More bribes for my brother: mac and cheese

I know it sounds like whenever I cook for my brother it is a bribe, this is really not true. No it isn’t. This time it was only part-bribe to let us play videogames when we visited his apartment, and part-thank you for letting us stay in said apartment.

A thank you that I hope lasted at least 4 days, as it was in danger of being finished within one sitting. Please don’t eat 500g of pasta in one sitting, it somehow seems a little scary. Imagine a pasta-monster, and by that I mean a human-sized macaroni with arms and legs. Scary, right? Don’t do it. Even though the mac and cheese is tasty enough to.

Anyway this was a pretty easy recipe which I later passed on to my bro (I was expecting it to be much harder!)

Pasta monster's lair

Easy Mac & Cheese

Adapted from the Kitchn

  • Note the basic ratio of milk to cheese is around 1:1.5 to 1:2, with a couple of tablespoons of flour (any type – corn or normal). 

A 500g bag of pasta – small shapes are better because they hold the sauce
1.5 cups milk
2 – 3 cups cheese – cubed is fine, or grated, it just needs to melt.
2 tablesp flour – corn or all purpose
0.5 – 1 teasp black pepper, to taste
Salt to taste
A dash of chilli flakes
Mix-ins:  see below. I used leeks and lamb sausage.

  1. Cook the pasta.
  2. Warm 1 cup milk over medium heat in a pot.
    Mix flour into the remaining ½ cup of milk
    When steam starts to rise from the hot milk in the pot, pour in the rest of the flour-milk mixture.
    Whisk / stir until it thickens to the consistency of cream / custard.
  3. Drop the heat to low.
    Stir in the cheese, pepper, salt, and chilli flakes. Mix until all the cheese is melted.
    Taste and season as needed.
  4. Turn off the heat and dump all the pasta + additional mix-ins into the pot.
    Stir well until the sauce coats the pasta.
    (Eating can start here J )
  5. Optional: Put into an oven proof dish and top with more cheese – parmesan works nicely.
    Put it in a toaster oven / oven at around 200 deg C for 20 minutes or so until the cheese topping crusts and browns.

Mix-ins:

In terms of mix-ins, I added the following:

  • Leeks
    • Wash leeks. Slice and fry in a little oil until soft and a little charred at the edges.
  • Lamb sausages
    • Fry lamb sausages and slice. Set aside.

You can really add anything you like though.

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A prettier pie than previously anticipated

Or is it a galette? I don’t know what the rules are for naming pies. It is in a pastry. Therefore, it is a pie. Feel free to elucidate if you know the pie-rules. Don’t report me to the pielice (get it, pie-lice/po-lice?) Let’s leave it on that terribly embarrassing note and proceed to the recipe, shall we?

This is a pretty flexible recipe. The only requirement is that the filling is dry and solid enough that it is able to stand by itself in the centre of the puff pastry and not leak out. And the smoked cheese really adds something. By adding something, I mean in the sense of fancy food bloggers “oh my goodness, it really adds a special something!!!” as opposed to the view that, of course, if you add cheese then you are adding ‘something’, i.e. cheese, to the pie.

I think this is one of the tastiest pies I’ve made so far, and it tasted awesome over the next 4 days as cold lunch. If you want to crisp up the pastry again, reheat it in the toaster oven for a couple of minutes.

Soon to be pie See ugly folding - but it didn't fall apart! Isn't it pretty

Seafood Leek Smoked Cheese Galette 

1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg
2 handfuls of grated smoked cheese – I only had enough for 1 handful, so I used a second handful of cheddar
1 handfuls mixed seafood
2 small fillets of fish
3 large leeks
1 tablesp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tablesp sugar
1-2 teasp black pepper
A pinch of salt
A dash of chilli flakes

1 egg + a splash of milk for the eggwash

Oven temperature: 180 degrees C

  1. Slice the leeks and fry over medium heat with a little oil until soft. Add the sugar and balsamic vinegar, and continue to heat until the leeks caramelise slightly on the edges.
  2. Mix the egg, cheese, leek, salt, pepper, and chilli flakes – reserve a couple of tablespoons of cheese for later. Add the mixed seafood.
  3. Place the puff pastry on a sheet of baking paper, and scoop the pie filling into the centre of the sheet of pastry. Leave around 2 inch clearance on each side of the filling.
  4. Cut the fillets into strips, and place on top of the filling, skin up (if the fillets have skin).
  5. Fold up the edges of the puff pastry into a pie shape, starting with one corner and working around until all sides are folded up. Take a look at the picture above for an idea of how to fold it up.
  6. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the assembled pie. Rub a little eggwash (egg mixed with milk) on the exposed puff pastry.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes, until the pie is a nice golden colour.

Ode to pie

Everyone likes pie. Do you like pie? I like pie.

Far too cutesy pie beads

Pie is not really a thing that one can say no to. And today, in the silence of the still morning, amongst the clackings of my keyboard, I suddenly decided: I want pie.

Why? Does pie need a why? One can never deny the pie.

* end of self indulgent poorly written rhyming *

Pre-caramelised leek Post-caramelised leek

Also, I work from home at present and so I can do these odd things like make pie in the middle of the day. Of course, that means I am back here at the computer working at midnight. Very clever. The sacrifices we make for pie, sigh. (Pie? Sigh? Geddit? snigger snigger)

Hello pie!

Caramelised Leek and Feta Pie with Zaatar Crust

I had leeks in the fridge so cobbled something together. I didn’t like the pie crust I used, and will update the recipe when I find one that I do like.

3 leeks
2 tablesp balsamic vinegar
1 tablesp sugar
Approx 1/2 cup feta, cut into small cubes
3 eggs
150ml milk
Black pepper

1 portion of your favourite savoury pie dough + 1 tablespoon zaatar

  1. When you make your pie dough, add the zaatar to the flour and then continue to prepare the pie crust as per normal. 
  2. Slice the leeks so they are approx 3cm long each. Stand them all up in a frying pan. Pour over a little oil and fry them standing up that way for 5 minutes on medium-high heat.
  3. Slosh the vinegar into the pan, and wait for a couple of minutes so it drys a little. Then sprinkle in the salt.
  4. If you want, gently flip all the little leek cylinders upside down, so both sides char. The easiest way to do this is with a pair of chopsticks, in my opinion
  5. When cooked (and the pie crust is ready to be filled), arrange in the pie crust and place cubes of feta between the bits of leek.
  6. Whisk the eggs and milk together. Pour over the leeks into the pie crust.
  7. Bake for around 15-20 minutes until browned. Use the same temperature as required by your pie crust.

On Asian Adaptations and Silken Tofu

I like silken tofu but I never know what to eat it with except soya sauce, spring onion + friends. Sometimes you need a little more kick than a peaceful meal of steamed silken tofu with soya sauce can provide.

Pre-sauce Post-sauce

Enter Szechuan inspired tofu.

Now, I hate Asian food adaptations as much as the next purist, especially because they are generally bland-ed down versions of the real stuff, but when you have just moved house and possess only half the necessary storecupboad staples, well, there isn’t really much else you can do.

Rest assured that at least this adaptation is far from bland.

A mess of peanuts

(Anyone else hate the words “silken tofu”?? Sounds so unappetising. I didn’t even know it was called that until a year or so ago).

Lunchtime!

Szechuan Inspired Tofu

No real source here – I checked out a couple of page for various other things then threw some stuff together. 

1 block silken tofu
1/4 cup peanuts, unsalted

4 garlic, peeled
1.5cm ginger, peeled
2 red chilli (or one large long red chilli)
1 tablesp kicap manis
3 tablesp light soya sauce
1 teasp white vinegar
1 teasp brown sugar
1/3 cup water
A pinch of flour – flour or cornflour are both okay

  1. Steam tofu!
  2. Meanwhile, put the garlic, ginger, and chilli in a chopper. Blend to a rough paste.
  3. Pour all the sauces into the garlic / ginger / chilli mixture, and let them all sit until the tofu is almost finished cooking.
  4. Toast the peanuts… for no more than 5 minutes! I used a toaster oven and burnt mine.
  5. In a pot, fish out most of the garlic / ginger / chilli and fry in a little oil over medium heat.
  6. When the ginger and garlic turns a little golden and becomes fragrant, add the rest of the sauce and 1/3 cup of water.
  7. Set the heat to high. Let the mixture come to a boil and simmer down until the sauce is black and reduced a little. Then, add the pinch of flour and stir until the sauce thickens.
  8. Pour sauce and peanuts over steamed tofu and serve hot, with rice.

Triumphant Return, Green Chilli Powered

Can we all agree that green curry from a packet, while nice in isolation, does not by any stretch of imagination taste as good as green curry as eaten in Chiangmai, in a restaurant where no one speaks any English?

Green curry paste part 1 Green curry paste part 2And this is how we determine what went into the paste...because the instructions don't match what the chef did!!

Yes, I thought we could agree on this. If you don’t agree, may I ask if you have actually been to Thailand?

I always find it hard to choose my favourite type of food.  But when I’m in Thailand, Thai food is my favourite food. Don’t ever let them serve you the tempered down (pansy) versions of dishes – you must say “I like it spicy! Like Thai!”

Green curry paste!!! Get ready to stir The first bubbling The second bubbling

Of course, you must not forget to bring a bottle of charcoal tablets. Because as much as you may like it spicy like Thai, your stomach will probably begin to complain after your 5th straight meal of curry / tom yam / yum woon seng / spicy mango salad. Do not let that stop you. Bland meals are for the weak. Do not under any circumstances sell out and request the less-spicy-cos-I’m-a-useless-lame-foreigner version. 2 charcoal tablets after an extra spicy meal allows you to continue eating excessive amounts of chilli and coconut milk at every meal for at least 2 weeks straight.

The bubbling after meat

I’m not obsessed. Not at all.

This not obsessed nature led me to take a cooking class, and bother the chef by requesting that he teach me special dishes that were not on the class list. Well, he seemed more amused than irritated. He was definitely amused when I started taking pictures of the food every 5 seconds. Don’t forget, I’m not very good at remembering / following instructions.

Tadaa!

I also think cooking classes are an excuse for real chefs to dress up amateurs in silly looking clothes and laugh at them. Seriously, even he didn’t wear a chef’s hat – but he wouldn’t let me take it off!! Sighs.

Thai Green Curry

Learnt at a cooking class in Phuket. First rule: STIR ALWAYS!!

Green Curry Paste

3-4 green chilli padi (the small spicy ones!) – use more or less if you like
2 smallish cloves garlic, sliced
2-3 shallots, sliced
1 teasp galangal, sliced thinly
1/2 – 1 teasp ginger, sliced into matchsticks
1 teasp lemon grass, sliced
1.5 teasp kaffir lime zest – can be substituted with lime apparently
1 teasp fresh green peppercorns
1 teasp Thai shrimp paste, otherwise known as kapi / kapee

  1. Basically you just mash all these together with a pestle and mortar until you get a nice green paste which sticks to itself, and looks like pesto (see above pic). Or if you’re lazy you can probably give it a whirl in the chopper.
    The paste keeps for around a month in the fridge, probably longer if you freeze it. 

Green Curry

150 – 200g meat – mine was chicken, but I suspect any meat (beef, lamb, seafood) should be okay. Or you can make it vegetarian! 🙂
80g tiny thai eggplant – the tiny, round ones that look like beads
100g small round eggplant, cut into quarters – these are the size of a golfball
1/2 to 1 cup coconut milk – depends how you like it, I prefer 1/2 cup. Fresh would be the nicest
1-2 tablesp fish sauce – I like it with 1.5 tablesp, but it depends on your fish sauce
1-2 teasp white sugar – again, I used 1.5 teasp
2 kaffir lime leaves, torn
1 tablesp thai/sweet basil leaves
1/2 red chilli, sliced into strips – for garnishing

  1. Stir continuously over medium-low heat, in a high sided saucepan:
    • 6 tablespoons of coconut milk
    • 1-3 tablespoons of green curry paste
  2. Wait until the mixture comes to a boil. Then add the rest of the coconut milk. Keep stirring!
  3. Put the heat up to medium-high. Keep stirring! Wait for the coconut to boil and bubble up.
  4. Add the meat to the bubbly coconut milk. Don’t forget to stir.
  5. Wait for the coconut milk to boil and bubble up again. Then, add the different types of eggplant.
  6. After a while, the coconut milk will boil and bubble up again – then season with the fish sauce and white sugar, as you like it.
  7. Let everything boil up again (are you seeing a trend here?), then add the kaffir lime leaves and basil leaves. You haven’t forgotten to stir, have you?
  8. Pour out into a bowl, garnish with the red chilli strips if you feel fancy.

Surprisingly easier than you thought, wasn’t it? 🙂

P.S. I do apologise for abandoning Happy Bellea for so long. But well, Christmas + wedding + Chinese New Year + moving house in quick succession = far too busy me. But, hello Melbourne!

If you expect more domesticity, prepare to be disappointed. It looks boxes started breeding rapidly then killing each other in my house. Box entrails everywhere.

Leeks and Bouncy Prawns

Sometimes you want real food, and sometimes you make pasta. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying pasta isn’t food. All I’m saying is that the times I make pasta don’t seem to be the times when I’m exceptionally excited / ambitious about cooking. Pasta fulfills a very important role as “standby food”.

I make pasta when:

  • I’m tired and I can’t be bothered to cook
  • There is nothing in the cupboard and I don’t feel like shopping
  • I’m being cheap because I just bought something fancy and used up the rest of my food budget for the month
  • I want to do as little washing up as possible because it’s cold outside and I’m cold and washing up makes me cold (yes, I hate the cold)
  • I’m not really hungry but it’s dinnertime and the auntie who lives in my brain is forcing me to have a so-called square meal

Some like it hot Leeks are quite pretty somehow Bathing in icy water Yes chilli please And next the leek And the lightly cooked bouncy prawns Also tastes good cold, and for lunch tomorrow

I’m totally misjudging pasta here because it’s really quite satisfying. Especially when it has bouncy bouncy prawns in it.

boing boing boing

Chilli, Leek, and Prawn Pasta

Inspired by a combination of Taste.com.au, and The Age. Neither of them did exactly what I wanted though, much editing ensued.

3-4 servings of pasta – spaghetti or similar is better
2 leeks
5 cloves garlic
2 chillies
200g prawns – shelled
1.5 tablesp lemon juice, or to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan to sprinkle, I like lots

  1. Peel the prawns and let them sit in a bowl of icy cold water to ensure optimum bounciness while maintaining laziness. For a true bouncy prawn you apparently need to marinade at pH9.
  2. Cook the pasta. Drain and set aside. Keep a little cup of the pasta water.
  3. Dump the peeled garlic and chilli (with the stem and end cut off) into the chopper for a quick whiz. Start frying in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add a pinch of salt too.
  4. Slice the leek into rounds. Throw away the super hard green part. When the garlic goes golden, throw the leeks into the pan.
  5. Once the leeks soften, add the prawns. Keep going until they’re just cooked.
  6. Put the pasta into the pan and mix it all up. Add a little pasta water to get the sauce moving.
  7. Season with lemon, salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Remove from heat and sprinkle with parmesan. Toss and enjoy for dinner, and tomorrow’s lunch.

The Egg Series: Cheese on Toast

I know what you’re thinking, cheese on toast. Where’s the egg?

Let me tell you something. I don’t like egg.

Before you run for your torch and pitchfork, I’d like to clarify – I don’t like egg that looks like egg.

See, that made it clearer didn’t it?

What that means is that I don’t like boiled, fried, and poached eggs. They look like egg! White on the outside, yolk on the inside. It isn’t psychological, I swear. It’s something to do with the smell. And taste. That’s basically everything I suppose. I’ve never liked eggs that look like eggs.

I like the idea of eggs, if that makes sense. Farm fresh eggs from a corn-fed hen. With a beautiful sunny yolk and a speckled brown shell. See, I’m hungry already. But put a boiled egg in front of me and there will be consequences.

Eggs that I do enjoy: eggs in cake, meringue, omelette, chawanmushi, eggs in french toast, eggs in fried rice, eggs in clear soup…and so on.

What happened to me was a classic case of egg-envy, after which I thought about it and realised I didn’t like egg, and then made something tangentially egg-related. I found out that Bel was starting an Egg Series, and of course I wanted in on the action.

Her response: You don’t like eggs though…???

Well that’s true. I don’t like eggs. But I like cheese, and I like onions, and I like toast. And I like the gooey, cheesy mess that spills out when you cut into a slice of this. A gooey, cheesy, pungent mess that would not be possible without adding an egg or two.

And now I’ve made myself hungry again.

Cheese on Toast (You can call it eggy-cheese or cheesy-egg so that it fits into the Egg Series)

Taught to me by…. my Mum. Hello Mum! *waves*

2 slices of bread – I had small slices so I used 3, whole grain
2 eggs
1/2 to 2/3 cup of sharp cheddar, grated – if you’re greedy like me you can use more. If you prefer a more eggy flavour, stick closer to the half cup. Any other cheese should work too, it’ll just change the flavour a bit
1/4 of a red onion, chopped
Butter
Black pepper

Cherry tomatoes – these are just for you to eat so you can pretend that you’re having a healthy lunch. Though I guess in the grand scheme of things, cheese on toast isn’t too bad.
Branston Pickle – I like pickle with my cheddar, you should try it, it’s nice.

You can spice it up by adding any number of ingredients. I sometimes add a tablespoon of wholegrain mustard when I’m feeling posh, or chilli powder if I want something spicy. Mushrooms would probably be nice too.

  1.  Butter the bread. Put it in the oven to toast for about 5 minutes. I butter my bread before toasting it in the oven, because I like to think it makes the bread crispier.
  2. In the meantime, mix together the egg, cheese, onion, and black pepper. Insert any extra fillings here.
  3. Eat some cherry tomatoes and think about how balanced your meal is now that you’ve done so.
  4. Remove the toast from the oven, and spoon the cheese-egg mixture on top of it.
  5. Put the cheese on toast back in the oven. It’s good to go when the shine just leaves the top of the cheese-egg mixture. This took me 8 minutes.

A note on oven settings: I have an oven with a convection + grill setting, so I used that at 200 degrees C. Anything with a heating element will work though! (oven, grill, barbeque….)

On hindsight, maybe I should retire from the egg series. This recipe doesn’t seem very egg-related at all, or rather, it is as egg-related as a slice of cake is to egg, or as ice cream (which has egg yolks in it) is to egg. Ah, well.

Belacan Fried Rice

I made this dish for the sole purpose of feeding 25 people at a BBQ. I was kind of anxious because I hadn’t cooked for so many people in the longest time. What if it tasted like arse? What will I do with the leftovers? Oh, wait, that’s easy: there’re always poor scientists at the lab to give scraps to.

Also, I figured it was relatively easy to cook up. My grandma taught me how to fry rice before I left for university. I didn’t eat a lot of fried rice at university, but I guess it’s useful now! Thanks, Phor!

I didn’t follow any specific recipe just because my granny also doesn’t, but bear in mind these portions are for 25 people at a party who also had other things to eat, so you might want to divide the recipe by 3 if you want to make enough for 2-3 people for a simple lunch or dinner. I was also rather generous with the components of the fried rice. Some people only bother putting in peas and carrots and one prawn. I find that very irritating. I mean, really – eat properly!

Grandma’s Belacan Fried Rice
Serves 20-25 not-so-hungry people, will serve 10 hungry people

3 cups rice from the night before (this is very important as you don’t want mushy fried rice)
700g chicken breast meat, shredded
400g peeled prawns, whole
6 pieces of fish cake, chopped (optional. I added this out of generosity)
3 onions, diced
6 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
6 eggs
Half a packet of sambal belacan paste (I use some local brand I found at NTUC)
2 packets of anchovy fried rice powder
Half a cup corn oil to begin with
As much chilli as you want
Half a pack of frozen vegetables (corn, peas and carrots). Thaw in water before cooking.
5 tbsp soy sauce

Note: if cooking for this many people, you might want to cook in separate batches just so you don’t overwhelm your wok (and yourself).

  1. Grease the wok generously with some corn oil. You won’t want the rice sticking unceremoniously. The wok needs to be hot for a good fry also.
  2. Fry the garlic and onions until golden brown
  3. Fry the chicken, eggs and prawns with the garlic and onion until golden brown
  4. Put in the sambal belacan and stir until it coats the rest of the ingredients evenly
  5. Put the rice in. Grease the rice with some more corn oil as the oil will have been absorbed by the meats at this point.
  6. Mix well!
  7. Once you see the rice beginning to cook with the heat, add the fish cake and some soy sauce according to your tastes. Turn the heat down at this point! I don’t like much soy sauce so I found 5 tbsps for such a large portion was enough.
  8. Add the fried rice powder.
  9. Mix well!
  10. Add the frozen veggies to the mix, allowing it to blend in with the rest. Don’t worry if it’s still cold; it will heat up in the rice.

 

It really is quite easy, but I find that fried rice is largely dependent on the person cooking it, and that it is an accurate reflection of the cook because it’s such a versatile dish and you can add absolutely anything you want. Guests remarked that my fried rice was “quite nice” and “quite spicy” ha ha.

Happy eating!