Friday, September 30, 2011

Fusion dinner

Take a look at the fusion dinner I put on the table tonight.  It's my first try on every dish here and with no recipe.

Western salad: Pan-seared tuna salad crusted with roast black sesame seeds. It took me 2 minutes to cook and assemble this dish, faster than instant noodles and by far more nutritious. One ingredient food. Power food with minimum mise en place. I apply some oil on the tuna so the seeds stick. Sesame seeds from my friend TS who doesn't read my blog - THANKS!

 Fast food, upscaled! Picture looks impressive?
Next: Brown Olive Rice with Minced Pork. I apply the "wok-hei" technique that I learned in at-Sunrice and was rather pleased with the result. Husband is not big on carbo so I reduce the portion here. My skinny son went for a refill, he liked it. It's always rewarding when a fussy eater approves of your dish. Everyone complimented on this dish.

Thai or Chinese?
A new angle for the reluctant photographer.
Gorgeous olives soaked in brine from my friend - thanks, Joyce!
And finally, Monkfish en papillote with julienned vegetables. I made this up myself. Using foil, I made a bag, dumped the fish, veggies and mushrooms in, poured some white wine and seasoning, and steamed for 25 minutes. It was ok, but not as flavorful as I imagined it in my head. Looks like I need to better understand flavours and how they come together. Did you notice my beautifully julienned carrots?

Monkfish fresh from the market today

Overall a good day in the office. I cooked myself happy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Home-made peanut butter

I first heard my friend Grace talk about making her own peanut butter. She said, Did you know there's no butter in peanut butter? Then one of my kind and helpful readers sent me her recipe: 150g roasted skinless peanuts, 1 tsp (canola) oil, pinch of salt and some sugar to taste. I finally got to try it today. Here's the evidence.

Special thanks to my reader May!

Dry fry the nuts. Don't need oil here. Keep them moving as they burn easily.
Brown and fragrant after a few minutes.
Lay them out single layer to cool. Admire your flowers while waiting.
Paying for my mistake. Should have bought the skinless ones.
This task was tedious and unsexy.
And now for the fun bit
After 1 minute
After 2 minutes
Ready! Unbelievably easy.
Store in a clean sterilised container.
I wanted to try it on this bread I grew up with.
A tad dry. Not creamy like the commercial ones but smells and tastes good.
I checked the ingredients on the store-bought ones - not as bad as
I thought they were. Think I just might continue to buy these.

Word of the Week: Confit

This is in my culinary to-do list
Confit (pronounced Con-fee) is a way of preserving food through slow cooking. It is a generic term for food that have been immersed in a substance for both flavour and preservation. It comes from the French word, Confire, which means to preserve. It was first applied in medieval times to fruits cooked and preserved in sugar. Sealed and stored in a cool place, confit can last for several months. 

I am going to try to make duck confit one of these days. Yes, still learning to cook, one disaster at a time.

Afternote: click here to find all my exciting duck posts including sous vide duck breast and home made duck confit.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Blender giveaways - results

I posted last week that I had 2 blenders to give away. I'm delighted to announce 2 complete-strangers-turned-blogger-friends who meet the criteria. Ms Han Ker baked a banana tea bread recipe while Ms Tricia cooked the dal makhani recipe (lentils stewed in tomato and butter). They both posted their pictures on my wall which I am re-posting here.

Ladies, congratulations! And please contact me via email on arrangements to send the blenders to you.

Check out Ms Han Ker's blog for amazing Angry Bird cupcakes!
Ms Tricia gets a big pat on the back for trying out this 20-ingredient recipe!

Minced chicken and tofu wrapped in cabbage leaves

Rather pleased that I did this all by myself without any chef or mom supervision or assistance. It's a miracle the thing didn't disintegrate but remained faithfully intact throughout the cooking process. Taste is decent too. Here's the recipe for those who are interested.

Verdict: It's easier than it looks. Nutritious and healthy too. Truly Asia.

Send this to a friend and try it out at your next cook-out!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Quick and easy home-made hainanese chicken rice

My virgin Papillote

I read a few food blogs about making "short-cut" chicken rice at home and decided to try it today. It's very simple for those who don't cook, don't have chicken stock, don't know how to cut up a chicken, don't even have a wok, don't like too much cleaning-up, etc.. 

The good things about homemade chicken rice are numerous - you can choose to use free range chicken (kampung chicken), use less salt, minimise use of animal fat, and eliminate MSG altogether. And yet the original taste is still pretty much intact! 

Try this:

Use 2-3 chicken thighs with skin on. Rub with salt and set aside for at least 30 min. 
Soak rice in water for 15 min.
Using rice cooker, heat oil in cooker, saute ginger slices and minced garlic till fragrant.
Add rice to cook as you normally would. You can add a pinch of salt and turmeric powder which gives the rice a very faint tinge of yellow. 
Place chicken thighs in one layer on top of rice.
You can prepare a dipping sauce of light soy sauce, sesame oil, a clove of minced garlic and grated ginger to drizzle over the chicken when ready. But this is optional. I didn't need to use this.
Garnish with tomatoes, cucumber, coriander. 
And you're done!

I had 2 extra chicken thighs and decided to try a Papillote (pah-pee-yot), basically using parchment paper to steam food so as to keep it moist and retain the flavorful juices. I pour some light soy sauce, sesame oil and throw some minced garlic and few ginger slices in. Half an hour later, I got kids snatching the meat from each other. Tasted even better than those in the rice cooker as they are massively moist. It's my first Papillote and I'm pleased with the results proportionate to the effort level required.

Took a quick shot when we were halfway through!
Verdict: A homemade healthier version of something not too healthy but very popular. I made a prawn mango salad to balance this carbo-heavy dish. I was happy to be eating free range chicken - I don't know of anyone who sells chicken rice in Singapore using free range chicken.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Retraining my palate

Banana cake suitable for diabetics

Baked a banana cake yesterday using half the sugar in the recipe. I defied advice from bakers who said the amount of sugar is there for a purpose, your cake may not rise as well, you may not get the texture you're looking for, etc..

It tasted bland at first bite but today, my palate adjusted and I could taste the sweetness from the fruit. Maybe I need to restore my tastebuds and retrain it from years of abuse by bad food that is easily available all over. A banana cake should taste of essentially bananas, the star ingredient. Everything else is secondary. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Blender give-aways

I have 2 blenders to give away to anyone based in Singapore. It goes to the first person to try any of the recipes in this blog and post a picture of the dish on my facebook page 

Or if you know of a less fortunate family or the under privileged who could benefit from having this, please let me know and I will happily send this to them. 

Afternote: please see who the winners are here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dal Makhani cooked in Chinese home with Dutch oven

My Dal Makhani that smells and looks more like baked beans for Western breakfast
I learned this dish in at-Sunrice culinary school from an Indian chef. Click here to see how he taught us. It's called Dal Makhani meaning lentils stewed with butter and tomato. The cooking method and process is simple and straightforward but the preparation for the ingredients was something else. You can see from the recipe here that there are almost 20 ingredients in this dal. Especially for someone like me in a Chinese home where such ingredients are not common, I procrastinated on this dish just thinking of the massive mise en place needed. Until today.

What you see here are just half of the ingredients needed!
Clockwise from top left: Kidney beans, bay leaf, channa, urad, cumin,
Kashmiri chilli powder (more for colour than kick), tomato paste, ghee
(which I didn't use in the end), cloves, cinnamon sticks, cardamon, fenugreek 
The beans are soaked overnight and boiled for a good 2 hours.
My beans were soft but not disintegrated enough.
They smelled good during the boil.

I used my Dutch oven and I tried to do a step-by-step photography and my camera almost ended up in the stew. It almost became Dal MaCanon! 

The beans are still very much in its individual state. Maybe this may look more like authentic dal tomorrow
when I reheat it. The taste is not too bad, except I may have used a little too much tomato paste and it smelled like oxtail stew and looked like baked beans.
I think garnishing is particularly important in Indian cuisine where everything tastes great when they're all mashed together. Here, I pick some fresh basil from my garden.

Need another attempt on this dish and I should be ready for Diwali. Meanwhile, read this on the numerous benefits of Indian herbs and spices and see if you'll be more tempted to try this recipe.

Word of the Week: Chiffonade


A chiffonade is a technique in which herbs or leafy green vegetables are stacked, rolled and cut into thin, long strips or fine ribbons to add flavour and elegance to a dish. I've seen my chef do it during my restaurant internship. I've enjoyed being a witness to how a heavily-tattooed guy could suddenly become so tender with the herbs. He did it with a sort of finesse and gentleness, transforming himself to another being different from the one clinking-clanking pots and pans. It's not an exaggeration to say he's almost like a ballerina in motion- so smooth and graceful.

Since then, I've tried to chiffonade on my own. Definitely needs more practice but I enjoy doing a copy-cat of my chef. See my chiffonade below.

Place each basil leaf on top of another.
Roll them cylindrical
Gently roll the top of your knife and in a rocking fashion, slice them into ribbons.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Moonblush tomatoes - the easiest thing on planet earth

Sunblush cheery cherry tomatoes - it's like eating vitamins!
I read about this on a few websites and decided to try it today. It is the easiest thing on planet earth to cook in an oven. Preheat oven to 220C, cut tomatoes, sprinkle sea salt, olive oil, dried thyme, and then... turn off the oven and go to bed, leave them in there all night and they're ready when you wake up. Moonblush.

I tried it in the day, so this is my Sunblush tomatoes. I left them alone for about 6 hours. Here are more pictures just to play with my camera a little bit more. 

Placed face up on aluminium foil with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, dried thyme. Some people add sugar but I like to taste food for its natural sweetness.
I like this angle to show the thyme.
World's easiest salad. And you save on your electricity bill too.
I did sprinkle some freshly ground black pepper for added taste.

Why wouldn't anyone try this?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Living Room Talk #2: Of Two Dips and A Slip

I prepared 3 dips last night for our second living room talk, none of which I have pictures to show. Two of the dips received good feedback and drew a couple of I-must-try-this-at-home which I like. The third left much to be desired.

Dip number 1 is a guacamole and as it turned out, I found out by chance that yesterday was National Guacamole Day according to the LA Times. Is there even such a thing and where? We should have a National Curry Day in Singapore. I mashed an overripe avocado - you can tell it's overripe by the purplish colour on the outside and it feels soft if you press it gently. Add a hard boiled egg, spring onions, mayonnaise, and lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Ten minutes end-to-end. No need for a blender. This, everyone liked.

The second is a classic Middle Eastern humuus consisting of a can of chick peas (drained and rinsed), tahini or sesame paste, pictured here, olive oil, a tad of grounded cumin, some lemon squeeze and a pinch of salt. This also seemed also popular given that I had a pile and it finished before the night was over.

The third and last item was more of a slip than a dip. I tried for the first time an eggplant mash. Grilled it at 275C till the skin blistered. This took about 15 minutes. Apparently, this was not long enough to have eggplant soft enough to be mashed. I resorted to blending it which I was told later was a mistake and you don't do that to eggplants. So the taste was somewhat bitter and raw. I tried to salvage it with some expensive sea salt flakes. It helped somewhat but came nowhere near the success of its 2 partners.

As for the talk, Dennis shared openly and with candour his past 6 years' journey as an entrepreneur in building and focused his story around 3 main themes - Uncertainty, Humility and Being at the right place at the right time. I can relate to these even in my culinary venture. He must have taken some 50 questions from the group and we saw our last guests leave at 1am! 

An insightful speaker, a deeply engaging group, 2 good dips and one happy host. Look out for the next session on October 8. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

This is what food should do for you.

Chocolate doesn't make the world go round, but it sure makes the ride worthwhile.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Too shy, shy, hush, hush, ai doo ai

A lazy, rainy afternoon and as I reflect on my earlier food postings, I have to confess that I feel somewhat embarrassed that I had the guts to post them, wahahaha! Not saying which ones but the temptation to remove them is strong.

OK, I think I'll leave them there, if nothing, just for a good laugh, every now and then. They're good to remind me of one key underlying message I have consistently shared in every post - it's about doing it. Just cook, just bake, things can go haywire, the kitchen can be on fire, and you get weekly burnt marks, it doesn't matter. Just do it. If things go terribly wrong in your dinner party, just grit your teeth, smile and do it again tomorrow.

I also want to let my children know they don't have a perfect mom and they don't have to try to be perfect to me. Nothing they can do can make me love them less and nothing they need to do to make me love them more. (Got that?)

The positive way to look at these posts of course is to say I must have made some small culinary progress since I started the blog. But truly, such naive audacity and misplaced confidence is embarrassingly funny. I can only laugh at myself, this extra virgin chef.

Culinarily yours,

Living Room Talks

I organised our first living room talk more than a month ago with Esther as the speaker. Esther had just scaled the Everest and she kindly agreed to share her experience with us in the comfort of my living room. We opened the forum to youths - just our nieces, nephews, friends' children - and received very positive feedback on the session. It attracted quite a few serious athletes and extreme sports enthusiasts as well.

The second talk will be this Saturday, 17 September 2011 by a successful local entrepreneur who has spoken to hundreds of restaurant owners in the past 6 years in the course of bbuilding his own business and  knows well what it takes to succeed in the F&B business here in Singapore. Check out his website which you may have been a user of or have heard of it before.

A third talk in the line-up will be by Eli, my Israeli classmate from the culinary school. Besides doing a hands-on demo of how a typical Jewish pita bread is baked, Eli will also share more on Jewish culture and history. We'll keep the politics out. We are looking at 8 October for this talk. Hands up, those who are interested and can make it on that day.

I can't promise this will be a regular feature but am going with the flow of opportunities for now. If you know of anyone who has an interesting, inspiring story to share, do send them here!

Word of the Week: Mirepoix

According to my research, this term mirepoix
dates back to the 18th century!
Even though school is over (at least for now), I intend to continue with the weekly Word of the Week learning process that I have been used to for the past 8 Wednesdays. So far, the words I have shared with you are:

Today's word is Mirepoix. Pronounced meer-pwah, it simply means a combination of onions, carrots and salary celery (sorry, a Freudian slip there). Is there a plural to celery? Celeries?

This holy trinity combi is the flavour base for a wide number of dishes such as stocks, stews, soups and sauces. This picture is dated almost a year ago. I had instinctively used these 3 ingredients together without realising there is a culinary term that bundles them. How interesting.

See my picture of a mirepoix + leek here. Yes, photography skills improving!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Practical Exams: Steamed Chicken Leg & Stewed Chicken with Mushrooms and Chestnut

Steamed chicken leg. Low interest = no practise = panic!
No one told me this was to be included in the practical as well! Alamak!
I walked into school this morning feeling somewhat anxious about the practical exams as I had not really practised on the dish. Even though today was the last day of school, I could not quite feel relaxed yet because of the exams. To make matters worse, I realised an hour before that we would be tested on two dishes, not one! How could I have missed that? Super blurr!

The first dish is Chinese steamed chicken leg which I have some fair idea of the process but was concerned about how to debone it. At midnight last night, I googled "How to debone a chicken thigh". I saw a video on Youtube of a youth showing off his deboning skills to his hostel mates so I figured it can't be all that difficult, and all I needed was more confidence.

The second dish - stewed chicken in mushroom and chestnut - was not one of my favourites during class and so I didn't pay too close attention to it. In fact, I didn't even blog about it so you can tell it figured very low on my personal radar. So naturally, my heart skipped when I realised this was also to be included in the exams! In complete honesty, I thought about whether I should pretend to suddenly fall sick, LOL. I think I understand better what my children go through everyday in school now. 

Being in kindergarten, we were given 1.5 hours to complete these 2 dishes. I had to whisper a quick prayer for myself and told God that I would place my confidence in His goodness and grace and not on my limited skills.

At 12.15pm sharp, when the deadline was up, I presented both dishes to Chef. With a sense of pride in my work! Many things happened for me in those 90 minutes. I surpassed myself in deboning a chicken thigh, I had a better appreciation of the stew dish, and I learned to taste and adjust my seasoning as I went along in the dish preparation. There was a connection with the sauces and a new respect for each ingredient, never experienced before. Chef's previous comment on "You have no idea what a garlic means to me" came to mind. 

Chef checked on the colour and texture of my simmered sauce, then he cut a small piece of chicken and placed in his mouth and chewed slowly. With eyebrows raised, he smacked his lips and asked me what I thought as he ran his spoon under running water. I confidently said I personally liked the taste which was true. He said, "Some people may find your stew too dry especially if you don't serve it immediately. But I personally like stew this way. In fact, I like it alot. The flavour is well balanced. The sauce is not starchy. Colour is just right. Good work."

On the steamed leg, he almost choked, LOL. He said the ginger was too overpowering and advised me to cut down on that next time. He had to reach for some water immediately! Everything else was good, the gelatin was flavorful, the chicken was properly blanched, steamed, deboned, chopped and presented. So I scored 28/30 marks for practical, and for yesterday's oral, I scored full marks. 

One actually learns even while taking exams!

Culinary Kindergarten Graduation

Today, I graduated from Culinary Kindergarten. There was a strong sense of nostalgia in the room since we had spent so much time together for the past 2 months. I was asked to represent my class to give a little farewell speech. Surprisingly for a critic like me, I was amazingly complimentary of the school, the course and the overall experience.

I created a little photo slideshow to reflect on our time here in at-Sunrice Global Chef Academy and to have a collection of the main dishes we learned to make. The school arranged for this to be shown at the farewell ceremony and it was well received.

Question now for me personally is, what next.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

A quick salad dressing

A vinaigrette dressing in its simplest form consists of olive oil and lime juice. Here, I add honey, wasabi, salt, spring onion and shallot. And I have some cherry tomatoes to get rid of, so these go in as well. Took me 3 minutes to assemble this. It's good to use a glass jar for easy mixing and storing.

I plan to use this dressing for a prawn mango salad tonight. I don't have avocado but I figured I can get by with just the prawns and the mango. I also remember in our portioning class that it's about 25g of greens per head and I have prepared 3 portions tonight of baby spinach and mixed greens. Quick, fast, cheap, healthy.

Sometimes, I use high end stuff and some days, I just use
anything I can get my hands on.