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Thermomix – Stir Frying

Stir-frying veggies using Thermomix requires some getting used to. I did miss the experience of feeling, i.e. sight and smell, the food as it cooks in a wok. I had to trust that the machine can do a good job at ‘spinning’ up the dish. Instead of yielding a spatula, I press a few buttons to stir-fry veggies. How weird is that.

Honestly, I felt like giving up. So unnatural. But I persisted (because it is such a costly kitchen gadget!) Caixin, Kailan, broccoli, cauliflower, apparagus, baby corn, carrots, mushrooms, etc, the list goes on. After 2 months into using Thermomix to do Chinese stir-fry veggies, I’m starting to appreciate this machine’s consistency in producing crisp and evenly cooked greens. It has this sous vide ability to ensure that the veggies are cooked at the correct temperature without burning it. And I don’t have to be physically present to stir the veggies. I’m freed to prepare other dishes, do cleaning up, etc.

Of course, it better does more than just stir-fry veggies! Otherwise, it wouldn’t justify the price. I will try to share bits and pieces of my experiences here especially for friends who might be considering getting one for their family.

Butterflies @ Minton

Time and tides wait for no man.

A lime butterfly flew into our balcony and I quickly called H and P to sit quietly to observe its egg-laying behavior. I always thought it would pause on a citrus leaf for a few seconds to lay an egg. However, it kept flying around our lemon plant, barely touching it, for a good 2-3 minutes. By the time it was gone, we inspected the plant for eggs. Much to our astonishment, it laid 6 eggs! And two of them on the stem instead of leaves. How interesting.

Plants Maintenance Day

The thing about having plants in a house like ours is that they are often the last to receive attention as they don’t complain, cry or soil themselves. They can get thirsty and diseased too like us but they suffer in silence. If they die due to neglect, they do so peacefully and ever so quietly. 😢

I planned to pot the rooted fiddle leaf fig stem cutting today. Just give it 15 minutes tops. Easy peasy. Then I saw the overgrown mint plants and decided to trim them back a little. Then I discovered many diseased leaves and started to prune them back severely. ✂️The curry plant next to the mint caught my attention next. They got some fungal attack and so kena snip snip. Oh, the sunflower plants were diseased as well, okay trim! Then I noticed that the rock melon plant went against my wishes to put out more new fruits and killing its first born in the process! Argh. Keeping plants is some work! Salute the farmers, especially those of the olden days!

Overgrown mint plants. They were attacked by some white flies.

Mint kena trimmed back. Botak now. Hee hee.

The amount of plant material removed.

The rock melon plant. Counted at least 6 new fruits! This is suicide.

The first rock melon fruit was aborted by the plant! Sad. Why??!!!

The first true leaf of the coriander!

Fiddle leaf fig potted! Yay.

Finally, a Beef Stew Recipe that We (especially Mommy) Like

Beef stew slow roasted italian 4 blogOf all the beef stew recipes I have tried over the past few years, none of them consistently results in moist, tender beef with a reasonably full-bodied broth.

I tried using both chuck tender cuts and stew meat cuts for the stew. Results were hit-or-miss kinda thing and most of the time I  ended up serving dry meats. I almost wanted to give up until I chanced upon a lovely food blog which featured their Italian beef stew.

Although red wine is found in the recipe, using red grape juice as substitute can still produces a yummy stew that is worthy to be served to guests. Yang is a teetotaler and I don’t drink wine as a beverage at home. Hence, not having to add wine to the stew is a big plus.

Now, the recipe still uses chuck tender cuts and I decided to try out a different cut, shin of beef, after reading up on Delia’s recommendation based on her mom’s recipe and knowing my MIL’s preferred cut for her Chinese-styled beef soup. So, gotta listen to your mothers. LOL :)

Finally, I’m so glad to see that tomatoes have no place in the broth. Me thinks the taste of tomato complicates the taste of a hearty beef stew.

At last, moist, tender beef cubes in delicious broth! Ahhh, my search has come to an end. I have a beef stew which I could call my own and feel like a great cook whenever this dish is served.

Credits must go to Donna and Chad from The Slow Roasted Italian for sharing the recipe with the world. :D Below is the recipe modified to suit our family’s tastebuds. It’s a perfect one-dish meal served with steamed white Jasmine rice.

Ingredients (serves 2 adults & 2 toddlers)
• 450 g beef shin – trim fats, sinews/silvery white outer layer, cut into 1.5” cubes
• 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
• ½ tsp paprika
• ½ tsp coarse ground black pepper
• 1 tsp salt, divided (to taste)
• 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• 1 tbsp unsalted butter
• 1 shallot, diced
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 2 cups home-cooked chicken stock (unsalted)
• 1/2 cup red grape juice
• 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
• ½ tsp dried Italian herbs seasoning (I think this is important to the overall taste)
• 4 large carrots, peeled and chopped into chunks (becos’ there’s a rabbit in Yang. JK. Seriously, forget about potatoes. Carrots complement this dish better.)
• fresh parsley to garish, optional

Method
1. Trim hard fat (which does not melt during the cooking process) and silver skin (white and silvery looking) from beef shin and cut into 1.5″ cubes. It takes about 5 minutes, but don’t skip this step. It is so worth it.

2. Combine flour, paprika, pepper and ½ tsp salt in a medium ziplock bag. Seal and shake to combine. Add beef and shake until well coated.

3. Warm olive oil in a French oven over medium low heat (to avoid burnt meat), once you can feel warmth when holding your hand 6 inches from the pot, add butter.

4. Once butter has melted, remove beef from flour and shake gently to remove loose flour. Place coated beef in the French oven, one piece at a time and then brown on all sides. Cook in two batches. Turn pieces until all sides are browned and remove them and set aside in a bowl. Once the first batch is cooked, add the second batch and repeat. Remember, watch the heat. Don’t let the meat burn as the French oven can heat up quickly.

5. Meanwhile, prepare shallot and garlic. Shallot should be diced and garlic minced. Set aside.

6. Once all beef is browned and removed, add shallots and garlic. Cook until translucent. Add grape juice and deglaze by scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the oven. Add chicken stock, Worchestershire and Italian seasoning. Stir to combine. Return beef to the pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to simmer and cover. Allow soup to simmer for 1.5 hours.

7. Meanwhile, prepare carrots and set aside.

8. After about 1.5 hr of simmering, add carrots. Stir to coat vegetables and cover. Cook for another 30 minutes or until carrots are fork tender. Taste broth. If necessary, add additional salt to taste (mine needed ½ tsp).

About done :D

About done :D

9. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired. Serve hot with steamed white Jasmine rice. Bon appétit! :D

Tuck in!

Tuck in!

p.s. French oven is preferred for its even heat distribution.

Yummy Baby Foods: Mash something something

Feeding Peter solid foods has been a different experience altogether as compared to Hannah’s. Hannah readily accepted almost any type of food I introduced to her. Peter was almost the total opposite.

At 6 months, it was a real challenge to get any food pass his lips. And he enjoyed making a show of spitting bits of food noisily out of his mouth if we could shove it in before the clam-down. Cooking tiny portions was another challenge as we prefer not to cook in bulk and then freeze in small portions. I have a thing about feeding our children freshly cooked food. Porridge was rejected at the start. However, we had some success with avocado, sweet potato and carrots. It was with a lot of perseverance that the little prince finally opened up to the idea of eating something that is not milk or water.

His nanny has been feeding him porridge on weekdays and I try to provide variations on weekends. Not much variation actually. Just a change of the source of carbohydrates from rice to potato and do a mash up with an orange veggie, a green veggie and a meat. I like this mash-up meal as it is quick and easy to prepare. It is tasty too – Hannah often asks me for leftovers. Below is the recipe for Peter’s mashie meals.

Ingredients

  • 1 small potato (I recently discovered Australia’s red potatoes available from NTUC. It makes a creamy, yummy mash)
Creamy Australian red potatoes

Creamy Australian red potatoes

  • 1/2 a small carrot stick (about 6-7 cm long)
  • 1 broccoli floret (or 4-5 spinach leaves)
  • 1 small piece of fish (I alternate between threadfin and salmon) or minced lean pork or chicken

Method

1. Prepare a boiling water bath (I did this with a covered wok over a gas stove.)

2. While waiting for the water to boil, peel and slice the potato and carrot thinly. Spread them out on a porcelain plate.

3. Steam the plate of veggies for 7 minutes.

4. Slice the broccoli thinly (or chiffonade the spinach leaves). Wash and place the meat in a small porcelain saucer.

5. At 7th minute, open up the water bath and place the saucer on the plate and spread the green veggie over the potato and carrot. Cover and continue steaming for another 7-8 minutes.

All steamed and ready for mashing

All steamed and ready for mashing

6. Once time is up, remove the plate of steamed food and mash them up. Pour the leftover liquid in the saucer and plate into the mashed up food to moisten it. Test the consistency of the mash and add a bit more hot water to soften it if your baby prefers it softer.

Soft and tender veggies for mashing

Soft and tender veggies for mashing

Nice consistency for Peter

Nice consistency for Peter

7. I usually place the small bowl of mashed up food in a hot water bath to keep it warm while I feed Peter.

Sometimes I pack this mashed meal in a small tupperware to feed Peter if the family is going to dine out. I would bring along a small bowl and then request for hot water from the restaurant to heat up the meal before serving Peter. My tupperware can sit directly in the hot water bath and it takes only minutes for the heating process. Peter would be fed while the rest of us wait for our food to be served. Then we can all eat in peace – or so we always hope.

My next challenge is to get Peter to accept fruits! Urgh.

 

Sewing Project #1: Baby Bandana Bibs

So I’ve hinted strongly at Yang what I’d like for my birthday present last year. He gave me a ‘are you sure?’ kinda look when I told him that I wanted a sewing machine. I want to be empowered to make alterations to clothing and sew simple things you see.

So far, I’ve managed to

  • replace loose elastic bands on Hannah’s shorts with new ones instead of throwing them away;
  • replace the loose elastic bands on Peter’s fitted bedsheets; and
  • alter the length of Yang’s new pants.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now I dream of sewing quilts for the family and dresses for Hannah. However, free time is hard to come by and hence these dreams are distant realities. Anyway, I got myself started on something small recently. At the rate that Peter was drooling, the number of bibs we had couldn’t meet the demand. So the idea of sewing bibs came about. I browsed the Internet for ideas and tips and I got intrigued with bandana bibs. The initial prep work took up some time as I did not have all the necessary tools to begin with. I learned something new: fat quarter fabric! Ha, what a neat piece of cloth to sew small items like bibs. Fell in love with it. I also found a little online fabric store (local some more!) that sells lovely fabrics. Gosh, I think I’m addicted to acquiring beautiful fabrics.

4 different fabrics used for Peter's 15 bibs.

4 different fabrics used for Peter’s 15 bibs.

I sewed 15 bandana bibs for Peter using 4 different fabric designs. I also experimented with different absorbent materials (e.g. terry and nappy cloths) for the backing. Am quite happy with the results and especially so with all the bibs being put to good use. Nobody can say that they have the same bibs as Peter because these are one of a kind! Hee hee :)

Bandana bib cups the jaw and hence can absorb more saliva.

Bandana bib cups the jaw and hence can absorb more saliva.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Peter’s drool rash

Red angry drool rashes on his cheeks and chin.

Red angry drool rashes on his cheeks and chin.

The SON is a champion drooler.

Between Hannah and Peter, one is an occasional leaky tap while the other is an OPEN tap. Peter started drooling when he was about 2 months old. Initially I thought he might be teething but hey, wasn’t that a bit too early? This boy loves to suck his fingers and smear saliva all over his face, ears and neck. To make matters worse, his bed sheets and waterproof sheets were constantly soaked through and he would sleep on his tummy with his cheeks plastered onto the wet bedsheets. Consequently, he developed drool rash with his cheeks and chin being the hardest hit.

My first reaction was to clean his face and hands regularly, before and after every feed. With quiet resignation, I have been taking out his bedsheet and waterproof sheet from his mattress to blow-dry with a fan every time he wakes up from a nap. I’d then tuck in the air-dried sheets back to the mattress just before his next nap. I do this about 5 times a day. Because he overwhelms his bedsheet with so much saliva, I need to change it every 2 days. Yeah, we have that many bedsheets.

ARGHHH!!! Somebody turn off the tap!

To treat the drool rash, I tried the steroid cream prescribed by his pd for his acne prior to this rash thing. It helped but it also lightened his skin tone and thinned out his skin. Definitely not a long-term solution. As usual, I searched the Internet for ideas to treat this condition. I was inspired to try Aquaphor but this product is not available locally. (This is a crime!!) Next, I bought California Baby’s Calendula cream but the rash didn’t go away. Wasted $$. I also tried his diaper cream, Desitin creamy. Well, it wasn’t an effective barrier between the skin and saliva. I started digging my stash of baby skin products bought previously for Hannah. Found her Mustela Stelatopia moisturizing cream – saw only a little improvement. In the end, I’m left with a tube of pure aloe vera gel to experiment. I took a skeptical glance at the colourless substance and wondered what healing agents it could possibly contain to treat the rashes. I was on the verge of giving up. Checked its expiry date and duh, it expired 6 months ago. I couldn’t care less and so I applied a thin layer on Peter’s rashes.

I was so wrong! Miraculously, the angry rashes on Peter started to tone down. Amazing! The inflammation subsided. I diligently applied this humble-looking gel about 3-4 times a day, each time making sure that his face was properly wiped clean with a damp cloth. I also ensured that the gel dried up on him first before letting him do his usual antics with his hands. The rashes didn’t disappear overnight but they gradually went away. Hooray!

So my friends, do not judge a book by its cover, nor a gel by its colour. LOL :P

P.S. If you know how to fix a ‘live’ tap, I’m all ears! :)

 

‘Chopchop’ Salmon Congee

With no. 2 now in tow, home-cooked food has become a nice-to-have item. We try to cook on the weekends but weeknights are often defined by take-out dinners. Thank God that Hannah is fed home-cooked meals by her nanny on weekdays and well, the adults can get by with eating junk. Hee hee. Things should change for the better (hopefully) when Peter become less dependent and mommy gain yet another higher level of multi-tasking and speeds!

Whenever I think about cooking a meal, the first thing that comes to mind is how fast it gets done. Previously, congee required at least an hour of cooking in order for us to enjoy its softie-smoothie texture. One has to stand at the pot to stir regularly so as not to let the rice grains get stuck to the base. So the idea of cooking congee always get tossed out because it was time-consuming and quite laborious.

That, however, changed recently.

Thanks to the sharing by the mommy who runs the blog Food4Tots, cooking congee is no longer a time-consuming activity. In the past, I used to grind rice grains to increase the surface area:volume ratio so as to increase the rate of cooking. Well, the faster way to date is to freeze pre-soaked rice grains. The science behind it: when water in the rice grains become ice crystals, they rupture the cell membranes to release starch and at the same time also create internal cracks in the grains. So when the frozen grains are cooked in boiling water, they break into tiny bits (increase surface:area) and absorb water faster and release the starch sooner. Fantastic right? Many of us know that it is a bad idea to freeze vegetables due to the damage caused by ice crystal formation while few have applied this fact to quicken cooking of rice to make congee.

Oh, I digress. Back to the salmon congee. I usually use white fish (e.g. threadfin) to cook congee but recently discovered that salmon tastes just as good in congee too. In fact, I like it more. The omega 3-rich fish makes the taste buds and tummy really satisfied at the end of the meal.

Here my recipe for a quick salmon congee. Serves 2 adults and 1 toddler. I added minced pork for more flavour.

IF

Ingredients

  • salmon fillet – about 300g, deboned and sliced as desired (make sure that the salmon is fresh)
  • minced pork – 150g, marinate for at least an hour
  • uncooked white jasmine rice – 1 cup
  • century eggs – 2, deshelled and cut into small pieces
  • garlic – 3 cloves with skin intact, washed and smashed with blade of knife
  • ginger – 3 slices
  • salt – 1/4 tsp
  • light soy sauce – 1 tbsp
  • white ground pepper – dashes
  • corn starch –  1-2 tsp

Method

  1. Wash and then soak the rice grains for about 10 minutes. Rinse, pack the rice in a sandwich bag, tie and freeze overnight or for at least 4 hours.
  2. Marinate minced pork in soy sauce, pepper and corn starch in the fridge for at least an hour.
  3. Place the frozen rice grains in 2 litre of water in a big pot. (I used a non-stick pot to reduce the need for stirring) Add garlic and ginger. Bring it to boil.
  4. In the meantime, cut the salmon into slices (about 1 cm thick), deshell the century eggs and cut into small pieces, and use your hands to form little minced pork balls and lay them out on a plate.
  5. Once the water has boiled, stir the congee every now and then (especially if your pot is not the non-stick type). Don’t cover the pot. Let it cook for 15-20 minutes in medium heat or until you get your desired texture. Add some water if the congee gets too thick for stirring. (You could also continue with step 4 if you didn’t managed to prepare the items earlier on)
  6. Add the minced pork and give the congee a few rounds of careful stirring to cook the meat. Add salt and stir.
  7. Let the congee come to a boil again and add salmon slices with any of its juices. Gently stir to separate the fish slices if they are clumped together. Turn off the heat. Cover the pot for a minute or so. (Note: It is important not to overcook the fish. Otherwise it would become tough to the bite. Not so tasty lah.) Remove ginger and garlic if desired. Serve the congee in bowls topped with century egg. Enjoy!

p.s. Even Yang was surprised by how fast I could cook congee since I learned of this method. :)

A 16-month long birthday project

It all started with my mother in-law’s 70th birthday last year. I wanted to give her something meaningful. I find gifting older folks rather challenging as they usually desire very little from the material world. So after scratching my head for ideas, I settled on stitching up a photograph after chancing upon an online cross-stitch company that can convert photographs into cross-stitch artwork.

We didn’t take many photographs with our MIL as a family and so I tried to search for photographs of Hannah with her ‘nai nai’ instead. One photograph stood out from the rest where my MIL was helping Hannah in a colouring activity. However, the background was too complicated (that means the stitching would kill me). Eventually, I decided that I needed to take a photograph with a plain background. As our ang mo friend Matt was staying with us at that time, I asked for his help to take some orchestrated poses of Hannah holding a card that read a birthday greeting in Chinese. I couldn’t wait for Yang to return home from work to get the job done then. Matt did great. Thanks, Matt! :)

The photo selected for stitching.

The photo selected for stitching.

The contact person from the cross-stitch company was very prompt in communication and my cross-stitch kit arrived in a matter of days. And so the stitching begins. But soon a huge realisation dawned upon me…

The rendered version of the photo for cross-stitching.

The rendered version of the photo for cross-stitching, 80 different colours in total.

…that I couldn’t finish the cross-stitch in a month’s time for my MIL’s birthday. I made do with giving her a photo frame with 3 photos of Hannah holding the card but with slightly different expressions. Oh well.

The long journey of trying to finish the cross-stitch began, with no end in sight. Let me put it this way, even with a plain background, the stitching was very tedious. Because it was a photo, a tiny mistake can be conspicuous and ruin the whole artwork. The counting of squares, the colour of threads, the pressure applied in stitching, etc, must be perfect.

The finished work - all ready for framing.

The finished work – all ready for framing.

It took me 16 months from start to finish. The project was interrupted by work (as usual), tiredness from pregnancy, time spent with Hannah, and then birth of Peter. We just presented the actual gift to my MIL last week. Finally! :D And Yang was suggesting that perhaps I could start another cross-stitch project. No, thanks! I need a break. Besides, I want to make quilts and dresses for Hannah with my new sewing machine. I’m also looking forward to cooking and baking regularly again. On top of it all, I also need to look into renovating and moving into our new house.

Close-up of the stitches. I love the look of the toes the most. :)

Close-up view of the stitches. I love the look of the toes the most. :)

Was it a waste of precious time making this gift which would just sit on a piano, a chest of drawers or hang on a wall? Well, part of me knows that I could have spent the time with my family. But I did have an epiphany one night when I was stitching alone while the kids and hubby were all asleep…like certain odd coloured threads that didn’t seemed to go into the correct squares initially, there are times in my life that didn’t make sense at all. Till I see the whole picture, I just have to trust and follow the instructions – just like God who has a grand design for my life and sometimes things seem to go wrong. Let me learn to simply trust Him and move on. (I know, so cliché right?)

Materials for this project.

Work in progress.

The girl is already a year older by the time this project was completed.

The girl is already a year older by the time this project was completed.

Second Post Partum: Week 9

This is a random post.

Updates on Peter…

His facial acne had become worse and developed into what his paediatrician called neonatal eczema. I almost used neoderm (a cream containing steroids that can eradicate bacterial and fungal infections) on him but decided to pay a visit to his paediatrician to get professional advice. Glad that we did as his paediatrician informed us that the steroid strength of neoderm was on the high end in the spectrum of steroid creams for children. She prescribed Zaricort for Peter and recommended the use of moisturizer. His eczema improved greatly after 2 applications. Now it is almost non-existent. BTW, I like this paediatrician better than Hannah’s. Her name is Dr Tan. Both of them are good but Dr Tan shares her knowledge and experience freely, is thorough and patient, and helps us cut down on medical expenditure. A-star for her :)

Eating wise, Peter has been drinking both breast and formula milk. More of the latter actually. I plan to stop breastfeeding after 3 months as my supply has been diminishing when he began to sleep more. He drinks Dumex’s Mamil Gold formula milk but during the recent contamination of NZ milk, I’m thinking of switching to Similac. And oh, I would like to share about his milk bottles. Instead of using Bfree bottle as before in Hannah’s case, I tried Pigeon’s Peristaltic PLUS wide-neck BPA-free bottle after reading many positive reviews about it. Peter took to it instantly – absolutely no nipple confusion. Other plus points are: only 4 parts to clean, valve to prevent build-up of negative pressure and BPA-free. The Japanese has done it again. And this brand is also cheaper than Bfree. A sure winner IMO.

One reason many friends have been giving to encourage us to have no. 2 is the fact that Hannah started sleeping through the night when she was 5 weeks old. The assumption was that all our babies would therefore be like her. True? False! Week 5 came and went and Peter still woke up in the middle of the night for milk. I was starting to worry whether Peter would be one of those babies who couldn’t sleep through the night until they were way pass one-year-old. Then, he started to show signs of sleeping through the night. One or twice in the following weeks, he slept through but woke up very early, like five-ish in the morning. Come week 8 the miracle occurred. He slept through between 8-10 pm to 6-7 am. I’m really thankful that I could have my sleep back again and quite soon. My energy level started to recover from then on. Yay. :)

Updates on the mother…

Sigh, I’ve been rather depressed over my mummy tummy. The second pregnancy really disfigured my body. I couldn’t locate my waist and looked 5 months pregnant. The thought of returning to work with colleagues and students asking whether I’m pregnant with no. 3 is dreadful. From the Internet, I realised that I might have diastasis recti, a separation of the abdominal muscles, due to pregnancy. This condition often causes the mummy tummy. True but I also can tell that I have a thick layer of blubber on top of my abdominal muscles which needs work. Besides doing abdominal exercises to close the gap between the abdominal muscles, I need to do aerobic exercises to burn off the fats. Tried swimming but I didn’t feel much calorie loss even after doing 16 laps in our condo pool. Read up that running is probably the best fat-burning exercise in terms of effectiveness where time is concerned. So I switched to jogging. Wah, my legs felt like lead the first time I hit the pavement for a jog. I can’t remember exactly the last time I actually jogged. Hmm, perhaps 2 years ago? I persisted and have been jogging on and off for about a week now. From jogging around our condo I upgraded to jogging around Punggol park. It was nice to jog in the park because the sight of other joggers improves my morale somewhat about doing the exercise. Last night, I felt good enough to cover 2.4 km in 20 minutes. Timing wise needs work but it is progress nonetheless. :)

We would be getting the keys of our new place soon and this means that we need to look into renovation now. Yang and I have been sourcing for ID and ideas for our new place and the process has been time-consuming and exciting. Yang will be sharing more on our renovation journey.