Saturday, June 14, 2008

Carats & Greens

Its been awhile since I had a date with my boyfriend. By that I mean setting up a time and place just the two of us. This was no ordinary date, after all we were celebrating our 5 year anniversary albeit a few days late. So last night we arranged to meet at C.Club in Pavilion for dinner before catching a movie. I was hoping that since we were going to C.Club that some diamond(s) might have been potential anniversary gift. After I greeted Hunky and sat down, I was happy to see:
  1. They had removed the ugly-ass yellow vases from the table
  2. A familiar aquamarine paperbag with the initials T & C!

The last time I dined here was quite some time back. I was keen to see if it was as good as I remembered. The service is still impeccable and they have removed some unsightly decoration (See Lyrical Lemongrass' rant and review here. Hey Aunty, they must've read your blog because they've changed the menu paper so all you old folks can read without straining your eyes!). I was tempted to order their kickass homemade ginger beer again but I only just recovered from a never ending sore throat. The ginger beer here is seriously potent, fantastic if you love ginger as much as I do. So much better than the one at Delicious which is just syrup, syrup and syrup. I read somewhere that vitamin C helps absorb iron so I ordered a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice to go with my spinach salad (RM18) instead. Hunky ordered "country-styled" gravadlax marinated home smoked salmon (RM36). Yes, pay attention to what you order because when the salmon arrived, the gravlax was nowhere to be found. Reading the description again makes sense now. Indeed, it was a thin salmon fillet that had been smoked and marinated with things you use to make gravlax. Ahhhh. Needless to say, Hunky was very disappointed that it wasn't gravlax but he did comment that the salmon was very tasty otherwise - "As good as the original". If you've been to Frangipani, you'll find the menu here somewhat familiar as the Chef here previously worked with Chris Bauer of Frangipani. Warm tea smoked salmon, duck confit, lavender lambshank, salmon rossini, etc... And all of them, a few ringgit cheaper. Ahhhh. My spinach salad was a nice portion for a starter. Clean baby spinach leaves dotted with crumbled feta cheese and sauteed mushrooms. It was served with an anchovy emulsion on the side. I guess too many people must've complained about the saltiness.
I ordered the pan seared salmon “rossini” on oxtail stew, topped with foie gras and balsamic palm sugar glace (RM59) again as it was the best dish of the night when I was last here with the girls. When it arrived, it looked the same. Pan seared foie gras resting on a plump piece of salmon and rich oxtail stew lurking underneath. Unfortunately, just as I was marvelling at how good it looked, Hunky's spring chicken (RM35) arrived looking like last year's winter coat on this year's spring runway. Tsk tsk. Surely this can't have been made by the same person? Where mine is polished and refined, this looked half-hearted and cheap. Despite its appearance, the chicken was moist and the gravy, "mild prawn flavoured mushroom broth", was very tasty. It tasted good enough and reminded us a little like Kenny Rogers in the best possible way. My salmon rossini tasted just as good as before except that the salmon was overcooked and that made it quite dry. Thankfully there were some oxtail gravy to soak it up with. I'm pretty sure there was more oxtail before looking at LL's pictures.

We didn't stay for dessert as I was afraid it might just spoil Hunky's mood if he tasted just one more mediocre dish. Thankfully the movie in Gold Class really lifted Hunky's mood. Incredible Hulk was entertaining and reminded me of the tv series I watched way back when I was a wee laddy. Edward Norton has been away too long. This one is so much better than Ang Lee's version which, to me, came off as pretentious. I should know right? It also helped that I could snuggle under the fresh duvet (felt clean and smelt clean!) they provided. How can one go back to pleb class after this? Quite easily at RM50 per ticket! I think last night was the most expensive dinner and date movie I've ever had.

So did I commit some sort of faux pas by opening my Tiffany gift in Carat Club? Who cares! I just thought it was funny to see the blue box lying on top of the C.Club monogrammed place mat. Before anyone gets too excited (after reading The Zhong Luck Club), it wasn't a ring. As much as I am a sucker for shiny baubles and packaging, the shrewd Chinese woman in me would've shouted "WTF?! Buy Tiffany diamond ring for what? Can get much cheaper at Habib/Poh Kong/unknown online source! But er, can I keep the box?" Happy anniversary Hunky and thank you for the lovely gift!

The C.Club is located at Level 6, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, 168 Jalan Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 03-2141 3160

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Fine Bone China

Butterfly pea flower (clitoria ternatea)

With my recent (fairly successful) completion of "Pseudo Tai-Tai - Basic 8 Course", I decided to take my studies further with "Resplendent Tai Tai - A Full Banquet". After very thorough and extensive research, I finally settled on nyonya zhong and nyonya sambal zhong for my final thesis. Part of the charm of the nyonya dumpling for me is the lovely mix of blue and white rice. Coloured with butterfly pea flowers, the rice turns into a pale shade of the finest Wedgewood. I gathered as many as I could find in the garden. This is what I will miss living in my family home when I move into my tiny concrete flat. No more being able to pluck kaffir lime, chillies, pandan and butterfly pea flowers from the garden anymore. Somehow growing aloe vera on the balcony just isn't the same.

I am still trying to get use to cooking with my newly acquired pressure cooker. Morbid thoughts of the cooker exploding in my face flashes across my mind a lot! I cooked the zhong for, on and off, about an hour. This included time spent off the stove, just waiting for the pressure to ease before putting it back on the stove. The rice was perfectly cooked - glossy and gooey. The colour didn’t “pop” which makes you wonder how much artificial colouring goes into the variety you get commercially. I used 12 flowers boiled and reduced in 100ml of water and yet it barely even shows. It was rather anaemic looking but I was just so chuffed with it that I didn’t really care about the colour. My mum looked at them suspiciously and said “How delicate” which is her way of saying “So damn small, where’s the filling?” I reassured her I made a couple of big ones filled to the brim with filling just for her. I managed to get 32 small zhongs from this recipe. I think this size is perfect. Zhongs should be delicate, barely a mouthful, dainty – did I not just describe the ideal Chinese wife? Hmm, maybe thats why some Chinese men actually find Nigella sexy despite her Rubenesque frame. She does love to harp on about how her mouth can "accomodate". 

I should’ve started with nyonya zhong as it is so much easier than making cao mai zhong. I think it only took three hours in total. I’m also a lot more blasé about the wrapping. Its like folding flour into egg whites, you can’t approach it with too much caution, somehow you end up jinxing it if you do. You just have to tackle head on. I didn't even double-tie them this time. I realise its not the end of the world if some break but none did! Yay!

Most of my family members think my zhongs are “too healthy”. I can’t bring myself to leave all that fat on (Although this time I did cut little cubes of fat which was confusing because I couldn't tell them apart from the winter melon). On the other hand, all those who usually like zhong are singing praises. Like me, they find a lot of zhongs too heavy and rich. This batch of nyonya zhongs was well received but everyone agreed that the flavours could be more intense. More sweet, more salty! I agree with the salt part but I think its bloody sweet enough! I even added more candied winter melon than the recipe suggested. Next time I might chop them a lot coarser so you can taste it but this was gorgeous as all the small pieces of winter melon had caramelized and fused with the garlic and shallots into one beautiful, sticky and tantalizing mess! I didn't get around to starting on the nyonya sambal zhong, maybe I'll just make the filling tomorrow and wrap it up over the weekend. Below is an adapted recipe from One Publisher’s Rice Dumpling cookbook:

  • 12 shallots & 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 600g pork belly, cubed
  • 1kg glutinous rice, rinsed and soaked for 1-2 hours, leave to dry
  • 200g candied wintermelon (chopped coarsely)
  • 15 – 20 butterfly pea flowers (boiled in 100ml water, reduced slightly)
  •  4-5 tbls oil, 2tsp salt
  • Seasoning, 3 tbls ground coriander, 2tsp white pepper, 1 tbls dark soy sauce, 2-3 tsp of salt
  • 2-3 pandan leaves cut into small squares

  1. Mix 300g of glutinous rice with butterfly pea. Marinate the rest of the rice with 4 tablespoon of oil, 1 teaspoon white pepper and 1 teaspoon salt.
  2. Heat oil in a wok and stir-fry garlic and shallots until fragrant. Add pork belly and candied winter melon. Pour in the seasoning and fry a further 10 minutes. Leave aside.
  3. Place 1 teaspoon of glutinous rice followed by a generous tablespoon of filling, then top with half tablespoon of blue rice and 1 tablespoon of rice. Place a square of pandan leaf over just before folding. 
  4. Put a little oil and salt into water before boiling for 50-60 minutes in a pressure cooker

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Zhong Luck Club

giant salmon roe?

Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be somebody’s wife some day. I was never particularly ambitious nor outgoing as a child. I wanted to be just like Mum. Well, not exactly like Mum- someone smack me if I start watching WLT, but I wanted to build a warm and loving home for my faceless husband and me. This “home” in my head never had children in it. You see, I have the maternal instincts of a brick. Up until recently, I was convinced I didn’t want to have children. Since my siblings had children of their own, I was given a glimpse of what life could be with a mini-me. And I realize that its not so scary after all and perhaps I would make an okay mother and not totally screw them up. So now there were only two things left to do 1) snare the man and 2) learn how to make zhong

I have the man but am still not married! It can only be, the Zhong. Everytime I bring it up (zhong, not marriage) I get discouraged by aunties and members of the sisterhood. "Its too difficult dear" or "Why don't you just buy them, they will taste better than whatever you make anyway". I'm onto them. They just don’t want me to get married! They want to keep me single so that they can keep patting me on the arm and give me that look. You see, the key is Zhong. When you can make zhong, you can rule the world. Seriously. Come one day, when I host my mah jong party, which is really a guise for tai-tais to one up each other (hello, didn’t you watch Raise The Red Lantern and more recently, Lust, Caution?), I will bring out the Zhong after my opponents offer homemade kaya, egg tarts and hmmph, rojak. Pitiful! And they will all fall to my feet and proclaim me Supreme Ruler of the... er, Tai-Tais?

It is all fated. Just as I am told that I can finally pick up the keys to my new apartment, The Cooking House has a zhong workshop. The stars are aligned, the time is ripe! Marriage is whthin my grasp! (Run, Hunky run!) Come Sunday morning, I found myself a tiny group of women at Gina Tan's "Dumpling Workshop". She was organized, personable and gave us useful tips along the way. It felt like a sisterly-bonding thing. If she was willing to share the trade secrets, she must be one of the good guys. A godsend if you will. After spending three hours of training, the two tips to making a good zhong is in the folding and investing in a pressure cooker. The first really is as tricky as it seems. Under the guiding hand of Gina, it was easy-peasy but when I actually got home to trying it, it was a different story altogether.

I announced to my mother a few days after that I was going to attempt to make zhong. Big mistake! Mother got super enthusiastic and bought enough raw materials to make enought zhong to sell. 3kgs of pork belly and enough green beans to make dahl for 100 roti canai. I started with alkaline dumplings since it virtually requires no prep work apart from soaking the rice and adding alkaline water and some salt into the clean rice. And although Gina’s recipe said 50 dumplings, I only got 20. I just couldn’t get them as small and delicate as Gina’s. Furthermore, half of them fell apart. It was so disappointing lifting open the lid to find yellow stained water and floating rice bubbling away. And the cooking time was slightly off too, it took three hours instead of two. So when I got to making the cao mai zhong, I made sure I wrapped the hemp string around the zhong twice. It doesn’t look pretty but better than finding broken zhong floating in the water.

Prepping the ingredients was actually the hardest work which is expected really with all Asian cooking. I blanched the pork in boiling water first to get rid of the impurities, then marinated it with rose wine, dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, white pepper, salt and sesame oil. This was cooked with shiitake mushrooms later. The green beans were soaked and marinated with some salt and sesame oil. What was most fun were the salted eggs. I’ve never handled raw salted eggs before so cracking them open to find perfect neon orange yolks was perfectly cheap thrill. I never knew yolks came in pairs! My mother’s maid thought it might have been goose eggs instead of duck as they were a little larger. Think it seems more likely to be a product of genetic modification. Next up, raw chestnuts which needed to be boiled and peeled; shallots and dried shrimp were deep fried and set aside. Last but not least, soaking the glutinous rice for an hour and letting it dry completely. Once dried, fry the rice with garlic, fried shallots and ground dried shrimp, and season with dark soy sauce, sesame oil and pepper. It took me a whole day to wrap as there was so much of it. I have to say, as much as I enjoyed spending the day in solitude with just my greedy and hopeful golden retriever Carlos for company, wrapping zhong is something that should be done with your “sisters”. The job would be done much faster and the whole experience, more pleasurable and meaningful. So next time, I shall be recruiting my sisters to help me with this age-old tradition of zhong. Oh wait, that would mean I have to share the secret. Uh oh.

The second batch of zhong turned out to be a lot more tasty as I fried the glutinous rice with garlic, fried shallots and dried shrimp (fried and chopped finely). This week I want to make nyonya dumpling. Stay tuned for more zhong posts.