Hands up those who don't fancy eating pineapples because of the occasional stinging sensation that it gives. You're on the same camp as me.

But fret not, you can now enjoy your pineapples if you cook them. These yellow babies are a different thing altogether when cooked. Their sweet, juicy and slightly tangy all at once. Ooh, what a delish treat that will make you reach for more.

Sweet and Sour Chicken
Serves 5

300g chicken breast (cut into bite-sized pieces)
1 red bell pepper (diced)
1 green bell pepper (diced)
125g pineapple (diced)***

1 red chilli ( roughly chopped)
1 tomato (sliced)
1 1/2 tbsp Sweet Thai Chilli

Marinade for Chicken1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
a dash of white pepper

1) Marinate chicken for > 1/2 hour. Meanwhile, dice the bell peppers and red chilli. Remove seeds from chilli if you can't take spicy foods.
2) Pan-fry chicken chunks until 80% done and set aside.
3) Using the same pan, throw in diced bell peppers, chilli, and chicken in that order.
4) Add in sweet thai chilli and tomato slices, saute for 3 mins using high heat (important to use high heat as the bell peppers will release some water during the process. You do not want your sauce to become too watery). Serve.
***Tips: Buy pineapples from Sri Lanka (as opposed to those from Thailand) as they are generally juicier and sweeter.

There you go, a colourful dish that's sweet and tangy all in one bite! ◦

Pen Cai / Poon Chai / 盆菜, loosely translated as "a Basin of Treasures", is a dish that has made its way onto the dinner tables of Singaporean Chinese during Lunar New Year in recent years. I personally think "a Basin of Treasures" is an apt name for this this, for it literally is filled with goodies of all sorts. While there are no hard and fast rule on the ingredients to include, delicacies such as abalone and seafood are common. As the ingredients are skillfully stacked on top of one another, I guarantee that even the most well-mannered grown-ups will shed their defenses and turn into kids (in a good way, of course) as they gleefully unravel the dish to discover the bountiful goodies on offer. Pretty much like unwrapping Christmas presents, huh?

I know it's only August and there's still about half a year to the next Lunar New Year. But I wanted to post this here anyway because I saw this scanned recipe still in my netbook and was immediately reminded of this luxurious dish me and mum cooked during CNY this year. Trust me on this: this is soooo good it's fit for the king.

"Deluxe" just took on a whole new meaning.

Now, go grab that napkin and wipe that saliva. Then, find your notebook and copy down the following recipe.

(Original recipe from the Straits Times, January 16 2011. Adaptations below.)

Ingredients for A
Cooking Oil
4 cloves of garlic (minced)
20g ginger (shredded)
100g mushroom (pre-soaked and de-stemmed)
150g canned abalone
- 1 can razor clams
100g sea cucumber (ready to use), sliced, pre-blanched

Seasoning for A 
2 tbsps Osyter Sauce
1/2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsps Chinese wine*****
1/2 bowl water + 1/2 bowl juice from canned abalone  + 1/2 tbsp cornstarch (combine well)

Directions for A
1) Heat oil in wok. Add garlic & ginger and stir-fry until fragrant.
2)Add mushrooms and stir-fry for 2 mins.
3)Add seasoning and sea cucumber, then bring to boil. Subsequently simmer for 5 mins, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Ingredients for B
600g chicken (skinless, cut into bite-size)
40g ginger (shredded)
1/2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp Maggi seasoning
7 teasp. Chinese wine*****
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp sugar
Pinch of white pepper

Seasoning for B
3 tbsps oil
 30g ginger (shredded)
4 cloves garlic (minced)
5 tbsps Chinese wine*****
1 bowl water + 1 bowl juice from canned abalone  + 2 tbsp cornstarch (combine well)

Directions for B
1)Marinate chicken with ingredients for 30 mins.
2)Heat oil in wok. Add ginger & garlic, then stir fry until fragrant.
3)Add in marinated chicken, cornstarch mixture & Chinese wine. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 mins, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Ingredients for C
2 tbsps oil
2 cloves garlic (minced)
400g napa cabbage (roughly cut & blanched)
200g broccoli (blanched, cut into florets)
100g carrots (blanched, sliced)

Seasoning for C
Pinch of MSG
1 tbsp sugar

Directions for C
1)Heat oil in wok. Add garlic & stir fry until fragrant.
2)Add blanched vegetables & stir fry for a minute or two.
3)Add seasoning and stir fry for 3 minutes. Set aside.

Ingredients for D
100g scallop (pre-soaked in water for 5 mins)
300g large prawns (trimmed)
200g fish maw(soaked in water for 5 mins and cut into ~3cm width each)
4 tbsps Chinese wine*****

1 red chilli

*****Chinese wine is optional

If you have not switched off (ha ha!), congratulations, you're now one step closer to that ultimate pot of Pen Chai. Now, what's left is to assemble everything together.

1) Place the stewed chicken with the gravy (B) at the bottom of the claypot.
2) Assemble the cooked vegetables (C) on top of the chicken, then pour over the gravy of the vegetables.
3) Next, assemble A (except for abalone & razor clams) over the mixed vegetables and pour over the sauce.
4) Assemble D over A.
5) Pour 5 tbsps Chinese wine over D. Cover the pot, bring to boil and simmer for 30 mins. (Check to see that gravy does not dry up).
6) Add in abalone and razor clams and cook for 5 for mins.
7) Garnish and dig in!!!

Seriously, who can resist this mouth-watering pot of goodness?

I know I can't. The rich broth that is essentially the essence of all the ingredients simply tasted out-of-this-world. Really, how can anything that's been simmering for hours not taste good? (My personal favourites are napa cabbage and fish maw -- they do a real good job at taking on the flavours of the other ingredients.)

With each mouthful, I'm reminded of the laborious process of preparing this dish painstaking care that mum put in to ensure everything turned out right. I'm also reminded of how lucky I am to be able to enjoy this delicacy with my loved ones. I feel so blessed.

So, while it took about 3 hours to prepare this dish and we spent about $94 (still way cheaper than those offered at restaurants!), the smile and praises from the family more than made up for it. 

So if you're still undecided on what to include on the menu for the next CNY, you must must must give this a try. It's totally worth the effort! The best thing is, our family of four had this for 2 days straight and by the second day, the gravy which was excellent to begin with turned from "great" to "stellar"!

Need I say anything more? :)

PS: There's no hard and fast rules on the ingredients to add. Your imagination dictates the final dish!

Good luck!


Steamed Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

I don't own an oven, and I very much envy those who do. When I watch cooking shows, I'll fantasize and dream about owning one, for it makes cooking seems so much simpler. Just marinate a bird, pop it into the big space, turn on the timer and viola, you get the perfect roast chicken. Or roast duck with that legendary crackling skin. It is MAGIC.

But when one is living in a tropical country and has to battle with sweltering heat on a daily basis, sometimes, I bet even the most oven-reliant homecook will dread the thought of warming up their kitchen any further. That's when such recipes like the one I'm sharing today comes into play.

Recipe adapted from inSing.com. (Original recipe in black. Adaptations in red.)
Makes 12

8 whole napa cabbage leaves 1/2 head of napa cabbage, about 12 whole leaves
100g chopped prawns
150g minced pork
5 fresh water chestnuts, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
I cleverly forgotten all about this
4 5 shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
½ carrot, thinly shredded Didn't have carrots
1 teaspoon grated ginger
No ginger at home

Marinade A:
½ tablespoon sesame oil
½ tablespoon Chinese cooking wine

¼ teaspoon white pepper
                                                     1  ½ tablespoon light soy sauce
                                                     ½ tablespoon corn flour
                                                     1 teaspoon fish sauce
                                                     ½ teaspoon sugar
                                                     a pinch of sea salt

1. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients (except cabbage) + marinade A. Let the mixture sit in the fridge for at least half hour.
2. Blanch cabbage leaves in boiling water for about 30 seconds to soften them for rolling. Be careful not to break or make holes in the cabbage leaves.
3. Lay one softened cabbage on a flat surface and roll the cabbage starting from the bottom.    4. Steam cabbage rolls at high heat for about 10 minutes. Serve.
Verdict: 3/5.

Will I make this again? Yes. Tastes ok, it's healthy, and elegant-looking to boot. Perfect dish to impress someone. Water chestnut added a nice crunch :)

Note to self: 
1) The pork tasted a bit flat. Me thinks it has got to do with the Chinese cooking wine that was left out.
2) Mushroom flavour came out too strong for me. To reduce to 3 mushrooms the next time.
3) Texture of the pork tasted somewhat "sausage-like". To salt the meat just before steaming them. ◦

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