A compromise and breakfast menu

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Sprint practice during morning session.

There have been many discussions at home as to whether morning swim training sessions should be incorporated, especially with the number of competitions coming up. Dear son is 50-50, I am more inclined towards “no” while the dad had a chat with one of the coaches who seems to think that it would help.

My reluctance has to do with the fact that he is already training hard every evening for 2 hours. He is only 12 and have only recently started Secondary School. I am worried that with school work, and too much training, he would be overly taxed. What if it affects his health and ability to concentrate in school? Can his mind and body keep up with the rigours of training and school?

Speaking to dear son, he vaccilates.  “Yes, I want to, some of my friends are doing it and they are fine…” then, “No, I don’t want to..what if I have lots of homework? What if my grades go down?” Argh!

In the end, after another consultation with the coach based on his own experience and another chat with our child,  we decided on a compromise – Dear son goes for morning training 3 days a week, but goes out of the pool early in order to get to school before 7.50 a.m.

It means very early mornings for all of us on those 3 days. However, dear son is happy and has requested to add another morning for this week, (if it is not too inconvenient for you, Mama – awww!) as the state level competition is this coming weekend.

As a parent, it is never an inconvenience when it comes to catering to my child’s passion and interests. However, it is more about trying to ensure that his physical, emotional and mental needs are met. If at times, I have to voice my concerns, trust me… It has very little to do with my needs. My objections were due to my worry that he would lose the time needed to do childish things. That he would strain limited resources much needed by his body at a time of growth. That he would miss out on some childhood experience and lack balance.

However, now that a compromise has been met, and everyone seems happy, we will focus on providing him with whatever is needed. The decision is after all, not cast in stone. If at any point it becomes too heavy and becomes a detriment to any aspect, the decision can always be reversed.
As a side note, I have to bring the topic back to recipes… Breakfast is an important meal in this household.  We are not big cold cereal fans, the breakfast is usually cooked and hot and was never an option. Prior to his swim session his breakfast usually consist of the following:

Oatmeal with banana and blueberries, 2 soft boiled eggs, a glass of fresh milk with a little chocolate syrup.

Oatmeal with banana and blueberries, 2 soft boiled eggs, a glass of fresh milk with a little chocolate syrup.

Recipe for Oatmeal

300 ml fresh skimmed milk

5 tablespoons rolled oats, 1 tablespoon Nestum

Pinch of salt and soft brown sugar to taste

1 banana sliced, blueberries or strawberries

Method:

Heat milk, add rolled oats. Cook till softened. Add salt and brown sugar.

Remove from heat. Add nestum. Stir. Add fruit.

If preferred, you can use honey instead of brown sugar. Add honey just before adding fruit.

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Malaysian Tomato Rice to chase the rainy day blues away…

Tomato rice,  beef korma,  chicken in red sauce and pickled vegetable salad.

Tomato rice, beef korma, chicken in red sauce and pickled vegetable salad.

It rained last night, and it has continued to pour all day here, in Kuching. While I love the rain, unfortunately too much rain makes me want to snuggle under my comforter, surrounded by my pillows and snooze continuously.  Fortunately, (or otherwise depending on how you look at it,) housework never ends. It meant saying buh-bye to my bed and hello to my dusting cloths, vacuum cleaner, mop and bucket. By midday I was happy to be able to put away laundry and start on dinner.

If I felt lethargic all day, I can only imagine how hubby and son were faring out there. A look in the fridge showed me some leftover canned tomatoes, half a carrot, half an onion and it dawned on me to use up whatever leftovers I had in the fridge and make Tomato Rice.

It has to be said that this type of rice was never popular in this household because it can be rather sour. Hubby has really low tolerance to sour stuff, however, I thought by using canned tomatoes instead of tomato paste, the tartness can be toned down.

Traditionally too, the spices and onions were sautéed in ghee or clarified butter. This has now been replaced in this household with extra virgin olive oil resulting in a cleaner and lighter tasting rice.

When hubby and son walked into the house, the smell of the rice and accompaniments wafting from the kitchen told them that they are in for a treat. The happiest moment of the day for me is when we are all sitting around the dining table and I get to listen to the chatter while serving what I know would be a wholesome meal, cooked with love to the two most important people in my life.

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Tomato Rice (for 4)

  • 1 star anise, 3 cardamom pods, 3 cloves, a cinnamon stick about 5 cm long
  • 4 shallots, 2 cloves garlic, 1 inch fresh ginger (all sliced thinly)
  • 1 fresh lemongrass (bruised)
  • 2 cups basmati rice (soak 30 minutes)
  • 1.5 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup canned tomatoes + juice
  • 1/4 cup fresh milk
  • A small handful fresh coriander
  • Salt to taste
  1. Heat olive oil in rice cooker pot. Sautee whole spices, sliced items and lemongrass. Gently cook until onions turn amber.
  2. Add canned tomatoes and 1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional.) Break tomatoes up into small pieces and stir to ensure tomato paste is incorporated.
  3. Add chicken stock and milk. Season with salt.
  4. Add soaked and drained rice. Stir gently. Let liquid come to a boil
  5. Add fresh coriander. Cook rice as per normal.

Beef Korma

  • 500 gms stewing beef
  • 6 shallots, 3 cloves garlic, 1 inch fresh ginger, 1/2 tablespoon whole black pepper – all blended finely
  • 1 star anise, 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 tablespoon Korma spice powder
  • 2 potatoes cubed golf ball size
  • 1 carrot sliced (not too finely)
  • 1 red onion – quartered
  • 1 tomato – quartered
  • 1 each red and green fresh chillies (halve length wise)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  1. Cube beef according to preference.
  2. Put beef in a pot with blended ingredients, Korma powder, some water and salt. Boil covered till beef is tender (this can be done in pressure cooker)
  3. Once beef is tender, add potatoes and carrots.
  4. When potatoes and carrots are soft, add red onion, chillies, tomatoes.
  5. Lower heat, add yogurt, taste seasoning. Sauce should be thick.

Optional:

To add to the aroma, finely slice 6 shallots and 2 cloves garlic. Sautee in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When caramelized, pour everything into the Korma pot. Cover pot tightly. Sprinkle fresh coriander just before serving.

School Lunchbox: Pasta with roasted red pepper sauce, tomato and spinach soup and chicken scallopine

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The roasted red pepper sauce recipe had been saved for the longest time and I wasn’t sure if it was going to go down well with dear son, especially when paired with the tomato and spinach soup. Where 12 year old boys are concerned there is such a thing as “too much goodness” in one sitting. However, as the sauce was being made, it turned out to taste really great. As we did not have pine nuts, the almonds that took its place gave the sauce a lovely nutty richness. You do have to add a bit more salt to the sauce and a splash of lemon juice to brighten up the flavors, but I was bowled over by how good this sauce was when paired with pasta. It was flavourful and rich tasting, but also light and refreshing with the wonderful sweetness of the roasted red peppers. Give it a try, and I hope your family will enjoy it too.

Pasta with red pepper sauce (for 2)

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  • Enough pasta for 2 servings (I used spaghetti because that’s what I had)
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1/2 onion (chopped fine)
  • 2 garlic (chopped fine)
  • Small handful chopped almonds
  • 1 small squeeze of lemon juice
  • Chopped celery leaves or flat leaf parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon cream
  1. Roast red pepper on top of stove till charred. Remove from flame and place pepper in plastic bag to sweat.
  2. Toast almonds till golden.
  3.  Boil pasta according to specified time. Don’t forget to add salt and some olive oil to pasta water.
  4. Peel pepper skin, chop pepper, place in blender with toasted almonds. Blend fine.
  5. Heat olive oil, sautee onion and garlic gently.
  6. Once onions are softened, pour in the blended pepper and almonds, lower heat to the lowest setting. Stir well.
  7. Add cream, stir, season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Switch stove off. Squeeze lemon over sauce.
  8. Mix pasta with sauce adding some of the pasta water.
  9. Sprinkle some parmesan cheese and celery/flat leaf parsley as well as extra toasted almonds for crunch.

Chicken Scallopine

Butterflied and pounder chicken breast

Butterflied and pounded chicken breast

  • 1 chicken breast – butterflied and pounder thin
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil and a little butter

Season chicken breast with salt and pepper, dust with flour.

Heat pan, add olive oil and butter. Once sizzling, gently place chicken breast in pan. Lightly fry till golden on both sides. Serve with a wedge of lemon.

Soft Pretzels… version 1

I was at a loose end, not sure what to make for dear son’s post swimming snack. So blog-surfing brought me to the following website:

http://okokletsdothis.wordpress.com/2011/07/05/i-made-pretzels/

The following photos are the results of the experiment with the pretzel dough recipe obtained from the abovementioned website.

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School Lunchbox: Chicken tenders with honey mustard dip, potato gratin and steamed veggies

Crispy chicken tenders with honey and mustard dip, potato gratin, steamed veggies.

Crispy chicken tenders with honey and mustard dip, potato gratin, steamed veggies.

Just because it’s Monday, and I am feeling slightly homesick for TGI Fridays, so, I planned dear son’s menu based on his favourite dish there – chicken tenders and honey mustard dip. For starch, quick gratin potatoes with some milk and cheese thrown in for the extra calcium, (just in case he needs it.)

Chicken Tenders (adapted from Pioneer Woman)

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  • 1 de-boned chicken breast – sliced into strips
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (if not available, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice to 1/2 cup milk)
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour – season with salt, freshly ground pepper, dash of paprika, allspice, dried oregano, dried thyme
  • Some oil for shallow frying
  1. Marinate chicken strips in 1/2 cup buttermilk for at least 30 minutes
  2. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of buttermilk into seasoned flour and mix with fork until slightly clumpy
  3. Heat oil – be careful not to get the pan too hot
  4. Dredge chicken strips in the flour and fry till golden (medium heat)

For honey mustard dip

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  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard (that’s what I have, any yellow mustard will do)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • a squeeze of lemon juice

Mix all the above for the dip, keep cool in the fridge till ready to use. Dear son loves to dunk even his steamed veggies in this.

Potato Gratin (for 1)

  • some butter for greasing bowl
  • 1 potato – peel and slice thinly
  • 1/2 onion chopped (optional)
  • 1/2 garlic chopped (optional)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup milk + 2 tablespoons  freshly grated parmesan or cheddar
  1. Grease small oven proof bowl with a little butter – I used the small bowl used for serving side soup for chicken rice
  2. Put a layer of sliced potato at the bottom of the bowl, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle some onion and garlic.
  3. Put another layer of sliced potatoes, season with salt and pepper
  4. Put a layer of onion and garlic for every 2 layers of seasoned potato.
  5. Pour milk and cheese mix over potatoes – bake in 180 degree celcius oven for 25 – 30 minutes.

School Lunchbox Menu: Spiced carrot and lentil soup, hummous and Arabic bread

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Some mornings, I play a game with myself, pretending to be in Chopped or Masterchef – limited time, but with a whole menu to produce + breakfast, (pathetic, I know… but it does inject a sense of excitement to my mornings…) This was one of those mornings. I woke-up at 5.45 am, and by the time I got myself to the kitchen, it was 6 am. There was bread to be made from scratch, soup to prepare, hummous and breakfast items as well. Took a deep breath prepared stuff in order of time needed – bread has to rise first, so I mixed the dough in the mixer and left it to be kneaded. Boiled lentils with vegetable stock, prepared carrots etc. Put dough to rest. Prepared hummous. Made breakfast and soup at the same time. Set table. Whizzed soup in blender. Rolled out dough (it had only 40 minutes to rise this morning…sigh) Grilled bread. Served breakfast, packed lunch. Done – hands up in the air! 60 minutes up!

OK, presentation could have been better for the hummous, however the soup is the nicest soup I have ever tasted. The creaminess from the lentils marry well with the sweetness of the carrots, cumin just enhances the richness of the mixture and the pinch of chilli flakes gives a little tingle on the tongue – not much.. just a teeny, tiny heat that announces its presence. Try making this soup – I highly recommend it. Dear son and hubby each had a big bowl for breakfast – the aroma is just irresistable.

Spiced Carrot and Lentil Soup (adapted from BBC Good Food)

Ready for blender

Ready for the blender

  • 2 tsp cumin
  • a pinch of chilli flakes
  • 600 gms carrots – grated and chopped coarsely
  • 1/2 cup lentils
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 liter stock (vegetable or chicken)
  • 1/2 cup milk

Method:

  1. Dry fry cumin to release its flavours
  2. Place lentils and vegetable stock in a pot, boil till softened (about 20 minutes)
  3. Add chopped carrots, 1/2 of cumin, chilli flakes, olive oil, milk – cook till carrots are tender.
  4. Blend fine – add milk if too thick, sprinkle leftover cumin on top of soup prior to serving.

Hummous (Adapted from Arabicbites)

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  • 1 can (410 gms) chickpeas
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • pinch of salt

Put all items in food processor and whizz till smooth.

Arabic Bread (flat bread) from Arabicbites

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup wholemeal flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  1. Put all ingredients in a mixer bowl. Let mixer knead dough for 10 minutes.
  2. Let dough rise in warm place between 50 – 90 minutes.
  3. Gently punch dough, divide into 16 balls. Roll out in circles.
  4. Heat grill pan – grill bread 1 minute per side.