Thursday, November 13, 2008

Watercress Season!!

watercress is going for 2 bucks for a big bundle... i got some just to make a watercress drink but had heaps left so made this...

tagliatelle with watercress pesto

it was very easy and very yummy...great for a quick meal....and even for a dinner party- it is that good!!! I had it again for lunch the next day and remember thinking: "How glad I am to be able to cook!! heheheheh...!!!"

i would reserve half the pine nuts for sprinkling on top though and also add salt...i've noticed that all most recipes don't call for salt...but adding salt really brings out the flavour in this dish.

The recipe is from BBCgoodfood.

I also had enough to make some soup but didn't take a picture. Really good value huh...??

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Vanilla Cupcakes with Lemon Frosting

First and foremost, apologies for the crap picture. It was late at night and I was using my camera phone. The cupcakes look more like tarts to me... hmm.

Anyway. I made these cupcakes for the staff at Melton Health's Paediatric department to say thank you for accomadating me during my clinical placement. Cupcakes are a great way to say thank you because if they're good, people will remember you for life.

The trend nowadays is cupcakes but unfortunately while they may look nice, many a times they taste terrible because the icing is too sweet and the cake at the bottom is dry. Cupcakes are essentially CAKES and I am of the believe that you have to get the cake right first.

This is a recipe that I have tried many times and made it my own. It is cheap to make because it uses the most basic ingredients and most importantly, extremely easy to make. It's not rocket science.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Lemon Frosting (makes 15-20 cupcakes)

150g butter (softened)
155g caster sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
200g self-raising flour
80ml milk
195g pure icing sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2-3 drops yellow liquid food colouring

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Line a 12-hole muffin pan with paper cases.

2. Using an electric beater/mixer, beat the eggs and sugar in a bowl until pale and creamy. I suggest that you do not take this step for granted and exert patience when creaming because it affects the quality of the cupcakes!

3. Add in eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until combined. When all the eggs are in, add in the vanilla essence and beat well.

4. Using a spatula, fold in the flour and milk alternately until combined. The mixture should not look lumpy but smooth and creamy. This step definitely takes more effort (read: sore shoulders) but again, more effort equals better results.

5. Spoon mixture evenly into the muffin cases. Because we've used self-raising flour, only scoop 1 heaped tablespoon of batter into one muffin case if not your cupcake is going to look... obscene. Make sure you try to level the batter with the back of your spoon so your cupcakes don't bake slanted!

6. Place the muffin tray into the oven for 15-20 mins or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from the oven and allow to cool.

7. Only when the cupcakes are nearly cool do you start making the frosting (it hardens if left unattended). Sift the icing sugar into a bowl, gradually add the lemon juice, a few tablespoons of water, a few drops of colouring and stir with a spatula until a smooth paste forms. Taste the frosting and add more lemon juice or icing sugar (I personally like the frosting to be tangy). The frosting should not be watery and if it has become too watery, add some icing sugar (don't forget to taste again!). The paste should be almost butter-like where it can be easily spread on the cupcakes.

8. Spread the frosting evenly over the cupcakes using a butter knife. Set aside and allow the frosting to set.


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Monday, October 20, 2008

Bag and Tag - Pork

Ever since watching Alton Brown's episode on pouch cooking, I've been experimenting with a few pouch configurations myself - starting with the timeless combination of pork and asparagus. You could of course use aluminum foil instead of greaseproof paper, but I think some acids react with aluminum, so if you do take care not to use acids like lemon.

Pork and Asparagus Pouch

1 pork chop, deboned
5 asparagus spears
3 lemon slices
2 tbsp chopped spring onions
Salt and Pepper
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp stock (home made preferred, of course) or water
1 tbsp oil

Special Equipment:
Toaster or Microwave oven
Oven tray
Greaeproof paper - make sure it's oven and microwave safe!

1. Preheat toaster oven (if needed). Tear out a square of greaseproof paper twice as big as your oven tray. Fold in half.

2. On one half of the paper, lay out asparagus, topped with pork which has been seasoned with salt and pepper. Pour on liquid seasonings (soy sauce, oil and stock) over pork and asparagus before covering with lemon slices and spring onion.

3. Fold other half of paper to form a pouch (see image), fold the sides and staple shut - but not airtight. Or, if you don't have a stapler like me, just crimp the sides as best you can. It's won't be an airtight seal, but that's ok.

4. Bake in the toaster for 12 min, or in a microwave for 10 min. Remove from oven, let it sit for 5 minutes (and relish the wonderful smell), cut open the pouch and enjoy. Watch out for hot steam!

Cost Breakdown:
Total Cost: approx RM5++ - a little pricey, but well worth it!
Pork chop RM2
Asparagus RM2
Lemon RM0.50

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dough-boy speaks

Hi everyone, I must say I have been away for quite a long while.
Updated my profile and I'm making a comeback with more budget meals.

I have been experimenting on quite a number of dishes which includes Sayur Lodeh, Salt n Pepper Chicken Ribs (to give Rose Garden Melb a run for their money, as if)
Vietnamese Pho and on Bun Bo Hue after my exams.
Some of these are more of a challenge, because the time and accuracy to tastes can be rather complex.
But of course there are the upcoming budget meals from me.
I will show you some of the quickest healthy lunches which I prep to have at the office.

currently 17Deg

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Easy Carbonara

I was getting tired of the tomato based sauces that I usually cooked, and besides, I didn't have any tomatoes on hand.

Easy carbonara
1 serve pasta, see cooking instructions below
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp butter
4 tbsp milk
1 broccoli stem, sliced thin on the oblique
salt and pepper

1. Cook pasta according to package instructions but remove from heat 2 min before recommende preparation time.

2. While pasta is cooking off the boil, heat butter in saucepan and stir-fry broccoli stems.

3. Set heat to low. Add milk, then salt and pepper to taste.

4. Drain pasta and add to pan. Add yolk and mix until sauce is thickened. Serve hot.

Waitaminit... what am I going to do with the egg white, you ask? That's another recipe... so freeze it until you're ready to use it again.

Cost breakdown
Total cost: RM2.80
Pasta RM1
Milk RM0.50
Egg RM0.30
Broccoli RM1


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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

McBBQ Sauce

Most people dig the fries at McDonalds; me, I dig the barbecue sauce. For a while I thought it was a queer obsession until I realised I was not alone (See here). Attempts to replicate the sauce called for the mixture of two specific sauces, which means you can't do it outside of the US. So I decided to do some trial and error and come up with a decent facsimile using everyday raw ingredients.

McDonald's Barbecue Sauce, version n.
3 tbsp ketchup
2 tsp soy
1 1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp worster
4 tbsp sugar

1. Whisk all there ingredients together. Use as a dip for nuggets or some fried chicken.

(No cost breakdown for this - it's cobbled from ingredients that I already had in my pantry)

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pan Fried Chicken

Fried chicken. Now, who doesn't like it? This recipe is based on Alton Brown's but if you look closely there are a few modifications because of the inavailability of some ingredients. The upside is that this recipe is pan-fried and uses much less oil.

Pan Fried Chicken
Chicken pieces - I used wings

1 tsp salt, chili powder, coriander per piece

Full cream milk
Flour for dredging
Oil for frying

Special equipment
2 plastic containers big enough to hold twice the volume of chicken.
Heavy wok or pan

1. Separate chicken wings and place in plastic container. Pour milk to half cover and leave to marinade for at least four hours. Turn chicken pieces every two hours to ensure good absorption.

2. Drain milk and lay chicken out on board. Sprinkle liberally on both sides with seasoning and then dredge with flour, taking care to shake off excess. (What I do: Put flour and chicken in container, seal tightly and shake vigourously)

3. Fill pan with oil up to 1 cm. Heat to 200 (Medium) and place chicken pieces skin side down, taking care to leave space between the pieces. Fry each side for exactly 5 min (adjust for bigger pieces of chicken), turning only once.

4. Drain and serve! This chicken goes really well with barbecue sauce.

Cost breakdown
Total cost: RM3.50
Chicken wings RM2
Milk RM1
Flour RM0.50


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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Really Simple Coleslaw

I must admit: when it comes to culinary vegetation, I'm not particularly imaginative. Steamed broccoli tossed in oyster sauce goes with rice, scalded choy sum goes with noodles, and raw green salad goes with everything else. So today, I decided to try something different: coleslaw - and we're not talking about the mass-produced shite from kay-eff-see. This recipe uses only cabbage and onion and you can add sliced carrots as well (I was too lazy, hence the omission) during the salting.

(sorry, no picture this time - too lazy to take one)

The really simple coleslaw
1/4 head of cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup white vinegar
6 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp salt

1. Using your hands, rub salt into the cabbage and onions. Mix well, and then drain in a colander using a weight. Squeeze dry for at least 45 min.

2. In a saucepan, heat vinegar over low heat and dissolve sugar. Once all the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and whisk in pepper and oil. set aside to cool.

3. Discard drained liquid from vegetables. Wash free from salt and squeeze dry again.

4. Place vegetables in a non-reactive container and pour vinegar solution over. Leave in fridge for at 6 hours, stirring every two hours.

5. After that, drain excess liquid and enjoy! Makes about 4-5 servings.

Cost Breakdown
Total Cost: RM3.35++
Cost per serving: RM0.70++
Cabbage RM2
Onion RM0.35
Vinegar RM1 (RM5 for the whole bottle)


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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mamak Mee Goreng

Oh, this was divine. Of course it doesn't rival what I get back home but I must say it comes pretty close.

Note that I eliminated bean sprouts from the recipe because I have an extreme dislike for them, mainly due to the fact that I used to work in a high class restaurant that saw me picking the heads and tails off 5kgs worth of bean sprouts every morning.

I also didn't use spring onions as a garnish because I'm not a big fan.

Mamak Mee Goreng

500g-750g yellow noodles (rinsed)
1-2 tablespoons of sambal olek
3 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
1 packet tau foo pok (tofu puffs; cubed)
1 medium potato (peeled, boiled and sliced)
Beansprouts (if you like them)
A few tablespoons of fried onion
1 red chilli and 1 green chilli (sliced)
A squirt of lime before eating

Seasoning sauce:

1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon bottle chilli sauce
3 tablespoons bottle tomato sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
A dash of white pepper
4 tablespoons water

1. Combine all ingredients of the seasoning sauce in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. Heat oil in a wok and fry the sambal olek and garlic until fragrant.

3. Add seasoning sauce and fry for a few seconds before adding the noodles and tofu puffs. Stir fry for 2-3 minutes and ensure that it does not stick to the wok (add a bit of water if necessary).

4. Add the potato, fry for awhile, then add beansprouts if using.

5. Stir fry a bit more, add fried onions, red and green chilli and ensure that all ingredients are mixed well together.


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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Arrabiata Malaysia

This spicy tomato-based pasta sauce is easily made from local ingredients. It's cost-to-serving ratio is also hard to beat! Dried chillies are quite potent, so adjust according to taste - although don't go more than four or you'll be stuck with a bowl of liquid fire that will kill your tongue long before you can taste anything.

Arrabiata Malaysia
4 large tomatoes, seeded
2 cloves garlic
1 small onion
2-3 dried chilis

Optional: Blender, 2 tbsp wine or rum

1. Blend or chop fine onions and garlic together, and then the same for the tomatoes and chilli. Keep the tomatoes separate for now.

2. In a saucepan, sweat onion and garlic mixture in low heat for 15 min with a pinch of salt.

3. Add tomatoes and chilli mix and continue cooking on low for 30 mi n- the mixture will start out looking pink but end up a dark red. If using alcohol, now is the time to add it.

4. Salt and pepper to taste. Spoon on your favourite pasta and enjoy, or keep in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for up to a month. Serving size is 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons, recipe makes 8-10 servings.

Cost breakdown
Total cost:: RM3 ++
Cost per serve: 30 cents ++
Tomatoes: RM2
Onion, garlic and dried chilis: Less than RM1

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Kway Teow Hailam

While out on a recent field trip, I had the privilege of sampling Malay hospitality. We made a visit to a colleague's home in Butterworth, the mainland side of Penang, and were greeted with a freshly made noodle dish served with a light peppery gravy. Our hostess called it Mee Hailam - I've seen it on the menus of local eateries here, but this was the first time trying it. I'm not sure about the etymology of the name - perhaps it's a corruption of the Chinese province of Hainan? This is my paltry attempt at replicating the dish. I substituted the yellow Hokkien noodles for flat kway teow rice noodles because it was what I had at the fridge.

Kway Teow Hailam

250g flat rice noodles or yellow Hokkien mee
1 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp caramel sauce

1/2 cup of stock (Homemade is the best of course, or else something low salt)
1/2 tsp light soy sauce
2 tsp finely ground black pepper
Dash of sesame oil
Handful of spinach leaves
80g beef, cut in 1 inch chunks, then flattened - should yield 5 or six slices

*I prepared this as a wok recipe, i.e. high heat over low surface area, i.e. cooks extremely fast. I suppose you could use a skillet, but you might have to use a little more stock (say, 3/4 cup) to compensate for liquid boiling off.

1. Heat wok to high and stir fry kway teow with soy sauce and caramel sauce. Put on plate and set aside. (Note: Skip this entirely if using Hokkien mee. Instead, just blanch noodles in boiling water for 30 sec and plate)

2. Bring stock, soy sauce, pepper and sesame oil to a boil. Add beef, wait for 30 sec and turn off heat before adding spinach.

3. Scoop out beef and veges onto noodles before pouring in the gravy - then pour the gravy over, as much or as little as you want. Garnish and serve!

Cost breakdown
Total cost: RM3 (Approx)
Rice noodles: RM1
Beef: RM1
Spinach: 40 cents


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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Toaster Oven Ribs

The secret to fall-off-the-bone ribs is a long, slow cooking process facilitated by an oven - which I don't have. What I do have is an oven toaster, which basically has two settings: on and off. But with an insatiable craving for pork ribs and a little kitchen hack knowledge, here's how you can make grilled pork ribs using a toaster oven...

Lest I get cried foul, I do have to add that this dish is finished off in the toaster. You'll need a steamer to cook the ribs first. And the meat won't fall off the bone, but it will be juicy and tender. The big pro to cooking this way is that your ribs will be done in half an hour, and not two.

Toaster Oven Ribs
Two pieces of whole pork spare ribs, or half a slab of baby back ribs (whichever is cheaper, duh)
One onion, sliced thin

3 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp worcester sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
(You could of course use store bought bbq sauce, but where's the fun in that?)

1. Mix marinade ingredients and divide in two portions. Marinade ribs in fridge for at least an hour using one portion.

2. Steam ribs for 10 min. In the meantime, preheat toaster oven. Grease oven tray with butter and layer with onion slices.

3. Baste ribs with second portion of marinade. Finish off cooking in the toaster for 10 min. Makes one serve.

Cost breakdown
Total cost: RM4 (One serve)
Pork ribs RM3
Onions and Marinade RM1

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Vegetarian Enchiladas

Enchiladas are like wraps baked with lots of cheese, taco sauce and various fillings. I'm not sure if it a Mexican dish. After all, burritos are an American invention!

Not being a lover of kidney beans and meat, I was not sure how I would take to this but the good people at convinced me likewise! This is a fantastic recipe sans meat with plenty of sweet corn. Big yum and makes a great packed lunch.

Vegetarian Enchiladas

12 soft tortillas
1 red onion - diced
1 red capsicum - diced
1 zucchini - grated
1-2 teaspoons chilli powder
1 large tomato - diced
310g corn kernels
400g kidney beans
200g taco sauce
3/4 cup tasty cheese

1. Heat oil in a frying pan, add onion, capsicum and zucchini and cook stirring for 3 minutes until slightly softened. Add chilli powder and cook for another 2 minutes.

2. Add tomato and cook until soft. Add the corn kernels, beans and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine. Remove pan from heat.

3. Grease a large baking tray and place about 3 to 3 and a half tablespoons of filling in the middle of 1 tortilla. To roll the tortilla, fold the bottom of the tortilla length-wise (it should look like you have a little half moon at the bottom of your tortilla) and roll tightly. Leave the top end open and place on the tray seam side down. Repeat until all tortillas are used.

4. Spread the taco sauce over the rolled tortillas fairly evenly. Sprinkle with cheese and bake until the cheese melts.


* Note: It takes a bit of practice to roll the tortillas without making it look like the Bride of Frankenstein spilled her guts. Be patient. If guts are everywhere, just spoon it into the top end of the tortilla and give the tortilla a bit of a shake. The trick is to roll it tightly so you won't have so much spillage.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Soba Noodles with Tofu & Mushrooms

A recipe that unites my love for tofu, mushrooms and soba!

Extremely easy to assemble and a great winter warmer. Do note that you can use any mushrooms of your choice. Dashi Miso paste is available in Asian grocers.

Soba Noodles with Tofu & Mushrooms

(Makes 500ml of broth)

Mushrooms of your choice (Chinese, button, enoki, etc) - chopped
Dashi Miso paste
2 tablespoon dark soy sauce
4 tablespoon mirin
1 teaspoon sugar
1 carrot (thinly sliced)
4-5 shallots (thinly sliced)
300g firm tofu (cubed and dried in paper towels)
Cornflour to dust
Soba noodles (cooked according to packet instructions)
Oil for frying

1. Make 500ml of broth according to the packet instructions. Simmer over medium heat.

2. Add the dark soy sauce, mirin, sugar, mushrooms, carrots and shallots to the broth. Leave to simmer.

3. Heat oil in a pan until hot.

4. Prepare a plate of cornflour seasoned with salt and pepper. Dip tofu cubes into flour and fry in pan until golden brown on both sides. Set aside on paper towels.

5. Assemble a steaming bowl of noodles: Place soba, a few cubes of tofu and pour broth over noodles and tofu to preference.


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Sweet Couscous

This recipe is unique in the sense that it is sweet and can be eaten as a meal or dessert.

Either way, it is extremely appealing for sweet tooths and cashew lovers; very filling and comforting on a cold winter night.

Sweet Couscous

250g couscous
150g sultanas
150g cashew nuts
50g butter
120ml honey
600ml boiling water
2 oranges (peeled) - optional

1. Place couscous and sultanas in a large, heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water. Cover and set aside for 5 minutes until liquid is absorbed and sultanas are plump. Use a fork to separate the grains.

2. Heat a frypan, throw in cashews and stir quickly until roasted. Set aside.

3. Melt butter in a pan. Add couscous mixture and honey. Cook stirring well until heated through.

4. Serve pipping hot with pieces of oranges and roasted cashews.

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Not-quite-Thai fish cakes

I was all psyched up about making Thai-style fish cakes, except when it came down to assembling it in the kitchen, I forgot the two essential things that made the fish cakes "Thai" - lemongrass and coriander. Still, it tasted pretty decent. Here's a shot of it alongside accompanying my pasta lunch.

The Not-quite-Thai fish cakes
500g white fish fillets (about 2 fillets)
1 onion
1 inch piece of ginger
2 small green chillis (removes seeds for a less spicy version)
Zest from 1 lime
10 mint leaves, chopped fine
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 egg
Oil for frying

Special equipment: Blender

1. Blend onion, ginger and chilli together into a paste. Drain of excess water and return to blender.
2. Add fish, fish sauce and eggs and blend to fine paste. Add lime zest and mint, mix well and refrigerate for an hour.
3. Shallow fry in hot oil at 200 degrees. Spoon 1 tbsp of the fish paste into the pan and press down with the back of your spoon. Fry until golden brown (approx 1-2 min on each side), drain well and serve. Makes 8-10 fish cakes.

Cost breakdown
Total cost: RM8.10++
Cost per serving: RM4.00++ (based on 2 serves)
Fish: RM6
Onion: RM0.30
Ginger and chillis: RM0.50
Lime: RM0.50
Mint: RM 0.50
Egg: 0.30


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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Kerang chowder

While was in the field I scored myself some local kerang or cockles which were quite huge - about three times the size of those you would normally get at the market. I suppose you could call them free-range kerang. In Singapore and Malaysia these are also called blood cockles, because they release a red liquid that is coloured by hemoglobin - yes, the same thing found in blood! I had a cup of good solid meat, so I decided to make a chowder out of it by adapting a vichyssoise recipe by Alton Brown. Make sure to thoroughly clean the mud-filtering cockles! Of course, you can use other edible bivalves available to you.

Kerang chowder

Meat from 1 kilo of Kerang or other shellfish (about 2/3 cup)
2 medium floury potatoes, diced into 1cm cubes
3 medium leeks, chopped
1 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper
2 cups water or stock
Whole milk to taste
Special equipment: Blender/Food Processor

1. Kerang cleaning: Cockles are mud filters, which mean they should each be thoroughly scrubbed with a brush on the outside before they are sent to soak in slightly salted water for at least three hours. This will allow the molluscs to open up a little and let the dirt sink to the bottom. Steam the cockles for five minutes, de-shell and set aside.

2. Sweat the leeks with butter until tender, about 10 min in low heat. Add potatoes and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer and continue to simmer for 30 min.

3. Run the soup through a blender with half of the kerang meat. Pulse until a smooth, thick paste.

4. Return soup base into pot and add remaining kerang meat. At this point, you can refrigerate or freeze your soup for later consumption.

5. To prepare: Heat soup portion with desired amount of milk - about two to three tablespoons does it for me. Salt and pepper to taste. Makes about 4 servings.

Cost breakdown
Total cost: RM6.10++
Cost per serve: RM1.50++
Potatoes RM1.10
Leeks RM1.50
Kerang RM3.50

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mamak squid

Inspiration for this fish came from the ubiquitous mamak stores in Malaysia. In KL, you can order your meat or seafood of choice to be deep fried to heart attack heaven. A 100-gram serving of squid set me back RM12. At home, I spent half of that to get four times as much. How? Buying your squid whole and cutting it at home really helps to bring down cost.

Mamak Squid
400g squid, cut into 1-cm rings (About 4 medium squid)
1 medium onion, julienned
1 tsp salt, tumeric, chili powder
Half a cup of flour
Oil for frying

1. Squid disassembly basics: Peel off thin outer skin, pull out head and tentacles, cut off tentacles just below the eyes (remove beak from tentacles and also discard head), remove plasticky quill-like backbone from main body. Chop body to rings and tentacles to bite-sized bits.
2. Season squid and onions in a bowl with salt, tumeric and chili. Cover and leave in the fridge for an hour.
3. Heat oil to 240 (C). Drain squid and onion mixture from excess moisture and then dredge lightly in flour. Deep fry until crispy, about two minutes. Drain and serve!

Cost Breakdown
Total cost RM4.20++
Cost per serving RM2.10++
Squid RM4
Onion RM0.20

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Bocconcini & Tomato Pasta

Time to experiment with a new cheese!

Bocconcini is basically balls of young mozarella cheese soaked in water. Its not only yummy, its also a great source of calcium and iron. Its great to use in salads and even on pizza so just drain away the water and you're ready to go!

In this recipe (which I got from, I used bambini (baby) bocconcini which is half the size of the usual.

Bocconcini & Tomato Pasta

1 tub of baby bocconcini (220g) - halved
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
Extra Virgin olive oil
1 punnet of cherry or grape tomatoes
1 garlic clove (finely chopped)
1 teaspoon sugar
350g short pasta
Some basil leaves

1. Boil pasta.

2. While pasta is cooking, place the bocconcini in a large bowl with chilli flakes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and mix well.

3. Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add tomotoes and garlic. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Add sugar to the tomatoes and garlic and cook stirring until the tomatoes begin to wilt. Remove from fire and add tomatoes and garlic to the bocconcini.

5. By now your pasta should be done so add the pasta to the bocconcini and tomato mixture. Mix well.

6. Tear up some basil leaves (don't be stingy, basil gives the dish a very fresh crisp flavour and its really yummy) and toss well.


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Friday, August 08, 2008

Hokkien Mee

Depending on who you ask, Hokkien Mee has several incarnations. The Singapore version is a mixed seafood noodle dish fried then simmered in a seafood stock, invented about 40 years ago by Hokkien labourers. In Penang, it's a soupy prawn noodle dish. But its most commonly known incarnation (confusingly enough, found in Singapore as well) is a thick yellow noodles simmered in a black gravy. And very simple to make - although much of the flavour depends on the quality of the stock.

Hokkien Mee (serves 2)
1 packet (500g) of thick yellow aka Hokkien noodles
1 1/2 cup of homemade stock*
200g prawn, chicken, squid or combination (I used only chicken)
1 choy sum or spinach, chopped into large chunks
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp light soy
1 tsp sesame oil
3 tbsp caramel sauce
Pepper to taste

1. Heat wok to high and mix stock with the oyster and soy sauces and sesame oil.
2. When mix starts to boil, add chicken pieces. When chicken changes colour, stir in noodles. Bring to boil.
3. Stir in caramel sauce. Reduce liquid by half, stirring constantly.
4. Add seafood, if using, and reduce sauce on high heat until there's only 20% of stock left or gravy becomes thickened to choice.
5. Turn heat off, mix in vegetables and serve immediately.

Cost breakdown:
Total cost: RM4.70++
Cost per serving: RM2.35++
Noodles RM1.80
Chicken RM2.50
Veggies RM0.40

* A seafood stock based on ikan bilis would be best. Stock cubes would be forgiveable.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Tofu Don

A recipe dedicated to my love affair with tofu!

You can use silken tofu in this recipe, that is if you have a deep fryer. I found out that no matter how long you wrap your silken tofu in bundles of paper towels, it's really hard to dry out.

But if you're okay with facial injuries, then go for it!

If not, use the safer option: Firm tofu.

* Many thanks and love to Andi who created this recipe!

Tofu Don

320g firm tofu (cubed)
2 brown onions (sliced thinly)
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons sugar
8 tablespoons soy sauce (preferably Kikoman)
3 to 4 eggs

1. Deep fry tofu cubes and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

2. Pour the mirin, sugar and soy sauce into a bowl and mix until most of the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.

3. Fry onions until fragrant and soft. Add tofu and half the liquid mixture.

4. Crack the eggs on to the tofu and mix quickly. When the egg is cooked, throw in the remaining mixture.

5. Serve with hot, steamed rice.


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Saturday, August 02, 2008

The $10 water filter

One of the most annoying things about living in Malaysia (as compared to Singapore or Australia) is that clean water does not come out of the tap. It's not drinkable, the colour's slightly off and if you leave it to settle for a while you can see sediment in the bottom. The kitchen tap has a water filter attachment to it, but I don't think it's been changed for a while so the water trickles q-u-i-t-e slowly. Rather than blow $50 - $200 on a filter that will last for up to six months, I took a cue from a couple of sites (see here and here) and cobbled one together for about $10. After a month of use, I'm happy to say that this filter removes all visible sediment from Malaysian tap water. =D

Interested? Here's what you need:
1. A large bottle that will be the chassis of the filter. It should have a narrow neck with a large body that can rest on top of your water collection jug of choice - I bought a 4-litre bottle of water, used the contents and recycled the bottle. It was the last bottle of water I ever bought!

Equal proportions (by volume) of sand and gravel. This is where the real filtration power lies. I also like to use different degrees of coarseness for both, so I have four layers of fine sand, coarse sand, small pieces of gravel and large pieces of gravel. Remember that the thicker the layers are, and the more layers you have, the more effective the filter is going to be. Where to get sand and gravel? They are literally lying around everywhere - I picked mine off from pits just outside my school. (You could also go to the beach - and it costs nothing!)

Cotton puffs

Coffee filter papers (entirely optional, see below)

Large pail and distilled white vinegar for disinfecting everything.

Once you manage to scrounge up everything in the parts list, it's time to assemble:
STEP 1: DISINFECT AND CLEAN EVERYTHING THOROUGHLY. Does the idea of relying on sand and gravel that you've picked out from the outside to give you clean water make you queasy? Me too, which is why the first step is to disinfect everything in a bath of water mixed with a little vinegar. The sand and gravel especially were soaked in disinfectant, then rinsed three times before thoroughly dried in the sun. DON'T SKIP THIS STEP.

STEP 2: PREPARE THE BOTTLE by drilling a small hole in the cap (that's where the water comes out) and cutting a large hole in the bottom (that's where water comes in - be careful of jagged edges and cover them with waterproof tape if they become a safety hazard). Disinfect these too.

Make sure the cap is securely screwed on and place the bottle - cap side down - onto the jug of your choice. Start with a opened coffee filter filled with cotton puffs into the neck of the filter. Wet the puffs and aim to create a level layer. Layer the sand and gravel with the finer grains on the bottom, followed by the coarser grains of sand, and then the small gravel pieces followed by the larger gravel pieces. I separated each layer of sand and gravel with a layer of coffee filters - I did this with the mind that I would one day have to change the sand, so the coffee filters would make my job easier.

STEP 4: FLUSH, TWICE. It's almost ready! Run the filter through two loads of water first to help the sediment settle and flush out any remaining undesirable elements. Only after that are you ready to use your nifty new filter.

REMEMBER: This filter only removes visible sediment from tap water, and not microbial elements. In the end, I still always boil the water that comes through the filter before drinking!


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Chicken & Mushroom Pasta Bake

First and foremost, I must apologise for the appalling nature of my photographs. I've don't have a digital camera so I rely on my 2 megapixel phone camera to do the honours!

Anyway, this dish is something I baked up out of curiousity and it turned out to be a fantastic winter-warmer. Lasts a good few days too!

The trick to this recipe is to use plenty of mushrooms. Also, make sure you use whipping cream as it takes away some of the richness of the dish.

Chicken & Mushroom Pasta Bake

3 to 4 chicken thigh fillets (diced)
1 1/2 to 2 cloves garlic (chopped and diced)
350g button mushrooms (sliced)
500g short pasta (penne, macaroni)
300 ml whipping cream
200g (or more) parmesan cheese (grated)
1 cup white wine

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Cook pasta until al dante.

2. While pasta is cooking, season diced chicken with salt and pepper. Set aside.

3. Heat some oil in a pan. Fry up garlic until fragrant but not brown, then add in chicken. Stir fry until brown.

4. Add in mushrooms and white wine. Simmer over low fire for 2 mins.

5. Add in cream and bring to boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste then remove from fire and set aside.

6. Pour in cooked pasta into the mixture and mix well. Add in some parsley and 200g parmesan cheese. Mix well.

7. Transfer the mixture to a baking dish. Sprinkle with extra parmesan cheese on top and bake until golden brown.


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Monday, July 28, 2008

Fragrant Garlic & Chicken Rice

Another favorite from home!

Fragrant Garlic & Chicken Rice

(Makes 3 cups of rice)

2 cloves garlic chopped finely
3 lap cheong (Chinese sausage) sliced
3 cups cooked rice
8 or more chicken wings (chopped into smaller pieces if you like)
Minced ginger
Dark soy sauce
Oyster sauce

1. Marinade chicken wings in soy sauce and peppper.

2. Fry garlic until golden brown. Set aside.

3. Fry lap cheong, add a teaspoon of minced ginger then set aside.

4. Remove chicken wings from marinade and fry until brown. Make sure you fry the wings on a medium to low fire to avoid burning the wings. Add some dark sauce for colour and a dash of oyster sauce.

5. When chicken is cooked and fragrant, add cooked rice to the chicken. Pour in garlic and lap cheong and mix well until fragrant. The trick to this dish is to flatten the rice, allow it to burn a bit, stir, then flatten again. It'll make your rice crispy.

6. Season to taste with soy sauce. Voila!

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Nasi Paprik

Here in the northern part of Malaysia, where I'm closer to the Thai border one begins to see a closer melding of culinary influences between these two countries. Nasi Paprik (or Phadprik or phad prik or without the 'h') as it is sometimes spelled is typical of this kind of culinary hybrid Consisting of chicken or beef stir-fried with vegetables in a savoury and slightly-sweet sauce. I'm not sure where the name comes from: nasi is Malay for rice and I'd always thought paprik referred to the green or red peppers in the dish. Phadprik sounds more Thai, of course, and there is a side dish called pad prik, which is a beef and veggie stir fry. So that sounds about right, no?

When I was first introduced to this dish (ironically, in Singapore) it was the beef version, but chicken and tofu are both worthy substitutes. In any case, the dish is suprisingly simple prepare. For veggies, the lemongrass and capsicum are NOT optional, ie they're mandatory. The rest is up to you, though I'd recommend using at least three different greens for colour and flavour.

Nasi Paprik, aka Nasi Phad Prik or Nasi Phadprik (4 serves)

2 chicken breasts, sliced thin in 1-inch chunks
Vegetation - cut in 1 inch chunks
One stalk of lemongrass, white parts only
One capsicum
(other veggies optional, use at least 3. I used these:)
2 cloves garlic, whole
Small onion
Baby corn
Large red chillis
(these are also great)
Lime leaves

2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp kicap manis (Sweet black sauce)
Water or stock

1. Heat 2 tbsp oil in the wok in medium low heat and toss garlic for a couple of minutes to absorb flavour

2. Remove garlic, turn up heat to high and brown chicken until not visibly raw. Remove from wok and set aside.

3. Replenish oil if necessary and add vegetables, starting with the harder ones (Like carrots) and ending with onions. Reintroduce the chicken and stir well.

4. Reduce heat to medium-low and make space for sauce. Start with oyster sauce, kichap manis, 3 tbsp water/stock and 2 tsp sugar. Combine thoroughly before integrating with rest of the meat and veggies.

5. Add sugar and pepper to taste; serve with white rice.


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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lemongrass Water

If you're seeking a cool refreshing beverage - that is not beer - how about brewing a batch of lemongrass water? Lemongrass, a long stemmy grass with a distinctly citrusy smell is sold in Malaysia by the bunches for less than 50 cents. They stir-fry well with chicken and feature in Thai cooking. When brewed like tea, they make a refreshing afternoon beverage (The flavour really mixes well with green tea). When preparing lemongrass just remember that you want only the white fleshy bit above the root stump and below the harder greener top leaves. Removing the dirty outer layers and crushing each stem lightly helps too. I brew a couple of litres for a couple of hours with ten teaspoons of sugar. Lucky for me, the induction cooker has a slow-cook function that takes care of that for me automatically.


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Monday, July 21, 2008

Chinese Vegetarian Curry

When I was a child, my mum would sometimes buy lunch back in a tiffin carrier. One of my favorites in the tiffin was vegetarian food and among the vast amount of vegetables and flour-based delights, there was always the vegetarian curry.

What I remember most about this curry was the vast amount of long beans and cabbage. And my god. The tau foo pok. Or tofu puffs. I believe that my unshakable love for tofu stemmed from this dish. The curry itself was thin and very drinkable. At the end of the meal, my face would be practically in the bowl.

Unlike Indian and Malay curries, this curry is very thin, light in taste and doesn't have as much fragrant spices as per normal. Nevertheless, like all curries, this dish keeps well in the fridge and tastes better as the days go by.

Chinese Vegetarian Curry

Spice paste:
1 teaspoon turmeric
5 red chillies
1 tablespoon chilli powder (Baba's brand if possible)
3 stalks lemongrass
2 tablespoons Baba's Fish Curry Powder

2-3 sprigs curry leaves
1 litre water
200ml coconut milk
long beans or french beans
half a head cabbage
1 packet tofu puffs (cut in half)
Salt and sugar to taste

1. Blend the spice paste ingredients in a blender. Add some water to form a paste.

2. Heat some oil in a wok or pot, pour in blended spice paste and curry leaves. Fry until fragrant.

3. Add water and coconut milk. Mix well and season to taste. Bring to boil.

4. Lower heat, throw in vegetables and simmer for 5-1o minutes. Check on seasoning regularly.

5. When vegetables soften, add in tofu puffs and boil for 5 minutes.

6. Voila! Serve with steamed rice.

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The not-quite-French Onion Soup

When life gives you onions... you make onion soup.

1kg onions, sliced
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp butter
Rum (Optional)
1litre beef or leftover stock
Salt and pepper

1. In a large soup pot, brown onions with butter and a little salt for 45 min over low heat. Stir occasionally to allow for even browning.

2. Add stock and sugar, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer until it loses a third of volume.

3. Mix in a tablespoon of rum before serving. Serve with crusty cheese toast. Makes a litre of soup.

Cost breakdown:
Kilo of onions $1.20
Gee, that's about 20 cents a bowl.


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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Soupe Al' Oignon (French Onion Soup)

Just like Noel, I became a student again and therefore had to start living and cooking cheaply again.

Because I have 22 contact hours a week at uni, I am always home at nightfall and by then I am just simply too tired to even think of boiling water. So I decided to be smart and cook 3 large freezer/fridge-friendly meals every weekend.

This is part one: Soupe al' oignon or French onion soup. I discovered this recipe while watching the excellent food program, Food Safari on SBS. It is extremely cheap to make and taste better the longer you keep it. Perfect for winter too!

The most expensive thing here would be the gruyere cheese. But believe me, it is definitely worth buying it because it is the tastiest cheese I have ever eaten and blends extremely well with the soup. I got my cheese for AUD $5 from a deli in the market. NEVER buy cheese from money-sucking Safeway or Coles. Markets are the way to go.

I believe it's always handy to have a bottle of white wine in the fridge. It gives food (even pasta) the extra kick. Any cheap white wine would do; even cask wines (the bottom of the barrel). In this recipe, I used Muscat (a very sweet dessert wine) and it turned out wonderful. Besides, Muscat is a wonderful thing to take a swig from everyday!

Soupe Al' Oignon

Unsalted butter (60g)
Brown onions (5; peeled and finely sliced)
Flour (50g)
Water (2 liters)
White wine (1 glass)
Gruyere cheese (French or Swiss; 100g; half cut into cubes, half grated)
Baguette (1)
Salt & pepper

1. Melt the butter in a large pot, add onion and cook stirring for 25 minutes (yes, that long) over a low fire until the onions are a deep golden brown colour and beginning to caramelize. They should be extremely soft and look as though they've got stringy bits of cheese mixed into it.

2. Add flour and stir quickly for 2 minutes.

3. Add water and the wine. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Add the cubes of gruyere cheese, stir in and bring to boil.

5. Turn the fire down to low, cover and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Give it a stir once in a while and check the seasoning.

6. While simmering, slice the baguette into thick slices and sprinkle with the grated cheese on top. Place under a hot grill and remove when cheese melts.

7. Spoon the soup into a bowl and serve with the toasted baguette on top.


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Friday, July 18, 2008

Pasta Lalah

Lalah is a kind of local shellfish. It doesn't appear every day, so when the day it appeared in the supermarket I picked up a small serving for a song (like, all of 50 cents). The idea is to use the sauce to steam the mussels before integrating the shellfish, sauce and pasta together. My pot was large enough to prepare the sauce in it, then place a stand and a shallow dish inside to steam the lalah with it. If you don't have a large enough pot, you can consider emptying the sauce into a microwave steamer and steaming the lalah there.

Pasta Lalah (serves 1)
15 lalah or clams
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 leek, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
3 tbsp white wine (strictly optional, but there are some flavours in tomato that are only soluble in alcohol)
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup Water
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1 serve pasta, cooked (I used linguine)

1. Cook pasta to al dente and toss lightly with olive oil. Set aside.
2. Over low heat, sweat the leek and garlic with a little salt until wilted.
3. Add tomatoes, tomato paste and white wine and stir for a minute before adding the water.
4. Use the sauce as the base liquid to steam the lalah for three minutes.
5. Deshell mussels, and return to the pot with the pasta. Mix well and serve.

* Be sure to wash your lalah thoroughly! They are real dirt collectors.

Total cost: RM 1.40++
Lalah - 50 cents
Leek - 50 cents
Tomato - 40 cents
(The rest are stuff you should always have around in the kitchen anyway)

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Kitchen essentials for a student on a budget

What kind of cooking ingredients do you always have on hand? Taking a cue from ioyces's earlier post, here's my list of essential condiments/ingredients:

Cooking oil: I use two types, a vegetable oil and olive oil, although the latter is optional (but tastes darn good)
Soy sauce: There are two types, light and dark, but I've opted only for the light version. Great as a mnarinade base and salting soups
Ketchup: Not only great with fries, but great as a marinade and flavouring too
Oyster sauce: Another great flavouring for Asian dishes
Worsteshire sauce: Another meat marinade
Sesame oil: This one's purely for flavour, a few drops make all the difference
Kicap Manis: A dark sweet sauce. I use this to add colour and flavour to my fried rice and noodles
Salt and pepper: 'Nuff said
Herbs and Spices: Currently, I have paprika, cumin, coriander and a mixed dried herb blend
Alcohol: Usually it would be wine, currently it's just a small bottle of rum (on a budget mah...)
Rice, Pasta and Instant noodles: Varied carbos. Rice is standard Asian fare, current pasta is linguine, and instant noodles are always good for a quick snack - but I never use the flavour sachets because there's more than enough condiments that can be used!
Butter: A sometime oil-substitute
Mixed vegetables: The frozen kind, quick convenience food
Plain flour

Onions and Garlic: Why? Because they go well with everything!
Stock: Homemade, of course. I usually make a big batch (about 1 1/2 litres) over the weekend, using a base of onion, carrot and garlic and whatever leftover greens left in the box, coupled with meat and bones that have been saved over. In fact, I keep a "stock box" where I stash away bones, prawn shells and veges-about-to-go-bad in the freezer and make them into a stock at the end of the week. That way, it's a different stock every week that makes for an excellent soup base.

As usual, the practice is to buy in large sizes and a preference for house brands, which are mostly established brands disguised as a way to draw customers away from the competition. (You probably can tell that I live near a Tesco.) I haven't found any reason to get canned goods yet, but I think I'll stock up on some canned tomato and canned soup soon enough.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

An Update

I started this blog three years ago, when I was in the middle of studies in Mellbourne, Australia, to document my cooking experiments while keeping to a (relatively) tight budget - hence the name. There, a cheap meal costs AUD$7 and can go up to $20, so cooking really made sense in order to keep costs down. Along the way, the blog grew as friends and other students-on-similar-budgets chipped in as guest contributors. In 2006, I returned to Singapore to begin life in the working world. I tried to keep the blog up as best I could, although not too successfully.

This year, I'm back to being a student again, which means hopefully I can dust off the cobwebs from this blog and start chronicling my culinary adventures in a new country. As of June, I've moved 400km north of the peninsula and started postgraduate studies in Penang, Malaysia where I'll be a student again for at least another two years. Unlike Melbourne, food in Malaysia is cheap - and there's many a Malaysian who can attest to the wonderments of Penang food! The challenge for me here is not to replicate the local food (which is available cheap, anyway) but make up new ones - while keeping on a tight budget.

I've been really lucky that none of my housemates cook, so I've just about taken over the entire kitchen. I set myself up with just about everything you see here, from the fridge, to the microwave oven to the induction cooker. (The toaster oven was a kind donation). It's not a big kitchen to work with, but for a student on a budget I think I can get by.

More to come!

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Pig Trotters in Vinegar Stew

Okie, since I'm gonna be someone's wife soon, I've been practising some "traditional" dishes... Hopefully that will impress the in-laws Muahahahah ^_^

So presenting... Pig Trotters in Vinegar Stew... a very popular dish served expecially during confinement, which the elders believe will help the lady "remove wind" in her body. To much wind is big no-no... *Whack* I digress...

Before we start, some tips on how to buy and prepare pig trotters. If you're cooking for a few people, go for the piggy's front legs instead for a smaller portion.

Old ginger
Pig Trotters (2 portion should be slightly above 1kg)
Black Vinegar (buy 325ml for 2 portion)(refer to pic below)

Brown Sugar (to taste) P/S: Please don't use white sugar...different taste oh.

Please ensure that you wash the pig trotters clean before you cook. To prepare the trotters for cooking, boil some water in a pot and immerse the trotters in boiling water for a few minutes, until the meat has turned slightly greyish.

Next, remove the trotters and wash them again, ensuring the hairs are removed, and no blood is seeping out. Throw away the water. This is important to remove the meat smell and to ensure cleanliness.

Cooking Technique
1. Place the trotters into a clean pot.
2. Slice the ginger across the middle and slightly smash the ginger with the flat side of the knife (this will allow the ginger to release its juices into the meat).
3. Pour all the black vinegar until it covers the meat.

4. Boil it on low-medium low heat until cooked. The longer you cook, the tender the meat will be (Dad recommends a few hours but I'm skeptical).
5. Then, season the sauce with brown sugar to taste. My "future" in-laws like em sweet.

Note: The stew sauce will be slowly reduced over the fire. Add water when low on liquids.

Ta-Da!!! Pig Trotters in Vinegar Stew!!! Enjoy!

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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Today's Lunchbox: Morocan Chicken Stew

I modified this stew recipe from the traditional Moroccan tagine - the only difference is, I didn't use beans because I didn't like them much. It's great with bread or rice, but even better with couscous.

Moroccan Chicken Stew
(Makes 3 servings)
2 chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 carrot, cut in chunks
1 red pepper, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 can peeled tomatoes
Equal portion of chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp coriander
1 cinnamon stick
Juice of one lemon
Olive oil

1. Heat oven to 150. Coat onion slices with a pinch of salt and then coat with 1 tsp of olive oil. Place in a baking pan and roast for 30 min. Stir every 10 min
2. Coat pepper and carrot chunks with another tsp of oil and then join with the onions after they are done. Re-roast for another 20 min.
3. Once all the vegerables are roasted, Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a stewing pot and lightly brown the chicken
4. Add all the roasted veges, along with the spices, canned tomatoes, lemon juice and stock. Let it come to a boil, cover and simmer for Half an hour.
4. Serve over rice or couscous! (Hint: Drain some of the hot liquid for use in the couscous!)

Cost per serving: $2.20
Chicken breasts: $4
Vegetables (onion, carrot, pepper): $2
Lemon: 50c

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Today's lunchbox: Thai Fish cakes and a quick pilaf

First post for the new year! In today's lunchbox I made a quick pilaf (flavoured rice) and a thai-inspired fish cake.

Thai Fish Cakes
1 kg white fish fillets, minced
3 tbsp Curry paste (store bought or home-made, it doesn't matter!)
1 lemongrass, (flesh only, minced)
1 bunch of coriander, chopped
1 egg
Oil for frying

1. Mix everything except the egg and oil together in a bowl and leave in the fridge to marinade for at least two hours.
2. Crack in the egg and mix well. Form patties or cakes from the paste.
3. Fry fish cakes under 1 cm of oil with medium-low heat, approximately 2-3 min on each side (depending on thickness of patty). Drain well. Makes 6 burger-pattie sized fish cakes

Cost per serving: $1.80 for two patties
1 kg fish: $3.40 for a pack of frozen fish fillets
Curry paste: $1.50 (that's ready made. Cheaper if you make your own curry paste!)
Coriander: $0.40 a bunch
Egg: $0.20

Quick Pilaf
1 cup of rice (long grained, preferably)
1 cup of water
1 cup of diluted chicken stock
Chopped onions and tomatoes
Dash of olive oil (or any other flavoured oil)

1. Mix everything into a pot and cook under low heat for 15-20 min. Fluff before serving. Serves 2-3.

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