Hello summer

Chicken burger
So I got my homemade burger in the end. On a sunny KL day lazing in the garden. Summer on a plate. A tribute to the start of sunshine-filled days and shorter evenings on the other side of the world, my other home. Perfection. 

Chicken Burger (recipe inspired by Bev Cooks)

Basic Ingredients
Minced chicken (about 1 pound – I prefer buying chicken breast meat and having the butcher mince this so that mean is lean rather than the fatty pre-minced packets), 1 red onion, 2 cloves of garlic, spring onions, coriander, 1/4 cup soy sauce, juice of 1/2 a lemon, lemon zest, 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs, red pepper flakes, salt & pepper, olive oil, slice of cheese of choice, ciabatta bread, rocket leaves, avocado, tomatoes, thai chili sauce, mayonnaise, mustard. 

The Preparation
1. In a large bowl mix minced chicken, soy sauce, chopped garlic & onion, spring onions, coriander, lemon juice, lemon zest, breadcrumbs, red pepper chili flakes. Season.
2. Form mixture into patties (not too large or they will crumble when grilling). 
3. You’re supposed to let the patties rest in the fridge for about an hour, I placed these in the freezer for 15 minutes to allow them to firm up.
4. Grill on fry pan or BBQ until meat is done (10 – 15 minutes depending on the size of the patty)
5. To serve – grill cheese on ciabatta. On one side smear with the sauces – thai chill, mayonnaise, mustard. Add rocket. Add cooked burgers. Top with sliced avocado and tomatoes. Initially I was skeptical about the avocados going into an inspired flavored meat patty but the combination works!
6. Bite. Dig in. Say hello to summer. 

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Home cooking how I’ve missed you

Grilled lemon salmon with spaghetti
The snowball effect of holidaying, immediately coming back to an insane week that saw me living out of my laptop bag and car for 4 consecutive days with no office desk time as I rushed between production houses to stressful client meetings, and just general work worry has left me feeling very unsettled recently. By the end of week, I could not shake off the feeling that I was losing a part of myself. I did not mind so much that my social life was non-existent (I’ve lost track of the number of social outings I’ve cancelled this week) nor the fact that I have not gone for a single run in the past two weeks. The thing that has bothered me the most is knowing that i have not be in very good control of my own meals since the start of May. I loved the food in Vietnam (fresh veggie heaven!) and obligingly closed an eye towards my tendency to over indulge on food when overseas  (hey I was on holiday!). However now back in KL, post-holiday bliss all gone, the eating out has not stopped. I have been greeted with takeaway, fast-food meals (with not so fresh veggies) while trying my best to not bring out the inner diva in me by turning down whatever food that has been kindly offered to me at meetings. 

Without wanting to sound overly dramatic, I have been feeling like an addict that has been denied whatever substance necessary to keep me grounded. Cooking is a necessity to me, without it I feel like I’m losing control of the things around me. I rushed out of work at midnight yesterday grateful that it was Friday not because I could get some much deserved sleep this weekend. To me, the start of the weekend meant that I could finally say hello to my kitchen. I went to bed last night dreaming about chopping garlic. I woke up this morning troubled about what seemed like the biggest dilemma in the world – do I cook pasta or chicken burgers for my first home cooked meal? Forget brushing my teeth, the first thing I did this morning was check out my usual blogroll of food sites for my foodie hit. I even contemplated skipping yoga so that I could start cooking earlier. At the supermarket, I was slightly neurotic rushing from one aisle to the other, grabbing ingredients to shove in the basket before removing them to replace with other ingredients (the burgers vs pasta question was still racing through my head!). I was one of those annoying shoppers who spend 15 minutes analyzing the firmness of the cherry tomatoes because goddamnit, for my first home cooked meal in two weeks I want the sweetest and most succulent cherry tomatoes the supermarket has to offer.

And oh my god, the feeling of contentment as I laid the groceries out on the kitchen countertop and started preparing the meal. I felt complete. Whole. Myself. In the end I opted for pasta as I wanted to stay away from anything that resembled the takeaway meals that I had been bombarded with all week. Homecooked pasta is the ultimate comfort food that nourishes the soul, making you feel that despite all the craziness, everything will work out alright as long as there is pasta in the world. Thank you spaghetti and grilled lemon salmon for restoring my sanity. 

Grilled lemon salmon with spaghetti 

Basic Ingredients
Spaghetti, salmon fillet, juice of 1 lemon, oregano, spinach, cherry tomatoes, chili flakes, 4 garlic cloves, capers, parsley, olive oil, salt & pepper.

The Preparation
1. Cook spaghetti in salted water until al dente. Reserve some of the cooking liquid.
2. Marinate salmon with juice from 1/2 of the lemon, a bit of olive oil, and oregano. Season. Grill salmon and leave fillet to rest.
3. Sautee chopped garlic with olive oil.
4. Add chill flakes and halved cherry tomatoes. Cook until tomatoes are soft.
5. Add spinach and cook until the leaves have wilted. Season.
6. Add spaghetti and stir through a bit of the pasta liquid and remaining lemon juice.
7. Add chopped capers.
8. To plate, place salmon fillet on top of a serving of pasta. Sprinkle chopped parsley. 

Not quite as cheap as chips but close enough

Cous cous with pan fried garlic & chilli prawns
Grilled chicken with quinoa, spinach, tomatoes, and feta
One of the many food myths that I love to set straight is the fact that healthy food is too expensive to make on a regular basis. Yes I admit that it is impossible to compete with what you would pay for a bowl of hawker style fried noodles. However in comparison to the cash that you would need to fork out for a meal at many evil fast food chains, you will be better off spending your money preparing a wholesome dish that will not only keep you full over the next few hours but will also nourish you as well. Imagine paying a hefty RM 11.50 for a large McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets set to only suffer the inevitable sugar/additives crash in a few hours. No contest for me.

I’m always surprised when people tell me that the food that I cook is realistically not financially sustainable on a long term, daily basis. Apparently I only feature ‘posh’ food. This is far from the truth! Perhaps my obsession with food presentation is rather deceptive (yay I guess that means I’m getting a little better at arranging food) but I am just as wallet conscious as most people. When I moved back to KL, yes I was shocked that healthier ingredients were more expensive than what i would pay in the UK. Since then I have learned to adapt by substituting local ingredients to still make my favourite home-cooked meals. Through many trial and error shopping sessions, I have realised that omitting expensive imported ingredients is the key to keeping my weekly shopping bills from hitting the roof. Some tips to consider- use Thai asparagus instead of the European variety. Shiitake mushrooms are just as flavourful as many of the Scandinavian forest-sourced gems (oh how I miss chanterelle season though!). Canned (cheaper!) and freshly pitted gourmet olives don’t have that much of a difference to my average taste buds and neither do I need to indulge in RM 29 for a measly ball of buffalo mozzarella cheese on a regular basis – feta is so much cheaper here and will go a longer way. 

The two dishes below when broken down to costs per individual serving both amount to less than what you would pay for a Large set at McD’s while using unprocessed, fresh, local, healthy ingredients.  So put down the nasty brown fast-food tray and pick up a shopping basket at your nearest supermarket. Wholesome food can be cheap, tasty, and easy to make! 

Cous cous with pan fried garlic & chilli prawns

Basic Ingredients & pricing
Cous cous (RM 5.50 for a packet of 5 servings, each serving = RM 1.10), chicken stock made from cube (RM 6.00 for a packet of 12 cubes, each serving = RM 0.50), tiger prawns (RM 5.00 for a packet of 6 prawns), 2 cloves of garlic (RM 3 for about 2 garlic bulbs and about 6 cloves per bulb = RM 0.50 for 2 cloves), 1 red chili (RM 4 for a packet of 6 red chillies = RM 0.66 per chili), 5 cherry tomatoes (RM 5.50 for a packet of cherry tomatoes containing 3 servings = RM 1.83 per serving), coriander (RM 2.50 per bunch and I used I sprig so an estimating about RM 0.50), juice of 1/2 a lemon (RM 6.00 for a packet of 5 lemons, works out to RM 1.20 per lemon = RM 0.60 for half a lemon) whatever oil you have lying in the kitchen, salt & pepper. Total per serving: RM 10.69

I didn’t include the pricing for kitchen basics like oil, salt and pepper as I figure these are kitchen staples that most kitchens are bound to have.

The Preparation
1. Cook cous cous with a chicken stock made using stock cube and hot water.

2. When cous cous looks about halfway cooked, add halved cherry tomatoes.
3. Marinate prawns in red chili, a bit of oil, and lemon juice. Season.
4. Saute garlic with a bit of oil.
5. Pour in marinated prawn mixture.
6. When prawns start to turn pink, scatter chopped coriander and serve with cous cous. 

Grilled chicken with quinoa, spinach, tomatoes, and feta
Although this dish is approximately RM 4.00 more than our McNugget meal index, check out the amount of fresh veggies in this healthy mix. 

Basic Ingredients & Pricing
Quinoa (RM 15 for a packet of quinoa that has about 5 servings = RM 3 per serving), grilled chicken (RM 7 for 3 medium chicken breasts = RM 2.33 per chicken breast), half a packet of baby spinach (RM 6 per packet = RM 3.00 per serving), shiitake mushrooms (RM 5 for a packet of 3 servings = RM 1.67 per serving), chicken stock made from cube (RM 6.00 for a packet of 12 cubes, each serving = RM 0.50), 2 cloves of garlic (RM 3 for about 2 garlic bulbs and about 6 cloves per bulb = RM 0.50 for 2 cloves), 5 cherry tomatoes (RM 5.50 for a packet of cherry tomatoes containing 3 servings = RM 1.83 per serving), coriander (RM 2.50 per bunch and I used I sprig so an estimating a generous RM 0.50), juice of 1/2 a lemon (RM 6.00 for a packet of 5 lemons, works out to RM 1.20 per lemon = RM 0.60 for half a lemon), feta cheese (RM 10.00 for a block of Apetina cheese that will get me through 6-8 servings = RM 1.25 per portion), whatever oil you have lying in the kitchen, salt & pepper. Total RM 15.18

The Preparation
1. Pre-grill chicken with a bit of the oil, salt & pepper.
2. Cook quinoa with stock made from chicken cute + hot water. Season.
3. In a separate pan sauté garlic with a bit of oil. Add shiitake mushrooms, halved cherry tomatoes, and spinach until leaves have wilted. Season.
4. Add veggies to the quinoa mixture.
5. Drizzle lemon juice.
6. Add cubed feta cheese.
7. Sprinkle with coriander 

On a springtime Saturday

Poached eggs over smoked salmon and asparagus
Waking up early with a smile on your face. Lazing in bed knowing there is a slight drizzle outside but enjoying the comforting thought that you are not under any pressure to get up anytime soon. Reading your favourite food blogs for inspiration while sipping on a hot, strong, cappuccino. The perfect breakfast. I can’t think of a better way to start off a springtime Saturday.

So maybe it is not exactly spring in Malaysia considering we only have two types of weather – scorching hot and thunderous rainy days. Birds continuously chirp and trees flower pretty much all year round here. However while going through my usual blogroll and soaking in the entries dedicated to the fresh seasonal produce during this time of the year, I could not resist the urge to join the bandwagon in celebrating the arrival of spring in many parts of the world. Think a wonderful array of green and yellow – asparagus, peppery rocket, watercress, radish, chicory, heirloom tomatoes. The foodie spring fever has certainly kicked in with many features on light, bright, and fresh dishes to honour the season of new life. They May asparagus month is always one of my favourite times of the year. These lovely green spears require absolutely minimal cooking as the main standout is in its natural flavour. I always rejoice in the fact that the inclusion of asparagus to any dish invariable adds a touch of class, transforming a simple home cooked dish into an elegant, gourmet meal. Luckily for me  (but not so for the carbon footprint), asparagus tends to be available throughout the year since this is imported from various locations.

Inspired to bring the joyful spirit of spring to my tropical kitchen in Malaysia, I started off a wonderful Saturday morning with poached eggs, lightly grilled asparagus, smoked salmon topped with a yoghurt hollandaise. Such a simple breakfast with minimal cooking time and yet you come away feeling like it is a grand celebration of a special occasion. Guaranteed to put a spring in your step to welcome the weekend ahead.

Poached eggs over asparagus and smoked salmon
with a yoghurt hollandaise sauce

Basic Ingredients
Asparagus, smoked salmon, eggs, half a ciabatta, butter. 
For the sauce: onion, garlic, small single portion tub of natural yoghurt, 1 tbsp dijon mustard, dried thyme, juice of 1 lemon, olive oil, salt & pepper.

The Preparation
1. Toast ciabatta
2. Trim off their ends and blanche asparagus spears in boiling water for about 1 minute. Following this, pan grill with a bit of butter for about 2-3 minutes to add a bit of smokiness.
3. For the sauce – sauté onion and garlic with olive oil. Add yoghurt, dijon mustard, lemon juice, thyme, and season. Let sauce reduce.
4. Poach eggs.
5. To plate, line ciabatta with asparagus and smoked salmon. Top with poached eggs and a drizzle of the yoghurt hollandaise.