Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas Party 2007

A rather late post, as we had our usual small get-together session with close friends one week ago. I planned the menu way in advance to make sure that my small kitchen and cooking apparatus could cope with feeding six people! What we had:
  • Garden salad with baby carrots, baby butterhead lettuce, cherry tomatoes and homemade basil vinaigrette. Vinaigrette made by pounding 15g of basil leaves and 1 clove of garlic, add a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice in the ratio of 3 to 1 and stir well. Don't add the lemon juice too much in advance as it turns the basil brown.)
  • Hand-made prawn ravioli with saffron brown butter. The pasta skins were hand-made that day from fresh egg pasta, and the ravioli was then stuffed with minced prawn, grated parmesan cheese, and finely chopped curly parsley. The butter was heated until just turning brown, with a aromatic nutty flavour, and the saffron which had been pre-soaked in water, added to the butter and spooned over the blanched ravioli.
  • Juicy roast chicken. I used Sakura chicken, which is supposed to be sweeter and with fewer injected hormones, and brined it for 6 hours. Brine made based on Thomas Keller's formula: 60 g sea salt to 1 litre of water, 1 sprig of rosemary, 1 sprig of thyme, 1 bulb of garlic (skins left on and crushed), 1 tablespoon of honey. Chicken was roasted at 250 deg C for 1 hour. This method is supposed to produce very juicy, evenly brown roasted chicken. Indeed, the breast meat (which usually dries up into a tough strip) was amazingly tender and juicy after the roasting although the chicken didn't get that brown... (we managed to get it very evenly brown on an earlier attempt though).
  • Chocolate fudge cake and strawberry rolls. Okay not made by me - this was from Polar the cake shop. Had wanted to make tiramisu, but we got a voucher for a free fudge cake a few days before and had to use it up. Nonetheless, I still got to exercise my creative skills by using Polar's famous sugar rolls, adding homemade strawberry jam on top, garnishing with dried strawberry pieces, and finishing off with a dusting of icing sugar and a sprig of mint!

My balcony herb garden came into good use that day! Most of all, we had a great time with our friends and played Taboo until late that night. Already looking forward to the next year's party, for which I've already committed that I will prepare a Christmas log cake.

N.B. Photos are not ready yet.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Post-Holiday Decadence: Braised Pork Belly With Chilli

In the mood for some good old fatty pork belly today, with thick sauce ladled over steaming white rice. This is real comfort food! Recipe adapted from one in Neil Perry's Good Food.
1. Take 1/2 kg of pork belly, and cut into chunks. Heat up some oil in a large frying pan and fry the pork belly, adding some sea salt at the same time. Fry the pork belly over medium heat for half an hour, turning occasionally, till the pork is brown and some of the fat has melted off. Pour away the excess fat.
2. While frying the pork belly, mash up 2 cloves of garlic and 5 dried chillies (I used fresh chillies which works well too) into a puree. Add this mixture together with 2 cups of water to the pork belly mixture, one bay leaf, and 1 piece of orange rind (I used fresh orange peel but the dried orange peel available at traditional chinese medicine halls would be good too). Neil Perry's recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin which I skipped as I did not have it readily available in my store cupboards.
3. Braise the mixture for 2 hours, adding water as needed, till the pork is meltingly tender and the sauce has thickened.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Pork Chops with Ginger, Mint and Lemon

A recipe inspired by one in Neil Perry's The Food I Love for lamb. This is pretty easy and basic and is very refreshing to the palate. It is especially good for hot muggy days with a glass of ice soda or lemonade. You only need a bit of effort to make the marinade.
Pound 1 small garlic clove, 1 tablespoon of chopped mint, 1 small nub of chopped young ginger, 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt, 1 tablespoon of chopped coriander leaves, in a mortar. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and about 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Marinade 2 pork chops in the mixture for at least 1 hour. Grill or pan fry the pork chops till slightly browned.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thomas Keller and Michel Roux in my house

Yes, on my bookshelves! (Although they are obviously not on bookshelves in this picture) The French Laundry cookbook has drool-worthy descriptions (food porn alert!) and pictures, while Le Bouchon's recipes are more accessible as they are based on bistro food. Michel Roux's Eggs is very user-friendly and has lots of recipes for the humble egg. Have already planned some menus around recipes in these books. A lovely present from E.

Eng Seng Black Pepper Crab

We wanted to eat the famous Crab Bee Hoon at Sin Huat Coffee Shop (Geylang Lor 35) but at 4.30 pm in the afternoon, the owner and chef Danny was still fast asleep at home! So it was a short detour down to the trusty Eng Seng (junction of Joo Chiat Place and Still Road) for the black pepper crabs. This is seriously good stuff - the black pepper sauce is thick, redolent with fragrant butter and crushed black peppercorns. We mopped up every single last drop of it. Go very early if you want to eat - we placed our orders at 5 pm and all the crabs were sold out by 6.15 pm. On weekends a long snaking queue outside the coffeeshop starts forming at 5 pm and there are no crabs left by 6.30 pm (they sell these crabs by the cartons).
You can also order these for takeaway (dabao) and shortcircuit the queue, just head to the front of the queue, place your order for takeaway, and the aunties will give you a timing to come back and collect your crabs (usually about 1.5 hours later).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Morton's of Chicago

I had been wanting to eat at Morton's for a very long time, except that the prices were quite daunting and hence we never really got up the will to go. Last Thursday evening we finally got up the momentum to step into that revered place of the huge American steaks. And yes, it was indeed very good - they use beef that has been dry-aged for at least 3 weeks (basically hanging the beef up in a very tightly controlled environment), so that the beef is absolutely flavourful. Our bone-in rib-eye steak came with a lovely charred exterior and a smokey flavour, with a pink juicy and tender interior. However, rather embarressing, we had such small appetites that we had to share the ribeye steak (well I plead that it's huge), and couldn't finish our two sides of sauteed wild mushrooms and lyonnaise potato. Next time, we'll just focus on the star of the show!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Of Fries and Fish

Pardon the cheeky pun. This is not a post about fish and chips, but rather, about baby fish (which are also known as fries). I have been keeping goldfish for a few years now, and they've started spawning since last year.

The attrition rate is extremely high although they lay hundreds of eggs at one go, so from last November's crop of eggs, I only had 2 surviving goldfish, one of which died 2 months ago. But the sole survivor, I am pleased to report, is doing well and in fact herself laid eggs 3 weeks ago, which have hatched out into that little fry that you see in the photo above. The other photo shows the father who is huge - around the size of my hand with fingers outstretched.

These little fries need a lot of attention, which is why I've been somewhat distracted from my cooking!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Price of Inflation

There's been quite a lot of talk in Singapore lately about the levels that inflation is reaching, with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rising by close to 4% on a year-on-year basis. I actually think that the CPI is a flawed measure of inflation, because it simply tracks price fluctuations in a stipulated basket of goods without regard to the quality of those goods. So, the actual effect of inflation felt by the man-in-the-street is likely to be more than 4% if he does not cut back on his spending, or substitute the more expensive goods for another cheaper one, of lower quality. (Well I am an armchair critic as I have no other better solution to offer the Department of Statistics, so CPI is imperfect but there seem to be no alternatives.)

This point was felt particularly actutely when me and E had dinner tonight at my favourite steamboat place, Thien Kee steamboat (basement of Golden Mile Tower), Thien Kee had about half a year ago increased prices from $18 to $20 for a small set. Today, we noticed that even for the small set, the quantity had shrunk very noticeably - e.g. instead of 3 prawns, they gave 2 prawns. Compounding the effect, this would equal a price increase of about 20% or more???

Sadly, since Thien Kee is not a substitutible good for me (nothing else will do), we will have to continue paying the increased prices. Unlike us however, the lower-income in Singapore don't have the luxury of being able to make such choices, and do they then suffer from a drop in the quality of life as the cost of living goes up?