Thursday, March 30, 2006

Corn Days

The next time you shuck a corn-on-the-cob, take one second to admire the fragile and beautiful corn-silk, those silky threads between the husks and the corn!
Unveiling Nature's Silk
Whenever I find myself in the fresh produce aisles at the supermarket, I find it hard to resist the attraction and invariably cart home at least a pair of sweetcorn ears. Removing the husks and the corn-silk to reveal rows upon rows of plump kernels ranging from light straw yellow to deep golden yellow, I'm already anticipating the sweetness of the kernels in whichever form the cooked corn ends up in.

Simple Corn Soup
For a quick mid-week meal, the following corn soup requires no more than 15 minutes to prepare.
  • After shucking the corn, cut the kernels from the cobs (about 1 cup and slightly more for 2 persons, generally I just estimate one cob per person).
  • Thinly slice about half an inch of ginger, and some spring onions.
  • In a deep saucepan, stir-fry the ginger with a teaspoon of oil before adding the corn kernels.
  • Add 1 cup of chicken stock and half a cup of water (depending on the thickness of your stock, you can omit or increase the water - I prefer my soup to be a little more diluted so that the chicken stock does not overwhelm the taste of the corn), and bring to a boil.
  • Add salt and pepper to season. Sometimes, I also add a touch of chinese 'huatiao' cooking wine which goes quite well with the ginger in the soup.
  • Simmer soup on medium heat for a few minutes before adding the sliced spring onions and serve.
Chilli ButterOf course, the fastest way to cook corn is to just dump them (shucked or otherwise) into boiling water for between 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how soft you want your corn to be and how fresh they are (less cooking time required for really fresh corn). Remove the corn from the pot with tongs (believe me, they are seriously hot and not to be handled with bare hands) and generously slather with dollops of butter. Watch the butter melt as the steam rises from the corn! Hmmmmmmm!

Sometimes, I flavour my butter with finely chopped chilli and coriander and a dash of ground black pepper. When the butter melts, the bits of red and green left behind on the corn add also to the aesthetics!
Spiced Corn-on-the-Cob

And how do you eat your corn-on-the-cob? My style : I chomp on them one row at a time, slowly and steadily moving from right to left and back again (just like an old manual typewriter)!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

If you bow at all, bow low!

Take a Bow

I took this shot of the drooping tiny pink flowers when I last visited the Singapore Botanical Gardens, and have kept it in my photo archive until inspiration struck yesterday. Browsing through, I saw this Chinese Proverb. "If you bow at all, bow low." and it seemed so apt as a caption for the photo.

Trying to find the meaning of this proverb on the internet though was a thoroughly frustrating experience. Though quoted on many English-based websites, none gave any hint as to its meaning (and one begins to wonder whether this proverb is understood at all by one and many). Finally, I found the Mandarin phrase for this proverb, and all became clear:
一不做,二不休 {yi bu zuo, er bu xiu}
transliterated to mean "if you choose not to do [don't do it at all, but if you choose to do it], then do it without rest [until it is completed]"
That I think is truly something to remember from time to time, especially in the busy times we live in with demands coming in from every direction and not enough hours in a day to satisfy them all.

And with that, I leave you with another picture of delicate little white flowers with their lovely tendrils, taken off a high shrub at the botanical gardens - when nature decides to amaze, even the smallest of flowers does not escape its notice!


Sunday, March 19, 2006

How many Hours?

Yesterday night (a very precious weekend night, mind you), I spent more than three hours simmering a pasta sauce. Hailing from the very famous region of Emilia-Romagna in Northern Italy, the Ragu alla Bolognese is a slow-simmered meat-based pasta sauce, and should not be confused with those quick tomato-based sauces normally served over spaghetti.
Ragu alla Bolognese
Truth be told, there have been many occasions in the past with time being in short supply, when I have reached for a bottle of commercial Ragu spaghetti sauce and dumped the same into the saucepan together with my ground beef and diced carrots and happily announced to my not-so-discerning hubby that we were having Spaghetti Bolognese for dinner in half an hour's time! Unfortunately, I can't get away with such shortcuts anymore as he has wised up, thanks to an Italian we met at dinner the other night. When dinner conversation moved to bolognese sauces, the defining question was how long it took to create this sauce originating from Bologna. "A minimum of 3 hours," says one dinner guest, and in fact, the Italian recommended up to 4 hours on a slow slow fire. Hmm, hubby was giving me that quizzical look!

So, last night I decided to make up for all the years of harmless 'deceit' by preparing true Bolognese style meat sauce. The following Bolognese recipe is adapted from Tyler Florence's Eat this Book with added touches from various other recipes (and believe me, there are a lot of bolognese recipes out there):
  • finely chop 2 celery stalks, 2 peeled carrots and 1 medium-sized onion (and if you have a food processor, chopping all these is a breeze)
  • heat 4 to 5 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and add minced garlic (from 5 to 6 cloves), the chopped onion, celery and carrots, and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes or so until the vegetables are tender
  • increase heat and add to pan 1 pound of ground beef - Tyler's recipe also calls for another pound of ground veal, but I decided to use 4 chilli-pork sausages instead (sausage casing removed and meat chopped)
  • cook meat until no longer pink, and add 1 cup of white wine, simmering until evaporated
  • add 2 cans of whole peeled tomatoes, drained and crushed and 4 cups of chicken stock (and this is where Tyler's recipe differ from some of the more traditional bolognese recipes, which only use a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste and no more than 2 cups of broth, beef or chicken)
  • season with salt and pepper, and at this stage, I also added in about a tablespoon of ground nutmeg (taken off Marcella Hazan's recipe for bolognese sauce, and who is Marcella Hazan, you ask? Well, I didn't know until the night before that she is allegedly America's matriarch of authentic Italian cooking, with quite a few books under her authorship, the latest being Marcella Says...: Italian Cooking Wisdom.. - hmm, time to check out the local library and Kinokuniya bookstore
  • lower heat and slowly simmer for two to two and a half hours, stirring every now and then until the sauce thickens (and thanks to Tyler's recipe requiring 4 cups of broth, there is no way one can shorten this step as it will take all of two hours and more to reduce the pan's contents to a thick sauce-like consistency)
  • add 1 cup of milk (which is supposed to make the meat tender) and simmer again for another 30 minutes (although, I have seen recipes where the milk is added much earlier, after the cup of wine has evaporated and before the broth and tomatoes are added)
A simple list of ingredients (not too difficult to locate in any supermarket), a short list of instructions (none that require too much kitchen acrobatics) - the only exacting part of this recipe is the luxury of time required for its slow simmering process, in order for the meat to impart its wonderful flavors into the sauce and develop into this rich and aromatic onslaught to the senses. Your kitchen will smell tantalizing and any attempt to avoid dipping a spoon into the pot every now and then is mortally impossible.

Although the sauce can be eaten on the day that it is cooked, I chose to exercise great control and set the whole pot aside for dinner this evening instead. Left overnight, the flavors continue to develop, with the minced beef remaining tender and not in the least dry. A wonderful dinner with hubby having second helpings, I think I'm forgiven!

The ideal pasta to accompany this thick sauce is the tagliatelle, flat ribbons of pasta which are broad enough to capture the Bolognese sauce with each bite, without having the sauce slither off and left behind on the plate. Unfortunately, I didn't have any available at home and had to make do instead with fettucine, another flat-style ribbon pasta but slightly thicker than tagliatelle. The traditional cheese to serve with this wonderful aromatic meaty dish, is none other than grated Parmigiano Reggiano, a hard piquant cheese from the same region.

The above recipe was enough to feed at least 6 persons, with sufficient leftovers (to be kept in the freezer) which I estimate should be just enough to make lasagna for two persons in the course of this week. Now, all I need to do is find the right recipe for that bechamel sauce!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Down, Down, Down the Rabbit Hole!

'Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end!'..... 'I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth!' - quoted from Alice in Wonderland as she tumbled down the rabbit hole chasing after the White Rabbit. And if you've ever felt like you've been sucked into a whirlpool of chaos whether at work or at home, and falling uncontrollably into unknown depths, this picture (of a garden pathway) may evoke some of those feelings.
Down the Garden Path
Over the weekend as part of a 'de-stressing regime', I was playing around with my latest toy lens, the Lensbaby 2.0 (a selective focus lens) and what a wonderful exercise it was in creativity and possibilities. Getting behind this tilt-shift-like lens is quite a challenge, especially when trying to grip the lens to focus on the 'sweet spot' (or the focus area) and then tilting it slightly to achieve that graduated blurring effect, all done while holding the camera at the same time with the index finger on the shutter button. Admittedly, the fingers got a bit cramped after the session but the results are quite nice, don't you think so?

`I wish I hadn't cried so much!' said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. `I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears! That WILL be a queer thing, to be sure! However, everything is queer to-day.' - quoted from the 2nd Chapter (The Pool of Tears) of Alice in Wonderland
Tears in your Eye
I had titled the above picture "Tears in your Eye" - as it was such a 'queer' photo, reminding me of an eyeball crying! The 'eyeball' was actually a small gurgling water fountain set in a little man-made pool in a little garden I discovered at Alexandra Hospital (which I was exploring with my lensbaby while hubby was busy getting some stuff at Queensway Shopping Center).

Resting Place
And finally, when the fingers were all cramped up, I switched back to my normal camera lens to capture this seat in the shady crook of a large tree which looked very inviting indeed - a place to sit back, close your eyes, soak in a bit of sun-rays, and let your mind float away from all the hustle and bustle of life in the city.

Finding that little bit of 'quiet' every once in a while helps to recharge me for the next round of chaos waiting to tumble out of my 'rabbit-hole'.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Pressure Tonic

Work has been extremely stressful over the last two months and it does not look like the pressure will be letting up any time in the near future. Feeling a bit snowed under, and having caught myself snapping at colleagues and hubby, I'm pretty sure my blood pressure is working overtime! Before another week of hell begins, I decided to boost this frail human body of mine with a little traditional Chinese tonic.
LingZhi Ginseng Chicken Soup

The Ling-Zhi mushroom (also known as reichi in Japan) was traditionally a Chinese Imperial tonic, partaken by ancient emperors to promote longevity and good health. Reputed to reduce high blood pressure, hypertension and insomnia, it supposedly nourishes the brain and calms the nerves. The Ginseng root, another Chinese Imperial and Korean traditional tonic, is reputed to improve blood circulation, and increase the body's resistance to stress.

Regardless of whether any of the above alleged benefits have been scientifically proven or not, the fact that I have been raised in a Cantonese soup-drinking family means that instead of reaching for a pill or some other quick-fix remedy, brewing, steaming or double-boiling a pot of herbal tonic soup is my 'pill of choice'. Unfortunately, such herbal soups normally require at least one and a half up to two hours of brewing over a slow slow fire, and thus can only be partaken on weekends. *sigh*, I'm sure the efficacy of the whole thing is much reduced by such infrequent boosts! Still, every little drop counts and if you are interested to get into some of this action next weekend or earlier, the recipe is fool-proof:
  • for two to three persons, I used half a black chicken - clean chicken and cut into 2 to 3 pieces
  • blanch chicken in hot boiling water, remove chicken and throw away the water - helps to reduce the oil in the soup
  • rinse the following chinese herbs - 10 to 12 slices of lingzhi, 10 gm of ginseng slices (altho' in the soup tonight, I used a whole ginseng root), a small handful of 'keichi' (qouqi or dried wolfberries), a small handful of dried longan (the last two items are required to add some sweetness to the soup as the lingzhi slices have a slight bitter taste)
  • place chicken and all the dried herbs in a double-boiler / steam-pot, add 3 to 4 cups of water
  • steam/double-boil for at least two and a half to three hours on a low fire
  • just before serving, add a little salt to taste

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Truth is Out There!

Even as night falls, the light of justice continues to shine, albeit with the help from a little moonlight and heaps of electrical lights! This shot is of the dome on top of the old Supreme Court Building, Singapore.

Justice Shineth

Compare the huge glare from the lamp-post in the foreground against that tiny crescent moon in the left corner background, and obviously the eye knows the light emitted from the lamp is brighter and stronger than that of the moonlight. The truth is of course quite the contrary - moonlight which is sunlight reflected off the moon is probably so much stronger in terms of light unit measurement.

And so in life, what you (or lady justice) see(s) may not always be true with the truth still out there!

Just like:
  • that really beautiful deep red juicy looking apple I chose, which turned out to be bland tasting like sawdust.....
  • that hawker stall with a really long queue (in Singapore, if there's a queue for food, usually, one expects the food to be pretty good), but it turned out that the hawker is merely really slow in cooking and dishing out his food.....
  • that really good-looking guy in that cool-looking car who cut right into my lane causing me to jam on my brakes and utter language not suitable for publishing.....
Too 'cheem' (too deep) - don't bother digesting this then, just enjoy the photo and impart your own story!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Where's the Spaghetti?

Eatzycath's Kitchen Rule: when cooking pasta at home, the pasta topping should always overwhelm the pasta itself!

Of course, a true pasta lover will probably disagree, being just happy to eat his 'al dente' spaghetti with great olive oil, golden bits of garlic and coarse-ground black pepper. Me, I'm into pasta sauce bigtime. Being paranoid that there may not be enough sauce and topping to go around, I always end up cooking more than actually required for the pasta itself.

Hubby is of the view that I should stop this kitchen rule immediately, not exactly helping with his or my waist-girth at all. *SIGH* Breaking a habit is tough, especially when there's little incentive to do so.
Pasta Carbonara
Spaghetti Carbonara, being so simple to cook, has ended up in a myriad of styles in different kitchens, and naturally in my hands, a lot depends on what's in the fridge (note: since I'm heavy-handed with my topping, I haven't indicated the exact amount of ingredients below, except for the sauce which should be sufficient for two medium-sized portions):
  • sliced small strips of ham and bacon are pan-fried in heated olive oil with some chopped garlic for a few minutes
  • sliced button mushrooms, green peas and half a sliced red chilli are added to pan and fried for a couple of minutes more together with salt and pepper to taste (and in case you're wondering, red chillies are never found in an original carbonara sauce but I like the slight heat from the chilli providing that hint of underlying contrast to the creamy carbonara sauce)
  • beat 2 really fresh eggs (extremely important that these are fresh eggs since they will not be cooked over heat) with 3 tablespoons of single cream (and 1 tablespoon of finely grated Parmesan cheese - I normally skip this unless I have good Parmigiano Reggiano, and heaven forbid any substitution with that dry stuff in a green bottle called Kraft's Parmesan Cheese)
  • drain the cooked al dente spaghetti and mix with the fry-pan ingredients, pour in the egg and cream mixture and stir well - the stirring coupled with the heat of the just cooked spaghetti will help to cook slightly the raw egg mixture (note: carbonara sauce is usually not recommended for pregnant women and young children due to this raw egg element)
  • garnish with shredded basil leaves (and grated Parmesan, if you like) and finish off with a bit of wristwork to the black pepper grinder
A noteworthy trivial from a fellow foodie - "did you know that humans have 10,000 tastebuds but pigs are supposed to have 15,000 tastebuds?". Hmmm, would it be too much to ask for the sophisticated palate of the pig?