Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Day After the Marathon

E ran his first ever marathon at the Sundown Marathon last night! An exhilarating all-nighter affair starting at midnight and only ending at 6 am this morning. Kudos to all those who finished the gruelling 42 km route and congratulations to Jeanette Wang who once again won the 84km ultra marathon in under 9 hours. Stayed up all night to support E and only managed to sleep 3 hours the whole of today. Bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, but still can't stop laughing at this video. It is SO TRUE.

IL Lido

IL Lido is known as a chic fine-dining place to hangout for the chi-chi crowd. Not being part of the chi-chi crowd, naturally E and I had not been there previously, so when the UOB credit card offer (one-for-one $38 set lunch) came along, this was too good an opportunity to pass up. So off we drove to Sentosa for a little exploration.

IL Lido is situated at the Sentosa Golf Club, commandeering the sea-facing cliff end, with great views of the Singapore Straits. The restaurant was done up in Italian minimalist chic style, with accents of neon colours sprinkled throughout - bright orange and bright green padded armchairs clashed with dark grey upholstered lounges. However, the decor looked a little tired and faded. Time for a renovation! Service was unpolished and unfriendly. The wait staff and especially the girl who showed us in seemed to radiate the attitude that restaurant diners are doing them a service by eating there...although I did notice that service seemed warmer towards the Caucasians. Tut tut.

The set lunch came with two options each for the starter and main course. For starters, we had a seared tuna salad and a potato soup. The tuna salad was good, with three generous thick slices of sweet tasty tuna very lightly seared to perfection. Unfortunately I could not say the same of the potato soup, which could best be described as bland and unexciting.

Moving on to main courses, we had a fettucine in a fresh tomato sauce with pesto, and a grilled spring chicken. Again, one (semi) hit and one miss. The al-dente pasta was beautifully cooked and complemented well by the heightened flavours of the fresh tomato sauce. However, the pesto sauce could have benefited from more assertive flavours - E thinks that this is because I have only ever eaten my own home-made pesto, which naturally tastes better and has stronger flavours of basil and pine nuts / parmesan cheese than the off-the-shelf type, since all the ingredients are freshly made. The chicken however, was quite a disappointment, since it was tough and dry from over-cooking. The strange sweetish jus also did nothing to bring out the natural flavours of the meat and the rosemary was strangely muted.

Dessert was somewhat lacklustre, comprising an assembly of apricot tart (with a soggy and not so buttery crust), a bland-tasting pistachio ice-cream, and a rather good jiggly creme caramel.

Verdict? IL Lido has definitely seen better days, and I can now see why it has fallen off the radar of foodies. No doubt the price that we were paying was really low. But even then, I do expect a fine-dining restaurant to maintain certain mininum standards of execution regardless - the restaurant chooses to offer promotions after all, so why do it if you are not sincere about it? This is not to say that our lunch was bad - it was actually quite good - but there is far better quality to be had at this price point (before discount) elsewhere, and without paying additional charges to enter Sentosa too.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Little Girl, Huge Pear

My 4 year old niece with a humongous pear the same size as her face.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mediocre Food, Crappy Attitude

Holland Village XO Fish Head Bee Hun, Blk 46 Holland Drive. $10 for a 2-person bowl of fish-head bee hoon with 6 small pieces of fish. Overly milky and salty stock with no depth of taste whatsoever. Horrible grumpy cocky attitude of the owners and helpers alike, as if their food is so good that everyone cannot wait to eat it - I am not paying to eat mediocre food and get scolded. Avoid this place like the plague. (The only reason why I was there was because we wanted to check out Big D's Grill in the same coffeeshop, which is sadly closed on Tuesdays.)

You are better off spending your money at Hong Kong Street Chun Kee at Alexandra Road, in the coffeeshop next to the AIA building. The fish head beehoon there is so much better and flavourful, with friendly service.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Teensy Egg Tarts

Teensy meensy egg tarts. These took a little bit more effort than my usual "lazy" recipes but turned out not too bad at all. Buttery and crumbly crust, although not quite enough custard filling, and the custard could have been a bit more jiggly. However, E took many without prompting, and continued eating one after the other, so I guess that's a kind of endorsement.

The day after I made this, I was reading Thomas Keller's Bouchon, which had a lot of helpful explanations about how to make quiche and why .....and it occurred to me that....egg tarts are actually the same as quiche! In light of this revelation, I have modified the original hit-and-miss recipe below (from Simply Her magazine) to incorporate Thomas Keller's nuggets of wisdom.

Recipe (makes about 23 mini egg tarts)
Pastry Crust: 120g flour, 80g butter, 2 tsp ice water, 1 egg yolk

Custard: 1 egg, 170ml milk, 60g castor sugar

To make the pastry, combine flour and butter and rub gently with fingertips until resembling breadcrumbs. Add ice water and a little of the egg yolk (you will not need the whole yolk) and mix to form a smooth dough. You will find that the dough is rather crumbly so add more liquid as needed for easy handling. Try not to handle or knead the dough too much, as you do not want gluten to form and become elastic/chewy rather than flaky. Chill at least 30 min or overnight before rolling out (in fact, better results if you freeze the dough and bake it still frozen).

When ready, roll the pastry into about 0.5 cm thickness and cut into approx 7 cm diameter circles with a cookie cutter (I use a knife and draw freehand). Fill mini muffin pans with the cut-out pastry circles, and line with dried beans (to keep the pastry from puffing up when it's being baked). Make sure that there are no cracks in the pastry, otherwise, patch it using dough scraps. Bake in a preheated 200 deg C oven for 20 min, until pastry shells are light brown.

Meanwhile, stir the custard ingredients together, ensuring that there are no bubbles. If you like, sieve for a more refined and smoother custard. Do not chill the mixture, it is important that the custard mixture should be at room temperature so that it can start cooking once it is in the oven (or it will saturate the pastry and make it soggy). Pour the custard mix into the baked pastry shells, and bake at 150 deg C, for about 15 - 20 min. The lower temperature allows the custard to set smoothly and not curdle. The custard may sink slightly in the middle upon cooking, if this happens, top up with more custard mix.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cosmetics Shopping Online

I was so pleased to find out the other day that this online site actually works! It was recommended by an ex-colleague (Mr Bang, the lobang king) some time back but I just never had the opportunity to purchase anything until now. Hehe.....SKII masks at half the retail price, delivered to my home, for free with purchases of over $50. The products look new and fresh (i.e. not close to expiry dates) too. Now that really rocks!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Only if desperate: Manpuku Japanese Gourmet Town

Since this was at the newly opened Tampines 1 mall so near where we live, and Sunday Times did have a brief quote from the owner that "the taste is authentic to that in Japan", we veered over here for a quick late-night dinner. BAD MOVE.

Alarm bells should have started ringing when we saw the "Marche" style concept where you just order and swipe a food card, paying only when you leave. ALL the stalls were manned by PRC workers (sorry, not that I have anything against them) which just means that the quality of the food is going to be inferior and non-authentic, because these are just employees who will have no ownership, love or passion for the product. We had the Aoba Hokkaido Ramen which left both of us sourly disappointed.

First, the egg. The photo above is poor quality and grainy, having been taken in low lighting conditions with a phone camera, but even then, it is super obvious that the egg yolk is OVERCOOKED and turning black / blue around the edges. Ramen is supposed to come with Ni Tamago, which has a soft and creamy egg yolk. I definitely do not want a hard-boiled egg with my ramen!

Second, the soup. No body, no robustness, just saltiness. Ramen soup MUST be boiled for days with pork bones. I don't think that happened here at all.

Third, the noodles. Okay, in all fairness, I thought they were not bad. Fairly springy and chewy. The critical E gave them the thumbs down though, complaining that they did not have the smoothness and slitheriness factor.

This place is expensive too. At $9.00 for the most basic ramen, self service, and this kind of quality? Hey, for a couple of bucks more, I get to eat at Miharu, for which the quality is so much better that it's incomparable, my egg is properly cooked, and I get full service with top ups of ice water and clear soup. Okay, back to Miharu or Menya Shinchan we go.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mac & Cheese

The humble Macaroni and Cheese seems to have been enjoying a sudden new lease of popularity. Once derided as humble nursery fare and indeed E's impression of it is "horrible dessicated re-hydrated Kraft instant TV dinner", the Sunday Times carried a feature a few weeks back about how different restaurants have been reinventing their own versions (Morton's of Chicago, Spruce, The White Rabbit).

The version here is from Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries, and I loved it. The herbs make all the difference, and I find it really attractive that one can easily whip up something so tasty with ingredients that are likely to be readily available in your pantry, and with very minimal effort.

Recipe (adapted from The Kitchen Diaries), serves 2
Small macaroni, penne or other short hollow dried pasta - 175g
full-cream milk: 500 ml
small onion, peeled and halved
a bay leaf
butter: 30g
plain flour: 30g
white peppercorns: 5 (I substituted this with a tiny pinch of dried mixed herbs)
Fontina cheese: 75g (I used aged mature cheddar which was what I had in the fridge)
smooth Dijon mustard: 0.5 teaspoon (I skipped this, not having any mustard)
grain mustard: 1 teaspoons (I skipped this)
fresh white breadcrumbs: 40g (I grated homemade bread to make breadcrumbs)
grated cheese - 2 tablespoons

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until tender, about 8 -9 minutes, and drain well. Warm the milk in a saucepan with onion and bay leaves. Turn off the heat as it comes to the boil. Melt the butter in another pan, add the flour and stir over moderate heat until a pale biscuit-coloured paste forms. Gradually pour in the milk and whisk till there are no lumps, then simmer over a very low heat until the sauce is the consistency of double cream, stirring continuously all the while. Crush the white peppercorns and season the sauce with the white pepper, a good grinding of black pepper and very little salt. Fold the drained pasta, the diced cheese and the mustard into the sauce.

Tip the mixture into a gratin dish. Toss the breadcrumbs with the grated cheese and scatter over the top. Bake for about 35 minutes. Check after 25 minutes for burning.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Grilled Shishamo on Toast for Brekkie

In Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries, he writes about having sardines on toast for a yummy breakfast or snack. Suitably inspired by his diary entry and since I had bought a huge pack of frozen shishamo - a type of small saltwater fish which is usually packed full of roe - I decided to panfry them and have them with the toasted delish home-made bread.

These little fish are a little hard to fry! (sorry, no pun intended). Use a non-stick pan, lightly oiled to prevent sticking. But bite into them and they are crispy and fragrant on the outside, and full of soft oozing savoury salty roe goodness on the inside. What could be more perfect for a slow and indulgent Sunday morning breakfast?

(Note: This breakfast might have been even more heavenly with a teeny squeeze of lemon juice and some chopped Chinese parsley. Try it out. )

Friday, May 15, 2009

Easy Home-made Bread

When I first came across this Artisan Bread in 5 minutes (Abin5) recipe concocted by a doctor, I was extremely sceptical. What, home-made bread without kneading and minimal proofing times??!! Being somewhat of a lazy cook prone to shortcuts, I had considered even Mark Bittman's famous no-knead bread (first made famous by the New York Times) out of the question, as it required lots of fiddly handling, messy towels and burns from hot cast iron pots aren't exactly my thing.
But back to Abin5 as its fans fondly call it. The basic recipe is absurdly simple, the time and effort needed, a mere doddle! My first attempt didn't turn out well - maybe my oven isn't that hot and has some cold spots? - while my second attempt was much, much better even if I did have to bake it for half an hour longer than the prescribed 30 minutes. It was nice and crusty (could be a bit more crusty, maybe I should add more steam into the oven), and had a slight sourd0ugh taste as I had left it in the tupperware container for 4 days (with an airtight lid! Oops! didn't read the instructions carefully) by the time I baked it. The inside of the bread was soft with nice crumb, and stayed soft the next day after re-heating. Slightly more dense than commercial breads, which use lots of nasty chemical stabilisers to achieve that effect anyway.
I think I'm onto something here....only, I'll have to remember not to use an airtight cover (let the gases released by the hardworking yeast escape!) and to bake the dough within 2 days if I don't want sourdough bread :-) Brilliant.
Recipe: Yields 4 loaves
1.5 tablespoons yeast
1.5 tablespoons sea salt
6.5 cups plain flour (1 cup is about 240 ml)
cornmeal for dusting
In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water (slightly above body temperature). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. Cover, but not with an airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or up to 5 hours). See my dough monster below. It TRIPLED in size in 2 hours.

Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut off a grapefruit-size piece with serrated knife. Turn dough in hands to lightly stretch surface, creating a rounded top and a lumpy bottom. Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it.

Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and turn oven to 230 deg C; heat stone at that temperature for 20 minutes.

Dust dough with flour, slash top with serrated or very sharp knife three times (be liberal with your dusting of flour, otherwise the knife can't cut through the dough). Slide onto stone. Pour one cup hot water into broiler pan and shut oven quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely.
Note: You don't have to use a baking stone. I baked mine in a oiled normal baking tin.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sui Japanese Dining

Never too late to find out that I really like Sui Dining, which is tucked away on quiet Craig Road off the busy Tanjong Pagar stretch. We had been wanting to go there for some time, but the price gave us some hesitation and the lure of the 50% Feed@Raffles discount at Inagiku meant that we kept on postponing our visit.
It was just as well that both UOB and Amex started giving 1-for-1 promotional offers ($98 for Amex, $128 for UOB) at Sui, which gave us just the push that we needed to try it out. And indeed Sui shines, even with the 1-for-1 (no compromises on quality!). The fish was so fresh and sweet, that it almost felt as though it had just been scooped out of the ocean this very instant. The aburi-ed swordfish simply melted in my mouth and I could not speak with the goodness of it. And the sushi moriwase! I've never tasted maki with nori (toasted seaweed) that was so fragrant and moreish... Sorry, Inagiku and Tatsuya, I think you've just been supplanted by this new find of mine....
The set lunches (less than $30) and omakase (starts from $60) are all too reasonably priced too, although those with big appetites would do well to be forewarned - this is a place where quality reigns over quantity.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Running with Nike

This little gadget is lots of fun. It comprises a transmitter and a receiver which you plug into your iPod, and it tracks how far and how fast you run. Paula Radcliffe or Lance Armstrong will cheer you on and announce how far you've run, and whether you've hit your targets. Also comes with internet-friendly widgets! Notice the little 'Mini-me' running on the left side of the blog? When I run often, she runs fast and leaps over hurdles/kickboxes. If I don't run, she gets lazy and sits on the floor / walks slowly / yawns, and says things like "I'm turning into a couch potato!".

This is a very fun and useful gadget, but it's a pity that not many shops in Singapore sell it - not even the main Nike outlets. E bought mine at Queensway for about $50 (you do need a Nike+ shoe which comes with a slot in the shoe base for you to put the transmitting device in). A very nice present for anyone who runs or is thinking about running.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Meiling's Awesome Cheesecake Recipe

So here it is, Meiling's awesome "no-bake" cheesecake recipe. Turns out perfect every single time.
Crushed digestive biscuits, 150g
Unsalted butter, 50g
Honey, 1 tablespoon
Melt butter in a pan and add the crushed biscuits and honey. Mix while hot. Press hard onto a 7" or 8" springform pan or detachable cake round placed on base., ensure that base is compacted. Chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
Cheese Filling
Gelatine, 15 g. "bloom" in 75g of cold water for 20 min.
Lime Juice (Peel Fresh or other brand), 120g. N.B. You can use other types of fruit juice, e.g. pink guava, orange juice. Or even better, use freshly squeezed orange juice, as I did.
Cream cheese, preferably Philadelphia brand, 1 pack of 250g (leave at room temp for at least 1 hour to soften)
Castor sugar, 80g
Egg yolk, 2 (very clean, no egg white)
Whipping cream, 300g.
Boil "bloomed" gelatine mixture together with gelatine, juice, cream cheese and sugar. Stir and mix well until cheese has fully melted and there are no lumps. Use a little of the hot mixture to stir into the egg yolks, then pour back the hot egg yolk into the pot, stirring well (if you don't do this and add the egg yolks directly into the pot, you will end up with scrambled eggs). Cool the mixture while carrying out the next step.
Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks (caution: DO NOT overwhip cream). Pour the cooled cheese mixture into the fresh whipped cream and mix well. Pour the cheese filling onto the prepared chilled crust, and chill for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight.
Slice and serve. Eat and enjoy.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Say Cheese!

I was feeling rather cheesed off on Friday. So for lunch, I took myself off to the tranquil seclusion of The Wine Company, Evans Road, which has a very affordably priced cheese platter. At $15 for a selection of cheddars, brie, camembert, and blue cheese, accompanied with some very crisp crackers, sweet grapes and berry jam, it is great for nibbles with wine. My favourites were the ripe bries, while my friend liked the smoked gouda. I like The Wine Company because it's just an oasis of calm, and is such great value-for-money (their burgers only cost $10). Thus I left feeling so much better and saner for what was left of the work week.

Little did I know then that a weekend of cheese awaited me, not that I am complaining. Sunday lunch comprised a provencale cheese fondue with crusty baguette. And of course, I made a cheesecake on Saturday night for Mothers' Day, as this is my mother's absolute favourite dessert and she finds that all the storebought ones pale compared to the one I make using Meiling's recipe :-)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Bouillabaisse, my way

It was 1230 pm by the time we got home last Saturday from an trip to Fassler seafood factory in Woodlands (another post, another time), and stomachs were growling angrily. What is fast to cook and good to eat, besides instant noodles?
Answer: Bouillabaisse, a traditional french fish stew made with a variety of firm-fleshed white fish and shellfish. A bottle of fish soup bought from Carrefour had been sitting in our pantry for some time. What could be simpler than to bring it to the boil, and add in chunks of fatty salmon belly, succulent oysters, and firm sweet prawns? (So I deviated from the "traditional" style of using non-oily fish. So? Tastes good to me. ) Sprinkle with chiffonaded parsley, and mop it up with chunks of crusty bread.
Bouillabaisse definition, from Wikepedia
Bouillabaisse is a traditional Provencal fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille. It is a fish soup containing different kinds of cooked fish and shellfish and vegetables, flavored with a variety of herbs and spices such as garlic, orange peel, basil, bay leaf, fennel and saffron. There are at least three kinds of fish in a traditional bouillabaisse, typically scorpionfish; sea robin; and European conger; and it can also include gilt-head bream; turbot; monkfish mullet; or silver hake. It also usually includes shellfish and other seafood such as sea urchins, mussels; small crabs; spider crab or octopus. More expensive versions may add langoustine. Vegetables such as leeks, onions, tomatoes, celery and potatoes are simmered together with the broth and served with the fish.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Brussels Sprouts

I have this very romantic notion of pots of mussels and belgian beer. It started as a student in London, when this mussels restaurant Belgo in the trendy Covent Garden area, was about the most "posh" place that we could afford. At a comparatively low price, we could eat our hearts out on 1 kg pots of mussels cooked in any type of sauce you fancied, drink frothy light fruit beers, and toss back schnapps, all in a wondefully noisy and atmospheric place where everyone including the waiters look like they're having lots of fun. Last I heard, Belgo was still very much popular among the student crowd, for its low low prices (get in before 6 and you only pay the price of the time that you order).
And all this nostalgia was why I was simply so keen to try Brussels Sprouts, a belgian bistro at the Robertson Quay area opened by celebrity chef Emmanuel Stroobant. Instead of the beloved 1 kg pots of Belgo, this place has smaller servings, at 350g for the starter sizes and 700g for the main sizes, served with free flow of addictive, chunky fries. Many different cooking styles to choose from, from the traditional white wine to local takes like curry. We took a pot of clams cooked ala vin blanc and a platter of provencale gratinated mussels. I didn't ask where the clams were from but they certainly were huge, sweet and juicy, with the white wine bringing out their taste perfectly. Was less enamoured with the gratinated mussels although E found them very good, perhaps because of my romanticized notions about the place.
So was Brussels Sprouts good? Yes of course. We got a good price too, at $25 for two starter sizes (or $50 for two main sizes, so long as you order before 7 pm, Mondays to Thursdays). Did it live up to my reminiscences? Well, nothing's ever quite as good as the carefree memories of the past, isn't it?

Porky Feast

Now, a swine flu pandemic is of course no matter to joke about. But we still have to live as normally as possible. What then best than to thumb one's nose at the growing atmosphere of fear and uncertainty and have a porky meal at two of the best places in town: Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh (Old Havelock Road) and Koh Brothers' Pig Innard Soup (Tiong Bahru Market).
Bak Kut Teh literally means "pork bone tea", although the pork bones come in savoury soup and you have tea on the side. I like Ya Hua's Bak Kut Teh which is of the peppery, garlicky and salty Teochew pedigree, and much prefer it to the herbal sort of bak kut teh. While Founders' is better-tasting, Ya Hua is pretty good and more convenient for us when having a late dinner after work. I always have multiple bowls of soup refill, yums.
Koh Brothers' Pig Innard Soup, meanwhile, is my all time favourite for innard soup. Clean and fresh tasting, with super addictive chilli. Tis a pity that their business appears to have been hard hit, first by the economic crisis, and now by the swine flu outbreak.