Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Three Cups Chicken

I swear.  I look around and realize that I have, suddenly and frightfully, reached the depths of un-sophistication.  Ok, I’ll be honest, maybe not so “suddenly”.  But most definitely frightfully.  I was puttering around one morning, organizing my shoes (puttering?? organizing my shoes?? Why am I not out changing the world? Or at the very least sipping a gin & tonic at that swanky new place?), and I realized…they are all flats!  I have nothing against the occasional ballet flat, especially in animal print, but to go from stilettos to 99% flats is a bit troubling.

That’s not even to say anything about my shameless stay-in-bed fixation, cold a/c and soft warm duvet, ratty pyjamas and e-reader.  And the difficulty in which I drag myself to wear make-up, or at least get myself some proper cleanser and moisturizer for my face (although I have to share, I am getting better in that department…in small increments, Rome wasn’t built in a day after all!)!

And the supermarket fetish.  Oh the supermarket fetish.  Since when did this pass for a respectable after-office event?  What happened to happy hour??

In truth, I’ve always loved going to the supermarket, I think from the very vestiges of my early memories, when my mother took me.  I remember standing in the midst of the butchery section taking it all in and loving it (yes, I loved the meat section as a child).  I, of course, also remember the treats she would allow me to place in our cart, only one per trip.  My favorites were Yan Yan and those little packets of Nutella, the kind that came with it’s own little spoon.

My whole family has this supermarket obsession I suspect, so it’s not just me on this point of nerdiness.  How do you explain my husband so willingly taking me most of the time?  It can’t be just that he’s a good husband (although he is I promise you!)…and I know this because of the Spam and Vienna sausage and cup-noodles that mysteriously appear in our cart whenever he is pushing it.  Little C loves it too, primarily because of the treat – I’m continuing my mom’s tradition (choose just one sweetie!).  Little H couldn’t care less at the moment…as long as there are possibilities for wrecking havoc then he is happy.

And what do I sneak in the grocery cart?  Lately it’s been more items to complete my Asian pantry: Shaoxing wine, soy bean paste, various chili pastes (speaking of, can anyone share where to get some good doubanjiang?) and chili oils, that savory sweet condiment Kecap Manis, which I used to make this.

Three Cups Chicken
(adapted from Rasa Malaysia)
  • 500 grams chicken thigh fillet, each fillet cut into two
  • 2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
  • 6 slices ginger, peeled
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dark sweet soy sauce (Kecap Manis)
  • A bunch of Thai basil leaves
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon baking soda (to tenderize the chicken)
- If you want to do the tenderizing step, sprinkle the baking soda on the chicken and toss with your hands to coat.  Let this marinate for 10 minutes then rinse thoroughly with water.  Make sure all the baking soda is completely rinsed off.  Pat the chicken pieces dry and set aside.
- Heat up a clay-pot (if you have one) or a wok over high heat, and then add the sesame oil.  Add the garlic and ginger to the oil and stir-fry until aromatic.
- Add the chicken to the pan and stir-fry for a couple of minutes.
- Add the soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, and Kecap Manis and toss.  Lower the heat and let this simmer for about 5 minutes or until chicken is just cooked through.
- Add the basil leaves, toss, and then remove from the heat to serve.

A word on tenderizing the chicken with baking soda: One of the reasons I love Bee of Rasa Malaysia so much is because she makes Chinese cooking so accessible to the regular non-Chinese cook (i.e. me).  This includes such tips and tricks as this tenderizing one.  Giving chicken, beef, or pork this relatively quick and easy to do treatment renders them soft and velvety, just like the ones you get in Chinese restaurants.  It’s marked as optional, but I'd say it’s worth the (tiny) effort.

I didn't have any chicken drumsticks so I used thigh fillets instead.  I also couldn’t find any dark sesame oil so I use my Korean brand of sesame oil, instead of my Chinese brand one, as it seems to have a stronger sesame aroma.  I have no idea if that is even true in actuality but since I had the choice, and the recipe called for “dark” sesame oil, I just opted for the stronger one and hoped that would make the difference.  In any case, the dish turned out delicious (clean plates from both kids) but as I’ve never had dark sesame oil I would be none the wiser of the difference.  You can be sure though that “dark sesame oil” is going on my next Asian ingredients run since we now know I will use any excuse to go to the grocery.

I think I’ll stand by this supermarket fetish.  It gets us fed to say the least.  Hopefully, it will make for some happy family memories as well…just as it did when I was a little girl, mesmerized by the sight of mountains of raw meat, munching on Yan Yan.

I’ll also be keeping the burrowing in bed habit – love that way too much to ever let go!

I will make it a point though to have more high heels in my life…a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do after all.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Breakfast #71: Golden Granola

I’m back from a weekend away with my work-mates that I mentioned in this post (where I also mention lots of chocolate so do head back there!) and we are now smack in the middle of a new week.  Catching up with everything left behind does that I suppose.  But I am invigorated, or should I say re-invigorated, and ready to seriously boogie…whether it is at work or at play!

Our company has had a team building every year, as most companies do, but this year I wanted something a bit different.  Work is certainly never a walk in the park (maybe for some lucky people but not for most) and even in the most dreamy of jobs there are moments of stress, deadlines to be met, goals to be achieved, overtime hours to be clocked in. Let’s be honest, most of us are in, what we might consider to be, “regular jobs”…not the dream jobs of our fantasies (traveling food taster/pig farmer/professional napper needed? anyone?).  But I thought, how do we inject motivation into work?  How to we inspire vigor and enthusiasm in the workplace?  How to we create exuberance on the job?

I realized…the answer is we don’t.

We create it in life…and then it will spill over everywhere.

It starts with the individual, on a personal level.  Not really with the “team”, on the “work” level. 

That is what I wanted to find for these intrepid, valiant folk with whom I work.  Yes, I certainly wanted a lot of bonding and actual “team building” but I also wanted it to be something more, something that involved getting people to think about themselves (their unique selves!) on a personal level, about purpose and strengths and living life and about where their joy comes from. 

And maybe it wasn’t as grand or far-reaching as all that.

But I think we came close.  I think we may have struck a little gold…at least I hope so.

So here’s a little something to celebrate (and to atone for all the food I ate!).

Golden Granola
  • 2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 3/4 cups walnuts, very chunkily chopped (one walnut half chopped in two or three)
  • 1/2 cup pecans, very chunkily chopped (one pecan half chopped in two or three)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup
  • 1/2 cup sliced dates
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins

- Mix the oats and nuts in a bowl.
- In a small saucepan melt the butter. Add the Golden Syrup to the butter and take off the heat.  Whisk briskly with a wire whisk until the butter and syrup become a homogenous, dangerously sticky, alluring substance.  Like this.
- Pour the syrup mixture onto the oats mixture and stir well until thoroughly blended.
- Place the mixture on a foil-lined cookie sheet and spread out flat and even.
- Place the pan in a 180-190C oven and roast for about 25-30 minutes, taking the pan out to stir the oats about thrice during this time. Remove from the oven to cool (I like to transfer the granola to another cookie sheet lined with parchment paper to cool).
- When the granola is cool add the fruit and toss until combined. Store in a clean, dry, and airtight container.

I mentioned my new favorite granola supplier before. And believe you me, I love to always have a bag on hand.  But that’s not always possible (to busy to drive out!), and I am a big proponent for making granola at home, so I decided to make a batch myself.  I was going to turn to my basic go-to recipe but decided to substitute the honey with Lyle’s Golden Syrup (of which I have a couple of tins that I greedily hoard).  Since I was going in that (decadent) direction anyway, I decided to nix the oil and use butter instead.  In keeping with the “golden” theme I used golden raisins and dates.  This may not be (by a long shot) the healthiest granola around, but first thing in the morning, atop some Greek yogurt or doused with cold milk, it can make you move mountains.  Or at least be a little more optimistic about the traffic…which in our city, is almost kind of the same thing.

Oh, and if you don't have Golden Syrup use honey instead.

So breakfast in hand and with resolve in my heart I set out to conquer the world!  Ok, maybe not conquer the world, but just place my own unique stamp on my life and whatever it touches.  I hope everyone else is feeling something akin to that too.  At the very least my wish is that a even just some of us found some new perspective, or purpose, or exuberance, or even just a teensy bit of insight…not necessarily for work, but for and in their own lives.  If so, then I can say that it was all worth it!  Let’s take this life by storm, shall we?  It’s the only one we’ve got!

***If you’re wondering who we found that was, I feel, just what we needed, it was The Exuberant Life Consultancy.  You can learn more here.  Thank you Martine for leading me to Apa!  It was awesome!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Double Chocolate Brownie Bites

Never enough hours in the day!  I often find myself thinking this, wishing for a magic wand or time-management fairy godmother to grant me some extra hours to get just a little bit more done.  Finish off a couple more emails, take the kids to the park, go through just one more extra report, cook a big pot of Bolognese in advance so my family will have something to eat when I’m at meetings.  Just a tiny spot of time more.

Oh why didn’t I clean up my inbox instead of sleeping in for two extra hours last Sunday (well, because it was Sunday…for starters)?

Sigh…the constant tug of war among the myriad of “things” that just need to get done, this minute, this second.  Slow down life, there are roses meant to be sniffed and wines meant to be savored.

So, I do the best I can, managing the to-do list (still hand-written in a notebook…yup, I love ticking things off that way!), balancing home and work and the little ones and husband-date-time and friends and me-time.  Things sometimes fall to the wayside, or dinner is late (or take-out), or it’s midnight and I am trying to squeeze in as much as I can into my final moments of lucidity before I fall upon my pillow...and even in my weariness my head spins with a dozen dashing thoughts until they finally relinquish me to sleep.  But even then, even now, even in the most frenzied of times, it is all worth it.  My baby’s saliva-smelly onesies, my daughter’s raggedy toenails, how they run to me when I open the door, my husband’s high-fives when we have a particularly stellar meal at home, our cozy bed, clacking away at this blog, chronicling our meals, and the satisfaction of a (day) job well done…all worth it.  I wouldn’t give up a single one of these things, even if it means being a little frayed around the edges sometimes.

But.  But. There are important events for which time needs to be carved out.  Like making brownies.  Particularly making brownies with my headstrong little helper who won’t always be so little, or have so much time to help her mama.

Double Chocolate Brownie Bites
  • 10 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped into 1/4 inch chunks, divided into two portions (5 ounces each)
  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts (marked as optional but not for me)

- Butter and flour 3 mini muffin pans (I used 2 and a half, making about 30 brownie bites).
- Place the 5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, and butter in a heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) a pan of simmering water (or use a double boiler if you are lucky enough to have one).  Melt the chocolate and butter, stirring until smooth.  Resist the urge to dive right in.  Set this aside to cool slightly, about 5 minutes.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the chocolate mixture and sugar at medium speed until well combined, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  To this add the eggs and mix until completely combined.  Beat in the vanilla, and then add the flour and salt and mix until just incorporated, taking care not to overbeat.  Stir in, by hand, the other 5 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate and the walnuts.
- Scoop batter into the prepared mini muffin pans just until 3/4 full.  Bake in a pre-heated 375F oven for about 10-11 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through.  Remove the pan to a wire rack for about 5 minutes, then pop the brownie bites out to cool completely on the wire rack.

This was actually meant to be brownie cookies, but when I looked at the finished batter it seemed much too wet.  There was no way, barring the fairy godmother, that I was going to be able to shape it into balls as the recipe dictated.  I felt I had followed the recipe exactly but it was just not going to happen.  I took one look at my excited assistant and knew that I had to think of a solution, and fast.  A light bulb went off in my head and, taking inspiration from one of our neighbors’ daughters, I grabbed my mini-muffin tins and cooked the batter in that.  Thankfully that proved to be a success!  They turned out to be these intensely chocolate brownie “bites” with pockets of melted chocolate throughout.  Little C proudly brought some to share with her friends at school…and I must say, we ate our fair share as well.

I have another full day of meetings tomorrow, capped off with a dinner with my valiant team leaders at work.  We will then be off bright and early the next day for a company team building, for which we have secured the services of a guy I am excited to be working with.  I will be back on Sunday, hopefully enriched and re-focused, although I am sure in need of putting my feet up.

I leave you with chocolate, and the battle-cry that, yes, we can do it!  Hang in there.  Keep the faith.  Hold on.  The ride is worth it.

Friday, August 08, 2014

It's Friday...and some links for the weekend!

It's Friday...finally!  The weekend leans close enough for us to touch, for us to get a whiff of her entrancing perfume.  The smell of fresh sheets, cookies baking, lime in an icy gin & tonic, and warm buttered popcorn in a darkened cinema.  Hours to fill with anything you want...sleeping in (a personal favorite), riveting books, making a slow-cooked stew while it drizzles outside, being with the people you love best, taking your high heels out for a spin.  Anything really.  Monday may seem to always arrive mercilessly soon, but until then...enjoy!!

So, if you've got a few of those extra hours that are looking to be filled, here are a few suggestions:

** Have you seen the August issue of Yummy magazine?  I share a roasted asparagus salad in my column...and little C makes an appearance in their first Kids issue (it's on the back cover)!

** If you follow me on Instagram you have probably already noticed the nauseating amount of breakfast photos with which I shamelessly pepper your feeds (sorry). My current favorite breakfast staple is Gratitude Granola -- locally and lovingly made fresh everyday in small batches.  Follow them to keep abreast of the flavors they come up with day to day.

** I am beyond excited that one of my favorite bakery/cafes has opened right in my neighborhood!!  Visit Wildflour for their delicious breakfasts and addictive kimchi rice...but stay for their wonderful baked goods.  My favorites are their kouign amann, pain au chocolate, bacon sticky buns, cranberry walnut bread and, pictured above (lower left) the blueberry amann far.  Drop by and we might even bump into each other! :)

** My not-so-guilty midnight secret shopping site, Seek The Uniq, is a treasure trove of well curated finds.  I love their caftans and cover-ups.  But if you see something you like, click fast...these goodies go fast!  I am currently waiting for this gold pineapple (don't's love!) that I was too slow to snatch.

** I am so going to try this!  I have heard that there is delicious truth to the one-pan pasta myth...let us see!

** Maybe a spot of afternoon tea with the girlfriends?

**  Get smarter!  Well, why not?

Wishing you a wonderful weekend!  Hope it's filled with delicious things and amazing people!