Archive for the ‘Chinese New Year’ Category

Of Red and Tortoises

My Mum and siblings know it!

Every trip to Kuching, Mum or one of my sisters would buy at least half a dozen of the red, soft, sticky and chewy Chinese pastry filled with mung bean paste for our brekkie. This is one of my must-haves whenever I am in Kuching. The cake (transcribed from the local dialect, ‘kueh‘ ) is moulded to resemble a tortoise shell. 

Remember Grand Master Oogway, one of the characters from DreamWorks animated film, Kung Fu Panda? His character is a tortoise and his name, “Oogway” is the English approximation of the Chinese word for ‘turtle’. In the film, Oogway is shown to be highly venerated for his wisdom, tenacity, knowledge and experience. He is considered a sage (a legendary icon with profound wisdom). 

Here’s one of my favourite quotes *wink*

  

And by the way, tortoises have one of the longest lifespans of any animal. They are known to have lived longer than 150 years, therefore, by equating Red + Tortoise, we arrived at the most powerful equation. In Chinese culture, the colour red symbolizes joy and happiness, whilst the tortoise is traditionally used as a symbol of longevity, power and diligence

Not Red but all-natural Orange Tortoise

Traditionally, Ang Ku Kuehs are prepared during Chinese New Year as offerings to the Chinese deities, as well as auspicious occasions such as a newborn baby’s first month (muah guek) or birthdays of the elderly to symbolize blessings for the child and good fortune and longevity for the elderly.

In modern times, the colour red is no longer restricted to special occasions. These sweet pastries are commercially available all year round in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, China, Taiwan and Southern parts of Thailand. The two main components in Ang Ku Kueh (AKK) are the skin and the filling. The skin is made from both glutinous rice flour and sweet potato whereas the fillings are usually pre-cooked mung bean paste or grounded peanuts and sugar. The oval-shaped AKK is the result of the imprintment of the tortoise-shape mould used in shaping the sweet pastries.

Here were some photos I took during my last trip to Kuching in August last year. These were taken during the Annual Kuching Food Festival.
   
 

With the mass production of the AKK all year round, I am very certain food dyes are liberally used. I am not a fan of using food colouring in my kitchen, hence, my homemade Ang Ku Kueh will definitely not be Red.

Here’s the result of my all-natural Orange Tortoise Cakes. (Note the colour orange was the result of my using orange sweet potatoes)

  

This recipe is an adaptation of Nasi Lemak Lover’s AKK recipe with several modifications, as to the ratio of glutinous rice flour to sweet potato, reduced sugar and I added a pinch of salt and excluding food colouring. I did not use hot water as I was preparing the AKK in my Thermomix

Ingredient A

  • 180 g mung beans (rinsed with several changes of running water and soaked for 4 hours)

Ingredient B

  • 3 knotted pandan leaves

Ingredients C

  • 100 g sugar
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 30 g corn oil

  

Ingredient D

  • 1,000 g water

Ingredient E

  • 220 g sweet potatoes, washed, peeled and cut in chunks 

Ingredients F

  • 170 g glutinous rice flour
  • 5 g rice flour
  • 15 g sugar
  • 20 g corn oil

Ingredient G

  • 80 g water

  

Ingredient H

  • 700 g water

Additional ingredients

  • Some corn oil
  • Some glutinous rice flour

How to prepare 

   

  1. Place A and B in the Simmering Basket (SB). Place E in the Varoma Dish (VD). Add D. Steam for 45 min/ V/ sp 2
  2. Remove SB and VD. Add the slightly cooled A without B into the TM Bowl. Add C. Blend for 45 sec/ sp 7.  Scrape the sides of the inner bowl and remove the dough into a clean bowl. Cover and set aside.
  3. Place the slightly cooled E into the TM Bowl. Blend for 5 sec/ sp 6. Add F and very slowly pour in G.   Mix for 30 sec/ sp 4. (Note, it is crucial at this stage to check the consistency of the dough. If it is too thick, add water; if too thin, add glutinous rice flour). Knead the dough further for 2 mins. Tip the dough out onto a clean bowl
  4. For the amount of ingredients I used in this recipe, I could make 18 AKK. Use your fantasy on how to put the mung bean filling in the sweet potato dough. I used a measuring spoon of a bit more than 1 Tbsp sweet potato dough and 1 Tbsp of mung bean paste. Try to form a ball and place the ball onto an AKK mould, which was pre-dusted with some glutinous rice flour. Press lightly with your hand and knock out the AKK on both of the long sides of the mould. Immediately sit the AKK on a greased banana leaf
  5. Repeat the process until the doughs are completely used up.  Pour H in the TM Bowl and set the dials to 30 mins/ V/ sp 2.  Once the temp reaches Varoma at approx 22 mins, reduce the temp to 100 deg C. Place the AKK on the Varoma set (Dish and Tray) and stack the Varoma set above the TM Bowl. Continue steaming until done.

   
  
 

Verdict: This was the first time I made Ang Ku Kueh which were not red but all-natural orange tortoise cakes! I have read several recipes, both conventional and thermomix way of preps on the net. Most of them sounded too good to be true. ” … cool the dough and shape in x balls …” or “… weigh each dough and shape in balls … ” or “… divide the dough into x balls …” . Balls? What balls? Honestly, I wished I could do that! Sonia (Nasi Lemak Lover) made her AKK for the first time and yet she could roll the skin dough into balls (yes, balls!) as well as the mung bean paste. Now, why couldn’t I do that? The sweet potato-glutinous rice flour dough was not easy to handle at all. I added a bit more GRF but dared not go overboard, lest the dough would be too hard and overly tough and chewy. I wanted a soft yet subtly chewy dough, so I ended up scooping the dough with a measuring spoon of 1 Tbsp and tried making a ball on a greased clean plate. Did it work? On the plate, yes, but not on my palm, so no balls. LOL!. Same thing for the mung bean paste. I had to add a bit more oil to make a ball. It was tedious task handlng the “balls” 36 times (skin and filling). I was so craving for AKK and when I finally made it, I was in 7th Heaven, but …..I would NOT suggest eating the AKK hot or warm, ie just coming out from the steamer (Varoma set). It was too soft and the skin was not at all chewy. It was like biting through a gelatinous pastry. Uh-uh! At that point, I was really disappointed and thought the recipe was a big, flat flop! And then I read on fatboo’s blog that the AKK can be kept without refrigeration for up to 3 days; and if they are refrigerated, to re-steam for 5 mins prior to serving. Did I follow the rule? Yes and No. I kept my orange tortoise cakes un-refrigerated for up to 24 hours only, not 3 days. Thanks to fatboo, the AKK tasted sublime the next day, like it should be – soft and chewy with the right balance at the same time. The glossy skin was absolutely fab! I did not even brush extra oil on my little orange tortoise cakes. Likewise, I was really glad I reduced the amount of sugar for the mung bean paste. It was bang on the money, not overly sweet. The subtle pandan flavour and the aroma from the banana leaf were undescribable. Just too nostalgic.

   
 

I had about 10 leftover pieces left. Since I am not used to leaving foods un-refrigerated for longer than 24 hours, I placed my precious orange tortoise cakes in the fridge. I did not re-steam the cakes because if I did, it would be a vicious circle. So I ate a piece of AKK in its cold refrigerated state. That was a BIG mistake! The skin was not chewy anymore. The sweet potato texture became more dominant. The filling was fantastic, though. In hindsight, I should have left the AKK un-refrigerated for 3 days. I guess that’s hinting me to make another batch of these Tortoise cakes, regardless the colour very soon *wink*

Ang Ku Kueh is Hokkien Chinese and is literally translated as Red Tortoise Cake. This sweet Chinese pastry is ubiquitous in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia and Thailand all year round. For this, I’m linking up this local delicacy to April Tea Time Treats: Local & Regional Recipes hosted by Lavender and Lovage and The Hedgecombers

  

Have a great week!

Cheers!

I was at an Asian store recently with my younger son, and was browsing the shelves in great detail, much to his chagrin.

C’mon, Mama! Don’t take too long. It’s so boring here. Let’s go…

Shhh!! I’m busy here…

 Pfff!

And then…. bingo! I was bewitched by one particular item on the shelf.

This!

  
I was beaming when I saw the familiar looking cookies and my son was delighted I finally found something after striding around for ages on end. Phew! While at the cash counter to pay for my items, the cashier looked up at me and smiled broadly 😃

He said, “You must be a Malaysian, right?”

Huh? How can you tell?” I asked

Because only Malaysians buy the pineapple jam cookies“, he replied with a huge smile on his face 😃

Store-bought vs Homemade

While home, I had a closer look at the plastic case and noticed the Malaysian flag on it. Ah…. that’s why!
 

  

By the way, I did not buy the jam tart because of the flag. I was, infact, as blind as a bat when I reached for the cookies at the time. Now the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

First thing’s first, the tart was crumbly from the first bite. It sort of of melt-in-the-mouth, but there was an unpleasant flavour. It must be the E-number artificial food colouring. No wonder, the pastry was too yellow for my liking. The pineapple paste filling was the stingiest I have ever seen. I could not remember how it tasted like at all, because there was almost nothing filled inside the pastry to draw a taste test. I tasted only the crumbly artificially-buttered-and-coloured pastry, which was quite off-putting, if you ask me.  On the contrary, I must admit that the shape and linear pattern on the cookies were rather impressive. 

  

 
With a lot of effort, we finally finished the store-bought pineapple tarts for more than a week. Then I challenged myself to make my own pineapple tarts from scratch. BUT, I was pampered by a blogger friend, Miss B, when she came to my house last year to pass me a packet of 500g of Redman Pineapple Paste all the way from Singapore (thanks, Miss B). Honestly, that was the best pineapple paste I have tasted ala store-bought. It was not too sweet with natural pineapple flavour and perfect consistency for making pineapple tarts. By the way, I tweaked the paste by spicing it up with some cinnamon and clove powders. Not a lot but just enough to enhance the Nyonya-ness of the paste. LOL!

Here were the results of the store-bought vs homemade pineapple tarts.

I was definitely feeling Goliath-ish that day 🙂

   
  

I have made pineapple tarts before and had always used the same recipe, however, this time, I used another recipe from a friend because I had half a kilogram of pineapple paste! I tweaked her recipe according to personal preference and availability of ingredients

Ingredients

  • 550g plain flour ( I reduced to 450g)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 350g butter (I used 250g cold butter because that’s what I had left in the fridge!)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 Tbsp castor sugar – fine (I reduced to 1.5 Tbsp)
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence (I did not use)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 Tbsp hot water (I did not use)
  • A few drops of yellow food colouring (I definitely did NOT use)
  • 500g Redman Pineapple paste (I added freshly ground cloves and a pinch of cinnamon powder and wore rubber gloves to knead the mixed spices into the paste)

Glazing/ Egg wash

  • Mix 1 egg yolk with 1 Tbsp condensed milk

Method (how I usually prep and assemble my tarts without using any flashy tart moulds)
The night or day before: Make equal size pineapple balls using a measuring spoon of 1/2 Tbsp each. Place onto a clean flat plate/ dish and cover with a cling film once done, and let rest in the fridge overnight or until ready to be used
   

1. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into mixing bowl

2. Knead cold rock solid butter into flour with finger tips until mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

3. Add in egg yolks and continue kneading until a pastry is formed. It does not take long at all

  
4. Rest the pastry in the fridge for at least 30 minutes

5. Use a measuring spoon of 1 Tbsp to scoop the pastry and flatten it with the palm of your hand. Place the ball-shape pineapple paste in the centre of the flattened pastry. Close it up and form shapes to your preference. I shaped mine in a slightly rectangular form to represent the shape of a pineapple.

  

 6. Brush each tart top surface with the prepared glazing mixture

7. Bake in pre-heated oven at 180 deg C for 18 minutes and apply the egg wash for a second time. Continue baking for 5 minutes.

   
 8. Done!

   
    

Verdict: One thing’s for sure, store-bought pineapple tarts cannot beat homemade ones. The freshly baked cookies with the subtle aroma of the spiced up paste smelt amazing coming out from the oven. With the ‘new’ recipe I have used, it’s not as crumbly as the store-bought tarts. The baked pastry was mildly crispy on the outside but crumbly in the inside. BUT, the filling was top notch generous! In hindsight, I should have used the ingredients which I have used in my original recipe, with icing sugar, less egg yolks plus a bit of egg white and I noted that the percentage of butter to flour should be in the region of 60% or more. Only then I can shout out that I have made 99.9% melt-in-the-mouth pineapple tarts! For now, it’s 90% melt-in-the-mouth. But hey, who’s complaining? There are 4 pineapple cookie jar monsters in the house. The tarts gone in a jiffy!

  

  

Bonus

500g of pineapple paste was a LOT! There were 30 orphaned and naked pineapple balls left. Lol!

With no pastry left, the smart alec in me bought a roll of store-bought puff pastry and made 30 round-shape and 30 star-shape dough. I placed each pineapple paste on the round disc shape dough and topped it up with the star cap. They looked stunning, just like mini edible Terracotta Army . Ha ha ha..! I was so excited with my creative self.

  
 

Then I baked them in the oven….. BUT… I was in for a rude shock!!

Ring-a-ring o’ roses

A pocket full of posies

A-tishoo! A-tishoo!

We all fall down…

  
 

The puff pastry really puffed up and toppled every pineapple ball.

The poor fallen warriors. Lol!

And then the determined me quickly put them back together, while they were still hot.

   
  

Now, don’t they look pretty together?

Verdict: With not enough pastry to encase the paste, the taste of the tart was chewier when baked because there was more pineapple paste to chew on. Guess what, I crazily LOVED the taste and texture, and so did my 3 guys. Not the real McCoy, but it was only a quick fix to make use of everything. Waste not, want not 😜

The pineapple tart is one of the many favourites of all cookies served during Festive occasions in Malaysia and Singapore. Its definitely one of my favourites. With Chinese New Year round the corner, I am linking this post to Cook and Celebrate: Chinese New Year 2016 hosted by Yen from GoodyFoodies, Diana from The Domestic Goddess Wannabe and Zoe from Bake for Happy Kids 

  
Have a fantastic weekend!

Cheers!
 
 

 

 

 

 

Two months ago, we had a small CNY pot-luck reunion with some closed friends.  The pot-luck was decided at the eleventh hour as we had planned to dine at a restaurant, hoping for a larger turnout. Since most of the invited friends had scheduled prior appointments with their families and friends for separate reunions, the planned quorum dwindled further. 

 

Then one of the girls suggested meeting up for a simple pot-luck reunion at her house. The rest of us were thrilled because the lady-of-the-house is a fantastic cook and I kid you not! Not only that, she is a Jane of all trades and ‘master’ of all, which completely defies the figure of speech, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” 

  

 

As you  can see from the photo collage, we were well fed with simple, purely homemade yet fantastically delicious dishes!  The lady-of-the-house made the absolutely delicious Yee Sang (Prosperity Toss) and tasty Pan Mee (with noodles she made from scratch!).  She also baked a flawless pandan chiffon cake, almond/ cashew cookies, chocolate mousse and kueh sepit (not in photo).  I brought my signature dish, Ngo Hiang.  My friends, X, brought a meringue cake and C brought a bowl of minced mix ingredients and a packet of frozen gyoza wrappers or gyoza skins.

 

It was the last item that ‘pushed’ me to write this post. Thanks, C for “reminding” me 😉

 

By the way, it was a good thing that C did not bring pre-wrapped gyoza‘s.  That way, we all had the opportunity to learn first hand crimping of the gyoza’s from … who else? The lady-of-the-house herself!

  

 

Not the First and Definitely not the Last

 

This was not the first time I have cooked a dish that turned out into something else quite differently but completely edible, like so …

  

 

Making yaki gyoza or guo tie or wo tieh or potstickers has been at the back of my mind for a long, long time. The origin of this dish is Chinese. In China, they are called jiaozi.  The Japanese word gyōza indicates that the word is of non-Japanese origin and was derived from the Shandong Chinese dialect giaozi. There’s 2-in-1-method of cooking gyoza. First they are shallow fried with a small amount of sesame oil in a hot pan or wok until  brown crusts appear on the flat base, and then a small amount of water (or cornstarch mixture) is poured over the dumplings, with the pan or wok covered. The liquid helps to steam the dumplings, creating a texture contrast of the thin crispy bottom and soft and juicy upper part, typical of Chinese cuisine.

 

Why I chose to use the word gyoza is because the ingredients I used as filling were more Japanese than Chinese.  I’m also referring to them as  potstickers, because it’s an English word and a lot easier to pronounce.  Anyway, “pot stick” is the literal translation from the Chinese word guōtiē.

 

Grievous Mistake 

 

I have made a calamitous error when purchasing the gyoza skins or wrappers. I knew the wrappers should be round and not square.  The square ones are used for making Wonton. Without reading the label, I placed the round dumpling wrappers in my shopping basket.  I was a happy bunny that day. 


Finally


I’m gonna make potstickers!! Yay!  


My sons were looking forward to the tasty finger food.  They were thrilled and couldn’t wait for the end result!

 

BUT wait a sec … there’s a difference in the thickness of the wrappers! Gyoza skins are generally thicker than the delicate wonton skins, hence, making them more suitable for frying.  It was a shame I bought the thinner and delicate dumpling skins used for wrapping sio bee or siu mai (popularly served at dim sum restaurants).

  

 

Hmmmm….. I had already marinated a bowl of minced filling for the gyoza.  There was no turning back.  The show must go on!

 

Splashing Plan B !

 

With the flopped original plan of making gyoza or potstickers, I told my clearly disappointed looking boys that there was not going to be any dry finger-food-type gyoza but a wet and soupy dumpling soup! If only you had seen their faces and heard their remarks …

 

I told myself that if the Potstickers won’t stick then I had to transform the dish into something equally appetising, hence, Plan B was put into action 🙂

 

Yup, a splashing runny dumpling soup!

   

 

Ingredients –

  • 300g minced chicken
  • Napa cabbage, thinly shredded
  • 1/2 Leek, finely diced (or 2-3 spring onions)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cm Ginger, finely grated
  • 1/2 Carrot, grated
  • 5 cm Daikon, grated
  • 2 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp sushi and sashimi soy sauce
  • 2 tsp Thai spicy fish powder ( in lieu of bonito powder)
  • 1 Tbsp Shaoxing wine ( in lieu of mirin)
  • 1 Tbsp corn flour
  • Freshly milled white pepper
  • Salt, to taste

1 packet (250g) Round dumpling skins

For the broth

  • 1 big carrot, washed and cut in very thin rounds
  • 2 stalks celery, washed and remove stringy outer layer
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, bruised
  • 3 cm ginger, bruised
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 red chilli (optional)
  • Sesame oil
  • Shaoxing wine
  • Dried Coriander (I did not have fresh coriander that day)
  • 1/2 a chicken stock cube
  • Coarse Sea Salt to taste 
  • Freshly milled white pepper to taste 
  • 1.7L Water, boiled in electric kettle
  • Water, boiled for cooking the dumplings 

Method

  1. Mix all the ingredients together and refrigerate for at least one hour 
  2. Remove the minced mix at least 15 to 30 mins before starting to wrap the dumplings
  3. In a soup pot, throw in the cut carrots, celery, 2 cloves garlic, ginger, lemongrass, coriander and chilli. Pour in the boiling water into the pot.  At this point, you can smell the fragrance and aroma of the herbs and vegetables whiffing past your nostrils
  4. Season the broth with sesame oil, Shaoxing wine, salt and white pepper
  5. Cook the broth further until boiled 
  6. In another pot, boil enough water to cook the dumplings per serving. Note: this water is NOT the broth for consumption, but just to cook through the dumplings separately.
  7. Ready to serve.  Place 8 to 10 pieces of dumplings in the hot water. The dumplings are cooked when they start floating to the surface. Scoop the dumplings, removing as much water as possible to a serving bowl. Then scoop the broth picking up some carrots, celery, chillies and coriander and transfer to the serving bowl.

Et voila!

 

Verdict: Without a word said, my boys slurped their bowls of  dumpling soup clean. I think that’s translated as “Thumbs UP” 🙂

Be warned, though, of the spicy filling (spicy fish powder) and the extra chilli in the broth. The extra garlicky flavour differentiates the Gyoza soup with a twist from the milder wonton soup. I will definitely make these again 😉

I’m linking this post to Little Thumbs Up April event “CHICKEN“, organised by Zoe of Bake for Happy Kids and Doreen of my little favourite DIY, and hosted by Diana from Domestic Goddess Wannabe 

 



Have a great weekend!

Cheers!

It is really amusing to observe a toddler’s reaction when eating a piece of tofu (soybean curd) for the first time.

His face changed and grimaced. “Yuck!” I remembered that was what my older son said when he first tasted tofu. He was 3 years old then. His younger brother said exactly the same thing at his age. Even worst. He spewed everything out, with a contorted face.

Okay, maybe they were the wrong audience to feed those white spongy, tasteless thingy, BUT… kids don’t lie. Remember? 😉

Masking the Curd

I must admit soybean curd on its own is downright bland. That’s why my Mum made us “like” eating tofu by masking and dressing it up when we were younger. She won, because we absolutely loved and still adore Mum’s stuffed fried tofu “tauhu sumbat” with either meat or veg filling. I’d love to replicate Mum’s tauhu sumbat here in Belgium, but deep fat frying of the curd is not what I would venture into in my own kitchen … as yet. I’m sure my boys will be bowled over by the stuffed tofu. Yes, 100% !

On the other hand, I’ve whipped up a much healthier version of steaming the tofu and made a glossy gravy of sesame oil, oyster sauce, garlic, ginger, cooking wine, salt and pepper to taste and corn flour as thickener to go with the once-upon-a-time bland tofu.

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Or simply a bowl of clean healthy soup with cubed tofu and meatballs. And by the way, I made those tofu from scratch! You can check out how I made the soymilk the ‘traditional’ way (no soymilk maker then) and transformed the milk into soybean curd by using s secret ingredient here.

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My boys have grown into teens now and their palates and cravings have also evolved over the years. They want more spices and flavour in the foods they eat. I’m glad for them because I’m a spicy person when it comes to eating, hence, it makes cooking a lot easier for me 😀

The best ‘mask’ yet for a tofu dish is the unbeatable Mapo Tofu dish. I have had these in many Chinese restaurants, and I have always loved the smooth tofu and the heat that comes with it, however, the “heat” is not as spicy as I would love it to be.

So I decided to make my own fiery Mapo Tofu.

Here you go!

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Who or What the hell is Mapo?

Mapo tofu bluntly means ‘pockmarked elderly lady’s soybean curd’. It doesn’t sound very flattering, but the origin of the story dated back to the late 19th Century in Chengdu, the Provincial Capital of Sichuan in SW China. There may be little variations to the details of the story being told, but here’s one I learnt from a Chinese lady who used to run a mini Asian store near where we lived. I told her I wanted to make an authentic platter of mapo tofu dish and I wanted to know of the special ingredients that went in the dish. She was very helpful and immediately told me that the Pi’xian doubanjiang is one of the compulsory ingredients in the dish. I bought a bag of the spicy Sichuan Pixian fermented broad bean paste.

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Then her eyes twinkled and she asked me if I knew why the dish is called Mapo Tofu. I love listening to stories and I was looking forward to her story 😀

Here’s what she told me, “Once a upon a time there was an elderly woman by the name of Mrs Chen. She is said to have pockmarks on her face. She ran an eatery, mainly selling vegetarian dishes, on a route travelled by porters who were carrying heavy loads. Many stopped at her stall for her food. One day, a hungry labourer who had no money to pay for his meal, stopped by at Mrs Chen’s food stall. He barter-traded with Mrs Chen his rapeseed oil (similar to canola oil) and some meat in exchange for lunch. She created and tossed what were available, and topped the tofu-minced meat with infused chilli oil, and THAT was when the Mapo Tofu was born”, as in “Ma” meaning pockmarks and “Po“, which is the first syllable of “popo” meaning an elderly woman or a grandma.

What an interesting story!

Hot and Fiery and 7th Heaven!

According to Wikipedia, a true Mapo Tofu dish is powerfully spicy with both conventional “heat” spiciness and the characteristic “mala” (numbing spiciness) flavour of Sichuan cuisine. The characteristics considered to be the most defining of authentic Mapo Tofu dish must include the following seven specific adjectives:

1. numbing (from the Sichuan peppercorns)
2. spicy hot (from the dried chillies, chilli oil, chilli flakes, doubanjiang)
3. hot temperature (cooked on high heat)
4. fresh (from the fresh ingredients used – meat, spring onions, tofu, garlic, ginger)
5. tender and soft (from the tofu)
6. aromatic (from the stir-fried aromas of the spices)
7. flaky (melts in the mouth)

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As a bonus, I got this recipe from the friendly Chinese lady at the store. She only mentioned the ingredients used but not the measurements. Most unfortunately, she no longer works at the store and I have no clue where she is now, but I am very grateful for the recipe she had briefly shared with me.

Ingredients

Dried chillies (I used 4, cut in halves. Not for the faint-hearted. Be warned!)
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
Medium-firm soybean curd, cubed (I used 500 g)
Vegetable oil (again pure guestimate)
Minced meat (The choice of meat is yours. I used a mixture of pork-beef mince)
Fermented chilli broad bean paste (Sichuan Pixian doubanjiang) – I used 2 Tbsp
3 garlic cloves, finely diced (this one she mentioned)
Small knob fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced (“agak-agak”)
3 stalks spring onions, cut on the bias (yes, 3…)
Chilli-sesame oil (I used 2 Tbsp)
Chilli flakes (optional – depending on how hot you can take it!)
Salt and sugar (optional)

Cornflour Mixture
Chicken stock or water (this is pure guestimate!)
Light soy sauce
Chinese cooking wine (I used Shaoxing wine)
Cornflour

Note: For Vegetarian version, replace minced meat with water chestnuts, wood ear fungus or any vegetables of your choice.

Method

1. Dry roast/ toast the dry chillies and Sichuan peppercorns in a wok over a medium-high heat stirring continuously for a few seconds. Thereafter, I set aside 2 halves of the toasted dry chillies and transfer the rest to a pestle and mortar and grind finely. Let cool.

2. Prepare the cornflour mixture in a bowl by adding wine, light soy sauce and stock or water.

3. In a pan of water add the cubed soybean curd. Cover and bring to the boil. Drain. Set aside.

4. Add some oil in the wok over medium heat. Add 1 Tbsp of the ground toasted chilli and Sichuan peppercorns. Cook for a few seconds, stirring well up to the point where you see a thin wisp of smoke. Remove the peppercorns while retaining the oil in a small bowl.

5. In the same wok, add the minced meat. Stir fry for a couple of seconds over a medium- high heat.

6. Add the diced/ minced garlic and ginger. Continue stir-frying until fragrant.

7. Add the doubanjiang paste and the 2 halves of the toasted dry chillies. Stir-fry.

8. Pour in the cornflour mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

9. Add the cubed tofu, prepared chilli oil and chilli-sesame oil. At this stage, taste to check if salt or sugar is required. Bring to the boil and then immediately turn off the heat. Transfer to a serving plate

10. Finally, sprinkle the toasted ground peppercorns and garnish with spring onions.

Here’s my version of the famous Sichuan Mapo Tofu made by a Malaysian in Belgium 😀

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Enjoy!

Mapo Tofu is a very light yet tasty dish with the level of heat that can easily be adjusted to one’s preference. I’m linking this post to Bangers & Mash’s The Spice Trail with the theme “Temple Food

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With my chosen herb in this recipe, I am submitting this post to Lavender and Lovage’s Cooking with Herbs

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Mapo Tofu can be eaten anytime of the year. I don’t mind having this dish served at Chinese New Year lunch or dinner. For this, I’m submitting this post to “My Treasured Recipes #5 – Chinese New Year Goodies (Jan/Feb 2015)” hosted by Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders and co-hosted by Charmaine of Mimi Bakery House

I’m also sharing this post to Cook and Celebrate: Chinese New Year 2015 organised by Yen from Eat Your Heart Out, Diana from Domestic Goddess Wannabe and Zoe from Bake for Happy Kids.

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Tasty Tuesdays with HonestMum



Have a great weekend!

Cheers!

I’m so glad I finally made this sticky glutinous rice cake! This has been on my to-do list since time immemorial 😀

And what better way to have this auspicious cake posted on Chinese New Year day!

GONG XI FA CAI!

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Being half Chinese, this dessert has criss-crossed my Mum’s house in Kuching zillion times during the Chinese New Years gone by. She either got the cake as a gift from friends and relatives or she had made the cake herself. There was a time, when we received an abundance of the sweet sticky cake, to the point that my Mum would fill her two fridges to the brim, metaphorically speaking 😉

We did not mind a bit that our fridges were stuffed with the sweet sticky cakes. And by the way, the cake has a name, “nian gao“. It is believed to bring good fortune if one consumes nian gao. According to Wikipediia, “nian gao” in Chinese Mandarin, is literally translated as ‘Year High’. Coincidentally, the Chinese word “nián” means ‘sticky’ and is identical in sound to ‘year’. Similarly, “gāo” means ‘cake’, which is identical in sound to ‘high or tall’. Having said that, eating nian gao has a symbolic meaning of raising oneself higher in each coming year, be it a promotion at work or, for a child, growing taller. And OMG… I haven’t had nian gao in years! I reckoned my achievement had stagnated from my last bite of the sticky sweet snack many donkeys’ years ago. Jeez….I hope not. Touch wood 😉

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Legend has it …

Oh by the way, an interesting legend has it that nian gao is made each new year as an offering to the Kitchen God, with the main purpose of keeping his mouth shut. The Kitchen God is said to make a report of each human (Chinese) family to the Jade Emperor if they have been good or bad that year. By offering the nian gao to the Kitchen God will avoid him from badmouthing to the Celestial Court, as his mouth will be stuck with the sticky cake. He will not be able to talk a lot or too fast.

Whether, it’s true or not, many Chinese families keep the legend going to this day.

The many faces of nian gao

Not long ago I had a brief discussion with some friends about the word nian gao. The nian gao I knew was the sticky brown glutinous rice cake, which I have just discussed, however, one of my friends said the nian gao she knew was the white rice cake, which is usually stir fried with soy sauce, meat and vegetables as a savoury dish. Hmmm… interesting…

Brown + sweet vs white + savoury? Golly gosh! Two opposite poles! There must be an attraction at some point?

The only ‘attraction’ is the fact that China is such a vast country. Different provinces have their own language (dialect) and food! Nian gao being one of them. My friend was not wrong when she referred to nian gao as the white rice cake prepared as a savoury dish, because that’s where the dish is commonly served in Shanghai!

This was what I had for lunch today, the Shanghainese version of stir-fried nian gao. Just so you have an idea 😜

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The nian gao that is most popularly served in Malaysia and Singapore is originated from Fujian (Hokkien-speaking) and Guangdong (Cantonese-speaking) provinces. THE nian gao I am referring to in this post is the Cantonese-style, made the Malaysian way in Belgium 😉

Japan and Korea have similar glutinous rice snacks, known as mochi and tteok respectively,

In Malaysia, this sticky snack is called Kuih Bakul (Cake in a Basket) in Malay, due to the fact that the banana leaf is used to tuck the cake in. The Straits Chinese or Peranakan Chinese or Baba-Nyonya of the Hokkien ancestary called this cake, “Tee Kueh” (Sweet Cake). Tee Kueh was exactly the word I grew up knowing. It was not nian gao. Surprisingly, the Chinese Filipino and Burmese also called the cake, “tikoy“. We definitely see China spreading her wings in the food we eat. Almost the same ingredients used in China years ago are preserved and retained by Chinese families today in Malaysia, Singapore, and elsewhere in East and South East Asia. As one of my brothers used to say, ” You can take a Malaysian out of Malaysia, but you cannot take Malaysia out of a Malaysian”. The same is true if you replaced Malaysian/Malaysia with Chinese/China.

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Labour of Love

There are only 3 ingredients used to make nian gao. Glutinous rice flour, sugar and water or coconut milk. Sounds simple, right? But it’s the hours and hours of constant stirring if done the traditional way (similar to making dodol) or hours and hours of steaming, as is done in the contemporary kitchen.

I steamed my nian gao for only half the original time. 5 hours instead of 10! I have 2 reasons for halving the time –

1. I started steaming the cake at 5.30pm. I had to be in bed by 11pm as it was a work day the following day , hence, I set the timer to stop at 10.30 pm.

2. I did not make a huge portion

This is a family recipe where I chose to use coconut milk over water.

Ingredients

400 g glutinous rice flour, sieved
200 g brown sugar ( I used cassonade brown sugar)
200 g organic cane sugar
400 ml coconut milk

Banana leaves to line a round dish ( I used ramekins and frozen banana leaves, cleaned and dabbed dry with absorbent papers).

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Heat the coconut milk and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool. Sieve the flour and pour in the coconut milk caramel. Mix well with a balloon whisk for at least 10 minutes until a smooth sticky batter consistency. Pour the batter in round ramekins lined with banana leaves.

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If you have all the time in the world, steam the cake for 10 to 12 hours. Unfortunately I did not have a lot of time to spare, hence, I shortened the steaming time to exactly 5 hours. I was not at all disappointed with the outcome. On the contrary. I loved the colour and the smooth finished texture.

Et voilà !

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I made 3 nian gao. One bigger ramekin and 2 small ones.

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You will notice that the colour changes after the refrigeration process.

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The purpose of refrigerating the cake is to harden it, so it will be more manageable when cutting with a knife. But of course you can eat it as is, warm and sticky, but I want to transform the cake into one of my childhood favourite snacks.

This!
*smiling sheepishly*

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I’m submitting this post to “My Treasured Recipes #5 – Chinese New Year Goodies (Jan/Feb 2015)” hosted by Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders and co-hosted by Charmaine of Mimi Bakery House

I’m also sharing this post to Cook and Celebrate: Chinese New Year 2015 organised by Yen from Eat Your Heart Out, Diana from Domestic Goddess Wannabe and Zoe from Bake for Happy Kids.

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If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody and share your happiness. ~Chinese Proverb~

Happy Lunar New Year to all celebrants!

Cheers!

My two sons were very excited at the prospect of their aunt’s and grandma’s visit last summer. They were secretly wishing, or rather, hoping, that their aunt (my sister) would be bringing along in their trip the most incredibly dreamy snack in the world – for them, at least – ie.,the savoury-sweet dried meat slices aka bak kwa.

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Bak kwa is quite similar to jerky but is not an equivalent definition. While the making of jerky uses lean meat (where most of the fat must be trimmed off) and then are cut into thin strips and dried with some salt to prevent spoilage, bak kwa is made with meat preservation, ie sweet and savoury marinades and requires at least 10% of fat, and then are dried by cooking at low temperature before cutting into squares and barbecuing over glowing fire.

By the way, my personal preference is the sliced bak kwa, however, minced meat bak kwa can be made anytime in the comfort of one’s kitchen. I was amazed at how easy it was to make this most sought-after Chinese New Year snack. The most renowned bak kwa is the Singaporean brand, Bee Cheng Hiang..

The barbecue aroma of the Bee Cheng Hiang bak kwa will linger in the palate from the first bite. Oh darn! It’s so addictive!

My sister hand-carried not one, but five packets of the savoury sweet meats – sliced pork, minced pork, chicken, turkey floss and crispy pork floss. My boys and I were over the moon. But… but … Wow! The price tags! I goggled at the price labels in disbelief. They cost a fortune! Thanks, sis, for the most incredibly scrumptious gifts.

6 months down the road, I wanted to relive that moment. What better time to buck up with Chinese New Year round the corner.

I went in search for Bee Cheng Hiang bak kwa recipe on the Internet. Zilch! Then again, most bloggers seemed to be using almost identical array of ingredients. THE most important point to consider in making bak kwa is how much of each ingredient is used to create a well-balanced flavour and texture. That was not easy the first or second time round. I’m speaking by experience here.

I have made the snack twice recently. The first time was completely impromptu as I had 300g of very lean calf mince in the fridge, which was meant for making bolognese sauce. Lean or not, I just had to make those bak kwa. I referred to the recipe from an online newsletter Mothership.sg. A contributor posted Homemade bak kwa from scratch . It’s not the nicest looking bak kwa but it’s more the technique of execution I was looking for. The idea of leaving the oven door ajar just to dry the meat and not burn or over-cook it was a clever idea, I thought. I bookmarked the recipe and this was the result!

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I followed the recipe to a tee by mathematically apportioning the measurement based on the 300g of minced meat.

I had quite positive comments from the guys. “Quite” because it was not perfect yet. Well, 300g was definitely not a lot of meat, hence, they were immediately gone from the moment the meat came out of the oven. There were two drawbacks, firstly the meat was TOO lean, and secondly, it was a wee bit salty to our liking. Everything else was almost perfect.

Once Bitten Twice Shy

I vowed to make a bigger batch with more fatty minced. I chose a mixture of pork and calf/ beef.

The original recipe used 1 kg, however I bought a bit more and increased the sweeter marinades (honey and kecap manis) by a tablespoon each.

Ingredients inspired from Mothership.sg with some modifications :
1.374 kg mix minced pork-beef
100g cassonade brown sugar
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp light soy sauce
2 Tbsp mushroom oyster sauce (vegetarian)
2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine
2 Tbsp ABC kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)
1/2 tsp 5- spice powder
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp Borneo Wild runny honey ( which I got from one of my sisters)
White Pepper
(Note I did not add salt while increasing the measurements of the sweeter marinades)

Additional ingredients: water and honey for brushing . I lost count on the measurements because I used quite a lot in several rounds, brushing every single slice, both sides, on the hot grill.

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Method –

1. Add all the ingredients and mix in well with the minced meat. I used a pair of chopsticks to stir until the mixture reaches a gooey consistency.

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2. Refrigerate the meat mixture overnight, covered with a clingfilm. When out of the fridge the next day, you will notice the colour of the mixture becomes more deep and intense. That means the meat mixture is cured. The Belgians would call this filet américain or a Martino . LOL!

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3. Spread the cured meat on a rectangular baking tray lined with a baking sheet. Cover the meat with a cling wrap and flatten it with a rolling pin, or you may use the back of a spoon.

4. Once the meat is flattened equally and thinly, transfer the baking tray to a pre-heated oven at 150 degrees Celcius. Leave the oven door ajar. All you need is to dry out the meat and not cook it thoroughly. The last thing you want is a burnt bak kwa. It takes about 15 minutes, depending on the type of your oven. At this stage, the juices from the meat will ooze. Remove the juice. I then cut the meat into desired squares and leave the meat to cool on a cooling rack.

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5. At this stage, I used my own method to wrap up the grand finale. I let my oven to R.I.P for the rest of the day while I unwrapped my secret weapon.

This!

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By the way, this was a gift I chose as my Year End gift from work. We were each given a unique password to order our Year End gift online. There were a few items to choose from : For Her, For Him, For Family or For Charity. I had my 2 sons to help me choose the gift and we finally agreed on the Tristar grill-teppanyaki-hot plate. 😀

Glad that the gift came in handy ! 😉

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

As quoted from the homepage of Bee Cheng HiangThe bakkwa is then barbecued over a glowing fire until it spatters and caramelize the tender meat in the all right place. Hot grill combined with dripping meat juice releases a sweet barbecue aroma to the already succulent meat meld together to deliver the authentic Bee Cheng Hiang Bakkwa”

Unquote

And enjoy ogling;-)

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Visually, the bak kwa looks really authentic if kept the next day(s) in the fridge.

Like so …

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The meat became tastier and that’s when you would want to make a conclusion, ” it’s just perfect ” or “it’s okay and there’s still room for improvement”. I daresay that all my recipes are tried and tested on my blog, as my priced critics are my other half and my 2 sons. Then again, one man’s meat is another man’s poison…

The verdict: Thumbs Up, BUT, it’s still salty !!!

Okay…. Third time lucky, then 😜

I know there are many bloggers submitting their own rendition of the bak kwa in the CNY blog- hop cooking challenge, well, let’s say I’ve got the bug, too, and this snack is just one of my favourites during this auspicious occasion. Having said that, I’m submitting this post to “My Treasured Recipes #5 – Chinese New Year Goodies/ Valentine’s Day (Jan/Feb 2015)” hosted by Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders and co-hosted by Charmaine of Mimi Bakery House

I’m also sharing this post to Cook and Celebrate: Chinese New Year 2015 organised by Yen from Eat Your Heart Out, Diana from Domestic Goddess Wannabe and Zoe from Bake for Happy Kids.

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Chinese New Year is just round the corner and I’m sure every Chinese family is busy “spring cleaning” the house. I just received a message from one of my sisters that she’s dead tired cleaning every nook and cranny of the house in Kuching. No worries, sis. With the newly cleaned house, let us all hope for a new year filled with lots of good health, wealth and eternal happiness.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

I also linking this post to Tasty Tuesdays with HonestMum Live




Cheers!

Christmas and the New Year celebrations have just passed us by. We have been pampered with a bit too much eating, from appetizers to starters to soups to main courses to desserts. Munching, chomping, slurping, burping… OMG!

I’m glad it’s over for now, albeit temporarily. My stomach needed a bit of rest after the eating marathon, so I decided to make something really clean and simple and yet very attractive and tasty. It’s everyone’s favourite – at least in my family – the delectable sushi, or rather, Makizushi or nori rolls.

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DIY Sushi Meal Kit

I have made sushi before when I was still in Kuching many moons ago. We made it from scratch, my sisters and I. Homemade sushi are definitely a notch higher than the store-bought ones or even the restaurants’ because we have control over what goes in the cylindrical gems. More often than not, the sushi rice served in restaurants are way too sweet, which I am not a fan of.

Both my sons are fans of Sushi of any type. I have made Inarizushi (sushi stuffed into fried tofu skin or aburaage). That became a hit with my guys.

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Once in a while during impromptu outings with my younger son, we would always end up in a Japanese resto ordering a sushi set lunch. My son, who is not a big eater could down these sushi in record time. But that also meant burning a hole in my pocket, hence the urge to home make the sushi rolls 😉

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Just before Christmas last year, I was at Stonemanor, a British store located at Everberg, Belgium.

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While filling my trolley with Christmas goodies, I was thrilled to see a Sushi Meal Kit on the Asian shelves, I grabbed 2 kits.

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Both kits included the following items –

• A Bamboo Rolling Mat (makisu)
• 4 Sushi Nori Sheets
• Sushi Rice (2 “Uncle Ben’s” type bags)
• Sushi Vinegar
• Japanese Soy Sauce
• Wasabi Paste
• Chopsticks (4 pairs in the red kit and 2 pairs in the yellow kit)
• Sushi Ginger or gari (not included in the yellow box)
• Sushi Recipe/ Instruction Leaflet

Per kit makes 4 large Makizushi, a main course for 2 or a starter for 4. Since there are 4 of us and I have planned to serve the sushi rolls as a main dish, hence I bought 2 kits. And by the way, I had actually planned to make those sushi rolls during the weekend of Valentine’s Day or Chinese New Year. Since CNY 2015 falls on 19th Feb, which is a Thursday, it will be difficult for me because it’s a workday. Honestly speaking , the 2 kits were too enticing for me to wait that long, I decided to ceremonially open both kits on the same day for our first weekend lunch anno 2015 🙂

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Instructions (per kit)

1. Put the 2 rice bags into a medium-sized saucepan and add enough water to cover the rice bags, soaking evenly.

2. Bring to the boil and simmer on a low heat for 11 – 12 minutes with the lid on.

3. Turn off the heat and drain the water using a sieve; put the rice in the sieve back into the saucepan and leave to stand for 25 – 30 minutes with the lid on. Do not open the lid!

4. Remove the rice from the bags and transfer the hot rice into a large bowl. Fold Sushi Vinegar into the rice. Wait until the hot rice cools down to a warm temperature before rolling the Sushi.

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Fillings

While the rice is cooking, prepare the fillings. At this point, just let your imagination run wild with you. I have actually used leftover vegetables from my fridge (yellow, orange and green paprikas, cucumber, carrot, spring onions and chives). Then again, the list is endless. You may want to go vegetarian or vegan or add slices of chicken or Peking duck meat. The sky’s the limit! I made a vegetarian version, with mock crab sticks and omelette with chives as protein.

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To Roll …

1. Place a sheet of nori onto the makisu (bamboo rolling mat). Spread the cooked rice as evenly as possible over the nori making sure to keep a thin layer of rice and leave a 1 cm gap free from rice at top and bottom as you will need this to seal the roll.

2. Before placing the strips of vegetables, surimi/ omelette on the rice, brush some wasabi paste or mayonnaise on the rice, from one end to the other, horizontally. Do not put too much filling in otherwise it will be difficult to roll.

3. Begin rolling the nori carefully and evenly around the filling, using the mat to help shape the Makizushi, rolling away from you and pressing firmly. Pull the bamboo mat away from you, and make sure to keep rolling the nori around itself.

4. Once the roll is complete, press down firmly on the mat helping to compress the roll slightly so that it keeps its shape.

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To Cut …

1. Remove the rolled sushi from the rolling mat and place onto a dry chopping board.

2. Using a very sharp knife, cut the roll in half. Then cut the 2 halves into 4 even lengths, making 8 Makizushi. Wash the knife occasionally between cutting each Sushi roll to prevent the rice from sticking to it and to ensure a cleaner cut.

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I served my Makizushi on a tray with some gari (sushi ginger) and wasabi paste. As far as the presentation is concerned, there’s still room for improvement, however, since that was the first time I have attempted making the Makizushi on my own, I thought that was not too bad at all 😉

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Without a doubt it was a mouth-watering lunch and what was even better was it was wholesome, healthy and à volonté.

No wasabi paste? No worries.

Not many people will go gaga on this green-colured paste. Wasabi is Japanese horseradish and its stem is used as a condiment and has an extremely strong flavor. Its hotness is not akin to that of a chilli but more so of hot mustard. The heat from the wasabi paste produces vapours that stimulates the nasal passages more than the tongue. And sometimes it even goes up to the head. Ha ha..

I found a good substitute for the wasabi paste. It’s also green in colour. It’s a cousin of the Tabasco sauce, the Tangy Green Jalapeño hot and zesty sauce from Heinz. I always have this bottle in my fridge. It goes very well with pizzas, salads, soups… It’s just so zingy and funky! Love it!

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The Day After

There were 2 sushi rolls left after the day before’s à volonté lunch. I used those as starter for our Sunday lunch. There were no gari and wasabi paste left, hence I made a simple and quick pickled cucumber with dhill. It went so well with the sushi rolls. It was super refreshing and scrummy. Yums!

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I’m sharing this post to the following blog-hop Cooking Challenges, my first linkup in 2015 😀

The Great Britsh Store Cupboard: Cooking with Herbs Challenge – January 2015

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“My Treasured Recipes #5 – Chinese New Year Goodies (Jan/Feb 2015)” hosted by Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders and co-hosted by Charmaine of Mimi Bakery House

Tasty Tuesdays by HonestMum

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January 2015 Family Foodies hosted by Eat Your Veg and Bangers & Mash

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January 2015 Vegetable Palette hosted by A2K – A Seasonal Veg Table

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Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking

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Extra Veg with Helen at Fuss Free Flavours and Michelle at Utterly Scrummy

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Have a Healthy and Happy year!

Cheers