31 January 2012

roast chicken salad with turkish bread

Wow.  A whole entire month has already passed and we're into our 2nd month for 2012!  Summer is finally setting in (for Wellington anyway) and both the days and nights are starting to really warm up.

Chaffers Marina

Having grown up in the tropics, I really miss the heat of summer.  Now I do like winter - with it's comfort food and wrapping up warm in lovely winter gear and outfits (I'm very much a girl in that respect).  But by the end, towards the last month when winter hangs on for dear life and tries to linger, I'm usually jaded, somewhat depressed, downcast, irritated, sick of not being able to hang my laundry out in the backyard and in desperate need of sun and warmth.  I'm basically a walking petri dish of melancholy that needs to also lose at least 3 kgs.  You see how it is?

Boatsheds at the marina

Wellington can be quite slow on the summer uptake compared to some other parts of the country.  But when it arrives, it is GLORIOUS.  I don't make this statement lightly - for those of you who live here, have visited or come here often (say for work), you know it's true.  For the last +/- 15 years since I came to live in Wellington, summer has become for me, 3-4 months (dependent on global warming!) of all that is happy, positive and light.  It's a season of celebrations, public holidays and long weekends.  Of festivals, markets and fairs, open air orchestral concerts, movies in the botanical garden.  Of time spent with friends, of beaches and baches, long laid-back days and lazy lie-ins on weekends. 

Lazy lie in

It's also a season when I eat healthier - more salads, lots of fresh greens (e.g. chinese veg like kai lan, bok choy, ung choy and snake beans) and array of lush summer fruits that tempt every taste bud.  Desserts and sweets are somewhat healthier (?) and less stodgy with the likes of ice-blocks/cream, fruit tarts and flans, baking with all types of berries, homemade ice cold milkshakes, smoothies and fruit juices.

(And yes, I am deliberately leaving out listing all the artery clogging, heart stopping food we indulge in over the Christmas and new year holidays). :-)

Summer also sees me hanging out in cafes a whole lot more than I would in the colder months.  One that I've been frequenting a bit is the Pentifull Deli on Majoribanks St.  As its name suggests, it is first and foremost a deli.  But also has a table inside and one outside, where customers can sit and enjoy their purchases.  Staff also often move things about a bit on a display table so that they can fit 1-2 more of their regulars if needs be.  Now it's during summer that I tend to make more filled bread meals - sandwiches, rolls, burgers etc.  Not just for lunch or snacks, but often for dinner as well, although more substantial that the lighter versions for earlier in the day.  And it is at Pentifull that I ate what is now my favourite lunchtime meal - chicken salad baquette.  Wendy who is the owner and also a chef makes the best chicken salad baquette, I reckon.

I loved it so much that it inspired me to make a version of it at home.  There was no way I was going to be able to replicate Wendy's chicken salad at home - not without her recipe! (hint hint if you're reading this Wendy).  But it was close enough that it was a hit with 'S'...and I was pretty chuffed with it.

Keeping it simple - just some chicken breast simply roasted with skin on to keep it moist.  I used free range chicken, but if you're on a tight budget and buying free range is simply unaffordable, go with what you can.

I was going to remove the skin once the chicken was cooked, but it was so yummy and crispy that I left it on.

Use whatever salad greens you prefer - I used baby cos (a.k.a gem lettuce).  Or if you think there's more than enough vegetables in the chicken salad, go ahead and omit the lettuce.  No rules here!

Put this salad together whilst you're waiting for your chicken to cool down.

Slather the roast chicken and salad with good quality mayonnaise.  Don't be all skimpy with the mayo either - slathering is the oly way to do it.  Go ahead and make your own mayo if you're braver than I am.  I just buy mine as mayo is one of those seemingly easy things to make, but scares the bejeesus out of me.  If you're willing to part with a bit more dosh that you would normally for a jar of mayo, you can buy some decent ones out there.  I used Heinz's Seriously Good mayo. It's not top of the line, but it's pretty good.  According to the advertising on the jar, they use free range eggs which apparently makes the difference.  If you're using a cheaper version, be prepared though for your mayo to be vinegar'ry.

The bread of choice that night was turkish bread.  It was freshly baked and on special.  So again, no rules here - use whatever type of bread you fancy.

As you can see, I've cramped in as much of the roast chicken salad as I could in the bread.  No skimping in my kitchen!  And don't go bothering with cutlery for goodness sake.  Your hands are the best cutlery for this meal.

Store your leftover chicken salad (oh, there will be!) in the fridge and enjoy for lunch the next day, sans bread. :-)

Roast Chicken Salad with Turkish Bread
Inspired by Pentifull Deli

3 free range chicken breast, skin on
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and cracked pepper
1/2 telegraph cucumber or 1 regular cucumber, chopped fine (but don't mince)
1 small avocado, cut into small pieces
1 small red onion, chopped fine
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
2 stalks spring onions, chopped fine
Zest of 1 large lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Mayonnaise (homemade or store-bought)
1 tablespoon of either Dijon mustard or mild English mustard
1 head of baby cos lettuce
1 large turkish bread (or any other bread of your choice)

  1. Heat oven at 200C.
  2. Rub just enough olive oil all over the chicken breasts to lightly coat it, and then season well with salt and cracked pepper.
  3. Roast in preheated oven until chicken is just cooked through and skin is crispy. Over-roasting your chicken breast will produce dry stringy chicken meat.
  4. Once cook, take chicken out and let cool slightly so that you can handle it.
  5. Cut chicken breasts into small cubes and put aside - the larger the cubes, the harder it is to stuff your bread!
  6. In a large bowl, combine all the vegetables and the lemon zest, and gently toss to mix.
  7. Add chicken breast pieces to the salad and as much mayonnaise as you need (or want) to coat everything.
  8. Add the mustard and lemon juice.  Mix everything gently.
  9. Butter your bread if you wish and then line your bread with 1-2 cos lettuce leaves.
  10. Fill your bread with as much of the roast chicken salad as you wish.
  11. Salt and pepper to taste...and enjoy!

26 January 2012

enter the dragon

Gong xi fa cai! Gong hei fatt choy! Xin nian guai le!

Now what's all the differences you ask?  Well, these 3 greetings are probably the most common you'd hear in NZ.  The first being loosely translated to 'wishing you prosperity' in Mandarin, the second being the same  greeting in Cantonese and the last being 'happy new year' in Mandarin.  I speak two other dialects (although not very well any longer!) - Hokkien (paternal ) and Hainanese (maternal), and the greetings are the same with the exception of the differences in pronunciation of the words of course...but I won't bamboozle you with all of them!

So its the start of the Year of the Dragon.  I may not be as excited as some (let's say millions of other chinese) around the world since I believe in the chinese horoscope as much I believe in the western zodiac and the existence of fairies in the garden.  But if you were into horoscopes, let me summarise what astrologers and geomancers are predicting around the world for 2012:

  • The Dragon sign is the luckiest and mightiest of the 12 signs
  • Luckiest sign to be born under - so they predict a baby boom all around the world for 2012.  Hmmm...maybe I should retrain as a nanny and charge loads.  Just a thought.
  • There's going to be loads of prosperity and good luck all round.  Well, except for the following...
  • Europe will struggle economically (errr, if you've been following the news...no shit sherlock?!)
  • More natural disasters in the form of storms and floods in asian countries such as India, China, Thailand (no, you don't say) and Pakistan.  Don't they always? Anyway??
  • Apparently a prosperous year for those born under 'metal' signs (me).  Does this mean I will actually get my dream job?  And a little girl waits...
  • There's meant to be travel for me as well.  But!  Yes, yes.  Always a 'but'.  It seems I should be cautious of contagious diseases and colds when travelling.  So travels to the jungles of Congo is out for me then?  You know, just in case I get bit by a monkey and contract something hideous.  And I could always have a pack of Coldral on me for 'just in case'.  Not for the hideous contagious disease silly!  But for potential colds.  For the former, I could always buy a hazmet suit online and take it with me on my travels.  For 'just in case'.
  • This is the clincher for me - the Dragon is the only legendary animal of the 12 signs.  So all in all, this year is the year of make-believe.  Based on an animal that may/may not have existed, depending on who you talk to, and if they've taken their meds for the day.  Just another thought.

Now, now. I don't mean to be all cynical (or do I?). ;-)  I'm just seeing all this from the other side of the coin.  The funny slightly whatever side.  And I promise you I DO enjoy celebrating Chinese new year.  It is in my blood afterall.  However, its the food and traditions that I enjoy, not so much the superstitions and astrological believes.  Though some will argue that it's a fine line between tradition and superstition - and I agree!

My gorgeous younger sister in the photo, lucky mandarin oranges and an 'ang bao'
(red packet)

What was I saying again?  Oh yeah.  Food and tradition.  Oh and new clothes.  New pjs in particular.  Isn't it the same whichever kind of new year you celebrate?  It all revolves around food, tradition and for some, new clothes.  The new pj thing?  I'm not entirely sure that every chinese has this new year tradition, but in my family it's definitely 'the' thing to do.  Every year after the all important Reunion Dinner on new year's eve, we'd troop out to chinatown to soak in the crazy, busy, noisy, brightly red-dy atmosphere.    And yes, to those of you who ask - there are chinatowns even in asian countries!!  We'd buy new year sweets, snacks, more decorations (huge discounts to be had on the eve!) and new pjs .  We won't be allowed to wear the new pjs though until the next night - i.e. in the new year.  And if the pjs were days earlier, they would still sit in the cupboard all washed and ready for the new year.  Even now living in NZ and as adults, my mum still buys us new pjs or gives us the money to go buy them for ourselves.

And then there's the traditions.  As I said before, the line is pretty thin between tradition and superstition when it comes to Chinese new year.  I won't list ALL the ones that are observed by my family.  But here's a few:

  • Don't wear black or white but red - red is for prosperity and good luck, whereas white is a mourning colour for us and black, well black is just bad.
  • No using of the knife, scissors or anything with blades.  The cutting action of the blades equates to the cutting away of luck and also cutting and dividing joy and happiness.  So what happens if you needed to cook, you ask?  Well, that's why most family will have a MASSIVE (I do mean massive) cook-up on the eve, so that hopefully the food will last for at least the first 3-4 days of the new year.
  • No using of the broom - it sweeps away good luck.  I still maintain that you could get around that one with using a vacuum cleaner - it sucks in instead!
  • And whatever you do, try not to break any glass.  The whole shattering into bits is major bad juju.
  • Throw open all windows and doors and turn on every single light in the entire house just before the new year arrives - to let the old leave and the new come in.  This is one tradition I like to keep.  Now in Singapore that was easy, not so much in NZ.  In Wellington on Sunday night (new year's eve), it was windy southerly and around 8C.  So we flicked on all the lights and only threw open all the windows and doors at 11.50pm and these were all promptly shut at 00.15am.  I reckon that was long enough for the old to leave and the new to come in!

The there's the food.  Oh the FOOD.  Now that's what I miss most living now in NZ.  For me, if it wasn't the food, it wouldn't be Chinese new year.  The food makes it.  Just like every other festive or religious celebration around the world, there are certain dishes and foods eaten just during that time of the year.  And for Chinese new year, most, if not all of the dishes have specific meanings attached.

Cashew & Peanut Cookies

Most of the dishes are seafood based (whole fish, prawns, scallops, lobster, abalone, etc) with a few chicken and duck dishes and some more unusual ingredients that you wouldn't use in daily cooking (e.g. fat choy, which is a black hair-like algae often cooked with Chinese mushrooms).  There's also specific vegetables and fruit like leeks, broccoli, mushrooms and mandarin oranges.  Basically, all the dishes have meanings attributed to prosperity, good luck, health or happiness.  Though to be honest, most of it is about prosperity.  You know what us Chinese are like... :)  Even desserts, sweets and baking for this festive period have meanings attached to them - like the Pineapple Tarts I made, which the name in the Hokkien dialect sounds exactly like 'prosperity come'.  See what I mean with the whole prosperity thing?!

Pineapple Tarts

Ultimately the Chinese new year dishes, desserts and baking one grows up with is often based on the dialect group you belong to.  For me, it's been a mish mash of all sorts as I grew up enjoying both Hokkien (paternal) and Hainanese (maternal) dishes and as a teen Cantonese (stepmother).  And just to confuse you further - the country you grew up in can make a pretty distinct difference in the dishes as well - what a lot of families would eat in Malaysia and Singapore can be quite different from those eaten say in China.

Some store-bought Chinese new year goodies - clockwise LR: crispy egg rolls, cashew cookies, almond cookies.

If you're interested in knowing more, just Google key words 'Chinese New Year food/dishes'.  And here's a couple of links you could check out from noobcook, Rasa Malaysia and good old Wikipedia.

It was a relatively quiet new year celebration for me this year - by choice.  I had a big and stressful Christmas and didn't really want a repeat, so low-key it was.  Instead of the usual big Reunion dinner bonanza, we just went for lunchtime yum cha with my bestfriend and her family.

I also decked the house up with (after taking all the Christmas decos down - sheeesh!) and made some of my favourite Chinese new year cookies - Pineapple Tarts and Cashew & Peanut Cookies.  Will post about these soon!

Now I'm just umming over whether to close the new year (strictly speaking it lasts for 15 days) with Yu Sheng.  Basically a massive dish of shredded vegetables and raw seafood (fish and jellyfish) tossed with a dressing made of oil, sesame oil, sesame seeds, plum sauce and crushed peanuts.  And yes, you guessed right - it's ALL about prosperity.  An abundance of prosperity to be exact!

Happy Chinese New Year!! X.

17 January 2012

{better late than never!} christmas goodies

Before I launch into this post, let me wish everyone of you a Happy New Year! :-)

You may think that it's far too late to be posting up anything about Christmas.  I thought so too initially.  And the longer I left it, the less irrelevant it seemed.  Until today.

There were a lot of firsts for me when it came to Christmas gifting last year - these mainly revolved around giving homemade goodies as Christmas presents.  I've never felt that what came out of my kitchen was ever good enough to give away as presents (Christmas baking somehow different from cooking a meal for friends) - although every year, cookbooks and food magazines were earmarked and mental notes taken whilst watching the likes of Nigella and Donna whip up what seemed like amazingly simple yummies to be wrapped up prettily as presents.

However, 2011 was different.  It was the year I blogged about food.  And to do so, I increasingly found myself cooking and baking recipes I would normally deem too difficult so that I could blog about it.  All the hours spent in the kitchen finally gave me the guts to decide that this was the year for homemade Christmas goodies.  That and the fact that we were still a one-salary household.  Although I'm not entirely convinced that going homemade was necessarily cost-saving!  Ah well...

Spritz Cookies

So there I was.  After multiple exhaustive online recipe searches and an entire booklet of mini post-its, I managed to come to my final list.  It was made up of a few 'firsts': marmalade, onion jam and spritz cookies.  I decided to throw in a couple of repeat recipes as well, just in case my first attempts bomb out - deciding on chutney and granola (with slight variations to when I first made them).

Many photos of the final products were taken with every intention in getting a post out before Christmas. However I completely underestimated how much time it was going to take baking, preserving, bottling and wrapping up goodies for 15 people!  With all that plus the usual madness and chaos which is the lead up to Christmas, meant that I kept putting off the post.  Sitting down to sift through photos, touching them up and writing a decent post was so NOT what I wanted to do after all that.

So here we are, just past mid-January.  Looking through all the photos that I took of my Christmas goodies efforts, with the initial thought of deleting them all.  But as I went through one after another, I decided, what the heck. As far as I know, there were no rules about posting up something Christmas-sy almost a month after the event.  And even if there were, tough ti**ies!  I'm doing it.  I've done it.

Mini Marmalade

Happy new year - again!  If you've had a great 2011, here's to an even fabulous one for 2012.  And let's be there for each other so that 2012 will be a memorable one, for all the right reasons! xoxoxo

PS: Will post the recipes for these soon!!