28 January 2016

Air Frying Seaweed Snacks for CNY

I am happy to add another feather to my cap.

Nice and crispy air fried seaweed snacks
Inspired by my Air Fryer group on FB, and following their instructions so generously shared, I attempted to air fry seaweed snacks. It is one of my daughter's favourite snacks during the CNY period and I would usually buy a few tubs of this snack each year.

It was delightfully easy to make; the recipe is simple and the AF made it even easier! I was ever so pleased with the results.

Now, my girl can have the seaweed snack homemade by Mommy and oil-free too.

Frozen popiah (spring roll) skin (from supermarket)
Large sheets of seaweed (ideally, the toasted ones for making sushi)
1 egg, beaten with some soya sauce (or salt or sugar, to your taste)

Thaw the pastry skin.
Seaweed pasted onto popiah skin and cut into strips
Brush each piece of pastry skin with the beaten egg and paste a sheet of seaweed onto it.
Cut into bite size strips.
Place into your AF at 180 degress for 3-5 minutes. You may check it midway, and toss it around a bit. Increase the air frying time if you have placed a lot of pieces into your basket and find that some pieces haven't crisped yet.

My husband appraised my snacks with a satisfactory nod and didn't realize I had used the AF and not deep frying with oil, until he walked into the kitchen and saw the AF sitting there cooking away. "No wonder it seems lighter and less oily than those bought outside."

My daughter too was more than happy with the snacks.

Another first, and another success.

18 January 2016

Homemade Authentic Bak Kwa or Barbecued Dried Meat

Three more weeks to Chinese New Year to welcome the year of the Monkey.

Continuing with my many firsts (baking bread, roasting turkey, making soap), I attempted to make Bak Kwa, also called Ro Gan or Long Yook, depending on your dialect. In English it is just called Barbequed (Dried) Meat, hopefully not to be confused with Char Siu.

I don't know why I decided to take the plunge to make Ro Gan this year. Guess I am becoming more adventurous. 

So with just one day's online research I picked a recipe that sounded authentic and homemade. I used the Bak Kwa recipe from Shanon who posts through her blog Just as Delish .

I liked Shanon's recipe because she tried it twice, once without grilling and once with. She preferred the one that she grilled. Also, Shanon's recipe does not use any hoi sin sauce, or char siu sauce, which in my opinion are flavourings made for the Western/ Caucasian market. I find food flavoured with hoi sin sauce or char siu sauce artificially sweet, with a distinct telltale taste of the sauce.

Even my homemade Char Siu never incorporates Char Siu sauce.

I did tweak Shanon's recipe just the tiniest bit, so here it is:
  • 1kg fatty Meat Mince - either Chicken, Beef or Pork (Fattier mince makes more tender, juicy bak kwa)
  • 120g Brown Sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese Five Spice Powder (Shanon used 1 tsp)
  • 1 tablespoon Fish Sauce (I used Squid Sauce)
  •  3 tablespoons Light Soya Sauce 
  • 1 tablespoon Rice Wine (Shao Tsing) which I omitted
  • 3 tablespoons honey (I increased it to 4 tbsp but brought it back to 3)
  • 1 tablespoon Vegetable oil 
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce 
  • 2 teaspoons Sesame oil 
  • Red food colouring - optional
  1. Thorughly combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Cover and marinate 8 hours or overnight in the fridge.
  2. Preheat oven to 150°C (Shanon used 100 degrees, which I found too low and did not dry out my pork enough). Wash and dry flat baking trays. Line with aluminium foil.
  3. Place mince onto the tray then spread and press down to form a thin sheet over the surface of the tray to a thickness of 3-5mm. You can either use wet fingers/ wooden ladle to manually press it or you could lay a sheet of plastic or baking paper over it and roll it thin with a rolling pin. Try to keep the edges as straight as you can so you can cut into neat squares.
  4. Place the trays in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the meat has dried out - the surface is dry to the touch, most of the liquid has evaporated and is holding together without breaking (It's fine to be a little moist underneath the sheet). 
  5. Cut the dried meat sheet into squares with a kitchen scissors.
  6. Heat up your charcoal bbq or grill and grill each square until darkened and caramelised. It’s totally ok to have the tiniest hint of charring but keep your eyes on them because they burn quickly and easily.
  7. These Bak Kwa do not have preservatives, so it's better to keep them in an airtight container in the fridge with sheets of greaseproof baking paper between each slice of Bak Kwa. When needed, reheat Bak Kwa in grill or microwave.
Grilling over charcoal imparts smoky aroma to the meat

I made 2 batches of Bak Kwa. The first batch tasted good,  but I did not press the mince thin enough. For the second batch, my maid pressed the mince with her hands, making it a much thinner layer than mine. The second batch looked much more like the Ro Gan or Bak Kwa that you buy from the shops.

Many elderly people now say not to eat too much Bak Kwa due to concerns about the quality of meat, chemical colouring and preservatives used in making them.

As my family loves Bak Kwa, I can now serve them my homemade Bak Kwa with peace of mind.

15 January 2016

Chinese New Year of the Monkey 2016

Christmas has come and gone, and now we are set to welcome the Chinese New Year.

This is more of a checklist of things to be done, and I hope my current high energy levels continue as I am now ahead of schedule:

  • wash curtains
  • wash sofa covers
  • wash throw-pillow covers
  • cream-wipe leather sofa
  • clean balconies
  • power jet the driveway
  • wash mosquito nettings
  • put up decorations
  • wipe windows
  • wash all patios
  • wipe ceiling fans
  • tidy up garden
  • bake cookies
  • try to make barbequed dried meat
  • plan CNY menu and pre cook some dishes
  • throw out accumulated junk

I think those are the major CNY preps. Gonna get busier soon, therefor wishing those celebrating the festival a Very Happy Healthy and Successful New Year!

06 January 2016

Christmas Dinner 2015

So another year is coming to an end. Another Christmas to celebrate and to be grateful for.

This year, everything costs more. Malaysia is bearing the consequences of a very weak Ringgit, a crisis of confidence in the ruling government and PM Najib, introduction of GST in Malaysia, record low world oil prices and a slowing China economy. All bad news.

But hey, I'm no politician. So who wants to hear what I think about the government and the PM right?

So let's talk turkey.

After having roasted turkey from Maria's Cafe and Beacon Point, we decided that we like Maria's turkey better, but they don't roast turkey for Christmas anymore. And this year's roast turkey costs about RM450 for a 5 kg bird from most places I called to enquire.

I decided to take the plunge. Roast my own turkey.

First find the frozen raw turkey. Not so easy in Ipoh. The main supermarkets, AEON and Tesco don't stock frozen turkey for Christmas anymore, citing "halal" problems. Whatever. So then, what do I do? I texted a friend right in the supermarket aisle. And bless her, she told me she got her frozen turkey from InTrico. Ah, I know that place! So off I went to buy my turkey.

It was a giant of a bird - 6kg! InTrico didn't have anything smaller, and I didn't want to hunt elsewhere, and then risk my bird in InTrico being sold off. So I bought it.All RM228 of it.

And came home to my husband giving me a hard time about buying such a big bird, that we would have leftovers forever, blah blah blah. Not a very nice start to my first ever attempt at making a home roasted turkey. Oh well.

I scoured the internet and found a recipe that I liked from Simply Recipes; described as the family's traditional roast turkey year in year out. I liked the sound of that. And they cook the stuffing separately, because having the stuffing inside the bird makes it harder to roast the turkey evenly. I like that logic too!

Honestly it was rather nerve wracking roasting such a huge bird. I had to worry about defrosting it completely before roasting (which took 2.5 days) and then seasoning it and watching it (literally) roast whilst in the oven. Of course while the bird was cooking, I was cooking the stuffing and cranberry sauce, making pasta, cutting vegetables and getting the pumpkin soup started.

And in the middle of all that, my husband walks in and asks why I am roasting the turkey so early (it was about noon, and dinner was going to be at 7pm) Was I roasting it too early? Instructions said it would take at least 3.5 hours to roast.
Cranberry sauce

I am happy to report that the turkey turned out well, the stuffing was delicious and dinner (all home cooked) was a success.

Here's encouraging all of you to roast your own turkeys too! If I can do it, so can you.

 My son loved my cranberry sauce and the turkey gravy. My daughter, who usually complains that turkey smells funny, ate her turkey happily this year and said "No smell Mommy!"

Only spoiler, father in law said, "maybe next year you can cook the stuffing inside the turkey".
(He can, if he wants to.)

25 November 2015

Homemade Soap - unveiled

I waited anxiously for 48 hours. For my soap to harden.

So with bated breath, I removed the insulating towels from the soap tray. A waft of pleasant lavender greeted me. A creamy white substance sat inside my tray. Was it solid or liquid, that is a success or a failure?

Gingerly, I touched it. Woohoo! It was solid. It was smooth and silky.

Everything is looking right with this first batch of homemade and handmade soap.

Now, the next wait will be longer, 4 to 6 weeks for the soap to cure. They are now sitting in my study area.

Shall I order more oils to make another batch of soap?

23 November 2015

Homemade Soap

I made soap today. The cold process method.

It's still sitting in the tray, hardening for the next 24 hours. Only then will I know whether Project Soap is a success.

This year has seen a lot of firsts in homemade products for me, like my breads and rolls, and collagen soup, and now soap.

I saw a few posts on FB regarding hand made soap, and with the drastic decline in the value of the RM this year, our usual soap costs a lot more. We use One with Nature, an American brand that uses Dead Sea minerals. The soaps are mild, and my kids don't step out of the shower with red blotches on their skin like they do if they use other readily-available commercial brands.
Lye solution

So I thought why not try soap making? Doesn't seem that hard. And the attraction for me was the thought of making soap that is all natural and chemical free.

Alas, soap cannot be entirely chemical free. It has to have lye (sodium hydroxide) to interact with the fatty molecules of oil in order to saponify into soap. At least, that is the ONLY chemical in home made soap.

The ingredients for making soap are delightfully simple: water, oil and lye. That's it.

The Youtube videos on soap making give dire warnings of the potential dangers of lye - it is a caustic alkaline substance that will burn you upon contact, and the fumes it produces when dissolved into water are powerful.

So I had to do some psyching up before taking the plunge. I purchased my first soap making kit from Soap Lab and designated my work area outside the house; the patio by the fish pond and bamboo hedge just outside the family room. Perfect.

I achieved trace very quickly
Everything went well today; I set up my work table, I laid out my utensils, I weighed out my ingredients, I suited up with goggles and gloves and mask, and I kept the children and pets away.

Now I wait.

17 November 2015

Bone broth or is it collagen soup?

OK. Is this fact or fad?

Sure, any home made, home brewed, home boiled stuff is good. I believe that. I'm sure you do too.

But it seems in the last couple of years, bone broth is touted to contain lots of minerals and amino acids that may help us look younger, feel younger all on account of the collagen potential.

So much so that there are collagen soup restaurants and take-aways.

So, after a very brief read-through on the net and on FB, I went to the market early, got my stuff and made myself a batch of bone broth.

My bone broth recipe
2 pork knuckles
2 chicken carcasses
1kg of chicken feet
5litres of water

Place everything into a large pot and let it boil on high for 10-15 minutes then lower it to a simmer for about 6 hours.

Remove all bones and allow broth to cool.

I then spooned it into containers and placed into the fridge, waiting anxiously for it to gell. I read that only if the broth gells, have you got it right as the broth then contains enough of the nutrients to become jello.

Well, I'm happy to report that my broth gelled wonderfully. Doesn't it look like a piece of smooth raw fish?

Note: I was told that 6 hours is not long enough to leach out the calcium from the bones. The person who told me this also said that the bones should be brittle and can be broken with a fork by the end of the process - well, my bones were falling apart! Then someone else said that a chef said it's utter nonsense, as one should only boil for 1/2 hour otherwise all the nutrients are destroyed. (I don't believe that chef). Yet someone said you should boil for 24 hours. Oh, and another person said the bones should be presoaked in apple cider vinegar first.

Conclusion: You gotta decide for yourself. But for me, heck I'm not gonna boil for 24 hours. Enjoy!

Baking journey

Wow! Time flies. I haven't been to my blog in a year. 2015 has just flown by.

It seems that with the kids in Form 1 and Standard 4, I am just as busy as when they were babes! Instead of feeding and cleaning them, it's ferrying them to and from classes, guiding them in their lessons and just engaging with them in their lives.

Well, apart from the happy routine of a SAHM, we had a wonderful holiday in Austria this year, and in September, I dug out my Breville bread maker (BM) from storage and gave it its purpose in life once again.

For this, I must thank a friend who encouraged me to bake breads. Looking at all her marvelous photos of buns and loaves, I was inspired to try as she assured me that the BM is a great help. And it sure is!

I hate messes. So it follows that I dislike kneading dough with my hands as my hands get dirty, the counter top gets dirty, the floor might get dirty and so on. Here is where the BM is such a wonderful tool as it kneads for you and you have a wonderfully kneaded and rested ball of dough. So wonderfully clean!

The same friend gave me my first bread recipe, and it was a success.

Happiness Bread Recipe
150g fresh milk
1 egg
300 g bread flour
20g milk powder
1g salt
60g sugar

5g yeast
30g butter

After more than 8 years of not even looking at my BM, to use it again felt great.

With this new-found confidence, I went on to experiment with more breads. I am quite bad at baking, but the BM almost always guarantees success. If you would like to make your own breads, and don't have a BM, I highly recommend you getting one.

The egg bread was next in my to do list, which I paired with a lovely Egyptian beef stew. After that it was Milo buns, banana loaf, cinnamon rolls, Hokkaido milk loaf etc. and the baking journey isn't over.


15 November 2014

Why is Chinese (Mandarin) so difficult to learn?

I just read that Mark Zuckerberg spoke in Mandarin during his Q&A at Beijing's Tsinghua University.

I watched the video in the article and frankly, I could hardly make out what he was saying, but the Chinese audience seemed to get it. 

The article went on to discuss how extremely daunting it is to learn Chinese if you are not native Chinese and / or not living in China where people speak the language the whole day.

I wholeheartedly agree with the reasons given in the article as to why it is so damn hard to learn Chinese:
-- Because the writing system is ridiculous.
-- Because the language doesn't have the common sense to use an alphabet.
-- Because the writing system just ain't very phonetic.
-- Because tonal languages are weird;
-- Because East is East and West is West, and the twain have only recently met.

Uh, that last reason probably just applies to Westerners.

I am a Malaysian-Chinese. I did not learn Chinese growing up, but instead learned my country's national language, Bahasa Malaysia and of course English. My family speaks the Cantonese dialect at home, and I picked up a smattering of spoken Mandarin from my mother who was educated in the Chinese medium of instruction. I also picked up the tiniest knowledge of the Hokkien dialect from Hokkien colleagues at work.   

Now, my 2 children attend Chinese vernacular schools where they are instructed primarily in Mandarin, but also learn Bahasa Malaysia and English. It has been very tough going to keep them in Chinese schools when both my husband and I are illiterate in Chinese.

I just cannot comprehend how an entire language can be constructed with no alphabetical structure. Chinese words seem to have been created at the whim and fancy of whoever it was that conceived the language. A large part of learning Chinese is having to memorise words, to memorise how those words are supposed to be written (this stroke first followed by a curve then a dot then another slash etc.) and to memorise how those words sound.

It is so simple in English: if you come across a new word, one you have never ever seen in your life, you can at least pronounce it. That's half the battle won. No such luck in Chinese!

Whenever my kids come across a new Chinese word, they are well and truly stuck.My kids are intelligent and I know they would do much better in their exams and school ranking if not for Chinese derailing them. I continually encourage them and tell them so.

I am proud and happy that despite the difficulty of learning Chinese my kids have persevered in Chinese schools and not asked to be put back into the English or Bahasa Malaysia medium schools.

It has so often been said that the world is now witnessing "a major shift in economic and cultural influence, from the U.S. to China," hence raising the profile of the Chinese language. 

For me, I feel it is good to learn more languages and being ethnically Chinese, there is that added obligation.

07 November 2014

My first mammogram

I went for my first mammogram 2 days ago.

Being above 40 (under 45) my doctor said it's time to do it. I've been asking for it the last couple of years but she said wait a few years.

I live in Ipoh and my doctor told me to go to the Ipoh Specialist Hospital(ISH), part of the KPJ group. No problem with that. It's close to home and well established in Ipoh.

What did I expect from my first mammogram?

I was expecting discomfort, some pain and embarrassment.

This was my experience :

1. Register at the radiology department

This is on the ground floor of ISH, the same level as the covered parking. It was relatively quiet at the hospital today (Yay! Means not many people are sick and more people are enjoying good health, hopefully). There were 2 patients ahead of me and 2 patients after. Out of the 5 of us only 3 were going for the mammogram.

It was a short wait. I was called in after about 10 minutes.

2. The mammogram room

The technician brought me to the mammo room with some small chit chat along the way ~ is this your first time,  are you married etc. It was an appreciated distraction.

The mammo room was small but adequate. It contained a small changing area with curtains, the mammo machine and the control desk.

I was asked to undress from the waist up. No robe. Then I noticed my name lighted up in a display panel at the foot of the machine.

Even though the technician is a lady I still felt awkward stepping out from behind the curtains when she called me. She asked me to take off my shoes and stand close to the machine.

3. The positioning

Now, people have mentioned the pain and discomfort but nobody said anything to me about the awkward poses expected of you and the effort needed to position your breasts just right onto the plastic plate!

I am doing a 3D mammo today. I don't know how different an experience that would be from a 2D mammo.

Now, here is the big mammo machine. You see the black lower plastic plate? And the upper clear plastic plate?

Well, one has to position the object of scrutiny nicely between the 2 plastic plates. The technician explained to me that that the image would be taken from 2 angles for each side, so 2x2 in total 4 times.


The first angle: I was asked to stand directly in front of the machine. The lower black plate was positioned exactly beneath the breast. Lean forward slightly for the technician to lower the upper plate that would then compress the breast as much as possible. The technician needs to help you position the breast correctly onto the lower plate for the upper plate to compress it the way it should.

Did it hurt? For me, yes!

The technician tells me to hold that position and to avert my face slightly away from the top of the machine as she said the machine will move when taking the image.

The technician retreated to her control desk, leaving me trapped and feeling extremely vulnerable. Oh, and in pain. The machine then swiveled above my head from left to right, making an almost 180 degree arc. Done.

I am released from the painful grip momentarily until I got into position #2. This time I had to stand at an angle, with my hip close to one corner of the lower black plate. I was told that I had to assume a leaning stance. How?

The technician pushed me forward and asked me to extend my right hand forward to grab a hand-hold in front of me. At the same time my upper body was half-lying on the black plate. The technician had to do a lot of handling of the breast to get it just so onto the black plate while again lowering the upper plate to compress the breast. She didn't get it compressed to her satisfaction so she raised the upper plate, readjusted my body's position and maneuvered my breast onto the black plate until it was just right. The pressure came back on.

"Right! Stay right there! Don't move! And remember to tilt your face back."

I think I gritted my teeth.

And this was repeated for the other side.

Then, it was done. The technician was professional and polite, apologizing for the discomfort numerous times.

Screening is important

Despite the discomfort and awkwardness of the procedure, we are fortunate that medical science has come so far in providing a way to detect potential breast abnormalities. I have relatives and friends who have suffered from breast cancer. My cousin-in-law impressed on me the importance of regular screening and early detection.

I hope and pray for good health, for myself and you.