We all look forward to something special on Sundays, even if it’s just a favourite comfort food or a small appetizer like peanuts. Ice cream is a great treat on Sundays, even if it’s just a potong (popsicle).
My brother almost always brings ice cream to family celebration meals. Now that he has an ice cream-maker, he makes ice cream at the weekends. He made strawberry ice cream last weekend, but he didn’t think that the photo was “Instagram standard”. A friend I showed it to said what matters is that it’s genuine!
Planning for special meals and market research
Serving something special doesn’t necessarily mean spending more money. A bit of time spent planning is often the homemaker’s secret to good management of household funds.
Market research is important to the success of any project. It’s crucial in product development. But market research takes on a literal meaning when applied to the homemaker’s task of managing the family’s household expenditure.
It is important to know what food is available in the market, the supermarkets and online grocery stores, and it is equally important to have an idea of the prices. I once went to the market and asked for one kilo of fish without knowing what fish it was, and I was shocked to be told that it was S$40.00 per kilo. An elderly lady next to me said in Singlish: “This kind of fish cannot eat one!” I later found out that it is a nutritious fish served to babies in small quantities. I think it was cod.
I felt more secure shopping in supermarkets where there were price tags. There was a time when fish in supermarkets were packed and had price stickers on them, but not the name of the fish. I was happily buying fish that was very meaty and I thought it had more of the texture of meat than fish. When the supermarket started to label fish, I found out that I had been cooking shark!
Knowing what vegetables and fruit are in season is important when planning meals. Look for recipes which use ingredients which are in season. Such ingredients are likely to be less expensive. Using ingredients which are grown locally or regionally also help to minimise cost.
Cooking local dishes is usually less costly than Western dishes which require ingredients to be imported from countries which are further away.
I am always surprised to see how some vegetable dishes in restaurants are as expensive as meat dishes, when vegetables cost so much less than meat. It might be because the expensive vegetable dishes have very good meat stock added to them to make them taste better. Vegetables have to be fresh and bought before serving, whereas meat can be bought frozen and in bulk. Frozen meat bought in bulk is much cheaper than chilled meat bought in the supermarket. I was surprised to find out how big the difference in price can be.
When it comes to meat, chicken is the least expensive and the most versatile. It can be boiled, stir-fried, steamed, roasted, curried – just to name some cooking methods. But just like anything else, there is diminishing marginal utility when served too often. If a cook is creative and uses different cooking methods, it takes longer before everyone realises that they are eating chicken again.
Chicken is sometimes the only meat that is recommended for people with a strict low fat and no-red meat diet. In these situations, it is best to remove the skin when cooking because the fat comes from the skin. The chicken loses some of its taste when cooked without its skin.
Another cost saving tip is to plan to use leftovers well. Leftover meat can be chopped up and used in fried rice. Leftover vegetables can be used to make leftover vegetable soup. A special fried rice dish served with a soup is a comfort meal for many.
One dish wonders
This week’s recommendation is claypot chicken rice cooked in a rice cooker. There are a number of recipes for this dish. The main ingredients are:
2 cups of rice
600 grams of chicken fillet
2 Chinese sausages
1 can of straw mushrooms
2 tablespoon cooking oil
5 slices of ginger
1 tablespoon of light soya sauce
1 tablespoon of dark soya sauce
2 tablespoons of oyster sauce
2 tablespoons of sesame oil
2 tablespoons of Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon of fish sauce
1 teaspoon of pepper
- Cut the chicken into slices
- Wash the Chinese sausages in hot water and slice into thin pieces
- Marinate the chicken with ginger, light soya sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce and Chinese wine
- Stir fry the chicken and the Chinese sausages in 2 tablespoon of cooking oil
- Wash the rice. Add enough water to cook 2 cups of rice which is about 4 cups of water
- Add the chicken, straw mushrooms and the Chinese sausages and cook the rice
- Once the rice is cooked, add the sesame oil, dark soya sauce and pepper
- Stir the cooked rice to mix the sauce
There are other methods of cooking claypot rice in a rice cooker. In some recipes, the chicken and Chinese sausages are cooked in the rice, ie they are not stir-fried before adding to the rice. In some recipes, the cooked chicken, mushrooms and Chinese sausages are added in when the rice starts to cook.
When meat is cooked in rice, it gives more flavour to the rice. The concept is the same as cooking paella (the Spanish rice dish from Valencia) or Biryani (the Indian rice dish).
Claypot chicken rice can be served as a one dish meal with blanched vegetables around the dish. If there are leftover ingredients, they can be used to cook a separate dish.
Thinly sliced Chinese sausages cooked in a wok without oil is nice added to green vegetables. Adding some button mushrooms to sauteed green vegetable and a bit of chicken stock makes a simple vegetable dish special.
Colour matters in food. It makes food look more appetizing. Children are attracted by shapes and colours. A colourful vegetable dish will be more appealing to little ones.
By Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 5 September 2021