Green Radish and Carrot Soup

It has been raining practically every day.  This month could be the wettest December here in several years.  We don’t have a winter season, it is called the monsoon season.  It is usually hot and sunny in the morning followed by mid-day thundery showers that last well into the evening rush hour.  The weather report says that the amount of rain recorded for the four days of December alone is already half that seen for the entire month last year!  I think my mint plant has become the latest casualty of this rainy season.

So, my thoughts have turned to making soup.  It’s light and healthy and a perfect accompaniment to tonight’s meal of miso grilled codfish, stir fried vegetables and rice.

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1 lb lean pork
1 lb green radish
1 lb carrots
2 honey dates
4 red dates
2 dried figs
1 Tbsp Chinese south almonds (optional)
1 Tbsp Chinese north almonds (optional)
10 cups of water

Method:

1. Cut the pork into slices of 1/2 inch thickness.  Boil a small pot of water to blanch the pork slices.  Drain and set the pork aside.

2. Peel the green radish and carrots.  Wash and cut into chunks of 1 inch thickness.

3. Rinse the honey dates, red dates, figs, north and south almonds and set aside.

4. Put all the ingredients into a big pot and add 10 cups of water.  Cook on high heat and bring to a boil.

5. Reduce the heat and let it simmer on low heat for one to one and half hours.  Add salt to taste and serve hot.

Note:  North and south almonds can be found in Chinese grocery shops. They are actually apricot kernels. They don’t add any discernible flavor to the soup but are common ingredients in traditional soups – they are supposed to relieve internal heat and soothe coughs.

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Creamy Banana Bread

I am still enjoying having an oven again.  Bought some bananas before Thanksgiving and forgot all about them.  In the hot and humid country where I now live, they had gone all spotty and brown in just a few days. Perfect time to make Banana Bread!

This banana bread is great for breakfast or tea time.  It is incredibly moist due to the sour cream.  If you don’t have any sour cream on hand, the recipe works too without it – just not so moist.

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1/2 cup or 125 g butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup bananas, mashed (2 or 3 bananas)
2 eggs
1 and 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup nuts, chopped (optional)

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 deg C).  Cream butter and sugar together.

2. Mix in vanilla, bananas and eggs.

3. Sift flour, baking soda and salt together and blend in with the other ingredients.

4. Add sour cream and nuts.  Blend well to make sure the sour cream is evenly distributed.

5. Pour into a loaf pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 and 1/4 hours, depending on the efficiency of your oven.  Test for done-ness by putting a toothpick in the loaf and it is done if it comes out clean with no wet bits sticking to it.  Makes 10 thick slices.

Apple and Pear Crumble

I moved countries and have not updated my blog in months.  You know how it is, you move to a different place and it takes forever to get back into a routine.  I actually have been cooking and taking lots of photos so I have a huge backlog of stuff.  I can’t promise but I am going to be more diligent in posting in the next few weeks.

Now I am back to living in Singapore – in an apartment where I have an oven again.  I can’t even begin to describe how much I had missed baking.  It is not just about making cookies or banana bread, but the sheer joy of sitting down to a quick meal of baked chicken when I don’t have time to chop up bits of vegetables or slice meat for a Chinese stir fry.   Not to mention the ability to prepare a home-cooked turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

The first thing I did was to make a crumble with apples and pears.  This is a wonderful dessert and fun to make.    Watching and waiting for the crisp buttery shortbread crust to turn a golden brown, I can’t wait to polish off  the whole lot.   It is that good!

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For the crumble:

220 g plain flour

140 g sugar

120 g butter, chopped into small cubes

For the filling:

2 pears – peeled, cored and sliced

2 apples – peeled, cored and sliced

2 Tbsp sugar

80 ml water

Method:

1.  Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

2. To make the crumble, put the flour and sugar into a large bowl and mix well.  Rub the flour and butter using your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

3.  Arrange the pear and apple slices in a baking dish.  Sprinkle the sugar over it.  Pour water into the dish.

4.  Spoon the crumble on top, spreading it right up to the edges of the dish.  Using the back of the spoon to press it firmly down – the more tightly packed it is, the crisper it will be.

5.  Run a fork lightly over the surface to “crumble” the top.

6.  Bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until the crumble is browned and the fruit mixture is bubbling.

7.  Serve with vanilla ice cream.  Enjoy!

Grandma’s Chicken Soup

This chicken soup will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. As the soup simmers, a rich, mouth-watering aroma wafts through the air, teasing and testing your patience against the clock. Imagine supple chunks of chicken, flavorful red wolfberries (attractive and also nourishing to your body!), and black shiitake mushrooms in a clear golden broth.

Whenever the whole extended family gets together to celebrate festive occasions like Dragon Boat Festival or Winter Festival, my mother-in-law will prepare this soup with a whole chicken; a very big pot for 10-12 people! For the kids and I, Grandma’s Famous Chicken Soup is no ordinary soup but is synonymous with feeling of the love and warmth of family reunion. Here’s how to cook the delicious broth in a small kitchen using 3 big chicken thighs (with attached drumsticks).

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Ingredients:

3  chicken thighs with drumsticks

2 – 3 pieces dried scallops (soaked overnight)

2 pieces of dried shiitake mushrooms (soaked overnight)

1 small piece of pork, about 30 grams, cut into smaller chunks

a handful of wolfberries (washed and drained)

10 cups of water

2 stalks of spring onion

1 small piece of fresh ginger, about the size of a quarter (25 cents coin)

 salt to taste

Method:

1.  Wash and soak the dried shiitake mushrooms overnight.   Throw away the water in which you soaked the mushrooms. Cut the mushrooms into small cubes.

2.  Wash and soak the dried scallops overnight in a cup of water.   Keep the water in which the dried scallops are soaked, it can be added to the soup.

3.   Remove the chicken skin by peeling it back over the drumstick and pulling it out at the leg bone part.  Wash and put the chicken pieces aside.

4.  Cover the pork in a bit of water and parboil it for a few minutes to get rid of the blood and scum.  Throw away the water.

5.  Put the chicken pieces into the pot with the pork.  Add all the other ingredients, 10 cups of fresh water and the water in which you soaked the dried scallops.  Cook over medium high heat for half an hour or until it becomes a rolling boil.   Reduce the heat and boil for another 1 hour.

6.  If necessary, add in 1 – 2 more cups of water towards the last half hour of the cooking period if you noticed that too much water had evaporated.

Hint:

If you had forgotten to soak the dried shiitake mushrooms or the dried scallops the night before, you can soak them in hot water (separately) at least 2 hours before cooking and it would be almost as good. Enjoy! 🙂

Steamed Eggs

Steamed Eggs is deceptively simple to make.  Yet, it is so difficult to achieve that smooth, velvety texture that cuts cleanly when you dig in with a spoon. Like a silken tofu yet taste like a savory, custardy mouthful – so comforting and delicious to go with rice!  It is sometimes called Steamed Water Eggs because traditionally it is made with water. Some people like to add minced pork or seafood to this dish.  But I like mine made with just eggs and chicken broth.

I actually spent years trying to make the perfect Steamed Eggs – no more of that pock-marked surface or rubbery texture ….. all to no avail – until one day, my my mother-in-law told me the secret which I will tell you in this post.

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4 eggs
chicken broth or water

1. For a lower cholesterol recipe, use one egg and 3 egg whites.
2. Beat the eggs and pour into a shallow dish.
3. Stir in enough chicken broth (or water) to cover 1 cm over the level of the egg mixture that is already in the dish.
4. Use a spoon to remove as much of the froth as possible.
5. Cover the dish with a pot lid or an over-turned flat plate. This is the key to the silky smooth texture.
6. Put the covered dish into the steamer and steam it on medium heat for about 8 minutes. If your stove is on too high, it might cook faster than 8 minutes so it is a good idea to check after 6 minutes. The steamed eggs are done when the color has changed to a light opaque yellow and the center doesn’t wiggle.  (One reason why I prefer to use a glass pot lid to cover the steamed eggs is so that I can see if the center is cooked or not.)
7. If you had used water instead of chicken broth, then flavor the dish by drizzling a dash of sesame oil and light soy sauce on top. Best eaten with rice.

Long Beans and Minced Pork

Chinese long beans come in long bundles, each string is about 1 – 2 feet long.  You can also use string beans for this recipe. I like to add a small portion of “zar choi” (Cantonese pronunciation) or “zha cai” (Mandarin pronunciation) to this recipe.  Zha Cai can be bought at the Chinese market.  It is actually some sort of pressed mustard that has been salted and preserved with chili paste, hence it can be kept refrigerated for up to a year or longer.  You cut off a small piece whenever a recipe calls for it, wash off the chili paste and chop it up.  It adds a nice zing of sweet, spicy, salty or sour to your dish.

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1 bundle of long beans – cut into 2 inch pieces
4 oz or 120 g minced pork
1-2 Tbsp chopped pickled mustard “zha cai” (榨菜) – optional
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 – 2 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 Tbsp cooking oil

Marinate for minced pork
1 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp corn starch
1 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp water

Method
1. Marinate the minced pork with soy sauce, sugar, salt, pepper, corn starch, sesame oil and water for at least half an hour before cooking. Stir in the zha cai.
2. Wash and cut up the long beans into 1 inch long pieces. Discard the pieces with black spots.
3. Blanch the long beans in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. This step cuts down on the amount of oil and cooking time you would need to cook the long beans during the stir fry step.
4. Drain the long beans.
5. Heat up 2 Tbsp cooking oil in a pan. Add the minced garlic and fry for 10 seconds, then add the blanched and drained long beans. Add 1/2 tsp salt to the long beans and stir fry for about 5 minutes.
6. Add the marinated minced pork mixture to the pan and fry together with the long beans. Add 1-2 Tbsp oyster sauce. Stir fry until the pork is done. If it looks a bit dry, add a bit of water so that it doesn’t stick to the pan.
7. Dish up and serve with rice.

Steam Fish with Tofu

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This is one of my favorite dishes – simply because it is so easy to prepare! And it takes only 8 minutes to cook. I like to use either a red garouper or green garouper or a sesame garouper. A pomfret works well too. I also like to steam it together with tofu – makes for a more substantial meal and tofu goes so well with the steam fish gravy!

In Hong Kong street markets, the garouper is often sold live (swimming in a fish tank). You pick the one you like by pointing at the fish, then the fishmonger will scoop it up, weigh it and gives you the price. If you are ok with the price, he will de-scale and gut the fish for you.

1 fish
1 piece soft tofu (optional) – cut into cubes
1 small piece of ginger – about 1/4 inch thickness – cut into narrow strips
1-2 stalks spring onion – sliced into 1 inch strips
light soy sauce or Lee Kum Kee brand flavored soy sauce for seafood
1-2 Tbsp cooking oil

Method:
1. Trim off part of the tail and all the fins.
2. Wash the fish under running water for a minute or two until there are no more water bubbles.
3. Place the fish on a plate, with sliced ginger strips on the top and arrange pieces of soft tofu around it.
4. Steam the fish and tofu for 8 minutes.
5. While the fish is in the steamer, heat up 1 or 2 Tbsp of cooking oil.
6. Check the fish after 8 minutes. It might take a bit longer if your fish is big. The fish is cooked when you poke a bit of its flesh and it is white and opaque. It is important not to overcook the fish.
7. Immediately turn off the stove. Sprinkle the spring onions on top of the fish, drizzle with soy sauce and sizzling hot cooking oil.