Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Try-Hard Domestic Goddess...no?

I couldn't quite remember how Nigella Lawson became so popular that she wrote a book that amazingly caught the eye of any female out there who potentially couldn't even prepare a sunny-side up?!?!

"How to be a Domestic Goddess."

I mean how would a title like this not catch the eye of any female who aspire a life like hers? I confess I did stop and browsed through it but shelfed it cos i wanted to start learning some tricks of my own from my mother before adapting recipes from cookbooks. And so i did....

In 1999 I packed up and left for Brisbane for a 2-year degree. Being the sheltered Singaporean girl, I obviously was put up in college (hostel) for the first year. After 6 months of night after night of the same menu rotated over 4 weeks a month, i got tired of the food, got fat cos we had a good chef who fed us really yummy oily sunday brunch (which incidentally was my hangover remedy every sunday!) and i started skipping meals at college. Even after opting for self-catered at college, i found myself sharing the kitchen at our senior wing with 5 other girls.

I was not fond of sharing a kitchen when its already such a teeny-tiny work area. I decided to move out with 2 flatmates (2 guys who wont bother me in the kitchen that much) and selected an apartment that had a fully furnished kitchen; electronic stove, oven, microwave. I was all set.

I remember going for my first proper grocery shopping at Woolworths at Toowong, i went almost nuts and blew my allowance! Bought everything from each food section, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, juices, meats, seafood, various types of sauces, rice, pasta, bread and of course, loaded up on WINE! My Aussie flatmates were horrified at the amount i bought for myself. There is one thing in life i believe in being lavish on; good food and wine!

Truth be told, i was not happy at my first few attempts at cooking up a meal for myself the first few weeks. I overcooked my steaks (pet peeve #1), undercooked my damn carrots in my pasta sauce, added too much garlic in my stir-fried vegetables in oyster sauce (followed by major flatulence), in attempt to make creamy mash i diluted it, my fish fillet breaking apart when pan-frying, overcooking my baked vegetables etc....the list goes on. Through this whole journey of self-discovery, i realised that i am a chronic perfectionist and its further exemplified in my cooking! Hee...well, it could be a blessing or a curse, but i think it made me even more determined to perfect my dishes i was cooking for myself. I believe that if im not happy with it, its not good enough, try again! After a few attempts, i started offering to cook for my blokes in the house and slowly, becoming the designated cook for the household that further enhanced my confidence in cooking.

A few of my favourite dishes i enjoyed making living in Brisbane some of which i will share the recipes:

* Grilled T-Bone steaks marinated in McCormick All-Spice & Chinese Rice Wine
* Linguine with beef mince and pan-fried egg plant in a thick tomato-based sauce
* Creamy Garlic Mash
* Roast Chicken (adapted from my mother's recipe)
* Baked Salmon fillet with mapel syrup and lemon
* Stir-fried beef with sliced onions in Black Pepper sauce
* Stir-fried pork with sliced white mushrooms in oyster sauce
* Butter Chicken with potatoes and mushrooms (use Partak's curry pastes, good quality and not watered-down!)

Grilled T-Bone steaks marinated in McCormick All-Spice & Chinese Rice Wine

T-bone steaks
McCormick All Spice powder
Chinese Rice Wine
Sesame oil

Marinate steaks with All Spice powder, rice wine, dash of sesame oil overnight in a closed container to avoid meat from drying out in the fridge.
Remove from fridge and allow meat to warm to room temperature before cooking.
Sear the meat to lock in the juices before grilling.
Searing meat: Heat pan on high heat. Using a pair of kitchen tongs, place steaks on hot pan for 30sec each side. If you steak is a thick fillet, make sure to sear on the sides as well.
Grill on medium heat each side for 2min if you like your meat medium rare, the way i like my red meats!

Note: Reason why i like the chinese rice wine cos it gives the meat abit more character & fragrance.

I spoke to someone before who told me she could not cook at all. She was completely clueless about pasta as she feels its too tedious and intimidating. Honestly, pasta is the italian version of our Hokkien mee, but with a different sauce of course. After a few trail & errors, to me, the trick to a good pasta is all in the sauce. Never stinge on fresh good ingredients for a pasta, it makes a good load of difference.

Linguine with beef mince and Egg plant in a thick tomato-based sauce

Minced beef; marinated with pepper and salt
Egg plant, cut into half slices
bottle of tomato sauce for pasta (i tend not to like the sauces with added ingredients such as sausages, mushrooms, etc; being a purist)
can of stewed whole tomatoes
beef stock powder
chopped fresh oregano and basil
chopped onion
chopped garlic
olive oil
Salt and pepper

Heat saucepan and add in about a heaped tablespoon of butter. When its starting to sizzle and brown slightly, add in olive oil. The butter truely enhances the taste of the sauce.
Add in onion, fry it till golden brown then add in garlic and fry till fragrant and lightly brown.
Add in mince, fry till its broken apart and lightly golden.
Add in egg plant, stir fry for a min or 2 before adding fresh basil and oregano.
When meat is superbly fragrant, add in stewed whole tomatoes, break the whole tomatoes apart and then add in the desired amount of pasta sauce.
Make about half a cup of warm water mixed with 1tsp beef stock. This gives sauce some water to simmer without becoming a furious reduction. Stock is essential.
Simmer for 10 min on low heat so that the flavour of the sauce is soaked through the meat.
While sauce is simmering, prepare pasta. Add oil and salt into boiling water before adding pasta in.
Serve sauce over cooked pasta with shaved parmesan cheese.
Always better to use fresh parmesan cheese from the block instead of the pre-packed ones.

Roast Chicken with Honey

1 whole chicken
McCormick's Spicy Season All
Five Spices SALT (see pic)
Dark soy Sauce

Wash and cut chicken into a half just on one side (through the boney side) and spread chicken out on roasting pan.
Pour dark soy sauce over chicken to give the chicken a nice dark colour.
Marinate with McCormick's spicy Season All and Five Spices Salt both inside and outside the chicken not too much as it may become too salty.
Cling wrap and allow it to marinate overnight. (very important!)
Pre-heat over to 180 degrees celcius.
Before roasting, baste the chicken with marinade then into the oven it goes for about 45min or when it starts getting slightly burnt on the skin. (thats the charm about roasting this chicken...does not taste good if it aint slightly charred on the skin!!!)
5 min before the chicken is ready, remove from oven.
Brush generous amounts of honey over the entire chicken.
Put it back into the oven for another 5-6min. This gives the chicken skin a nice crispy taste to it! So Yummy!

Baked Salmon in Mapel Syrup and Lemon
(special recipe a guy once made for me to try and impress me!)

Salmon fillets (with skin attached)
1 large lemon
Mapel syrup (approx 150ml)
Djon Mustard 1 tablespoon
2-4 garlic cloves, crushed no need to chop
salt (2 pinches)
Black pepper

Mix all ingredients above and marinate overnight
Preheat oven to 150 degrees C
Sear the salmon fillets, 30sec each side
Pop them in a baking dish, pour in marinade and bake for 5-7min.
Salmon should be eaten medium. Try not to overcook it.

Stir-fried Pork with Sliced White Mushrooms in Chinese Rice Wine and Oyster sauce

Pork; sliced thinly, marinated in light soy, 1tsp cornflour and pepper
Fresh white mushrooms, sliced
onions, sliced
chopped garlic
Sliced ginger
Chinese rice wine
oyster sauce

Chinese cooking is best done in a cast iron wok
Heat wok, and add oil when hot
Fry the onions and ginger till slightly golden before adding garlic. Garlic burns faster than onions.
When garlic is almost golden, throw in the sliced pork and fry it till fragrant. Add in about 1-2 tbsp of Chinese Rice Wine stir for 2 min followed by the mushrooms.
Add in about 3-4 tablespoons of oyster sauce. Stir till evenly mixed.
Add in about 1/4 cup of water and simmer for 3-4min.
Allow meat to simmer until sauce slightly reduces.

This is a simple stir-fry i used to make for myself when im eating alone. Its best with just steamed rice. When i did get lazy when living in Brisbane, i used to also just fry up some green veggies with garlic and oyster sauce and have it with steamed rice. Heehee....who says cooking for 1 is difficult!


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