Thursday, March 31, 2011

White fluffy baos......(steamed chinese buns)

I miss being able to walk to the nearby kopitiam to buy hot steaming baos anytime of the day.....sometimes 24/7 at those 24hr shops.

While baos aren't uncommon in the chinatowns of bigger US cities......they are definitely as rare as the blue unicorn over here in my little town.

Unfortunately, my recent bao craving was too hard to I got my hands (& kitchen) dirty in making those little white fluffy balls.

I bought the bao flour online from Asiansupermarket365 and it yielded A LOT.......too much actually. I should've made just half of it but I didn't realise that until it was too late. Anyway, I had wrapped the leftover dough in shrink wrap and kept it in the fridge for later. I hope it'll keep well *cross fingers*
As it was my first time making the baos, I did have some difficulties making the dough by hand (arms were aching after that!). I also was not able to wrap the fillings nicely in the dough (maybe I was too greedy with the large amounts of fillings...hee hee). The dough was thicker at the part where I pinched the dough together to enclose the filling :P

Anyway, below are the steamed baos....notice how the bao skin ain't very smooth but looks like got "cellulite"....haha.
I put 2 types of filling in the of them my favorite red bean paste which I had made from the azuki beans last week and left to chill in the refrigerator....
......see what I meant by me being too greedy with the filling :D
Ideally, I'd love some char siew filling baos....but since I didn't have char siew, I used some of my pulled pork to make "southern baos" (pulled pork being a traditional southern dish)!!
It actually turned out pretty well and I really like the taste of tastes almost like kong bak bao which is my other favorite!!
I only used like half of the dough.....and I made almost 40 small baos!! I kept half of the baos in freezer bags and placed them in the freezer. The other half will go towards stuffing our faces over the next couple of days :O

While the baos didn't turn out very pretty with all the bumpy skins.....they do taste yummy and pretty close to what we can get in SG. So I'm happy and my tummy very satisfied.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lunchbox Recipe - Pulled pork tortilla

Today's lunchbox menu is pulled pork tortilla, corn chips, butter greens & strawberry+mango salad.
I had been wanting to make pulled pork for a very long time........finally, a few days ago, I bought a 2.6lb of pork shoulder at the supermarket.

The traditional way of making pulled pork is to give the pork a dry-rub with lotsa seasonings....marinate it overnight (some people would steep it overnight in some kind of a homemade brine) and then slowly roast the pork over the grill for 6-10hours before pulling the meat chunk into tiny shreds.

Now I obviously am NOT gonna spend half my life over the I derived a cheat's way of making pulled pork. Please note that it might not taste truly "authentic" but considering the minimal effort/ does still kick a mighty taste punch!

First, I made some stabs with my small knife all over the pork shoulder. This is to let the seasonings get into the pork while marinating/cooking. I applied a dry rub of cumin powder, garlic powder & salt all over the meat and allow it to marinate in the refrigerator for about 3-4 hours.

I preheated my oven (convection function) to 275F. I placed the marinated pork in my cast iron pot, poured some diet coke (aprox 1/4 of the big bottle) into the pot (I like to cook/marinate my meats with diet sodas because the meats always turn out very tender)....covered with the cast iron lid and popped it into the oven for 2.5-3hours (flipping the pork over once midway through baking).

2.5-3hours later......I took out the pork (do not turn off the oven at this point) and placed it in a big mixing bowl. Using 2 forks, I shredded the meat chunk quickly.
I drained most of the liquid in the cast iron pot (be careful, it's HOT!) but kept approx 1-1.5 cup in which I added about 1/3 bottle of my honey BBQ sauce, a couple tablespoons of kecap manis & a dash of sesame oil. I tossed in the pork shreds and mixed them in the sauce. Then with the pot lid back on, I put the pot back into the oven for another 1hr.
At the end of the baking, you'd end up with beautiful moist pork threads like these............I couldn't resist stealing strands after strands of the pork to put into my mouth :P~ So there you go......the cheat's way of making pulled pork in less than half the cooking time and with half the effort! The pulled pork will chill nicely in the refrigerator so you can reheat it in the microwave anytime you feel like having one of those juicy pulled pork burgers.
This morning, I spread non-fat mayo, lettuce strips & the pulled pork on half side of a round wheat tortilla.....fold the tortilla in half and then fold it again into a quarter for RG's lunchbox.
I also made a strawberry+mango salad by washing/cutting the fruits and then soaking them in fresh 100% orange juice with some agave nectar to reduce the tanginess of the fruits.
Like how the strawberries looked like little hearts? Here's a short pictorial tutorial how to cut them:

Spicy baked sweet potato fries

I decided to make sweet potato fries last night instead of the regular chips. I used the following seasonings (you can definitely substitute with whatever you have).....sorry, no exact measurements again, you know how I work.....just a pinch of this and a dash of's all up to your taste preferences. I also added some olive oil.
I cut my sweet potatoes (I only used 2) into thin slices and threw them into a big ziploc bag.....and then, I added all the seasonings & oil into the bag.
Once you are done adding the seasonings....seal up the ziploc and give the potato slices some good swoshing around until they are evenly coated. Judging by the color in the ziploc bag, I knew I had gone a little overboard with the curry powder.....oopsie!
Preheat your oven to 350F. Spread the fries on parchment paper on a baking sheet and leave in the oven (top rack) to bake for about 50min. I flipped the fries once midway through baking.
I served my sweet potato fries on the side with my grilled pork chops. Yummy but lotsa ice water required to take away the heat from the curry powder & pepper! :P

Currently reading: Secret Lives of Great Artists

This is my current bedtime reading.......written by Elizabeth Lunday. I bought this book from the Baltimore Museum of Art during my last roadtrip.

It was probably a combination of curiosity as well as the innate desire to "dig the dirt" on someone which prompted me to spend USD16.95 on it :P The author wrote about the lives of 35 great artists and their "secrets".

In any case, it was an interesting read and the book revealed some of the following (might or might not be true) on some of our favorite artists:

Vincent van Gogh - his "neurological symptoms" could've been caused by lead/mercury poisoning from the paint that he ate from the tubes.

Leonardo da Vinci - probably had ADHD and could've been in homosexual relationships.

Michelangelo - had a serious case of BO as he thought bathing was bad for health.

Monet - had a cataract problem which affected his color vision. And as a result, he was painting everything in tones of red and yellow before he was treated for his condition.

Picasso - was supposedly a heartless jerk who not only had a series of affairs but couldn't care less for his wives and children.

At the end of the day, I guess while a person can be extremely talented or extraordinary in a certain aspect.....he/she is still a normal person, just like you and me, who has inner struggles, makes mistakes, love/hate and has good and bad hair days.

If you've also read the book before....let me know what you think of it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Reversible apron

I took the longest time to figure out what to make for XY for her birthday as I was having some kind of a sewist's block for awhile.

As XY loves to paint and cook.....I decided to make her an apron that she can use when she engages in her favorite activities!

I made the apron reversible for more variety and it also has an adjustable neck strap.

The brown pokka dot side has got 3 big pockets (in pink fabric) in case she needs some place to put her recipe cards/paint tubes/cellphone/lipstick.
I decided to use a colorful retro fabric for the other side of the apron as I know she's one of the very few who appreciates retro prints and designs.
I'm gonna pack it and mail it off to her real soon. I doubt she reads my blog so I don't think this posting is gonna spoil the surprise for her.

I can only hope that she loves it.

Lunchbox Recipe - Chicken salad

Today's lunch is chicken salad sandwich, butter lettuce salad, cantaloupe, blueberry cake, strawberry & roasted peanuts.

If you are wondering why I wrapped the sandwich in foil.......that's because RG often complains about his sandwich filling falling out from the I figured the foil could do the trick in preventing that messy situation.

Like that the strawberry resembles a heart!! :) Was planning to add the peanuts into the chicken salad but decided to just put it on the side so that the peanuts remain crunchy.
Green and red butter lettuces with low-fat caesar salad dressing on the side.
The chicken salad sandwich filling.........
Ingredients are just chopped chicken breast meat, chopped celery, corn and low-fat mayo.

I'm running out of ideas for the sandwich filling.......if you've got any interesting ideas for lunchbox sandwiches (cold), please do share them with me.

Refashioning idea: Old tank top to neckwarmer in less than a minute

Did I tell you that I love "quick fixes".

This project is definitely an ultra quick and easy fix.

Using an old tank top (thin jersey tshirt material)......I eyeballed a segment of the top that I wanted to keep and then took my scissors and trimmed off the top and bottom hem.

And......that's it.....yup, project completed! Told you it'd only take less than a minute.
Take the middle portion......make a double loop.........
.....put it over your head and wear it around your neck!
Not only does it accessorise your can also keep your neck warm.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tau sar recipe (Red bean paste)

I was having a mad craving for tau sar baos (red bean paste buns) when I read ZH's postings about an-pan buns on Facebook last evening.

I am a BIG fan of red bean paste......anything with red bean paste in it, and I do mean ANYTHING, I'd LOVE!!!

Tried looking for ready made red bean paste to buy online at Amazon....and the only decent one that I saw was like USD16 (including shipping) for 2 small bags. It's crazy when one big bag of uncooked azuki beans is only USD0.89! I couldn't believe my luck when I found a packet of the uncooked red beans in my pantry *skipped for joy*...i took that as a sign to make my own tau sar!

A quick google and I found a recipe online which I adapted to my needs

I used approx 1.5 cups of red beans.....washed and soaked them in water overnight.

I preheated my oven to 300F (baking function). I poured the soaked beans and some water into my cast iron pot, placed the lid on and left the beans to cook in the oven for 2hours.

After 2hours, I drained the beans of the fluid (which I had set aside to make red bean soup!) and blended them in small batches.
After blending the beans, I decided to sieve the bean paste through a fine mesh colander. If you don't mind chunky bits in your bean paste, you can omit this step.
After much effort trying to squeeze the paste through the mesh *phew* can see all the bean husk that had been left behind on the colander.
Next, add sugar to the bean paste and mix well. The best thing about making your own bean paste is that you can decide how sweet you'd like the paste to be. I'm not sure about you.....but I often find those store bought red bean paste buns or red bean paste TOO sweet for my liking. For the amount of red bean paste that I have, I added approximately slightly over 2/3 cup of sugar. The key is to add a little sugar at a time and keep trying it till you get the exact taste that you want.
The last step is to fry the red bean paste in oil on the stove. I placed my clean iron cast pot over the stove at low/medium heat and added approx 1/4 cup of vegetable oil. When the pot/oil was hot, I stirred in the red bean paste. Notice how the paste turned glossy when incorporated with the oil? Keep stirring the paste until you achieve the consistency that you like. Some people like their paste very dry....but I kind of like it a little wetter such that it oozes slightly when I bite into the bun :P~~~
Here's my pot of red bean paste......all ready to go into those fluffy little white baos! I'll probably only be making the baos over the weekends. The cooked bean paste can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week based on what I've read online. But do make sure that your bean paste is cooled to room temperature first before storing it in an air-tight container to avoid trapping moisture within the container which I suspect might cause the red bean paste to turn moldy quicker.
So until I make my tau sar baos......I've to content myself to just licking red bean paste off my pot, mixing bowl, spatula and spoon. Hmmmmmmmmmmm............
I realised it's actually not that difficult to make tau sar from scratch......all it takes is time and patience. I should've done this long ago......but well, better late than never right?

Lunchbox Recipe - Tuna+veg+bean salad

Here's today's lunchbox menu: egg+celery mayo sandwich (using fat free mayo), cucumber strips, cantaloupe, tuna/veg/bean salad, oatmeal cookies, raisin bran (in place of chips) & a little ghirardelli raspberry dark choco treat since it's FRIDAY!
My side salad was inspired by the 3 leftovers I had - tuna/hummus from the previous lunchbox, corn & some baked beans. All I had to do was to chop up some baby carrots & celery to go with the other 3 ingredients. You can use any type of veg, I just like my salads to look colorful hence the yellow, orange & green! I also plumped up some golden raisins by soaking them in warm water and added them to the salad. For the leftover baked beans, as they were soaking in tomato sauce and pork fats, I rinsed the beans through hot water first before using them.

Drizzle some low-fat thousand island dressing over the salad and mix well. I'd normally add the dressing a little at a time while I mix the salad....I just want to add enough to finely coat the ingredients instead of having the vegetables swimming in the dressing.
Here's a spoonfull of sweet crunchy goodness! Now say "aaahhhhhhhh".
I actually made the salad and sandwich filling last night and left them in the refrigerator to chill. So it didn't take me long to put the whole lunchbox together....and I've still got time to slowly enjoy my cuppa coffee and take in the spectacular sunrise!!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lunchbox Recipe - Tuna+Hummus sandwich

I have been waking up before 6am on weekdays to prepare RG's lunchboxes. The sunrises have been very spectacular since the start of spring. While it still feels more like winter than spring over here in New England (we've still got snow/flurries and the temperatures have been quite low!)......we hope to see more leaves on the trees and flowers on the ground very soon! It is soooooooo nice to start the day with a magnificent sunrise.
Back to the subject......this is RG's power-pack lunch for today - tuna & hummus sandwich, broccoli salad, grapes, corn chips & a granola bar. Tuna is such a great source of Vitamin Bs and Omega-3. Instead of the usual tuna mayo....I decided to up the nutritional value by adding red pepper hummus to the tuna. Hummus is essentially mashed chickpeas which is a fantastic source of protein and dietary fiber. It's supposedly good for strengthening the immune system, reduce stress and increase energy level. Broccoli and grapes are known to be good anti-oxidants.
I used a can of water-packed Albacone. I usually buy the water-packed ones 'cos not only will the tuna flakes be less oily....water also will not cause the omega-3 in the tuna to leach when you drain out the liquid in the can. I wanted some "crunch" so I added some chopped celery & onion to the tuna. You can add some salt/pepper if you like but I usually omit those.
I added approx 2 heap tablespoons of the gluten free red pepper hummus to the tuna. Gave it a good stir to mix well. This hummus tastes great as a salad dip too. I'd occasionally cut cucumbers/celery/carrots into long thin slices for dipping into this.
I'd usually lay some lettuce or cucumber slices on the bottom slice of bread before piling on the sandwich filling.....this prevents the sandwich from turning soggy.
Well that's it! was an easy one huh?....and it's so good to eat and good for the body too!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cheesy baked rice......from leftovers!

I was inspired to create this after taking a peek at what was left in my refrigerator. I had some fried eggs (leftover from RG's sandwiches), meat sauce (leftover from my spaghetti bolognese) & cooked rice.
I just had to add a few more extra ingredients like frozen vegetables (I love their vibrant colors!)......
......& shredded cheeses.
Now you'll love how EASY it is to make this........STEP 1: dump all your ingredients (rice+frozen veg+egg+meat sauce+shredded cheese) into a huge mixing bowl.
STEP 2: Add any additional seasonings of your choice. I didn't even add salt/pepper 'cos my meat sauce was quite well seasoned already.
STEP 3: Mix everything together.
STEP 4: Spread the rice mixture into a casserole dish & sprinkle an even layer of cheese on top.
STEP 5: Place the casserole dish, top covered with foil, in the preheated oven (390F) and bake for 5-10min. Remove the foil and bake for another 10-15min or until the cheese at the top is nicely browned. Do watch closely as the cheese might brown quite fast.

STEP 6: Remove from oven, cool slightly and EAT!!!
The rice mixed with the meat sauce tasted kinda like spanish rice - a little tangy from the tomato-sauce base. And the oozing cheeses at the top......oooohlaalaaaaaa! You can easily substitute the ingredients if you don't have the same leftovers as me...haha. For example, instead of the meat sauce, you could use some pasta sauce/tomato-based soup or even some creamy soups like cream of mushroom or chicken and add in some chunks of chicken breast/ham/sausages. If you don't have frozen vegetables, you can use fresh vegetables like broccoli, spinach, carrots etc. If you don't have rice, you can use pasta. Just be creative and have fun!

What I really like about this creation is that I could put it together effortlessly and ahead of time if I want to. After assembling the dish, I need only to put a cling wrap over the casserole and leave the dish in the refrigerator and take it out only when I'm ready to bake. It's really good for those who are can prepare the dish on weekends and leave it in the refrigerator to chill, then just pop it in the oven to bake when you return home from work. You'll be able to enjoy a yummy home-cooked meal without having to spend a lot of time/effort preparing, cooking and washing after a long hard day of work. If you've got leftover of the baked rice, you can put it back into the refrigerator and reheat it in the oven/microwave the next time you want to eat it again.