Highlights from a year of Cooking at Home (2012)

Monday, December 31, 2012

Keeping a food blog has been enormously helpful in my journey of learning and discovery as a home cook. The discipline of blogging has helped me to improve on my dishes. Careful notation, taking note of the ratio and amount of ingredients, the motivation to learn and master new recipes all take on a new level of engagement when you know others are also reading and benefitting from these.

Responses from fans and interactions with other cooks, food suppliers and food bloggers have also been a wonderful learning and enriching experience. I am thankful for every new person I have met in the course of the year, every new acquaintance made.  

So, what were my top home cooking highlights or discoveries in 2012?

Top of the list for the Wongs must surely be the Claypot Chicken Rice. And I mean, using a real clay pot. It is superlatively delicious. It is quick and easy to make, all done within 35-45 minutes of active cooking time. You do not need a roaring fire.

It is my go-to dish when I am in a hurry. There is always some chicken in the freezer and Chinese sausages (lup cheong) in the pantry. Even if I do not have the time to make chicken stock, store-bought concentrate or cubes will work well too. I have taught my Mum's domestic helper (Nita) to cook it and she has done it well for  a few times now. I have never visited the stalls for this again. If you like this dish (and few don't), trust me, you will not regret learning this. The wonderful clay pot smells permeate the home and your family will get hungry and anticipate the meal. Open the clay pot cover on the table and the the steam and aroma rise to greet those at the table. The rice stays hot as you scoop it into your bowls. With some bottom-scrapping of the crust, the pot is good down to the last morsel.

Fried Prawns in Butter Sauce was also a satisfying achievement, and this particular version is one which my Mum has tried to make for many years. All it took was a short conversation with the chef and it got me going. And with that, I now understanding more on the technique of deep-frying and how restaurants do some of their delicious dishes.  

This comes as a surprise, especially to myself, but the thin crusted or "skinny" Pizza is one happy discovery for the year. My family loved it. You can make a pretty good one using your home oven. I know there are ways to make them even better like the way Italians make theirs and for that you need far better oven (i.e higher temp) than your domestic one. But still, if you know how, you can make a very satisfying one at home. This is one dish which my wife has confidently said she could make too. I hope she is not reading this, but cooking is not amongst one of her favorite home activities. She prefers to "scramble" on her phone then doing so in the kitchen. Ahem, if she can make pizza, so can you! She prefers to bake and I suppose pizzas come closer to that.

2012 is also the year where I have gotten comfortable with cooking my Mum's version of Hokkien Prawn Mee. I can now to cook it with confidence and consistency. What has helped is not just repeating the recipe blindly, but to understand how the stock is being flavored by the various ingredients, especially the prawn shells. There were always leftover prawn shells in the fridge and this means there is always enough shells to flavor the stock well. One reason why I cook this is that it is hard to find tasty versions of this in Singapore. It is a predictable guest-pleaser. As of writing, I have some huge lobster heads in the fridge. You can be sure that using them for this dish has crossed my mind.

Thanks to Chef Chan from Pine Tree Club, my family have come to love his version of Pan-seared Egg Tofu. I adapted from his written recipe to make a version which can be easily done at home for the daily dinners. I now keep a bottle or two of unsweetened soy milk in the fridge. They are always ready for tofu duty if needed. One can buy good tofu commercially and thus, I am less inclined to make the plain tofu at home. But egg tofu is something else and when it is pan-seared, it makes for a delicious dinner. Quick and simple to make, I am glad I learned this dish.

Grilled Saba Fish was another happy discovery. I have always bought them from supermarkets. But I have since discovered that some fish mongers in wet markets sell them. They tasted better and a lot cheaper than this sold at Mediya. Teriyaki, curry powder, or just plain salt and pepper, it can be eaten in various ways. It is similar to how we cook fish from the mackerel family i.e. Kembung fish, Selar etc. Saba, being bred in colder waters have more oils (esp the upper body). It can smell fishy if not cleaned properly. The fish monger will not be thorough. So, wash off the guts or internal organs of the fish carefully. Using lime juice will also help as acids will remove the slime. Pan-seared, fried or grill, this fish is guaranteed good eating.

My use of Sous Vide has intensified this year. I love the way it can control the temperature of dishes like Si Yau Kai (Soy Sauce Chicken), Bak Kut Teh (Herbal Pork Soup), Roast Pork (Siu Yoke) etc. It provides a "click and forget" method of cooking which frees me to do other things while the meat is being poached. This "slow and low" method ensures consistency and precise control over the outcome.

And there are some great dishes which are nearly impossible to cook apart from this SV method. One dish I have made many times this year is Short Rib Beef.

After 36 hours at 55C and then finished off in a pan or grill, it can be eaten in various ways: salt and pepper, beef sauce, Asian condiment sauces or just slap it into bread for a heavenly burger experience. It makes a mean burger, I can tell you that. The beef tastes "prime" & expensive but relatively, it is not. Costing between $2+ and $3+, it taste like other prime cuts three times its price. It is a great party dish too. It was satisfying to feed >100 beef lovers in a BBQ party over Christmas.  

This has also been a year when I have come to understand the chickens we regularly eat  a whole lot more. All it took was a trip with Leslie to some Anxin chicken farms along with the Madam Foo of Tien Tien Chicken Rice. The few hours of experience and conversation were an eye opener. It cut short my learning curve and I have since been more discerning when it comes to cooking chicken. My Curry Chicken now tastes better. A regular family favorite is Steamed Ginger Chicken. For this dish, the bare-neck chicken (I use Anxin brand) is superb. Likewise, Si Yau Kai. I still use white-broilers but I am now more discerning. The larger they are, the better the flavors, as they have lived longer. I used some large chicken wings for a BBQ recently. They were some of the best chicken wings I have tasted.

And I should not end without mentioning this. The post on Hakka Yong Tau Foo on April's Fool's Day was widely read and many found it amusing. There was a friend who was about to get into the car until he noticed something amiss with the address. I suppose the Hakka hope of some were dashed. But jokes aside, this dish is fabulous and you should try this making it someday. And most definitely, I wil be making more of this in the year to come.

Looking ahead for 2013   

So cooking-wise, how will 2013 unfold?

Top on the list is cooking simple dinner dishes better. This includes steaming fish, cooking green veg well and experimenting with new tastes such as Chili fish but using Saba instead of Cencaru or Selar.

I also want to lock down my Mum's fabulous version of Mee Rebus which comes with crispy prawn fritters.

I love Kajang Satay and so, this will be the year where I want to get a good satay recipe mastered. It will be a great BBQ party pleaser.

Some skill is needed to make good Siew Mai (the Hong Kong version) but very soon, that will be made in my home kitchen. I struggle when it comes to making pastry but I will be working on getting some consistency for my Mum's curry puff.

Top on the list is also the Ipoh version of Curry Mee. This has no santan in it and I can still remember the fragrance as I write this. "If you cannot buy it, make it" and this should motivate me to work on some of these dishes.

There will of course be the usual Western, Japanese and Thai dishes to learn. I am also working on some Indian dishes. I like some of the earlier versions of Chicken Briyani I tried making and I hope to cook this more regularly.

Have a happy and blessed 2013. And I trust you will continue be inspired to be a better home cook. A good home cook is always a learner. May 2013 be a year of learning for you.

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  1. Thank you for sharing your recipes.

    Your blog has inspired me enough to buy the sous vide apparatus, and try out several recipes, all of which turned out wonderfully delicious and now are family favourites.

    I look forward to learning from you in the coming months.

  2. thank you for your wonderful recipes, we have been eating out much lesser nowadays as we have come to love cooking at home :)

  3. Thank you for your post.. I follow your earlier receipe for the Butter prawn.. My hubby loves it and enjoy it so much till asking me when can i cook again.. hahaha. thank you for the tips on how to make it crispier.. andrea

  4. Thank you so much for sharing, I love your recipes.