17 August 2008

Yummy and good for you

I don't know when or from where my mum got this idea of mixing honey with lemon, but for a period of time she'd make it for me every morning before I have to practically run out of the house to work. Whenever I have the sniffles or an itchy throat, she'd prescribe that to me as well. It was either that or some horridly bitter and ominously dark liquid that had been boiling for a couple of hours.

Bless her heart, but when she concocts these things she believes in economies of scale and boils a large potful of them so that it can last me a few days. Of course that means instead of being able to spread my agony over a couple of weeks, taking ample time to recuperate from the not-so-pleasant taste in between each dosage, I usually have a glass of it plastered to my hands as long as I am at home. And this would happen for many days at a stretch. Sometimes I even discover a bottle of it snuck into my handbag! Still, I gulp it all down and pop something sweet into my mouth immediately after.

In light of the dark liquid that is always the alternative to sniffles or itchy throats, I never fail to jump on the offer of a big glass of honey lemon. And now, it has joined my repertoire of drinks I would depend on if in need of something pleasant and refreshing to serve guests. This is especially crucial since my home is one of those where you’re more likely to find lemons and honey than Coke or Sprite.

For planned dinner parties, I am usually well prepared with a couple of vino or bubbly in the refrigerator just hanging. But when unexpected guests arrive and are thirsting for something sweet and soothing, I'd whip up a big batch of this in a couple of minutes and it’d be better than your store-bought carbonated drink overloaded with sugars and preservatives.

Simply mix your preferred proportion of honey, water and freshly squeezed lemon juice then top with a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint (optional). I always add some hot water to the honey first to get it all to dissolve then mix in some room temperature water to dilute it further.

But friends, be forewarned. Do not, I say DO NOT pour hot water directly into a glass jug, especially those with thick glass walls. It will crack, oh yes it will crack. I had to learn this the tough way. Colleagues and friends looked at me in horror as I recounted the incident, exclaiming that whether one could pour hot water directly into a thick-walled glass jug was a primary school Science question!

I cannot be more sorry for not paying attention in class.

Mid-week meals

Whenever I lack the motivation to cook, there are a couple of sure-fire ways I usually seek to get inspired all over again.

1. Travel to an exotic country with a national cuisine vastly different from what I'm used to.
2. Read incredibly food blogs like The Travelors Lunchbox, Orangette, Kuidaore, Delicious Days, and Chubby Hubby just to name a few. One day, if I don't get inspired by the stunning photos or the delicious writing, I'd know I'm a gone case.
3. Equally peppered with beautifully inspiring photos and prose is Donna Hay, a magazine I'd almost kill myself if I somehow miss out on buying the last season's copy.

The latest issue has plenty of recipes for special days - tiny morsels of food as part of a larger grazing menu, or a more elaborate sit-down dinner comprising main courses that you can choose to spend anywhere between an hour to 3 days laboring over .

My favourite section though, is one for the everyday. They gave a recipe for osso buco and 3 accompanying quick recipes that uses osso buco in different ways. Great as a weekend project for sure. They also have a number of recipes for mid-week dinners meant to be casual and put together almost in a flash. There, I found the perfect getting-back-into-the-kitchen recipe.

Thai-style sweet and sour barramundi. It looked like all I had to do was clean and boil (the vegetables), fry (the fish), and mix (the dressing for the fish). The only laborious part was the cleaning and chopping of the vegetables (snow peas, but I added french beans and baby corn). After that, everything was a breeze. This iss presentable and satisfying enough to be served during mid-week casual dinners at home with close friends, but easy enough as a tasty mid-week dinner for yuppie-couples.

I made this for my brother and I this weekend, and substituted the barramundi with salmon. I enjoyed how the tartness of the thai-style dressing cut through the usually rich flavour of salmon. Simply blanched snow peas, french beans and baby corn were drizzled with some Japanese Roasted Cashew Salad Dressing that I bought at the Japanese fair recently. Okay, I cheated, but it is meant for a mid-week meal you know.

It is great getting back into the kitchen!
Thai-style Sweet and Sour Salmon
Recipe adapted from Donna Hay
Serves 4

1 tsp chiili flakes
1 tbspn sea salt flakes
4x200g salmon fillets, skin on
1 tbsp vegetable oil
300g snow peas, blanced and thinly sliced (or 100g snow peas, 100g french beans and 100g baby corn)
1/4 cup (60ml) lime juice
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp fish sauce

To make the sweet and sour dressing, place the lime juice, sugar and fish sauce in a non-metallic bowl and stir to combine. Set aside
Combine the chilli flakes and sea salt and rub onto the fish skin.
Heat the oil in a large non-stick fying pan over high heat.
Cook the fish skin-side down for 3-4 minutes or until skin is crisp, turn and cook for a further 1-2 minutes then turn off the flame.
Serve with the dressing spooned over, and the side of snow peas, french beans and baby corn - blanched, drained and tossed in your favourite salad dressing (preferably not something tart like the sweet and sour dressing).

13 August 2008

A long break, a new life...

Crocodile Park in Mauritius with Stella and her parents

Instead of running up a tall tower like that shown in the video in my previous entry, I did something else - I ran away to Mauritius.

I had been feeling so out-of-sorts and knew I needed a proper break. Ever since I started work, I had not taken a break for myself. So it didn't take me long to book the cheapest return airfare to Mauritius I could find.

I spent about 10 days there resting and going to more beaches than I had ever visited in my life. That was a must, according to Stella. Looking at the crystal clear waters, and feeling the fine floury sand between my toes, I understood why. Stella, for the uninitiated, is my long-time toilet-mate from university who put forth an open invitation for free accomodation in Mauritius anytime I was disposed to fly over.

Mauritius is a beautiful place with plenty of sugarcane plantations to sweeten honeymoons. Mountain ranges are in sight virtually everywhere, no matter where you stand in Mauritius, thanks to low rise buildings. The first part of my trip experienced temperamental weather of strong winds and transient rain, but Stella and I prayed and prayed. Her friends and family showered warmth and hospitality that gave me all I needed to withstand the cold until the sun finally sauntered out from behind the clouds.

I was incredibly blessed to have Stella host me during my entire stay in Mauritius. Her family brought me to the Crocodile park that not only had giant tortoises I could sit on, but also served (surprise surprise) crocodile steak as pictured above. It had the tender chewiness of medium rare beef, but looked almost entirely like perfectly grilled pork steak. It tasted however, milder than I expected - a cross between chicken and fish. It was a thrill simply to taste crocodile steak.

There was so much Stella brought me to see and do in Mauritius that covering it all in one entry would do the trip little justice. Instead, I will share with everyone in later entries, specific (food) items I really enjoyed that left a deep impression in me.

Shortly after returning to Singapore, I spent the past week in Bangkok nursing a flu while trying to make sure I brought home some new clothes for my tired wardrobe. It was tough trying to stay chirpy and lively while my system threatened to breakdown with each hack or sniffle, but my beloved friend nursed me to health with many rounds of warm water, cough medication and Strepsils.

Am I refreshed and raring to go back to work tomorrow (actually, today since it is now 1.35am)? Not really. That I am typing this at 1.35am in the morning also means I'm probably going to feel lethargic at work while battling the thousands of emails in my inbox.

One good thing that came out of this break however, is that I have found energy to bake/cook again! I spent a good part of the last 24 hours in the kitchen playing with custards and batters. I am also very inspired to cook one of my favourite dishes from Mauritius. The problem is simply finding the key ingredient whose name I do not even know.

This long break was also meant to symbolically mark the closure of one big chapter in my life, and the start of a new one with a brand new, clean slate.

Sharing my latest favourite quote:
"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present." - Wugui master from Kungfu Panda