Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Raging Waters

The mornings have been heavy with rain lately. It's as if the tropical rain front decided to hover over our little island and dump its burdensome weight over us. Today's storm was a full-scale downpour. By 9 am many streets were engulfed by raging waters and traffic came to a near stand-still. I had planned to take the boys to Orchard Road, our shopping district, and have lunch at Wendy's, which just opened a while ago. (Although the boys are spoilt for choice in foodie Singapore, sometimes you just can't shake their craving for junk!) Shortly before leaving, Son #2 gets this message on Facebook, and this is what we saw:

So much for our expedition.

And what else to do on a rainy day? Here's my easy version of Jeanne Kelley's Orzo with Butternut Squash and Sage Cream recipe. I used Risoni instead of Orzo, and simplified the procedure for a quick weekday dinner. Serve with your favorite breaded cutlet and marinara sauce. Perfect!

Risoni in Butternut Squash and Sage Cream Sauce

250g butternut squash, diced
1/2 cup heavy cream
6 fresh sage leaves, cut crosswise
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
300g risoni or orzo pasta, cooked according to package instructions

Saute butternut squash, garlic and sage leaves in olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add chicken stock, bring to a boil and then lower heat to simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes. Remove cover and simmer for another 5-10 minutes, until liquid has almost evaporated.

Lightly mash softened butternut squash with the spatula. Remove sage leaves. Add cream, parmesan cheese and mix well. Check for seasoning.

In the meantime, cook pasta according to instructions. Drain well and add to the cream sauce. Blend thoroughly. Transfer to dish and sprinkle parmesan cheese just before serving.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Leftover Magic

There's a Japanese supermarket I go to occasionally to purchase sukiyaki beef, shusi-grade tuna or salmon, miso, bottled sauces, etc. There are stalls with Japanese cooks promoting freshly-made specialties of the day that range from udon soups to stuffed croquettes to seafood fritters to sweet bean cakes. I can spend hours just moving from stall to stall, sampling every single tidbit, and come home with what the boys call "weird but good" things to eat, the latest being a savory pancake called okonomiyaki, which is a large frittata made with bits of octopus, julienned cabbage, noodles, and other unknown things in a creamy batter, pan-fried and drizzled with a barbeque sauce and mayonnaise. Very weird, but good.

For dinner that evening, I had wanted to use up the leftover ingredients from the previous recipe, specially the fresh water chestnuts which were holding up well in the fridge. So I bought some very thinly sliced pork at the Japanese supermarket, and remembered a recipe I had earmarked in an old issue of Cook's Illustrated. After much tweaking, here's what I came up with. Frying the noodles into a crisp pancake can be a bit of a pain, but persevere, and you'll have a delicious dinner ready in no time. Feel free to substitute the pork with chicken or beef.

Stir-Fried Pork on Crispy Noodle Cake

380g thinly sliced pork
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons rice wine
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon Thai chili garlic sauce
1/4 cup water
500g fresh Chinese egg noodles
4 spring onions, white and light green parts sliced thin,
dark green parts sliced thin diagonally
peanut oil for frying
150g brocolli, cut into small florets, blanched for 3 minutes
4 water chestnuts, sliced into batons
a handful of roasted cashew nuts
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced

Marinate pork in 1 tablespoon each soy sauce and rice wine. Set aside.

Bring water to boil over high heat. Add noodles and cook until just tender, about 2 minutes (do not overcook). Drain, then toss with white and light green parts of the spring onion. In the meantime, mix together hoisin, oyster and chili sauces, sesame oil, water, and the remaining soy sauce and rice wine in a bowl. Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a nonstick large skillet over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes. Spread noodles evenly across bottom of skillet; press with spatula to flatten and cook until crisp and golden brown, about 4 minutes. Slide noodle cake onto large plate. Add another 2 tablespoons of oil to skillet. Invert noodle cake onto a second plate and slide it, browned-side up, back into hot skillet. Cook until golden brown on second side, about 4 minutes. Slide onto serving plate.

Add another tablespoon of oil to skillet; heat over medium-high until just beginning to smoke. Stir fry ginger, garlic, and then the pork, separating the pieces while cooking. Add brocolli, water chestnuts and cashew nuts and stir fry for a minute. Add hoisin sauce mixture and continue to cook for another minute. Thicken sauce with a slurry of cornstarch and water. Spoon over noodle cake. Sprinkle dark green slices of spring onion to garnish.

Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, slice noodle cake into wedges and serve.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Dinner Time

Food's ready! I scream upwards, hoping my voice travels through the staircase and into the boys' bedroom doors, which, of course, is shut tighter than a bank vault. While reverberating music throbs through one of the rooms, the other one is eerily silent, except for the spasmodic click-click of a gaming mouse. Did they hear me? I call their cell phones. Only a ring tone can catch their attentions.

We're having Chinese Tacos tonight, which isn't really the dish's name. It is probably more elegantly called Phoenix Nest or Dragon's Parcels, but when I first made this years ago from a handed-down recipe, the boys loved the fact that they had another excuse to eat with their hands, aside from the usual burgers, fries, nuggets and Mexican tacos!

The dish has an extra crunch to it today with the addition of fresh water chestnuts. Although the canned variety provides enough texture to a dish, I was really pleased with the firm, crisp bite and sweet flavor the fresh water chestnuts gave. Adding it at the last minute preserves their texture. If these are not available where you are, how about experimenting with Jicama?

Serve with fried rice or noodles.

Chinese Tacos

300g minced pork
300g minced chicken
1/2 cup frozen peas
4 spring onions, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
1/2 cup coarsely chopped water chestnuts
4 dried mushrooms, soaked then chopped
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 teaspoons sugar

For sauce:
1/3 cup hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar

1 head iceberg lettuce, washed, leaves separated

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil. Saute ginger and onions. Add minced pork and chicken. Mix well and cook until meats are opaque.

Add soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar. Mix well. Add mushrooms, peas and water chestnuts and stir for 2 minutes, or until meats are cooked. Transfer to serving platter.

In the meantime, make the sauce. Mix hoisin sauce, sesame oil and sugar in a pot and simmer over low heat, continuously stirring for about 1 minute.

To serve, eat as you would do with a taco, laying a lettuce leaf on your plate and placing some meat mixture in the middle of the lettuce. Drizzle sauce over the meat and pick up filled lettuce with your fingers, folding over the leaves to prevent the meat and sauce from dripping .