There are nights when I cannot get to bed fast enough. And no, it is not because I am tired or sleepy.
Rather, I want to spend quality time watching cooking videos on YouTube.
This singular pleasure, for which I feel zero guilt, has spurred me to get cooking, always a good thing for a sloth like me. I prefer them to cooking shows on cable or free-to-air television.
YouTube cooks seem more real, less rehearsed and polished. Their personalities and quirks are a big part of what keeps me watching.
It all started about three years ago because a friend mentioned the Cooking With Dog videos while we were shooting the breeze, and I looked them up later.
The channel is kooky, to say the least.
A Tokyo-based Japanese home cook, whose name is never revealed, does the heavy lifting. Sitting next to her is Francis, a grey toy poodle who "narrates" the show in English.
Predictably, I was hooked after watching one episode. I love the way Francis says "pang" rather than pan, and the chef's recipes are usually easy to follow. Like many fans, I mourned when he died in 2016.
Another Japanese favourite is Ochikeron, mostly because her languid cooking style is mesmerising. I started watching her videos after stumbling on one for two-ingredient chocolate cake. Imagine making a beautiful souffle cake using just chocolate and eggs.
I love the way this Tokyo-based mother of two uses shortcuts shamelessly. One video I watched recently involved using a cut-up hotdog bun as filling for melon pan. Weird but true.
Last year, I became obsessed with Korean food, mostly because of a raging pickle obsession. After making simple tsukemono (Japanese pickles), I started wondering if I could make kimchi.
Naturally, I turned to YouTube and the three channels I go to most often are Maangchi, Future Neighbor and Asian At Home.
Maangchi, which is hammer in Korean, is the name New York-based Emily Kim used for her avatar, when she was an online gaming addict.
She looks much younger than her 60 years, but has a take-charge, can-do manner that makes me think I can tackle difficult Korean dishes. She is there to guide me after all.
Her bright outfits and fascination with frilly headgear are quite endearing.
Mostly, I like that her recipes are sane and doable. I started with radish kimchi, did not poison myself after eating it, and moved on to mak kimchi, a rough version using cut-up pieces of napa cabbage rather than halved or quartered heads of cabbage.
Along the way, I discovered her other recipes, particularly those for banchan, or side dishes served with Korean meals. As far as I'm concerned, they are usually the stars of those meals.
Exploring the mind-boggling variety of banchan led me to Future Neighbor, a series of videos by Daniel and Katie, who live in Seoul.
They look to be in their 20s and started their channel because they, too, loved watching videos by chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay before bedtime. Their mission is to demystify Korean food and get more people interested in cooking it.
Daniel, born in South Korea but schooled in the United States, is the more serious of the two. But he does a good job of appealing to millennials, measuring ingredients such as carrots and spring onions using finger or forearm lengths.
Seonkyoung Longest, based in the US, is behind Asian At Home. Her perpetually peppy personality grates on my nerves at times, but that woman, who used to be a cartoonist and professional belly dancer, can cook. I made beautiful Korean-style steamed egg, gyeran jjim, using her recipe, and the taste of her marinated soya bean sprouts is on point.
I follow the recipe that appeals to me most, at least once, then go ahead and tweak it when I make it subsequently.
The recipe this week is for chive pancakes. If it were strictly a Korean recipe, it would be called buchujeon. But I am paying tribute to all these night-time companions by using techniques I have learnt from them, and putting in my own touches.
I usually have dashi in the freezer and this recipe calls for just 170ml.
You can buy salt-and MSG-free dashi granules in Japanese supermarkets and they are easy to use if you don't want to make your own from scratch.
I would not worry about adding salt to the batter because the pancakes are dipped in a simple mix of soya sauce and rice vinegar. Blandness will not be a problem.
Now, I have made large pancakes 22cm and 24cm in diameter, but I find that 16cm ones turn out more crisp.
I use a silicone spatula 15cm in diameter to flip the pancakes over because I have a fear of flopping when flipping. Unlike Maangchi, I cannot bring myself to do it using momentum alone.
If you prefer to make a larger pancake and are a coward like me, use two large silicone spatulas, or a cake shovel - basically a round, 20 to 22cm wide spatula usually used for transferring cake layers. Slide the pancake onto it, then flip it back onto the pan carefully.
Of course, making one large pancake means everyone can tuck in together. But I find the second pancake usually turns out better. And the cook gets to eat that one.
As Francis says at the end of each video: "Good luck in the kitchin!"
- 2 Tbs soya sauce or shoyu
- 2 Tbs rice vinegar
- 150g garlic chives
- 2 large red chillies
- 100g shelled medium-sized prawns
- 60g plain flour
- 40g potato starch
- 170ml cold dashi or 1 tsp dashi stock granules and 170ml cold water
- 4 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
- Combine the soya sauce and rice vinegar in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Rinse the garlic chives under running water. Remove and discard any grit or wilted leaves. Pat dry with paper towels. Cut crosswise into 1cm-wide pieces. Slice the red chillies thinly on the diagonal.
- Devein the prawns and cut each one crosswise into three or four pieces.
- Combine the plain flour and potato starch in a medium mixing bowl. If using cold dashi, add it to the dry ingredients and stir with a metal spoon until no lumps remain. If using dashi stock granules, add the granules to the flour and potato starch, stir to combine, add the cold water and stir with a metal spoon until no lumps remain. Add the chives, chillies and prawns to the batter. There should be more ingredients than batter.
- Place a frying pan 16cm in diameter over medium heat. Add 1 tsp of sesame oil. When it is hot, add half the batter to the pan, using a metal spoon to spread the batter out evenly. Cook for two minutes. After one minute, shake the pan back and forth to loosen the pancake from the pan. When the two minutes are up, turn the heat up to medium high and cook for one minute, shaking the pancake back and forth.
- Flip the pancake over using a large spatula, turn the heat back down to medium and cook for two minutes. Drizzle 1 tsp of sesame oil around the circumference of the pancake and continue to shake back and forth. After two minutes, turn the heat up to medium high and cook for one minute.
- Add the sesame seeds to the soya sauce and vinegar dip, cut the pancake into pieces and serve immediately with the dipping sauce.
- Follow steps 5 and 6 to make another pancake with the remaining batter. Cut and serve.
Makes two 16cm pancakes, serving four as an appetiser
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.