Hunger Management

Cracking under pressure? No way

A simple dish I had made many times did not turn out picture-perfect, but life goes on

In eight years of writing this column, I have learnt to be prepared for anything.

I buy extra ingredients in case something goes wrong and I have to make a dish over again. No matter how many times I have made a recipe before, I practise at least two or three times before the photo shoot, to make sure that all goes smoothly when a colleague from the newspaper's picture desk turns up at my home to photograph the dish of the week. I even have back-up recipes (and ingredients for them) in case of a complete disaster.

Mostly, things have gone smoothly.

Of course, there was the time in March 2010 when I could barely get out of bed on the morning of the shoot for miso cod and could not figure out why. Luckily, I had made the marinade and dunked the fish in it the day before. Still, it was the ugliest miso cod I had ever made.

I dragged myself to the hospital after the shoot and a test showed I had H1N1 flu. I was sent home with Tamiflu and instructions to not emerge until I had finished the course of antibiotics.

Last year in July, while shredding herbs for a brown rice nasi ulam, I suddenly felt dizzy and nauseous and had to sit down. I had come home from my morning walk and launched into the time-consuming job of shredding herbs for the dish without drinking water or having breakfast.

  • BAKED EGGS

    INGREDIENTS

    2 cloves garlic

    200g mushrooms (white button, Swiss browns, fresh shiitake or a mix)

    50g butter, plus extra for greasing

    Salt and pepper to taste

    100g ham in one thick piece

    4 Tbs single cream, thickened cream or cooking cream

    4 extra-large eggs (below), about 70g each Flat-leaf parsley leaves for garnish (optional)

    Toast for serving

    METHOD

    1. Place the oven rack one rung below the middle and preheat to 180 deg C.

    2. Peel and finely chop the garlic cloves. Remove and discard the stems from the mushrooms and dice the caps into roughly 2cm pieces.

    3. Place the butter in a frying pan set over medium heat. When the butter starts foaming, add the garlic and stirfry for 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms and cook for one to two minutes. If the mushrooms exude a lot of water, cook until the liquid evaporates. Season with salt and pepper to taste, mix well, turn off the heat and set aside.

    4. Dice the ham into 0.5cm pieces, add to the mushrooms and stir to combine.

    5. Grease two oven-proof ramekins - they should each hold about 350ml of liquid - with butter. Divide the mushroom and ham mixture between the two. Spoon 2 Tbs cream over each ramekin.

    6. Crack each egg into a cup and pour it carefully into the dishes. There should be two eggs in each ramekin. Place the dish in a baking tray, pour in boiling water so that it comes halfway up the side of the ramekin. Slide the tray carefully into the oven.

    7. Bake until the whites are set and turn opaque. If you want runny yolks, bake for 10 to 12 minutes. If you prefer yolks more cooked, check every minute after 10 minutes and remove from the oven when it is done to your liking.

    8. Crack more black pepper and sprinkle parsley leaves over the eggs. Serve immediately with toast.

    Serves two

Thankfully, the dish turned out fine. I was fine, too, after gulps of water and a banana.

What all of this has taught me is that I can be prepared for every eventuality and things can still go wrong.

It happened during the photo shoot for baked eggs with mushrooms and ham - today's recipe.

I have made this easy dish countless times and posted what I thought was a great photograph of it on social media on Jan 2. But on the day of the shoot, the eggs decided to stage a rebellion.

The first couple spilled over the ramekin and made clouds of egg white in the water bath. I had filled the base with too much of the mushroom and ham mixture. Then, I cracked an egg and discovered it had two yolks. So that went into a jar and into the refrigerator, as there was not enough white in the double-yolked egg to cover the surface.

As I cracked more eggs (I had bought extra, of course), things went more and more haywire. I could not get the yolks centred for a picture-perfect photograph. This does not affect the taste of the dish, but I was aiming for a picture that would make people drool and want to make the dish.

Then, when I thought I had nailed it, pieces of mushroom floated mysteriously to the top. This has never happened before in the two dozen times or so that I have made baked eggs.

There were more eggs left to crack, but I decided to just let things be. Floating fungi do not affect the taste of the dish.

Living with imperfection is difficult for me and it is even harder in an age of impossibly gorgeous Instagram pictures and food porn.

But over the years, I have had to let go of the small things or risk going mad.

Nothing in life is going to be perfect and some messiness builds character. While I am still not always going with the flow, I fight things a bit less now. Energy is best used for bigger battles in life.

It's just breakfast - or brunch - after all.

Floating mushrooms aside, this is an easy dish to make for a crowd. Just double or triple the recipe.

I use extra-large eggs, which weigh about 70g each. They are available in the egg section of supermarkets and come in packs of six.

My filling of choice is mushrooms and ham, although I have made variations with mushrooms and toasted pine nuts, mushrooms and bacon, and mushrooms and spinach. I would not recommend spinach because it exudes too much water, making for a wet dish.

Don't leave out the cream. When I dunk toast into the dish, I get so much pleasure from its richness on the tongue.

When my colleague Chee Siong was packing up after the photo shoot, I apologised for taking so long.

"It's cooking," he said with a shrug.

I would say it's life too.

www.facebook.com/tanhsuehyun

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 12, 2017, with the headline 'Cracking under pressure? No way'. Print Edition | Subscribe