Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My Chinese New Year memories...

Every single year, my family and I would fly back to Mum's tiny hometown of Tawau to spend Chinese New Year with the whole family. So many good memories... Like playing card games and firecracks with all my cousins non-stop since we were kids. Weird story, we also used to love digging up yam straight from the ground at the jungle of a backyard of my cousin's house and then roasting it with fire we had started with twigs from scratch. LEGIT STUFF. This was extremely fun for us. Love our modest childhood from simpler times. Now, THOSE were the days... One year, all the cousins and I also put on a special dance/drama performance prepared on our own as our parents and Late Grandma gathered around to watch in the living room. It really was quite hysterical...

*photos would be so embarrassing right about now*

My favourite memory would also be of my Late Grandma (or "PoPo", as I call her), pulling up a stool next to me, to spoon feed me plain rice in soup in the afternoons. She only did this (without me asking) because she knows that I was the perpetually hungry and peckish one of her grandchildren. It's so simple, yet delicious. But what I loved most is that she would gently blow each mouthful of rice before feeding it to me, till the temperature was just right. Sounds a bit like Goldilocks eh? I felt so loved from every spoonful. Then I would reply gleefully by saying, "Hao Sit, PoPo!" or "Delicious, Nana!". This happens every year I return, without fail.

It's memories like these that really make me miss my Late Grandma so, so dearly till this day....................... It's been 7 years ='/

Though, I must say that ever since my Late PoPo passed, CNY has been drastically different. We don't return to Tawau anymore for a number of reasons (but nothing bad, don't worry). Instead, we now have our own tradition here in Kota Kinabalu with glorious food prepared by my lovely mother.

They're just a treat. It's not the same, but just as special. One thing is for sure, we don't eat out. In fact, most of it are dishes that would only be served this time of year and every meal was SOOO delicious!!!

ANYHOO, here's a snapshot of the CNY dishes we ate this year. To all of you from a "non-Asian background", WELCOME to my humble Chinese family dining table and I hope you enjoy......... And Happy Belated Chinese New Year aka Year of the Dragon to you all!!!

1) Reunion Dinner, aka CNY Eve or "Tuan Yuan Fan"

Deep-Fried Tiger Prawn Fritters

Steamed Chinese Cabbage with Dried Scallops

Mum's signature: Chicken, Abalone and Ham "Sandwich" with superior Abalone Sauce

Note: Only top grade, corn fed (more fragrant skin), free range, bare neck (smoother meat) and aged chicken from a local farmer is used

YUMMY! Delicious mouthful of food from each layer

Braised chicken, chinese mushrooms and sea cucumber

Stewed all day, sauce was really unbelievably good

Shark's Fin Soup

(I'm sorry!!! These were bought many years ago, we've stopped buying them, I swear!)

2) 1st Day CNY Brunch

It is a tradition for our family to eat every single one of these vegetarian dishes for this meal each year. Recipe passed on to Mum from my Late Grandma. I have to make this for my vegetarian friends in Melbourne.

Stewed vegetables (beancurd skin, beancurd puffs, black moss fungus, carrots, mushrooms, dates, bamboo shoots and glass noodles) in fermented red tofu


White radish soup with dates, mushrooms and (the only "meat" allowed this meal,..) dried oysters

"Nian Gao" aka "Sticky Cake" (made with glutinous rice flour) Fried with Egg

Mum had her Sister (who barely comes over) and her family from Tawau too, glad to share the meal with them

3) Other meals here and there...

Mum's Twice Fried Duck with Plum Sauce

TO DIE FOR!!! One of my favourite childhood dishes ever!!

Every time I ask Mum how she makes this and my other favourite dishes, she just goes, "Very easy waaan...! Just do this, throw in that, dot dot dot... and DONE!". Not very convincing lol

HK Imported Cured Meats and Pickled Shallots

One of my favourite things to eat!!

HK Kailan Vegetable with Oyster Sauce

Hakka "Kiu Nyuk", a Pork and Yam dish in fermented tofu sauce

My dad's prolly the biggest fan of mum's roast chook lol

Mum's signature Duck in Plum Sauce again... MMM!

Chicken Soup with Sea Cucumber, Mushrooms and Quail Eggs

A traditional dish containing preserved vegetables, rice crisps and raw fish topped with sour plum sauce. Each element representing something symbolic for the Lunar New Year

Tossed with chopsticks by every one at the table. The higher you toss, "the more fortune you will receive"

Anyway, I'm glad to have shared MY family's CNY tradition with you. Tell me, what's CNY like in YOUR household? Any fond childhood memories that tugs your heart strings? Would love to hear about them! =)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

"Knock You Naked" Brownies

"Knock You Naked" Brownies, cleverly named by the one and only, Pioneer Woman

Wow... I cannot begin to describe how incredibly scrambled I feel at this moment. You see, I JUST took the brownies out of the oven to shoot 15 minutes to go and have got less than an hour to churn out this post to meet the deadline! @_@

So, I've been looking forward to participate in this event called the "Sweet Adventures Blog Hop" after being inspired by all the marvellous entries by fellow bloggers since the beginning of the event. For all of you unfamiliar with this event, it's basically a fun way for bloggers all around to share a food that they've created based on the theme of that month.

For last month's Christmas edition of the blog hop, I had it all planned out way early on and knew exactly what I wanted to make. Been looking forward to it for so long. Even went out to buy all the ingredients and kitchen utensils JUST to make that dessert. Unfortunately, when the day came for me to make that dessert for a Christmas dinner our family was hosting, I fell incredibly ill. Was bedridden for 4 days and unable to eat anything but porridge that whole length of time. Sad, I was...

THAT'S WHY, I am super rushed but I'm determined to finally get my entry in after all my hard work. KYAAAAAAAAA!!!

So when it came to this month's blog hop, themed: Death by Chocolate, I knew it would be a fun one to do. It was actually my upon my brother's request that I make brownies for him. And the first place I went to look for a recipe was, The Pioneer Woman's website, no questions asked. I knew that this woman would be THE place to go to if I wanted easy, delicious yet creative recipe ideas. Also, she's known to be a bit naughty, naughty when it comes to Chocolates or Butter, which is sorta fitting towards this month's theme, no? And the moment I read the title of the post, "Knock You Naked" Brownies, I was sold.

What's great about this brownie recipe is that it was a layer of caramel + choc chips in between. BUT, I couldn't find any caramels here in KK so decided to make a Butterscotch Sauce, which I've made in the past for a Sticky Date Pudding dessert instead. The sauce was absolutely delicious and I knew would make a great substitute, maybe even better, than the original caramel sauce.

Anyway, the addition of Butterscotch Sauce + Choc Chips in the middle does give this, otherwise plain brownies, so much more character. Definitely slightly more on the rich and fudgey side, if that's yerr thang. But, again, the theme is DEATH by chocolate lol. I enjoyed the piece that I had and can't wait to go back for another one after dinner. This time, with a nice cold glass of milk by my side to wash it down. Bliss...

Hope you enjoy, and GONG XI FA CHAI to all you wonderful people out there who's celebrating Chinese New Year today. Am sure you're all eating too much for your own good so keep it up!

Wince =)


"Knock You Naked" Brownies
(adapted from this recipe by The Pioneer Woman)


1 box German Chocolate Cake Mix *
1 cup finely chopped nuts
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
Butterscotch sauce (see below)
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Powdered sugar/melted white choc for decor

* I used Betty Crocker brand


Preheat oven to 180degC. Prepare the Butterscotch Sauce with the recipe below, set aside. In a large bowl, pour the cake mix and chopped nuts in. Create a well in the middle and pour in the melted butter. Stir the mixture from the middle. Halfway through, mix in the evaporated milk in the middle as well and stir through until totally combined. Mixture will be very thick.

Press half the mixture into a well-greased/lined 20cm square baking pan. Bake for 8 - 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven and set aside.

Pour in the butterscotch sauce and sprinkle all the chocolate chips on top until even. Turn out remaining brownie dough on work surface. Using a spatula, form a large square approximately the size of the 20cm tray. Then, remove from surface and set on top of the caramel and chocolate chips.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool to room temperature. To decorate, either generously sift powdered sugar or, like me, melt some white chocolate in the microwave and pipe them loosely all over the surface. Enjoy =)

Butterscotch Sauce
(taken from this recipe by Hunger Hunger)


4 tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp vanilla extract
large pinch of salt


Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar and stir with a wooden spoon. Stir frequently over low heat, 3 to 5 minutes. Be sure to get the sugar that's sticking to the sides of the pot. When sugar caramelises, it will bubble, turn out more liquid and look like thick sand.

Add all the cream and use a whisk to stir once in a while over medium heat, about 5 minutes. Remove from stove and let cool.

Whisk in half the vanilla extract and salt, taste and add more to taste.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Chicken Parma Casserole Recipe

Chicken Parma Casserole -- A new twist on a classic Aussie favourite!

My group of uni friends and I sorta (unintentionally) started a tradition every time it came round to the exam season. We would meet together at my place every day to study the day away, and come dinner time, some would help me in the kitchen to prepare dinner for every one that night, while others would wash up after and we'd all chip in for dinner. Good system. Dinner would always be in front of the TV in the living room over an episode of either The Office, Modern Family and more recently, 30 Rock. (FUN!) Then, we'd continue all the way till almost midnight and the cycle repeats itself the following day. Normally, we'd do this for almost a month.

A tradition that we upheld for the last 2 years of our undergrad. It was seriously awesome. That's why, ironically, exam season is actually my highlight of every semester! These guys are so fantastic that they even make studying fun. Maybe it's cause we're not actually studying half the time ahem ;p. I kid, I kid... We strike a good balance between fun and work time and happy to say that all of us graduated with Honours. Yayeee... Happy days...

And coming up with what to cook 6 BIG ASS eaters each night proved to be slightly challenging, but fun. Whatever it was, it had to be quick, healthy and FILLING. One night, I actually stumbled upon this youtube video while I was meant to be, uh... Studying lol. One thing led to another and I spent the whole night watching recipe and cooking videos on the Internet. Well done, Wince. Well done...

Oh, great. Now every one knows that I obviously take most of my photos on my carpet floor lol. Can't remember the last time I used a store-bought pasta sauce (prefer making my own) but the flavours intrigued me

SO glad I did because this recipe totally caught my attention and I couldn't stop thinking about it ever since! Everything made so much sense and it deconstructed my all-time favourite pub food, The Chicken Parma, in a way that it's so much simpler to prepare at home. All it took was a little creativity and improvisation.

First, this recipe is baked, not fried. Also, the crumbed coating is cleverly substituted by using some croutons. Everything else is just assembled straight out of the bottle/packet and NO prep is required at all. TOO EASY! Also, don't forget that chicken parma is actually MEANT to have PARMesan cheese, not just Mozzarella! (A misconception that most restaurants still make today). That's why it's called Chicken PARMa, no duhhh... The only thing I meant to do was really PILE on the Mozz but I sorta ran out that day. Oh wellzzz...

Anyway, I recommend that you give this dish a go. It is so fun, different and interesting because it's a Chicken Parma CASSEROLE. We enjoyed it. Plus, it's so simple like you wouldn't believe and I guarantee that ANYONE can make this! Took less than 10 minutes (tops) to put together before whacking it in the oven -- DONE. Perfect for Exam dinners when time is of the essence for cooking!! From one student to another... Definitely going in the books under "Simple Meal Ideas". Also, this recipe has a lot of "sprinkling" and "spreading" involved so you can easily adjust amounts to preferred taste and size of tray.

I personally love this and can't wait to make it again. Enjoy!! =)


Chicken Parma Casserole
(serves 6 big eaters)

6 cloves garlic (pressed)
2 tbsp olive oil
chilli flakes to sprinkle
4 chicken breasts
dried herbs to sprinkle
cracked black pepper
1 bottle pasta sauce (approx 350g)
2 1/2 cups Mozzarella cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1 bag croutons (approx 80g) *

* Couldn't find croutons so used mini toast chips instead


Preheat oven to 200degC. Press the garlics into the tray and add the olive oil. Sprinkle desired amount of chilli flakes and mix all around with a fork.

Place the chicken breasts on the tray (make sure no gaps). Sprinkle dried herbs and crack some black pepper all around. Pour pasta sauce onto chicken and spread evenly.

Sprinkle half the Mozz, then half the Parmesan. Spread the croutons or mini toasts evenly.

Sprinkle remaining Mozz followed by the Parmesan. Finish off with more dried herbs.

Whack it in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Rest for 5 minutes before serving (if you can wait that long). Serve with some mash and veg and ENJOY! =D

"Before & After", clearly not enough Mozz but still yum. The smell of cheese, herbs and garlic through the air was amazing =)

Chicken Parma Casserole + Simple Mash with Truffle Oil + Blanched Veg for dins

The good stuff...

Great thing about this is how moist and juicy the chicken was. Lots and lots of sauce too, YUMMO =D

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Ibuki HOUSE Restaurant, East Bentleigh

Quite possibly the most unassuming "restaurant" in Melbourne, no?!?!


How are you all doing? I don't know about you, but for a lot of us, our graduation dinner is almost just as anticipated as the ceremony itself. You know, a special celebratory dinner, in the company of loved ones, some with families that flew in from overseas. So, a lot of thought was given into thinking of where to take close friends/families out for dinner that night.

So, I've been hearing my cousins speak of this really cool Japanese "restaurant" that they've been eating at for years, called Ibuki. Always SO curious to try but could never got the chance! Not a lot of people I know has heard of this house restaurant before even though they've been open for more than 20 years! That's why when we were trying to think of where to go for my graduation dinner, this place immediately came to mind. On top of that, it was an even special night for us because we didn't just want to celebrate my graduation, but Cousin J's graduation from Masters as well as Cousin C's 21st birthday. YAY!!!

Me folks and sis outside the house. Never know if I look like Mum or Dad ;p

What's really cool is that this restaurant is actually served by a Japanese chef in his own home! Also, it's an omakase concept (i.e. chef given free-reign to design the menu) worth usually around $60-80 per person, which is NOT BAD AT ALL, as you will later see what we were actually served. But there are conditions to eating here. My cousins told me that they used to have to book months in advance (absurd!). Also, each booking has to be for a party of 10 because they only take in one table per night. How can you NOT be intrigued by this restaurant =O

How crazy is that?! But now, they've changed things a little bit. All you need is several weeks and they take in 3 tables per night now. One for a group of 10-12, 4-6 or 2 only. Much easier to make a booking now. Phew!

One last thing about Ibuki is that it was virtually non-existent anywhere on the Internet. Not on Google, Urbanspoon, blogs or anything. NADA! Also, don't mistake this for the other Ibuki Restaurant in the city on Urbanspoon. So, forgive me if I feel really, REALLY excited to (sorta) be the first to share with most of you (who's hearing this for the first time) today one of our family's favourite eateries, that has sorta remained "hidden" among us for so long. Have added this restaurant to Urbanspoon, so you can find deets there. ENJOY!!! =)

Assorted Sashimi including Lobsters, Abalone, Salmon, Kingfish and Marinated Tuna

What a luxurious and majestic plate of sashimi! Literally made us go, "woooow" as soon as we stepped through the door and saw this waiting for us at the table. Plenty to go around and everything was fresh. Again, lobster and abalone... Feast for the eyes too! @_@

Raw beef and oyster platters

The beef was soft yet had simple and fresh flavours. I liked it and the oysters too. Nommm =)

Assorted sushi platter(s)

There was actually another tray of slightly different sushi besides this but I didn't get a chance to photograph it. This meal really had something for everyone. We were pretty darn full at this point to be honest. LOL weak~

Scallops Mornay with Bacon Bits and Saffron

Another dish that got us excited as soon as it was served. Unfortunately, this looked better than it tastes. Way too salty. Still, A+ for generosity.


The custard was a bit too soft and delicate that you could barely feel it in your mouth, almost had to sip it down. But, the broth behind it carried a stronger but natural Dashi taste, which I enjoyed. Mmm...

Optional course: Pipi and chicken claypot rice

This course was actually not part of the omakase but requested because our cousin knew all of us are hard core Asians through and through. We need rice somewhere in our meal. Seafood was sweet but found the rice a bit too wet.

Seafood Soup with Abalone, Crab Claw, Mussel and Fish Cake

I liked this. The meal took a lighter course from this soup onwards. Naturally sweet and the soup felt so warm and soothing down the throat.

Assorted Tempura

Don't think I've seen a Tempura Lobster Head before! Just for decoration purposes but looked really cool. Surprisingly, my favourite thing was the tempura yam/taro haha =D

Shabu Shabu

To be honest, I've always been more of a Sukiyaki than a Shabu Shabu kinda guy. We were pretty much full to the brim at this point. Which, I guess wasn't really fair to the dish. Was okay.

Japanese crepe with Red Bean/Black Sesame Ice-Cream; Complimentary fruits/truffles

Whoops, didn't really stitch the last photo properly lol. Anyway, crepe was chewy and I enjoyed the red bean more than the black sesame (surprisingly). Last dish of the day and foahhh, so full by that point. /endofmeal

Picking our glasses for our WARM sake

Seriously awesome beer!! We all couldn't get enough of it and ordered so many of these. Smooth and good depth of flavour. I don't drink beer that often *ahem* but I found this pretty outstanding. Can't find this in any Dan Murphy's, Coles/Woolies Liquor! Please order this if you happen to go.

Trying to give you a view of our table, the restaurant and also the work station. Very cosy.

Happy 21st Birthday, C!!! Lots of photo taking after that, woo-hoo =)

"We are family, come on every body and sing!"

Final group picture to cap off a truly magnificent evening =)

Food wise, was it the best Japanese meal I've had? No. But would I go back? Yes. Would I still recommend it? Oh, YES! Especially for special occasions.

First of all, the food served was really not what you would get in your usual Jap meal, which makes it perfect for special occasions like this. A bit more extravagant but the price was more than justified at $80 per pop, as you can see! Also, the drinks were really reasonably priced because we were there for hours and ordered countless rounds of sake and beer but it didn't amount to much, honestly.

Food was okay. But to us, the best thing about this place was the venue itself. It was private and intimate, that's why we felt so comfortable to just sit around and catch up for hours, while ordering rounds and rounds of drinks in between. You don't get to do this or even feel this way at any other restaurants. Really ideal for long dinners with close friends and family.

Overall, it was such a lovely evening spent with my family. We were there for hours and had so much great conversation and even better laughs, reminiscing on old times. So, so rare for all of us to gather like this and there were so many things to celebrate so I truly appreciated that night. Family really is everything, after all.

Just wanted to thank my wonderful relos for yet another fantastic meal (LOVE our family dinners!), my family for flying to Melbourne and also to Dad, for his generosity in picking up the tab for all of us. Looking forward to many more cherished meals like this with the family in Melbourne.

That's all for now. PEACE!!!

Ibuki House Restaurant on Urbanspoon