Apricots & Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 36 (1.5-inch diameter)
A Monster in the Kitchen
Specifically, a Cookie Monster. I've never made cookies as far as I can remember. But after seeing a reader's recipe in Everyday Food (October 2010, pp.128-9), I thought why not give it a try? After all, JL likes cookies and this is something he can snack on anytime both at home and in between classes. I have heavily adapted what was originally "date and nut cookies" into a combination which he couldn't resist - chocolate and dried apricots. But to be really honest, I planned for a chocolate-pineapple combo. No such luck for me as the grocery shop across the street had to run out of dried pineapples the very day.
Apricots & Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 36 (1.5-inch diameter)
Finally, My Own Favicon!
This sounds somewhat superficial but, do you like it?
I thought it'll be more professional to have a unique favicon for the website. First I did not even know it is called a "favicon". Ten minutes later I found out just how easy it is to make one, even without Photoshop or MS Paint.
So here's one "designed" using Microsoft Powerpoint! The color palette celebrates the unsung heroes of everyday food: red onions and greens, aubergines and grapes. The typeface brings about memories of my father's old Olivetti typewriter. Hope you guys like it. I certainly do.
Ground Turkey: The Sequel
Leftovers - can't live without them and somehow can't live with them. For one, they clog up fridge space. Two, they make you think of ways to "re-use" them differently. Not that I am complaining! From the ground turkey & tofu meal, the extras were used the next day with the last two rolls of bean noodles in the little pantry. Double-clearing... efficient, no?
By chance (or out of desperation, actually) I came up with a pretty decent homemade noodle sauce: a tablespoon each of olive oil and kicap manis, three drops of sesame oil, a dash of garlic powder and a grind of peppercorn. Mix it well in the bowl before adding the noodles and toss. Simple and well, decent.
JL said it reminded him of the bak-chor mee which a former colleague used to have almost every time they lunch together near the office, along River Valley Road. I think he was referring to the bowl composition. Don't worry, darling, there's no black vinegar in this one. But please don't remind me anymore of hawker food I missed from Singapore...
Butternut Squash Soup
Cold nights call for warm, comforting soups. What a timely article in last weekend's Wall Street Journal. Unlike the husband who scrutinizes every headline, my hand reaches for the Off Duty section and ignores everything else (there're only 24 hours a day).
The following recipe was adapted from Daniel Rose's which can be found here. It was also my first time making soup with just water and skimmed milk (instead of stock). Nonetheless the soup was sweet, light and delicious.
Ground Turkey & Tofu
I love tofu. Let me rephrase: I love any soy product, whatever you call it - tofu, beancurd, beancurd skins both dry or wet, beansprouts, taugeh, taukwa, taupok, taukee, soy milk, soy sauce, okay don't let me go there. My parents' generation would claim that by having soy milk, one's baby will be fair-skinned; or one would have fairer complexion.
JL hardly fancies tofu as much as I do -- it's not his fault as I really love tofu. But over the years, I've tried to introduce tofu as a meal by itself. He doesn't mind it, as long as it's between fortnights or longer. Most people avoid tofu as it is bland but the trick is really to let it take on a supporting role. The lead is usually taken up by some form of well-seasoned meat - preferably "soft" meat. For example, stir-fried minced meat or poultry, braised meat or poultry, or steamed fish.
Here's an easy one which only takes 10 minutes to cook.
Roasted Beef & Mushroom Soup
Thanks to Borders, Kinokuniya, and the Indian news-vendor at Holland Village in Singapore, I was a frequent reader of common American titles such as Real Simple, Bon Appétit and Martha Stewart Living. But little did I know that Ms Stewart has another publication called Everyday Food. It's quite a cute magazine because it is only the size of Reader's Digest, and packed with easily 50 recipes.
In the October 2010 issue, there is an article on roasted soups with five different recipes. But why the need to roast something when it is already meant to be "souped"? Because roasting concentrates the flavours in your meats and vegetables and thus giving your end-product, the soup, a richer, deeper kick.
I adapted this entry from one of them - the roasted beef, mushroom and barley soup - simply because there is no barley in the kitchen, but had some celery and carrots which I wanted to clear. Having them both gave a sweeter taste to the soup while keeping it clear. Also, JL suggested having this as pasta soup. But I am often rebellious and used Chinese noodles instead.
Quicktime Cucumber Salad
This salad makes a sweet countermelody to the Japanese beef curry from an earlier post. It must be one of the simplest salads in the world since it only requires cutting up some cucumbers and red onion before adding a mix of Japanese rice vinegar, sugar and sesame oil.
And while we're dealing with cucumbers, I'd like to share this thing I do with it. I don't have a legitimate explanation for it but my mother and her mother did this all the time so I'm just keeping the tradition. Cut an inch off the head of the cucumber and rub both parts against each other. You will see some white substance (pulp?) emerging as a result. Apparently doing this gets rid of the bitter taste in cucumbers and yes, it is true.
Anyway let's get back to the salad: it is pretty intuitive but here's a rough guide if you're trying it for the first time.
3 cucumbers, quartered length-wise, deseeded, cut in 1/2-inch chunks
1 red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons Japanese rice vinegar
2 tablespoons white fine sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
(Optional) 1 tablespoon lightly toasted sesame and/or torn-up sheet of Nori seaweed
1. Toss the cucumbers, red onion, rice vinegar, sugar and sesame oil in a glass bowl.
2. Sprinkle with toasted sesame and the Nori seaweed to add more texture to the salad.
When it comes to balance of taste, it's all about individual preferences. The above should not make you cringe, though.
Japanese Beef Curry
When we lived in Singapore, we'd frequent a quaint little Japanese manga shop cum eatery at Robertson Quay. Run by a team of no more than eight (2 kitchen staff, Japanese lady boss, her funky Japanese assistant and 4 serving staff), it serves down-to-earth homecooked Japanese fare. Common sights include Japanese couples with their kids enjoying both their meals and manga's in silence; or solo Japanese male expatriates having a quiet meal with beer. It is because of Bon Gout that I sometimes crave the taste of Japanese curry. And the problem can be solved rather easily with my pressure cooker and one essential item in my little pantry: the S&B Golden Curry Sauce Mix.
1.5 pound beef, cut into 1-inch cubes, lightly season with salt
1 large potato, cubes
3-4 carrots, cubes
1 yellow onion, halved and sliced
1.5 cup water
2 tablespoon olive oil
S&B Golden Curry Sauce Mix
1. Heat pot with olive oil and sweat the onion for about 5 minutes.
2. Add beef cubes and brown them as much as possible.
3. Add carrots and potato and mix evenly.
4. Add water and pressure cook for 15 minutes.
5. Lastly break the sauce mix into cubes and add them in.
6. Keep stirring until the sauce thickens to your liking.
This easily serves 4 adults. Have it with Japanese white rice and a simple cucumber salad that counters the heat and texture.
If you wish, you could add other vegetables such as celery without overly distorting the original taste. I usually have leftovers (no one's complaining) which I keep in Pyrex glass containers. The sauce naturally thickens by a lot when stored overnight but you only need to stir in a few spoonfuls of water to your desired consistency before microwaving it for the next meal.
Saving It for the Morning After
Some plus-points for making broths, soups or even stews in large quantities:
1. You can invite friends over and not be afraid of insufficient food.
2. If you're of the more "private" kind, you can have it all for your own consumption.
3. If you have babies big and small to care for, you can save up to an hour of preparing food.
4. If you wish to challenge your creativity, the leftovers will surely keep you on your toes.
Look at that, ma!
Or if you are like me, you'd prefer to keep your stuff overnight just so you can remove the fatty bits from it the next day. This is so easy and makes it even healthier. You only have to gently skim the yellow layer off. Two minutes max.
Now wouldn't you be glad you're not putting all that disgusting bits in your body? By the way, this is last night's roasted beef and mushroom soup.
And needless to say, overnight stuff tends to be more delicious as the ingredients really start to cosy up together. Think of it like having 4 guys stuck in the elevator for a night. In a good way.
Whenever we stay with JL's parents in the south of France, I enjoy following the mother-in-law's kitchen activities. She is amazing - she can whip up a tart, cake, pie, almost anything as effortlessly as we'd make instant coffee. Alright, I exaggerate a little but really, even though every meal is prepared by her, I hardly see her working in the kitchen.
Inspired by this, and since I had an empty kitchen, I decided to get a pressure cooker. I had never used one but I hope it will be for keeps. So far I am having a good time with Fagor's Splendid 2-in-1 pressure cooker set. The set consists of a 4-litre and 6-litre stainless steel pot with good handles, and two different lids - one which looks like most glass lids while the other a pressure cooker lid. One can use these interchangably because they have the same diameter. There is also a steamer basket which I have yet to unwrap.
It would be unfair to compare pressure cookers to good old cast-iron Dutch ovens. The former is used when under time constraint; the latter when you know that something lovely is simmering very slowly in the kitchen, and the waiting makes it even more rewarding.
Sure there are stories about pressure cookers exploding or how unsafe it is but I believe in reading manuals and taking precautions before using a new tool. At the very least, show a little respect for the things you use and take good care of them. And there'll be many meals to come, satisfying one's craving for Japanese curry or a hearty beef stew, especially when the temperature drops.
JL and S grew up in France and Malaysia respectively. They met while living in Singapore, stayed a year in the USA (Cambridge, MA) then the south of France, Malaysia, and are back again in the USA (New York, NY).