Sur­vival cook­ing 101

If you have nu­mer­ous food al­ler­gies, you may have to re­sort to – sur­vival – cook­ing in the ho­tel room when you travel.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Taste - By BEV­ER­LEY HON

I HAVE long been told that I do not pack light when I travel. I tend to chuck in a lit­tle of ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing a part of my kitchen – no sink, but def­i­nitely a mini cooker and some key items.

No, I am nei­ther a su­per picky eater nor some­one who has a con­stant need to stuff her gob. Alas, when one has nu­mer­ous food al­ler­gies, the world be­comes a culi­nary mine­field when you have to travel. Be­ing al­ler­gic to peanuts, soy, beef and prawns, among other things, means I can’t just grab some­thing from a nearby café or rely on room ser­vice.

It’s much eas­ier and safer for me to pick up gro­ceries from a nearby store and rus­tle up some­thing in the room. I gen­er­ally have a hec­tic sched­ule when I travel, so it makes sense to pre­pare snacks or meals to take along to work.

Also, I love cook­ing and it’s nice to be able to make some­thing us­ing in­gre­di­ents that are not eas­ily found or gen­er­ally ex­pen­sive in Malaysia but af­ford­able and eas­ily avail­able in the coun­try that I am in.

It all started with a work­ing trip to Aus­tralia a few years ago. The gen­eral prac­tice in my in­dus­try is that meals are pro­vided but this trip was the ex­cep­tion. I ended up mak­ing a sim­ple ham salad with poached egg for din­ner and hard­boiled eggs to snack on for the other meals.

My cook­ing “starter kit” to­day com­prises a small bot­tle of chilli oil, sa­chets of in­stant soup, Chee­rios ce­real, oats, dried fruit and Milo. I then drop by a su­per­mar­ket or con­ve­nience store for ad­di­tional items. How much I get de­pends on the du­ra­tion of the trip – the long­est I’ve had to plan for has been two weeks.

There are times that the neigh­bour­hood con­ve­nience store clos­est to the ho­tel may not have what I need so a trip to a su­per­mar­ket or hy­per­mar­ket fur­ther away is then nec­es­sary.

I love grab­bing gro­ceries from Wal­mart in the United States be­cause they have a wide se­lec­tion of items at good prices (plus they are open 24 hours). I usu­ally get berries and spinach in ad­di­tion to my usual sta­ples of salad, canned/smoked salmon, eggs, dairy prod­ucts and fruits. This year, I added kale, canned baby clams and crab meat to the list.

In Tai­wan, the Car­refour in Taipei’s Ban­qiao District is open 24 hours as well and of­fers an in­ter­est­ing se­lec­tion of lo­cal in­gre­di­ents. When I was last there I was able to make a soup for din­ner us­ing such in­ter­est­ing in­gre­di­ents as pig’s blood curd, chrysan­the­mum leaves and fresh oys­ters.

The trick to cook­ing in a ho­tel room is to keep things sim­ple and prac­ti­cal. As long as you have cups/bowls, a ket­tle and hot wa­ter, you can work some­thing out. I usu­ally pack a col­lapsi­ble bowl, a camp­ing saucepan, cut­lery, a mi­crowave­able soup mug and a multi-tool kit which has knives, scis­sors and can/bot­tle open­ers.

Boiled eggs

If you have a ket­tle and a mug or jug, you can make soft-boiled or hard boiled eggs with a soft cen­tre. Pop the egg into the mug and cover with just-boiled wa­ter. Cover the mug with a lid and let stand for 10 to 15 min­utes for soft-boiled eggs. How long de­pends on the size of the egg and the mug. I sug­gest buy­ing the small­est size eggs. To hard­boil the egg, re­peat the process three times. One thing I would never do is to boil the egg in the ket­tle it­self. Like se­ri­ously, no.

Cous­cous

Coucous is the per­fect carb for travel cook­ing – it’s easy to cook and goes with any­thing. All you need is a cup of cous­cous, poured into a bowl. Cover it with boil­ing wa­ter (one part cous­cous, two parts wa­ter) and stir in flavour­ing like salt, but­ter, tomato puree, in­stant soup or a can of some­thing tasty like tuna in oil. Cover it with a lid and let it sit for around 10 min­utes. Your dish is pretty much ready when the cous­cous has ab­sorbed all the liq­uid and is eas­ily fluffed up. Top with cubes of tomato, cap­sicum, etc, and olives, if you like.

If you have the cook­ing and bak­ing chops and think you can han­dle some­thing a lit­tle more com­plex, there is so much more that can be done with a mini rice cooker. I’ve made short­bread bis­cuits, soda bread, but­ter flat­bread, spinach floren­tine and quiche in my cooker. Note that mea­sure­ments here are based on the cup that came with the mini rice cooker, where 1 cup equals 160ml.

(Makes 2 por­tions)

4 eggs, beaten

1 to 1 1/2 cups chopped or shred­ded ched­dar or moz­zarella cheese 2-4 tbsp milk (op­tional) salt and pep­per to taste choice of veg­eta­bles, chopped or sliced – spinach, mush­rooms, olives or a com­bi­na­tion of any two choice of pro­tein – ham or salmon

Set some cheese aside for gar­nish­ing. Com­bine the eggs, cheese, milk, salt and pep­per in the rice cooker pot. Add veg­eta­bles and pro­tein, and gen­tly stir to blend. Cook in the rice cooker un­til the eggs have set, be­tween 20 and 30 min­utes – tim­ing de­pends on cooker, wattage and volt­age. Let it cool slightly and sprin­kle with re­main­ing cheese be­fore serv­ing.

Note: If you are un­able to get hold of milk, sub­sti­tute by adding some wa­ter and a lit­tle more cheese to the egg mix be­fore adding the pro­tein and veg­eta­bles

Pre­heat mini rice cooker by switch­ing it on to Warm. Mix flour, bak­ing pow­der, sugar and salt to­gether in a bowl. Cut and then rub but­ter into flour mix­ture un­til it re­sem­bles coarse crumbs.

Make a well in the cen­tre of the but­ter and flour mix­ture. Pour in the milk and stir un­til just com­bined.

Knead slightly un­til the dough is smooth – this is a light dough and does not re­quire much knead­ing. Add ex­tra flour if the dough is too sticky.

Cut dough into 6 pieces, roll into balls and then flat­ten into 0.3cm to 0.5cm thick rounds. The size of the flat­tened dough should not be big­ger than the in­ner di­am­e­ter of the rice cooker pot.

Place one piece of bread into the rice cooker, cover and switch set­ting to High and cook for 5 to 10 min­utes. Af­ter five min­utes, if bread is look­ing golden yel­low, check for done­ness – the bot­tom of the bread no longer sticks to the pot and the top does not stick when you touch it.

Put it on a plate to cool and con­tinue bak­ing the re­main­ing pieces.

May be served warm or cooled, and eaten on its own or with jam.

Note: This is a light, fluffy bread so avoid prod­ding or press­ing too hard when test­ing for done­ness as it will not bounce back. The tex­ture on the in­side is some­where be­tween that of cake and bread.

Bring­ing along a mini rice cooker or multi-cooker will greatly im­prove the range of food you can cook in a ho­tel room. — Pho­tos: BEV­ER­LEY HON

100g but­ter, chilled 1/2 cup (80ml) milk pinch of salt

1-3 tsp sugar, or to taste

And (right) fluffy but­ter bread.

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