Due to the global pandemic that we’re experiencing and the #stayhome stance that we all need to heed, I have not dine in a restaurant for almost two months now, but alternating between cooking meals at home and patronizing my market hawkers (by tabaoing back to eat, of course).
March and early April was relatively easy enough as I was fasting lunch for Lent, so I only had dinner to think about if I decided to cook for the evening. I love cooking – it’s the washing up that I can’t stand. I also like to have my meal fast, without needing to execute a thousand steps. So whenever possible, the meals have to be fast-to-cook, good-to-eat, few-dishes-to-wash. Thus the “home-cooked” meals of this carnivore are mostly meat with salad or–with a little bit more effort–noodles/pasta/rice. And if I’m really, really lazy, then it’s just meat and veggies all plonked into water for soup.
And mind you, I’m not even a soup person. But you do need a change from all those stir-fries and roasts every now and then. My favorite home-cooked soup is Pork Ribs Watercress Soup, the only soup I’m willing to boil two hours for (or at least an hour to get a decent taste). I mean, all you need is pork ribs
watercress, Chinese red dates, Chinese wolfberries, white pepper and a dash of salt, and voila, you get a tasty meaty soup that can be eaten on its own, or better with white or brown rice.
Learning From The Pros
Of late, to make my gourmet life more interesting, I’ve been watching a lot more food programs by celebrity chefs in order to get new ideas for my meals. (On hindsight, it was probably not a good idea to do it while fasting, but praise God, I managed to suppress the hunger pangs relatively well.)
First of these is Kitchen Boss, hosted by Italian-American Chef Buddy Valastro, who is more well-known as the flamboyant star of Cake Boss. Kitchen Boss is actually quite an old series (2011-2012) but it’s fun to watch as Valastro is so much more affable in a studio kitchen as he whips up his family’s much-loved Italian dishes, than when he is making bigger-than-life cake creations in his family-owned bakery. (I also like the fact that he washes his hands a lot, which many other TV chefs seldom do!)
Tortellini Soup With Short Ribs (without the Tortellini)
Besides yummy easy-to-cook Italian dishes such as Shrimp Scampi and Veal Milanese, it was Buddy’s Tortellini Soup with Short Ribs that caught my attention.
Basically it’s because the dish make use of ingredients that I have readily in my fridge such as potato, carrot, onion (red or white), tomato, garlic, and chicken stock cubes. But instead of beef short ribs, I use pork spare ribs, and for the pasta, I use ribbon-like linguine instead of the ring-shaped tortellini. And I could definitely live without celery.
And it was simple: all you have to do is dice the potato, carrot, onion and tomato, place them in boiling water, then add in garlic, chicken stock and the ribs, and let everything simmers for at least 20 minutes. You can prepare the pasta in another pot, or if you are lazy like me, simply cook it in the same pot, so you have less utensils to wash. It is a hearty soup indeed and filling too if you have more potatoes in it. Goes well with rice, garlic bread, or just have it on its own.
Sopa de Lima (without the Lima)
Another celebrity chef who I discovered recently is Chef Pati Jinich of Pati’s Mexican Table fame. In her show, the host, cookbook author and mother of three boys, travels up and down her native Mexico learning about the food and culture in each province, before returning to her kitchen where she presents ways of cooking simple–well, relatively so–Mexican dishes at home.
Her Sopa de Lima or Lima soup stood out as, again, the recipe comprises ingredients I often have at home — bar the Lima, a sweet flowery, fragrant citrus fruit; a couple of spices such as oregano and thyme; and tortilla chips (which she made from scratch but we can always go buy a packet…)
Making do with what I have, the result wasn’t half bad really. You just dice tomato, onion, and green or yellow bell pepper, and then stir-fry the sofrito–as the combo is called–in olive virgin oil, along with salt and garlic, in a pot for 10 minutes till the veggies are mashed and mushy. Now, you can get chicken stock when you broiled the chicken breast, or like me, you can just add a chicken stock cube into water and pour it along with the sliced chicken into the sofrito mixture, and let everything simmer for 8-10 minutes.
I must say, even without the Lima and spices, it is easily one of the most colorful and flavorful soups I have ever made. And it’s so easy to do too. Instead of making tortilla chips wholesale, I just used alternatives such as vegetable crisps or butter rolls. On my second try, I used shabu shabu beef instead, but somehow the taste wasn’t that nice as it is with chicken. Perhaps it’s because I also cheated by not frying the veggies first, so maybe you can’t shortcut everything if you want to have the real flavors to savor.
For those who are keen to make your own Lima soup, check out the actual recipe and preparation at https://patijinich.com/lima-soup/
I wonder what other new fast-to-make meals I can whip up next?…
‘Kitchen Boss’ is currently showing on TLC, whilst ‘Pati’s Mexican Table’ is on AFN.