Spring Flowers and Bees

Monday, January 30, 2006

LiveReport - Happy Chinese New Year! The Feast Began!


As those who speaks Mandarin would say, "Gong Xi Fa Choi!"

So, Happy Chinese New Year for anyone who celebrates the arrival of the year of the Dog =)

As you may have noticed or may not, I am an Indonesian-born Chinese. In my roots, I am Chinese but sadly I can't speak Mandarin or any other dialects. Back home, the celebration of CNY is usually quite extravagant amongst our family. This is a BIG event anyway! Traditionally, we would have a simple and satisfying meal at my grandparents' house where all of the extended family members gathered around to wait for the new year to come. During these times, my grandma and her cook would be cooking from early morning to prepare dinner for around 50 people. She' s a super-grandma I would say! Then, the next morning we would put on our nice dresses and go around the elderly houses to pay respect and receive... the RED POCKET (angpao) !! Of course, somewhere in between we would be lighting incense and pray.

However, in the past 5 years or so we no longer celebrate CNY that way. My uncle came up with this new and more modern and more efficient way. By renting a ballroom in a hotel, get the food ready by the hotel chefs, and BOOM everyone gather there all night long until the countdown. Afterwards, we would be paying respects to the elderlies who are already gathered in the ballroom. This isn't such a bad idea, it's a bit extravagant I'd say. Just as I mentioned before.

To be honest, I kinda miss the times when we gathered at our grandma's house. She has this garden where I usually played with my siblings and cousins. This memory seems antique and faded now, ow well....

I think I'm a bit dragging you guys in the supposedly an introduction to my posting =p

Back in Toronto! The celebration this year won't be like any other year as most of my families live back home. But I'm interested to see what people in Toronto are doing for CNY. The TV broadcasted that there were some festivities and gala dinner at the Exhibition Centre, Scarborough Town Centre, and Performing Arts Centre. That's about it, I guess. Perhaps there was something going on in Chinatown or Markham area. I have no idea.

What I want to be reporting LIVE to you is our home-cooked dinner last night! In order to celebrate CNY, I went through adverse weather to T&T (the best Chinese grocery in GTA) just to buy the freshest ingredients for...SHABU-SHABU!!! It was raining hard all day long and it justified that it was the perfect time to eat shabu-shabu!

In this vast grocery, you can get lost, both physically and in thought. There were so many distractions that sometimes I forgot what I was there for. As for ingredients, you can basically have whatever you like in a shabu". The thumb of rule is NOT TO INCLUDE ANYTHING THAT WILL CONTRIBUTE A STRONG UNDESIRED TASTE, such as fresh prawns and daikon, because the main stars here are meats and vegetables. So our choice ingredients last night were:
Sliced beef and pork
Beef balls and cuttlefish balls
Nappa (chinese cabbage)
Egg tofu
Fresh mushrooms: baby king oyster, enoki, champignon
Rice cakes
Noodles (we used spaghetti and shanghai noodles)

Shabu-shabu in Action!

As for the soup, I used a shortcut, BEEF STOCK POWDER. I also added fresh celery leaves to make it more aromatic and some salt and sugar. However, as you cook these ingredients, the soup would start to be sweetened nicely by the nappa =)
Not forgetting the DIPPING SAUCE! This is very crucial (as Aeons would agree)! This dipping sauce makes everything taste..gOOoOOoOOd. It's a simple mixture of chopped thai green chilies, freshly squeezed lime juice (or lemon juice), and light soya sauce. MMmm..hMMm!
I can garantee you one thing when you're having this all-you-can-eat shabu", YOU'RE GUARANTEED TO BE TOO FULL! Well, that's the consequence of all-you-can-eat course anyway ;)

My Ceramic Bowl

~ I was happy because I get to use my fancy serving plate I bought from the Japanese ceramic store!
~ Newly added: this satisfying dish is much better than oily chinese cookings you found in chinese restaurants ^_^

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Cooking with Spices: Empal Gepuk

Before I get on to anything, I would like to complain first.
It was unbelievably
FREEZING today (cold won't be the right word) and the temperature dropped to minus 20! Can you believe it?! Well, this is not a form of exaggeration for Torontonians or anyone who lives more northern than us. But, we have been enjoying an above temperature the week before that this drop in temperature shocked our immune system.
As I was walking to school, I can't help thinking how bitter Toronto feels in wintertime like this. Oh well, it's just a passing thought.

Now I'd like to present you with something that originated where I grew up,
an Indonesian food! It amazes me how many different spices are blended together to create intricate dishes like this one. The most common method employed is to blend all the spices together with a stone plate and stone grinder (sort of like pestle and mortar but the plate is flatter). Then fry them in oil until aromatic and finally cook the main ingredients with these fried spices used as the sauce or seasonings.

Today I'm gonna share with you a recipe of Indonesian beef stew called "empal gepuk". This recipe was snacthed from
Keluarga Nugraha, so I'd like to credit them for it. Back home, this dish is supposed to be fried until all of the broth evaporated, but as you will see in my final picture, I ate it like a beef stew instead. I have just found out that the recipes are no longer for public view, so I'm going to give out my modified one instead =)

Empal Gepuk

600 gr beef shanks, cut into 4 big pieces
4 dried bay leaves
1 stalk lemongrass, take the white part and bruise

650 ml coconut milk
2 1/2 tsp salt

7 cloves of shallots, sliced then sauteed
5 cloves of garlic, sliced then sauteed

5 candlenuts, toasted

1 cm ginger

2 cm fresh galangal

3 tsp corriander

60 gr brown sugar

01) Combine all the ingredients in "spices" together and process in a blender or food processor until smooth.
02) In a big pot, stir in beef shanks, coconut milk, blended spices, bay leaves, lemongrass, and salt. Bring them to boil, then cook on low heat (simmer) until the beef is fully cooked and the liquid has decreased by half (about 2 hours).
03) Remove the pot from heat. Cut the beef chunks according to the meat pattern into 2 cm slices.
04) Heat oil in a sauteeing pan, then fry the beef with the remaining liquid until all the liquid is drained.

Spices for making Empal Gepuk

  • A closer look to the spices, please click the picture below. You will notice that I was using a different kind of sugar, which I purchased back home. It's called gula aren or nira and you have to grate it first before using. I am not sure if you can get it in North America. But the original recipe used brown sugar.
  • When frying the beef, I didn't actually drain all the tasty coconut broth, because they taste so good on rice. So, it's your call whether to save the broth or not!
  • By the way, the coconut broth is also useful for frying the side dishes that you want with your empal. So far I've tried stir-frying mushrooms and green beans in it and they taste awesome, especially the mushrooms =p
I am not so skillfull in presenting the food I made and basically just put rice on a plate then top up with the main dish and some side veggies. And DONE!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

On the Spirit of My Twenty-One bday

Since it's not so long ago since I turned 21, I'd like to talk more about what happened on that special day. I'd say it's special, not because of anything luxurious, just because I like the number 21 and this year I turned 21 on January 21st. If this had been year 2021, it would've been more special!

The first thing I received in the morning was showers of scattered snow while I was walking toward school to meet someone. It hasn't snowed for a while but it wasn't too windy, so I could enjoy the snow. I even took some pictures along the way. See... The funny thing is, last year on my birthday, it was snowing as well. Hmm.. so happy cause of that.

The next thing is as soon as I met that special someone, a.k.a my boyfriend, he welcomed me with a marvelous lookin' strawberry cheesecake with Frank Sinatra's "Happy Birthday" playing on the background. He's so sweet...=) Soon after, he gave me a present wrapped in plain blue paper. He videotaped me as I opened the present. I now know why he videotaped me, to record my surprised look as I revealed what was inside. It was an iPod Nano!!!!!!!!!!! Excuse me, but I need to type that many exclamation marks (!) cause I never thought he'd do that. It was an expensive present and I felt like I didn't deserve it, but since it's my day I received it with pleasure.

Back to that gorgeous-lookin' cheesecake!

It is just HEAVEN! I am typing as I'm eating a slice of it and I can't help not to describe how it tastes. This strawberry cheesecake, specially ordered from Timothy's coffeeshop, is just an ordinary New York cheesecake; without the lemony taste though. Every spoon of it tastes so creamy, cheesy, tangy, and subtly salty. It's not too sweet, that's why the taste is just right. As usual, this cake has a crust of crumbled graham cookies and a filling made of whipped cream cheese. Then, there's a thin layer of something creamier atop the filling, just before the strawberries. However, I couldn't figure out if that layer was a more smoothly whipped cream cheese or a plain whipped cream or the combination of both. And finally, on top of everything, the strawberries! They were amazingly sweet! Not sweet as in they're overly ripe, but they taste like they're at the peak of their perfection. Sweet, and not too sour or tasteless like the strawberries I got from the groceries (well, it's winter, so you can't expect to have Canada's summer berries). Oh well, perhaps their taste was also enhanced by the thin glaze of jelly sugar. Eaten together, it truly is one-of-a-kind cheesecake! My twenty-one bday cheesecake.

Now, now, I sound so self-centered, eh? Talking about myself all the time =p

The rest of the evening of my birthday was spent on a antique-looking restaurant on Toronto's Old District, "The Old Spaghetti Factory" ! I invited a few friends and my sister. It was my second time there and it wasn't like the first time we went there, at all! It was crowded, full of other birthday kids and birthday people. Anyhow, we got seated on a booth and proceeded to enjoy the evening together! The dinner was great, but what I like to most were not the main course (Spaghetti with Spicy Meat Sauce). I loved the sourdough bread + garlic butter (which I latter on stole half, just the bread), the thick Minestrone soup, and the spumoni ice cream. It's quite a treat having dinner there because all dinner menus include a soup/salad, sourdough bread, tea/coffee, main course, and home-made ice cream.

I'm so full now just remembering our dinner that day.....

Oops, the snow wants to say g'bye..

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Happy Twenty-One !

If it's past midnight, then it's no longer my birthday.
But I want this post to be dated January 21st 2006, the day when I officially turn 21, my favorite number ^_^

I am so tired after a very exciting birth-day. There were too many surprises that exhausted me. Hence, I hope this picture below could represent my birthday festivities. Not really actually, they are just a pile of the famous Nuttela cupcakes I made last night. But I'm lovin' them!

It's MEMETime!! Ten Random Facts You Didn't Know About Me

Guess what? I've been tagged by Mae Gabriel of Rice and Noodles. Thanks a lot Mae, I'm excited 'coz this is my first meme. Looking forward to upcoming meme's. I hope I'm doing fine in this one =p I put aside some time before actually typing this on my blog. So here they are....

  1. I'm the eldest child in my family, however, I'm incredibly indecisive. I'm having a hard time dealing with my (own) indecisiviness! Thus, turning twenty-one today (gonna post about it after this!) I'm going to try to be firmer on my principles! >.<
  2. I always have my bulky Sony CyberShot digicam sitting around in my kitchen so that I can easily grab it to take pictures of whatever I'm eating at that time. I am keen on photography (as in watching other people's superb photographs) but am not excel on it at all. That's why I normally would take more than one shot of the food that I made so that I can pick out the best one.
  3. Often crave for food even on a full stomach. My weapon is this, the appetite killer: dark chocolate bar.
  4. I like to include zest in cooking; lemon, orange, and lime. My fave food with zests in it is: Morning Oatmeal Porridge with orange zest. Then I found out that zests are actually healthy, that's where all the essential oils are!

  5. Amazed by artisan bread baking while never baked an artisan bread myself. I love nibbling on these breads with crusty shell and cotton-y inside!
  6. Trying to always avoid MSG (monosodium glutamate) and eating healthy by bring food from home to school; hence, the "Lunchbox Challenge". However, I still eat the spicy korean noodle (RamYun) which definitely contains MSG. ARgh!
  7. Hate car, hate driving, and hate maintaining car. >.<>
  8. I use idle time like when washing the dishes to ponder over what happened during the day. Sometimes a moment without interaction with other human being in a day is really needed.
  9. Not shoe-a-holic, but really love my new pair of shoes bought on the boxing day. The brand is Diesel and they promised there won't be other person wearing the exact same shoes!

  10. In terms of education, I'm currently a Management student at a public university, a lost one. I ended up here after crossing out thoughts of becoming a vet and hotel manager. Well, I still want to pursue culinary studies after I graduate. Or, should I pursue a Masters degree in economics instead? See how indecisive I was....
I hope I don't bore you with my pretty long list. That's not all you should know about me, but I guess it's going to do just fine for now. Now, here comes the more challenging part, I have to tag five other bloggers. Sadly, I'm a newbie, so I don't know many other bloggers. If you don't know me and I tagged you, please don't be mad!

Abra-kadabra! I'm tagging...
crimson troops of "who am i"
Nupur of "One Hot Stove"
the baker of "she bakes and she cooks"
chika of "she who eats"
Jaay of "Culinarily Obsessed"

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Pondering Over Tea

I have a ritual every morning and every night which might seem outdated these days. But, yes, I drink tea every single day and night. There has never been a day that I sip no tea at all. This ritual has been a part of me since a long time ago. I remember! Since my mom told me that hot tea can help me relieve my early morning allergy.

In the beginning, I only drank regular tea that's available widely in my country, Indonesia. That is, Jasmine tea. So, each morning my mom woud prepare a cup of freshly brewed Jasmine tea. And it does help me relieve any morning sneezing.

Right now, having been living abroad for almost three years, my knowledge of tea has midened a little by a little. When I go to Tim Horton's, there are around 10 varieties of tea that you can choose. From English Breakfast to Peach Tea. Being adventurous (as I did with muffins), I tried different flavors of tea. Essentially, they all come from the same tea leaves, black tea leaves. Currently, in my kitchen cabinet I possess so many varieties of tea. Not that many that I can't list them here:
  • Tea leaves: Japanese green tea (ocha/sencha), Japanese roasted green tea (genmaicha), Jasmine tea (Tong Tji)
  • Tea bags: Earl Grey tea, Jasmine Green tea, Chai tea, English Breakfast, fruit-flavored teas ( mango, peach, caramel, vanilla, blueberry, blackcurrant, strawberry, lemon), herbal infusion (chamomile, African red bush, Peppermint green tea)
My favorites being, of course, Earl Grey and Mango!! Why? Earl Grey tea has a unique and classic flavour that nothing could imitate, it just brings back old memories. While mango tea, it has such sweet and candy-like fragrant, it's a treat for the nose!

There aren't that many after all... :p

I'm so pleased with these teas because they have been such a good companion during col days and during the times when I need to introspect myself. They provide such relief after a long day at school and after coming home from a windy road outside.

By the way, my favourite brand of tea overall is Dilmah, which you probably won't find in Canada since I bought it back home. And I always drink my tea without any sweetener, just milk. :)

Please, do share your favorite teas and the reason why.

Friday, January 13, 2006

How Can You Not Want Dinner? ~recipe entails

Coming home from the not-so-wintry road outside, my tummy said she was kinda hungry. And I think so too. I think I'm just gonna cook something right away. I have already planned to cook the beef strips I marinated a couple days ago. I was intrigues to try this recipe after looking at my cousin's lunchbox and asking her the recipe. It's called Miso Beef and she got it from a Japanese recipe book that specializes in lunchbox dishes (Bento Boxes by Naomi Kijima).

As I was cooking this fragrant-smelling dish in my mini saucepan, I noticed how bland it looked. Colour really plays a big role in controlling my appetite. Then I remembered that I have a bunch of chives sitting in my fridge from chinese supermarket. Wouldn't it be nice if I add some cut-up chives into my miso beef? YES, it would!!! In fact, after doing that, the dish reminded me of a menu in my favorite ramen restaurant back home ^_^

Now my miso beef is ready to be serve with steamed rice... And I offered my sister (for the 3rd or 4th time this day) if she wanted to try some. She insisted with a very convinced NO. She was complaining with the smell that filled the whole basement too (my mistake..). Aww.. too bad I thought. I was thinking to save some for her, but I ate everything anyway coz I just couldn't stop eating it. Is it because this dish was so delicious, or is it just my nature who just can't stop eating easily?

Here's the recipe, very easy to make!

Miso Beef with Chives (or any green veggies)

2 tbsp vege oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
300 gr thinly sliced beef
3 tsp red miso (white miso is also okay; available in chinese/japanese grocery)
1 tsp cooking sake
1 tbsp mirin
a bunch of flowering chives, cut into 2-inches long
salt and sugar to taste

01) Marinate the beef with red miso, sake and mirin for 1 day
02) Heat oil in a non-stick pan, sautee the garlic on medium heat until fragrant
03) Stir in the marinated beef, stirring for 2 minutes
04) Pour 2 tbsp of water while stirring the beef
05) Sprinkle the chives into the pan, cook together with beef until it's fully cooked, around 10 minutes
06) Serve over steamed rice

Thursday, January 12, 2006

LunchBox Challenge #01

Aside from being a student, I'm also an amateur yet passionate cook. My daily life revolve around food. Throughout the day, I could spare quite an amount of time to think about what to cook for dinner, what groceries to buy, which recipes I want to try, what would I like to have for lunch tomorrow... Wait a minute! Lunch??

Back to being a student, I would most likely spend lunch hours at school (except for today) which means I have an option of buying lunch off school's cefeteria or..... preparing my own LUNCHBOX! A student's busy life must be compromised when it comes to spending more time in the kitchen to prepare lunch. I have a bad habit of always trying to make elaborate and laborious food which in the end trapped me in the kitchen. Eating most of my valuable time. I need to stop this! I need a solution for quick, simple, yet tasty lunches! This is going to be hard to do, but I'l try anyway. Today I'll present you with my first recipe for this simple lunchbox dish. It's just my creation inspired from my love of Japanese sticky rice and the sweet Japanese omelette (tamago)

Blanketed Sushi Rice

For the rice:
1 cup Japanese rice (i.e. Nishiki brand)
1 1/3 cups water
rice seasonings:
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tbsp mirin
2 tsp sugar
a pinch of salt
For the tamago:
2 eggs
1 tsp mirin
1 1/2 tsp flour
2 tsp water

1) Wash the rice with water twice, then cook in the electric rice cooker with 1 1/3 cups of water.
2) Combine the rice seasoning ingredients in a saucepan. Simmer over low heat until sugar dissolves. Pour this mixture into the cooked rice.
3) Beat the eggs together with the rest of the ingredients.
4) Heat oil on a small round non-stick pan, cook the egg mixture, 2 tbsps at a time, forming a thin sheet. Cook for around 2-3 minutes just until the omelette dark yellow (don't let it burn or brown too much). Keep doing this until you ran out of egg.
5) Get ready to wrap the rice into the eggsheets!
6) Wet your hands, then scoop some rice. Form the rice into a small flat rectangular shape. Lay an eggsheet beneath the molded rice. Then begin wrapping the rice as you would wrap a gift ^_^.
Keep doing this until you ran out of everything.
7) Arrange your rice pockets in your lunchbox.


Actually, this is not so simple to make..*sigh*
But at least it doesn't need microwaving and makes a really neat lunch!
Just don't forget to bring chopsticks.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Frittata Italiano!

The echoes of my parents' and brother's visit are still here. Our house is still fully loaded with foods; leftover dinners, fruits, cookies, chips, and many more! That's why I don't feel like cooking anything laborious (like I always do) yet. Thus, last weekend, I played around with eggs. The simplest dish you can make. Also, I have just bought some herb plants, including a basil. I happen to have some tomatoes too. It got me thinking of Pizza Margherita after looking at these ingredients. Since the base is egg, I decided to toss up some frittata for myself.

I think it came out pretty good, at least I liked it! I stir-fried the diced tomatoes in EVOO first before commencing the consecutive actions. I took some pictures while cooking, I hope they can entertain your eyes!

YUM, aren't they??

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Delayed Holiday Baking: Where's the Color?

After reading some postings on other blogs on how excited people are when starting their holiday baking session, I said to myself that I wanted to distribute my home-baked goods to my friends and relatives. Sadly, that opportunity to have time and permission (yes, permission!) to bake only arrived when I finally got the courage to break the rules and bake anyway. My father, who at that time was staying with the rest of my family for the holiday couldn't stand the wonderful smell of anything baking in the oven. No, the exhauster, open-window, and open-door would not make up for the fresh air. However, I was determined to do some baking because I just want to spread the goodness of my freshly baked cookies and quick breads.

So, I started of with the delicate nastars (pineapple cookies I mentioned before). This is the cookie I spent time the most. Making the outer crust, shaping the crust dough into small balls, shaping the pineapple jam filling into even smaller balls, flattening the balled crusts to be filled with the pineapple jam, then shaping them into round balls. Finally, brushing their tops with eggwash and baking them in an oven for 30 minutes. These steps combined took me around 3 hours (when I'm doing it alone as I always do). These steps haven't included the making of homemade pineapple jam which could take up to 3 hours as well! Making this cookie is a lot of work, but well worth it.

Next, I moved into making a loaf of Crunchy Sour Cream Banana Bread. Very easy to make, with satisfying result. This quickbread is almost fully sweetened with the over-ripe bananas I stored in the fridge since a week ago. The moistness is enhanced with the addition of sourcream. And finally, adding walnut pieces as the final touch made this bread a perfect companion for a morning or afternoon tea (for those of you who get when sun's above your heads). I made this bread for my mom, just to grant her request.

Another request from my mom was this lovely and fragrant almond orange biscotti (its original name from its original recipe was "biscotti toscani". Again, very easy to make but can be very tricky. I've baked biscotti twice this holiday season and both of them cracked on the top. Argh! This made it very hard when cutting. Also, during the first round of baking my biscotti wouldn't harden as it should be after going into the oven the second time. However, it did harden up during the second round of baking. The ones I packed into a tin jar for my mom to take home.

In the end, I did some baking for the holiday. But, aren't they supposed to be colorful to signify the joy of the season? Well, that's the questions to myself, why wasn't I creative enough to add some decorations? Perhaps because I was preoccupied by the presence of my family, in which we had such wonderful time together.