The Occasional Cook

~ seeking peace one spice a day

Fried Garoupa with Sweet and Sour Sauce — February 2, 2020

Fried Garoupa with Sweet and Sour Sauce

It’s still Chinese New Year here and hence the price of fish here is exorbitant. Well, generally prices of foods and goods here are crazy high compared to elsewhere but with CNY, it’s worse when it comes to fish. But I forgot. And I had to feed the family. And so I went home with two small pieces of greasy Garoua for $30 SGD. My mom was so shocked when I told her the story.

Which meant that I had to make sure the fish did justice to my pocket! Inspired by Marion (she has like the best YouTube channel ever!), I tried to emulate her fried fish with sweet and sour sauce.

First step. Frying the fish. We all will never have a pan big enough to fry a whole fish. And even though my pricey Garoua were small, I still had that tail overhang and of course while trying to get that part cooked, I killed it. Haha. So I suggest getting a giant wok or getting a smaller fish. Marion’s step to coat it with corn flour first works.

So there’s the fish, coated with flour )but before that rubbed with some salt) frying away. And while that’s frying, you make the sauce.

In a saucepan, add a bit of oil and sesame oil then sauté minced garlic. Add sliced ginger (I used about 6 small pieces) and then diced capsicums. You should add cubes onion pieces too but in my household nobody eats onions so I had to omit that. Then add freshly cubes pineapple pieces. Marion said you’ve got to use fresh. I had no choice but to use canned. She was right, fresh is better. I also added one finely chopped green chilli padi, or bird eye’s chilli.

For the saucy bit, add a bit of water (enough to cover the vegetables), then four tablespoons of brown sugar, one teaspoon of tamarind paste, one tablespoon of soy sauce and a splash of lemon juice. You should add a bit of Chinese five spice powder but I had forgotten that. I added as well one tablespoon of Heinz All Natural ketchup.

And then that’s I! Voila! Sprinkle with lots of fresh coriander and you’ve got yourself a delicious meal that would really cost much more in restaurants (despite my complaints of pricey fish during CNY period).

I had made a simple soy sauce fried sea prawns to go with the fish as well. Hence that plate of prawns in the background.

Try it but be prepared to do lots of cleaning up too! Frying fish and seafood is a lot of mess. 😅

Happy New Year 2020 Menu — January 3, 2020

Happy New Year 2020 Menu

We sail into a new decade today and so I’ve decided to treat the family members to some hearty brunch food.

First up, smashed avocado. Just lightly seasoned with sea salt and black pepper and just a touch of lemon juice.

Baked quails! Not quail eggs but the Mama bird itself. Marinated with this spice a friend got for me from Scotland. Serve it with a kale salad.

Mustard potato salad. Simply mix tablespoonfuls of wholegrain mustard with Japanese kewpie mayonnaise, coarsely ground black pepper, salt and a tiny splash of cider vinegar.

Poached eggs. I fail at making them using a saucepan so I had to use the poachmaker. But delicious nonetheless.

To a brand new year with more cooking go relax the mind and nourish the soul.

Nasi Lemak Rice — December 13, 2019

Nasi Lemak Rice

Nasi lemak, or coconut rice, is extremely popular here. In my home, it’s incomplete if it’s not served with fried kangkong, a type of green popular in Southeast Asia.

This is how you can make the rice easily in a rice cooker. If ever I have to move to the west for Long periods of time, the most important cooking appliance will definitely be a rice cooker. This is followed with a blender or chopper. 😅

Recipe:

1. 3 cups of jasmine or Long grained basmati rice. My family only eats basmati rice so I’ve used it here

2. One packet of coconut cream. About 200 ml.

3. About 3 cups of water. I use the traditional Asian method of measuring water for rice. It should not rise above the middle line of your middle finger from the surface of the rice grains in the pot

4. 1.5 tsp of fine salt.

5. 6-7 pandan leaves

6. 3-4 pieces of ginger slices

And then turn on the rice cooker. Before you know it, voila! Fragrant coconut rice!

Sambal Stingray —

Sambal Stingray

Recently the Girl has grown more adventurous in her food taste. A growing teen means you’ll have to start catering not only kiddy food at home but also adultish food so one day she asked for a favourite hawker dish here in this region.

Stingray or a type of skate fish? I’m not sure what it’s called elsewhere is a delicious fish when grilled with sambal and in banana leaf.

It’s actually simple to make! It was my first time making this fish dish and now that I know how to, I’ll be making it at least once every few months.

The first step is to make the sambal. I’ve gotten quite lazy because I’ve had to cook almost every day recently and making your own dried chilli paste is too much work. Thankfully, dried chilli paste now comes in a jar! How convenient.

So in a blender goes two or three red onions (the sizes here are much smaller than in the West. I think it’s called Indian onions here?), garlic, two stalks of tender lemongrass stems, two tablespoons of dried chilli paste from the jar, some leftover sambal belacan from a jar (original recipes just call for belacan, fermented shrimp paste but this whole ingredient can be omitted), and ginger. And with modern conveniences, I also used ginger garlic paste from a jar.

Fry the finely blended chilli paste mixture in quite a lot of oil till the oil separates. You can add a few pieces of kaffir lime leaves for the added aroma and a teaspoon of tamarind paste. I’ve added my tamarind in the blender so I didn’t have to add more. Then, lay a piece of softened banana leaf on a baking tray. Place some of the cooked sambal on it. Place the fish on and then smother with more of the sambal. Either grill in the oven or do it over a pan (but with a lid to cook). Serve with plenty of cut Calamansi limes. Delicious!

Easy Everyday Fried Chicken — December 8, 2019

Easy Everyday Fried Chicken

This is a very common way to marinade chicken or even fish at home or hawker stalls. It’s quick and tasty and the fried chicken or fish will taste good even on its own without rice.

Simply add powdered turmeric and salt to the protein of choice and voila. That’s it. In Malay it’s simply called ‘garam kunyit’ – garam meaning salt and kunyit means turmeric.

But to make it crunchier, add a bit of corn flour. And for spicier, a little bit of hot chilli powder or cayenne.

It’s a staple in Malay homes with children because that’s all there is to it for these little kids’ lunch. Rice and fried chicken or fish. And that’ll keep them full after they come back from school. Be careful though not to add too much of turmeric powder. When I first got married and started cooking, I added too much and the smell of turmeric was overwhelming. About one or two tablespoons, depending on the amount of chicken you have will suffice.

Try it. It’ll be a new spin to KFC like chicken at home.

Lamb Tagine with Salty and Sweet Dried Prunes — November 24, 2019

Lamb Tagine with Salty and Sweet Dried Prunes

I made lamb tagine in a sauce pan pot after reading a lot of websites and watching YouTube videos. This I reckon is a good tagine because the seasoning is mild but fragrant. I learnt using one important spice that made a lot of difference from watching this lady Chef from a hotel make it on YouTube. The secret ingredient is…ground cinnamon!

Tagine is so simple to make (compared to Malay, Indian or Peranakan cooking you know) and so I’ll be making this quite often since the family loves it so much. But of course, different variations. Lamb is costly here in Singapore 😦

Here in my bowl, I have 1.8 kg of good quality lamb cubes. Marinade with 1 tbsp of ground cumin, 1 tbsp of ground coriander, 1/2 tbsp of sweet smoked paprika and 1 tbsp of ground cinnamon. Of course, add salt to taste before this.

Sauté two large white onions which have been quite finely chopped. Add ginger and garlic paste. Sauté till onions are soft and wilted.

Add marinated lamb cubes. Stir and brown lamb cubes. Then add 250 ml of chicken stock (I used the packet ones) and salt. Add some saffron threads, about half a teaspoon. Close lid and mimic tagine cooking. (I’m so buying a tagine soon).

While the meat is stewing away, in another saucepan, add some of the stewing liquid from the lamb and salted sweet prunes. By right, you should use sweet prunes. But…well when I went to the Chinese grocer, he had only these so I got them. But because these are saltier than normal prunes, I had to add more honey. So I added 3 tbsp of honey, 2 tsp of ground cinnamon and some water till the prunes are soft and have expanded somewhat.

Stir the prune mixture once the lamb is cooked and tender. Before that, I had added some carrots too. Don’t add too early or the carrots will be too mushy.

And I had some very sweet and delicious boiled Australian white potatoes. I pan fried the boiled cubes of potatoes in some butter and added them in too.

Lastly, stir in fresh coriander and then serve with the easy flatbread from Jamie Oliver’s wonderful recipe.

Before serving, sprinkle some dried fruits and nuts which you can easily purchase now in the snack section.

My lunch spread yesterday. Tagine with flatbread and roasted bone marrow and garlic baked chicken wings. I love the holiday season. More cooking coming up!

Macaroni Goreng(Fried Macaroni) — November 21, 2019

Macaroni Goreng(Fried Macaroni)

This is my ultimate comfort food. And it’s so easy to make…now. I think I posted this many years ago when I started this food blog for my daughter but now that I’ve grown older and wiser, I’ve discovered shortcuts.

The chilli paste in many Malay home cooking is a blend of dried chillies, onions and garlic. But I’ve discovered bottled ground chillies. It doesn’t have the onions but it doesn’t matter anyway.

This is how I cooked my delicious comforting lunch. It’s spicy and tangy, and that’s how I love it.

In plenty of oil (I used olive oil) cook till the oil separates one heaped teaspoon of chopped garlic, and 1-2 tbsp of ground chilli from the bottle. If you don’t have this, then it won’t taste as good but you can substitute with a bit more of ground chilli flakes. Here, I added a packed of chilli flakes so that I could have more colour.

Then add minced beef. Here, I have 300g of minced beef.

Make sure the meat is well cooked. Then add a packet of chopped tomatoes. I like these form Sainbury’s. Add one heaped tablespoon of ground cumin, 2 Teaspoons of sugar and salt to taste.

Let the mixture simmer nicely till the oil is really bright red and everything looks soft and unctuous.

Then add cooked macaroni.

Mix macaroni well with the sauce. Taste and add more salt if needed.

Sprinkle with spring onions cut to fairly large pieces.

Then serve with a sprinkling of fried shallots. Yummy!

Easy Flatbread — November 17, 2019

Easy Flatbread

I finally decided to make Jamie Oliver’s flatbread after so many people around me have raved about how simple and good the recipe is.

And indeed it is! I made using 2.5 cups of plain flour, 2 tubs (140g each) of yogurt, baking powder, salt and enough olive oil to form a dough. Let the dough rest for at least half an hour after kneading and forming them into two balls.

For the flatbreads I made, I tried to mimic naan bread and hence slathered some melted butter, garlic and coriander before placing the dough on a hot pan.

This is indeed an easy and cost saving option if you ever need some good bread for gravy dishes or curries. I served mine with some leftover keema (minced meat Indian curry) I had bought the previous day from a hawker centre.

Turkish Eggs — November 14, 2019

Turkish Eggs

I first ate Turkish eggs in one of those hipster cafes here and was pleasantly surprised by how delicious that bowl of poached eggs were.

This morning I decided to make Turkish eggs using Nigella Lawson’s sort of recipe? Or maybe method is the correct word which I found on YouTube.

It’s incredibly easy to make. I only had one ingredient missing – the Aleppo pepper. But I substituted that with smoked sweet paprika and it worked very well indeed.

The first step is to make the chilli oil. I places about 30g of butter in a small pan and melted it slowly till brown. It could do a bit browner but I didn’t want to risk burning my butter so when they were all nicely melted and slightly brown, I added a few swigs of good quality olive oil and sprinkled a strong dash of the smoked paprika from the tin.

Then mix a packet of Greek yogurt with some sea salt. And last make the poached egg and assemble.

Sprinkle some parsley and sea salt over the egg and eat with toasted ciabatta slices. Heavenly!! This is now my favourite breakfast dish to make. So simple yet satisfying.

Char Kway Teow — November 6, 2019

Char Kway Teow

Char kway teow is soooo famous in Singapore and Malaysia. It’s got to be cooked in a Super hot wok so you could have that Smokey flavour or what the locals call ‘wok hei’ – the breath of the wok. And for the chinese, it is cooked in lard and lots of chinese pork sausages.

My ex-colleagues got me a trinity of books by The Meat Men, a local group of youtubers who have their own cooking channel. I tried making it at home, and it was ok. I had to omit the lard but at home the main problem is getting that wok hei flavour. You’ve got to use a Super hot cast iron or metal wok to get the same effect. Non-stick will not do.

I followed this recipe for the sauce closely and I must say, it works! The kway Teow turned out sweet and it was good enough. I’ll be trying to make this again soon but for this initial version, here’s how I did it.

First, buy some cockles, wash clean and take out the meat.

In a hot work, add oil and then your meat, sausages, chopped garlic. Add a dollop of chilli paste. Stir fry. Then add noodles. I used my leftover pad Thai noodles but the fresh broader Chinese rice noodles will be better. Add the sauce and stir fry. Lastly, add cockles and vegetables, cover to wilt then stir fry again till cooked.

The recipe called for eggs and prawn but since I had neither that day, I omitted.

Here’s the full recipe from the book to try:

Gimbap — October 19, 2019

Gimbap

Today’s light lunch of Korean gimbap. Easy to make and easy to eat!

First, prepare short grain Japanese rice. Pickled daikon strips, carrot strips and fried beef slices that had been marinated with soy sauce.

Place seaweed onto a rolling bamboo mat with rice and all the other ingredients. Then roll tight.

Once rolled, brush with a light layer of sesame oil.

With a sharp knife, cut into slices and enjoy! This was really good on a hot weekend. I’ll be making this for work lunches soon!

Hainanese Chicken Chop — September 22, 2019

Hainanese Chicken Chop

This is a western style chicken chop dish originated from Malaya. The story went as usual when it came to colonist foods. A British man wanted a taste of home and the cooks, many of them Hainanese, would make this version for their colonial masters.

I made my version because I had frozen deboned chicken thighs and a packet of frozen peas. After browsing other recipes and blog sites, I made my version based on the family’s preference. I mean, that’s what cooking is all about right? To be creative and inventive and cook things your family will like.

So anyway, the first part is to marinade the chicken with salt and give spice powder. Then immerse the thighs in soy sauce, sesame oil, oyster sauce, pepper and sugar. By right, remove the skin. But I wanted the skin on for some reason.

The breading. Plain flour, egg and Pablo bread crumbs.

The sauce. In a pan, sauté onions. Then I used chicken stock. And added a heaped teaspoon of wholegrain mustard. Season with salt and a tinge of sugar. Added four packets of tomato ketchup (leftover ketchup packets from fast food joints) and a packet of chilli sauce. To thicken the sauce, the cornflour slurry technique. And voila! They loved the sauce.

To assemble, place crispy chicken thigh on a plate then spoon over the onion sauce. Serve with homemade potato wedges and a side of boiled green peas.

And there you have it. A relic from the colonial past and carried on today in some coffeeshops. I hear, mostly in the northern parts of Malaysia where this dish is still popular.

Marinade the chicken well for a few hours
Make the onion sauce

Once sauce is done, set it aside for use later
Set up the breading station for frying. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention after frying in a shallow oiled pan, I made it crispier by putting the cooked chicken in the air fryer for a few minutes
Borek or Spanakopita — July 14, 2019

Borek or Spanakopita

Ok once I learn to make something new and easy, I get completely obsessed. My latest obsession is with this spinach and cheese in phyllo pastry. It’s simple to make and everyone likes it. Well, most anyone.

I’ve made so many versions of it so I’m just going to post my latest one, and in my opinion the best version simply because using fresh spinach is so much more delicious than the frozen ones I’ve been using.

The concept is simple. A cheese and spinach filling. A custard topping. And phyllo pastry as the base and cover.

For this picture, I’ve moved on to the second layer. Many do it with only one layer but I find if you have the extra ingredients, making two layers makes it thicker and more moorish. So first spread cooked spinach.

And then add cheese. I’ve been using feta all along but for this particular day, my supermarket ran out of feta. So I used dollops of ricotta cheese and sharp cheddar. Season with lots of sea salt and black pepper.

Then the custard. For this custard, I what three whole eggs with one tub (125ml) of Greek yogurt. Season with salt and pepper. Add a splash of milk and that’s it.

Cover the dough. And because I learn from experience, I watched how some people would cut the pastry into squares first before baking. It helps! If you don’t, yes, it will look prettier but the process of cutting crispy phyllo in front of guests is a huge mess!

And then voila! It’s all ready to be served.

For the cheesy part, feel free to experiment. My aunt uses mozzarella, and I think next time I’ll do these pastries in individual portions. With mozzarella and pine nuts!

Enjoy trying! It’s an easy dish to whip up for last minute entertaining. 🙂

Cencaru Bakar Sambal (Baked Scadfish in Sambal) — June 18, 2019

Cencaru Bakar Sambal (Baked Scadfish in Sambal)

There’s a firm favourite fish amongst the Malays from the ladies side. Most men I know do not like this fish. It has quite a strong smell but once cooked, it’s delicious. It has a firm flesh, the skin a bit tough so you can’t eat the crispy skin. You’ve got to peel the out skin first after cooking to enjoy the firm sweet meaty flesh.

In Malay, this fish is called cencaru and even the local fishmongers know that it’s well liked by the Malays and not so by the other races. If not why would he tempt me by calling out just as I was walking or if the supermarket, ‘Ikan cencaru nak tak?’ (Do you want this cencaru fish?’ Haven’t eaten this fish in years, I caved and walked back to him, and before I knew it, I had three fish in my hand.

It’s best eaten fried or baked with sambal or soy sauce chilli padi dip. I made the first version, or rather got the Helper to do so for me.

We first made the sambal paste together and cooked the sambal through. After that, slit the top part of the fish and stuff as much sambal as you can. Before this, we seasoned the fish with salt and ground turmeric. And then bake. My kitchen smelled of fish! But afterwards, when the fish was done and the house smelled normal again, we both enjoyed eating the fish with hot plain rice. It’s a kampong favourite and us so modern in our sanitized public apartments have forgotten to appreciate the foods of the past.

Sambal paste

1. blend soft already boiled down dried chillies (about 20 pieces) with three onions and four cloves of garlic till very fine.

2. Fry over medium heat till cooked.

3. Add a bit of tamarind paste, salt and sugar to taste. The sambal should be sweet and tangy.

Ramly…of Sorts Burger — May 28, 2019

Ramly…of Sorts Burger

For those living in this region, the Ramly burger is like the epitome of street food burgers. Beef patties are grilled and encased in a thin layer of omelette. The sauce…that’s their secret. Lots and lots of brown sauce, mayonnaise, chilli sauce…. the perfect night stack in Malaysia.

The burger Ramly is banned in Singapore, but there are many stalls during bazaars selling these burgers under the Ramly banner. They used other patties but because the original patties are banned, I guess the manner how these burgers are made allowed the Singaporean vendors to use the Ramly name.

At home, I decided to make my own version. Well, for this one that The May made them. I used expensive Angus beef patties instead of the cheap unhealthy frozen kinds because I wanted the kids to eat healthily. But we followed the Ramly style, with an omelette encasing the juicy patties. And for The Son, a slice of cheese on the beef patties before it got wrapped in the golden eggy blanket.

It was a hit for dinner that night. Will definitely make it again!