Sunday, July 31, 2005

My Mum the chef!

My mother never really knew how to cook till she got married. Her culinary skills is all somewhat self-taught, through buying loads of cook books, watching "Fang Tai" on TV cooking up a storm on Channel 8 and of course, she loved watching "Yan can cook".

She was a very strict mother in terms of the kind of food we ate at home. There were no snacks allowed in the house, no soft drinks, fast food (such as KFC) maybe once a month all because she wanted to make sure we were not unhealthy and had any obesity problems. She believed in having home cooked food and usually insist on us coming home for dinner everyday of the week.

Our dinners will always have a few standard items; 1 green veggie dish, 1 meat dish, 1 seafood dish, soup and rice. That's when the 4 of us are eating together at home. What i love most is the soup. To me, soup is my comfort food. There is something so sensational and satisfying when you sip down hot soup when you are feeling under the weather. That would also explain my love for soup noodles. Wherever i am, if there is an opportunity for soup noodles, i will surely order it! Last December, GL and i were in Phuket for a holiday and staying at the Novotel. At breakfast, he would be loading up on his bacon, eggs, sausages and toasts and me, i went straight for the Thai noodles soup! He cant believe that i am still eating noodles soup even when i am in a foreign country! My arguement was, it's THAI noodles!

In this blog, i will be documenting some of the dishes my mother created which are my favourite. A few of my mother's signature dishes are:
- Chicken Rice
- Roasted chicken with Dark Soy and Honey
- Hokkien Noodles
- Stew Pork Throtters in dark soy sauce
- Braised Duck in chinese spices
- Home-made Soya Bean Milk

the list goes on......so many dishes i love that i cant quite recall right now.

Chicken Rice (Mummy's style)

Ingredients:
1 whole chicken (medium sized; marinate in salt overnight)
chopped garlic
ginger; sliced thinly
2 cups rice; rinse and drain well

Method:
Add oil to a wok, stir-fry the ginger till fragrant followed by garlic till its slightly golden brown
Add in rice, stir fry till the rice is starting to brown as well.
Remove from heat and scoop rice into a rice-cooker (medium size electronic rice cooker). Add in about 2 cups water (make sure you use the same size cup as the one you used to measure the rice).
Place chicken over a metal stand placed over the rice in the rice cooker. The idea is for the chicken to be steamed and the chicken oils and juices to naturally drip over the rice.
Shut the lid of the rice cooker and allow it to cook like you would usually cook rice.
When the timer pops to "keep warm" mode, do not open immediately. Allow chicken to continue steaming for another 15-20minutes before serving.

This may not be the authentic Hainanese Wen Chang chicken, but this is mother's easy-peasy method to preparing your very own chicken rice that taste almost like Wee Nam Kee's or Boon Tong Kee's chicken rice! Yum...!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Gordon Ramsay

I caught Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares on Foxtel while in Melbourne visiting GL and i found him extremely entertaining.
The show actually brought to light several issues commonly faced by restaurant ownerss and how Gordon would try his best to fix them.
I wrote in to Discovery Travel & Living asking them of the possibility of screening this program in Singapore. To date, they have not responded.BUT, i did find his book, Kitchen Heaven at Borders when i was there on Saturday. That made my weekend!
While I sat and waited for my cousin at Ya Kun kopitiam, i started reading the book and occasionally laughing to myself at what he wrote about his horrid experiences at the various restaurants he consulted at.
It's no wonder people sitting around me were giving me strange stares!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Growing up with Food


Some of us who think back into our childhood tend to remember some things more vividly than the rest.
When I do get nostalgic, I often think back to my days as a kid growing up in a shophouse in Upper Serangoon road which my late grandfather built before WWII.
It actually had an underground shelter and I was told that it could bearly fit the entire family with the kids during the war.
Due to the MRT line construction, the shophouse had to be demolished which broke my granny's heart.During my early years visiting and living in the shophouse, i remember my uncle running the shopfront selling fruits. Needless to say, he would always pass us tons of fruits that were in season.
My late grandparents loved durians and they shared their love with their family!!!
My visits to my grandparents', would start by greeting them properly, them sitting us down in the kitchen, and feeding us durians!
Unfortunately i never got the opportunity of understanding the types of durians and how they vary in taste.
As far as i can remember, i used to like the durians with very yellow flesh and has a touch of bitterness to it.
They were divine and i well & truly overate on them as a kid! Now, i'm sadly not touching that fruit no more.With my grandparents, it was our family tradition to have weekly sit-down dinners and my late grandmother used to prepare some dishes of hers i never got enough of.
Both my grandparents were Hainanese who migrated from Hainan to Singapore. One of Singapore's favourite dishes is the Hainanese Chicken Rice which is an adaptation from the Hainanese Wen Chang Chicken. It is 1 of the 4 signature dishes in Hainan. The other 3 are; Jiaji Crab, Hele Crab and Dongshan Mutton.My grandmother reared her own chickens and made her version of the Wen Chang Chicken which was delicious! She used to roll the rice that has been cooked in the chicken stock into small balls. According to my grandmother, that was how some of the Hainanese would serve the rice, which was rolled into balls while the rice is still piping hot! Sadly, she passed on before i got the recipe.
I was asked by my significant other, whom i will refer to as "GL" for Green Lantern (actually it was his dad who asked...) being Hainanese, if i knew how to prepare Hainanese Chicken Rice, well, not the authentic Wen Chang Chicken, but, yes i have a recipe to share...coming soon! :)Another one of my grandmother's favourite dish which became my favourite as well is her yummy Pork Belly cooked in Dark Soy. For this dish to taste as superb as how she does it, you have to buy the Pork Belly (commonly known to us as "San Ceng Rou" in Chinese and "Kong Bah" in Hokkien) with generous layers of fat.
I spent a fair bit of my secondary school years at my grandparents' place for dinners and i managed to watch her cook this up once. Apparently, the secret ingredient she adds in is sugar. The recipe as follows:














Pork Belly with Dark Soy Sauce

Ingredients:
Pork Belly, a standard strip from supermarkets is about 20cm piece,
Superior dark soy sauce
garlic chopped finely
ginger sliced thinly into strips
sugar

Method:
Boil some water and blanch the pork belly to remove initial layer of pig oil that gives the strong "piggy" taste. Then cut into 2-3cm thick pieces. Lightly salt the blanched pork belly
Stir fry the ginger in oil till slightly brown and fragrant
Throw in the garlic, fry till slightly golden brown
Add in the pork belly, stir fry on high heat for about 2-3mins
Pour in some dark soy sauce, not too much, just enough to be able to simmer the pork belly in. Turn heat to low.
Add in about a 1 1/2teaspoons of suger. Mix well.
Allow to slowly boil on low heat stirring it occastionally, reducing it slightly to allow the sugar to caramelise in the dark soy for approx 5-8min.

Till today, i still feel Granny makes the best Pork Belly with Dark Soy, even my mother cant make the meat taste exactly like how she used to prepare it.Steamboats, like any other Chinese family, is a must-do during Chinese New Year. As a kid, this is the one thing i looked forward to (apart from the ang paos!) every single year. To me, it was an excellent chance for the family to sit together at a round table, cook, eat, drink, chat & bring in the new year together!Imagine sitting in a small shophouse in the make-shift living room area (as the kitchen is too small to accomodate my entire family) with 2 big round tables, 3 fans blowing at us to keep us cool and the tv switched on to the new year variety programme. I treasure those dinners and hold them very dear to my heart. Sadly, we stopped having our Chinese New Year steamboat dinners for now, after both my grandparents passed on.Now, we all get together for Chinese New year for dinner but pot-luck style. I think i shall take the initiative to host and prepare a steamboat dinner for my family for next year's Chinese New Year

Thursday, July 21, 2005

A Little about me....

As a kid, i had very few indulgences, partly due to my conservative upbringing by my parents.
But there are a few things in my family we did indulged in; sit down home-cooked dinners and good alcohol in the company of friends and extended family!My first experience with alcohol was when i was 8 or 9 years old, i sneaked into the kitchen while mum was watching tv, and took several sneaky sips from her can of Anchor beer she left out, leaving her with half a can at the end of the evening!
I never liked being dragged into the kitchen by my mum to assist her in the kitchen. I used to pretend i was doing my homework just to avoid being called in to be her little kitchen assistant. However, if not for my mum's "forced" training in the kitchen, i would not have developed this passion for cooking and a palate to appreciate food.It was not long before i had to leave home and study down under in sunny Brisbane. Life was good in college where lodging AND food were provided.
But i got bored of the food in college. I moved out and had my own kitchen and i embarked on my culinary adventures! And i loved it!

I even offered to cook for my flatmates and i would use them as my food critics to further improve on my culinary skills. Dinner parties were regularly hosted at my place over wine and awesome conversations.

That's when i knew i inherited my mum's passion for cooking.

At this point, if I haven’t mentioned it yet, My mum’s a wonderful cook herself and she continues to inspire me in more ways than one!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Glossary:Dairy

Double Cream
When cow's milk reaches the dairy, it contains a liquid substance called butterfat and this, when its skimmed off the surface of the milk is cream or better known as Double Cream. Extremely rich with a min fat content of 48%. Do not overwhip double cream as it will give a grainy, slightly seperated appearance, if you really overwhip it, it becomes butter. To prevent this from happening; add a couple of tablespoons of milk per 570ml of cream and use an electric hand whisk. Turn speed to low when its thick enough.

Whipping Cream
Its a lighter version of double cream; min 35% fat and whips beautifully. Great as a pouring cream too. Also good if you want a cream for swirling on top of desserts or soups eg: mushroom soups.

Extra Thick double or single Cream
Also known as double or single cream but its been treated to suit spooning on to pies and desserts without having to bother with whisking them first.

Soured Cream
Made with fresh single cream that has been soured by adding a natural culture similar to that used in yoghurt. Best for jacket potatoes.

Crème fraîche
Best Crème fraîche comes from Normandy. It has a longer shelf life than double cream. It is made by inoculating unpasteurized light cream with lactobacillus cultures, letting the bacteria grow until the cream is both soured and thick and then pasteurizing it to stop the process. Sour cream and Crème fraîche can be used interchangeably but crème fraîche has two advantages over sour cream: it can be whipped, and it will not curdle if boiled.

Genuine Greek Yoghurt
A special yoghurt made from cow's or sheep's milk which is boiled in open vats so that its liquid content is reduced. The result is a much thicker consistency, giving a more concentrated yoghurt with a fat content of 8-10%. Unfortunately, Greek style yoghurt isnt the same as original greek yoghurt.

Cottage Cheese
Popular cheese due ot low fat content made from skimmed milk. Its mild, faintly acidic cheese with just a hint of creaminess but a great deal of flavour. Best served sprinkled with snipped fresh chives and seasoned with coarse salt and black pepper.

Cream Cheese
A soft, smooth, buttery texture and varies enormously according to fat content. Usually standard cream cheese has 45% fat but there are variations from light to extra light these days. This can be used to replace full-fat cream and curd cheese.

Curd Cheese
Similar to cream cheese but lower fat content. Best for cheesecakes as it gives them a lighter flavour and texture.

-Adapted from Delia's How to Cook-

Glossary:In the Pantry

Peppers

Cayenne Pepper
Very Hot & fiery. Made from one of the hottest type of chilli which is dried then crushed to powder including seeds.

Mustards

Djon mustard
From Burgundy, France. Not as fiery as English mustard, been tempered by the mixture of unripe grapes juice or diluted vinegar. Good but difficult to keep

Wholegrain mustard
Mixture of mustard seeds, spices and wine vinegar, milder than straight made-up mustard; great for storage. Adds flavour to dressings and sauces cos of its lovely seedy texture. Keeps better than djon.

American mustard
Best for BBQ. Mixture of mustard, tumeric, paprika and other spices. Awesome with a frankfurter or sausage in a hot dog!

Because of the short shelf-life of mustards, it is not really worth the while of buying gourmet flavoured mustards (eg: Dill mustard) if you are not using it within a month or so. Best is to make your own mustard and combine required herbs yourself or buy regular mustards and blend in your own herbs.

Sauces

Worcestershire sauce
Main ingredient; anchovies from Basque region of Spain, blended with shallots, onions & garlic and matured for 3 years. Its a flavour provider and enhancer, real stalwart for jazzing up stocks, gravies and sauces. Of course, a key ingredient to a Bloody Mary too!

Mayonnaise
Best mayonnaise is always home made, better quality than those bottled and sold on shelves. Store in smaller jars if you are pre-making at home as air deteriorates the mayonnaise. Key ingredients: eggs, white wine vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper and oil.

Canned/Bottled Ingredients

Cornichons
Cornichons are French-style sour pickles made from small cucumbers that are usually no more than 2 inches (5 cm) in length. Impt ingredient for tartare sauce and fish recipes.

Horseradish
Horseradish is fabulous with roast beef or smoked fish. Choose creamed horseradish to the generic ones at the supermarket. I tend to combine my horseradish and mustard together for that extra "umph"!

Gelatine
Used to make clear jelly. Not to be confused with agar-agar as the texture is different from that of Gelatine. Gelatine is much softer and more susceptible to disintegrating when out of the fridge while agar-agar is much denser and can sit on a buffet table longer and retain its shape.

Sugar

Molasses
Dark-ebony syrup thats left over after sugar has been refined, some unrefined sugars molasses is included at different degrees. It's very concentrated, only a little is needed. Tip from Delia Smith: use molasses instead of black Treacle in some recipes, much more luscious flavour.

Alcohol

Fortified wines
More popular ones are Sherry, dry sercial Madeira, Marsala and port. Great for cooking and drinking too!

Spirits
Common cooking spirits are brandy, whisky, Calvados and rum.

Armagnac
Cousin of Cognac but with its own special distinctive flavour. It has a great affinity with prunes, great with brownies and cakes.

Spices

Allspice
Combination of cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. It's unique and is used in marinades, chutney and pickles.

Cardamom
Indian spice that comes encased in its onw pods. Pale green in colour with tiny black aromatic seeds. Key ingredient in curries and even some cakes and selected desserts.

Saffron
Made from dried stamens of a variety of purple crocus. You only need very little to get the powerful flavour and the colour. Best if bought in threads and then pounded if you require saffron powder.

Tumeric
it's a root belonging to the ginger family. Its fragrant aroma and bright yellow colour makes Indian pilau rice have that pale yellow.

-Adapted from Delia's How to Cook-

Friday, July 01, 2005

Conversion Tables

Weights

1/2 oz = 10g
3/4 = 20
1 = 25
1 1/2 = 40
2 = 50
2 1/2 = 60
3 = 75
4 = 110
4 1/2 = 125
5 = 150
6 = 175
7 = 200
8 = 225
9 = 250
10 = 275
12 = 350
1 lb = 450
1lb8 oz= 700
2 = 900
3 = 1.35kg

Volume

2 fl oz = 55ml
3 = 75
5(1/4pint) = 150
10(1/2pint)= 275
1 pint = 570
1 1/4 = 725
1 3/4 = 1 litre
2 = 1.2
2 1/2 = 1.5
4 = 2.25

Oven Temperatures

Gas Mark 1 275F 140C
2 300 150
3 325 170
4 350 180
5 375 190
6 400 200
7 425 220
8 450 230
9 475 240

-Approximate conversions adapted from Delia Smith: How to Cook-