Hainanese Chicken Rice

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I’ve gotta admit, it’s been a rough week over here but I dread the upcoming weeks even more.

I’ve been waking up as early as 5 a.m. with Mark on weekdays even though I have no reason to be up that early at all. I can’t seem to shake away ominous thoughts and I carry on through the day feeling constantly anxious and worried.

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But the weekend is finally here and it’s warm and sunny and I plan to savor every bit of it. Mark and I ran errands today because we’re grown up and married now and that’s what grown up people do. We chose to take his car so we could put the top down and bask in some warmth.

I’m finally at the point of my life where I have to file my taxes like an adult and of course I was clue-less. I wonder why they don’t teach you stuff like that in school. Like what steps to take so you can earn tax credits, or who qualifies as a dependent, or how to read your W-2s. What even is a W-2? I just know I needed it for tax purposes.

Regardless, we sought out a tax professional to help us with all the mumbo jumbo and I think I understood about 50 percent of the things he said to me? Mark seemed to know a great deal more so I left the Q&A session to him and just signed when instructed.

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Oh I also decided to cut off about 12 inches of my hair today! It was semi-impulsive, meaning I had been going back and forth with the idea for the past week or so and finally decided to walk right in to Great Clips and snipped it all away. I miss it already but I figured it was time for a change. As with every other aspect of our lives right now.

I just need to try and find the good in all this change. Change is always good, right?

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It was also warm, sunny and basically beau-tih-ful today so we opened all our blinds and allowed for lots of sunshine to drench and cover every corner of our home. Mark made this taco/quesadilla hybrid thing for lunch, which was pretty delicious, I have to say. It had an interesting concoction of pasta sauce and mozzarella cheese, better known as leftovers from within the fridge. He’s a breakfast master that’s evidently on his way to mastering lunch too. Soon I won’t have a kitchen to call my own anymore…

But we cracked open a beer each and peered outside our kitchen window to the neighbors and people that walked by and ate our lunch over the sink. It was simple yet sweet. I live for the little things in life.

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I’ve been intensely craving Malaysian food for — oh I don’t know, the past six months probably but have not gotten it anywhere except for that one wintry night I was in D.C. and indulged in a huge bowl of noodles. The cravings subsided for a while but everyone knows a bowl of noodles is hardly enough to satiate my longing and fondness for food from home.

So while it is impossible to get a taste of home where I live, I decided to take it upon me to recreate tastes that I grew up with but have been so far away from for so long. This chicken rice is one of the most popular Malaysian food there is. You can find simple satisfying versions of it in hot and small coffee shops in corners of towns to fancier varieties in upscale-y restaurants in the city.

Regardless of where you find yours, if you’ve ever had it, it almost always promises the rich, unmistakable taste of chicken infused with great aromatics. And if you haven’t tried, don’t be intimidated by the seemingly long list of ingredients. It’s honestly, incredibly simple and I pulled it off perfectly.

And that’s saying something because I used to be a college kid.

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Hainanese Chicken Rice

Ingredients:

For chicken & soup
1 pound bone-in, skin on chicken thighs or breast
1 tbsp goji berries (optional)
1 stalk green onion
1 medium sized carrot, chopped
1 thumb sized ginger, peeled and bruised
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 tbsp black peppercorn
3 tbsp salt

For rice 
1 cup Jasmine rice
1 1/4 cup chicken broth
1 thumb sized ginger, peeled and bruised
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
A small piece of chicken fat, trimmed from chicken

For sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp chicken stock
3 tbsp garlic and shallots in oil

For ginger sauce
2 inches ginger, peeled and sliced
1 green onion, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 lime, juiced, or 2 tbsp lemon juice
5 tbsp chicken stock

Directions: 

To make the soup and chicken, bring chicken broth, water and carrots to a boil in a deep pot. Add green onion, goji berries and chicken to the pot and turn the heat down to let it simmer. Allow chicken to cook for about 30 to 45 minutes. Once it is cooked, take chicken out and submerge in a ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Set chicken aside.

For the rice, cook garlic and shallots in chicken fat and some oil l until golden brown. Reserve 3 tablespoons of oil and garlic mixture for sauce. Stir in rice and ginger and cook for 1 minute, until small white specks can be seen on the grains of rice. Add chicken stock from pot and cook on low heat until all the liquid is absorbed. Let stand for 10 minutes before fluffing with fork.

To make sauce, add all ingredients and stir until well combined. For ginger sauce, add all ingredients into a food processor or blender and grind until fine.

To serve, place chicken back into pot and bring to a boil. Let cool for a while before slicing. Place chicken slices on a bed of thinly sliced cucumber and dress with sauce. Garnish with green onions if preferred. Serve with rice, soup and ginger sauce.

Note: This recipe can be adjusted to feed a larger crowd by using a whole chicken. Follow the same steps to make the chicken and soup, but insert green onions, ginger and goji berries into the chicken’s cavity instead. Cooking time may have to be a little longer to ensure that the chicken is cooked all the way. 

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Cream Cheese Wontons // Kung Pao Chicken

Today I was feeling ambitious.

I’d spoken to my mom for 2 hours on the phone, patiently listened to her and my dad’s advice on life, marriage and money, and still had the motivation to carry on through the day. That’s kind of a personal win.

I stopped by a small Asian grocer that I happened to discover while driving home one day. I remember the friendly Filipino lady telling me that on Wednesdays they receive shipments of fresh vegetables not usually found in regular grocery stores. So I decided, why not?

True enough, there were an assortment of produce I thought I’d only see in markets back home. Bitter gourds, long beans, plump okras and even a type of leafy green known to Malaysians as kangkung (which happens to be one of my favorite vegetables, lucky me!) It took a lot in me not to splurge on produce. I walked away with a small Daikon radish, a fistful of kangkung and a loaf of pineapple cream bun, which I thought Mark would like.

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I’m so glad Mark’s not a picky eater in a way. I know there are things he likes, things he dislikes and then things he swears by, like pizza and an Italian BMT from Subway. But other than that, I think he’s been pretty adventurous so far. I, on the other hand, have a pretty adventurous palate. I think I would try just about anything once.

I’ve been getting tired of the daily fares here. Don’t misunderstand, I still love a guilty fettuccine alfredo or a juicy burger, even a large, fresh salad but I miss having at least three different dishes on the dinner table along with soup and rice. It’s weird how much variety there is, at least in homes in Malaysia, compared to everywhere else. And now that I actually cook every day, I’m amazed at how my mom was able to get dinner ready on time every night, sometimes even earlier.

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In an attempt to recreate dinner just as it was growing up, I took the time to make three different dishes and rice. I wish we had a dinner table so we could properly sit on something and not have to perch over the coffee table for a meal. But I guess the time will come. Our apartment is small and probably temporary, so I can’t complain. That’s one last piece of furniture we have to move out of here.

It was kind of Mark’s idea to make the cream cheese wontons. I’ve honestly never had them until I dined at a Chinese restaurant here but the ones we made were pretty delicious. They were baked, as opposed to the deep fried ones you find, which took some of the guilt off. We also substituted the crab meat for turkey bacon instead.

The Kung Pao chicken was something I had never tried making before. I looked up some recipes online and finally came up with one that would cater to our taste buds. It was actually pretty easy to make and I think a lot healthier than the ones you find in restaurants that are usually filled with MSG and sitting in a pool of questionable brown sauce.

Kung Pao Chicken 

Ingredients: 
2 chicken breasts, cubed
1/2 yellow onion
Knob of ginger
1 clove garlic
3 green onions, chopped
Handful of peanuts
5-6 dried red chili
3 tbsp canola or peanut oil

Marinade
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp soy sauce

Sauce 
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/3 cup water
1tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp rice vinegar

Directions: 

Mix chicken and marinade in a baggie or covered bowl for about 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, heat 2 tbsp of oil in large pan or wok. Fry chicken until almost done and remove from pan. Add remaining 1 tbsp of oil and fry garlic, ginger and dried chili until fragrant. Stir in onions and cook until translucent. Add chicken back to the pan and stir in sauce until evenly coated.

Let simmer for about 5 minutes or until sauce thickens up. Throw in green onions and peanuts. Serve with warm rice.

Cream cheese wontons 

Ingredients: 
4 oz. cream cheese
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
3 turkey bacon (or regular bacon), chopped and cooked
1 tsp honey
Wonton wrappers
1 tsp corn starch, diluted in water

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 375 degree F.

Combine cream cheese, jalapeno, bacon and honey in a bowl. Spoon small amounts of cream cheese mixture into the center of the wonton wrappers. Dip a finger into the corn starch solution and wet the edges of the wonton wrapper. Fold the wrapper envelope and press gently to seal the wonton.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until skin turns golden brown.

Makes about 12 wontons. 

Lemon & Orange Chicken Skewers

The clock reads close to 8 p.m. and I am ready for bed.

Today was an early day for me. Things have been slow since the holidays but now that we’re about halfway through January, I think it has been picking up steadily.

Mark has been busy at work and with school. As I write this, he’s directly across from me, with the computer propped on his lap, pen laced between his thumb and index finger, brows furrowed and intently reading what I presume is chapters of his history textbook. With two swift snaps, he cracks his neck and is back to full concentration.

He can look so serious sometimes.

 I didn’t sleep much last night. Partly because I had chosen to sleep in until noon (yes, noon) with Mark after he got back but also because of the little excitement I knew I was going to have today while I drop my resume of at a couple of places in the area. Hopefully I will find something to do in the next couple of months.

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten up early to do my hair and make up. I used to dread the early morning ritual of slapping on foundation and coats of mascara just to head into the office but now, I miss it. I’d give anything to trade in my sweatpants for a pair of slacks.

 The rain poured and soaked the entire region for a good part of the day. My backyard now holds what looks like a mini swamp, just enough for birds to bathe in, frogs to leap in and possibly even for us to have a little bit of fun with. Puddle wrestling would be my best guess.

I can’t believe I will be turning 24 this year. I am extremely nervous about everything. Being married, trying to still have a career (whatever that might mean now), starting a family… Gone are the days where the most planning I’d have to do is if I should schedule all my classes in the mornings or afternoons. Now I stress over the next five years and what will I be doing with my life. Where will we live? What would I do for work? Where will my career, if I even have one, be? This is my almost quarter-life crisis everybody.

In between missing home and seriously craving (akin to what a pregnancy craving might feel like I think) every and all Malaysian delicacies, I have spent a majority of my days surfing the web and coming across a plethora of amazing food blogs from wonderful people all over the country! Needless to say, I am amazed at some of the recipes and cannot wait to try them.

Oh if only I had access to a huge supermarket that held within its walls everything from Spaghetti O’s to giant octopuses, I would be so happy! It’d be having the best of both worlds. A combination of everything I love, which ultimately I think, kind of describes who I am. A vast assortment of two very different worlds.

I’ve been wanting to make chicken kabobs for the longest time. I’m a huge fan of Greek food. Falafels, grilled meats, cool cucumber and mint relishes… I am still full from dinner but am already salivating with just the thought of it. But since I live in such a small town in the south, half of the ingredients to make a decent kabob is unavailable. I have even debated doing my grocery shopping online but I know Mark will think I’m crazy.

Back home, we have a similar dish called satay, which is basically chicken or beef, marinated for hours in a spicy, nutty mix and then grilled over a charcoal fire. Put it simply, it is divine. The meat is made to order and comes to you piping hot, succulent and juicy, charred and burnt on the edges and served with a chunky peanut dipping sauce. Most come with slices of cucumber and onion, and sometimes if you’re lucky, you get ketupat with it too! A dense rice cake just made for dipping into the sauce. I think I just heard my tummy growl again…

Dinner tonight was an extremely healthy take on the kabob and satay. No spicy peanut sauce, no cool feta salads, just a bright, citrusy marinade for my chicken. Ultimately, it’s still chicken on a stick. There’s something so fun about having props in your meals. Like it’s an event or a party. Forget silverware, I get to use my hands and drag pieces of juicy meat off a stick into my mouth, slathering sauce all over my cheeks.

I think that’s why babies have so much fun making a mess during meal times.

Lemon & Orange Chicken Skewers

Ingredients:
18 wooden skewers
3 boneless, skinless, chicken breast
1 zucchini
1 yellow, green, orange bell peppers
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 green onion
1 cup button mushrooms
1 tbsp light mayonnaise

Marinade:
1 lemon
5 clementines
1 tsp. dried rosemary
3 bay leaves, crushed
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

In a bowl, zest lemon but only juice half of it. Juice the rest of the clementines and add it to the lemon juice. Add garlic, basil, bay leaves and rosemary and mix well. Slowly pour olive oil into mix, whisking the entire time so the oil incorporates with the juice and forms a smooth emulsion. Add salt and pepper.

Clean and slice chicken breast into bite sized pieces and place in a bowl. Pour half the marinade to the chicken, mix well and let marinade in the refrigerator for at least an hour or overnight. Chop zucchinis into wheels and bell peppers into about 1-inch sized pieces. Clean mushrooms and roughly chop green onions. Place vegetables in a plastic baggie and pour the other half of the marinade. Let rest, refrigerated for at least an hour.

When about to cook, soak wooden skewers in cold water for about 30 minutes to an hour to avoid burning in the oven. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line cookie sheet with foil.

Thread a cherry tomato onto a skewer, then chicken meat, then a green onion. Repeat until skewer is full. Use remaining skewers for vegetables. Place the chicken on a cookie sheet and vegetables on another.

Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, until chicken is cooked and vegetables are soften.

Tip: I added more cooking time to the meat and veggies by putting them under the broiler to try and get a charred look, similar to what you’d see if you’d grilled them!

Chicken Piccata

My destination is no longer a place, rather, a new way of seeing.

I burned the chicken tonight.

In between running in and out of the kitchen to try and talk about things with Mark, I’d left the heat on too high and was gone too long so I came back to a charred piece of chicken breast. Aside from that, I’d also forgotten that I’d left a Ziploc baggie on one of the burners and had conveniently turned the burner on so I also walked into a smoky kitchen filled with toxic fumes.

Today was not one of the better days.

Temperatures plunged into the negatives in some parts of the country. I had spent the earlier part of the day catching up with my best friend, who looked lazy and snug under her covers in her New Jersey home. Here in Eastern North Carolina, meteorologists advised to stay indoors unless absolutely necessary and so I did just that.

I tried keeping busy. I took an extra long shower and made the effort to shave since I wasn’t taking the time to wash my hair. Still, there was time on my hands. Some days I feel so trapped and aimless. If you’d asked me ten years ago where I would see myself today, I would answer honestly not here. Not married. Not starting a family. Just, not yet.

But life has a funny way of springing things on you. Like how I got my first job out of college all the way across the country and then finding out it’s not what I thought it would be. I wasn’t Lois Lane but I was willing to work hard for it.

And then I fell in love.

Just when I had vowed not to fall in love. Just when I was ready to give up and shut everybody out, Mark walked into my life in the most unsuspecting way. Looking back, I guess I was alright not having anyone. I’ve had some pretty awful experiences with past relationships so taking a couple more years away from it seemed to make the most sense despite pangs of loneliness.

But our paths crossed and he came in the midst of all the change in my life. I probably wasn’t prepared for any of it but I did what they told me to do you know? Live for the moment. Seize the day. You Only Live Once.

One thing led to another and I find myself here in our quiet townhouse while he works on his computer and me coping with yet another change and the fact that I’d burned dinner.

I made chicken piccata for the first time without really knowing what it was except for the fact that I had all the ingredients I needed for it in my pantry and my refrigerator. Did not have a mallet however to pound the chicken so I used the back of a pan, which worked just fine. And it helped me let go some of that frustration as well. I’d recommend serving this with fettuccine noodles.

Chicken Piccata
Recipe from My Recipes

Ingredients:
2 chicken breasts
1 lemon
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 tbsp butter
Vegetable oil for frying
Salt and pepper

Directions:

Place chicken breast in between two sheets of wax paper or on cutting board with a sheet of plastic wrap to cover. Using a mallet or the back of a non-stick frying pan, pound chicken until about 1/4 of an inch thick.

Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper. Heat skillet with 1 tbsp of butter and some vegetable oil. Cook chicken on one side, about 3 minutes, until brown. Flip and cook the other side until chicken is done. Remove chicken from skillet and set aside.

Add lemon juice and chicken broth to pan. Bring to a boil and scrape whatever bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir occasionally until gravy thickens. Pour gravy over chicken and serve.

Chicken & Beef Fajitas

The New Year got off to a rocky start for me.

I had spent the first day of 2014 feeling absolutely miserable but glad that once it had all came to pass, I got to find a new little outlook on life and my current situation.

With that being said, I honestly didn’t think about making resolutions this year. What’s the point when all I’d end up doing is breaking them by the first weekend of January anyway. But as I tried to find things to occupy myself today, I realized that I needed goals– a sense of purpose.

In college, I’ve always worked well with having a planner. Scribble down lists, notes and deadlines only to scribble them the day or week after and feeling such a sense of accomplishment once a task (or more realistically, an assignment) is done!

Since I am (unfortunately) no longer in college, I have yet to use a daily planner but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have lists or notes to jot down somewhere. Thus, for 2014 I have decided on three food resolutions.

One. Giving up red meat. I realize that giving up pork such as bacon or sausage or just simply pork will be difficult. Who doesn’t love bacon? Personally though, I am a sausage person. Patties, links, both… That would be my meat of choice at breakfast and giving up red meat would just mean eliminating half the reason I love breakfasts so much. But in an attempt to be more conscious of what I eat, I think this would be a good start.

Two. Giving up (unnecessary) cheese. To put it in the words of Mark, cheese can be unnecessary. I had never heard of such a thing until I met him. I always thought cheese was necessary. Quesadillas, pizzas, dips… I could go on forever but I guess he’s right. I could always go for a sandwich sans the cheese. No cheese in my burritos or tacos. No cheese on my eggs (cries, I love cheesy eggs). It seems like an expensive price to pay, but to quote Mark, “Oh, you’ll live!”

Three. Giving up cigarettes. Yes, yes. I’ve read all the articles, statistics, comments and received more than enough judgmental looks to warrant me to come to this decision. Honestly, I’ve also given some of those judgmental remarks. But this year, I will be making an actual effort to say no. Actually say no when I reaaaally want to say yes. I’m quite nervous to take this on but optimism should get me somewhere, right?

With that out of the way, I was really excited making dinner tonight. Maybe it because the process seemed to tedious so it had to yield a phenomenal result. Or maybe because it’s from one of my favorite Food Network stars. Or maybe because it’s my first time making it all from scratch. Or it’s all of the above! Either way, I was excited.

I’ve never really had Tex-Mex food until I came to the States. We had Chili’s back home but I’ve always stayed on the safe side of the menu. I remember eating my first burrito under the shade of a tree in between class on campus and thinking, why haven’t I had this before? Burritos are yummy but burrito bowls are so much better to me. And don’t even get me started on Chipotle. I’m really starting to think it’s a cult… (not complaining though!)

Tonight I made chicken and beef fajitas with lots of bright, crunchy peppers and warm wheat tortillas. I’m starting to learn my way around Tex-Mex cooking. Chili, tacos and now marinated grilled meat. My meat-loving man does not complain! I took the extra step of making guacamole and dinner was complete.

Chicken and Beef Fajitas
Recipe by Ree Drummond, from The Pioneer Woman 

Ingredients:
12 oz. flank steak
2 chicken breast
1/2 of a medium-sized red, green, yellow and orange bell pepper
2 medium yellow onions

Marinade:
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup lime juice
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tbsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp sugar

Directions:

Mix together ingredients for marinade in a small bowl.

Clean and prepare meat. Stab chicken breast with fork to allow for flavors to seep into the meat. Pour 1/3 of the marinade over steak and another 1/3 for the chicken. Make sure to marinade both meat in separate dishes or baggies. Julienne peppers and onions and pour remaining marinade over the vegetables. Leave to marinade in fridge for at least 2 hours.

Heat grill and cook beef until preferred wellness. Cook chicken in a pan or on grill until done. Heat up pan with a some oil and saute vegetables. I like mine a little charred yet still crunchy so I cooked it on high but constantly stirring so it doesn’t burn.

Assemble ingredients on a warm tortilla and serve with cheese, sour cream, salsa or guacamole.

What’s your first memory of a good Tex-Mex dish?