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Hainanese Chicken Rice






“Yes, there are two paths you can go by
But in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on.
And it makes me wonder…
As we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul…”

-Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin

Looking at this photo of my Hainanese Chicken Rice, it brings me back to 2006 when I worked in a hotel near Maxwell Food Centre in Chinatown. Tian Tian Chicken Rice was my favorite chicken rice stall. Only $2! I don’t know if the price has increased since then (I hope not), but the stuff they do are really good.

I also loved the stalls selling Hakka Thunder Tea Rice, Jian Jian Economical Rice, the Carrot Cake, the Ban Mian, and the Fishball Noodles. I used to eat fishball noodles alone in the wee hours of the night after work in the hotel, because I was famished.

The last time I’ve been to Maxwell was in December 2008, that seems like ages ago but is actually just slightly more than a year.

I tried to reproduce the chicken rice of Tian Tian and I’m pleased to say that I do come close, if not exactly the same. Instead of using a whole chicken with skin, I used chicken breast fillet without skin, so the meat was a little less succulent and tender.

My rice was fantastic, though. Frying the rice for 2 to 3 minutes just before putting it in the rice cooker gives it an unmistakable aroma of ginger and garlic. The extra pandan leaf adds the natural sweet fragrance.

Actually, the chicken is simply boiled, but it’s the myriad of sauces that make the difference. We finished the ginger sauce in one shot!

The ingredients list might look long but it’s really simple, I promise. It’s just that I’m a perfectionist when it comes to cooking Singaporean cuisine so I prefer to include all the sauces I can remember.


HAINANESE CHICKEN RICE

Serving is for 2 people.

Ingredients

For the Chicken:
350gr chicken breast fillet
2 green onions, top part only
1 tbsp ginger, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
4 dashes white pepper
2 tsp salt

For the Rice:
1 cup rice
1 1/2 cup chicken stock (obtained after boiling the chicken)
1 pandan leaf
1 tsp ginger, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 scallion (scalogno), sliced thinly
A small bunch of parsley

For Ginger Sauce:
3 tbsp ginger, chopped
3 tsp sunflower oil
2 tbsp water

For Sesame Soy Sauce:
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp water
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sugar

For Chili Sauce:
5 red chilies, fresh or dried, cut
1 scallion, chopped
1 tbsp ginger, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp lime juice (substitute: lemon juice)
1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

For Garnishing:
2 sprigs of parsley
1 cucumber, sliced thinly
1 fresh tomato, sliced

Method

1. In a large pot, put a large quantity of water and boil on high heat. When water bubbles appear, add all the ingredients and then lower the chicken carefully, to avoid spilling of the hot water. Foam may appear. When this happens, stir with a spatula and transfer pot to the smallest flame and simmer with a cover for 50 minutes on low heat. When chicken is ready, rub a small amount of sesame oil on them and cut in thin strips.

2. While chicken is cooking, heat the sesame oil and sunflower oil in a non-stick pan. Fry the ginger, garlic and scallion until they turn aromatic. Add the parsley and continue stirring for half a minute before adding the rice.

3. Brown the rice for two to three minutes until they take on a slightly yellow sheen. Switch off fire and transfer rice to a rice cooker or pot. Pour in the boiling chicken stock and add a pandan leaf and let it steam.

4. Prepare the sauces, one at a time, using a blender. Put them aside in tiny bowls.

5. Serve steamed rice with chicken and sauces. Place parsley on top of rice and garnishing by side.

 


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Kongnamulbab (Korean Bean Sprouts Rice)






“In my life there’s been heartache and pain
I don’t know if I can face it again
Can’t stop now, I’ve traveled so far
To change this lonely life”

- I Want To Know What Love Is by Foreigner

I’ve only been to a Korean restaurant once in Singapore, in 2007. Granted it was a nice upscale one and the food was quite authentic, but I wasn’t extremely impressed. Perhaps it’s the fact that I don’t eat pork or beef, and many of the key dishes contained these meats.

In 2000, the introduction of Korean dramas in Singapore ignited a nationwide interest in all things Korean - dramas, songs, food, culture, and language. I can’t forget “Autumn In My Heart”, a tearjerker drama that make me shed bucketloads of tears every single day when I watched it. I ended up re-watching it three times, just to revisit my favorite scenes.

“Stairway To Heaven” and “My Name Is Kim Sam Soon” in 2005 were other dramas I was hooked on. The Koreans have managed to blend elements of comedy, romance, tragedy, melodrama and thrill in a sizzling mix, complemented by striking actors and beautiful backdrops.

I had my own mini Korean obsession in 2004 and 2005, and I even learned Korean with a language guidebook! I’m still able to read the Korean characters fairly well but I just don’t get what they mean.

And I love kimchi but the ones sold in Europe are all filled with MSG, and as an anti-MSG person, I refuse to buy them. So I did something simple yet very Korean instead - bean sprouts rice.

BEAN SPROUTS RICE

Ingredients

100gr bean sprouts, canned (wash them if they’re fresh)
1 cup uncooked rice
A pinch of salt

For Sauce:
2 tbsps soy sauce
1 tbsp chopped green onion (scallions)
1 tbsp white sesame seeds
2 tsps sesame oil
1/2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 dried red chilli, crushed


Method

1. Wash rice and cook in rice cooker.

2. When it is just done and has entered the ‘Keep Warm’ stage, lift the lid and add bean sprouts to the rice. Fluff with a plastic or wooden spatula to distribute the bean sprouts evenly.

3. Wait another 10 minutes and the rice is ready. Serve with sauce, according to preference.

 


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Balinese Nasi Kuning






“Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
Travel the world and the seven seas
Everybody’s looking for something”

- Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) by Eurythmics

Yesterday was my Indian-inspired dinner at home, although technically this yellow rice has its origins in Bali, an island of Indonesia. I love to do themed nights like this; it makes me feel like I’m in a restaurant in some exotic part of the world, which is basically my everlasting dream, literally :) Whenever I get back from a real feel-good holiday (imagine: swaying palm trees, warm skin, blue sky, the sound of nature), I would have a few other trips back there in my dreams.

Sweet dreams are made of this ;)

The difference between this indonesian Nasi Kuning and indian Nasi Biryani is the kind of spice used. Bali is in South East Asia, home to sweet pandan leaves, intense kaffir lime leaves and refreshing lemongrass, all of which are incorporated in the yellow rice. The spices used in Nasi Biryani are typically Indian: cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon, none of which are present in Nasi Kuning.

The reason why this dish occurs in both countries is because the main religion in Bali is Hinduism, and it influences their cuisine. Yellow is a royal color for the Hindus.

I used to have an eternal doubt concerning the color of Nasi Kuning, a question that was similar to “why is the sky blue?”. Ahhh, the things we discover as we grow older.

Here is my recipe for Nasi Kuning, adapted for my own tastebuds :)

NASI KUNING

Ingredients

1 cup of uncooked rice, rinsed
1 cup coconut milk
2/3 cup water or chicken stock
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 pandan leaf
1 lemongrass stalk, bruised
3 kaffir lime leaves (subtitute: 1 tbsp of lemon juice)
1/2 tsp salt
Dash of black pepper and dried parsley

Method

1. Mix turmeric with the water or chicken stock and stir well.

2. Put all ingredients in a rice cooker and cook for 20 minutes. If using a pot on the stove, simmer under a small flame and lowest heat for 20 minutes.

3. When rice is cooked, fluff with a wooden spatula to to mix well. Discard pandan, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Serve.

 


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Tandoori Chicken







“Yes, and I feel too young to hold on
I’m much too old to break free and run
Too deaf, dumb, and blind
To see the damage I’ve done
Sweet lover, you should’ve come over
Oh, love, well I’ll wait for you…”

- Lover, You Should’ve Come Over by Jeff Buckley

The second course from my Indian-themed Monday night is the famed Tandoori Chicken. It’s my very first time making this dish, and also my maiden attempt at baking chicken! I’m glad that both attempts turned out super sumptuous. Thanks to Singapore’s Indian community, I’ve had the fortune of tasting many Indian dishes and I knew what the flavor and appearance of authentic Tandoori should be.

The (un)natural color of authentic Tandoori served in an Indian restaurant is red, but it’s due to the red food coloring added. In Italy this is forbidden, and I don’t like anything artificial either, so mine came out a brownish yellow. Check out the closeup photo I took below:

In the Asian supermarket here, there is Tandoori Masala already prepared and ready to be used, but I took it one step further and concocted my own masala! ;) The magic of an electric blender is wondrous. I did it also because using my own masala means that the taste wouldn’t be generic.

I love it when the house is soaked in the scent of Tandoori Chicken in the oven. Happiness.

Traditional Tandoori is baked in a tandoor oven, but I used my normal gas oven, that did a good job, too. It does lack a bit of the smokiness of a tandoor, though.

TANDOORI CHICKEN

Ingredients

350gr chicken breast (cut in medium-sized pieces), thigh, or wings

For Tandoori Masala:
2 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cinnamon (or 1/4 piece of cinnamon stick)
1 tsp garlic powder (or 1/2 tsp fresh garlic, chopped)
1 tsp ginger powder (or 1/2 tsp fresh garlic)
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp hot chilli powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garam masala

For Marinade:
2 tbsps Tandoori Masala
1 cup unsweetened white yogurt
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp garlic paste (omit if the flavor of garlic is too pungent for you)
2 tbsps sunflower oil

For Garnishing:
1 white onion, thinly sliced in rings
1/2 lemon, sliced in wedges
1/2 tomato, sliced

A drizzle of melted butter
Sunflower oil

Method

1. Roast the cumin seeds, cloves, cinnamon stick and coriander seeds in a dry pan for a few minutes. When fragrance emits, switch off fire.

2. Pour all ingredients for the Masala in an electric blender and grind finely till it becomes a powder.

3. When cutting the chicken, make diagonal slashes in the meat for the marinade to penetrate deep into the chicken.

3. In a large mixing bowl, add chicken and all the ingredients for the marinade. Coat the chicken well with the spices. Cover and put in the fridge. Chicken should be marinated for at least 6 hours ahead of cooking.

4. Just before cooking, preheat your gas oven to 180C.

5. Line a baking rack with aluminium foil. Smear the foil with oil using a flat wooden spatula. This is to prevent burning and sticking. Place chicken pieces one by one on the foil, separating them slightly. Smear the top of the chicken with more oil.

6. Insert the rack into the middle section of the oven and let it cook for 12 minutes.

7. Remove rack from oven and flip chicken pieces over with a tong or a spatula and a fork. If chicken is too dry, smear more oil or drizzle melted butter on top. Insert back into oven and bake for another 10 minutes.

8. Serve Tandoori Chicken fresh from the oven. Place onion rings, tomato slices and lemon wedges by side. Ideal with bread and/or rice (Nasi Kuning, for example!).



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Snowy Butter Raisins Cupcakes






“And I want to wake up with the rain
Falling on a tin roof
While I’m safe there in your arms
So all I ask is for you
To come away with me in the night
Come away with me…”

- Come Away With Me by Norah Jones

I love the title of my cupcakes. It’s rather long and verbose, but I invented it myself (pardon the momentary lack of humility), and I’ve always liked names with the words “milky” or “dreamy” in them. When I was a kid, I adored the Milky Way chocolate bars simply because I imagined myself sliding down a really creamy, milky path straight into dreamland.

My head has always been in the clouds… :) Dancing on cloud nine, singing in seventh heaven, a life like this would be oh so fine…

Ok. So, anyway. I created this recipe myself on a really, really cold, rainy and snowy Tuesday afternoon. After the unexpected 16C sunny weather last Tuesday, Italy has been hit by another bout of Northeast wind and it won’t be going away until Thursday!

What’s a girl to do?

She bakes cupcakes to cheer herself up! It’s not the healthiest way, I know. But I’ve been doing regular workouts of late. Swear.

This is an all-in-one cupcake. I put in everything I loved and chucked it inside the oven. Condensed milk, normal milk, vanilla, pandan essence, corn starch, rice flour, all purpose flour, baking powder, cocoa powder, raisins, butter, egg, fine white sugar and icing sugar.

The result is less messy than it seems, really. It’s dreamy and milky, like cupcakes from a daydream… Just look at it below and dream a little dream.

SNOWY BUTTER RAISINS CUPCAKES (FROM A DAYDREAM…)

Makes 4 sugary little cupcakes.

Ingredients

50gr rice flour
50 gr all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp corn starch

70gr butter, softened (I melted it a little in the microwave)
45gr sugar
15gr sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp pandan essence
1/2 tsp vanilla powder
1/2 tsp cocoa powder
1 egg
10ml whole milk or lowfat milk
40gr raisins (the Australian ones are really good)
Icing sugar to sprinkle

4 aluminium cupcake holders

Method

1. Sieve rice flour, all purpose flour, corn starch, and baking powder two to three times.

2. Using an electric whisk, cream the softened butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl for 2 minutes. Add condensed milk and normal milk, then whisk again. Add in one egg, and continue whisking for 2 minutes until it becomes homogenous.

3. Fold in the sifted flour mixture to the bowl, mixing with a wooden spatula. Put in the pandan essence, vanilla powder, and cocoa powder and continue mixing well.

4. Toss in the raisins, as much as you like, and mix the dough well. You can also add in chocolate chips or powdered chocolate.

5. Rub bottom of cupcake holders with a little butter. Then, distribute the dough in the holders until they are half-full. The cupcake will rise in the oven.

6. Bake cupcakes in a preheated gas oven at 170C for around 30 minutes. When they are ready, sieve the icing sugar on top and tada! Warm snowy butter raisins cupcakes to munch on a cold, snowy, windy and rainy day.

 

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Chinese Fried Rice






“Even if it ain’’t all it seems, I got a pocketful of dreams
Baby, I’m from New York
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothing you can’t do…”

- Empire State of Mind (Part II) (Broken Down) by Alicia Keys

Empire State of Mind might be one of my top five favorite songs of 2009. The lyrics of this song bring back memories of my holiday in Florida, otherwise known as the Sunshine State. Whenever we spoke to someone, they would always say, with an air of dignity and importance, that they were from New York. I strongly doubt that even 50% are real New Yorkers (if they loved NYC so much, why the heck would they all end up in Miami??).

A little rap poem I did for them:

Yo them rappers lining up on the street
Promotin’ their self-made hiphop rap CDs
Dreamin’ to make it big in NYC
Rather than be lingerin’ ‘round here in Miami
Gonna get them rich and famous like Puff Daddy
With a gal like Cassie
Cruisin’ round in a big Bentley
But now they ain’t got no money
And ya know that old story peeps
No money means no honey.

I’m a pretty darn good wannabe rapper, ain’t I? ;)

Anyway, New York is one of those cities that I fall in love with even before I’ve been there, like Paris. I must have seen at least a hundred movies with NYC as a backdrop or two million photos of the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, etc. I love the ethnic zones as well, like Little Italy, Chinatown, and Koreatown.

I’ll bet most Americans have at some point in their lives eaten Chinese Fried Rice. It’s a simple stir-fry using cheap, leftover ingredients with great results.

In Italy there are quite a number of Chinese restaurants but all of them use so much monosodium glutumate that I’ve stopped frequenting them. Scientifically there are no proven effects on the human body but personally I’ve experienced extreme thirst after a night out at a Chinese restaurant. MSG totally obscures the wholesome taste of Chinese food.

Yesterday I finally did a Chinese-themed dinner, with Fried Rice and Braised Tofu with Crabmeat. The braised tofu was so good, much better than the MSG-laden ones found in hawker centres or restaurants.

CHINESE FRIED RICE

Ingredients

1 cup cooked rice (fresh or leftover)
2 tbsps sunflower oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp ginger, cut into thin strips
1 spring onion bulb, thinly sliced (chop long green part for garnishing)
1 bell pepper, any color (I used yellow), cut into small cubes
1 carrot, cut into small cubes
1 zucchine, cut into small cubes
1 cup green peas
1/2 firm tofu, cut into triangles or cubes
2 eggs
6 crabmeat sticks (optional)
6 medium-sized prawns (optional)
Dash of white pepper
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
1/2 tbsp salt

Method

1. In a nonstick pan, heat the oil until it becomes really hot. Add garlic and when it becomes fragrant, add ginger. Stir, then add the spring onion.

2. If using the crabmeat, cook them with one teaspoon of oil separately and set aside. Crabmeat breaks easily if cooked with the rest of the ingredients.

3. If not using crabmeat, add the prawns and stirfry them till they become pink. Add all the vegetables and stir well for 2 minutes.

4. When they become aromatic, mix in the rice and stir well.

5. Pour in the seasonings - soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, salt and white pepper. Mix the rice well with the seasonings. Check for saltiness. If it is not enough, add more salt and/or soy sauce.

6. Break two eggs in the side of the pan and scramble them after a few seconds. Mix the eggs well with the rice.

7. Sprinkle the chopped green onion on the fried rice and turn off fire. Ready to serve.


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“One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster
The bars are temples but the pearls ain’t free
You’ll find a god in every golden cloister
And if you’re lucky then the god’s a she
I can feel an angel sliding up to me…”

- One Night In Bangkok by Murray Head

FYI: My father’s from Malaysia, my mother’s from Singapore, but my favorite country is absolutely Thailand.

Many of us know that Bangkok and Pattaya are heavily frequented by middle-aged and/or old men seeking pleasures of the flesh in a country where girls are still feminine and the dirty deed is indeed dirt cheap.

Me? I just adore the spicy, fiery, delicious Thai food. It’s not the only thing, too. Compared to Singapore’s Sentosa, there are many more beautiful, tranquil beaches in Thailand like Phuket or Koh Samui. I was in Phuket for the first time in November 2008 and I enjoyed so much the relaxed lifestyle and quietness on Kata and Karon Beach.

For breakfast they served Pad Thai, and it was so good I would eat not one but two big plates of it! ;)

I actually went to Phuket alone, and it was a lesson learned. I had to negotiate hard with tuk tuk drivers, find my way around, take care of myself, and plan my own itinerary. Every day was purposeful and precious, and I loved the freedom and independence.

Bangkok, however, is not a city for the faint-hearted. It’s bustling, lively, clamorous, and vivid. I lived in every moment. I even went to the notorious Nana Plaza, which was an eye opener.

For the nostalgia of Thailand, I cooked up this Kway Teow Kua Gai for lunch. The name may be quite a mouthful, but the dish is certainly tasteful!

KWAY TEOW KUA GAI

Ingredients

120gr wide rice noodles, softened in boiling water for 30 minutes
100gr chicken breast, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp dried shrimp paste
1 egg
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp sweet soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp spring onion, green part only, chopped

For Chicken Marinade:
1 tbsp sweet soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp oyster sauce
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Method

1. Two hours before cooking, coat the chicken pieces with marinade in a mixing bowl and keep in the fridge.

2. Heat oil in a nonstick pan. When it becomes hot, add garlic, and then the onion and dried shrimp paste. Stir for a minute.

3. Add the chicken and mix well.

4. Break an egg inside the pan and scramble immediately.

5. Add the noodles and stir well with the other ingredients. Season with the sweet soy sauce, dark soy sauce and sugar. Continue stirring.

6. Just before switching off fire, add in the chopped green onion and two dashes of black pepper. Mix well and serve.

 

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Once upon a time, there lived an alluring tropical butterfly called Sakura. She had perfect wings of lilac and turquoise stripes, and was heralded for her exceptional beauty. When she had expanded her horizons enough, she settled down in a happy marriage with the Prince of Tropical Kingdom, Xavier.

As the days passed, Sakura sensed her much touted beauty begin to wane as the colors of her wings were beginning to fade. In the rainforest, the once bright green leaves took on a tinge of rust and many of them accumulated in heaps and piles on the ground. The crisp air and long days had changed; Autumn was announcing its arrival. And as it did, Sakura’s days of being a carefree butterfly was coming to an end.

It filled her with despair and silently she wept tears of helplessness. In Xavier’s wings she sought solace, even as she knew that very soon, she wouldn’t be able to feel him anymore.

One day, Xavier flew home excitedly, dancing around in circles in the air.

“What happened?” Sakura asked.

“I have an idea, Sakura. A great idea. It’s time for us to mate and do a child,” replied Xavier.

“A child? But we promised that we wouldn’t subject anyone to the growing process of being a caterpillar! It was so hideous, don’t you remember?” Sakura retorted.

“Yes, love. But I’ve found something that will make everything worth the sacrifice.” Xavier promised, eyes twinkling.

Sakura was unconvinced, but Xavier was undeterred.

“I’ve found a way to make our baby live eternally. She will have the beauty of you, and the bravery of mine.”

Eternally? How is that possible?” Sakura demanded.

“I once did a favor for a friend of mine, the Witch Butterfly. She was very grateful to me, and wants to repay the favor.”

Sakura nodded, prodding him wordlessly to continue.

“She has concocted a magic potion for eternal life. It must be taken only by the mother when she gets pregnant, otherwise it wouldn’t work.”

Sakura was quiet. A potion that would help her baby to live forever. It sounded too good to be true, yet she knew that if Xavier was the one who said it, it was absolutely true. She had never been jealous or selfish, and she was elated at the thought of being able to bestow that gift of eternal life to her baby.

With that, she made up her mind.

She smiled at Xavier. “Let’s do it,” she said.

Butterfly Princess

And so the eternal butterfly princess, Nori, was born on a calm November day, free to follow her passions and desires forever… in the Manic Kitchen.