Saturday, 26 July 2008

Cantonese claypot rice, without the claypot

Claypot rice is a traditional one-pot meal that my family loved eating on the streets of Kampar in Malaysia. The rice and other ingredients (such as chicken, Chinese sausage and mushrooms) are baked in the claypot on top of a charcoal stove. According to some, the crispy (but not burnt) pieces of rice stuck to the sides and bottom of the claypot are arguably the best part of the dish. The claypot goes from stove to table and everyone either has their own little claypot rice or shares from a communal pot, and the design of the claypot ensures maximum retention of heat and food remains hot for a good while.

Claypot rice

Many stalls and restaurants now cook them on a gas stove instead of charcoal stove, and some argue that charcoal-cooked ones still taste better. Claypot rice can also be cooked in a rice cooker if you don't have a claypot or want the convenience of a rice cooker. You will not get the crispy rice bits at the bottom of the pot but I'm not a big fan of them anyway so that's not a problem. The seasoning for claypot rice is the standard mix of oil and light and dark soy sauces but I also like to use a spice paste that I have found to taste pretty authentic. Instructions at the back make it quite dummy proof too. Chicken, Chinese sausage and dried mushrooms are traditionally used but you can also make this with seafood. AP does not seem to like Chinese sausage so I have replaced that with bacon (you can also use pancetta or even chorizo for different flavours). This is not the most authentic way to make claypot rice, but it is simple and convenient and I get the taste of home - and that's good enough for me!

Ingredients: (serves 4)

4 portions cooked rice, cooled
4 chicken thighs, skinless and boneless (or 2 chicken breasts), cut into bite-sized pieces
2 stalks spring onion, chopped and separate the white and green parts
6 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water for 15 mins and thinly sliced (discard tough stalk)
1 Chinese sausage, sliced (or use 3 rashers of bacon finely chopped)
1 small of piece salted fish, cut into small pieces (optional)

Seasoning for chicken:

1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp Chinese rice wine
1/2 tsp cornflour
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
Dash of white pepper

Seasoning for rice (or use spice paste):

2 tsp oil
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp chilli oil (optional)

1. Marinate the chicken pieces and set aside for 30 minutes.
2. If using, fry the salted fish pieces in oil until crisp and set aside. Heat some oil in a large pan or wok and stir fry the white parts of the spring onions, chicken, Chinese sausage and mushrooms for a few minutes until the chicken turns white and is almost cooked. Set aside.
3. Add the cooked rice, chicken, mushrooms and Chinese sausage back to the wok and pour in the rice seasoning or the spice paste, and green parts of the spring onions. Mix well over medium heat and then transfer to a rice cooker. Let the rice mixture sit on 'Keep Warm' or 'Low' setting for 15-20 minutes for the flavours to mix thoroughly. Garnish with chopped spring onions, coriander and/or salted fish and serve.

Tip: It is worth marinating the chicken pieces even if you're using a spice paste. The flavour and texture of the meat will thank you for it.

This is the spice paste that I use from Asian Home Gourmet. I have tried a number from their range, such as Hainanese Chicken Rice, Tom Yum Soup, Pad Thai, Nonya Curry and so on and they always taste pretty good. They are made with natural ingredients without funky E-numbers, MSG or strange chemical names, and tastes good too, so that ticks all the boxes in my book. I have seen them quite frequently in many Oriental shops here in the UK so they should not be difficult to find (although I often just stock up on some when I am in Singapore).

Claypot rice spice pack

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Friday, 18 July 2008

Farewell party

We had a farewell party last Saturday at home. It was meant to be a BBQ but the great English summer had been so dreary that we had to change to indoor plans instead and ended up with an afternoon tea party followed by a dinner buffet spread (from 4 to 10pm). It was great to meet up with some friends (even though many could not make it and we will be meeting up in the course of the next two weeks) for a good party before we leave and I'm glad that everyone had a good time. Much of the time was spent playing on the Nintendo Wii, especially four players on Mario Kart.

Apart from food, there were plenty of household items involved in the party. We laid out all the books, CDs, clothes and other odds and ends that we are getting rid out all over our dining room. They were going to charity shops anyway so we reckon might as well let friends have first dips. It was pretty impressive how much disappeared. I think we only had about 20 per cent left at the end of the evening!


Seeing all that made us realise how much stuff we had (and could live without)...

Afternoon tea:

Banana bread
Raspberry and white chocolate muffins (following this recipe, just with raspberries and white chocolate bits)
Jaffa cakes
Custard cream
Cadbury Roses and Heroes chocolates
Tea, coffee, Ribena, lemonade



Vegetarian rice vermicelli (fried bee hoon to some of us)
Potato and egg salad
Cocktail sausages and pineapple canapes
Mini quiches
Mini sausage rolls
Mini scotch eggs
Cherry tomatoes
Veggie sticks
White and wholemeal pita
Lemon and coriander hummus
Roasted vegetables hummus
Sour cream and chive dip
Cheese and onion dip
Cheese board - Strongest, applewood smoked, Brie, Stripey Jack and Tintern
Banoffee pie
Carrot cake
Smarties chocolate cake
Fresh strawberries and cream
Selection of wine, lemonade and squash



People were asked told that food is not required but if they would like to bring something, to bring dessert and drinks that they would like. There were quite a number of cakes and puddings, one of which was rather special. Some of them put in money together and bought us a pretty awesome cake. Isn't it grand to have friends who know what would knock your (well, mainly the husband's!) socks off?

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Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Packing up my kitchen (and life here in general)

I normally update this food blog 3 to 4 times a week but this week has been simply impossible. I've hardly had time to eat and sleep and check for important emails, and I am afraid being online is not high on priority at the moment.

We are moving from England to Vancouver, Canada in 2 weeks and it has been extremely hectic with packing, sorting out various logistics matters, and the multiple farewell parties (lunch/coffee/dinner, whatever could be squeezed in) with friends and family. We have been packing non-stop for days to have our belongings shipped tomorrow, after which our schedule is pretty much filled until we leave. I have really enjoyed my time here in England and I will miss this house and especially the garden terribly. But I am also looking forward to living in a beautiful vibrant city with great restaurants and easy access to a sizeable Chinatown.

Things will be unsettled when we first arrive so I am not certain how long it will take for Soy and Pepper to return to regular schedule. I have drafted some articles to be posted over the course of the next month or so, but things might get sporadic for a time. I do read all the comments even if I don't have the time to respond to them individually, so please don't feel that I am ignoring you. It is you, readers, that encourage me to keep this food blog going and to constantly look for new ideas :)

Thank you for your enthusiasm and support and I look forward to being back on regular schedule soon. (Not to mention having my own kitchen again!)

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Friday, 11 July 2008

Rosemary and garlic roast potatoes

I love proper roast potatoes, big chunky ones that are fluffy on the inside but golden and crispy on the outside. But I'm not that keen on all that oil being used for the roasting. It's pretty scary to look at a tray full of roasties half submerged in oil.

This recipe uses much less oil but sacrifices little in flavour, especially with the addition of garlic and rosemary. I prefer to leave the skin on for this, less work to do and extra nutrition too. Just be sure to wash and scrub them well. You can use new potatoes or large ones like King Edward or Maris Piper. There is no need to parboil them and they need very little attention once in the oven (no problem if left in the oven for a bit too long).

Rosemary and garlic roast potatoes

Ingredients (serves 4 as a side dish):

800g potatoes
2-3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
10g butter (optional)
3 stalks of rosemary, leaves picked and chopped (or 2tsp dried)
1 clove of garlic, minced


1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C/gas 6. Wash and scrub the potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes.
2. Place the potato cubes in a roasting dish and add the olive oil, butter and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Toss to mix well and cook in the middle of the oven for 40-45 minutes until tender. Mix and turn the potatoes once in the middle of cooking to get them evenly golden brown.

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Wednesday, 9 July 2008

"Erm, I'm sure I didn't spend that much on groceries..."

One habit that I picked up from my mum is to always check my receipt after paying at the supermarket. I have found, on occasions, that discounts or promotions were not always taken off, and there was even once when I've had an item that wasn't paid for because the barcode did not register. Actually I had more problems trying to pay for that one uncharged item than claiming for all other overcharged ones, but that's another story.

Today, I didn't need to scan through my receipt after clearing check-out to note that something wasn't quite right. When I was still at the till, the amount payable came up to £66.49. I was pretty certain that I could not have bought £66 worth of groceries in two small shopping bags (and no, they were not full of bottles of champagne!). The supervisor came round and immediately spotted the problem:

How much??

Yes, dear readers, those were the most expensive English muffins ever! All four of them. I got my money back immediately and it was rather amusing. But that justified my 'scanning-through-the-receipt' habit, if anyone ever asked!

In other news, I was just informed by Michelle from The Greedy Gourmet that my Simmered Hijiki Seaweed with Edamame (Hijiki Nomono) has won the second prize in the SnackShots blog event for salads! That was such a pleasant surprise. My thanks to the judges and Michelle. Do hope on over to see the beautiful range of salads that other bloggers have come up with for SnackShots #4: Salad, and check out the next event - Snackshots #5: Meringue.


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Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Bento update

I have not been taking many photos of our bento recently. Things have been quite hectic (I'll update on why later) and many of our lunches were packed on the fly or were brainless repeats from previous lunches that didn't really warrant new photos. Strawberries and cherries featured quite prominently in our bento the past few weeks (not really apparent here). In fact, I've been keeping a constant supply of them in the fridge since they are currently in season and are the most delicious, flavoursome and cheapest fruit around. Got to make the most of them while we can!

Bacon and cheese quiche on a bed of salad leaves, strawberries, cherries and piggy container of salad dressing.

Potato and cucumber salad, cherries and strawberries, maki sushi (leftovers from dinner) and bunny container of soy sauce

Stir fried sugar snap peas and peppers, nori wrapped chicken cakes (I made extra with dinner), and rice with furikake.

Cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, cocktail sausages, potato salad with egg and spring onions

Rice mixed with salmon furikake, meatballs, tamagoyaki (Japanese sweet omelette) with spinach, and edamame.

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Saturday, 5 July 2008

Nori wrapped chicken cakes

These should be more accurately called 'nori wrapped turkey cakes', since they were made with minced turkey but that doesn't sound quite right, does it? The original recipe called for minced chicken, which I couldn't find but there was minced turkey and I thought it was close enough. You could also make this with minced pork.

I used to make mini patties using minced pork and then pan frying them. I later had some Japanese ones that were wrapped with a band of nori (dried seasoned seaweed, used in wrapping sushi), which really changed the flavour. Definitely worth a try for something different. These mini patties are also great for fitting into lunch boxes so I always make plenty with leftovers for the next day. Just heat them up in the microwave for a couple of minutes or under the grill for 3 minutes on each side. If you make them small enough, these chicken cakes are great party/finger food as well. Or serve them on a bed of lettuce with a yakitori or sweet chilli dip as a starter/appetiser. There are so many ways to enjoy them, it would be a shame not to make any.

Nori wrapped chicken (turkey) cakes

Ingredients (make about 25-30 depending on individual size)

500g minced chicken (or pork)
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp mirin (or sweet sherry)
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp corn flour
2 sheets of nori, cut into wide strips
Oil for pan frying


1. Mix the minced chicken, light soy sayce, mirin, sugar and corn flour together until well combined. Leave to marinate for 15-30 minutes.
2. Heat a heavy based pan with about 2 tbsp of oil on medium heat. Shape the meat mixture into small patties, wrap a strip of nori around it and place in the pan to pan fry. Repeat until the pan is full.
3. Pan fry the chicken cakes for about 5 minutes on each side until cooked through. (Tip: If you make the chicken cakes thinner they will cook quicker.) Repeat with the remaining minced chicken mixture and pan fry the chicken cakes in batches.

This would go well with plain rice and a vegetable side dish. I served this earlier in the week with cold soba and bak choy in oyster sauce.

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Friday, 4 July 2008

Eating Xiao Long Bao (小笼包) in Shanghai and Singapore

Perhaps the most famous of Shanghainese cuisine (especially outside of China) is the Xiao Long Bao (小笼包), or Shanghai steamed soup dumpling. There are lots of different types of dumplings that varies according to the filling and whether they are steamed, fried or cooked in soup. The term 'soup' in its name should give you a clue as to why the Xiao Long Bao is so special. Other than having succulent fillings of minced pork (some varieties also include prawns or even crab) encased within a delicately opaque wrapping, the dumplings are also filled with delicious stock. The dumplings are arranged on cabbage leaves or muslin and then steamed in bamboo steamers. They are usually served with slivers of ginger and Chinese black vinegar in a saucer.


A well made Xiao Long Bao should have a good portion of filling and stock within each dumpling, and the wrapper must be thin and delicate enough so as not to taste 'floury' or sticky, but still strong enough to hold in the filling without bursting (what a waste of the precious liquid!). It was only when I read Steamy Kitchen's post on making Xiao Long Bao that I realised how that stock-within-a-dumpling is achieved - by making gelatinous stock! Mystery solved. Now that I know how it is made, I could theoretically make my own Xiao Long Bao (especially since they are next to impossible to get here in the middle of England). But honestly, it is one of the most labour intensive thing ever (as with most varieties of dim sum, which is why they are such popular restaurant food). It is definitely one of those food that you go out to restaurants for.

Shanghai Xiao Long Bao were originally from a town called Nanxiang, a suburb of Shanghai. The Nanxiang Bun Shop (Nanxiang Mantou Dian), which derives from the original store in Nanxiang but now located in the City God Temple precinct in Shanghai, is famed for its crab meat-filled dumplings and is traditionally considered the most authentic. The restaurant has more than 100 years of history and is always packed with hungry diners, curious tourists and dim sum connosiuers. One could eat in the restaurant upstairs, but there's a perennial queue on the ground floor outside the takeaway counter. Because Xiao Long Bao is so labour intensive, with each made by hand and then steamed, it takes much patience to queue at Nanxiang. I have done it in 45 minutes and just over an hour. You've got to want it badly!

The ever-present queue at Nanxiang Bun Shop.

Baskets of steaming dumplings at the counter

A gift-pack of 32 crab meat-filled dumplings cost RMB30 (around £2.10, or US$4.20). Yes, it makes me want to weep.

A simple take-away portion is less impressive in presentation, but no less delicious. This was pork filling, and I think it was either RMB10 or 15. The skin was a little thicker than I preferred, although not too floury, but the pork filling was the most delicious I have ever tasted.

At the back of the counter, there was a veritable factory of a kitchen, with an assembly line of staff working the dough, making the filling, wrapping the dumplings and steaming.



Rasa Malaysia recently wrote a post about Xiao Long Bao from Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese restaurant that is famous for its Xiao Long Bao and has branches in various countries AP and I personally prefer the ones from Crystal Jade (a Singapore-based restaurant group that also has branches overseas) but we were quite happy to eat Xiao Long Bao at Din Tai Fung that last time we were back in Singapore.

Perfectly formed dumplings at Din Tai Fung. The skin was a lot thinner compared to Nanxiang. But I prefer the flavour of the filling at Nanxiang.

Chefs hard at work

The interesting part of eating at Din Tai Fung was that they had instructions for eating Xiao Long Bao printed on their chopsticks sleeves! It kind of makes sense. You don't want hot soup squirting all over when you bite into your dumpling, not to mention wasting the delicious stock. So how should one eat Xiao Long Bao?



Step number 6, which was cut off at the end of the above photo is simply to eat and enjoy your Xiao Long Bao!

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Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Spaghetti Bolognese

Everybody seems to have a slightly different recipe for spaghetti bolognese. I guess it's one of those dishes in which the best recipe is the one cooked by your mum! In any case, the essentials are the same: onion, minced beef, and tomatoes. It's the 'extra' ingredients that make the recipe your own. Bolognese sauce freezes well and any extra portion can be stored in the freezer for a few weeks.

The UK government recommends an intake of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Did you know that a plate of spaghetti bolognese could count as 3 portion of that? There is the tomatoes and onions of course, and if you add ingredients such as diced carrots, peppers, sliced mushrooms, or even peas, it's pretty easy to make a dish that is chokeful of vegetables without even realising it. I like to add mushrooms and peppers in particular. I have mentioned my aversion to green peppers in general and this is one of the few instances when I would put green peppers in a dish (especially if I buy multi coloured ones in a pack). But I actually had just one yellow pepper that day so it went into the bolognese sauce anyway.

Spaghetti Bolognese

Ingredients (serves 2):

Spaghetti, 2 portions
Oil for cooking
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
4-5 mushrooms, chopped
1 pepper, diced
450g lean minced beef
1 large glass of red wine
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp concentrated tomato paste
Small handful of thyme/oregano/parsley, chopped (or use 1 tsp dried)
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated parmesan (optional)


1. Heat some oil in a large, heavy-based pan. Saute the onions and garlic gently over medium heat, until softened. Turn up the heat and brown the minced beef, breaking up all lumps.
2. Pour in the wine and simmer until reduced. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste and herbs. Season well with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer the Bolognese sauce for 30-60 minutes until rich and thickened, stirring occasionally.
3. Cook the spaghetti in a large pan of boiling water, according to packet instructions. Drain and divide between warmed plates. Ladle the Bolognese over each portion, finish with a scattering of grated parmesan and chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Similar recipes:
Chicken and chorizo pasta
Baked penne with chicken and salami
Cheater's meatballs with spaghetti

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