Sunday, March 29, 2009

All Day Earth Hour

I've just come back from 3 nights in a "jungle" camp along the Kinabatangan river, near Sabah's east coast. The riverine forest connecting a series of reserves along the river is all that remains of the original rainforest. Since vast areas of the rainforest are now replaced by oil palm plantations, the wildlife is squeezed into the green corridor along the river.

Not good for the animals, but it makes for fantastic wildlife viewing. I saw orangutans each morning, Borneo's endemic proboscis monkeys, silver leaf monkeys, a crocodile, lots of gorgeous birds including hornbills and jewel-bright kingfishers, plus lots of "small stuff". Oh, and the nightly phenomenon of dozens and dozens of flying foxes leaving their daily roost and flying over the river to spend the night foraging.

The local people living in the upper reaches of the river observe Earth Hour all the time; no electricity here. But there are still fish in the river, and plenty of water for doing the laundry at the usual floating pontoon near the river bank.

My photos aren't that great — wildlife photography is not easy, especially when animals seem to like a strong back light. You can scarcely use a fill flash on an orangutan way up a tree about 30 metres away!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bemused by Blogger

In the past, whenever I tried to load photos, they appeared as several lines of gobbledygook (text) which I could move around at will — more or less — but now they appear as an image and don't seem to be able to be moved around on the page. Thus, my big hunk of shin got cut off in my last posting. I realise now that I had my setting at Edit Html instead of Compose, so I'll know next time. But because I'm stubborn, I'm posting the photo again.

Doing it Both Ways

It's been ages since I posted a recipe, but to be honest, I haven't been very enthusiastic about food lately. I did, however, recently come across some local shin beef that inspired me to compare classic French and Chinese recipes for this cut.

We rarely eat beef here, as the imported meat is expensive and the local stuff really tough (even the "fillet") and lacking in flavour. However, an Australian acquaintance who's a specialist in abbatoirs and cattle has gone into a venture here, fattening up the beasts before slaughtering them in his own place. This means we can sometimes find cuts of meat that are never imported, such as a huge chunk of shin with the marrow-stuffed bone still in. There was so much of it that I used half for a Pot au Feu and the remainder for Chinese braised beef.

The Pot au Feu was tasty, but dare I say, a tad dull, even when eaten Provencal-style with capers, cornichons and mustard. Maybe we just missed the spices and sauces used in most Asian cuisines, and much preferred the Chinese recipe. Perhaps the secret ingredient that gave the meat a rich, deep flavour is red fermented bean curd, tiny squares of bean curd fermented with red rice and salt that packs a powerful punch and is used only as a seasoning. I've seen it referred to as Chinese Stilton, but that gives no idea of its heady tang. Incidentally, the bean curd keeps indefinitely on the shelf, and locally, is often served as a condiment with rice porridge or congee. Yummmmm.

Here, then, is the beef recipe.
750 g brisket or shin beef, cut in large cubes
1 tablespoon oil
2-3 thin slices ginger
2 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
2 spring onions, cut in 8-cm lengths
3 dried chillies, halved lengthways
1 1/2 tablespoons fermented red bean curd, mashed
1 1/2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 whole star anise
2 cups (500 ml) good chicken or beef stock
1 1/2 tablespoons crushed rock sugar
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons (30 ml) Shaohsing rice wine
lots of freshly ground black pepper

Blanch the beef in boiling salted water for 15 minutes, drain meat and discard the water.
Heat oil in a wok and when starting to smoke, add beef and stir-fry until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, spring onion and chillies and stir-fry another 2-3 minutes. Lower the heat, add fermented bean curd, hoisin sauce and star anise, stirring to mix well. Add all the sauce ingredients, bring to the boil, then cover, lower the heat and simmer for 2 hours or so until the meat is really tender. Even better if cooled, fat removed and gently reheated.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Learning Curve

Please be patient with me. I've never bothered learning how to do a proper hyperlink to a website (as is obvious from yesterday's debacle). Now I'm going to see if this works.

Saturday, March 07, 2009


perhaps this will work?

the correct link (I hope)

For some reason, my cut and paste of the Sydney Morning Herald feature was abbreviated. The one above should work.

On the List!

I was browsing through the Sydney Morning Herald on-line this morning — as one does when one should be working — and caught side of food-writer Jill Dupleix's list of the 50 best recipes she's ever cooked. To my surprise, there was my Singapore Laksa.
(check it out at

The recipe is in the new edition (2007) of my Singapore Food; it's a lot of work but obviously I'm not the only one who thinks the effort is well worthwhile.