Farewell tuna, hello tilapia

Grilled tilapia with breadcrumbs & parmesan
Grilled tilapia with ginger and coriander
Cheese baked tilapia
Today marks one full year and 20 days since my return to KL. It has certainly not been the smooth sailing I was initially expecting when I decided it was time to say farewell to my London town. Some initial difficult adjustments, crazy challenges, and difficult realizations…  I myself am quite surprised that I’m still here, patiently waiting to see my relationship with the City of Lights blossom. 

Despite it all, every moment of confusion, heartache, and uncertainty has led to a new sense of acceptance and clarity. Two weeks before my 31st birthday, I attended a life-changing training session that has opened up my eyes to the fact that I am fully responsible for every single decision I make. You either make the best of out of a situation or you make a change. Rather than blaming the circumstances around you, you have the ability to respond to any given situation. So I can either wallow in the things that I miss about my London town or I can get with the programme, embrace my decision to come home and make my time in KL the best that it can possibly be.

In a ‘self-pity session’ prior to said training, I was trying very hard to recall everything that I missed about London. Summer days (although limited), random walks around the city, easy access to healthy food, work-life balance, a sense of liberated independence knowing that you only have yourself to count on (no family around), art, theatre, supermarkets with affordable produce, artisan farmers’  markets, and oddly enough out of nowhere fresh tuna popped into my mind. Good quality, juicy, meaty, and does not cost an arm and leg tuna steaks. That’s when it hit me that I have not enjoyed a nice tuna steak since I stepped foot in KL since fresh tuna, which is always imported, is too crazily expensive here. When forced to choose between the two, I always opt for salmon as it is a bit more wallet friendly compared to the smallest piece of tuna fillet. 

Rather than pine away at my long-lost food joy,  I need to happily accept the fact that I may not be able to enjoy certain things as much as I did in London. So the necessary adjustments need to be made. Instead of paying a ridiculous amount amount for tuna, I’m opening up my palate to the joys of the local, less costly tilapia. Tilapia is a fresh water fish and its meaty white flesh makes it ideal when served as fillets. Unlike tuna, tilapia is not too ‘fishy’. Its subtle taste ensures that it easily imbues the flavours of its surrounding ingredients, working well in both Western and Asian dishes. Best of all, unlike many local fishes, when filleted correctly you will not get any pesky bones interfering as you enjoy your meal. I have been experimenting with the Asian flavours of garlic and coriander to slightly more Western inspired assembles of breadcrumbed tilapia and cheese-baked tilapia (I am a firm believer of seafood + cheese = freaking delicious, hello seafood gratins?). Three recipes using the same fish in the span of two weeks? The best part is that I’m only at the very beginning of my adventure with tilapia. 

Grilled tilapia with breadcrumbs & parmesan (from Something Savoury)

The Ingredients
Tilapia fillet, a big handful of grated parmesan, breadcrumbs, zest of one lemon, chopped coriander, juice of half a lemon, and salt & pepper. For the orzo: 1/2 cup orzo, broccoli, sliced mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, a handful of parmesan, and salt & pepper,

The Preparation
1. Pat the tilapia fillets dry using paper towels.

2. Combine  cheese, bread crumbs, lemon zest, coriander, salt & pepper.
3. Coat tilapia fillets with mixture and bake fish for 10 to 15 minutes at 475F.
4. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on the fish before serving.
5.  To make the orzo, bring water to a boil and add salt. Add orzo.
6. When orzo is 3/4 cooked add the mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. Cooking should take a total of about 10 to 15 minutes. Once done and all liquid has absorbed, add parmesan cheese and seasoning.
7.  In a separate pan steam the broccoli.
8. Add broccoli to orzo mixture and top with the breadcrumbed tilapia fillet. 

Grilled tilapia with ginger and coriander

The Ingredients
Tilapia fillet, 1 garlic clove, 1/2 inch fresh ginger, 1 green chili, 1/3 cup chopped coriander, 1/4 cup white whine, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, shiitake mushrooms, spring onion and extra coriander to garnish. 

 The Preparation
1. Pat fillet dry with paper towel and lightly season with salt and paper. Lay in a glass baking dish while heating the oven to 475F.
2. Blend garlic, grated ginger, chopped chili, and coriander in a food processor with white wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil. 
3. Pour sauce over the fish and add sliced shiitake mushrooms.
4. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.
5. Once cooked (fish fakes easily), serve over a bed of brown rice. Garnish with chopped spring onions and additional coriander.

Cheese baked tilapia served with sautéed spinach and cherry tomatoes (inspired by How Sweet It Is)

The Ingredients
Tilapia fillet, 1 tbsp butter, 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, 1 clove of garlic, thyme, salt & pepper, and lemon slices. For the spinach and cherry tomatoes: 1 clove of garlic, olive oil, baby spinach, cherry tomatoes, a squeeze of lemon juice, and salt & pepper

The Preparation
1. Pat tilapia dry and season with salt & pepper.

2. Lay on a baking tray (either use a non-stick spray or a bit of olive oil rubbed behind fish so it does not stick). Bake for 10 minutes at 400F. 
3. Mix butter, garlic, thyme and parmesan cheese.
4. Remove fish from oven and gently flip. Top fish with the mixture and baked for another 5 to 10 minutes until cheese is golden and bubbly.
5. Heat olive oil and sauté garlic. 
6. Add baby spinach leaves and cherry tomatoes. Season with salt & pepper and squeeze of lemon juice. Cook until leaves have wilted and cherry tomatoes and popped.
7. To serve, plate the tilapia on top of the spinach leaves and cherry tomatoes. Serve with slices of lemon.  

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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.

The messy art of cooking

Grilled salmon with wilted spinach & coconut milk
Even before starting Joy Discovery Invention, I am often asked why I bother going through all the effort of making food appear ‘restaurant presentable’ if I am cooking just for myself. Why spend the extra time arranging food in the absence of someone to impress? 

The funny thing is I have never been good at anything involving arts & crafts nor do I have an eye for aesthetic detail. Leave me with the simple task of frosting cupcakes and you risk the kitchen looking like an icing explosion has taken place. Oh and cupcakes that look as if they have been decorated by a three year old. As I have mentioned previously, I cannot bake to save my life. The skills of precision, following instructions religiously, math, and attention to technical details are not my forte. For this very reason,  I have never been drawn to chefs like Delia Smith or the adventurous Heston Blumenthal. When you need to measure out 1/4 teaspoon of salt to add to your omelette to create the perfect rise, food becomes a science that is no longer fun. Instead, I relate to Jamie Oliver, Yotam Ottolenghi, and even Nigella Lawson since they approach cooking as a carefree yet exciting journey. It does not matter if things go slightly chaotic or disastrous, you can always create something completely different from what you intentionally set out to make and still have a gorgeously delicious meal. In case anyone has not noticed, I hardly ever measure my ingredients because to me cooking should not be a formula. The perfect omelette should not require counting every granule of the 1/4 teaspoon of salt – it’s about feeling, taste, what appeals to your sense, and personal preference. Hands down I would take Jamie’s messy but liberating technique of beating the crap out of a bag of almonds with a rolling pin over Delia’s precise slicing into the perfect slithers. Despite the unpolished and unlady like approach, the mess still has the potential to be turned into a meal that appears lovingly crafted to exude a genuine passion for food, flavours, and ingredients. 

The dish below is a classic example of a meal so simple (no long list of ingredients or 1/8 teaspoon of any ingredient required) yet still looks gorgeous to the eye. The spinach and coconut milk sauce is creamily messy but when paired with a hero piece of grilled salmon, the meal naturally looks like it required much more skill and time than the mere 18 minutes it actually took to assemble. For me, every opportunity to sit down to a delicious looking home cooked meal (even if it is cooked just for my lonesome self) is a reason to celebrate the simple joys in life that you can easily create for yourself. A quick 18 minutes for this simple pleasure is worth all the effort.

Grilled salmon with wilted spinach & coconut milk

The Ingredients
For the salmon: sesame oil, soy sauce, minced ginger, chopped garlic, salt & pepper. For the sauce: sliced onions, sesame oil, sliced red chillies, a dollop of chili paste, coconut milk, spinach leaves, juice of half a lemon, salt & pepper. 

The Preparation
1. Marinade salmon with sesame oil, soy sauce, minced ginger, chopped garlic, salt & pepper. Grill for 15 – 18 minutes depending on thickness of salmon.

2. While salmon is grilling, make sauce by sautéing onions in sesame oil.
3. Add sliced red chillies and cook for 5 minutes.
4. Add chili paste, coconut milk, salt & pepper, and spinach. Cook until spinach has wilted. 
5. Finish off with lemon juice.
6. Serve grilled salmon on top of spinach and coconut milk sauce.  

To farewells and inspiration

Grilled salmon with black rice
Having moved around from place to place all of my life, I thought I would be used to saying goodbye to people. When I was younger, I trained myself on the art of detachment so when it was time to leave a country, bidding farewell became effortless with minimal tears. “I’m leaving on a jet plane” became a sort of sarcastic theme song that I would constantly sing to myself to help ease the pain of parting.

In the last few years though I’m noticing that as I grow older, it is becoming harder for me to say goodbye. It’s funny really. With relative financial security and a paying job, I can hold on to the comforting thought that the people I love are only an affordable plane ride away. However I’m finding that each new farewell leaves a bigger dent in my heart, making room for insecurities of loneliness to take over. I suppose with age, you meet enough people to recognise that absolute true friends who help define you as a person are few and precious. With this important realisation, you will do anything to hold on to these friendships.

Two weeks ago I bid adieu to yet another dear friend who left to pursue his exciting journey of self discovery. This friend was my rock that ensured my sanity during my first few months of adjusting to the realities of living in KL. He introduced me to my safe haven that is our yoga studio. He would listen to me consistently whine about the chaos of working life. He patiently offered a shoulder to cry on as I chased a stupid ‘I told you so’ path but was never judgmental. He was the first person I would call when I was successful at a new yoga pose and when I discovered that aubergines with cumin were a match made in heaven. My first moment of enlightenment in 2012 was with him as we drove through the KL night, car top down, wind in our faces listening to the beautiful sounds of The Album Leaf. Philios leaving KL has left me with a heavy heart. Not only is he no longer a quick phone call/drive away, I am at absolute loss as to who to call to discuss the joys of discovering new uses of quinoa. 

I cooked this Black Rice and Grilled Salmon recipe in honor of our wonderful conversations on food, strange ingredients, wellbeing, and to our constant quest for inspiration. The recipe is inspired by Nigella Lawson’s Prawn & Black Rice Salad. I swapped the prawns for the salmon that I had lying around in my fridge, still achieving the fusion of Asian flavours and the dramatic effect of the black rice against the bright coral of the salmon (that’s Nigella speak for you – i.e. translation it looks interesting!). Be prepared though, black rice has a tendency to turn everything in sight a shade of purple so it might be safe to consider darker colored utensils when handling the rice.

Happy birthday Philios. Here’s to friendships that inspire you and believing that goodbyes are never permanent.

Black rice with grilled salmon

The Ingredients
2 cloves of crushed garlic, 2 red chillies, grated ginger, 4 tbsp fish sauce, 2 tbsp lime juice, 4 tbsp water, 2tbsp sugar, black rice, salmon, teriyaki sauce, coriander, salt & pepper, and lemon juice.

The Preparation
1. Make dressing by mixing the garlic, red chillies, ginger, fish sauce, lime juice, water, and sugar. Season.
2. Cook black rice as per packet instructions.
3. Grill salmon with teriyaki sauce, salt and pepper.
4. Once rice and salmon have cooled, spoon the dressing of the rice and flake grilled salmon through the rice.
5. Add chopped coriander.
6. You can serve this either warm or cold as a rice salad. 

Always hopeful, never defeated

Prawn pasta
While driving home listening to Coldplay’s Shiver on repeat for the fifth consecutive time in a row, it still amazes me how when it comes to matters of the heart, this song articulates my exact feelings, better than I could ever formulate my emotions into words. Time and time again, I turn to this gorgeous song about longing, unrequited love, falling in that scary kind of way, invisibility, patience, and never giving up hope (all this in a dreamy 5 minutes!). Every single time I hear Shiver, it’s almost as if Chris Martin physically manifests himself in front of me, like a genie from my deafening car speakers, plunges his fists into my heart to read everything I am feeling in that instant. He pens the song just for me, in the full knowledge that I will continue to bottle up my sentiments, never having the balls to verbalise them to anyone, so Coldplay volunteer to do all the pleading on my behalf.

During that same hazy drive home, it came to me that in addition to having a go-to soul bearing song, I also have a meal that I turn to for comfort when love has disappointed me. All I could think about was making a hearty bowl of prawn pasta. My emotional connection to this dish is equivalent to the stereotypical image of ‘girl bawling eyes out over tub of ice-cream or box of chocolates’ in the hopes that these simple indulgences will act as an opiate to numb the broken heart. My version is probably less glamorous with a messy plate of tomato based pasta. Crying while slurping long strands of spaghetti is not a pretty sight! So personal (or unattractive!) is the attachment that I feel quite uncomfortable cooking this meal for people as it feels as if I’m serving up my heart on a plate for the world to see.

I can’t really pinpoint what it is about the prawn pasta that draws such a protective/trusting reaction – maybe it’s the creaminess of the sauce promising to soothe any feelings of rejection or possibly its hopeful Italian associations to the purveyors of passion and amore. Everything about this dish from the way it is put together to the presentation is haphazard, random, spontaneous – a free fall. It encapsulates the whirlwind of emotions when you lose a piece of yourself to someone else. Everything feels a bit blurry, confusing, but so right.

But while Coldplay willingly choose to continue waiting, for my own sanity (and to avoid a carb & cream overload), I have chosen to let go, hoping that every bite brings me closer to leaving feelings of defeat behind, so that I can always remain hopefully optimistic. I started 2012 on a mission to seek positive energy, so it’s time to move on.

Prawn pasta

The Ingredients
Spaghetti, prawns, 1 x can of chopped tomatoes, splash of white wine, single cream (or creme fraiche), sliced red chillies, garlic, drop of balsamic vinegar, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, salt & peppper.

The Preparation
1. Cook spaghetti until al dente. Reserve some of the pasta liquid.

2. Saute garlic and red chillies in olive oil.
3. Add halved cherry tomatoes.
4. When tomatoes look partially cooked and garlic starts to brown, add a splash of white wine and can of chopped tomatoes.
5. Cook until tomato sauce starts to bubble then add in drop of balsamic vinegar and season. I find that the balsamic vinegar neutralises the tartness of the tomatoes.
6. Add prawns and when prawns have started to turn slightly pink add in cream, followed by pasta.
7. Serve topped with rocket leaves.

Going back to the start

Good old stir fry noodles
Self doubt spreads like wildfire. One minute you’re confident, grounded, strong, certain. When the barrage of doubts start to rear its ugly head, within an instant it permeates itself into every inch of your being. Your sense of self wavers and you begin to reassess every aspect of your life – your worth, decisions, abilities, how you fit into your surroundings, relationships, and even down to trivial matters like appearance or running speed.

Every now and then this doubt manifests itself into my safe haven, the kitchen. Recently in the name of being adventurous, I experimented cooking with pearl barley. I should probably explain that I have always had a negative perception of barley, having been forced fed hot barley drinks as a constantly ill child. Growing up, I always associated barley as something you would eat only when you were sick, never understanding why anyone would voluntarily, without a gun to their head, order a barley drink at the mamak. But that was years ago, since then my taste buds have evolved. In an attempt to expand my repertoire of wholesome ingredients, I cooked the grain in a risotto inspired dish. I was excited at this potential new discovery, throwing in an abundance of different mushrooms – portobello, enoki, shiitake, and porcini. I was even more generous than usual in my sprinklings of parmesan cheese, reassured in the knowledge that I could afford the indulgence since pearl barley is a nutritional powerhouse in comparison to the standard Arborio rice. Unfortunately, too much enthusiasm and perhaps a wee bit of over confidence lead to an epic recipe failure. The dish bombed. Badly. I haven’t had a kitchen disaster this bad since my attempt at spicing up a pasta dish led to a whole bottle’s worth of pepper sinking into the sauce (and was forced to eat the meal because my then boyfriend, bless him, still said it was the best pasta he’s ever had, yeah right!). At least the pasta-pepper fiasco dish was edible. The barley risotto turned out looking like mushed up cat food and I found the chewy texture of the barley incredibly disturbing. It’s very rare that I consciously make a decision to throw away food and not force myself to eat what I have cooked.

With a wasted pot of ‘superfood’, my cooking ego was slightly bruised as I questioned my ability to experiment and go beyond my cooking comfort zone. Am I doomed to cook the same thing over and over again? Maybe I should stick to being a safe cook and not be adventurous with food? Or shock horror, could it be that I am really not as good a cook as I think I am? In the last several months, self doubt has been a regular visitor. New environment, new job, new people, new experiences, new wavelengths – I can’t help but question how I fit in amidst all this newness. The culmination of all these elements (some good, some not so great) have left me debating the consequences/outcomes of my decisions. In times when I break into a cold sweat, begging the universe to unfold its master plan to me, I always find that it is best to take a deep breath and remind myself of my original intentions (i.e. I moved back to Malaysia wanting a change in my stagnant London life). Going back to the start, to what I know is true and honest always pacifies any overwhelming surges of self doubt. 

The same logic can be applied to the kitchen. The best way to get over a kitchen disaster without any dents in confidence to your cooking abilities is to go back to making that dish you know you kick ass at. A day after the barley incident, I turned to the first thing I ever learned how to cook, my fail safe stir fry noodles. So I created a monster of a dish with pearl barley but my stir fry noodles are idiot proof, taste good, and no matter what goes wrong when experimenting with ingredients, I know I can fix it. It’s comforting to know that when life starts feeing a bit unfamiliar and questionable, I can always rely on a delicious plate of stir fry noodles to fall back on, reminding me that I am fine and (sort of) know what I am doing, the craziness will pass, everything will be ok. 

Stir fry egg noodles with prawn and tofu

Ingredients
Egg noodles, prawns, tofu, fish balls, shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, cabbage, olive oil, soy sauce, nampla (fish sauce), garlic, onion, salt & pepper.

The Preparation
1. If using dry noodles, cook them in some boiling water. Set aside.

2. Sautee garlic and onion in olive oil.
3. Add both types of mushrooms, fish balls, tofu, and prawns.
4. Pour in soy sauce (about 3 tbsp) and nampla (2 tbsp). Season.
5. Add in cooked egg noodles and cabbage. 

I choose life.

Quinoa with grilled tomatoes & caramelised onions and grilled halloumi
Grilled prawns with avocado & rocket salad
Being in a new environment, on a number of recent occasions I have found myself in the position of defending my approach to a holistic lifestyle to reassure everyone that I am not a mental nutcase with control issues. Yes, I admit my dedication to healthy eating, running, and yoga dictates my choices, how I spend my free time, and the social decisions I make. These three integral elements define who I am so they are naturally going to take priority over other things around me. However, I reject all accusations of me being a ‘health/fitness freak’ in that obsessive calorie counting ‘I’m going to spend hours at the gym and not eat anything until I lose weight’ attitude. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that my love for food means that I can eat like a horse. A very hungry race horse. In fact, portion control is probably something I need to work on in 2012! 

Rather than focusing on a weight loss goal or having abs (or buns) of steel, I make conscious decisions on what I eat and what I do with my spare time because it is a lifestyle choice. It boils down to the simple fact that healthy, home cooked eating and exercise makes me feel better. It gives me focus and a passionate drive. Despite years of growing up in a nutrition centric household (to this very day condensed milk is banned from our home), this epiphany was inspired when I discovered running and yoga. With regular practise of both activities you become more attune to every single tingle and sensation (both good and bad) that your body exudes. Having this strong awareness encourages me to actively choose foods that will help nourish me to make me stronger, spark positive energy, and achieve a greater sense of clarity. 

I love having like-minded people who share this attitude and find it inspiring to be able trade healthy recipes and workout advise (funny, I would have never thought there would be that many similarities between yoga and circuit training!). For a recent recipe swap dinner, I introduced a dear friend of mine to the joys of quinoa by cooking the grain with roasted tomatoes and caramelised onions, topped with grilled halloumi. A side salad of grilled shrimps with rocket and avocado, along with grilled lebanese bread to mop up any juices completed the dinner. We experimented with the food layout to show that you can recreate restaurant style meals using wholesome ingredients prepared lovingly from your kitchen. See, healthy eating does not equate to food depravation (that is fad diet territory). It is about choosing the right mix of nourishing ingredients to create a delicious, filling, and nutritious meal. And I’m going to continue down this path so that I will still be happily doing headstands and ‘mental’ running sessions for the next 10, 20, and hopefully 30 years. 

‘Your outlook on life is a direct reflection of how much you like yourself.’
-lululemon

Healthy can be pretty – Quinoa with roasted tomatoes and caramelised onions topped with grilled halloumi

Grilled prawns with avocado and rocket

The Ingredients:
Quinoa & halloumi: 1 cup of quinoa, chicken stock, red onions, cherry tomatoes, dried italian herbs, cumin, paprika, salt & pepper, olive oil, halloumi

Prawn salad: prawns, olive oil, chill flakes, avocado, rocket leaves, and for the dressing – lemon juice, dijon mustard, salt & pepper, olive oil

The Preparation:
Quinoa & halloumi

1. Sautee onions with olive oil and a pinch of salt until onions have caramelised. Set aside.
2. Halve cherry tomatoes and sprinkle with italian herbs and a pinch of salt. Roast and set aside.
3. Cook quinoa with chicken stock and cumin. When grains are cooked sprinkle paprika.
4. Combine all ingredients above into the quinoa.
5. Grill halloumi – the trick to ensure the cheese does not stick onto the pan is making sure that you place the sliced cheese on a very hot pan.
6. Top grilled halloumi on quinoa mixture. 

Grilled prawn salad
1. Marinate prawns in olive oil and chilli flakes. Set aside for 15 minutes.
2. Grill prawns until they turn a coral pink and serve on a bed of rocket and chopped avocados.
3. For the dressing whisk olive oil, lemon juice, djion mustard, salt & pepper. Drizzle over salad.

Just like the old days part 2

Pak choi, egg noodle & sesame salad with grilled prawns
I finally watched ‘Midnight in Paris’ and what a beautiful film. I found myself falling in love with the city as the movie unfolded despite initial resistance (what can I say, I’m a cynic who thinks the hype that Paris is the epicenter of romance and culture is highly overrated!). The film touches on a number of themes but the storyline I resonated the most with was the lead character (played by Owen Wilson) and his fascination, awe, and almost childlike wonderment with Paris. I have always felt that my most important relationship in the last 8 years was not the usual boy-girl romance. The one true love of my life during my twenties was my London town. And what a true love it was – there was passion, excitement, laughter, tears, goosebump inducing magical moments, comfort in silence, and also intense disagreements (oh how I did get my ass royally kicked on a number of times). Just like the beautiful relationships where the connection transcends the superficial and you never stop falling in love, the best part was the endless new discoveries and never ending inspiration. But like some of the most memorable relationships, we loved deeply before painfully parting our separate ways.

Like Owen Wilson’s character, I loved to walk around London. This was when deep connections were cemented as the city unveiled its true self. London never failed to surprise me. Almost every corner turned revealed a new discovery. I really do miss being able to walk aimlessly without a plan. It is a sense of liberating escapism knowing that you can walk out your front door, not knowing your path or where you will end up. An early Saturday morning walk to buy a loaf of bread along the vomit paved streets of Kentish Town (I say this with my rose-tinted nostalgia glasses on, reminiscing puke lined streets – we Kentish Town-ers had a good time on the weekends!), could detour to a quirky cafe in Camden for brunch, lying on the grass with a book on Primrose Hill, and before you know it, you’ve somehow strolled up Haverstock Hill to the lovely Hampstead to watch a show at the historic Everyman Theatre, with loaf of bread still intact of course. These walks were a celebration of random, inspiring moments and no one appreciated this more than one of the members of the lovely London foursome. Both of us will always carry a torch for our London town.

The recipe that I’m dedicating to her is actually one of her own. Interestingly, I have always thought this dish best exemplifies her unique sense of adventure and appreciation for all things random. Her excitement towards discoveries, whether a new song, movie, stumbling on a lovely unknown part of a city, or the oh-my-god moment at finding delicious new food, is so incredibly refreshing. In the spirit of randomness, the salad comprises of an unusual mix of Asian ingredients, brought to life by a Western dressing. Raw pak choi (yes this is possible!) and uncooked egg noodles make the foundations of the salad. The dressing, comprised of red wine vinegar, olive oil and sesame oil, is poured over the raw ingredients to help soften the egg noodles. This is lovely as a side salad on its own or can be made into a more substantial meal with the addition of protein (I included grilled prawns). The composition is quite bizarre yet intriguing as under normal circumstances you would never consider using uncooked pak choi or egg noodles. Together. But somehow, the flavours fuse brilliantly and it just works. This has been one of my favourite kitchen discoveries. 

Nidsters, here’s to always finding those accidental moments of enlightenment.

Pak choi, egg noodle & sesame salad with grilled prawns

The Ingredients
For the salad:  Pak choi, egg noodles, cherry tomatoes, spring onions, sesame seeds, flaked almonds.
For the dressing: 2 tbsp Olive oil, 2 tbsp sesame oil, 6 tbsp red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.
For the prawns: unshelled prawns, lemon juice, red chili, salt and pepper.

The Prep
1. Chop pak choi and shred egg noodles into a bowl.

2. Add halved cherry tomatoes, sliced spring onions, and toasted sesame seeds and almond flakes.
3. Mix dressing ingredients together, pour over salad and let this rest so the red wine vinegar has time to ‘cook’ or soften the egg noodles.
4. To make the prawns, marinate prawns with lemon juice, chopped red chili, salt, and pepper. Grill.
5. Top salad with grilled prawns.