04 August 2013

Brain Broth


The actual name of the recipe is 'Brain-Boosting Broth', and I wouldn't have chanced upon it if I did not end up with much more fennel than two people could consume (courtesy of my mum who got an incredible deal at Pasar Bella).

Wanting to find a way to use up more fennel (there was only so much fennel salad we could eat in a week), I went to my usual trusty source - Epicurious. The recipe looked simple enough, so I used the largest cast iron pot I had and set to work. It smelt and tasted delicious - the sweetness from the vegetables, warmth from the fennel and earthiness from all the herbs came together very well. I used it as a base for a risotto on one night and froze the leftover. 

When Ed was feeling peckish this weekend, I made a pasta soup out of it and added some diced green peppers and fresh dill. Good for the body, good for the brain. Also good for the wallet. 


Brain-Boosting Broth

Ingredients


8 quarts water

3 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 white onions, coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
2 bulbs fennel, coarsely chopped
1 parsnip, coarsely chopped
12 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
Stems from 1/2 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch green onions, green and white parts
1 stalk fresh lemongrass, cut in half lengthwise
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 cloves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon ground turmeric

Method

Combine all of the ingredients in a large stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered, for 2 hours.

Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve. Use immediately, refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 1 month.

29 July 2013

Deconstructed Chocolate Ice Cream





Ed had been sick the past week and was ordered by the doctor to rest at home. In need of a perk-me-up after a miserable lunch of instant noodles (albeit two packets worth), he rummaged through the refrigerator and found some Chocolate Sorbet I made using a recipe from David Lebovitz, as well as a packet of Hokkaido milk we bought on a whim because we were curious about its taste (and whether it was worth its cost). Thinking of an affogato, I suppose, he combined both and voila - Deconstructed Chocolate Ice Cream. He excitedly shared this bit of news with me while I was buried in emails at work and I couldn't wait to try it when I returned. 

It was indeed delicious down to the very last drop of chocolate milk it ended up in. Although I'm not sure if the Hokkaido milk made much of a difference. I think some full cream milk would work just as well. 


Deconstructed Chocolate Milk

Ingredients
2 1/4 cups (555 ml) water

cup (200 g) sugar

3/4 cups (75 g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
ounces (170 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Full cream milk

Method
  1. In a large saucepan, whisk together 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) of the water with the sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Bring to a boil whisking frequently. Let it boil, continuing to whisk for 45 seconds.
  2. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate until it's melted, then stir in the vanilla extract and the remaining 3/4 cup (180 ml) water. Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend for 15 seconds. Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. If the mixture has become too thick to pour into your machine, whisk it vigorously to thin it out.
  3. To serve, scoop as much chocolate sorbet into a glass, and pour as much milk as you like. (I find the ratio of 2:1 of chocolate sorbet:milk works well.)

Where to Go in South Africa - The Land of the Truly Beautiful


South Africa, oh South Africa. Where should I even begin? Ed and I left for our honeymoon more than a year ago today. It was such a special, unforgettable experience that lifts the edges of our lips everytime we talk about it. And I know I must thank my lucky stars for landing such a gem of a husband who planned the entire trip on his own, with some help and advice from a sweet lady called Amanda from Travel for Life.  

In brief, we started our trip from Johannesburg, travelled down to Cape Town before doing a self-drive down the Garden Route towards Port Elizabeth. From Port E, we flew into Kruger National Park for 4 straight days of the not-to-be-missed safari experience before flying back home. If I could redo the whole trip, would I have wanted to change any part of it? None. With some careful planning and under Amanda's sound tutelage, Ed had created an itinerary that wasn't too rushed, had just the right balance of sight-seeing and eating (if I had a larger appetite, I swear our holidays would be all about the eating).

There's a reason why 'sight-seeing' had never been high on my agenda during vacations. Not being a culture-buff meant museum hopping did not call out to me. And as spoilt as it sounds, destinations that promised 'beautiful scenery' hardly excited me past the first hour. To put it bluntly, they don't change much. Yet, South Africa has changed my world view. Everywhere I turned, it was a postcard calling out to me. Neither my Leica X1 nor my trusty Canon 400D could capture what my eyes were drinking in pixel by pixel. So what have I been recommending as must-go places to friends who have since travelled to South Africa as well?

Pretoria - Cape Town

Stay and Eat: The Rovos Rail 

Our cheery waiter would chime 'cheese time!' to signal the onslaught of a delicious selection of cheeses that punctuated the end of every lunch and dinner in this charming, Victorian-styled train. We spent 3 days and 2 nights on this train, journeying from Pretoria (just over half an hour from Johannesburg airport) to Cape Town, stopping by Kimberly town along the way. While they were strict about mealtimes and where the meals could be served, there was a never-ending supply of beverages and snacks, including my favourite biltong (dried beef), throughout the rest of the train. Apart from the rooms, the train had a dining car (pictured), a lounge car (for many lovely hours of scrabble) and of course an observation deck to enjoy the always evolving scenery. The first morning I woke up in the train, I could not help but marvel at the sights. Even though there were no televisions or internet access, there was never a dull moment on the train. Being mushy and gross honeymooners, of course, this was the perfect start to the trip to allow us all the time we needed to just bask in each other's presence.


Incredible Ostrich Salad
And the food was incredible - it would have amazed me in any restaurant and simply floored me considering this was on a moving train. (Don't worry, they slow down after dinner to ensure a good night's rest.) We're working towards their 28-day Cape-to-Cairo train ride perhaps 20 years later. 

Eat: La Colombe


Having received top place in San Pellegrino's 50 Best Restaurants in the World (and many other awards since then), we booked a spot at the restaurant the moment we arrived in Cape Town. We were fortunate to snag a couple of seats as the restaurant was booked out the rest of the week. If not for that fact, Ed and I would probably have revisited the restaurant while we were still in Cape Town - this would have been very unusual for us given the limited amount of time and calories we could spare. 



Unlike a couple of other renown restaurants that we tried in South Africa, which were quite tasty and adventurous but perhaps just a tad bit too adventurous for our comfort, La Colombe delivered stunning dish after stunning dish in their set menu that pleased our tummies as much as they pleased our palates. They were each beautifully and thoughtfully presented, with incredible flavours in every bite. When they call it a Smoked Chocolate Torte (pictured above), they really mean it - when you try it, you'll know what I mean. The best part? It wasn't even as expensive as you would expect of a place which has been accumulating so many accolades.

See: Boulders Beach



On your way to Cape Point - which I reckon must be the most popular tourist attraction - you just have to stop by Boulders Beach. Having lived in a densely populated city all my life, where the only animals I see are the usual domesticated pets or the animals in the zoo behind glass confines, it was truly a delight seeing penguins frolicking (or more like ambling) with seagulls in their natural environment. 

See: Two Oceans Aquarium


Photograph by Sven Lennert
Kelp Forest (taken from the aquarium's official website)
That being said, I've always been quite proud of our Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, Bird Park and Underwater World. So when Ed suggested going to Cape Town's Two Oceans Aquarium, I did not have high expectations. But it was money well spent. I loved the touch pool with marine creatures like coral, sponges and starfish; and the microscope exhibit. My favourite was undoubtedly the Kelp Forest exhibit featuring kelp plants growing as tall as trees, and swaying gracefully in harmony with the movements of the water

Stellenbosch

At Muratie Vineyard, snacking on their house salad and Springbok Carpaccio

Stay and Eat: Majeka House and Makaron

As we travelled along the Garden Route, our travel advisor wisely planned pit stops along the way to break up the long drive which would culminate at Port E. One of these pit stops was at Stellenbosch, which turned out to be the perfect base for more culinary adventures. Apart from the wide variety of vineyards to visit (some research beforehand is they had advised) and farms for olive oil tasting, there are plenty of highly recommended restaurants (some situated within vineyards) nearby to try as well. 




But we really didn't have to travel far because it turned out that the beautiful hideaway we stayed at - Majeka House - had a highly acclaimed restaurant called Makaron that we naturally had to try. And try we did. The seafood we ordered were impeccably fresh, and the risotto done perfectly. However, we probably most enjoyed the Baileys Milkshake (pictured above) we ordered to end off the meal on a sweet note. It had a generous amount of Baileys, was thick and rich without being too cloying. We couldn't have asked for a better end to any meal.

Drink: Melissa's



When it rained, Melissa's hot chocolate was all we needed to soothe our dampened spirits. 'Nuff said. 

Eat: De Oude Bank Bakkerij



And when in the vicinity of Melissa's, this bakery/cafe is not far. Despite the fact that it was almost always crowded when we dropped by, it was still a pretty good spot to relax after browsing the nearby shops for antiques and interesting knick knacks. Ed had their salad, which he enjoyed thoroughly and declared his all-time favourite salad. 

Eat: 96 Winery Road



But speaking of tasty salads...... Quoted from Frommer's South Africa travel guide, 96 Winery Road is 'one of the most unassuming and unpretentious restaurants in the Winelands... (with) informal atmosphere; unfussy, delicious food'. I was instantly hooked with the description and knew we had to pay it a visit even though it was slightly off the beaten track - thank goodness for the GPS. True to the description, our lunch was delicious. Ed had a steak with a rich cream and brandy sauce while I had a duck and cherry pie with the addictive port and black cherry sauce. Both dishes were incredibly comforting and made the drive out there entirely worth it. But even if they didn't have steaks or pies, I would return.  Just for their salad. (Pictured above.) It hit all the right notes in texture (crisp greens with crunchy pine nuts and tender roasted peppers) and flavour (saltiness from shavings of parmesan and olives with refreshing cucumber slices and peppery rocket leaves). It was truly the most perfect salad I'd ever had and would return in a heartbeat when we return to Stellenbosch one day.

Eat: Dornier Bordega


Dornier Bodega Restaurant was another unpretentious spot featuring uncomplicated food prepared with the freshest ingredients. Set against a backdrop of mountains, with children wrestling each other barefoot, it was difficult not to relax and just enjoy the moment. They had a problem with fairly large bees at the time (which would occasionally land on our food), but assured us that they were handling it and that it was getting better.
 

Swellendam


The initial plan was to drive straight from Stellenbosch to Plettenberg Bay. It would have been a five and a half hour journey by car, but Amanda knew better. She arranged for a pit stop at Jan Harmsgat for a night, so that Ed wouldn't have to drive all 500 KM (!!) in a day. As we alighted the car after an almost three hour drive, and were greeted by three adorable dogs that belonged on the property, I silently thanked Amanda in my heart.

Stay: Jan Harmsgat



And I didn't thank here merely for the fact that we didn't have another three-hour long journey ahead of us, but also because she helped us choose a stunning guest farm to break at. When Ed first told me we were going to be staying at a 'guest farm', I imagined a nice quaint little spot for us to rest for the night. Quaint definitely didn't cut it. Surrounded by lush and never-ending greenery, and greeted by a wild peacock that tended to snooze in the warmth of the chimney top as well as three dogs that roamed anywhere anytime, I fell in the love with the place. They were also so kind to book us into the Wine Cellar Room when they knew we were on our honeymoon. It was a little far out away from any nearby town, so we took our meals at the in-house restaurant and were not disappointed.

Plettenberg Bay

Stay and Eat: Emily Moon River Lodge



Did I ever mention that very often during this trip in South Africa, Ed and I found our mouths open in awe of the landscape? The view from Rovos Rail, from our car, and definitely from the restaurant at Emily Moon River Lodge (pictured above) floored us at every turn. Every morning and evening, we drank this view in bit by bit, trying to lock it into our memories. (Emily Moon proved a little more difficult to find even with our GPS, because it somehow had a different name in the GPS.) We were constantly spoilt for choice with their extensive menu. When we felt like having something more Asian one night, we took a risk and ordered sushi, which proved to be pretty decent and satisfying. 



The room we had was spacious yet cosy and had a fireplace which entertained Ed for about 15 minutes each night (there's something about starting a fire that most men seem to enjoy). The room was not far from the restaurant, and they provided room service at no extra charge. 

Eat: Bramon Wine Estate



Delicious, delicious, delicious. Set in the vineyard (we were literally sitting among the vines) and overlooking mountains, we ordered a wide variety of tapas for our lunch. Each bite was delicious, and don't miss their homemade breads. Oh and of course, pair it with a glass of something. Their bubbly was perfect.

See: Cheetah Walk at Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness Centre



We didn't know this until we arrived, but it turned out there were many sanctuaries (I may not be using this term the right way) based in Plettenberg Bay, which made our stay there incredibly memorable. A pamphlet featuring a morning walk with a cheetah caught Ed's attention at the lobby of Emily Moon. Looking at the glee in his eyes, I knew this was something I wasn't going to be able to run away from. So we booked ourselves a spot for the next day and I dragged myself there in the morning by 715am (I suppose cheetahs are early 'birds'). And what an experience. I must say we definitely weren't leading the way - during the pre-walk briefing, we were told specifically to just take the cheetah's lead and ensure the leash was slack at all times. At no time were were allowed to pull on the leash, although even if we were allowed to, I wouldn't dare risk my life doing so. In fact, we were also told never to stand in the way of the cheetah, especially not squatting down. So it was certainly dangerous taking the shot shown above. It was a thrilling experience that while I'm not sure I would want to go through again, I would recommend to anyone who hasn't done it before.

See: Close Encounters with Birds of Prey at Radical Raptors



This too, was an incredible experience. We happened to drive by near the time the next flying display was going to happen, and hung around for longer than we initially intended. Thank goodness we did, because we did not expect what was to come. Radical Raptors is a rehabilitation centre for people to deposit birds of prey who were too injured or who were domesticated. While they aimed to release all the birds back into the wild, some were either too injured or too domesticated to survive in the wild. That's when they would be kept at the centre for educational purposes. The person in charge of the flying display was a passionate guy called Dennis, who would release the birds in the mornings for them to have a good stretch of their wings. Including us, there were only about 5 adults and one child watching the flying display (although the child and his parents left halfway after the child seemed too scared by the big birds to continue). Dennis stood only about five metres away from us, and gave us a glove each to take turns letting the birds perch on our fists. This meant seriously close encounters with each bird, and a truly educational and memorable visit.

See: Monkeyland and Birds of Eden




Other good spots in Plettenberg Bay to visit are Monkeyland and Birds of Eden, which are right next to each other. The tour through Monkeyland is guided and is usually with a group of 20 or so other strangers. If you're lucky, you'd be the only persons in the group. And if you're even luckier, you'll have a black howler monkey tailing you the entire journey. Birds of Eden is a large (I believe the largest) aviary where the birds roam free. It took us more than an hour to cover the entire area (and we didn't really stop much either), which was really a pleasant surprise. Up till that point, I thought the Lory Loft in the Singapore Bird Park was an excellent aviary to visit. But I must admit that the Lory Loft pales in comparison to Birds of Eden. 

Hermanus

To Stay: Birkenhead House and Villa



Our final stop before reached Port E was at Hermanus. Ed booked us into the Birkenhead House and Villa, which was situated right at the edge of a cliff and had an insane view of the beach to the left, sea to the front and the mountain to the right. I'm not sure what I had done to deserve such a treat. We had half-board, which meant breakfasts and dinners were arranged for us in the hotel, and free flow of any beverage (including alcoholic ones). They served good food, but even if they didn't the town which was about a ten-minute drive away had many other options. We spent our days visiting the shops in town and lazing in our luxuriously spacious room, soaking in the views.
 
To See: Shark Cage Diving


A shot I took of the shark lurking around the cage of divers,
while Ed was hovering over the toilet bowl feeling nauseated
Oh, and we also went shark cage diving. Or at least we tried to. It was a very popular activity among the tourists in the area, and no lack of companies offering the activity. Ed had pre-booked two slots for us so that we could do it the day after we arrived. We woke up early to drive about forty-five minutes down the road to the jetty, and were quite excited although groggy at the same time. In the first few minutes on the medium-sized boat, we were still riding on the adrenaline in anticipation of what we would see. But twenty minutes later, Ed and I were nauseous. Ed, more nauseous than I, had to be persuaded to call for a skipper to come rescue us from the ever bobbing boat. Back on land, and many sips of ginger ale later, we felt guilty about the money we had paid for the experience we never had. But if you asked me, we did not leave the boat a minute too early. If we didn't feel so seasick though, we would definitely have wanted to get into that cage. 
 
Kruger National Park


Before South Africa, I had only enjoyed a safari drive once - at Yala National Park in Sri Lanka. We rode in a jeep, were driven around to look for leopards (we were lucky and spotted three), and had to speed out of the park by 6pm or the driver would be fined and suspended from entering the park for three months. We enjoyed ourselves and that experience guided my expectations for the safari experience Ed had planned for us in Kruger National Park. Oh how wrong I was. 

See, Stay, Eat: Singita Sweni



The safari experience at Singita Sweni (just steps away from Singita Lebombo) was incredibly different. Being situated on a private concession within the national park meant that all 33,000 acres of the concession was ours to explore, anytime of the day. No need to speed out by 6pm. We could go out on two drives each day - one at 6am to about 11am and one at  5pm to 8pm - these were when the animals were more likely to be out and about. The drives were not mandatory of course, but Ed and I went for every single one available. And unlike the safari in Sri Lanka, the jeep could go off the roads and onto the rough terrain to get closer to the animals. We had a guide (Nico) and a tracker (Glass) to both answer all the questions we had about the flora and fauna in the area, and to ensure we got to see the Big Five. As leopards were the most elusive of the Big Five, it seemed Glass spent most of the time trying to spot a leopard. 



The picture above shows Glass (extreme right) with two other more junior trackers trailing some fresh tracks they spotted. What is not obvious in the photo is that they were also carrying rifles to protect themselves - a must when on foot. After much hard work by Glass, we did spot the leopard in the end, guarding her most recent but already rotting kill - a Waterbuck. And we were only about 10 metres away. We also observed her as her ears pricked up suddenly when a gust of wind blew across her (apparently because she smelt an animal nearby) and as she quickly dragged her kill to the nearest tree, all ready to pounce up on the tree with her kill if any other animal came too close. Incredibly exciting.





We were certainly rewarded for diligently going for each drive as we spotted some of the Little Five, and new creatures on every drive. There was such an amazing variety of game to see, every drive was unique in their own way. On the last night, we were treated to a star gazing session. The South African night sky is most clear and gorgeously speckled with stars. 


Photo taken from Singita's website
Of course, all this wouldn't have been possible if we did not check ourselves into Singita Sweni. Sweni is one of many luxury lodges under the Singita brand. While pricier than other safari-based lodges, I thought it was well worth the price after experiencing their utmost tender (yet inobtrusive) care. Apart from the daily morning and evening drives, the package included all the food and drink you need (similar to the Rovos Rail ride described earlier). They had a Caesar Salad that was so good we ordered it three times throughout our stay there and even asked for the recipe, which the chef very kindly typed out for us. And they had a duck dish that was so good Ed had two portions in one sitting. We found out that they had their ingredients literally air flown into the resort regularly because it took a half a day's journey just to drive out of the park and reach the nearby town. Given the restrictions (no driving in the public areas after 6pm), all the staff would book into a hotel in town on their days off and return to the park only the next day. Basically, we never felt in want - we were constantly offered a drink or a snack, even out on the safari drives. 

Photo taken from Singita's website
The 'room' itself was really beautiful. It really wasn't so much a room as it was a luxurious wooden house built to fit seamlessly with the nature that surrounds it, and designed to allow full view of the river below and the skies above. I couldn't have asked for a better setting to admire the scenery and end our honeymoon. 

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I'd always felt guilty for putting off writing about South Africa, given how much I had enjoyed the trip. It took me a whole year to get down to it, and I never understood why since I obviously had so much to share. Having completed this post, I now understand why - there was just so much I wanted to share, so much that was beautiful and had to be shared, that it was mentally overwhelming. Reading the travel guide again, I know there is plenty more to see, and I'm confident Ed and I will return one day.


11 April 2012

Preview of South Africa

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

It has been incredibly surreal, these last 10 days. My dearest husband decided that he would plan our best vacation ever a.k.a. the honeymoon. South Africa is truly, as one of our friends put it, 'beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful...' Sitting at the balcony of the Birkenhead House, with a dreamily misty view of the waves crashing against the cliff, seagulls flying above, and the gentle warmth of the afternoon sun enrobing my calves, I (and I assume Ed too) simply could not ask for more.

But of course, South Africa has more than 'just' that to offer. We've travelled from Johannesburg to Pretoria, to Cape Town, Stellenbosch and now Hermanus. While it may sound tiring for what has only been ten days, I assure you it was not. During our stay in Stellenbosch alone, Ed and I have discovered salads that rank among our top five salads ever, a cup of hot chocolate with hazelnut that really deserves to be a dessert in itself, how awesome freshly (and well) shucked live oysters are, and our new favorite snack of dried beef/game called biltong. I fully intend to put together the top five (or ten) must eat/live places in South Africa just based on this short trip that I hope will not be our last. In the meantime, here's a little collage to whet your appetites.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

06 December 2011

Perfect - Roasted Savoy Cabbage

In the perfect world, I would be home all day trying out recipes from my latest cookbook (thank you Sherwin and Vivien, I adore it!) or my favourite food magazine, and dreaming up recipes to test out on Ed when he returns home in the evenings. In the perfect world, I'd be rolling out almond tart dough at 3pm, caramelising fresh figs at 4pm, filling the almond tart shell with some sweet vanilla custard, the lightly wrinkled figs and crunchy toasted hazelnets an hour later, and savouring a glass of delicious Frontignac by 6pm with a rack of lamb slow roasting in the oven. In the perfect world, all this would be done in a huge and rustic looking woody kitchen with hanging copper pots and the kitchen island of my dreams. In an even more perfect world, endless rolling hills of tulips would sway in the wind when I peek out from the french windows dotting the walls of the kitchen.

Alas, tis not to be.

Apart from the fact that rolling hills of tulips are a little far-fetched for this little red dot, I recognise that there are trade offs I have to make. If I want the kitchen of my dreams, I need to stay gainfully employed to afford it. Kitchen or time, kitchen or time? I choose kitchen anytime!


I may not be building the ultimate kitchen of my dreams, but I daresay it will be nearly there - complete with a dishwasher. Finally! Ed has been most sweet by indulging me in my longtime fantasy, by suggesting (on his own volition, I swear!) to turn our newly purchased 3 bedroom apartment into a 2 bedroom apartment to expand the already sizeable kitchen. Of course, this fantasy does not come cheap. The little fortune that our impending renovations will cost us means my perfect world will not exist, at least not for the next couple of years.

In the meantime, I make do with any spare time I can find to dabble in the kitchen. Every now and then, Ed and I would find ourselves at the nearest 24-hour supermarket at 10pm 'just walking around'. It is an odd habit, but one I love and look forward to. Sometimes, even though it is pushing our bedtime, we (read: I) would go so far as to attempt to cook a full dinner/supper of a protein and a salad. With Ed, there's hardly a bad time for a 'snack'. One particular night, with the help of my iPhone and
this awesome free app, I put together a meal of seared lamb rack with roasted savoy cabbage.


Photobucket


By the time we brought the groceries home, cooked and sat down at the dining table, it was close to midnight. But my fatigue from the long day was overtaken by the inexplicable happiness I experienced during the entire preparation. I know, I'm quite an oddball. I delighted in my small victory as I sliced the lamb rack and found just the right shade of pink staring back at me. While I accidentally burnt parts of the savoy cabbage, the large portion I managed to salvage were incredibly tasty and almost meaty even. It had a deep, earthy flavour that would really have benefited from the raisins I thought I had but didn't and therefore omitted. The dish may not have been perfect what with burnt bits and all, and I may not have been in that perfect world with figs and hazelnuts, but looking at Ed polish his plate and bones down to the last crinkly cabbage leaf with such rigour, I knew life was perfect.

And now as I gaze upon the unfamiliar, shiny band around my ring finger, life feels surreal, and that much more perfect. Who knew that the grubby-looking tennis teammate from junior college, with those massive (and scary) forehand drives, would clean up so well and become the man waiting for me at the end of the church aisle, 10 years down the road? There, I've finally said it. I'm married!

Click here for recipe of Roasted Savoy Cabbage.

23 November 2011

Yuw Meng in Johor

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Due to some problems with my laptop, the blogposts of the last couple of months (okay, probably longer) have only been about places/food when I had taken photos of those said places/food with my iPhone. Having just gotten my laptop fixed, I am now faced with a multi-lemma - which awesome food experience should I blog about first? There's this awesome dinner that revolved around a duck stuffed with turkey and chicken - an interesting adaptation of the often attempted Turducken at Christmas celebrations, a Penang trip where I discovered the wonderful eats at Kimberly Street and an incredibly light egg white batter for fish and chips that I found in Damien Pignolet's French cookbook, among many others. After possibly too much deliberation, I decided it would be a travesty not to first blog about this amazing eatery in our neighboring country that I had the fortune to visit in April this year.



A mere 45 minute car ride from Singapore, into a rather desolated place in Johor, Malaysia, is a small town called Kulai. And within Kulai, is an even smaller coffeeshop called Yuw Meng selling your usual tze char (see Wikipedia for definition of 'tze char') fare and then some. If exotic food is not up your alley, don't let the sight of a deep-fried squirrel on its menu scare you as I assure you the rest of its menu is more... sane. Fortunately, Ed and I were accompanied by 2 regular patrons who knew exactly what to order, and who had appetites as big as (if not bigger than) Ed's. With the smallest appetite in the group, I definitely gained the most out of this arrangement as we could order for four persons what would comfortably feed 8, to have a wide sampling of their food.


To start off the meal however, we had a glass of ice cold beer each, under our companions' insistence. It was, very simply, a bottle of Heineken, poured into small frosty glasses for each of us. Not being a fan of all types of beer, except when mixed with a little ginger beer for a shandy, I was initially unimpressed. That is until I took a sip. Beneath that simple presentation and thick beer head were tiny shards of beer icicles, creating the most amazing texture and sensation when drunk. My best guess at how they managed this is by super-freezing their glasses just before serving, perhaps with nitrogen. But it is difficult to imagine this roadside coffeeshop storing a couple of canisters of nitrogen in its kitchen.


In general, the food was excellent. Every dish well-executed, with all the wok hei we had hoped for in our meal. The picture above shows Ed's and my favourite dishes of the night. The dish of scallops, lotus root, celery, carrots, snowpeas and macadamia nuts were, very surprisingly, Ed's top dish. He eats his vegetables, but they almost always seem like an afterthought in our meals and an obligatory attempt at getting some fibre into our diet amidst the copious amounts of carbohydrates and protein. So to hear that he enjoyed that particular dish the most certainly caught me by surprise. I tried recreating the dish back home, and apart from the wok hei, I also couldn't re-engineer the incredible crunch of the thin slivers of lotus root.


As for the dish that stole my heart, it is difficult to decide whether it was the spicy fried cockles or the homemade tofu with century egg. Few know that I have a love affair with all sorts of molluscs, especially cockles. Of course, Ed knows. When he has laksa, he would selflessly order more cockles despite not really liking the taste, and fish out all the cockles out for me. So you can imagine my delight when our companions at Yuw Meng ordered a plate of cockles fried with a smattering of chopped bird's eye chilli. Each cockle, extraordinarily fresh and plump, carried a little sweetness and made the long queue at the Causeway (when Malaysia introduced a new fingerprinting system for all entering visitors) a distant memory.


But the homemade tofu was perfection. Served with quarters of century egg and sweet thai chilli sauce, and garnished with chopped spring onion, homemade tofu never tasted so good. If I wasn't already so stuffed by the time the dish arrived, I would have happily ordered another serving of that tofu all for myself.


The other also stellar dishes we had included fried hokkien mee, fried mee sua, steamed fish head, sharks' fin soup, black pepper crab, and fried pork spare ribs. (See below.) Without belabouring the point, the food was excellent and worth many return trips. We recently met up with one of our travel companions at that time, and my heart jumped with joy when he suggested organising another such trip soon.


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Yuw Meng
44 Jalan Serulin 2
Taman Seri Kulai
81000 Kulai
Johor, Malaysia

For directions, click
here.

31 October 2011

Bali Eats

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In preparation for an upcoming wedding (of mine that is) I decided to take leave from work for almost 1 month leading up to the wedding. To be clear however, my preparatory work involves mainly nursing those dark eye bags back where they came from, smoothening out the fine lines that have been creeping out of the corners of my eyes and, if heaven permits, banishing those scars left behind from zits that popped out as a form of protest against a combination of irregular/too little sleep and poor diet.

What better way to start off the break than a trip to Bali with some of my best buds, and of course my best friend and husband-to-be? Courtesy of recommendations from friends, we had pretty awesome meals at Metis (a french restaurant with mind-blowing foie gras), Made Warung (a restaurant whose Nasi Campur is delicious), Kolega (a local institution serving Nasi Padang and a beef soup that must not be missed), Ibu Oka (serving roast pig aka Babi Guling that runs out so fast we wished we set out for lunch earlier) and Naughty Nuri's (whose finger-lickin good ribs and insanely powerful Martini make for great games or conversations around the table).

I'm such a late bloomer and only realized the trove of good eats that is Bali. And even though many say it is slowly losing it's charm with greater commercialization of it's streets, increasingly jammed roads, and more polluted beaches, I don't think that's the last of Bali Ed and I will see.

Till then, perhaps I should try to recreate those crazy ribs from Naughty Nuri's! If anyone has a good roasted pork rib recipe, please share!

04 October 2011

Totally Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Half an hour into watching Nigella Lawson whip up a batch of 12 giant cookies in her Kitchenaid, Ed looked at me with a pitiful expression and described how much he wanted to eat them. I suppose it was no coincidence that the look came right after Nigella Lawson revealed that half a kilogram of chocolate went into those 12 cookies.

Suddenly inspired and thinking of the big block of Valrhona Dark Chocolate I had stashed away in the refrigerator, I pulled my Kitchenaid out of the sad recesses of the kitchen and placed it in it's rightful throne - between the sink and stove.

And these cookies were good! I wouldn't advise eating more than 1 at a go, though Ed downed 4 easily.

Now I'm thinking brioche or cinnamon rolls or just plain old brownies!

02 October 2011

Making Chicken Rice

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I generally shy away from cooking Southeast Asian food because they require so many different types of spices and so much effort, not to mention the fact that a very good rendition is probably available a hop and a skip away from wherever I am and can be purchased for a song.

However, ever since I tried making Tom Yam soup and Pho Bo, and realized how easy those were, I've learnt to question these assumptions and have been more open to cooking (or at least attempting to) Southeast Asian food. In some ways, you can say Ed's soft spot for food from around the region has been a key motivating factor as well.

That is not to say that I've been particularly successful at my attempts though. In my previous entry I mentioned how the Assam Laksa took a painful two and a half hours to complete. Mind you, there were three, sometimes four, persons working on the dish at any one time.

Today, I was inspired by Adam Liaw's cookbook with a recipe for Chicken Rice - possibly one of Ed's top five favorite dishes, ever. It sounded simple enough and the ingredient list was not too long nor diverse. All was well - forty minutes into the cooking and I was almost done. Minimal washing up seemed to be required (I cheated and used the rice cooker to fry the rice first) and the smell in the kitchen was promising.

And then I had to chop the chicken.

Even with a sharp cleaver and all the determination I could muster, I could not make clean, decisive chops at the chicken. Worse still, I wasn't prepared for all the juices to spill out of the chicken's cavity, onto the chopping board, countertop and down the kitchen cupboards before finally reaching the kitchen floor in all it's greasy goodness.

But after some (more) struggle and compromises (drumsticks and wings left whole), I managed to get the chicken onto a plate of sliced cucumbers. With newfound respect for those uncles (and the occasional aunty) who chop chicken in the shops, I tucked into the chicken rice with Ed. After all that effort, would I make it again? Maybe!

Adam Liaw's recipe worked quite well and on the whole it was tasty. I liked the fact that I had very little chopping to do, apart from the chicken. Mainly whole cloves of garlic or thick slices of unpeeled ginger were used. I made chicken rice before, using other recipes and Adam's unusual step of wrapping the cooked chicken in cling wrap after brushing it with sesame oil might have lent itself to the silky smooth skin. While I wasn't too sure about the chilli sauce recipe - I doubled the recipe and used a whopping 11 bird's eye chillies - they turned out well in the end. The bright tang of the lemon juice freshened up the dish, and for some reason the sauce was not as spicy as I thought it would turn out to be.

Can't wait to try his other recipes!

28 September 2011

Ultra Pride

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Ever since I bought my robin blue Kitchenaid, I haven't lusted after any other kitchen appliance.

One would say I'm a pretty blessed woman. I have a cast iron cocotte for stews and braises, a Microplane for crazy fine shavings of parmesan without so much as lifting my pinkie, a Calphalon Chef's Pan for Sunday morning fry-ups or Sunday night paella (works just as well, from stove to oven) and an electric knife sharpener so I never have to struggle when slicing tomatoes for salads, among many other splurges for the kitchen. Don't get me wrong here, I don't regret any of these purchases, but I have to strike a balance between fattening my kitchen with yet another tool that will trim my cooking time and effort by another 5-10%, and simply simply saving up for a 'nest' (boy do I hate being an adult).

But even as I try to be more sensible in my daily expenditure, I find I cannot help but lust after the Ultra Pride (pictured above). After spending a phenomenal two and a half hours the previous weekend pounding away at turmeric, lemongrass, garlic and (my worst enemy) dried chillies to create Assam Laksa, I decided that all the effort was not worth it. While it was a somewhat successful attempt at the dish, even as I was chowing down the slippery rice noodle with the thick flavorful mackerel-based soup, I told myself that the next time I wanted to make Assam Laksa, I would abandon the idea as quickly as the idea came to mind.

That was until I chanced upon the Ultra Pride. Reading posts on egullet about how it mechanically pounds both wet and dry spices into a reluctant but smooth paste, I'm thinking this might be it. This might be just what the chef prescribed to demolish that wall between me and all other delectable Southeast Asian dishes. Beef rendang, Thai green curry, Mee Siam even, or Laksa Lemak! Perhaps it is time to take another plunge towards making my kitchen that bit more perfect and away from you-know-what. (!)

27 September 2011

Radicchio Salad

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I blogged about Orangette's wonderful read, and the accompanying recipes before. I haven't yet (cross fingers!) attempted a recipe of hers that doesn't work like a dream. Not only have they been a cinch to put together, they have always been packed with flavor. Her Radicchio Salad with Garlic and Black Pepper epitomises this beautifully.

Using a sharp mandolin (not sure why you would keep a blunt one anyway), thinly shred a small head of radicchio. Mix 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and olive oil each, to a minced clove of garlic and a dash of black pepper. Pick up a shred of radicchio, dip it into the dressing and eat it. Adjust dressing if necessary - I added just a tad more lemon juice and olive oil for a more luscious coating to each shred. Serve with parmesan shavings and tuck in!

13 February 2011

The unexpected find in Turkey

Ever since I joined my current organisation, I had been working primarily on just one. big. project. I would say that 80% of my time was dedicated to writing papers, setting up meetings, attending meetings, writing notes of meetings, clearing those notes or papers, rinsing and repeating the whole process just for this project. There was hardly any time to sleep at times, let alone take a vacation.

So when I discovered that I would have a sliver of a breather right after one of the larger milestones in the project, Ed and I promptly took leave and started plotting. We were still undecided about where we would go, right up to 1 month before we took leave but we (or rather Ed) knew we wanted to go to somewhere exciting like the Middle East. So we found a couple of other travel companions, DS and XM, and finally decided on Beirut (Lebanon), with the hope that we would be able to get a Syrian visa there to cross the border into Syria.

Well, we tried to get the visa on the 2nd day and promptly failed. What happened next unfolded very gradually and almost rather unexcitingly, though upon hindsight it seems quite the adventure. We chanced upon a travel agency and decided to pop in to explore our options. We looked at places nearby that didn't require a visa and deliberated over stretching our itinerary in Lebanon across another 4-5 days - possibly even going to the mountains for some skiing that Ed had suggested while we were in Singapore but which the rest of us had vetoed. But scanning through the Lonely Planet guidebook, the latter option of spending the entire 10-11 days in Lebanon didn't look promising - yes, this was quite the Asian mindset we had. So we decided we would go to Istanbul (Turkey)!

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Looking back, I'm glad we did. Who knows how our Jordan trip would have turned out, but being in Istanbul was exactly how I had expected a trip to Middle East to be. It was full of stopovers for coffee, shisha (much to XM's and my chagrin) and absolutely colourful markets that were a tad touristy. I put my bargaining skills to much good use and got relatively good deals for 4 handbags (that Ed bought for his grandma, mum and 2 sisters, awww), travel totes, a large handmade ceramic salad bowl, a matching trivet, an adorable pomegranate inspired vase and a handmade rose quartz statement ring.


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Naturally, when Ed and I spotted 'Istanbul Eats', we jumped at it. Well, almost. We spotted it in a souvenir shop within the Blue Mosque compound and thought it was surely overpriced in the shop. So we left it there and went hunting for it elsewhere only to realise it was much more expensive everywhere else. While beating ourselves up about it over coffee in a quirky cafe cum jewellery shop (where we bought the rose quartz ring for me), we spotted the book at a lower price to boot and grabbed it with much aplomb.

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The next couple of days were full of great, great eats. The good thing about the book is that it doesn't only review mid-range to high end restaurants. In fact, most of the reviews are of affordable holes-in-the-wall that have great, tasty something. It could be anything from liver to doner kebaps, from sheeps' heads to kofte. With the book's blessings, we were almost constantly stuffed. Thank goodness for the fact that we chose to explore the city by foot most of the times, and for the occasional times we had to walk up and down the same street looking for the elusive holes in the wall.

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But the most enjoyable meal we had was probably this place we chanced upon on the last night we spent in Istanbul. We were hunting down this place that served Uighur food, but found out when we arrived that they closed at 7pm (!!). Having been looking forward to trying Uighur food, I was seriously bummed out. I tried to make the best of the situation by looking for other recommended eateries in the neighbourhood. It was already about 8pm and my companions and I had travelled relatively far to this Uighur eatery, so everyone was pretty ravenous. But perhaps because this was going to be our last meal in Istanbul, we were all game to find the other recommended eateries.

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We were well on our way to a place just 2 streets down when we stumbled upon a small bustling eatery called Direkler Akasi (Sehzadebasi Cad, No. 18 Eminonu) that had platters of marinating chicken, beef and lamb tempting us through the displays. There was a small queue of locals right outside, all armed with a shot of turkish coffee or tea, and the waiters were not calling at us to go inside. The last point, we found out the difficult way, was quite a reliable indicator that the place was worth eating in. Ed and I were walking ahead of our companions, and when we turned back to look at them, their eyes said it all and we promptly joined the queue.

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What happened in the next hour or two was pure heaven. We left the guys to order a smorgasbord of meats and feasted like we hadn't eaten for days. The roast chicken was so incredibly tasty and juicy, that it trumped the incredibly tender salt-baked lamb we tried just the night before. Even Ed, whose one true love after me is lamb, agreed. We liked the roast chicken so much that we order another 3 platters of it after we finished the first round of meat. It is a place I will return to in a heartbeat, and I pray that it never moves away. (Or if it does, that I will find it.)

The food we tried with the blessings of Istanbul Eats was really good. But chancing upon Direkler Arasi and having such a mind-blowing experience, really taught me that I must always keep my options open and not always stick to the path well trodden.

For insanely good roast chicken that you really have to try:
Direkler Akasi
Address: Sehzadebasi Cad, No. 18 Eminonu

For flavourful rice, homely chicken soup, chicken breast pudding and best of all, their chicken gizzards
(picture above):
Kismet Muhallabecisi
Address: Kucukpazar Cad. 68, Eminonu, Istanbul
Phone: 212-513-6773
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For syrian food, especially their salt-baked lamb:
Akdeniz Hatay Sofrasi
Address: Ahmediye Cad. No: 44/A, Fatih
Telephone: 212-531-3333
Web:
http://www.blogger.com/www.akdenizhataysofrasi.com.tr

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For crazy good kaymak - Turkish version of clotted cream:
Besiktas Kaymakci
Address: Koyici Meydani Sok., Besiktas
Telephone: 212-258-2616

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For a once in a lifetime experience with sheep's head - brain, eyes and all:
Sinasi Usta’s Kelle Tandir (roasted and served hot)
Senin Ciger ve Tavuk Pazarlama
Address: Sahne Sk. 18, Balikpazari, Beyoglu
Telephone: 212 245 4312
10 TL/head
9AM-6PM

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For an incredible grilled/fried fish meal:
Sultanahmet Fish House
Address: Prof Kazim Ismail Gurkan, Caddesi 14 Cagaloglu
Telephone: 212 527 4445
12PM - 11PM

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Sorry for the bad photo, the lighting in the restaurant was incredibly dim.