Sunday, 28 September 2008

CLICK and DMBLGIT September

I have not been keeping up with blog events and competitions for a while with the moving hassle. Two of my favourite regular blog events are CLICK, hosted by Jubalbandi, and Does My Blog Look Good In This? (DMBLGIT), which is hosted by a different foodie each month. Both of these are photo contests. DMBLGIT is about food photography in general and highlights the best photos on food blogs for each month. CLICK is more specific in having a monthly theme (e.g. eggs, flour, berries, yellow) and judged according to certain criteria and categories. Now that I am more or less back to regular blogging, it's time to dip my toes back into the blog event circuit again. I am pleased to offer the following two photos for the above mentioned events.

The CLICK theme for September 2008 is 'crust'. Rather than choosing a bready or floury product (e.g. crusty bread, pie crust), I remembered the deliciously crispy cheese crust on my chicken and salami baked penne and thought that would make an interesting entry:

cheese crust
(CLICK: September 2008 - Crust)

It was tough selecting an entry for DMBLGIT since I did so little blogging in the month of August. In the end, I went for this photo of an okonomiyaki taken at the Powell Street Festival. There wasn't any fancy setup or props involved, just a plate balanced on AP's hand in the middle of a busy food market (and with AP wondering when could he start eating!)


If you love beautiful food photography, like me, you will enjoy looking through the submissions to the above blog events. Click on the links and browse through the droolicious photos. You might just be inspired to submit one of your own, before the deadline of September 30th.

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Thursday, 25 September 2008

Beef stew with daikon

With the passing of the solstice, summer has officially come to an end and the weather has turned distinctively cooler. Here in Vancouver, our Indian summer of 18 straight days of sunshine has turned to the grey and drizzly weather that this neck of the woods is supposedly (in)famous for. Cold days equals comfort food, and to AP nothing says comfort food on a cold day like a good ol' beef stew.

Beef stew out of the oven

This traditional English beef stew ended up with the one rather untraditional ingredient: daikon. Most commonly known as daikon (particularly in Japanese cuisine, it is also called mooli, white radish or Chinese radish. It looks rather like a giant white carrot. When planning for the stew, I was going to buy the typical carrots and parsnips, but the parsnips didn't look great that day. The pieces of squash available were also too large for what I needed. Then I spotted a pile of beautiful daikon and thought it might just work. I grew up eating daikon in soups and stews in Chinese cooking and there was no reason why it shouldn't work in a beef stew. It has a lovely sweet flavour and as a root vegetable it is hardy enough to stand up to the long hours of cooking.

Carrots and white radish (daikon)

The result was very pleasing indeed with the combined sweetness of carrots and daikon. The beauty of a stew is that you can put in so many different types of vegetables and grains according to taste and what's available and still end up with up a comforting and nourishing meal. Some other ingredients to try are butternut squash, pumpkin, potatoes, barley and celery (which AP detests).

Sliced carrot and daikon
Mushrooms and shallots

Ingredients (serves 3-4):

500g casserole steak, cut into cubes
2 tbsp plain flour for dusting
6-8 shallots, peeled
6-8 button mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 medium carrots, roughly sliced or chopped
1 small daikon, roughly chopped
A few stalks of rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
250ml beef stock
250ml red wine (optional; add more stock to replace)
2 tbsp tomato puree
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp paprika (optional)
A handful of parsley, chopped


1. Preheat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3. Toss the beef in the flour to coat lightly. Heat some oil in a frying pan and brown the beef in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Transfer the beef to a casserole dish.

2. Add the garlic, shallots and mushrooms to the pan and fry them for a couple of minutes (one ingredient at a time if necessary) before transferring to the casserole dish. Add the carrots, daikon and rosemary to the casserole dish.

3. Place the casserole dish on the stove over medium heat and add the stock, wine and tomato puree (you need enough liquid to just cover the meat and veg). Season with salt, pepper and paprika and bring the mixture to the boil on the stove, stirring to mix well. Cover and cook in the middle of the oven for 3 to 4 hours.

Beef stew ready for the oven

The cooking time will depend on the cut of the meat, the longer it takes, the better the flavour and texture of the meat. The dish is ready when the meat breaks apart easily when mashed with a wooden spoon. After it is cooked, the stew can be kept in the oven on 110C/gas mark 1/4 until ready to serve. Sprinkle the parsley onto the beef stew just before serving. I normally serve this with fresh crusty bread although the stew also goes well with rice or potatoes.

You can put the stew in the oven, go to class, meet a friend, run some errands, watch a football match, go to church etc. and let the oven do its job. If you don't like having the oven on with nobody in the house, the stew can also be cooked in slow cooker/crockpot. Just toss all the ingredients into the slow cooker instead of a casserole dish and leave it on 'Low' or 'Auto' setting for 6 hours or longer. Do this in the morning before leaving for school or work, and come back to the wonderful smell and taste of comfort food.

Beef stew

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Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Sweet simmered shitake and bento update

Shitake 2

Sweet simmered Shitake - talk about unintentional alliteration. The recipe comes from a little book, 'Bento Boxes: Japanese Meals on the Go' by Naomi Kijima, as a bento filler. The mushrooms can be prepared on a weekend for packing lunches later in the week as they keep well in the fridge for up to a week.

A couple of the mushrooms went into a bento lunch for AP today, which has beef with ginger and spring onions (leftover from last night's dinner) on rice, grape tomatoes and steamed broccolini. It was packed last night after dinner and placed in the fridge. Since he will be heating it up in the microwave during lunch at work, I used one of my Lock n Lock containers that is microwave-safe.


Another bento from yesterday: onigiri with furikake, grape tomatoes, container of soy sauce, cucumber and Italian sausages. I made a large batch of onigiri a few nights ago to go into my freezer stash (individually wrapped in cling film and then into a sealed ziplock bag). These ones were left in cling film since I packed the bento the night before and kept them in the fridge. Wrapping onigiri in cling film prevents them from drying out in the fridge overnight. Have I mentioned how good it is to have my bento things here again (our boxes shipped from the UK were delivered last week)?

Sweet simmered Shitake mushrooms


8 large dried shitake mushrooms
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp sake
2 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp sugar


1. Soak the dried shitakie mushrooms in warm water for about 20 minutes. Gently squeeze out excess water and cut off the stalks. Either cut in half or leave whole. Reserve the soaking liquid.
2. Place the mushrooms in a pan and add the mushroom water (discard the gritty bits at the bottom) plus additional water if needed to cover the mushroom. Add the soy sauce, sake and sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20-30 minutes or until most of the water is absorbed.

Sweet simmered shitake mushrooms 1

3. Let cool and then store in a container with some of the cooking liquid. It will keep well in the fridge for up to a week.

Sweet simmered shitake mushrooms 3

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Sunday, 21 September 2008

Northern dumplings with pork and cabbage (北方饺子)

During my first year in the UK, I lived in a flat in which there were 3 other ladies from Northern China, from Beijing, Shijiazhuang, and Shanghai (ok, that's not really north, but Shanghainese love dumplings there too). Their boyfriends used to come over sometimes during the weekends and they would make a big batch of dumplings together. It looked like great fun (and tasty too) and I joined them on a couple of occasions and got them to teach me how to make them.

Northern dumplings 3

Northern style (or Beijing style) dumplings (北方饺子/北京饺子)tend to be cooked in boiling water and then served hot with julienned ginger and/or minced garlic and/or chopped spring onions, but always with black Chinese vinegar (although some also serve a dipping sauce mix of chilli oil, light soy sauce and dark vinegar). Wrappers are sometimes sold at Oriental food stores in the fridge or freezer section. Just be sure to buy the ones for 'dumplings' or 'jiaozi' (larger, round and white) and not for wontons (smaller, square and yellow). Ready made wrappers save a lot of time but you need to know what type to buy, and even particular brands as they tend to vary in thickness. Too thick and they will taste floury; too thin and they might tear during cooking.

When I have more time, usually during the weekends, I would make the wrappers from scratch. It is more fun to do this with a few friends or family members. Make it into a social event, as is commonly done in China particularly during the new year festivities when family would gather to celebrate family ties. It is also worth making a large batch and freeze the extra. Frozen dumplings can be cooked directly from frozen which make them very convenient for a quick lunch or supper.

Traditional filling is pork and cabbage but other common meat fillings include beef, chicken, prawn and crab, usually mixed with chopped vegetables. Popular vegetable filling includes cabbage, spring onions, leek, coriander, Chinese chives and mushroom. A note about pork filling: when buying minced pork, be sure not to buy pork that is too lean. I normally buy extra lean minced pork for cooking but I have found that they are actually too lean for dumplings, making the filling too dense and chewy. Minced pork with slightly more fat gives a better texture and flavour. As they are mixed in with a lot vegetables and hardly any oil is involved in cooking, I don't mind the trade-off.

Ingredients (makes about 35-40):

For the wrappers:
300g plain flour
150ml water

For the filling:
250g minced pork (with a little fat)
4-5 stalks of spring onions, finely chopped
About 8-10 leaves of Chinese leaf/Chinese cabbage
2 small slices of ginger, skin scrapped and finely minced
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp Chinese rice wine
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp groundnut or sunflower oil
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1 tbsp corn flour


1. To make the wrappers, place the flour in a large mixing bowl. Pour the water in slowly and in two or three lots, working the flour into a dough with your fingers and palm. With a loose dough is formed, remove onto a work surface and knead for about 5 minutes, stretching and folding the dough over and over until the surface is slightly springy. When pressed with a finger tip, the dough should bounced back a little. Roll the dough into a large ball, cover with a damp towel or cling film and let it rest for about 30 minutes.

(This dough is essentially the same as for mee hoon kway.)
Mee hoon kueh 1

2. Cut out the white stalk/core of the Chinese cabbage (I tend to reserve it for a soup or stock or stir fry later as Chinese cabbage is naturally sweet). Finely chop the leafy portion, sprinkle with 1 tsp of salt and let stand in a large strainer or colander to remove excess moisture (this will prevent the filling from becoming too wet), for about 20-30 minutes. Squeeze the chopped leaves gently to remove moisture and set aside.
3. To make the filling, combine the minced pork, spring onions, Chinese cabbage, light soy sauce, ginger, light soy sauce, Chinese rice wine, salt, sugar, sesame oil, groundnut/sunflower oil, pepper and corn flour in a large mixing bowl. Combine and mix evenly.

Northern dumplings 1

4. Separate the dough into small sections and roll out into a long tube about 1 inch in diameter. Cut the tube into small pieces of about 3/4 inch (like cutting a sushi maki roll). Using a small rolling pin, roll out each each into a flat circular shaped wrapper, rotating the dough every couple of rolls to achieve a circular shaped wrapper.
5. Fill the centre of the dough with a spoonful of the pork and cabbage filling. Fold the wrapper over and press the edges to seal, making pleats if you prefer. You may need to moisten the edges with water before folding and sealing the wrapper. Place them on a lightly floured surface (baking sheets or large chopping boards are good) without touching one another.

Northern dumplings 2

5. Bring a large or wok of water to the boil and drizzle a few drops of oil into it (to prevent the dumplings from sticking. Place the dumplings into the boiling water and stir a few times especially at the beginning to prevent them from sticking. Cover and simmer gently for about 8-10 minutes until the dumplings are slightly puffed up and floating. Do not boil on high heat as the wrappers might tear.

Northern dumplings  4

6. Remove the cooked dumplings with a slotted spoon and serve hot with with julienned ginger, chopped spring onions and minced garlic in Chinese black vinegar and soy sauce. The last photo was taken with AP's phone camera because the batteries on my DSLR died!

Northern dumplings 5

Tip for freezing dumplings: place them on a metal tray (which speeds up the freezing process a little) or freezer safe plate, making sure there is space between each wonton, and place them in the freezer for a few hours. Once they are frozen, they could then be put together into freezer bags and not stick together as a clump.

Similar recipes:
Mee hoon kueh (面粉糕) hand-made noodles
Pork and prawn wontons

[Edit:] There are questions about how to roll the little pieces of dough into a circular wrapper, and if there are pictures. Unfortunately with my hands fully occupied and all floury, I wasn't able to take any photos! But I found some pictures online that might help you visualise the steps.

This one was taken from this website. You can see the little pieces taken from a long tube of dough. They are holding short rolling pins and using that to flatten the small dough pieces and roll them into a circular shape.
Rolling jiaozi dough

Chow Times also has a useful pictorial guide to making jiaozi. Flatten the small piece of dough a little with your palm, and then use a small rolling pin to roll from the edge to the centre of the dough (this will flatten and stretch that section), rotate the dough a little, roll from the edge to centre (flatten and stretch a new section), rotate the dough etc. Repeat until a circular shape and desired thickness is achieved (rotating the dough is very important to get an even shape and thickness).
Making jiaozi wrappers

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Wednesday, 17 September 2008

More bento attempts

I am currently stuck at home waiting for a delivery. Our boxes and belongings from the UK are being delivered today and since there is no time window stated, I have to be at home to receive the delivery for the entire business day. No biggie, except I am getting really antsy! *Twitch*

Here are some recent bento attempts with plain containers at hand. One was a cheese crusted bun with black forest ham and lettuce, and a side car of strawberries


This is AP's lunch for today: chicken teriyaki, french beans and carrots on top of coriander rice (hot rice that has been cooked in chicken stock, mixed with chopped up spring onions and coriander).

I wish the delivery would get here already... Books! CDs! Pictures! And I can't wait to see my bento 'hardware' again. *waitingwaitingwaiting*

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Friday, 12 September 2008

Prima Taste Restaurant for authentic Singaporean cuisine

A couple of weeks ago, AP and I happened to walk past a restaurant that made me pause in my step. I saw the name 'Prima Taste' and thought of the famous spice packs. I have overseas Singaporean friends who swear by their Chicken Rice and Chilli Crab spice packs. The name is the same, the logo is the same, but this is a restaurant. Thoroughly intrigued, and since we were looking to get lunch, we went right in and boy were we in for a treat.


The food was so good that I signed up on the loyalty programme (more on that later) on that first visit and we went back a week later for my birthday meal. AP was delighted to see roti prata on the menu and ordered that immediately. I had prawn noodle soup (fabulous pork rib and prawn broth) and he had nasi goreng (Indonesian style fried rice). On our second visit for my birthday, I made sure to bring my camera to capture the delicious meal that we had.

The decor is simple and modern, with large pictures of Singapore landmarks like the Esplanade Theater on the Bay, Merlion, Parliament House and Singapore River.

The roti prata (an Indian style pancake) was crisp and fluffy, almost crossaint-like in texture. Made fresh and served hot with a small curry dip. It's amongst the best that I've eaten even in Singapore. Our only complain would be that the serving was too small (although it was a starter dish) - two small pieces (about the total size of one regular prata in Singapore) for $6.

Fabulously crispy and fluffy

Based on a friend's recommendation, AP ordered the beef char kway teow (stir fried flat rice noodles). The aroma was almost overpowering as soon as the dish was laid in front of us. Strong flavours with the dark soy sauce and 'wok hei' (achieved through cooking over very high heat on a wok), succulent and generous beef slices, slivers of fishcake and the heat of chilli. No clams, which might disappoint some die-hard fans. But seriously, forget about your waistline and order this dish.

I ordered the Hokkien prawn noodles, which consists of thick yellow noodles stirfried with pork and prawn broth until dry, and then moistened with an egg gravy. The prawns were generous, with pieces of sotong (squid) as well. I've had better in Singapore, but it still tastes good and authentic and that counts for a lot in an overseas restaurant. My only complaint would be the lack of sambal chilli to go with the dish. I asked our waiter for it and was told apolegetically that they have run out that day! That was a bit of a bummer, since I probably would have gone for another dish if I had known there was no sambal. Yes, sambal chilli is that important!

On the rewards programme that I signed up on, I get a free dessert during my birthday month, so I had cheng tng, a sweet dessert soup made with dried longan fruit, barley, agar agar strips, gingko nuts, cloud ear fungus, lotus seeds and tapioca pearls. It is served either hot or cold and I chose cold for a hot day. I was surprised at how large the portion was.

It tasted better than many cheng tng that I had back in Singapore, deeper flavours, probably due to the amount of ingredients that were in there. Those ingredients are not cheap and the typical hawker stall would not use as much. Unfortunately I was so stuffed from the previous dishes that I could not finish eating it all.

Prima Taste has a great downtown location at the corner of Seymour and Robson, next to the Korean H Mart supermarket. The ambience is modern but still cosy and the wait staff is polite and attentive, even when it gets busy as it often does. Prices are pretty good for Vancouver, around $9-12 for most main meals. It helps not to compare them to what one would pay for in Singapore because there is no comparison! I mentally balked at seeing $12 on the menu for nasi lemak (something that I could get for $5 at the famous Adam Road hawker centre nasi lemak stalls), but that's pretty much what one would expect to pay for a main course at a cheap to mid-range restaurant here so I might as well suck it up and not mentally currency-convert. It's the same with appetisers and desserts.

The restaurant has a loyalty programme. Membership costs $20 a year. You get a membership card with 20 Prima Dollars loaded. You earn 1 Prima Dollar with every $10 spent at the restaurant. You can then redeem your Prima Dollars to pay for up to 50 per cent of the total cost of your meal (before tax and gratuity). You also get a free dessert on your birthday month, and news on special promotions and discounts. I forsee that I will be making use of my membership card quite a bit!

Prima Taste is the first and only Singaporean/Malaysian restaurant that I've been to in Vancouver so far, but you don't need to try a lot to know if the food is authentic. This one has my vote. I have also heard rave reviews from friends who have been around the culinary block here for longer. There are others to try (e.g. Banana Leaf, Kam's Place, Cafe D'light) which reputedly are superior in different dishes and I'll be sure to blog about them in due course.

Prima Taste Restaurant
570 Robson Street
Vancouver, BC
Tel: 604-685-7881

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Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Back to bento, sort of

I realise that it's been almost 2 months since my last bento. Shocking, but unavoidable with our belongings and lives in flux as we made the move from the UK to Canada. We are now nicely settled in Vancouver, where I have seen more Japanese restaurants than I could shake a stick at, and most of the food tasted fabulous too. And there are Chinese and Korean restaurants and markets galore as well. I see happy bento shopping days ahead :)

I still don't have my bento boxes and accessories with me; they are still in transit with shipping but should be here soon (hopefully). But buying lunches everyday is putting quite a den in the household expenses so I have bought some Lock n Lock containers (can't have too many of those, right?) and started packing lunches for me and the husband again. No cute cut-outs, no food picks, no sauce bottles, no dividers or inner containers, and I don't even have my freezer stash or acquired a complete range of cooking condiments yet. But eat we must, so here are some of the plainest and simplest lunches I've made, mostly with leftovers from dinner the night before. They are not as pretty as I would like, but they are healthy, delicious and saves us money -- which basically sums up my approach to bento anyway. The 'pretty' part is important too, but I'll rather pack wholesome and plain bento for now, instead of spending more money on limited lunch options.

Yesterday's lunch: egg and mixed vegetables fried rice, and baby bak choy with oyster sauce.


Today's lunch: Cottage pie with cheese crust, and side car of steamed sugar snap peas and brussel sprouts


For those who are new to bento, or who would like to start but are held back by the thought of not having any cute boxes or tools, hopefully these lunches will show that it is possible to prepare a balanced lunch (in terms of nutrition, colours and proportions) without fancy equipment (although darn it I do miss my stuff!) and with familiar food items.

Both of us now have microwaves at work! Which will make a difference in the types of food I pack (to be reheated) as well as containers that I use (microwave safe). I am also still thinking about photo set up with no natural light in my new kitchen (boo), and no daylight coming into the kitchen or dining room during the times when I prepare bento (either morning or evening). With a freezer stash to build up, condiments to acquire, and stuff waiting to arrive, there are plenty of things to sort through, but I'm really pleased to be packing lunches again.

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Monday, 8 September 2008

Yong tau foo (酿豆腐) - stuffed peppers and aubergine/eggplant

Yong tau foo (酿豆腐) is one of my favourite food from back home. It is a popular dish in Singapore and Malaysia and literally translates as 'stuffed tofu'. I made a stuffed fried tofu puffs dish a while ago as an entry for a blog event, but other ingredients such as okra/ladies fingers, chillies, peppers, eggplant/aubergine and tofu sheets are also commonly used.

I don't make this dish very often because it is so labour intensive. But because few places in the UK sell them, making them was the only way to satisfy my cravings. I also had to make the fish paste filling myself since none were sold ready made. But I have seen ready made fish paste sold in Chinese supermarkets here in Vancouver so perhaps I will be making this more often now!

Yong tau foo

Ingredients (makes around 20 pieces):

1 large pepper
1 medium eggplant
300g skinless and boneless white fish, cut into small cubes (mackerel is traditional but you can also use haddock, pollock or other white fish)
1/2 tsp salt mixed with 4 tbsp water
A dash of white pepper
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp cornflour
Oil for frying
Light soy sauce to taste (optional)
Toasted sesame seeds (optional)


1. Place the fish in a blender and puree into a paste, adding the salt water slowly. Empty out into a bowl and mix in the white pepper, sesame oil and cornflour, until well blended.
2. Cut the pepper in half. Remove the seeds and cut into 8 large pieces (cut each halves into quarters).
3. Wash the eggplant. Cut into 1-inch thick slices on the diagonal. Sprinkle the cut sides with salt and let stand for about 30 minutes, to draw out the bitter juices. Rinse the salt away and pat dry. (You can skip the salting if using the slim Asian varieties.) Cut a horizontal slit into each eggplant slices.
4. Stuff the hollow side of each pepper pieces with the fish paste and set aside. Then carefully stuff the slit in each eggplant slices with the fish paste.
5. Heat a deep pan or wok of vegetable oil until hot. To test for the right temperature, a cube of bread should become golden and float to the top in a few seconds. Or you can stick some bamboo chopsticks or a wooden skewer into the oil. If bubble start to appear from the chopsticks/skewer, the oil is ready. Deep or pan fry the peppers and eggplant slices until the fish paste is cooked. If you use less oil like me, make sure they cover at least halfway up the slices. Turn them halfway through to cook thoroughly. Drain on kitchen paper to remove excess oil. Drizzle some light soy sauce and toasted sesame seeds (optional) over the dish and serve hot.

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Thursday, 4 September 2008

Chicken and bacon risotto with peas

This was one of the last few dishes I cooked back in Nottingham before we moved. As we were leaving, we had to finish off bits and pieces of food left in the freezer. This risotto helped use up some chicken breast, bacon and peas in the freezer, and risotto rice, stock cubes and garlic in the pantry. That's the wonders of a risotto. Once you've got the basic recipe and method down pat, you could combine various delicious sounding ingredients together for a decent meal depending on what is in season or what you have at hand.


Ingredients (serves 2):

Risotto rice 150g (I used arborio rice)
Butter 20g
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 rashers of bacon, chopped
1 large chicken breast, sliced thinly
A glass of dry white wine
400ml chicken stock
1 cup frozen peas
Grated parmesan cheese 30g
Small handful of parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper


1. Place the stock in a saucepan, bring to the boil and keep on a low simmering heat.
2. Heat some oil in a pan and saute the bacon and chicken pieces for a few minutes until half cooked. Set aside.
3. Melt the butter and olive oil in the pan. Saute the onions and garlic over moderate heat until softened but not browned.
4. Add the rice and then white wine, stir well and heat until all surplus liquid has been absorbed. Add a ladle of hot stock to the rice and stir the mixture until all the liquid has been absorbed. Continue to add the remaining stock ladle by ladle, stirring frequently, for about 20-25 minutes, until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is just cooked to al dente. If you run out of stock just before the rice is done, just add hot water.
5. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the bacon, chicken and frozen peas and last portion of stock or water. Cook for a few more minutes until the stock is absorbed. Add grated parmesan, stir well, and season with salt and pepper. The mixture should be slightly creamy and the rice al dente. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.


Similar recipes:
Asparagus and lemon risotto
Prawn and pea risotto

Update on Bento Photo Contest

About two weeks ago, I entered two of my bento into a Bento Photo Contest held by Not Exactly Bento. Voting is now open through this link. Many bento have been entered and provide lots of good ideas for your own lunches. Each person gets 3 votes and you can vote for #28 and/or #29 if you think they merit it!

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