Sunday, June 29, 2008

Weekend Wokking II: Tuber Coconut Curry

Ha! And I thought I could do a blogging event monthly. It is surprisingly difficult.

This month's feature ingredient is the humble potato. My favourite piece of 2008 trivia is that 2008 is the UN International Year of the Potato. What a wonderful accolade for this most simple, and rather ugly, of vegetables. Can you just imagine the procession celebrating the 'tater?

Although we currently have an abundance of potatoes from our veg box, I have not made anything very exciting with them in the last month. We've mostly been eating boiled potatoes with various veges for week-day dinners. I did make a rabbit stew, but I was not so happy with how it turned out. I did not take a final photo, and binned all the preparation photos.

I got inspiration for my recipe from this source. My recipe is pretty darn similar, except that there are variations based on what I had in my kitchen and how I wanted this flavoured.

For the curry
  • 4 or 5 medium potatoes, quartered
  • 1 sweet potato, diced into pieces roughly the same size as the quartered potato
  • 1 zucchini / courgette , diced into pieces roughly the same size as the quartered potato
  • 1 yellow capsicum / pepper, diced (you get the drift)
  • 1 onion, diced finely
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon shrimp paste (mam ruoc)
  • 1 can (375g) of coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of mustard seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon of tumeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspon ginger powder (or use fresh if you've got it; sadly, I did not)
  • a pinch (or more) of cayenne pepper
  • water
  • a nice big stockpot
For the rice
  • 2 cups (or one cup per person) wild and brown rice
  • half a dozen cloves
  • water
  • a saucepan
  • a clean tea towel

What to do
  • Saute onions and garlic in a little peanut oil until the onions are translucent.
  • Add the shrimp paste and fry for a few minutes.
  • Add all the spices and fry until fragrant and formed into a nice paste. If the spices are starting to stick to the bottom of the pan, add in tiny amounts of water.
  • Add can of coconut milk. Usually, a the coconut milk in a can separates into two parts, one more liquid, the other more solid. The solid part gathers at the top of the can. Instead of mixing it in, spoon as much of this out as you can, saving it for later in the recipe, and use the more liquid milk. Cook this with the paste until a consistent dark orangey, browny paste is formed.
  • Add the potato and mix in with the paste.
  • Pour in enough water to cover the potatoes. I usually pour water into my now empty can of coconut milk, which serves the purpose of using all the coconut goodness and cleaning the can so I can happily put it into the recycle bin.
  • Let this simmer for about 10 minutes, then add the sweet potato. If needed, top up with water to cover all the potatoes.
  • Cover and let simmer until the potatoes are soft, but not mushy. The way I test mine is by pushing a fork gently in. There should be no resistance and nor should the potato crumble. If the potato does crumble, all is not lost. Just finish off the last few steps quickly and on lower heat, rather than leisurely.
  • Add the zucchini, capsicum and the reserved slightly more solid coconut milk. Mix in into the rest of the curry. Turn the heat to low and let the whole thing simmer for a while.
To cook the rice This is my current fail-safe way to cook rice without a rice cooker. Although these instructions are separate, I usually cook the rice right after I have thrown the potatoes in, during simmering time. Another way of ensuring your rice is ready when your curry is, is to do the rice first. After all, it can sit there, waiting, whereas sometimes you do not want the accompanying dish to wait on the rice, e.g. stir fries!

I have mentioned before that I am not accurate with my measurements. I am happy and comfortable in the kitchen, so I do not need exact measurements for successful cooking (except for baking. I have learnt my lessons - no estimates for baking!) My rule of thumb for rice is almost literal - about a thumb's breadth of water on top of the rice. When I was a girl and my chore was to put the rice on for the family, I was always perplexed by my mother's instruction to check the water level by plunging a finger in and measuring to the first knuckle. I mean, surely everyone's hand size is different? But somehow, this has always worked for our family. And I still use it now, with all different types of rice - jasmine, basmati, brown, wild, red, camargue, arborio - and I've only had the occasional rice mishap, usually because of temperature of the cooker, rather than water. The only caveat to the above is that brown rice does require just a little bit more water, and basmati, just a little bit less.
  • Boil the rice, covered, on medium heat for about 15 minutes.
  • If you want to flavour your rice, just add the flavourings with the water. For this dish, I added some cloves. I also like to add cardamon pods, when having basmati rice and curry.
  • Check the rice occassionally to ensure that not all the water has evaporated. I am always perplexed by instructions not to look in on cooking rice. I always look in and have only had occassional mishaps which I don't think were caused by my checking the progress of the rice. In my rice-cooking world, checking is vital.
  • Taste test occassionally, as the 15 minutes approaches.
  • When testing a grain of rice, you want it a bit harder than al dente at the point where there is very little water.
  • If, when you check the rice, you find that there is still a lot of water but the rice grains are soft, drain the water, place over high heat with the lid off for a few minutes and do the above step.
  • When there is barely any water left, turn the heat off and place a clean tea towel on top of the saucepan, replace lid and then leave the rice to sit for at least 5 minutes.
  • Check that the rice is done - slightly softer than al dente is what you're after.
  • If you have to do other things at the tea towel part, it's fine. I have left rice sitting like this for 15 - 20 minutes, and it's still turned out well. I have also been impatient and left it barely any time at all, and it's been fine.
Tuber Coconut Curry and Wild Rice!

As a bonus, because this post is late, I cooked roast potatoes for dinner tonight. One of the advantages of an electric cooker is that an electric oven walks all over a gas one.

Roasted is the best way to eat potatoes. No, wait. Chips are. Roasted comes second.

Do you need a recipe for roasting?

  • Chop potatoes up. However many you want.
  • Chop other veges suitable for roasting up. Other suitable veges are carrots, pumpkin, brussels sprouts, zucchini / courgette, parsnip, mushroom, cauliflower. Heck, you can roast just about any vegetable. The size that you chop veges will depend on what it is and when you intend to throw it in with the potatoes. I chop carrots to about 150% the size of pototoes. I add mushrooms, brussel sprouts and courgettes near the end of roasting time.
  • Quarter an onion - keep the 'tail' of the onion intact so the whole thing doesn't fall apart.
  • Throw in a whole head of garlic, too, if you've got one sitting about. Tonight, I sadly did not. For the garlic just separate the individual cloves and rub them together in your hands to remove most, but not all, of the papery skin.
  • Liberally pour olive oil over the mixture of potato, onion, garlic and whatever other veges you're using.
  • Crack on some pepper.
  • Toss together.
  • Bung it in the oven (temperature medium high, unless you're in a hurry, then crazy high) and go find something else to do for about 40 minutes to an hour.
  • Ta da! Roasted veges.
  • To get a nice crisp edge, I cheat by grilling my potatoes for about five minutes prior to serving. This is a bit better for my heart than using heaps of oil and butter, which is how most of the roasting recipes I've seen tell me to get that crisp edge.
  • Serve with other yummy things, but, most importantly, lots of condiments. In the photo below, we have tomato sauce, chilli sauce, wholegrain mustard, Colman's mustard and spiced carrot chutney.

I'm submitting this recipe to Weekend Wokking, a world-wide food blogging event created by Wandering Chopsticks celebrating the multiple ways we can cook one ingredient.

The host this month is White on Rice Couple.

If you would like to participate or to see the secret ingredient, check who's hosting next month.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Comfort food: chao ga (rice congee with chicken)

After my last post, I am struggling to write new posts. Below is something I drafted a while ago, and had not quite got around to pressing the 'publish post' button. It is appropriate because it is a recipe for the ultimate comfort food - chao ga (rice congee with chicken).

I have mentioned before that when I am feeling sick, I want to eat chao - rice congee. If I am at home, my mother would cook this for me; although after I moved out of home, I did not tell my mother when I was sick because she would berate me. Because somehow, I am to blame if I catch a cold.

More than a month ago now, I had the flu. It was awful. For one day, I was in bed tossing and turning, moaning deliriously. I could have been a heroine in a Jane Austen novel, and soon the man of my dreams would leap onto his horse to ride hastily with news for my family of the dire state I was in. In reality, the man of my life telephoned work to tell them I was ill and to ask someone to re-arrange a few appointments for me.

When I recovered, I had a lingering cough, so I did not telephone my mother to speak with her for a while. After a few weeks passed, and with the cough still present, I had to call my mum. So I did. The phone rang and rang. It's terrible of me, but I was glad she was not at home. So I rang my brother to have a chat with him, but he was not at home either. Next, I tried my sister. Thankfully, she was at home, otherwise I would have got all morose.

I hoarsely chatted to my sister, coughing and spluttering occassionally. She asked me about the cough and I told her that I had been so sick that I had taken a week - an entire week! - off work, and that I spent most of the time in bed, unable even to read. She commiserated. Suddenly, I blurted out, "But don't tell Um! Don't tell her I was that sick. She'll worry."

On one of the days I was home from work, I made a huge pot of chicken congee. I think it cured me (minus that lingering cough).

For the congee:-

  • 200gms chicken (whatever part suits you. I used breast, but thighs would also have been great).
  • Garlic
  • Ginger, about a cm of, sliced
  • Carrot, one, diced
  • Fish sauce, splash
  • Jasmine rice, a cup of, or thereabouts
  • Water, a lot
  • Coriander for garnish
  • Ngo gai (perennial coriander, also known as sawtooth or Thai coriander. I don't know why it's called Thai coriander because coriander coriander is also used in Thai cooking, and ngo gai is used in Thai and Viet cooking (and possibly other cuisines, I just don't know). Probably has other names too.)
How to cook it:-
  • In a decent sized saucepan and on medium heat, saute the garlic in as small amount of oil as you can manage.
  • Toss in the rice and stir it quickly around the saucepan.
  • Pour in enough water to thoroughly cover the rice.
  • Add your chicken, ginger and carrot.
  • Pour in enough water to cover everything.
  • Let the whole mixture boil briskly for about ten minutes.
  • Extract the chicken. Let it cool, then tear into strips and put back into the saucepan.
  • Turn the heat down and let the chao simmer until the rice grains have taken in so much water that they cannot take anymore. You cannot leave the saucepan - you can wander away but you must not forget it. You will need to keep topping up with water, so have some pre-boiled water handy.
  • When the chao is the consistency you like - my Ba and I are at the extremities of the chao consistency spectrum: he prefers his rice grains a bit al dente and his water a clearish broth; I prefer my rice grains thoroughly soft and the chao water thick with the broken up, water sodden rice grains - add a splash of fish sauce. For the way my Ba likes chao, the simmering part only takes about 15 minutes. For the way I like chao, the simmering takes an hour.
  • Turn the heat off, let cool for about 5 minutes and then serve into nice bowls, with garnish, cracked pepper and soy sauce.

Easy as!

Although, given that I crave this when I am sick, it is sometimes just too much effort and I will pout instead. Does not work to make my tummy full, but makes me feel a bit better.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I have some dear friends, who were outrageously joyous with their first pregnancy. Sadly, my dear friends lost their newborn baby. I have no words sufficient for their loss.

They are both the most beautiful people I know. They are both people who have many friends, and many people, the world over, are thinking of them and mourning with them, now, as I write this.

I got the news while at work. Today, was a thoroughly terrible day at work; my neat plans for what I needed to get done were completely derailed by an extremely complicated and extremely urgent matter, in which lawyers from three different departments at my firm were roped into advising the client. I worked through lunch, which is a pretty rare occurrence for me. After lunch, I logged into my email. I have been checking my email assiduously, waiting for their news. There, was the most heart-wrending email I have ever read. I read it twice over and burst into loud, wracking sobs.

It was a brave, beautiful email.

I did, and could do, nothing for half an hour. Then I rang my partner. Then I rang a mutual friend. Then I gritted my teeth, dried my eyes and got on with my working nightmare of a day.

There was enough to keep me busy and distracted, but when I sat in a telephone conference with the client, in the space between words, my mind drifted away from my work and my thoughts drifted over to my friends. It was hard work reigning myself in. Sudden tears would have been incomprehensible.

I worked to an ungodly hour, for me, tonight. And when I finally packed it in and cycled home, I cycled in a hazy blur. I'm not sure, exactly, what I am crying for. My friends, I think. How much they must hurt. The senselessness. The unfairness.

I am at home, alone, tonight. I have cast about for whom to call, and who to talk to. But what I really want is to sit in silence for my friends. I want to sit with other friends, who know these friends, and we will sit in silence together. And that is all we can do.

None of it, absolutely none of it, is adequate.

Please don't comment on this post. I don't feel that it would be right. I know that you, too, on reading this will feel sorry and awful and sad. And that's fine. And normal. And maybe it's unfair of me, after needing to reach out like this, not to let you reach back. Just spare a silent thought for this loss. That will be enough. Except that nothing, really, is enough.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Book Meme

I found this meme while rooting around the archives of The Hidden Side of a Leaf -a blog I stumbled on because I liked the blog title. I was sort of hoping it would be a photoblog, but was nevertheless pleassantly surprised to find that it was a book-blog.

I have not written a post for a while, especially not one about books. Partially, this is because I have not been reading as much as I would like to. Partially, this is because I feel like I should review 'Growing Up Asian in Australia', but I do not think I am capable of it. No distance, you see.

So, a meme to jolt me along.

The breakfast table read:

On weekday mornings, I am invariably running late. I sometimes lackadaisacally flick through the various magazines we get delivered to our home - The Economist for news and then all the magazines that go with all our memberships: hiking magazines, human rights magazines, history magazines, wildlife magazines. I just look at the pictures. Sometimes, especially in the Economist, I stare at the advertisements, trying to understand what it is that they are appealing to. Usually, there is a picture of an actor posed somewhere luxurious - the colours and background are muted and neutral, but the actor is in sharp focus, doing something iconically that actor-ish. I cast around and around the advertisement looking for the luxury item I am being sold - sometimes it is a chain of hotels, sometimes, an airline, sometimes luggage. All the advertisements look the same, and I cannot imagine myself wanting to stay in that hotel, or use that airline, or carry that kind of luggage.

On weekend mornings, I read the backlog of magazines with slightly more attention, although of late, my news-reading has been marginal, at best. I fear I am turning into an old lady: I go for the book and movie reviews, then cooking, then gardening. My news, I now read online throughout the week, through an RSS feed, through blogs.

The to-go read:

I like to have a paperback with me wherever I go. It has to be light and thin, but it does not have to be light-weight reading. At the moment, my to-go read is Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev by Robert Dessaix.

My to-go reads often don't get read when I am on the go. I have excessive ambitions about what I can read when I am on the go. Thus, Twilight of Love was my to-go read sometime last year: I picked it up, threw it into my bag but somehow it ended back on the shelf. It was quite exciting to pick it up again and discover a postcard slotted in there as book mark - a postcard from Winchester, one of our first UK tourist visits.

The bathroom read:

When I (or someone more pragmatically minded and ingenious than me) finally invent(s) my magic book protector-cum-page-turner, I will read in the bathroom. Otherwise, I will not.

The read-aloud:

Occassionally, I read poetry aloud, to myself. Poetry is meant to be read aloud.

My current book of poetry is by Bryan Thao Worra. In quiet moments, I pick up my copy of The Other Side of the Eye, which has been inscribed in the front by Bryan (thank you, Bryan, for your lovely note) and read a piece, firstly to myself, and, if no one is around, aloud. I try to mimic how it would be presented, guessed from photos of Bryan: his gestures and the shape of his mouth. I wish I could see him read his own poetry, in person.

The main read:

My main reads change. I have a lot of main reads at the same time. They change and they accumulate. I will have a main read, and then get a to-go read, which becomes a must-finish read, thereby converting it into one of the main reads.

The most recent was The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth, a man who is much, much too clever. The Golden Gate is a novel in iambic tetrameter. Now, really, Mr Seth, must you? It is excellent, and funny, and sad. And even his autobiographical note is in iambic tetrameter. And chuckle-worthy.

The work read:

I read all the time at work: letters, cases, articles, pleadings, journals.

I often get aggravated by the things I read at work, for a variety of reasons: because I disagree with it; because the writer has confused effect and affect (argh!); because it is poorly written; because the author is someone who makes me sigh in frustration. So many reasons.

My recent aggravation came from a facsimile, the gist of which was, "We're just writing to let you know we represent the guy on the other side, 'kay?" What was aggravating about that? It was headed URGENT FACSIMILE TRANSMISSION. No, that communication is not. Reception telephoned me, rather than dropping the fax into my pigeon-hole for me to pick up at my leisure as would usually occur, to tell me I had an Urgent Fax. Naturally, I stopped doing what I was doing and traipsed over to Reception to collect the Urgent Fax, only to read its complete mundanity. Stupid people. Learn to prioritise and look the word 'urgent' up in the dictionary. I am tempted, but not rude enough (and I have other things to do), to fax back a letter with the heading FOR THE IMMEDIATE ATTENTION OF: and a photocopy of the relevant page in The Oxford English Dictionary. Churlish, yes. Unjustified? No.

The travel read:

I like to have a mix-up for my travel reads: I like a collection of short stories, a non-fiction and one or five novels (depending on length of travel and activity/ies to be engaged in). Sometimes, one of my novels will be a children's story or (gulp) romantic fiction by Katie Fforde. Ms Fforde is fantastic for long-haul flights and my (no-longer) secret, guilty, pleasure read.

My current collection of short stories is The World and Other Places by Jeanette Winterson. My current non-fiction is Wanderlust: The History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit (although I have to admit to such a long pause in reading it, that it almost qualifies as ceasing to read it altogether, except that, in my head, I'm still reading it) and Flights of Fancy by Peter Tate, which sort of also belongs in the short stories collection because each chapter is on one bird, and I feel I can read chapters in whichever order, at my leisure.

New category - the audiobook:

I don't get along with audiobooks.

I tried when I first started driving a car, and was reading less because I was spending less time on public transport. It did not feel right, and the voices annoyed me. Plus, I found my mind wandering.

I tried again recently when I was really, really ill for a week at the end of winter, beginning of spring. I listened to old-school mysteries because I was too sick to read. I'm not sure I'd do it again, though.


Do you like this meme? Do you want to do it? Go right ahead. And let me know in my comments.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Weekend Wokking 1: Asparagus

So, Wandering Chopsticks has a blog event: Weekend Wokking.

Now, I love blog events, but I'm crap at entering them because, well, they occur too frequently. And frequency is not one of my blogging strong points (had you noticed?). But this event is MONTHLY. I can do monthly. Perhaps...

What I can't do, is use a wok in the UK. This is because we left our wok back home. It's a proper steel wok, that my partner got given as a present when he moved out of home. When I moved out of home, my brother and his-then-girlfriend-now-wife gave me a rice cooker and a 25kg bag of rice. One of my sisters gave me a block of knives (without telling my mother because giving knives as presents is a Viet no-no).

Also, we do not have gas - we have a weird electric stove top thing. The first night that I cooked on it, I was very upset: my rice noodles overboiled and spilt all over the stove top and I freaked out about whether or not the stain would come off. All throughout dinner, I was very, very quiet. This is not a good sign with me. I am a chirper. I chirp away on most occassions. Being quiet is indication that Something Is Wrong. I tried to be chirpy and happy because it was our first home-cooked dinner, in our new house, but I was already worrying about not getting our bond back for having ruined the stove top.

There's a happy ending: the over-boiled rice noodles water just wiped away real easy like.

Since moving into our new house, we have got what I always wanted but never bothered with in Australia and did not get in the little flat - organic veg box home delivery. In Australia, we enjoyed our regular traipse down to the Green Markets so much that getting a veg box home delivered would have spoiled the fun. In the little flat, there was no way the veg-box would actually get delivered to us, and no guarantee that someone else would not take our veg-box goodies.

One of the (many) wonderful things about veg-box home delivery is the seasonal produce. And currently in season, in the northern hemisphere, is asparagus.

Did you know asparagus makes your wee smell funny? And, though it makes everyone's wee smell funny, only about 40% of the population can smell the asparagus-wee-smell. Don't believe me? Surely you believe wikipedia? So, for all those participating in Wandering Chopsticks' Weekend Wokking for May/June, there will be a confluence of asparagus-smelling-wee. Great, huh?

Wandering Chopsticks informs me that a wok is not necessary for Weekend Wokking and, therefore, my entry follows below. It is a pretty pathetic entry, because I only had this weekend. Had I a whole month, I might have come up with something more interesting. I did not do anything special with the asparagus - just cooked it ever so slightly, to enjoy its full, fresh flavour. So, this probably doesn't count as an asparagus recipe, but I'm submitting it anyway. Just to get started.

Weekend Fry-up with vege sausages, asparagus, grilled tomato, eggs over-easy and a kohl-rabi & snow pea salad

Weekends are for long breakfasts. I love hot cooked breakfasts. Weekday mornings are for eating something nutritious and then rushing to work. Weekend mornings (if we're not rushing to some fun activity) are for lingering over breakfast, newspaper spread out, chilled music playing.

What you will need for two breakfasters:-

The Fry-up
  • Sausages
  • One medium onion, sliced
  • Eggs (one per person, or more if your persons are greedy)
  • Tomato (half per person)
  • Fresh asparagus spears
  • Non-stick saucepan or griddle, if you're brave. I covet griddles, but have not yet purchased one.

The Salad

  • Dressing: wholegrain mustard, extra virgin olive oil, cider vinegar, cracked pepper
  • Cherry tomatoes, a handful, halved
  • Kohl-rabi, about the same amount as your cherry tomatoes, diced
  • Snow peas (mange-tout for the British, and maybe elsewhere too, I don't know!), roughly same amount as cherry tomatoes, cut into little bits
  • Red capsicum (or red pepper for you English and Americans), same amount as cherry tomatoes, diced
  • Lettuce leaves (I used baby gem, but any will do)
  • A bowl
What to do:-

The key to a good fry up is timing. I used vege sausages, which take longer to cook on lower heat than meat sausages, so bear that in mind if you're going to replicate this with meat.

Make the salad first. In the bowl in which you will mix your salad, take a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard and mix with a teaspoon of oil. When well blended, add a dash of vinegar and whizz like a maniac. Now add in your halved cherry tomatoes, diced kohl-rabi, snow peas and capsicum. Grind some black pepper in.

Wash the lettuce leaves and leave to dry.


Slice onion, and fry with a small amount of oil. Before the onion gets translucent, add the sausages and let fry on a low heat, checking and turning every now and then.

Halve a tomato and place cut side down onto the saucepan. Push it about it bit to make sure it doesn't stick to the pan, but otherwise ignore.

Wash asparagus. Holding firmly in the middle, break off the woody end. Wherever it snaps, thus is your asparagus. If the whole spear bends, you do not have good asparagus.

When the sausages are brown all around, add the asparagus spears. Cover saucepan with a lid so that the asparagus cooks through in a steamed fashion. Remove and place onto pre-warmed serving plates.

Flip tomato onto its round outside. Push sausages, onion and tomato to one side, so that there's enough room to fry some eggs. Break eggs carefully into saucepan and don't let them mix with the sausages, onion or tomato. When the albumen has turned from translucent to white, turn the heat off and flip over to get that over-easy feeling.

Arrange your plates: lettuce leaves on one edge, forming a bowl for the salad. Asparagus on the other edge, sausages etc in the middle. Serve with crusty bread, chutney, chilli sauce and soy sauce for the egg, if you're me.

Have understanding partner on hand, who will wait while you take some photos of breakfast before digging in. Understanding partner will laugh at the soy sauce. This is permissible, provided it is done with a measure of affection. No mockery allowed.



I'm submitting this recipe to Weekend Wokking, a world-wide food blogging event created by Wandering Chopsticks celebrating the multiple ways we can cook one ingredient.

The host this month is Wandering Chopsticks.

If you would like to participate or to see the secret ingredient, check who's hosting next month.

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