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Happy meal #30: Pasta with shrimp & basil

I’m all about easy peasy cooking.

See, for the whole of the week before, we ate out every week day. We were either working late, or I couldn’t bear the thought of cooking because I was so tired whine whine whine, or I had a craving for something soupy, or we didn’t have anything in the fridge to cook with. Anyway, I decided to decree last week as no-cooking week but I felt so guilty that I more than made up for it during the weekend.

I made FOUR MEALS on Sunday. Yes, you read right – four! I’m a happy supporter of cooking in large batches and then freezing everything so that we can thaw out a meal after work instead of slaving in front of the stove. I no longer cook for two, choosing to cook for four instead so that we can brown bag to work too. It’s been a great arrangement so far.

One of the meals that I made on Sunday was a no-fuss, no-stress pasta dish. It’s yummy and absolutely easy to make. After my marathon cookout during the day, I was in no mood to kill myself over dinner too. I love angel hair pasta and I love tomato so it was a win-win!

Angel hair pasta with prawns and basil
Serves 2

What you need

  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Angel hair pasta (pick your own quantity!)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 250g prawns, peeled and deveined
  • 1 can chopped tomato
  • 3 tablespoons dry white wine
  • A bunch of parsley, chopped
  • A bunch of basil, chopped
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add 1 tablespoon oil. Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente. (My durum wheat pasta took about 6 minutes)

Place pasta in a colander, and give it a quick rinse with cold water.

Heat remaining olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Cook garlic, stirring constantly, until the garlic is tender, about 1 minute. Do not let the garlic burn. Add shrimp, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove shrimp from the skillet, and set aside.

Stir the wine into the skillet and let the alcohol bubble for a while before adding the chopped tomatoes, parsley and basil. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced by half.

Add shrimp, and continue cooking until the shrimp are heated through, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Serve the shrimp mixture over the pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

If you want to cheat like I did, pick up the Waitrose chopped tomatoes with basil when you are in the supermarket. Saves you the hassle of buying and chopping basil (which can be a PAIN).

Happy meal #27: Just jamin’

I’ve been meaning to whip up my own home-made jam for the longest time, after seeing how Jamie Oliver did it on his show. And then I had the brightest idea: instead of buying gifts for our friends this Christmas, why don’t we make them something?

And thus, Project Christmas Jamming was born.

I started in November, testing with a small batch first. We ate some and gave some to our family, who promptly gave us positive reviews. Mr Thick loved it too, and we finished our little jar pretty quickly.

Because I started canning the jam so early in the game, I decided that sterilizing and vacuum sealing the jars were necessary for the jam to last, especially in our humid weather. Basically, it involves dunking the jars and lids in boiling water for 10 minutes and sticking them into a warm oven as you prepare the jam. Once you have poured the finished jam into the jars, leaving a 0.5-inch gap at the top, put them back into rapidly boiling water for 10 minutes. Let cool overnight – you’ll find that the centre of the lid should be slightly dented.

The actual process is NOT difficult but the preparation work can be tiring. I was standing at the sink hulling strawberries for what felt like forever. Standing over the hot stove stirring and stirring was not fun at all – not when you multiply it by three or four Sundays.

Turthfully, it wasn’t the most cost-efficient gift, what with buying the strawberries, sugar and jars. And it truly is a labour of love because it involves hours of standing on your feet. I started out not realising how much I had bitten off. But then, when I saw the finished product at the end of it all, the quiet satisfaction made all the hard work worth it. And that was what defined this Christmas for me – putting in effort and love into something useful, instead of buying meaningless gifts.

What you need:
(Makes about five 0.15l jars)

  • 1kg strawberries, hulled
  • 250g blueberries, washed
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

Directions

Fire up the oven and place two small plates into the freezer. Put the sterilized jars into the oven over a clean tea towel, face down.

Put on an apron if you don’t want strange pink splotches on your clothes.

Mash up the strawberries and blueberries. (The first time round, I did it by hand but subsequently dumped the berries into a blender.) Be careful not to over-mash it though, you want some texture. This should give you about 4 cups of berries.

Pour the mashed up berries, sugar and lemon juice into a sturdy and deep pot over a gentle fire. You need a pretty big pot because everything will bubble up and trust me, strawberry jam on your stove is a bitch to clean up. (I used my biggest WMF pot.) Stir until the sugar dissolves completely.

Push the flames up to medium-high and stir. (I didn’t dare to put it on high because I was afraid it would bubble out of my pot!) Stir. Stir somemore. Keep stirring! You don’t want your jam to burn at this moment. Stir for about 20 minutes. Once the mixture appears thickened like a gel, turn off the heat.

Put a small dollop onto one of the plates that was in the freezer and return it to the freezer. After a few minutes, take it out and push it gently with your finger. It should appear wrinkly. If it doesn’t, put the jam back onto the fire and cook it for a few minutes more and then try the gelling test again.

Once it’s done, ladle into your warm jars, close the lid and proceed with water bath for canning.

**********

You can’t really skim on the sugar because it acts as a preservative. The lemon juice adds a nice tangy taste to the jam and does double duty as pectin, which holds the jam together. I tried using powdered pectin but I couldn’t seem to get it right and just abandoned it altogether.

We stored the jars in the fridge until it was Christmas time and then took them out to be packaged. This time round, husband got his hands dirty and helped to prettify them.

I may be biased but I thought they were pretty dang tasty and cute. Heh.

Now, what can I make for next Christmas?

Happy meal #26: Bœuf bourguignon

A long, long time ago in July, I attempted one of Julia Child’s signature dish: boeuf bourguignon.

YES!! I actually cooked it without burning the kitchen down, and it tasted pretty darn good. Oh it wasn’t easy, absolutely not. I must have slaved in the kitchen for a few hours, chopping and stirring and frying and boiling. And truth be told, this is definitely a dish for special occasions because it did not come cheap. A meal for six cost us all of $90 – costly when this household is used to less than $10 per meal for two. We had premium beef from Culina so that added to the cost a little but man, it was worth it.

My special occasion excuse? Why, I bought a spanking new Le Creuset 4.5qt French oven in rose pink. It was on 50% sale at Tangs and with the shopping vouchers that I had accumulated, the price came up to $40.

The only problem that I had was in getting the right wine. In her recipe, Julia Child noted that the vino should be a young burgundy or beaujolais but I couldn’t find either at Fairprice Finest. I didn’t want to waste time hopping to the wine store so I just grabbed a bottle of sauvignon (which, according to YC, would have Child turning in her grave).

The state of my lid after cooking - I had such a fright! Thankfully, it washed off.

Boiling merrily away

Love this dish from Daiso

Mmm…maybe I should attempt this again during Christmas.

(more…)

Happy meal #25: Ouefs en Cocotte

I did it! I finally cooked something from my Mastering the Art of French Cooking cookbook by the great Julia Child.

(By the way, did I tell you that I had bought the hard cover book for all of US$19? Score! It costs about S$70 in Pantry Magic.)

We had quite a lot of eggs sitting aimlessly in the fridge so an egg dish it was. And since I hadn’t put those new, cute heart-shaped Le Creuset ramekins I had gotten on sale to use, baked eggs it shall be. So one very fine Sunday morning – more like noon, really – I flopped out of bed, rather excitedly (and I NEVER get out of bed feeling excited), and plonked myself in the kitchen.

Of course, Miss Klutz here had to nearly ruin the meal by emptying the contents of a very hot, eggy ramekin onto the countertop. I was really pissed off with myself. In the past month, I had a) spilt Yakult all over myself and the sofa (it’s disgustingly sticky), b) dropped a can of hot, wet cat food all over the kitchen floor (looks like the can barfed) and c) smashed my plastic water bottle into smithereens in my kitchen.

Back to the eggs. Anyway, I had to redo the eggs quickly so that poor Mr Thick, who was as patient as he was hungry, wouldn’t starve to death.

Bain marie

Ignore my dirty stove. I used to clean it EVERY SINGLE WEEK and these days, I just cannot be bothered.

Baked eggs plus toast equals heavenly

Ouefs en Cocotte

What you need (per serving):

  • 1/2 tsp butter
  • 1 or 2 eggs (I used 1 egg + 1 white)
  • 2 tbsp whipping cream

Directions:
Butter the ramekin, saving a dot for later. Add 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of cream and set the ramekin in the simmering water over moderate heat. When the cream is hot, break into it one or two eggs. Pour the remaining spoonful of cream over the egg and top with a dot of butter.

Place in the middle level of the hot oven and bake for 7 to 10 minutes. The eggs are done when they are just set but still tremble slightly in the ramekins. They will set a little more when the ramekins are removed, so they should not be overcooked.*

Salt and pepper

Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

(*) The ramekins may remain in the pan of hot water, out of the oven, for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. To prevent overcooking, remove eggs from oven when slightly underdone.

Voila!

With a sprinkle of salt and freshly ground pepper

Happy meal #24: Seafood stew

Another gem from Bill Granger’s Sydney Food cookbook. I made this seafood stew for dinner one day and had enough for lunch during the week – which was fabulous! I must be PSYCHIC – I seem to have leftovers sitting in the fridge whenever I am stricken with some idiot bug.

Unlike other stews, this one does not have a robust taste and is, instead, very light on the palate. It’s tomato-based which makes me very happy because we all know how tomatoes and I have this crazy love affair going on. <3 TOMATOES. Nom nom nom. Mr Thick gave this dish a thumbs up and it does not even have any chicken, beef or pork, species that he considers meat. Which means that he must have been really impressed.

I had adapted this recipe because the husband does not eat any mussels or clams. Can somebody tell him what he is missing out on? He also does not eat any raw fish. NO SASHIMI. Oh, the tragedy.

Seafood Stew
Adapted from Bill Granger’s Sydney Food

What you need:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 small red chili, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 3-4 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 15 prawns, peeled and deveined
  • 12 scallops, cleaned and deveined
  • 1 pack of mixed seafood (I got it from Cold Storage)

Directions

  • Heat oil in a wok over medium heat. Add onion and fry for 5 minutes or until translucent
  • Add garlic and chili and fry for another minute
  • Add the parsley and stir for 20 seconds, and then add the wine before bringing to a boil
  • Add canned and fresh tomatoes, and zest. Reduce to low heat and cook for 25 minutes under a lid
  • Add prawns, scallops and mixed seafood and cook until prawns and scallops are opaque
  • Spoon stew into bowls and sprinkle with some parsley.

Is this recipe healthy or what? Yums.

Fry fry fry

Tomatoes galore

In goes everything in the wok

Tucking in

Another day, another meal

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