Saturday, 31 December 2011

Best of 2011

It's the last day of 2011, the day we start reflecting and looking back at the year. I wanted to do a recap of the best moments of 2011. It turned out to be a horrible process that took me a lot longer than I wanted to, because I really couldn't choose. I ended up forcing myself to choose one from each of the categories on my RECIPES page (which I will finally update in a while so make me happy and go see it tomorrow).

Favourite Vegetable Recipe

The slow-roastd flesh of the eggplant is deliciously soft and savoury from absorbing the marinade, and it goes wonderfully texture-wise and taste-wise with the slightly sweet, aromatic and crunchy peanut dressing. Of course, I am generally biased towards anything with that sauce-- freshly ground roasted peanuts simmered with tamarind and spices, homemade (or satay man-made) with love. Refer to the chicken satay post for the singapore satay peanut sauce.

Favourite Meat Recipe

When I first came to London, I got pretty homesick in the first few months. My mum used to send me ridiculously large parcels which complained about because the fact that they were ridiculously large meant that, for her, they were ridiculously expensive, and for me, they were ridiculously heavy (I had to carry them from the post office in the snow). Secretly though, these parcels of love made things just a little better, and though most of the things were pretty useles--she sent me toothbrushes once-- some things I've still kept as treasures, one of which is a handwritten list of some of her recipes. Sesame oil chicken is one of them.

Favourite Fish Recipe

As perfectly normal and even boring as it may sound to some people., gooseberries are really very new to me. I've never seen them before coming to London, though I've heard of them, but only in Enid Blyton/similar storybooks.
Herring and gooseberries turned out to be a good combination, as the tart juices bursting from the gooseberries help to cut the richness of the herring. I couldn't resist adding the chillies and spices, and though it may sound off, I thought it'd work somehow. The sour-sweet gooseberries work kind of like tamarind in the Southeast Asian recipes I'm familiar with, which is often combined with soy sauce and chillies for a balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy.

Favourite Rice Recipe

I know it was the previous post. But congee is the chinese equivalent of a bowl of risotto-- just simply rice, plump with the flavour from the stock it's simmered in, so each spoonful is a scoop of light yet creamy and comforting goodness.

Favourite Sweet Recipe

There is something about a peach, that fuzzy exterior which just begs to be stroked, and that bright yellow soft and juicy flesh inside. I loved them with the tangy sourdough crepes to mop up the sweet lemony gingery peachy juices and the smooth creamy yogurt. Refer to the "Sourdough crepe, that was easy!" post too.

This is not any ordinary chilli paste. Yes, you use this as a dip at the side, but you also use this as the base for creating so many classic Singaporean/ Malaysian fried rice/noodles/barbeques/curries/sauces. That said, it's an extraordinary dip, and nasi lemak is not nasi lemak, fried hokkien prawn mee is not fried hokkien prawn mee, without this sambal chilli on the side. What's unique about this cilli paste is belachan- a potent smelling fermented ground shrimp paste. I still remember cooking with it last year when I was still staying in halls and my Turkish flatmate kind of flew from the kitchen. But don't judge, because I guarantee you'll love this chilli for it's sweet, spicy, salty, savoury and just a tiny bit tangy and smoky flavour.

I tried game meat for the first time

Venison just sounded so fancy, so I had the impression I would be much better off without it, pocket-wise. But then I realised how cheap the venison necks were. I'm a fan of using the less popular cuts of meat. You get so much more bang for your buck, plus there's loads of flavour, especially if the meat is still hanging onto the bone (marrow bones in this case, score!). And, it's definitely tender if you remember to go low and slow. I found recipes calling for it to be braised in red wine, but because I'm not one to have red wine around the house, I used Shaoxing rice wine instead, and to complement that, some typical Chinese braising spices, which would also counter any gamey-ness.

Oh, and more.
I have the best job possible for a real food lover, working at the Pimlico Farmers' Market on Saturday mornings.

I'm thankful for all the good things that have happened, and for the bad, food and cooking have helped make it very much more tolerable. All in all, this was a brilliant first year for me food-blogging wise, I don't know what I see for the year ahead, but I hope to be able to continue doing the things I love and meeting people who also enjoy doing the things I love. May everybody have a lovely 2012, and enjoy your last few hours of 2011!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Leftover Turkey Congee

Christmas is actually over, after all the hype and excitement in the lead-up to the big day, it's finally over. And after a night with too much good food and wine, you really just want something quite light and comforting and ideally uses up the leftover turkey. For me, that's congee. It's the chinese equivalent of a bowl of risotto- just simply rice, plump with the flavour from the stock it's cooked in, so each spoonful is a soothing scoop of goodness. Unlike risotto though, you don't want separate grains, and in fact you don't even want to see any grains. The rice should have all disintegrated into a thick porridge. The ratio is about 10 cups water/stock to 1 cup of rice, you can use less or more depending on how thick you like your congee.

Turkey Congee
serves 2
1/2 cup of jasmine rice, washed till water runs clear
5 cups of homemade stock (in this case, turkey. refer stock 2.)
unrefined sea salt (to taste)

To serve:
leftover turkey, shredded
chopped spring onions
fried shallots and shallot oil (replace with toasted sesame oil if unavailable and lazy)
dash of good traditionally fermented soy sauce
dash of white pepper

1. Add the rice to the stock in a preferably heavy-bottomed pot and bring to the boil.
2. Lower the heat and let simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom and burning. It will take quite long, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, though unlike a risotto, you don't have to constantly stir.

Not yet, still not yet there, almost there, there!

3. When rice has reached the right consistency, scoop into bowls and top with the shredded turkey, spring onions, fried shallots, and finish with a drizzle of shallot oil. The soy sauce and pepper is usually at the side so the eater can add to taste.

Oh and another option. You can crack in an egg at the end, after you remove it from the stovetop, the residual heat from the congee sort of poaching the egg. I wish I remembered earlier, that's my sister's and my favourite part about congee.

Nonetheless, this was just what I needed after all that rich and sweet food, something plain and familiar, but deliciously creamy and comforting at the same time. The rice has fully soaked up all the yummy and nourishing goodness of the stock, and turned almost soup-like so you can just slurp it down without even chewing.

You can speed up the process by starting with cooked rice, but I think there's still no better way than to do it the traditional way, slowly letting it cook and stirring it with love, and though it takes longer, honestly, there is almost zero effort involved.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Flourless Chocolate Orange and Ginger Cake

One thing I left out from my Spain post, was the desserts and sweets. I don't have a massive sweet tooth, so I often favour the savoury. I don't think anyone noticed, because Spain doesn't exactly come to mind when you think of sweets, and Spanish treats don't seem to go beyond churros dipped in hot chocolate.

We did have quite a few nibbles of their candies and cakes, and what's most different about them is that they are quite often made with almonds instead of flour, probably because it's one of their major produce. Another is the orange. When we first arrived in Seville, our mouths literally dropped when we realised that every single tree on the streets had oranges growing on them. We didn't know if we could pluck them, but we picked a fallen one from the ground, and giggling excitedly, washed it and ate it (it was sour).

Anyway, all that- the chocolate, the almonds, the orange- got me inspired to try making Nigella Lawson's flourless chocolate orange almond cake, which has rave reviews from almost everyone who has tried it. I tweaked it a little, added a bit of ginger for that Christmassy spice and a bit of Asian character, and used unrefined muscavado sugar instead for a deeper caramel-sweetness and colour.

Flourless Chocolate Orange and Ginger Cake
Makes a 6" round cake (I halved the original recipe, so you can double and do an 8" one)
1 small orange, about 200g (haha mine was really from Spain)
3 free range eggs, lightly beaten
100g ground almonds
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
125g light muscavado sugar
4 tbsp of good cocoa powder
1 tsp of grated fresh ginger

1. Put the whole orange in a pot with some water, bring to a boil and cook for 2 hours. Drain, and cut in half to remove the seeds when cool, then pulp everything- skin, pith and all.

2. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius.
3. Mix in everything else. You can do it in the food processor too.

4. Pour into a greased, lined 6" cake tin. Bake for about 45 minutes, you may need slightly longer or shorter depending on your oven so check at about 30 min to see if you need to cover with foil to prevent the top from burning.

You'll see mine cracked on top ): I don't know why, but it still tasted good so I didn't mind, I just sliced from the centre for the photo taking hehe.

5. Leave the cake to cool before slicing. I also just brushed the top with some honey for a easy prettier glaze. And this is optional but it's lovely served with some cream(preferably grassfed, full-fat).

It's the easiest cake I've ever made, there's no creaming of butter or whipping of egg whites etc. In fact, I realise there's no butter in this, nor is there gluten or dairy, or refined sugar in my version. Healthy cakes shouldn't taste quite as good, but this is deliciously chocolatey, with the fragrance of orange and slight spice from ginger. I hate airy chiffon-style cakes so I really liked that it's so moist, oh but at the same time, it's surprisingly quite light and not too rich you feel like you're eating a bar of chocolate shaped like a slice of cake, as many chocolate tortes are.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

A little bit of December sun and a lot of Spanish food

I'm back! I write this now in a sleep-deprived, over-stuffed state, so I'll let the photos do more of the speaking. I went to Barcelona and Seville for a little 4-day escape from the cold and grey skies of London. As with most of my travels, the experience is largely gastronomic. Spain was always one of those countries on my to-go list after the Brindisa chorizo sandwich I had at Borough market.

And chorizo I did have, along with some of their other less-famous cured sausages and hams.

Little 1 euro sampler sticks for the indecisive like me

Jamon is Spanish for ham, and the slicing of the ham is a fine art in itself. The whole cured leg is usually hung up proudly for display, not just in the markets, but also in the restaurants and tapas bars.

You would think I stuffed myself silly with pork there, but actually, I had a lot more seafood. Barcelona and Seville are both coastal, and you can tell from the amount of seafood on their menus. I had the best seafood I ever had (and that's saying a lot because I grew up in Singapore!) at the Mercat (market) de La Boqueria. I was shocked, because, really, it was just plain-grilled, and then finished off with a drizzle of Spanish olive oil and sea salt, but it was amazing and just bursting with the fresh flavours of the sea.

Mind-blowing seafood platter done to perfection, not overcooked or overladen with excessive seasoning or flavourings

Oh and speaking of the market. I love to visit markets, and even in London, I still get excited every Saturday when I work at the farmers' market. I must say it's been one of the most impressive markets I've seen so far. Rows and rows of fresh vegetables and meat (including offal) and of course, the aforementioned seafood-- probably why the grill was so good.

The mushroom stall!

Just one of the maybe 20 seafood stalls there

It's not just your usual cod or salmon they sell though, often times, it's really the cheap fishes, things like sardines and the tiny oily fishes we often turn our noses up at, just simply fried up as little snacks, or tapas.

Pescadito fritos (fried little fishes)

Which brings me to the tapas. I think what was most immediately obvious about the Spanish were that they were really friendly people; everyone was like family, whether or not they've grown up together or only just spent the last five minutes together. That whole concept of tapas is based on the idea of sharing- just little plates of snacks and appetisers that everyone can all munch on over a beer and a conversation. It's not at all like a formal, stuffy dinner where no one really dares to speak much because you're busy making sure you don't accidentally open your mouth while you're chewing.

Haha. The very friendly owner at a busy tapas bar overflowing with locals all through the day and night.

Our never-ending appetite. The series of tapas we had, starting from the top left:
Croquetas, chorizo on bread, tortilla de patatas (Spanish thick potato omelette), fried sardines, and something he put a plate down of with a "Bueno!"

Oh and of course, what would Spain be without some paella! Our hostel was supposed to have a paella night on the rooftop where everyone will learn and have a hand in making paella, but disappointingly, it got cancelled ):

I got so excited when I saw that huge pan hanging in the kitchen, but, oh well.

We didn't have the chance to make it to Valencia, the birthplace of paella, but this dish is all over Spain. The most interesting one we had was the paella negra, kind of like seafood paella, but in a wicked black colour because of the squid ink.

(Black) Lip-smackingly good, but we came to the conclusion that this was not food you should order on a date, unless I find a foodie boyfriend just as greedy.

And now I need to get back to the realities of briefs and projects (yes, over the Christmas break; oh the cruel uni life!) I will still find time to do a thing or two inspired by my Spanish adventures; it should be great because the upcoming festivities are all about sharing and food and family and friends-- and that's Spain in a nutshell for me (:

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Tonkotsu Ramen Broth

After that in-depth post on making your own stock or bone broth, I think I might have given the impression that I'm really good at making perfect stock.

I'm not.

I try, and heck, to me, that's the right way! There are so many types of bone broths anyway, and the Japanese tonkotsu ramen broth is an example of how different the idea of 'perfect' is. I mentioned how in most Chinese stock/soup-making, the aim is to get a very clear and light soup. Tonkotsu broth is the opposite. It's so decadently thick and rich with the collagen and fat from pork marrow bones that you get an almost milky white broth.

The first time I tried it, I did it the way Marc Matsumoto from No Recipes suggested- mixed with chicken bones, complete with ginger, tahini, and burnt garlic (he has a really great detailed post and he's probably eaten and made a lot more ramen broths than me). Then I came across Shizuoka Gourmet, whose broth was the complete opposite, with just one ingredient: pork bones. I loved the simplicity of it. Tonkotsu broth is, after all, essentially, about pork. There's something poetic about how just putting in effort and time transforms a pile of pork bones to a delicious broth rich in flavour (and nutrients). I still kept Marc's tips on using pork leg bones for the marrow and connective tissues, and the tahini for an added nutty aroma and richness. The burnt garlic oil as a final flourish isn't a must, but it is pretty awesome.

Tonkotsu Ramen Broth/Stock
To make about 2 litres of broth base
1.5 kg pork leg bones
7 litres of water

To serve (for 1)
2 1/2 cups of broth base
1 heaped tsp tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 serving of ramen noodles
unrefined sea salt and white pepper, to taste (or use miso instead for miso tonkotsu ramen)

Toppings (up to you)
squidgy yolk hard-boiled eggs, beansprouts, seaweed, black wood ear/cloud fungus, shredded leftover pork from the bits hanging on the bones, toasted garlic and ginger, toasted sesame seeds, chopped spring onions, seaweed, black garlic oil (see below)

1. In a deep large pot, blanch the bones in boiling hot water to remove the blood and impurities. Drain the water and scrub the pot before filling with fresh water and bringing to the boil.
2. Add the bones again and keep skimming off any foam or scum, about 20 min.
3. Cover and let simmer on a low fire for 15 hours. (yes, no typo. What I did was transfer to my slow cooker, pre-heated and kept on high, through the night.)

At the start- pork leg bones, with the lovely marrow and fat we want

After 15 hours- the oil gets emulsified with the stock to get our creamy concentrated broth heaven

The bones after that - bleached dry of all their goodness

4. Filter to get your tonkotsu broth base.

5. To serve, blanch the noodles in boiling water for 1 minute or till slightly less done (as it'll continue cooking). Mix the ingredients for the soup and pour over the noodles, then top with choice of toppings. Slurp and enjoy!

The broth was deliciously rich and so creamy you'd think there was something more than just bones and water. You'll see that the latest attempt (not this photo, the one right at the start) was slightly more successful. I slurped all of them down very happily anyway, and knew right after that this was thick with collagen because my lips got all sticky. I heard from my Japanese classmate that in Japanese ramen places, you had to finish your ramen and slurp down the whole bowl of soup or you'll start getting the evil eye, so I'm just keeping up with tradition(:

You'll notice I haven't given much attention to the other components of the tonkotsu ramen. The toppings are really up to you, but purists would say the noodles are perhaps just as important as the broth. The ramen master will probably be using handmade ramen noodles, but I think I would starve if I had to start making the noodles too. I did use fresh egg spaghettini, handmade by Phil from Pimlico farmers' market...

The thing about the elusive tonkotsu ramen broth, is that there is no definite recipe to follow. It's that heavily guarded secret and the only way to get hold of it is by, I don't know, begging a ramen master to let you train under him for 20 years, or some kind of despicable means? Or you could just research and experiment yourself, which is what I did. I hope you enjoyed the recipe, but keep on visiting your favourite ramen place!

Oh and lastly, the 'burnt' garlic oil if you're interested:

Black ("Burnt") Garlic Oil
1/4 cup sesame oil
5 cloves of garlic, minced

1. Over medium low heat, toast the minced garlic in the sesame oil, stirring occasionally until it is very dark brown. Turn the heat down to low and let it cook until it is black. (I kind of chickened out and stopped at the dark brown/copper stage, see photo.)
2. Immediate transfer hot oil and garlic to a heatproof bowl, let cool completely and blitz with a hand blender until you get a uniformly black (or copper) oil. It will taste slightly bitter but is fantastic when you add just a little bit to the broth

Black garlic oil for Black Friday (:

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The 'Right' Way to Make Stock

My mum's big black stockpot over a charcoal fire

I put a guilty hand up; there have been plenty of occasions when I've had to resort to an instant stock cube. There are many good brands nowadays that are organic and yeast-free, Kallo being my go-to saviour on busy weeks. But the best stock to me is still a traditional bone broth, simmered over hours to extract not just flavour, but nutrients. I've recently discovered a neat little trick which means I can finally be less reliant on my good old friend Kallo: Freeze concentrated homemade stock in ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop them out and seal in a freezer bag – 'instant' stock cubes as and when you need them! Lightbulb moment.

Back home in Singapore, my mum makes stock almost every day, slow-cooked in a huge black claypot over a charcoal fire, with a very precise selection of bones from specific parts of specific animals for the right flavour.

Here, I do things a lot simpler.

Stock is basically just bones, simmered in water, hence also called bone broth (of course, there's also the vegetable stock i.e. onions carrots celery leeks, in a pot, about an hour). There aren't really any hard and fast rules, but read on anyway. I've got tips, and I also want to bring up Chinese stocks, which are different in many ways!

The bones and bits
You can use a leftover chicken carcass, or if you don't often buy a whole chicken because you're cooking for one, just save your bones from after you finish eating a drumstick or something. Bones that have been pre-roasted will give a "brown" stock, fresh bones will give a "white" stock. You'll also often find carcasses on sale at the farmers' market, or just ask your butcher for beef, or veal, bones, usually for free. In chinese cooking, pork bones are favoured. Yes, pig's tail. For really gelatinous broth, add chicken feet/wings/neck/pork trotters/ears/tail. For fish stock, fish heads are best.

To boil or not to boil?
The Sally Fallon method calls for the bones to sit in cold water with a tablespoon of vinegar added for an hour or so before bringing it up to a boil, to extract all the calcium and minerals.
For Chinese stock though, the first step is always to parboil the bones. That gets rid of most of the blood and impurities and makes for a cleaner, clearer stock. I prefer this, it gives a much better result, and I doubt there's much difference in the nutrient content after all those hours of simmering.

A bubbling pot of stock
is wrong.
Whether or not you parboil the bones at first, you want to bring the bones and water to a boil, and then immediately reduce to a simmer, over low heat, for the rest of the time. There should be just a tiny bit of bubbling action, think that minimal bubble stream you see from a goldfish in a tank. Keep skimming any scum that you see on top, though the parboiling step helps to reduce the amount of scum.

For how long?
The general attitude usually is, for as long as you can, if your aim is to extract everything out from the bones, flavour and nutrients-wise. I usually leave it overnight in the slow cooker on low, and the next day, the bones become useless and soft enough to crush with a spoon. But for a light Chinese broth, my mum says 3-4 hours is enough for chicken/ pork stock and only half an hour for fish stock. Fish bones are quite delicate, and you only need a short while of bare simmering to extract its goodness.*

You can add nothing, or anything, really
Suggestions for different types of stock:
1. The Western stock usually calls for onions, carrots, celery, maybe leeks or bay leaf too. I save the carrot tops and base of celery etc and freeze them to add to stocks, or even to make vegetable stock. So, repeat, it can really cost nothing.
2. The standard Chinese stock calls for garlic, ginger and/or spring onions, which helps to get rid of the undesired "smell". Sometimes a dash of rice wine, for the same reason. I think it also works as a sort of acidic medium much like Sally Fallon's vinegar, to extract nutrients. 
3. You can add nothing at all too, which is what I like to do usually because the more neutral it is, the more versatile it can be.
4.  Chinese herbs and/or vegetables like daikon/ mooli radish. We don't just make basic stocks to add to dishes; often we just make soup with bones straight away, slow-simmered with various herbs/ingredients. The Chinese call this 老火汤, literally-translated to "old fire soup". (See "Old-fire watercress & goji berry soup")

So what is good stock?
Good stock should gel when refrigerated. That's collagen that you can get much better than any collagen pill. Colour will differ based on type of stock.
In addition, if it's Chinese stock, chefs (and chinese mums) will look for stock clarity. To get that, you not only have to follow all the tips above for chinese stock, but you should ideally skim off the fat after chilling - which can be saved for cooking with. You can also use bones that come from a less fatty part of the animal, because the fat globules dispersed in the stock will 'muddy' the stock. My mum's specific blend for clear stock 清高汤 includes the bones from the back of the pig, chicken feet, chicken breast bone, and dried scallops. For rich stocks, she uses pig's tails and trotters.

This was so gelatinous it set like too-stiff jelly. The white layer on top is the hardened fat.

All in all, it doesn't matter if you make it in the 'right' way or not. All stocks make a brilliant addition to your cooking, and often don't cost anything to make! They give a boost of flavour and nutrition to everything from soups and stews, to stir-fries. I sometime replace it with water to make plain rice more exciting.  

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Steamed Eggs (Chinese Savoury Custard)

Another very homely recipe to chase away the blues.

It's really cheap and simple and has hardly any ingredients at all, and all the kids (and adults) love it. It's the Chinese household equivalent of the more known Japanese chawanmushi, the Japanese version being steamed in a pretty little cup, with all sorts of hidden goodies. The version I grew up with though, is plain and unadorned and done in a shallow steam-proof dish. The most basic version is called 蒸水蛋 i.e. "steamed water eggs", because it is literally just steaming a water-egg mixture, but using stock (my mum insists!) makes it 10x better.

The test of a good steamed egg lies in the texture. It will be soft and silky with a smooth surface, kind of like a savoury set custard. Done wrong, it will be rubbery with a a pock-marked surface-- like the ones I used to do until I went to research and properly grilled my mum.

I love this old-school fail-proof way of measuring liquid:egg ratio

Steamed Eggs
serves 1-2
2 free-range pastured eggs
6 eggshell-halves of cooled boiled water/ homemade stock (hence, size of eggs don't matter!)
white pepper + 1 tsp Shaoxing wine (opt, but again, my mum insists!)

To serve
traditionally brewed and fermented soy sauce
1 tbsp groundnut oil (or lard from happy pigs) + drizzle of toasted sesame oil
chopped spring onions (opt, as kids we'd pick them out)

1. Beat eggs well with the water/stock. Strain the mixture through a sieve to get rid of the bubbles, into a shallow (mine was about 1/2 inch deep) steam-proof dish.
2. Prepare steamer, or for a makeshift one, just set a metal rack over a pot of boiling water, making sure the metal rack is higher than the water level. Place the dish on the rack, covered with a plate or sealed with foil (my mum's style).
3. Turn to low heat, and steam for about 15 min or till set. If you're not sure, shaking the dish a little, it should be jiggly but firm. Uncover halfway first, wait for steam to escape, then fully uncover.
4. To serve, sprinkle spring onions over. Heat the oils till smoking hot. Pour over, and then dizzle the soy sauce over (adjust according to taste, you may need less if you've seasoned it with a flavourful stock). 

The oils scalds the raw spring onions to release its fragrance, and also helps the soy sauce to 'glide' smoothly over. It's what gives it the extra special something, though you could skip it if you want to go the healthy zen and Japanese route.

My mum, being my mum, will also add minced pork or fish seasoned with a bit of soy sauce and pepper, and she will use her best stock (leftover, made from simmering chicken bones and dried scallops). The one I have here is a lot less deluxe. But it's, oh gosh, so familiar and good. The eggs are just set with a delicate custardy texture, and is seasoned simply by the river of light soy sauce running through. Each spoonful of steamed egg is like a savoury scoop of home.

I think I even saw a little bit of sun peeking through the clouds just now (:

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Mum's Sesame Oil Chicken

Unfortunately, things haven't gotten better since I last posted about the power of a warm pot of chilli. I've finished one project, but am onto two new ones. It has now even started raining these days and the skies are perpetually grey. There are some things that you just crave when you feel cold, stressed, and blue, and for me, that's usually soups, stews, and my mum's cooking.

When I first came to London, I got pretty homesick in the first few months. My mum used to send me ridiculously large parcels which I complained about because the fact that they were ridiculously large meant that, for her, they were ridiculously expensive, and for me, they were ridiculously heavy (I had to carry them from the post office in the snow). Secretly though, these parcels of love made things just a little better, and though most of the things were pretty useless (she sent me toothbrushes once), some things I've still kept as treasures, one of which is a handwritten list of some of her recipes. Sesame oil chicken is one of them.

Extremely detailed instructions in a mix of Chinese and English, with tons of annotations

Mum's Sesame Oil Chicken
serves 2
2 chicken legs, cut into thighs and drumsticks (you can use whichever parts you like, but they must be bone-in)
1 tbsp ginger juice (peel, smash/grate ginger, squeeze. reserve the ginger.)
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce (traditionally brewed and fermented)
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
1 tsp unrefined cane sugar
1 tsp white pepper
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp groundnut oil

1. Marinate the chicken in the ginger juice, sesame oil and soy sauce, for about 1 hr, or even longer.

2. To a medium hot wok/pot, heat the oil, and add the reserved ginger, fry till aromatic.
3. Add the chicken pieces, drained of their marinade, to brown slightly, about 1 min, then add in the Shaoxing wine, followed by the marinade, and cook for a few more min.

4. Add in the water, cover and let simmer on low heat for 30 minutes. Serve warm with rice.

The ingredient list is really simple, just Chinese store-cupboard essentials, and the method's really simple too. But the results are so worth it. While cooking this, the kitchen filled up with the familiar heavenly aroma of ginger, sesame oil and Shaoxing wine, and the end results are just as therapeutic- tender braised chicken sitting in that fragrant broth. Thanks mummy (:

Note, you can sub the rice wine for hard liquors like DOM (especially 'warming' and great for post-natal recovery according to traditional chinese medicine, just fyi).

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Simmered Kabocha Squash with Dried Shrimps

The best part about autumn– other than the excuse to snuggle up in warm sweaters with embarrassing prints– is pumpkin and its many other squash friends. I love how they look and all their cute names: butternut squash, crown prince squash, munchkin (aw, sigh!), kabocha squash. They all taste similar to the normal pumpkin, but with slightly different textures and sweetness.

The kabocha squash is a dull green on the outside, but has a super bright orange-yellow flesh. It's got a really strong sweet flavour, and a fluffy texture in between that of a pumpkin and sweet potato, so it's ideal for this slow-simmered recipe. It's adapted from my mum's recipe i.e. it's really good but also i.e. the proportions are heavily estimated.

Simmered Kabocha Squash with Dried Shrimps
serves 2-4
1 small kabocha squash (slightly less than 1 kg), peeled and chopped into bite-sized chunks
1/4 cup of dried shrimps 
8 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
unrefined sea salt
1 tbsp groundnut oil + 1 tbsp butter from happy cows

1. Soak the dried shrimps in about a 1/2 cup of warm water for 15 minutes before cooking. Drain and reserve the soaking liquid; it will be the stock used for simmering later.
2. Over medium high heat, add the oil and butter. When foaming, saute the garlic and dried shrimps till fragrant, then add the chopped squash. Add salt, cook till slightly caramelised around the edges.
3. Add the shrimp stock, bring to a boil, lower heat, cover, and let simmer for about 15 minutes, or till squash is just tender.
4. Increase heat and let the cooking liquid reduce till it's kind of dry and even sticking to the pan a little. 

This looks really plain, perhaps even ugly, but it's delicious. I was sorely tempted to add a few sprinkles of chopped spring onion to make this look less ugly, but really, you don't need anything on this.

All the garlicky, salty, shrimpy flavour is concentrated and absorbed by the sweet kabocha squash. The edges are just coming apart and the inside is tender. Though not much to look at, the mushy bits of mashed up, slightly burnt shrimp and garlic is the best part. I love this with congee, its mild watery sweetness a perfect match to the salty candied starchiness of the squash, but have it whichever way you want, even just as is. 

If you use pumpkin, add a pinch of brown sugar. You can probably use other squashes too, but taste and adjust sugar levels accordingly.
The tablespoon of butter is my own touch– because browned butter makes the world go round. You can just use an extra tbsp of oil, or if good ol' (school) lard. 

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Half-Boiled Eggs

These are also called soft-boiled eggs in some Singapore coffeeshops and is a must-have accompaniment to kaya toast, but I don't think that's an accurate translation, because they're completely different. Instead of a solid white and a runny yolk, you have runny whites and a fake-solid yolk (it looks like a cooked yolk but gives way to delicious gooey mess once poked). I believe the Japanese have a similar thing called onsen tamago, "hot spring eggs", cooked in a very similar but more rigorous way using hot spring water.

This is much easier to make, but as with soft-boiled eggs, timing is important.

Half-Boiled Eggs
Room temperature large free range eggs
Boiling hot water

To serve
dark soy sauce, traditionally brewed and fermented
white pepper

1. Arrange eggs in one layer in a heatproof bowl or pot.
2. Pour boiling water over to cover the eggs, then cover the bowl or pot with a tight lid.
3. After 6 min (5 min for medium eggs), drain and rinse with cold water.

And now, the fun part:
4. Crack egg open and slip the egg out.

As you can see, I clumsily broke one yolk while cracking it.

5. Add a dash of soy sauce and pepper, to taste.

I know it looks like an artistic experiment, but it's delicious. The white is so so soft and slippery, and the yolk, a perfectly-formed orange bubble that bursts into a warm sticky egg-river that runs into the soy sauce river. Dip your kaya toast in it if you like, and/or just slurp the rest down, with a nice cup of coffee or tea, Singapore-style.

I'm flying tonight, back to London ): I'm going to miss all the people and food here.