As Singapore emerges from hibernation and we bask - and blink - in the sunlight, are you feeling a little sheepish?
My rafters are not filled with toilet paper, instant noodles or rice. But trust me when I say I have my weight in flour of all kinds - plain, self-raising, bread, whole wheat, cake and even what I call "alt flours" like tapioca, rice and corn.
I have enough yeast, I think, to bake everyone who lives here a small bun. Not kidding.
Why do I have so much?
It is partly because of work and needing to have these ingredients on hand for baking whatever clutch of recipes I am writing about for any given Sunday.
I don't nail things the first time I make them, so I need buffer. I gave myself rather a lot of buffer, forgetting that I live in Singapore, where things, processes and systems work.
What will you do with the food you have amassed?
I offer you three recipes this week for using stuff up.
Mala Xiang Guo Baked Rice, Milk Ramen and Mushipan are adaptable and you can just use whatever is in your pantry, fridge and freezer. Resist the urge to buy anything new.
Meanwhile, I will work on turning my mountain of flour into a hillock.
While people Netflixed and chilled, reorganised their homes or were a constant presence on social media, all in the name of staying sane, I baked.
Like many of you, I found comfort, joy and release in making things with my hands.
Along the way, I rekindled my love of baking, a skill I let fall by the wayside because life BC (before coronavirus) was so filled with unnecessary flourishes and busy-ness.
Those hours were precious to me. There was time to focus on the task at hand, time to fail, time to think about stuff I almost never want to think about.
Life is opening up again and I feel the complications setting in. I will continue my baking-meditation sessions because if I have learnt one thing from circuit breaking, it is that I do not want life to go back to what it was before.
It can be simpler. It will be better.
MALA XIANG GUO BAKED RICE
While circuit breaking, I became addicted to mala. You know, that numbing feeling on the tongue and lips you get from Sichuan peppercorns? So I bought sauce. Which is strange behaviour for a chilli coward. But I can't get enough of that feeling. I've tried other brands, but Haidilao has the most aromatic and numbing sting.
1. Don't worry if you don't have the stir-fry version of the sauce. The hot-pot version works just as well.
2. Scavenge for vegetables in your fridge and freezer. You shouldn't buy anything new for this dish.
3. Grate odds and ends of whatever cheese you have for this. Almost any cheese, except possibly blue, will work. Or use plastic-wrapped slices - just lay them like tiles on the rice and watch that they don't burn in the oven. The cheese helps to mitigate some of the heat from the sauce.
4. To get the 600g to 700g of rice in the recipe, cook two cups of raw rice, measured using the plastic cup that comes with your rice cooker.
4 boneless chicken thighs
2 tsp soya sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
5 or 6 shallots or 1 medium onion
5 to 6 sprigs fresh coriander (optional)
220g mala hot-pot or stir-fry sauce
1 Tbs cooking oil, plus more for greasing
600g to 700g day-old cooked rice
250g shredded mozzarella cheese
100g grated parmesan or cheddar cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 200 deg C.
2. Rinse the chicken under running water and pat dry with paper towels. Using a pair of sharp kitchen shears, cut into bite-sized pieces. Place in a bowl, add the soya sauce and sesame oil, mix well and set aside.
3. Slice the shallots or onion. Slice or chop the vegetables. You won't need to do this if you use frozen vegetables like I did. Slice or separate the mushrooms. Chop the coriander, if using.
4. Pour off and discard as much oil as possible from the mala sauce packet. Heat 1 Tbs cooking oil in a large wok or frying pan set over medium heat. Add the mala sauce and fry until fragrant. Add the shallots and fry for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chicken and fry for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the vegetables and mushrooms and continue frying until all the ingredients are cooked. Add the rice and mix well. Have a taste and add salt if you need to. Add about one-third of the mozzarella and mix it in well. Turn off the heat.
5. Lightly grease a baking dish measuring about 30cm by 25cm by 5cm with cooking oil. Spoon the rice into the baking dish. Top with the coriander, if using, the rest of the mozzarella and then the parmesan or cheddar.
6. Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and browned in parts. Remove from the oven, let rest for 5 minutes and serve.
Serves four to six
The base recipe for this Japanese-style steamed cake comes from my favourite food website, Just One Cookbook. But I have adapted it to use up all those packets of two-in-one drinks you might have hoarded. If you have three-in-one drinks, you can use those, but the flavours might be less intense. I usually just get Horlicks in a jar, which has sugar added, so it is effectively a two-in-one.
1. The original recipe calls for the batter to be divided among four muffin cups, but I find that fiddly and prefer to have one cake. Use a porcelain or ceramic bowl that holds at least 225ml of liquid. If you are using muffin cups, place the paper liners in ramekins before pouring in the batter. The cakes will need just eight minutes in the steamer.
2. If you do not have two-in-one drinks, use instant coffee. And if you have coffee extract on hand, add 1/4 tsp to the batter.
3. If you do not have instant drinks, you can flavour the cakes with whatever you have. Zest from oranges and lemons would work. Or swop out the coffee with an equal amount of cocoa or matcha powder.
4. The cakes are best eaten warm, but you can steam them again to revive them.
60g plain flour
1 tsp double-acting baking powder
14g (1 sachet) two-in-one instant coffee with sugar added or 25g Horlicks powder
45ml whole milk
30ml neutral flavoured oil such as grapeseed, canola or rice bran
1. Place a metal rack in a deep pot. Add water to reach 3/4 up the rack. Wrap the pot lid with a thick towel to prevent condensation from dripping onto the mushipan. Bring to a boil over high heat while you make the batter. Have on hand a porcelain or ceramic bowl which can hold at least 225ml of liquid.
2. Put the flour, baking powder, coffee or Horlicks, and sugar into a medium mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. In a pouring jug, whisk the egg, milk and oil with a fork.
3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and combine with a sturdy metal spoon. Scrape the batter into the bowl. Place it in the steamer and turn the heat down to low. Steam for 20 to 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into various parts of the mushipan comes out clean. Start checking at 18 minutes.
4. Carefully remove the cake from the steamer and place on a metal rack to cool. When it has gone from hot to warm, gently dislodge the cake from the sides of the pan with an offset spatula or clean fingers. You should be able to do this without having to grease the bowl before adding the batter. Serve warm.
This hack to upgrade spicy instant noodles comes out of South Korea and has hangover cure written all over it. It's a good way to use up all those packets of noodles you hoarded in anticipation of the apocalypse that never came. Yes, and all those cans of luncheon meat too. The final dish tastes surprisingly good, not overwhelmingly milky.
1. Whole milk only please. Don't even think of using low-fat or skimmed.
2. Use a spicy instant noodle because the spice seasoning is what gives this dish kick.
3. Use whatever you have in the fridge or pantry to add fibre and protein to your dish.
4. I like a lot less sauce, but you might prefer a soupier noodle. The amount of milk can and should be adjusted to suit your taste.
Luncheon meat, sausages or leftover roast chicken or steak
1 packet spicy instant noodles
1 tsp cooking oil
250ml to 350ml whole milk
1. Slice the meat you are using into thin strips. Do the same with the vegetables.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the instant noodles for 2 minutes. Drain when done.
3. Add the oil to a frying pan set over medium heat. Saute the meat and vegetables until lightly browned. Pour in the milk and bring it to a gentle boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. Empty the seasoning sachet into the pan and stir to mix well. Add the noodles and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute.
4. Pour into a bowl and eat immediately.