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There was a time when olive oil was all the rage for heart health. Almost every family has a bottle of it sitting in the pantry.
Then came along coconut oil and supermarket shelves started displaying a respectable range of coconut oils and we all went ga ga over its health benefits.
Then we got a shocking news that many well known brands of olive oil were selling us adulterated olive oil. How can this thing happen, right?
And the latest cooking oil saga came through a report by some ang mo country that advised against the use of coconut oil and recommended olive oil, canola oil and yah lah yah lah.
So I have dumped dubious brands of olive oil and turned my attention to some less known but looked trustworthy brands (seriously, I just randomly picked one that has a nice packaging in a dark glass bottle.). “Oh, from Australia ah, they have better quality control and standard right?” Hence, I have been using the extra virgin olive oil by Cobram Estate for cooking. Didn’t think much of it except for loving its mess-free dispensing snout. Made me feel like a celebrity chef dribbling oil over a frying pan (ok, thermomix mostly) to cook stuff. I was nearly done with using my first bottle and decided to check if it had a rancid smell. Am happy to report here that it smelt wonderfully of extra virgin olive oil. Definitely sticking to this brand.
I also have this jar of aromatic coconut oil (or fat) at home. I thought I could convert to using this oil many moons ago but I guess I’m too old to change. I use it mostly in baking if I wish to incorporate that lovely coconut flavor.
I suppose the best approach to good health is still a combination of balanced diet, exercise and plenty of laughter. Lol.:)
Thermomix: A few months later…
I wanted a Kitchen Aid. Because kneading super, wet bread dough by hand was a real pain. I wanted to save time and energy as there were always other things that call for my attention.
Then I heard about Thermomix and what it could do…yes, kneading was one of its capabilities. It can blend and cook as well. My interest in it was piqued after watching my neighbour use it to make lemonade. So I told Chek Yang about this wonder machine…
I married a gadget analyst. One who has a habit of researching on various brands and models and doing up a comprehensive spreadsheet before making an informed decision on investing on a piece of equipment. It is easier to convince him to buy me a piece of technology than flowers. :P
Now, if you often shallow or deep fry foods, then give Thermomix a miss. This machine was not designed to fry anything at all, apart from stir-fries. Its highest temperature is around 120 degrees Celsius – not high enough to brown meats and veggies. I always go back to my pan / wok / air-fryer to get the browning done. A minor issue really as I can ‘instruct’ Thermomix to cook other stuff like rice or stir-fries or steamed foods while I do the frying.
This machine commands a hefty price tag because it merged many kitchen appliances into one; rice cooker, steamer, blender/ stirrer, soup pot, dough kneader, whisker, digital weighing scale, digital thermometer/ sous vide capability, yoghurt maker, etc. It also has the ability to cook different dishes simultaneously. Sounds rather impressive, right? Well, that is until you have adapted to mix and match dishes that the Thermomix can handle. For instance, I can cook rice and steam 2 dishes at the same time. The only interesting feature I like here is that the leftover water used to cook the rice can be used to make a quick soup after the rice is taken out. I like the mild milky consistency of the soup. Having said that, Thermomix, like any other steel pots, cannot beat Tanyu claypot in terms of retaining the rich flavours of ingredients used for Chinese soups.
So, a few months have passed since the Thermomix was added to our humble range of kitchen appliances. I tried to use it as much as I can, work commitment permitting. Interestingly, it has been tasked to cooked rice and stir-fry veggies more than other dishes I endeavoured. May be that’s because I can mostly spare time to cook dinners and those meals often include rice and veggies! Lol. Other dishes which I have tried just to maximise the machine’s potential are: porridge, fried beehoon, char siew, braised duck stew, vegetable soup, chicken rice, steamed chicken pieces, cream of mushroom soup, pumpkin soup, mashed potato, steamed veggies, steamed egg custard, honey chicken, knead bread dough, mushroom seasoning powder, lemonade, sorbet, man tou and bao.
I do have one gripe over an inconvenience when using Thermomix. It only happens when I want to remove cooked food or dough that has stuck to the blades. It can be quite a chore as one needs to maneuver around the sharp blades carefully and slowly.
Thermomix can be washed in a dishwasher. Hand washing it requires great care when cleaning the sharp blades. This is a big con to me as it often came up when I’m deciding whether to use the Thermomix to cook. Haha.
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 wielding 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!
Finally, a Beef Stew Recipe that We (especially Mommy) Like
Of 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
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).
9. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired. Serve hot with steamed white Jasmine rice. Bon appétit! :D
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.
- 1 small potato (I recently discovered Australia’s red potatoes available from NTUC. It makes a creamy, yummy mash)
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 :)
Peter’s drool rash
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.
- 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
- 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.
- Marinate minced pork in soy sauce, pepper and corn starch in the fridge for at least an hour.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- Add the minced pork and give the congee a few rounds of careful stirring to cook the meat. Add salt and stir.
- 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. :)