Friday, May 31, 2013

The Oils

Lets talk about oils. Yes, I know there are some who regard "oil" as a bad word. I'm not kidding, I know people like that. Anyway, when used in moderation, its actually good for you and of course, helps your food taste better.

Lets go through the list of more common oils we find in our stores here and their uses:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Great fruity flavor, best used in salad dressings, dips and sauces. Or for drizzling as a finishing touch to a dish. Not recommended for frying and over the stove cooking, mainly for 2 reasons, it has a low smoking point and strong flavor. The fruity flavor can alter the flavor profile of your dish.

Extra Light Olive Oil - Extra Light does not mean healthier. It just means extra light flavor. As opposed to Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Use as you would regular vegetable oil. For pan frying and roasting.

Vegetable Oil - May come from various sources, soya-bean, palm, corn, sunflower, canola etc.. General use oil for over the stove cooking. For frying, sauteing roasting etc. For a healthier choice, I prefer using Canola oil.

Grapeseed Oil - A great neutral flavoured oil, use as you would vegetable oil, but it is rather costly, I do not use it generally and Canola Oil does what I need it to do.

Peanut Oil - A great oil for high heat frying and deep frying. Reason being, peanut oil has a high smoking point. Meaning, it takes a higher temperature to "burn" or "smoke" peanut oil as opposed to other oils.

Flavoured nut oils, like macadamia, walnut etc.. - These are best used for drizzling over dishes, salads and some desserts.

Sesame Oil - Rich fragrant oil from toasted sesame seeds. Used for drizzling over Asian dishes (Chinese mostly) and sometimes in marinades as well.

You generally do not need to spend a lot just to have every type of oil in your kitchen. Know the oils and what you need them to do and just stock up on whatever you need. I personally have Extra Virgin for salads, Vegetable Oil/Extra Light Olive Oil for over the stove cooking and sesame oil in my pantry.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Eggs Benedict - with a twist

Weekend brunch, an activity that seems to be gaining in popularity here in Singapore over the last several years. I remember hearing the phrase "Eggs Benedict" may years ago and having to ask Wikipedia what it was. The wife loves her weekend brunch, even though I constantly remind her about how I feel that a lot of the popular brunch locales are grossly overpriced. 

There are those who really enjoy brunch food and do not have the inclination to make their own. Then there are those who enjoy taking pictures of their food and upping each other in "who went to the classier brunch place competition". Also not forgetting those who just want to be seen/tagged/<insert your preferred social network lingo> in a trendy brunch establishment. 

This reminds me of a quote:
"No matter how low things were in my life, how desperate, how unlovely my personal habits at the time, I could always get a brunch gig, the smell of failure for me is french toast.” Anthony Bourdain.

Interpret that however you like =P.

Anyway enough of my rants. Let's focus on the only parts that matter, the food and the eating.

I do enjoy brunch food (Bacon and eggs, what's not to like?). So I decided that this particular weekend I was going to stay home and make brunch. I got the idea of this dish from Chef John at He calls it the Monte Cristo Benedict.

It was really enjoyable. Actually no, it was not enjoyable, it was awesome.
It was like "French Toast" meets "Ham and Cheese" meets "Eggs Benedict".

Here is what you need for 2 portions.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Pumpkin Risotto

Wife loves pumpkin, wife loves risotto, so being the good hubby that I am *ahem*... what do I do? I whip up a plate of pumpkin risotto! I added some bacon and a poached egg for my benefit =).

Pumpkin Risotto with Poached Egg and Bacon
I felt that the egg made the meal a little bit more substantial. The risotto was sweet which made crispy bacon and grated Parmesan the perfect complements. But then again, bacon is already perfect on its own.

Here's what I used to serve 2

300grams pumpkin - diced into small cubes.
150 grams Arborio or Carnaroli rice. (Arborio is what you see in the picture)
4 cloves garlic - chopped
1/2 yellow onion - finely diced
700ml chicken stock
salt and pepper
Oil for frying

Topping and garnish:
4 rashers streaky bacon
2 poached eggs (poached eggs video by an instructor from CIA)
Freshly grated Parmesan

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Oven Braised Pork Belly

I get requests to do this dish for the occasional gatherings that take place at my humble home. It usually goes rather quickly. Popular even among the health conscious folks, to my initial surprise. It does take some time and effort to get done but the results are well worth it.

Oven Braised Pork Belly
Here's what you'll need to enough to serve 6-8.

1.5 kg slab of pork belly, skin on.
About 1.5 litres of brown chicken stock (recipe here)
2 carrots - peeled and roughly chopped.
2 stalks of celery - roughly chopped.
2 leeks (White and light green parts only) - roughly chopped.
1 yellow/white onion - roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic - peeled
few sprigs of thyme
oil for frying

Chicken Stock - White and Brown

Stocks are the secret weapon in many kitchens. They help add flavor and texture to dishes and sauces. You can purchase it from the store/supermarket or you can make your own. It is rather hard to come by a pack of pre-made stock no salt or msg (AKA: Yeast extract, yes some food labels use this term). Although I think some speciality stores do carry organic ones without salt or msg in them. I do sometimes use store bought stock out of convenience. Be careful using store bought stock as it can throw off the seasoning process (due to the salt/sodium content), especially if the dish requires a lot of reducing.

Home made stock is awesome and you can freeze it for months, taking it out only when you need to use it. The trick is freezing it in portions. You can use an ice-cub tray or small containers. Just remember to leave room for expansion of the liquid (about 20% space) or it'll break your container.

You will need to prepare what is referred to as Mirepoix (pronouced "meer pwah") in culinary lingo. I believe its a French Term meaning a rough cut of  Onions, Carrot and Celery. Its a base for countless soups, sauces and dishes.

( I adapted these stock recipes from chef Tom Colicchio's recipes)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Fried Rice with XO Sauce, Bean Sprouts and Silverfish

I had ready fried silverfish, bean sprouts and leftover rice. So naturally I thought, ok fried rice! Opened the fridge and saw Mr XO sauce staring at me, so he's also invited to the party.

XO Sauce Fried Rice

I can't seem to get enough of this fragrant, crunchy, savory, spicy fried rice.

Here is what I used:
Serves 2

2-3 rice bowls cooked rice
(should be dry and hard, like leftover rice from the fridge. Rice that is still nice and fluffy should not be used)
3/4 cup bean sprouts
4 stalks spring onion - Chopped
2 tablespoons fried silverfish (Link here for frying silverfish)
5 shallots - sliced
5 garlic cloves - chopped
2 eggs - beaten
2 tablespoons XO sauce
3 stalks of chilli padi - sliced (optional - its for super spicy eaters like me)
oil for frying
salt and pepper to season. (Ground white pepper is fine)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sambal Udang (Prawn)

Sambal is a chilli based condiment or sauce with its origins in Java Indonesia. Sambal usually comes in a paste-like form. It is also usually very very spicy. Traditional way of making Sambal is with a mortar and pestle, grinding the herbs and spices by hand.

This is a super spicy, super shiok Sambal prawn recipe I stole from my mum. Sorry mum, and erm oh, Happy Mother's Day Mum.

Sambal Udang

I adapted it a little, as the one my mom makes is often unbearably spicy when served to those outside our family. The wife ever called my family's need for this heat, shocking. Initially, I found it shocking that she found it shocking. I wonder if I can say that 5 times really fast.

Anyway, I adapted the use of tomato puree and more sugar. I have even made the effort to de-seed the chillies. I think I have managed to take it from my mum's "set your mouth ablaze" level of heat down to a more bearable level of "oh more water please!".

Here's what I used:

50 grams dried chillies - de-seeded and washed
2 purple onions (150 grams or so) - roughly chopped
2 yellow onions - sliced (you can use purple onions too, but I ran out of purples at this point)
4 tablespoons of sugar
1 can tomato puree (400 grams)
600 grams prawns - peeled and deveined (lightly seasoned with salt and pepper)

1/4 cup water
Juice of 1 large lime (or 2-3 small ones)

Oil for frying

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Peri Peri Chicken Chop

This really spicy tangy sauce originated in Portugal I think. The name Peri Peri (or Piri Piri) actually means "pepper pepper" in a North African dialect or language. The Peri Peri Pepper is a type of chilli found in parts of Africa (aka African Bird's Eye Chilli). It resembles the chilli padi we get here locally in Singapore (aka Bird's Eye Chilli).

Peri Peri Chicken Chop
Peri Peri Sauce
Here is what you'll need for the Sauce:

1 1/2 head of garlic, peeled (You can use up to 2 heads for a really strong garlic flavored sauce)
8 stalks of chilli padi
2 stalks of regular large chillies
1/2 - 3/4 cup of Light Olive Oil
Juice of 1 Lemon
Zest of 1 Lemon
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 bunch of coriander with roots cleaned

1. Add all the herbs and spices (including the lemon zest) into a blender and blend.

2. Add the oil gradually and continue to blend. Stop adding oil when you get the consistency you want.

3. Add in half of the sugar and half of the lemon juice, blend and taste. Continue to add remaining lemon juice and sugar gradually till you get the taste you want for the sauce.

4. Store in a jar or container and refrigerate. Flavor will develop further overnight.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Buttercup, its not butter! Its a flower....

Not entirely sure if this qualifies as a kitchen tip but I really feel the need to post this article.

I have had friends hold this in their hand and exclaim "This is butter!".  It makes me really sad that shrewd marketing/packaging wins out yet again.... This brand of spread that has been on our supermarket shelves for a while now.

Buttercup does not indicate butter anywhere on the pack
I do not know if they (the brand owners) are doing this on purpose, but the packaging is really misleading and people are actually falling for it!

People, do NOT buy this brand if you need/want butter. Especially if you are baking and your recipe calls for butter. It will likely ruin your attempt.

You go home thinking that you got a good deal, buying butter at half price. Think again. More like half butter at full price.

The list of ingredients in Buttercup's luxury spread.

It lists palm oil as the first ingredient. Ingredients are typically arranged from the highest proportion to the lowest. I am of the opinion that its closer to being margarine than butter. If you are against processed foods, this is way more processed than genuine butter. Also, palm oil does not strike me as particularly luxurious either.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mushroom Cream Sauce

This simple mushroom sauce recipe was taught to me by an old friend James a while ago. Former chef at an Italian Restaurant.
Mushroom Cream Sauce
I cannot remember the exact proportions he taught me at that time, it was years ago. I have made this several time and its always a hit with guests though. This recipe results in a smooth, rich and earthy sauce.

Here's what I used:

1-2 tablespoons of butter
1 yellow/white onion - Diced
200-250 grams Swiss browns or white button mushrooms - thinly sliced
1/3 - 1/2 cup of white wine (you can "cooking white wine" or any cheap dry white will do)
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves
200ml thickened cream
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese.

Will yield about 3 cups of sauce or 6-8 servings.


1. Heat butter in a pan over medium heat. (You can add a little oil to prevent the butter from burning too quickly)

2. Add onions and fry for 3 mins, stirring occasionally

3. When the onions begin to soften, add mushrooms and thyme to the pan and continue frying. As the mushrooms cook, they will release the water content from within. Just continue frying until most of the liquid has evaporated. You want to mushrooms to caramelize slightly, to release their deep nutty flavor. Do not add the wine before that. The cold liquid will hinder that from happening. Also, the wine is used to mop up all the wonderful brown goodness that is stuck to the pan when the shrooms and onions caramelize.

4. Add the white wine to the pan and simmer for a about 2-3 mins or until most of liquid as evaporated. Make sure to mop up the wonderful brown bits that are stuck to the base of the pan.

5. Add the cream and mix well. Lower the heat to low, to prevent cream from going into a rolling boil. Then add in the Parmesan. Mix well.

6. Turn off heat, add salt and pepper to taste. You are now ready to serve the mushroom sauce.

Spicy Pork Sausage Patties

Got inspired while watching a cooking show on TV. Love how these sausage patties turned out.

Pork Sausages with Mushroom Sauce
The resulting patty of this recipe was sweet, spicy, salty at the same time. My wife, who is not usually a "pork" person actually liked this.

Here's what you'll need:

(Creates about 4-5 patties)

400gm minced pork
1 yellow onion, finely diced
5-6 garlic cloves, finely diced
2 teaspoons paprika
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Salmon Poached in Miso broth

Got this recipe when reading one of Gordon Ramsay's books.

Thought it was nice healthy looking dish, so I decided to give it a try.

Salmon poached in Miso broth
This dish is rather easy to prepare. Results were surprisingly good. The salmon remained moist, the broth was pleasantly savory and the pek chye stems gave the dish a nice crunch. The chilli added another dimension to the miso broth, which was quite good.

This is what used to serve 2.

1 Salmon fillet - about 400grams (preferably with skin on as it helps to hold the flesh together during cooking) and bones removed (if any still remain)
2-3 tbsp Miso paste
1 red chilli, de-seeded and thinly sliced. (cutting the chilli lengthwise is an easy way to de-seed it)
2 bunches of Sio Pek Chye or Bok Choy
3 stalks of spring onions - chopped
150gms of broccoli - chopped
1 small pack of enoki mushrooms - Roots off, washed and roughly separated

1 liter Vegetable or fish stock (Optional)
A few drops of sesame oil

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Spaghetti Arrabbiata with Shrimp and Scallops

Wife had this dish sometime ago while we were eating out and she began suggesting that I try it out at home. So I decided last weekend to give it a shot.

Spaghetti Arrabbiata with Shrimp and Scallops

The name "Arrabbiata" actually comes from the word "Angry" in Italian, referring to the spiciness of this dish or sauce. Its a tomato based sauce that is spiced up with chillies. Some places use sweet peppers but the best Arrabbiatas I've tasted use dried chillies/peppers. Dried chillies have that slightly bittersweet flavor and aroma, coupled with the heat that it gives off.

I was rather pleased with how it turned out, the sauce had a good flavor. Most importantly, wifey was happy with it.

Here's what I used to serve 2:

Cooking oil or light olive oil for frying.
1 can diced tomatoes (drain off the liquid from the can)
1/3 cup white wine (you can get cooking white wine at most supermarkets)
1/2 cup tomato puree (passata)
1 yellow onion finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
5 stalks dried chillies, blitzed with a food proccesor or grounded with a mortar and pestle.
(To reduce the heat, cut them open lengthwise to remove the seeds)

About 160gms No.3 Spaghetti (You can use regular spaghetti. No.3 is a personal preference)

8 pieces of scallops
8 grey prawns (peeled)

For garnish
2 teaspoons flat leafed parsley chopped
2 teaspoons dried chilli flakes

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Kung Pao Chicken - Shortcut

Why shortcut? That is becauase I didn't make my own Kung Pao Sauce. We went to Cold Storage and got a jar of Kee's Kung Pao Sauce.

Throughout our dating days, I cook mostly western dishes for my wife (then girlfriend). When we got married and got our own place, wifey began requesting that i cook more asian dishes. So I got this idea when we saw a jar of Kung Pao sauce at the supermarket. Kung Pao Chicken being something we often order at a Zhi Char places, I thought, why not, lets give it a shot.

The results were better than I expected, coming from pre-made sauce in a jar. We pretty much enjoyed our Kung Pao Chicken. You can control the sweetness with the amount of sauce you put in.

Something I like to do is add in some finely sliced chilli padi (brid's eye chillies) for another level of heat. But that could just be a bad habit coming from a peranakan family.

Kung Pao Chicken

Here is what I used: (Enough for 2-4 people)

2 Boneless chicken thighs (diced)
1/2 jar of Kee's Kung Pao Sauce
4-5 stalks of spring onion, cut into long strips (about 2-3 inches)
1 yellow onion, roughly cut
3 garlic cloves, sliced
Neutral flavoured oil for frying
1/2 cup cahsew nuts
4-6 thin slices of ginger
10-12 stalks of dried chilli, washed

Marinate diced chicken, 10 mins minimum, overnight if you like.
1 tbsp of Soya Sauce
1-2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp corn flour
Dash of pepper

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