Kitchen Disasters and Fixes iPhone App Giveaway

It’s 5:30 pm on a Saturday. The cheesecake you pulled out of the oven two hours ago has a gash as wide as the San Andreas Fault, the roast beef is sitting on the counter crusted in charcoal cracklings, and your guests are arriving in an hour. You sigh and brush your disheveled hair off your face, fighting back the tears.

Be strong. This is no time for a breakdown or to reach for the phone to call your favorite takeout place.

There is a simple solution! Charmian Christie’s Kitchen Disasters and Fixes iPhone app. Charmian’s app will tell you to just scrape off the roast’s burnt surface, then slice and serve. No one will know any better! And since a cracked cake surface is merely cosmetic, simply spray a thick layer of whipped cream over the top and decorate with berries. It’s all good. Your dinner party can still be a success!

Charmian is a food writer, recipe developer and blogger (at Christie’s Corner) who has had her share of kitchen disasters yet has lived to cook another day. Her work appears in a wide variety of publications, including The Globe and Mail, More, Edible Toronto, Canadian Gardening, Relish, and Natural Health. After all the cooking and recipe-testing she’s done, you can trust that her advice, tips and tactics are sound.

One problem I’ve run into again again is making my curry too spicy. Now if I had Charmian’s app right from the start, I’d know to temper the heat with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream at the table with just one swipe of my iPhone. Instead I had to figure this out on my own. Charmian also offers another tip I haven’t tried—add something sweet like raisins or mangoes to the pot. Genius!

With my liberal shakes of the wrist, there’s another problem I encounter often—a too-salty stew. Thank goodness for my mum who advised me to add potatoes to absorb the saltiness and/or to add sugar. Charmian’s suggestion? A splash of vinegar or two.

In lieu of time and a kitchen sage, Charmian’s Kitchen Disasters and Fixes app will come to the rescue. The app also serves up avoidance tactics that are indispensable in the kitchen.

I know, we could all really do with Charmian’s app and as luck would have it, I have two free promo codes to give away. Just leave a comment telling us your ultimate kitchen disaster, and if you managed to salvage it, how did you do it? We’ll randomly pick two winners in a weeks’s time.

I’ll announce the winners on Tuesday, June 12th!


Stocking a Gluten-free Asian Pantry

I’d be so sad if I couldn’t share bakmi, one of my favorite Indonesian dishes–it contains wheat noodles, sweet soy sauce, AND soy sauce–with my gluten-free friends. 

A few years ago, my friend randomly mentioned that her mom has a stash of wheat-free soy sauce kept in a safe place at her neighborhood Chinese restaurant. And every time she goes there the owners whip out the bottle and happily prepare her favorite dish–shrimp fried rice–for her.

I was much bemused by this. I’d never even considered that Asian cooking contained a lot of wheat products, and besides, I didn’t know any Asians who were bothered by wheat. In fact, we live on wheat products. Egg noodles, wheat gluten (aka TVP), bean sauce, soy sauce–all of these products contain wheat.

Then last year, I was visiting my husband’s aunt who was recently diagnosed with celiac disease. I wanted to cook for her from my cookbook and her pantry was stocked with gluten-free products. Both she, and I, were pleasantly surprised at how many Asian meal options she had.

Read more (plus print my list in PDF-format) … 

Win a copy of my cookbook at!

Who doesn’t love a cookbook giveaway?

Just leave a comment on my guest post on by December 14th where I reminisce about some unforgettable duck. And you might be the happy recipient of The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook. Many thanks to Bee for organizing it!

Photo by Lara Ferroni excerpted from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook.

Here’s a snippet …

When I was growing up in Singapore, my mother would sometimes bring home a whole or half duck—succulent, slick with soy sauce, and very tasty—from the nearby hawker center to supplement our dinner. My siblings and I would dig in heartily, devouring every part of the bird. And we, a family of dark meat lovers, always came away with satisfied grins on our faces, as unlike with a whole chicken, no one had to contend with white meat. Even though mum is a fabulous cook, I remember wishing that she would be too busy to cook more often…

Click here to read the rest of my guest post on

Psst… for another chance to win The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook, visit Leite’s Culinaria. This contest ends December 15th.

Good luck!

As grandma says, please share:

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A Tribute to Oma


My paternal grandmother, whom I called “Oma”

As my cookbook launched this past October 1st, I came to the sudden realization that I knew more about the grandmothers I interviewed than my own. And in a reversal of scenarios, one friend whose mom I featured in the book told me, “You know more about my mom than I do!”

It wasn’t deliberate, honest. My maternal grandma “Popo” died before I knew her and my paternal grandma “Oma” live an hour plane ride away in Jakarta. And unfortunately, my parents hardly ever told us stories about our grandparents.

I thought this was a travesty along the same lines of eating Indonesian fried chicken without sambel (chili paste)–a huge faux pas in my book , at least! I decided to set things straight.

A few weeks ago, my birthday came and went and so did my late grandmother’s whose special day was the day after mine. My parents called me to wish me a happy birthday and I spent the next hour on the phone with my dad asking him to tell me about his mother, my Oma (Dutch for grandma).

Embarrassingly, my first question was, “What was her name?” I’d always called her Oma. The answer: Sicilianti Monica Sie.

Born in 1913, Oma was the youngest of three girls and a boy. Unfortunately, her brother passed away when he was very young. She was born in Cirebon on the northwest coast of the island of Java and grew up in Jakarta where she trained as a teacher. However, she never taught in a school. Not to say I can blame her, she did have a total of nine children!

In 1937, Oma married my Opa (grandfather), Tan Tjo Tjay. Opa worked for the postal service when Indonesia was still a Dutch colony and they moved several times and lived in many towns including Cirebon, Jakarta, Magelang and Bandung. My oldest aunt, tante Tres, my dad, Rudy, and my uncle, oom Theo, came in quick succession.

The family was living in Jakarta when the Japanese invaded Indonesia in 1942 during WWII. And so began a time of extreme hardship.

From 1943 to 1945, Opa was interned on suspicion of spying because he was a Dutch civil servant. To survive, Oma sold cakes and cookies at the market and fed her children whatever she could pull together. (Dad used to tell us he ate cockroaches and rats to survive but to this day, I still don’t know whether to believe him.)

Most heart-wrenching of all is the story Dad told me of the time Oma lugged him, 3, and tante Tres, 4, to visit Opa in jail. The three of them had to take the train from Jakarta to Bandung and each and every car was so chockfull of people it was impossible to enter through the doors.

In desperation, Oma shoved her two children into the train through the window. Just as she did that, the train started chugging away along the tracks. I can’t imagine what was going through her heart and her head right at that moment. A cocktail of love, panic and adrenalin must have been coursing through her veins as she started running alongside the train and thankfully managed to squeeze herself into the entryway of a train car. After frantically searching, she finally reunited with her children.

That wasn’t the end of the episode. After the harrowing train experience, Dad related how Oma had to bribe just about every official in the prison hierarchy to gain access to Opa.


This picture was taken right after my younger sister, Mo was born in 1979. Oma is sitting at the right end of the couch next to me. Mom is cradling Mo in her arms.  The young lady on my mom’s left is her sister tante Wawa and the crazy boy with the blurry face is my brother, Mars.

When the Japanese occupation ended, the family eventually settled in Bandung, a city three hours (depending on traffic) southeast of Jakarta, where life more or less went back to normal.

Oma was a stay-at-home mom and had helped from her own mother.

With a brood of nine, the family always ate at home. Dad accompanied Oma to the market and carried her shopping, while in the kitchen his brother Theo would help with the cooking, which is why “Oom Theo got fatter than the rest of us,” I quote Dad.

Meals comprised a lot of soups, one of the easiest dishes to cook for such a big clan: oxtail soup,  sayur asem (sour vegetable soup), and sayur asin (salted vegetable soup).

Fish like mackerel was seasoned with tamarind and deep fried, and for a special treat, gurame (a white flat fish similar to barramundi) was deep fried with taucheo (yellow bean paste). Every so often, Oma would buy 10 or so crabs and cook them with ginger and oyster sauce. Plus, she’d stir fry vegetables like chayote, long beans or kangkung (water spinach).

There was always a meat or fish dish, one veggie dish and the requisite bottle of kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) which Dad is still addicted to till this day.

With nine siblings around the table, if you weren’t quick you didn’t get the choice pieces of meat.

Opa was a pork lover so there was often pig offal on the dining table as well which none of the children liked—the head, nose and cheeks, trotters, etc. No one ever fought over those dishes!

For the last four years of her life, Oma was bedridden. She had a hereditary condition that caused her vertebrae to be crooked—she was literally bent double the last time I saw her standing. She also went blind probably from undiagnosed diabetes. I think it’s sad that she chose to stay in Indonesia despite her two sons being in Singapore where there was better health care.

Oma died in 1985.

That was as much as I got out of Dad that one morning but I hope to learn more about this special woman who brought him up. In fact, I’d like to try and recreate some of the simple dishes Oma used to make.

That’s the least I can do in her memory.

In the Kitchen With Mum and Popo

In this installment, Audrey Low contributes a little snippet that reflects on the kitchen chores she had as a child, plus a whimisical look at an old wives’ tale . Of Malaysian-Chinese descent, Audrey is an anthropologist living in Australia. Her blog: combines her love of Asian art, food, travel, and writing, blending her personal journey with people’s stories and her research.

If you would like to guest blog about cooking with a special woman in your life, please email me at

In the Kitchen with Mum and Popo
By Audrey Low

Audrey and mum

Audrey and her mum, Judy Low, at graduation

Choy keok, a Hakka hot and sour soup, is a dish my mother learned to cook when she was a child from her nyonya grand-aunt. Imagining my mother as a child reminded me of learning to cook with her.

My mum cooks in silence; it’s like meditation for her. I remember my dad urging me to go into the kitchen to learn how to cook, but she would never say anything except, perhaps, the occasional instructions to get some ingredients: “Take the blunt knife and cut some serai (lemongrass) from the garden,” or “Pluck some curry leaves/fresh limes/chilies.” Mostly, I learned through observation.

There were many chores for kids around the kitchen. I, like Pat, had the interminable chore of breaking the ends off every single bean sprout. I too could never understand why it was necessary, and no amount of reasoning could get me out of that chore.

Pounding chili in the heavy stone mortar and pestle was another favorite job to give kids. And when I was doing the task, I would inevitably get a speck of chili in my eye. My grandmother’s solution was to pour cold water on my feet. Admittedly, it’s a far more elegant method than simultaneously hopping around in agony, rubbing one eye and splashing water on my face, which I did repeatedly.

However, after trying her way a couple of times unsuccessfully, I gave it up. But I’m pretty sure my grandmother still swears by the method to this very day.

Mum’s Choy Keok

Photo and recipe courtesy of Audrey Low

For this soup, mustard cabbage is not interchangeable with other leafy greens — it’s the only vegetable that will not fall apart in this robust soup. You can buy roast pork from a Chinese restaurant or deli or make it yourself with this recipe. Please visit Papaya Tree Limited for more stories and photos!

Makes: 8 to 10 servings
Time: 20 minutes plus simmering time

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
20 slices assam keping or assam gelugor (sometimes mistakenly called dried tamarind), or 3 heaping tablespoons tamarind paste
8 cloves garlic, smashed
5 dried whole chilies
3 fresh red Thai chilies, sliced
1 thumb-sized piece ginger, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 to 2 pounds roast pork (or any other roast meat like duck and chicken)
2 (12 ounce) bunches mustard cabbage (gai choy), cut into thirds
1 1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

In a big stock pot, heat the oil over medium heat until it starts to shimmer. Add the assam keping, dried and fresh chilies (add more to taste, if desired), ginger, and garlic and stir until fragrant.

Add the roast pork and mustard cabbage. Add the sugar, salt and enough water to cover the ingredients. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 1 hour, or until the mustard cabbage is soft. Serve with rice.

As grandma always says, please share!

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Drumroll …

Asian GM_original

 I just love the black and white photos on the cover! Grandmothers Nellie Wong (center) and the late Munni Khursheed Ashraf (right) are featured in the book.

A couple of days ago, an unsuspecting me found a media mail package sitting on my front doorstep.

Hmm … I wasn’t expecting any new books nor had I been contacted by any PR people wanting to send me something fresh-off-the-press. What could it be?

When I opened the package, I found two galley copies of The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook nestled neatly within. (A galley copy is an advanced proof of a book that is usually sent to reviewers).


My heart almost stopped.

I jumped up and down till I was silly.

Then I had to sit down.

Once I recovered, I turned the bound book over and over in my hands to make sure it was tangible. Yes, it was real!

The book has a soft cover and the interior photos are in black and white for now but there it was–the cumulation of over two years of hard work. And most swoon-worthy of all, my name is on the cover! 

Once the tingles stopped, what did I do? I cooked from it!

As grandma always says, please share!

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The Ritual of Rice

pouring_rice by you.

Jasmine rice is the staple of my childhood 

As a little girl, one of my very first tasks in the kitchen was cooking rice.

Imitating my mum’s every move, I’d scoop 4 cups of rice into the steel rice bowl–purists may balk but when I was growing up, rice always came out of a rice cooker ringed in pink peonies–and place it in the sink. A couple of turns of the tap and whoosh, a steady stream of cold water rushed into the bowl. When the water reached halfway up the bowl, my tiny fingers swished and sloshed the rice grains until the crystal clear water graduated to cloudy white. Then I’d tilt the bowl over the sink to drain the water out, cupping my free hand along the container’s edge to prevent rice from falling out. After I repeated this procedure three or four more times, the water would run clear and only then was I done.

You would think that the measuring lines inside the rice bowl were there for a reason. Well, I guess my mum didn’t trust them. Following her lead, I’d stick my index finger into the bowl, its tip barely touching the surface of the rice, and fill the bowl with water until it reached the first joint of my finger. Once the lid of the rice cooker snapped shut, I’d wait about 20 minutes before opening it again to fragrant, perfectly steamed rice.

For many of us, rice washing is a ritual. It dates back to the good old days when it was essential to remove bits of debris, rice hulls, and, yes, bugs. Plus, rice used to be coated with talc and washing removed most traces of the powder. Some also believe that washing breaks down the starchy surface producing shiny, pearly grains of rice that is the fluffiest and tastiest when cooked.

I think it all boils down to the simple matter of preference.

As an adult, I’ve gotten somewhat lax in my rice washing regimen, only washing my rice once or twice. (My excuse, and it’s a good one: Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandate that all milled white rice be fortified with an enrichment coating, I don’t wash away all the good stuff!) While I may have reneged on this one little detail, I’ve learned another valuable lesson.

Traditional Japanese cooking relies heavily on quality ingredients and water is no exception. Japanese culinary instructor Hiroko Sugiyama uses only pure spring water to make her rice and dashi because she believes any ‘off’ odors or tastes in tap water will be transferred to the final dish. She follows this credo not just for special occasions but for everyday consumption. Several times a month, she makes the 30-mile trek to a wellspring that’s certified pure by the city of Lynnwood in Washington State, bringing home 10 two-gallon containers.

Not all of us are as fortunate to have a free, ready source of spring water, or are willing to go to such great lengths to obtain some. But there’s no harm in seeking out the best quality ingredients you can find, be it water or other foods. I’ve found that even just using Brita-filtered water improves the taste of my rice. It’s even more noticeable where I now live because of the hard, nasty-tasting water that comes straight from the tap.

hagamai5 by you.

Beige-colored, translucent haiga mai grains. Can you spot the brown germ at the tip of each rice kernel?

Hiroko also introduced me to haiga mai (which means “rice germ”), a specially milled Japanese short grain rice. This process removes all the bran from the rice kernel while retaining the nutrient laden rice germ rich in Vitamins E, B1 B2 and B6. Hence it’s just as nutritious and full of fiber as brown rice but is easier to chew and very tasty.

To introduce more fiber into our diets, I’ve always cooked half-and-half rice (half white and half brown). But it wasn’t always welcome on the dining table. With haiga mai, even my husband digs in with relish!  Cook it as you would white rice or use Hiroko’s clay pot method below. Tamaki, a brand from California, is Hiroko’s preferred brand.

Haiga mai may be padi fields away from the jasmine rice of my childhood–and much pricier– but just as my cooking has evolved, so have my rice-eating habits.

 What about you? Do you wash your rice? Do you care? What’s your favorite type/brand of rice? Do write a comment and we can compare.  

Japanese Rice Cooked in Clay Pot (Gohan)

perfect gohan by you.

Whenever Hiroko craves for rice with a slightly burned bottom (okoge), she uses a donabe or Japanese clay pot. This basic recipe is so easy. Unfortunately, once the rice cooker was introduced, most Japanese no longer cooked rice in this traditional manner. If you don’t have a donabe, cook the rice in a rice cooker using the same proportions. Do not use this method to cook rice in a regular pot on the stove. I tried and the bottom of my pot still bears the scars!

Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 servings

2 1/4 cups Japanese short grain rice
2 and slightly less than 2/3 cups spring or filtered water
Japanese clay pot (donabe)

In a large bowl, wash the rice in 3 to 4 changes of water until the water runs clear. Drain the rice in a colander for 1 hour.

Put the rice and water in a clay pot and cover tightly with the lid. Set the pot on the stove over high heat. As soon as you see steam escaping from the hole in the lid, set your timer for 3 minutes (don’t reduce the heat). When the time is up, remove the pot from the stove.

Let the rice stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Lift off the lid carefully. Stir the rice gently with a Japanese rice paddle (shamoji) and transfer it to a wooden rice container (ohitsu) if you have one, or lay a cotton cloth (fukin) over the rice and cover with the lid.


As grandma always says, please share!

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