Instead of running to the supermarket for more ingredients to whip up something, try making do.
Try scavenging in your freezer or larder, as if you are on a food rescue mission, and see what you come up with.
Using ingredients tucked away in the depths of your freezer and kitchen cupboard helps you save money and reduce waste and cuts down on unnecessary grocery shopping trips during the circuit breaker period.
I have always had the habit of squirrelling away "useful" items in the freezer, such as chicken bones, chicken feet and seafood such as fish, prawns and squid.
Chicken feet are inexpensive. At the wet market, you can get about 10 for $1. The more friendly chicken sellers will even remove the nails for you.
If you buy your chicken feet from the supermarket, you can easily get rid of the nails with a pair of kitchen scissors. Remember to also remove any calluses.
Chicken feet are excellent for cooking chicken stock. Chefs favour using them for their naturally gelatinous texture.
I use them for cooking with peanuts, black beans, garlic and ginger for a simple soup.
Again, raw peanuts and black beans are useful to keep in your pantry. If you happen to have a stash of dried cuttlefish or squid, add that for more punch in your soup.
Do not bother to soak the peanuts and black beans overnight. Simply boil them over medium heat for 11/2 hours before adding the chicken feet.
Chicken feet are also easy to braise with dried mushrooms - another low-maintenance, high-yield item I keep handy in my fridge.
Dried mushrooms add a depth of flavour to dishes, especially soups.
Instead of adding monosodium glutamate, add one or two dried mushrooms when making stock. They elevate your stock from pedestrian to flavourful.
Otherwise, soak dried mushrooms overnight in tap water till they soften, then slice them up as a tasty add-on for vegetable stir-fries.
If you prefer cooking on the fly, just soak them in boiling water for 30 minutes and they are ready to be used. For large mushrooms, remember to remove the woody stems.
I omitted cinnamon in my recipe for Braised Chicken Feet And Shiitake Mushrooms as I had run out of it.
Likewise, when cooking with scraps you have at home, be flexible - keep an open mind and work with substitutes.
I find it handy to have a small pack of five spice powder in the kitchen as it can be used for braising or marinating meat or to cook spiced rice.
It also makes up for a whole host of spices if you do not wish to have a cluttered pantry, especially if you do not cook often.
But buy the smallest packet you can find as it loses its aroma if kept for too long.
Finally, for those days when you are not in the mood to boil raw peanuts from scratch, just crack open a can of braised peanuts to add to your braised chicken feet dish.
This dish of braised chicken feet and mushrooms goes great with a bowl of brown rice.
Alternatively, boil some dried egg noodles to enjoy chicken feet noodles at home.
For another easy side dish, cook a few hard-boiled eggs - bring them to a boil, then switch off the heat and let them cook in residual heat for 17 to 18 minutes.
Remove the shells and soak the eggs in the braising liquid.
Keep the leftover braising sauce in a freezer-friendly container and you can use this as a base for your next braised dish or as a dressing for noodles.
BRAISED CHICKEN FEET AND SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS
2 star anise
1 black cardamom
1 tsp black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
17g galangal, cut into two pieces and smashed
20g ginger, cut into two pieces and smashed
12 garlic cloves (70g), lightly smashed
50g dried shiitake mushrooms (soaked)
3.5 litres water, divided
1 flat Tbs five spice powder
½ tsp coriander powder
40g rock sugar
3 pandan leaves (9g), knotted
20 chicken feet (574g), cleaned
4 Tbs light soya sauce
3½ Tbs dark soya sauce
1 heaped tsp salt
2 cans of braised peanuts (222g), discard the canned liquid
1. Heat the pot and add the star anise, cardamom, black cardamom, cloves, black peppercorns and bay leaves. Dry fry for three minutes until fragrant.
2. Add the galangal, ginger and garlic cloves. Dry fry for two minutes.
3. Add the dried shiitake mushrooms and dry fry for two minutes until fragrant.
4. Add two litres of water.
5. Add the five spice powder, coriander powder, rock sugar and pandan leaves.
6. Stir, cover and let the mixture come to a boil.
7. Cook, covered, over medium heat for 20 minutes.
8. While waiting for the mushrooms to cook, bring 1.5 litres of water to a boil in another pot.
9. Blanch the chicken feet, then soak them in iced water for five minutes.
10. Once the mushrooms are cooked for 20 minutes, add the chicken feet.
11. Add the light soya sauce, dark soya sauce and salt. Stir, cover and cook over medium-low heat for 30 minutes.
12. Add the braised peanuts and let the mixture come to a simmer.
13. Serve hot.
Serves four to five