Thom & Aimee

Two Hobbits. The Kitchen. The Garden. And trouble ensues.

Tag: vegetables

The Novice Cook: Beetroot, Anchovies and Eggs

In Singapore, land is scarce. Despite being known as a Garden City (every road you go down is lined with trees), access to a plot of land to grow your own food can be difficult. Most of us live in high-rise buildings and any form of gardening is confined to the limited space the common corridor permits. Of course, urban gardening might be gaining momentum in many cities of the world, but in Singapore, it’s not unusual to grab a few chillies or tomatoes from just outside your door. Yes, we might be living away from the ground, but it doesn’t mean we can’t grow our own food.

The tiny ‘garden’ we have, our Dad’s pride of joy, is becoming a little ecosystem on its own. Okay, my Dad is weird. If ferns and unwanted plants make our garden their home, he would allow them the right to live. Yes, we have weeds and all, my Dad is surprisingly very zen with life and death. Bees, bugs and butterflies often visit to feed on nectar. A couple of hummingbirds have made a nest recently. (We have had plenty of animals visiting our home – monkeys, owls, bats, random birds, the list goes on. And we live on the third floor. Once we had frogs on the loose, but that’s a story for another day.)

We have to admit that we can’t grow any fruit trees, and definitely cannot raise livestock. How we wish to have a brood of chickens! Imagine this: fresh eggs in the morning and free-range organic chickens! (Oh, Dad used to keep chickens as pets when he was a kid. But eventually, he did eat them though.) Most of our meat are imported – an example, our pork is from Down Under, or our poultry from the neighbouring Malaysia. But we will never know how these animals were treated before they end up in clean little plastic-wrapped packages in the markets.

Just ask a person on the street, they would paint you a picture of an idyllic farm land with lush green fields where the cows happily graze. That is still quite possible but a rarity in this day and age. In fact, most of our food come from huge industrialised farms and the animals are seen as part of a business model. This means welfare of these animals is not of top priority. Money first, how these animals feel can be on the agenda if there is a complaint. So ask yourself, are you okay eating that piece of steak on your plate tonight if I told you that the cow suffered when alive?

Ever since I watched Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Chicken Out and read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, I’ve become more conscious about eating meat. I’m going to make my stand clear: I’m not turning vegetarian and it’s not about being a earth-loving plant-chewing hippie. I grew up eating meat and have always felt amiss if meat is not present during a meal. But as much as I love eating beef, lamb, pork or chicken, I cannot allow myself to consume an animal who has suffered. Yes, in a way, death is a form of suffering. But at least, if it has lived a contented life doing what it is born to do and slaughtered with respect, that would be okay by me. Many might say I am contradicting myself. However, this is where I stand.

And where does this lead me to? It means I would have to know how these animals have lived prior their visit to the abattoir. In Singapore, we do not have these sort of information. There is no way I can drive down to the farm and watch how the farmer tends to his or her animals. Well, I simply cut meat from my meals unless I know its source. Since last December, I’ve lived on a diet of vegetables, beancurd, eggs and rice. (Diary products are another problem, but EGGS. Let me slowly take another step to rid diary off my diet.) I do eat the occasional meat when dining out with my friends. Otherwise, I’ll order a seafood dish (overfishing is also a troubling matter, sigh).

Going meatless is not difficult when you have recipes that have punchy strong flavours. In this dish, the earthy sweetness of the beetroot just melds with the sharp musky anchovies. I’ve tried both types of anchovies – one pickled in olive oil and the other pickled in vinegar. The latter had a lighter sourness that didn’t assault your tastebuds. Topped with a spicy mustard sauce and freshly picked chives, just eating this dish was like a kick right in the mouth – a combustion of sweet, sour and spice. Try not to boil the eggs fully, so that they will retain a runny yolk – just be careful when peeling the shells off. Another good thing out of this was being able to use the leftovers (I’m a small eater) for lunch the next day. With rice, of course.

I might be one person against a conglomerate of corporate giants. Some may not agree, and some may think it’s a useless battle. Well, at least, I’m doing my part. And I don’t have to worry about that piece of meat in my next meal.

The recipe can be found here.

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The Novice Cook: Asparagus, Ham and Poached Egg on Toast

Last of our asparagus goodness was to celebrate Mother’s Day. Being women ourselves, it isn’t difficult to imagine what motherhood will be like in the future. We may not be mothers ourselves now but to see our own Mom work tirelessly for close to 30 years of her life is admirable and worthy of respect. It may be the simple things that we take for granted like putting dinner on the table everyday, doing the laundry or even just being there to listen to our whining. Sometimes, we rebel and say things we wished we hadn’t said. But deep down inside, Mom knows that she is always our best friend and cuddly bear for hugs.

We are never one to celebrate this overly commercialised festivity, but to save Mom from any cooking, what better way to say thank you with a breakfast full of goodness. And it was a great opportunity to finish up all the asparagus we bought over the weekend. Although this was part of my Novice Cook project, I had a little help from Ned with the poached eggs. You see, I have yet to fry an egg, much less a poached one.

Hugh’s recipe originally had Parma ham, which was available but really just too expensive. Plus, we weren’t keen on vacuum packed ham from the supermarkets.  One can use raw, cured Proscuitto ham by wrapping the soft meat around each asparagus spear while the vegetable is still hot. This allows the fat in the meat to soften and release its aroma. We wanted to minimise cooking, so the Parma ham was replaced with regular apple-flavoured gammon ham.

Eggs and asparagus are natural partners, especially when there is yolk present to dip the spears in. Hugh’s recipe did not require malt vinegar and I insisted on following it. But we figured the addition of malt vinegar did help with the consistency of the poached eggs, which you can refer to our previous eggy recipe here. The key to perfectly done poached eggs are to use very very fresh eggs, preferably free-range. And a little confidence. If you’d like to ‘glam’ this dish up a little, you can add in some homemade hollandaise sauce (which you can find here).

This was just a small token in appreciation to mom, but as all moms do, it’s their kids’ happiness that matter to them. That’s why moms are just made of awesome.

This recipe is from Hugh’s Three Good Things.

The Novice Cook: Asparagus, Potatoes and Halloumi Cheese

While Ned stirred away her asparagus soup, I was adding to the kitchen chaos by preparing my own take on the asparagus. Having two chefs in one tiny kitchen can get a little crazy, especially when there was only one stove to use. Luckily, all I needed was our trusty oven to stir up this simple dish.

What’s so interesting is how these three different ingredients can come together so perfectly well. Both the asparagus and the potato share an earthy, nutty flavour; it was no wonder why they make fantastic partners. The recipe called for new potatoes, but I didn’t have those so I had to make do with regular ones. Most pair asparagus with hard cheeses like Parmesan, but Halloumi cheese was used here. I’ve never eaten Halloumi cheese before – it is a semi-hard cheese originating from Cyprus and can cook very well in high heat. The mild saltiness of the halloumi brought a lovely contrast and enhanced the sweet, sulfurous flavour of the asparagus.

I was pretty much out of Ned’s hair after 10 to 15 minutes into preparation as there was only cutting, baking and tossing involved. The only ‘special’ ingredient I had to get was the halloumi, which could probably be easily replaced with Parmesan. It can make for a wonderful tea time snack. Just pop the items in the oven, make yourself a cup of tea and when it’s ready, settle yourself in a comfy couch and a good read. I didn’t make a lot of this, but I hope I had… it was gobbled up almost too quickly. Now I need more halloumi.

Recipe can be found here.

Potage Crème D’asperges Vertes (Cream of Fresh Green Asparagus Soup)

One thing Ned and I (no more using acronyms now) love doing is our weekly wet market getaways. Although waking early prove to be a challenge at times, being part of the hustle and bustle of the morning crowd can be almost like an adventure. Stomping your flip-flops against the slippery floors, pushing past the notorious aunties and shouting at the top of your voice to get the seller’s attention. Its like a little game with only the most nimble and thick-skinned getting the best deals.

They might not have the comfort and cleanliness of air-conditioned supermarkets. But what really made us go back to the wet markets were the variety and freshness of the produce available, and of course, the value for money. The only downside is that dairy products are not usually not found in these places. I have yet to conquer the realm of seafood-buying; my jiak-kantang nature only limits my conversations with the fishmonger to “how much” and “what is this” in basic Mandarin. He will proceed to say something and I wouldn’t know if the fish was a bass or a bream.

Today, we decided to head down to the markets earlier than usual. Probably a little too early. We reached Tiong Bahru Market at 5am in the morning when everyone was still in lala-land, and surprisingly enjoyed the peace and quiet of an empty market. Half the stalls were not open, and the other half were busy unloading cartons of fresh produce. With only a few stalls ready, we bought whatever we could get hold of. We giggled about how in Singapore the early bird doesn’t get the worm because the worms were still burrowed underground sleeping. Breakfast afterwards was a pain as well; no yum cha restaurant opens until 10am!

A pre-planned shopping list is usually dictates our meals for the week and of course whatever catches our eye. The asparagus crept into our basket this morning. Being greedy as usual, we brought both the thick ‘jumbo’ ones and the thin pencil-like ‘sprue’ asparagus. Asparagus is best enjoyed within 24 hours after it has been picked as the sugars in the plant will turn into starch. Moisture is also lost as time passes. But most of our asparagus are from Malaysia so we’ll have to make do if what we have. (Another dream to taste freshly cut asparagus raw… SOON.)

Without losing any more precious time, we decided to turn the woody stems into a creamy soup. Nothing beats a warm soup as part of Saturday lunch as a treat. The aroma of the asparagus dominates the palate; a certain earthiness and umami comes through strongly. Ned tried her hand on Timbales D’asperges (Asparagus Mould) but that did not come out very successful. It went into our tummies nonetheless. Maybe the sleep deprivation was hitting her.

I might be affected as well. Can’t think straight. Apologies if there are any spelling or grammatical errors. Just too sleepy. But the asparagus was worth every waking hour.

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The Novice Cook: Roasted Peppers with Sourdough and Goat’s Cheese

One major reason why I decided to make goat’s cheese was because I stared at this recipe for so long. I love recipes that inspire, whether to start cooking or to eat better. For me, it was taking chances and learning new things. Although I haven’t got the confidence to make my own sourdough bread, homemade goat’s cheese was definitely a big start.

Being blissfully alone at home over the weekend, I stepped into the kitchen, turned on some slow jazz and pretended I was hosting my very own cook show. My only audience were my dad’s pet fishes and frogs, so there was no way they could laugh at me for not knowing how to peel the peppers.

Cooking has made me appreciate the beauty of simple tasks. The mere crushing of the rosemary and garlic, and roasting of the peppers releases such wonderful smells – conjuring an intoxicating image of a rustic Italian kitchen. The joy of sniping away fresh herbs from your garden, and watching pieces of bread turn golden brown with luscious peppery olive oil. Ah, the sweet life of a domesticated goddess!

I had my few share of misadventures (as usual): having no idea how to grill the peppers, I threw them into the microwave instead. As a result, the fruit lost a lot of the juice goodness. It was probably why i found it a chore to peel the skins off. I had no clue how long peppers took to cook, so each time spent in the microwave and later in the pan was probably inaccurate. Despite so, the dish was pretty awesome.

Although preparing a meal for oneself can sometimes be a little too much work, but the moment I sat down to gobble down my very own lunch, it was worth all the dirty utensils in the sink. Freshly picked herbs, succulent peppers, homemade goat’s cheese and organic sourdough bread, it was the right combination to make a perfect Sunday.

Recipe can be found in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Three Good Things (my handsome man).

Roulade of Pork Belly, Braised Red Cabbage and Apple Compote


It was quite a dilemma when deciding on a main course. Many conditions came into play, whether it was enough to fill stomachs, whether the flavours complement the rest of the menu, whether it could hold the mantle of the “Leading Actor”, and the most crucial – whether we could execute it well against pressure. At the very end,  it came down to two contenders: the pig or the duck. Well, the pig got the part for obvious reasons.

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