Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chocolate Fondue

If you are searching for a quick, simple to prepare, yet satisfying dessert to serve up at your next casual dinner party, consider the chocolate fondue. It is easy to prepare (think - slicing fruits and putting them into bowls), most of it can be prepared ahead of time, and it still has that wow factor - who doesn't like the idea of dipping fruit into melted chocolate?

If you have a chocolate fondue set at home, that's great. You could also buy a cheap, simple one - mine are just a pair of little ceramic bowls on metal stands atop tea-light candles. Or else, get some small microwaveable bowls, add some chocolate chips in each, microwave them (a minute, then half a minute at a time on HIGH until the chocolate has melted) and serve the small bowls up to each guest or pair of guests. At the rate I eat the fondue, the chocolate doesn't have time to set, but if it did, just toss it back into the microwave.

Suggested toppings are strawberries, sliced bananas, marshmallows, sliced green apples, and small balls of ice-cream (scoop small balls of ice-cream and place them slightly apart on foil-lined baking trays. Freeze until set, then serve with the chocolate fondue).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pumpkin & Pancetta Pasta II

On the second day of the New Year, I was already running low on fresh meat in the fridge, so I turned to my stock of preserved meat, namely some cubed pancetta. I combined the pancetta with pumpkin and cherry tomatoes and roasted it all in the oven to make a simple pasta sauce. It's the same pasta recipe that I made last Halloween (Roasted Pumpkin & Pancetta Pasta), except that for Halloween, I used squid ink spaghetti for a more ghoulish effect. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Year of the Ox - Burger


Apologies for not posting in a while, I've just finished up a project I was working on, and that took up most of my time for the past few weeks. Happy Chinese New Year for those celebrating! The first day of Chinese New Year was on 26th Jan, and we've been enjoying our 3-day holiday here in Hong Kong. Many small shops and restaurants close at this time of the year, so I tend to go on a grocery shopping frenzy beforehand to stock up the kitchen. I've been cooking almost non-stop (or so it seems) the past few days, and I'm finally taking a break - until lunchtime.

This year is the Year of the Ox, and although it was not planned, we ended up having (beef) burgers for lunch. I knew I would have a few days of cooking coming up, and some late nights, so I'd made the patties in advance and froze them. It made the world of difference in timing to simply defrost and re-heat the patties, and put together the rest of the burger. 

The recipe for my simple beef mince homemade burgers are here. If you are not raw onion eater (like me), or you don't like the taste of onion much, fry the onions first before adding them to the raw mince. That way, you can still have a medium-cooked burger, without the overpowering taste of semi-cooked onions. 

I topped the burgers with some avocado slices, mushrooms, melted cheese, and a homemade tomato sauce. This sauce is really quick and easy to make, and is a nice alternative to tomato slices (or store bought tomato ketchup) in your burgers. It can also be used as a dip for chicken nuggets, fish fingers, or as a topping for some pan fried seabass, etc.

Easy Homemade Tomato Sauce...

Easy Homemade Tomato Sauce
8 - 10 cherry tomatoes
1 Tbsp light olive oil
red pepper flakes (optional)
1. Slice the cherry tomatoes into quarters.
2. Heat up the oil in a small frying pan. Add the tomatoes and fry over medium high heat.
3. Squeeze the tomatoes with a spoon/spatula so their juices ooze out.
4. Add a few shakes of red pepper flakes if you like your sauce spicy (optional).
5. Continue frying until the tomato and their skins break down and the sauce thickens.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Another Bento delivery...

Yesterday, I popped over to my friend's place and delivered a soba salad bento lunch. It was a last minute decision, so I didn't have much time to prepare, which meant I arrived at around 2pm - my trick is to make the person I'm feeding so hungry that whatever I dish out is tasty. HA. 

Soba noodle salads are quick to make and relatively healthy. I mixed the noodles with a little sesame oil and soba sauce, sliced cucumbers, sugar snap peas, shredded egg omelette and served it with some hot smoked salmon. Kiwi fruit and blackberries were added for fruit content and colour, and overall I felt quite pleased with the amount of fruit and veggie in the dish. That's one of my new year's decision, by the way, to eat more fruit and veg...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tuna Spaghetti Aglio e Olio Bento

tuna pasta bento
I stopped making bento over the holiday period, and am slowly getting back to it. Today's bento lunch is a leftover from last night's dinner - Tuna Spaghetti Aglio e Olio. I made a slight variation to the recipe by adding a squirt of tomato paste to it (around 1 Tbsp) - when you mix it through, you can't really taste the tomato, you just get a bit of added flavour coating the spaghetti. I also substituted the rocket leaves for baby spinach leaves. 

Also in the bento are some kiwi fruit, half a nashi pear and the odd frozen raspberry (for colour). This year I'm really going to try adding more fruit and vegetables to my diet...

This pasta should really be eaten warm, so I packed it in my microwavable container. The fruits are sitting in little plastic sections that can easily be lifted up before heating the pasta. I then sprinkled a few drops of water over the pasta before microwaving it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Chinese Rice Congee

Rice congee, or rice porridge, is a very popular dish in Asia. It is often eaten for breakfast, supper, or as a substitute for rice, and there are many different styles - thick, thin, plain, or boiled with other ingredients. My favourite style is the traditional Cantonese style of congee, where the rice has been boiled a long time and has broken down into a very smooth, medium-thick liquid. 

Although congee is available all over Hong Kong, I still like to make it at home (for dinner). It's the laziness speaking again, but I usually follow my mother's recipe and make chicken congee, which is basically just boiling a roast chicken, rice and water together until the rice and chicken are both soft and tender. If you have a large rice cooker, making congee is a snap. However it is also easy to make in a large pot, and if you like the rice in your congee smooth and broken down as I do, I discovered a quick and easy method of making smooth congee without having to boil it for hours.

Continue reading...

(Chicken) Rice Congee
(makes a large pot, enough for 4+ servings)
240g rice
half roast chicken (with or without the skin)
chicken stock (optional)
spring onions and ginger (optional, as garnish)
1. In a medium-sized saucepan, add the rice and some cold water. Swirl the rice around the pot with your hand to "wash" it. Pour away the water and repeat, until the water runs clear. Drain, then add 2 cups cold water.

2. Cover the saucepan and bring the rice and water to a boil. When it is boiling, remove the lid and allow the rice and water to continue boiling on medium high heat. Stir the rice frequently with a plastic ladle.

3. When you see most of the liquid has been evaporated or absorbed by the rice, stir and mash the rice with the ladle. This aids the rice in breaking down faster. When most of the liquid has disappeared, stir another 1/2 cup of cold water into the rice.


4. Continue to stir and mash, and add another 1/2 cup cold water into the rice. Continue mashing the rice with the ladle until it is soft and the grains have broken down.


5. Once the rice is soft and mushy, add more water and stir until you reach the consistency of congee you like - this may be thick, or thinner, according to your preference. Add the roast chicken. You may need to transfer everything to a larger pot at this stage. If you are making plain congee, boil the congee for a bit longer, then season as per Step 7.

6. Boil the rice and chicken until the chicken is tender. The rice will thicken slightly again, so add a little more water if necessary. Pick out the chicken bones before serving (or if you are lazy like me, and not feeding this congee to children, you can leave them in!)

7. Taste and season with white pepper, salt, and some chicken stock (if required). Sprinkle some chopped spring onions and ginger on top before serving (optional).

Optional: If you have some chicken/turkey/pork bones lying around (!), you can use this as stock for additional flavour. Put the bones in another pot, cover them with water and boil. Keep the stock liquid boiling as you boil the rice, and add the stock liquid to the rice instead of the plain water.

Tip: Instead of chicken, you can also add fish fillets, or minced pork.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Tomato Ketchup Spaghetti

tomato pasta
We are back from our short holiday and my post-holiday laziness has kicked in. I've not been very inspired in the kitchen, so last night YH bought a roast chicken home and I paired this with a favourite side dish that I've eaten and loved since childhood - tomato ketchup (or tomato sauce) spaghetti. My mother first ate this when she was young and studying in Ireland - her landlady used to serve this up to them fairly often (it's simple and cheap, I suppose) and my mum re-created this recipe for us when we were growing up. 

The pasta itself doesn't sound that impressive - just spaghetti, garlic, oil and yes, tomato ketchup straight from the bottle, but do give it a try - I liked this pasta even during the days I didn't like ketchup. You must serve this with some sort of meat, though, as the pasta on its own is very bland. My mum always served it with pork chops, but sausages, roast chicken, and lamb also work well.

Continue reading...

Tomato Ketchup Spaghetti
light olive oil
1 bulb garlic, peeled and chopped
tomato ketchup (I use Heinz, but use whatever brand you prefer)
1. Cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions. Drain and set aside.

2. Heat up a saucepan on low heat and pour in some olive oil (around 3 - 4 Tbsp, or enough to coat the amount of pasta you have).

3. Add the chopped garlic and fry gently on low heat until the garlic is golden and fragrant (be careful not to burn the garlic).

4. Pour the spaghetti into the saucepan (you may need to loosen up the pasta with some water first if it has clumped together) and mix it with the garlic oil until well coated. Turn off the heat.

5. Squeeze tomato ketchup (tomato sauce) into the spaghetti and mix well. Add enough ketchup to coat the spaghetti. Season with a little salt and pepper, and more ketchup if necessary.

6. Serve as a side dish to meat, such as pork, chicken, or lamb. Place the bottle of ketchup on the table so those who prefer more sauce can help themselves.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: 3 Generations, Cruising to 3 Countries, for 1 Big Celebration

31 December, 2008, 4:00 PM – Along a narrow corridor on Deck 2 of Royal Caribbean’s cruise ship Legend of the Seas, 3 generations of my family were re-united to spend the last few hours of 2008 together.

We’d traveled down from different parts of Asia for a 5-night cruise around Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday, and of course, the new year. I’d not seen my parents, sister, her husband and baby Julian for over a year, so it was a very happy reunion.

We explored our new home, and in the evening, donned our life-jackets for a compulsory “muster” (evacuation drill). Luckily, there were no icebergs floating around in the tropical evening heat. After that, it was time for our first dinner on board and we made our way eagerly to the Romeo & Juliet dining room. I wasn’t too impressed by the name (too cheesy and brought to mind that old tv show The Love Boat), but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of food served there. Continue reading...

There were 7 starters and 10 different main dishes to choose from, with a good mix of Asian and Western selections. As food was already included in the cruise package, you could freely select as many or as few dishes as you wanted. This type of dining is particularly dangerous for my family, as we are all mad about food.

I started with the Vidalia Onion Tart which had been recommended by our waiter. It was excellent, with sweet Vidalia onions and Gruyére cheese, baked together and served with sautéed red peppers and a leek fondue sauce at the side. The pastry was crusty and flaky, and the onions soft and piping hot. My sister and parents also loved the tart, and after tasting some of mine, my husband YH ordered one as well.

My second starter was the Hot & Sour Shrimp Soup. It was a clear soup, and tasted like Thai tom yam soup without the red curry paste. It was very spicy, which was to my liking, with a delicate lemongrass flavour, but the prawns in the soup were limp and totally tasteless (a sad case of boiled-to-death seafood).

For the main course, everyone at our table ordered the Slow-Roasted Prime Rib, served with a horseradish jus and potato. When the dish arrived, we all gaped at the large slab of meat reclining across the entire dinner plate. It was delicious, though. Tender and juicy, as stated on the menu.

We also ordered the recommended Pan-Seared Atlantic Salmon to sample, which was served with braised lentils, green beans, snow peas and a verjus beurre blanc. Unfortunately the salmon was dry and overcooked, and worse of all, had a slightly fishy taste.

Although by now we were all stuffed full, we felt obligated to order dessert. I tried the Strawberry Pavlova, and it was surprisingly good. Pavlova has never excited me that much, as I’ve always found it too sweet, but this one had a perfect blend of texture and taste, with its not-too-sweet crispy meringue, soft fresh cream and strawberry compote. I also tasted a little of the lemon sherbert, which could only be described as - strange. It was neither creamy, nor icy, neither sour not sweet… it ended up being just a cold goo. If I’d been hungry it may have been more appealing…

After dinner, we headed to the theatre for a live magic show, and then it was time to gather around the centre of the ship to countdown the new year. The ship generously provided free flutes of champagne, and as the clock struck twelve, 2000 balloons were released from above as the live band played “Auld Lang Syne”. It was a lovely moment.

The night wasn’t over yet, as we had a little birthday surprise for my dad. The previous day, I’d made some sticky date maple cupcakes and had packed them along with me in an airtight bento box (lunch box). After the new year festivities had settled down, we headed to a quiet corner, and by removing the container’s lid and adding some candles on top, I presented my dad with a little birthday “cake”. I knew we would all be too full and I wanted something that could travel and keep well, so these mini cupcakes were perfect. My dad loved them, and everyone managed to eat (and enjoy) a cupcake, despite our enormous dinner…

Our night was a huge success, and extremely memorable. We all felt it was very special as we were able to meet and celebrate together as a family. Thanks to my mum for organizing this cruise and to Foodbuzz for selecting my entry as part of their 24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Blogs special.

Happy New Year! And here’s wishing everyone a very blessed year ahead.