Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Happy eggs bento and mushroom rice

It's back to bento proper after a two-week break. I think the eggs were happy too.

AP's lunch was mushroom rice on one tier, and edamame, cherry tomatoes and hard boiled egg with nori face on the top tier. This photos looks different from the next as I packed this the night before (given that he goes out before I get up in the mornings). He warmed up the rice in the microwave in the morning before taking it into work. The rice was taken out and placed in a microwave-safe container after the photo. A little troublesome but it saved my bento containers from untimely demise and also allowed me to measure out the right portion.

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My lunch was similar, but with cherry tomatoes, blueberries and edamame in pods. Packed in the morning, thus the different lighting. A much 'gentler' photo, don't you think?

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For the mushroom rice, I followed this previous recipe, which used different types of fresh mushrooms. Fresh shitake, enoki and other Oriental varieties can be expensive outside of Asia so dried shitake mushrooms is a good option as I have done here. Soak the shitake in warm water for 15 minutes to reconstitute. Reserve the soaking liquid (discard any grit at the bottom) and add to the rice, topping up with the appropriate amount of water for the amount of rice. Slice the mushrooms thinly and place on top of the rice with sliced aburage (fried tofu).

Using dried shitake and the soaking liquid makes this dish taste and smell even more 'mushroomy' than using the fresh varieties, although the latter has its own textures with different mushrooms and more delicate flavours.

This was AP's lunch for today: onigiri, edamame and container of soy sauce for the onigiri on bottom tier, and cocktail sausages on more edamame and cherry tomatoes on the top tier.

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My lunch was similar again but with less food and my onigiri had furikake on top. The onigiri may look small but they are very filling. Even AP is full with 2 or 3 onigiri as they are very densely packed rice.

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Sunday, 27 April 2008

Chicken macaroni soup, one bento and six-word memoir

I was down with a bad tummy bug (stomach/gastric flu) for most of this week after I returned from Boston. I was literally in bed for a whole day, wobbled around the house for the next and only went outdoors (very briefly) on the third day. I am almost all better now although still avoiding diary and oil food. I was not able to eat for almost 2 days and when I finally broke my fast it was just plain crackers and dry toast. When I felt more able to stomach solid food, I craved something warm and soupy. Other than rice porridge, I also made myself some chicken macaroni soup.

It doesn't make for a very exciting food post, but I remember having chicken macaroni soup primarily as a child. It's another one of those home cooked food that is entirely unglamorous and never gets served in restaurants (although I have seen it once or twice at a food court) but everybody remembers having at home (at least in the Singaporean/Malaysian-Chinese context). My mum often made this for lunch when we were children. And for some reason, convalescing often brings us back to childhood comfort foods. This is, I suppose, just one version of chicken noodle soup that would have similar connotations with the Americans. What sort of comfort food did you have when you were ill as a child?

Chicken macaroni soup

This recipe essentially relies on good chicken stock. I made some the day before for chicken ramen soup and had enough leftover to make chicken macaroni soup the next day. The chicken and vegetable stock was made in a slow cooker like in this previous recipe. I just added the diced carrots and macaroni pasta to the boiling stock and cooked for 10 minutes (or according to pack instructions). Then cubed chicken (marinated in a little soy sauce, white pepper and corn flour) was added and the stock simmered for another 5 minutes. And then I tucked into the hot, wholesome, comforting soup. Just the smell of it made me feel better and stronger.

Being ill and unable to face the smell or even thought of food (with my tummy rolling and bad nausea) meant very little cooking. I didn't need any bento for myself since I was stuck at home for the entire week although AP had to get his own sandwiches at work. I felt so sorry for him since I left him alone for the entire week while I was away and then I came home, fell ill and was out of action for another week. I did manage to make one bento for him for the last day of the work week - chicken pasta salad with honey mustard dressing on a bed of salad leaves. Nothing fancy but he insisted it tasted better than the same pasta salad he bought from Sainsbury's just a few days ago. Well, he does know the way to this woman's heart :)

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To finish off this post, I've been tagged by Little Corner of Mine for a meme to write my Six Word Memoir. The instructions were:

1. Write your own six-word memoir.
2. Post it on your blog (and include a visual illustration if you’d like).
3. Link to the person who tagged you in your post.
4. Tag five more blogs.
5. Leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play.

I thought I was going to crack my brains over it but the words came surprisingly quickly and surprisingly fitting to be posted here:

Eat to live; live to eat.

And I invite the following bloggers to write theirs:
- A Slice of Cherry Pie
- You Say Tomahto, I Say Tomayto
- Domestic Goddess in Training
- Food Glorious Food
- Ruth's Kitchen Experiments

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Saturday, 26 April 2008

Smoked salmon and new potatoes with lemon crème fraîche

Many of us probably have recipes bookmarked, either in our web browsers, magazines or cookbooks, to try out at some point. Ruth of Ruth's Kitchen Experiments came up with the great idea of a Bookmarked Recipes blog event to help her get round to trying out those recipes and I thought it will be a good opportunity to try out some of my bookmarked recipes too.

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This warm salad dish was one of the quickest meals I've put together, and the least washing up too. The only 'cooking' done was to boil the potatoes. The rest of the ingredients just came together as they were assembled into the final dish. Good quality smoked salmon makes a real difference to this dish (we splurged on birch and juniper smoked salmon). With so few ingredients, the taste of the smoked salmon really stands out and it is worth spending that little bit more to turn this dish from simple and warming to outstanding. We had this for dinner with a peppery rocket and watercress salad. This could also made into a starter with smaller portions and on top of salad leaves.

Smoked salmon and new potatoes with lemon creme fraiche

This recipe was adapted from one I saw on Jamie At Home a while ago. Not all the recipes on the programme are listed on the website, which meant I had to scribble things down in front of the telly. Or one could just go and buy his book accompanying the series, I suppose! The original recipe used capers and dill. We don't really like capers so I omitted that. I had some chives on hand rather than dill and since it went well with crème fraîche, I used chives instead and it still worked, although you might want to try this with dill.

(Serves 2 as a main meal or 4-5 as a starter)

10-12 new potatoes, scrubbed
One large pack of smoked salmon
1 lemon, juice and zest
200ml crème fraîche
Extra virgin olive oil
Small handful of chives, chopped, plus more to garnish
Salt and pepper

1. Cook the potatoes in boiling water for 15-20 minutes until tender. While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the dressing by combining crème fraîche with lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste, mixing well.
2. Drain the potatoes and return to the empty pan. Drizzle over extra virgin olive oil and add lemon zest and chives. Toss the hot potatoes and allow the flavours to infuse.
3. While the potatoes cool, arrange the smoked salmon on plates. Place the potatoes on the smoked salmon and top with the lemon crème fraîche dressing. Drizzle more extra virgin olive oil over the dish, garnish with extra chives and serve warm.

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Thursday, 24 April 2008

Yaki udon with beef

This was a quick one dish meal that I whipped up mid-week after work. If you marinate the beef the night before or in the morning (which improves the flavour anyway), everything comes together and onto the table really quickly less than half an hour.

Yaki udon with beef

This dish makes full use of the quickness of wok cooking. The shape of a wok also facilitates the stirring and mixing of ingredients (especially leafy vegetables) without having accidental 'extras' on your stove top. I recently collaborated with Julia at A Slice of Cherry Pie, who came up with the great idea of a post with tips on wok cooking and maintenance, and thought this post would complement hers well.

Ingredients (serves 2):

250g beef, thinly sliced
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp mirin
1 tsp sake
1/2 tsp corn flour
Two portions of udon noodles
2 stalks of spring onions, sliced on the diagonal
2 bunches of bak choy or other greens, cut into sections
Oil for cooking
4 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp sake
1 tsp thick dark soy sauce (or Japanese Worchestershire sauce)
2 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sesame seeds, toasted

Method:

1. Marinate the beef in light soy sauce, mirin, sake and corn flour for an hour or overnight.
2. Cook the udon noodles according to pack instructions. Drain and set aside.
3. While the noodles are cooking, heat a wok or large pan until hot and toast the sesame seeds in the dry pan. Stir to make sure they don't burn. Remove and set aside when lightly toasted.
Toasting sesame seeds
(My wok was dry. The sheen that you see comes from seasoning the wok and prolonged use, as mentioned in Julia's article.)

3. Heat the wok again till it almost starts to smoke. Add some oil and when the oil is hot, add the beef. Stir fry briskly until the beef is half cooked, about 2 minutes. Set aside.
4. Heat more oil in the wok and add spring onions and boy choy. When the vegetables have just wilted, add the udon and the rest of the seasoning and mix well. Put the beef back into the wok to heat through and finish cooking. Dish out and sprinkle with sesame seeds to garnish.

This dish has been submitted to Presto Pasta Nights. Do join in with your pasta or noodle dish. Entries are posted every Friday so you can also get some great ideas for the weekend.

prestopasta

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Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Tom yum gai - chicken in Thai hot and sour soup

Tom yum gai 1

Tom yum (hot and sour) soup, pad thai (stir fried flat rice noodles) and green curry are just about the most famous Thai dishes outside of Thailand. Tom yum soup can be served with a variety of meat. The classic is tom yum goong (prawns), although tom yum gai (chicken) and tom yum pla (fish) are also popular. The soup is often served with noodles as a meal in itself, or as a side dish with rice and other dishes. Although the list of ingredients that go into a traditional tom yum soup can seem intimidating, the availability of tom yum spice packs and pastes make this an easy dish to whip up at home.

For this recipe, I have thrown in some dried lemon grass and galangal into the stock for extra flavour and a more authentic taste. Lemon grass imparts that distinctive sour tang and zesty fragrance to tom yum soup and galangal, a type of ginger, adds flavour and spice. Although good quality spice packs and pastes will taste good on their own, adding extra ingredients really make a difference to the dish, turning them from tasty to utterly delicious. I didn't want to buy a bunch of lemon grass or a large knob of galangal just for one dish; I would never get round to using them up. Then I found some dried ones in an oriental food shop and they have proved really useful. Look for them in packets in the Thai food or dried food sections of oriental supermarkets and shops.

Dried lemongrass and galangal

I have tried different tom yum paste and even stock cubes in recent years and surprisingly, one of the best ones I have found was bought from my local Sainsbury's, in the 'Specialty Foods' section (which has things like dried porcini, truffle oil, nori, wakame seaweed, soba noodles, laksa paste etc.). It's even better than some of the Thai imported ones that I have tried. The brand is 'Thai Taste' and I bought it primarily because the list of ingredients listed are essentially what one would find in the making of tom yum (e.g. dried shrimps, lemon grass, galangal, chilli, kaffir lime leaves) and without any E numbers or euphemistically termed 'natural flavourings'. Your best bet is to try out some brand and see which you prefer, or if you're at an Oriental shop, you could ask the owner or workers which brand they would recommend.

Tom yum paste

Ingredients:

(serves 2)

Flat rice noodles, or other noodles (portion for 2)
150g chicken breast, sliced
Button, shitake or straw mushrooms, sliced
1 litre water or stock (chicken, vegetable or ikan bilis)
3 tsp tom yum paste (follow instructions on the pack/jar, or according to taste)
2 tbsp dried lemon grass (or use one fresh stalk, outer leaves stripped and chopped into sections)
1 piece dried galangal (or use a couple of fresh slices)
1 lime, juice and rind
1 tbsp fish sauce (optional, to taste)
1 stalk of spring onion, chopped
A few springs of coriander, chopped

Method:

1. Soak the dried noodles in warm water for 15 minutes to soften, or according to pack instructions. Set aside in two large bowls.
2. Marinate the chicken with 1/2 tsp light soy sauce, 1/2 tsp corn flour, and a dash of white pepper. Set aside.
3. Bring the water or stock to the boil and add tom yum paste, lemon grass and galangal and simmer for 15-30 minutes. Add the lime juice and rind and fish sauce to taste.
4. Add the chicken and mushrooms to the soup and stir to prevent the chicken slices from sticking together. Boil for about 3-4 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. If not serving with a vegetable side dish, you can also add some spinach leaves, bak choy or choy sum to the soup at this point. I had a couple of crabsticks to be used and tossed them into the pot as well.
5. Ladle the soup, chicken and mushrooms into the bowls of noodles. Top with spring onions and coriander and serve immediately.

Tom yum gai 2

When we were in Singapore, I tried for the first time 'white tom yum' from Thai Express. Most tom yum that are offered in restaurants are 'red tom yum', evident from the red colour of the soup and the chilli oil. 'White tom yum' is so called because of its completely clear soup. Although there was no trace of red in the soup itself (except for some sliced chillies), the tom yum pla (fish, with glass noodles) that I had was equally hot and sour as any other red tom yum. I was well impressed. Which do you prefer, red or white tom yum?

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Sunday, 20 April 2008

Banana bread - improved version

This was a much improved version from earlier attempts at banana bread (as seen here). I followed a different recipe and it worked much better. The bread rose and filled out the loaf tin more and the bread/cake is also more dense and bread-like. The crust is crisp and the insides are sweet and moist with the mashed bananas. It definitely got the seal of approval from AP and his colleagues! (He always bring extra banana bread or other baked items into work.)

The flavour of bananas develop and intensify as they ripen so the best bananas to use for baking are overripe ones, especially those that are turning brown or thoroughly specked and no longer ideal for eating. So don't throw those old bananas out! Turn them into mouthwatering banana bread.

This has been submitted to Not Quite Nigella's Banana Bread bakeoff event. The deadline is 12th of May so there's plenty of time to make your own and join the event.

Improved banana bread 3

(Recipe based on Joy of Baking)

Ingredients (makes about 10 thick slices):

250g/ 2 cups plain flour
150g/ 3/4 cups caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
115g/ 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 large or 4 medium very ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
Extra slices of bananas to garnish (optional)

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C/gas mark 4. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 inch loaf tin, or line with grease proof paper.
2. In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients - flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nuts. In another bowl, combine the wet ingredients - mashed bananas, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla.
3. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, lightly fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients bit by bit, just until combined and the batter is thick and chunky. **IMPORTANT: Do not overmix the batter** There should still be traces of flour. Over mixing will result in tough bread.
4. Pour the batter into the loaf tin. Decorate the top with slices of bananas if desired. Bake in the middle of the oven for 60 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. If the top is browning too quickly while the middle is still undercooked, place a sheet of foil across the top of the loaf and continue baking for another 5-10 minutes.
5. Place the tin on a wire rack to cool and then remove the bread from the loaf tin. Serve warm or at room temperature. The bread is easier to slice when it has cooled down.

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Thursday, 17 April 2008

Asparagus and lemon risotto

I realised that once you've got the basic method of making risotto, you could throw in just about any decent sounding combination of ingredients and come up with a lovely meal.

I have tried a creamy seafood risotto as well as one with a tomato sauce base. For this one, I went for something a bit lighter with asparagus and lemon. Comfort food for the odd cold snap as winter loosens its grip but with a freshness in taste that welcomes the onset of spring.

Asparagus and lemon risotto


Ingredients (serves 2):

Risotto rice 150g (I used arborio rice)
400ml vegetable stock (or use chicken)
Butter 20g
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, crushed
A small glass of dry white wine
1 lemon, juice and rind
5-6 stalks of asparagus, woody ends trimmed and thinly sliced on the diagonal
Grated parmesan cheese 20g
Small handful of parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

Method:

1. Place the stock in a saucepan, bring to the boil and keep on a low simmering heat.
2. Melt the butter and olive oil in the pan. Saute the onions and garlic over moderate heat until softened but not browned.
3. 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.
4. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the asparagus, lemon juice and rind and last portion of stock or water. Cook for a few more minutes until the asparagus is just cooked and tender.
5. Add grated parmesan, stir well, and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley and serve.

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Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Cod with lime and coriander soy

I picked up some cod at a good price the other day and decided to cook that for dinner. We've had quite a bit of rice and potatoes earlier in the week and felt like something different. So we went with noodles. Put the two together, along with some leftover coriander and this was the result.

Cod with lime and coriander soy on yakisoba

The cod was infused with strong herbal and zesty flavours and served on a bed of plain yakisoba, with bak choy in oyster sauce on the side.

Ingredients (serves 2):

2 fillets of cod (or other meaty fish like salmon, hake, sea bass)
1 small lime, juice and rind
White pepper
2 tbsp sake
One small handful of coriander, chopped

For the dressing:
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp sake
1 tbsp mirin
2 tsp sugar

Method:

1. Marinate the cod with some white pepper and a little lime juice. Set aside. Combine the dressing ingredients and lime rind in a small bowl and set aside.
2. Heat some oil in a pan and pan-fry the fish for about 3-4 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the fillets. The fish is cooked when it flakes easily. Set aside and keep warm.
3. Deglaze the frying pan with 2 tbsp sake and the lime juice. Simmer until the liquid is slightly reduced and then pour in the bowl of soy dressing. Stir the mixture and scrape up any bits stuck to the pan. Simmer for a couple of minutes until the dressing is reduced and then stir in the coriander. When the coriander has wilted and infused the dressing, pour the lime and coriander soy over the cod fillets and serve.

(I tipped a touch too much of dark soy sauce in there, so the noodles turned out darker than intended. Oops!)

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Saturday, 12 April 2008

This week's bento and holiday notice

Well, it's not a holiday really. I'll be travelling for work from tomorrow and won't be back for about a week. I have prepared some posts for the week ahead so provided the hotel internet connection works fine, I should still be able to update. My response on comments might be delayed though. After all, any free time that I have will likely be spent on sight seeing in Boston :)

Before I go, here are our bento lunches this past week:

We were away last weekend and that meant coming home to little in the fridge. It was therefore another freezer stash lunch. The onigiri were made from frozen rice, warmed up in the microwave to restore texture and then mixed with salmon furikake and shaped by hand. I find it quicker to mould them by hand, although the onigiri moulds do make neater shapes. Meatballs and sausages were frozen too. Meatballs cooked in 2 minutes in the microwave. The sausages were defrosted in the microwave and then cooked on the grill for 15-20 minutes while I made the other items. Frozen edamame took 5 minutes in boiling water.

AP's lunch: Onigiri with salmon furikake, edamame, meatballs and Cumberland sausages. Animal picks added some colour and also eliminated the need to pack any cutlery.
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Mine was similar except with smaller onigiri.
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Lunches for the rest of the week were made the night before and kept in the fridge. We had honey roast ham and baby spinach leaves in multigrain bread, cherry tomatoes and a clementine.
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Bottom tier: potato salad with spring onions. Top tier: Mini scotch eggs and cherry tomatoes on a bed of baby spinach leaves.
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Bacon and leek quiche, and mixed leaf salad with containers of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
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Friday, 11 April 2008

Pan fried aubergine/eggplant with egg

This is a simple dish that I remember from childhood. My mum tends to do most of the cooking but my dad cooks well too and this is one particular dish that I remember from him. And it couldn't be simpler. Just dip slices of aubergine in beaten egg and pan fry. End of recipe.

Pan fried aubergine/eggplant

Ok, ok. I'll write it out properly!

Ingredients:

(serves 2 as a side dish)

1 medium aubergine, thinly sliced about 1 cm thick
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 tsp soy sauce
Dash of white pepper
1/4 tsp sesame oil

Sprinkle the aubergine with salt and let stand for 30 minutes to draw out the bitter juices (skip this step if using the long Asian varieties). Rinse and pat dry.

In a large bowl, add the soy sauce pepper and sesame oil into the egg and mix well. Add aubergines to the bowl and let them sit in the egg mixture. Heat a pan with some oil until hot. Fry the aubergine slices on medium heat until both sides are golden and the aubergine cooked through.

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Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Roast chicken with lemon and garlic

I love roast chicken. Nothing quite says a family meal like a roast (whether it is bird or joint). A roast chicken also means plenty of leftovers for my packed lunches, or extra meat would go into salads or pastas for dinner the next day. The carcass is not wasted either. Throw it into a stock pot with a couple of carrots, an onion, bay leaf and any other odd bits of vegetables you have lying around and you get a lovely light broth or a delicious stock for other recipes (like this turkey stock that I made around Christmas). You do get a lot for your money with a roast chicken so it's really worth spending that little bit more for free range organic birds, or at least the corn fed (RSPCA approved) varieties. There is a different in flavour and texture, even the husband said so.

Lemon and garlic roast chicken 1

This recipes makes use of lemon, garlic and herbs for a zesty roast chicken. You can use either dried or fresh herbs but the lemon is essential here. Don't just use bottled lemon juice! We had this roast chicken with leek and potato gratin.

Ingredients:

(serves 4-5)

1 whole chicken (about 1.5kg)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 lemon, juice and rind
A handful of thyme (or rosemary)
3 cloves of garlic

Method:

1. Rub the chicken with olive oil and season all over with salt, pepper, lemon juice and rind and thyme. Don't discard the lemon. Stuff the lemon halves, garlic cloves and extra thyme into the cavity. Do this first thing in the morning or the night before and leave the bird to marinate.

Lemon and garlic roast chicken 2

2. Preheat oven to 190C/gas 5. Place the chicken in a deep roasting tray and cook in the middle of the oven for 90 minutes. Baste the chicken 2-3 times during cooking with juices from the roasting tray. During the final 15 minutes, increase the oven temperature to 220C/gas 7 to crisp up the skin nicely. At the end of cooking, remove from oven and leave to rest in a warm place for 10 minutes before carving.

Lemon and garlic roast chicken 3

Note: Depending on the size of your chicken, roast for 20 minutes per 500g plus another 20 minutes extra. The chicken is cooked when the legs come away from the chicken easily. Or test the thickest part of the thigh to check whether the flesh is cooked through.

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Monday, 7 April 2008

Leek and potato gratin

Jules from The Domestic Goddess in Training passed me a recipe for leek and potato gratin a couple of weeks back. I finally got round to making it and it was such great comfort food, perfect now that the cold weather is back (boo). Thanks, Jules!

This one is quick to put together without the need to fry off the leeks of parboil the potatoes. Everything goes into a dish, into the oven and onto the table. Just the thing for a weekday dinner. It works nicely as a side dish with pork chops, roast chicken or grilled fish or even a simple steak.

Leek and potato gratin


Ingredients:

(Serves 2-3 as a side dish)

70ml vegetable stock
70ml double cream
70ml milk
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium leek, thinly sliced
30g cheddar, grated
Some stalks of chives, finely chopped (optional)

Method:

1. Pour stock, cream and milk into a pan. Add garlic and bay leaf and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and allow the flavours to infuse while working on the other ingredients.
2. Preheat oven to 190C/gas 5. Scatter the potatoes and leeks evenly in an ovenproof dish. Pour over the stock mixture and sprinkle cheese on top.
3. Loosely cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and then bake for another 30-40 minutes until the top is golden. Garnish with the chopped chives and serve.

I have tweaked the recipe slightly from the one I was given. As with all kinds of cooking, you should adjust the seasoning, fluids, oven temperatures and so on depending on personal taste and circumstance. For example, add a little more milk or cream to the dish when removing the foil if it looks too dry. Cook the potatoes for longer or shorter depending on how tender or soft you like your potatoes. Or leave it in the oven for a little longer if the top is still not browned to your liking. It doesn't always work to follow a recipe slavishly to the letter. Cooking is as much about personal taste and judgement as about knowing what to do step-by-step. So relax, use your senses and have fun!

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Friday, 4 April 2008

Stir fry and roast chicken bento

I had some prawns in the freezer for a while and they needed to be used. So I defrosted them in the fridge overnight and used them in a stir fry the next morning for this bento lunch: prawns and mushrooms in teriyaki sauce on rice, kailan in oyster sauce and cherry tomatoes. This has been submitted to the Leftover Tuesdays event over at Project Foodie.

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I love making roast chicken (recipe and photos soon). Leftovers are great for packing bento and there's now a chicken carcass waiting to be made into a lovely soup. This bento held lemon and coriander cous cous, roast chicken, grilled asparagus and cherry tomatoes.

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Using up the last of the roast chicken: chicken and coriander rice, roast chicken, meat balls, asparagus and cherry tomatoes.

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To make the chicken and coriander rice (serves 2) just cook your normal amount of rice with the following:

Chicken stock (normal amount as with water)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1cm piece of ginger, minced

After the rice is cooked, stir in the following while the rice is hot:

2 stalks of spring onions, chopped
A handful of coriander, chopped

You can also add some soy sauce and a drizzle of sesame oil to taste.

Click post title for full recipe

Singapore Hainanese chicken rice and Melaka chicken rice balls

Hainanese chicken rice is considered as one of the 'national dishes' of Singapore and is often served at international expos and often found in Singaporean restaurants overseas. The dish was brought to Singapore and Malaysia by immigrants from Hainan island in China in the 18th and 19th century, with some aspects of cooking and ingredients adapted to reflect the Southeast Asian influence of the region.

The chicken is cooked by boiling in water flavoured with garlic and ginger. The resulting stock is then used in the preparation of the rice (and also in the accompanying soup, which is a very simple chicken broth). The rice is cookedby frying the uncooked grains with chicken fat (usually fatty skin) and then steamed with chicken stock, ginger, garlic and pandan (screwpine) leaves. The result is an extremely fragrant and flavoursome rice dish, which one could easily eat on its own. The chicken is then served with sliced cucumbers and several dips including chilli sauce (made with garlic and lime), pounded ginger and garlic and thick dark soy sauce. Although the classic version is steamed chicken, also called 白鸡 (baiji; white chicken), 烧鸡 (shaoji; roast chicken) is also commonly served to suit different taste.

Of course, chicken rice was one of the dishes we made sure to eat when we were in Singapore in February. Although I do make this dish at home, there is nothing like good chicken rice from a reputable stall, and sharing the meal with family. Here are some photos from our meal at 'Boon Tong Kee', a popular chicken rice franchise in Singapore. Another set of photos also show the famous A'Famosa chicken rice balls that we had when we went to Melaka, Malaysia, on a short trip.

Aye, I kid you not. These diners were all queuing for chicken rice, on a weekday!
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Tender and succulent chicken, served with some sliced spring onions and coriander, on a bed of sliced cucumbers and drizzled with a sesame soy dressing.
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As you can see, the rice is not white as it has been flavoured with stock and oil. They didn't used to shape the rice into pyramids before. Must be something new. Most places just have them in a pile or a dome moulded by a rice bowl.
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The rice was served with some pickled daikon (white radish), cabbage, carrot and cucumber, as well as the essential chilli sauce and thick dark soy sauce to be taken with the chicken and rice in each mouthful.
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Some vegetables to complete the meal. Kailan (Chinese broccoli) in oyster sauce (like in this previous post)...
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... and sambal kang kong. Kang kong is a common vegetable in Southeast Asia, sometimes called water spinach, swamp cabbage or water convolvulus in English. This was cooked in sambal chilli, garlic and dried shrimps.
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A true Singaporean meal, with everyone helping themselves to big dishes in the middle of the table. The cold drinks that you see (it is tropical climate after all) are barley drink and lime juice.
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In Melaka, the chicken is served with rice balls rather than a bowl of rice. The rice is shaped into balls the size of golf balls and served with white or roast chicken. The condiments are similar. They are seen as more novelty than actually delicious on their own, although opinions differ. Personally, I find the rice too mushy and sticky (necessary in order to shape into rice balls) and more oily. AP never had them before so I reckoned we should try them at least once. He much preferred the Singaporean version, although he thought the chicken was very good. We order kampong chicken rather than regular chicken. Kampong is a Malay word for 'village' and kampong chicken refers to chicken that are allowed to roam instead of kept in cages - free range chicken, if you like. The meat has much more flavour although regular chicken is more tender. As kids, none of us liked kampong chicken as we found it too tough. I think most of us appreciate the deeper flavours of kampong chicken when we are older.

Famosa Chicken Rice Balls restaurant on Jalan Hang Jebat.
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Chicken rice balls, with a plate of kampong chicken, soup on the house, and choy sum in oyster sauce.
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The fiery chilli sauce
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Close up of the chicken rice balls
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Which do you prefer: the Singapore chicken rice or Melaka chicken rice balls?

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Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Prawn and pepperoni tagliatelle with lemon and chilli

After the horrible weather over Easter and the windy and cold spell that last almost two weeks, the weather has taken a turn for the better the past few days, with blue skies and sunny spells. The cherry blossoms are out and it truly feels like spring is in the air.

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What do cherry blossoms have to do with pasta, you ask? Well, nothing much really, although they sure are pretty! Also, the change in season meant we longer felt like stews, casseroles, hot soups and baked dishes all the time now. A light pasta dish seemed just the thing for sunnier days. At least until this weekend when it's forecast to go back down to 7 degrees and rain/snow/sleet again!

This was a quick meal that I put together following a previous recipe, just using the prawns and pepperoni that I had in the fridge that needed to be used. Clearing out the fridge is not always problematic. I often find new ways of using up old ingredients, or adding a twist to an existing recipe and finding new combinations of ingredients that really work. Well, some times they don't, but then we learn and never try them again!

Prawn and pepperoni tagliatelle with lemon and chilli

Ingredients:

(Serves 2)
Tagliatelle, portions for 2
Olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 glass dry white wine (optional)
1/2 lemon, juice and zest
150g prawns
10 thin slices of pepperoni, cut into quarters (or use chopped bacon)
20g butter
salt and pepper to taste
A handful of parsley, chopped
1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes

Method:

1. Cook the tagliatelle in boiling water according to packet instructions until al dente.
2. While the pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large pan over medium heat, and saute the pepperoni and garlic for a minute until the oil from the pepperoni is rendered and it starts to crisp up at the edges. Mix in a small ladle of water from the pasta (or chicken broth), wine, lemon juice and lemon zest. Reduce heat, and simmer until liquid is reduced.
3. Mix prawns, butter, parsley and chilli flakes into the saucepan. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, until the prawns are opaque and just turning red. Stir in the cooked tagliatelle, season with salt and pepper and mix until well coated. I served this with a side of mixed leaf salad, dressed with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

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