Life is Great

The Delicious Appreciations of Pick Yin

Not exactly predictable.
Has enough brains for codes
(but can be completely clueless on other more important matters).
Likes her Joe (and her man?) black, her chocolate dark and her food spicy.
“Quam bene vivas refert, non quam diu.” — Seneca

Total Posts   191      Last Updated   23 November 2015 12:00 PM (GMT +8)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Gooey Cinnamon Cake

Gooey Cinnamon Cake

This cake is a touchy subject for those lucky enough to have been introduced to it. Some like it literally flooding, some like it just slightly oozing in the center. Others are easily happy with the drier edges. Recently another major fan admitted all she really cared about is the cake's crusty sugary cinnamon top. Every week it's a matter of calling dibs on that most promising piece according to individual preferences but really only the baker understands how much love goes into that intended sloppiness.

Customer: Why does it look undercooked?
Me: Try it first, we meant it to be gooey. *smiles*

On another day, the same customer returns for a cup of coffee.
Customer: ... What?! Why today don't have that gooey cinnamon cake thing?!!
Me: It's really a weekend special, so do come again this Saturday! *grins, heart swelling with joy*

Gooey Cinnamon Cake

I still remember baking this cake for the first time at the shop. Still drowsy from sleepiness after a late service the night before, I carefully measured all the ingredients, made the cookie base and proceeded to wash and dry the bowl before preparing the soft gooey center, not knowing that the original recipe stated clearly a clean bowl is not required. My boss, he just looked on and kept quiet, probably amusing himself with my pre-coffee slow and steady motions.

Gooey Cinnamon Cake

When the cake came out from the oven jiggling quite violently in the middle when shaken, we knew it was perfect and satisfaction would be guaranteed to many with this plain looking simplicity.

Who knew Deb's move away from the yeasted dough of the original St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake would bring us all together so unanimously?

Gooey Cinnamon Cake
Recipe adapted from Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, here republished with permission by David Lebovitz.

    Cookie Base:

  • 1 1/2 cups (190 grams) flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (aluminium-free)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (115 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (60 millilitres) full fat whole milk
    Soft Gooey Layer:

  • 1/4 cup (60 millilitres) honey
  • 1/4 cup (60 millilitres) full fat whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 12 tablespoons (170 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 180 grams sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 (155 grams) cups flour
    Cinnamon Topping:

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Line an 8-inch square cake pan with parchment, leaving an overhang on all four sides. Spray the foil in the pan with nonstick spray or grease with butter. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).

To make the cookie base, whisk together the 1 1/2 cups (190 grams) flour, baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Beat the 8 tablespoons (115 grams) of butter and the 3/4 cup (150 grams) of sugar in the bowl of stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or by hand, until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg and the milk and mix in, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Stir in the dry ingredients, until fully incorporated. Put the mixture in the cake pan in dollops (it’s too thick to spread if you add it all in the same place), and spread it into an even layer with an offset spatula.

(You don’t need to clean the bowl; you can reuse it for the next step.)

To make the soft gooey layer, in a small bowl, whisk together the honey with the milk and vanilla. Beat the 12 tablespoons (170 grams) of butter with the 180 grams of sugar, and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add one-third of the 1 1/4 cup (155 grams) flour, then half of the milk/corn syrup mixture. Add another one-third of the flour, then the rest of the milk/corn syrup mixture. Then stir in the remaining flour. Dollop the batter over the unbaked cookie layer and spread evenly.

Mix together the 2 tablespoons of sugar and cinnamon, then sprinkle it evenly over the cake.

Bake the cake for 30 minutes, or until the cake feels slightly damp, but gently set in the center (mine was removed at 26 minutes for the extra gooey texture. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. When cool, lift out the cake using the overhang of the foil, and cut the cake into 1-inch wide slices.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Chinese Crispy Roast Pork Belly (Siu Yuk 烧肉)

Chinese Crispy Roast Pork Belly (Siu Yuk 烧肉)

Recently I've been asked, "Are you a chef?"

"No, I'm just a cook. So what did you do in your previous place?"

"Oh, I started in the cold section then moved to meat and the other sections. Soon after I was the sous and then eventually running the kitchen expediting. Do you know what's expediting? (without missing a beat) Expediting means I just call the dockets and do the final plating."


Chinese Crispy Roast Pork Belly (Siu Yuk 烧肉)

I love coming to work at the restaurant now just to get schooled like this (notice I don't refer to it as a cafe anymore because for God's sake we have not one but two chefs in the house!).

Is it really a chef thing? Once the whites are on immediately there's this need to demand some respect because those in T-shirts and half aprons knows next to nothing - certainly not what expediting means.

"Over there we're professionals you know, in uniforms, even the servers."


"Have you worked in a restaurant? You should go work in one."


Stir Fried Baby Romaine

But I digress so let's move on to this roast pork business.

It took me so long to provide you a recipe because there are already so many out there I don't think you'll need another non-chef trying to tell you how to get the best pork crackling and perfectly seasoned, juicy belly meat with minimum effort. Drying out and scoring the skin is crucial, and while there are many ways to do it, I find this Chinese method works best. For a 2-kilogram slab of meat, the total cooking time is only an hour - exactly what I was looking for as most recipes cook a 1.5-kilogram piece for longer.

Rest the meat well, save the roast drippings to toss up some dry egg noodles and eat your greens!

Chinese Crispy Roast Pork Belly (Siu Yuk 烧肉)
Recipe adapted from Chef Sing of Hungry Mario.

  • 2 kilograms pork belly, skin on (get the thickest, most even slab from the butcher)
  • kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
    Spice oil mix:

  • 1 cube Nam Yue (red fermented bean curd)
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese Shao Xing rice wine
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 3 teaspoons Chinese five spice
  • 3 pinches kosher salt
  • 1 pinch freshly ground white pepper

Trim the underside of the pork belly if thickness is not even. Place on a flat tray or sheet pan, cover with cling wrap and freeze for about 20-30 minutes.

Remove pork belly from freezer and check that the skin is semi-frozen. With a thin, sharp knife, score the skin in long strips, about 5 mm apart. Score just deep enough to reach the first fat layer but refrain from cutting through the fat. Move the tray and scored meat to the sink. Keeping the meat slightly slanted with the help of the tray, generously splash the skin with vinegar and rub in between the scoring. Drain all the vinegar off and let stand, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the all the spice oil ingredients together. Place a foil covered tray on the oven floor and a wire rack in the middle. Preheat oven to 220°C, convection fan (if available) on.

Pat dry the skin with kitchen towels. Repeat the vinegar rub process again, this time also adding the kosher salt. Pat dry and remove the excess salt. Flip the belly slab over and lightly score the underside, criss-cross about 2 cm square apart. Pat dry and apply the spice oil mix on the underside and four sides of the pork belly slab. Flip the meat over, leaving the skin side clean. Season skin with salt and pepper to taste. To prevent the meat from curling, pierce through the slab with an oven-safe metal skewer. Place the meat into the oven directly on the prepared wire rack. Roast for 20 minutes.

Turn down the temperature to 180°C and roast for another 20 minutes.

Turn the oven to grill and increase the temperature back to 220°C. Keep the oven door shut for the next 20 minutes. Some parts of the crackling may be slightly burnt, these bits can be scraped off later. After 20 minutes, remove the roast and rest for at least 20 minutes before slicing. Meat keeps well covered in the fridge for a week. Only slice the portion required for serving to keep it moist. To get crispy crackling from leftovers, place the sliced meat skin side down on a hot cast iron pan for 3-4 minutes.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

ABC Soup (罗宋汤)

ABC Soup

"Why is the soup called ABC?"

I asked on Instagram and got all sorts of (some rather weird) answers. I don't remember asking my mother. I just know it remains as my all time favorite Chinese slow-cooked soup even now. Yes, it's up there with lotus root octopus, watercress duck or pig stomach but ultimately, I can have this soup every day, at any hour.

Vegetable fried rice


Life in the food and beverage service industry is hard, truly only those who are living it can understand. Sometimes we don't eat well, other times we don't get to eat at all until we're simply too tired to be bothered with lifting a spoon. Forgotten meals in the fridge is commonplace and going to bed hungry a job hazard, because sleep trumps food when the next shift starts in just a few hours. As we strive to take care of our customers, it is easy to forget about ourselves.

Nasi lemak

In most establishments the team is like a dysfunctional family, ours is no different. Each crew with his or her own character and various nuances, trying to find a balance between life at home while maintaining the energy demanded by those who walk through our doors. Relationship problems, ailing parents and fatigue due to constant moonlighting are not what we need on top of those long hours. With all that, when it comes down to that moment our bodies protest in raging hunger, we just need something that will go down easy.

Something warm. Preferably with some love. Tasting delicious an appreciated bonus.

ABC Soup

As Lee Westcott put it so accurately in his quote in this article about family meal, we try to make them right. While prepping for dinner service, that favorite cast iron pot tenderly brew a simple concoction over a low, gentle heat. As the crew pass by the kitchen bussing tables and doing dishes, they inhale with anticipation and sometimes wonder, what the cook on makanai (まかない Japanese for staff meal) duty is preparing for everyone.

So with this tiny encouragement, they scrub that plate harder and walk to that rather loud customer faster, looking forward to that short moment of solace when they can finally sit down by the pass with nourishment for themselves, temporarily forgetting about the hustle and bustle at the front of house.

A Bowl of Comfort is what I'd say this is all about.

ABC Soup

Recipe is completely based on estimation of how my parents made the soup, in Malay we say "agak-agak". Adjust accordingly to your own preferences.

  • 500-600 grams pork ribs (I like soft bones mixed with some hard ribs)
  • 1 large carrot, sliced diagonally
  • 1 large boiling or russet potato, peeled and halved
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and halved
  • 1 tomato, skin on
  • 1 teaspoon white peppercorn (optional)
  • 1.5 liters water
  • salt to taste

In a medium pot or wok, bring about 1 liter of water to a boil. Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables accordingly. As this soup is slow cooked, I like to cut them large so they don't disintegrate and cloud the soup at the end. At the end of 2 hours, the onion will peel its layers easily and potato soft enough to be eaten with a spoon, so go easy on the knife work.

Blanch pork ribs in the boiling water for about 2 minutes, then rinse with cold water, and set aside. (Blanching any longer will dilute the pork flavor, so I prefer to skim off any remaining scum from the soup as it begins cooking.) In the pot of your choice (I use a cast iron pot, you can use any pot suitable for slow cooking), place the blanched pork ribs and the rest of the ingredients (except salt). Add water and bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat for at least 1 1/2 hours. For best results, cook on the lowest simmering heat possible for up to 2 hours. Season to taste with salt.

Serve warm as is or with the rest of your meal. When keeping leftover soup, remove the tomato (if not eaten). Soup keeps well refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Continue reading ABC Soup (罗宋汤)