Friday, November 27, 2015

Rein's top 10 recipe writing tips

A well-written recipe is a thing to be desired and there are many howlers on the internet. Here are my top 10 tips to craft a good recipe:

1. Decide on your narrative style

You could use a descriptive style (where measures and ingredients are given in the same text with the steps or method). This style is usually found in older recipe books. It suits recipes with only a few ingredients and with three or four steps. 

However, busy cooks would prefer an ingredients and measures list separate from a step by step method description. This is what today's readers are used to and it makes it easier to check if you have all the necessary ingredients at one glance. 

2. Avoid too much personal experience or feelings

Resist the temptation to be overly personal with the recipe and detail at length your feelings when you did a particular step or give too long an introduction to the recipe. Readers do enjoy the personal touch, particularly when it comes to technique or variations but too much may bore the reader and leave them eager to move on to the recipe.

3. Write for a global audience

Ensure that readers from all parts of the English-speaking world will understand your references and measures. Whether you decide on using the imperial or metric system, keep it consistent or better yet, you may wish to provide both. 

This also applies to certain ingredients that are called different things in different countries or regions. A usual culprit is spring onions/shallots/french shallots/eschallots/scallions/onion leaves. These mean different things to different readers so mentioning the alternatives or adding a picture may help. If one of your ingredients must be in a different language, italicise the word and a picture or further explanation is also useful.

4. Perfect your ingredients and measures list

List the ingredients in the order that they will be used in the recipe or for more complicated recipes with several "mini recipes" within them, group the ingredients and then refer to them as a group in the method description. Give easy to understand measures as well. For example, "a teaspoon of minced ginger" is clearer than "an inch of ginger".  

6. Match your ingredients and method description

Do a two-way double check: have you listed all the ingredients used in your method description? Have you used in the method description all the ingredients listed? Nothing worse for an inexperienced cook to have have an ingredient listed which is then left out of the method.

6. Assume your readers have minimal (not zero) cooking knowledge

When describing the method, try to be as descriptive and clear as possible. This will cater to a wider audience and help a reader who is just starting to try their hand in the kitchen. The experts are likely to tweak recipes anyway so you needn't worry too much about them.

7. Include ideal salt and pepper measures 

Especially when cooking mains like chicken dishes, suggest to the reader how much salt and/or pepper they should add to achieve the best flavour from the dish. You may then suggest they reduce or increase to their preference. Salt to taste is easily done by those who are familiar with what a dish should taste like but it does not help the newbie much.

8. Give substitutes for hard to find, unusual ingredients

This is helpful where you think an ingredient is not something commonly found in a pantry. If the substitute will alter the flavour of the dish, alert the reader to this as well.

9. Suggest accompaniments or side dishes

Particularly for main meal recipes or starters, giving some ideas of what the recipe usually matches well with, or what it goes with, or what weather it suits will help the reader who may be thinking of adding  your recipe to a bigger menu.

10. A picture speaks volumes 

Adding a colourful picture of your finished dish will help your reader have some idea of what they're embarking on and also gives them an indication if they got it right at the end. I am always more inclined to try a recipe when it looks good in a picture.

Hope you find these useful - go forth, write and inspire someone to cook!

"Simple joys of meals, grateful am I indeed Never worry how next it comes But always hope for a delicious feed"

Friday, July 17, 2015

The oily truth

Last Tuesday's Good Food (Sydney Morning Herald) had a well-thought out piece comparing the different oils presented to us in the supermarket isle or health food debates. From the humble vegetable oil to the I-have-never-heard-of cotttonseed oil, the article discusses smoking points and nutritional content, dispelling some of my personal prejudices or ideas about certain oils.

So after digesting all the oily details, here is what I am thinking is my plan of fatty action:

Salad dressings, roasting winter vegetables, bruschetta drizzling, breakfast omelettes or scrambled eggs, pasta sauces Meditteranean/Middle Eastern (eg Yottam recipes) - Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) that has not been sitting in my cupboard for over 12 months and definitely sourced from Australia. Cobram is a decent brand stocked in Woolies but there are many other local olive oils found in the farmer's markets or health food shops.

The article suggests EVOO to be one of the healthiest oils and with a smoke point of 200-215 degrees making it suitable for roasting, cooking and baking.

Kerala cooking (vegetables, curries) - extra virgin coconut oil (can be found in independent grocers) and these are usually imported from Sri Lanka

Special event-luxurious Indian cooking like Biryani or melt-in-your-mouth Ghee biscuits (next to Gingerbread people in the picture) - Good ol' clarified butter (pure cow's Ghee).Love it for its flavour and have to ignore its high fat content (hee hee). The article did not discuss Ghee.

Chinese stir fries - Peanut oil (make sure none of your friends are allergic if its not the refined type)

Chinese cooking drizzles - Sesame oil (only a little and after cooking is over)

Malaysian cooking (nasi lemak sambal) - Rice bran oil is nice and neutral for this.

Baking - a good quality vegetable oil if the recipe calls for it. Its great for its neutral taste and gives the cake an unbelievable softness. While the article suggests its sweetness is good for cakes, I personally dislike using coconut oil in recipes (other than a coconut cake) because I find it overpowers the flavours of anything else in the cake).

Other dilemmas: Butter over margarine used in moderate portions feels more natural and less processed while in-season avocado for spreading on breakfast toast can't be beaten! (Interestingly, reading the ingredients list closer on most "spreads" in the butter/cheese supermarket isle will reveal even the most expensive olive oil spreads only contain about 20% of olive oil, the remaining being other plant or vegetable oils.) My choice of spreadable butter is Mainland Buttersoft (I believe its  a New Zealand product).

What oils won't I be using?

Macadamia and avocado as they are not budget-friendly.
Refined/Hydrogenated coconut oil (as opposed to extra virgin coconut oil),
Vegetable oil that has over 20% saturated fat per 100 grams
Re-using oil - oil should be not be re-used because its smoking point falls making it unfriendly to our bodies.

The greasy end

One thing is certain, oil makes our food palatable and delicious and choosing a healthy oil can certainly have some nutritional value.

PS. Fun fact -  Canola oil from the canola plant bred in Canada gets its name from the phrase "Canada oil low acid".

Thank you Good Food for some valuable information, looking forward to the next issue.

"Simple joys of meals, grateful am I indeed Never worry how next it comes But always hope for a delicious feed"

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Drink your brekkie:Banana Champagne Grape smoothie

Before anyone's eyes pop out, there is NO alcohol in this smoothie. I believe "champagne grapes" is the name of this variety of grape I found at the greengrocer last week. They are much smaller in size and clump close together on the vine. And of course, oh so sweet!

First, a little bit of pre-planning involving bananas. When you have over-ripe bananas sitting on your kitchen counter and going all soft and spotty on the outside, don't throw them out! Peel them,slice them, put into a freezer-safe container and pop it in the freezer. They might keep for a week or so then.

Here's a simple recipe for a morning fix-me-up:

1. Chopped frozen banana (1 medium sized banana). Fresh bananas may also be used but won't be as sweet (see below)
2. Two thirds a cup of soy milk (Bonsoy is best!)
3. One third a cup of plain greek yoghurt (thicker the better)
4. Handful of champagne (or any other kind) of seedless grapes

Add all of the above ingredients into your blender/liquidiser and splitz for about a minute until everything is nice and mashed up. Pour into a nice tall glass and just drink.

I was too eager and so here is the only picture left of it:

You can add any sweetener if you need it (eg a tablespoon of honey or maple syrup or coconut sugar) but I find that the trick is the bananas. If they are over-ripe enough, their sweetness level increases and so you can avoid further sugars. The champagne grapes also helped this time.

"Simple joys of meals, grateful am I indeed. Never worry how next it comes, But always hope for a delicious feed"

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Flourless Chocolate Orange Dream

It had been a while since I baked so for Tabitha's birthday, I decided to repeat a trusted recipe. Originally from that goddess of the kitchen, Nigella Lawson, this recipe was posted at

Chocolate by itself is decadent. Combining it with another flavour is not unusual. It marries well with coffee, caramel, cheese and strawberries. Not being a chocolate fanatic, this recipe glorifies oranges and how beautifully it goes with chocolate. The rich full flavour of chocolate is almost toned down (much to my delight) with the zing of fresh oranges.

Because the recipe calls for the oranges to be boiled for 2 hours, a way to whip up this cake quickly during a busy weekend is pre-cook the oranges during a work night. After the oranges have cooled, they can be kept in the fridge for a few days I reckon. When ready to bake, just pulp the oranges and follow the remaining steps of the recipe. What is amazing about this recipe is the absence of butter or oil. The natural oils from the orange and the texture of the cooked orange pulp are a wonderful binder and almond and orange always works well. I also added only 200g of sugar instead of 250g. You can go even lower if you want, depending on the sweetness of the oranges or your liking to the bittersweetness of chocolate.

While this cake is perfect without any frosting, I have previously topped it with a fresh orange buttercream frosting. I also discovered a good mix for a frosting that is not exactly fluffy but quite thick, and utterly chocolatey: Mix together melted chocolate chips ( microwave for a minute), some of the cooked orange pulp, some icing sugar, and plain yogurt (yes, the sour one!) - it works great to give the icing a smooth gloss. Again - no butter or oil! I don't really have the measurements but keep adding yogurt to get the consistency you want and taste along the way to maintain a balance of bitter, sweet and sour.

I had leftover oranges for juicing for break fast so I peeled the rind as long as possible and used a skewer to twirl them into curls. And they amazingly stay curled!! Ah, the wonders of nature! How awesome is our Creator. The rest of the rind was chopped finely to cover the sides of the cake.
For Tabitha's party with a Dark Chocolate Orange Frosting

The birthday party was good fun - an opportunity to meet new friends and catch up with old ones. A little local eating house in Darlinghurst called The Commons. Highly recommended for casual dining. The waiter's French accent was darling but his waiting service even better.

The cake, I trust, was a hit. Tabitha has leftovers for her family which is always good.

I hope you try this cake - its a must for chocolate lovers and is relatively healthy if one reduces sugar to a minimum.
The same cake with a Fresh Orange Buttercream frosting for my god-daughter!

"Simple joys of meals, grateful am I indeed Never worry how next it comes But always hope for a delicious feed"

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The resurrection of Shantamama Chicken

It should aptly be called wonder sauce instead of oyster sauce. That is the simple magic behind this hearty chicken recipe (originally from my aunt, Shanta whom I lovingly call Shantamama) but I've changed this version slightly. This old recipe saw the light of day at a recent dinner party we hosted and was served with hot Sambal Prawns, S&P squid, Chinese-style mixed vegetables and steaming white rice.

To serve 4 (or 3 big eaters) gather round:
  • 500g of chicken pieces on the bone (half a whole chicken cut into small pieces will do)
  • 4 shallots chopped (you can use white or yellow onions but shallots seem tastier)
  • Good chunk of fresh ginger, sliced
  • 2 fresh red chillies, chopped
  • Wonder sauce (oyster sauce) - about 3 generous table spoons diluted in about 1.5 cups of warm water
  • some fresh chives, chopped (you can use spring onion leaves if you like)
  • thick soy sauce, just a dash
  • sesame oil, also only a dash
  • good quality corn or rice bran oil for shallow frying, about 3 or 4 tablespoons
  • salt and freshly cracked black pepper, as required. A good donation of pepper does wonders.
Heat the oil in a fry pan on medium-high and shallow fry the chicken pieces till about 60% cooked. They should be turning nice and golden brown on the outside. Remove chicken pieces from the pan and drain them on a plate lined with a paper towel.

There will probably be enough oil left in the pan, if not, add a tad more. Saute the chopped onions and ginger for a few minutes at medium heat till soft and the onions start to caramelise then add chopped fresh chillies. You must be getting this awesome aroma right about... now!

To this, return the fried chicken and stir fry. Pour in diluted oyster-water mix (hear for the noisy sizzle that dies down quickly) and mix well. Add just a tiny dash of thick soya sauce and stir through for a richer colour and flavour. At this point, add in chopped chives and check the seasoning and add salt as required. Cover and cook for about another 8-10 mins, until the chicken is done.

Turn off the heat and add a dash of sesame oil and freshly cracked black pepper. Mix well - and then all that's left to do is eat.

Wonder sauce is truly wonderful.

"Simple joys of meals,grateful am I indeedNever worry how next it comesBut always hope for a delicious feed"

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Soup : A Labour of Love

Never again will I take for granted the comforting feeling of a heart warming homemade soup. The amount of time that goes into making some soup is nothing but a proof of one's love. Want to show someone you love them? Make them some soup - from scratch.

Making things from scratch is my ultimate goal for any meal but for all practical Mondays to Fridays it is quite an impossible feat. So on this Saturday afternoon, I decided to make humble Tomato Soup from scratch.

The process: I roasted nine vine-ripened Roma tomatoes (from Greg, the grocer at Parramatta's farmers markets) drizzled with olive oil and seasoned for about half an hour. I then added twelve cherry tomatoes to the tray and roast for another 10 minutes. I didn't realise the cherry tomatoes were meant to be added straight to the soup but they ended up in the pot along with chopped onions, celery and carrots. More diced tomatoes from a can and tomato paste added to the pot along with the roasted Romas and a litre of real vegetable stock (not from scratch - so maybe this process could have been a heck of a lot longer!) and I cooked it until all the veges (especially the tough guys - the carrots) were soft to mash. Enter the blender to mash up the veges in batches. Careful that the blender top doesn't fly off (I tend to hold it down just to be safe). Then I sieved each batch into another pot. The most painstaking part of the process. The end result was slightly textured but looked like good old bright red tomato soup. I warmed it again and checked the seasoning.

The original recipe asked for quick-roasted Bocconcini to be added into the individual bowls but the markets were all out of Bocconcini unfortunately. All I added was some decorative basil on each bowl.

What goes well with this soup? Try a Garlic Bread (yes, again from scratch). At least the Garlic butter was from scratch. Roast half cut entire bulbs (skin on) of garlic drizzled with olive oil for about 40 minutes. Then remove garlic cloves (which should be mashable) and roughly mash it. Season and add chopped flat-leaf parsley. Add a good quantity of soft butter and mix well. Spread over your favourite bread (I found a good sourdough bread from one of those fancy arty bread stalls). If you are serious about garlic, try a garlic olive sourdough to go with the garlic butter. Toast the garlic bread for about 15 minutes after grating some good quality Parmesan cheese atop.

As the cover recipe of May 2011 Delicious issue, the "plated" (or rather "bowled") soup looked more 'gormet' than the simple soup I ended up serving. It seemed such a long drawn out four step process to get 'some liquid in a bowl' but every sip of it was worth it. And the smiling faces of friends is much better than any airbrushed professional magazine cover.

"Simple joys of meals,grateful am I indeedNever worry how next it comesBut always hope for a delicious feed"

Flemington - Fantastic and Foodie

Flemington is the old name for the suburb now called Homebush West. 16 kilometres west of Sydney, it is by God's guidance that we found a new unlived 2 bedder along Marlborough Road for our first home in Australia.

Since living in Homebush West for a year and beginning to familiarise ourselves with general suburban western Sydney, we realised what a central and convenient suburb it was. Perhaps enough time time spent in most suburbs will give you a similar feeling as you discover lonely watering holes that serve good food, a discreet shortcut to a major access road or the way the local grocery store grows on you and you refuse to shop anywhere else. I would now advertise Homebush West (classically Flemington) as a great suburb to call home. Flemington is named after John Flemington who was granted 200 acres of land in the area in 1806 (Wikipeadia). The name of the suburb was changed to Homebush West when the Sydney Markets area was called Flemington.

I have already dropped the first jewel of this suburb - the Sydney Markets or Flemington markets. The markets were right across from our apartment on Marlborough Road - only Centenary Drive (an eight lane highway) separates us. Thank God for the underpass which is unfortunately not very well lit after sun down. The benefits of living a 15 minute walk away from the markets far outweighs the fall backs - at peak grocery times (maybe 9am to 2pm on a Saturday), there is traffic near the market entrance but it never takes you that long to get through. A handy tip - walk to and from the markets or if you have a car, get someone to pick you up after you've finished shopping from the Plaza side (near the Paddy's brewery which is easily accessible via Parramatta Road). Speaking from experience. If you're hungry, stop at the Cafe Toms for breakkie (they used to have a two-for-one Sunday breakfast) or head up to Tingha for salacious yum cha.

Having the markets close by is perfect for doing your fresh food grocery shopping on a Saturday, the seafood is cheaper and fresh, and there is also to a large extent, dry perishables as well. The Flower Market is great for wedding florists who come really early (4 am or 5 am). I tend to rock up around 8.30am when the remaining criers are dumping the last of the days' beauties for cheap.

On Sundays, the whole warehouse converts to Paddy's flea market - an interesting way to spend a couple of hours.

The Markets Plaza boasts a Paddy's Brewery with good wholesome pub food, a few slot machines and a weekly trivia night! It also has most of the major banks, a post office, a subway, a meat shop and other general retail stores.

One of my personal favourite reasons why the Markets are so wonderful is the train benefits (yes, I Heart CityRail). While most train stations (especially small ones the same size as Flemington station) have less services on weekends as compared to weekdays, Flemington station has twice as many trains stopping beacuse of the droves of folks who flock to the weekend markets. Mondays through Friday mostly only the Inner West line trains stop at Flemington (stopping at other tiny stations like Summer Hill, Petersham, Lewisham, Stanmore, Macdonaldtown etc). On Saturdays and Sundays, the limited stops South line (Museum to Campbelltown) trains also stop at Flemington).

If you believe public transport was meant for the public and have your own set of wheels like my other half, Marlborough Road is still a good location because it sits at the crossing of the main artery to go out west (the M4 motorway), the way out South and to the Airport (Centenary Drive) and is so close to Hume Highway as well. To go towards Epping or Ryde, you head the opposite direction on Homebush Bay drive. The nearest shopping centre is either Rhodes Shopping Centre (which has an Ikea) or Burwood Wesfields, both of which has cinemas. Even closer to us was Auburn Reading cinemas.

What else is good about Flemington or Homebush West?

Ah, the "Homebush West Shopping Centre" which is a T-shaped block of restaurants, Asian and sub-continental groecery stores and other useful stores. These are the ones I frequent:

1. Pyramid Video and Spice - for my Indian movies fix, curry leaves, curry powders, rice, banana chips. There are several other spice stores as well but I find it easier to stick to one! Pyramid has the best Malayalam movies collection too.

2.Sun Sun - a homely Chinese restaurant run by a friendly aunty from Hong Kong. We come here for the pork porridge with yee char kuey (or fried bread). The fried chicken laksa is an unusual take on the traditional Malaysian dish. The fried chicken comes on the side and you can dunk it in the laksa for quickie before biting into it.

3. Mithu's takeway for Indian curries and good vadais or puffs

4. Ram's takeway - for takeway idiappam, idli , thosai, and even really good Nasi Lemak takeway (on wekeends)

5. Gumballs - a franchise of Asian desserts - you can get cendol in a glass here and also fresh sugar cane juice made using that scary squeezy machine right at their doorstep. A wonderful treat during a balmy summer day.

6. Vani's beauty parlour - a good stop for anyone needing a facial or some threading done. With a loyalty card, your 11th visit is free!

7. A Chemist for medical needs

8. A few Asian grocery stores which sell Rambutan, Durian and Mangosteen in summer!!!

9. An Asian bakery which sells Coconut buns, Red bean bun, Green Pandan sponge cake and good old Egg tarts!

10. Happy BBQ which has delightful siew yoke (roast pork), roasted chicken and char siew (BBQ pork) with flavoured rice to eat in or take away. Make sure you ask for the ginger/green onion condiment on the side.

11. Fresh fish mongers where I can get my beloved ikan tenggiri (English - spanish mackeral).

The more I think of it, living in Flemington is pretty much like living in Klang. There is even a Chinese restaurant called Khai's where you can get Nasi Lemak, and yes, believe it or not, Bah Kut Teh!!! No wonder I loved it so much.

Visit Flemington, or even make it home, for a wonderful 'Asia in Australia' experience.

"Simple joys of meals,grateful am I indeed,Never worry how next it comes,But always hope for a delicious feed"