Roasted Cherry Tomatoes in Olive Oil

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It’s been so long since I’ve posted, but I had to write about our latest passion….growing our own tomatoes!

2020 has been a crazy year. And there has been moments I have been concerned about providing fresh and healthy meals for the family. And the thought of less time spent in a grocery store appealed to me as well. Even in an agriculturally rich region, there were a few times we couldn’t find what we wanted. We surely would never have a shortage issue, but rather an issue with variety.

So, we put a few raised beds. I read and planned a lot and we planted what we wanted  in plentiful quantity – lettuce, cucumbers, beans, peppers, and tomatoes. We grew San Marzano tomatoes, Amish paste tomatoes, Bonny Best slicer tomatoes, Yellow Sweeties, and Cherry Bomb cherry tomatoes. By far those were our best producing crop! And yes, they are the bomb!

Our entire gardening experience has been fun and full of pleasant surprises, but none more than our tomatoes. I grew our biggest producers from seed myself. My husband never liked tomatoes until we started growing them ourselves. I have one child left to try to convince. I am hoping some of this deliciousness on a cracker, with some cheese, may do the trick.

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I have so much of these, that I decided to preserve some by roasting and packing in oil. There is no vinegar or water bath canning involved – it is simply extending the life of these tomatoes for 2 weeks in the fridge or 3 months if frozen.

This was so easy and gosh do I have plans with these little gems! Like, spread on crostini  and tossed into a pasta with a cream sauce!

Directions:

Stem, wash and dry the cherry tomatoes. Cut tomatoes in half until you have 1 cup. Slice a shallot. Crush and chop 6 cloves of garlic. Prepare and set aside 1/2 tsp each of dried oregano and dried thyme.

Cover a parchment lined cookie sheet with the tomatoes, sliced edge up. Sprinkle on the garlic and shallot. Drizzle olive oil all over the cherry tomatoes and season with sea salt and black pepper.

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Roast in a 200 degree Fahrenheit oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. When finished, evenly sprinkle on the oregano and thyme. Spoon and gently pack into sterile 125 ml jars (mine yielded 2 of these jars). Pour in olive oil to fill up all the tiny air pockets.

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Store in fridge for 2 weeks.

Likewise, you could skip the jars, and put the roasted tomatoes in freezer bags for up to 3 months in your freezer.

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Now we have a bit of gardening know-how under our belt. We also started collecting our own seeds, so that we can grow the varieties we fancy the most next year.

Valley Cherries

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Recently, we all went cherry picking at Dempsey’s Corner orchard in Aylesford, Nova Scotia. They had 12 varieties to choose from!

If you have the good fortune of living in the Annapolis Valley (or passing through) this place is worth the visit. Besides many varieties of fruit, they have an array of adorable farm animals roaming about.

The cherries were so pretty they served as my muse for making a miniature scene.

my cherry stems

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Reduced Sugar Strawberry Mango Jam

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Ingredients:

2 cups crushed fresh strawberries (about 1 pint)

3 cups diced ripe mangoes (about 4-5 mango)

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 package powdered no-sugar pectin

1/4 tsp ground ginger (optional)

3 cups granulated sugar

1 cup Truvia (sugar-stevia blend)

**See bottom of post for how much jam this yields**

This week the strawberries of Annapolis Valley are ripe for the picking. So we loaded up the kids and set them loose in a local field. We filled our dozen baskets in less than a half hour!

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My husband also found a box full of mangoes at a local grocery. They worked out to be around 50 cents per mango. Thats a great deal and I figured I would try making a strawberry-mango jam pairing.

It was a great flavour match, and the color of the jam is so beautiful! Photos do not do it justice.

Though there is more mango than strawberries, the berries still break through as the dominant taste in this jam. I added just a hint of ginger, which is optional. It’s very subtle.

I have decided, for health reasons, to reduce the sugar in my baking and preserving. I don’t want to use artificial sweeteners, nor do I want to remove sugar all together. So, I chose truvia as my sweetener. *I was not sponsored by Truvia or compensated by them for this recipe. My honest opinion is, this stuff rocks. If you don’t know, Truvia is a sugar and stevia extract blend that cuts calories from your sweetener by more than half (they claim by 75%). A half cup of Truvia is equal to one cup of sugar.

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This jam’s sugar content is a lot less than regular jam but you really can’t tell. It still turned out very sweet. There was zero of that chemical aftertaste that some other artificial sweeteners have.

I will not go into every detail of jam making. If you have never made jam before, this is a link to an excellent resource. It is where I learned before attempting my first jam session.

Most importantly, have all your tools, jars, and lids sterile and ready. Crush your fruit, but don’t overdue it. You want a few small pieces of fruit in your jam. Cooking will make those pieces smaller yet!

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My daughter was my crusher of fruit (she used a potato masher). The mangos were diced small, rather than crushed. Post crushing, we measured the fruit and turned it into a container with a lid to keep the flies out. We are having a fruit fly problem at the moment 😦

Method:

Heat a deep stainless steel sauce pan over medium heat and pour in your prepared fruit and lemon juice. Stir in your pectin. Bring to a full rolling boil and then add your sugar/sweetener all at once. Stir constantly and bring back to a full boil. It will soon turn to a bubbling hard boil which won’t settle down, even with stirring. Continue hard boiling for 1-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Remove from heat and skim foam from top with a slotted spoon.

Funnel and fill your jars, leaving 1/4 inch head room. Place on lids. Tighten bands. Place jars in canning pot and cover with water, 1 inch above the tops of jars. Process your jars of jam in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat.

Lift jars carefully from pot and place gently on a counter. Do not disturb them for 24 hours. Around the 24 hour mark, check each jar for a good seal. Reprocess any that did not seal, OR keep in fridge and use up within a couple weeks. I don’t think it will last that long before it’s gobbled up.

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I made a total of 1.125 litres of jam. This filled four 250 ml jars plus one 125 ml jar. I could have easily filled another 125 ml jar by scraping my pot and tools…instead I made a lovely mess.

This was a good experience in showing the kids ‘from field to table’ literally. And they were pleased they had a part in producing such a yummy spread.

Now what to do with the rest of my strawberries and mangoes….

Easy Shakshuka

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It’s been a while, and this time I am posting about real food.

“Shakshuka!!” (isn’t it fun to say?) is a Jewish dish I have been long wanting to try out. I’ve seen a few drool inducing photos online and a couple of recipes that seemed simple enough. What’s an easier supper than one that simmers in a pan? Less pots to wash is a bonus for us!

So tonight I decided to wing it and I cooked it from recalling what I had read.

Shakshuka’s flavour actually reminds me of another dish my sister in law taught me, ‘Kacang Phool’…which I have blogged about before. Makes sense since they both have middle eastern influences.

Essentially, this dish is eggs simmered in a spicy tomato sauce. It can then be served with pita or a crusty roll to sop up the juices and soft yolk of the eggs. It’s really nice and it’s filling. We have been trying to incorporate more meatless meals in our home, and this is a good choice. With simple and few ingredients, it makes for an economical meal too.

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First, in a bit of olive oil, saute 2 diced red onions and 3 minced cloves of garlic.

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To this, add about a tbsp more olive oil, 1 tbsp za’atar seasoning, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp dried mint and 1 diced jalapeno (seeds removed- unless you want more  heat).

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Add in 796 ml of good quality canned tomatoes (liquid too), breaking up and let simmer 5 minutes while you chop cauliflower. Add 1/2 cup of water and half a head of chopped cauliflower. Simmer on medium for a further 20 minutes.

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Crack in the eggs, as many as will fit in the pan, if you want.

Cover and simmer on medium-low for about 10 minutes until the eggs are cooked but yolks are still fairly soft.

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Plate up with toasted bread or pita and sprinkle on chives and feta cheese (optional).

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Serves up to 6 people.  I hope you give it a try!

My Inedible Pizza

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Well, it has been a very very long time! It’s so nice catching up on bloggers posts that I follow. It would be presumptuous of me to think I was missed. But in case one of you wondered where I went, it was not off the face of the earth.

I have been blogging about a different type of food interest these past months.

For about a year now I’ve been making miniature foods from polymer clay. I sculpt these in various scales from dollhouse 1:12 to 1:4 scale.

It started as a way to amuse my little girls but is now equally, something for me.

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More of my work can be seen on my other blog at blossomfriends.com

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Polenta Lasagna

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I always wanted to try polenta ever since I seen it on an Italian cooking show…you know the type of scene, in a cozy Italian kitchen, with the hot polenta being poured out onto a large table?

Half way through this video you will see an Italian rural couple preparing polenta.

Well, I spied these babies at the market and I couldn’t resist trying a new thing. Right there- on the package- came my inspiration for how I would prepare it. On the label was a simple lasagna recipe. I added a few embellishments.

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This makes a large, very hearty, lasagna.

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Ingredients:

1.5 kg polenta, sliced 1/2 inch thick

1 pound minced lean beef or poultry

1 red chili pepper, seeds removed, minced

6 cups plain tomato sauce

1 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp tarragon

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp salt

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large zucchini, sliced

1 small red onion

3 cups grated marble cheese

2 cups sliced button mushrooms

2 tbsp olive oil

Method:

Grate cheese and slice polenta and veggies, and set aside. In a large frying pan, heat olive oil and brown the meat with garlic, chili, spices, salt, and pepper. Add in the tomato sauce. Set on a low simmer.

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Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Take a 13 x 9 inch pan and pour in a thin layer of sauce, followed by the first layer of polenta. Layer on veggies and mushrooms, spreading evenly. Layer on 1 cup of cheese. Layer more polenta, followed by sauce, followed by veggies and mushrooms, followed by 1 cup of cheese, followed by polenta- veggies- sauce-  ending with the last cup of cheese. It’s not crucial how you layer this, as long as the sauce is spread out and you end with cheese near the top.

Loosely tent with foil and bake in middle of oven for 30 minutes or until bubbling throughout. Feeds 6-8. This makes delicious leftovers!

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: Chicken & Corn Curry.

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Recently, we visited Dempsey’s Corner Orchard,  just 5 minutes from our house.

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For just $2 per person, we could spend the day and “eat of any tree” we wanted. You might say we had more freedom than Adam and Eve did.

Sorry, that was corny.

Speaking of corn, have you ever eaten a cob fresh from the stalk? One that you picked yourself? If not, you really should try it! As if all the beautiful fruit wasn’t enough, Dempsey’s also had a corn field for the customers to pick all that they wanted. It was fantastic! So juicy and so much sweeter when it is fresh! After eating a couple of these, we decided to purchase some for our supper.

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There is nothing wrong with plain boiled corn on the cob but this time I wanted to do something different. This fresh and tasty corn was worthy of something else. After thinking about it, I decided to use it in Opor Ayam, which is an Indonesian style chicken curry. Opor is enveloped in this rich, spicy, coconutty sauce.

I could write poetry about this sauce.

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This Opor Ayam recipe is not authentic. Instead, it suits our preferences. Normally, a whole chicken is cut up to make this. Also, one traditional recipe calls for 15 dried chilies….nope, not a typo.  Fifteen!!

I’ve only made this a couple times before, and only in one pot. It is terrific and easy just like that. But this time I did it a bit different.I finished it off in my cast iron casserole, adding the corn from Dempsey’s.

The corn, after cooking in the sauce and soaking up the spices, tastes spectacular!

Using breasts make this healthier. Boneless also make it kid friendly.  Because I have omitted the bone and darker meat, I have sacrificed some of the flavour. I’m ok with that. Feel free to use bone-in chicken, and thighs also, if you want. Just add a few minutes to the initial cooking time.

Not authentic, but very delicious anyway. This would appeal to someone who can’t handle too much chili. This is spicy but not very hot. You can make this using 1 chili if you prefer, without losing much flavour. The chili does balance out the sweetness and richness of the dish.

Ingredients:

2 ½   lbs boneless and skinless chicken breasts  (aprox 5 breasts)

2 shallots

1 tbsp diced ginger

3 garlic cloves

1 bulb lemon grass, sliced

2 dried chilies

2 tbsp coriander

1 cinnamon stick

1 tsp curry powder

1 tsp turmeric

1 tbsp dried onion flakes

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp tomato paste

½ cup chicken stock

1 can coconut milk

3 or 4 Dried kaffir lime leaves (optional)

3 tbsp vegetable oil

4 large corn cobs, parboiled for 5 minutes and sliced (or 2 cups of vegetables of your choice)

Method:

Grind shallots, ginger, garlic, chili, and lemon grass into a paste. Cut chicken breasts into large chunks (cut each breast in 3 or 4 pieces).

Over medium heat, heat oil in a large pot and fry spice paste until fragrant. Add the coriander,cinnamon stick, curry, turmeric, and onion flakes. Stir. Add tomato paste and salt with a little water (just enough to keep spice paste from burning).

Add chicken to the pot and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Frequently scrape spices from bottom of pot, and toss chicken pieces around to brown them. Add a bit more water if things start to stick.

Pour in coconut milk, chicken stock, and add lime leaf to the pot.  Cover and cook for 20 minutes. * preheat oven to 370 degrees at this point * Uncover pot and reduce heat to medium-low setting.

Cook a further 15 minutes. The sauce should appear thicker by then and some of the red coloured oils will start to separate at the top. If this hasn’t happened, continue cooking until it does.

Now transfer this to a deep, 3 ½ to 4 quart casserole dish and add in vegetables.  Don’t waste 1 drop of the precious sauce, scrape it all into the casserole! Remove the cinnamon stick and discard.

I used 4 cobs of sweet corn that I previously parboiled and cut into slices. Sliced carrots would also work, or cubed sweet potato, or any sweet ‘ish’ vegetable.

Cover the casserole and cook in 370 oven for a half hour. Remove and give a gentle stir before serving.

Serve with rice or potatoes.  I recommend bread for sopping up the sauce!

Serves 6-8.

This is delicious just as it is, but if you wait one more day, it’s infinitely more yummy!

Just keep it sealed in the fridge (if you can delay digging in!)

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: Creamy Chicken and Cantaloupe Salad

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There was a sale on cantaloupe down the street at the Farm market.

This is a refreshing salad with layer upon layer of contrasting tastes;   musky, sharp, and a little sweet. The curry is subtle. If you add a bit more heat with cracked black pepper when serving, it’s really, really nice.

Have you ever tried fresh cracked pepper on fruits? It’s quite nice on melons and strawberries. Melon, feta, and black pepper is a wonderful taste combination.

This will be my last summer salad this year. It will soon be time to make pumpkin pies, apple butter, and all those comforting and spicy Autumnal  foods.

Ingredients:

3 cups chopped cooked chicken.

1 granny smith apple, chopped, peel on

½ English cucumber, chopped, peel on

¼ cup diced red onion

½ cup chopped celery

½  cup sliced green onions

½  cup blanched cashews, coarsely chopped

½ cup plain yogurt

½ cup mayonnaise

1 tsp madras curry powder

1 tsp salt

Juice of half a lime

1 tsp apple cider vinegar

1 smallish cantaloupe, chopped

Lettuce leaves

Method:

Blanch cashews by placing them in a wide pan of boiling water for no more than 1 minute. Drain in colander and set on paper towel to cool. Once cool, coarsely chop (basically cut them in half, no smaller, as you want to bite into the cashew and know that it’s a cashew).

Mix everything, except lettuce. Cover and chill 1 hour. Serve on top of lettuce leaves and top with cracked black pepper (optional).

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This would easily serve a dozen people as a small side salad (as in, a scoop at a potluck).

This is lovely for a summer side salad. Or make it a family meal by mixing in some prepared couscous or a small pasta. If eaten as a meal this way, it would serve 6-8.

: Double Chocolate Zucchini Loaf

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The beginning of this moist and sweet morsel began with a journey just down the street.

We’ve been living here a year now and we have stopped at just about every Farmer’s Market… except for the one that is literally 1 minute away. It always looked so tiny and I assumed they must not have much there for variety.

Wrong I was.

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Morse’s Farm Market, Berwick, Nova Scotia

Quaint isn’t it?

This place is full of beautiful fruit and veggies and they have such friendly service…which can be found pretty much everywhere here in the Valley. But I was pleasantly surprised at how much they had in this small store. Besides produce, they had some baked goods and some lovely local honey and jams. They had the best garlic I have ever purchased – you can’t get fresh, juicy and sharp garlic like that at a grocers. They also had beautiful zucchini and pumpkins available. This time, I took home the zucchini. Next time, pumpkins I think.

Lately I had been thinking about making my first ever zucchini loaf. When I seen the offerings at Morse’s Farm Market I was determined to just do it.

My Aunt Lorraine makes wickedly good zucchini loaf. When I was a kid, whenever we visited, she had a loaf made and ready to cut into. Always. I don’t think we visited even once that she was without her signature dessert. It was something I looked forward to on the road trip to my Aunt and Uncle’s.

I remember the first time I found out I was eating zucchini loaf. I was shocked. I thought it was banana bread.

My Aunt’s version is a straight up traditional zucchini loaf. Some recipes add chocolate chips and nuts to them. I didn’t want nuts in mine, and instead opted for more chocolate… why not!

So, after perusing through dozens of recipes, I borrowed a little from here and there. I found Paula Deen’s chocolate chip zucchini bread inspiring. My recipe is heavily influenced by hers.

My kids watched me grating the zucchini and preparing the batter, and asked, doubtfully, “the zucchini…is going….in there?”

Yes, and I promised them it would be delicious.

…They almost looked anxious.

Once they seen the finished gooey chipped, chocolatey loaves, they forgot all about the healthy ingredient hidden inside. They loved it even though they “HATE zucchini!”

This makes 2 scrumptious loaves (if I do say so myself).

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Ingredients:

2 cups grated zucchini (1 large zucchini )

3 cups flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

2 cups white sugar

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

3 eggs, beaten

3/4 vegetable oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup cocoa

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Method:

Grate zucchini and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat eggs with sugars, vanilla, and oil. Beat in cocoa until well blended.

Slowly pour flour mix into the large bowl, mixing the dry and wet ingredients well (if it looks a bit dry at this point, don’t fret. Don’t add water as the zucchini adds a lot of moisture) . When combined, blend in the zucchini followed by the chocolate chips.

Pour into 2 lightly greased and dusted 9×5″ loaf pans. Bake in center of oven for 50 minutes or until fork comes out clean.

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This is easy to make and tastes great, lots of chocolate flavour with subtle warm spice. Lovely with Chai tea!

: Choy Sum & Mushroom Stir-fry

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I still had a mountain of Choy Sum left over from my last recipe. I was craving some stir fried greens.

When living in Singapore I observed that every great dish started with these 3 ingredients: chili, ginger, and shallot.

And I also observed that many of the experienced cooks did not depend on electric devices in the kitchen. Preferring instead to do everything by hand. Including grinding the spices. “No, cannot use processor”, I was told, as this wouldn’t release all the oils. Only smashing releases all the oils.

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I watched my sis-in-law making beef rendang once. It takes hours and requires regular stirring and scraping. I asked, “why not use a slow-cooker/crock pot?”. I thought I was being practical and smart, and that perhaps it would make her task so much easier. I still remember her confused look and her reply,  “but how can I watch it cook?”

Guess what? I make rendang a couple times a year. And I use the same method as my sis! Some foods you must watch as it cooks. You need to watch for changes in colour and texture. And it’s just not done until your eyes and nose tell you it’s done.

I can’t help but marvel at my Singaporean family. They are like kitchen ninjas. I once got up early in the morning, shuffled out to the kitchen, and there they were. All my lovely sis-in-laws, up and ready for the day, quietly chatting and chopping and filling huge platters with sliced chili, garlic, onions, etc, etc, etc.

How do they do it? And with such cheer? I still am not sure.

I think it’s mostly the lovely company they find in eachother.

Also, as my husband would say, “in Singapore, food is Everything”. And it is. It’s family, it’s culture, it even ties in with one’s identity. It is used for healing, for warming the body up, or cooling it down. I found this out when We announced our first pregnancy and I was presented with a bowl of chicken-rice porridge. The first of a few bowls, “good for mom and baby”.

Food is celebrated. It’s always part of a social gathering. If there is a gathering, there is always food. Days revolve around what they will eat next and who they will share it with. It’s like the expression, “I don’t eat to live, I live to eat”. When they aren’t eating food, they are talking food. Here in the west, for many, it’s about immediate gratification and large portions. Convenience over quality. We Westerners gobble down 2 hearty meals around the same time each day.Or, in contrast, some Westerners fret over their food. And some avoid eating whenever possible. In Singapore, you eat several times, day and night. And often surrounded by family and friends.

In my husband’s Malay tongue they greet visitors with, “have you eaten yet?”

I rather like their practice of eating frequent, eating the best and freshest, and eating it with those you love.

For dinner, I made noodles with stir-fried Choy Sum. It’s a very delicious and simple Asian side dish.

The greens retain some crispness (making it lovely for sambal dunking). There is a subtle smokiness imparted by the sesame oil and the oyster sauce balances out any heat by adding a salty-sweet combination. Fried fish would make a wonderful partner to this side dish.

Ingredients:

1 lb choy sum, rinsed and drained

8 oz mushrooms, sliced

4 small cloves garlic, sliced

1 red chili or ½ tsp hot chili paste

1 tsp of ginger, minced

1 shallot, sliced

2 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tbsp sesame oil

Method:

First, trim ends off stems of choy sum. Cut off any flower clusters as well. Slice the greens in large pieces. Blanch in boiling water for 1 minute. Take out and drain. Set aside.

Grind together the shallot, ginger, chili, and garlic.

In large pan or wok, heat oil and fry ground ingredients until fragrant. Add mushrooms and fry until soft and dark. Stir in oyster sauce.

Add greens to wok and stir fry gently for 2 minutes.

Serve up with noodles or rice, and sambal sauce on the side.

Serves 4.

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