Mom’s Sweet and Savoury Prawns

This is one of the first stir-fries I learned to make.

I cooked this for the first time while I was studying abroad for my junior (3rd) year of uni in Cambridge. I had a shaky first term there – culture shock, loneliness, homesickness. It was very different to studying at my home university, Brown, where I had many close friends and where there was a lot more contact time with professors and peers. It didn’t help that I found England cold and lacking in good food – while the college I was in did very nice formal meals at grand hall, I quickly tired of the standard buttery fare.

So it was with great desperation that turned me to cooking. I called up my mom one day out of desperation and asked for her recipes.

“What recipes do you want?” (mom, translated)

“Er, anything, whatever we eat at home usually.”

“Ok… …”

“Something easy for me to not mess up?”

“Hmm… how about the prawns with ketchup? There’s nothing to it: just make sure you use lots of garlic – cook them until they’re golden. Oh and mix ketchup and oyster sauce together for the sauce. That’s it!”

And that really is it. Sweet, salty, tangy – the ketchup and oyster sauce marries very well. Throw in some onions and spring onions for some texture, yum. Apologies to my friends who don’t like prawns – but to those who do, I heartily recommend this easy stir-fry :).

Mom’s Sweet and Savoury Prawns

A little oyster sauce and ketchup going a long way in this dish.

150 grams raw prawns
1/2 medium yellow onion
3 stalks of spring onion, sliced diagonally into small pieces
3 cloves of garlic
1.5 tablespoons oyster sauce
1.5 tablespoon tomato ketchup
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
black pepper to taste

1. Heat wok on medium heat. When pan is hot, add oil.
2. Fry garlic and yellow onion until fragrant.
3. Tip prawns into wok and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add oyster sauce and ketchup.
4. Crack black pepper over prawn. Stir fry for another 1 1/2 minutes. Don’t overcook the prawns! You’ll know when they’re done when they turn from a translucent grey to a stripey orange and white colour.
5. Add spring onion. Might want to add a few drops of hot water at this point if the sauce is drying up.
6. When spring onion is heated through, switch off heat and serve immediately with steamed white rice.

Cooking and eating this dish still brings me back to my old room in college. I remember sitting huddled at my desk in a blanket, freezing (I stayed in the oldest part of college , which was founded in 1347), homesick and lonely, but feeling such warmth from a plate of humble stir-fry. It made me feel safe. It made me feel that I could at least change one thing about my everyday life, and that was the food.

Thankfully, things quickly got better once I found friends. Or in fact, they found me – that’s a whole other story, involving pie and food poisoning (!). But all turned out quite well for me in the end at Cambridge. I’m glad I stayed on for the whole year because if I hadn’t, I would’ve never got into interested in cooking, never would have met such wonderful friends, and never would have met my boyfriend  – and that really is another story :).


Chinese-style Cucumber Salad

Today I was craving a bit of fresh salad after a having scarfed down a fast-food dinner last night at a friend’s, so I thought to recreate this Chinese-style Cucumber Salad.

Chinese-style Cucumber Salad

I first tasted version of this at one my family’s favourite restaurant in Hong Kong: a tiny, literally 7-table eatery tucked away in North Point. Amongst ourselves we referred to it as ‘North Point Noodles’, and honestly I never knew its real name! Hard to believe, I know. There was a signboard above the narrow shopfront but we got so used to calling it by its nickname, and their noodles and dumplings were so distractingly good, it never really mattered what it was called. Its exact location we guarded like a jealous secret, but we would go back every two weeks for its delicious minced pork and preserved vegetable noodles, pork and cabbage dumplings, and this cucumber starter.

The cucumber is served chilled, after having been dressed with rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, a little sugar and soy sauce, and tossed with pan-fried garlic and chilli. Sometimes the cucumber’s fleshy side is ‘smashed’ with the back of a knife, rather than chopped, to allow it to soak up more of the dressing. I’ve gone for chopping here as my chopping board was covered in cucumber ‘guts’ and juice already :P.

I particularly love the balance of sour with sweet and salty, and the way that the coolness of the cucumber plays against the heat from the chilli; it’s these flavours that make it an appetite-inducing starter.

Chinese-style Cucumber Salad

1 large cucumber – scraped out the seeds and chop into 2 inch chunks
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 small red chilli, minced
1/2 tablespoon of vegetable oil, to fry the garlic and chilli

for the dressing
2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons of sesame oil
1.5 teaspoons of white sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
a dash of soy sauce

1. Prepare cucumber, using a knife to cut down the lengths of the fleshy seed part of the cucumber, then use a spoon to scrape out the seeds.
2. Chop cucumber. If you’re feeling ambitious, use the back of the knife to smash the cucumber, flesh side up, to allow it to absorb more of the dressing later.
3. Sprinkle salt across cucumber pieces to draw out some of its moisture.
4. Mix ingredients for the dressing. Set aside.
5. Heat pan on medium heat, add vegetable oil; when oil is hot, fry garlic and half the quantity of red chilli you’ve prepared.
6. Fry until garlic is just about turning golden and turn off heat.
7. Tip in garlic, chilli and hot oil into the dressing mixture. Stir.
8. Drain excess liquid from cucumber. Add dressing, mix well. I like to do this in a plastic container so I can really shake the salad around and coat it with the dressing!

Hope those of you who are intrigued will try this out :).

P.S. Like my new blog theme? Brings out the Pisces in me, ha!

Pan Fried Chicken Wrapped in Bacon

I was craving buttery and savoury meat on Monday evening – as you do on Mondays, naturally – so I thought I’d try to make chicken wrapped in bacon, which I had seen on Junior Masterchef the night before. Sadly I don’t think my rendition looked as good as the young contestant’s, the comparison of which is very humbling and just goes to show that Cooking with a capital ‘C’ on live television is an entirely different ballgame. It probably isn’t as fun as cooking in your own kitchen though.

i’m beginning to think that when it comes to food, colour is everything

I find it tricky to cook chicken breast and not have it end up very dry in the pan. This time around, I added butter throughout the cooking process, and also some drops of hot water just to let the chicken steam in its juices. It turned out quite moist, so I was pleased, but I still feel in the dark as to how other people usually pan fry chicken breast; I almost feel that I cheated with the butter, water and the bacon fat that rendered. Thoughts?

For the penne I drizzled olive oil, a bit of fine sea salt, and an Italian herb mix from M who had picked up a variety of spice mixes from his trip to Italy and generously gave me various mixes to use at home. Honestly I wasn’t sure what the green bits were (oregano or thyme or basil, I presume?) but it was tasty and meant that I didn’t have to whip up a dressing or sauce to go with the pasta.

Pan Fried Chicken Wrapped in Bacon

Ingredients (for two portions)
120 grams of dried penne
2 chicken breasts
2 slices of smoked back bacon
butter, approx 1 tablespoon
olive oil
lemon juice
fine sea salt
coarsely ground black pepper
*optional: Italian herb mix, and salad to go with the dish

1. Rub a little olive oil and lemon juice (no more than 1/2 teaspoon per breast) into the meat. Dash sea salt and black pepper over both sides.
2. Heat pot of water for pasta, bring to boil, then tip in penne. Penne usually takes 11-14 minutes to cook, slightly longer than spaghetti.
3. Heat to medium heat a frying pan or skillet.
4. Wrap each chicken breast in one streak of bacon, taking care to wrap as tightly as you can.
5. When pan is hot, add bacon-wrapped chicken.
6. Be patient with the chicken: let it brown on each side before you flip it over. Each side takes about 5-6 minutes depending on the thickness. About halfway through the cooking process, add butter. If the pan gets very dry and starts browning, add a few drops of hot water to the pan to deglaze the pan and to let the chicken steam a little.
7. At this point the penne is probably done, so drain the pasta and then add olive oil and sea salt to taste. Season with salad dressing or herb mix if you like.
8. When chicken breast is fully cooked through remove from pan and let it sit on plate. Serve with penne and salad.

I brought this to work the next day for lunch – sooo much better than canteen sandwiches!

Fried Rice Fragranced with Basil

fluffy, moist but never stodgy nor clumpy fried rice

The secret ingredient that makes this so yummy (to smell and eat)?


It might sound weird, but I think basil goes quite well with the prawns, and the herb’s fresh peppery flavour really lends a lovely fragrance to the dish. I love fried rice because it’s easy to make, always yummy, uses up leftovers, great for leftovers, colourful and well-balanced. I think my first blog post here was on fried rice so I shall spare you the recipe but just to say that this time, I scrambled the eggs BEFORE adding the prawns, which helped keep the prawns firm because I think if you cook them first, they tend to get overcooked and lose their texture. Also for the basil – tear leaves into the mix just before you’re done frying.

Yum! And really – the best thing about cooking is that it’s not only fun, but that it also brings immediate gratification. That’s why I love food so much. In most if not all other areas of my life, I tend to take the approach that persevering and delaying gratification gets us to better places. Indeed I grew up hearing my dad say to me and my brother, ‘delay of gratification!’  I know that can make one sound like a repressed individual, hesitant to pursue impulsive desires and whims. For the most part though, I think I’ve bought into my dad’s philosophy. People who are strong are those who are able to delay immediate gratification – and equally, they reward themselves and are kind to themselves. That’s what keeps them from crumbling. So I guess food is, to my relief, one aspect of everyday life where I can just indulge myself! (I have many ‘weaknesses’ when it comes to food… carrot cake, cheeseburgers, potato crisps… but I try to not feel guilty about them because I know that as long as I take them in moderation, and try to maintain a balanced diet and do exercise, then I will be fine :).)

Anyway that was a bit of a ramble – next post – something Western!

Done in 40 minutes – Sirloin Steak with Cheesy Penne and Broccoli

Sorry for the slight hiatus, everyone. I’ve been a little distracted recently but I’ve really missed blogging. Somehow I’ve fallen into learning bits of programming after work/reading (i’m reading a book written by a former undercover FBI agent who infiltrated the American mafia!)/stoning in front of the computer. I know. No excuses. So here we go: what I whipped up for tonight’s dinner in 40 minutes.

pan fried sirloin steak, cheesy penne, stir-fried broccoli with mushroom


Mmmmmm I do love steak! Partly because it’s so easy – coarse sea salt and ground black pepper on each side, stick it on a hot pan, leave it to brown on each side before turning (approx 4 minutes on each side), done. No recipe needed for that, surely. And for the sides – a quick soy sauce, mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine), and oyster sauce stir-fry with broccoli and mushrooms, and a cheesy penne.

I improvised on the penne because there was some leftover cheddar in the fridge, and was really pleased with the results. I had it in my mind to go for a ‘mac and cheese’ kind of taste, so I simply melted butter, cheddar cheese, and milk into the pot of hot, freshly cooked penne with some of the remaining hot water used to boil the pasta.

Turned out to be a nice American-ish meal (if hunks of red meat, fatty carbs and Chinese stir-fries can be associated with the US of A), very appropriate for watching the presidential election results coverage! Oh how I miss the US. Living in England is great (anyone else see some good fireworks shows over the weekend/on Monday night for Guy Fawkes?), but have to say that the food here is at times quite dire. Or perhaps I’m just all pub-ed out (I count probably 4 pub meals in the past two weeks – not good for the wallet… …).

Hoping that I can get away without providing a recipe for this, as I haven’t measured anything. What I would say is that for the penne, the ratio of butter : milk : cheese should be half tablespoon butter:3 tablespoons milk: 4-5 tablespoons cheese. Those are my estimates for the amounts I used for 150 grams of uncooked penne (2 portions), so scale up/down depending on how much pasta you are cooking. 🙂

Ok so maybe I’ll come back to this post and write up the recipes another time, if anyone’s interested. Otherwise, I’d like to make this blog more about sharing thoughts and experiences of cooking and food in general – rather than a step by step document of How Sheila Cooks Food. I’m probably the least precise person I know so I find retrospectively writing up recipes a slight chore! (Anyone else with me on this?! Or am I just lazy? 😦 – wait don’t answer that…!)