We recently had the pleasure of befriending Kai Lin, a yoga instructor and fellow home cook, through our brand ambassador programme. Starting a new chapter in her life with her husband provided a space of their own to experiment with cooking, but it was only during the circuit breaker in 2020 that they started to spend more time in the kitchen.
Looking at the variety of home-cooked meals Kai Lin has whipped up — from the local delicacies of chicken rice and chwee kueh to international delights like Thai green curry, somen, and rosti — it’s hard to believe that her cooking journey only started 3 years ago. In fact, her husband still teases her about being afraid to turn on the gas stove back when they began living together in 2018.
The circuit breaker kind of forced my husband and I to spend more time at home, and we became really curious as to how we could recreate our favourite dishes, especially during the times F&B businesses were forced to close/scale down their operations. We started out with simpler recipes, and gradually built our confidence to experiment with more recipes and cooking techniques. Cooking became our shared interest, and even until now, we really enjoy having friends and family over to catch up over a home-cooked meal.
As a dedicated home cook, Kai Lin’s shelves are lined with various cookbooks, many of which are bookmarked with dishes she enjoyed, or have been meaning to explore. Her favourite and first cookbook is even carefully wrapped for protection.
While Kai Lin still follows recipes closely, experience has brought her confidence and ease. On occasions when she misses a step, she takes it in her stride.
When we visited for lunch, Kai Lin kept our bellies full and happy with a comforting spread capped off with her roasted strawberry cake, which we enjoyed while she regaled us with stories of her culinary learnings.
On the menu: A savoury Thai Roast Duck Curry from Pamelia Chia's Wet Market to Table cookbook.
Subscribing to newsletters and following food-related accounts has helped me learn and explore the use of many ingredients, techniques, and cuisines.
Wet Market to Table by Pamelia Chia was actually the first cookbook I purchased, and it introduced us to different local ingredients, and really expanded the range of ingredients we work with. Pamelia is also the author of Singapore Noodles, a newsletter that aims to keep local traditions alive, and she does deep dives into dishes and cooking techniques that make for an interesting read.
Baby eggplants and pea eggplants handpicked from an Indian grocery store near Kai Lin’s. These vibrant ingredients were featured in the savoury Thai Roasted Duck Curry, served in the Talay Free-Form Salad Bowl.
During the COVID period, she also conducted live zoom cook-alongs, and that greatly boosted my confidence in tackling more complicated recipes. We tried our hand at recipes I would not have attempted on my own, such as roti prata, dum biryani, and flaky curry puffs. She played a pivotal role in my cooking journey, and it has been so much fun! Now that I know how much work goes behind the scenes, I appreciate food a lot more.
So here’s a huge thank you, Pamelia!
In addition to cooking, Kai Lin also enjoys baking, and even hosts bake sales on an ad hoc basis. Fortunately for us, we were treated to her roasted strawberry cake after lunch.
The more recipes I read, the more I realised that certain things we may deem as ‘waste’ can actually serve as ingredients in other dishes. For instance, the bones or carcass from meat or fish can be used to create a rich stock for another dish. The same goes for prawn heads and shells too!
In the chilli oil oyster mushroom salad, a sprinkle of coriander leaves adds a final touch. While coriander leaves are often reserved for garnish, Kai Lin offered a valuable tip: the roots can be saved and used to enhance the flavour of soups, stir-fries, or spice pastes, making them a versatile ingredient.
When cooking, I also try to repurpose food leftovers if there are any. For example, a roast pork belly does really well in a saucy stir-fry or stew, where the crispy, puffed-up skin soaps up all that flavour.
While I don’t really plan with leftovers in mind, I do plan my meals for the week in advance, and that helps me to create a grocery list that minimises food waste. For instance, if I intend to prepare a dish that requires daikon, I make an effort to include another dish (or two) in the week’s plan that will help me use up the entire (usually large) daikon, so none of it goes to waste. I then search for recipes to facilitate this approach, which also allows me to explore a variety of recipes at the same time.
A big thank you to Kai Lin and her husband, Weiqing, for hosting us.