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Category: Recipes (page 1 of 9)

Kimchi tofu gyoza

I have this obsession with freezing food–as long as it can be frozen, I will freeze it. So in my tiny freezer, it is cramped with soup stock, duck fat, ramen, meyer lemon cream and a giant bag of homemade gyoza. The possibility of me starving to death is rather low.

Among my frozen (food) stock, one of my favourites is gyoza. They are great as late night snacks, and help to pimp up lacklustre meals. I only started making my own gyoza a few months ago, and I obsessed in getting the pleat right for the dumplings (at this stage, you might detect my OCD nature). Wrapping gyoza was easier than I expected–as long as you do not mind a few deformed looking ones.

Kimchi and tofu are my favourite fillings for gyoza. My homemade kimchi is slightly spicy and tangy and its flavours are absorbed by the firm tofu. There is a certain lightness in the kimchi tofu gyoza–you do not get too filled up as compared to meat-filled gyoza. So you do not feel guilty from eating them as supper.

Kimchi tofu gyoza
If you have fears in getting the pleat right for the gyoza, you don’t have to fret about it. You can keep things simple by just folding them. As long as they are delicious, no one will care how they look. But if you are really determined to make the pleat right, go to YouTube and do a search–there are many videos demonstrating the folding of gyoza.

Makes about 24 gyoza

Ingredients
1 packet of dumpling skin (round shaped)
300g kimchi, drain any excess liquid and roughly chop
200g firm tofu (tau kwa) (this is about one piece of tofu)
15g corn flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
1 egg, lightly beaten

Methods
-            Cut the tau kwa into small pieces and place them on a cheese cloth or a clean tea towel. Take the ends of the cloth/ towel and squeeze out all the liquid in the tau kwa. Once done, put the tau kwa in a large bowl.
-            In the large bowl, add in the rest of the ingredients and mix well. You can pan fried a bit of the filling to check on the seasoning. You might need more sugar as store bought kimchi tend to be on the sour side.
-            Once the filling is ready, it is time to wrap (at this point, prepare a bowl of water and set aside)! Place one dumpling skin onto the palm of your hand, using a teaspoon, scoop the filling and place it in the middle. Don’t go overzealous with the filling–when you wrap, the filling might leak out. Spread the filling, leaving the edge of the skin alone. Dip one of your fingers in the bowl of water, and wet the edge of the dumpling skin. At the lower half of the dumpling, hold the middle and fold. Press the middle of the skin and hold it with your thumb (the thumb is from the hand that is holding the gyoza). Start folding one side of the gyoza. Repeat for the other side.
-            To cook, place a large frying pan (make sure the pan comes with a lid) over medium heat and add one tablespoon of vegetable oil. Once the pan is heat, place the gyoza in the pan. As the gyoza began to cook, add in half a cup of water (if you are using a smaller pan, you might not need so much water) and cover. Let the gyoza cook for around 5-7 minutes and remove lid. If there is still water in the pan, just the gyoza continue to cook until the water evaporated. Once all the water is gone, check the bottom of the gyoza, it should be browned and crisp. If not, leave them in the pan for a few more minutes.
-            Once the gyoza are cooked, remove and eat!
-            If you intend to freeze your gyoza, flour a baking tray and place the gyoza onto the tray. Once done, stick the tray in the freezer. Once the gyoza are frozen, remove from the tray and place them into a freezer bag. They can be kept for up to 3 months.

Maneesh

I am a bread snob. It all started when I made my first loaf of bread. I realised that making bread can be really easy or really tough. Whatever techniques that I choose to use, the result is (almost) the same–I got myself a beautifully baked, chewy and delicious loaf of bread.

Bread, when made without preservative, goes stale really fast–the next day to be exact. And this also means how much preservatives are added to our supermarket’s bread to extend its shelf life. I do admit that to make a good loaf of bread takes time, effort and perhaps techniques. However once you have tasted your fruit of labour, you will not go back (I think, I hope).

Maneesh is currently my favourite bread to make. You do not have to knead for a long time and it uses one of my favourite condiments–za’atar. Za’atar is a type of herb that is related to the oregano and thyme family. It is also the name for a blend of herb and spice which made up of thyme, sumac, sesame seeds and so on. In my case, I am using the latter. Maneesh is a great accompaniment to dips such as baba ganoush, labneh, and hummus. Of course, it is delicious on its own.

Maneesh
(Adapted from Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake)
If you are not making maneesh for a big group, you can easily half the recipe. Like most bread, this is best eaten on the day it is made.

Ingredients
1)       500g strong white bread flour
2)       10g salt
3)       25g caster sugar
4)       10g instant yeast
5)       320ml tepid water (room temperature)
6)       3 tablespoons za’atar
7)       Olive oil

Methods
-            In a large-sized bowl or stand mixer bowl, add in the flour. Place salt and sugar at one end of the bowl and the yeast at the other end. If the yeast comes in contact with the salt, it will lose its ability to be “activated”.
-            Add in ¾ of the water, and using either your hands or stand mixer (dough hook, medium speed) and start mixing. What you want to achieve is a soft dough. Hence you may or may not need to use all the water. The side of the bowl should be clean and the dough should be soft and not shaggy.
-            If you are using a stand mixer, lightly coat the side of the bowl with olive oil. On medium speed (dough hook), work the dough for about 10 minutes until you get a soft and smooth skin. If you are using your hands, oil your work surface and knead the dough for around 10-15 minutes until you get a soft and smooth skin. Once you achieve the right texture, place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover and let it proof for at least 1 hour.
-            Line 3-4 baking trays with parchment paper or silicone pat.
-            Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a lightly oiled work surface. Knead the dough for a minute to knock all the air. Once done, divide the dough into 3 equal pieces, and roll each into a large circle around 30cm in diameter. You can also divide the dough into 10 equal pieces and roll each piece into a circle. If you are not good at dividing the dough, use a scale (I do! Oh I also standby a calculator too.).
-            Place the rolled flat dough onto the baking trays, and cover them with cling wrap and proof for about 20 minutes. While the dough is proofing, preheat you oven to 230oC and make the topping for the bread. In a small bowl, mix the za’atar with enough olive oil to make a thick paste.
-            Once the dough is proofed, lightly brush each piece with olive oil. Using your hands, lightly spread the za’atar topping on each piece. Bake for 20-25 minutes minutes (For smaller pieces, bake for 15 minutes) or until golden brown.
-            Cool on a wire rack.

Roast chicken with sumac, za’atar and lemon (and yes, a new website. FINALLY!)

Welcome to my new site, oink! I have been planning for this website since the beginning of last year. Obviously efficiency is not in my blood. After almost two years, I finally got the site published. And I couldn’t have done it without some help. Big thanks to Amy (aka Pikaland) for helping me with ideas for the site and editing my profile. And big hugs to Serene, the genius developer behind the site whose efficiency never failed to impress me and so very patient to answer all my idiotic questions on data migration, hosting and blah blah (for your information, she is still entertaining my not very clever questions).

There is still one more thing that I am adding to the site *cough, online store* which will take me a while (read: a very long time) to get that going. In the meantime, I am going to celebrate the launch of the site with a roast chicken recipe. I am a huge fan of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi – this dynamic duo’s recipes are easy to follow, and most importantly their food is delicious.

For this particular recipe, it is unlike the usual roast chicken that we are familiar with, this one is lemony, fragrant and really addictive. It is really great over a plate of rice or have it with some warm bread (I made maneesh, and I will share the recipe in the next post). I also made some sort of rice porridge with the leftover and it was strangely comforting.

Roast chicken with sumac, za’atar and lemon
(Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Ottolenghi, The Cookbook)
I made quite a far bit of changes to the recipe. Originally it is suggested to use a whole chicken–me being Asian, I favour chicken legs and thighs. Za’atar is not a common mixed herbs that you can find in the supermarket (I got mine from Overdoughs). However you can easily make it at home. And sumac is readily available in good supermarkets like Jason’s and Marketplace (Overdoughs also stocks sumac).

Serves 4

Ingredients
1) 8 pieces of chicken legs and thighs
2) 2 red onion, thinly sliced
3) 2 cloves of garlic, crush
4) 4 tablespoon olive oil
5) 1½ teaspoon ground allspice*
6) 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
7) 1 tablespoon sumac
8) 1 lemon, thinly sliced
9) 200ml of water
10) 1½ teaspoon (kosher) salt
11) 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12) 2 tablespoon za’atar

Methods
-            In a large bowl, add in the red onion, garlic, olive oil, allspice, cinnamon, sumac, lemon, salt, pepper and water, and mix well. Place the marinade in a ziplock bag, add in the chicken and seal the bag. Move the chicken pieces around to ensure every piece is well coated. Place the bag in the fridge and leave it overnight.
-            Preheat the oven to 200oC. Using a large tray, place the chicken pieces and marinade. Space the chicken pieces apart and skin side up. Before putting the tray in the oven, sprinkle the za’atar over the chicken. Bake the chicken for around 30-40 minutes.
-            Once the chicken is done, finish with a drizzle of olive oil, and sprinkle a bit more za’atar and sumac.

*Allspice is a spice (a type of pepper). Allspice is often mistaken as mixed spice.

A different kind of curry – Burmese’s traveller’s eggplant curry

When we think about curry, we are dreaming of this thick, golden brown liquid that embodies a lot of spices and heat. Burmese’s curry is the exact opposite–it is usually quite thin (and at times, hardly any liquid), and contained very little spices. However it does not mean Burmese’s curry ain’t tasty.

The traveller’s eggplant curry is quite easy to prepare. And it doesn’t take too long to cook. I was rather surprised when I first tasted this curry. When I looked at the gravy, I thought it will taste boring. No! You get the fragrance from the shallot and anchovies, and all the flavours are soaked up by the eggplants. This dish is actually quite rich but the acid from the tomatoes help to tone it down.

Because the curry is not chock-full of spices and chillies, you can still taste the flavours of the core ingredient. And for those who fear of heat in their food, Burmese’s curry is a good place to start. It is now a staple at my dinner table.

Traveller’s Eggplant Curry
(Adapted from Naomi Dugid’s Burma: Rivers of Flavor)
I love eggplants but I always fear of eating really bitter ones. Initially I was thinking of salting the eggplants before cooking (to get rid of any bitter liquid). It was not necessary at all. As long as the eggplants are well-cooked, the sweetness from the anchovies will penetrate into them.

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a side

Ingredients
1)      250g eggplants, cut into ¾” cubes (lengthwise)
2)      ¼ cup minced shallots (around 6-8 cloves of baby shallots)
3)      ½ teaspoon minced ginger (around one small thumb size)
4)      ¼ cup minced tomatoes (1 medium size tomato)
5)      1½ tablespoons dried anchovies, soak in warm water for 5 minutes, drained and minced
6)      1½ tablespoons vegetable oil
7)      A good pinch of turmeric (I used half of 1/8 teaspoon)
8)      ½ cup of warm water
9)      Salt
10)   Fish sauce (optional)
11)   Chilli oil (optional)

Methods
-        Place a medium-sized saucepan or wok over medium low heat, and add in the oil and turmeric. Once the turmeric starts to sizzle, throw in the minced shallots. Do a quick stir and ensure the shallots are all coated in the turmeric oil mixture.
-        Stir shallots occasionally for around 3 minutes. Once soften, add in the minced ginger and tomatoes, and cook for another 3-4 minutes. If the mixture looks a bit dry, you can in a few tablespoons of water.
-        Once the ginger softens, add in the eggplants. Stir and make sure that the eggplants are well coated in the tomato mixture.
-        Once the eggplants are coated, add in the minced anchovies and water. At this stage, increase the heat to medium high, and let the curry comes to a boil. Once boiled, lower the heat to low and let it simmer for 5 minutes.
-        After 5 minutes, season the curry with salt, fish sauce and chilli oil (if using) accordingly to taste.
-        Once seasoned, let the curry cooks for another 15 minutes. If you like your eggplants to be very soft, let the curry cooks for a further 15 minutes. I prefer mine to retain a bite.
-        At this stage, you can adjust the seasoning accordingly to taste. I usually just add a bit more water so that I can have more gravy. Once seasoned, serve warm with rice.

Chicken soup for the soul

For those who came to this blog, and found there is no update, I AM SORRY! After the Chinese New Year, work and school just start to pile. But I finally completed my course and got my certificate. Hooray! Hopefully this also means my schedule will be back to normal soon.

For the past three months, I barely cook. Even if I do, it is simple, fill-up-the-tummy kind of grub. I was craving for chicken soup for a very long time. My friend, C and B, insisted that homemade chicken soup is the best. Me, being a lazy bugger and a supporter of instant stock, just couldn’t get my act together. But miracles do happen. I went to the supermarket and bought a chicken.

There are many ways to prepare chicken stock. My method is a combination of eastern and western style. The big difference between homemade and instant is that the latter has a stronger, more intense flavour. The former is lighter and very drinkable. The portion I made is quite small, you can double the recipe and freeze any leftover.

Chicken stock

Makes 1.5 litres of stock

Ingredients
1)      1 whole (cleaned) chicken carcass* (I like to use Sakura chicken which is available via NTUC)
2)      1 piece of chicken breast (optional)
3)      1 small onion, thinly slice
4)      1 small carrot, ¼” thick dice (½ cup of diced carrots)
5)      1 small leek, ¼” thick slice (¼ cup of sliced leeks)
6)      200g enoki mushrooms, trim the ends off and separate (optional)
7)      2 litres of hot (filtered) water
8)      2 dried bay leaves
9)      1 sprig of thyme
10)   ½ lemon (optional)
11)   2 teaspoons vegetable oil
12)   Salt and black pepper

Methods
-        Place the chicken carcass and chicken breast (if using) in a large pot and cover it with cold water (you can use normal tap water for this stage). Place the pot over medium-high heat. Once the water starts to boil, and scum begins to form at the edge of the pot, remove the pot from heat.
-        Remove the chicken carcass and chicken breast (if using) and place it on a plate. Set aside. Drain the water from the pot.
-        Shred the chicken breast into small pieces and place it on a plate (where the chicken carcass is) and set aside.
-        Using the same pot, add in the vegetable oil and place it over low-medium heat. Once the oil is heated, add in the onion, bay leaves and thyme, and gently sweat the onion. Stir the pot occasionally. This is to gently soften the onion. If you notice that the onions are starting to brown, you can add in a few teaspoons of water to stop the browning.
-        Once the onion is soften, add in the carrots and leeks and continue to cook them for 5 minutes. At this stage, you can season the vegetables with a good sprinkle of salt.
-        As the vegetables start to soften, add in the chicken carcass and the hot water, and reduce the heat to low. Let the stock simmer for at least 30 minutes.
-        While the stock is simmering, remove any excess scum and oil with a ladle or a skimming spoon.
-        Taste the stock and add in salt and pepper.
-        At the last 15 minutes of cooking, add in the lemon if using.
-        Before turning the heat off, using a pair of tongs or chopsticks, squeeze the lemon. Remove the chicken carcass, bay leaves and thyme. Taste and season accordingly.
-        If you are using the stock for risotto or any dishes, there is no need to add in enoki mushroom and chicken breast. Pass the stock through a sieve to remove the vegetables and use the stock accordingly. Any leftover stock can be kept in the freezer for up to 1 month
-        To transform the stock to chicken soup, add in the enoki mushroom and shredded chicken breast at the last 15 minutes of cooking. To bulk up the chicken soup, you can add in cooked lentils or pasta.

*If you do not want to buy a whole chicken, you can keep the bones from leftover roast chicken. You can also buy chicken carcass from both wet market and supermarket.

I cooked my first plate of Pad Thai

When it comes to Thai food, I always rely on bottled pastes (McCormick used to make the best Thai green curry paste) and Nakhon Kitchen which is opposite my house. It has never crossed my mind to cook Thai food at home.

As the queue at Nakhon Kitchen gets ridiculously long (at all times), I decided it is time I learn more about Thai cuisine. I started with the simple and basic Pad Thai. Pad Thai is essentially a quick stir-fry rice noodles dish. When I was in university, I would buy those Pad Thai mix from the supermarket. I remembered the sauce was thick, dark and sticky. The finished product was a heavily sauced noodles.

A good Pad Thai should embody spiceness (chilli powder), sourness (tamarind), sweetness (palm sugar) and saltiness (fish sauce). The end result is a flavourful, substantial plate of noodles. I also did my research on Pad Thai, and realised everyone has their own version for the sauce, preparation of the noodles and so on. The first time I cooked Pad Thai, I felt it was lacking acidity. I made some adjustments and was quite happy with my second attempt. I am glad that Pad Thai has made it into my small repertoire of dishes that I know how to cook.

Pad Thai
(Adapted from David Thompson’s Thai Street Food)

Serves 2

Ingredients
1)      100g dried thin rice noodles (rice sticks)
2)      4 shallots, coarsely chopped with a pinch of salt
3)      2 eggs, cracked and whisked
4)      3 tablespoons vegetable oil or peanut oil
5)      ½ teaspoon chye poh, rinsed and dried (salted radish)
6)      100g firm beancurd, cut into small squares (I like to use Unicurd tau kwa that is specifically for tahu goreng)
7)      10 shelled prawns (optional; if you want to keep the dish vegetarian, omit them)
8)      A handful Chinese chives or ku chye (around 4 stalks), cut into 1” length
9)      A small handful cashew nuts, roasted, and coarsely chopped
10)   1 lime, cut into wedges (optional)
11)   Chilli powder (optional)

Sauce
1)      2 tablespoons brown sugar
2)      2 tablespoons tamarind water*
3)      1 tablespoon fish sauce (if you want to keep the dish vegetarian, use soya sauce)
4)      Dash of white vinegar
5)      1-2 tablespoons of water

Methods
-        In a large bowl, soak the dried rice noodles in cold water for about 15 minutes or until they have soften (make sure the noodles are completely covered in water).
-        While the noodles are soaking, you can start to prepare the sauce. In a small bowl, mix the sugar, tamarind water, vinegar, fish sauce (or soya sauce) and 1-2 tablespoons of water. Mix until the sugar has dissolved and taste. The sauce should be balanced. If need to, adjust the flavour accordingly – sweetness (sugar), saltiness (fish sauce/ soya sauce), and sourness (vinegar or tamarind water). Set aside.
-        Once the noodles starts to soften, bring a pot of water to boil.
-        Drain the noodles and add them in the pot of boiling water for less than a minute. The noodles should have firmness, and not mushy. Once cooked, drain the noodles and set aside. This will help to prevent the noodles from clumping when being stir-fried.
-        Place a wok over a medium heat. Add in the oil and let it heat up. Once the oil is heated, add in the shallots and fry them until they soften, coloured and develop fragrance. Once the shallots are soften, add in the prawns (if using).
-        Once the prawns are added, pour in the eggs. Like cooking an omelette, tilt the wok and using a spatula, push the egg inwards so that the egg that is seated inside will be moved and get cooked.
-        While the egg is still runny, increase the heat to medium-high, and add in the drained noodles. Fry for about 30 seconds and at the same time, break the eggs using the spatula. Add in the sauce, and fry the noodles to ensure the sauce is evenly distributed.
-        Once the sauce is absorbed by the noodles (it should take less than a minute), add in the beancurd, chye poh and ¾ of the cashew nuts, and continue to fry the noodles until it is almost dry. At that stage, add in the Chinese chye and fry for a few seconds.
-        To serve, divide the Pad Thai into 2 plates and garnish with the remainder cashew nuts, roasted chilli powder and lime wedges.

*To obtain tamarind water, you will need 2 tablespoons of tamarind pulp and 2 tablespoons of warm water. This should yield around 3 tablespoons of tamarind water. Before mixing the tamarind pulp in the water, rinse the pulp to remove any surface yeast. Once rinsed, mix the tamarind pulp with the water and let it soak for a few minutes. Once the pulp is soften, using a spoon, smash the pulp so that it dissolves in the water. Pass the mixture through a sift, and using the same spoon, squeeze out as much juice as possible. Don’t be terribly worried if the tamarind water is rather thick, you can easily dilute it with water. Any leftover tamarind water can be kept in an airtight container and place in the fridge for 2 days.

It’s Honey Boo Boo Day!

I am a huge fan of Alana Thompson aka Honey Boo Boo Child. For those who are unfamiliar with Alana, she is a 7-year old girl who lives in McIntyre, Georgia and loves to participate in beauty pageants. She was first featured in TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras. And she was such a hit that TLC decided to do a spin-off called Here Comes Honey Boo Boo Child which features Alana’s everyday life and her family.

When I first watched snippets of this show, I was actually pretty annoyed by this family. They were so loud. And I just gave up watching. With the encouragement from friends (you can tell my standard for friends is pretty low), I persevere and I fall in love with this show. A little disclaimer here – not everyone will like the show. I have friends who are amazed such families exist. For me, the reason why I like the show is that Alana and her family look genuine. Their conversations, actions may seem weird but they sound and look real. Most importantly, there is no ridiculous drama in this family. They just cry, laugh, talk, smile and fart (I truly believe this is the first time I used the word “fart” in my blog).

A couple of months back, my friends and I organised a “Honey Boo Boo Day”. We were going to cook some food and do a Honey Boo Boo marathon. Since I would be bringing my dish over to my friend’s house and we were doing lunch, I needed something that was quick to cook, easy to assemble and portable without fuss and spill. I finally settled on Ottolenghi’s soba noodles with eggplant and mango (of course, nothing makes me happier than a visit to my mango man. He sells really good, dirt cheap mangoes at Tekka market. His honey mango is only S$1 each).

Before I served this dish to my friends, I must do a trial-run – to test and adjust the flavour, and get myself familiarise with the recipe. The flavour of this dish is unbelievably amazing. The first taste, it reminds me of yusheng – it is tangy, sweet and slightly spicy. It is so refreshing that when I reach the bottom of the mixing bowl (it is so good that I cannot be bothered to plate it), I can feel my stomach weeping.

Soba noodles with eggplant and mango
(Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty)
You can make this dish two hours in advance. If you are bringing this to a friend’s house (like me), add ¾ of the dressing into the noodles. Once you have reached your friend’s place, and when you are about to serve the dish, add in the rest of the dressing. The noodles might stick together when resting in the fridge so the dressing helps to loosen them.

Serves 6

Dressing
1)      120ml or ½ cup rice vinegar
2)      1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
3)      3 tablespoon granulated sugar
4)      ½ teaspoon kosher salt (table salt is fine)
5)      2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
6)      1 fresh red chilli, deseed and finely chopped (if you and your friends love spice, leave the seeds in the chilli)
7)      Grated zest and juice of 1 lime

Methods
-        In a small saucepan, add in the rice vinegar, sugar and salt, and place it over a low heat. Using a spoon, gently stir the vinegar until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Once dissolved, remove the saucepan from the heat.
-        Pour the vinegar mix into a bowl (or the container that you might use if you are transporting this dish to a friend’s house), and add in the sesame seed oil, garlic and chopped red chilli.
-        Once the mix is cooled*, add in the lime zest and juice. If you add in the zest while the mix is warm, the heat will discolour it. Set aside.

Soba noodles with eggplant and mango
Ingredients
1)      2 small eggplants or 1 large eggplant, cut into ¾” dice
2)      1 large ripe mango, cut into ¾” dice (I used honey mango; the mango should be prepped last when you are about to assemble and mix the noodles. If you cut the mango too early, it might oxidise and turn brown)
3)      270g of dried soba noodles (the only reason why I used 270g of soba noodles is because mine came in 3 bundles of 90g. You can use less noodles but no more than 270g)
4)      A small bunch of coriander, chopped (set aside some for garnish)
5)      ½ red onion, very thinly sliced (if you want, you can use a mandolin. I was lazy and didn’t want to clean up so I just cut the onion very slowly and you should be able to achieve thin slices)
6)      2 tablespoon vegetable oil
7)      A tray of ice cubes
8)      Salt

Methods
-        Preheat the oven to 200oC. Place the diced eggplant on a baking tray, add in the vegetable oil, mix well and make sure they are coated with the oil. Place the baking tray in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes or until they turned golden brown.
-        Once the eggplant is baked, place them in a colander and sprinkle generously with salt and leave them to drain.
-        In a medium-sized saucepan, fill it with water (enough to cook the noodles) and place it over a medium heat. Once the water starts to boil, add in a generous pinch of salt and the noodles. Cook the noodles as per instructed on the pack. Mine takes about 6-8 minutes. The cooked noodles should be soft yet with a bite.
-        While the noodles are cooking, remove the eggplant from the colander and place them in a large mixing bowl**. Using the same colander (there is no need for washing up), fill it with a tray of ice cubes. Set aside.
-        Once the noodles are cooked, drain (don’t use the colander, just drain from the saucepan) and rinse it with cold water. Drain again but this time, using the colander that is filled with ice. Mix the ice cubes and noodles – this is to prevent the noodles from sticking and stop further cooking. Set aside.
-        Once the noodles and eggplant are ready, you can slice and dice the mango.
-        To assemble, in the mixing  bowl (with the eggplant), add in a tablespoon of the dressing, follow by the mango (the vinegar and lime juice will prevent the oxidisation of the mango). Add in the rest of the ingredients – soba noodles (make sure to drain off any excess water), onion, coriander and the dressing (remember if this is to be served later, reserve some of the dressing). You can use two forks or like Mama June (Alana’s mother) who believes hands are the best utensil, mix it with your (clean) hands.
-        To finish, garnish with more coriander.
-        If you are bringing this dish to a party, just pour in the rest of the dressing, mix and garnish.

*While the vinegar mix is cooling, you can crack on the rest of the dish.
**I am an advocate of use-less-bowl. However I will not recommend assembling or mixing this dish in the container or serving platter that you are going to use. You need a big bowl or room for you to mix all the ingredients and dressing together. And trust me, this will be less messy too.

Instant noodles love

Instant noodles have played a huge part in my life. One of my favourites was Indo-Mie’s mi goreng. It was my go-to snack when I was studying late in the night. It was quick, easy and satisfying. When I was in university, I would buy a carton of the mi goreng from the Oriental shop and this would last me for months. Though I do cook from scratch, it always good to know you have “instant” food in the house especially when you were trapped, and trying to finish up a thesis.

With all the scary stories and health concerns regarding instant noodles, I have definitely cut down my consumption. However the recent horrid haze that Singapore experienced motivates me to eliminate instant noodles. In the month of June, Singapore was badly affected by Indonesia’s forest fire. The pollutant standard index was at its highest of 401. It was considered a health hazard to be outdoor and I was stuck in the house for a few days. The cause of the fire was to clear land for palm trees. Over the years, there has been a great demand for palm oil. A lot of things we used and consumed contained palm oil. Palm oil can be used to make a bar of soap to the seasoning oil found in instant noodles. As a step to reduce the demand for palm oil, I made the heart-breaking decision of not eating my favourite Mi Sedaap’s mi goreng (and any instant noodles).

However this does not mean I stop having “instant” food at home. I stockpile noodles and chicken stock in my freezer (suddenly I feel like a doomsday prepper). I particularly like Sakura’s la-mian which is fresh noodles and when cooked has a chewy texture. I have no shame in saying I am a fan of instant stock. There are really good quality packet stocks available in the supermarkets. It is a time and perhaps a money saver too.

To make this noodle soup better than any instant noodles, I pimp it up. I not just whacked in flavour into the soup, I added some shredded poached chicken and blanched asparagus, topped with coriander and fresh chillies. Paying homage to my favourite ramen stall, Marutama, I throw in a slice of lemon, giving the soup a kick of acid and balance.

Chicken-flavoured instant noodle soup
You do not need to use the list of ingredients that I have below. You can use whatever you can find in your fridge and pantry, adding your favourite food, making this noodle soup your own.

Serve 1

Ingredients
1)      90g fresh noodles (you can use la-mian, kway teow. If you only have dried noodles, you will need around 50g)
2)      100-125g skinless chicken breast
3)      ¼ cup of chopped asparagus (you can also use any of your favourite leafy vegetables)
4)      250ml (or 1 cup) of chicken stock
5)      1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine (Hua Tiao)
6)      1 teaspoon soy sauce (optional)
7)      ½ teaspoon sesame seed oil
8)      Sliced fresh chillies (optional)
9)      A small handful of roughly chopped coriander (optional)
10)   1 lemon wedge
11)   Salt
12)   Water

Methods
-        Fill up half of a small saucepan with water and add in a pinch of salt and place it over a medium heat. Once the water starts to boil, standby a slotted spoon and add in the chopped asparagus. The asparagus only need to be blanched for a few seconds. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon and place them on a plate and set aside (there is no need to switch off the stove)
-        Using the same saucepan, add in the chicken breast and poach it for 5-8 minutes (depending on how thick the chicken breast is). You can also take out the chicken breast and cut into half to check if it is cooked. Once the chicken breast is cooked, remove it with a slotted spoon and place it on the same plate as the asparagus and let it cool. Set aside.
-        Remove the poaching liquid from the saucepan. Fill up half of a small saucepan with water and add in a pinch of salt and place it over a medium heat. Once the water starts to boil, add in the noodles and cook per instructed. I usually use fresh la-mian which takes about 3 minutes to cook. If you are using dried noodles, you might want to soak it in cold water for 10-15 minutes, and quickly blanch it in hot water for 1-2 minutes or until it is almost cooked. It is important not to overcook the noodles as they will be reheated later in the chicken broth. Once the noodles are cooked (it should still has a bite), drain it using a colander. Once the water is drained off, add in the sesame seed oil into the noodle and stir it around with a pair of chopsticks or a fork. The oil not just imparts fragrance but also prevents the noodles from sticking. Set aside.
-        Using the same saucepan (see this is a one pot chicken noodles soup too!), place it over a medium heat, add in the chicken broth. Once the broth starts to boil, add in the Chinese cooking wine and soy sauce (if using). At this stage, you can taste and adjust. If the broth is slightly salty, it is ok. You will notice that all the ingredients we have prepped earlier have barely any seasonings. They are purposely blanched to absorb and pair with a savoury broth. If you find it really salty, add in some water to dilute the broth. Once you are happy with the broth, you can off the heat.
-        Before assembling the chicken noodles soup, shred the cooked chicken breast with your hands or with a fork. You might also need to cut it into bite-sized pieces.
-        To assemble, pour the broth into the serving bowl. Add the noodles into the bowl, follow by the shredded chicken, asparagus, coriander, sliced chillies (if using) and a wedge of lemon.
-        I could have cooked everything in a pot but I chose to cook every ingredient separately as I think it produces a cleaner tasting (and looking) chicken noodles soup. If you really want to cook everything in a pot, the one thing I would suggest is to cook the noodles separately. This is especially important if you are cooking fresh noodles. The excess flour from the noodles might cloud the chicken broth and add a floury bitter taste.

I got a cast-iron skillet pan so I must make Dutch baby pancake

After thinking for a very long time (a few years to be exact), I decided to invest on a cast-iron skillet pan. I went off to my favourite vintage cookware store (sorry, ain’t going to reveal the name and location of the store) and picked up a 9” Le Creuset skillet pan.

I brought along my friend, Biona who knows quite a far bit about cast-iron cookware and advised me to get one either with a satin finish or an enamel finish. These finishing will save me pain when washing. I have chosen a 9” skillet pan as it is the preferred size in most recipes. In the end, I went home with a vintage, (lime) green satin finish skillet pan.

I can think of a lot of recipes that I want to test with my new pan – tarte tatin, skillet cake – but first I got to season the pan. Seasoning the pan is rather easy (if you got an enamel finish pan, there is no need to season it). Once the pan is seasoned, it may smell a bit rancid, and feel sticky but this is part and parcel of owning a cast-iron.

The first dish that I made with my cast-iron skillet pan is Dutch baby pancake. You can of course use any oven-proof dish/ pan or muffin tray. But there is something rustic and homey about using a cast-iron for this dish. Vanity aside, there is some science behind on why sometimes it is better to cook or bake with a cast-iron. Cast-iron pan retains heat very well hence allowing even cooking over the stove or in an oven. And because of this benefit, you want to gently warm up the pan. If you heat the pan aggressively, and lower the fire at a later stage, the cast-iron still retained the high heat and whatever you are cooking might get burned.

The Dutch baby pancake is like a puffed up soufflé pancake which is eggy and airy. It is pretty amazing to see it blossom in the oven. Because the pancake is rather sweet, you do not really need to dose it with maple syrup. I had it simply with salted butter and a squirt of lemon juice. It makes a beautiful breakfast or lunch or dinner.

Dutch baby pancake
(Adapted from Martha Stewart)

Ingredients
1)      30g unsalted butter, room temperature
2)      3 large eggs
3)      188ml (¾ cup) whole milk
4)      60g all-purpose flour
5)      ¼ teaspoon kosher salt (table salt is fine)
6)      ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
7)      40g granulated sugar

Methods
-        Preheat the oven to 220oC.
-        Using a 9” cast-iron skillet (or any similar size oven-proof pan), add in the butter and melt it over medium heat. If the pan you are using cannot be used over open flame, just put the pan in the preheated oven and let the butter melt. Once the butter is melted, remove the pan from the oven (if you continue to leave the melted butter in the oven, it might split and burn).
-        Using a whisk or an immersion blender or a blender, mix the eggs, milk, flour, salt, vanilla extract and sugar until the mixture is foamy. This will take around 1-2 minutes.
-        Pour the batter into the skillet and bake until the pancake is puffed and lightly browned. I preferred my pancake to be gooey in the middle so I do tend to under-bake. This usually takes around 15 minutes. If you prefer your pancake to be more well-done, leave it in for another 5 minutes.
-        Once done, remove the skillet from the oven and serve the pancake immediately. Do not be surprised that the pancake will almost immediately collapse once removed from the oven.
-        To serve, sprinkle icing sugar with butter and wedges of lemon.

Bite-size treats: pâte à choux

Ever since I conquered my fear of making choux pastry, I bravely moved forward and made my first attempt at pâte à choux aka cream puff. I adore cream puffs – they are like little nuggets that are simple in flavour yet every bit delicious. And whatever sizes they come in, I love them all – the smaller ones, you can pop them in your mouth like tic-tac while the bigger ones will tend to leave cream all over my mouth (which I don’t see it as a bad thing).

Another reason that I dragged making cream puff is the pastry cream (that is needed to fill the pâte à choux). This is the time where knowledge does not work to my advantage. After hearing horror kitchen stories, watching enough food channels, I uncovered how easy it was to burn/ overcook the pastry cream. With this fear, my pastry cream always turns out to be runny. And piping runny pastry cream into pâte à choux is a nightmare. Oh yah, I hate piping too. I never know how much cream to pipe into each puff.

To banish this nightmare, I eliminate piping the cream into the puff. Instead I sliced the top of the puff and spoon in the cream. In this way, no matter what state my pastry cream is, I know it will make it into the puff.

Pâte à Choux
(Adapted from David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert)
The key to making pâte à choux without any drama or panic is to get all your ingredients in place (mise-en-place) and measured in precision. This also means getting your baking tray lined and spoon ready to scoop the batter. In this way, making cream puff will be more an assembling job.

Makes about 25-30 pastries

Ingredients
1)      1 cup water (250ml)
2)      115g unsalted butter, cubed
3)      2 teaspoon granulated sugar
4)      ½ teaspoon (kosher) salt (table salt is fine)
5)      140g all-purpose flour
6)      4 large eggs (the egg should weigh 54g-56g without shell)

Methods
-        Preheat the oven to 220oC and line a baking tray with either parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
-        In a medium-sized saucepan, add in the water, butter, sugar and salt. At this point, place the flour near the stove as you will need to add it in once the mixture comes to a boil. On a medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring it occasionally with a spatula to help the butter to melt.
-        Once the butter is melted and the mixture begins to boil, quickly add in the all-purpose flour and stir rapidly with the spatula. Keep stirring until the mixture forms a smooth and thick paste and begins to pull away from the sides of the saucepan.
-        Remove the saucepan from the heat. Using the same spatula, you can pat down and spread the paste to help it cool faster – do this a few times for 2 minutes.
-        Using a spatula, vigorously beat in the eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is completely incorporated before adding in the next one. You can use a stand-mixer (with a paddle attachment) for this step but I think it is unnecessary as you are just loading more things to wash. Unless you are doubling the recipe, you can easily accomplish this step by hand.
-        Using a levered ice-cream/ cookie scoop (mine is a 2 teaspoons scoop), place the paste on the lined baking tray – each puff needs to be 3” apart. You need to give sufficient space in between each puff as they will triple in size once they are in the oven.
-        Place the baking tray in the oven and bake for 25 – 30 minutes (depending on the size of your puff) or until they are golden brown. You can rotate your tray after 15 minutes to ensure the puffs are browned on top and sides.
-        Once baked, remove the tray from the oven. Using a paring knife, gently poke one side of the puff to release its steam and let it cool completely on a wire rack.
-        Once cooled, you can fill the puff with pastry cream* or whipped cream.
-        To fill in the pastry cream, slice the top of the puff horizontally (I usually use a serrated knife). Do not slice all the way through so that you have a “lid”. Using a teaspoon, scoop in 2 teaspoons of pastry cream/ whipped cream into the puff – the amount of cream should be in proportion with the size of the puff. You also need to be careful and not overfill the puff with cream as it might make it soggy.
-        Before serving, if you bother, sieve some icing sugar on top of the puff.

*If you are using the King Arthur Flour’s pastry cream recipe, you need to double the recipe.

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