Foodnotes

Happy meal #35: Baked cod fillet

Thanks to the generosity of my mother-in-law, our freezer has been stocked full of cod and salmon in recent weeks. The only problem was that I was either too tired or in too much pain from the posterior pelvic pain to actually prepare a home-cooked meal. And so the fish stacked up higher and higher in the freezer.

Last week, I came across a ridiculously simple recipe for baked cod and decided to try it. Holy cow! It was GOOD and I ain’t blowing my own trumpet. I modified the recipe a little and made it three times (yes, we do have that many pieces of cod in the freezer). And it tasted pretty damn good every single time. Even the carnivore in my home approved.

For those of you who are looking for fuss-free dishes that can be cooked up on weekdays, look no further.

(It doesn’t look very pretty – OKAY it’s the PHOTOGRAPHER – but it tasted better than it looked.)

Baked Cod Fillet
(Serves one)

What you’ll need:

  • A cod steak or filet
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp Japanese mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs or panko
  • 1 tsp melted butter
  • Dash of salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Sprinkling of paprika

How to make:

  • Preheat the oven to 220 degree Celsius. Place cod in a lightly greased pan or plate
  • Combine lemon juice, mayonnaise, salt and pepper in a bowl, and spread it over the cod
  • Sprinkle paprika on top of the mixture
  • Cover the surface with the breadcrumbs and then drizzle the melted butter over
  • Bake in oven for about 25 minutes
  • THAT’S IT!
Foodnotes

Thomas Keller’s Favourite Simple Roast Chicken

We had some friends over for dinner on Christmas eve and while I was thrilled to be cooking up a storm in the kitchen, I was also aware that I wouldn’t be able to spend too much time there, thanks to the nugget. If I am up too long on my feet, the back starts to creak and the calves begin to protest.

Pfft! There goes all my idealistic notions of being mobile right to the day I deliver.

To keep things simple for myself, I decided to roast up a chicken since you can’t really go wrong with that. And since I have had my ad hoc at home cookbook for a while now and haven’t really been utilizing it, I decided that we would have a Thomas Keller meal for the evening.

But while surfing the net for the roast chicken recipe found in the book at work one day, I chanced upon another Thomas Keller recipe that was even more alluring: the chicken needed no marinating and would require only salt and pepper for its flavour.

Say what? Sold!

On the day itself, I let the chicken sit in the open for a good two hours before drying it thoroughly with paper towels. I then trussed the bird for the first time in my life. Yes, I is noob cook who thought trussing was difficult but it really wasn’t at all!

When the oven dinged and I took the bird out, I was impressed. For one, the colour of the chicken was simply perfect. Secondly, the meat fell off the bone oh so easily. And when we dug in, everyone was amazed that I had used nothing but salt and pepper because it tasted that awesome. The breast meat was juicy and tender while the skin was nicely crisp. I thought we would have enough leftovers for chicken sandwiches for the next week but it was devoured completely.

Absolutely a winner!

Thomas Keller’s Favourite Simple Roast Chicken

What you’ll need

  • 1.3kg farm-raised chicken
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp minced thyme (optional – I didn’t use it)
  • Unsalted butter to taste
  • Dijon mustard to taste (I didn’t use this either)

How to make:

Preheat the oven to 230 degree Celsius. Rinse the chicken, then dry it very well with paper towels, inside and out. The less it steams, the drier the heat, the better.

Salt and pepper the cavity, then truss the bird.

Now, salt the chicken – try raining the salt over the bird so that it has a nice uniform coating that will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin (about 1 tablespoon). When it’s cooked, you should still be able to make out the salt baked onto the crisp skin. Season to taste with pepper.

Place the chicken in a saute pan or roasting pan and, when the oven is up to temperature, put the chicken in the oven. I leave it alone – I don’t baste it, I don’t add butter; you can if you wish, but I feel this creates steam, which I don’t want. Roast it until it’s done, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove it from the oven and add the thyme, if using, to the pan. Baste the chicken with the juices and thyme and let it rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board.

Remove the twine. Separate the middle wing joint and eat that immediately. Remove the legs and thighs. I like to take off the backbone and eat one of the oysters, the two succulent morsels of meat embedded here, and give the other to the person I’m cooking with. But I take the chicken butt for myself. I could never understand why my brothers always fought over that triangular tip – until one day I got the crispy, juicy fat myself. These are the cook’s rewards. Cut the breast down the middle and serve it on the bone, with one wing joint still attached to each. The preparation is not meant to be super elegant.

Slather the meat with fresh butter. Serve with mustard on the side and, if you wish, a simple green salad. You’ll start using a knife and fork, but finish with your fingers, because it’s so good.

Foodnotes

Happy meal #33: Cheesy pork chops with spicy apples

I like buying pork chops (not my darling nephew, the piggy sort) and storing them in the freezer because pork chop can be the easiest meal to make. I tested this recipe twice and both times it didn’t fail me so I’m thinking that this is a pass!

The preparation can be a pain in the arse – you need to peel and slice the onions, peel and slice the apples, fry here fry there. But really, it wasn’t too difficult. I was just a little grumpy since the weather was nauseatingly humid and I almost melted over the stove on those two evenings after work. Husband liked it and if the carnivore says it’s good, it’s good.

Cheesy pork chops with spicy apples
Adapted from here

What you need

  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • A pinch of chili powder (I used S&B nanami)
  • 1/2 apple, peeled, cored and sliced thinly
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 pork chops
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Mozzarella cheese, grated
  • Olive oil

How to make

  • Bash the pork chops with a heavy pan. Season with salt and pepper, set aside
  • Put a grill pan on high heat
  • On a separate frying pan, melt the butter with some olive oil over medium heat
  • Fry the onions until soft and translucent. Add apple slices and sprinkle chili powder
  • Add sugar and balsamic vinegar and simmer for about 5 minutes
  • Meanwhile, put the chops into the grill pan and cook for about 3 to 5 minutes on one side
  • Flip the chops onto the other side, arrange onions and apples on top and then cover with cheese
  • Cover the grill pan and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes

Cheesy Pork Chops with Spicy Apples

Eschewing our usual staple of rice, I decided to make garlic aglio olio with the wheat angel hair pasta that I had in the cupboard. Erm, well. That wasn’t a success because I was going a bit mad trying to cook two things at the same time. Added a wee bit too much garlic and fried it for a bit too long. Gah.

Foodnotes

Happy meal #32: Chocolate cupcakes with macha frosting

To me, baking > cooking.

Cooking stresses me out sometimes. Maybe it’s because I know that if I screw up the meal, poor Mr Thick and I would have to swallow down the horrible food conjured by my own two hands. And subconsciously, I think the pressure comes from the knowledge that I have to feed a man whose own mother is the very incarnation of Asia’s Martha Stewart. Shudders.

But baking! Baking is about sweet treats and yummy delights. Baking is about having a cuppa tea with that slice of cake. I have been fortunate thus far to have made all the good things right, probably because they have all been safe choices. Yes, the washing up is a big Pain In The Arse but I think the rewards are worth the manual labour!

During my break from work in May, I managed to whip up a batch of chocolate cupcakes with green tea frosting: two of my favourite things in the world! Hot from the oven, the cupcakes were amazing and I was trying v hard not to cram the entire thing into my mouth. Like, OH NOM NOM NOM.

Not v glamourous, that. Thought I saw Mr Thick do that though, stuff the cupcake into his mouth. Hmm.

Chocolate cupcakes with macha cream cheese frosting
Adapted from Chockylit

What you’ll need for chocolate cupcakes:

  • 170g butter
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powdered
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
  • 1.5 cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

How to make:
1. Beat butter until softened. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
2. Add eggs, one at a time, beating 30 seconds after each addition.
3. Measure the flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa powder, and espresso powder into a medium sized bowl and whisk to combine.
4. Measure the milk and vanilla into a measuring thing.
5. Add about a third of the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar and beat to combine. Add about a half of the milk/vanilla and beat to combine. Continue adding, alternating between dry and wet and finishing with the dry.
6. Scoop batter into cupcake cups about 2/3’s full. Push down slightly and cover with batter using the back of a spoon.
7. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for about 25-30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

What you’ll need for frosting:
(Portion has been halved because I didn’t want to frost everything)

  • 110g butter
  • 1/2 pack of Philly cream cheese
  • 1.5 cups icing sugar
  • 2 tablespoons matcha powder

How to make:
1. Bring butter to room temperature by letting it sit out for 1 or 2 hours.
2. Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed until creamy.
3. Sift icing sugar and 1 tablespoon of matcha powder into the butter/cream cheese mixture and beat to combine.
4. Taste. Add more matcha if desired (I liked mine really strong)

ASSEMBLE!

Chocolate cupcakes with macha cream cheese frosting

These were some of the nicer designs that I piped. CANNOT PIPE FROSTING FOR NUTS. Sherie and R – help! (Also need help on photography please. I hate you both.)

Foodnotes

Happy meal #31: Mushroom + Bacon risotto

During my break from work, I made dinner for the two of us. And when I say I made dinner, it means that I cooked from scratch and not heat up stuff that was already in the fridge. There’s been a lot of that happening over the past month. Poor husband of mine!

I grabbed a pack of arborio rice from the supermarket one evening and decided to try making risotto. See, I have had Jamie’s Italy sitting on my shelf for the longest time and I haven’t tried any of the recipes till now. Decided to adapt his mushroom risotto and added bacon to the mix because, well, Mr Thick simply cannot live without meat. Tsk.

Anyway, my arm nearly fell off after that. Stirring that pot of risotto is so tiring! Was v glad I didn’t have to do the washing up.

Mushroom and bacon risotto
Adapted from Jamie’s Italy

What you need:
Risotto bianco
400ml litres stock (chicken, fish or vegetable, as appropriate)
1 tsp olive oil
A knob of butter
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
40g risotto rice
1 wine glasses of dry white wine
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
40g cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Roasted mushroom and bacon risotto
1 x risotto bianco (see recipe)
5 pieces wild mushrooms, cleaned and torn
2 slices of bacon
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bulb of garlic, cloves peeled and halved
A small bunch of thyme, leaves picked
A knob of butter
1/2 lemon
Parmesan cheese, for grating

How to make:

  • Preheat oven to 180 degree Celsius.
  • Put the olive oil and butter into a large, heavy-based pan, add the onion, garlic and celery, and cook very slowly for about 15 minutes without colouring. When the vegetables have softened, add the rice and turn up the heat.
  • Keep stirring the rice until it looks slightly translucent (about a minute). Add the wine and keep stirring.
  • Once the vermouth/wine has cooked into the rice, add your first ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt. Turn the heat down to a simmer so the rice doesn’t cook too quickly on the outside. Keep adding ladlefuls of stock, allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next. This will take around 15 minutes. Taste the rice to check if it’s cooked. If not, carry on adding stock until the rice is soft with a slight bite.
  • Towards the end of cooking the risotto bianco, you need to start roasting the mushrooms and bacon. Heat a heavy-bottomed ovenproof frying pan or baking tray until medium hot and add the bacon. Add the mushrooms and fry for a minute or two, until they begin to colour, and season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic, thyme and butter, and mix together. Place the pan in the preheated oven and roast the mushrooms/bacon for 6 minutes or so, until cooked through.
  • Remove the risotto from the heat and add the butter and Parmesan. Add half the roasted mushrooms and garlic, and stir into the risotto, adding a good squeeze of lemon juice to balance the flavours. Stir well. Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for two minutes.
  • Divide between the plates and sprinkle over the remaining mushrooms. Serve with grated Parmesan.

Mushroom and bacon risotto

Foodnotes

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).

Foodnotes

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?