Friday, December 18, 2009

Wedding Memories-Other People's I Was In, Or Attended.

Odd time for these memories, but not so odd after you read them! My older brother got married..I was 5 or 6,.. He was eighteen or nineteen.. I hadn't hit puberty, but it didn't matter - she was great to me, and a beauty to boot! It was December, he was still in service(USAF!) I was ring bearer, in a little tux, with my hair buttered back, being ever so serious about my job.. marriage lasted 20 yrs., with my Dutch mom saying-"I knew it wouldn't last!" 20 years! hardly a failure.. Next was a friend's of mine's wedding.. He was 18, she was 16..she fainted during the ceremony, and it could have been morning sickness- if you catch my drift.. still married,and all is as well as could be expected.. The point today is, what happens, happens. I remember Christmas electrocutions, cooking disasters, gifts gone horribly wrong, life interfering with plans.. Here's the goofy part- they all make Holidays memories that become part of our traditions!
Do not let them die. Share , If you are a mind.. We still give a rubber Christmas lizard, that goes from family to family!

Quick Fix Meals - Simple and yet Delicious

There are not many eating places within close proximity to this apartment that we are staying here in Beijing. Even though there are a couple of local fast food joints in the neighbourhood, we rather stay indoor than to walk in the cold just to get our daily meals settled. So I ended up having to prepare home cook meals every single weekday even though I'm suppose to be on vacation.

Since we would only be here for a few weeks, I could not bring myself to stock up too many ingredients. Hence, fixing 2 meals a day proofs to be quite a challenging task especially for someone who is not a good cook to start with.

With a rather empty pantry, I could only prepare very simple meals using minimal ingredients, seasonings and utensils. There is no wok in the kitchen, so I can't even cook fried rice as the frying pan that's available is too small and shallow for any serious stir frying!

Thank goodness my kids don't mind having porridge for their lunch here. Back at home, they would definitely prefer having their favourite takeaway food from the hawker centre than to eat the usual porridge I prepare for them. Only barely two weeks, they already miss their laksa, nasi lemak, chicken rice, fried carrot cake, char kway teow and roti prata!

This bowl of porridge is cooked with short-grain rice or what the locals refer to as "大米". Unlike long grains, it is quite sticky and I had to keep adding water to the pot of bubbling porridge. Yet, I still ended up with very thick and gooey porridge, very much like the baby food which I used to prepare for my kids when they were still toddlers.

To make a simple minced beef porridge more appealing visually, I threw in some frozen vegetables to an otherwise plain, mono-tone meal. There were not a single word of complains when I served the porridge with lots of pork floss as toppings ^_^'

It turns up to be a good thing that I have to work within some constraints, otherwise I would never discover that I could actually make roast chicken with just salt, pepper and some butter! These delicious drumsticks were seasoned with a generous sprinkling of salt and black pepper. When the oven was preheated to 200 degC, I rubbed some butter all over and under the skin before popping them into the oven. Less than half an hour, I was rewarded with a tray of roast chicken drumsticks...with crispy skin and tender juicy meat. The trick to getting crispy skin? Just make sure that after cleaning the chicken, pat dry with paper towels...make sure it is very very dry before seasoning with salt and pepper as you do not want to create any steam in the oven.

Now, I am all set and ready to roast a chicken for our Christmas eve dinner ;)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Covered Ground...The Simple Taco!

We had Long John Silver's Seafood take-out last night, and for the first time ever I had to wait.. Then got home and had gotten the soggiest smelly fish we had ever received! Experiences like this, usually cures me from take out food from anywhere for a month!
Tonight I did home-made tacos, everything from scratch, but the those great flat bottomed corn shells from Old El Paso! Cut up fresh tomato, shredded cheese, shredded fresh lettuce, sliced black olives, and a ground beef taco meat seasoned from my extensive spice and herb collection! Topped with Chi-Chi's medium hot salsa, and/or Mr's Renfroe's Jalepeno salsa, it really warmed us on a cold Michigan night!
The cooking will be heating up, with the Holiday outings kicking in..
Watched the Julia Child movie a couple of nights ago..tavern I go into got a new female bartender who stands 6'1-1/2" inches without shoes.. If she would have yelled "Bon Appetit!", I would have fainted...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Winter in Beijing

Although it may appear that we are on a long vacation here in Beijing, the fact is, we spend our weekdays carrying out activities just the way we would normally do when we are back home.

It is only during the weekends that we would do some sightseeing and tour around the city. This is partly because the cold weather has been keeping us indoor most of the time, (and it 'sgetting colder each day!), and partly because we have been to most of the 'must-see' spots in this ancient city when we were here during the autumn.

We went to the YiHeYuan or the Summer Palace two weeks ago, since I didn't have the chance to include this place in our itinerary during our last visit.

It was a bright and sunny day...this picture may give you the wrong impression that it must be quite warm. No, we are not looking out of the window from our flat back home in Singapore. This is Beijing, and it was freezing COLD. The temperature was below freezing point. Coupled with the breeze, it made us wondered why on earth we would go to a SUMMER resort for the emperors, during a cold WINTER day?!

The entire KunMing Lake was all frozen.

We took a long walk along the KunMing Lake...crossed the 17-Arch bridge (we counted the number of arches, and yes, there are 17 of them) to the Nanhu Island. Now, you may wonder why they built 17 and not 18 arches along the span of the bridge? We know that the number 8 is a homonym for luck or wealth in Chinese, but, the 9th arch in the centre, which is also the largest, is considered the number most auspicious for emperors. So the emperor or the 'Son of Heaven' (天子) is symbolically positioned in the middle with good fortune (8 arches) on both sides!

One of the four magnificent "guarding angels" at the ends of the bridge...

There are 544 stone lions (and a mysterious Bob) on the railings of the 17 Arches Bridge. No, we didn't count them, I got the number from the web ;)

We tried having a little picnic by the bench at the tiny Nanhu Island...but it was another great mistake we made! It was so cold to sit down to rest. We had to keep moving in order to stay warm, and the sandwiches I made turn dry and hard the moment the toast bread met the dry cold wind. It was a good thing that we brought along some chocolates, it gave us the necessary energy and brought us some cheery smiles from the kids. Well, for someone living in a tropical island, I also found it very amusing to discover that our haversack became a cooler bag!! Our drinks were icy cold, as though we have just taken them out from the fridge.

Despite the ammonia smell, I resort to seeking refuge in the warm public toilet ^.^" I wasn't alone, I found out later that my kids made clever use of the hand-blower in the gents...they managed to trap some warm air inside their gloves.

We would have walked along the Nanhu Lake if the weather was warmer. In the end, we didn't brave the cold and had to shorten the trip and made our way back to the palace area.

A colourful sight of hawkers, hawking their wares...

Even though it was too cold for comfort, the scenery was simply awesome.

I didn't take that many pictures because every now and then I had to thaw my frozen fingers inside my pockets, but I promise, there will be more pictures on my upcoming post.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cookies from a Box

To satisfy my baking craves, I was contemplating whether to bring some of my baking tools along to Beijing when I was packing for the trip. In the end, there was simply no space left to stuff in that tiny diet scale (yes I use it for all my baking) not to mention the electric hand held beater or even a balloon whisk.

The service apartment that we are staying comes with a handsome built-in oven, it makes my tiny tabletop oven at home seems so miserable. It would really be a shame if I am not able to do some baking with my dream oven. To my delight, I chanced upon boxes of Betty Crockers at this little gourmet store near our apartment. Without much thinking, I grabbed a pack of chocolate peanut butter chips cookie mix.

It was only after I got home that I realised there is no measuring cup in the apartment's kitchen. Since I have no intention to go hunt for a measuring cup, I had to think of a way to measure the amount of oil required to make the cookies.

It happened that I bought a pack of 250ml whipping cream to cook some cream sauce pasta, so I used the empty carton as a reference and was glad to discover that the volume of one of the mugs is exactly 250ml. But, that didn't solve the problem altogether, the recipe calls for 1/3 cup of oil. So I poured one cup of water equally into 3 paper cups and made a marking on one of them. Voila! I made my own measuring cup :)

To stir up a batch of cookies from a box is so simple, quick, and very convenient especially when there are no basic baking tools on hand. I only need to mix some water, oil and an egg with the powder mix, and in a matter of minutes, I was able to pop a tray of cookie doughs into the oven.

While the cookies were baking in the oven, I suddenly remembered that there was no cooling rack in the apartment. At that point in time, to end up with a tray of soggy cookies would be unthinkable.

After some quick thinking, I came up with my improvised cooking rack...a set of chopsticks which I brought along came in handy!

While the cookies were cooling off, the boys couldn't resist the sweet aroma, so they kept 'wondering' into the small kitchen, hoping to steal a cookie from my 'cooling rack'.

For the rest of the week, I was able to enjoy my afternoon cup of coffee with some homemade cookies. They are not as bad as I thought. In fact, I didn't expect them to taste so good...crunchy on the outside and a little soft in the inside, way better than those I had tasted at some cafes. These are just a little on the sweet side, but once I dunk it into my cup of latte, the sweetness was just right. Till we get back home, I must say I am very satisfied with these homemade cookies, from a box.

Korean Beef Short Ribs And Brown Rice Deluxe!

I can't find beef short ribs anywhere in this area except at Sam's Club.. I love the Korean version of this cut of meat, and look forward to it every time I buy the ribs!
I marinate them for a full 24 hrs. in a rice wine vinegar, minced garlic, hosin, soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, minced onion, and white pepper mix that gives a wonderful depth of Asian flavor I seem to be hooked on lately! You must cut the ribs as shown, to achieve an optimum flavor and tenderizing effect. Unlike pork ribs, that are best cooked low and slow, the beef short ribs are broiled at a high heat for 10-12 minutes a side...Baste throughout cooking with the simmered marinade(safer!) and enjoy! The brown rice was dolled up with celery and onion- with a bit of the marinade for an enhanced flavor..
Our meal is waiting as I write this..couple of more photos, and we're done!

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