Monday, November 25, 2013

The One: Roasted vegetables and Chicken stock

Sometimes, in fumbling around cooking and trying out different things, you stumble across a recipe that turns out - strangely and incomprehensibly - perfect. It is The One. The one that you have subconsciously been looking for. In fact, all the other recipes you tried were but pale shadows of the One.

In the last few months, I bookmarked two separate recipes from two different blogs and only got around to trying them out recently. One was from The Wednesday Chef, titled "The Best Roasted Vegetables Ever". The other was from Smitten Kitchen - "Perfect Uncluttered Chicken Stock".  Really, the blog titles should have given it away; they both turned out to be The One in each of their categories. 


The best roasted vegetables ever.

They were! And so easy too - the prep takes hardly 20 minutes and then you can pop them into the oven and walk away for a full hour. I used to make my roasted veg exactly like how Luisa Weiss described her former roasted veg style - chop the veg into small chunks, mess about with oil and toss it into the oven with the heat turned up high. This one is different. For this one, you take out your baking dish and pile the veg in willy-nilly. In layers. All messy-like. Then it goes into the oven for a long long time on slooow heat. The onions caramelize, the potatoes turn soft and sweet and the eggplant soaks up all the tomato juice and becomes this mess of flavour. 

Roasted Vegetables 
Serves 3-4 (?) as a side dish
1 medium onion
1 eggplant
1 small potato
5 small tomatoes
1 red or yellow pepper
A handful of mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Dried herbs (sage, thyme, rosemary, wild fennel are all good choices - either individually or combined in some form)
5 to 6 tablespoons of olive oil, plus more to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Quarter and slice the onion thinly. Dice all the vegetables into pieces that are approximately the same size (no larger than 1/2 inch). Pile the vegetables into a baking dish so that the vegetables lie a few inches thick. Season with salt, pepper and herbs to taste and then pour the olive oil over the vegetables. Mix thoroughly but gently - you don't want to destroy the tomatoes before the dish goes into the oven. Now check the vegetables to make sure they are well-coated and glistening with oil. If need be, add more oil.
2. Put the dish in the oven and cook for 45 minutes to an hour. Halfway through the cooking process, remove the dish from the oven and very gently stir the vegetables so that the ones at the bottom come to the top. Towards the end of the cooking process, stir a second time. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Check for seasoning and serve.

Note: The original recipe had both zucchini and carrots. I omitted them because I don't like zucchini... actually I also don't really like carrots. I subbed in some mushrooms instead. I don't know how many people this recipe would feed - I made it for two and had leftovers so theoretically, it could feed up to 4 as a side dish?
Also, the leftovers are delicious. 


Deb Perelman calls it "Perfect, uncluttered chicken stock". 

I call it the easiest,  most chicken-y chicken stock - ever. Really really. And I've made my fair share of chicken stock. Including the kind that require you to stand at the stove skimming the scum off for the first hour(I really hate those).  And yet, after all that work, there would be this water-y, slightly bland tasting stock. I dutifully used those but deep inside, I always felt let down. Plus it was so much work! All the faffing about with carrots and celery. 

Until yesterday. Friends, we have a winner. This is The One. The stock I have been looking for, yearning to taste but only achieved last night. 

This is also how I would describe it. 

You know how you eat Maggi chicken flavoured instant noodles and there's this MSG laden stock that comes with it? You know how the flavour is somehow intensely chicken-y - the essence of chicken distilled into a yellow liquid? You know how home-made stock somehow never tastes like that? 

This one does. But without the icky MSG. I tell you, this is the One

The Best Chicken Stock Ever (The One You Have Been Looking for)
(Adapted very slightly from Smitten Kitchen)

900 g to 1kg uncooked chicken winglets and drumlets
1onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon table salt 
Water - enough to fill the slow cooker. 

Place all ingredients in a slow-cooker. Cook on low for about 8 hours.
Strain out chicken parts, onion and garlic. The stock is now ready to use, or, you could put it in the fridge to chill until any fat solidifies on the top. There was very little fat to strain out though so I might skip this step next time. 

When chilled, the stock becomes this gelatinous mess (I wanted to dance when I saw that - none of my other recipes have yielded this before!). The standard explanation for this is that the bones have released their natural gelatin(?), collagen (?) and so the stock will turn into a jelly like substance when chilled. 


Deb Perelman used only 1 garlic clove - Mr Grey and I love garlic so I upped it to 3 - which was the original recipe anyway. She also has a huge amount of helpful info on storing the chicken stock, freezing it etc so please check out the link above if you have any questions. I try to be helpful, but between me and Ms Perelman, she is obviously the "si fu", I am but an amateur.

She also uses a much larger slow cooker - I sized the recipe down a bit. Yes, I do realise that chicken wings/winglets/drumlets are rather expensive. But so are commercially made chicken stock packets and they all have MSG, so between that and just making this myself, I'll rather make this. Besides, the chicken can be shredded up and used if you stop the cooking at around the 8 hour mark as I did. You can use the chicken in chinese chicken congee or Malay mee soto. If you have a pet, you can also shred it carefully and feed it to your pet but please be careful - chicken bones might choke your dog or cat.

Final note: Children of the '80s, remember that Gardenia bread ad? The one with the chorus "so good you can eat it on its own!". Well, that line applies perfectly to this stock - it was so good, I wanted to drink it all up on its own.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

white collar kingfishers

These two little guys have been hanging out at the tiny patch of green on the way to the train station. Sometimes, they sit far apart, sometimes, like in the picture above, they sit side by side.

I look out for them everyday. The last time I tried to take a photo of them sitting together, one of them got annoyed and flew off. Today, I was more cautious and kept my distance which explains the terrible quality of the photo. The iPhone camera zoom can only handle so much.

I'm always happy to see them - either of them - perched up on the fence above the grassy verge. These little green and blue moments are so ephemeral - maybe tomorrow they'll fly away to some new hunting ground, maybe tomorrow the land will be sold, the trees cut down. Maybe.

But today, they were sitting together, side by side, and I got a photo, all of which makes for a nice start to Friday.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Celebration of the Edict of Milan

1700 years since Constantine issued the Edict of Milan.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

home body

Isn't the reading corner in the picture so inviting? Saw it and couldn't resist posting it up.

I have to say, I'm really loving this stage of life when I get to have my own home and I also get to hang out with friends in their homes. Hanging out with friends in the comfort of their own living rooms and kitchens is such a luxury. It's quiet, you get unlimited water to drink, there isn't awful music playing and you don't have to buy an expensive coffee/tea to justify your stay.

Last week, I went over to H's place and she fed a home cooked dinner and a home made cheese cake :) When we were sitting around in her kitchen eating the cheesecake, my only thought was: this is so much better than any old starbucks in any old mall. It makes growing up worth it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

i wish i knew how it would feel to be free

I came to this song by way of Lighthouse family and only later heard the Billy Taylor original. In my university days, it was constantly on my playlist. This Nina Simone version is one of the best so far - I like how she starts quiet and then builds up to this crescendo at the end. If you search for it, there's a live version where she improvises on the piano as well.

This song is such a standout though - whichever version of it. Every so often, a song comes along that perfectly encapsulates some part of the human condition - music mood lyric and talent all coming together.

The lighthouse family version might not be the best out there but because I listened to it so much during my university years, it's the most memory laden one.

Music has been good medicine this week. There have been terrible happenings and I have no words to describe or talk about what's going on in the world except to say that this is a world yearning to be set free.


From the liturgy of the hours:

 Save us, Lord, while we are awake; protect us while we sleep; that we may keep watch with Christ and rest with him in peace.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

G. Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue, FORTISSIMO FEST 2010

The last few weeks have been filled with work and it's likely to continue for some time. But earlier this week, I ran to the bathroom during the session break and realised that the bathrooms have piped in music from 92.4 FM. I was just washing up when the familiar squeal of the clarinet curled its way into the bathroom and ended up standing there for another two minutes, smiling. Rhapsody in blue is such a favourite - at turns grand and thundering but so full of sly humour at the same time. It's a piece that doesn't take itself too seriously. This rendition on youtube is especially good I think. The clarinet bit I alluded to earlier is at 0:55 and I also liked the pianist's smile - he was listening to the clarinet (at 1:02?) and looked like he was loving it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

blueberry syrup and wholemeal pikelets

Recently, I got around to youtube-ing some of Nigella's cooking show snippets and was really surprised by how much I liked her style and her recipes. Mainly because she seems to have a commitment to producing straightforward non fussy recipes which are the kind that you will end up pulling off again and again.

Therefore it is with much happiness and gratitude that I bring you this Nigella non-recipe for blueberry syrup which I've already made twice despite the relatively high cost of maple syrup.  I'm also reproducing a wholemeal pikelet recipe that I've made a few times; I haven't used Nigella's pancake recipe only because this recipe for wholemeal pikelets got to me first.

The pikelets can be made on a weekend morning then frozen for quick weekday breakfasts. The blueberry syrup can be concocted while practically asleep.

Nigella's Blueberry syrup

1/2 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 cups blueberries

Place blueberries and maple syrup into a small saucepan then bring to boil. Let it simmer and bubble for a couple of minutes then serve. If using frozen blueberries, the result may be slightly more watery.

Note: Leftover syrup can be stored and it either turns into this soft set jammy mess that's great on toast, or if you've got a more watery version then simply store and reheat to turn it back into warm syrup again. I haven't tried replacing the maple syrup with honey yet but given how expensive maple syrup is, I will probably try out that substitution at some point.

Wholemeal Pikelets

(Recipe from here)

125g wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp raw sugar (I used muscovado)
1 egg
170 ml milk
butter for greasing pancake pan

Place flour and baking powder into a bowl and whisk to mix. Add sugar and stir. Add the egg and milk and whisk till smooth.

Heat a non stick pan and grease it with butter. Spoon the batter in with either a tablespoon or a ladle.
Cook each for a couple of minutes until bubbles appear on the surface. Then flip and cook for another 30 s.



The original recipe has you sifting the flour and baking powder together but whisking works out fine and cuts down on the number of things to wash.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

spaghetti al pomodoro

Recently I've had a yen for really simple Italian home food. In the last few weeks, I've been making simple lunches with bread rubbed with garlic and olive oil (best trick ever), salami, cherry tomatoes and cheese - a lunch that brings Italy and Melbourne back to me in equal measure.

Dinners at home have been equally simple. Mr Grey and I have made this pasta twice already and because it is so criminally fast and easy, it will probably become is now a week night staple. This gets dinner on the table in 20 minutes flat and only uses 2 pans.

Spaghetti al pomodoro is a classic and easy Italian dish. There are a few variations of it but all of them will call for the unbeatable trifecta of good tomatoes, olive oil and garlic. The recipe below is my favourite kind: a recipe that is not really a recipe. I adapted it from here

Spaghetti al pomodoro (for two)


extra virgin olive oil q.b
2 cloves of garlic (smashed and peeled)
 250 - 300g cherry tomatoes
salt q.b.
a few leaves of fresh basil
enough spaghetti for two people


Boil the spaghetti in salted water.

Warm the olive oil in a large saute pan. Make sure you use a fairly large amount of olive oil. Fry the garlic gently in the oil until golden but do not allow garlic to brown.

Halve the tomatoes and add them to the pan with a pinch of salt. When the tomatoes start to soften, use a spatula or wooden spoon to squash them so that their juices run into the garlicky olive oil. Add basil and cook for a few more minutes. Lower the flame.

Once pasta is al dente, drain and add to the tomato pan. Remember to reserve some of the pasta cooking water.

Mix the pasta together with the oil and tomato juices, add a little pasta water if the mixture seems dry. Serve immediately.

This can be eaten with parmesan cheese or without. If using parmesan, add it to the last step and stir.

Roasted tomato variation here.

P.S. Do not use store bought sliced bread when making that sandwich I described above. Use good bread in thick fat slices. Panini would work, focaccia already has olive oil in it so you could opt for less oil. The salami (so expensive, I know!) can be swapped for any kind of sausage or ham or simply omitted. It's painful, but simple meals like that only work when using excellent ingredients. I nearly always use my weekly splurge money on good tomatoes (and cheese) - tells you something about my priorities!

Friday, July 19, 2013

quanto basta, agak-agak and aggaration

Frantically busy week - even the piano lessons were postponed - but I thought I'd pop in to share this little gem.

This week, I came across the Italian phrase "quanto basta". The literal translation of quanto basta is "how much is enough" and apparently means (for Italian cooks) 'what you think is the right quantity', 'as much as is needed', or 'to taste'. It appears in older Italian cookbooks and it just means that the cook should use whatever quantity of whatever (oil, salt, sugar etc) he/she thinks is enough.

I was delighted to come across this phrase. Truly, if there is one motto I cook by, it would be the Singlish phrase - aggaration. It's a phrase that is really and truly Singlish - an Anglicized version of the Malay phrase "agak-agak" which is generally taken to mean "just go estimate it to your liking". Quanto basta sounds just like the Italian phrase for the exact same idea and I love it. It's so nice to know that cooks everywhere kind of do the same thing, tasting as they go along and fiddling about with the dish.

Bearing that in mind, I shall now reproduce here (for the second time) my youngest Aunt's recipe for ginger dry rubbed chicken wings which is a pretty perfect example of a recipe that is simple and short on ingredients but is all about the aggaration.

Ginger chicken wings


1 kilogram chicken wings, drumsticks
Ground ginger powder (you should probably aggarate it to your liking. I use about 3-4 tablespoons)
Salt (Q.B.)

Rub the ginger power and salt into the chicken wings, taking care to massage it into all parts of the wing, especially the tips.

Refrigerate for a few hours or over night.

Roast in 200 degree oven for about 20-ish minutes - go and agak-agak the timing yourself.

Important Note:

Aggaration is a technique probably best used for cooking. Now baking is a different beast altogether. Whatever you do, do not attempt to "aggarate" a baking recipe unless you are an experienced baker. Some things can be adjusted without affecting the overall result much (e.g. reducing the amount of sugar used by about 20-30%) but some things cannot be adjusted as easily (e.g swapping plain flour for other kinds of flour).

Monday, July 1, 2013

On baptism

Most Christians today, at least in the developed world, are baptized in infancy; and even those whose traditions delay the rite until adulthood are, for the most part, children of Christian families and have grown up in the faith, and so their baptisms merely seal and affirm the lives they have always lived. This was obviously not the case, however, for most of the Christians of the earliest centuries; for them, baptism was of an altogether more radical nature. It was understood as nothing less than a total transformation of the person who submitted to it; and as a ritual event, it was certainly understood as being far more than a mere dramaturgical allegory of one’s choice of religious association. To become a Christian was to renounce a very great deal of what one had known and been to that point, in order to be joined to a new reality, the demands of which were absolute; it was to depart from one world, with an irrevocable finality, and to enter another.

A convert to Christianity from paganism somewhere in, say, the greater Byzantine world, within the first few decades after the Edict of Milan, would not in most circumstances have been granted immediate entry into the community of the faith.

Catechetical and liturgical customs varied greatly from place to place, but certain aspects of Christian baptism were very nearly universal. In general, if one sought to be received into the  church, one had first to become a catechumen, a student of the church’s teachings….. one might typically be required to depart from the congregation on Sundays after the liturgy of the word, before the Eucharist was celebrated. And one could remain in this liminal state, in many cases, for years, receiving instruction, submitting to moral scrutiny, learning to discipline one’s will, and gradually becoming accustomed to the practice of the Christian life. Whether brief or protracted, however, the period of one’s preparation for baptism could not conclude until one had been taught the story of redemption: how once all men and women had laboured as slaves in the household of death….. and how Christ had come to set the prisoners free and had, by his death and resurrection, invaded the kingdom of our captor and overthrown it, vanquishing the power of sin and death in us…

For it was into this story that one’s own life was to be merged when one at last sank down into the “life-giving waters”: in the risen Christ, a new humanity had been created, free from the rule of death, into which one could be admitted by dying and rising again with Christ in baptism…..

-- David Bentley Hart in "Atheist Delusions"


It is a peculiarity of our modern age that many people who identify themselves as Christians actually know - and understand - very little about Christianity. They enter churches singing along and smiling amiably but the reality is that their grasp of even the most fundamental tenets of the faith is weak, even tenuous. 

Part of the problem is this: in the rush to be inclusive and welcoming, many churches make the mistake allowing newcomers into the life of the church without first ascertaining their understanding of Christ and his redemptive work. 

This typified by practices such as allowing non members into service and participation in nearly every part of the church's life and a very truncated period of teaching and preparation for baptism. In at least one church I attended, preparation for baptism consisted of a 2 hour session, half of which was taken up by an explanation of the logistics of the actual baptism service. There was no inquiry into the life of the candidate save for ascertaining that the candidate had attended the church regularly for at least 6 months. 

It is unfortunate, but in most cases, a newcomer's willingness to be of service and friendliness are mistaken as conversion and transformation when it is possible (or even likely) that neither have taken place. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Irregular frocks

Lately one of my friends posted a cry for fashion help on FB and bewailed the fact that she can't fit into a lot of the clothes at blogshops.  I felt for her. I was a very very large teenager and finding clothes in Singapore was an impossible task (this was before a great many European/American brands set up shop here - hello Mango and Dorothy Perkins!). I hated shopping and lived in jeans and oversized t shirts.

So... this post is just to link people to Frocks and Froufrou, a fabulous and cute fashion blog run by Lilli, an Australian blogger who lives in Melbourne (only my favourite city!). She's beautiful, smart, she can sew (real skirts and things!) and she features a lot of links on her blog to fashion resources for girls who may have trouble finding clothes at regular stores. She also shows you how you can adjust regular store clothes so that they fit better (eg, she has a tutorial on how to prevent blouses from gaping around the bust) and even turned a dress from Gorman into a really gorgeous skirt. I wish I'd had an older sister like her when I was 14 :)

It made me miss Melbourne even more - there are so many people there who love dressing in a really offbeat style and it made people watching at cafes so much fun. I'd regularly see this lady on the tram with a perfect cat-eye and dressed beautifully in retro/vintage fashion and I would just sneak admiring looks at her out of the corner of my eye....

I will also add that while it is true that clothes may not occupy a terribly important place in the grand scheme of things, it is important for everyone (girls or boys) to learn to dress smartly, modestly and appropriately. It is part of mindful living, part of being a Christian.

Yes, modesty. I actually said that people should dress modestly. It's really a topic for a whole other blogpost  (or book) so I won't go into it here. I will just say that yes, I know it sounds old fashioned, prudish and over-conservative. But I would like to just put it out there that clothes do make a statement and what you wear reflects the state of your heart.

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness--with good works.--1 Timothy 2:8-10'

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Better and hungry (recipe list included)

Dear world,

 I've been frantically busy and then frantically ill so writing wasn't really possible. Neither was cooking. I've been eating crackers and chinese rice porridge for awhile now. And soup.

 I'm still blowing my nose and coughing a little but I'm definitely better enough to be terribly terribly hungry. I met the Jester for lunch yesterday and demolished a whole plate of roast chicken and salad - I know it doesn't sound like a lot but I normally eat a very small lunch. The roast chicken food coma wasn't fun though.

I've also got an enormous craving for pasta - Mr Grey and I haven't made pasta in ages and I really want some cacio e pepe with maybe sausages on the side. Ok and some cherry tomatoes. Just so the meal is... um... complete and nutritious?

Today is looking so nice and friendly (please don't let me jinx it). So I thought I'd write down another list of recipes I want to try. Yes, another list. I can't help it. When I was sick I surfed food blogs and now there are so many more things I want to try :)

1. Mark Bittman's Easy chicken and rice. This is a one pot dish - therefore it must go on the list.

2. Nigel Slater's pork meatballs.

3. Lentil soup with sausage. (It's supposed to be sausage and chard... but I think I'll skip the chard. I mean, lentils are healthy right?)

4. Japanese strawberry shortcake.

I think the shortcake recipe is probably the most complicated of the lot but I watched the instructional video while sniffling and sneezing and it looked do-able..... plus I love strawberry shortcake so I've got to give it a go.

I'll be back with a news report of how the cooking goes! I've got a ramen dinner tonight with ex colleagues and ooh, I can't wait!



P.S. Yes. I did more or less write this post so that I could have the links to all the recipes I wanted to try all in one place :) Saves me having to hunt them up on other blogs. Besides, I'd be a cruel and selfish friend if I didn't share that Mark Bittman one pot recipe. One pot recipes are meant to be shared and sung from the roof tops.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Garlic roasted chicken and soup

I'm sorry I haven't been around for some time. The news have been doleful, I've been doleful and not only doleful but also occupied with workthings that never stop....

But Ms MG was here on a flying visit this weekend and so I thought I'd share the meal I cooked for her. It was good, home-y food and I promise, not many dishes were dirtied in the making of it.

I made a garlic roasted chicken, only very slightly adapted from here which turned out lovely and crisp and juicy.It is so ridiculously easy - barely even a recipe at all.

Garlic roasted chicken

1 whole chicken with legs and head lopped off
1/2 to 3/4 tablespoon of salt
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
Pepper to taste
plenty of garlic cloves (unpeeled)

 Rub the chicken all over (including the cavity) with olive oil, pepper and salt. Stuff the inside of the chicken to the brim with garlic cloves (no need to peel but if you like the garlicky smell to be stronger, you may crush some of the cloves slightly with the flat of the knife). Secure the garlic filled cavity with a toothpick (or two) and bung it into the 240 degree celsius oven for about 45 to 55 minutes (depending on the size of the bird). My chicken was done in 45 minutes and all juicy too so I was glad I checked at the 45 minute mark.

You can make gravy from the juices and oil left in the pan - but I didn't this time because I was also making a leek and potato soup alongside.

Jamie Oliver's leek and potato soup was fine, but I tweaked it here and there. First off, the simmering time of 10 minutes that it called for was much too short. I simmered for nearly an hour because I like my veg in a collapsing mess.  I added about 1/2 tsp of nutmeg which I've discovered, give a lot of savoury dishes this rounded flavour that I like. Mr Grey also discovered that the soup is even better when topped off with a generous amount of shredded cheddar and so that was how we ate it.

Finally, as there was both leftover chicken and a lot of soup, I shredded up the remaining chicken and dumped it into the soup thereby making it a roast chicken, leek and potato soup. I froze 4 portions and had one for lunch yesterday and very good it was too!

Oh and the chicken and soup used up 1 pot and 1 baking tray exactly - ain't that glorious?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

dreaming about a holiday

It's raining farmyard animals outside and all I can think about in my grey room is that I need a break. I'd like to go somewhere with lots of green, some hiking and no tall concrete buildings. A pool would be nice too. Just look all that greenery in the picture above - don't you want to be there?

There have been a few articles lately about the use of facebook and instagram. More specifically, about how facebook and instagram can create the illusion of a perfect life, one without the ugly nasty bits.... a life composed of awesome vacation shots, swirly cafe lattes, good food and happy pretty pictures of yourself.

I don't know. The line between sharing and narcissism on facebook is so so thin at times. What do you choose to share? More importantly, why? I like my life but I wouldn't like to make people feel small because they can't do what I do or can't afford what I can afford. Plus, there is that thing where you might attract all manner of negative attention as well.

I've tried to be more careful about facebook posting in the last year or two. Most of the caution has been Mr Grey's influence - he's very wary of social media. I hate to admit it but he's probably right. Facebook is fun in its way but it's rather artificial and if you're not careful about curating your facebook "friends" then you effectively have perfect strangers viewing very personal vignettes of your life and thinking that they know you when they don't - not really.

Have a good weekend everyone (or rather, the two - three friends who actually bother to keep up with this space)!


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Salad days

I've said before that I'm an adequate home cook;what I really mean by that is that I can put together meals for myself from just stuff in my fridge. I can do basic roasts, stir frys and stews. It doesn't mean I don't screw up - I still do. But it also means that in the big wide world of the kitchen, I'm only just starting out.

Recently, Mr Grey and I celebrated our first anniversary. It's also the first anniversary of my return to regular cooking and having my own kitchen. When I look back, it is amazing that in one short year, I've still managed to learn quite a few things.

One of the best things I've picked up in the last year has been one of the easiest and simplest. (In fact, I'm afraid to admit that I haven't been doing it all along - eep.)

It's salad dressing. Home-made salad dressing.

Isn't that ridiculous? People who already make their own salad dressing are probably going -pfffft- what could be easier? Can't believe you weren't already doing it. For people who haven't made this leap - well, it sounds hard. And a bit OCD. Salad dressing is sold in jars! Why would you make it? Right? Isn't it like making your own mayonnaise? Or your own granola? (Because only hippies make their own granola!)

So about 8 months ago, Mr Grey and I hosted a small dinner party and the main dish for the night was japanese beef curry. I wanted to make a wafu dressing to go with our salad and hunted up a recipe. I couldn't believe how easy it was and from then on, I found even easier salad dressings to make.

Lately, all I've been doing is whisking balsamic vinegar together with olive oil. Add some salt and pepper and that's kind of it. It takes less than two minutes and tastes so much better than the store bought kind. It's cheaper too and most importantly, you know every ingredient that went into it.  Go read the ingredient list on any jar of salad dressing and I guarantee you will be frightened.

If you don't have balsamic vinegar, use some lemon juice and mustard. Whisk all of it together with olive oil, salt and pepper. That's it.


If you want, you can mince some onion or shallots, whisk them in with some vinegar (rice wine or apple cider), add some salt and pepper and again, that is it.

Your only equipment investment? A whisk. Mine cost $2.50 from NTUC.

Isn't that cool? I can't believe I took so long to get around to doing this.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

List of annoying words that the ST should also stop using

List of words that the former editor of New York Magazine found annoying. The editors of the ST would do well to read through this list and ban - or at least limit - the use of these words.

In other nerd-y and useless news, I came across a rather fun word today.


Isn't it wonderfully yiddish?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

My favourite flower is not the hydrangea

So a bunch of us were sitting around making DIY decor for a friend's wedding and also randomly chatting about wedding related trivia. EY is the bride to be and she is so much girlier and more on the ball about wedding related stuff than me. In the run-up to MY wedding, I was worrying about work not flowers.

Me: Haha yes I wanted my bridesmaids to wear bright orange but they all said no!

EY: Really? But it wouldn't have gone with your flowers. You'd need gerberas and (name of some other flower I can't remember)

Me (happily): Oh I wouldn't have gotten the same flowers.

EY: But I thought you liked hydrangeas and that's why you got them?

Me: Huh? No, I didn't know what hydrangeas were until I got to the florist and she suggested them.

EY: Horrified silence.....

Me: Sheepish....


Uh. So what really happened was this.

I couldn't really be bothered picking a theme for the wedding - so I told my sister who was maid of honour to pick her dress and the bridesmaids would follow suit and whatever colour my sister picked would end up being the theme.

The sister picked a blue dress. The bridesmaids eventually all wore blue. So the theme ended up being blue with touches of bright red.

At one point though, I DID suggest a really bright orange dress (I'm like a child, I like super bright colours). ALL my bridesmaids said no. Actually, because my friends are really nice, they said "ok if you REALLY want this, we'll wear it....".  In girl speak, this translates to "NO PLEASE PLEASE NO".

So blue it was. And that's also how I ended up with blue hydrangeas at my wedding. I mean, hydrangeas are very pretty but it could just as easily have been  daisies or gerberas and it wouldn't have made any difference.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The village shows up

The first time I went to the airport to see a church friend off - I was shocked. I thought people were joking when they said they'd go see her off at 5 am in the morning in the middle of the week. But no, they were all there en masse and it was actually kind of nice in a way. It was like a throwback to living in a small village and how the whole town would turn out for stuff like seeing people off.


Miss M.G. flew off last night and I am sad.

She's been in my life the last 4 years and honestly I don't know how I managed to get through the first twenty-something years of my life without her. Everyone should have a friend that reliable, who cooks and bakes so well and who is so funny.

Mr Grey and I went to the airport last night to see her off and of course, something like half the church showed up. We took the obligatory giant group photo, Ms M hugged everyone and promised to come visit and off she went.

Sigh. I'm really going to miss her. She's been such a reliable cooking, catching up and shopping buddy :(

Looking back I realise that fully half of our shopping trips were in the supermarket - and there is really nothing like bonding at the supermarket.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

the oxford comma

The Oxford Comma
Courtesy of: Online Schools

 a fun infographic :)

Monday, March 4, 2013

not a grumpy old man

At 82, Derek Prime is still learning and teaching. No self pity! How many people should learn this - myself included, I'm afraid. Must learn to refrain from throwing pity parties.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

blueberries do not grow in Singapore but you can have cake

I have a weakness for blueberries. I acquired a blueberry habit in Australia and to my horror, it followed me to Singapore.

Blueberries do not grow in Singapore.

They grow in America, England, South Africa and Australia but not Singapore. This means that the blueberries that do finally get to this country tend to be painfully expensive and powdery - very sad-making. It also means that recipes like these are usually out of reach.

I posted last year about the recipes I wanted to try when I finally moved out and got my own kitchen and one of them was a recipe for a cake evocatively named "Blueberry boy bait". For a year, I kept a sharp eye out for blueberries on sale but! BUT! I had not reckoned on Mr Grey liking blueberries just as much and so every time we bought affordable delicious blueberries, Mr Grey would persuade me that they were best eaten all by themselves.

I gave in every time. After all, he's right. Blueberries - like all fruit in season - taste beautiful unadorned. Besides, they were still quite expensive and I didn't have the heart to experiment with them. So it was that we made apple crumble and flapjacks twice in a row (apples and raisins being cheaper) and didn't do a single blueberry related food item.

This weekend I finally spotted blueberries going for $2.65 a punnet and I decided that at this price point, I could bake with them.

Ooooh let me just say, this recipe is worth the price of those blueberries. It turns out a buttery delicious cake wafting blueberries and cinnamon in equal measure and we loved it. This recipe is a keeper for sure.

But uh, because it was kind of difficult explaining the name of the cake to my  Chinese speaking family, I decided to just tell them it was blueberry butter cake. It's less evocative but the cake is good enough that it will stand on its own, sans the cute name.

I'm sorry I don't have pictures - the cake went real fast! But it was goooood and I will bake it again - that's a promise!


Yes I realise it's been all food posts for awhile - but I can't help it. I moved to Singapore in mid 2008 and didn't get my own kitchen till April 2011 - that's a really long time to go without my own kitchen so I've all this cooking-ness and baking-ness all built up within me.




Blueberry Boy Bait Butter Cake

2 cups plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
225g butter, softened**
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (if frozen, do not defrost first as it tends to muddle in the batter)

1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (if frozen do not defrost)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (I used brown sugar and it was fine)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the cake: 

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 13 by 9-inch baking pan.
Whisk two cups flour, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. With electric mixer, beat butter and sugars on medium-high speed until fluffy, about two minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just incorporated and scraping down bowl. Reduce speed to medium and beat in one-third of flour mixture until incorporated; beat in half of milk. Beat in half of remaining flour mixture, then remaining milk, and finally remaining flour mixture. Toss blueberries with remaining one teaspoon flour. Using rubber spatula, gently fold in blueberries. Spread batter into prepared pan.

For the topping:
Scatter blueberries over top of batter. Stir sugar and cinnamon together in small bowl and sprinkle over batter. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan 20 minutes, then turn out and place on serving platter (topping side up). Serve warm or at room temperature. (Cake can be stored in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.)

**Recipe is American and called for 2 sticks of butter which converts to roughly 225grams. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Beginner recipe: Nelly's easy chicken stew

Recently I've been reflecting on how hard it really is to learn to cook. I've hit the age (gulp!) where loads of my friends have married, moved out, had (or having) kiddies and I've noticed this trend. Generally, if someone has managed to learn to cook before getting married and/or having kiddies - there is a much higher likelihood that the person will continue to cook for their household after the aforesaid life changes.


Because cooking - or learning to cook - is really not as easy as it sounds. And if you're not used to having to forage for yourself day after day and plan ahead - then it just gets so much harder. I mean, I once read this saying: "if you can read, you can cook" - and now, I think it isn't really true. Cooking - even simple home cooking - is full of skills to learn, jargon to decipher.

The second reason so few people cook is because cooking - for those with kiddies and households to manage - is tiring. It generates washing up. It involves taking out appropriate pans and chopping things up. Even cooking one meal per week means you need to plan ahead and buy the right stuff. Plus if you have kids, it gets even trickier because you have to plan for toddler or child friendly meals. Plus... you're tired and have no time. Eating out gets the trick done and then you can get kiddies off the bed and plop down somewhere to nap.

Well, last week I was thinking about this cooking issue (because I am random like that) and I remembered myself about 5 years ago, just starting to cook and trying to decipher cooking jargon. During that time, I stumbled on Chubby Hubby's food blog and was amazed by his recipes. One day, when reading an especially enticing recipe filled with mysterious ingredients that I wasn't sure of, I finally plucked up my courage to send him a question - What is lemon zest?

What is lemon zest?!!

Can you believe it? I use practically every part of the lemon now but then! Then, lemons were for iced lemon tea (which came out of a can) and for scenting dishwashing liquid (we were a Mama Lemon household). As far as I was aware, that's all lemons were used for.

I am grateful to Chubby Hubby (or rather the kind Mr Koh who runs it) for being nice enough to send me a reply explaining lemon zest. I believe he may even have explained how to zest a lemon.

However, I am even more grateful that I did eventually manage to learn adequate home cooking skills. Oh I still can't do lots of stuff (what does it mean to gently fold something through batter?!) but I can manage basic stuff.  It also helped that for some time, I lived with a talented home cook - Nelly - who taught me Chinese home cooking and some baking.

This Saturday, a friend from church is flying off to Australia for a year. This is her first time having to cook for herself everyday and she was anxiously asking for recipes and whether she should buy packets of food mixes (not really necessary but a good crutch for beginners). I told her I'd write out my beginner recipes for her to try out and assured her that all of them had three steps or less. It then occurred to me that what people really need are beginner recipes - recipes with three steps or less, involving easy to obtain ingredients and basic kitchen equipment.

The very first recipe I thought of was Nelly's chicken stew which was so tremendously easy (and cheap), I cooked it nearly every week for some months. The ingredients are simple but effective and the genius is that as the potato cooks, the starch thickens the stew and therefore no other thickeners are required. The other genius of this stew is that if you add vegetables like carrots and celery, this is essentially a one pot meal.

(One pot is all bold because for tired students with limited energy and time, you really don't want too much to wash up. There is a very special place in my heart for one pot recipes of all stripes.)

Nelly's easy chicken stew


2-3 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 potato
1 onion
8-10 Mushrooms
1.5 tablespoons of oyster sauce
1 tablespoon cooking oil


1 non-stick pot/pan
1 spatula
1 knife
Chopping board

How to cook:

1. Cut up the chicken into bit size pieces (this can also be done with a kitchen scissors). Dice the onion, potato and mushrooms.

2. Heat oil in pan until bubbles start forming, then fry the onions for about 2 - 3 minutes. Add the chicken and fry until chicken is no longer pink. Add the mushrooms then the oyster sauce and cook for a few more minutes. Then add the diced potato and enough water to cover everything in the pan.

3. After adding potato and water, allow the stew to boil then turn the heat down and cover the pan so that the stew simmers gently. Allow the stew to simmer for at least 20 minutes. During this time, wash up the cutting board and knife.

4. Add pepper and more oyster sauce to taste (if you like), then serve.


In addition to oyster sauce, you can also add chinese cooking wine (this goes in just before the oyster sauce). But this is purely optional - I've only added it a few times. The stew will smell a little nicer but the taste does not change.

If you like a thicker stew, you can try adding a teaspoon of corn starch mixed with hot water.

Celery and carrots also make good additions to this stew. This was not part of Nelly's original recipe but I experimented and these two are the best fit.

Finally, this works just as well with minced pork but I'd suggest being careful with the simmering time. Normally, with chicken, I let it simmer for as long as 30-45 minutes but with minced pork, I try and turn off the heat once the potato is adequately cooked and the stew has got all nice and flavourful (15-20 minutes).

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Getting the order right

One of the greatest takeaways from my parents' lifelong romance was to set priorities in the proper order: God first, then spouse, after the spouse the kids, and then everything else.  No doubt they had a unique perspective, having been in love with each other since Dad was five and Mom was three. 

Legion are my memories where the three boys were with Mom and Dad going to fancy restaurants, taking long coastal drives, spending the day at far away beach cities, shopping for antiques, fishing, spending a Saturday at an auction house, hanging out at their workplace (they always worked together), and going with them wherever they wanted to go.

Few are my memories of going to the party of a classmate, me or my brothers causing one of our sporting events to swallow an entire weekend, or doing some other kid-centered activity. 

My parents were intentional that having kids wasn't going to stop them from doing the things they did before they had kids. Their object was to bring the kids into their marriage, not allow the kids to drown their marriage in a sea of tasks for the children. For this reason, our kid activities were pretty limited. 

This idea probably sounds foreign to many people. It seems the pervasive thinking in the Western world is that the lives of parents generally revolve around their children. Beginning each Monday, day in and day out, parents run themselves ragged tearing around from practice to recital to dance class to art school to theater to band until they fall into a heap on Sunday night, only to start again the next morning. So, what happens after that final Sunday, when you've dropped off your baby girl at the college of her choice and you walk away, hand in hand with your spouse, no longer knowing the hand you hold? One way to fight that scenario is to make serious efforts to make your husband or wife a priority in your life. 

From here.

A bit of an eye-opener. Especially for Singapore, what with fifty million extra curricular activities now being the norm for the average kid.  

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Poems: qlrs

The Day You Told Me You Were Tired of Things That Break

Ask me what material I'd use to make
a human being and I'd answer:
glass. Ask me what shape
I'd mould it into and I'd reply

a cup – the ones that have felt the light
press of lips on their collarbones, or
the gentle caress of fingers easing
the soapbuds off their backs after
every meal. The ones that brim
with liquid light in a room gone
quiet after the candles are lit.
Ask me if I'm scared of the
thought of them breaking,
and I'd ask you to imagine
how easy it would be to
neglect the one thing
you thought was
By Mary Jean Chan

From qlrs vol 12 no 1. 

This latest installment from qlrs is especially good I think. I liked this poem best - interesting but not gimmicky. 


There has been a lot of unhappiness in the air lately. This is a little bit of cute in the middle of that. Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

1 January 2013 - Meatballs

The meatball making frenzy all started when I was shopping for dinner ingredients one evening in December and I picked up a package of frozen Italian meatballs thinking it would go well with my main dish for the night. But then when I flipped it over and looked at the ingredients list, my heart sank. It started with ground meat, parmesan, herbs - ok fine - then descended into a list of chemicals with unpronounceable and un-spell-able names. I put it back. And I thought to myself: I can do better.

So on the first day of the year, Mr Grey cleaned house (yay!) and I made meatballs. It was sort of a mash up of this recipe and this one. I'm actually kind of blown away by the scent of nutmeg - it somehow brought out the flavour of the meat in an wonderfully savoury way - can't believe I've never cooked with it before. We ate some of the meatballs for dinner then froze the rest in meal sized batches. I went to sleep on 1 Jan 2013 feeling satisfied; the house was clean and I had meatballs in the freezer.

You know something? It was a great way to start the year - like making a gift for my future self and I plan to do more of this make ahead stuff from now on. We ate the meatballs with pasta after having a squash lesson earlier this week, Mr Grey ate them with other leftovers one night when I got home late. We ate another carton of the meatballs last night with cacio e pepe and curried carrots (both recipes can be found on this blog) and only spent 20-ish minutes in the kitchen. The cacio e pepe and carrots were made from scratch but the meatballs? We just popped them into the microwave for 4 minutes and that was it.  

Oh 2013, I think you will be the best year yet. I have my own kitchen and so many recipes to try! :)

P.S There's an alternative cacio e pepe recipe on ChubbyHubby's blog - it looks beautifully easy and there's only one pot to wash up.