October 31, 2010

Another Great Loaf

I love the tactile nature of kneading and shaping bread dough. I love watching how the dough grows and browns in the oven. I love the aroma of freshly baked bread. I love eating bread – even more so for whole-wheat bread.

Wholemeal Bread Loaf II

As I’m in my early years of bread making, I can tell you that in comparison to other more skilled and experienced bread bakers, I’ve tried just a small handful of methods – when there are gobs of methods for making good bread out there. The tangzhong (or water-roux) method (湯種法) has been one of my top choices. It works for me. My bread and buns made with tangzhong, if stored properly, normally stay soft for 3 days.

Aside from my favorite recipe for whole-wheat bread made via the tangzhong method, sometimes, I do love to give other recipes and methods a try.

I’m sure bread bakers who are into making East Asian-style rich bread would probably have heard of or even own the book “孟老師的100道麵包” (“100 Bread Recipes by Madam Meng”). And I’m sure many of these bakers have also tried the whole-wheat bread recipe from the book, including Happy Homebaker, Aimei and Grace F.

Image courtesy of 王朝網路
(Sorry, folks! I can’t remember the others. Why? Because I read all these blog posts on this particular recipe back in 2008! By the way, why the rich bread East Asian? I’d spent 32 months in the States, and can assure you that this kind of rich bread is only popular in most parts of East Asia and Southeast Asia, as well as in the clusters of East Asian communities formed across the U.S. and Canada. Think of the Chinatown bakeries there.)

Madam Meng’s recipe instructs you to make bread via the sponge method (中種). The whole-wheat sponge is tacky to touch. Overall, it's still rather easy to handle.

Wholemeal Bread Loaf II

Just like the one made with tangzhong, the whole-wheat bread produced by Madam Meng’s recipe comes out just as fantastic! The bread has just the right softness to be considered truly whole-wheat and home-made. And, the qualities stay for about 3 days. The moment I had my first slice of this whole-wheat loaf, her recipe shot straight up the list to become a favorite of mine after the tangzhong whole-wheat bread recipe.

Besides this recipe, I still have many other areas in bread making that I’d love to delve into, including European artisan breads and some other American classics. Lately, I saw a funny obsession in me for books on artisan bread making (and traditional Malaysian cooking). I was over the moon when I received a copy of “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart. Definitely a very sweet gesture from a lovely friend. (Hey! If you’re reading this, thank you!)

Image courtesy of goodreads
Bread making is a sensual pleasure without vice. If you prefer soft bread that has a slight chew to it due to the presence of fiber, this is the recipe! Many fellow bloggers – and now, me – have affirmed that this recipe is an absolute keeper. Hope you get to try it!


Wholemeal Bread Loaf II

Whole-Wheat Bread 全麥土司
Adapted from “100 Bread Recipes by Madam Meng,” by Zhaoqing Meng   改自《孟老師的100道麵包》。孟兆慶著
Makes one 20 cm (L) x 11 cm (W) x 11 cm (H) loaf


* I'm posting this recipe almost word for word from the book. The reason being that you may have success with the dough rising almost to or over the rim of the loaf pan by following the original recipe. In contrast, I've never had successful attempts at making a square loaf or getting an over-the-rim height for a loaf with any original recipe. I wish the same will never happen to you. *

(A)
120 g whole-wheat flour
85 g bread flour
1 Tbsp wheat bran
* I either replace this with oat bran or quick oats, or totally omit this. *
4 g instant yeast
130 g water — at room temperature will do

(B)
85 g bread flour
15 g granulated sugar
* I sometimes use brown sugar. *
1 tsp salt
10 g powdered milk
50 g water — at room temperature will do

15 g cold unsalted butter — cut into smaller cubes
  1. For the sponge (中種): place (A) into a large mixing bowl and mix together till a dough forms. Then, cover the mixing bowl with a sheet of cling wrap and set aside to proof for 90 minutes.
  2. After proofing the sponge for 90 minutes, knead in (B) thoroughly. Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead till gluten has developed. Then, knead in the cold cubed butter till incorporated. Knead the dough further till it’s elastic and has reached the windowpane stage – i.e. a thin "membrane" can be formed by slowly, gently pulling the dough out towards opposite directions.
  3. Round the dough up and place it into a greased bowl; cover and let it proof till it's doubled in size. To know whether it's doubled in size, dip your finger in some bread or plain flour and gently, slowly poke into the dough--of course, don't puncture it! If an indentation remains at where you poked your finger in, this means proofing is sufficient; otherwise, if that spot bounces back, let it proof further till the dough is double in size.
  4. On a lightly floured counter, deflate and divide the dough into three equal portions. Next, round them up and cover with cling wrap to let rest for 15 minutes.
  5. To each portion of the dough, with a lightly floured rolling pin, flatten up and roughly roll out into an olive-like oval or a rectangular shape (about 10 cm in width and 20 cm in length). Next, roll it up tightly from the shorter ends – like how you’d do for a roulade; pinch the seams to seal the dough tightly. It might be slightly challenging to shape whole-wheat bread dough. Lightly dust your hands with flour, if and as necessary.
  6. Arrange the shaped dough in a greased 20 cm (L) x 11 cm (W) x 11 cm (H) Pullman loaf pan starting from the center – till the pan has been filled up – leaving some room in between them for expansion. Whole-wheat bread dough doesn't rise as much as plain white bread dough does. Plus, I actually never follow any bread loaf recipe verbatim. When I'm aiming for a square or any super tall loaf that can actually rise almost to or over the rim of the loaf pan, I always ensure the dough placed into the loaf pan actually has:
    •  1/3 or a little over 1/3 the height of the loaf pan, for a square loaf;
    •  at least 1/2 the height of the loaf pan, for a bread loaf that has "humps" (i.e. its height is taller than the height of the loaf pan). It should look something like this:
    Weekend Project #4: Braided Banana-Oatmeal Tangzhong Bread Loaf 香蕉燕麥湯種土司
    Just so you wonder, I’ve not blogged about this loaf. And, I still have gobs of bread recipes in my piles of backlogs. (Hahaha!)
  7. Cover the Pullman loaf pan with cling wrap and let the dough proof till it's taken 90 percent of the overall capacity of the loaf pan. (If you want a square loaf, cover the pan –leaving 4 to 5 cm of "hole" for you to peek in – with the lid that comes with the Pullman loaf pan before the second round of proofing – it should be right underneath the piece of cling wrap.)
  8. For those who want a square loaf, slide the lid to cover the loaf pan completely. For those who don't plan on using the lid to make a square loaf, you can brush the loaf with some slightly beaten egg if you want a glossy finish to the bread.
  9. Bake at 200°C for 30 minutes or till the bread is golden brown and cooked through.
  10. Remove from the oven and immediately unmold the bread from the loaf pan. Transfer the bread to wire rack to let cool completely. Slice to serve and/or store airtight once the bread is cooled.

October 24, 2010

A Toast to the Greatest Man in My Life!

Albeit having entered early adulthood, sometimes, this 23-year-old needs to unmask the pensive and often stern look on her face. Every so often, she loves acting silly in front of the people she trusts the most. It feels good to just open herself up and be a little girl again.

(On a Thursday evening, in the family hall, with the television turned on. The daughter seated herself next to her father, who was trying to watch the newscast in peace. There was some distance between them.)

Pei-Lin: Papa, can I disturb you for just a few minutes? Let me talk, please?

Father: (With a slightly irritated and dismayed look) Alright …

Pei-Lin: Papa, why not I treat you to a dinner this Sunday?

Father: I don’t need you to treat me.

Pei-Lin: (Feeling a bit upset) Why!? I’m using my own money to treat you this time around. Anything wrong with that!? You know your Big Day is coming soon …

Father: (Eyebrow raised) It doesn’t matter. Turning 60 or 61 … Everything will still be the same. THAT day will be just like ANY other day. I’m still me.

(The daughter chuckled while thinking to herself: “Yea, you ARE still my dad … A 61-year-old man! Heck, my father is getting old!” A few seconds of silence followed.)

Pei-Lin: (Staring at the old man) Can I give you a hug, please? Please? Please?

Father: No! Don’t you give me that goofy, misty look! You’re giving me goose bumps! Goodness, you’re already a big girl!

(In spite of his resistance, the daughter, feeling rebellious, gave her father a hug and said: “I love you! I can’t believe you’re turning 61! Do you know you’re old?”)

Father: ENOUGH!

(Feeling happy and satisfied, the daughter giggled and fled upstairs, yelling “good night!” Then, off she went into her room and slammed the door shut.)


These days, that’s how my dad and I would usually talk to each other: Our conversations are marked by heavy use of facial and body expressions, brevity, soberness, and intervals of silence. Reminiscing my younger days, I realized today’s are a far cry from yesterday’s.

My dad has an obsession for China. He’d cajole little Pei-Lin. The next thing was to find this father and daughter sitting next to each other, watching documentaries on Chinese history and culture together. There would be a long discussion about China every time … until the daughter finally lost her patience and ran away. (Haha!)

Little Pei-Lin & the Greatest Man in Her Life
1988
The older my dad gets, the more lenient of a parent he’s becoming. Compared to what I had — that is, the physical-punishment-with-no-computer-and-only-two-hours-of-TV-per-day era, my youngest sibling receives more liberty, and less supervision and coaching in his studies. Sometimes, I’d say to myself, “Wow, Papa HAS loosened up the House Rules!” (Or maybe the rules don’t exist anymore!?)

Now that he’s officially entered his 60s, I can’t help but to shake my head and admit that he’s slowly becoming like my late grandpa. He’s been caught many a time dozing off before the TV or while reading the paper. He’s been spotted munching on what I label as “highly commercialized junk food” that's loaded with additives. He’s inherited those “innocent” traits from my late grandpa! Goodness, my dad is also becoming an aged urchin!

Fish Congee, Served With Fried Shallots & Chopped Fresh Scallions 魚粥與炸油蔥和蔥花

When I think of my dad, I think of rice congee (粥). Rice congee is his favorite food; he can down two big bowls of it in one sitting. And because in our region, rice congee is usually associated with the Teochew (潮州人), this seemingly odd trait of my Cantonese (廣府人) father has always intrigued my Teochew mom and her family. She once told me that when my dad paid his first visit to the in-laws, my late maternal grandma, being a pure Teochew immigrant from China herself, prepared a big pot of plain rice congee and a few side dishes to go together as a meal. According to my mom, it’s a very Teochew way to serve guests. Sure enough, he was and is worthy of his name as a "粥桶" (loose translation: bucket for storing rice congee), which really means a rice congee junkie. Her family witnessed him washing down the meal with bowls of the rice congee. They were impressed. (Haha!)

Sadly, although I do take rice congee, I’m never a fan of Teochew rice congee, which is, to me, merely cooked rice that’s served in almost-murky water. No wonder in the predominantly Minnan Taiwan, rice congee is known as "稀飯" instead, which literally means “thin rice.” The same goes to my dad. We prefer Cantonese-style rice congee, which is neither too thin nor too thick; however, mine is always thicker than his!

No birthday celebration – yup, that’s my dad – a very simple man to please indeed! This fish rice congee is dedicated to him: a simple comfort food that’s so dear to his heart stomach. And, to the greatest and most influential man in my life:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PAPA!

Fish Congee, Served With Fried Shallots & Chopped Fresh Scallions 魚粥與炸油蔥和蔥花
Sorry for a not-so-relevant picture this time -- thanks to my itchy hands and brain that modified the recipe! Hehehe ...
Teochew-Style Fish Rice Congee 潮式魚粥
Adapted from “Reviving Local Dialect Cuisines (sic),” by Pang Nyuk Yoon   改自《回味籍貫菜》。彭玉芸著

Note: As the name of the dish implies, the original recipe is meant to be Teochew. But to suit our palates, I’d altered it so much that mine wasn’t Teochew anymore. (Haha!) I’ve actually forgotten how far the recipe was taken to; therefore, I’m not sharing mine over here. Nonetheless, I’ll include the original version. Cooking is a live science. So, adjust the recipe to suit your liking, especially when you yourself also aren’t a fan of the watery Teochew rice congee. (Haha!)

(A)
400 g thick slices of narrow-barred Spanish mackerel (ikan tenggiri batang) – with its scale removed of course; washed to clean thoroughly; drained well
Enough salt – to taste
Enough cornstarch – to taste
Enough water – amount adjusted as necessary

300 g jasmine rice, a.k.a. Thai fragrant rice 泰國香米
500 mL water

(B)
2 L chicken or fish broth
½ Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp granular chicken or anchovy bouillon 雞或魚粉
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp sesame oil 麻油
1 tsp ground white pepper

(C)
30 g ginger – peeled and shredded
Enough Chinese celery 芹菜 – chopped
* I skipped this. *
Enough scallion(s) – finely chopped
1 stalk lettuce
* I skipped this. *
1 small piece of toasted edible seaweed 紫菜 
* I skipped this. *

Enough shallot(s) – peeled and sliced thinly
Enough cooking oil – for deep-frying the shallots
  1. Toss (A) together and set aside.
  2. Rinse the rice; drain. Then, transfer it into a deep kettle/saucepan and add the 500 mL water. Bring them together to a boil over high heat. Now, lower the heat to medium and cook till the rice grain has “swollen.” Remove the kettle from the heat; drain well. Set the rice aside.
    * You can water your plants with the batches of water used for washing and cooking the rice. By then, the water should carry more nutrients that are good for your plants. Just make sure that the water is completely cooled before use. You don’t want to scald your lovely plants, do you? *
     
  3. Combine (B) together and pour into a deep kettle/saucepan. Over high heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Add the marinated fish slices and “swollen” rice, bring to a boil once more.
  4. In the meantime, heat up a small skillet over medium-high heat. Pour in enough oil to the hot skillet and wait briefly to have the oil heated up. Add the sliced shallots and fry till golden brown and crisp. Turn off the heat; dish out, including the oil used for frying the shallots. Set aside.
  5. To the kettle of congee, turn off the heat to stop boiling it. Dish out the congee and some fish to be enjoyed along. Top everything with (C), as well enough fried shallots (炸香蔥頭片) and shallot oil (蔥油) from step #4. Serve immediately.

October 17, 2010

A New Friend and Her Homey Dish: Steamed Chicken With Fermented Tofu 腐乳蒸雞

Something happened during the same week in which I published a blog entry about my birthday. It may seem insignificant to others. But to me, it carried significant weight. I checked my mails one morning before leaving for work … just to find myself getting surprised by the birthday message from Siukwan, a fellow food blogger from Hong Kong.

Surprised!? Yes, as that was totally unexpected! I was over the moon when I saw the sweet note that Siukwan had dropped me. In fact, her words made me smile for pretty much the whole morning. I appreciate all other comments nonetheless. Please don’t get me wrong; every message I’ve gotten thus far is equally meaningful.

Steamed Chicken With Preserved Tofu 腐乳蒸雞

By nature, since I don’t have much time to waste, I’m a minimalist both in the kitchen and at the dining table. I’d treat myself to some lavish home-made dishes or desserts only during weekends. When I began taking baking and cooking seriously back in 2007, I was a silent food blog reader who never really bothered to leave comments. (Haha! I was ruthless, huh?)

Mulling over those days, I realized the first blogs that I read regularly have influenced me a lot. As I didn’t own any cookbook, I relied on these bloggers heavily. Siukwan’s blog was one of them, and has been with me since mid-2008. I’ve forgotten how I stumbled upon her blog back then, though.

What pulls me back to Siukwan’s Kitchen? Friendly recipes, mouthwatering dishes that make great use of the most basic of all ingredients and seasonings, awesome styling and photography, as well as her sense of humor and witty writing. (If you can read traditional Chinese characters and understand Cantonese, I’m sure you’ll find her writing fun to read.) The simple, clean and uncluttered design of her blog is another factor, too. Her virtual kitchen gives me that warm homey feel I look forward to.

I’m a slow blogger. Retrospecting the archives, however, made me realize that I’d actually blogged about five of all the recipes I’d adapted from Siukwan’s Kitchen. They’ve been recreated over and over again in my kitchens – in northern Minnesota and Malaysia:

Cantonese steamed egg custard 鮮奶燉蛋

Fried Chicken With Lemon Sauce, Cantonese-Style 西檸煎軟雞

    Chinese-style baked spare ribs 金沙排骨

      Cantonese brown sugar "claypot" rice pudding with adzuki (red) beans 黃糖紅豆“砵仔”糕

          Steamed Chinese Black Bean Spare Ribs with Steamed Rice 豉汁排骨蒸飯

            I have yet to blog about some other recipes from Siukwan’s Kitchen, all of which I’ve tried replicating a few times. For now, retrieving from my piles of backlogs, allow me to present to you another recipe from her kitchen: steamed chicken with fermented tofu (腐乳蒸雞).

            This has become a favorite dish of mine. While Siukwan uses chicken wings, I’ve used chicken thighs, drumsticks, and even chicken breasts to prepare this dish. The whole idea of this dish works fine with just about any part of the chicken that I can lay my hands on whenever I go shopping at the neighborhood’s wet market or supermarkets. (Nonetheless, I’m aware that some people just aren’t fans of the chicken breast. This is especially true in our region, where the chicken thigh and drumstick are prized. In America, I saw quite the opposite.)

            Steamed Chicken With Preserved Tofu 腐乳蒸雞

            With just those few basic ingredients and seasonings in a Chinese kitchen, what you need to do next is marinating the fowl with the other ingredients for a while before steaming it. What a healthy way to fix a healthy dish! Compared to other chicken dishes, this particular one feels relatively “lighter.” (A meaty dish can never be described as light, huh?)

            The unique, complex and yet humble flavors of the salty fermented tofu (腐乳) accentuate the sweetness of the meat. This dish goes very well with steamed rice. My brother even slurped up the gravy in one sitting!

            Image courtesy of Wang's Oriental Food Store. I love fermented tofu. It’s an acquired taste. There are varieties to this traditional Chinese delicacy that you can choose from. I use plain “white” fermented tofu (白腐乳) for this dish. You can try experimenting with other varieties, too; however, I don’t recommend that.

            Like I said, cooking is a live science. So, eyeball and adjust things to your liking as you play along with the recipe. And before I forget, don’t skip the scallion for the slight pungency and savory touch that it brings!

            (Scroll further down for the recipe, if you’re interested in trying out this dish.)


            P.S. 小軍,現在妳知道原來這幾年來一直都有一個小粉絲默默的支持妳的靚餸。衰在我不曾想過在妳的部落格留言給妳。唉!我這個冷血動物。。。妳那天留下的祝福語打動了我。其實我舊年就已經知道妳的相公是和我在同一日慶祝“大壽”架!哈哈!無論如何,佩琳在此感激妳不斷的與志同道合的朋友們分享妳的烹飪和烘焙快樂。我亦要多謝妳默默的讀我的部落格。我又不知道要如何縮短我的馬拉松式長篇。哈哈哈!總之各有各的忙,大家要努力加油喇!若果有時間,我會來妳的廚房探妳和吃頓家常便飯架!



            Steamed Chicken With Preserved Tofu 腐乳蒸雞

            Steamed Chicken With Fermented Tofu 腐乳蒸雞
            Adapted from Siukwan’s 

            6 chicken drumettes

            (A)
            1 piece preserved tofu (腐乳) – mashed
            * I use the plain “white” variety (白腐乳). *
             
            ¼ Tbsp brine that comes with the fermented tofu (腐乳汁)
            ¾ tsp minced garlic
            1¼ tsp cornstarch
            ½ tsp sesame oil (麻油)
            ½ tsp regular cooking oil (i.e. one that’s neutrally flavored, e.g. vegetable oil)
            1 tsp granulated sugar
            ¾ tsp salt

            Enough scallion(s) – finely chopped
            1. Wash to clean the chicken drumettes really well, and then pat dry. Now, “score” to make two or three slits over each drumette.
            2. In a big bowl, combine (A) and the drumettes together; cover and set aside to marinate for 1 hour.
              * I’ve tried marinating mine in the fridge overnight. I store the drumettes and marinade in an airtight container, or place them in a bowl or the steaming dish that I’ll be using, and cover the whole deal with cling wrap. The longer the chicken gets marinated, the tastier and more flavorful it will be. *
               
            3. Over high heat, bring the water in the steamer or wok to a rolling boil. Transfer the chicken and marinade to a steaming dish. Steam it over high heat, indirectly above the boiling water (say about 2 inches above), for 15~20 minutes or till the meat is cooked through. I check the meat’s doneness by poking a chopstick into the fleshiest part of any one of the drumettes – the meat is cooked when the juice from within runs clear.
            4. Remove the dish from the steamer. Yields quite an amount of gravy actually. So, you may want to pour the gravy into another vessel to serve separately. Next, sprinkle some finely chopped scallion(s) on top of the chicken. Serve immediately.

            October 10, 2010

            Begedel Ikan and a Letter to My Readers


            Dear Reader:

            If you've noticed, I’ve not been writing on this journal of mine as regularly as I did on my first days of blogging. Now, bear with me and let me grumble for a little before I can shut up …

            On weekdays, work takes up three-fourths of my waking hours. And by the time I reach home, I’d allocate some of my remaining waking hours to complete other tasks I don’t get around to work on otherwise. At the end of the day, my brain is, literally, almost defunct.

            If you don’t mind, let me share with you another interesting way of life of living in Kuala Lumpur (K.L.). At work, a few colleagues and I jokingly lamented about how KL-ites waste spend most of their time on the road. A kind-hearted colleague, who takes an earlier shift, would send us text message just to inform us about the traffic on the road while on his way home. Haha!

            Though I just started out driving not long ago, I’d already had one of the worst episodes ever: I was stuck in an after-rain gridlock for 1 hour before I could reach home – when all it normally takes is just 20 minutes. Anyway, K.L. is known for its severe traffic problems. Hmmm … I bet the locals have grown accustomed to all these.

            A common scene in K.L., especially during rush hours. This is along the stretch of highway I travel on to get to work. (Image courtesy of The Star Malaysia)
            Now that you know why I’ve been inactive over here, huh? To keep myself sane, I take blogging and visiting blogs at my pace. It’s not that I want to behave naïvely or that I’m trying to whimper and whine about my life. I just feel obliged to let you know what’s happening on my side – just so you wonder, “Where the heck is Pei-Lin?”

            Enough of my grumbling. Now, what I do want to say is I’m overwhelmed by the warm and encouraging words that you had given me for my birthday. Thank you! For the last week, I came home from work finding myself reading about these lovely messages. You have made my day week and put me to a pretty good sleep every night.

            In the meantime, do bear with me, though, if you’ve noticed I’m getting slow at replying to comments, questions and emails. Oftentimes, it’s not that I don’t want to respond to any incoming messages. It’s just that I’m burned out; hence, the forgetfulness. If I’ve somehow made you believe that I’m an unfriendly person, I apologize.

            Begedel Ikan (Fish Croquettes)

            In this virtual world called the Internet, to show my gratitude, I’d like to share with you these Indonesian fish croquettes, or begedel ikan in Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia. Croquettes have now become a common dish in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. As a matter of fact, there are myriad ways to make croquettes. I’ve seen some recipes that yield baked croquettes instead of deep-fried ones, which I think should be healthier due to the much-lower fat content:
            The word ‘begedel’ is of Dutch heritage, but the French word ‘croquette’ is a more familiar term to most Westerners. Potatoes are usually involved, although in some regions only fresh breadcrumbs are used. Versions that use seafood, beef or pork exist, and even canned fish can be used (Başan, Tan, & Laus, 2008).

            The minimalist in me went for canned fish, when canned tuna isn’t too shabby after all. Saves time and less work, too. Canned tuna has this intense, savory, stubborn fishy smell and taste that linger in my brain, dishes, mouth, hands – and shirt, if the clumsy and sloppy me happens to have the tuna and its brine spilled all over. (Canned tuna has been a must in my pantry since my college days in the States. Works well for someone with tight budget.)

            Great as a snack, or as a lunch or dinner item. Serve the croquettes with your favorite chili sauce, if desired. I hope you’ll like them. If you’re interested, you may consider giving the below recipe a shot. Cooking is a live science. So, tweak it to your liking. Selamat mencuba dan berjamu selera! (In Bahasa Malaysia: Happy trying and eating!)

            Once again, thank you for being supportive all along! Have a fabulous week ahead!


            With warmest regards,
            Pei-Lin


            Begedel Ikan (Fish Croquettes)

            Fish Croquettes (Begedel Ikan)
            Adapted from "Classic Recipes, Tastes and Traditions of Indonesia and the Philippines," by Ghillie Başan, Terry Tan, and Vilma Laus


            600 g potatoes – rinsed to clean well
            450 g cod or halibut
            * I’m sure cod and halibut aren’t native to Southeast Asia. Over here, the fish are relatively more expensive since they are flown in. If I were to use fresh one, I’d opt for any one of the “local” varieties, which are more affordable. Make sure it’s white fish. *
            * I used canned tuna, as mentioned above. *
            400 mL water – for poaching the fish in; not needed if you’re using canned tuna

            2 eggs
            105 mL milk or water
            40 g all-purpose flour

            (A)
            1 tsp salt – or to taste
            Pinch of ground cloves or to taste
            ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper – or to taste
            1 scallion – finely chopped
            * The original recipe suggests using only the white part. I proceeded with the whole stick of scallion anyway. *

            Enough all-purpose flour – for dusting
            Enough cooking oil – for deep frying
            Chili sauce – to serve
            1. Cook the potatoes thoroughly in a pot of boiling water. Then, drain well. When they are cool enough to handle, peel and mash them very well.
              * I did this the other way round. I washed and peeled the potatoes first before having them cooked thoroughly via boiling. To check the doneness, perforate the potatoes gently with a fork. The potatoes are cooked when they give no resistance to the fork. Lastly, I mashed the potatoes up while they were still hot. Then, set them aside to cool before use. *
               
            2. Poach the fish in the 400 mL water for 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the fish and place on a plate. Flake or mash the flesh, removing any bones as you go. Then, discard the poaching water.
              * With canned tuna, you simply need to drain the whole deal, then flake or mash the flesh sans deboning the fish. *
               
            3. In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs just to break them up and mix with the milk. Add in the mashed potatoes and fish; mix well. Stir in the flour to make a thick mixture. Then, mix in (A). 
            4. Using wet or well-floured hands, shape the mixture into balls, each the size of a plum, and flatten a little on a floured counter. Dust them with flour to prevent sticking issue. 
            5. In a wok or something similar, heat up enough cooking oil for deep-frying. Then, deep-fry the croquettes in batches till golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, drain and dish them up before transferring to a plate that’s been lined with paper towel. The paper towel will absorb any excess oil in the croquettes. 
            6. In my opinion, the croquettes are best served hot or warm. You can serve them at room temperature however. They taste great when dipped in chili sauce.

            October 3, 2010

            My 23rd Year on Earth and Rocky Road Bars

            Rocky Road Bars

            It was 9 in the morning when I reached my desk in the office. The phone on my desk rang immediately.

            After exchanging a few lines on the phone, my heart sank. I could barely lift up my feet. Still, I trudged my way through and clambered up the staircase to the floor above. Something wasn’t right, I could sense that. My heart stomped for quite a bit.

            Twenty minutes thereafter, both frustration and motivation suddenly gushed from within. No matter how bitter I felt, I was and am thankful for the discourse I had with my superior. It was enlightening.

            That was, what I’d consider, both a painful and an inspiring little snippet of my life. It all happened just a few days ago. My ego and dignity were trampled upon; however, I feel blessed for the invaluable lessons learned, which were unobtainable elsewhere. Almost every day, I’d reflect upon the things that passed me by and in which I was or am still a part of. That little episode above has really gotten me ruminating on my past 1 year.

            Today marks my 23rd year on earth. Over the last few days, I kept thinking and asking myself: “What have I learned during the previous year? Have I become wiser? Have I grown up for just that wee bit to reflect how a 23-year-old should think and behave?”

            Rocky Road Bars

            Returning home from America as a jobless graduate, I started my first real job exactly a year ago. Trained to be a journalist, I found myself working to write mainly for the purpose of marketing products instead. When I was little, I’d never imagined myself becoming a writer.

            Looking back at the last 365 days, I’m pleased to conclude with the changes and serious upgrades I’ve had, be it in my career, hobbies or attitude and behavior. Those changes and upgrades would also include my gradual transition to full financial independence, as well as what you can see in this little journal of mine. It was never my intention to merge food and life together in my (lengthy) writing; it just develops naturally as I grew over the year. And hopefully, these changes are here for the better.

            Entering the workforce signifies another phase of my life. It’s going to be another long way down the road. It’s exposed me to the many facets of human personalities and behaviors, both the good and the ugly. In nature, I can be both quiet and talkative, depending on the situations given. Since we are born and molded to be different, I can’t expect myself to be liked by everyone. (Duh!)

            My mom always says, “要摸著良心處事, 要懂得潔身自愛.” (Let your conscience be your guide, and do only what you deem right.) Though I can be a stubborn daughter, these words are forever etched in my brain, so long as I’m alive. Mom, thank you so much for going through the pain of carrying me in your body for months, and for giving birth to me on this day 23 years ago! (Dad, thank you too!)


            My family hasn’t been celebrating birthdays for years. At most, we’ll just wish the Star of the Day a happy birthday. No cake whatsoever; a birthday is just like any other day. We’re happy so long as we can make it through safely. (I’ve forgotten for how long we’ve actually ceased having huge birthday celebrations.)

            Even with simple bars like these, they’re good enough for my family. We absolutely love these rocky road bars for that they are deadly chocolaty and chunky with all the pecans and walnuts. The marshmallows also lend an interesting texture to the bars: somewhat airy and yet gooey at the same time.

            Rocky Road Bars

            For me, the rocky road bars are a variation of brownies. They are somewhat dense and yet cakey. Yummy nonetheless! Underbake the bars for a little to retain that moistness. I even reduced the amount of sugar to suit our palates. So, the bars turned out to have just the right sweetness for my folks. If you’re a chocoholic and lover for anything nutty, rocky road bars will grow in you like an addiction.

            What’s more, I think these rocky road bars make perfect birthday treats to mark my 23rd year on earth. I love rocky road bars for that they’re aptly named: They’re rocky and yet pleasant to munch on. For the rest of my life, it’s going to be another long and rocky road ahead. Hopefully, it’ll be a bittersweet one – like how these bittersweet bars ought to be.

            Rocky Road Bars

            Rocky Road Bars
            Adapted from “Joy of Cooking: Christmas Cookies,” by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker & Ethan Becker

            113 g unsweetened chocolate – chopped finely

            (A)
            106 g all-purpose flour
            2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
            1/8 tsp salt

            (B) -- I didn't follow the suggested quantities for the three ingredients below closely.
            113 g pecans or coarsely chopped walnuts
            * I used a mix of both the nuts. *
            * As I don’t like the taste and mouthfeel given by raw nuts, I toasted mine beforehand by baking the nuts at 150°C for about 15 minutes. I let the nuts cool completely before using. *
            170 g semisweet chocolate morsels
            57 g miniature marshmallows

            (C)
            113 g unsalted butter – softened at room temperature
            220 g caster/granulated sugar
            * The original recipe calls for 300 g granulated sugar. *

            4 large eggs – at room temperature
            1 tsp vanilla extract
            1. Lightly grease a 13x9-inch baking pan, then line with parchment – allow about 2 inches of parchment overhanging the two narrower sides of the pan; set aside.
              * I used two square pans instead, a 7”x7” and an 8”x8” one. *
               
            2. Place the finely chopped unsweetened chocolate in a double boiler, or in a heatproof bowl fit snugly over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring often, to melt completely. Remove from heat, stir the melted chocolate a little just till it’s become smooth. Set aside to let cool to room temperature before using later on.
            3. Combine (A) together with a balloon whisk, then set aside.
            4. Combine (B) together, then set aside.
            5. In a mixing bowl, cream (C) together till light and fluffy. Now, beat in the eggs, one at a time, then followed by the extract, till incorporated. Don’t overbeat the mixture as you may risk beating out the air within the creamed mixture.
            6. With help from a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the cooled melted chocolate to the creamed mixture to combine well. Next, sift the flour mixture over and fold to mix well. Halfway through, stir in all but 1 cup of the nuts-marshmallow-and-chocolate morsels mixture to the chocolate batter until well-combined.
            7. Transfer the batter into the prepared pan, spreading to the edges and smoothening out the surface. Now, evenly scatter the reserved 1 cup mixture of nuts, marshmallows and chocolate morsels over the surface of the batter.
            8. Bake at 180°C for 25 minutes or till the top is firm when tapped and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out slightly wet.
            9. Remove the pan from the oven, then transfer to wire rack(s) and let stand to cool the bar completely.
            10. Once cooled, using the overhanging parchment as handles, lift the bar up and to a cutting board. Carefully peel off the parchment from the sides of the bar. Cut into bars and serve/store in an airtight container.
            Rocky Road Bars
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