Sunday, 28 June 2009

Chicken and vermicelli salad

This is a dish that I made for a friend's BBQ yesterday. Burgers, sausages and kebabs are great on the BBQ but side dishes are also important for rounding up a meal nicely, both in terms of nutrition, variety and textures. A green salad is always a good option. But I thought I would make something a little different and opted for a chicken and vermicelli salad that has protein, carbohydrates and vegetables that covers all the bases. This makes a nice meal in itself on a hot day.

Vermicelli noodles are also called bean thread noodles. They are often found in Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai cooking. Unlike rice vermicelli/noodles that are equally fine, the strands of noodles are translucent rather than white, and made from mung beans (or green beans) and not rice. They are sold dry in small bundles. Preparation is simple, just soak them in hot water for about 10 minutes (until tender and translucent), drain and they are ready to be used in your recipe.

This vermicelli salad is particularly good for using up leftover chicken, in which case there will be no cooking involved. Just combine the ingredients and serve.

Chicken and vermicelli salad

Ingredients (serve 8-10 as side dish):

200g bean thread noodles, soaked and drained
500g cooked chicken, shredded
1 small carrot, julienned
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
2 stalks spring onion, chopped
1 large red chilli, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
1 cup fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped
Juice from 2 limes
2 tbsp rice vinegar (or substitute white vinegar)
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1/4 cup (60ml) peanut oil
4 tbsp sesame oil

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Toss gently to mix well and serve. The salad can be kept in the fridge for a day or two if you have leftovers (it works well for bento!)

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Thursday, 25 June 2009

Basic rice bento

Rice is a staple for traditional Japanese bento. Although I pack all sorts of carbs such as bread, pasta, potatoes and couscous, I do pack rice quite often since I could make use of leftovers from dinners quite easily and it also makes for easier planning in terms of side dishes and portion sizes. An ideal Japense bento proportion is 3:1:2. That refers to 3 parts rice (or similar carbohydrates), 1 part protein (e.g. chicken, beef, eggs, fish), and 2 part vegetables and/or fruit. In the following lunches, you can see how I have used the same Lock & Lock container to pack according to those guidelines. Half the container is filled with rice and the other half with meat and vegetables (I try to pack more of the latter).

This container held a beef stir fry with sugar snaps, mushrooms, peas and sweetcorn (basically an all-in-one), short grain rice and a (big!) cherry tomato.


A friend gave me a much-treasured jar of sambal belacan (Indonesian condiment made with chilli and shrimp paste) and I used it in a spicy stir fry of okra (lady's finger) and peppers. Leftovers became lunch: rice, chicken cakes and okra and peppers in sambal belacan. Hot stuff! (Note: The grass dividers need to be removed prior to reheating in the microwave.)


I was going to cook more chicken to go with this next bento but having made extra chicken cakes a few days ago, I decided to use them instead. Today's lunch is chicken rice (rice cooked in chicken broth, minced garlic, ginger and pandan/screwpine leaves), chicken cakes, cherry tomato, pork and chive pan-fried dumplings and bak choy in oyster sauce. The chicken rice and bak choy were leftover from dinner. I just added the chicken cakes and dumplings from my frozen stash.


I have been working from home most days for this month and I have found that a bento works really well even at home. It saves me time from thinking about what to eat for lunch and putting things together. Being able to just have my lunch and then get back to work (just like in the office) also improves my work flow. I highly recommended it.

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Monday, 22 June 2009

Bento with store-bought food

I often pack dinner leftovers for bento but sometimes store bought food provides a nice change and still saves us money from eating at cafes during lunch hours. This one had a sausage bun in the lower tier (Chinese/Asian bakeries have a great variety of bread with assorted fillings or toppings) and the upper tier had mixed salad leaves, cherry tomatoes and a container of garlic parmesan salad dressing.

It took less than 5 minutes to just put things into containers so this can be done even in the morning before going out to work.


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Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Summer Night Market in Richmond

Over the weekend, the husband and I went to the Summer Night Market in Richmond. Reputed to be the biggest night market in British Columbia, the market has been in the local news recently regarding the sale of counterfeit items such as 'branded' wallets, handbags, sunglasses, apparel and so on. I don't think the publicity is hurting the market, to be honest. I am sure we were not the only people reminded of the market who decided to head down that weekend!

Long hours of summer sunshine

Richmond is a suburb of Vancouver, with a population that is about 60 percent Chinese. The food and products on sale at the market, as well as the majority of the crowd, are East Asian (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, also some Malaysian, Singaporeans, Thai, Filippino) and it really reminds me of 'home'. I mean, how much more authentic can you get than fake DVDs and handbags? ;)

Heading straight for the food

But the main draw has to be the food - street food from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Sichuan, Beijing, Mongolia and other parts of China. My only complaint was how expensive the food was (to me anyway). CAD$2 for a skewer of chicken/assorted meat (essentially a large satay)? $3 for a skewer of grilled tofu?? Certainly a far cry from actual prices in Asia but the atmosphere, smells, sights and sounds were certainly great.

I was really longing for a skewer of fried fish balls (pretty basic, if you ask me) but all I saw were curry fishball (very Hong Kong). Boo.
Dim sum and fish balls

Auntie giving instructions
This is how you do it

Korean food
Korean food

Takoyaki - a popular Japanese snack. Little balls of batter, diced baby octopus, and tempura scraps with assorted filling, topped with okonomiyaki sauce, seaweed flakes, mayonnaise, and katsuobushi (fish shavings).
Take your pick
Generous topping of bonito flakes

It was the official grand opening of the market for this summer so there were lion dances going from stall to stall. I had no idea why the drums and cymbals were much more muted compared to the heart-thumping ones in Asia.
Lion dance

Soups and desserts, and many bubble tea stalls
Soups and dessert

AP was going to buy something from this smoky stall, because they were $1 per skewer, and then changed his mind when he realised that they were items like chicken knuckles and pork intestines.

Dao xiao mian (shaved noodle) is a northern Chinese dish. The chef holds a lump of dough in one hand and rapidly shaves slivers of thin noodles into boiling water. Every strand is different and has a slightly chewy texture.
Dao xiao mian (shaved noodles)

This is another stall that we tried. Not the octopus but the lobster balls. I did want some tofu but balked at paying $3 for a skewer of five...
More skewered goodies

We finished off the evening buying a large pack of prawn crackers ($5) to take home and 4 DVDs ($20 total, so clearly not-that-ahem-legit). It would be nice to go out there again sometime during the summer, if just for the food and atmosphere.

Getting to the market:

Venue: 10-acre site at 12631 Vulcan Way (behind Home Depot on Sweden Way and close to Ikea).
Opening hours: Fridays and Saturdays 7pm to 12 midnight; Sundays 7pm to 11pm; holiday Mondays 7pm to 11pm.
Duration: May 15th to October 4th, 2009

It takes a little effort to get to without a car (parking is $5 at the venue).

Via public transport from downtown Vancouver, the easiest way is to get into Richmond on the 98-B line Richmond Centre. Get off at the Capstan Way stop on No. 3 Road, then take the 407 Bridgeport bus on Capstan Way (across from Canadian Tire). (The bus direction might seem to be the opposite but don't worry the bus makes a turn later towards the east.) Get off at the Sweden Way stop (on Bridgeport Road, next to Ikea) and then walk north along Sweden Way to Vulcan Way - just follow the crowd!

To return, walk back to Bridgeport Road and take the 407 Gilbert across from Ikea. Alight at No. 3 Road and take the 98-B line Burrard back into Vancouver.

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Friday, 12 June 2009

Panko breaded fish with no frying

I love breaded fish fillets but the thought of frying always puts me off preparing them at home. Having found a recipe for oven baked breaded fish, I tried it out last week and was pleasantly surprised to find how well that worked. It has a lighter taste as much less oil is used and oven cooking means no messy stove top or leftover oil to get rid of. One could say that it has less flavour in the breaded coating precisely due to the amount of oil, but that is a good enough trade off for me in exchange for more healthy eating and less cooking mess. You can add chopped/dried herbs and lemon zest into the bread crumbs to add flavour, if you wish.

I have used panko bread crumbs in this recipe since I have a pack at home. You can of course use regular bread crumbs (either store bought or home made). Panko is a type of Japanese bread crumbs that gives a much lighter and fluffier texture, which absorbs less oil. An opened pack will keep well in a resealable ziplock bag. Those of you who live in more humid climes might want to place the ziplock back in the fridge to help the bread crumbs maintain its crisp texture.

Panko breaded snapper

Ingredients (serve 2):

2 fillets of meaty white fish, such as cod, seabass or snapper
2 tbsp olive/vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten
1 cup of panko breadcrumbs (or use regular)
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon wedges to serve (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to gas 7/220 C/425 F. Lightly grease a baking tray.
2. Season the fish with salt and pepper and pat them into the fillets. Have one dish to hold the beaten egg and another dish to hold the bread crumbs. Add oil to the bread crumbs and season with salt and pepper.
3. Taking one fillet at a time, coat first with the egg and then with the bread crumbs. Pat the bread crumbs around the fillets to make sure they stick. Place the coated fillets onto the baking tray.
4. Cook the breaded fish in top shelf of the oven for 20 minutes until the breadcrumbs are lightly golden. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.

I served the breaded fish with oven baked potato wedges and sauteed courgettes (zucchini) and tomatoes.

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Monday, 8 June 2009

Recent bento

The hot weather we've been having the past few weeks brought out a craving for sushi and onigiri. In this lunch we had onigiri with teriyaki beef filling, inarizushi, mini beef patties, peppers and grilled asparagus.


I didn't previously use sushi grass dividers (baran) but after buying a cheap pack recently and using it a few times, I am really liking it. It is pretty useful in dividing food that might stick, helps with the layout of food and also adds a nice touch of colour.

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Chicken and mushroom chow mein with a side of steamed broccoli florets. As usual, they were dinner leftovers and I just packed the noodles and added the broccoli when the husband was washing up after dinner.

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Parsley couscous, grilled asparagus and chicken with sundried tomato and mustard sauce. Just about everything was leftover from dinner; it's a good thing everything tastes good hot or cold. I just cooked about double the amount and packed the rest into bento boxes. They were in the fridge overnight and then ready to eat the next day without reheating. I placed them in insulated bags during the day and that worked well.

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Another leftovers lunch of kai lan in oyster sauce, cherry tomatoes and claypot chicken rice.

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Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Chicken with sundried tomato and mustard sauce

Thank you for the kind comments and well wishes following my previous post. I had the stitches out a few days ago and the wound seems to be healing well. Immediately following the accident, I did think "what if I never want to pick up a knife and cook again??!" which did not happen of course. I was back to cooking within a couple of days. AP cut up ingredients for me initially, while I had limited use of my left hand, but I was soon chopping and cutting away again (albeit very carefully without the use of my left thumb).

Buying a new recipe book was also a good incentive to start cooking again. This dish - chicken with sundried tomato and mustard sauce - was something that I made a few days ago from the new cookbook (a compilation of recipes from the Australian Women's Weekly magazine). I was in a mood for chicken and having mustard and sundried tomatoes in my fridge meant this meal could be put together in a flash. I served the chicken with parsley couscous and grilled asparagus, although it would also do well on a bed of salad leaves with the sauce as a dressing.

Chicken with sundried tomato and mustard sauce

Ingredients (serve 2):

2 pieces chicken breast fillets
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
100ml chicken stock or water
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
4 pieces presoaked sundried tomatoes, finely chopped
2 stalks spring onions, chopped
Salt and pepper

1. Season the chicken breast pieces with salt and pepper. Heat the oil and butter in a large frying pan. Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds.
2. Add chicken breast to the pan and cook over medium heat, until browned on both sides and cooked through. It takes about 5 to 8 minutes each side, depending on the thickness of your fillets. Remove the chicken and set aside.
3. Add stock or water to the same pan and bring to the boil. Deglaze the pan, stirring to mix in pan juices from cooking the chicken and garlic. Simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes until the sauce is partly reduced.
4. Stir in the mustard and sundried tomatoes and simmer for another minute. Add the spring onions and mix well.
5. Serve the chicken with the sauce spooned over.

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