Monday, February 25, 2013

Tomato Garlic Prawns 鸿运当头笑哈哈(虾)

laughing prawns for an auspicious and happy reunion meal!

10th February 2013
1st lunch of Lunar Calendar year of Snake (农历大年初一)- Part 2

This Snake year, we had our family reunion dinner on the 9th February, the eve of the New Year, at the Penang Chinese Recreation Club (CRC) Restaurant. As expected this reunion package dinner set menu served many auspiciously sounding dishes such as Yee Sang 撈鱼生, Shark’s fins, Steamed fish (nian nian you yu 年年有余(鱼) symbolising abundance in Mandarin, along with Steamed prawns 笑哈哈), with prawns homophonic to “laughter” in Cantonese and last but not least deep fried Nian Gao 年糕 (steam sticky rice cake) as dessert. To me, no matter how lavish and sumptuous the reunion dinner we could have in a restaurant, there was still something missing in it, the “home” feel taste!


Other than Pen Cai as featured in my previous post on our reunion CNY lunch at home, we had another seafood dish in the same lunch menu. My sister Cindy had brought some big prawns. We decided to use some for the Pen Cai and the rest went to this Stir fried Tomato Garlic Prawns, our homemade “laughing” prawns. Prawns in Cantonese as I mentioned symbolises laughter which is another must serve in the CNY menu.

Tomato Garlic Prawns 鸿运当头笑哈哈(虾)

Following was the lunch menu that we served on that day:
Hakka Pen Cai, Teo Chew Steam Fish, Tomato Garlic Prawns and Pig and Fish Maw soup
(Click on the name to bring you to my old posts on these recipes)

The recipe I shared below was super easy. Even if you are a novice in cooking, you should still be able to come up with a very nice and tasty CNY dish in 3 simple steps! The secret is to have this sauce - Lee Kum Kee Sauce for Tomato Garlic Prawns clip_image001

在粤语中的“虾”听起来就像“哈“寓意笑哈哈, 是其中一道不可缺少的新年宴客菜。这一道酸甜番茄蒜茸大虾,做法简单也省事儿,而且红彤彤的很有节日气氛。 零厨艺的你也可在新年家宴上大显身手了来个鸿运当头笑哈哈(虾)!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Hakka Pen Cai (客家盆菜)

Traditional Hakka Cuisine – Come and enjoy a big bowl feast    

10th February 2013
1st lunch of Lunar Calendar year of Snake (农历大年初一)- Part 1

In contrary to the wide choices of Chinese meals available at various food outlets during the eve of CNY, it was hard to find any decent Chinese meals on the first and second day of CNY; not even the Chinese hawker/street foods! In Penang, many of the Kopitiam, hawker centres and restaurants would close for at least 2 days before resuming business on the third or fourth day of CNY. Having our CNY lunch at home on the first day was almost always our only alternative.

Since Mum’s passing, my second sister-in-law, Lai Cheng has taken over the task of manning her kitchen during festive days. With my return, she was so glad to have extra helping hands in preparing the CNY lunch. This year, when I noticed she had bought some expensive seafood materials such as sea cucumber, frozen baby abalone and fish maw, it gave me the idea to make them into Hakka Pen Cai, the deluxe version as compared to what was usually served in restaurants.

Pen Cai (盆菜) or Big Basin Feast is one of Hakka delicacy cuisine commonly served during CNY, or other festive days and weddings. This communal dish was made popular by Hong Kong New Territories Hakka Village. Hakka people in the olden days mostly resided in the hills and was well known for their frugal lifestyle.

The original version of Pen Cai only used basic and fresh ingredients that were easily available from their farms, i.e. vegetables, chicken, duck and pork.  However, nowadays this dish has transformed into an exotic and lavish dish by restaurants with the addition of seafood such as oysters, abalone, sea cucumber, fish maw and scallops. 
Restaurant Pen Cai
Restaurant Pen Cai - Deluxe version
Preparation of Pen Cai might seem tedious. All the ingredients were first cooked in different ways such as deep frying, stir frying, stewing and steaming before being laid into a big wooden or metal basin, layer by layer.

I did some Google search for the recipes on how to cook sea cucumber, baby abalone and fish maw. I seldom used these expensive ingredients and was afraid I might ruin them. Frankly, it was kind of an impromptu decision to try out this dish. We didn’t have quite a few of the usual Pen Cai ingredients such as variation of vegetables and bean curbs, so we had to make do with whatever veggies we had in the fridge.

I was glad that JS gave us a hand in arranging the cooked ingredients into the metal basin. The reason why I asked hubby to take over this task was because when in Auckland, there were stalls serving Chinese food in buffet style charging by per serving by the size of the plate. We would pay for the price of a single serving regardless of the amount of food stacked on the plate. JS always managed to stack so much food in that small plate that many times made such meals good value for money!

Shared below was the homemade Hakka Pen Cai (客家盆菜) that we improvised from the ingredients that we had on hand. In fact, to me Pen Cai had no fixed recipe; you can opt to put in any ingredients you like in the basin.

What’s more important was how to arrange them in a basin. The key to note was to ensure the absorbent ingredients at the bottom of the basin. Traditionally, the bottom layer was always stuffed with vegetables with plain taste such as Chinese cabbage, radishes, pigskins and bean curd. The middle layers were usually pork and Chinese dried mushroom. On the upper part of Pen Cai, meat, seafood and luxurious ingredients such as abalone, oyster, scallops and sea cucumber were placed.

Don’t be put off by the long and daunting list of the ingredients and steps. Though preparing Pen Cai can be tedious and time consuming, I think it is still acceptable to do it once a year.

Pen Cai 客家盆菜 - Yinhomemade version
  10022013_cnylunch So, what were the feedbacks from my family members? clip_image001[1] by our nephews and nieces except the baby abalone which was slightly overcooked with rubbery texture and the gravy not being thick enough.

Next year, SIL and I had planned to make it more flavourful with proper veggies and added with more meat and starchy gravy!  cnycooks

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Happy Chinese New Year 2013

Just want to wish all my Chinese friends and readers a prosperous, harmonious and healthy Snake year ahead!











As usual we will be heading back to my hometown Penang for Chinese New Year celebration with our family members.
In fact, by the time I finished typing this post it would leave us just 7 hours before we hit the road. Fingers cross for traveling in odd hours of 4am in the morning, and we would be able to avoid the traffic jam. 
I knew that I had been lagged in my kitchen; I had to admit that I had not made any special preparation for this Chinese New Year (CNY) at all due to work commitment.  However, I will try to come out with some CNY dishes when we are back from Penang for Chap Goh Mei the 15th of CNY (元宵节) celebration.
To make up, sharing below are some of the old CNY dishes I introduced before. Click here to go to the posts.


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