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My dear Chinese friends, are you tired of all the Chinese New Year foods? Want something light, healthy and simple? Look no further. This is very simple to prepare and easy on your tummy! Bonus is that you can prepare ahead of time!

Eggplant Appetizer 凉拌茄子

Eggplant Appetizer 凉拌茄子

Eggplant Appetizer 凉拌茄子 (serves 4 people)

Ingredients:
2 Chinese long eggplants

Sauce (mix together):
2 cloves garlic– minced
2 red hot peppers (optional)– minced
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp black rice vinegar 黑糯米醋– see note below
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp chili oil
1 tsp sugar

Chopped cilantro for garnish

Method:

  1. Fill a large bowl with some water (enough to soak eggplants after they are cut), add in 2 tbsp white vinegar. Start the steamer on high heat.
  2. Wash eggplants and remove the stem caps. Cut into 3-inch length pieces, then cut in half lengthwise. Immediately soak cut eggplants in vinegar water. Since eggplants tends to float on the top, use something heavy (pot, plate, bowl etc.) on the top to press down eggplants, so they are totally submerged in vinegar water to prevent discoloration after cooking.
  3. Drain the water. Place eggplant in steamer with skin side face up. Steam on high heat for 3 minutes. Remove and let cool.
  4. Cut eggplants into strips then place in a bowl or deep dish plate. Spoon over the sauce and garnish with cilantro. Served cold or room temperature.

Regina’s Note:

  • Black rice vinegar 黑糯米醋: I like to use black rice vinegar in this recipe because it’s less acidic than typical white vinegar and has a some sweetness to it. If you use white vinegar, use less amount and increase amount of sugar.
  • To prevent eggplant from discoloration after cooking, soak in vinegar water and steam with skin side face up.
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Malaysian style pork jerky, or locally called ‘Bak Kwa’ is different from American version– well, it’s mostly made of pork, usually sweet, tender and moist. Taiwanese version of jerk, although flavor is closer, is different too as it is mostly made of beef, and it lacks the typical ‘shine’ that you’ll find in Malaysian style. In Malaysia and Singapore, ‘Bak Kwa’ is an luxurious snack due to its expensive price, making it a popular gift for friends and family on special occasion like Chinese New Year. I remember eating ‘Bak Kwa’ sandwich with plain white bread on rare occasions… great childhood memories…

Back to making ‘Bak Kwa’, there are many recipes online and I tried at least a couple different versions before, but none tasted quite like the way I had it from ‘Bak Kwa’ specialty stores in Malaysia. Then I started thinking~ Bak Kwa sellers must keep the ingredients simple in order to cut down the cost… so the recipe I look for should have simple ingredients rather than a long list of all kinds of sauces and spices (as I tried before)… thus I chose this recipe “Homemade Bak Kwa (Chinese Pork Jerky)” from MyKitchen101en.com. I did make some modifications to the ingredient list to play around. The results is quite good especially the flavor. Although the look is not as pretty as I expected but that’s probably because no red coloring was used.

With the Year of Pig at our doorsteps, I’m done trying out recipes for CNY snacks (for now!). Now I’m shifting focus to Chinese New Year Eve reunion dinner menu– it’s the feast of the year in my family. I can’t wait for the lunar new year to start, so I can finally lay back and relax, while enjoying the fruits of love of all the hard work I put in. May the Year of Pig bring you abundance of health, wealth and joy. Huat Ah!!

Malaysian Style Honey Pork Jerky 'Bak Kwa' 蜜汁猪肉乾

Malaysian Style Honey Pork Jerky ‘Bak Kwa’ 蜜汁猪肉乾

Malaysian Style Honey Pork Jerky 'Bak Kwa' 蜜汁猪肉乾

Malaysian Style Honey Pork Jerky ‘Bak Kwa’ 蜜汁猪肉乾

Malaysian Style Honey Pork Jerky ‘Bak Kwa’ 蜜汁猪肉乾

Ingredients:

1 lb ground pork– see note below
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp oyster sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp Chinese rice cooking wine

Coating (microwave for a 5 seconds then mix well):
2 tbsp honey
1/2 tbsp water

Method:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Stir in same circular direction until the meat becomes sticky. Alternatively, use a stand mixer with paddle attached, mix on medium high speed for a few minutes until the meat gets sticky. Cover and chill overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. Lined two large baking pans with parchment paper. Place half of the meat in the center. Cover with a large sheet of plastic wrap, then roll out to 3mm thickness. Repeat with the remaining meat.
  3. Remove plastic wrap, bake in preheated 325F oven for 12 minutes. The meat meat will shrink and there will be some liquid drawn out. Let the pork jerky cool slightly while it absorbs back some liquid. Brush with honey water and cut into big pieces (for easier handling during charring on the grill)
  1. Transfer pork jerky to grill to char slightly. Cut into desired size. Cool completely before storing in container.

Regina’s Note:

  • Ground pork: If the meat is too lean the pork jerky will be dry in texture. I like to use 80(lean)/20 (fat). Also, mix some coarse ground pork with regular ground pork for better texture.
  • I found out my honey water was a bit too thick and thus the jerky was a bit too sweet. Next time revise honey water to 1:1. Or skip honey water for the classic original flavor.
  • My jerky was a bit thin for my liking. Next time just use one large tray instead of two trays.

I stomped upon this recipe Lemon Raspberry Sweet Rolls many months ago. I knew at first sight that I would like the recipe because of lemon and raspberry combination (plus I got captured by the gorgeous pictures!). Sadly I didn’t get to make it and forgot all about this recipe, until recently I was cleaning my Safari tabs on my iPad (yes I have lots of tabs open to remind myself to follow up later…) I rediscovered this recipe.

This is pretty much like making cinnamon rolls, except the filling is different. I did not follow the recipe– I used my basic white bread Pullman Loaf recipe for the dough. For filling, I used blackberry jam that I made few days before. As for lemon glaze, I chose not to use cream cheese because I want to keep flavor light and fresh.

Blackberry Rolls with Lemon Glaze

Blackberry Rolls with Lemon Glaze

65C Blackberry Rolls with Lemon Glaze (makes 12 Rolls)

Ingredients:

Dough starter:
1/4 cup bread flour
250ml water

Dough:
1 egg– beaten
6 tbsp milk, plus 2 tbsp
6 tbsp whipping cream
4 cups bread flour
2 1/2 tsp dry yeast
6 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp milk powder
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter– melted and cooled

8 oz. blackberry jam

Lemon Glaze:
2 tbsp unsalted butter– melted and keep warm
2-3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 small lemon)
4 tbsp powder sugar

Method:

  1. Prepare dough starter: Combine bread flour and water in a small sauce pan. Blend well with a balloon whisk over medium low heat (whisk continuously). When the mixture thicken slightly, reduce to lowest heat setting while whisking continuously, until the mixture reaches 65 degree C. The consistency will be like condensed milk. Remove from heat and cool before using.
  1. While dough starter is cooling, beat egg in a bowl, then add in 6 tbsp of milk and whipping cream. Mix well.
  1. Pour in egg mixture to the bottom of bread machine loaf pan, followed by bread starter.
  1. Add flours to loaf pan.  Make an indent in the middle, and add dry yeast to the indent. Add sugar, milk powder and salt to different corners of the loaf pan.
  1. For Zojirushi bread maker (model Zojirushi BB-PAC20), press HOME MADE button and set timing as follow and press START: Rest: OFF–> Knead: 25 min –> Shape: OFF –> Rise 1: 45 min –> Rise 2: 30 min –> Rise 3: 1hour –> Bake: OFF –> Keep Warm: OFF
  1. 1-2 minutes after the knead cycle starts, add in 2 tbsp milk (the dough will be very wet– add more milk if needed). Add melted butter in 2-3 batches before knead cycle completes.
  1. When the final rise cycle is completed, transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Gently roll out to 15 x 13 rectangle. Spread blackberry jam evenly on the dough, then roll up lengthwise to a log. Pinch dough to seal the end. Cut into 12 pieces. Place dough, cut side up, in a deep dish greased baking pan or glass pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise to almost double in size.
  1. Brush top with whipping cream, and bake in preheated 350F oven, middle rack, for 25-30 minutes. Remove rolls from the oven.
  2. While bread is cooling in the pan, prepare lemon glaze: melt butter in microwave, then add in lemon juice and powder sugar. Whisk together until smooth. Spoon glaze over the top of the rolls. Rolls are best served warm with glaze..

Regina’s Note:

  • Don’t let the long steps scare you– most of the time it’s the bread machine that is doing the job. I program my bread machine for each cycle, but you can just follow a simple white bread loaf recipe.
  • For a slightly healthy version, substitute out 1 cup bread flour with 1 cup of wheat flour.
  • The rolls taste the best when it’s warm and freshly glazed as you can taste more of the lemon glaze.
  • Be creative with the filling– raspberry, strawberry, orange, chocolate…

I don’t use jam often because I find all store bought jam are way too sweet. One day my husband Richard brought home a jar of blackberry jam made by his coworker. It was semisweet and yet tangy. I loved it and asked for the recipe. This was the start of my jam making journey– blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, peach, apple… they were all delicious, except I had problem with the consistency. Sometimes the jam was too hard, other times too runny… I used SureJell pectin and followed the recipes on the package. Even their low sugar recipes were too sweet to my taste. I tried to cut down sugar further but the jam wouldn’t set properly… all those jam making were really trial and error process.

Just as I was experimenting and finding the balance of sugar amount versus setting point, I came across Pomona’s Universal Pectin on Amazon. It uses a totally different approach to set the jam without tons of sugar, and thus producing jam that has more true fruit flavor. I decided to give it a try based on its raved reviews.

The results? Very happy jam! I can taste the real fruit flavor instead of sugar! Although the price of Pomona’s Universal Pectin more expensive (compared to SureJell), but one package lasts a very long time. I didn’t realize this so I bought 6 packs all at once… It’s going to last my whole life!

Low Sugar Blackberry Jam

Low Sugar Blackberry Jam

Low Sugar Blackberry Jam

Low Sugar Blackberry Jam

Pomona’s Universal Pectin

Pomona’s Universal Pectin

Blackberry Jam (Low Sugar)– please note this recipe uses Pomona’s Universal Pectin (makes 4- 8oz. jars)

Ingredients:

3 cups mashed sweet blackberries (5 cups fruit)
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
2 tsp calcium water (from Pomona’s Universal Pectin)– shake well before use– see note below
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp pectin powder (from Pomona’s Universal Pectin)– see note below

Method:

  1. Prepare jars, lids and rings– wash them and rinse. Boil glass jar in hot water, add lids and rings to simmer. Turn off heat and let stand in hot water until ready to use.
  1. Combine sugar and pectin in a bowl, mix well.
  1. Combine mashed fruits lemon juice in a heavy sauce pan. Add calcium water to mix well. Bring fruits to a full boil on high or medium high heat. Stir well.
  1. Add pectin sugar mixture. Stir vigorously 1-2 minutes to dissolve pectin while mixture returns to full boil. Remove from heat. Skim off foams on the top.
  1. Carefully remove jars, lids and rings from hot water and drain. Fill jam to 1/2 inch of jar top. Wipe clean any spills on the rim. Place lids and screw the rings to loosely fit.
  1. Canning jam– put filled jars in boiling water. Water level must at least 1 inch above top of jars. Cover and boil for 10 minutes. Remove jars and cool on a rack for 24 hours to set. If the canning process is successful the jars will produce a ‘popping’ sound during cooling, which means the lid is sucked down and sealed tight. If not then repeat canning process. After 24 hour cooling time, screw the lid rings tight. Store in cool dry pantry for up to 1 year. For failed canning jams, store in refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

Regina’s Note:

  • Calcium water: it’s the mixture of calcium powder and water as instructed from Pomona’s Universal Pectin. You mix it and keep in a glass jar. Since not much is needed each time for jam making, there will be extras which can be kept in freezer until next use.
  • Pectin powder: be sure to mix pectin powder thoroughly with sugar before adding to fruit mixture.
Indian Lamb Soup ‘Sup Kambing’ 印度羊肉湯

Indian Lamb Soup ‘Sup Kambing’ 印度羊肉湯

In my hometown Muar, Malaysia, there is a famous Indian lamb soup restaurant. All these times I went back to Muar I actually didn’t get to taste the delicious soup because the weather was too hot to have this rich heaty nourishing soup. After all, I didn’t want to take the chance of a bleeding nose after taking lamb soup. This soup to Indian people is just like chicken soup to Americans when someone in the family gets sick.

But here in U.S., this soup is perfect for a cold rainy winter day. For those of you who are hesitated to taste lamb because of its smell, it has all kinds of spices that you can barely taste the ‘lamb-y’ flavor.

A side note– Malaysian lamb soup is different from Singapore lamb soup. While I searched online for recipes I found Singapore version uses more turmeric powder and soup has a more yellowish color. I tried Singapore version before but it was overpowering in certain flavors but lacked other spice… just not quite the taste I remember from that soup place in my hometown…

Indian Lamb Soup ‘Sup Kambing’ (serves 8-10 people)

Ingredients:

To grind (using coffee bean grinder):
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds

To blender (using blender, adding just enough water to facilitate blending):
3 cloves garlic
3 serrano peppers
1 lemon grass– se only whitish part, chopped before blending
1 inch galangal– cut into small pieces before blending
1 inch ginger– cut into small pieces before blending

3 bay leaves
4 star anises
3 cinnamon sticks
12 green cardamoms
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 large onions– slice
1 boneless leg of lamb– trim off excess fat, cut into pieces
2 lamb shanks– see note below
enough water to cover the meat
salt to taste

Garnish:
Cilantro leaves

Method:

  1. Grind dried spices until very fine. Blend fresh spices. Cut lamb into pieces (except lamb shanks), then rinse under the water several times. Drain the meat.
  1. Heat a stock pot on medium heat, add in 2 tbsp of oil. Add ground dried spices, bay leaves, star anises, cinnamon sticks, cardamoms and turmeric powder. Stir until aromatic (add a little more oil if needed).
  1. Add in blended fresh spices, stir until the flavor comes out. Add sliced onions, cook until onions are soft.
  1. Add meat to the pot. Stir to mix well. Add water– water level should be 2 inches above the meat. Cover, and turn heat to medium high.
  1. When it boils again, skim off the impurities floating on the top. Continue boiling for 5 minutes, then reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 2 hours. At this point the meat should be tender and falls apart from the bones. Add salt to taste. Garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve hot with fresh baguette.

Regina’s Note:

  • Lamb shanks: I used lamb shanks mainly for its bones because it’s the bones that gives the richness of the soup base. You can use other lamb parts as long as it contains bones.

For the last several years we have been celebrating Thanksgiving with our friend the Eppenberger Family. They make delicious cranberry sauce from scratch every year, and I always save extra cranberry sauce to make these delicious muffins.

The muffin batter is pretty much consisted of the “orange” part while the “cranberry” part comes from the cranberry sauce filling. It tasted so good, tangy and refreshing. Although the batter is dense and thicker than average muffin batter, but after baking the muffins were very nice– golden brown on the top, light and fluffy inside. I think I nail it down this time– the secret is egg separation method. It’s a bit more work, but definitely worth the efforts.

Orange Cranberry Muffins
Orange Cranberry Muffins
Orange Cranberry Muffins

Cranberry Orange Muffin Recipe (makes 12 muffins)

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
5 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking power
1/4 tsp salt
zest of 2 oranges

Egg yolk mixture:
2 egg yolks– room temperature
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
3/4 cup whipping cream
4 tbsp melted unsalted butter– keep warm
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Egg white mixture:
2 egg whites– room temperature
2 tbsp sugar

Filling:
12 tsp fresh cranberry sauce– see note below

Topping (optional):
Chopped walnuts

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F. Line muffin pans with muffin cup liners.
  2. In a large bowl, sift flour, 5 tbsp sugar, baking power and salt. Mix in orange zest. Make a well in the center.
  3. Whisk all ingredients (except melted butter) in egg yolk mixture to blend well. Add in melted butter and mix well again. Pour into flour mixture. Use a spatula to fold in just enough to moist. The batter will be stiff. Do not over mix the batter.
  4. In a separate clean bowl, whip egg whites on high speed until it looks white and bubbles are very tiny. Gradually add in sugar. Continue whipping on hash speed until soft peak (curve tip) forms.
  5. Fold in whipped egg whites into the batter in 2 batches.
  6. Fill each muffin cup 1/3 full, spoon 1 tsp cranberry sauce in the center. Top the muffins cups with remaining batter, covering cranberry sauce all around. Sprinkle some walnuts on top if used. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until golden brown, and the muffin top springs back when lightly pressed. Remove to cool on a rack for 5 minutes before serving.

Regina’s Note:

  • Eggs: be sure to use room temperature eggs. A quick way is to soak eggs in luke warm water for 10-15 minutes to bring to room temperature.
  • Cranberry sauce: cook the sauce a bit longer (can use microwave, uncover and reheat for a few minutes) so it gets thicker, and stay nicely in the center of the muffin instead of leaking to the surface of the muffins.

Asiago Bacon Muffins

Asiago Bacon Muffins

Asiago Bacon Muffins

Asiago Bacon Muffin Recipe (makes 12 Muffins)

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
7 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup (8 tbsp) finely shredded Asiago cheese
1/2 cup bacon crumbs– microwave to crisp up slightly
2 stalks green onions– chopped
1 clove garlic– minced
1 cup (one 8oz tub) sour cream
2 eggs– room temperature
2 tbsp milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter– melted

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line muffin pan with muffin cup liners.
  2. Sift flour, baking powder, salt and sugar to a large bowl.
  3. Add cheese, bacon, green onions and garlic to flour mixture. Mix well.
  1. In a separate bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and milk. Whisk to blend well.
  2. Pour melted butter and cream mixture to flour mixture. Gently fold in the batter until all incorporated. Spoon batter into muffin cups.
  3. Bake at 375F oven for 25 minutes, until muffins spring back when pressed (or toothpick inserted comes out clean). Remove from muffin pan and cool on a rack.

Regina’s Note:

  • You can always add in 1/4 cups of walnuts if preferred.
  • Cheese: You can use other cheese like Parmesan or Cheddar, but the flavor would be different.