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Monday December 1, 2008

Celebrate

Today we bring you a new column written by passionate cooks who don’t do it for a living. Every month, four people will each contribute a recipe – and their personal stories for added flavour. They’ll go with a theme and this time round, it’s Potluck Party.

THE idea for this month’s theme comes from entertaining and all the parties you may attend at this time of the year.

With the recession and all, our budgets may be smaller, so a potluck is a good way to do a party. It’s usually a casual gathering and although the actual food matters, it’s also about enjoying each other’s company.

Hosts always have a lot of preparation before a party besides getting the food ready, and so guest contributions are a way to help them out. Food assignments are a must, of course, if you want to avoid three chicken curries and too little of everything else.

So give your host a break and bring your own dish to the party!

The drinks are on me

UNLIKE my amigas who have chosen to cook something, the fruit punch takes very little time to prepare, allowing me to be away from my TV set for less than 20 minutes. Hello House, Life, Lost, The Closer... seriously, this list is too long to get into here.

Fruit Punch

Well, the bad news is, that 20 minutes doesn’t include the time you have to go and buy the juices. Actually, for that awful chore, you can ask whoever does your groceries to get it done. Problem solved.

Probably the hardest part about this recipe is squeezing the lime; a pain when you have paper cuts on your finger. But when the whole recipe lies very much on the lime juice, one has to bear the task.

If you have more friends coming to your party, naturally you need to have more punch. Just adhere to this easy formula – say you have eight friends, just add 200ml each of OJ and cranberry juice to the existing recipe. That should do it.

Mix the two juices together, pour in the lime juice (don’t forget to sieve off the seeds first), and a pinch of salt. Mix well and leave the concoction in the fridge two hours prior to the party, allowing the lime to sit in nicely with the juices to ensure the lime’s taste and smell don’t overpower your senses.

If you like it sweeter, add powdered sugar and mix well. When your guests come, add ice and start serving. However, if the fruit punch proves to be unpopular due to the competition from bottled drinks, keep your concoction in the fridge and you can drink it for the next three days. It’s not that bad really. – Chef Donwan

Fruit Punch
Enough for four to six people

  • 400ml orange juice
  • 400ml cranberry juice
  • Juice from 10 freshly squeezed limes
  • Pinch of salt
  • As much ice as you want
Give the grass a miss

I CAN take a joke, even a bad one. But I don’t know how many more times I can listen to the standard “vegetarian joke” – We’re having curried chicken kebabs and rice but you, Veggie Chick, can graze on the plot of grass over by the porch. Take your fill!”

Hmm. Funny?

Vegetarian Chicken Balls

But seriously, the problem is most people think vegetarians are an impoverished lot who have very limited options in terms of the variety of food they can eat.

While it may seem that mixed vegetables, steamed vegetables and grilled vegetables are about all the choice we vegetarians have, nothing can be further from the truth. Vegetarian food can be just as diverse, just as delicious and just as ... err, unhealthy as any food.

Don’t believe me? Try the recipe below. The balls aren’t really unhealthy but I think they taste kind of neat – they passed the taste test of my must-eat-meat-at-every-meal friend. Plus it’s really easy to make. – Veggie Chick

Vegetarian Chicken Balls
About 15 medium-sized balls

  • A 200g packet of Vegetarian Roasted
  • Chicken (any brand, available at most supermarkets or at Chinese vegetarian produce shops)
  • 1 onion (finely minced)
  • 1 clove garlic (finely minced)
  • Chillies (depending on how hot you want it – use 4 chilli padi for a reasonably hot ball)
  • 1 large potato, boiled and then mashed
  • Pinch of turmeric
  • Pinch of chilli powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Breadcrumbs
Mince the vegetarian chicken, onion, garlic and chillies – you can use a food processor or the traditional mortar and pestle. Add the mashed potatoes, turmeric, chilli powder, salt and pepper to the mince and let the mixture sit for about 30 minutes. Shape the mixture into bite-sized balls. Dip each ball in the egg and coat with breadcrumbs. Fry.

The good thing about the mock chicken is that it’s already half-cooked in the packet so you don’t need to fry them long – just till they turn golden brown. The balls can be eaten as they are or with a sauce.

Note: If you want to cook the vegetarian chicken balls ahead of time, you may want to consider using onion and garlic powder instead of the raw ingredients.

Platter of comfort

YOU don’t want to be slaving away in the kitchen before a party; not when you need to choose between five dresses and 25 pairs of earrings, and put on your make-up.

Oven-baked Chicken and Potatoes

This dish requires no recipe as it’s basically about drizzling oil on chicken and potatoes, and then baking them in the oven. It’s almost foolproof, and does not require much work or monitoring.

It’s nicer if you brown the chicken first, but that means more washing up and greasy floors. I like the potatoes more than the ­chicken. Line them at the bottom of the baking tray, so that all the chicken juice (er... fat) will drip on them and crisp them.

If you are more meticulous, you can roast the tomatoes with some olive oil and balsa­mic vinegar on a separate shelf, but use plum tomatoes. Roast pumpkin also goes nicely with this dish.

It’s a good change from greasy fried chicken or curry chicken, and a crowd pleaser because chicken and potatoes are such comfort food. Plus it smells divine, with the herbs and lemon. – Blessed Glutton

Oven-baked Chicken and Potatoes
Serves 6-8

  • 6 medium potatoes
  • 8-10 chicken thighs and drumsticks, each halved
  • ½ cup of olive oil
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano, or mixed herbs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 15-20 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 bulb of garlic, slice off the top
Preheat the oven at 200°C. Boil the potatoes in salted water until cooked. Drain and prick with a fork.

Mix the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, oregano, and salt and pepper in a bowl. Put the chicken, potatoes, tomatoes and garlic in a baking tray (preferably one you can serve from). Drizzle with the oil mixture, and toss gently with the other ingredients, making sure they are covered with the oil. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour.

Before serving, remove the baked garlic cloves from the skin, and toss it back into the chicken. If you prefer your chicken to be more browned, leave it under the grill for 5-10 minutes at the end.

Crunch time

I WAS saving that caramelised crisp morsel for last, to relish on its own when everything else on my plate was eaten, and as I was finishing the final mouthful of rice, my bro­ther reaches over with his fork, stabs the piece of roast and puts it into his mouth to my utter consternation.

Golden Honeycomb Candy

When you’re nine and that’s your ultimate gratification, no amount of threatening from your mother is going to keep you from pummelling your sibling. Having a party without a dessert reminds me of that time. You enjoy a lot of good food but there’s that anticipation of the final treat.

I’ve long adored honeycomb a.k.a sponge candy, cinder toffee and puff candy (isn’t that a euphemism for a hallucinogen?) having been introduced to it in the form of the crunchy Violet Crumble chocolate-covered candy bar as a child. I never knew how easy it is to make at home until I saw Nigella Lawson, who calls it Hokey Pokey, do it on one of her TV cooking shows.

So I did the research and found several recipes. I tried all of them, including Lawson’s, getting through a whole kilo of sugar. I burnt most of it, but finally got it right. See, I do the testing so you don’t have to. – Marty

Golden Honeycomb Candy
Makes 2 cups

  • 5 tbsp castor sugar
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp water
  • ½ tsp white vinegar
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, sifted
Line a small baking tray with baking parchment or greased tin foil.

Mix everything but the soda in a medium saucepan (this may seem larger than you think necessary but the mixture will froth up and swell once the soda is added). Place over low heat without stirring until the sugar melts, then leave to bubble until the colour turns golden yellow, about 12-15 minutes. Drop a little into a glass of water and if it forms a hard ball, it is ready.

Take the pan off the heat and gently stir in the soda until all traces of it have disappeared. Do not over-beat or the mixture will deflate. Pour slowly into the pan. Do not spread out. Leave to set, about 15 minutes.

Break into pieces. Best eaten the same day. Also great crumbled over ice-cream.

Related Story: Cracked cooking

Don’t Call Me Chef appears on the first Monday of every month. We can’t offer advice but we welcome feedback and suggestions on possible themes.

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