Wednesday, March 31, 2010


"The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat..." Edward Lear's sweet and delicious poem stirred my boys' early imaginations on food. "They dined on mince, and slices of quince, which they ate with a runcible spoon." Son #2, who was in kindergarten then, just had to have this two-in-one convenience. A "spork" would definitely spare him the difficult task of eating properly, as he would only have to deal with one utensil. For the longest time, we would search high and low through antique shops and flea markets looking for a runcible spoon. The English shopkeepers would recite the poem to him, but the spoon remained elusive. Little did we know that "runcible" was simply one of Lear's favorite inventions, a nonsensical word created primarily for its whimsical sound. Oh well.

So what about quince? One of the earliest known fruits, quince trees have been grown in Asia and the Mediterranean for over 4,000 years. It looks like a cross between an apple and a pear. Because of its high tannin content, a quince cannot be eaten fresh. The Owl and the Pussycat would have puckered up from the astringency! Quince becomes delicious though when cooked into a reddish paste, known in Spain as dulce de membrillo, slices of which are eaten with manchego cheese.

I found quince paste while on holiday in Australia, and so, a decade after first reading the poem, Son #2 can finally savor the delicacy that the Owl and the Pussycat ate with their runcible spoon!

Chicken Marylands with Quince Paste
(adapted from the product's website)

3 boneless Chicken Thighs
3 Chicken Drumsticks
1 Potato, peeled and cut into chunks
1 Sweet Potato, peeled and cut into chunks
1 Red Onion, chopped
Olive Oil for frying
100 grams Quince Paste, cubed
1 tbsp fresh Thyme, chopped
1 tsp fresh Rosemary, chopped
1/2 stick Cinnamon
2 Bay Leaves
1/2 cup Chicken Stock
1/2 cup White Wine
2 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
Zest of a whole Lemon
Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C. Add olive oil to oven-proof pan on high heat. Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper, brown on all sides. Remove and set aside. Saute onion until translucent, deglaze with white wine. Return chicken pieces to pan and pour chicken stock over. Add the vinegar, quince paste, herbs, cinnamon and lemon zest. Bake in oven for 45 minutes, basting occasionally. Check for seasoning. When done, leave to rest for 10-15 minutes, removing bay leaves before serving.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Pimenton de la Vera. It's the spice that makes Paella so scrumptious. This smoked paprika gives chorizo the flavor that's undeniably Spanish. I found it tucked away in a friend's pantry, while we were looking for chili sauce to spice up some prawns on the barbie (still in Australia!). I was so pleased when he handed it over for me to take back home, you'd think I had just received a Prada bag. OK not really, but pimenton is a rarity here.

I heard a chef on the Asian Food Channel say "find your own style without compromising taste", and decided to get creative and wing it with my pimenton. I had prawns in the fridge (a quickly replaced dinner plan when I realized that my visiting nephew was allergic!), a can of garbanzos, some basque chorizo, stewed's what I came up with.

Prawn and Garbanzo Stew with Chorizo

8 Garlic cloves, chopped
1 Onion, chopped
Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Pimenton de la Vera
1 can Garbanzo Beans
3 whole canned Tomatoes, diced
1 Chorizo, sliced
1 kilo fresh Prawns, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup White Wine
1 Red Bell Pepper, roasted, peeled and sliced
1 bunch Italian Parsley, finely chopped
Zest of 1 Lemon
Salt and Pepper

Saute garlic and onion in olive oil until fragrant. Add the prawns and pimenton, mix well. Add the chorizo and saute briefly. Pour in the wine, diced tomatoes, bell peppers and garbanzo beans. Simmer on medium heat until the beans are tender. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle parsley and lemon peel over stew, and drizzle a good amount of extra virgin olive oil before serving.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Real Farmville

As far as the eye can see! The expanse of farmland in Australia, where we spent Spring Break, is mind-boggling. The vast horizon is criss-crossed with grids of green hedges and white fences, with specks of cattle or horses peppered across the landscape.

Shedding our city slicker rags for ratty jeans and sneakers, we were ready for our farm adventure. We literally got into the thick of things, mingling with the goats, watching our friends wrestle with each one, squirting a syringe of thick de-worming solution into their clenched mouths, before herding and pushing them all back into the next pen to feed. After a two-minute lesson on tractor driving, Husband was hauling soil and rocks onto the driveway that had been eroded some time ago by heavy rain. The rest of us carried buckets of feed to the clucking chicken and ducks, whose body clocks cried “dinnertime!”

Our friends have what I call Prada chicken: pretty and definitely not ordinary. The Silkies are dainty in white. The black and white Wyandottes lay beige eggs, and can produce about 200 eggs a year. Blue eggs are laid by the Araucana hens.

We had enough for scrambled eggs the next morning, which I made using the new technique I learned from Rouxbe Cooking School.

Creamy Scrambled Eggs

4 Eggs
2 teaspoons Butter
Salt to taste
Spring Onions, sliced thinly

Break the eggs into a non-stick frying pan. Over low heat, add the butter. Stir swiftly and continuously, scraping bottom and sides of pan as you stir. When the eggs are almost set, turn off the heat. The residual heat will continue to cook the eggs as you stir. Season with salt towards the end of the cooking process, otherwise the eggs become watery. Sprinkle top with spring onions and serve.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Prunes are so old-fashioned. I think (way) back to my ten-year-old self at the breakfast table, sitting across Mom, who started every morning pouring hot water from a thermos into her flowered Corelle mug, teaspoon clinking as she stirred her instant coffee and creamer to get her going. What got her going later were the prunes in the little bowl, which she ate with indifference. Prunes were a one-hit wonder for Mom, but she probably didn't realize that other than fiber, a serving also provided her with vitamin A and Potassium.

I was intrigued then to find a recipe for Rabbit with Prunes and Olives in the wonderful cookbook Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes by Jeanne Kelley. I did some tweaking (major tweak: replace the rabbit!) and came up with a delicious dish, devoured in minutes by Teenage Son #2 and his equally ravenous buddies.

Chicken Breast with Prunes and Olives

3 whole Chicken Breasts, skin on, bone-in, halved into 6 pieces
1 large Italian Sausage, raw, casing removed, divided into 1 inch pieces
Salt and Pepper
1 large Onion, chopped
6 Garlic Cloves, chopped
2/3 cup Dry White Wine
3 tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Oregano, or 3 teaspoons dried
2 tablespoons Brown Sugar
1/2 cup Pitted Prunes
1/2 cup brine-cured Green Olives

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a heavy, large enameled pot over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, season with salt and pepper, and cook until golden brown on both sides. Add the Italian sausages and brown briefly. Set aside.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Brown the onions and garlic for about 5 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil, stirring up all the browned bits fromthe bottom of the pan. Add the vinegar and reduce heat to low. Return the chicken and sausages to the pot and add 3 cups water, oregano and brown sugar. Season and bring to a simmer. Add the prunes and olives. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes.

Transfer the chicken and sausages to a serving dish. Lift out the olives with a slotted spoon, place into the serving dish. Boil the prunes and liquid in the pot until reduced, about 5 minutes. Season the sauce to taste. Pour into a strainer over a bowl and mash the prunes to get a thick sauce. Pour over the chicken and serve with Couscous.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

100 Ways

With my son now at College 7,000 miles away, I always wonder whether he’s eating well. He doesn’t cook. Thankfully, his roommate’s culinary skills are an acceptable substitute for home-cooking. Recently the boys discovered huge savings by buying meat in bulk at the huge warehouse supermarket uptown, and embarked on 100 Ways to Cook Minced Beef. It was a week of Spaghetti Bolognaise, Meatballs, Burgers…and more Burgers. In my day, cheap and good came from the Chinese takeout menu, like these sweet Ginger Spareribs. Any leftovers were recycled into pork fried rice!

Gingered Spareribs with Brown Sugar and Soy
(adapted from The Cook’s Exchange, Bon Appetit)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1.5 kilos pork spareribs cut into individual ribs
3 minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup rice vinegar
½ cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water

Heat oil in large wide shallow pan over medium high heat. Working in batches, add ribs and brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Set aside. Add garlic and ginger to pan; sauté 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, vinegar and soy sauce. Stir to blend. Return ribs to pan, cover and simmer over medium low heat until meat is tender, turning ribs occasionally, about 45 minutes. If sauce is thin, gradually add cornstarch mixture to ribs and simmer until sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Serves 4.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My Retreat

Last night, I shared my room with a huge gecko and a tiny frog. Earlier that evening, one of the four dogs that live on the resort's grounds accompanied me back to my hut after dinner. I was surprised by a black snake slithering across my path, but the dog pounced on it at lightning speed before I could even scream. Did he sense that I was afraid?

I am on a Pilates Retreat at Desa Seni, in Bali. The resort lies in the middle of a rice paddy field in Cenggu, with authentic housing accommodations scattered around the property. My hut, called Rumah Erlangga, was brought in from Central Java. It was built entirely from teak in the 1920s.

The kitchen uses 80% of its own produce from its organic vegetable and herb gardens, hand picked by its resident farmers. We had an abundance of delicious salads and cooked vegetables for dinner, with flatbread and hummus, red rice and the token chicken or tuna dish. My favorite was the Desa Seni Salad - spinach, various sprouts and julienned vegetables, corn, tomatoes and walnuts, tossed in a sweet and tangy tamarind vinaigrette, topped with caramelized tempeh.

It starts to rain while I sit on my verandah, sipping ginger-lemon grass tea. The rustle of the rice paddy reeds, the bursts of breeze, the staccato of rain falling on the tiled roof is so calming. This mini-break to Bali meant thinking out of the box, stepping out of my comfort zone, and spending the days just being in the moment. The Balinese seem to have this quiet respect for what's around them. Is that the key to a happy life?


For the base:
150 g Palm Sugar
1/2 cup Thick Tamarind Nectar
1/4 cup Fish Sauce

For the vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons Tamarind Base
2 tablespoons White Wine Vinegar
4 tablespoons Canola Oil

Mix all ingredients for the tamarind base in a saucepan. Simmer until the sauce is well mixed, dark brown and thickened, about 20 minutes. Take 2 tablespoons of the tamarind base, add vinegar and oil. Whisk until thick.