My Favourite Seafood Tomato Sauce Pasta

**edited, with a new photo after tonight’s dinner
Making tomato sauce from scratch is surprisingly easy. And pre-bottled pasta sauce is unfortunately more often than not disappointingly bland — though I concede it can be quite good for things like lasagne. So that’s why I’d like to share with you today how I make my own tomato pasta sauce from scratch. Easy, yummy and cheap too! The most expensive ingredient in the dish is the seafood, but you could always substitute it with mushrooms for a veggie version.

I’ve made this several times but I think last night’s rendition could have been the most successful one. WS and I both gulped down HUGE bowls of this (what can I say, we’re greedy, and we’ve both been sick over the past week).

Gotta apologise in advance for the poor photo. I promise this tastes much nicer than how I’ve presented it here — was way too excited yesterday and just couldn’t be bothered to plate up properly!

Ok ok, I got greedy and added seafood AND smoked ham. Good decision though.

My Favourite Seafood Marinara Pasta

Ingredients, for two generous portions
For a pasta with a sauce made from scratch, I think 12 ingredients is pretty good! 🙂
– 4x medium sized tomatos, chopped — doesn’t matter how or in what sizes as it will all boil down to form the base
– 4x shallots or 1 onion, chopped
– 4x cloves of garlic
– 300ml water, boiled
– ketchup, 3 tablespoons
– 1x red chilli, minced and de-seeded
– butter, a small slab
– olive oil, 1 tablespoon
– black pepper
– salt
– 200 grams of *cooked* mixed seafood (mussels/prawn/squid), or can substitute with mushrooms
– 160-200 grams linguine, depending on your appetite

Method
0. If the seafood or bacon you’ve got is not cooked, boil the seafood in salted water. Set aside before making the pasta sauce. This will save you from the headache of trying to cook meat in your sauce!

1. Heat large pan with olive oil on medium heat.
2. When oil is hot, add shallots and garlic. Cook until golden.
3. When shallots and garlic are nicely golden, add the chopped tomatoes.
4. Shallow fry the vegetables for 2 minutes. Add a little water to the pan so that the tomatoes don’t stick to the bottom.
5. Pour in 200ml of water to the pan and squeeze tomato ketchup into the mixture. Then turn heat to low-medium, and cover pan with a lid, letting the tomatoes simmer away in the water. This will form your pasta base.
6. In the meantime, boil linguine in salted water in a separate pot.
7. When the water and tomato-y mixture has thickened, melt in a small slab of butter to the sauce. I add a slab that’s about the size of my thumb. Butter makes everything taste good, and it also in the case of this dish, helps combat some of the acidity in the tomatoes!
8. Let your sauce simmer away until the tomatoes have disintegrated. I like my pasta sauce to be almost soupy; it’s so comforting for cold days. That’s why at this point I would add the remaining 100ml of hot water, but the exact amount is up to you: these are just my guestimates of how much I would reasonably add! Go by your gut! Season the sauce with salt and black pepper to your taste.
9. When you’re happy with the sauce, tip in the cooked seafood (or mushrooms). Cover pan with lid and let it simmer for a good 5 minutes. Mushrooms will be cooked then. You might have to add a little water at this point to maintain the sauce-y consistency in case the meat absorbs some of the liquid.
10. Hopefully your linguine will be done at this point. Drain away the pasta water.
11. Serve sauce on top of linguine, cracking some extra black pepper if you so wish.

Bon Appetit!

Pretty easy right? I’m quite sure the tomatoes + shallots + garlic in total would cost less than a bottle of pre-made pasta sauce, so if you’re looking to save, this is one recipe to try :). Even better if you cook in batches as you can easily freeze leftover sauce for another meal.

I really do think this could be my favourite pasta ever. Forget Linguine with Prawn and Basil. Forget Spaghetti Carbonara. I could eat this for the rest of my days, every week. 🙂

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Steamed Sea Bass and Plain Congee — food for the sniffles

You know that awful feeling when your throat is sore and your face is so congested you can’t breathe properly through your nose? Well that feeling hit me on Monday evening, and I knew straight away that I wouldn’t be fit for work the next day. I’ve been at home for two days now as I literally couldn’t do anything but sleep, make myself simple meals, and check e-mail and WordPress. Hoping that I’ll get well enough to be able to go into work tomorrow and to London on Friday for a training course on digital editing, which I’ve been looking forward to for awhile.

However I’m not one to sit around feeling sorry for myself, and one of the good things about being ill is the comfort food. For comfort food, we often turn to our roots to the foods that we grew up with, so today I’d like to share two quintessentially Cantonese dishes that Hong Kongers love eating: steamed fish, and congee.

Cantonese Style Steamed Sea Bass

So healthy and fresh. Credits to WS for cooking this for me. I do suspect that he might be the better cook!

Ingredients
– two fillets of sea bass, descaled and deboned
– ginger, 2 inches of it sliced into very thin matchsticks
– spring onions (scallions), two stalks sliced diagonally into small pieces
– garlic, two cloves
– coriander, several stalks
– vegetable oil
– soy sauce
– sesame oil
– table salt
additional materials – bamboo lattice, slightly rimmed plate (so that the liquid doesn’t run over), and wok with a lid*

*This is just how I steam food but you can use any trivet or steamer basket within a large lidded pot/wok for the fish.

Method
1. Heat wok with water on high heat to bring water to boil. Set bamboo lattice inside the wok. You will use this lattice to rest the plate containing the fish, so that the water below the lattice gently steams it without touching the actual plate.
2. Put the fillets of fish on a rimmed plate, skin side up. Scatter the ginger and half of the chopped spring onions on the fish, pushing some of it gently into the fish.
3. Drizzle a tiny bit (no more than half a teaspoon) of oil over the fish. Drizzle a little bit of soy sauce and a bit of salt.
4. Place the plate containing the fish onto the bamboo lattice. Cover the wok with a lid. Lower the heat to low heat, or just enough so that the water steams so gently you can’t hear the lid bubbling up. The gentler the steam, the better the fish will taste. This is crucial.
5. Steam for 12-15 minutes, until fish is cooked through.
6. Remove plate, bamboo lattice, and water from the wok. Turn up heat to low-medium heat.
7. Heat wok with a bit of oil, and fry the minced garlic and remaining spring onions for 2 minutes.
8. Add the garlic to the fish. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves. Add a few drops of sesame oil. Serve hot!

//

Congee (say ‘juk’ for the Cantonese name) is another popular kind of breakfast/lunch food in Hong Kong. It is basically a savoury rice porridge cooked to a creamy consistency, almost to the texture of apple sauce. We usually eat it cooked with various ingredients, the most popular being preserved egg and shredded pork. Also, for some reason Hong Kongers like peanuts in their congee too, something which I’m not so crazy about — I have a slight aversion to peanuts (a story for another time).

I grew up eating congee with my paternal grandmother; in fact, I don’t remember eating much else apart from congee and pickled vegetables when I lived with her for a time. I believe she ate congee almost every day, often while watching black and white Cantonese and Teochew opera shows on TV in her tiny flat in North Point, Hong Kong. Sorry I’m getting sidetracked here by nostalgia — my paternal grandmother is no longer with us but my memories of her are deep. She was an incredibly strong and resilient woman: a single mother and silk-worm factory worker, and a reserved but loving grandmother.

Anyway, I’ve listed below my own basic recipe that uses dried scallops to lend the congee a seafood-y flavour without overpowering the delicate flavour of ginger and scallions. Yum!

Plain Congee (Rice Porridge)

Ingredients, for two generous portions
– uncooked long grain/Thai fragrant rice, 1/2 cup
– water, 5 cups*
– (optional) dried scallops, 4 pieces
– spring onions/scallions, 3 stalks chopped finely
– fresh ginger, two inch piece sliced thinly into matchsticks
– eggs, 2x
– (optional garnish) fried onions
for seasoning: soy sauce, sesame oil, a little salt, a little white pepper

*There’s no need to be exact here, but a general rule of thumb is the uncooked rice to water ratio should be about 1:10.

Method
1. Add rice grains, water, ginger, and dried scallop to a stainless steel pot. Bring water to boil.
2. When water starts to boil, cover, turn down heat to low, and let mixture simmer for at least 45 minutes. Check on it occasionally and add more water if you see that the congee is drying up.
3. In a separate small pot, hard boil the eggs for 10 minutes on medium-high heat. Drain water carefully, and de-shell eggs.
4. When congee has reached a creamy consistency, switch off heat and add in eggs.
5. Garnish with extra spring onions. Season to personal taste.

Passing on the blogging love (thank yous and awards)

Big thank you to Anne of Uni Homemaker for nominating me for the Wonderful Team Membership Award! 🙂
Here are the bloggers I’d like to nominate for the Wonderful Team Membership Award, as a little thank you gesture for their supportive readership and for sharing their wonderful stories. I’ve just started blogging and am pleasantly surprised to find that there is a true community here on WordPress, in part to these individuals who have encouraged and inspired me!

1. Alissa from marthastoever (Her tofu and edamame salad was one of the first posts I ‘liked’ on WordPress)
2. Virginia from Our Growing Paynes (Really appealing and detailed posts on various culinary creations)
3. Sheryl from cor delactatio (Very versatile blog, and I’ve really appreciated Sheryl’s feedback on some of my first few posts.)
4. The Bootleg Cook (Check out the post on homemade mooncakes, just in time for the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival! Love this blogger’s photos and enthusiasm!)
5. Foie Gras Chick (Loved the most recent post on okonomiyaki, but you should also check out her courageous and thought-provoking writing in the post, Remembering.)
6. My Home Food That’s Amore (This blogger certainly knows what she is doing! Lovely, detailed posts on food, and also great feedback when you don’t get things quite right the first time round ;))

Guidelines for the Wonderful Team Member Readership Award are as follows:

  1. The Nominee of the Wonderful Team member Readership Award shall display the logo on his/her blog.
  2. The Nominee shall nominate 14 readers they appreciate over a period of 7 days, all at once or little by little.
  3. The Nominee shall name his/her Wonderful Team Member Readership Award nominees on a post or on posts during
    7 days.

Another big thank you to Fae of Fae’s Twist and Tango for nominating me for the Liebster Blog Award.

Fae’s questions for me:
1. What inspires you?
The written word. People often underestimate the power of writing, of being able to read, write, and act upon the written word. I studied literature throughout university so I have really come to respect how literature in particular is intrinsically intertwined with politics, culture, society, ethics, religion, and personal development.
2. What is your favorite dessert?
Just one favourite dessert?! It’s gotta be three :P: cofee ice cream, mango with glutinous black rice pudding, and banoffee pie.
3. What is your favorite comedy?
Frasier!
4. When you were a child, what did you want to be when your grew up?
I had it in my head that I wanted to be a lawyer for awhile, despite not knowing what lawyers actually do. And then it was president and then secret agent. None of those have transpired… yet! (Though I guess I wouldn’t say if I were actually a secret agent.)
5. Why did you start a blog?
I needed a creative outlet to express my thoughts and motivate me to do more cooking. It’s also a way for me to let family and friends who are living far away know what I’ve been up to!
6. What is your favourite part of blogging?
I love the community. I love the feeling of reading a thoughtful comment, stumbling upon an awesome blog, meeting a fellow blogger of the same heart, and receiving a word of praise!
7. What would be the name of your ‘reality show’ to describe your life?
Ooh this is a hard one. Maybe something like ‘Young and Hungry’, ha!
8. If you were to give a speech on any topic, what would it be?
Probably on something literacy related. I’ve been involved in initiatives to boost and promote literacy since middle school; it’s something that I care deeply about, and I’m glad that my job allows me to think about literacy education, too.
9. If you changed your name, what would you change it to?
I’ve always liked the name Lauren. I have a Chinese name, which I like in Chinese, but it doesn’t look so great when romanised! If I had to pick another name, I’d probably want a Chinese sounding one though.
10. What is your dream career?
I don’t have a dream career because I’m still figuring out what I’m interested in, what kind of work environment I would thrive in. Ideally it would be something that would be both creative and analytical, and involve language/books in some form. I’m happy where I am for now! As for careers I’ve fantasised about… owning some kind of food and books cafe, perhaps?
11. If money were no object, where would you live and why?
I’d love to live in one of the island/beach-areas in Hong Kong, like Discovery Bay, where the sea is close and you’re out of the main city but still connected to it. Otherwise, I think southern California sounds pretty good ;).

Now to pass on the blogging love and recognition, here are the bloggers whom I’d like to nominate for the Liebster Blog Award. Thank you all for sharing your creations, culinary and otherwise! 🙂

1. Marisa of Picture Real Food (Writing with style and substance combined with stunning photography, a must read!)
2. Randalle from a toast and tea (I would happily cook and eat any of the recipes on this blog, — all of the recipes for savoury food especially make me so hungry.)
3. Andreea from The Windy Kitchen (Great blog for all baked goodies and savoury foods — check out her post on cooking Vietnamese Beef Pho!)
4. nice & calm (Thoughtful collection of various musings paired with beautiful photography.)
5. Vordoo from Vordoo — a bilingual blog about food in English and Thai (Knowledgeable about Thai and Chinese cuisines, this bilingual blogger is clearly multi-talented!)

My questions to the nominees, many of which are the same as the ones posed to me:
1. What, or who, inspires you?
2. What is your favourite appetiser?
3. If you could live in a different decade or even century, which would it be and why?
4. When you were a child, what did you want to be when your grew up?
5. Why did you start a blog?
6. What is your favourite part of blogging?
7.  Name one personality trait that you like about yourself.
8. If you were to give a speech on any topic, what would it be?
9. How do you de-stress?
10. What is your dream career?
11. If money were no object, where would you live and why?

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And the rules of the Liebstar Blog award are as follows:

1. Visit and thank the blogger who nominated you.
2. Acknowledge that blogger on your blog and link back.
3. Answer the 11 questions proposed by the person who nominated you.
4. Select 11 people for the award.
5. Pose 11 new questions to the new nominees.