How would you define comfort food? To me, comfort food brings a sense of nostalgia, of familiarity. Every mouthful leads to a deep sense of satisfaction, accompanied with sighs of ‘oohs and aahs’. No, I’m not homesick, really. I just seem to crave local (namely Singapore) homestyle or hawker food ALOT. It doesn’t help that I have a number of foodie Singapore friends who enjoy posting drool-worthy evidence of their meals on facebook. The occasional visits to Singapore/Malaysian restaurants in London help to ease my insatiable appetite for a bit…and when I’m desperate enough, I give it a go in my own kitchen – creating comfort food like soon kueh, pineapple tarts, chye tow kuay etc.
There is however one comfort dish that I make often, just because it is easy to prepare and it reminds me of many good meals at my parent’s house many moons ago.
Steamed pork with egg. Lightly seasoned mince pork, mixed with beaten eggs and water (or stock for a denser flavour), steamed and served with rice. It’s such a simple dish. I love digging into the cake of pork and eggs, mushing them and mixing them with my rice. The juices from the pork, the light chiffon texture of the eggs makes a great combination. Some people like it slightly spongier (by adding more water to the eggs) and some prefer it a little more dense (more pork vs egg ratio). I like them both. This here is the dense version – full of porkilicious flavours.
Like what Ina Garten says in her ‘Barefoot Contessa’ cookbook – “Food is not about impressing people, it’s about making them comfortable”. In this case, I agree. Bring on my jammies, I’m having dinner!
Spring is finally here! Actually we had two gorgeous days of sunshine but now the clouds are back – and London’s looking more like London – gray and cold AGAIN… which gives me another good reason to make one of my favourite winter warmers – Meatball and Kimchi Hot Pot. This is one of my one-pot favourites – short prep time, quick cooking, minimal cleaning.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean pickled vegetable side-dish. The most common of which is made with Chinese/ Napa cabbage. Kimchi is a top choice food for me. Tangy – goooood, spicy – goooood. What’s not to like then? It’s also healthy and a great source of fibre and vitamins. Some claim that kimchi, with its natural preservatives of garlic and vinegar, helps to lower cholesterol and has intestinal cleaning qualities. What a bonus!
This hot pot is similar to Kimchi Jjigae – a popular Korean stew-like dish that is easily available in all Korean restaurants. Ingredients in a Kimchi Jjigae varies. The popular options are combinations of kimchi and pork or kimchi and seafood.
My home-made version is made with fresh pork meatballs, dried chinese mushrooms, medium silken tofu and a 500g store-bought pack of kimchi. The tangy and spicy kimchi when cooked with some stock and other ingredients produces a delicious piquant gravy, which coats every morsel of meat, mushroom and tofu. The only seasoning in this dish goes into the minced pork and all the other wonderful flavours come directly from the humble little packet of kimchi.
This dish is so simple to prepare:
- Marinate minced pork with light & dark soy, pepper, powdered stock and sesame oil.
- Heat vegetable oil in a dutch oven or similar heavy pot
- Form meatballs, and brown in batches, set aside
- Add soaked and sliced Chinese mushrooms and some of the soaking liquid, cook for a few minutes
- Add packet of kimchi, and enough stock to cover, simmer for five minutes
- Return meatballs to pot, stir through and let it cook for another ten minutes or until pork is cooked through
- Add cubed tofu, simmer for a couple of minutes
- When done, crack a fresh egg over before serving
The raw egg is stirred through the bubbling stew, cooking it in the process and emulsifying the sauce at the same time. Served with steamed rice, it is definitely a warming, comforting meal that chases the chill of winter away.
Who would have thought wrapping mince in lettuce leaves could make a decent meal? Scratch that, make that an absolutely delicious, fun and healthy meal! I initially titled this blog ‘Lettuce Cups’ but seriously, no one gets excited with lettuce. It’s always the sideshow, the salad filler, the garnish. Iceberg lettuce in particular is rather tasteless on its own. However, some clever chinese person came up with ‘San-Choy-Bao’ – translated literally as ‘lettuce wrap’.
It’s simple to prepare at home and makes a great starter where guests help themselves by wrapping pork or chicken mince in leaves of lettuce. There are hundreds of recipes online but I decided to cook by instinct this time.
Pork mince, carrots chopped into little cubes, water chestnuts, chinese mushrooms, soy sauce, hoisin sauce (the key condiment to this dish), chilli paste, spring onions and chopped nuts for garnishing and of course, a head of lettuce. Can’t. Go. Wrong.
There’s also something about eating with hands that makes the meal more appetising. Picture KFC’s finger-lickin’ good marketing strategy. Worked really well didn’t it? Now, San-Choy-Bao is definitely a hands-on meal. Just like eating a spring roll or souvlaki – utensils are pretty pointless. Okay then, you can now go and join the Facebook group called ‘Eating with Hands’ – I’m not kidding, it does exist.
Now the taste test. The mince should just have a little coating of sweet gravy, the carrots are cooked till soft but adds to the sweetness of the dish, aroma of the dried chinese mushrooms brings out an earthy flavour and the water chestnuts, lettuce and sprinking of chopped nuts gives the wrap that necessary crunch.
Not only is this dish delicious and healthy, it looks great too! Like a sunflower in full bloom (okay, maybe not). Since there’s another pack of mince left in the freezer, I know what I’ll be having for dinner again one day next week!
I love cooking with mince meat. There are just so many ways you can manipulate mushed up meat. The best part I reckon is the fact that it slurps up all flavours, which means unless you are a total flop at seasoning, mince meat dishes are usually taste guaranteed.
I’ve done meatballs, patties, burgers, cooked in sauce…I’ve steamed, fried, boiled and baked them. The one thing I haven’t tried was to make a meatloaf. My pre-conceived idea of a typical meatloaf is usually one obtained from a greasy diner, smothered in ketchup. That very image didn’t quite appeal to me. So I went in search for a slightly posh recipe sans ketchup and I found one which was easy to manage and all the ingredients were readily available.
This meatloaf is a double porky pig. There’s pork mince (I used the 80% fat free ones) and there’s smoked pancetta. The recipe called for half of the pancetta to be diced and mixed with the mince, while using the rest of the wafer thin strips of smoked pork to line the loaf tin. I improvised the recipe (as usual!) and fried the pancetta along with softened onions in a pan first, releasing all its flavours and juices, before mixing with the mince/breadcrumb/parsley combination.
Ta-Da!! The result of my first attempt at meatloaf turned out to be a moist, delicious loaf of piggyness. The salty, smoky flavours of the pancetta were slurped in the mince and further enhanced by the thin layer that was slightly crisp on the outside of the loaf.
I paired the meal with some herb and garlic roasted vegetables – parsnips, carrots and potatoes, and a side of dressed green salad. Not to forget a full-bodied glass of Argentinian Malbec to wash it all down. And guess what? Not a splotch of ketchup was ‘harmed’ in the making. Lovely.