Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Party 2008

This year, we continued with our little "tradition" of having a few close friends come by for Christmas dinner. I decided to plan for a relatively easy-to-prepare meal, comprising:
Mushroom consomme. Sweat about 50g shallots (chopped) in 2 tablespoon of butter for about 3 minutes, add 400g of chopped fresh shitake mushrooms and continue to sweat for a further 5 minutes. Add 300ml of chicken stock and 570ml of water (I substituted by using turkey stock made from the bones of two large turkeys that had been served for the office Christmas party on Christmas eve). Bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hour. Sieve the soup, discarding the mushrooms. Alternatively, for a more creamy soup with a stronger and earthier mushroom fragrance, puree the mushrooms in a blender.
I loved this soup. It was really tasty, even without me adding any salt.
Twice-cooked Roast Duck, Neil Perry style, with orange sauce. Season the duck with sea salt, inside and out. Steam for 45 minutes and allow to cool. Rub with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil, and roast in an oven at 230 deg C for around 45 minutes or till skin is crispy brown, turning over the duck midway through (I roasted for 1 hour, and turned on the grill for the last 10 minutes to get the desired crisping effect).
I can't remember how I made the orange sauce - through lots of trial and error, but the party seemed to love it and finished it up.
The taste of the duck was quite good and fragrant, although I personally felt that the texture was rather touch (E later reassured me that the natural texture of duck meat is rather tough so that was to be expected). Nothing really special about this dish though, I would probably do something else next time.
BBQed Asparagus. Trim the tough ends off the stalks of medium sized asparagus, and do some further peeling if necessary. Toss the stalks in a bowl with sea salt and olive oil. Sauteed over a hot grill for 2 min on each side. Serve with a small squeeze of lemon.
Delightfully smoky in taste while still preserving the bite of the stalks and subtle sweetness of the asparagus.
Dessert was a fruit assembly of sliced peaches, kiwis and sweet korean strawberries, served with a generous topping of a ricotta cheese-egg yolk custard, designed, supplied, and (partly assembled) by my friend TT. I also served home-made cranberry ice cream as well as coffee with chocolate chip ice cream which were also very well received by my lovely friends and husband - recipes will be posted at later date.
Here's looking forward to a great year-end celebration and New Year ahead!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Seremban Beef Noodles

Well after 3 days of feasting in Penang it was time to take the drive back to Singapore, but one of our most memorable meals before we reached home was in a stopover at Seremban, just off the North-South Highway.  This is the most famous beef noodle stall in Seremban, and was started by Mr Goh more than 60 years ago, now being run by his daughter Mdm Goh and her husband.   The dry version, which is extremely superb, comes with a thick gravy spooned over the thick slippery smooth udon-like noodles, redolent with the scent of spices, topped with peanuts and sesame seeds.  E was in heaven after tasting it.  The soup version is also good, with a robust and sweet tasting stock, although I personally prefer the version served up by Mr Wong's Seremban Beef Noodles in Singapore, which has a stronger seasoning and comes with added sweetness from braised carrot and radish. 

(Back in Singapore, Mr Wong of Mr Wong's Seremban Beef Noodles in the hawker centre next to Parkway Parade, learnt the trade from these folks about 3 years ago - they are his cousins and Mdm Goh even helped out at the Parkway Parade stall in the initial stage for more than a month to help her cousin get on track.   She was really happy to hear from us that his stall is doing very well now - be prepared to wait for half an hour or more.  Now doesn't that give you a warm fuzzy feeling?)

Seremban Beef Noodles: Stall 748, Pasar Besar Seremban, Jalan Pasar

Nyonya Kueh from Moh Teng Peow, Penang

Tucked away in a little back lane along Chulia Street (next to Sky Hotel), the entrance of this kueh shop looks unprepossessing, even a little dingy at first glance.  Entering with some trepidition, the shop looked deserted initially - we later found out that the shop does mostly bulk orders now, and not retail - but then the friendly owner Mr Mook came out and started cutting up some kueh for us and even waved away our offers to pay him.    The kueh were truly delicious (their being free had nothing to do with it), with a super smooth texture and strong coconut milk fragrance, and even came with a topping of kaya on the side.  
Moh Teng Pheow Nyonya Kuih, 53 Muntri Street

Kway Chap (super potent)

Well after eating the char kway teow we promptly proceeded to cross the road to one of the top kway chap stalls in Penang.  Oh my god, it was sooooo good.  A bowl of square rice noodles cooked in pork/duck broth, topped off with a generous serving of pork offal, duck meat, braisedhard-boiled eggs, and my favourite - coagulated pigs' blood.  I know it sounds really gross but I really like to eat coagulated blood and had been deprived for more than 15 years, ever since the Singapore authorities banned fresh pork and pork products from Malaysia.   Real comfort food!  While the noodles were not so refined and smooth, I still give this bowl top marks for its nostalgic flavour for me.   A bowl sells for a mere RM5 (SGD 2.30). 

Yummy Penang Char Kway Teow

Mention Penang street food and one of the oft mentioned would be its char kway teow.  It's cooked in a different style from the Singapore version, which uses sweet dark sauce, which I don't really like (because then you basically only taste the sauce).   This plate came from one of Penang's top char kway teow stalls, at a pushcart outside Kedai Kopi Sin Guat Keong, at Kimberley Street.  While we didn't have enough time to try the most famous Sisters Fried Kway Teow at Macalister Road, I really liked this rendition.  His version is very savoury with sweetness from seafood as prawn-infused oil is used to fry it.   The consistency was great, sticky with still slightly runny egg, and with the "wok hei" of quickly stir-fried kway teow over super high heat.  Very cheap at only RM2.50 (SGD 1.10). Yumms.  What's next? 

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Assam Laksa (also known as Penang Laksa)

I love Penang laksa. It's tangy, mouthwatering, and not too heavy in contrast to the "lemak" variety of laksa sold here in Singapore. Unfortunately I have not been able to get good Penang laksa in Singapore since the stall I used to frequent at Roxy Square closed down.
So in a bid to hunt for great assam laksa in Penang, we drove more than 45 minutes from Gurney Drive to Balik Pulau, a small market town right in the centre of Penang island, to track down this stall. Yum yum, the stock passed the test, it was thick with fish, tangy with assam (or tamarind), and had a generous serving of onions and herbs for garnish, as well as prawn paste on the side. We ate one bowl each and that was not enough, so we walked back into the shop and ordered another bowl each of the Siamese version (with some coconut milk added), well that was rather embarrassing. But, why be shy when it comes to good food?
Nan Guang Kedai Kopi, 67, Main Road, Balik Pulau

Sea Pearl Lagoon Cafe

For our first night in Penang, we wanted to eat some delicious seafood. This hard-to-find place gave us one of the most memorable experiences of the Penang trip. Tucked away down a nondescript little lane, with no signages and parking next to a Chinese temple, a collection of stalls serve up seafood next to the sea. The grilled crabs tasted wonderfully succulent, sweet and briny and what with the light breeze wafting salty sea air, the entire experience was magical. Affordable seafood at about 30SGD for two.
338 Mk.18, Tanjung Tokong (we found our way there with the aid of a GPS system)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ipoh Hor Fun in Ipoh

On the road to Penang, we made a short detour to Ipoh for lunch, arriving at around 1.30pm. Ipoh is famed for its hor fun, or rice noodles, as their noodles are supposedly much more silky smooth than those made elsewhere. Restoran Lou Wong Tauge Ayam Kuetiau is one of the most famous and popular places around to eat chicken and hor fun, and this was where we found ourselves that afternoon. The place was jam packed with hungry families but service and turnover were extremely fast. We ordered what everyone else seemed to be having - white boiled chicken, fried bean sprout (or tauge), accompanied by two bowls of plain hor fun noodles in chicken soup. The hor fun was indeed very smooth although a tad too oily for my taste. Chicken and tauge were likewise quite oily and while very tasty and delicious (with super fat and crunchy bean sprouts), not super spectacular. Well it was a cheap and good meal at only RM14.4 (or SGD 13), and a good pit stop for us.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Eastern and Oriental Hotel, Penang

The Eastern and Oriental Hotel in Georgetown, was where we moved to the next day, and boy, was it really beautiful! Started by the Sarkies brothers who also built the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, E & O went into a period of decline in the earlier decades but underwent a 5-year complete restoration and re-opened its doors in 2001. And it is stunning indeed - white-washed walls, dark wooden polished furniture, Afghan carpets, shuttered windows, wooden panelling on the floor.... the hotel just exudes an air of elegance and calm. All the rooms are suites, with separate living and sleeping quarters, that look out onto the sea. Can't describe how wonderful it is to wake in the morning to the sound of waves lapping on the stone breakwater below. At SGD 250 a night, this is a real steal for a gem of an experience (Raffles Hotel costs a jaw dropping SGD 1000 a night). The E& O offers complimentary valet parking for hotel guests which is really a nice perk.

Going the Mile for Food

E and I literally went the mile for food this week ... to be exact, 800 km. The day after we took part in the Standard Chartered run, we were off driving to Penang to pile back all those calories that we expended running!
We started from the eastern part of Singapore at 5 am in the morning, and were in Penang by 4 pm (with a short detour to Ipoh to partake of their famous hor fun, but more on that later). For the first night, we stayed in G Hotel, which is a new hotel located just next to Gurney Plaza, on Gurney Drive. G Hotel is branded as a hip and happening place, in an extremely central location. It looks extremely sexy in the photos, no? However the quality of the finishings and furnishings is not really good (think Ikea or knock-down furniture quality), and in a few years time without proper maintenance, I suspect that the hotel will no longer be quite so nice. Toiletries were not of high quality either - plus, they strangely gave only one of each (one toothbrush, one comb, one pair of slippers). Nevertheless we were happy with it at the price we paid (SGD 160 per night) and it served its function as a relatively affordable option for a late check-in well.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Brother's Birthday Cake

This year, I decided to make a banana cake coated with chocolate ganache for my brother's birthday. This was an easy cake to make, and turned out fragrant, soft and moist (but not overly so), although we felt that more banana would have been nicer. I used a recipe taken from Chubby Hubby's website, and did up a chocolate ganache, all in it took about 45 min prep time (including ganache and icing), and 30 min baking time.

I have reproduced the recipe here, with my own additional annotations:
Banana Cake
2 and 1/4 cups (295g) flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (210g) sugar
240g unsalted butter
4 eggs, beaten
4 bananas (about 375 g), mashed (can add one more banana, but reduce milk by 1 Tbs if doing so)
5 Tbs milk
1 tsp vanilla essence (I would skip this the next time, felt that it overpowered the taste of banana)
Sift flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a bowl. Cream butter and sugar until creamy white (about 10 min, be patient). Add beaten eggs a little at a time. Beat well after each addition. Add vanilla, milk and mashed bananas. Fold in flour and blend well. Pour mixture into muffin cups (or cake tin, i used half the quantities above which fitted nicely in a 8'' tin) and bake at 180 deg C for 25-30 min or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Chocolate Ganache
100 g dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
Bring the heavy cream to a boil, remove from heat and add in chocolate. Stir till chocolate is melted. Let cool for a few min and spread over cake.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tomo, Marina Square

As part of our jaunt out at the Ritz-Carlton, we decided to sample the lunch sets at Tomo, which are priced very affordably at about $20. I had eaten at Tomo once previously many months ago, taking a 10-course dinner set, but did not blog about it then, as it was good but not spectacular (also, lighting was so bad that no photos were possible).
This time round, we were pleasantly surprised. E had the sushi set, while I had the unagi set and I think E made the best choice. His sushi was aburi-ed i.e. seared very quickly using high heat from a blowtorch, so that the outside is slightly charred and the fish oils ooze out into the rice with the best imaginable fragrance. Whereas my unagi set was decent and serviceable, and probably not the best gauge of what this restaurant can deliver as raved about by Skinny Epicurean and scores of other gourmands. To get the best sense, you really have to order omakase (i.e. leave it to the chef) which I am always slightly apprehensive about and think it's a bit of an extravagance.
While Tomo hardly has the best ambience (think hard, dark wooden furnishings, no particular theme), it would make a very decent choice indeed for a lunch in the Marina Square area, at a very affordable rate. Do try it, and support the restaurant business, which has been hit badly by the ongoing financial crisis - there were only two occupied tables (including us) during a Saturday lunch at Tomo - and other restaurants I frequent have told me that they are struggling too.