Tag Archives: winter

Back to the sunny island

One must maintain a little bittle of summer, even in the middle of winter.
~ Henry David Thoreau

Life has been pretty busy lately and I’ve scarcely been in the kitchen. Whenever I have, I have either been relying heavily on the oven (looks a sight, but this roast beef was quite delicious, if I do say so myself)…

… or whipping up quick things like this poached salmon omelette and these mushrooms with cream and truffle oil (it took less than half an hour in all to prep and cook for us three). Mopped up the mushroom juices with crusty sourdough… mmm.

And now it is nearly 1.00am and I am in a singlet and shorts, relishing summer and marvelling at the way a plane ride transports you across time and distance to a totally different world in mere hours. How good pilots and planes are! Yes, here I am in Singapore again, low on sleep but not too low mood-wise. For dinner tonight I met Brandon, friend-of-a-friend passing through Singapore, and we feasted on thosai, prata, chicken biryani, peppered chicken (all for SGD$12.50) and ice-cold beer somewhere in Little India, Singapore. We walked down several alleys and streets before we settled on an eating place, so I am afraid I have no idea where exactly this was.

And this is all I’ll write for now, my laptop is gasping through the last bars of its battery life and I’m too lazy to unearth the plug from the depths of my suitcase. Good night (or morning!)

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Spicy turnaround couscous

Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I’m taking with me when I go.
~ Erma Bombeck

I owe a few things to my friend Matt: a heightened appreciation for crazy music, my big spice and herb library, and a moderate dislike of bright orange jackets, amongst other things. It is the spice and herb thing I am thinking of tonight as I write this post.

See, I grew up experiencing all sorts of food and flavours – one of the perks of growing up with a kitchen-whiz Grandma and travel-loving parents in Asia. Somehow, though, fresh herbs, dried herbs and all these wonderful things like cinnamon, nutmeg and paprika escaped my attention until 2008/9 (thanks Matt). Thereafter, I couldn’t get enough of them… well, most of them…

There was this one pretty spice, cayenne pepper, that I didn’t fancy quite so much. Probably because it set my head on fire a few times. While Matt continued to sprinkle it into a few dishes, I stayed clear of it and moved it to the back of the cupboard whenever I saw it hovering hopefully near the door. When I moved to Auckland last year, I gladly left it off the shopping list for the whole year.

Then this week happened: an army of germs descended on me like gnomes on gold – and I was in the mood only for unsexy vegetable soup and lemon + honey drinks. It hurt to blink and sleep eluded me… and one evening, in a fit of desperation, I threw open the pantry door and searched for something that would send the germs away. For some reason, there was cayenne pepper in there, and for a more bizarre reason, I reached for the red dust I had avoided for so long. I chopped up a few bits and pieces (spinach leaves, ham, garlic, onion, capsicum), threw it all into a skillet with 1/2 a can of tomatoes and shook in some cayenne pepper in a mad frenzy.

And do you know, my sore throat disappeared shortly afterwards.

    Spicy turnaround couscous
    Recommended for remedying sore throats and related cold symptoms
    Ingredients:
    1/4 cup couscous
    Olive oil
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 tbsp butter
    1/2 onion, chopped
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1/2 capsicum
    Handful of baby spinach leaves
    100g ham, chopped
    1/2 can chopped tomatoes in juice
    Cayenne pepper – a very generous pinch, though be prepared to explode if you are not used to it
    Salt and pepper to taste
    Method:
    In a skillet, heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add in the onion and fry till fragrant, then add in the garlic, cayenne pepper and capsicum and fry for 2-3 minutes. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and throw in the spinach leaves, then lower the heat and leave to simmer for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
    In the meantime, place 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan and bring it to a rolling boil. Add in the salt and 1 tbsp of oil. Remove from the heat, add in the couscous, then cover and leave for 2 minutes. Uncover the saucepan, place it over very low heat, and add in a little more boiling water if the bottom of the pan looks too dry or if the couscous is sticking together. Stir in the butter, then remove from the heat again.
    Place the couscous in a bowl and spoon the cayenne-flavoured mixture on top of it. Mix well and serve immediately.
    Yields one serving.

Winter + oven =

It is, in my view, the duty of an apple to be crisp and crunchable, but a pear should have such a texture as leads to silent consumption.
~ Edward Bunyard, The Anatomy of Dessert

I chanced upon this delightful post by Chef Millie and it sounded too delicious not to make.

So last night I made a slightly modified (to suit what I had in my pantry) version of this roasted pear, leek and chicken salad – and… tonight, I made it again (admittedly again modified to suit what I had in my fridge). I don’t think I have ever cooked the same thing twice in a row when cooking for others – but try it and you may just decide to make this for dinner every day for the rest of the week. Or month? ;-)

I actually felt a little guilty when John, Fran and Heather complimented me on this dish because it was really so easy. There is no real need to measure anything, and ingredients can be substituted. Everything goes into a baking tray, which goes into an oven – and you can read a book or take a shower then sit down for dinner and have just one tray to wash afterwards. Magic!

Last night, I roasted leeks, pear wedges and chicken breasts and plated it individually atop a bed of baby cos/romaine lettuce with toasted Turkish bread on the side.

Tonight, I baked yellow capsicum pieces, pear wedges, half a leek and chicken thighs and placed the tray on the table for everyone to help themselves. Along with this I toasted ciabatta with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper on each slice, and served up bowls of Nigel Slater’s pumpkin, tomato and cannellini bean soup for us all. I still had a bottle of sparkling Sauvignon Blanc from Mindfood magazine so that found its way to the table too…

Main modifications with this recipe: I used different parts of the chicken; smeared wholegrain mustard on the chicken and left out mustard seeds; added in rosemary last night, thyme tonight; changed the goats’ cheese to feta; used more garlic. I also left out the step at the end to heat the fat on the stove and deglaze with red wine vinegar, even though it sounded divine – purely to save time, will have to try it next time!

So I already knew that chicken + mustard + herbs + salt + pepper + oven is often bound to please, but baked leeks and pears together? – a revelation for me. The leeks went slightly pink and so sweet and melting; and pears – they are a total pleasure to eat raw, but when cooked – they are like a golden crown, a fancy something. I really like cooked pears – they make a meal special, somehow. Oh, and fennel seeds – I wish I had discovered them sooner. Now I have to actively restrain myself from this wild urge to spray them liberally on everything…

Mmmmmmm crumble

I have an enormous fondness for delicious food. It’s very comforting.
~ Teri Garr

I turned 24 this week, and friends, family and circumstances have all contributed towards making it a truly splendid birthday. It does makes me laugh, though, to think about the fact that each year I get an extra number awarded to me; a number to stick on my age and recite with pride. To be able to say “Hey, I’m 24, no longer 23!” feels like a prize I don’t deserve, for each year, I am more humbled by people, by life, by myself; I am more conscious of just how much I don’t know.

I wonder if I’ll ever really grow up. There’s just so much to learn and explore.

About love and family, for instance. Recently, I spent an entire morning with my Dad. I didn’t realise how much I didn’t know about him as a man, a person. I didn’t realise just how much he loved me. I didn’t realise how he has grown so much in humility. We talked in the sunshine, sharing stories and secrets. We admitted our faults. We talked about dreams.

There were points at which I could not hold back tiny streams of tears; but they fell in the midst of such happiness.

It is a mistake to underestimate the ones we love, or to think we couldn’t know them better. It is a mistake to think that secrets protect us; the opposite is true. There is a powerful, magnificent freedom in truth – a glorious thing to really know and be known.

Recently, I also came to realise a few things about myself. The last few months have been hectic with lots of things happening – challenges in every area – country relocation, job uncertainty, relationships… I had wonderful moments in the midst of things, of course, but I also experienced despair, anger and other indescribable feelings.

I came face to face with some things I’ve never resolved. It was scary and tough, but it felt good to face them and deal with them.

A few nights ago, I cried heavily, only this time – the tears felt hopeful, and I did not feel crushed. After the tears, I saw only clarity.

It’s great getting to know myself. To explore. To know others. To seek. To find. To touch and wallow in life – thrills, horrors and all.

I do hope this journey never ends.

Before I sign off, I’d like to share a recipe for some delicious crumble (too good not to share – and thanks Matt, what a treat tonight)!

As always, recipe writing doesn’t come naturally to me – but there is great fun to be had in experimenting, so take the recipe as a guide and make your own yummy version!

    Sweet and spicy crumble
    Ingredients:
    3 cans of fruit (we used apricots, mangoes, pears)
    Light brown sugar
    Muscovado sugar
    1 tsp cinnamon
    1 tsp chinese five spice powder
    1.5 tbsp amaretto
    50g fresh ginger, grated
    Crumble topping:
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    2 cups rolled oats
    100ml olive oil
    3/4 cup light brown sugar
    1 tsp chinese five spice powder
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 180°C.
    Slice the canned fruit, and arrange the fruit slices in a flat layer on the base of an oven-proof baking dish. Sprinkle cinnamon, grated ginger, amaretto and sugars evenly across the fruit.
    In a separate bowl, mix together the ingredients for the crumble topping until well combined, adjusting the quantity of oil if needed. Spread this evenly across the fruit mixture.
    Bake the crumble for approximately 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and it is bubbling inside. Your house should also be smelling wonderful!
    Serve with a generous scoop of French Vanilla ice cream. If you can, pour yourself a glass of sweet late harvest too – perfection!
    Yields approximately 5 servings.

Recipe for calm

Be kind to yourself.

When my nose decides that it’s actually a dribbly fountain or when my brain goes on holiday, I know what they are hinting at to me: that it’s time for a hot lemon, honey & ginger drink.

    Lemon, honey & ginger drink
    OR
    1 tsp honey
    a squeeze of lemon
    a pinch of chopped ginger
    1 mug hot water
    Method:
    Stir the ingredients into the hot water till the honey melts. Sit down and drink slowly, over conversation with a good friend or while reading a good book.
    Note: this drink also aids concentration at work.
    Yields 1 serving – adjust quantities to taste and as desired.

Avgolemono

Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.
~ Pietro Aretino

Did you think I’d given up cooking through “Falling Cloudberries”? I was afraid I had too. However, it isn’t December yet, so I guess I’m not allowed to give up!

Tonight, I decided to try my hand at making this Greek dish from Tessa Kiros’ “Falling Cloudberries” to warm us up…
#56 Avgolemono (Chicken Soup with Egg & Lemon) – Page 82

I tripled the amount of carrot and celery used in this broth, and absolutely loved inhaling the aroma of this while it simmered slowly on the stove. No butter, no oil, just sweet veges, flavourful parsley, piquant peppercorns and – of course – a grand free range chicken.

Tessa Kiros’s recipe for this yielded 4 generous servings of sweet, comforting broth with a refreshing twist of lemon, creaminess from the egg and a smattering of rice to provide texture. We had the chicken (tender and still sweet) and vegetables on the side. I am so pleased with the result of this!

In other news, we visited La Cigale yesterday where I picked up some yummy turkish delight, and Mandy and I introduced ourselves to the whimsical world of macaroons…. oh, and I also had a lovely chicken liver parfait brioche, which made for a tasty breakfast. I kicked myself for not having my camera with me as we watched a man sifting almond sugar on to his tray of croissants, people surveying the spread of fresh organic vegetables, a grumpy woman selling jam…