Category Archives: Three Cooking Mamas

What is your vice?

Kawan kawan, the three cooking mamas are back in full force, this time with a new addition, GWF, otherwise known as Zen Mama.  We cooked a very simple dish from Singapore, chosen by yours truly.  This dish is called Gambling Rice and is adapted from a recipe by fellow Singaporean, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan of “Tiger in the Kitchen” fame.  The story goes that Tan’s grandmother who used to run a gambling den in her very own home invented this dish to keep her patrons gambling.

Gambling , a very Chinese past-time, is indeed very rife in post-colonial Singapore and Malaysia.  Gambling dens, although illegal, were found in almost every nook and corner of 1950s Singapore.  These dens were mostly run by matriarchs, eager to make some money on the side while their husbands toiled away as coolies, carrying sacks of rice and other goods on their bare sunburnt backs to and from the platform to the godowns found along the Singapore river.

Today, this river is a site for another sort of trade – restaurants and nightclubs. The godowns which used to store goods have been converted into trendy restaurants and nightclubs and have become a tourist hotspot.

Two years ago while on holiday in Singapore, I had the opportunity to stay in one of the 2 casino hotels that was recently opened in the city-state.  The Marina Bay Sands boasts of a SkyPark, 57 stories high where you can swim in a swimming pool the whole length of the hotel against the skyline of Singapore.  The observation deck boasts of views of the Singapore River, Sentosa Island and some other very famous sights of the city.  The view was indeed spectacular, kawan kawan, and the swim in the pool was fantastic.

With the opening of the Marina Bay Sands and the Resort World Sentosa (both since 2010), we see the official opening of Singapore’s first casinos, recognised and endorsed by the government of Singapore.  The history of legalizing gambling in Singapore has been a fraudulent one.  In 1823, it was briefly legalized in the then British colonised Singapore but this led to gambling addiction and the rate of criminality soared which led to gambling being made illegal once more within the next three years.  It is not without much debate and rancour that arose amongst the citizens of Singapore regarding the building of casinos before these casino hotels were opened.   Many groups in the city-state like the muslims and christians stood up against the legalizing of gambling in this form.  As a result, the government has levied a tax/fee on any Singaporean entering the casinos in an attempt to deter some people from this vice.  If you were a Singaporean citizen the fee to enter any of the two casinos is S$ 100 per entry and you would not be allowed to take out any credit facilities otherwise extended to non-Singpoareans.

Like Tan’s grandmother who understood that gamblers cannot bet on empty stomachs, these casino hotels have 24 hour restaurants or snack bars serving their die-hard patrons who are willing to fork out huge sums of money in the hope of making more.

Everyone has a vice, I suppose.  For some people, it is gambling, others, smoking and still some others, it may be shopping.  Whatever the case, all vices somehow involve an exchange of money, in my opinion.

Tan’s grandmother fed her gamblers rice in order to facilitate and make it easier for her patrons to part with their money so that her own pockets could be lined.  I say, “What a way to make money, Madame!”  This dish is also so easy to prepare.

Follow this link to her recipe:

Whilst preparing the ingredients, I could see the many variations this dish could take.  Instead of pork, chicken can be added.  Why not try duck too?  The dried shrimps could be substituted with fresh prawns.  Cabbage is a great vegetable for this dish so I wouldn’t substitute this at all.  And, if you are like me, without a rice cooker big enough for the proportions required for this recipe, you can use a cast iron pot or a clay pot.

Here’s my own version of this dish: I used already cooked belly pork , siew yok, instead.  I removed the crackling and diced up the meat into 1 cm cubes.  The heibi (har mai in Cantonese) or dried shrimps is a a typical condiment in SE Asian cooking.  It is used to make stock for soups or added into bland vegetables, like cabbage to enhance its flavour.  Instead of these dried shrimps which has a very distinct aroma of its own, one can also use dried scallops.

Dried Shrimps

The dried ingredients like the chinese mushrooms and fungus and dried shrimps had to be soaked in warm water first.  The mushrooms needed to be re-hydrated before being sliced into thin strips and the shrimps had to be softened before being roughly chopped into smaller pieces.

Soaking the dried goods

The bowl at the far end is the siew yok that I had cubed.  I discarded some of the crackling but kept about a handful for flavouring.

These ingredients then had to be fried separately starting with the shallots.  This flavours the oil for the next batch of ingredients like the pork and heibi.  But kawan kawan, I imagined myself the matriarch of an illicit gambling den, having to feed my gamblers asap with whatever I had in my pantry so that they would stay on gambling into the wee hours of the morning.  Did I have time to fry the shallots, remove them with a slotted spoon, put aside but leave as much oil as possible in the frying pan before frying the pork, browning it only to remove the meat to do the next batch of something?  Of course not, kawan kawan! My hungry gamblers had to be fed.  The girls and the Italian had the honour of playing the parts of my hungry gamblers. So a matriarch with hungry gamblers has to do what a matriarch with hungry gamblers has to do – fry all the ingredients at once.

RN came into the kitchen scrounging up her nose for the smell of the dried shrimps.  You’ve been warned kawan kawan, they smell to high heaven if you’re not used to aromas from a SE Asian kitchen.

But when fried altogether, the smell of these tiny prawns disappear and become mixed into the general aromas of cooking.

All the ingredients happily mixing together

The cabbage was added last.  The recipe called for soaking the shredded cabbage leaves in water before frying.  I just washed mine in a colander and allowed to stand before adding the moist leaves into the wok.

Now add the greens

These greens were then stir fried for a couple of minutes until a little wilted. Don’t over-cook the cabbage as the last part of the recipe says that the ingredients will have to be added into the rice cooker/claypot/le creuset cast iron pot with the uncooked rice and then cooked some more until the rice is done.

I used my le creuset cast iron pot because my rice cooker was pathetically too small for the recipe amount.  I would have liked to use a claypot but induction stoves don’t make for good claypot using.  So there, I had my answer and the le creuset which doubled up as automatic rice cooker and claypot.  If you were to use a claypot, a crust of burnt rice will form at the base of your claypot which is very normal. When serving from a claypot, you just have to be careful not to scrap the bottom too much.  WIth the le creuset, I had my crust of burnt rice too. This actually reminded me so much of home because when The Mother cooks her version of this type of rice dish she calls claypot rice, we actually loved scraping the bottom to get pieces of burnt rice out – it’s crunchy texture and slightly bitter aftertaste added another depth to our family dining experience.

My le creuset Rice

This dish is really a very Teochew one.  Tan’s grandmother, like my mine and my mother all come from the same province in China.  The ingredients for this dish are so typical in a Teochew household.  They are also ingredients that have long shelf lives so can be kept in the pantry for a rainy day.  Cabbage keeps for a quite a good time in the fridge.  I have a feeling that this dish was “invented” by Tan’s grandma out of necessity.  I have great admiration for such women.  Tan tells the story of her grandmother in her book ” A Tiger in  the Kitchen”.  You can follow her and read about her adventures in her blog.  Scroll down and find her on my blogroll. She is a fellow migrant soul and a wonderfully kind person.  I know that because she is friends with my baby sister which links Cheryl and I together in an uncanny way. I am truly proud of this fellow Singaporean who followed her heart and wrote a book about growing up in Singapore, sharing stories and anecdotes (some very private ones) of her extended family.

Serve the rice immediately with any type of Asian Chilli sauce.  I served mine with papa’s “secret” chilli sauce.  Just so you know, the kids loved it and the Italian even had a second helping.  Well, that’s always a good sign when an Italian digs into a Teochew risotto!  Marco Polo, grazie!

Gambling Rice - Pua Kiew Bng


Pots and Pots of Chocolate

This post entry ought to be entitled Poulet Au Bresse – Part Deux.  But that would be trés unimaginative, kawan kawan.  So I’ve entitled this post thus, with the the title you see in the subject box.  The deal with the 3 Cooking Mamas is that we all choose a main course and dessert.  I managed to make both for the first cookout but this one was proving just a tad too much work.  I just didn’t want to spread myself too thin, so I chickened out (excuse me for the pun) and asked the other Mamas if I could just make the dessert another day.

Well, as many of you know, I don’t bake or make desserts.  Why? You ask wide eyed.  Well, other people make them better than me would be my answer.  It’s just a waste of time, would be my excuse.  But the real reason is this:  I am afraid, kawan kawan.  Truly afraid to bake.

The story goes like this:  Once, a very long time ago in Home Economics 101, in the sunny city of Singapore where teenage girls who were educated in convents were made to attend,  I had my first baking disaster.  In those days, ovens were things you had to light with a match by sticking your head into its cavity.  C’est dangereuse, you exclaim.  Mai oui, I accord.  But  I didn’t have a choice.  So like the obedient girl that I was beaten brought up to be, I promptly stuck my head into the gas oven, lighted match in hand…and got badly singed.  That is, my shoulder length bob got slightly burned, much to my mother’s chagrin.  The smell of burnt hair is horrendous, my kawan, for those of you who have had the good luck of missing out on this experience.  But did that ring alarm bells for the teacher, you ask.  Well, no, is the answer.  This is Singapore in the early ’80s, when teachers were lords and parents had no say.  So I was made to do it again and after 5 attempts, with Mrs L getting more and more flustered along the way, I finally lit my first oven.  Then the class proceeded to bake a Pineapple Upside Cake.  I failed badly kawan kawan, so badly that capital ‘F’ looked far too good for this assessment.  Hence, thus begun my baking issues.  I have never baked again.  So desserts are outside my cooking comfort zone.

Well, this dessert doesn’t require baking of any sort, thank goodness.  So it wasn’t that terrifying.  But but but, I lacked equipment, kawan kawan.  What to do? What to do?  Luckily for me, I have a kawan who understands my baking dilemma.  She lent me this:

The Professional Mixer

Boy, did I feel like a proper pastry chef!  Yes, I know, I hear the bakers amongst you tutting.  But, I’ve never worked a mixer before so this is very novel for me. It’s so easy, why does anyone have to whip by hand anymore?  Look, this is my mixture of sugar and butter:

Sugary Butter

Not bad, huh?  Or in Hokkien – boy pai!  Well, if I can say so myself.  But self praise is never considered praise, so I’ll just leave you to tell me what you think, kawan kawan.

I made a Bagna Maria to melt the chocolate and this is what it looked like:

Melted Chocolate Goodness

This dessert making thing is getting better and better as I go along following the recipe step by step.  I am singing to myself, I am humming the tune to ‘Hawaii Five-O’.  Who knows why, but that was the song that popped into my head the minute I switched the mixer on and it started whirring its magic.  I think it was the sound that it emitted forcing this tune into my head.  Or was it the dizziness that happiness and self satisfaction bring causing one to remember naff tunes from the past?

Well, who cares!  I made a dessert successfully and most importantly, I followed the recipe precisely.  This following a recipe thing is still new to me as I’ve aghak aghaked my way through most of my savoury dishes this far.  But baking is a science and numbers have to be respected.

Here, take a peek, this was what I made:

I like mine with a cherry on top

Kawan kawan, I’ve had to remove the recipe from this post because I was told that it would be infringing on copyrights to use someone’s recipe and then copy and paste it verbatim in one’s blog unless one has adapted the recipe and tweaked it to make it one’s own.   So sorry, my friends!  For your information, you can get the recipe from Jennifer Joyce’s “Meals in Heels”.  Don’t you just love the title of this cookbook?

Well, I didn’t manage to make mine with heels on but it’s good to know that I can another day.  Hmmm, although I wonder if that is infringing on copyrights too? Maybe I can wear flats instead? Or sandals?….or golden slippers?…..

FYI, dessert recipe taken from book entitled “Meals in Heels” by Jennifer Joyce.

Poulet Au Bresse

Bresse – a former French province – is located in the regions of Rhône-Alpes, Bourgogne and Franche-comté in Eastern France.  I only know of Bresse because we drive by it along the motorway on our way to the Italian Alps every ski break in February.  There is a big metal sculpture (if you can call it that) in the shape of a chicken, as you exit the motorway into the epicentre, welcoming you to Bresse. We’ve stopped by there a couple of times to use the convenience rooms and to refresh ourselves. The Italian had mentioned a couple of times that Bresse is famous for its chickens which is the first animal in France to be awarded the AOC – Appellation d’Origine Côntroleé – making the Poulet Au Bresse the most expensive chicken to buy.  Mais, c’est la vie!  In my books, if you want quality, you’ve got to pay the price.

I was very excited that Cherie picked this roast chicken recipe because it gave me an excuse to splurge on a fowl.  I was also equally excited as this would be my first AOC bird.  The AOC is really a certification of groups of foods, like cheeses, wines, butters and other agricultural products that come from particular geographical locations in France.  It is a meted out by the French government who appointed the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine) to regulate and assist French agricultural producers. There are many conditions that farmers or producers  must adhere to before being awarded this prestigious certificate.  Look at the label on my bird:  certifiably a Bresse chicken:

An AOC bird

The recipe was taken from:

Personally and please do not be offended Cherie, I found this recipe to be very fastidious.  There are many steps to follow like, “brown the chicken in a heavy based enamel pot, transfer to a serving dish, deglaze the pot with 1 and a quarter cups of Madeira wine, stirring constantly, then transfer to a medium size pan” etc etc… Kawan kawan, my old brain felt like it was on a roller coaster ride.  I kept having to refer to the recipe again and again en cas I missed out some pertinent steps.

The recipe called for 8 baby artichokes which you see here:

Baby Artichokes

and a bunch of baby carrots, radish and 3 small white onions.  These had to be par boiled in a pan of lightly salted water with butter added, then half of the vegetables were used for stuffing the poulet.  I’ve never parboiled any vegetables with butter before, so this was very interesting for me.  The steaming veggies emitted a perfume so fragrant that it brought SS to la cucina to see what was for lunch. Alas, she’d have to wait for dinner.

There were vegetables galore in my little Parisian kitchen.  This has to be the saving grace of the recipe. Remember how I am a stickler for 5 veg and fruit. Well, this dish had more than enough of the RDA of vegetables.  Look at my pot of greens:

A Pot of Vegetables and butter on the side, please!

There were so much vegetables that I didn’t even manage to stuff the bird with half of the portion of parboiled veggies as the recipe called for.  I was only able to get 3 artichoke halves, one carrot baton and a couple of radishes, and forget about the onions which were too big.   I guess French birds – the ones with hair and those with feathers – tend to come out more petite. I wonder whether these Bresse chickens are put on a strict only-one-square-of-chocolate diet.  In their case, it wouldn’t be chocolat but cornmeal or whatever they are fed with.

The artichokes were a challenge to clean as I’ve never cleaned one before, let alone 8.  I had to google “how to clean artichokes” before attempting them myself.  Honestly, it’s easier than it looks.  You just have to remember to remove the hairy bits of the plant, the ‘choke’ bits, as I refer to them and be mindful of the huge mess that this job entails.  Your kitchen will be filled with artichoke leaves and stems.  Don’t say I didn’t warn ya!  Look at my  cleaned artichokes:

Cleaned Artichokes

Artichokes discolour as soon as you clean them, so they ought to be cleaned just prior to cooking.  I love them oven baked in olive oil, seasoned with lemon and salt.  The MIL does this very well, a dish that I look forward to eating whenever artichokes are in season.  I will now eat them with more relish knowing the trouble that the MIL has had to go through to cook them.  Ti voglio bene, Mamma!   

I couldn’t find the baby radishes that the recipe asked for, so I substituted them with these:


They are delicious eaten as they with a dipping sauce of olive oil, salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar.  But these were parboiled with the onions, carrots and artichokes.

After browning the poulet as per recipe instructions, I stuck the chicken in my le creuset cocotte ovale which was made to cook chickens, I think, because the bird fits so snugly in it, and just stuck it in the oven.  This bit I like – very much.  Since living in Europe (counting my 20 years in England as being in Europe since I am no Euro skeptic), I’ve learnt to use the oven quite a lot.  Oven baked casseroles are so welcoming in wintery months.  “I just stuck it in the oven” has become the refrain that so many of my mother-friends use to refer to their daily cooking routine, because oven cooking is simply easy to do and very manageable when one has to multi-task – think: feeding baby, bathing toddlers and supervising homework whilst simultaneously cooking the dinner and still look like a goddess when the husband comes home from a hard day’s work.

Back to the recipe, as I was saying – yes, I just stuck the cocotte in the oven.  I’ve had many a happy chicken cooking days with this particular cocotte although I also do love my cocotte ronde.    Here’s how it looks:

Chicken and Vegetable Cocotte

Now for the science bit: please refer to the link provided above for exact measurements.  The numbers were just too mind boggling….1 1/4 cups of Medeira, 3tbsps of butter….kawan kawan, I am just not good with number crunching.  How much is 1 1/4 cups anyway?  I don’t have a measuring jug, the last one I bought broke and the plastic one I had got left behind in London.  So I just did what any professional chef does – I aghak aghak – ed.  This would be a new word for any non Singaporean.  Aghak Aghak just means “guess-guess” in Malay. My mother has cooked the aghak aghak way all her life, never following any recipes.  She cooks by taste and sight. So did her mother and grandmother before her and all three women have churned out mouth watering dishes fit for royalty.

I will continue to carry the aghak aghak flag, kawan kawan, if you didn’t mind, in support of my mother and the womenfolk in the Tan household, since today is Mother’s Day afterall.  So I used one of RN’s drinking cups and measured out 1 and 1/4 cups of Madeira wine.  As for the butter, Monsieur Formagier who I had bought the butter and cream needed for this recipe from told me that 3 tbspoons amounted to about 30 g of butter. (See, he was aghak-aghaking too.)  So I bought a 50g round of demi-sel and attempted to divide this into 5 parts and used 3 parts to equate to 30g of butter.  This is probably getting too tedious to read, kawan kawan and understandably, very illogical for the logical-minded amongst you.  I feel for you, so I’ll just say that it all worked out well.

Créme de la créme was a phrase I loved to use as a kid.  I thought it showed off my prowess in learning a foreign language and I simply loved the sound of it. But, but, but, cream in my food is really not my kinda thing.  The recipe called for 1 1/4 cups of créme fraiche and heavy cream.  I managed to buy this cream combined at the formaggerie which I thought was rather nifty.  It is really thick cream, kawan kawan, and it brought to mind images of clotting arteries and blood vessels. What a despondent thought, so I decided not to cook the veggies with it.  Au lieu, I mixed the cream into the Madeira wine to form a creamy madeira sauce and served it as an aside.  As for the rest of the vegetables, I added them to the cocotte to finish roasting with the chicken and then drizzled the jus from the roasted chicken that I had infused with a lemon.  Here’s how it looks:

The Vegetable Accompaniment

“A good base lightly flavored with Madeira will produce one of the greatest of all sauces.” Raymond Sokolov, The Saucier’s Apprentice.

Madeira is a fortified dry sweet wine made in Portugal since the 1400s.  It is really a professional cooking wine and I guess one can sip it too whilst making the eponymous sauce.  I’ve never cooked with this wine before so I was trés excited once more when it was time to make the sauce.  I had read up about Madeira sauces and wanted to do my own take on it.

I combined the juices from the roast chicken with the first sauce that I had made from the jus obtained during the browning stages.  There wasn’t much jus to begin with so the second lot of juices gave me more of a gravy to work with.  I added chicken stock to this as par la recette, reducing it before adding the créme. I only added half a teaspoon, kawan kawan, just for your information.  This formidable sauce when drizzled over the poulet was trés delicieuse.  It is true that in French cooking, the sauce is the créme de la créme of the dish.  And I must say that I was way proud of myself for this Madeira reduction only because the Italian loved it.  He didn’t have much to say about the bird though, opining that it is just hype that the Bresse chicken is any more superior than an ordinary poulet fermier.  For that I would have to agree with him.  I will be roasting an ordinary chicken the next time and I’d like to see what la famiglia will say about it.  Will they be able to tell the difference?  The Italian would be happier to know the difference in the price of an ordinary French bird, I’m sure.  Tell me what you think, kawan kawan – would you splurge 30€ for a Poulet Au Bresse?

Osso Buco Delicious

Osso Buco Delicious

Cooking anything Italian for The Italian is never easy.  I still remember the first time I cooked spaghetti alla pomodoro con melanzane – spaghetti with tomato sauce cooked with aubergine.  But that is a story for another day!  So when I told him that I’d be cooking Osso Buco, he raised his eyebrows and gave me his ‘vediamo’ – ‘ok-let’s-see’ – look.  Then when I told him that Osso Buco is a French dish, he rolled his eyes and said in Italian, ‘Ciao! Il nome Osso Buco e nome Italiano’ which roughly translates into, ‘Yeah! And baguette is an Italian bread!’

And to make my life more difficult, the Osso Buco is to be served with Risotto Milanese, a saffron risotto that the MIL excels in and that The Italian remembers with relish his childhood summer days eating this dish.

Well, after labouring in the kitchen for over 3 hours, Osso Buco Delicious was served.  The Italian savoured every morsel, even mopping his plate with the last bit of baguette.  ‘Making little shoes’ is what the Italians call the action of mopping one’s dish with a bit of bread.  Fare la scarpetta is a compliment to any Italian cook and to every Italian mamma.

What’s more, the girls loved it too.  RN who is 4 and half yummed her way through dinner, the risotto being her favourite.  Luckily for me, she didn’t mention nonna’s risotto giallo.  SS, who is 13 and a budding foodie, ate every bit of her bone marrow and rice.  I didn’t tell her that osso buco is really the bone marrow but when she asked what the hole in the bone was, The Italian simply said, ‘buco!’  That, kawan, literally is what buco means.

The recipe I used was sent to me by a friend and another cooking partner from London.  Here’s the recipe:

I followed every step religious, this being the first time I am cooking osso buco.  I compared other recipes and one called for the meat to be dredged in flour which I did seasoned generously with salt and pepper.  This helped seal in the flavours of the meat and thicken the sauce.  I browned the meat in an iron cast casserole dish that allowed me to pack the osso buco together so I didn’t need to tie the meat to the bone.  The casserole was then put into the oven for 2 hours.  This dish is really easy to prepare and truly sedap, so have no fear if this is your first experience with osso buco.

For the risotto Milanese, I cooked it to recipe requirements and stood stirring my risotto over a glass of white wine until each grain of rice was cooked.  This took roughly 20 minutes.

I have never made dessert with mascarpone before.  When my kawan, neighbour, cooking and shopping partner said that we ought to try it, I didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes’.  However, the recipe we chose together called for strawberries which I had forgotten to purchase.  In a bind, I googled ‘what to do with mascarpone’ and this beautifully easy recipe came up.  Here is how it looks:

Caramelized Banana Surprise

It is easy peasy to make, something you can throw together in 30 minutes between clearing the table and setting it for dessert.  I grated lemon zest over the caramelized bananas to enhance the mixture of honey and mascarpone.  The jing gang ate it up with relish and satisfaction.  I am definitely making it again.  Next time, I will dress it with mint and more lemon zest.  Here’s the recipe:

4 servings

You will need:

4 firm bananas, peeled and cut into thirds

4 tbsp honey (I used acacia)

4tbsp mascarpone

generous grating of lemon zest

In a non stick pan, heat the honey over a low heat.  Add the banana and cook for around 1 minute.  Add the mascarpone, stir until combined with honey and banana.  This should take about 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Grate some lemon zest over the bananas before serving.  This dessert is best served warm.