day and yes, she liked it very much and the sambal belacan dip…

Colourful Cafe sambal belacan dip

…that came with it was pretty good too. They did not seem too generous with it though but I guess if you want some more, you can always ask. I would not think that would be a problem.

While we were there, I decided to order something else and as I did not feel like having their bitter gourd bihun, I had the kampua noodles (RM3.00)…

Colourful Cafe kampua 1

…in the end. I did not get my hopes up too high since this being a pork-free place, there would not be any lard in the dish so there would not be that much-coveted fragrance that true-blue kampua mee lovers would go for.

The noodles were firm, not quite like what many here seem to enjoy – they like it soft but if not cooked to perfection, they may come out too soft and soggy and I am no fan of that, of course. I guess if anyone wants the noodles softer, they can tell them to cook them a wee bit longer but it was perfectly all right by me. As for the missing lard taste, it was replaced by the really nice fragrance of the fried shallots…and I was  able to detect some fried garlic in it as well…

Colourful Cafe kampua 2

All in all, I would say it was very nice and I sure would want to have that again. I wonder if they sell it kosong (empty) or not (at a cheaper price, of course) as I did not quite care for those strips of boiled chicken breast meat.

I browsed through the menu and I saw this…

Colourful Cafe menu

It seems that if you are entertaining at home and you are too lazy too cook, you can order some of the items from here. I can vouch for the daging masak hitam and the sambal bilis…and I would have liked the chicken curry that I had more if it had been a lot spicier. The insurance guy next door told me that he had bought the paste to try and the amount at that price was good for 3 kilogrammes of beef, less than RM7.00 a kilo so it is not a lot more expensive than those packs of instant curry paste that are flooding the supermarkets around here. As for the rest, I have yet to sample them so I am in no position to comment on those.

They have some stuff on their evening/night menu that are not available in the morning/daytime so I may have to drop by again sometime to see if those are any good but if the ones that I have had are anything to go by, I guess they should be pretty o.k. as well.

Indescribable…

When my Singapore friend, Alfred, was in Sibu, I told him about the Mulu Caves right here in Sarawak and I was surprised that he had not heard of them before – the Sarawak Chamber is “so big that it could accommodate about 40 Boeing 747s, without overlapping their wings“. Hmmmm…this probably goes to show how effective the promotions done by our Sarawak tourism authorities have been…

Anyway, what I told Alfred got him all excited and he immediately made plans to go and visit this UNESCO world heritage site and he did – last weekend.

To get there, he had to fly to Miri and from there, he boarded an ATR 72-seater…

ATR72

…which he said was like a toy plane. Hmmm…wait till he gets on our 19-seater Twin Otter – I did blog about it here once and yes, flying in one would indeed by an experience, that’s for sure.

The experience, the sights and the sounds and everything there, needless to say, are simply indescribable so I would just share a few of his photographs on Facebook in this post. I did not know that swiftlets will always lay their eggs in pairs…

Swiftlet's eggs

…not one, not three or more…and among the amazing stone formations, there is this one that looks quite erotic…

X-rated

…but one of the main attractions of course would be this silhouette of Abraham Lincoln’s face…

Lincoln

– don’t leave Mulu without having seen this and taking a photograph of it!

My! My! Alfred sure is an adventurous guy and he opted to stay on for the “night shift”…

Night shift

I bet he found it very interesting, if not exciting, and the next morning…

Morning comes

…he and the rest made their way downstream…

Going downstream

…after having explored 5 of the caves in the national park…and he is saying that he will want to go back there again as there is a lot more that he has yet to cover!

I’ve never been there myself, I am ashamed to say, and I guess, at my age (and shape and size), I will just have to sit this one out. I have never been to the Fairy Caves in Bau near Kuching even…as when I went with my friends either in the late 60’s or early 70’s, they told to wait by the lake as the climb could be quite perilous! In fact, when they came back, they told tales of how one of the ladies fell off the rope…and luckily, one of the guys, hanging on to the rope himself, simply stretched out his arm and grabbed her and saved her. It would have been tragic if she had fallen all the way down. Neither have I been to the Niah Caves – where they found the evidences of the early pre-historic civilisation. Some of my colleagues went and they told me of the long single-plank walk to the caves…and they said that I would definitely fall off after a few steps. Humphhhh!!!

Anyway, back to the Mulu Caves, if you are keen and adventurous like my friend, you may find more information here in their website…and you can plan a trip there while you are still young and able. Why go to all those other countries when one of the most amazing wonders of the world is right here at our footsteps?

I honestly love you…

I went out early last Sunday morning to tapao (takeaway) the very nice fried kway teow at this shop for the ladies in the house for breakfast. I reckoned they must be very tired of my fried rice and fried bihun so the previous week, I bought them some kampua noodles and piansip and this week, I went for something different. Both the shops were very near my house so it wasn’t much of  a problem for me to do that.

It was still very early, around 7 something, but it was already bright and sunny…

Mormon church

The weather here has been very hot lately.

Since I was there, I decided to try something that I had not tried yet – so far, we had their fried kway teow, their nasi lemak and their Sarawak laksa…so this time around, I ordered their beef noodles (RM6.00) which was served in a jiffy, steaming hot…

Colourful Cafe beef noodles 1

Hmmm…I would ask them to leave out the raw taugeh (bean sprouts) next time as I am not all that fond of their chao chay (green) smell/taste. In Sarawak laksa, they are usually blanched lightly and anyway, the strong broth would overpower whatever smell or taste there is left.

So was it any good?…

Colourful Cafe beef noodles 2

I would say that I liked it – this one was different from the Taiwan-style ones but the soup was not as clear as the ones here. I could detect the fragrance of the spices used though I did think it could do with a stronger beef taste but still, I would say that it was nicer than a lot of the others that I have had around here. I really enjoyed it with the very nice chili dip…

Colourful Cafe beef noodles chili dip

…that came with it. It was very spicy and very very gingery – something like the excessively hot cili padi dip from Kah Heong in Kota Kinabalu but thankfully, it was not that hot!

While I was there enjoying my order, I could smell the santan (coconut milk) fragrance of the nasi lemak that he was cooking in one huge rice cooker…and I really enjoyed the light and easy songs they were playing, such as this one and this one, accompanied by the occasional banging of the wok as the guy was dishing out the fried kway teow I had ordered. The kopi-o-peng (RM1.70) was extra nice…

Colourful Cafe kopi-o-peng

…that morning – something that I did not feel on my two previous visits. Perhaps I was the first customer, so early in the morning, so I got to enjoy the fresh brew…or maybe it was because I was the only customer at the time so the “barista” could pay a little more attention to what he was doing and did a better job than usual.

Now, if anyone is wondering about that MILO mug, here, it is a requirement stipulated by our municipal council that all utensils at all eating places must be sterilised in hot boiling water in a mug like that for customers to use and I do think that this is a commendable effort to ensure cleanliness and safeguard the health, to some extent, of the people here.

I finished my delightful breakfast, paid for everything and left the shop. However, it so happened that I was dilly-dallying outside a bit while browsing through the internet on my mobile when the girl waiting at the tables in the shop came out to pass me this…

Lost and found

Good grief! That’s where I keep my identity card, my driving license, credit cards and all that kind of stuff! I was thinking that if ever I were to be pickpocketed or happened to lose my wallet somehow, I would still have those essential items, safe and sound. Perhaps I should keep those first two separately so should I inadvertently lose one, I would still have the other.

It must have dropped out of my pocket as I was taking out my wallet to pay and it certainly was very honest and nice of the girl to come running to return it to me, thank God for small mercies!

What else is there…

Last Saturday, we went back to this coffee shop for lunch.

I went around the stalls to have a look to see what else there was that we had not tried and I came across this…

YummyFafe roti canai kuchai

roti canai with kuchai (chives). That was RM2.00 a piece and it came with the bowl of dhal dip, and no, it was not chewy or rubbery, not stretchable like roti canai as we know it. In fact, it was crusty and crispy, something like the Indian pancake or aloo paratha that we had once here. The texture was more like those frozen roti canai or paratha that we can buy at the supermarkets and pan-fry them ourselves at home to eat. It probably would have been nicer if they had used butter or ghee, at least for the frying part, and no, I would not say that it swept me off my feet even though it was quite nice – something one may consider when thinking having something different for a change.

My girl’s colleague/housemate/friend ordered the curry mee (RM4.00)…

YummyKafe curry mee

…expecting to get something like the ones in the peninsula, with the curry gravy but no, it turned out to be something fried, something like mee mamak but with curry powder added. She said it was all right though and she quite enjoyed it.

My missus had the Foochow fried noodles (RM4.00)…

Foochow fried mee

…and no, this was not done in the same style that I grew up eating and would prefer a lot more – the gravy was kind of clear so even though it might be nice, it was simply not the same. This and the curry mee were from the chu-char (cook & fry) place at the back portion of the coffee shop…and I noticed that they had rounded up the price, instead of the usual RM3.80 at some other places. That is perfectly all right though, I would say, considering that we did see a lot of ingredients like the meat and green vegetables in my missus’ order…unlike many other places around here these days.

Needless to day, my girl wanted the beef noodles (RM6.00)…

YummyKafe beef noodles

…that she loved a lot and I also ordered a bowl for myself. I don’t know whether it was the heat (it has been very very hot here lately) but I thought it was not as nice as before – the broth did not seem as thick and rich but when I asked my girl, she said it was the same. I do wish they could have an option though – one that has beef tendon and tripe added…at a price, of course. I would go for that one, that’s for sure!

I also ordered these dumplings (10 for RM6.00)…

YummyKafe dumplings

…to share, knowing that my girl loves them too…and that was our lunch that day.

Incidentally, an old friend from Penang flew in on Friday night but of course, like on most/all weekends, with my girl home, I was kind of tied up with her weekly visit to see her grandparents, driving her here and there to stock up on their rations for the week ahead and to buy any necessities that she would need for school and on Saturday night, we would have to go for the sunset service in church and come Sunday, I would have to drive her back to her school.

This friend and I were involved with some work for the ministry along with the couple who came from Trengganu that day so we would meet quite regularly, once a year, at least, during those days prior to my retirement. He was busy Saturday, anyway, as he was here on a working trip but I really felt bad that at such short notice, I was not able to make time to meet up. He was so sweet and thoughtful as to bring these celebrated tambun biscuits…

Tambun biscuits from Penang

..all the way from Penang for me and he sent them to me through a friend in that same line of duty, so to speak.

My sincere apologies to him…but I did tell him that I hope he would come back someday, not on a brief working trip like this time around, and stay longer so I would be able to take him around like what I did for our Trengganu friends last year…and he would have to let me know way ahead of time.