Cooking with… Regina

Final product!
Final product!

I’m a super judgmental person.

I figured this out when I met Regina for the first time. Regina was a new colleague who joined the adjacent department a couple of months ago.

I met her and decided:
1) She was too hot to be nice.
2) Her heels were too high and she laughed too much which meant she was silly.
3) She was too hot to be nice.

And then.

Despite me being a judgmental ahem and a little cold, Regina didn’t care. She didn’t let it affect the way she treated me. She was unflappably friendly, optimistic and so kind – when I needed it most (I was going through my bimonthly existential crisis) and I was forced to admit I was wrong. Oh so wrong.

We got closer and I discovered that in addition to being hot and able to balance (and DANCE TANGO) in crazy high heels, girlfriend can cook. Which is really the only thing that matters.

SO fast forward to many months and many laughs later, I decided to invite her over to be a part of this whole Cooking with DiniBlini series (I need more volunteers – can you cook? Are you photogenic?)

So Regina, in addition to being generally awesome, has generally awesome genes. Basically she can eat anything and still be skinny. Yes, you can resent her secretly. I won’t tell.

She wanted to make a chocolate tart which morphed into a salted caramel chocolate tart which morphed into salted caramel brownies (too lazy to make the crust) and then finally we settled for salted caramel peanut butter brownies.

Sugar and water
Sugar and water
This recipe… had many steps. We had to make the caramel sauce from scratch and I was like “Nooooo Regina I don’t want to do thisssss.”

Brown sugar and water
Brown sugar and water
But she didn’t let my whining phase her nor the steps. Regina comes from the school of eternal optimism, as in, “It’s ok! Just wing it! It will be fine! Don’t use measuring cups! It will be fine!”

Peanut butterrrrrr
Peanut butterrrrrr
And it was fine. We made our own peanut butter salted caramel sauce which turned out to be easy.

Brownie batter!
Brownie batter!
We melted chocolate over a makeshift double broiler.

ME!
ME!
Me – confidently trying not to burn my hands.

Batter
Batter
Chocolate in
Chocolate in

So in
So in
We mixed in the melted chocolate, post flour addition – which was wrong, wrong, WRONG. If I was alone I would have been on the verge of a meltdown BUT Regina calmed me down and told me it would be fine. It was.

Close up
Close up
All ok?

The glamorous Regina - in the flesh
The glamorous Regina – in the flesh
And then we had a conveyor belt system where Regina very efficiently scooped batter into these waxed cupcake liners and I clumsily tried to put a dollop of peanut butter salted caramel sauce in the middle of it… and… she didn’t say anything.

She decided my knives were too blunt (they still are)
She decided my knives were too blunt (they still are)
While we waited for the brownies to bake. Regina sharpened my knives and told me stories about all the things she’s done. Ok I can’t remember what we actually talked about, but Regina tells lots of stories because she’s been there and done that. And it used to irritate me when I first met her but then I realized that she shares, because she cares. It’s about spreading knowledge and information and experiences so that I, or anyone else she meets, can learn from it.

If you make desert for me I will force feed you salad
If you make desert for me I will force feed you salad
And that’s important because learning is important. I might be a risk averse cook but I can learn to be more laid back in the kitchen. Regina might be averse to eating green things but she can “learn” to eat a salad. Especially when I gave her no other choice.

Taste test
Taste test
Ultimately the brownies were a hit (remember to underbake and if you’re baking them in individual cups like we did, cut the baking time anywhere from 12-15 minutes).

We added marshmallows because Regina wanted them. She also wanted to add alcohol. And peanut butter chips. So we had three versions.

We taste tested them all and they were delicious. So, clearly, in cooking/baking and life you can wing it and in the end, it will all be fine.

Beef Eggplant Stir-Fry and Wholesome Weekends

sooooo good
sooooo good
There are weekends that you spend PARTAY-INGGGGGGGGG.

And then there are weekends where you clean your house and workout and sleep on-time and hangout with friends and play boardgames and DON’T get crunk and you’re just generally a good kid.

That’s what I did this past weekend. I was a good kid. And it was awesome. And I feel really good now.

Sometimes it’s good to be good.

Also make this beef eggplant stir-fry, because it’s actually very good and it calls for mint which, incidentally, is a very surprising and refreshing substitute for basil. And it’s spicy and that eggplant soaks up all that zesty, fishy, gingery sauce and it’s SO good.

I’m #justsayin but you should #justcookit.

Cooking with… PZ

Aerial shot
Aerial shot

I met PZ at work, under what I would describe as not very fortuitous circumstances. She doesn’t know this but we became friends because I thought it would be a good idea to charm her since we had to work together and people generally work better with people they like so…*

Little did I know that once I embarked on this friend-making journey that I was going to end up liking her.

And how couldn’t I? Pei Zhen or PZ, as she gently told me to call her (Pei Zhen is too long, lah!) is a highly capable Comms professional at work and a scarily skilled chef/baker at home.

Some of the earliest text conversations are her telling me how she was making some blueberry cheesecake and Horlicks flavored ice-cream for Chinese New Year “because her mother-in-law liked it.” Hardcore and a good daughter-in-law, what more could you ask for?

As our whatsapping progressed she divulged that she has her own version of french onion soup, packs a gourmet lunch for herself and her husband almost every day and that she’s a walking encyclopedia of cooking information. If I needed a recipe or a way to do something, there were PZ recommended variations or solutions. She’s a 21st century Martha, no airs and graces and ready to draw on her resources for a good meal. This includes real-life cook books, the Internet and her vast experience (which includes on-going friendly culinary competitions with her Mom who also cooks scarily well).

Knowing her made me realize that I wasn’t the shit in the kitchen. But not in a bad way. She just made me realize, some people were made for cooking and some people were made for communicating. So I decided to communicate how she cooks.

This is what I’m hoping will be a new series featuring people in Singapore who cook and who are generally inspirational.

When I mentioned this idea to PZ, she was all for it. She also decided to take it as an opportunity to “school” me and get me to like kale. Kale, the one health superfood I can’t get into. It’s like grass. But tougher. And possibly grosser.

SO. PZ says she will make (while I help and observe) a chorizo-kale-stew thing.

Right.

On the appointed day, PZ came over, all business. She wanted to know where the spices were AND she had brought an entire container of homemade ice-cream dotted with chocolate bits for dessert. If she wasn’t already married, I would have been first in line to woo her.

PZ doing her thang
PZ doing her thang
Knife
Knife
Knife skillz 1
Knife skillz 1
Knife skillz 2
Knife skillz 2
Knife skillz 3
Knife skillz 3

Did PZ live up to how good I thought she was? Well, let’s just say she had no hesitation in taking charge of the kitchen. And her knife skills? I mean I know how to chop things but compared to her I’m like a blind man with three fingers. Can you say EVEN.

Produce shot
Produce shot
Beans for days
Beans for days
Another pretty produce shot
Another pretty produce shot

The stew was all sausages, beans, dried spices and chicken stock. It was hearty, warm and very satisfying.

Me! Being useful
Me! Being useful
Chorizo in all its raw glory
Chorizo in all its raw glory
Chorizo and spices
Chorizo and spices
Chorizo and spices
Chorizo and spices
Kale
Kale
So much kale
So much kale
Chorizo and kale
Chorizo and kale

PZ confidently breezed through all the cooking, with minimal help from me, except towards the end of cooking when we tasted the stew and it was just flat.

But what do you do? I would have just let it go, eaten the flat stew and lamented about how I was never cooking that again!

PZ tasted it. Hmmed and haaed. Asked me for my opinion. Declared it needed some oomph – in the form of red wine vinegar.

Repeated Instagram photo
Repeated Instagram photo

It did the trick, gave dimension to the stew which we enjoyed with a loaf of crusty sourdough bread from Marche and a glorious Sauvignon Blanc from who knows where.

It was a fantastic lunch and an even better experience.

PZ had made me realize, that you should never accept a bad outcome. Instead, you should always try and fix it.

It might work or it might not.

But it could mean the difference between being good or being great.

*This may also be the genesis of my friendship with you. But don’t worry, we are both benefiting from the relationship. I promise.

**My flatmate Hoi is the photographer for these beautiful pictures, which is what happens when you decide to stick around and eat the lunch. There’s no such thing as a free one, people.

*** I still don’t like kale.

Cheers to the freaking weekEND

See our happy faces?
See our happy faces?
It’s that time of the week again – when you shrug your tight shoulders (courtesy of being hunched over the computer) loose, swap your OL (office lady / lad) polyester garb for club / weekend chic and let down your heavily styled hair. It’s the weekend my friends and it’s what I (and a lot of other people) call real life.

Let me explain, I know that 8:30am to 6:00pm (I know, my work hours are a little too long), Monday to Friday, 52 weeks of the year is a lot of time to not be calling your real life.

But it feels like it isn’t.

When the weekend comes – I go into weekend mode. I don’t think about work, I just think nourishment, friends, sun, laughter – and that’s when I’m in Singapore.

It’s almost as though a black cloud lifts at the end of the week and the weekend becomes this weird alternate universe of frenzied activity, pool parties, long catch ups over brunch and horrifyingly decadent eating.

When Monday rolls around I almost feel as though I’m being slapped in the face by reality.

The funny thing is I actually REALLY like my job.

So why the shift?

Sometimes I think these weekend shenanigans are a result of being in Singapore without my family. Kind of like a symptom of being an expat. How can I make it so, SO fun this weekend that I completely forget about the fact that I’m slightly lonely.

Or maybe that’s unfair.

Maybe it’s a symptom of being young and knowing that in this moment I am free to do all these things with little regard for time and responsibilities.

Or maybe it’s because Singapore is a small place and if you aren’t traveling somewhere, you should be doing something REALLYCOOLRIGHTNOW.

All I know is that it all smells a bit like a YOLO a lot like escapism.

I didn’t write this because I’m preaching or because I think there’s a better way to use or experience a weekend. I wrote it because I’m trying to figure out what I feel about the whole thing.

Now excuse me, because I need to get ready for dinner and drinks. OMGITSGONNABEAWESOMEYALL.