It has been 2.5 months since my last post. (There seems to be a pattern forming.) I have thought constantly of writing, but haven’t had the time. Between managing kids and home in Tee Chiou’s absences (he has taken 15 plane trips in that time and gone to five countries), entertaining Tee Chiou’s colleagues over dinner (three times), as well as hosting family and friends who came to stay (three families, 11 people), two ski holidays (with abovementioned families) to Mont Tremblant, and all the various preparations we have made for winter and Christmas, and the children’s church and music school year-end performances, I have not been able to find time to write. *whew*
A rare family photo. On Mont Tremblant.
Then there has been the cooking. Which is the subject of this blog post. :)
My History in the Kitchen
Up till just past my 40th birthday, I hardly did anything in the kitchen. My Mom is a drop-dead-fabulous cook, and cooked (still cooks) amazing multi-dish meals for the family. I cooked the occasional Western-style meal, but that was about it. When I got married at 30, I decided I needed to start cooking even though we lived only 100 metres from my parents. I didn’t even know how to cook rice at that point. *faint*
But that was short-lived because I was “with child” shortly after we got married and couldn’t stand handling raw food. So back to Mom’s we went till we had Alethea. And a live-in maid. For almost ten years we enjoyed the faithful and competent service of three different domestic helpers, all who enjoyed cooking, and cooked well.
Then at the end of March 2010, we went maid-free and I found myself in the kitchen. A lot. But even then my Mom was doing much of the buying of meats and fish for me, and slicing, marinating etc, so all I needed to do was throw things in the pan and swish around and VOILA! Great food! So spoiled right?
And when we moved to Montreal, Mom came along and stayed for 5 months, and continued cooking her fabulous food. So I really have had only about half a year of real “end-t0-end” experience in the kitchen. Planning, buying, food prep, cooking, and all that cleaning after!
And what fun it has been! Can’t believe I waited till now! :) I wanted to share here about three mini kitchen adventures.
A few months ago, plagued with worsening pain in his knee caused by torn meniscus, Tee Chiou was determined to lose weight in order to reduce the pressure on his knee. I have never been a calorie counter. (I thank God I have never had to!) But now I had to learn how to cook healthy meals for dinner to support Tee Chiou’s efforts.
Interestingly enough, I had two books by Sandi Richard (www.cookingfortherushed.com) which were recommended by a Singaporean friend now living in Vancouver (hi Julia *wave*). And though I had used a couple of recipes before, and I agreed with her philosophy, I hadn’t really used her books much because I still believed that dinner had to be a multi-dish affair. But when I started searching for healthy recipes, I realised that all hers had calorie counts, and that each recipe was for the full meal, not just the main course. So just for the sake of easy execution, I started using her cookbooks.
The first Sandi Richard cookbook I bought myself. I now have FOUR!
Sandi Richard is a Canadian celebrity chef of sorts, with a passion for getting families back to the dining table through quick and easy food preparation. She doesn’t rely on any kind of food advanced food prep, which I like, since I’m SO not organised enough. AND … all her recipes are for full meals, carbo, protein and vegetables, so you don’t have to think about how to mix and match. AND … with seven children of her own, her recipes are family tested and approved!
Her recipes were given one great review after another from the various members of my family, especially from the very grateful husband, who started to think that this diet thing was more that just bearable with actually tasty food! And I became a very happy cook, because it wasn’t just easy AND quick prep. It was easy planning, cooking, and easy cleaning up as well! Some of her main courses are baked, which means I can pop the stuff in the oven, and go off to pick the kids from tennis class, then come home to a calm and yummy dinner! And some of her slow cooker recipes (she has just a few), I put together for Sunday dinners so I can take a guilt-free nap on Sunday afternoons! Doing away with all that scrambling at dinner time has just been the best thing.
Btw, she doesn’t just do “ang moh” (Western) food. Just last night I used the udon with miso chicken recipe from her book and we exclaimed how interesting it was that such decidedly yummy Asian food could come from a non-Asian cookbook.
As an added bonus, she has pre-prepared shopping lists if you follow her week-by-week plans. But since I was picking and choosing just the lowest calorie meals, I subscribed to her online Grocery List Generator and love how it has simplified my shopping. I generate the list, cancel out whatever I already have or don’t want to use, print it off and head to the supermarket!
Our family has also benefitted from learning to eat outside our food comfort zones, and have found a host of yummy things we would not ordinarily have looked for in the supermarket. It helps that being Canadian she uses ingredients which are easily found in any supermarket here.
Once a week, our family goes to a homeschool group meeting which runs from 10 am to 1 pm. Too late to head home for lunch, almost every family brings their own. Now … even after being here for almost a year, I still cannot bring myself to have sandwiches for lunch. And that’s what most people bring. And they eat it with raw vegetables. So not my thing. So after a couple of uneventful lunches, which my kids were unable to finish (playing in the church yard rated higher than eating a sandwich), I decided there had to be a better way.
Bento-ing came to mind. Packed lunches, Japanese style, and yes still cold, but potentially yummy. I started searching the web for recipes. And discovered www.justbento.com. OH MAN! Talk about inspiring! I ran out (figuratively, since I simply ordered from www.bookdepository.co.uk) and bought the Just Bento Cookbook, because I don’t like reading recipes off the web.
And our bento-ing adventures began. It helped, of course, that my very indulgent best friend sent us LOADS of fun bent0 tools and boxes and other paraphernalia from Singapore to get us off to an inspired start.
A bento lunch I made Tee Chiou – Onigiri (plain rice), home made chicken nuggets, and some quick decorative “flowers” and quails eggs
Now, I really don’t have time for the kyaraben or character bento (think cute) food preparation because I have to make six substantial lunch bentos and get the kids ready and out of the house by nine in the morning. But I do indulge in the cutesy stuff once in a while if time permits and if my kids want to play with their lunch. It certainly helps to get them eat more! Which may or may not be what you’re after. :)
A dry run of the mini burgers we are planning to make for our homeschool group Christmas party later this week. Mini Japanese burgers, rice snouts, tomato/M&M noses, pretzel antlers, cheese and nori (seaweed) eyes.
A few months ago, I was inspired (lots of thing are inspiring me these days, huh?) to start baking my own bread. I really cannot say why I started, but having a Thermomix and seeing how easily one can make bread dough in it certainly helped me to make the decision. Apart from a few lapses from lack of time, I have since baked all the bread my family eats.
I have two “go to” recipes for bread. One is a sweet bun recipe like the ones you find in Asian bakeries. Think Bread Talk. You can fill it with just about anything from chocolate chips to tuna & mayo and it tastes great! The other is a wholemeal bread recipe which is fabulously soft. So unlike my experience with wholemeal bread. The thing about these recipes is I always have the ingredients on hand to make them. There was another recipe I liked a lot, but it required buttermilk, which is not something I always remember to buy.
Alethea getting in on the baking action! This is a tray of tuna buns she did ALL BY HERSELF for a Sunday breakfast. The dough was made the night before and put in the fridge. Shaped, filled and baked in the morning.
If you are game to try it, the recipes can be found on www.allrecipes.com (links below). For my fellow Thermomix users, here are my Thermomix versions so you don’t have to figure it out yourselves. :)
Best Basic Sweet Bread
65g white sugar
500g all-purpose flour (I buy unbleached)
1/2 tsp salt
1. Put milk, white sugar and butter into Thermomix for 3 to 4 mins at 37˚C on speed 1. (You can stop when temperature reaches 37˚C.)
2. Mix in yeast for 10 to 15 secs on speed 2. Leave for 10 mins for yeast to proof. (Or is it “prove”?)
3. Put in flour, salt, eggs, oil, mix for 20 seconds, going from speed 0 to 6 to combine ingredients.
4. Set to close lid position, 3 mins, and hit that wheat button, whatever they call it.
5. Take out, put into lightly oiled bowl, cover with damp tea towel, let rise till doubled. I can’t tell you how long. It varies according to the temperature in my kitchen! But I usually set the timer for 40 mins so I don’t forget to check on it.
6. Cut dough with scissors (apparently you should never tear pieces off, it damages the gluten and you lose some fluffy-ness) to the size you want. I make my bread buns 45g each because that’s how much the littler kids eat. If I make them any larger they won’t finish it. I use the Thermomix to weigh the dough. Of course. :) Shape it the way you want. You can fill it, or leave it plain. Put on lightly oiled baking tray. Cover with oiled plastic wrap.
7. Let rise till almost doubled (if you can figure out what that looks like), and bake in 190˚C oven for about 15 mins.
8. Brush with melted butter so bread stays soft. If you are baking rolls with sweet fillings, remember not to use salted butter! I’ve done that absent mindedly once too many times. :(
Heart-shaped buns with bacon and cheese
Simple Whole Wheat Bread
450g bread flour
280g whole wheat flour
The recipe on the web makes 3 loaves, which is too much for the Thermomix to handle. So I scaled the recipe down to make two loaves, which fits just right. I normally make half the dough into plain buns, and the other half I bake a regular loaf.
Method is similar to the one above. All Thermomix recipes for bread follow more or less the same method, I guess.
1. Put water, honey into Thermomix. 3 to 4 mins, 37˚C, speed 1.
2. Add yeast, 15 seconds, speed 2.
3. Add bread flour, mix 10 to 15 seconds, going from speed 0 to 4.
4. Leave for 30 mins in Thermomix. Your dough will become really HUGE and may pop out of the top of the Thermomix. If it reaches this stage before the 30 mins are up, you don’t have to wait out the rest of the time. Just continue with …
5. Whack dough down with whatever you can get your hands on. I usually just spin the Thermomix at speed 1 till the dough deflates.
6. Add the rest of the ingredients (butter, honey, salt, whole wheat flour), mix 20 secs, going from speed 0 to 6. Take out, put in lightly oiled bowl, cover with damp tea towel.
7. Let rise till doubled, shape, let rise till almost doubled, bake in 175˚C for about 15 to 18 mins for buns and 25 to 30 mins for whole loaves.
The End … Or Just The Beginning?
I hope you have enjoyed reading about my kitchen adventures as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you!