1000 Hits and Counting

I wasn’t sure if there’d even be 10 people interested in this blog when I started it. So I’m happy that we’ve  reached at least 1000 hits since December. I’m grateful for all the encouragement. Thank you. I hope you’ll continue to read and enjoy.
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Lovesick for Ipoh Hor Fun

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Ipoh Hor Fun with Soya Braised Chicken

For a number of years through my late teens to early adulthood, one of my comfort foods had been the Shredded Chicken and Mushroom Ipoh Hor Fun from the coffee shop at the corner of River Valley Road and Kellock Road. To me, that was how Ipoh Hor Fun was supposed to taste, and I could never satisfy a craving for the dish until I got my fix of it there. Sadly, the elderly man who used to cook at the stall eventually stopped doing so, and now the coffee shop premises itself has been taken over by some other F&B establishment.

So for some years now, I feel like I’ve not had a proper plate of Ipoh Hor Fun. I hardly even order it these days as chances are I’d just be disappointed.  Finally I figured I should try to make my own version of Ipoh Hor Fun.

Today I took my first stab at it. The dish is really about the hor fun gravy at the end of the day. And the flavour I was trying to achieve for it was something akin to the gravy which comes with the soya braised chicken from Lee Fun Nam Kee at Block 94 Toa Payoh Lorong 4 (which I get a craving for every once in awhile – it’s so good!). Basically I cooked a braised soya chicken (garlic, ginger, spring onion, dark soya sauce, sugar, salt, sesame oil, five spice), then used the sauce as a base for the gravy, adding to it kecap manis, more sugar, salt, pepper and corn starch to thicken it. Taste-wise, I dare say it wasn’t too far off, but there is much room for improvement since it was a first attempt. As this recipe is a work-in-progress, I shan’t post it for now.

Now come to think of it, when I was a little girl living at Marine Parade, there used to be a stall at the hawker centre close to the building which housed Metro Department Store and Yamaha Music School, from which I would order Shredded Chicken Ipoh Hor Fun as well. It was the only thing I would eat at that hawker centre. But now I don’t even remember how it tasted.  Speaking of this reminds me that recently, the idea came to me that I should try to recreate all the dishes I used to enjoy in my childhood. After all it would mean all of 3 dishes or something, including Chicken Maryland from the then Cappuccino Coffee House at Plaza Singapura and Open-faced Roast Beef Sandwich from Silver Spoon at Supreme House. I used to be a scrawny little creature with huge teeth, and my mom constantly agonised over how I was so hard to please when it came to food.

Chicken Wings with 1/2 the Guilt in 1/2 the Time

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Crispy Roasted Chicken Wings with Balsamic-Soy Glaze

I rarely make fried chicken wings at home.  Usually, our chicken wings are marinated for a couple of hours before they are baked in the oven.  It’s a healthier alternative to fried chicken wings, involves less active time when cooking, and leaves you with much less cleaning up. Plus I dare say they taste as good, if not better.

But we don’t always have the time to prepare and marinate ahead.  So over the weekend, I tried a quicker and easier recipe.  Instead of marinating the wings, they were simply patted dry, tossed in salt and pepper, baked on high heat till the skin turned crispy, then coated in glaze.

I tried two different kinds of glaze with them: the first was a balsamic-soy glaze which allowed the wings to remain super crispy while giving them a deliciously sweet coating; and the other was a spicy sauce akin to buffalo sauce, but with an Asian twist because of the Thai chilli sauce that went into it.

Buffalo Wings with an Asian twist

The balsamic-soy wings turned out to be more popular.  While the buffalo wings had a little more kick because of the heat, the glaze was absorbed into the skin, which compromised crispiness. But still pretty good, especially considering it was so easy to do.

Ingredients

For Wings:

2 kg chicken wings
3 tbs olive oil
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper

For Buffalo Wings Sauce:

1.5 tbs butter, melted
1 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbs Thai sweet chilli sauce

For Balsamic-Soy Glaze:

4 tbs soya sauce
8 tbs balsamic vinegar
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tbs butter

Method

Pat wings dry and toss with olive oil, salt and black pepper till well coated.  Set aside 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 260 degrees celsius.
Arrange wings on 2 shallow trays (lined with foil), without crowding.  Put one tray in highest and the other in the lowest rack of the oven and bake wings until skin turns golden brown and crispy. If using whole wing, this should take approx 35 minutes. If using only mid-joints (as shown in the photos), then 25 minutes should be sufficient.

While wings are baking, prepare the Glaze and Sauce.
For Buffalo Wings Sauce, simply whisk all ingredients together in a bowl.
For Balsamic-Soy Glaze, combine soya sauce, vinegar, sugar and brown sugar, and boil in a saucepan on medium to high heat till thickened and somewhat reduced.  Add minced garlic and continue to boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in butter till melted and well-combined.

Remove trays from oven and set aside to allow wings to rest for 10 minutes before removing.
Divide the wings between 2 large bowls.  Toss one in the buffalo sauce and the other in the balsamic-soy glaze.

Tiger Prawn Pasta with Sun-dried Tomato and Black Olives

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Pasta is one of those things we can whip up with very little preparation time and with just some basic ingredients which we’re likely to already have in our fridge.  And dried pasta stores well.  So I always stock up at least 3 different kinds. Certain shapes go better with certain sauces because of the way that the ingredients in the pasta sauce adheres to or gets picked up by the pasta, or because of their texture. But then it does boil down to personal preference.  At the moment, there’s some Spaghettini, Squid Ink Spaghettini, Tagliatelle, Parppadelle, Macaroni and Penne in my larder. The egg tagliatelle would go with cream sauces or egg sauces, whereas for aglio olioor white wine sauces, we’d use spaghettini. The kids prefer the shorter pastas, which I assume is because it’s just easier to eat.  Those tend to go well with tomato-based sauces.

We had some friends over for dinner last Saturday.  It was an impromptu thing we arranged on the day itself. After our morning picnic at Botanic Gardens (which was adjourned to Hort Park after it began to rain), we dropped by at my favourite supermarket. I’d already planned on making breaded chicken breasts seasoned in herbs and stuffed with bacon and cheese (my take on Chicken Cordon Bleu), with some salad and sweet mango on the side.  But the Tiger Prawns looked really compelling that day – so fresh, large and plump – so I decided we’d have them as well, in spaghettini with a sun-dried tomato and black olive sauce.

This pasta dish is easy enough to prepare on a week night. At the same time, it’s lush enough to have with a glass of wine when you feel like spoiling yourself or when you’re entertaining. Especially if you have fresh large Tiger Prawns like we did.

Ingredients

500g spaghettini
12-18 large tiger prawns (approx 800g)
2 whole garlic, chopped
4 large shallots, sliced
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes (steeped in oil), sliced
3/4 cup sliced pitted black olives
2 cans chopped/diced tomatoes (approx 550g in total), drained
2 handfuls of chopped basil leaves
4 sprigs Italian parsley, chopped
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano (Pecorino or Parmesan is fine too)
2-4 chili padis, seeds removed (2 if you want it mild, more if you want it more spicy) (optional)
1.5 cups olive oil (add a little more as you go, if necessary)
4 tbs butter
Salt and black pepper to taste

Method

Heat 2-3 tbs olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat.
Pat prawns dry, then place on skillet to cook, one side at a time, turning when they are cooked halfway through. Allow prawns to be seared, but reduce heat before they start to burn. Remove prawns with slotted spoon when they are just cooked through, and set aside.
Turn down heat.
Add remaining olive oil, butter, garlic and shallots to the skillet and saute till softened.
Add sun-dried tomatoes and saute till softened.
Add chopped/diced tomatoes, chili and black olives, and cook until sauce thickens.
Stir in chopped basil leaves.
Stir in prawns (including any drippings/juice) and season with salt and black pepper.
Meanwhile, bring large pot of water to a boil, with 3 tsp salt added.  Cook pasta until al dente (tender but firm), then drain.
Add cooked pasta to the skillet and combine with the sauce.
Dish onto plates, arranging prawns on top of pasta, and sprinkle with cheese and chopped Italian parsley.

Serves 6.

Why "Vermont" Curry?

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My kids like Japanese curry.  They’ve tried it at cafes and some Japanese joints, so I thought I’d make it for them just for fun. Right out of the box. I love the way the Japanese can take something, tweak it, make it sweeter, milder, more delicate somehow, package it carefully into a pretty box, and give it a catchy name so it becomes something so uniquely Japanese.

I have no idea why they call it “Vermont Curry”.  Until today, I wasn’t even sure what went into it.  Now according to the box, apart from curry powder, there’s also (among other things) onion powder, milk powder, tomato powder, fruit paste (including banana), honey, cheddar and gouda (!), peanut butter (!!), apple, cocoa, garlic paste, and of course, food colouring and MSG.

This is not something you want to feed your kids (or anyone) very often since it is composed primarily of sodium and saturated fat.  But it was quite astonishing to see both of mine drown their rice in the gravy and polish off their plates in under 7 minutes.

All I did was cut up the meat, carrots, potatoes and onions into bite-sized pieces, saute in a saucepan till the meat was browned, add water, bring to a boil, then add the sauce mix (which comes in a neat, no-mess block resembling a chocolate bar), and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.  It couldn’t have been easier.  And it’s all on the box anyway.

I did have the kids chomp down a few mouthfuls of steamed broccoli as well, and we finished dinner off with a generous serving of fresh fruit.  It made me feel a little better.

Home-made Char Siew

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A good day for me is usually one involving quality time with the kids, exercise, and some tinkering in the kitchen.  At the moment, I’m still high on endorphins from this evening’s run. I had a pleasant and fruitful day with the kids, and the Char Siew we made for dinner turned out exceptionally well.  So it’s been a good day.

I first made Char Siew some years back, when it was part of the menu at a family dinner I cooked to celebrate my mom-in-law’s birthday.  Back then, I only had a table-top oven which was relatively small in size. But it was a good microwave-convection combination oven, which in those days didn’t come cheap.  It was my first oven, and I have fond memories of learning how to bake and roast with it.  I’m glad it’s gotten a new lease of life in another household with someone who also enjoys cooking.  But I digress.

I remember wondering how I should make Char Siew, then looking for a recipe online.  That’s when I discovered Lily’s Wai Sek Hong, which is a useful resource for Chinese and Asian recipes.  This Char Siew recipe was originally based on Lily’s recipe, but I’ve experimented with it and tweaked it as I went along so the quantities and method aren’t the same anymore.  I actually think it’s pretty easy to make, and once you can do this, you probably won’t want to buy char siew from the neighbourhood roast meats stall again.

There are two ways you could cook this: If you want very succulent Char Siew, but without the charring, you can simply place it in a tray (line tray with foil first, otherwise it’ll be hell to clean) in the oven at 220 degrees celsius, first covered in foil for 15 mins, then remove the foil, return to the oven for a further 15 minutes, then glaze it and return to the oven for a further 12 minutes or until it the pork appears shiny.  The Char Siew turns out really juicy and tender this way, but you don’t really get any charred bits.

If you like it charred, then place the pork on wire rack fitted over a roasting pan (again, line pan with foil), add some water into the pan (about 1cm depth) and just roast on 230 degrees celsius covered with foil for 10 minutes, then, remove foil, glaze and continue to roast (uncovered) for another 20 minutes, checking to ensure it doesn’t burn.

I prefer the first method, as the meat retains much more moisture, and because the marinade and glaze don’t get burnt off as in the case with the second method, there’s much more flavour as well.  What I’m posting is the first method, but if you like your Char Siew charred, you could try the second method I’ve mentioned.

Ingredients

800g pork shoulder or pork loin (or tell your butcher you’re making char siew)

For Seasoning:
3 tbs Hoisin sauce
1.5 tsp garlic powder (or finely-chopped garlic)
3 tsp soya sauce
1/2 cup sugar
1.5 tbs Hua Teow Chiew (Chinese Wine)
3/4 tsp Five Spice Powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper

For Glaze:
1.5 tbs dark soya sauce
1.5 tbs honey
1.5 tbs cooking oil

Method

Mix all seasoning ingredients together and marinade pork in it for about 1-2 hours.
Preheat oven to 220 degrees celsius.
Place pork in a tray (line tray with foil first) together with all the marinade and cover tray with foil, then put in the oven for 15 mins at 220 degrees celsius.
Remove the foil covering and return to oven for a further 15 minutes.
Mix glaze ingredients together in a bowl and brush glaze all over pork thoroughly, then return to oven for a further 12 minutes or until the pork appears shiny.
Let stand for 20-30 minutes before cutting into slices and serving.

Salmon and Leek with Fusilli: Tasty, Quick and Healthy

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During weekends, we usually spend the day out with the kids, and if there are no dinner plans, I usually prefer to cook something simple at home, rather than da bao (takeout).  We used to think nothing of it before the kids came along, but this has become somewhat of an exception now as I’ve become more conscious of what goes into our diets.

Today, after a morning of go-karting at West Coast Park, we had a fast food lunch as a treat to the kids. So all the more I thought we ought to balance things out a little with a relatively healthy dinner.  Feeling tired and a little lazy, an easy one-dish pasta meal seemed an appealing option. There is usually some Salmon fillet in the freezer, and there is always dried pasta in the larder.

Salmon and Leek with Fusilli is one of the current quick and easy staples from my kitchen.  It’s easy to prepare, tasty, convenient to eat if you’re in a hurry, and best of all, makes for a healthy meal.  It’s not anything special, but I just thought I’d share this as an easy meal you could prepare on a week night.  Takes about 30 minutes.


Ingredients

Approx 600-700g salmon fillet, skin removed
350g dried fusilli (pasta spirals)
1 whole garlic
1 stalk leek
1 cup olive oil
Chopped Dill leaves (either fresh or dried)
Chopped Italian Parsley (either fresh or dried)
Pot of water for cooking pasta
Salt to taste
Method

Put a large pot of water to boil.  Add 2 tsp salt.
Cut salmon into 1 inch cubes.  Season with salt. Cook pasta in the pot of boiling water. Remove and drain once cooked.
In the meantime, heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium high heat. Cook salmon, first on one till browned, then turning over (adjust heat if necessary), until just cooked through. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside.
Turn heat to low. Saute chopped garlic until cooked but not brown. Add leek and saute till just softened.
Return salmon to skillet and toss gently for a couple of seconds.
Turn off heat, add drained pasta to the skillet and toss gently with the other ingredients, adding chopped dill, parsley, and salt to taste. Be careful not to break up the salmon cubes.
If you like, top with freshly grated cheese (I like Pecorino).

Serves 4.

Nonya Laksa Recipe

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So here I am with the recipe for Nonya Laksa.  This is an extremely tasty and addictive dish, and although it may sound daunting to make since a number of steps are involved, you will find the result well worth it.  It is one of those dishes you shouldn’t rush, and it will definitely taste better with some TLC.  I cooked it in fairly large quantities, so the recipe here is based on a reduced portion. It would make 5 servings.  I really hope you will enjoy making and eating this as much as I did!

Ingredients

620g thick rice noodles (chu mee fen or chor bee hoon)
500ml coconut milk
1.8L water
400g prawns (medium) (approx 4 prawns per person)
2 fish cakes (each of approx 12cm in length), sliced
3 pieces tau pok (about 6cm x 6cm)
150g beansprouts
10 quail’s eggs or 3 chicken eggs, hard boiled and shelled
200g fresh blood cockles (with shells) (optional)
10 stalks laksa leaves
Rock sugar to taste
Salt to taste

For the Rempah (paste)

40g hei bee (dried shrimp)
1 whole garlic
8 shallots
1 small piece turmeric (approx 1cm x 1.5cm)
1 piece galangal (approx 3cm x 3cm)
3 candlenuts, finely pounded
1 stalk lemongrass
1 + 1/4 tbs belacan
10 dried chillies
Cooking oil

Method

Grind rempah ingredients in a food processor into a fine paste. Add about 2 tsp of finely chopped laksa leaves (from about 2 stalks) into food processor and whizz for a few seconds together with the paste.
In a wok, heat up 2-3 tbs of cooking oil, and fry paste until its colour darkens.  If it gets too dry before this happens, add a little oil.  Set aside rempah once it is done.
In a large stock pot, bring 1.8L of water to a boil and add the prawns, with shells on, then simmer till the prawns are cooked, remove quickly and refresh with cool water.  Once cooled, shell prawns and return shells and heads into stock pot. Set aside the prawns.  Bring pot to a boil, then lower heat and simmer about 1.5 hours.  Add a handful of laksa leaves to the stock pot (from approximately 3 stalks), and allow to simmer for another half hour.
While stock is simmering, prepare the other ingredients:
Slice fish cakes.
De-vein cooked prawns.
Hard boil the eggs, then shell them, and if using chicken eggs, slice them (quail’s eggs may be served whole).
Blanche the tau pok in a pot of boiling to remove some oil, then drain and slice them.
Rinse cockles thoroughly in a basin of cool water, changing the water until the water turns clear.  Drain.  Place cockles in a basin or small pot and pour boiling water over them and leave for a minute before draining them.  Refresh with cool water to prevent the cockle flesh from continuing to cook and becoming too tough.  Remove the flesh and set aside. Discard shells.
Blanche beansprouts quickly and drain.
Finely chop the remaining laksa leaves (you should have about 5 tsp)*.
Cook rice noodles in a pot of boiling water, refresh and drain.
Strain stock after it has been allowed to simmer for 2 hours, and return to stock pot.
Add rempah to the stock and bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer till oil surfaces. Skim. Lower heat.
Add coconut milk (a little at a time), bring to a boil, the lower heat to simmer for a few minutes.
Add rock sugar and salt to taste.
If necessary, add more coconut milk.
Place a portion of the cooked rice noodle into a bowl. Arrange prawns, tau pok, beansprouts, cockles and eggs over the noodles and then pour some gravy over it. Sprinkle with 1 tsp of chopped laksa leaves and serve with sambal if available.
* If you are not able to get the amount of laksa leaves required in this recipe, try to ensure that you have at least 4-5 tsp of chopped laksa leaves for sprinkling over the individual bowls, and omit the laksa leaves in the rempah and stock if you have to.
(Edited 8/02/12)

Nonya Laksa at Lunch with My Beautiful Cousins

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On my Dad’s side of the family, I have 3 male cousins, and 13 female ones.  And then there’s my sister and me.  I have fond memories of the birthday parties we used to have when we were kids.  I’m not sure how many of these we actually had, but I remember the games we used to play at these parties and even going in costume for at least one of them!

As we grew up, we saw less of one another.  Some of us were overseas, and some of us were always busy with work, boyfriends, or other commitments.  It was only over Chinese New Year, on our Mama‘s birthday or occasionally over Sunday lunch at our Mama‘s home, that we met. And even then, there was seldom much time to chat, nor much to chat about anyway. After the passing of our Mama, I realised with sadness that we’d probably have even fewer opportunities to meet.

But things seem to have come full circle.  Most of us now have our own kids, and in the last couple of years, we’ve been gathering at birthday parties once again, and over Christmas and Chinese New Year.  Because of the resounding success of the “Two Is Enough” campaign of the seventies, most of us have only one, or at most, two siblings.  This means our kids don’t have as many first cousins as we do.  So it’s really good that all our kids get to play together. A bit of a riot maybe.  But in a good way.

Today my female cousins and their families came over for lunch.  On the menu were Nonya Laksa and Chicken Rice. Save for the garlic chilli which I made to go with it, I left the Chicken Rice entirely to W, who does it better than I do anyway. Besides, I already had quite a lot on my plate preparing the laksa.

Nonya Laksa is essentially a rich coconut-based soup with noodles.  It is extremely tasty – spicy, sweet, salty, very aromatic, and so addictive that it’s hard to keep from wanting to slurp more of the gravy. I tend to think of the soup more as a gravy because of how complex it is.  However, cooking it involves many ingredients and steps, which makes it rather time-consuming. So I reckon it only makes sense to cook this when you are going to be feeding a whole lot of people, in order to make it worth your time and effort.  Since we were expecting 20 adults and many kids (you’d think it was 20 of them from the noise level), I decided this was a good time to make this dish again.

This was my second go at it, so I already had the chance to re-think the recipe and work on it. Three days ago, I’d started by making the sambal with heibee (dried shrimp), belacan, shallots, galangal, lemongrass and red chillis.  Yesterday afternoon, I worked on the rempah (the paste for the laksa gravy).  This involved peeling, chopping and pounding heibee, shallots, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, dried chilli, candlenut, some chopped laksa leaves, and a little turmeric, then grinding it all up into a paste before frying it in oil over a wok for some time (in two batches because of the quantity).

This morning, 1.5kg of prawns were cooked, and their heads and shells (together with more heads and shells we’d stored in the freezer earlier this week) were used to make prawn stock.  For the two hours during which the stock was simmering, preparation of all the other ingredients began – prawns, eggs, beansprouts, tau kwa, fish cake, and cockles. I used fresh blood cockles this time, rinsed them something like 100 times till they were clean, blanched them in boiling water, refreshed them with cool water, then allowed them to cool, before removing the flesh.

Once the stock was ready, it was strained, the rempah was added to it, left to simmer for some time, before the coconut milk was also added to it. Then I chopped more laksa leaves for sprinkling over the individual portions.  I have observed that the aroma of laksa leaves is strongest when it is uncooked, just as with coriander.  Therefore, although many laksa recipes seem to call for laksa leaves to be simmered in the stock, I actually think what is more important is to have chopped fresh laksa leaves sprinkled over the dish before serving, as this is what gives the dish most of its characteristic aroma, without which it would be just a bowl of spicy prawn and coconut soup.

While all this may sound like hard work, I really enjoyed every minute of cooking this.  Like the H once said, even when I start out feeling tired, the high I get from cooking gives me a second wind which will keep me going quite happily. Besides, the result made it all worthwhile, and many of us went back for seconds, myself included!

It was a good lunch which we all enjoyed. W’s Chicken Rice was also quite a hit, as was the Devil Curry cooked by my cousin’s husband, C.  And it was so pleasant to just relax and hang out together,  playing with the babies, chatting and watching the older kids play together, as we sampled more Chinese New Year goodies as well as an assortment of Sri Lankan Tea which C had brought.  And of course the kids had a ball as usual!

It warms my heart that the bond among us cousins seems to have grown stronger than it has ever been, and often I imagine how pleased Mamawould be.

(Note: In case you’re wondering, I’ll be posting the recipe after I’ve worked on reducing the proportions for the ingredients).

Hearty Chicken and Vegetable Soup

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Our stomachs were never meant to take the abuse of Chinese New Year feasting. I have to admit that it’s entirely self-inflicted, but it’s what we do. We bond over food.

Tonight, after three full days of feasting – not including the week or so of constant snacking on pineapple tarts, kueh lapis, and assorted other cookies (I so need to intensify my exercise regime now!) – I’m finally rid of the heartburn.  I’d decided we should have something simple for dinner this evening, something to calm the tempest in our bellies.  So I went with some wholesome Chicken and Vegetable Soup.  Easy, healthy and delicious.  I highly recommend this!


Ingredients

1 whole chicken, skin removed, meat diced, carcass reserved for stock
1 garlic, peeled but with last layer of skin left on, top sliced off
2 sprigs fresh tarragon
Handful of fresh Italian parsley
1 stalk lemongrass, white part bruised
1 bay leaf

1 big carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 stalks leek, chopped roughly
1 brown onion, chopped roughly
1/2 small cauliflower, diced
5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
200g fresh button mushrooms, sliced

2 tbs butter
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp dried mixed Italian herbs
Salt
Truffle oil for drizzling (optional)

Method

Make stock: Put carcass, fresh herbs, lemongrass, bay leaf and garlic in a pot with 2L water, bring to boil and simmer 20 minutes.
Skim off scum, remove carcass, herbs and garlic or strain stock through sieve.

Season diced chicken with 1 tsp salt, set aside 10 minutes.
Add diced chicken, veg and mushrooms to stock and bring to boil, then simmer on low heat until potatoes and carrots are softened.
Add dried herbs and peppercorns, simmer 5 minutes.
Add butter and simmer another 5 minutes, then turn off heat.
Check seasoning.
Scoop into bowls.  If available, drizzle with truffle oil. Serve with buttered warm rolls.

Makes about 8 bowls.