Tell us about yourself
I've had a colourful career but the common theme as I look back has always revolved around food, drinks and writing. I have a bachelor’s in Business Management with a major in Hotel and Restaurant Management. I've worked in family restaurants and a five-star hotel, moved to a newspaper because I love to write, then got poached by Diageo Philippines, a drinks distribution company with brands like Dom Pérignon, Veuve Clicquot and Johnnie Walker and Smirnoff. I then moved to the Netherlands where I taught at an international business school in The Hague. I was also writing for various expat publications, opened a furniture distribution store, had two babies, then moved to Malaysia!
When I moved to KL seven years ago, I wrote an expat column called Accents for The Star newspaper for five years. I also wrote for Expatriate Lifestyle and was the business development manager for [furniture showroom] Laura Wilkinson's Living in Bangsar. I then invested in a food production company supplying ready-to eat-meals at Jason’s Food Hall and other supermarkets. Since then I’ve been focusing on this cookbook project with Pernille Reck, my co-author.
Inspiration for the cookbook
We had an American friend who used to live here, and she always asked us what we were making for dinner. When she moved back to New York, our group of friends decided that the best farewell present would be for each one of us to contribute easy recipes and create a cookbook for her to bring home. That’s where the idea originally started. Thinking of what to cook for dinner every day can be daunting, and we tend to prepare dishes we’re familiar with. When Pernille (who’s also a caterer) broached the idea of a cookbook, I told her that I was toying with the idea of collecting recipes from expat women we knew and compiling them into a book.
Photo: Melinda Roos
Homecooked meals and eating together make a family closer
We sit down as a family every night for dinner, except when my husband or I are otherwise engaged. Homecooked meals are much healthier as you can use fresh ingredients and you know exactly what goes into your food. It’s also more intimate. My ten-year-old loves to cook and she can whip up a tomato soup or simple pesto pasta on her own from scratch. She’s watched me cook and do the groceries so she’s familiar with the ingredients. It’s also a great way to bond as she loves to learn how to create dishes while her younger sister likes to do the plating and garnishing. I’ve so many happy memories in the kitchen growing up, watching my grandmother and aunts cooking and sharing stories.
We have a rule of no gadgets at the dinner table. Mealtimes create opportunities to catch up on what’s happened during the day. Children are more open and chatty when they’re relaxed, and nothing brings more pleasure than sharing food together.
I believe it's good for a child’s mental and emotional wellbeing and it’s a time to reinforce table manners, educate them about new food and to try new things, especially when you live abroad. We also ensure that they try a new dish before they can say they don’t like it. Eating together provides a sense of security and belonging, and hopefully lead to healthy food choices and habits when they grow up.
Favourite recipe in the book
I have so many favourites, but if I had to choose it would be the Seafood Paella and Gambas Al Ajillo (sautéed prawns with garlic) as they remind me of home. The Philippines has a strong Spanish influence, and my friend Beatriz, who contributed the paella recipe, taught me a lot. I love Magdalena's goulash recipe – it’s my favourite winter comfort food and a great après-ski dish. I learnt how to make the grilled aubergine with soya sauce at a Vietnamese cooking course in Hoi An, which I did with my daughter as a birthday present. These recipes evoke memories, which is why they are my favourite.
Photo: Melinda Roos
A three-course meal to impress dinner guests
I love serving platters as a starter – cheese (brie, blue Stilton, Pecorino, Manchego, Emmental), charcuterie (speck, salami, Bresaola, prosciutto) – with rustic Italian bread or baguette, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, olives and caramelised walnuts. Arranged on black or white slate, they never fail to impress!
For the main, there would be two kinds of ravioli – one with a light sage and butter sauce and the other, a herbed ravioli in ragù (Italian tomato-based sauce). A refreshing lemon panna cotta with raspberry coulis ends the meal perfectly.
Where to get the cookbook
The Kitchen Secrets Of Expat Women cookbook retails for RM75 and is available at the Silverfish Bookstore (Bangsar Village 2), Ambiance stores (Bangsar Shopping Centre, 1 Mont Kiara, G Village), Batik Boutique (Desa Sri Hartamas) and Valencia Greens (Valencia, Sungai Buloh).
In Singapore, the book is distributed by Mary Martin Booksellers at Bras Basah Complex. In North America, it’s available at Blue Willow Books in Houston, Texas, where co-author Pernille, is currently residing. The book can also be ordered online on Amazon.com in the US and Canada for USD35. It will soon be available on Amazon UK; and Bol.com in the Netherlands in the coming months.
The cookbook is filled with family-friendly recipes that are simple to prepare using readily available ingredients. This is home cooking at its easiest and tastiest, and you’ll be glad to have the book on hand when you’re trying to think of what to cook next for dinner!