Wednesday, 1 February 2023

My First Attempt at Making Poon Choy

Since I was home alone this year and had lots of time on my hands, I thought I'd finally attempt making Poon Choy or Prosperity Bowl (sometimes also called Wealth, Treasure or Celebration Pot).  Poon Choy is a well sought-after dish during Chinese New Year (CNY) for the layers of different auspicious ingredients and meaning that goes into it (rather obvious from the word "prosperity" already!).

I guess if you have to cook a feast of (say) 10 dishes, you might as well make poon choy which is much simpler since it's like a one-pot dish.  Some would just order them from restaurants as a takeaway and have it at home.   I've eaten poon choy at restaurants and had also watched a video (by Cooking Ah Pa) on how to make one and realised it's actually pretty doable.

And since I had most of the ingredients in my fridge and pantry anyway, I got down to doing it.  Making a poon choy is all about blanching and layering the ingredients.  I started with a stock for blanching the ingredients. I made a chicken stock (with choi yin kai bones) or you could use just water.  I couldn't since I was making a mini poon choy which would have too few ingredients to flavour the water.  Then again, even if you're making a 10-pax poon choy, how much flavour would the blanched ingredients bring anyway? ;)

Vegetables would be the first thing to be blanched since they form the bottom layer of the poon choy.  The usual vegetables used would be carrots, pak choy (Chinese cabbage) and radish.  I used carrots and cabbage (I improvised with what I had + I don't like Chinese cabbage anyway).  Radish would be a good choice too to line the bottom of the poon choy as softened radish would absorb the broth and take on flavour.  Some would also use broccoli for the vibrant green it brings to the top layer of the poon choy.

Next, I blanched the abalone (I still had two leftover which I kept aside after making a braised mushrooms and abalone dish for the reunion dinner) and parboiled two dried scallops.  The scallops started to break apart after just a few minutes in the broth (even from a dried and hardened state without soaking), so I had to take them out and steamed them instead to keep them from breaking.

I then parboiled two large prawns.  If you've noticed that the stock is slightly darker, that's because I decided (at this point) to add a bit of soy hoping that I could infuse the prawns with a bit more flavour.  The balance ingredients were steamed.

With that, I was ready to start assembling my poon choy starting with the first (or bottom) layer.  I filled it with a layer of softened carrot slices (cut into a floret-pattern...hehe).

Next was a layer of softened cabbage leaves.  If I had softened beancurd sheets (fu chuk), that would have been the next layer as the addition of fu chuk would also be a great vehicle to absorb the sauce at the bottom.

I then arranged the next layer with all the other auspicious goodies like prawns, dried shiitake mushrooms (I also kept a few from the previous day's braised mushroom dish), abalone, dried scallops, chicken, lap cheong (dried pork sausage) and yun cheong (liver sausage) which I steamed.

After that, all that was needed was to season the stock (you can use oyster sauce, light soy, Shaoxing wine, etc...just not dark soy so that the sauce will not be too dark in colour).  Let the sauce reduce (or you could use a little cornflour slurry) and pour it over the arranged ingredients.....and the poon choy for one is ready.

Did you notice my lame attempt at trying to carve out a bunny-shaped carrot (this is the Year of the Rabbit after all)?  That was how much time I had on my hands (lol)...and that's the beauty of cooking for one!  I don't even have a paring knife to do such a thing. ^_~

Not the prettiest, well arranged poon choy I've to say.  I didn't even have a claypot to present it in.  I used the nearest thing I had....I metallic look-alike version of a claypot.  Also, one is supposed to let the poon choy ingredients overflow to the brim of the claypot.  If I had done so, this would not be a poon choy for one...hah..hah.

So, make sure you choose the right-sized claypot to hold your poon choy (and don't underestimate the size). My 16cm (only) metallic claypot may look small but, as it turned out, it could hold a lot more than I thought (probably enough even for a 4-pax poon choy).  This mini one alone took me two meals to finish.

poon choy is a very popular dish/meal eaten during CNY as it's convenient and can be prepared ahead of time.  All you have to do is blanch/parboil/steam the ingredients needed and assemble it when dinner time draws near.  You can reheat the claypot's ingredients and pour the hot broth/sauce over.  

poon choy is favoured as it contains chosen auspicious ingredients like carrots for good luck, cabbage for growing fortune, prawns for laughter and happiness, mushrooms to symbolise longevity, abalone and dried scallops to bring wealth and prosperity, chicken celebrates togetherness and harmony and lap cheong is symbolic for wealth.

I may be home alone but that doesn't mean I shouldn't enjoy something special, so I thought this would be as good a time as any to make a mini poon choy for myself since my family wasn't around + they aren't quite into steamed and braised stuff that goes into one.  It was last year when I first noticed a few restaurants promoting their "a person, a bowl" poon choy that first gave me the idea of making one actually.

Now that I know how easy it is to put together a poon choy (even though this was just a mini one), this would certainly be a worthwhile consideration in future if I had to cook for a bigger group of guests (of say 10 - 12) during CNY as the work is much simpler (and lighter) than cooking like 6 - 8 individual dishes.  You may want to consider it too. ^.^

Thursday, 26 January 2023

Welcoming Guests for a Reunion Dinner at Home

As we welcome the Year of the Rabbit, I welcome guests for the traditional reunion dinner in my home for the first time.  That's because all reunion dinners have always been celebrated in Ipoh when my in-laws were still around.  And then there were years when we celebrated it in KL when my mother-in-law was immobile followed by years of the pandemic that we all want to put behind us.

So, for the second year in a row, we had our reunion dinner at home in KL but, this time, we welcomed my sister-in-law's family to join us for the reunion makan.  I'm not one to follow tradition or be overly concerned if the dishes I serve at the reunion table are made with auspicious ingredients but since I have guests, I should (at least) make an effort to include such ingredients in our reunion dinner menu, don't you?

When you're cooking for a sizeable number of people and have limited kitchen equipment (like only one stove top coz one of the burners of my double induction hob died on me), you need to devise a meal plan where some of the dishes can be cooked ahead of time or use different cooking methods (divide and conquer lah) so that the dishes can cook simultaneously in order to save time.  That way, the dishes can be ready (and served hot) at the same time.

#1 - Pork Ribs Soup with Garlic & Peppercorns

This is like a Singapore or (Teochew)-style bak kut teh where pork ribs are simmered with enoki mushrooms, garlic cloves and white peppercorns for a resulting soup that's lighter but with a more garlicky and peppery flavour.  Pork is served as it's a symbol for wealth and strength while enoki mushrooms (or golden needle mushrooms) represents gold (and anything gold or golden is always welcomed).

Making a soup as one of the dishes for the reunion dinner is a smart move as the soup can be made ahead of time and needs very little watching over as you can leave it to simmer on its own in a slow cooker, so that's one course taken care of already

#2 - Fried Fish with Sambal

Fish is almost always guaranteed to be on any reunion menu (and it's usually steamed whole) to ensure success in the coming year like the saying nian nian you yu (may you have abundance and surplus every year).  Fish was very expensive this year, so much so my fishmonger didn't even dare to take stock of Chinese pomfret (or tau tai chong).

The common practice is to cook steamed pomfret but I made do with a cheaper fish of kau yue (Spanish mackerel) and cooked sambal fried fish that everyone can enjoy.  This is certainly a dish you can cook ahead as it doesn't need to be served hot (like steamed fish) to be good.  I just pan-fried the fish first and top it with my own-made chilli paste (that was prepared ahead and frozen) which I fried in oil till aromatic and slightly caramelised.  Spoon that over the fish and finish with a drizzle of soy, garlic oil and fried garlic bits.

#3 - Oven-Roasted Chicken

The Chinese word for chicken (ji) is a hononym for good luck and fortune.  That's why poaching or steaming a whole chicken is a popular choice at reunion dinners as it represents completeness, family unity and togetherness...but you're supposed to serve it whole (head and feet included).  This symbolic dish is in serious need of an update (lol) coz how is a small family going to finish one whole chicken since having big families are no longer the norm these days.

For my party-of-six, two chicken legs would be sufficient (since there are other dishes) and I decided to roast them.  Roasting them in the oven is part of the divide and conquer principle since using the oven will free up my stove top for cooking other dishes.  Once the chicken is in the oven, I can move on and concentrate on my other dishes.  The key to crispy skin chicken is to ensure the chicken is thoroughly dry before marinating (I leave it in the fridge uncovered overnight to air dry it).  Just remember to return it to room temperature (and rub a little olive oil on the skin) before roasting.

#4 - Assam Pedas Prawns

If you want a year filled with hee hee and ha ha (laughter and joy), then prawns need to grace your reunion dinner table. This year, large-sized prawns were also expensive.  Luckily, I bought some well before CNY on the urging of my fishmonger.

I chose to make assam pedas prawns after my recent success with a ready-made assam pedas paste.  After all, my cooking style for a reunion dinner is quick, easy and without stress! ;D  Why not when the taste resembles a good assam pedas.  I decided to remove the heads and peeled the prawns (only leaving the tail intact) so that my guests can have a mess-free experience eating the prawns (that have been cooked with ladies finger, tomatoes, onions and kaffir lime leaves).  This is not all there is...there was more in the pot.  My nephew clearly enjoyed both the chilli-based dishes.

#5 - Braised Mushrooms with Abalone & Dried Scallops

The coin-like shape of mushrooms and scallops symbolises prosperity while abalone's (bau yue) homonym is absolute prosperity or guaranteed surplus thereby making this a popular dish during CNY.  For me, it's a must-have dish coz I absolutely adore eating it (and, over the years, I've gotten better at doing it for an improved taste).

The key to a good braised mushroom dish is the braising liquid.  Mine is a chicken stock made with kampung chicken (or choi yin kai) bones.  I also use the liquid in which the mushrooms were steeping in and some of the abalone sauce from the can to add further umami to the braising broth.  Good quality Japanese dried scallops also helps.  This dish is good for cooking ahead of time coz for the longer it sits in the sauce, the mushrooms absorb even more flavour.  When dinner time comes round, you just need to reheat and serve...and you've one less dish to cook.

#6 - Stir-Fried Dragon Chives

A vegetable dish is always needed to balance out all the other meaty dishes.  The more common vegetables would be lettuce (sang choy) for wealth, bok choy for luck and good fortune, kai lan for long life and broccoli for harmony.  I don't know about dragon chives (ching loong choy)....but anything associated with the Chinese zodiac sign of dragon will be good, right?  After all, when it's the dragon year, many couples will try extra hard for a 'dragon baby'!

Again, along the lines of quick cooking, simple stir-fried dragon chives with garlic it's one of the easiest, quickest stir-fry vegetables (it literally takes seconds to cook).  What you see here is just half the vegetables as I cooked a second batch.  Vegetables are always too much to fit into the pan but as they cook and wilt, they become very little.  I love dragon chives!

We ended our meal with premium Bacha coffee (which was gifted to me) and bakery-bought doughnuts and coffee buns.  Bitter black coffee is best paired and savoured with something sweet.

In the end, we finished everything that was served (except for 3 pieces of mushrooms)...and that's how I like it, no leftovers to deal with (I wouldn't want to be eating all the leftovers by myself over the next 2 - 3 days).  Or was that a sign that the food was good?  Kekeke! ;)

If you're cooking for a large group of guests (mine was a very manageable six though I've cooked for a bigger group of 10 - 12 before), the key to a less stressful reunion dinner cookout is to keep the menu simple and design a menu that you can use multiple kitchen equipment simultaneously so that they can all finish cooking at almost the same time.  The menu should also include some dishes that can be prepared ahead of time (especially those that improve in flavour over time) either on the morning of the dinner itself or even the night before and all it needs is just reheating.  Perhaps you can keep this tip in mind the next time you're planning a menu for your reunion dinner.  Hope you had fun cooking (and eating) across the Lunar New Year. Cheers! ^_~

Monday, 23 January 2023

Home Alone This Chinese New Year!

This Chinese New Year (CNY) I'm home alone!  My family went back to Ipoh on the first day of the Lunar New Year but I decided to stay put.  Since the pandemic, I've grown used to not travelling...and the idea of getting stuck in traffic for a longer than anticipated balik kampung journey isn't something I look forward to these days.  Anyway, I'm more than happy to spend some me time at home by myself! ^_~

Though I may be home alone, at least I've got some snacks (and the idiot box) to keep me company.  Time to binge-watch some downloaded series/movies (The Menu, Amsterdam, BTS Concert, Dr Death are some that comes to mind)! ;)  I'm not one to snack big time and these days (after the pandemic) I don't go looking for anything new in the nearby wet markets either.  I just stick to my usual stash of snacks that I've been happily munching on all these years.

The first is (of course) my family's must-have Prawn Crackers...the same one I buy every year to fry.  Last year's price was RM33 (for 600g of uncooked crackers), this year it went up to RM35 (these days increase in prices don't surprise us anymore).  This year I ended up giving them to even more recipients, so there wasn't quite enough for us (sorry, there'll be no second refill for my sisters-in-law..hehe).  I think I need to up my stock again next year.  One recipient liked it so much that she immediately asked me to buy 5 packets for her but (as expected) my supplier had already sold out her stock as early as 4 weeks before CNY (she said she had to put in her order with her supplier as early as October and she doesn't have an option to restock).

Similarly like last year, I ordered the Crab (Surimi) Crackers from the same source.  This time it was even easier as I already have her contact stored in my Whatsapp.  The price went up to RM20 from RM18 last year (again a price increase is a given these days).  This year I placed an order for 6 cans (3 were my sister-in-law's order, one to give-away and two for our own consumption).  I remember last year that it took us quite a while to finish the two cans but this year it disappeared in a jiffy (probably because I bought less types of snacks). Love the light savoury taste and super crispiness of it (need to get more next year!).

This year, my dry goods supplier sold these Chicken Biscuits (RM25) which he made sure to introduce them to me.  In my years of balik kampung, we'd usually stop by Bidor for breakfast enroute to Ipoh and also to stop by Pun Chun to buy their famous chicken biscuits but I remember those biscuits to be thick.

These ones are super thin and crispy with added fragrance from the black and white sesame seeds.  The taste of the fermented red bean curd and five spice powder is also not as overpowering.

From the sticker on the can, I think (everything was written in Chinese) the goods are sold in Ipoh at 3 places (Ipoh Garden, Jalan Theatre and Pasir Putih).  I thought it was pretty good and went back to buy a further two cans to give away.

This year I told my sisters-in-law not to gift me any cookies and stuff coz we don't eat them as much now and will struggle to finish them.  So one sister-in-law gifted me Bak Kwa....ah, as the paper bag says...this is truly a bag of love....kekeke!  This year, a 600g pack retails for about RM75...ouch!

This once-a-year indulgence my family welcomes with open arms...and this year, they came in rather colourful packaging.  Between the two flavours, I definitely preferred the original (in purple, orange & green packaging) to the spicy (in blue packaging).  My husband concurs as the spicy one is just too spicy that you just can't taste the original flavour of the bak kwa anymore.  I've bought the spicy one before some years back but don't remember it to be that fiery.  I had one piece and that's it...the heat level is just too much for me! >_< 

And that's about all the snacks we have to munch on this year....Mandarin Oranges (about RM25 for medium-sized ones) don't count, right?  I was very controlled with the buying so that we can practise eating in moderation.  Last year, I ordered the oranges from Shopee supermarket to be delivered to my doorstep (but this year they weren't selling), so I had to go to the shops to lug them home.  Mandarin oranges is a must every year as I need them as giveaways to (some) neighbours, my newspaper delivery man, the sampah men (refuse collectors), our gated community security guards, my hairdresser, even Shopee delivery personnel.

These days I favour these small Honey Mandarins as they're extra juicy and easy to eat (look kinda cute too)....and they're also much lighter to cart home! ;P  They're, of course, much pricier than their bigger cousins....and retails at around RM15 a packet. You'd probably get about 20 - 25 in one packet and they last very long in the fridge.

Just like I told my sisters-in-law not to get me any cookies, I feel I should reciprocate and do the same.  So I got them some dry goods (like mushrooms, dried prawns, ikan bilis and dried cuttlefish) instead which I thought is a rather practical gift, one which they can use for their day-to-day cooking (also to help out my dry goods supplier lah whose business is not that great this year it seems).  Other pricier options that's great as a giveaway include lap cheong (dried sausage), lap ngap (waxed duck), hoe see (dried oyster) and dried scallops (conpoy).

Another sister-in-law, in return, gave me a few cans of Abalone, Japanese Dried Scallops and Sea Cucumber...premium gifts, no doubt.  Such practical gifts are way better than cookies which can be put to good use in our cooking for all to enjoy.

This year we were also privileged to receive a CNY Hamper (courtesy of someone's employer).  Incidentally, this is a vegetarian hamper.  I spotted two types of bird's nest, a bottle of Merlot (red wine), pineapple juice, cookies of sesame straws and kuih bangkit (tapioca cookies) and even handmade ramen.  One of the boxes only has Chinese writing on it, so I don't know what's that.

Actually, if there's a cookie I like to eat it would be these melt-in-the-mouth tapioca cookies if they've a good dose of santan (coconut milk) flavour in them (though I try to refrain from eating them).  Now what am I going to do with handmade ramen?  It's not like I know how to make tonkotsu ramen broth.  As for the bottle of red wine, perhaps I might finally attempt a beef stew or a red wine reduction sauce (for steaks) but I'll need to research recipes online coz I've no idea how to make these or even where to start! :O

On a side note, we got these well-known Tanjung Sepat Tapioca (Cassava) Chips (kerepek ubi) before CNY but continued munching them well into CNY.  We got 3 flavours...original, spicy and barbeque.  Tapioca chips has a thicker and harder texture compared to potato chips, so if you like your chips with a good bite, then you'll fancy this.  These kerepek ubi from Tanjung Sepat specifically are fresh, crispy.....and good....and the spicy one is the best! ^.^

As you can see, I was very controlled this year with the best performance so far, don't you think?  Lol!  So, for those of you who can (and want to) enjoy CNY snacks, do so without guilt...after all, CNY comes round only once a year.  We live only let's hop into the Year of the Rabbit and enjoy our guilty pleasures while we still can!

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

We Need Some Cheat Meals in our Lives!

No, no.....I know what you're thinking.....but my kind of cheat meal is not one where you're trying to abstain from a certain type of food that will temporarily break the rules of a diet you're indulging in a sweet dessert or eat carbs when you're not supposed to.

Well, my cheat meals have nothing to do with foods you're not permitted to eat in your diet....they're more like cooking cheats that produce cheat meals that look (and taste) the part with little toiling in the! :D  And we all know we definitely need some of those secret recipes in our repertoire...hehe.

All the cutting, peeling, chopping, slicing and blending some kind of a chilli paste isn't something we want to be doing often (perhaps not even at all).  Why go through all the work and hassle to make our own when we can simply resort to a ready-made paste...especially so when we need to buy so many ingredients (such as chillies, galangal, lemongrass, ginger, torch ginger, turmeric, tamarind, curry powder, all kinds of biji-biji or seeds and spices like cumin, coriander, fenugreek, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, cloves, etc.) just to make a small portion (not that I know how some of these seeds and spices work anyway as my own-made chilli paste is super simple).

I've always loved food that is a little spicy and a little an assam pedas which literally means "sour spicy"! ;)  An assam pedas sauce is a spicy and tangy gravy which works well with seafood like fish, prawns or squid.

Since I had some prawns in my freezer (and don't know how to nor want to make an assam pedas paste from scratch), I asked my dry goods supplier if he has an assam pedas paste that he can recommend and he gave me this Tumisan Asam Pedas (or Assam Paste for Seafood) by Tean's Gourmet to try.

A 200g ready-made Tean's Gourmet Assam Pedas Paste is good for 600g of seafood with 400ml water, so you just need to follow the packet instructions to the tee to achieve desired results.  I've seen many ready-made pastes sold in the market but I seldom buy as I don't know which ones are good.  Since this one came recommended by my supplier, I dared to try.

To test-cook this paste, I decided to make Assam Pedas Prawns.  I used 300g prawns with the bodies shelled (for easier eating) but I left the heads (for sucking all the good bits + the prawn brains add even more flavour to the dish) and tails (for better presentation) intact.  You can choose to remove all the shells, your call.  Not knowing how spicy the paste would be, I decided to use a little less than the prescribed dose of half the paste (probably about 75g) with less water too (about 150ml). 

The only thing I did extra was that I sauteed about 10 sliced shallots before adding the paste.  In western cooking, there is no such thing as too much butter!  Well, in Chinese cooking pulak, there is no such thing as too many shallots! ;)  I always add extra shallots to any paste or sauce I'm making coz shallots just brings more flavour to the sauce by adding thickness and sweetness with a garlicky hint.  I also threw in a few kaffir lime leaves (from my neighbour's garden) for extra fragrance.

Once the shallots are translucent, add in the paste and kaffir lime leaves followed by the prawns.  When the prawns are almost done, add in the water the amount of which depends if you like your assam sauce thicker or more watery.  As you can see, I wanted it thicker.  Taste-test at this point to see if it meets your savouriness level but I required no further seasoning.

I've to say my first attempt at making assam pedas prawns was rather successful even if it was done with a pre-made  I thought the assam pedas flavours were spot on with its well balanced flavours of spicy and tart.

Seeing that I really enjoyed the assam pedas prawns, I used the balance paste (of about 125g) to make Assam Pedas Fish since I had a 250g piece of Spanish mackerel (ikan tenggiri or kau yue).  I prefer to pan-fry the kau yue first but you can choose not to.

I sliced one onion and cut into two 4 - 5 okras and one tomato into wedges coz a dish of assam pedas fish would not be complete without these vegetables.  I sauteed the sliced onions until soft first before adding the paste and about 250ml water to make a (more watery) sauce as this is assam fish after all.  I then added the tomato wedges and kaffir lime leaves.  Once the tomatoes soften, you can add in the pre-fried fish followed by the okras (which I already pre-steamed ahead to soften).

If your fish is not pre-fried first, then you can add it in sooner to cook with the vegetables (the okra need not be pre-steamed then) so that the fish has enough time to cook through (you may also need a bit more water for this).  Besides Spanish mackerel, you can make it with other types of fish that you fancy like grouper, snapper, stingray (ikan pari) or tilapia but it's especially good with black/white pomfret or Indian mackerel (ikan kembong).

The earlier assam pedas prawns I made were a bit drier and this assam pedas was a more watery version with vegetables and it was just as good, so you can go either way depending on your preference.  Note that there's a lot more sauce than what you see in the photo as I did not scoop all the sauce (or vegetables) onto the plate.

Just remember to season accordingly.  For the dry version, I didn't need any further seasoning and I added just a little bit of salt for the more watery version.  My dry goods supplier even recommended that I add a bit of sugar to round up the flavours (I didn't though).

After a rather satisfying result with the assam pedas paste, I was eager to try Tean's Gourmet Tumisan Kari Ayam (or Chicken Curry Paste) next.  I decided to make Prawns & Squid Curry with Pineapples with 300g (fairly large) prawns, 2 squid and 2 wedges of pineapple cut into chunks.

The package instructions say 250 - 500ml (that's quite a lot, for a whole 1.5 kg chicken, maybe), though I did measure out 250ml but I didn't use it all, I probably used about half (125ml or half a cup).

Saute the paste for just a little bit with some curry leaves before stirring in the prawns, squid and pineapple chunks.  Next, add in the water (I think I added too much actually, so add in little by little to see how much you actually need).  Don't forget that as the pineapples cook, they release water and there's also the coconut milk).  Let it simmer for a minute or two until the seafood turns opaque, then add in 100ml of santan or coconut milk (I used Ayam brand, half a packet).

Taste wise, it's a light tasting curry with tangy flavours but don't under-estimate it's spiciness, it had a good level of heat.  

Although a tangy, lighter version of curry works well in a seafood version of curry, the taste wasn't what I was expecting.  It was ok but didn't exactly bowl me over.

I'd say it's more like a Nyonya curry that's lighter with sourish notes rather than a savoury-creamy-spicy Malay-type curry.  I wondered if it was the pineapples that made the curry sourish.  The next time I make this, I'll make sure to use less water and more santan for a thicker and creamier consistency.

With the balance half of the chicken curry paste, I wanted to try it with Chicken Curry as the paste was originally intended for (as per the packaging).  I used one chicken leg, 2 potatoes (pre-steamed for 10 minutes until soft) and 5 pcs of beancurd puffs (tau fu pok) cut into two.  Cook the chicken in the paste with about 100ml water.  Once the chicken is fully cooked, stir in the santan (I used the balance half left behind from my earlier Prawns & Squid Curry with Pineapples) and (pre-steamed) potatoes.

In my previous seafood curry, I wasn't sure if the lightly sourish flavour was due to the use of pineapples in the curry, so I thought such tangy flavours wouldn't work in a chicken curry....but the paste did work (and it didn't taste as tangy).

Somehow this chicken curry had a much thicker consistency and a more savoury taste than the seafood curry with pineapples.  I could still taste a very slight hint of tang but it wasn't as pronounced as the earlier prawns and squid curry.  The balance coconut milk I kept in the fridge turned into a much thicker state (like coconut cream) that I had to scoop it out with a spoon into the curry.

So, the chicken curry felt a lot more creamier (not sure if it was because of that or it was because I used less water).  I thought it was a very respectable version of chicken curry that came out of a pack.  I thought the paste worked better in a chicken curryLooking at the photo now, I realise I forgot to 'steal' some curry leaves from my neighbour (as something green always brightens up a photo).

But the greatest cheat meal of all has to be this sambal sotong I cooked made put  You know sometimes when we buy nasi lemak, we'd ask for the sambal to be packed separately...and they sometimes give us too much.  I would make sambal sotong with it by just adding sliced onions and it'd (of course) taste pretty darn good with someone else's delicious sambal...hah..hah.

Ready-made pastes out of a packet is a godsend to busy homemakers and working moms to put out tasty dishes in little to no time at all.  It's the simplest, quickest way to put our favourite Malaysian dishes on the table.  Just open, pour, cook and serve.....what more can we ask for when we don't have to toil and sweat to make the paste ourselves and have someone else tumis sampai pecah minyak (stir-fry until the oil splits) for!

Everyone needs some cheat recipes in their repertoire that they can whip up in a jiffy.  Mine came courtesy of Tean's Gourmet.  This brand isn't new by the way but has been around for ages...just that there are so many brands of these ready-made pastes in the market that we don't know which ones to get or which ones taste good unless someone recommends it to us.  My dry goods supplier was on point with this one.

Between the two, I thought the assam pedas paste fared better than the chicken curry paste as the former was closer to its authentic taste.  The chicken curry paste was decent too but I think we've all eaten better curries than this though I'd still consider it a respectable one coming out from a packet.

I can definitely see myself using these ready-made pastes again...and would probably try some of their other flavours in due time (their tom yam and prawn mee pastes interest me).  Everyone needs some cheat meals in their lives, don't you agree? ^_~

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