Home-cooked meals at their best
Pandemic Cooking and Sweet Corn Cream-style with Mushroom Chicken
Panic cooking might resonate with many readers of this blog. Pandemic cooking has been a totally new experience for me. For a start, grocery shopping became a challenge, especially online shopping. Trying to get a delivery slot was a test of patience and endurance. I had to learn to make do with whatever I could get. I also had to learn to get around the crowded supermarkets without falling over the baskets placed in odd corners.
The Circuit Breaker period was an experience to write about. We didn’t have a dull moment because we made a plan to make the most of our time at home. There were days when we would play games, days when we would watch documentaries like The Commanding Heights, which took us through many global economic crises. We capitalised on each one’s talents and interests by assigning each one to give presentations. We had a couple of classes on art appreciation. We watched musicals and concerts. We even had a class on using Excel.
My task was to cook interesting meals so that there was something to look forward to at every meal. With fewer resources, it was a challenge. One way of stretching my supply of fruit was to put cut fruit into jelly.
Time has gone by quite quickly. It has been several months since we came out of Circuit Breaker. We have entered the Vaccine Stage. I am going for my vaccination today, so I had to cook in advance. As usual, I scrambled to think of something to cook with what we had in the fridge and the kitchen, I came up with sweet corn cream-style and mushroom chicken. I had one mango and some mango jelly so I made a dessert with them.
Recipe for Sweet Corn Cream-style and Mushroom Chicken
- Sprinkle salt and pepper over pieces of chicken, or you can use fish sauce instead of salt to add flavour
- Fry the chicken in oil with some minced garlic (to brown the skin)
- Remove the partially cooked chicken and place it in a baking dish
- Fry sliced onion (1 onion) in the oil, add 1 can of button mushrooms and then add the sweet corn cream-style
- Add the sauce to the chicken
- Season the chicken with fish sauce (optional)
- Bake in the oven for 20 minutes at medium heat or until the chicken is fully cooked (when no blood comes out when pierced with a knife)
- Garnish with tomato and Japanese cucumber
Quick dessert recipe
- Add one packet of mango jelly powder to 2 cups of boiling water and stir well. Continue to boil.
- Cut mango into small slices
- Place the mango into small dessert goblets
- Add the mango jelly
- Add walnuts (optional)
- Leave for 30 minutes at room temperature to set before putting into the fridge
Life continues despite the pandemic. We learn to adapt to the challenges and count our blessing everyday. The Pandemic has also been a time of sharing. People have found ways to help others whose challenges have been greater.
By Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 21 March 2021
Crispy Chicken Toast
Recipe for 16 pieces
300 grams minced chicken
2 pieces of lime leaf or half a stalk of lemongrass
1 small or 1/2 large red chili
4 slices of white bread
2 tablespoons of fish sauce/light soya sauce or one tablespoon of salt
1 teaspoon pepper
A few sprigs of coriander for garnishing
1 cup of cooking oil for frying
Cucumber pickle topping
One small cucumber
1 cup of white rice vinegar
1 cup of hot water
1/2 cup white sugar
- Slice the cucumber into thin triangular pieces
- Put one cup of white vinegar into a bowl. Add 1 cup of hot water, then add half a cup of white sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cucumber pieces into the solution and set aside.
- Toast the 4 slices of bread slightly (just to make them firm, but completely toasted). The bread doesn’t have to be fresh, as it will be fried. It is easier to spread the meat paste on toasted bread than on soft bread.
- Cut the 4 slices of bread into quarters. Arrange them in a row on a plate or in a tray.
- Roll the lime leaf into a thin roll, then slice it into fine strips. The lime leaf has a tangy fragrance which gives the chicken a distinctly Thai taste. If lime leaf is not available, lemongrass is a good substitute. Slice it thinly then chop it until it is very fine.
- Cut the chili into small pieces, then chop it until it is fine.
- Put the minced chicken into a bowl, add the chopped lime leaf and chili
- Add the fish sauce (or soya sauce or salt)
- Mix well with a spoon
- Add the egg to bind the mixture together
- Keep mixing with a wooden spoon until the minced meat looks and feels like a paste
- Spoon the paste onto the slices of bread, enough to cover the bread (about 1 cm thick)
- Heat the cooking oil until it produces little bubbles
- Place 4 slices of bread with the chicken paste into the oil, with the chicken paste facing down.
- Flip over after 1 minute to allow the bread to cook, then flip over again to allow the chicken paste to brown. Chicken cooks fast. It should take 2 to 3 minutes to cook 4 pieces of chicken squares.
- Remove the chicken squares from the oil. (Repeat the cooking process for rest of the uncooked chicken paste squares.)
- Drain the cooked chicken toasts on a piece of kitchen paper towel
- Place on a serving dish and garnish with coriander.
- Serve hot with pickled cucumber triangles on top
- Enjoy the crispy, crunchy, meaty and refreshing taste.
P’Pew’s Mum’s Arroy Chicken Recipe
P’Pew is a childhood friend of mine. You might be wondering how to pronounce P’Pew. (The P’ is pronounced as the letter P, so it is “Pee Pew”.) Phi or P’ is the way Thais address an older person in a familiar way. It actually means “elder brother” or “elder sister”. The idea is that everyone is a brother, a sister, an aunt, an uncle, a grandaunt or a granduncle to you: Everyone is family.
When I was in India, I was introduced to “Brother and Sister Day”. A brother would tie a colourful string band around his sister’s wrist and promise to take care of her until she got married. I just did a quick check on the internet to see if what I remember is accurate. Most websites talk about a sister tying a protective thread around her brother’s wrist. (The festival is called Rakshabandhan, if you would like to know more.) I remember asking a colleague what happens if a person doesn’t have a sister or a brother, and was told that a cousin brother or a cousin sister will do the tying of the thread band. Again, we have the idea that everyone is family.
Anyway, going back to P’Pew. I first met her in Malaysia when my family moved there when I was four. Her mother was a lovely lady who was my mother’s friend. My mother used to leave me and my younger brother at her house when she had important matters to attend to, which wasn’t very often, but I liked going over to P’Pew’s house because it was the “Land of Comics”. I used to love seeing the pictures of snow falling in white balls in P’Pew’s comics. I was too young to have my own Beezer comics. P’Pew was a bit older, and she was usually doing her homework when we went over.
The years have passed and I have since found out that snow doesn’t fall from the sky in round balls. Snowflakes are lovely when they fall, but not so lovely when they turn into ice and make walking on pavements impossible.
P’Pew became a dietician, and my mother told me that she was a celebrity because she appeared on TV. When I started this blog, I had the occasion to ask her about the show. She said that it was a show where restauranteurs would ask her for the nutritional values of their signature dishes. What a good idea!
P’Pew wanted to share one of her mother’s recipes with us. She said it doesn’t have a name, so we will call it P’Pew’s Mum’s Arroy Chicken. (Arroy means delicious):
- Saute pieces of chicken with garlic.
- Add dried shitake mushrooms and lily flowers/bulbs.
- Add some water and braise to the texture you like.
- Season with soy sauce, assam keping (dried tamarind slices) and dried red chili.
Adjust the taste as you like, depending on what you want to lead: Sour/ hot/ salty. Add more of the seasoning you prefer. Mixing the tastes together, you create a umami taste. Optional: cinnamon bark or star anise.
By Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 16 February 2021
Panic-Cooking and Plum Sauce Pork
A friend, who is a young working mother of two, asked: “How do you think I should start? Should I just cook on and off to gain confidence, or should I actually start by planning proper meals for a whole week?”
That is a hard question to answer, given that she is a working mum and one of her children is a baby. She certainly has her hands full. I am truly impressed that she wants to cook and that she is asking for advice.
What to cook and how to cook vary very much with circumstances and who you are cooking for. Of late, I have had to think about dietary restrictions: low salt diet, low cholesterol diet, seafood allergy, dairy-free diet, no-fish diet, no-pork diet and non-spicy diets. It is a challenge when I have to cook a meal that everyone can eat. Often I would cook a main dish which most people can eat and make a separate dish/dishes for those who have dietary restrictions.
Going back to my friend’s question, I would encourage her to cook, starting off with what she can manage. She will be in control of what her children eat, she can ensure that they get the nutrition that they need. She can also teach them healthy eating habits. She will not only be cooking, she will be educating them her children through the food that she serves them. Some children refuse to eat vegetables, but a smart mother will find a way to make vegetables so interesting that children will start to like them. She will teach them to “eat smart” from young. Healthy food can be delicious! You just need to know how to make it delicious. A young adventurous mother will find a way to come up with healthy recipes for her children.
It’s good to have some sort of plan when you cook. The minimum you need to have is a basic plan of what meats or fish and vegetable or soup to serve on each day of the week. It will make grocery shopping easier. Cooking will require less time when you are organised and have all the ingredients you need.
It is best to avoid panic-cooking. But more often than not, it is unavoidable, so I would recommend that everyone acquire this essential life-skill.
Two Sundays ago, I found myself with the challenge of cooking a special meal for six persons for lunch in an hour and a half, with 500 grams of pork collar (defrosted, fortunately) and some vegetables.
I found the magic ingredient that saved the day: plum sauce! When in a panic, use whatever you have in the fridge. When you have little time, planning the workflow is crucial to success.
1. Almond Jelly and lychees
I started by making dessert. I had some almond jelly powder which just needed to be put in boiling water and stirred. It needed time to set, so it had to be made first. The can of lychees had to be chilled in the freezer. I would add the lychees to the almond jelly just before serving the dessert.
2. Plum sauce pork: Preparation
I cut the pork into thin slices. Added one tablespoon of light soya sauce* and pepper. Then I added four tablespoons of plum sauce and mixed the pork slices well. I left it to marinate. (* I tend to use very little soya sauce for marinating. I usually add more salt, soya sauce or fish sauce once the meat is cooked. Sometimes I need to separate some meat with low salt content for low salt diets before I add more salt/soya sauce/fish sauce for more taste.)
I boiled some white rice as it took at least 15 minutes to cook.
3. Mixed vegetable soup
I chopped one onion, one carrot, a small packet of French beans, an apple and quartered four tomatoes.
I put some butter into a pot and added the onions. When the onions were cooked, I added the chopped carrots, French beans, apples and tomatoes and continued to stir fry the mixed vegetables and chopped apples. Then I added eight cups of water, 2 beef cubes and some pepper corns and left the soup to cook while I went back to the pork.
4. Plum sauce pork: cooking
I put some cooking oil (about 10 tablespoons) in a wok. When the oil was hot (at high heat) I put the pork in, a few slices at a time, then lowered the heat to medium, I stirred the pork and waited until all of it turned brown, then I added minced garlic and allowed it to cook before removing the pork from the wok for serving.
Garnishing is the finishing touch. A chili and a few slices of tangerine were perfect for this dish.
I served the soup, the plum sauce* pork and white rice. If I had had more time, I would have stir-fried some green vegetables or fried an omelet to add to the meal. It was a successful panic-cooking meal, so I thought it was worth sharing.
(*plum sauce is made of salted Chinese plums, ginger and chili. It is slightly sweet, salty, and sour. )
The cold almond jelly and lychees went well with this meal. When there is hot soup, it is nice to have a cold dessert.
By Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 10 March 2021
End of Season Recipes: Pomelo Salad and Basil Leaf Minced Pork
If you are in Singapore and you have just finished celebrating the Lunar New Year, you might have the same problem I had. I bought too many sets of Lo Hei ingredients, without anticipating the restrictions and precautionary measures brought about by Covid 19. “What to do?”, I asked myself. I remembered our family doctor telling us (my mother and me) that he adds very thin slices of lime leaf, very thin slices of chili and a dash of fish sauce to his lo hei salad and it takes on a Thai touch. So that is what I did. I made a pomelo salad using the lo hei ingredients (minus the carrots and the radish), added the lime leaf, chili and fish sauce. It was a refreshing change.
I needed a meat dish to go with the salad, so the easiest was Thai basil leaf minced meat. I could either use chicken or pork. I chose pork. I had 2 kg of minced pork, so I decided to make 1 kg of spicy basil leaf pork, and 1 kg of non-spicy basil leaf pork. The former had fresh chili and the latter was without fresh chili. Not everyone likes chili and not everyone can take chili for various reasons.
The cooking steps are really simple:
- start off by pounding 1 large chili with 5 cloves garlic
- add cooking oil into the wok (about 4 or 5 tablespoons), fry the chili and the garlic, add a handful of basil leaves (you don’t need so much oil, as the minced pork will produce oil when it is cooked if it has fat in it)
3. add the minced pork (1kg) , stir well until juice from the meat comes out
4. add 1 tablespoon of soya sauce, 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce, 1 tablespoon of fish sauce and half a tablespoon of sugar
5. add another handful of basil leaves, stir until the leaves are cooked
6. taste to see if you would like it to be more salty. It is good to start off with less soya sauce and fish sauce, especially if you are cooking for people with a low-salt diet.
7. serve with steaming hot rice
For the non-spicy version, follow the same steps, just omit the chili.
This article is dedicated to all healthcare professionals, especially to Dr Adelina Mah of the “Nice Stories” chat group, which was started to help each one see the beautiful things in life.
By Chayo, Homskil Editor 1, 28 February 2021
Enjoy an Antipasto
An antipasto is a starter or an appetizer that comes before a meal, but it can also be a snack or a light meal in itself. Bruschetta is an antipasto.
For those of us who are used to pizza and pasta as main Italian meals in themselves, it may come as a surprise that pasta is a “primi“, the first course in an Italian meal, which is followed by a “secondi“, the second course of meat or seafood. The “controni” is a side dish which goes with the second course. The “insalata” is a salad which follows the second course. “Formaggie” and “Frutta” are simply cheese and fruit served after the main meal. “Dolce” is dessert, “caffe” is coffee. And finally there is “digestivo” an alcoholic drink to help you digest all of the above (source: Cucina Toscana, toscanaslc.com)
It’s actually not as overwhelming as the 10-course Chinese dinner, which also has a proper order of dishes, served one after another.
It has been two months since HomeBlog was launched to foster interest in homemaking in Singapore. We didn’t know what to expect in terms of how well it would be received. To our surprise, we have had visitors to the Blog from over 20 countries. The other surprise was that the country with the second largest number of visitors to the Blog is Italy. (Most of the visitors to the Blog are from Singapore, of course). Audrey, a Singaporean studying in Italy, deserves credit for her marketing skills. She has been a great support in publicising the Blog. She managed to persuade Laura, an Italian student from Apricena, who studies translation to contribute an Italian recipe. Audrey and Laura are participating in a language exchange programme. The recipe Laura chose is very appropriate for the Lunar New Year. Bruschetta (with fresh tomatoes) is red – the auspicious colour for celebrations.
A Simple Italian Dish
Recipe contributed by Laura Tartaglia
Here’s a simple Italian dish that you can try at home: bruschetta (pronounced brusketta not brushetta)! In Italy we have it as an appetizer or as a light dinner with mortadella, prosciutto, mozzarella, and salami.
Italian bruschetta recipe
1. Slice a loaf of bread. If the slices are big cut them in half and grill them on both sides for 7-8 minutes in the oven at 200°C.
2. Meanwhile dice some fresh tomatoes, put them in a bowl, and add some olive oil, oregano, fresh basil, and a little bit of salt. If you like, you can add 1 or 2 cloves of chopped garlic or rub the garlic on the bread after toasting for flavour.
3. When the bread is ready put the tomatoes on it and, if you like, put some more olive oil.
Posted by Chayo, Homskil Editor 1, 24 February 2021
Zesty Lime Leaf Chicken Stew and Cheesy Baked Eggplant
It’s Sunday again and time to whip up a family meal. Sunday is also time to clear out the fridge. I found some dried lime-leaf left over from when I made crispy chicken toast a couple of weeks ago (see earlier recipe). I was about to throw them out when I thought: let’s try something new! If we can use dried bay leaf, why not dried lime-leaf? Yes, I do get a bit adventurous in the kitchen occasionally. A dish is like a piece of artwork.
I had thawed some chicken drumsticks. I found one lonely Chinese sausage in the fridge and some chicken cocktail sausages left over from breakfast. There was some spring onion which needed to be used up soon. I found some chicken broth, chick peas and half a red pepper. A picture formed in my head: a chicken stew.
The whole cooking process was quite simple.
- Sprinkle salt and pepper over the drumsticks and add Italian seasoning (dried parsley, basil, rosemary, garlic powder and chili flakes)
- Stir fry minced garlic, onions, spring onions and dried lime-leaf in cooking oil.
- Add the pieces of Chinese sausage (this adds more flavour to the stew)
- Add chicken drumsticks (they take a while to cook)
- Add chicken broth, leave to simmer
- Add chick peas and chicken cocktail sausages
- Add a few slices of red pepper
- Dissolve a tablespoon of cornflour in water and pour it into the stew to thicken the gravy
- Season with Lea & Perrins worcestershire sauce
- Taste before adding salt if needed (the broth might already have sufficient salt)
Chicken drumsticks are a bit tricky to cook, because they might not be cooked on the inside but look cooked on the outside. It’s good to use a knife to pierce the drumstick to check if it is cooked.
The end result was a zesty stew. The lime-leaf is more fragrant than bay leaf.
I needed a vegetable dish. There was a lot of eggplant in the fridge. I had to cook it in such a way that it would go well with the stew. I found some mozzarella cheese. and some peeled tomatoes in a can. Great, I can make baked eggplant with mozzarella cheese.
- Boil some water in a wok. Add a tablespoon of salt and two tablespoons of vinegar
- Add the slices of eggplants to blanch
- Remove the eggplant from the wok and place it in a baking dish
- Sprinkle Italian seasoning (see above)
- Fry some minced garlic in olive oil
- Add peeled tomatoes with the sauce from the can
- Drizzle some olive oil over the eggplant
- Pour the tomato sauce over the eggplant
- Pour one tablespoon of fish sauce over the eggplant (this gives an anchovy taste to the eggplant)
- Add topping of mozzarella cheese
- Bake until the mozzarella cheese has melted
You can also leave out the cheese and just bake the eggplant with the tomato sauce.
This recipe is for my friend Emily, who has been following this blog from the time it was just an idea until now!
By Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 14 March 2021