Thursday, December 10, 2009

A stroll...

There is this nice little park at the apartment we are staying. It is very well maintenance and has got a nice landscaping design. There are a couple of garden mazes, a small playground, pretty porches, several fountains (although they are not operating at this time of the year), beautiful pebbled paths and the park is dotted with many shrubs and trees. Whenever the weather is 'warm' enough, I will bring my two kids for a stroll.

Come, join me for a walk in the garden...

There were many pretty roses when we were here in autumn, now most of the flowering plants have been pruned down. It it inevitable for me to take notice of the evergreens instead. This close up picture reminds me very much of the tip of a milk bottle brush ;)

There are several species of pine trees in the garden. I spotted this one, which looks exactly like those artificial Christmas trees on sale at shopping malls back home. It is known as Pinus Armandii Franch or Armand Pine. This conifer has got leaves that grow in clusters and branches out to make them look like pom-poms. The tips of the needle-like leaves are tinted yellow...this makes the pom-poms appear to glitter and glow.

When I first saw these trees, I thought they were Pussy Willows, those decorating plants the Chinese love to deck their halls with during Chinese New Year.

Those flurry flowers? or buds? feel just like the catkins of the pussy willows, but they do not have long branches.

I have this habit of collecting pine cones whenever I go to temperate countries. I searched around, but there were none on the ground :(

So, I can only satisfy myself with pictures of these cones which are still pretty much attached to the branches. (Yes, I tried plucking it! I know, I am being very naughty ^_^")

This is part of a structure of a giant fountain...

filled with plenty of pebbles...I am sure this spot would look awesome during a summer night.

More trees along the way...

the leaves were all gone, I don't know what are these plant parts remaining on the branches...are they buds? fruits? or flowers?

Are you able to spot the strange 'claw-like' branch in this photo?

This is something interesting for us, since we don't own any pets. It's a trash bag dispenser, for pet owners to 'pick up' after their dogs.

Another interesting tree with unique patterns on the tree trunk, just like the prints on army uniforms!

At the end of our short walk, my hands were all frozen after exposing them in the cold for so long. I hope you have enjoyed this photographic 'stroll' as much as I do.

Blizzards And Brownies

As I write this, West Michigan is getting it's share of the winter storm that is clobbering the Midwest... Blizzard warnings are out, and I've heard the fire trucks/rescue units twice today- and it's only 8:30AM!
Tuesday night, I had to make a big batch of my Wicked White chili for my wife's office luncheon Wed. I can make this in my sleep, but she threw a wrinkle into the mix- One guy is a Muslim, and could not have pork! I respect other's religions and made two batches.. Kind of a pain, but he was very grateful. All chili got gone, with the usual requests for the recipe!
Wednesday night we had a simple supper of scrambled eggs with Havarti cheese melted in, and a side of really excellent thick cut bacon..
I made some brownies for a sweet treat later.. I don't make them with sprinkles, and other bells and whistles, as my wife and I don't need the frosted, loaded brownie a kid would go for! It was an out of the box mix, 3 eggs, a handful of dried cranberries, a handful of semi sweet chocolate chips, a touch of almond extract, and vanilla... I love a subtle touch of almond in chocolate- don't you?
I still have a whole choice beef tenderloin (7lbs.!) I scored at Sam's Club to cut into fillets.. I like to do it myself, and save big bucks on a gourmet cut of beef!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pasta Made Easy

Do you like pasta?

I love pasta. My family loves pasta. Plus, it is so simple to prepare, especially for a lousy (and lazy) cook like me. I take great advantage of my kids...the fact that they are not fussy eaters, I could feed them with pasta for lunch or dinner, anytime of the week. Sometimes it could be a 'lavish' seafood marinara pasta for dinner, but most of the time, I serve them fusilli with meatballs in tomato sauce, or a simple plate of angel hair with bolognese sauce.

My boys' favourite pasta meal got to be the chicken and mushroom spaghetti in cream sauce.

I have cooked this pasta dish using various methods. I have to confess that during those early days when I first started cooking for my family, I used canned mushroom soup as sauce ;) It was much later that I learned from some cookbook the proper way to make the white sauce...stir fry butter with some flour, before adding milk or cream. However, I could never achieve a consistent taste. Sometimes the sauce would be way too thick (and 'floury') and most of the time I had problem trying to dissolve the lumps of butter and flour mixture with the milk. If the sauce ended up too thin, I even tried adding cheese slices to thicken it! The best method I have since adopted is to simply cook the sauce using just dairy cream. Depending on what's available, I may use heavy or thickened cream which will yield a very creamy and rich sauce, but I prefer single cream (eg Nestle pouring cream) which is lighter or rather, closer to our Asian palate.

Besides the cream, the other important ingredient for this dish has to be the mushrooms. There is a vast difference between canned mushrooms and fresh button mushrooms. I would only prepare this dish when I have fresh mushrooms. Although I prefer the more earthy and rich flavour of brown button mushrooms, white button mushrooms are just as great. I have also experimented using a mixture of button mushrooms and fresh shiitake.

Most cream sauce recipes would only require salt and pepper as seasoning. I am not sure whether it is due to our Chinese way of cooking, I will also add light soya sauce. I know, it sounds like a weird combination, using soya sauce in a western dish. But I thoroughly enjoy that split seconds of my life, when my kitchen is perfumed with this savory, earthy aroma that is released the moment soya sauce hit the pan of sizzling mushrooms. I am also convinced that soya sauce will bring out the rich flavours or umami of the mushrooms. Yes, mushrooms are capable of delivering plenty of umami, or so called the 5th taste. So that is why, I can omit the chicken in this dish but not the mushrooms.

There is no surprise, with a rather sparse pantry, I am still able to whip up this simple everyday meal thousands of miles away from home. So here it is, my easy pasta recipe from this tiny kitchen in Beijing to yours. Bon Appetite!

Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Spaghetti

(serves 3)

150 ~ 200g spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ~ 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 chicken thigh, skinless, debone, cut into bite size
200g fresh brown button mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 tablespoon light soya sauce
1 cup (250ml) whipping cream (dairy)
salt & pepper to taste


1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil (I use only about 1 teaspoon for 3 ~ 4 ltrs of water). Add pasta and cook for about 8 ~ 10 minutes (or according to the directions on the package) until al dente. Stir occasionally to ensure even cooking and to prevent it from sticking. Check occasionally to see if it's done.

2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic, stir fry for a few seconds. Add chicken and stir fry until no longer pink. Add mushrooms to the pan, stir in soya sauce and saute till mushrooms become soft, about 1 ~ 2 mins. Gradually stir in cream. Simmer for about 5 mins, until sauce is slightly thickened and the chicken is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper.

3. By now the pasta should be ready. Drain the pasta. Immediately toss cooked pasta until evenly coated with the chicken and mushroom mixture (add 1 ~ 2 tablespoons of pasta water if the mixture appears too thick). Serve immediately, with a sprinkle of freshly grounded black pepper.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mini -Meme : Eating As Fun, Eating To Live..

This time of year, our thoughts turn to good food with family, bringing treats to parties, and new recipes for people to go "Wow!" over! This is wonderful, as you know and love these people, should be your first concern..
The darker side of the Christmas season, would be the homeless, under employed, and the people who are out there- who have nothing to celebrate. They are broke. Think how that would feel.. Food is elemental in it's ability to make people happy- and at the worst, gives them the strength and hope to survive another day.
This Christmas season, see your way clear to help someone- not everyone, have a better time of a small part to give something of yourselves, to people who have seen worse than you probably ever will. The gifter, is the one who gets the best gift.
Questions today:
1. Who do you know and care about, that needs a helping hand- and how will you give it?
2. What group you think could use your help(monetary or otherwise!) that you feel strongly about.
Kinda heavy today, but if you say it, you'll do it- and not regret it!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Beijing Revisted

This is the second time I am visiting Beijing. Unlike the previous trip in autumn, it is freezing cold during this time of the year. Temperatures can get below freezing point during the early mornings and late in the evenings.

While we enjoy the cool room temperature (not more than 22 degC, since I don't turn on the heater at all), it can be quite a daunting task just to step out of the apartment. It usually takes us 10mins to get dressed! Although I only need a sweater and a outer jacket (I have got an extra layer of fat to protect myself from the chilling wind!!!) , I still finds it very troublesome! I really appreciate how easy and quick for me to get out of the house back at t-shirts and shorts and a pair of slippers ;) Over here, I wish I have a few extra pairs of hands just to juggle with the kids' gloves, hats and even scarves! It is just so 'lay-chay'(which means troublesome in Singlish)!

It is much 'warmer' (back home in Singapore, we won't call it 'warm' when the average outside temperature is 5 degC) during the early afternoons. So I plan our days such that we go for a stroll at the park after lunch, or go get groceries at the nearby local supermarket. It is really no joke having to lug bags of groceries and walk in the busy streets with two kids in tow, in the cold.

The service apartment that we are staying comes with a fully equipped kitchen. With my dream built-in oven, microwave oven, electric stove and even a dish washer. Just for the record, this is the first homemade lunch I made when we first arrived. It was just simple ham and egg sandwiches with some fruits and yoghurt. Incidentally, I noticed the people over here seems to like yoghurt a lot...I was very surprised to find so many different brands of yoghurt at the supermarket shelves.

The above photo was not taken at the was taken at the park. I wonder what's the name of this plant? It looks just like some cabbage to me. Don't you think so?!

There is also the red version...

Pretty isn't it? I wonder whether these are edible, I bet they will be really great for salad?!

This is a rather short post, will blog about a more decent home cooked meal soon.

Rigatoni Gigante

This pasta shape intrigued me! It was essentially rigatoni, only bigger! I took the Italian flavored meat loaf I had left, and broke it up into little pieces.. I mixed it with a red pasta sauce, and simmered while I grated Romano and Parmesan cheese. I sliced some lightly smoked Provolone and topped the pasta red sauce mix with all these cheeses. Baked for 30 minutes at 350F, it was a classic Italian flavored dish that was quite filling!

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