Wednesday, December 15, 2010


When I started this blog I had the best intentions of sharing my Chinese cooking skills as I lived in Hong Kong for 3 years and learnt how to make authentic Bejing, Shanghainese and Cantonese cuisine including dim sum.

It seems however, that since arriving back in Australia macaron have taken over and have become my new obsession.  I've had more failures than I can count but with steely determination I've finally mastered them and have decided to set up a new blog just about macaron.  To visit me click on the link

Sunday, July 18, 2010

MasterChef & Alvin's Pork Belly - Greed, Wrath & Sloth

I made Alvin's Caramelised Pork Belly yesterday but unfortunately it wasn't a great hit. I've made quite a few pork belly recipes including Pork Adobo and Chairman Mao's Red Braised Pork with Water Chestnuts which are fantastic but this just didn't cut it.  There was just too much brown sugar in this recipe for my liking and if I were to do it again I would caramelise the pork in a totally different way albeit a much safer way.  You see, I had a slight problem with the step that you deep fry the pork pieces after simmering them.  I thought that it was just a tad too dangerous as the oil splattered absolutely everywhere.  The recipe did say, " careful oil will spit when pork is added..." but this was an understatement.  It was like dodging missiles as every time I heard a pop sound I had to weave my entire body so that I wouldn't get wounded. Oil was spitting at every level imaginable and I did end up with a medium size blister on my right hand - the oil spat and sizzled as it took away layers of my skin in the seconds before I plunged my hand into cold water.  By this time I was so fed up I ended up pouring cold oil into the wok, blanching the pork belly then popping the strained pork into the oven to brown.  Afterwards, my kitchen floor was like an ice skating rink as one could easily slide from the oven to the sink without difficulty because there was so much grease on the floor - yuk!  Thanks for this invention test Alvin as instead of invoking "Greed" from the seven deadly sins it invoked "Sloth" as the last thing I wanted to do was clean my entire kitchen.

Anyway, here are some of the shots that led to the end result, which by the way, did look pretty awesome on the plate - the finished dish not the raw pork!

Pork Belly disguised as Australian Pork Rashers.

And, how did I know it was Pork Belly... well, there was one tiny nipple positioned on top of one pork rasher.

Braising the pork with the spices.

Deep-fried pork pieces.

Crispy fried ginger.

Looks fantastic but greed turned to wrath as the kids decided that they didn't like it and mum turned into sloth coz she was sick of the mess in the kitchen.  Not quite MasterChef presentation or to the standards of Donna Hay but good enough for a mum who was under the pressure test to plate up.

Mmmm, what to do with the leftovers.........

BTW, I've committed the utmost cardinal sin by buying pork rashers from Woolworths. Normally, I do all of my shopping at Coles but by chance today, Woolworths was the closest store nearest my local Asian grocery shop. I still reckon Coles is a winner over Woollies.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How to Crack That Nut - Thai Green Curry

Most of us have made a Thai curry but only recently did I learn how to get that wonderful depth of flavour you get at restaurants.  The secret lies in how to crack that nut but not just any nut, specifically, coconut. Firstly, reduce coconut cream - best done in a wok - until it gets to a stage that it looks like you've got curds and oil i.e. cracks.  Add your curry paste, combine the two and stir fry until the paste is fragrant. Then you can throw in your poultry or whatever takes your fancy, toss it a bit, then add the rest of your coconut cream, a bit of water, vegetables and herbs.  If you do this each time, you'll end up with a lovely thick curry that has an amazing depth of flavour.  I've included some photo's below so you get the picture (no pun intended).

Pour 1 x 270ml tin of Coconut Cream into a wok, I used Ayam Brand.

Simmer over a medium heat until it cracks, this can take anywhere from 10-20 minutes and continue stirring.

If the cream starts to brown too quickly, turn down the heat.

It's all right to have some brown bits around the edges of the wok as the cream reduces.  Scrape these into the cream as they add flavour.  I've tried cracking the cream in a saucepan but in all honesty you just don't get the same result.

The Coconut Cream has started to crack but I'll reduce it even further.

Nearly there.

From this photo, you can see that the oil has separated and the Coconut Cream looks curd like.

It's at this stage that I add the Thai curry paste, whether it is red, yellow or green.

I don't have time to pound my own paste, so I add a couple of tablespoons of Maeploy Green Curry Paste which is available in most Asian grocery stores.

It's important to blend the Coconut Cream and curry paste together and stir fry them until the curry paste is fragrant.  A common mistake people make is to dollop the curry paste straight into the Coconut Cream and/or Coconut Milk and boil it up.  If you do this you will still have the raw taste of the spices and the flavours won't develop.

I've added chicken pieces and am stir frying them for a couple of minutes before adding....

yep, you guessed it... more Coconut Cream/Milk.  Notice the Coconut oil floating on the top which we got from cracking the Coconut Cream earlier.  

Now you can add whatever vegetables you fancy.  I added bamboo shoots, eggplant, shredded Kaffir lime leaves and a tablespoon of palm sugar.

Towards the end of the cooking process, I threw in some sliced red pepper to add a bit of colour.

Just before serving, throw in some fresh basil leaves and cook until they wilt.

Done and dusted - yumdelicious.

If you would like the actual recipe, please send me a comment with your email address.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Chicken with Ginger & Garlic

Although, I've lost my ability to smell and taste I can still feel the heat of ginger and chilli so when I make a stir fry I load it chock full just so that I can try and get some enjoyment from food... that, in addition to colour and texture.

I make this stir fry so often that I don't measure ingredients anymore - so far so good. I'm either getting it right each time or my family are just being awfully nice as not once have I had a complaint.  After living in a gourmet capital (Hong Kong) my hubby and gorgeous girls have developed high standards so if I stuff up I'll soon know about it.  The base sauce can be used for any type of meat and vegetables and depending on your ingredients, you'll get a different result.

Stir Fry Chicken with Garlic and Ginger

2 cloves garlic (chopped finely)
1-2 tbsp ginger (chopped finely)
1 bunch of spring onion (cut into 1 inch lengths)
2 carrots (peeled and sliced)
1 packet of chicken breast (doesn't really matter how much)

2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1/2 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp water
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp palm sugar
pinch white pepper

First prepare all of your ingredients then mix up the sauce in a small jug or bowl.  Notice that I've separated the thick white part of the spring onion to the finer green ones.  The thick lengths of spring onion have a longer cooking time so need to be placed into the wok closer to the start of your stir fry whereas the finer green lengths are thrown into the wok towards the end and require less cooking time.

Before you start your stir fry blanch the carrot in boiling water for 2-3 minutes.  When blanching vegetables, I was taught to throw in a piece of ginger, a tsp of sugar and a splash of shao xing wine to the water - this step is optional.

After you blanch the carrots, place them in cold water to stop the cooking process and drain your wok.

Heat your wok until it smokes then swirl enough cold oil around the middle so that it runs down to the bottom.  Throw in your garlic and ginger and stir fry until fragrant.  In my case I can tell when it's ready just by the colour.  

If the wok gets too hot and the ginger and garlic start to burn add your next ingredient i.e. the thick white lengths of spring onion, to bring down the heat.

Stir fry the white part of the spring onion for about a minute then add the chicken.

I normally blanch the chicken in hot oil until it changes colour before I add it to the wok in this step but one GG was vying for my attention so I added the chicken raw.  Although, the colour doesn't look great and the gas intensity felt like it was next to zero, the chicken was still lovely and tender in the finished dish.  Continue to stir fry the chicken until cooked then add the finer green spring onions, carrots and the sauce.  When adding the sauce drizzle it around the middle of the wok so that the heat of the wok starts to heat it instantly.  Make sure that the sugar melts, the sauce thickens and that the chicken and vegetables are well coated with the sauce before serving.  Garnish with some coriander.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Wok The Fu*k - How to Hold Your Wok

You thought this was rude didn't you, well sorry to disappoint... if it's crude stuff you're after it's best to leave my blog NOW!

Back to the serious art of cooking... now where was I... thats right, how to hold your wok whilst cooking.

If you have a wok that has two small handles, one on each side, use an old face washer or flannel as my nanna used to call them, to hold your wok whilst cooking.  Wet the face washer, squeeze out all of the water then fold it in half so that you have a rectangle; fold it in half again so that it becomes a square.

Now hold your wok like I'm holding mine in the photo below.

Contrary to what we are taught in Western cooking i.e. not to pick up anything hot with a wet cloth, when I learnt Chinese cooking I was taught the opposite.  The wet cloth actually prevents you from burning yourself and is less likely to catch fire near the intense heat.  If the handle starts to get too hot, simply rinse your cloth in cold water, squeeze out excess water and fold again as above.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Really Excited

Last Saturday I got the loveliest surprise as hubby had been out shopping and had bought me a present to cheer me up (lots of stuff has been going on and things have been tough).

Sitting on the stainless steel bench in my kitchen was a gorgeous red KITCHENAID and not just any one but the 90th Anniversary edition in CANDY APPLE RED.  He had even washed the bowl and whisk ready for use - WHAT A SWEETY!!!!!!  Lots of cakes, pavlovas and macarons to be made in our household.....yummo:)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss

If I had to sum up Hong Kong in a sentence I would say, "a crazy, exciting, fun place with AWESOME food and shopping".  When expats move there they either grab the bull by the horns and have a ball or they find it so overwhelming that they don't cope and end up going back to their own country.  I was the expat that grabbed the bull by its horns and threw myself into the culture.  I learnt some basic Mandarin, Cantonese, Chinese cooking, Chinese knots and Mahjong - Hong Kong rules of course.

Chinese food is fantastic but to the average "gweilo" authentic Chinese food can be just a bit too weird and scary.  As we all know the Cantonese are known to eat pretty much every part of the beast... did I take risks and try things that I wouldn't normally eat...hell yeah!  Look, if I could eat a witchetty grub and a bogong moth when I was a kid, I could sure eat snake soup and the like... and I did.  After living in HK for 3 years and then recently moving back to oz I have suffered a bit from reverse culture shock as it was almost like living on another planet.  No longer do I go to the wet markets to do my shopping where I see chickens being slaughtered and intestines hanging on hooks and/or blood and guts.  Now I go to a quality butcher located in Mawson and Coles supermarket; and everything is sanitized - I am still yet to discover the local Canberra markets but expect pretty much the same....gourmet products but no nasty surprises.

I miss the excitement of shopping in the wet market talking to the vendors in my basic Cantonese and/or Mandarin.  I miss picking out unusual herbs such as Sichuan peppercorn leaves, transported from Sichuan, or picking out live prawns and shrimps.  I miss the giggle of my 6 year old when a prawn escaped from the plastic bag and jumped all over the floor on the bus.  Did anyone care?  No... this was Hong Kong, this was part of everyday life.  On the other hand, did I know what I was eating half the time? No.  Did many expats shop at the wet market? No.  Could I have eaten harmful fungicides and pesticides? Yes.  Did the prawns in Hong Kong have a lot of flavour? No.  Did the Chinese farmers use lots of antibiotics with their farmed animals and seafood? Yes.  Australia has some of the finest seafood, meat, poultry and produce in the world and the highest standards but when you live overseas sometimes ignorance is bliss.  Australia is truly the lucky country but we do have to look after it as the pollution in Hong Kong is so bad some days that you only have 2km visibility.  China produces most of the world's products and the environmental disasters resulting from this are catastrophic and possibly irreversible. Although, I love Hong Kong and there will always be place for it in my heart I also love Australia so will always be torn.

Spices in Graham Street Wet Market

A typical butcher in the wet market.

My 6 year old loved going to the wet market and always held the bag of live prawns on the way home.  I also remember how excited she was when she saw some live toads floating in a bowl above a tub of was even funnier when the vendor started spinning the bowl and the toads got dizzy.

Fruit and veggie stalls at Graham Street wet market on Hong Kong Island.

Below are photos of an authentic Chinese grocery store.  Wing Woo Grocery store located in Wellington Street (now closed) had operated for over 80 years and was handed down through generations.  It was popular with locals and tourists alike and was one of my favourite shops.

Top floor of the store where Kwan Moon-chui lived - don't cha love the gorgeous pink long johns:P  The building itself is over a 100 years old but,  if not already, will be torn down by Urban Renewal Authority and will become the site of the portal for the new wet markets in the Central district.  

Well that's about it for today, from the photo's above I think you now have some insight as to what life was like - very different but very exciting.  If there are any other bloggers out there that have found the excitement in Canberra let me know coz I haven't found it:(