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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