Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christmas Rocks, dozen it?

It’s Christmas - it’s not about the super presents, grand feasts or how many ‘Likes’ you’re gonna get when you post them online (there were none of these when Christ was born).

It’s Christmas - It’s his Birth Day.

I don’t think there is anyone in the world’s history whose special day is celebrated for over two thousand years by this many people in numerous countries with so much food, decorations and merriment, sometimes for all 12 days in a row. I had a colleague who actually did this – no kidding!

But hmmm... what if I HAD to celebrate a dozen days of Christmas?

Here’s my version:

1.     Christmas Day - open presents, eat the chocolate ones, sigh at yet another recycled photo album gift (toss into ‘album pile’ at back of storeroom), open a few mixed nuts with the nutcracker, carry on munching...

2.    Swap presents with visiting cousins, especially if mine are Ferrero Rochers... again! (but make sure I didn’t eat any from this box yesterday).

3.    Zoom that beeline to Orchard Road, gawk at the winner’s decorations* and walk down the stretch for post-X’mas sales (rub hands while grinning in anticipation).

4.    Try to finish up the 2kg roast leg of lamb, as breakfast wraps, lunch casserole, dinner pasta & soup supper. Wait, that doesn’t count as celebrating... um... I’ll get this one at the end, right after Number 12.

5.    Play games all day on my PC – only the Christmas editions, of course!

6.    Watch movies all day on my PC – only the Christmas features, of course!

7.    New Year’s Eve – keep the spirit & sing carols, interspersed with practicing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ for midnight. Move that leg of lamb down from the freezer to defrost.

8.    New Year’s Day - celebrate with delicious lamb wraps for breakfast, lamb casserole for lunch, pasta... you get the picture. Extras nicely packed in the fridge, please.

9.    1st day back at school - gift my neighbours the goodies from Number 8; their kids get most of the Rochers my cousins didn’t want to swap with me. Smiles all round!

10.     Play cards using the mixed nuts for money – walnuts count as $10, pecans $5, etc and you can snack on them, too... no hard & fast rules here.

11.     Bake cookies to round up the festive season!
Actually, these are for Chinese New Year since it usually happens pretty close to this date. I just make sure not to decorate them like Santa or anything Christmassy.

12.     Take lotsa pics of the tree with decorations intact & post it on ebay with the title ‘Fully decorated 6-ft tree. Free Ferrero Rocher+mixed nuts goodie bag included’.
It’s one heckuva celebration for me if someone buys, doncha think?

13.     (aka Number 4) Have a laugh by reading my past 22 publications in this blog – hey! You should celebrate and do that, too!

Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas that Rocks! Cheers!

*There exists for over a decade here in Singapore, a Christmas contest for the Best Dressed Mall. It started as an expensive contest costing the shopping centres to spend close to a million dollars when it was first launched – yeah, the craving to win was That bad! Expenditure has since calmed down when it was realized that winning doesn’t guarantee a major boost to the businesses there. Plus, contradictory public opinions on ‘how come this expensive, but awful-looking one won?’

Thursday, 18 December 2014

I own a Lamborghini

I was exploring the cold meats section at Cold Storage* (actually I was trying to see what’s on offer), when this 20-something tall, handsome, just-walked-out-of-a-hunk’s-magazine guy came up and stood RIGHT next to me.

I sighed and thought to myself, “Geez, how come I never got to date anyone like this when I was 20?”

Then his eye-popping, hot, hot FHM babe of a girlfriend joined him and I realized, “ Ohhhhh... it’s becuz I didn’t look like That!’

Some things just pair up perfectly, I guess, like Macaroni & Cheese.
It’s not spaghetti & cheese, or kuay teow & cheese... it’s gotta be Mac & Cheese!
And no, today’s dish is not Mac & Cheese, although it is one of my weak-in-da-knees favorites ever!

Just hang in there, keep reading – I’ll get to it.

So back to this gorgeous pair of people, they’ve got looks, they shop & probably cook together. I’ll bet the dishes turn out fabulous, too!

They drive a Ferrari (a red one!), big condominium, luxury furnishings, own two speedboats, attend (and win) the Academy Awards, make their first Billion, buy an island, buy a football team, run for presidency, ditch the Ferrari for a couple of Lamborghini Venenos, buy another football team, and... PLOP!

My daydream bubble was rudely punctured by the deli staff lady who slapped my 200g packet of picnic ham onto the counter, smiled at me and said,”Please pay at cashier. Thank kew.”

I wanted to stay and see what 'Cold Meat Couple' was going to buy, but decided that it’d be more fun to just come home and rant, I mean, write about it in my blog, in my comfort zone where I can be with the Veneno that I Do own.

It’s a 1:64 size diecast (see last pics) and although I probably will never get to sit in a real one, I can dream about it as I slowly enjoy the dish for today – Shepherd’s Pie... (hah! You thought it was going to be something with the picnic ham, didn’tcha?).

Shepherd’s Pie is that Ultimate match made in Heaven! Silky-smooth mashed potato flirting with that savoury, juicy lamb. If you ask me, I really think it pairs up far, far better than a hot couple looking for cold cuts, well almost...

*Cold Storage – a supermarket chain in Singapore

Shepherd's Pie

5 medium waxy potatoes (or any kind you like)
Salted butter
Fresh milk

Boil potatoes in salted water, peel when still hot*.

Mash with butter, pepper & milk, to taste. Set aside.

*so much easier to mash when hot

Lamb filling
300 g cold minced lamb - some cut into thin strips.
One large onion, chopped or sliced
Carrots & Peas frozen mix, lightly cooked (warmed)
Cornstarch, for thickening
Worcestershire sauce
Water, 2 to 3 tablespoons

(If you like, you can add some dried mixed herbs after sauteing the onions)

On medium heat, saute one large chopped onion, add lamb, fry till lightly cooked.

Add water, salt, pepper, generous splash of Worcestershire sauce. Fry.

Taste and must adjust seasonings here. Add more water, if needed.

Lower the heat a little.

Add carrots & peas. Fry a bit.

Thicken sauce with cornstarch (mix some pan sauce to the cornstarch and pour in while stirring)

Serving Suggestions

a) Half fill a personal bowl with the lamb mixture. Cover with the mashed potato. Start eating!

b) Use an oven-proof dish. Sprinkle grated cheese over the potato & bake (or grill) till cheese melts.

c) Make this in advance (like I did). Freeze, or keep in fridge if eating soon. To serve, cover & reheat in oven till bubbly hot.

Lamborghini Veneno by Hot Wheels 1:64 (First Edition)
Rear View

Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Singing Pierogi!

Are you proud of the National Dish of your country?

The National Dish of Singapore is Chicken Rice. A close second is Chilli Crab. Have you tried them?

Both are lip-smacking Good, just like all the National Dishes of the world. I’ve never tried cooking them simply because both are easily available with reasonable prices all over the island.

In case you didn’t know, Singapore is an island; not a state, not a desert, not atop a mountain & certainly not a chance you will go hungry with all the many, many food places per square foot here.

Curious me decided to start a ‘National Dish Hunt’, so every now & then you’ll see posts like these in future.

We have apple pie from the US, pierogi from Poland, poutines of Canada, Korean bulgogi, sauerbraten in Germany, the list goes deliciously on. I’ve tried all the National Dishes mentioned, except for one – pierogi.

I notice that most national dishes are inexpensive, not gourmet and quite the humble food close to the hearts of the people. It sounds like the dish you grew up with, ate as a family, chatting away at the dinner table. This is the food mom cooked often - whether it turns out tasty or not, really doesn’t matter because it’s all about the sitting down together. Not to forget mom’s rule of ‘If you don’t eat it, ya Don’t Eat!’ Period.

So back to pierogi. I read about this dish on Wikipedia and unlike Chicken Rice, there are many variations on the filling alone - there’s even sweet pierogi filled with fruits & sour cream. My mouth watered at the savoury one with bacon. Yum!

There are savoury, salty and sweet versions of pierogi baked, fried or dunked in clear borscht with fillings galore enjoyed in Russia, Hungary, America, Canada, Germany, Ukraine & Romania.

Enough of just the written word, I decided to hunt for this dumpling and found a little retro place right here in Singapore serving pierogi for lunch and dinner as a starter at 6 bucks each! The best thing is that it comes with (you guessed it!) Bacon!

Off I trooped to the cafe with my dollar notes and after ordering, I sat at a cosy corner, gazing at the charming nostalgic decor. The ambience really warms my heart; reminds me so much of my kampong days when I was a cute little talkative kid (see ‘Something Sweet, Something Sour... ’) with my china doll haircut. The cutlery sat in a container next to a glass cup filled with sugar cubes.

While waiting, I stole a peek behind the counter and saw my little dumpling being checked for doneness (the metal noodle sieve was lightly shaken a few times in the steamy boiling water).

I got the fork & knife ready. My curiousity perked. My tummy growled. It seemed like forever before I was presented with THIS!

First of all, I felt it’s a teeny bit pricey at S$6 for just one pierog. Anyway, I took a few shots with the phone camera, cut it in half and snapped some more.

I proceeded to Go for it! with my fork, and the result... ?

Święty Jacek z pierogami*! How come I didn’t discover this earlier?

It’s one of the most wholesome comfort foods ever! The dough smoothly & playfully slid around in my mouth, dancing with the sour cream. The potato filling oozed with warmth & made me smile. The fragrant pickled onions perked up every bite. Amazing flavors rushed out!

What about the bacon topping? Well, it was the harmonious part of the whole combination. It brought everything together like an orchestra hitting the much-awaited chorus of an opera. It serenaded to me a welcome message that reads ‘With Love from Poland’. I sang along.

I now understand how happy Polish people are of their National Dish and Rightly so! I’ll certainly be chomping on these dumplings again & again.

Will I try making these myself? Maybe someday. For now, the one pierog I had is reminding me of those happy childhood gatherings & sunny days.

Pierogi is Family.

*'Święty Jacek z pierogami!' translates to 'St. Hyacinth and his pierogi!'.
This is an old Polish expression of surprise, roughly equivalent to ‘Holy Smokes!’
(source: Wikipedia)

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Happened to me Twice!

Let’s just chat today.

So how much do you know about Roasting, Toasting food? Ya know, something like a barbeque party by the beach, cool breezy evening with light calypso music and soft lighting, that sorta thing.

You’ve never had anything get charred? Oh lucky you! You are in for a treat when that happens! Especially when your guests start to arrive and first thing they ask is “What’s that smell? Is everything okay?”

Honestly, that only happened to me twice – simply because I held a BBQ just the two times in my life. I fell asleep waiting for the meat to cook and I burned all 25 of the chicken wings I was in charge of grilling. There’s something about how you have to keep it on a low heat to make sure it turns out nice & juicy, that is so yawning. It’s like watching a boring movie to me, I guess.

On the other hand, lots of people love firing up their barbeques with great enthusiasm, especially in America. I salute this passion.

I seriously think meat gets a better deal when grilled in the US. The care involved & special/secret marinades means juicy foods fly hot off the grill with a smile and a friendly ‘Peace’ finger sign. I’m pretty sure the marinated chops & steaks just flip themselves over when they’re ready.

Meanwhile in Singapore, I’ve attended too many East Coast Park birthday picnics and condo-warming pool parties that failed miserably on the barbie (including my own). Is it possible to transform fresh & perfectly marinated chicken wings into dry, tough, salty meat? Yes, in Singapore, you can!

Worst thing is, East Coast Park being by the beach means the sea air, which makes me hungry, which means I am ravenous by the time I reach the barbecue pit & having to smile when you’re starving is just using up too much energy, but I do it because I so wanna EAT! and I end up eating... brined leather?

To counter this, I’ve taken to secretly having pre-BBQ meals (aka a full dinner, folks) at home or on the way there. Success rate is 100% and I happily enjoy the event with my favorite F & N Ice Cream Soda drink and a slice of the birthday cake.

Another foolproof way is to offer an easy dish as the gift. The host is always happy to hear I’m bringing 10 servings of spaghetti bolognaise - of which plate Number One is mine, of course. From experience, I notice that the rest of it tends to disappear really fast.

I make the sauce & pasta in advance, pack them separately in microwaveable containers, zap them on the way out, mix it up on location & plonk a big helping for myself.

It’s also worked wonders! I met a ‘stranger’ at another party who recognized me & knew my name. I couldn’t recall anything about her at all. She then told me that we never spoke at the busy party back then, but she distinctly remembered me for the delicious spaghetti I made and expressed how she loved it so very, very much. Amazing - my sell-out spaghetti was the highlight for this lady... at a barbecue?! 

Well, you can’t really blame her. She’s much older than me and probably suffered more difficult BBQs than I ever did. I’m just happy to have helped her out & to know that someone other than I had a good time that evening.

If you’re going to a similar party soon, I sincerely wish you fun, laughter & lots of spaghetti waiting for you there. Bye for now!

Sneak Peek
: An interesting review will be up next week.
Clue: It’s from Poland.