p Picks and Pecks

Monday, February 3, 2014

Chinese New Year Yee Sang - new year, new posts

Its been a long time since my last post -- two New Years in fact, which makes it sound a lot longer than it really has been. Over the last two months, I've been eating and cooking as much as I've been able to -- stockpiling experiences and tastes, some good, some bad, and some unfortunately forgettable. 

But to kick the year off, I decided to start with something relatively easy. I say relatively, because all that is required here is patience and a sharp knife -- but it does take time!

Yee sang is a traditional dish that all dinners start with during Chinese New Year. As a kid, I always loved it because it had these crispy crackers on the top - better than croutons! So this year I decided to make a homemade version for our family reunion dinner.

Essentially this is a fruit and veggie salad, that is supposed to be composed of at least 7 colors -- finding those colors is harder than it looks!

2 large carrots (orange)
1/2 sengkuang (white)
1/2 purple cabbage (did I need to even say that?)
1 packet snow peas (green)
2 small unripe mangoes (yellow)
2 peppers/capsicums (red)
1/2 pomelo (pink)

plum sauce
sesame oil

sesame seeds
ground peanuts
crumbled shrimp crackers

Saturday, November 16, 2013

recipe: mushroom gnocchi

I don't really know what made me attempt to make gnocchi. Honestly, I hardly ever order gnocchi in restaurants, because I tried it once - and I got leaden pellets, instead of fluffy mouthfuls of potato. So maybe the motivation was, if you want it done right, you just might have to do it yourself!

Which is a dangerous thing. Having never had good gnocchi before (and not much bad gnocchi either!), it was a little like learning to drive without a destination! However, this was a do-or-die-trying moment for me, so I took the plunge!

I figured that roasting the potatoes made more sense than boiling - I wanted to use as little flour as possible so my potatoes had to be quite dry. I poked holes through the skins before putting them into a hot Dutch oven, and only removed them once a knife went through a potato without much resistance.

I don't have a food mill or a ricer, so I used the brute force method and passed all the potatoes through a sieve. This required some patient smushing so that I didn't waste any of the potatoes!

This yielded about two cups of smushed potatoes. To this, I added salt and enough flour to bind it all together - I did this by feel, so I'll try for more exact measurements next time! 

I then rolled the mixture out into logs in small batches, trying to handle the "dough" as little as possible so it remained light. Then I cut them into pieces about the size of the top of my thumb and blanched them quickly in boiling water. As soon as the gnocchi rose to the surface, I skimmed them off and let them dry out on a paper towel.

To go with the gnocchi, I just sauteed some mushrooms in butter for a really simple finishing touch.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

review: pun chun (bidor) herbal duck noodles

address: pun chun restaurant, 40, jalan besar, 35500, bidor, perak
tel: +605 4341 554

I left KL on a drive up north to Penang at 6:30am - way too early to even think about making breakfast (even for me!). As a result, my tummy was already rumbling about an hour into the drive.

Many people have told me about the famous herbal duck noodles at Bidor, about 5 minutes off the North-South highway. I have never been tempted to stop though, because Bidor is only about an hour away from my parents' hometown, where there is even more food waiting for me! However, since this was not too much of a detour, I thought it might do for a quick breakfast.

Bidor pretty much has only one main street, so it wasn't a problem picking out Pun Chun. As it was a weekday, the restaurant was pretty quiet.

I ordered the duck noodles, and a cup of cham. I love cham - its a delicious, warm and comforting mix of coffee and tea, stirred through with condensed milk. 

When the noodles arrived, I was greeted with a plate of yellow wantan mee - basically, just plain egg noodles with some dark soy sauce underneath. The duck soup came separately, in a little tiffin container.

I felt so confused! I didn't really think the duck, with its (still slightly) gamy taste complemented the noodles, which were rather bland. The soup, which was quite thin, did not really help matters. The most apparent taste were the herbs, especially the dates, which made the soup taste quite sweet. Moreover, it was quite difficult to eat the single piece of duck drumstick with chopsticks! I felt that it was quite unwieldly, even if the meat was falling off the bone.

If I do stop by next time, I think I would prefer to try the wantan  noodles, which the restaurant also serves. The duck was a bit too heavy for me, especially so early in the morning. That being said, the weather at Bidor was great - cool and breezy, with the sun just breaking through the rain clouds. If you can stop by here early enough, it still has that old, sleepy small-town feel that we rarely see any more.

address: pun chun restaurant, 40, jalan besar, 35500, bidor, perak
tel: +605 4341 554

Sunday, November 3, 2013

review: pudu siew yuk

address: 30, Jalan Nyonya, off Jalan Pudu
tel: +603 2145 2512
hours: 12:30pm - 3pm (Monday to Saturday)

I have to admit that I had never been to Wong Kee before 2013. What rock have I been under, you ask!? After all, CNN Travel listed it as #13 in their list of top 20 restaurants in KL in 2012! Based on this, I have the sneaky feeling that a lot of tourists have probably been here before I even poked my nose into this coffee shop... but then again, I usually buy most of my roast pork from the market, so that I can pick at pieces of crispy skin as I sort through my usual Sunday market flotsam and jetsam.

Wong Kee is located in the shadows of Berjaya Times Square. If I did not have a guide, I doubt I would have found this nondescript coffeeshop. The day was terribly warm - it was the height of the haze season in KL, but that was part of the reason why we braved the noonday sun to get here - we were hoping to avoid the reported crowds!

We arrived promptly at 12, having been warned that customers start to queue and book tables early despite the store owner only lifting his cleaver to chop the siew yuk at 12:30pm. Happily, there wasn't a huge crowd - apparently fear of smog does deter some KLites from food! Not this guy though - he seemed pretty determined to get his siew yuk, no matter what the cost!

The operation here is partially self-service - you have to help yourself to bowls of soup, while waiting for the ladies to come around and take your drink orders. 

I felt that the soup was rather underwhelming. I love soup, even on hot days and I found it to be rather bland, with meager pieces of veggies and bones for soup stock. We had ordered both roast chicken and siew yuk for lunch,
and the chicken arrived first. I didn't think the chicken was anything special - at least the white meat was still juicy enough, and not stringy and dry.

But the pork... oh, the pork! It came last and I was already quite hungry and I thought that it had a great balance of fat and meat. You can see at least two layers of fat in the picture, and the meat itself had a bit of fat marbling throughout, ensuring that it was juicy and tender. The skin was so crispy that I could hear the echoes of it crackling as I bit into it - something that is only successful if there is enough fat on the ribs.

Would I come back again? Yes, I would - haze or no haze. I would only pay lip service to the chicken though. I think the only reason people order it is because the sign above the stall said "chicken rice" so maybe some customers feel that something is missing if there isn't any poultry on the plate. I have no such qualms though!

address: 30, Jalan Nyonya, off Jalan Pudu
tel: +603 2145 2512
hours: 12:30pm - 3pm (Monday to Saturday)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

review: b&g oysters

address: 550 Tremont Street, Boston, Massachusetts, 02118
tel: 617-423-0550
website: http://bandgoysters.com/

Driving up to Boston brought back so many memories - of going to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox, walking back home from work along the Common...

It was a beautiful afternoon when I pulled up at B&G Oysters. I knew this had to be my first top in Boston because I've been hankering for a lobster roll ever since I'd left Boston for KL. It never made sense to have one anywhere else - why bother with pale imitations, when you need a proper New England establishment to serve you one?!

Walking down the steps in an orderly fashion, I decided to slowly ease back into it by having a dozen oysters all to myself. Seated at the counter, I made my selection from the daily specials.

This was definitely going to be one indulgent lunch! It's been 5 years since I have been back to the US and this wasn't the time to rush through each briny mouthful. Each oyster was distinctly flavored, but I definitely preferred the brinier ones.

Next, a clam chowder so luscious and thick, a spoon could stand upright in it. It went down like a comforting blanket, because despite the sun outside, the weather was still blustery for mid-May. I could taste the chunky clams that dotted the bowl, underscored by the smoky taste of bacon. You can't find chowder like this anywhere else, and definitely not on the other side of the world. 

Finally, the main course! A New-England style hot-dog bun, split down the top and toasted; piled high with delicate, sweet lobster meat, tossed in a light mayonnaise  punctuated by the crunch of celery. There was so much lobster, it was spilling off the sides of the roll as I lifted it to my mouth in a glorious mouthful of messy decadence. 

The pickles, coleslaw and huge mound of freshly fried french fries (ooh, alliteration!) were almost forgotten accompaniments. Unfortunate though, because each one was prepared with care. The coleslaw was fresh and light, the pickles provided a sour punch that revived my appetite after all that food, and the fries were sliced thin and fried so that each bite cracked as my teeth bit through it. 

The sun was already starting to set as I left B&G, feeling replete and satisfied that - finally, I was back in Boston.

address: 550 Tremont Street, Boston, Massachusetts, 02118
tel: 617-423-0550
website: http://bandgoysters.com/

Sunday, September 22, 2013

review: dutch eating place

address: Reading Terminal Market, 1136 Arch St, Philadelphia, PA 19107-2956

A delicious and satisfying breakfast if there ever was one! I eat here at least once, every time I am in Philly. The best part is that I am able to kill two birds with one stone, since I am able to shop in the market after a sustaining breakfast!

The Dutch Eating Place is tucked in a corner of the market. If you can't spot the sign above, just look for the long line of diners-to-be, especially on weekends. To be fair, customers are extremely understanding and don't linger around after eating, ensuring that the line keeps moving.

If you are stuck waiting in line anyway, at least take the time to decide on your breakfast. Although there are quite a few choices on the board, my breakfast has always been the french toast with turkey bacon. 

The staff here are always friendly and smiling - no small feat given the number of customers they see over the weekend. I usually just opt to sit at the counter - it makes for faster service as well!

The french toast always comes piping hot - so hot, it melts the pat of butter into a golden ooze next to the stack. It looks so simple, but its definitely satisfying, with the eggy bread accented with cinnamon. I've tried and tried to replicate this recipe, but I've never succeeded!

I also sometimes order scrapple with breakfast, when I'm feeling more indulgent. Its basically a  mixture of pork bits and pieces that have been mixed with corn meal and flour and deep-fried. It reminds me of the spam sandwiches my grandmother used to make for me as a kid. It's not healthy - but its definitely a guilty pleasure, especially when the outside is a crispy dark golden brown, like it is here!

address: Reading Terminal Market, 1136 Arch St, Philadelphia, PA 19107-2956

Sunday, September 15, 2013

review: osteria real blue

address: A3-UG-06, Solaris Dutamas, Jalan Dutamas 1, KL
tel: 03 6207 9799
www: http://www.osteriarealblue.com/
hours: Tues-Sun, 12noon-2.30pm, 6pm-10pm

Osteria Real Blue is tucked away above Pappa Rich in Publika - quiet and unsuspecting. But for those who are willing to hunt for this restaurant, and happy to stick to a few basic dishes, the experience can be rewarding.

This unassuming restaurant - and I really mean unassuming - does not get top points for decor or ambiance. Your best bet is to stick with the basics - pasta and steak, which are prepared by an Italian chef who has moved to Malaysia. This means that the dishes are a slight hodge-podge of Asian and Western flavors, which customers have to slowly sift through to discover the real gems.

To start, everyone was served a bite-size portion of bruschetta. This was followed by a bread basket for sharing, with an accompanying dip which reminded me of sambal with chilli oil! 
Since this was our first time at Osteria Real Blue, we took the suggestions of the proprietress - Sherry, who is a Malaysian lady who is married to the chef, and has lived in Italy for many years.

Her first recommendation was mozzarella  cheese which was layered with ham. Stacked and grilled so that it was oozy, this was a tasty appetiser that could be shared by four people - if they were all small eaters!

A close up of the mozzarella appetiser. I could definitely have had at least half this portion!

Next was a dish of seared tuna, which was served on some salad, and dressed with balsamic vinegar. I was a bit underwhelmed with this dish - usually when I hear of seared tuna, I expect a block of fish, which is cooked on the outside, but rare and deep red within. Here, the fish was almost cooked through and flaky, which is not really how I like it - I thought this was overcooked, to be honest. Perhaps it might be suitable for those who don't like sashimi or raw fish... 

Homemade fresh pasta - cooked al dente, was welcome by all. Sherry, who would oversee all the tables throughout dinner and offer commentary, wanted to point out to us that Osteria serves Northern Italian food, which are heavier on meats and more hearty - while most Italian restaurants in KL serve cuisine from the South, which has more seafood. 

We ordered a mushroom pasta, which came dressed in a balsamic sauce. Although the portion looks large, it was a good size for sharing between us. 

Next, a plate was put before us. Initially, we were a bit confused about the plate before it - it looked almost like a garnish of vegetables... but it was garnished with... more vegetables!? This was apparently the salad that was supposed to accompany our steak. Although it looks a bit strange, the salad was actually quite delicious. It was a mix of chopped lettuce with peppers and tomatoes, that had been mixed in a savory dressing - I feel like there were bit of (perhaps) tuna or anchovies in it? I could have gladly eaten the entire portion by myself, and I am not a big fan of greens!

Finally the steak appeared! The meat for the steak was imported from Italy. Although it might not be apparent here, this could have happily served at least three people. We asked for this to be done medium-rare, which Sherry apparently agreed with! Its always nice to have the owner agree with your choice of preparation! It came nicely charred on the outside, and Sherry patiently waited for the oohs and aahs to subside before cutting the steak into manageable pieces for us.

As you can see, the steak was still pink, pink, pink and bloody on the inside - just the way I like it! Despite its size, it wasn't too heavy for us, perhaps because it was just lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and did not come with the usual potatoes and gravy that accompany most American steaks.

As you can see, we demolished the steak very quickly! I even picked up the T-bone to gnaw on it and try to get every last scrap of meat off the bone - not a very dignified move!

Since the meat left us craving for more, Sherry suggested we order a roast pork. However, I feel that this did not compare well to the siew yuk that most Chinese love. Because it was roasted and then had a sauce added, the skin was not crispy, and the meat felt too tough. Probably not the note we wanted to end the meal on.

For dessert, we ordered a blueberry pannacotta, which came with a chocolate sauce. I guess those who fancy this milk-based pudding would enjoy the dish, as it was covered in a rich, dark blueberry sauce made with real fruit. However, I might give this a pass as I did not really appeal to me.

Would I come back? Yes - for the steak and pasta! I was tempted by the smells of the truffle pasta which wafted by from the table next to us that I would love to try.

address: A3-UG-06, Solaris Dutamas, Jalan Dutamas 1, KL
tel: 03 6207 9799
www: http://www.osteriarealblue.com/
hours: Tues-Sun, 12noon-2.30pm, 6pm-10pm

Sunday, August 25, 2013

recipe: cranberry bean soup

After a lot of ups and downs, I thought it made sense to return to basics. If I could rewind everything else in my life, that would be great, but this would do...

This soup is the first dish I remember preparing. When I was about 6 or 7, my grandmother would bring a basket of these beans up to the living room for me. Ironically, when I was little I was never allowed in the kitchen because my grandmother would always tell me that "it was messy", so I always did my little cooking prep upstairs.

It was my job to pop the pods open and take out the speckled beans inside. At that point, I never asked what those beans were - it took me another 20 years to figure out they were cranberry beans when I saw them in a market in Philadelphia.

Like most Chinese soups, this one only relies on a few ingredients. Most important is the salted vegetable. I don't know what its called but I suspect that it is salted, dried turnip. If you look for it in Chinese grocery store, be sure to buy the salted variety - as there is also one that is preserved in sugar.

Once the vegetables are boiled in a stock made from blanched pork bones, the leaves of the turnip are reconstituted. At this point, the beans are added and they are boiled till tender.

In the hour and a half or so that it takes me to make this soup, I'm taken back to my childhood. It's amazing how a few simple ingredients, put together with love, stay with you always.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

review: kaihomaru

address: Federal Hotel, 35 Jalan Bukit Bintang
phone: 603 2148 9166

I'm glad that I'm not the only foodie in the office! Just when you think that you've run out of new places to try, someone suggested that we try Kaihomaru at the Federal Hotel, popular with many expats who live in the city centre. Braving the Friday rush hour traffic, we headed deep into KL. Kaihonmaru is nestled between the massage parlours along busy Jalan Bukit Bintang and Low Yat Plaza, seemingly impervious to foot traffic. 

When we entered the restaurant, we were reassured by the many Japanese diners - surely that meant that the food was authentic? We took some time perusing the extensive menu, nibbling on the complimentary appetizer of squid, tossed with carrots, cucumber and mayonnaise.

Since this was our first time, we decided to stick to basics. We each ordered a sushi platter - 10 pieces of sushi per person. In addition, we added an order of mentaiko or cod roe, and a dish of eel tempura. As a afterthought, we threw in a seaweed salad - all in the name of a balanced diet!

First to arrive was the seaweed salad. Generous enough to be shared amongst the three of us, it came with sesame dressing on the side. I did appreciate this gesture, because some restaurants drown their salads in this stuff. Though yummy, not everyone wants to eat the equivalent of melted peanut butter on their wakame!

This was actually the first time I had every tried mentaiko on its own. It was quite a pleasant experience - not as rich as I expected! It wasn't as fishy either - definitely something that I could eat a lot of!

Our sushi was served right after. I'm glad we did not settle for the large 28-piece platter (14 different sushi - 2 pieces each). I wouldn't have wanted to quibble over who gets which piece! The sushi here was quite good, but I do think that the fish at Kame Sushi is better. 10 pieces are quite a sizeable serving though - we were all feeling quite stuffed after this - because of all the rice in the sushi!

But you can't really leave eel uneaten can you? The anago tempura here was quite light - also because this was fresh eel, not the teriyaki eel that is commonly served in most restaurants. This almost tasted like a white-fleshed fish. Luckily the batter was quite light, so it was not too greasy to eat.

Kaihomaru closes at 10:30 - relatively early for a place located in the heart of KL. However, the staff did give us a complementary dessert of creme caramel - maybe as a subtle hint to get a move on?!

address: Federal Hotel, 35 Jalan Bukit Bintang
phone: 603 2148 9166