Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Random Vignettes

Bought too much mango last weekend. 5 gigantic Taiwanese honey mangoes, each twice the size of a man's hand. Mangos are heaty so eating too much will make one prone to sour throats and mouth ulcers. Maybe I could make some into sorbet which keeps for a while longer, to spread out the damage.


Have been spending a lot of time lately musing on life and the curveballs that it throws at us. The laws of probability never seems to work in your favour, bad things happen to good people, and there aren't enough reasons in the world to explain why some stuff happens the way it does.


Bloody annoyed with Japan Hour last Saturday, which tempted me with lovingly lingering shots of chiraishi bowls bedecked with Hokkaido snow crab, jewelled ikura, and creamy uni. Forbidden fruit always seems so alluring.


Going for Ballet Under the Stars in two weeks time. Have not been for a while. Love the whole picnic experience to bits but no idea of what to cook this time round. Might just take the lazy option and buy some Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Big D's Grill

Well we just had to go back to the coffeeshop at Blk 46 Holland Drive, having braved the disastrous fish head beehoon as a substitute for Big D's Grill which was not open that day. On Friday, Big D's was open, and we happily ordered the crab linguine and pork loin. Our food came very fast, within 10 minutes, although it was cooked not by Big D himself, but by some youngsters (eerily reminiscent of a couple of bad experiences at Aston's). E pronounced the crab linguine as "not bad" - it had a generous serving of shredded crab cooked in tomato base spiked with chilli, and linguine was nicely al dente. My pork loin though, was just average. The sides (yummy baked beans and very smooth mashed potato with a hint of sour cream) fared better.

A decent meal but not one that I would come back specially for, at these prices ($10 and up).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ugly Macarons

I have no idea what in the world possessed me to try and make macarons on last Sunday afternoon. Suffice to say that I was demented and stressed during those few hours. These are tricky buggers to make! Of the 20 or so that I baked, only 3 developed the requisite frilly "feet". The rest had hollow tops, cracked domes, and were odd shaped (okay, that was my own fault for using an improvised piping bag from a cut-out plastic bag with no piping tip). In any case, they tasted good, if a tad sweet.
Will post recipe if I managed to bake them successfully in future but don't count on it. There's a lot of strange factors involved (humidity, amount of folding into the egg whites, aging of raw egg whites, type of bowl used blah blah blah) which makes me think that getting it right is kind of like magic.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Vietnamese-style Pork Terrine

This pork terrine is absolutely fabulous, and a hoot to prepare. This recipe from Sylvia Tan first appeared in the Mind Your Body supplement to the Straits Times, which means that it is also a good-for-you meal. Jam-packed with lots of herbs, with some spice from the addition of red chillies, onions, and garlic, this is so super fragrant and more-ish that I kept on sneaking little bits to snack on. Just use a food processor to chop up the herbs if you don't want to be chopping for the better part of one hour like the first time I prepared this dish.

Vietnamese-style Pork Terrine
A bunch each of mint, basil, laksa and coriander leaves, chopped
2 large red chillies, deseeded and chopped
1/2 cup dried black fungus, soaked to rehydrate and chopped finely
500g lean minced pork
1 red onion, peeled and chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely
salt to taste (I personally find that 1/2 teaspoon works well)
1 tsp fish sauce
white pepper to taste
1 egg

Mix the finely chopped herbs, chillies, black fungus, onion, garlic, and the egg, together with the minced pork. Season with the salt, fish sauce and pepper. Mix well and throw the mixture a few times against the side of the mixing bowl to get a bouncy texture when cooked.

Preheat the oven to 160 deg C. Oil the inside of a loaf tin or ramekin (or use the non-stick versions) and pack the seasoned meat in tightly. Cover with a piece of foil to keep the meat moist during the cooking. Place the filled loaf tin in an oven tray and pour water into the tray until it reaches half of the tin, to ensure gentle cooking. Cook for about half an hour in the oven. Check for done-ness by inserting a skewer into the centre - when the juice runs clear, it is cooked.

When cool, remove the terrine and slice. Eat with warm baguette slices, accompanied by fresh ettuce, and fresh mint/basil/coriander leaves.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Duck Confit at Vista Bistro

Headed to the new Playground@Big Splash, along the East Coast Parkway, two Saturdays ago for a meet-up with friends. Our original destination was 1-Twenty Six but we realised only when we reached there that the place was not open for lunch. No matter, we hopped over to the adjacent Vista Bistro, which used to be located at Biopolis and where I remembered having some rather decent set lunches.
All four of us unanimously went for the duck confit, which was priced extremely reasonably at $16.90. I was having a craving for duck confit due to self-imposed deprivation just the day before at Cassis, who had rather unreasonably in my opinion, moved their duck confit and a few other of my favourite items from the $38 set lunch menu to a $55 "executive" menu (hello??!!). Well this rendition didn't quite hit the spot as the duck was not really cooked till soft and melting, and the skin was not crispy either. I suppose the quality is reflective of the price point. It was also boiling hot that day and the shade provided scant shelter, so we scarpered off to Joanne and Peter's place for a lovely pick-me-up of strawberry smoothie pronto.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Lost and Found: Four Seasons Durians

Last year, during durian season (around June to August), this place located strategically along Still Road, in full sight of the cars (and hungry passengers inside) zipping along, was doing a roaring business and was even featured in the Sunday Times. We had bought durians there a number of times and liked the place - good quality durians at very reasonable prices, they don't try to cheat you. Then, boom, in December, Four Seasons Durians suddenly disappeared.

Nobody quite knew what had happened. A couple of months later, the shop re-opened selling durians, but it was not Four Seasons! Durians were not of good quality and we felt that the prices were being raised, so walked out without getting anything.

Fastforward to June 09. Had family dinner at Fei Fei Wanton Mee. Mother's sharp eyes caught a bright sign that said "Four Seasons Durians Cafe" even before we parked the car properly. Yes it was! Magically revived, deeper in Joo Chiat Place (at the junction of Joo Chiat Place and Tembling Lane), and still with the same great durians. Family immediately dug in, durians were great tasting, creamy and fragrant. The mystery of why they had closed the original shop was also solved - they got summoned / fined as the government did not allow them to use the space facing the main Still Road for displaying durians. However, I think their new location is easier for customers as there's ample parking in the vicinity, provided that they can find their way there in the first place!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Seriously Good Ramen at Menya Shinchan

Friends will know that I have been singing the praises of Miharu for some time. I later found out about Menya Shinchan, also in the Robertson Quay area, but with my lousy navigation skills, tried to find it twice and failed. It was only on my third attempt that I finally managed to locate the shop. And am I glad that I persevered. I ended up finding Menya Shinchan in a tiny little courtyard somewhere near Shunjuu, packed to full house with Japanese and locals, and this was before 12.15 pm too.
I had the most amazing and awesome salt pork bone ramen, "rich". Costing only $11 (so much more worthwhile than that imitator at Manpuku) The pork bone broth was really really good. Real depth and complexity of flavour and a milky consistency that can only come from boiling the pork bones for days. The noodles were thin and tasted freshly made, although not as springy or chewy as Miharu's Sapporo noodles. The two pieces of charshiu in the broth were so tender that they melted in the mouth. The egg was perfect - salty and soft egg white and creamy egg yolk.
Word of warning. This is absolutely rich and oily and sinful. But since you're there, no point in doing things by half measures, right? Go for it!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tandoori Chicken Rocks!

I like tandoori chicken a lot. Unfortunately E doesn't like Indian food at all. So I have to resort to eating tandoori chicken only when my colleagues are in the mood, which doesn't happen all that often.

But through dint of strong hints and sheer force of persuasion (or rather, I was single-minded and my friends are always very kind and understanding of my inexplicable cravings), I managed to score a lunch at Khansama Tandoori Castle this week. This place is tucked away really really deep inside Biopolis and quite difficult to find, but manages to attract a reasonable lunch-time crowd nonetheless.

I always take the Tandoori Chicken Briyani set, which at $6.90 for a quarter chicken leg portion, no GST and service charge, is a great deal. The chicken stays succulent and moist, not dry, and the spices are just of the right oomph and saltiness. Washed down with a glass of sweet lassi - I love yoghurt! - this is as close to one of my favourite weekday lunches as it can get. Just try to ignore the kitchsy hindi music videos complete with singers/dancers furiously gyrating their hips.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Home-Made Orange Marmalade

Felt like having a little bit of sunshine in my life, had nothing much to do at that point, and on a bit of a fender-bender about natural foods. Definitely not because I felt Martha Stewart-ish. So, whiled the time away by making orange marmalade! It really is awfully easy, but requires a bit of time and patience. Even the premium jams consist of at most 40% fruit (the rest is sugar and gelling agents!) whereas if you make it yourself, your own jam will consist of at least 60% fruit. And the end result tastes so much vastly superior to store bought jams. A good use of 2 hours of time.

The substance which gives jam its semi-solid consistency is pectin, which occurs naturally in fruits (and eggs too!) to different levels. You can use fruits other than oranges, but the pectin levels differ so additives may have to be used to make other types of jam. Citrus fruits (their rinds to be technically correct), blackberries, redcurrents have very high levels of pectin so no additives required while strawberries are low pectin fruits so you do need to use additional pectin to make strawberry jam, either by using commercially derived pectin (available in baking stores) or lemon juice.

Makes about 2 regular jam jars
2 oranges, 1 lemon
Lots of sugar

Scrub the oranges and lemon well, and cut into quarters, leaving the rind on. Soak in 2 cups (480 ml) of water overnight. The next day, cut the fruit into fine shreds or dice them finely if it is easier. Reserve the soaking water.

[If you do not like the slightly bitter taste of the rind, remove the rind from 1 orange, do not chop it up, but reserve it for cooking since the rind has very high pectin levels which facilitates the jam to coagulate and become gel like. Otherwise you will end up with runny orange syrup.]

Cook the diced fruit together with the soaking water at a simmer for 1 hour, taste to ensure that the chopped up rind has softened. Measure out the cooked mixture at this point and add about 60 - 70% of the volume as sugar (i.e. if you have 1 bowl of cooked mixture, add 0.6 of a bowl of sugar into your saucepan). Continue cooking the mixture together with the sugar, over a very low heat. Stir regularly as high sugar mixtures tend to caramelise and burn easily. After about 20 minutes or so, test to see if the jam is ready. Scoop up a teaspoon of the jam and place in the fridge to cool down. The jam is ready when it does not flow back when you part it in the centre using your finger.

Scoop your lovely jam into pre-sterilized jam jars. You can do this while the jam is cooking by simply pouring boiling water over clean jam jars and then heating them in the oven at 200 deg C for 15 min. Use tongs to handle the jars and their covers, do not contaminate them once they have been sterilized.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Took part in a trial run for Newton shoes at East Coast park this morning. Newton shoes are specially designed to encourage forefoot running, which is supposed to be more efficient and reduces the risk of injury: http://www.newtonrunning.com/run-better/optimal-running-form.

My test run of about 6 km was pretty good - I felt a lot less breathless and could run faster and longer with a lot less effort. Shoes were extremely light which helped too. The not so good - the shoes weren't that stable since I pronate a lot when running, so I can imagine that there might be risk of injury on long runs. Will try out the stability trainer next time, so I can compare with my current Nike Triax to see how the motion control fares.

Satsuma Shochu Again

I like Satsuma Shochu so much that I've been back here 6 times in 3 months. Instead of going for my usual set lunch, I decided to go ala-carte and try out the mentaiko supageti that ice raved so much over. Unfortunately I wasn't that won over by it...the quantity was quite small, and I couldn't really taste much mentaiko coating the spaghetti - and I do like mentaiko very much. On the other hand, the grilled onigiri was lovely....crispy grilled on the outside, and piping hot and soft on the inside. What I like most about Satsuma, is its lovely ambience - a beautiful place for a quiet chat with good friends.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Adam's Peanut Butter

Two words. Yums. Yummy. Yummelicious. (oops, that was three words.) I had been having a burning desire to hunt down Adam's PB even since I read this rave review by ice. She said that it was sold at $4.95 at NTUC Fairprice. So I went to the Eastpoint Mall, Tampines, Marine Parade, Commonwealth outlets. Nil, zilch, nada. Next to Cold Storage Parkway Parade - managed to spy some jars of Adam's No-stir creamy.... but where was the 100% natural chunky??

Finally, hit pay dirt at Cold Storage Jelita last night (maybe there's high demand from all the rich people living in the vicinity). All the different types of Adam's PB!! Quickly grabbed one bottle of 100% natural chunky, $6.95 but never mind....it's not that much more expensive than Skippy's or Peter Pan PB.

And promptly had it for breakfast this morning (on hindsight, it's good that I managed to get in a 5 km run before 8am). Wah, PB heaven! It is so rich and nutty.... can taste peanut crunch in every single bite. (Relatively) good for your body too, with no nasty hydrogenated oils - the oil separates but who cares, just stir it back in. E was staring very hard all over the jar trying to look for the ingredients list (doctors can be sooooo anal about health matters) until I pointed out to him that the only ingredient was "peanuts". Hahahaha.

Char Kway Teow, Commonwealth Ave

Since we were in the area one weekday evening, we decided to queue up at this famous Hai Kee Teochew Cha Kway Teow stall at the hawker centre at Blk 40A, Commonwealth Ave (also known as the Margaret Drive hawker centre), to see what all the fuss was about. I come here for lunch very often but have never tried the Char Kway Teow since the stall is only open from 5 pm to 10 pm (closed on Sundays). The uncle operates a one-man show, which partly explains the super long queue but is very friendly and obliging throughout.

After 40 minutes we arrived at the head of the queue .... although there were only about 12 people ahead of us (some ordered 4 or 5 packets). The stack of dirty plates waiting to be washed outside his stall towered high , I estimated about 100 plates as of 8pm? At $3 a plate and assuming he serves up 200 plates by 10 pm, that's $600 in revenue each day! Wow! Uncle fries each order of char kway teow individually, with a generous helping of see hum.

And the finished product, piping hot! Good wok hei and very generous with the see hum - I counted 14 fat and juicy hums in my $3 plate! However I am not so hot on char kway teow - too greasy for my palate - and the fact that its flavouring comes from the dark sauce rather than any natural ingredients - so I probably wouldn't queue up again for this. By the time we finished eating the queue had snaked all the way out of the hawker centre. I estimate those poor fellows at the back had a one hour wait in front of them.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

How to cook Steak

Managed to get our hands on half a kilo of ribeye steak at reduced price, which made for a mighty fine dinner! If you have good quality beef, I think the best way to enjoy the meat is simply to rub some sea salt and olive oil and grill it - personally I don't like sauces with good meat because it would be simply sacrilege to cover up the natural flavours.

In my opinion, a steak should be eaten medium-rare. If you are eating out, obviously not a problem, just tell the chef the level of doneness. If cooking at home, how would you determine when it's perfectly cooked, since the thickness and size of the cut, the pan you use, and even the ambient temperature of the steak all affect cooking times?

A) Use a meat thermometer, stick it right into the middle of your steak. When the temperature reads about 55 deg C (for beef), remove from the heat and allow to rest for about 10 minutes in a warm place, it will continue to cook and the core temperature will rise to about 62 deg C which gives you medium rare. Problem - the meat thermometer really works well only for huge cuts like roasts, and can give quite erratic readings for thin cuts of meat like steaks. Also, by poking the meat, you "damage" it and lose some of the beautiful juices.

B) Cut it open and look at the inside. Obviously accurate but all the juices will be lost!

C) Use the finger test. This is quite fail-safe with some experience, and I have been using it for some time. Gently touch your third finger to the thumb of the same hand, and with another finger, press the fleshy part of the palm below the thumb. That is how a medium rare steak should feel. Touching other fingers to the thumb will give you the level of springness for rare, medium, and well done. See this very clear set of illustrated instructions here: http://www.ehow.com/how_4915279_check-steak-doneness.html

Behold my perfectly grilled steak! The beautiful cross marks were made with the aid of my lovely lovely Le Creuset cast iron sunflower-yellow grill pan. Remember that it is very important not to attack your steak immediately after removing it from the heat, MUST rest it for 5 to 10 minutes. Resting allows the meat to relax and the juices which have escaped into the inter-cellular spaces during the cooking process to return into the cells, so that the meat stays beautifully juicy and you don't end up having a pile of meat juice on your plate instead of in the meat.