Monday, January 23, 2012

Bak Kwa

Chinese all across the globe are ushering the year of the dragon and celebrating the Chinese New Year now and one of the quintessential Chinese New Year (CNY) goodies is the bak kwa!

It is sort of like a jerky, but much less dry than your usual beef jerky. It is my all-time favorite CNY snack! A week prior to CNY, I was hunting all over Chinatown and the Chinese neighborhood around my area to try and get my hands on some, but to no avail. Seems like it is a Southeast Asian specialty, not so readily available here. I did managed to find a website that sells it, but it is rather costly. Hence, a quick google search led me to various websites that offers homemade bak kwa recipes!

It looked simple enough, and I had almost all the ingredients on hand, so I tried and it was SO GOOD!! I was so surprised! Especially how easy it was to make it! I am definitely going to make it again when the craving kicks in.. and it is MUCH cheaper than buying it from elsewhere.

The only ingredient I didn't have was 5-spice powder. So, I made my own from scratch. It is easy enough if you have all the spices, and then just pound them with a pestle and mortar into powder and mix them. I included the 5-spice powder recipe at the end.

I read from other food blogs that adding a little food coloring will give the bak kwa a lovely red hue, so I did that but it is up to you! I suppose without the addition, the final product will just look a little brownish.

Bak Kwa (adapted from The Lazy Stay-at-Home Mommy)

1 lb. Ground Pork
1.5 Tbsp Fish Sauce
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp cooking wine
1/2 cup sugar
a few good dashes of 5 spice powder (est. about 1/3tsp)
1/2 Tbsp cooking oil
4 drops of red food coloring (not found in the original recipe, I added this)

Honey mixture for glazing (I mix 3Tbsp of honey with 1Tbsp of water) - this will be more than enough. I only used about half of the mix.

1. Put all ingredients (except honey mixture) in a big bowl and start mixing them with a pair of chopsticks. Blend and stir the mixture in one direction until the meat becomes gluey.

2. Put some gluey meat on parchment paper and lay a big cling wrap on it. Using a rolling pin, roll the minced meat to about 3-5mm, your preference.  I wouldn't make it too thin cos I live a good bite to it.

3. Put the parchment paper with ground meat on a baking tray and bake at 200F for 20 minutes or until the meat is solid to touch. (Just lift up one corner, if it feels like a rubber mat, it is done.)

4. Remove the meat and cut into size or shape of your preference, then place them on a new piece of parchment paper/aluminum foil.

5. Brush the meat with some honey mixture before broiling/grilling at 450F. Make sure you keep a close watch on the bak kwa because they brown and burn easily.

6. Flip over when the meat turns golden brown, and repeat #5.

7. Once done, let it cool and enjoy!

To store, place them in an air-tight container, like a tupperware, and put them in the fridge. They can last for 3 days. To reheat them, just pop them in a toaster, or microwave them for 20 seconds!

5-spice Powder (from

1 tsp. ground Szechwan pepper
1 tsp. ground star anise
1-1/4 tsp. ground fennel seeds
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pasta Puttanesca

I cannot think of a pasta sauce more appetizing than Puttanesca. To me, it is the combination of many ingredients that would trigger my saliva glands into overdrive. I'm talking about capers, olives, anchovies - elements that would make you keep wanting for more - which was what happened to me! What was supposed to be a portion for 3 to 6 was finished by my husband and me in one serving. I love it!

The idea to make this dish came about because I had capers, olives, anchovies and chilli flakes lying around in my pantry one day. I remembered coming across this dish several times and wanted to try it, but somehow, I never had the chance to. Knowing that I had everything I needed in my kitchen to make it, I went online to scout for recipes. My search led me to The New York Times food section, a place where I'd visit every now and then to get inspiration for my food. I find it really reliable because I have not yet tried any of their dishes that turned out bad. Moreover, this recipe from them looked easy enough. So, I printed a copy out, tacked it to my refrigerator and cooked. Boy did it turn out way delicious!

Pasta Puttanesca (from The New York Times)
Yields 3 to 6 servings

Start the sauce while the pasta water is coming to a boil; finish it while the pasta is cooking. Add a salad and a loaf of bread and you're out the door to your evening's activity, whatever it might be.


Salt to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 or more cloves garlic, lightly smashed and peeled
3 or more anchovy fillets
1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup pitted black olives, preferably oil-cured
2 tablespoons capers
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
1 pound linguine or other long pasta
Chopped fresh parsley, oregano, marjoram or basil leaves for garnish, optional

Bring pot of water to boil and salt it. Warm 2 tablespoons oil with garlic and anchovies in skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is lightly golden.

Drain tomatoes and crush with fork or hands. Add to skillet, with some salt and pepper. Raise heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes break down and mixture becomes saucy, about 10 minutes. Stir in olives, capers and red pepper flakes, and continue to simmer.

Cook pasta, stirring occasionally, until it is tender but not mushy. Drain quickly and toss with sauce and remaining tablespoon of oil. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary, garnish with herbs if you like, and serve.
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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fiore Market Cafe

I have found my favorite cafe in South Pasadena.

Yes, I have.

I have visited it a number of times to confirm my decision, and yes, it is my favorite. Top of the list!

In fact, I love their food so much that I took one of their classes last Sunday and learnt how to make bread. Good old rustic loaf of bread. That's not all. I also got to learn how to make focaccia bread (loves!) and baguette!

Although I've baked bread (with reasonable success) before at home, I could never attain that kind of soft, fluffy, yet chewy texture Fiore Market offers in their sandwiches. I've tried three different recipes with varying success. So, when I saw that Fiore Market had bread making classes, I took a shot at it!

And boy was it fun! I got to meet some really great people at the class, ate some delicious granola, sandwiches, etc and brought home both the recipe (with notes and tips) plus a loaf of bread. The recipe is easy and Bill gives us really clear instructions on what to do, and answers all our questions patiently. Also, one of the things I really like about the class is that you just pay per lesson, so I can choose whichever lesson I want to take (bread, chicken, pizza and the like) without having to commit to a series, so it's really flexible! In fact, I just signed myself up for their lesson on cooking chicken and I can't wait! :D

So here are some snapshots of that day. Unfortunately, I didn't take many photos cos most of the time my hands were either making the dough or digging into the delicious refreshments but I managed to capture a few shots of Bill, the owner, teaching us the steps to attaining that yummy loaf.

Bill removing the foccacia bread from the pan.
The loaves of bread that we would bring home. What is missing is the focaccia, which we gobbled up with some grilled vegetables and cheese. Mmm...!
We were coming to the end of the class and were preparing to take our individual loaves of bread home.
There you have it! Sitting so pretty and nice in my kitchen. It even has a pretty card on it!
So yes, I love the cafe. There is just something really unpretentious and genuine about it. The owners, Bill and his wife Anna, are really friendly. Very often, Bill would step out of the kitchen to say hi to his customers. This gesture may seem small, but it goes a long way to make a customer feel welcomed! :) The cafe is tucked in a corner, with a very cosy interior and a refreshing alfresco dining area where most of the customers would be. The cafe is also surrounded with different types of vegetables in their garden, like arugula, cabbage, etc. Just another thing to amp up the cosy factor! ;)

One of my favorite items in their menu is the tempeh bacon sandwich (it's vegetarian and I never knew tempeh could taste this delicious!), and the other is their cream of chicken soup. They have the Soup of the Day, which changes regularly, so I've only managed to drink that once. But that one time was good enough for me to look forward to having it again each time I pop by. My friend who was with me when we had that said it was the best chicken soup he's ever tasted haha! Their vegetarian salad is also another winner - I love the dressing, and the sugared walnuts makes the salad really special.

Yup, so that ends my rather lengthy post. I do have more things I'd like to add, but I shall stop being so long-winded. Just go experience the delicious food for yourself! :)

Fiore Market Cafe
1000 Fremont Avenue
South Pasadena 91030
626 441 2280 Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

Today is the National Spaghetti day and I am going to post a spag recipe before the clock strikes 12! :)

If I have to name my hubby's favorite spag sauce, this is it. I really like it too, but probably not as much as him, who lives by the principle of less is more for his food. So, to him, this recipe is so good because the few ingredients required (literally can count them with one hand) gives a very clean taste, yet it is not boring nor tasteless. Rather, it is quite the opposite and is very tasty.

So without further ado, here's the recipe for you to enjoy! :)

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
(serves 6)

2 cups of canned tomatoes, preferably San Marzano whole tomatoes, cut up with their juice
5 tablespoons of butter
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half

Put the canned tomatoes in a skillet, add the butter, onion and a good pinch of salt. Cook it uncovered at a very slow but steady simmer for 45 minutes, or until the fat floats free from the tomato. Stir from time to time, mashing any large pieces of tomato in the pain with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and correct for salt. Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with cooked pasta. Sprinkle generously with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and enjoy! 

Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazaan. Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Blessed 2012!

Woohoo! Blessed 2012, everyone!! :)

New year, new beginning, new grace! Cheers!

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