Thursday, 22 September 2016

How to cook for parties, and Sticky Chicken Skewers with Coriander Green Sauce

It's been 3 months, which is a whole new record for being away from the blog. It's ridiculous, the seasons have even changed. I was writing about blistering weather and asparagus with salted egg mayo back in June, and now I'm looking out of my window at a gloomy sky, curled up with a huge cup of tea. Lots of things have happened since. I've finished grad school (woo!) and back to job-hunting (boo); been on a couple of trips food researching (eating); and believe it or not, I've been writing about food – most recently for Gousto, Great British Chefs and the Japan Centre, which I'll link up to below if you've missed recipes from me.

I've also popped up with my apron and knives at various kitchens. There was a Singaporean-Hong Kong hawker food supperclub collaboration at a snazzy cocktail bar in Soho, a lovely private dinner party, and a catering gig at the beautiful London Rowing Club just by the river. I'm also about to help teach a clever, equally food-loving bunch of ADHD kids for a massive birthday celebration this weekend. All in all, I've fed over two hundred people in the past couple of months. That all sounds a bit nuts – and if I think back to the days when I'm used to cooking only for myself, intimidating – but I've picked up some tips over the years on no-stress cooking for a crowd.

Lamb satays with tamarind peanut sauce and unintended product placement; Chef Shu and Olly

1. Go big
My favourite way to do dinner or lunch parties is to have huge sharing platters and have everyone dig in. Any stews, braises or roasts work extremely well for this, the only thing you'll need is a bit of primary school math for upsizing the recipe and a bigger pot/ roasting tray. Salads also translate well to sharing sizes, because you can throw lots of flavours, colours and textures together on a beautiful large platter.

2. ... Or if you're going small, think chilli padi
Birds eye chillies (chilli padi in Malay) are deceptively small chillies which pack an insane fiery punch. Canapés though bite-sized, should pack a mouthful of flavour. It should also catch your guest's eye so I think about colours – a sprinkle of black sesame seeds and a peep of green cucumber and dill over an otherwise dull-coloured smoked mackerel pate; pickled red onions or radishes to add a cute bright pink contrast (and sweet sharp bite) to something green.

Crab, peach and spring onion croustades; Smoked mackerel pate with dill & black sesame; 
Smoked aubergine and pomegranate, salted duck egg mayo & edamame pea mint dips

3. Teach your guests how to make their own 
Aside from significantly lowering the amount of prep on your end, people love getting involved in the process. For the hawker night pop-up, we had a wrap-your-own popiah party featuring a stack of popiah skins and a spread of fresh salads, homemade chilli and sweet sauces, and the traditional braised turnip and shiitake filling, alongside fun extras like crispy roast pork belly. Popiah parties are quite a thing in Singapore and I remember my little sister having roast duck on the table for her deluxe birthday popiah party. I've also done summer (and winter) roll parties. It's fun and everyone gets to be as creative and greedy as they like.

Popiah pick-and-mix galore with my co-chefs J and Cherry; Summer rollin'

4. Lastly, remember to have fun
 I've picked up lots of tips from London's hottest caterer/ my good friend Milli's awesome book on canapés Party Perfect Bites, but this is my favourite. This is not time to get your panties in a twist over what's "authentic and correct". Set aside your pre-conceived notions and foodie morals, and have fun playing with flavours and colours.

Thai-style shrimp glass noodle salad cups with roasted peanut powder, and shredded Teochew braised duck pancakes with cucumber; I like to creep on my guests to make sure they're happy

This is my recipe for a crowd-pleaser from the last event: chicken marinated in soy sauce and honey, grilled till they're all smoky sticky and lovely, and then served with a fresh zesty coriander-based green sauce. I've also sneaked in some green chilli padi for an added kick, feel free to double the quantities if you're feeding spice-loving fiends. It's an adaptation of the sticky soy sauce wings recipe in Chicken and Rice cookbook – which is doing well and has sneaked its way into many strangers' dinners (absolutely makes my day when I get tagged on social media, so please do or otherwise leave a happy review on Amazon).

makes about 25 skewers

1 kg skinless and boneless chicken thighs, cubed

for the marinade
6 tbsp Kikkoman regular soy sauce*
6 tbsp runny honey
3 tbsp rice wine
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
6 cloves garlic

for the green sauce
1 large bunch coriander
3 large stalks spring onions, green parts only
3 cloves garlic
juice of 1-2 limes, to taste/ juiciness of your limes
1 green bird's eye chilli
groundnut oil
sea salt, to taste

to serve
chopped spring onions
toasted white sesame seeds

1. Combine the ingredients for the marinade. Place the chicken in a large ziplock bag and pour the marinade over. Leave in the fridge for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. Flip the bag around once in a while to make sure they are all evenly marinated. Soak skewers.
2. Preheat oven to 190C. Skewer chicken and arrange the chicken skewers on a greased baking tray. In a small saucepan, bring the reserved marinade to a boil for a full two minutes. Place the chicken in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden and caramelised, turning and baste the skewers regularly with the reserved marinade.
3. When the chicken is ready, remove from the oven and let rest. Combine any roasting juices with the reserved marinade
4. Blitz all the ingredients for the green sauce together, adding just enough oil to make a smooth runny sauce, sort of like a pesto. Season to taste with salt. Keep the sauce covered in the refrigerator for up to 6 hours, the longer you do this ahead the more it loses its vibrant green so try not to do this too far ahead. Your prep is basically done until just before the party.
5. When ready to serve, remove the sauce from the fridge and let it come back up to room temperature. Finish the skewers on the grill for a minute on both sides till charred, brushing with the marinade + roasting juices regularly. Finish with a sprinkle of chopped spring onions and toasted sesame seeds, and serve with the green sauce.

* Kikkoman and most other Japanese soy sauces don't differentiate between light or dark, they just have the one amazing soy sauce, and variations on ingredients/ salt levels. If using other brands of light soy sauce, you might want to add a tad of dark soy sauce too for the colour.

Related reads/ recipes
Great British Chefs Japan Centre feature series on noodles:
  Soba noodles with smoked mackerel and grilled courgettes
  Sichuan-style cold cucumber and shirataki noodle salad
  Miso ramen with poached egg and crispy shallots (aka Pimp Your Ramen)
Gousto chef feature and interview 
  My Khao Tom recipe adapted for Gousto (+ all the ingredients you need to make it, delivered to your doorstep)
Chopsticks Brunch Club
My first supper club experience (nostalgic blast to the past)

Related clicks
Chicken and Rice cookbook on Amazon
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Sunday, 19 June 2016

Chicken and Rice Cookbook bits and pieces

Out-takes from the cookbook photoshoot and memories of a wonderfully British and grey BBQ: 
Nyonya barbecued quails, sticky spicy soy sauce wings, kohlrabi som tum (photo by Susan Bell)

It’s been more than a month since the launch of Chicken and Rice– and while this means I’m more than a month late with updates, I thought I might get away with doing a cheeky overall roundup of the past couple months of Chicken and Rice-related news. I also thought I'll take the chance to tempt you all with photos of food you can find in the book should that give you the final push to get a copy.

The launch itself was a wonderful rush of emotions, that odd feeling you get when you finish school: excitement, relief and also a bit of wistful nostalgia at closing a chapter of your life. It was also the warmest feeling having friends whom I’ve made through this wonderful world of food over the past years, all gather to celebrate (and for the unlucky few, get roped into kitchen/ door-keeping duties, thank you). I remember Sam, for instance, bringing kegs of his home-brewed “hobby” beer to my birthday party years ago. That night he delivered cases of beers from his craft brewery Pressure Drop, now one of the best in London. “Some things don’t really change,” I remember thinking– as we all swigged bottles of Wu Gang Chops The Tree in between bites of lamb satay dipped in tamarind peanut sauce. I'm not going to bore everyone with details and let photos do the talking this time.

Asparagus with salted egg mayo, caramel pork ribs, cashews roasted with
kaffir lime leaves and chilli, spoons of coconut herb rice, and lettuce cups filled with braised mooli carrots shiitake and fried shallots 

Thank you speeches/ my editor Juliet embarrassing me 

To my mates: Spot yourself (photos of the night by Erik Sellgren)

I can only imagine the feelings a new mother goes through; and while I can hardly compare me writing a book to the miracles of childbirth– I felt very much like a proud mama holding Chicken and Rice in my hands after months of labour (sorry to be dramatic). Later, when I saw my book on the shelves at Waterstones for the first time, I beamed proudly and stupidly to myself– much like a mother would over her toddler’s debut stage performance as a tree I guess.

It’s also the most surreal feeling having other people tag me in their delicious #ChickenAndRiceCookbook dinners on social media– and it’s such a good sort of surreal that I’m going to greedily call for more of you do it if you if you’ve made something from the book, or even from the blog. My editor also wants me to remind everyone that Amazon reviews are very much appreciated.

Same face: Minutes before the launch at Uyen Luu's studio; at Waterstones 

There’s a handful of great media shouts, awkward cooking videos, interviews, cookbook sneak peeks and recipe tips floating around the Internet that I haven’t had the chance to properly share. So here’s a selection of reads, compiled neatly for you to browse lazily through over the weekend:

Cook from the book – loved Juliet's cheeky sub of Fino for Shoaxing rice wine, in the true asian spirit of 'agak agak'


And while this isn’t a recipe blog post I’m afraid, I do have an illustrated recipe for Kai Yaang from the book to share with you all (and recipes/ videos from above). This one is a delicious adaptation of the Thai spit-roasted classic, tweaked for the grey wet British weather and served with a fragrant green stuffing– a killer-breath combination of coriander, garlic, and lemongrass.

To round up the last of the shameless plugs,
Vote Chicken and Rice for Observer Food Monthly's new cookbook award (I know I'm going up against the likes of some ridiculously good authors this year but any votes are greatly appreciated)

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

My Meatballs in Chilli Oil, and Chopsticks Brunch Club

Just a little glimpse into what's been cooking the past brunch clubs... and a tiny restrained shout-out:

The past months have been a rather haphazard series of small challenges– events that put me just outside of my comfort zone, though not horribly so and probably good for you, sort of like when your PE teacher would force you to do sit-ups. Among these are exams (a shock for me after years of art school and then working as a designer); filming recipe videos for Sainsbury’s Magazine and Happy Foodie (you know when you cringe hearing your own voice recorded? Except this time it’s also your face and your garlic-crushing un-manicured hands); auditions (no comment); planning for the cookbook launch (in a week!!!) and finally, hosting pop up events again.

Since the start of the year, I’ve started doing monthly brunch clubs out of my home, in support of Action Against Hunger. I haven’t shouted about it much on the blog; just quietly sneaked in an extra “Chopsticks Brunch Club” tab at the top– but I’ve gathered enough stories and pictures now I figured it’s time to share them, along with my crowd-favourite meatballs recipe.

You can find great brunches in London but almost every café just serves variations of avocado and poached eggs on toast, which albeit yummy, doesn’t do justice to the range of deliciousness you can have in the morning. Back home there's light noodle soups, congee (rice porridge), fried rice cakes, and sometimes even curry. No forks and knives– hence Chopsticks Brunch Club. Brunch club was also a welcome change from supper clubs because I didn’t have to deal with a dirty kitchen in the wee hours of the day, hurrah. I’ve been having lots of fun writing menus every month using whatever seasonal ingredients look best at the farmers’ market or the little independent grocers/ fishmongers/ butchers in my neighbourhood.

It’s funny because years ago, you would have to twist my right arm off to get me to regularly cook for people, let alone a dozen strangers. Coming to London 6 years back was a huge step for introverted me– and learning to cook was really me finding my way, and then later, friends, in this scary new city. I’ve missed hosting supper clubs and delicious events. So despite my oily, sweat-soaked state at the end of each brunch club, I beam stupidly looking at the East London ‘hipster’ sharing jokes and pickles with the banker that’s made his way down from Fitzrovia.  Food has such a weird wonderful way of bringing people together.

Makes 12 big balls

600g fatty minced pork (outdoor-bred preferably)
5 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
4 tbsp good light soy sauce
1 heaped tbsp sea salt
1.5 tbsp light brown sugar
3 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp groundnut oil
1 tbsp grated ginger
½ cup spring onions, finely chopped
1 heaped tbsp tapioca starch (or cornstarch)
2 large free-range eggs, beaten
125g panko breadcrumbs

for the dressing (double/ triple as needed)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar (or balsamic vinegar, in a pinch)
1 tablespoon chilli oil

to finish
Fresh coriander or
Spring onions, thinly sliced

1.  Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl, stirring vigorously clockwise (don’t ask me why, Mum insists) till everything is well mixed.  Gather the mixture and then throw it back down into the bowl. The mixture should sort of come together and firm up after a few times of slapping. (I swear I am not making you do all these weird things just for laughs.)
2. Wet your hands; this helps to stop the meat from sticking to your fingers. Form golf-ball sized meatballs with the mixture, smoothing them out with your fingers. Arrange on a greaseproof-paper lined platter.
3. Place the meatballs overnight in the fridge to marinate and help them firm up slightly. (This is a great make-ahead recipe for brunch clubs and dinner parties!)
4. When ready to cook, prepare your steamer (a deep pot or wok with a steaming rack really). Bring water to a boil, and then set the platter of meatballs onto a rack set over the boiling water. Steam over high heat for 15 minutes, till cooked.
5. Meanwhile, make the sauce by stirring all the dressing ingredients together.
6. Remove the meatballs and dish out onto plates, along with any juices that have accumulated in the steaming platter. Douse with the dressing, and finish with a sprinkling of fresh coriander or spring onions for some greenery.


Steaming is a very typically Chinese style of preparing meatballs, and it helps the meatballs retain all the lovely flavours of their marinade. A bite will immediately send salty rich juices oozing so they mingle in your mouth with the fiery kick and sharpness from the chilli oil and black vinegar dressing. I served them with light congee for the brunch club but plain steamed rice or blanched noodles will be perfect too– make sure to spoon all the sauce over.

It’s been a busy month of (see above) so I was planning to give May a skip but due to popular demand (yay) I might do one at the end of the month after all– sign up to the mailing list to get first wind of menus/ dates! And also, all the latest exciting cookbook news!


Related reads/ recipes
Chopsticks Brunch Club past menus
No-churn rhubarb condensed milk ice cream
Crispy roast pork belly
How to sweet-asian-pickle anything

To hopefully get you inspired to start your own supper/ brunch club
Action Against Hunger interview

My first time being filmed and awkward for Sainsbury's
Stir-fry tips for Sainsbury's Magazine

Monday, 7 March 2016

"Chicken and Rice" Pre-orders and a Kitchen Q&A with Mum

Mothers' Day falls on the second Sunday of May in Singapore, so it isn't quite time for me to be sending Mum cheesy messages or presents– but all the same, it's hard not to miss the feisty woman when everyone around me is off spending time with their mothers. I've been living in London for more than 6 years, and I like to think I've become all independent and "a big girl" now – yet the bouts of homesickness still hits sometimes in little unexplainable waves.

My lovely publicists at Penguin had just given me a prod earlier in the week to remind my readers that Chicken And Rice is now up on Amazon for pre-orders (OH MY GOD), and while procrastinating on this blog post, I gave Mum a quick buzz on Skype. I thought it would be fun to share a little kitchen Q&A that will, hopefully, get us all excited about the book at the same time. Mum was why I started this blog in the first place. This humble old page grew out of a little collection of my kitchen adventures, written to prove to her I wasn't starving away. Thinking back, some of the food I made then was horrific; but I was curious, stubborn and hungry enough to continue. It's funny how that has evolved into my own cookbook.

The book is littered with tips I've gathered from years of Skype calling and annoying her in the kitchen; so it's a perfect time to give you all a little glimpse into the Mummy behind Mummy I can cook.

Translated from Mandarin and removed of Hokkien curses:

When and how did you first start cooking?
I started cooking when I was 10. It was a big family and we were expected to help around the house and the farm. Your Ah Ma (grandmother) was often busy, I was often greedy/hungry– so I naturally started cooking to feed myself. No one really taught me. I just started watching and helping her prepare the vegetables. I noticed what ingredients tasted good together and would make a mental note to use that in my next meal. It's also very much just making do with what I could find. The nearest shop was a 20 minute cycle away and we'd only go there for essential pantry top-ups. If there was nothing in the fridge, I would go pick some vegetables from our farm or nick* tapioca and papayas from around the kampung (village). *Note to readers: I think the modern cool term for this is 'forage'.

Favourite ingredients?
Garlic, shallots, ginger are must-haves. I always have full baskets of them.
Dried shrimps and dried anchovies for flavour.

Must-have kitchen tool?
My wok. I got this one when your father and I first moved into our house 25 years ago. It's cheap, nothing fancy, but I've been cooking every day from it. You want a cheap wok; but season it well and take care of it– no detergents!

What would you tell someone new to cooking?
Don't touch my wok.

No, something helpful please. 
Use the best produce you can get hold of and cook simply. You don't need much to make good food if you start out with good ingredients.

What do most people do wrong in the kitchen?
Overcooking their food. When it comes to vegetables, a quick toss over strong flames is enough. Learn to control the heat! When it comes to seafood, understand that each type and size of fish needs different timings. I didn't read any books or memorise anything. It all comes down to experience and willingness to try different ingredients every time you cook.

Give me your kitchen mantra.
The most important thing is understanding your ingredients- once you have the basic understanding of flavour and how they come together, everything you make will be delicious. Many chefs nowadays don't understand...It's not always "the more the merrier"!

Who do you think is the best cook in the family?
Me of course.

It's not only recipes and kitchen tips that I've gleaned from Mum. Her approach to cooking has been a key influence over the way I cook; you've probably gathered her focus on ingredients and 'making do' from the 20-minute Skype interview we did. I've had a little rant about authenticity on the blog before ...I find the most 'real' form of Southeast Asian cooking doesn't necessarily come from the cook who scours the city for morning glory; but the one who can adapt recipes to make use of the freshest ingredients he can get hold of.

This is what Chicken and Rice is all about – Southeast Asian recipes from a London kitchen. The photography was done over the course of a year rather than the standard two week-long intensive photoshoot, because every dish was made (and eaten by friends/ housemates/ neighbours) following the seasons.  If you're not yet convinced, the book contains my illustrations of smiling bananas and evil chillies.



Related reads and more from Mum
My debut cookbook, and a behind-the-scenes sneak peek
Kohlrabi som tum and a rant on authenticity
'Agak agak', the intuitive way of cooking 
Mum's Ngoh Hiang- 5 spice pork rolls (video recipe)
Mum's fail-safe greens
Old-fashioned barley water
Watercress chicken soup with goji berries
How to make stock

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