I first learned how to use Asian spices from my best friend’s late mother whom I dearly called Auntie Wong.
Growing up in Malaysia, Auntie Wong was an acrobat in a circus, and later became a self-trained dentist. ‘How do you install a denture for an old lady without a single tooth,’ she laughed,’ luckily I was young and good looking then, I asked male dentists for helps and was never refused’.
Auntie Wong migrated to Australia in early 1980s with her three daughters. She ran a small take away shop in Glebe, an inner Sydney suburb, selling Malaysian fast food. To supplement the limited income from the shop, in the evenings she made spring rolls for catering companies. My friend Mei, the youngest daughter, helped with the spring rolls while she was still in primary school.
Some years later, Auntie Wong saved up enough money and bought a studio apartment. Auntie and Mei lived there for many years, sharing a bed. In their tiny but always welcoming home, Auntie Wong cooked me many heart-warming meals. The smell of delicious food filled the small space, and what a wonderful place it was. My favorite dishes were the Singapore meat and bone soup, noodles with salmon XO sauce, and fried rice with Indian spices.
While enjoying meals, auntie told me many of her life stories. I was always inspired by her amazing abilities to adopt to changes, and her keen spirit for new adventures.
Here is my version of a spiced fried rice – simple, aromatic and satisfying, with fond memory of Auntie Wong’s kindness and love. Read the rest of this entry »
Cantonese love soups.
There are soups for every weather condition, every season and very occasion. There are soups to warm your body, or to cool your temper. The key to a good soup is to balance all the ingredients for maximum nurturing effect. Snow fungus with goji and chicken is one of these well-balanced soups that can rejuvenate your mind and soul.
Snow fungus, also known as the silver fungus, is sometimes recognized as the champion of all fungus. Historically it was used by the royals and rich families as a remedy to boost their health, with supposedly nurturing effects for internal organs, skin and brain, as well as anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor effects.
Goji berries as a herbal remedy, was documented in various ancient Chinese medicine compendiums dated as early as the 1500’s. Today, it is a common Chinese ingredient with supposedly positive effects on liver, kidney, sore back, joints, tiredness and poor eye sight. Families use it frequently in soups and teas.
Sounds like a magic, doesn’t it. The soup is warm, gentle and comforting. Hope you will like it.
Easy method is as follows:
Winter is finally here, and it rained most days last week. This means it was very uncomfortable for our rough sleepers, with many of them having to seek shelter at temporary accommodation. However, I was assured that they would not miss our homemade hot meals on Saturday night. So I made an extra effort to provide them with some nice food – apricot chicken, prawn and chorizo pilau, and chicken siumai dumplings.
Although time consuming, chicken siumai dumplings are very easy to make. My simplest version has only a few key ingredients – wonton wrappers, chicken mince, chicken bouillon powder, salt and white pepper, and cooking oil for pan frying.
I first made the meat filling, then the dumplings. I steamed the dumplings, following by pan-frying the dumplings slightly, so they won’t stick during transit to the homeless feed.
The easy method is illustrated as follows:
As the years went by, I found myself complaining more – the traffic, the bad drivers, so many conflicts around the world. Why can’t everyone just do the right thing, and the world could be a better place?
Some days, I thought I might have turned into a cranky person, like Mr. Chen.
Mr. Chen was a university friend to my father. During the culture revolution, his family was labeled as the enemy of the state. His house was searched, and wealth stripped; his father was prosecuted and thrown into jail; and Mr. Chen himself without a job or means to support himself. Like many others ahead of him, he took the dangerous journey to the Pearl River Delta, jumped into the river, and swam across the sea to seek freedom. He was shot at by the soldiers, but fortunately landed safely in Hong Kong. Worked as an engineer, he married a lady 10 years younger. He was very fond of Mrs. Chen and constantly praised her achievements, such as being able to speak fluent English, and had worked as an executive assistant to a hotel general manager.
The Chens migrated to Australia in early 1980s. With their savings, they bought a small grocery store at Rose Bay and an apartment at Point Piper, both are rich suburbs of Sydney. Their apartment, although had wonderful views of the Sydney harbor, was dark, miserable, and quite a mess.
When I arrived in Australia in late 1987, my father asked the Chens to provide me with guidance and helps. Whenever Mr. Chen had the opportunity, he would talk about Chinese politic. He spoke with the deepest anger and hatred, teeth crunching and fist waving. He yelled at me from time to time, for my lack of interest of his topics, and I did not keep my mouth firmly shut.
Within a few months, I found a job at a Chinese restaurant. The restaurant specialized in mid-north cuisine, such as Peking ducks and spicy Sichuan dishes. The Chens had dinner in the restaurant one night, and particularly liked the Shandong shredded chicken. They asked me to get the recipe, which was refused by the chef. The Chens did not speak to me ever since.
I found out many years later, that Mr. Chen told my parents, who were afar, that I was very naughty – I enjoyed working as a waitress; and I went out for suppers with with co-workers after work.
The last time I heard of the Chens, they were running a small restaurant in a suburban office park. Every morning at 3am, Mr. Chen, then 78 of age, got out of bed to collect supplies; then he joined his wife at the restaurant to work.
I can’t say that I appreciated my experience with Mr. Chen. But I sincerely hope they are enjoying their life, and are happy.
And here is my version of a Shandong chicken, recalling the ingredients and method I learnt from the restaurant. I first placed the chicken in brine overnight, then shallow-fried the chicken with soy sauce, steamed the chicken, shredded the chicken, and served the chicken with a tangy and spicy sauce.
The most important element of this dish is the sauce. It is sweet, sour, salty and spicy – just like life, never boring.
Recipe and easy steps are as follows:
Meals for the homeless – chicken and apricot terrine, with ham fat, raisin, strawberry jam, thyme and bay leaf
Last Saturday my 10 year old boy bought a ham for the homeless feed out of his own pocket money. He and his dad sliced up the ham and left a pile of ham fat behind.
This Saturday was the Christmas dinner for our homeless friends. So I made this colorful chicken terrine with left over ham fat. I also added apricot, raisin, saute onion, corn kennel, cumin powder, cinnamon powder, thyme, bay leaf, strawberry jam, salt and black pepper.
Looks and tasted great, and so easy and cheap to make.
Here is a simple and delicious chicken drumsticks I cooked this afternoon, FODMAP friendly too.
I first frenched and marinated the chicken legs (skin on) overnight, with a dash of BBQ sauce, a dash of Hoisin sauce, a dash of soy, a dash of sesame oil, a dash of maple syrup and some turmeric and cumin; The next day I roasted the drumsticks in oven; Once fully cooked, I heated up a frying pan with some cooking oil, rolled the drumsticks in hot oil then added a splash of dark soy sauce. The smell was delicious.
I had been waiting for my cactus flowers ‘tanhua’ to bloom. Such beautiful dedicate living wonders, with flowers only open up for one precious night.
The unusual weeks of Sydney rain stopped briefly on Sunday afternoon. The flowers quietly bloomed during the night. I harvested 3 flowers, but hesitated on the thoughts of making a soup, Traditionally, the flowers are sun dried, then boiled with meat for hours, ending up all marshy and grey like the rainy weather. What a depressing thought.
I gently washed and sliced the flowers into quarters. I dropped the flowers into a saucepan of water with thinly julienne chicken breast; brought it to a boil, added a dash of sesame oil, a dash of dark soy sauce and a few pinches of white pepper. The soup was done in 3 minutes.
And here it was, a simple soup to show my appreciation of these natural beauties.