Mason Jar Salads: the perfect workday lunch

Lately I’ve been trying to eat healthier and watch my wallet a little more. For the most part this has been pretty smooth, except for the danger zone that is workday lunches. You know how it goes: you’ve been working hard on a project, your post-lunch meeting just got moved up, and suddenly you find yourself spending $10 on fast food because you’re starving and have no time.

Bringing lunch from home is a great idea, except then you have to find time every night to plan and make your lunch. I take a small bag to work, and there isn’t a lot of room for bulky food items. And man, I’m going to be pretty sad if I get to work and find out that my laptop got covered in leftover chili!

Fortunately I discovered Mason Jar Salads, and they’re perfect. When prepared properly, you can make them all at once on a Sunday night and have them ready to go throughout the week. Mason Jars are compact and prevent any dressing explosions, and they fit easily into my bag. Most importantly.. they’re delicious!

The key to this Salad is stacking your ingredients in the correct order. You put in the dressing first, making sure it doesn’t splash up the sides of the jar. Then put in hard veggies like carrots or cucumber. Next, stack your protein(s). Finally, greens go at the very top. By stacking this way, you keep your greens nice and crispy!

When you’re ready to eat, just shake the jar vigorously to dress everything evenly and open it up.

A few tips:

  1. If you’re cooking your protein, let it cool first before putting it in the jar to prevent condensation.
  2. Use a wide-mouth Mason Jar for easier eating.
  3. Use a canning funnel (if you have one) to easily get the dressing in the jars without touching the sides.

Here are a couple of Mason Jar Salads that I made recently:

chicken ranch mason jar salad

This salad has cucumber, carrots, roast chicken, chopped up bacon, and romaine lettuce with a homemade buttermilk ranch dressing.

asian mason jar salad

This salad has cucumber, carrots, fried tofu, and (undressed) coleslaw mix with a sesame oil and vinegar dressing.

What would you stack in your Mason Jar Salad?

Farmers Market Fresh: Clam and Corn Chowder

Spring is finally arriving in North America, and the end of April means the beginning of the Farmers Market season in a city near you.

If you have even the faintest love of food, it’s hard to not be inspired by a Farmers Market. A good Market has rows of booths representing locally owned farms, bakeries, butchers, and even vineyards. The exact contents of each booth vary from region to region, and it’s not always the cheapest place to buy ingredients (although it can be for certain items).

farmersmarket

Instead what you go to a Farmers Market to find is unusual ingredients and high-quality local produce that was literally in the ground the day before. You go for the atmosphere, to be part of a crowd that loves fresh food. You go for the buskers playing music and the cute dogs happily sniffing the air and that amazing authentic tortilla place on the end of the row that is giving out free samples.

If you haven’t been to a Farmers Market before (gasp!) here are a few tips:

1) Bring cash. A lot of the smaller booths don’t take cards, and they would prefer cash anyway for the lower processing fees.

2) Bring a tote bag to carry around your haul. Keep in mind that some of the produce will be dirty or can stain (beets, I’m talking to you) so you don’t need anything fancy.

3) Plan to go back again soon! The offerings at the Market will change throughout the growing season. Here in the Pacific Northwest we start out with strawberries and winter greens in mid-April, and end the summer with piles of fresh peaches and beets.

Yesterday was my first Market trip of this year and we came home with an impressive haul: pea shoots, garlic greens, tarragon, fresh clams, half a dozen duck eggs and a dozen chicken eggs, and full-sour dills and spicy kimchi from my favorite local fermentation pickler.

I was inspired to make a clam and corn chowder with a little help from the supermarket, and it turned out great. My recipe is below but what I want to know is: what inspires you at the Farmers Market?

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Clam and Corn Chowder
feeds 4 as the main course

Ingredients

2lbs of fresh clams
4 ears of corn
3 strips of bacon — the smokier the better
half a yellow onion
a large shallot
1lb of new potatoes
2 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup of water
1 bottle of clam juice
1 cup white wine
1 can diced clams
1 cup of buttermilk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons of corn starch
a big handful of fresh tarragon
pinches of dried thyme, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper

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Directions

  1. Boil some water in a large pot. Throw the cleaned ears of corn in for about 5 minutes, then remove and run under cold water. Set them aside to cool. Clean out the large pot for later use.
  2. Get chopping! Chop the potatoes into bite-sized pieces and finely mince the onion and shallot. Use a knife or scissors to cut the tarragon into pieces.
  3. Cut the bacon into small strips length-wise, about half an inch wide. Throw them into the large pot on medium-high heat. Cook the bacon until it starts to render, but not too crispy.
  4. Add a tablespoon of the butter, the onion, the shallot, the tarragon, and the dried spices. Stir and cook until clear, about three minutes.
  5. Add the potatoes, clam juice, can of clams, and wine. Bring the mixture to a boil.
  6. In your measuring cup, add the corn starch to the water and mix until blended. Add it to the boiling pot.
  7. Wait until the potatoes are mostly cooked, about five minutes. You can use this time to cut the kernels off of the corn cobs.
  8. Add the fresh clams. Leave the pot uncovered and still boiling.
  9. After about four minutes, add the corn. Wait another four minutes. (Note: Do not eat any clams that have not opened after 8 minutes of cooking.)
  10. Take the pot off of the hot element and wait until it is no longer boiling but still very hot.
  11. Add the final tablespoon of butter, the buttermilk, and the heavy cream. Stir everything together and let it sit for a minute or two to heat up.
  12. Serve! Put out a dish for the clam shells and serve with sourdough bread and a glass of leftover white wine.

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Desserts Down Under: Chocolate Ripple Cake

I believe that Arnott’s is the best-known, most beloved brand of biscuits in Australia. They are the makers of the famous (amongst my foreign friends) Tim Tams, and many of their products have been Australian icons for decades. Today, I want to share a popular Aussie dessert, the Chocolate Ripple cake.

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This is one of the easiest desserts you will ever make. No cooking required, and infinitely customisable, it’s great for BBQ’s as well as dinner parties.

Ingredients:

Pack of Choc Ripple biscuits (or other hard biscuit if you can’t get these)

500ml Thickened cream

2 Nestle Peppermint Crisp chocolate bars

The Backbreaking Work:

Whip the cream with an electric beater until stiff peaks form. Then, simply make a log by sandwiching cream and biscuits until you have enough or run out of biscuits. A long, rectangular or oval platter is best. It can help to lay a snail trail on the platter first, both to help the first few biscuits stand up and so that you don’t have to move the log to make sure it is covered.

Image courtesy of http://www.chocablog.com/recipes/chocolate-overload-ripple-cake/

Image courtesy of Chocablog

Use the remaining cream (you should have plenty left over) to cover the outside. Crush the Peppermint Crisp bar(s) and sprinkle the top of the log with as much as you think is appropriate. Then cover with aluminium foil and refrigerate overnight for best results, although 4-6 hours may be enough. Slice diagonally to serve, with fruit as a garnish or on the side. As it is fairly rich, you usually don’t want the slices to be more than about 3-4cms thick.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of Taste.com

That is the very basic recipe. As I said, very much customisable. My usual tweak is to fold one of the crushed Peppermint Crisp bars into the cream before I build the log. You could try coffee, crushed nuts, all sorts of candies, different flavours of biscuits – I think ginger snaps would work really well – even alcohol like Bailey’s Irish Cream, Kahlua, Tia Maria, or Frangelico. Or let your imagination run wild!

 

Extra Life Marathon: healthy groceries for 24 hours of gaming

On October 25th over 40,000 people from around the world will participate in the Extra Life gaming marathon for the Childrens Miracle Network. For weeks players have been fundraising for their local children’s hospital, and all of the efforts will cap off tomorrow with 24 hours of gaming.

This will be my third year taking part in Extra Life, and although it’s a lot of fun it’s also surprisingly challenging to play games for 24 hours. The first few hours go pretty quickly, but usually around 2am all of your friends have gone to bed, you’ve been sitting there playing games for 18 hours, and you realize you have another six hours left. Six. Long. Hours.

Preparation is key to a fun and successful Extra Life Marathon, and part of that preparation is making sure you have adequate food and drinks on hand to keep you alert and healthy for all 24 hours. Below is my guide to preparing for the Extra Life Gaming Marathon.

The Goal

While Extra Life isn’t strict about timing everyone’s involvement, the idea is to spend as much of the 24 hours as possible playing games, so focus on pre-prepared food. Think about what you can eat easily while sitting in front of a keyboard. Instead of eating meals, for Extra Life I usually just plan on snacking several times over the marathon.

Stay away from junk food! It might be tempting to celebrate your socially acceptable gaming binge with stereotypical hot pockets and Mountain Dew, but being up for 24 hours is (literally!) exhausting and you’ll weather it and the following day a lot better if you try to eat nutritious food.

extra-life-groceries

About Alcohol

Extra Life and a few drinks initially seems like a great idea. You’re playing video games all day and all night, isn’t that a perfect time for a beer or three?

You might think so, but you’re probably wrong. My first year of doing Extra Life I had a few cocktails in the evening and a pretty pleasant buzz by about 11pm and then I realized that I would be awake for another 9 more hours. Getting.. so.. sleepy.

My advice, sadly, is to just skip the drinks altogether. It will only make you dozy.

So What’s Good?

You want energy, but nutritious energy that will last. That means fruits and veggies, and protein.

My #1 suggestion is hummus and pita chips. It’s easy to eat, delicious, and very nutritious. Peanuts, or really any other kind of roasted nuts, are another great protein-rich “finger food” with healthy oils.

I also recommend a selection of raw veggies and a dip — in my case I got some baby carrots, broccoli, and califlower with tzaziki. Also I bought a bag of pre-made salad that comes with a seperate container of dressing, and a couple of apples. This way I can get some delicious food and quick energy throughout the day.

And hey, look, it’s all for a good cause

As far as beverages go, don’t forget to drink a lot of water! Caffeine will definitely help if you’re so inclined, but again it’s best to pace yourself. Drink a bit of caffiene (coffee or pop or whatever you like) at intervals throughout the day. Loading up at any one point will just give you the jitters, make you feel sick, and you’ll crash later.

The Next Morning

For most people Extra Life will be over at 8am Sunday morning. You’ll probably be very tired and a little hungry, so don’t forget to have something ready before a nap. Personally I bought some pancake mix that only needs water — usually I’d do pancakes from scratch, but I expect to be half-asleep and I didn’t want anything complicated.

To summarize:

1. Avoid alcohol entirely.
2. Drink lots of water.
3. Go light on the carbs and focus on produce and healthy snacky proteins.
4. Caffeiene and sugar is okay and can be great energy boosts, but pace yourself.

Let’s have a healthy and successful Extra Life Marathon!

Jessica, aka Liore, can usually be found griping about video games on her blog and podcast at Herding Cats, or on Twitter. She likes saying “flavor profile” and going light on the carbs, and dislikes measuring things. Jessica is currently obsessed with Korean cuisine.

A Mouth Full: Ending Ground Beef Addiction

Considering my target audience (people who read videogame-themed food blogs), you likely don’t have this issue, but I bet you know someone who does. My parents are absolutely addicted to ground beef. Now that beef prices have skyrocketed, it’s time I convinced them of all the other delicious ground meats!

I can’t blame them too much. Our local grocery store (which sucks because this is a rural food desert) stocks ground beef in large supply, has the tubes of ground turkey (if you don’t mind looking in the completely opposite section from what you expect), and that’s it. There’s no ground pork or ground chicken.

For all of my youth, things like meatballs, meatloaf, hamburgers, etc. were always made with ground beef. I didn’t know better, but since discovering that turkey burgers are delicious or that adding in ground pork with pretty much any ground beef recipe adds a ton of flavor I am really tired of my parent’s bland, boring food.

I’ve tried my best to convince them otherwise. I have made some really delicious meals, including a ground turkey spaghetti sauce that my father would’ve sworn was beef. Even with ground beef rising in price, both of my parents cling to their ways. It’s not even like they are locked inside a culinary box unwilling to get out and explore – they simply don’t think about their regular dishes with anything other than what they’ve used their entire lives.

Even now, if I suggest we try something different – a turkey burger, for example – my father turns up his nose in disdain. “That’s not a burger,” he complains. This insular worldview of what food ought to be offends me in the same way people choose to narrowly define words by their dictionary definitions. The beauty of language is in how we are so free to combine new and old sounds to make new meaning on the spot. Similarly, crafting a delicious dish let’s you take familiar tastes and create new combinations that make boring old ground beef tacos new again with ground pork or healthier with ground turkey.

This also should include leaving the meat behind entirely. I got caught up in an argument about chili on Twitter the other day and a few people weren’t very open to the idea of my vegetarian chili. I love meat and I’ll never be a vegetarian, but all meatlovers would benefit from taking a step back and using less of the stuff, if only to rediscover what the meat adds. We live in the Age of Bacon – seriously, a local retailer was selling some contraption to make bacon bowls. Yet, my Southern heritage doesn’t pile on meat after meat, but instead uses things like bacon or other fatty cuts to infuse and flavor a wide variety of vegetables.

I like having a more sustainable approach to my kitchen that isn’t limited by arbitrary rules I place on myself, though is limited enough that I am forced to get creative. By reconsidering the sort of meat I use in my favorite dishes, I can make them taste new again, often at a more affordable price. By omitting the meat from time to time, I can remind myself why I love it so much, and not fall into the trap of having every meal be a Noah’s Ark. And yes, that means getting outside the comfort of eating nothing but ground beef, and making some awesome turkey meatballs or mushroom burgers from time to time.

Here are a few recipes to check out:


C. T. Murphy can more regularly be found over at his blog, Murf Versus. You can also find him on Twitter, where he is frequently at his weirdest. His favorite food is Thai, though his roots are in Soul Food, and he only ever cooks Tex-Mex. He’s a strange fellow.

Eating While Gaming

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Do you eat while you game? I must admit that I’m fascinated by people who can do both at the same time, because it’s something I’ve never been able to handle. At most, I can manage coffee or some sort or hot beverage, which is still usually coffee, one extra-large mug at a time. And sometimes even reaching for that during a long cut scene can be a challenge. So for me, if I get hungry while I’m playing, I have to pause or end the game, eat, and then go back to playing.  (I used to fall in line with those who ignored food entirely while gaming. After marathon sessions, despite the fuzzy vision and slight headache, I’d suddenly realize that my stomach was trying to eat itself. Ah, those were the days.) But I’ve seen people who can readily multitask with food while gaming, from grabbing handfuls of chips or popcorn to eating full meals with silverware, which is quite a sight to behold.

As I already alluded to, my gaming versus eating mindset arose mostly from lack of coordination – I simply can’t throw dragon punches while I’m reaching for some pretzels. But I’m also not a fan of having my food meet my electronics. Sticky controllers and greasy keyboards don’t make for the best gaming apparatus.  That said, I don’t go around cloroxing my controllers and such to death, and I don’t demand that guest players scrub up a la doctors getting ready for surgery prior to gaming, but a little bit of cleanliness goes a long way when it comes to having fun with your favorite games.  That’s just how things are in my house.  Yours may be completely different. So it’s out of curiosity and science that I’m posting a little poll here about gaming and eating habits.

Where do you fall on the eat-and-game spectrum? Are you in the “never the twain shall meet” camp when it comes to gaming and your meals/snacks? Do you keep a snack stash within reach every time you play? Or do you possess the magical ability to have your steak, mashed potatoes, and cake and play your games too? Vote in the poll below, and then offer up your favorite foods to have while gaming in the comments!


Let’s see just how many blogs Cary can put on her roster before going mad! While you’ll find her here on occasion, you’ll more likely to catch her over on United We Game or Geek Force Network; or better yet, working on her own blog about gaming and nostalgia and such, Recollections of Play.

 

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.

fish&rice

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.

Preserving Jams and Pickles, 101

preserves
Pickled garlic and asparagus, peach thyme freezer jam, quick pickled beets, sweet pickled jalapenos, lemon strawberry freezer jam

I only really got into canning this year, but I already love it. As someone who can be a little tweaky about the passage of time it’s soothing to open up a jar of strawberry jam in August and have the smell remind you of the first crops of May. And there’s a little moment of self-satisfaction when I squirrel things away in the “larder”. If I was trapped in my building for some unknown reason, I could eat for weeks! I mean I’d be eating like 5 pints of pickled beets, but they’d be my pickled beets by god.

So let’s look at the very easy basics of canning jams and pickles.

There are three types of canned preserve techniques that are relevant to our interest: water bath, quick pickle (also known as fridge pickle), and frozen. The first creates the more resilient, shelf-ready jars that you can give to people at Christmas. Quick pickles are kept in the fridge for anywhere from a few hours to a few months, and frozen preserves are.. in the freezer.

As with any food or drink, good quality ingredients get better results, so pick whatever is fresh and in season.

How to not make yourself sick

Here are some guidelines for making a safe jar of preserved food with any technique:

1) The empty jars (proper canning jars!) should be hot to touch. 30 seconds in the microwave often works. If you’re reusing a lid ring, boil it or put it in the oven.
2) Always use a fresh lid disk.
3) Always pour in your brine when it’s boiling hot.
4) Obviously don’t stick your fingers or random items in the jar.
5) Vinegary and salty foods are way easier to keep than sweet ones.

How it will work

For frozen stuff, just stick to the above guidelines and then stick the jar in the freezer once it’s cooled. Freezer jam is basically just mashed fruit, sugar, and freezer pectin, so you don’t even have to turn on your stove. Being frozen will break down the fruit a bit which helps make the jam soft later.

For quick pickle stuff, again follow the safety guidelines and pop it in the fridge once it’s cool. Unopened jars of vinegary things like pickled beets or chutney should be good for months.

And now the tricky bit — the water bath, like how grandma made pickles back when we were kids. You will need a pot that can be filled until it covers one inch above the canning jar(s). (If you live above 1000 feet, use two inches. I know, weird right.)

You can’t put the jars right on the bottom of a boiling pot because they’ll get too much heat, so if you have nothing else (upside-down colander, maybe?) you can put a dish towel on the bottom of the pot. It’s unwieldy (we’ll get to that later) but it works. Get the water boiling, pop in the pickle jars, wait 10 minutes (for a pint), and pull ’em back out. Hopefully you’ll hear the sounds of lids popping over the next few hours.

How to make it easier

If you’re making a new recipe, try a quick pickle first before going through the time and effort of a water bath. I figured that out after a hot afternoon boiling up my first ever batch of “dill” “pickles”.

If you enjoy all this stuff, strongly consider getting a few canning tools. I picked up a basic plastic kit on Amazon for under $15, and it has a jar tongs (never get water burns again), a magnetic lid lifter, and a wide-mouth funnel among other things. Also consider getting a jar rack for your pot to save on your towels if for no other reason.

Looking for a good recipe to start? Beets are in season right now and this recipe is easy and doesn’t have any fancy ingredients.

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.