Miso-Laced Chicken Noodle Soup for the Ailing Soul

Cooking for the first day a bad cold or flu hits you is simple.

You don’t.

With your body’s thermostat acting like it’s found itself in the middle of the Arctic Circle one minute and abandoned in the Sahara Desert the next, all you’re pretty much concerned with is downing as much medication as humanly possible and finding a position on the bed (covers on? covers off? where do the tissues go?) that will actually let you go to sleep.

Food is the absolute last thing your body is concerned with.

It’s the day the fever breaks though, that you surface and recollect the memory of hunger, but also realize that standing upright for an extended cooking session would be a colossally bad idea. (Nor is there desire to wash the collected debris of said hypothetical session.)

A one pot meal would be ideal.

Soup sounded fantastic.

Rummaging around in the pantry cupboard revealed that the only clear soup left was a can of Campbell’s borsch soup, which sufficed for two meals, but to this miserable soul’s dismay, there was no more chicken noodle soup or anything that might be loosely converted into something vaguely resembling it… except maybe a packet of instant Tonkotsu ramen noodles (but urgh… a sodium-laced soup when sickly didn’t sound appealing at all.)

Therein lies the advantage of knowing how to cook and improvise with ingredients to hand.

It was back to the fridge, where the first thing that stood out was a fresh box of miso (bought with initial plans of seasoning salmon for grilling, before illness so rudely interrupted.)

Ok. If I couldn’t have chicken soup, I might perhaps have miso soup. That sounded reasonable.

But miso soup without dashi? Was it even possible? I surely wasn’t going to run out for bonito flakes.

Some quickly Googled references suggested vegetarian miso soup was indeed possible, all you needed was a vegetable broth of some kind.

Ok. We could do this. There is an onion here. We have some garlic. There is even some young ginger. Even if it was just aromatics in a bot of boiling water, to which miso would be added later, we were going to construct a clear soup broth of some kind.

Set out one pot of water to boil.

Coarsely chop an onion, and I mean coarsely, because one is sick here and has no finesse left.

Garlic is said to have antibacterial properties of some sort, right? Skins and chops a couple of cloves.

Ginger is usually a little too spicy for my preference, but you know, miso is said to pair well with ginger, and this cold really needs a dose of ginger… so, what the heck, we’ll slice an inch of young ginger to go along.

Sauteing the aromatics would probably bring out more flavor, because one is desperate here, so… urgh, let’s just use one more pot – a nonstick one with some butter.

In go the aromatics, to be mostly ignored while one searches through the fridge once more.

Oh hey, there is some celery! And underneath, some carrots!

Perfect, we have the standard western soup trifecta of onion, celery and carrots, after all.

In they go into the saute pot, haphazardly chopped as well.

And what is this, in an as yet untouched plastic container? A glorious piece of soy-sauce roasted chicken breast from a whole chicken takeout a day or two before the plague struck down the household.

Looks like chicken soup is back on the menu.

Cut into chunks and lightly saute that as well. Dump the entire contents of the now-sauted soup stuff into the pot of boiling water.

Reuse the saute pot to boil up some thin pasta noodles with some salted water.

Dump noodles into the now simmering soup.

Wash the saute pot. We’re back down to one pot of soup, which we would ideally boil until everything is soft and the flavors have come out into the broth, but really only lasts 30 mins or so before one gets terribly hungry about the whole affair.

Turn the heat off and taste the broth – yep, still needs salt and umami, since no lavishly rendered stock was involved in this preparation.

In comes the miso to save the day. (Boiling miso is a no-no, which is why we remove the heat first.) Add a spoonful or two to taste until it’s just right.

This soup will win no style awards, nor is it the absolute best rendition of its kind, but you know what… when you’re sick and miserable… it’s good enough.

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Eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with leftovers to go in the fridge for the next day. (The photo is pretty much the leftovers, when I regained enough clarity of thought at midnight to think of snapping a picture.)

And the flavors get seriously better over time. (Or maybe that’s just my nose un-stuffing itself from all the garlic and gingery goodness.)

TL;DR: Onion, garlic, ginger, celery, carrot, chicken breast. Saute. Add to boiling water and lower heat to somewhere between boil and simmer. Add cooked pasta noodles. Go for 30-60 minutes of boil/simmer. Take off heat. Add miso to taste.

Kipper Kedgeree? Salted Fish Fried Rice?

aka possibly the most fusion thing I’ve ever concocted while starving and improvising…

The story starts with a canned tin of fish.

You see, a while ago, I was on an experimental kick to try different types of tinned fish than the bog standard tuna in cans.

Not that our tuna is similar either.

A very popular brand in Singapore supermarkets is Ayam brand tuna.

Beyond the normal range of chunks and flakes in all varieties of oil and water and mayonaise (plus mildy spicy and hot blends), there is chili, tom yam, tomato chilli, curry, and black pepper flavored tuna, as well as seasoned spicy tuna to stir into Malay fried rice or “Nasi Goreng” (nasi is Malay for rice, goreng for fried.)

The problem is, it’s all tuna. Cooked and prepared in many different ways, yes, but still tuna.

So I branched out to sardines.

I was never an extreme fan of sardines, mostly because our Asian style of sardines fished and prepared and tinned somewhere in Thailand are extremely chunky monsters with bones that are distinctly not ignorable. Their backbones are about the size of a cotton bud’s shaft.

I’ve known people who cheerfully crunch them down regardless, but me, I end up performing spinal surgery on each halved fish before I can face the prospect of chowing down.

Flavor-wise, there’s the same broad profile. Olive oil, olive oil and chili (ridiculously spicy, by the way), chili and lime, black olive and caper, and sardines tuned to more Asian tastebuds with teriyaki sauce or black bean sauce.

Ultimately, I decided I was the biggest fan of the black bean sauce, except the sardines in that tin are fried (no wonder they’re tasty!) and probably best eaten sparingly.

Having exhausted the local brand, I started eyeing the imports. John West and King Oscar are fairly common brands here too, if nearly double the price.

I ended up falling in love with King Oscar sardines. The brisling variety of sardine is a lot finer and more delicate, with no need to extract any bones and a purer fishier aroma.

From there, it was on to tinned anchovies.

Which I’ve never managed to consume whole (such a waste just eating it), but end up using like Chinese-style salted fish or our local ikan bilis to add flavor to other things. It simply dissolves upon heating into the oil to form this ridiculously tasty umami-laden sauce – mix with pasta and vegetables, for example.

Canned salmon was right out, since fresh salmon is available, but what is this curiously labeled tin of “kippers?”

Today, I pulled this out of the cupboard, having run out of ideas for anything else I could eat in a hurry.

One test mouthful revealed a very smoky, intense-flavored fish.

It wasn’t too bad, but it sure was very intense – full of smoke and fish essence with every bite. Not quite as distilled flavor as tinned anchovies, but not exactly on a sardine scale where one would be just inclined to eat them out of the tin.

Well, you could, if you liked mouthfuls of smoke.

Paired like the pictured serving suggestion with bread and a poached egg, both of which are more flavorless in themselves, I could see how smoked kippers might go well.

No bread here, alas. Nor was I in the mood for boiling eggs.

At my wit’s end, I Googled up “kipper recipes” to find a myriad of suggestions for kedgeree.

This is, apparently, a dish of curried rice, flaked fish and boiled eggs, an Anglo-Indian fusion born from the days when India was a British colony.

Despite Singapore being a British colony as well, with Indians represented in our population, this particular dish has never quite made it here, so I have no clue if what I came up with is the least bit authentic.

Probably not, but when you’re dealing with a fusion dish that seems to be improvised from what was available at the time, I doubt it hurts to improvise even further.

1) Set nonstick pot on stove. Dump in generous amount of butter.

2) Lacking onions, substitute with garlic as an aromatic. (Garlic fried rice is tasty, after all!)

3) Scoop out kippers from brine, reserving liquid, and gently fry in butter to aromatize.

4) Dump in washed rice in buttery-kipper mixture to further aromatize. Add some curry powder for spice and toss everything around for a while to coat in oil and heat up.

5) When deemed sufficiently flavored through, add reserved kipper brining liquid and additional water as a stock for the rice to absorb while cooking. Liquid should just about top the layer of rice, sort of a 1:1 ratio. Too much liquid, say a 2:1 ratio or more, and you’ll get savory porridge or congee instead.

6) Cover and steam at a low simmer until rice is about done.

7) Add frozen peas, rinsed and washed beforehand to lightly thaw them out. Stir and continue to heat everything through.

8) Crack in two eggs, let cook slightly, then stir them through the rice to make everything fluffy and “fried rice”-esque.

The last bit was just me being lazy.

Apparently, kedgeree needs to have hard boiled eggs. I’m not that big a fan of either eating nor preparing them that way (an additional pot means more washing up to do!) but I do love me some eggy fried rice any time of the day.

So the result is not quite kedgeree, except that it has curried rice, flaked fish and eggs.

Nor is it quite fried rice, since it wasn’t intensely wok-fried or drenched in oil or started with precooked rice.

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Whatever it was, it tasted pretty good.

To further confuse the fusion issue, I took a page off the Malay Nasi Goreng, which pairs its fried rice with crunchy prawn crackers.

There was also Indian murukku in the house, and some of it got crumbled on top of the rice too.

Not wishing to be left out, a Western influence also insisted on being present as toaster-oven roasted carrots and plum tomatoes.

Guess that thing about necessity being the mother of invention is true after all.

I Ate This: Roti John (of a distinctly non-halal kind)

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So this is one of those interesting concoctions that turn up in the places where East meets West.

I believe it’s found in both Singapore and Malaysia and possibly other parts of South-East Asia as well.

“Roti” is Malay for bread, and “John” presumably a convenient catch-all name to refer to Westerners that local hawkers could pronounce.

The story is that some enterprising Malay hawker had a Caucasian customer, possibly called John, who always loved to order an onion omelette to go along with his french loaf when he patronized the stall.

One day, said hawker decided to fuse the omelette with the bread itself, and Roti John was born.

These days, besides merely onions, the omelette will contain some type of minced meat – mutton, chicken or sardines usually, as it’s primarily served by Malay or Indian hawkers that serve halal Muslim food.

It also comes drenched with plenty of oil that the bread gets fried in, and plenty of cheap chili sauce and mayonnaise, and is sort of like that sinful (yet ridiculously tasty) indulgence of a cheap hot dog drowning in more condiments and sauce than actual sausage.

The slightly less unhealthy solution is to make it at home, of course.

Take a baguette loaf.

The authentic version uses a softer inexpensive type of bread, probably more like a Vietnamese baguette than a crusty French one, but meh, I like crusty bread.

Slice it up, preferably going for maximum surface area to be exposed to the eggy goodness.

Make your egg batter with 1-3+ beaten eggs, depending on how much bread you have to coat.

Stir in already-cooked minced meat of your preference. For authenticity, try minced beef, chicken or mutton, flavored with salt and curry powder.

Lazy people like me may prefer to just mash in some sardines or tuna, or in this case, luncheon meat aka SPAM – which being pork, immediately turns it non-halal. Whoops. Good thing I’m not serving it, just eating it all like a glutton. (There goes the low-carb diet for this meal. Two steps forward, one step back.)

If you weren’t starving like me and ready to get to cooking, chopping in some onions and green chili would definitely make it more tasty. Me, I clean forgot.

If you lack curry powder for that authentic feel, just spice it up like your favorite omelette – black pepper, herbs, whatever.

Dip your bread in the egg, dunking one side like French Toast, and spoon some of the meat mixture on that side.

Then toss it onto a frying surface, with as much or as little oil / butter as you dare to use:

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Let the omelette side cook through till it doesn’t stick to the pan, then flip it to toast the other side.

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When it’s all crispy and toasty, it’s done.

Essentially, it’s savoury French Toast.

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For that truly authentic touch, feel free to drown it in sweet chili sauce and mayonnaise.

But really, it tastes fine without it too.

I Ate This: Two-Cheese Omelette and Toaster Oven Roasted Vegetables

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Sudden craving for a oozing cheesy omelette.

So I made one.

Two beaten eggs, some shredded fresh dill and black pepper, aged cheddar cheese and parmesan crumbled in.

There’s some shredded chicken stuffed inside too, but that’s just because there were leftovers in the fridge.

Syl beat me to posting about roasted vegetables, so I won’t reinvent the wheel, but I’ve been recently into them ever since I figured out that my oven toaster (or toaster oven) was perfectly capable of roasting vegetables. (Duhhh. Right?)

I needed to get back to avoiding too much refined carbs and eating more vegetable carbs anyway, so I was sitting around trying to puzzle out how I could find more lazy ways to get more vegetables in my diet beyond salads and boiling leafy green stuff. (Let’s not even talk about stir-frying, too much time in the kitchen and slaving over a fire.)

I mean, some days, you don’t even feel like boiling water because it’s a pain to stand there and wait for the water to boil, before putting your veggies in, and after that, they taste like… boiled water.

You certainly don’t feel like breaking out your massive oven tray and lining it with foil and going through a big preheating production and massive electrical bill just to roast a small quantity of vegetables, to say nothing of the washing up afterwards.

But you know, lining a small metal tray with foil, piling some cut vegetables coated with olive oil onto it, sticking it in a toaster oven and setting it for 15 minutes… then walking away and going off to read some Reddit posts or watch some television until the cheery little “ding” announces the newly redolent veggies, a little shrunken and glistening with caramelized natural sugars, are ready to be consumed…

…that you can do.

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And yes, they’re also good smothered with cheese.

Zucchinis, red peppers, and eggplants have all been the recent recipient of this.

And if you’ve never tried French beans aka green beans prepped this way, DO.

They’re as addictive as french fries, and probably a little healthier.

Just do a Google image search for “roasted green beans” and don’t say I didn’t warn you if you get sudden cravings.

Also fantastic with these vegetables and some pan-fried salmon is this anchovy and caper miracle sauce from Nom Nom Paleo.

Lazy person that I am, I merely microwave-melted the tinned anchovies, stirred in capers and extra olive oil to taste. Didn’t have red pepper flakes, so added a dash of my ground chili paste instead. No lemon juice or parsley neither, but those are all extras anyway.

A Newbie’s Guide to DIY Balsamic Vinaigrette and Lazy Person’s Salad

Store bought salad dressings contain a whole bunch of unnecessary ingredients to stabilize the mixture and make it look good-to-eat even after months in transit and sitting upon supermarket shelves. (Which makes sense, companies have to preserve the dressing and get it sold to make money, after all.)

But when you can whip up a tastier dressing fresh, using ingredients of your own choosing, why bother with a one-size-fits-all bottle containing economical oils and high-fructose corn syrup?

1) Start with 1 part good quality balsamic vinegar.

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2) Add good quality olive oil.

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Now, the commonly used ratio for vinaigrette is usually 3 parts oil : 1 vinegar.

You could probably do this with most kinds of (edible) oil and vinegar you have to hand, with the caveats that the worse quality your starting ingredients, the harsher the final result is likely to be.

I happen to like the tart aftertaste of my balsamic vinegar, and am less keen on drenching my vegetables in oil, so you may observe in the above picture that my personal ratio is a bit closer to 2 parts oil or even 1 part oil.

Remember, it’s all -to taste.-

Stir the thing up every now and then and lick your fork or spoon if you’re not SURE.

Only call the product “done” when you like it.

3) Add a sweetener to mellow things out if the vinaigrette is a little too harsh.

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I blame all the commercial low-fat dressings I’ve eaten. I like dressings on the sweet side.

In this case, I’ve added a splash of maple syrup (maybe half a part?) because I like the taste.

(Yes, I know it’s sugar and carbs. Don’t judge! You decide for yourself how much you want to add.)

You could add brown sugar, white sugar, honey, or fancy schmancy agave nectar or whatever else people use to sweeten stuff.

By the way, you could stop at any point past step 2 and call it a vinaigrette already. The basic thing is an emulsion (or mixture) of oil and vingear, after all.

The following steps are about fancying things up and creating variants, in this case, a sort of faux “Asian” dressing:

4) Salt also balances out a vinaigrette.

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We’re going Asian-style on this one, and I happen to have this bottle of Thai fish sauce in the fridge, so…

Instead of some salt, we add a few drops of fish sauce.

I stress the FEW, because fish sauce is awfully salty, do not get carried away with this.

You could also just use soy sauce (possibly needing more than a few drops) or salt, and tweak the taste thereof. (How about miso and make it reminiscent of Japan, for example?)

5) If you can take things spicy, those Asian-style dressings often have some kick to them, right?

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What do you mean you don’t have a jar of homemade chili sauce just sitting in your fridge?

Ok, ok, I kid.

You probably don’t.

This is just one of our family’s staple condiments that also just happened to be lying around when I was looking for stuff to spice up the dressing one day. It’s the standard accompaniment to Hainanese chicken rice and I’ve randomly googled up some recipes here and here if you want to know more about the dish.

The ingredients may be harder to get your hands on in Western countries – try your local Asian grocer if you’re interested.

Our particular family’s mix uses the normal fresh red chilies in Singapore (which I cannot for the life of me figure out the name of the variety) and a small amount of bird’s eye chili or chili padi, which is very very hot. There’s garlic, ginger and the rind of a calamansi lime, and the whole thing is blended till it becomes a paste.

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You could probably just chop a tiny amount of bird’s eye chili in there and get a similar amount of kick, or forgo the whole thing altogether.

Heck, just add pesto from a jar and make it a basil-garlic vinaigrette.

Or mustard for a mustard vinaigrette.

Or raspberry or strawberry jam for a sweeter berry-inspired vinaigrette.

Run wild. The sky’s the limit. Who wants dressing that tastes the same everyday?

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So, anyhow, this is probably too much chili.

But, to taste, right?

We start the mixing…

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…and if you observe closely, a spoon is not going to cut it here. The oil is not going to mix, and will likely just splash all over your table or counter instead.

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That’s better.

Whisk away briskly and get the oil and vinegar and everything else to temporarily play nice and mix together.

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Voila. Your very own DIY vinaigrette dressing.

Taste it and make sure you like it before you pour it all over your salad.

Worse case scenario, throw it out and start over. We’re working with mere spoonfuls here, these are minute quantities to waste until you get a combination you love. Then remember it or write it down, FOR SCIENCE and GOOD EATS!

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As for the salad itself, it’s whatever you’ve got on hand. (Because we’re being lazy here and eating healthy should not involve so many dang steps that you give up on the salad assembly.)

In this case, the last of a bunch of baby spinach leaves of which I’d already gone through most of.

Some cherry tomatoes.

Honestly, if I wasn’t taking photographs, I’d just wash and toss the things in whole. Slicing them in half makes it -look- photogenic, but I feel sorry for the juice that gets lost on the chopping board. More fun chomping them open in the mouth, in my opinion.

Since the salad still looked a little sorry, enter more fridge rummaging.

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Aha.

Feel free to substitute mangoes, strawberries, melons, celery, chickpeas, whatever you like and have in your salad.

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Enter lazy person tip number 2.

The IKEA Apple Slicer.

Mine’s the older version, and I linked to the Singapore store, but IKEA is a worldwide phenomenon, I’m sure you can find a similar utensil in your local IKEA store.

This thing takes away all your excuses to not eat apples.

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Seriously. One press. Done.

Rinse the slicer and hang it up again.

If you’re lazy, just toss the slices into the bowl. No one will know. You’ll eat it all.

If you’re a little less lazy, especially when it comes to chewing, then spend a bit more time and chop the slices up a little more.

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No one will know how crappy your knife skills are, unless you’re an idiot like me and post it for all the internet to see.

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Add salad ingredients. Add vinaigrette dressing.

Enter lazy person tip #3.

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The whole thing was assembled in a plastic takeaway box, complete with closeable lid.

I have no idea if this is culturally a thing anywhere else in the world, but in Singapore, you can find these containers anywhere and everywhere, and it’s a shame to use once and dispose. They can be washed and recycled a few times.

The more Western recipes seem to use Mason jars – which are maybe easier to get your hands on (Me, I’d probably break glass easily though.) You could use a Tupperware container or anything with a lid, or heck, improvise with a Ziploc bag or something.

Tossing with a fork and spoon is so passé, after all. The salad goes everywhere, you know?

Shake the heck out of the salad, letting the vinaigrette coat all the things.

If you can tolerate some wilting of the salad leaves and browning of the apple, you could even chuck it back in the fridge to eat later when the flavors have melded a little more and you’re done from a hard day or night’s gaming and don’t want to face cooking or prepping anything.

Or you can just pop open the lid and eat it now.

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In theory, you could even go so far as to pour it back out on a plate and rearrange it so that it looks more photogenically appealing before consumption, but I dunno, I never quite got to that stage before I was spooning it out by the forkful.

J’s Philosophy of Food and Cooking

Heya everybody!

A big thank you to Liore for the invitation to this blog where food and games meet.

If there’s something food and games have in common, it’s a great way for global barriers to drop. I remember being extremely impressed in my online games to discover one person was from such-and-such country, and yet another from somewhere across the globe.

The topic of food is another such unifier.

So who is Jeromai?

A long-winded wall-of-texter when it comes to all things games, and as you’ll soon find out, of food, and practically everything else.

I hail from Singapore, and if there’s one thing you should know about my country, besides the well known “facts” that it’s “very clean” (I guess?) and that it’s got something to do with China (it’s not, it’s nowhere in China, it’s a tiny little speck of an island on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, its population is predominantly Chinese, yes, but there’s a good mix of Malays, Indians and other ethnicities… much of whose food culture has ended up borrowing from each other making us fairly multicultural…)

…it’s that we’re all obsessed with food.

Every person you ask will have their own opinions on the best places to eat, and what the best rendition of a particular dish is, in an island a mere 50 kilometers (or 31 miles) across.

The sheer density of restaurants and food stalls is quite stunning.

This does, of course, have an effect on the average waistline and the preponderance of obesity in the country.

This is especially obvious when one hears about low-carb diets and goes around staring at every stall in the usual hangout of the typical Singaporean – the hawker centre – to realize that every meal comes loaded with a big bowl of rice, or noodles, or rice noodles, or bread, or fries, or some other starchy variant thereof.

Bah.

I’ve kinda slipped off that wagon lately, and gained some kilos as a result, but one thing I do try to do when I cook at home is to skew towards healthy cooking and eating.

  • Good quality, raw ingredients.
  • Not too much refined carbohydrates, though I’m no stickler and probably follow a more moderate carb sort of eating style when all is said and done.
  • A focus on cramming in more vegetables and fruits whenever possible. because if left to my old habits of eating out all the time, I simply don’t ingest enough.
  • Meat-wise, I know unprocessed is best, but it’s so much more of a pain to prepare and ham and sausages are so… nommy. (Still working on changing lifestyle on this point.)

I’m a big fan of the science of cooking – books by Harold McGee and Alton Brown dot my shelves, and Serious Eats’ Food Lab is on my Feedly.

I try to prepare simple stuff most of the time, because I’m lazy / don’t like to wash up 50 pots and pans and plates just for one meal / I’m not likely to cook and eat it on a regular basis if it takes too dang long, which defeats the purpose of healthy-ish home-cooking and all of that takes time away from game time.

However, I do cook like a traditional Asian grandmother… in that I tend to wing it and eyeball my ingredients and adjust to taste.

Measuring is not really my thing. I will no doubt make a lousy baker.

It’s a good thing I like savoury foods more.

My theory is simple. Understand the WHY of cooking, read a bunch of recipes and figure out the similarities between them and what the approximate ratios are, and you can pretty much cook it and then later, if you’re so inclined, add your own unique spin to it.

You do get the occasional accidents with this method, where you over-salt something because your estimations sucked or something turns inedible (so don’t try it when you’ve got other hungry mouths on the line waiting for it) but these things generally only happen once because, dang, do you learn from it. :/

But what you get in return is a lot of flexibility and confidence in producing something passably edible from whatever is left in your refrigerator or pantry, and every now and then, a beautiful conjunction of flavors that make you close your eyes in ecstasy when eating and marvel why chefs in gourmet restaurants haven’t figured this blend of ingredients out yet.

Without further ado, let’s get cooking.

In the next post – A Newbie’s Guide to DIY Vinaigrette and Lazy Person’s Salad.