Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Life with baby

I am currently taking a break from blogging as I adapt to life as a new mum. Thank you for your comments and support and I hope to be back cooking and blogging soon.


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Saturday, 13 March 2010

Cock-a-leekie (chicken and leek) soup

Cock-a-leekie soup is a British classic and originates from Scotland. Mentioned as early as the 16th century, it is often served at Robert Burns night supper and is a warming staple in winter. Prunes are traditionally used in the preparation, although some people choose to omit it. Cock-a-leekie soup is usually served as a clear broth (great for recovering from colds!) or can also be thickened with rice, barley or potatoes.

Cock-a-leekie soup

A whole chicken or bone-in pieces are used to make the stock, with the meat later stripped and added to the soup. You can remove the skin to reduce fat. Another option is to use prepared chicken stock and add leftover cooked chicken, which will reduce the cooking time.

Ingredients (serves 5-6):

3-4 chicken pieces, about 1kg or 2 lb (e.g. legs, backs)
3-4 large leeks, cleaned and chopped
2 liters or 8.5 cups water
2 carrots, diced (optional)
4 cooked prunes, without pits (optional)
Bouquet garni (of 1 bay leaf and a few stalks of parsley and thyme)
Salt and pepper to taste


1. Place the chicken pieces, 3/4 of the chopped leeks (use only the white and a little of the green part) and bouquet garni in a large pot. Add water, cover and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for about 2 hours until the chicken is falling off the bone, skimming off fat that floats to the top. Remove the bouquet garni and chicken and set aside.

2. Add the diced carrot and the remainder of the chopped leeks and continue cooking for another 20-30 minutes.

3. When the chicken has cooled sufficiently, remove the meat and add to the soup towards the end of cooking. Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with some chopped parsley and serve.

* The bouquet garni (French for "garnished bouquet") is a bundle of herbs usually tied together with string. It is boiled with other ingredients when making soups, stock and stews and removed before serving. You can also just place the bay leaf, parsley and thyme loose in the stock, although it is more difficult to fish them out later.

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Tuesday, 16 February 2010

More bento

Potato salad, sausage, edamame, cherry tomatoes

Chicken teriyaki, rice, cherry tomatoes, baby bak choy

Spinach with ikan bilis (anchovies), rice, black sesame seeds garnish, ginger and spring onion pork

Tuna pasta salad with sundried tomatoes, sliced red peppers and hummus

Chicken rice, cucumber slices (as a divider), steamed chicken breast, char siew (Chinese bbq pork) and kai lan in oyster sauce.

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Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Homemade bak kwa (rougan 肉干)

I amazed myself by making bak kwa at home over the weekend. Bak kwa (or rougan 肉干) is a kind of Chinese dried pork, rather like jerky. It has a sweet and salty flavour and is a very popular snack item in Singapore and Malaysia during Chinese new year. I did try looking for somewhere that sell bak kwa starting from when we first arrived in Vancouver. While Chinese food is plentiful here, it is much easier to find Taiwanese, Hong Kong and mainland Chinese food items compared to those that are specifically Southeast Asian-Chinese. We did find one store (at the ground floor market area of Aberdeen Centre in Richmond), but the bak kwa just did not taste good - not in taste and not in texture.

Then I got this recipe from a Singaporean friend here (thank you, Michelle!), which looked surprisingly simple. I gave it a shot over the weekend and was thoroughly impressed with how closely the recipe replicated the taste of Singapore store-bought bak kwa. It looks good, has the right texture and good flavour. The seasoning is kind of strong for our taste though, so I have tweaked the proportions somewhat. As there are no preservatives in this (other than the natural preserving functions of soy sauce, sugar, salt etc.), this will need to be kept in a sealed container in the fridge and reheated prior to consumption. This is also why I don't recommend making a huge batch at one time, unless you are giving them away to friends or forsee them being eaten up very quickly (which is entirely possible!). If so, just double or increase the recipe portions accordingly. Give the recipe a go and then feel free to adjust the seasoning depending on how sweet or salty you like it.

Slices of bak kwa are traditionally cooked over a charcoal grill. At home, you can either use a toaster oven or place them under a medium grill/broiler. Just make sure to watch them closely so that they do not become charred.

I can't believe I made my own bak kwa!

Homemade bak kwa (肉干/Chinese dried barbaqued pork)


500g minced pork
100g or 1/2 cup caster sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
1/4 tsp five-spice powder
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
A few drops of red food colouring

1. Mix all the ingredients except for the pork in a large bowl until the sugar dissolves. Add the minced pork and marinate for at least 2 hours (or overnight if you wish).
2. Preheat the oven to 100C/210F. Grease two baking trays.
3. Spread the marinated minced pork thinly onto the baking trays, approximately 0.5cm or thinner. I use the back of two spoons to do this or you can also use your fingers.
4. Place the baking trays in the oven, either on the same shelf if your oven is big enough or on two different levels. Dry the mixture for 50-60 minutes with the oven door ajar. Switch the baking trays halfway through if they are on different levels.
5. When done, the mixture will be semi-dry (some liquid from the marinade may appear around the pork) and the pork will shrink slightly away from the edges of the baking trays. Remove carefully from the trays and cut into smaller squares or rectangles as you wish (I used scissors). Place in a sealed container and store in the fridge until required.
6. Cook the bak kwa in a toaster oven or under a medium grill/broiler, about 3-4 minutes on each side. It should sizzle and caramelise nicely; make sure the edges do not become charred.

Tip: If you wish, you can grill the bak kwa before storing in the fridge. Then they only have to be reheated very briefly (either in a toaster oven or grill/broiler) before eating.

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Sunday, 31 January 2010

Green bean omelette

This is a dish that always reminds me of home and of childhood. I remember my mum making this for me and my brother for as long as I can remember. It is made with few ingredients, cheap and simple to prepare, is nutritious and tastes good -- the very essence of good old home cooking. We usually have this as one of two or three side dishes with rice.

Ingredients (serve 2 as side dish):

100g green beans/french beans
2 large eggs
1/4 tsp salt
A dash of white pepper
A few drops of sesame oil
Oil for cooking
Light soy sauce to taste (optional)


1. Top and tail the beans and finely slice them. Place in a medium sized bowl.
2. Add the eggs, salt, white pepper and sesame oil to the beans and mix well.


3. Heat some oil in a large nonstick frying pan. Ladle one scoop of the beans and eggs mixture into the pan and spread evenly. Cook on medium heat for about 2-3 minutes on each side. Turn out onto a plate when cooked.
4. Repeat with the remaining beans and eggs mixture. Sprinkle the cooked green bean omelette with a few drops of light soy sauce (optional). Serve immediately.


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Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Bento ideas for the new year

I am still catching up on bento updates from last year. Healthy eating is a very popular new year's resolution for most people. Here are some ideas for your own lunches; I do try to have a good balance of carbohydrates, lean protein and vegetables. Almost all of them consist of dinner leftovers, either in their entirety or in parts, so it's never difficult to figure out what we had for dinner the night before!

Rice, teriyaki chicken, cherry tomatoes and kailan in oyster sauce

Mushroom rice, stir fried asparagus and cherry tomatoes

Stir fried noodles, mixed oden (fish balls and fish cakes) and baby bak choy

Couscous, grilled courgette (zucchini) and red pepper, roast chicken breast

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Thursday, 14 January 2010

Spam musubi

Yes, you read that right. This recipe contains spam. If you have something against Spam (as in the canned luncheon meat, not unsolicited junk emails), I guess this is not going to appeal to you. But then, don't diss it till you've tried it! It is not the healthiest thing in the world (neither are cake, roast potatoes or cream sauces...), but no harm as an occasional snack. The pan frying of the spam actually does render out some of the oil, and I tend to buy the low-salt version since spam is normally quite salty.

Spam musubi

Spam musubi consists of a block of rice topped with a slice of spam and wrapped with nori seaweed. The spam is may be heated in a frying pan, or just sliced straight from the can as is. Some versions also include glazing the slices with teriyaki sauce, or topping the rice with furikake sprinkles. It is a popular snack in Hawaii. You would find musubi sold as snack food in convenience stores and they are also very popular and handy for picnics, walks and hikes. In that sense, they are rather like onigiri (rice balls) in Japanese culture.

Although musubi resembles nigiri sushi, the rice is not flavoured with rice vinegar. To compress the rice into an oblong shape, you can use a musubi mould (sold in many kitchen stores in Hawaii or order from an eBay seller), or use a spam can with both ends removed. Just be careful not to cut yourself with the sharp edges of the can.

Ingredients (about 8 servings):

1 can of spam/luncheon meat (I use the low-salt version)
4 cups of cooked Japanese short grain rice
2 large sheets of nori seaweed, cut into 8 wide stripes
A little oil for frying
2 tbsp light soy sauce (optional)
2 tbsp mirin (optional)
2 tsp sugar (optional)
Furikake (optional)


1. Remove the spam from the tin and cut horizontally into 8 even slices. Heat a little oil in a large frying pan (you won't need much, remember that the spam will have enough fat of its own). Pan fry the spam slices over medium heat, 2-3 minutes on each side, until slightly browned and crisp at the edges.

Spam musubi

2. You can remove the spam onto a plate at this stage. For an optional teriyaki glaze, mix the soy sauce, mirin and sugar in a bowl and pour over the frying spam in the pan. Heat the sauce until it thickens and coats the slices, taking care not to burn the sauce (it will become bitter).

3. Rinse the musubi mould (or spam can if using) with water (to prevent the rice from sticking) and place it over a strip of nori. Scope some rice into the mould and press down firmly with the lid to compress the rice (if using the spam can, use the back of a spoon to press the rice down). You want the block of rice to be fairly firm, otherwise it will disintegrate when picked up.

Spam musubi

Spam musubi

4. If using, sprinkle some furikake on top of the rice. Top the rice with a slice of spam. Wrap the strip of nori around the spam and rice, sticking the end down with a few grains of rice. Repeat with the remaining rice and spam until you have 8 musubi. Serve immediately. They can also be individually wrapped in cling film and taken as a portable snack (or stored in the fridge for a day).

Spam musubi

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