Sunday, 26 February 2012

Chicken Pasta Salad with Mayo-Yogurt Dressing

There's a lot of truth in the adage KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). Sometimes I just don't feel like slaving over a hot stove for ages on end or labouring over the cutting board. This pasta salad is quick to whip up and easy to assemble. Perfect as a lunch box filler, or as a last minute party food. I whipped this up during a moment of desperation - family pot-luck and time wasn't on my side. It was a hit with the adults, tweens and kids, and is now on the popular request list. And the ingredients aren't complicated - cold chicken and short pasta, tossed with vegetables in a tangy mayo-yogurt dressing. Stuff that you'll find in your kitchen anyway. And voila! An extremely tasty chicken pasta salad that looks good too...

Ingredients:1 packet (500g) of dried short pasta
2 medium chicken breasts, about 500g
1 pack (500g) frozen corn kernels
250g cherry tomatoes - halved
3 large stalks spring onions - sliced thinly
1 large bunch coriander - roughly chopped
1 tub of natural yogurt
juice from 1/2 lemon
salt and black pepper for seasoning

Method :
1.  Bring a large pot of water to boil, and cook pasta according to instructions.  Drain, rinse and leave to cool.
2.  Rub some salt and pepper over the chicken breasts and steam until cooked.  Removed and dice into cubes.
3.  Reheat the frozen corn kernels according to instructions.
4.  For the dressing, stir together equal portions of mayonnaise and yogurt into a large bowl. I usually
start out with 4 large tablespoons each.  Add in the lemon juice.  Add salt and ground black pepper to taste.
5.  Put in the diced chicken, pasta and all the vegetables and toss thoroughly.  Ensure that the pasta is well
coated with the dressing. 
6.  Chill, covered in a container until ready to serve.  Before serving give it a good stir to loosen up.

NotesYou can prepare and cook the ingredients before-hand, and store in the fridge until ready toss and dress.
Use a robust pasta shape like penne or spirals.  Ribbons tend to break easily.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Goji and Blueberry - super berry muffins

I used to laugh at my mother for needing reading glasses to read the newspapers.  Yes, yes, nasty of me.  But the laugh's on me now.  I. Need. Glasses.  Quelle horreur!

I swear it happened overnight.  One day I was happily rattling off the fine print on a bar of chocolates.  The next, it was all a blur. Vanity dictated that I put off glasses as long as I could, but reality soon hit with a thud. It's a dead giveaway when you start holding everything at an arm's-length anyway.

Okay, so enter the goji aka wolfberry 枸杞.  Chinese mamas will tell you for good eye sight, eat goji berries.  In our kitchen, we always throw some goji berries into soups.  In recent years, goji has been hyped-up and touted as some kind of super food in the English media.  All I know is that it is likely that its rich anti-oxidant properties makes it good for the eyes.

There were some plump juicy goji berries sitting in the fridge and I wanted to explore using them beyond
soups.  I was inspired to use them in muffins as they reminded me of raisins.  A quick search later and I
netted this wonderful recipe.  It also uses blueberries, making this into a super-muffin.  Blueberries are
rich in anti-oxidants too.  The combination of sweet blueberries tempered with the slightly tart goji berries
make this a wonderful muffin - great to kick start breakfast or as a snack.  The muffins are literally
bursting with berries.

The muffins are suitable to freeze, but believe me, there's no chance of them even hitting the freezer as
they are so good.

Recipe adapted from SylviaH
Makes 1 dozen

Ingredients:2 cups - 315g plain flour
3/4 cup -185g brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 egg - lightly beaten
5 tbsp - 75g - unsalted butter - melted
1 Cup - 250g  buttermilk
2 cups - 250g berries - I used a combination of goji and blueberries

Method:1.  Preheat oven to 375F/190C and line the pans with muffin cases.
2.  Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl.  Add the sugar.
3.  Make a well in the center, add the egg, melted butter and buttermilk.
4.  Stir just until evenly moistened.  Batter will be a little lumpy.  You want lumpy batter.
5.  Fold in the fruits using a large spatula, gently.  Be careful not to break the blueberries.
6.  Spoon the batter gently filling each muffin cup.  Do not push the batter down into the cups.
7.  Bake until light golden brown, and springs back at the touch.  25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway
through the bake. 
8.  Leave in muffin pan for 5 minutes, before removing onto a wire rack to cool down.
Best served warm or at room temperature.

Don't over mix the batter, or you'll end up with tough chewy muffins.
I had dried goji berries, so I washed and soaked them with some hot water for 5 minutes to rehydrate.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Steamed buns with yambean filling

I've never been a fan of buns with sweet fillings and I have to politely decline whenever the likes of custard buns, red bean buns or tau sar buns are served at the end of meals.  Savoury buns, now that's another matter altogether.  Having tried my hand at the sweet potato buns the last time, I ventured to savoury filled buns.  These are filled with fried yambean or "bangkuang char".  Think of buns, filled to bursting with vegetables instead of the usual char siew.  There's also the contrast in textures - starting off with the soft fluffy bun, and then biting into the savoury vegetables.  This is a very wholesome snack in itself, and wholly vegetarian if you omit the pork slices in the fried yam bean.  It's also a great way to use any leftover fried yam bean from dinner.  Unless you are planning to feed an army, you don't really need very much fried yam bean.

I shaped them into buns.  Easy-peasy shapes.  Actually, I haven't mastered the pau folding technique, that's why :D

I also used the no-mess method - the trusty bread-maker for the kneading.  You can knead by hand too if you prefer; just takes a little more elbow grease.  This simple recipe is just that - simple.  It was a success the 1st try. The buns steam out like fluffy pillowy clouds, so if that's your cup of oolong then read on...

Recipe : adapted from Corner Cafe by Sea Dragon
Makes approximately 15 steamed buns

A.  Pau dough:
200ml lukewarm water
2 1/2 cups (375g) pau flour
1 1/2 teaspoons double-action baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
2 teaspoons oil
Baking paper for base

B.  Filling:
Fried yam bean - click here for recipe in my previous post

Method :
1. Cut baking paper into 4 inch squares and set aside.
2. In breadmaker, pour in the water, then add flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and yeast.  Put into dough mode and start cycle. 
3. After about 10 minutes,dough should be incorporated and coming together.  Pour in the oil bit by bit and continue kneading.  Knead in oil until incorporated. Dough should be smooth, elastic and pliable.  Remove from bread maker.
4. Form the dough into a round ball, in a large covered bowl.  Place in a warm area and let rise until double in size - approximately 1 hour.
5. Punch down, knead briefly and form into a rough log shape. Then divide the dough into 40g each. Form each piece into balls and let rest for 15 minutes, covered loosely with damp tea towel.
6. Roll each ball out into a circle, and fill with a tablespoon of fried yam bean.  Gather the sides up like a parcel and seal by pinching the edges together.   Place each bun on a piece of the prepared baking paper squares. 
7.  Cover the buns loosely with a damp tea towel, and let rise for about 30 minutes. 
8. Steam the buns for about 10-15 minutes.
9. May be stored frozen.  Thaw before using.  For best results, reheat by steaming. 

before sealing the bun
2nd proofing

Notes :
You can use plain white flour instead of pau flour.  The buns will have a yellower tinge.
Double action baking powder works once upon contact with water, and the second time upon contact with heat.  That's how the buns steam up fluffy and soft.  The yeast and baking powder work hand in hand will ensure maximum leavening.
Don't get greedy and over stuff the buns.  Trust me, it will burst.
Using a bamboo steamer gives the best results as it prevents water droplets from condensing onto buns and making them wet.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Fried yam bean - bangkuang char

I've grown up eating fried yam bean or "bangkuang char" as this dish is commonly served during special occasions eg Chinese New Year, winter solstice.  Special occasions also means big family affairs - and so there'll always be steaming big pots of bangkuang char waiting to be devoured.

Yam bean is more colloquially known as bangkuang amongst Hokkiens in Malaysia.  This is a root vegetable that looks a lot like turnip.  The yam bean can be eaten raw in salads like in rojak, or cooked for spring rolls and popiah.  When eaten raw, it has a crunchy texture and is mildly sweet, almost like water chestnut. 

We used to cook this with dried cuttlefish, but unfortunately the Cantonese homophone for dried cuttlefish sounds like "getting fired".  Erring on the side of caution and not wanting to push our luck, we stopped serving it with dried cuttlefish.  Call me superstitious, but better to be safe than sorry. 

There are other variations with ardent advocates for each - fried with sliced belly pork, with shitake, with
black fungus, with "flat fish", with prawns or just vegetarian with garlic.  It's very versatile, and you are
only limited by your imagination.  And did I mention hand-cut versus mandoline? If you are very patient, you
can julienne them by hand.  For me, I use the mandoline - heaps faster (hehe some will say just lazy!). 

julienned using a mandoline

It's great served with fluffy steamed rice, or even with "sang choy" or lettuce.  The lettuce variation is
popular as again it plays with the homophones - 'sang choy' sounds like rising prosperity in Cantonese.  Yup
- very auspicious sounding.  Cantonese love homophones, so for auspicious occasions like CNY, dishes should not only look and taste good, they have to sound good too.  For some additional kick, serve with some sambal belachan on the side. 

1 medium yam bean - about 600 gm, washed and peeled
1 medium carrot - washed and peeled
4 cloves garlic - peeled and minced
100gm lean or fatty pork - sliced
4 tbsp oil
200ml water
salt and white pepper to taste
2 tbsp light soy sauce (optional)

Method:1.  Julienne the yam bean, by hand or using the mandoline.  I use the medium size which is about 2/8" - 3/8"
2.  Do the same with the carrot.
3.  Heat the oil in a large pan or wok, and stir fry the garlic until fragrant.
4.  Add the pork slices, and stir only enough to seal the meat.
5.  Throw in the julienned yam bean and carrot.
6.  Give it a couple of good stirs, cover pan with a lid, turn heat down to medium, and you will soon see the yam bean releasing its juices. 
7.  Add about 100ml water to the mix, and continue to simmer.  Cook until yam bean is softened.  Add more water along the way if necessary.
8.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  If using soy sauce, add this in first before salting.
9.  Dish out and serve.

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