growing into your comfort foods

In the world of the aspiring gourmand / foodie / whatever you call it these days, how do you define growth? Today, ravaged with hunger, I denied food that was store-bought. I turned down rows of firm, fresh sushi, luscious meatballs subs, bowls of steaming, saucy beef ball noodles, or the crisp fried flesh of fish rippling beneath a thick gooey sweet and sour sauce. I turned down McDonald’s, I refused the sloppiest, juiciest of MOS burgers. I turned away from the street foods of my neighbourhood. Walking down the underpass to get home, I avoided the bustling supermarket, its eye-popping brightness, lit just right for easy searching. I avoided the aisles I knew so well – where the frozen packages were stocked. My type of hash – browned, the way I like it – coupled with frozen lasagnes and chicken nuggets. 8 minutes in the toaster for piping hot fresh nuggets! Yes? No way.
I absolutely love it when people talk about their comfort foods. It’s everything from cheesy cream pastas to rice and fiery hot curries. It’s crusty apple pie with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream or it’s strawberry zabaglione made fresh and eaten by the balcony, watching the traffic go by. Eat with a story – that’s what I like to say.
So, talking about growth and comfort foods. It’s knowing that I can come home and whip up a dish with anything I have in the fridge, and know that it would be exactly what I want (bye bye frozen nuggets).

Fried Eggplants

1 large eggplant, sliced cross-sectionally into cubes
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
5 tbsp spiced salt
oil, for frying

Your spiced salt can be mixed into the panko or used as seasoning on the eggplants.

Dredge the eggplant cubes in flour and shake excess off. Dredge in egg next, then finish in the breadcrumbs. This method ensures that you can a better coating.

Fry in oil till eggplants and breadcrumbs are cooked. Serve hot and with your favourite dip, whatever it is! My guilty pleasure here is leftover mayo (from the béchalade sauce, which – without the béchamel – tasted raw from the onions. oops.)

roughin’ it

Long after I’d established that this stew was not and never would be considered rustic, I pondered what that word meant. Reserved for foods that were “hearty”, “rural”, or “rough”, I felt that there was something possibly deeper in what foods we would perceive as rustic.

Off the top of my head, Italian comes to mind. Spanish, European. Countryside, to be more exact. I conjured up images of Tuscan villages and sunset over rolling hills. Not too far off, I’d say.

I also thought of potatoes, with or without their skins on – truly the basic and backbone of what rustic might consist of. Ripe, plump tomatoes in all their virgin freshness, came second, followed quickly by thoughts of foods of the earth.

As I spooned mounts of juicy chicken, crunchy carrots and savoury gravy into my mouth, I couldn’t help miss the colder countries I had the pleasure of being in this year. I had a few wonderful hours in gorgeous Zurich, and then some more in Berlin, Prague and Hamburg in May. Those are indeed some truly beautiful places to be in.

No matter that all that has nothing to do with what I made, which, I have to admit, is more of my throw-shit-together wizardry in action. It’s nice to have such nostalgic, yearning thoughts sometimes. Still, since this is as much roughin’ it as I could do, wouldn’t you consider this a little bit rustic, at least?

Chicken & Carrot Stew
Serves 6

600g chicken fillets, chopped
5 carrots, cubed
2 large yellow onions, sliced
1 head of garlic, minced
2 tbsp rosemary
2 tbsp Turkish spice
1 tbsp dried oregano
2.5 tbsp chicken bouillon powder
3 cups water (more if necessary)
2 tbsp all-purpose plain flour
1 cup white wine (optional)
Olive oil

Mix chicken chunks with rosemary, oregano, Turkish spice. Season well.

In a pot of water, boil carrots for about 5 – 8 minutes, but not too soft.

Over high heat, brown the yellow onions. Keep aside when evenly charred.

In a large pot or pan, pour olive oil. Lightly fry chopped garlic. Add chicken, and brown the surface. It is not necessary to fully cook it here. Add chopped carrots. Mix bouillon powder and water. Add into chicken. Cover and let cook for about 5 minutes, till bubbling.

Slowly add, tablespoon by tablespoon, the plain flour, and stir quickly into the sauce to thicken. Add as much for desired consistency.

Serve with baguettes or with boiled potatoes.

fried eggs

This concludes the first week of November dishes. 
***

Fried eggs, there’s nothing special about it. They’re one of the most versatile foods you could ever eat, no other ingredient can be scrambled, poached, fried, hardboiled. No other ingredient can be such a substantial dish on its own, and add such dimension to another (scrambled eggs and Hollandaise sauce, anyone?). So in retrospect, eggs, just being fried, really aren’t much to talk about.

These fried eggs, however, go back way into my childhood. All those times I’ve been flipping my mouth off (childhood dish this, childhood this that), well; this is the quintessential childhood dish. This is the dish that started it all. The dish that sparked those years of periodic obsessions for different kinds of foods, realising I could eat them, everyday, and not get sick. Or try, at least.

Although I confess an unyielding love for eggs, in all its forms and ways, these have the honour of nostalgia bestowed upon them. They are by far what I remember most about my youngest days, eating a bowl of rice, with a bit of water (I was strange, it was my porridge), and a lot of fried eggs.

Fried Eggs with Fishcake and Prawns
Serves 2

3 large eggs, beaten
1 large fried fishcake, sliced
100g prawns, peeled, de-veined
1 yellow onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tsp chicken stock (bouillon) powder
1 tbsp shao xing wine
pinch, ground white pepper and salt
vegetable oil, for frying

Beat eggs in a bowl. Add chicken stock powder, oyster sauce, wine, pepper and salt.

In a wok, stir fry with oil, the garlic, prawns and fishcake.

Add beaten eggs to the wok, and let sit till bottom is brown. With spatula, cut the eggs with a cross, till you get 4 triangular shapes. Flip it over and cook till the other side is set.

Serve hot with rice.

dark soy noodles

This makes dish #2 from my Mom’s kitchen for this first week of November.
***

The biggest pet peeve my mom ever has with food is if it’s soggy. She’d scrunch her face into a vision of physical disgust. It’s especially apparent when it’s rice or noodles. It was through my mom that I first discovered texture in food, or textural quality. Before, when I was a child, it was always about taste with me – salty, sweet, sour, bitter, depth. Flavour was my biggest draw. The day I discovered “soggy” as a vocabulary in food, it’s like getting a level up, like in a computer game.

Since then and for everything else that she has ever cooked, my mom’s goal in cooking has always been to avoid making things soggy. She would regard with distaste – no matter how flavourful – a plate of fried rice in which the rice was weak, without bite, “crunch” or crispness in the rice grains.

Similarly, she sought out noodles in her dishes by which she could bully and coax them into high heat and sauces and they’d still hold up. Tough love. These were made with thick rice vermicelli noodles (the ones you’d find in laksa). And they’re completely unyielding in the same amount of time it takes yellow egg noodles to wilt. They’re one of her favourites.

Dark Soy Noodles
Serves 2

1 large packet of rice vermicelli, boiled in water
4 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 packet kai lan, chopped
2 large pieces fishcake, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 egg
vegetable oil, for frying

Add oil and garlic to wok. Fry till fragrant. Add vegetables and fish cake. When just cooked, add noodles. Pour in oyster and dark soy sauce, and toss. Push everything to the side of wok, and break egg in the middle. Let it sit for 1 minute, then quickly break it up and stir into the noodles. Plate and serve immediately.

Check back Friday for the last dish of the week… Fried Eggs.

beancurd skin taco

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This kicks off the first week of November with treats from my Mom’s kitchen.

***

If there can be a tradition in the kitchen regime when my mom reigns, it is this. I have the nasty habit of eating while I’m cooking, which always means between that and tasting my food, I usually wreck my appetite before the final thing rolls around. Whenever my mom cooks, however, and especially when she cooks this, I never fail to make my beancurd skin “taco”. I’d pull up a chair and sit by the microwave, taco in hand, looking at her bent over the chopping board roughing up some vegetables, or by the wok giving some hapless noodle a good fry. I normally prefer to stay hungry (I have a small stomach), but I can’t resist a familiar snack. This, usually, makes for an appetiser before my mom’s entrée.

sevensecondrhapsody-beancurdskin02

You can find beancurd skin at Chinese stores, the supermarket, or vegetarian stores. They’re flaky, and need to be fried in oil before you eat. Once they’re fried, standard Chinese dishes stir-fry the crisp thins in oyster sauce with other types of veggies. I’m having none of that however. I have mine with ham and mayonnaise and that is how I roll.

So here’s how you do it:

sevensecondrhapsody-beancurdskin03
And then chomp down and give it a good Jaws-size bite. Done in 2. Repeat.

Check back Wednesday for … dark soy noodles.