Monday, 31 March 2008

Kailan (Chinese broccoli) in oyster sauce

Purple sprouting broccoli is on the menu for this month's In The Bag event and I thought this dish would make a nice contribution. Unfortunately by the time I got round to buying the ingredients, all the purple sprouting broccoli that I saw in my shops were looking distinctively sad. I didn't want to waste good money on vegetables that are pass their prime when there are lots of other fresh produce on offer, so unfortunately I had to pass on this month's event (yet again!).

Kailan in oyster sauce 2

I did get some kailan though and proceeded with this dish anyway. Kailan is also known as Chinese broccoli and you can see the resemblance with the sprouting flowers and long chunky stalks. Vegetables in oyster sauce in the style served in Chinese restaurants are delicious but couldn't be easier to make at home. All you need is a good bottle of oyster sauce. It is a thick sauce that is kind of sweet, made with oyster extract. Don't worry, it tastes a lot better than it sounds, and it's a fantastic store cupboard staple (although it should be kept in the fridge after opening), a magic ingredient to turn any stir fry into a fabulous dish. Use in place of soy sauce. The brand I use is Panda brand or Lee Kum Kee brand (it's the same, depends on which words are bigger on the label) - trusted by generations of mothers, grandmothers and aunties back home. You can buy vegetarian oyster sauce too (usually with pictures of mushrooms on the label).

Panda brand oyster sauce
(Photo taken from The Perfect Pantry)

Ingredients:

(Serves 2 as a side dish)

10 stalks of kailan (or purple sprouting broccoli)
Oil
2 shallots, peeled and sliced
2 tbsp oyster sauce
A few drops of sesame oil (optional)

Method:

1. Wash the kailan and separate the leafy stalks if they are too large or bunchy. Cook in a large pan of water to the boil for about 4 minutes until the thick stems are just tender. **Do not overcook!** You want the vegetables to maintain a slight crunch.
2. While the vegetables are boiling, heat 2 tbsp of oil in a small pan and fry the shallots over medium heat until caramelised and golden brown. Stir frequently to make sure that the onions don't burn.
3. When the vegetables are cooked, drain the hot water and rinse them briefly under cold water (to stop further cooking). Lay out on a dish and drizzle over the oyster sauce. Finish with the shallot oil, fried shallots and sesame oil on top and serve. Mix the kailan and sauce together and tuck in.

Kailan in oyster sauce 1

Tip:
- You can use this method on other types of leafy vegetables such as normal broccoli, choy sum and bak choy. Just adjust the cooking time accordingly - dense broccoli florets will need to cook slighter longer than choy sum with their thin stalks.
- You can also do with with garlic rather than shallots, as demonstrated by Rasa Malaysia.

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Bento from last week

Another late update from last week! I really need to keep up with my bento posts.

We had fajitas for dinner and leftovers become lunch for the next day. In a small container is leftover chicken fajitas (a lid goes on that after the photo), a salsa tortilla wrap, containers of salsa and sour cream, one chocolate truffle and sliced kiwi. I find this box useful for keeping things separate, especially in this case so that the fajitas can be assembled just prior to eating, without making the tortilla mushy if made the night before.
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Leftover boiled potatoes from dinner for this lunch. Strawberries, grilled asparagus and potato salad with chives. I wanted to put a hard boiled egg in there (I love egg and potato salad) but ran out of space.
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Meatballs, seafood gyoza and stir fried snow peas with plain rice. This was a rushed bento made in the morning when I had to leave the house early and didn't pack lunch the night before. Ugh. Thank goodness for freezer stash. Meatballs, gyoza and rice were from the freezer. Rice was warmed up in the microwaved and the snow peas were stir fried briefly. Then the meatballs were cooked in the microwave and I pan fried the gyoza. All assembled and ready to go in under 15 minutes. Not the most attractive but I was pleased with the speed of this one and glad to have lunch ready in the middle of a busy work day.
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Beef and mushroom teriyaki, asparagus and red peppers on a bed of rice. Once again, leftover rice was warmed up in the microwave. The beef was marinated the night before. Mushrooms, onions, asparagus and peppers all cut up and ready to go in the pan so this was pretty quick in the morning. I probably spent as much time taking photos as cooking this!
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Friday, 28 March 2008

Dark chocolate and orange cake

When Julia at A Slice of Cherry Pie announced her Easter Bake event, I knew I was going to something relatively simple if I'm going to take part at all, being an inexperienced baker. So instead of going for the flowers, icing, chocolate eggs and fluffy chicks/bunnies, but still in keeping with the Easter theme, I went turned the chocolate quotient right up and went for a dark chocolate cake. I also wanted to balanced out the richness and intensity of the dark chocolate, to add a lightness of taste (and capture some lightness of spring) and orange came to mind.

Chocolate and orange is a classic combination, as any fan of Terry's chocolate orange will tell you. This was actually the first time that I tried making a full cake, rather than cookies, muffins or quick breads so it was a little daunting. But I'm happy to say that it turned out great and was much simpler than I thought.

Forget about juice and rind, this cake had an entire orange pureed into the mixture. How's that for orangey! The dark chocolate complemented the freshness of the orangey taste quite nicely, although I personally thought the chocolate ganache was too dark. I would probably add some icing sugar to sweeten it next time but it's a matter of taste. I also thought the recipe called for too much ganache, but then if you want more chocolate on top or spread around the sides of the cake, it would probably be a nice amount. This cake didn't take long to make and would be a knock out item to bring for a party.

Dark chocolate and orange cake 2

(Recipe taken from BBC Good Food Magazine)

Ingredients (makes 8-10 slices):
1 orange
3 medium eggs
280g caster sugar
240ml sunflower oil
100g dark chocolate, melted
25g cocoa powder
250g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

For the chocolate ganache:
200g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
225ml double cream
Orange zest to decorate

Method:
1. Pierce the orange with a skewer and cook in a pan of boiling water for 30 minutes. Remove and whizz the whole orange in a food processor. Discard any pips and cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Butter and line the base of a 9 inch round cake tin. Sift the cocoa, flour and baking powder into a bowl.
3. Using an electric mixer, lightly beat the eggs, sugar and oil. Gradually beat in the pureed orange and cooled, melted chocolate.
4. Fold the cocoa, flour and baking powder into the batter using a spoon or spatula. Pour into the cake tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 55-60 minutes. The cake should be well risen and a skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean. (Mine needed 5 more minutes in the oven after the skewer-check.) Cool in the tin for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
5. Put the ganache chocolate into a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a small pan until it boils and then pour over the chocolate. Stir well until smooth. Cool the mixture for about an hour until firm enough to spread. Spread over the cake and decorate with orange zest.

Dark chocolate and orange cake 1

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Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Mee hoon kueh (面粉糕) hand-made noodles

My mother used to make this when I was a child. I think it was almost 20 years ago! I was really chuffed at having made a few weekends ago (I leave my 'intensive/fussy cooking' for weekends). It was less difficult than I thought and the result was pretty decent. The husband finished all the noodles even though I made too much!

You would almost always find a 'hand made noodles' stall in every food court in Singapore. When I was a child, this was not a popular or well known food in Singapore and was eaten mostly in Malaysia. Over the years, it became more well known and popular and food stalls started to sell it. The noodles are hand made by each vendor, which means each have their own taste and texture, although some chains do standardise their recipes. The dough would go through what is essentially a pasta machine to be formed into sheets and then cut into strands of either thick flat noodles (ban mee), fine noodles or cut into small squares (mee hoon kueh).

DIMG_0325.JPGMee hoon kueh 4

To me, authentic mee hoon kueh should be torn into pieces by hand rather than cut by knife into squares. The pinching of the dough seems to give it extra texture and make it taste better. Maybe it's just because that's the true blue home-made method and how my mother used to make it. This is a pretty healthy dish covering the major food groups of carbohydrates (flour), protein (pork), fibre (vegetables) and calcium (ikan bilis/dried anchovies). The ikan bilis stock gives the soup its distinctive flavour although it can be substituted with chicken or vegetable stock. Some might argue that the most important part of this dish is the crunchy fried ikan bilis topping!

Ingredients (serves 2):

200g plain flour
100ml water
1 litre ikan bilis (dried anchovies) stock (or chicken stock)
100g pork, thinly sliced (marinated with some light soy sauce, rice wine, corn flour and sesame oil)
2 big handfuls of leafy vegetables, cut or torn into pieces (e.g. bak choy, choy sum)
5 dried shitake mushrooms
2 tbsp ikan bilis
1 stalk spring onions, chopped
1 shallot, thinly sliced and fried till golden and crisp (optional)
2 eggs

Method:

1. In a large mixing bowl, add the water to the flour and mix into a dough. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, until the dough springs back a little when pressed with a fingertip. Shape the dough into a ball, cover with a clean damp towel or cling film and leave to rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Mee hoon kueh 1

2. Soak the dried shitake in warm water for 15 minutes until soft. Cut and discard the tough stalks and slice the caps thinly. Retain the soaking liquid.
3. Heat some oil in a pan and fry the ikan bilis until golden and crispy. Drain on kitchen towels and set aside. (Be careful not to overfry them as they will continue to cook and darken in colour after being removed from the pan.)
4. Separate the dough into small pieces the size of golf balls and roll them out into large thin strips. Dust some flour on top of the strips so that they don't stick together on contact.

Mee hoon kueh 2

5. Heat the stock until it boils. Holding one strip of dough in your hand at a time, pinch of small sections and toss into the boiling stock. Stir occasionaly to prevent the noodles from sticking together. They should be cooked after 2-3 minutes. Ladle the noodles only into two bowls, to prevent overcooking.
6. With the stock still boiling, add in the pork slices and stir to separate. (I had some random prawns to be used to I added them too.) After a minute when the pork is half cooked, add the leafy vegetables and crack in the eggs. You can either stir to break up the eggs (which will flavour the soup more) or leave them to poach (so each person gets a whole egg).
7. When the vegetables have wilted and the eggs cooked to your liking, pour the mixture of meat, vegetables and stock into the two bowls of noodles. Top with spring onions, fried onions and fried ikan bilis. Add a dash of white pepper and serve immediately.

Mee hoon kueh 3

(Tip: To make ikan bilis stock, boil 150g of ikan bilis in 1 litre of water for 30 minutes. Discard the ikan bilis afterwards and season with salt and pepper to taste. Ikan bilis stock cubes are sold in Singapore and Malaysia.)

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Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Last week's bento

Mmm. I forgot to update on these before the long Easter break, so here are some not-so-fresh bento.

Tuna and sweetcorn pasta salad with parsley garnish, red peppers and sliced kiwifruit. I liked how the colours worked out in this one.
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Leftover rice from dinner usually means fried rice for lunch or dinner the following day. So there was king prawn fried rice with stir fried sugar snap peas and carrots on the side.
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Bacon and brie sandwich, tuna and sweetcorn pasta salad (using up the little that was leftover from the other day), and half a clementine.
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Teriyaki meatballs, stir fried french beans and carrots, and sushi rice (garnished with black sesame seeds). Sometimes when I don't feel like having plain rice and don't want to bring along any furikake or soy sauce as seasoning, I would season the rice before packing it, mixing it with some rice vinegar, mirin, salt and sugar, turning it into sushi rice. It taste great even without being in a roll or wrapped in nori.
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Sunday, 23 March 2008

Yakisoba with prawns

AP was having dinner out with some friends the other night so I had to cook something for myself. It can be tempting to just pop a pizza in the oven or get a takeaway when there's just you to cook for. But just because you're cooking for yourself doesn't mean one has to be careless about it. Go for something quick and easy but no less delicious. And it's also a chance to indulge yourself especially if you love something that your partner doesn't.

I went for a yakisoba since I had some spring onions and prawns in the fridge, and I always have bunches of noodles (of various sorts) in the larder. Yakisoba is essentially Japanese style fried noodles. Although the term contains 'soba', ramen noodles is often used rather than actual soba noodles. But feel free to use ramen, soba, somen or udon depending on taste and availability. You can also buy bottled yakisoba sauce such as Otafuku brand, or use Bulldog brand tonkatsu sauce. The downside is that they contain MSG, if that bothers you. I prefer to just use the seasoning that I already have in my kitchen.

I sometimes make a very pared-down version with only noodles and spring onions, especially in my bento when I have other side dishes. You could add meat (thinly sliced chicken or beef or prawns) and vegetables (shredded cabbage, snow peas, carrots etc) to make it a full meal. I had my dinner of yakisoba with king prawns (always a winner for me) - perfect with some aromatic green tea or a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc or light Italian Pinot Grigio.

Yakisoba with prawns 1

Ingredients (serves 1; just double or increase the amount as appropriate):

Noodles of your choice (I used ramen)
100g prawns (I did say I was indulging myself!)
1 stalk of spring onion, sliced diagonally
2 dried shitake mushrooms
A handful of mange tout (snow peas), sliced diagonally
Oil for cooking
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp sake
1/2 tsp thick dark soy sauce (or Worchestershire sauce)
1/2 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 tsp sesame oil
Toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Method:

1. Soak the dried shitake in hot water for about 15 minutes. When soft, squeeze out excess water gently, trim and discard the tough stalk and slice the caps thinly. Reserve the soaking liquid.

2. Cook the noodles according to packet instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Toss with some sesame oil and set aside.

3. Heat a large pan or wok and add some oil. Add the white parts of the spring onions to the wok and stir for 30 seconds, then add the prawns, mushrooms and mange tout. Cook on medium-high heat until the prawns are just turning pink. Add the noodles, green parts of the spring onions, light and dark soy sauce, sake, sugar and salt and toss in the hot wok to mix well. Finish with the sesame oil, stir and dish out. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on top and serve immediately.

Yakisoba with prawns 2

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Thursday, 20 March 2008

Baked penne with chicken and salami

Sometimes, I plan my dinners ahead of time and would buy specific ingredients to cook particular dishes. But quite often it is a case of seeing what I have in the fridge or larder and coming up with something to make use of leftover ingredients. I had some salami slices that needed to be used, as well as a small chunk of hard cheese. I ended up using them in a baked penne. The salami slices went all crispy in the oven and who could say no to melted cheese and a crispy crust?

Baked penne with cheese crust

Ingredients (serves 2):

Wholewheat penne (portions for 2)
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 chicken breast, sliced
1 small tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
Salt and pepper
10-12 slices of salami
50-80g grated cheese
Small handful of parsley, chopped

Method:

1. Cook the penne according to packet instructions until al dente.

2. While the pasta is cooking, saute the red onions until soft. Add the chicken breast and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste, herbs if using, and season with salt and pepper.

3. Preheat oven to 180 C/gas mark 4. When the pasta is cooked, drain and toss in with the tomato mixture and stir to coat thoroughly. Pour the penne mixture into a casserole or baking dish. Top with slices of salami and then with grated cheese. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until the cheese is melted. Garnish with chopped parsley.

This can be a one-dish meal with the addition of vegetables like peppers or aubergine (eggplant) in with the penne, oOr serve with a side salad.

Using mozzorella would give a lovely and gooey texture. You can also use parmesan for a more intense flavour with less cheese. I used some leftover Double Gloucester cheese, which explained the orange colour and also gave it a nutty flavour.

Baked penne with chicken and salami

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Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Sichuan hot and sour soup

The weather was horrid over the weekend. The wind was howling, there was horizontal rain and it was just plain nasty. On a day like that, I just felt like something warm and comforting, like soup. The monthly soup-making event, No Croutons Required, is hosted by Tinned Tomatoes this month and calls for soups that are spicy.

Hot and spicy on a cold and damp day sounded good to me. I decided to go for a Sichuan hot and sour soup. You might have come across this at your local Chinese restaurant. Sichuan cuisine is known for its intense flavours and for being hot and spicy. This soup is quite thick in texture and is also rather chunky with a variety of mushrooms and fungus and tofu. The heat is provided by the minced garlic and ginger, as well as white pepper and chilli oil.

Sichuan hot and sour soup 1

Two of the ingredients that I used in this soup are dried lily buds and wood ear fungus. Just like dried shitake mushrooms, these need to be reconstituted in hot water before further cooking. You can buy them in most Oriental/Chinese food stores.

Dried lily buds and woodear fungus


Ingredients (serves 2-3):

1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp minced/grated fresh ginger
500ml stock (chicken or vegetable)
3 dried shitake mushrooms
2-3 pieces of wood ear fungus
A small bunch of dried lily buds
2 tbsp black vinegar (I used Chinkiang brand)
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp corn flour (mixed with 2 tbsp cold water)
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp chilli oil
Firm tofu, cut into small cubes
A small bunch of enoki mushrooms
1 egg, beaten (which I didn't use because I forgot!)
1 spring onion, chopped

Method:

1. Soak the dried shitake, wood ear fungus and dried lily buds in hot water for 15 minutes. Cut off the stalks of the shitake and hard tips of the lily buds and shred all of them into thin strips. Cut off the base of the enoki mushrooms and slice the long thing stalks into half. Separate the stalks loosely.

2. Heat a little oil in a pan and fry off the garlic and ginger until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Add the shitake, wood ear fungus and dried lily buds and simmer for 10 minutes.

3. Season the soup with black vinegar and soy sauce. Add the tofu and enoki mushrooms and simmer for a minute to heat through. Add the corn flour mixture and simmer to thicken the soup. Finally, drizzle thin streams of the beaten egg into the soup slowly while stirring to form thin threads.

4. Finish off with white pepper and chilli oil (vary the amount to taste), stir to mix and serve hot. Garnish with chopped spring onions.

Sichuan hot and sour soup 2


(Tip: I have been told that balsamic vinegar makes a decent substitute for Chinese black vinegar. I have not tried it myself so let me know if it works!)

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Monday, 17 March 2008

Singapore Kaya toast for World Breakfast Challenge

When Caitlin at The Gooseberry Fool came up with the Global Breakfast Tournament, I was excited at the prospect of taking part and showcasing something special from Singapore. Then I had the problem of deciding what to submit as a breakfast entry to represent Singapore. As a multi-ethnic country, there is a huge variety of breakfast items that Singaporeans have for breakfast, ranging from dim sum and fried bee hoon to nasi lemak and roti prata.

I eventually settled on kaya toast for my entry. I like kaya toast for the blend of taste and influence that is is a fusion of western style toast with Southeast Asian taste. The toast is often served with one or two soft boiled eggs in a saucer, with dark soy sauce and white pepper added to taste. The toast is then dipped into the egg mixture and eaten, rather like boiled eggs and soldiers. Given that soy sauce and pepper are the namesakes of this website, how could I not go for this breakfast? And finally, I recently came back from from Singapore with a jar of the famed Ya Kun Kaya so I might as well dig in!

A typical Singaporean kaya toast breakfast consists of kaya toast, soft-boiled egg and a cup of tea - I like mine with fresh milk and a little sugar (I wonder how many of my readers know what is 'teh si siew dai') It doesn't look particularly impressive, especially compared with the other entries, but I think its origins, the specific way that it is cooked and put together and its nostalgic significance to many Singaporeans render it a worthy contender.

Kaya toast breakfast 2

Kaya is an essential ingredient in this breakfast. It is a jam made from eggs, coconut milk, pandan (screwpine) leaves and sugar. Yup, I did mention that it is fusion. It tastes like a sweet egg custard. You can find a recipe for making kaya here.

Kaya toast breakfast 1


Instead of the denser brown bread, white bread without crust is used for the toast in order to get that light crispy texture. Each thick slice is placed on a grill until slightly browned and crisp, and then sliced thinly in half horizontally. That takes skill (and a sharp knife), which was why I destroyed a couple of slices in the process! The toasted slices are then spread with kaya and then sandwiched with little pats of butter within. This is no diet food. The sweetness of the kaya and savoury butter go together surprisingly well. The toasted white bread complements the rich taste with a light and crunchy texture.

Kaya toast breakfast 3

The soft boiled egg is also quite specific. Unlike the ones served in egg cups, the egg is only just set. Undercooked, according to my husband, who likes his soft boiled eggs overcooked (in my opinion). Add a few drops of dark or light soy sauce and a dash of white pepper, break up the golden yolk and mix it around a bit, and dip a piece of your sweet and savoury toast into the eggy goodness. Enjoy with a hot cup of tea or coffee.

Kaya toast breakfast 4

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Saturday, 15 March 2008

Shogayaki - Ginger pork

In celebration of St Patrick's Day, Sugar Plum has organised a St Paddy's Day Pub Crawl Event, inviting foodies to cook or bake with any form of alcohol.



Rather than using Guinness or wine, I thought I would add a Japanese element to this Irish event by cooking a Japanese dish using sake (rice wine) and mirin (sweet sake). Shogayaki is a ginger pork dish that is marinated in fresh ginger, soy sauce, sake and mirin and stir fried over high until the meat is nicely browned. A quick dish to cook and delicious to boot. Some recipes say to marinate the meat for 10 minutes, 30 minutes or an hour but there's certainly no harm in doing this overnight for all the flavours to be absorbed.

Shogayaki 1


Ingredients (serves 2):

200g pork, thinly sliced
1 tbsp grated ginger
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sake (or dry sherry)
1 tbsp mirin (or dry sherry plus 1 tsp sugar)
2 tsp sugar
Toasted sesame seeds to garnish (optional)

Method:

1. Place the pork, ginger, soy sauce, sake and mirin and sugar in a dish and allow to marinate for an hour or overnight.

Shogayaki 2

2. If using, toast some sesame seeds on a dry pan over medium heat until just turning brown. (Don't turn up the heat otherwise they will pop.) Set aside.

3. Heat some oil in a wok or large pan and cook the pork over high heat. Stirring it around quickly to prevent the pork or marinade from burning. Cook until the edges of the pork are just turning nicely brown or crisp. Dish out, garnish with sesame seeds and serve. Perfect with steamed rice and a vegetable stir fry. And some warmed sake if you wish!

Shogayaki 4

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Friday, 14 March 2008

A glut of bento update

I've not been keeping up with my bento posts for the past week which means a glut of bento pictures for this update. Here's a selection from the past two weeks:

Bacon and leek quiche, watercress, cherry tomatoes, grapes, and a strawberry container of oil and vinegar dressing.
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A stir fry bento of yakisoba with spring onions, shitake mushrooms and carrots, and brussel sprouts and red peppers in a side car.
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Honey roast ham and cucumbers in multigrain bread, cherry tomatoes, grapes and Double Gloucester cheese.
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Mini chicken katsu, stir fried snow peas and cherry tomatoes with rice.
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Stuffed peppers and aubergine in black bean sauce, mixed salad leaves, and egg fried rice.
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Pad Thai with prawns, stir fried snow peas and cherry tomatoes080313.JPG

Pasta salad with sausage in honey mustard dressing, kiwifruit, cherry tomatoes and mango jelly.
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Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Stir fried brussel sprouts

Brussel sprouts seem to bring out the strongest reactions in people, with most of them being of the 'eeeeewww!' variety. I have heard that one of the most common reason for people not liking brussel sprouts is because they tend to have them overcooked/overboiled, resulting in a mushy texture and a bitter taste. The overcooking of brussel sprout leads to a sulphuric chemical to be released, which gives it that unpleasant smell and taste. Depending on their size, they only need to be steamed or boiled for 4 to 7 minutes. The bright green color should be retainedl; if the colours has faded, they are overcooked.

Select brussel sprouts of similar sizes so that they would cook evenly and at the same time. Wash them and put into a pan of boiling water (or steamer). There is no need to cut that little cross at the bottom if you don't have time. Besides, there is the theory that the cuts let in water which makes the brussels mushy. In a pan of boiling water for about 5 minutes (longer if they are large), that's all. Drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil and sea salt and taste the difference. There is no need to cook them to the death. Vegetables taste better with a bite or crunch to them, and they would have retained their nutrients too instead of losing them all to the water. I think one of the greatest sins of 'traditional' British cooking is overcooked vegetables, which I have seen (and tasted) all too often.

For something different, consider making a brussel sprouts stir fry. It might convince friends and family who don't like brussel sprouts to give them a try. Brussel sprouts are no longer at their best, compared to November-January. But I happened to see some pretty decent ones last week and immediately grabbed a bag. You could also buy them on the stalk, which keeps them fresher for longer.

Stir fried brussel sprouts

Ingredients (serves 2):

10-12 brussel sprouts
1 small carrot, cut into thin slices
1 clove of garlic, minced
Oil for cooking
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp sesame oil

Method:

1. Wash the brussels and parboil them in boiling water for about 3 minutes. Drain and cool them by rinsing with cold water. Cut into half or quarters, depending on their size.

2. Heat some oil in a large pan or wok till hot. Over medium-high heat, add the garlic and carrots and stir fry for a minute. Then add the brussel sprouts and stir fry for a few minutes until all the vegetables are cooked through but still crunchy.

3. Add the soy sauce and sesame oil towards the end of cooking and mix well.

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Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Delia Smith's new book

Delia Smith (aka St Delia) is a classic cooking icon in Britain. Her book (or tome!) 'Delia's Complete Cookery Course' is on the kitchen shelves of many friends and relatives, and generations have relied on her cooking series and cook books. She was the one to go to when one wants to find out how to make shortcrust pastry, roast a turkey, poach a fish or make a white bechamel sauce.



But I think I have become slightly disillusioned after watching her new TV series last night. I wasn't sure I wanted to watch it initially. I recently flipped through her new book, 'Delia's How to Cheat at Cooking' and was frankly rather taken aback at her approach and slightly disturbed at her recommendations of buying ready chopped onions, instant mash and the like. There have already been some controversial reviews in the papers, most of which echo my initial thoughts (from The Times and The Guardian).

After watching about half of last night's episode (I didn't want to watch any more), I was less than impressed and more importantly far from inspired. Watching her pour out ingredients after ingredients from tins, bags and packages was... frankly rather depressing. I believe that celebrity chefs should inspire us through what they do (whether it's their restaurant cooking, books or television appearances, to inspire us to cook/eat/shop better and think about food in new and interesting ways. And during a time when there is increasing concern about carbon footprints, food miles, food waste and excessive packaging, isn't it going backwards to be recommending buying basic ingredients that come prepared and packaged in tins and bags and trays and plastic? Whatever happened to just buying onions and potatoes and even mince meat? I might have recoiled slightly from the telly when she brandished that tin of prepared lamb mince for a shepherd's pie.

I understand that part of the objective is to make people cook more at home rather than just going for takeways. It is also aimed at those who are new to cooking or just afraid of the kitchen. But surely there are better ways to achieve that. It truly is not that difficult to rustle up a good meal with simple, fresh ingredients. Nigel Slater (check out 'Nigel Slater's Real Food' or 'Real Fast Food') and Jamie Oliver (e.g. 'Jamie's Dinner') are great examples of no-nonsense chefs who focus on quick, wholesome and simple cooking with great results. I am certainly not adverse to using oven chips, frozen peas, store-bought pastry, curry sauces and the like, but her book and series seem to be championing ready-prepared food too heavily for my taste.

She said in an earlier interview that she simply cooks and doesn't do politics. But as such a public figure, I think it is naive and rather myopic not to consider the kind of impact and message that she sends out with her cooking recommendations.

Check out her new book if you wish. It might give you some ideas and sections might be useful. But it is not for me.

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Monday, 10 March 2008

Simple grilled salmon

Sometimes, when I want a light dinner - light on the stomach and light on the washing up - I go for grilled fish. Grilling fish either under a conventional grill/broiler or on a griddle pan is healthy as little or no additional oil is used in cooking. It also goes towards the two portions of fish/seafood a week that I try to incorporate into our meals. Coupled with steamed vegetables and new or mashed potatoes, it covers all the major food groups in one quick and simple meal.

I am not even going to bother with a list of ingredients for this one. Season your salmon fillets (or other fish) with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Heat a griddle pan until hot and place the fillets skin side down (or under a medium-high grill). Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side (depending on the thickness of your fillet), being careful not to overcook the salmon.

Grilled salmon


I served mine with spring onion mash and steamed vegetables tossed in garlic butter.

Grilled salmon with spring onion mash and vegetables in garlic butter

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Saturday, 8 March 2008

Yong tau foo (酿豆腐) - stuffed fried tofu puffs

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day. To all female readers, all best wishes to you for health, family, career and whatever pursuits that are close to your hearts. On this day, there is the tradition of giving bright yellow Mimosa flowers to women as as a sign of respect and an expression of solidarity with women worldwide. Kochtopf and fiordisale invited bloggers to cook or bake something yellow to mark this special day.

I decided to post a recipe for fried tofu puffs as my entry. It is yellow, for one. It is one of the food I miss most from home, so it's no hardship making and eating it! And it also reminds me of my mother who would make this dish for the family as everyone loves it. This is quite a labour intensive dish as it requires each tofu puff to be slit open, flipped inside out and then stuffed with fish paste. The deep frying is also not the most fuss-free cooking. But the result is worth all that effort. Like many Chinese or Asian parents, my mum is not the demonstrative sort (verbally or physically). Instead of saying 'I love you' or giving us hugs every day, practical acts such as the work that goes into making or favourite dishes is a demonstration of her love for us.

Yong tau foo (酿豆腐) is a popular dish in Singapore and Malaysia. It literally translates as 'stuffed tofu' (firm tofu) although other ingredients such as okra/ladies fingers, chillies, peppers, eggplant/aubergine and tofu sheets are also used. They can be fried or cooked in a soup. In this case, I have used fried tofu puffs and for that extra crunch, I have turned them inside out so that the fluffy insides are exposed and become superbly crunchy when fried. This was a trick that my mother taught me.

The filling is made of fish paste. Some vendors use purely fish, some add minced pork and others add chopped up prawns. The Hakka version of yong tau food has the distinctive ingredient of bits of salted fish in the filling. The fish paste is easily available in supermarkets and at some fishmongers' in Singapore and Malaysia. You may be able to find them in a Chinese supermarket or Chinatown. I have no such luck so I had to make the fish paste from scratch... Just as well that it's not exactly diet food (being deep fried) since it's too much work to make often!

Fried tofu puffs 3


Ingredients (makes around 20):

Fried tofu puffs (available from Asian supermarkets)
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

Fried tofu puffs 1

Method:

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.

2. Make a slit in one side of each tofu puff (with a knife or tear with fingers) and carefully turn them inside out. You can skip the inside-out step for the more common version. It will be less crispy but still delicious. Stuff each tofu puff with fish paste and press the openings to seal.

Fried tofu puffs 2

3. 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 fry the tofu puffs until they are golden. If you use less oil like me, make sure they cover at least halfway up the tofu puffs. Turn them halfway through to cook thoroughly. Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot. I served mine with a Thai sweet chilli dip.

Fried tofu puffs 4

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Friday, 7 March 2008

Three mushrooms rice

Oyster, shimeji and shitake mushrooms

This one is for those who love mushrooms. Three different varieties of fresh mushrooms (or how many you prefer) are cooked with rice for a filling and nutritious meal. Everything goes into one pot so there is minimum mess or fuss. Have a vegetable stir fry or soup and the side and you have a light and healthy meal. Particularly good if you have overindulged on very meaty or oily food.

This recipe was taken from Bento Boxes: Japanese Meals on the Go by Naomi Kijima. I used oyster, shimeji and shitake mushrooms. You could also use enoki mushrooms or whatever you have on hand. The Asian varieties tend to work better in this recipe due to the stronger flavours. I did this in a rice cooker but you could also do this in a lidded pan on top of a stove.

It is fairly important to use short grain rice for this Japanese recipe. Medium or long grain varieties such as basmati or jasmine rice will not yield that stickiness associated with Japanese rice. Although this is not as crucial as when making sushi, the texture and taste would be entirely different. I have not tried this with basmati or jasmine rice. It might still taste good though. If you do try it please let me know!


Ingredients (serves 2):

Short grain rice (200g/1cup)
Water (250ml/1 cup)
Assorted fresh mushrooms
2 aburaage (fried tofu puffs; optional)
4 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sake (or dry sherry)
2 tbsp mirin
1/4 tsp salt

Method:

1. Rinse the rice with cold water. Swirl the rice around with your hand and pour out the milky liquid. Repeat with clean water about 2-3 times. Add to the rice the appropriate amount of water for cooking and place in a rice cooker or lidded pan. Add soy sauce, sake, mirin and salt and stir to mix.

2. Slice the mushrooms. Chop up the stalks of shimeji and enoki mushrooms. If using oyster mushrooms, they could just be torn into pieces by hand. Finely slice the tofu puffs. Place all of these on top of the rice (do not stir or mix) and start the rice cooker. If cooking on a stove, put the lid on, cook on medium-high for a minute or two till the water boils and then turn the heat right down to a simmer.

Three mushrooms rice

3. Once the rice is cooked (about 15-20 minutes), leave the lid on for 10 minutes for the rice to steam properly. Fold the mushrooms into the rice gently and serve.

I made twice the above amount so we had the leftovers in our bento the next day. Top tier: Stir fried french beans with garlic, cherry tomatoes and vegetable gyoza. Bottom tier: three mushroom rice

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This bento has also been submitted to the Wholesome Lunchbox event hosted by Coffee and Vanilla.

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