Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sometimes when the realities of student life hit you, all u can do is chug along...

When pulling late nights, its not very good to use coffee, because coffee makes you jittery, and as you sit in your hard plastic chair trying to understand Nietzsche, when you realise all your date on this friday night only wants to screw with your mind, coffee will make you think its acceptable to run out into your corridor screaming indiscriminately.

Coffee is also more expensive, seeing that you can't stretch 50 cents worth of ground coffee beans like you can stretch 2 nano cents worth of tightly rolled green tea leaves. Tell me again why transnational corporations are outsourcing to China? Coz it's CHEAP! Thats Why.. Duh. Or maybe its cheap coz i had no idea how much the tea cost because i erm.. relieved it from the hostel fridge last semester?

Coffee is my breakfast drink. I finish it, wake up, then run to class, huffing and puffing all the way, stressing my little head over whether or not the caffeine in my coffee will prevent the absorption of the vitamins in the vitamin pill i swallowed with the coffee because i was running late and had not woken up yet enough to remember to get water. I figure in my stomach the coffee and water will be all mixed up anyway and the real worry is the coffee.

So tea is the drink of choice. Even then though, there are two sorts for two different purposes. I like my tea really watered down, slightly warm, not scalding hot. On days when the work just involves reading stacks of monotonous journal articles, and one has to option to go to sleep or go next door for a little chat, one dips into the jar of individually tightly rolled green tea leaves.

The tea is light but fragrant, the flavour clean and sweet, a grassy aftertaste, with no bitterness whatsoever. Topping up the mug with warm water can yield endless cups of tea, warm water with a tint of green, and constant strolls to the toilet breaks.

No one needs an introduction to the noble earl grey tea, fragrant but with enough caffeine to keep a steady buzz without causing jitters of the potential-to-face-evictment sort, Earl Grey was my chaperone of choice in the past few endless evenings with freidrich Nietzsche.

I found out he had syphilis and died a madman, and since i've already gotten what i needed out of him i asked darling Nietzsche to retire to his countryside villa in France for a restorative. maybe i'll visit him again if i need him again before the end of semester exams....

The fumes are gone now, but it's not like we minded...

Several posts ago i left a little teaser regarding a dipping sauce thingy that my friends and i love. Well, the way we eat it, its almost a salad. I don't know what the whole dish is called. But we refer to it by way of its main ingredient. The super stinky, pink, umami, heaven-in-a-bottle...CHINCHALOK. Ok, don't ask about word origins and all that. I was eating it for years before i even knew what it was called. Its basically minute shrimp, salted and fermented, or the other way round. There ARE some processes you do NOT want to inquire too much about.

If you look really closely at the picture, you can see the teeny tiny shrimp, just looking at you in all it salty glory, waiting... just waiting... to be devoured.

This chinchalok side dished is usually served with barbequed fishand seafood, and is really originally a sauce. The onion is still sliced but the chilli is usually chopped up small, there is a lot more liquid, because the salt draws out all the liquid from the chillis and onions.. see! cooking is all science. The crunch from the freshly sliced shallots with the fire of freshly sliced chilli padi is set off perfectly by the salty umami flavour of the chinchalok and generous quantities of calamansi juice.(for the uninitiated, the local lime with deep yellow insides) A little bunch of the mix on a spoonful of warm white rice, is a micro-orgasm just waiting to happen, nevermind the micro-organisms staring at you.

Stuff is wonderful freshly prepared, sliced shallots, chillies, and a wallop of chinchalok from the bottle. Lots of limes squeezed over, seeds strained to prevent inconvenience during devouring exercise of course. Sometimes the delay and extra work is essential to the experience. Now don't you wish you can smell it? ;)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Reformatted Food

I have a very bad habit when it comes to food and eating. I need variety, and i definitely cannot bear to eat the same thing day after day, or even alternate day after alternate day now that we're on the topic... Therefore, I'm always happy to have friends over to share food with me, because there are just some things you cannot cook in small quantities. Imagine making chicken curry with one thigh and 2 tablespoons of coconut milk. Even the blender will cross its arms, pout, and refuse to blend the half a garlic clove, 2 shallots, one dried chilli and two fresh green ones into a paste. You couldn't buy it.

Thus another thing that appeals to me, is reformatting cooked meat into a whole different dish. From a student's point of view, you can save money because you buy in economies of scale, and the meat will last some time. From my point of view, i will not have to eat the same meat dish everyday for a week, and from the point of view of this pasta sauce, it lends an incredible sweet tenderness, there can be no other way to make a dish this easy and quick when you decide to invite a couple of friends over for dinner to save yourself the trouble of going out since you promised to meet up with them.

This dish started with the desire to have some braised duck. So i managed to hunt down a whole duck for $10, and after some wrangling with the chopper with the help of a dear friend, the duck became six pieces that could fit into our small pot. Braised with lots of garlic, black peppercorns, sugar, soy sauce, a pinch of five-spice powder and water, it quickly became so tender the meat just fell off the bone. Paired with some firm tofu cooked in the sweet dark sauce, it was an amazing result for a whimsical experiment. Well trained in the fickleness of female tastebuds however, i quickly froze two thirds of the braised duck, intending to defrost and eat them as they were in a week or two.

The impending dinner party had me head-scratching the night before, it had been a busy week, and i didn't have anything in the fridge that would be proper for a farewell dinner for another dear friend. I figured a kenyan might appreciate the homely subtleties of fried ikan tenggiri and white rice but making him come all the way to campus, i figured he'd be a little disappointed with that.

The sauce was extremely simple. I defrosted the duck and shredded the meat. I had about three cups worth. a cup of french beans/ or haricot vert - 2cm pieces, a cup of cooked radish (boiled for soup for lunch, but was too much)- diced 1/2 cm cubes, a package of oyster mushrooms - shredded, 4 medium tomatoes - seeded and diced. a few chopped shallots and minced garlic cloves. Also one cup of tomato paste or more if you like more.. tomatoey flavour..

Heat some EVOO, then add shallots, garlic, mushrooms. 1 minute, then add tomatoes, then the rest of the veggies and the shredded meat. Add some of the braising liquid (there's surely sauce at the bottom of the box you used to freeze the meat) some water (i cannot remember how much... add the tomato paste, then see how liquidy it is? need to be rather thick) Add salt, pepper and more EVOO for taste.

The sauce will bubble, and be rather thick when the meat begins to really disintegrate. This wouldn't take more than 10 mins. You can add sliced red chilli padi directly into the sauce if everyone likes spicy food, or just do like I did and offer a dish of sliced chillies to adjust to individual desired fire levels. Serve warm with pasta. Paired with a simple salad, this dish makes for a great get-together dinner, with just the right touch of sophistication, and enough to ensure a steady flow of easy conversation. Of course some red wine will help tremendously as well. Oh and the pot served 5.

basically any soft, mild flavoured vegetable will do peas, or even frozen corn. Celery might not do so well, unless everyone who is eating will like the taste. Or bell peppers for that matter, but its something that can be tried. If anyone decides to try it, please tell me how it goes. Meanwhile my hands have stopped burning from preparing the chillis for the stuff i made tonight. While i won't say what it is just yet, i'll leave a tantalising picture just to whet some appetites.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

eat your quinoa

I first read about quinoa in Gluten-Free Girl's blog. Curious about this interesting grain, i never really thought i'd get to try it in Singapore, so it got filed away at the back of my head in the "things i will try when i get a chance" folder. It is rather abit easier to file things away if all you see are photographs and written descriptions.

The next time i met quinoa was in class. A classmate took out her salad lunch in a plastic bowl. When opened, it had this curious slightly herby nutty smell. From a salad? being the food crazy girl i am, i decided to ask her what was in her salad. And she was like.."you know quinoa?" i got quite excited and asked her where she got it, but she said she didn't know. So i figured that was the end of the Search for Quinoa part II although the scent of it added on to my mental description of it.

Search for Quinoa Part III lasted all of five seconds. Was browsing the miniature organic food section of Clementi NTUC (was not on the specific lookout for quinoa, just browsing for interesting stuff) when i saw a clear plastic bag labelled 'organic quinoa' sitting between 'organic brown rice' and 'organic rolled oats'. My friend never really understood why i was suddenly euphoric. At $6.50 for a 500 gram pack, quinoa is a rather pricey carbohydrate form for a struggling uni student. But then where's my spirit of learning?? What the heck i figured and took the plunge.

The first thing i did when i got back was surf the net to find out how to cook the precious stuff. Two and a half things for sure, you have to wash it properly (coz its coated with some very bitter tasting naturally occurring chemical to prevent birds from eating it), and cook it like rice, and it tastes better with a pinch of salt. Easy enough for the "i-do-not-own-a-rice-cooker-because-its-easy-enough-on-the-stove" school of cooking i'm at.

I can't remember how exactly i ate my first batch of quinoa, but i remember burning the second batch, and turning the third into porridge. Very typical of me. But now, i've more or less gotten the hang of cooking the stuff so it turns into the wonderful fluffy chewy nutty herby grain it is. Wonderful texture, great flavour. Paired with refreshing salad greens, sweet broccoli, some ham or cooked chicken if you have some, and apple slices, it makes the most delightful lunch on a hot day.

Today i felt like i would have some for lunch, but did not have many salady things, all i had was some baby romaine, and broccoli (is it just me or is broccoli an awfully expensive vegetable these days? at $6 a kilo and being able to put away a third of that at every meal sitting can be quite heavy on the pocket no? but its so lovely. sigh. less shopping more eating i suppose) I didn't even have any ham or sausage or salty thing like that to team it up with. Eggs would have to do, but look how lovely they turned out.

I have a secret to add on. I could not think of a dressing i wanted on this salad. It was going to be rather bland, with no ham, and people who know me know how i try to avoid dressing because i prefer tasting the sweet or bitter flavours without all that masking, and some days balsamic and oil just does not appeal. Usually some ham would sort out the balance in flavours. Today i went totally local (i'm not sure how local is local. i only know that it's found all over the region, i.e. Singapore and Malaysia, often enough.)

I will definitely write about this "add-on" soon, because my friends and i are rather obsessed with it, and its been seeing mealtimes with us rather often. In fact its so good, that the only reason why i am not yet posting about it is simply because i destroyed it before i had a chance to remember my camera. Meanwhile, just to leave a hint, i need to open my door and window to air the fumes out from the room.