29 April 2007

Dinner Munching (Part I) - The Butcher

I had been trying to arrange for dinner among a group of 3 of my SC/NJ friends and it was starting to feel like it would never happen because schedules kept clashing. When a date was finally settled for more than a month away, I filed it away in my organiser and started planning for it only a week before by looking through cookbooks and food blogs.

However, the actual cooking started only on Saturday morning (the dinner was scheduled for that night). The early start gave me plenty of allowance to do my tasks leisurely without breaking out into as much as a sweat, except perhaps on my walk to the supermarket under the glaring hot sun. I chose relatively easy dishes that could either be prepared in advance or would require only a few minutes of flash frying. It definitely helped that I had a stash of sausages from the Swiss Butchery, hidden in my refrigerator, calling out to me.

On my way home from Phoon Huat to replenish my baking supplies at Chip Bee Gardens earlier in the week, I popped into The Butcher just to have a look see (as I always do whenever I'm in the vicinity). I emerged $18 poorer and 9 sausages heavier (hardly surprising, really). My family had been savouring them slowly and purposefully. The favourite was the Moroccan Lamb, followed by the Mexican Jalapeno Pork, Pork with Black Pepper and Coriander, then the Beef and Guiness. The Mexican one was unexpectedly very spicy, but popular nonetheless.

For the dinner, inspired by one of Donna Hay magazine's recipes for a Chorizo, Chickpea and Cous Cous salad, I made a Sausage, Broad Beans (it was meant to be chickpeas too, but I accidentally opened the wrong can), and Cous Cous salad. As you can imagine, very little effort was required.

3 minutes for the cous cous to cook and get fluffed up (with olive oil, lemon juice and salt). Less than 10 minutes for the sausages to cook through and get sliced. 1 minute for a can of broad beans or chickpeas to be opened (or much less if you have a very good can opener). 4 minutes for the four fried quail eggs (optional). Put them all together with some basil and they're ready for the table and for any highly discriminating palate.

I have always been of the opinion that it's hard to go wrong with a dish that involves sausages. Furthermore, these gourmet sausages from The Butcher are delicious by themself. This cous cous 'salad' should convince anyone to have a stash of sausages, a bottle of cous cous and a can of chickpeas at your disposal all year round. Particularly handy for last minute dinners, which seem to be happening to me pretty often recently.

I was told that Tuesdays at The Butcher are Sausage Days where you get half kg worth of sausages free with ever 1kg of sausage purchased. But they're not open on Labour Day, so pop by the following week if you want to make use of the offer! 1.5 kg might sound like helluva lot, but I assure you that sausages as good as this never last very long.

24 April 2007

My Super Fast Food

Have been going a little gaga over Italian recently, especially since the dishes I usually choose to whip up are so amazingly effortless. Fried polenta cakes with a thick shower of parmesan, yum! You'd think I'd get sick of it by now.

22 April 2007

This is for you, Duckie

We visited my great-grandmother, great-great-grandmother, great-grandfather, grandpa and Uncle Fred today. It was certainly an adventure and I find it amazing how my grandmother (at 81 years of age) remembers each block and unit number so clearly. Incidentally (or not), it was my grandfather's birthday as well. He was born exactly 83 years ago today.

Uncle Fred, passed on 22 years ago on the 13th August. 2 days before my favourite cousin - Freda - was born. This would of course, explain her name. His full name was Fred Yuen Yew Wai, and she is Freda Yuin Yu Wei. I love how her name is steeped deep in family history (my own name is very much less glamourous), and how fate had blessed our family with her birth so shortly after an unfortunate incident.

Freda, whom I affectionately call my little own Duckie, is now in Korea living out her dreams. Her journey there has been miraculous, though not without its obstacles. I can't help beaming with pride everytime I talk about her to my friends. I have a little photo of the both of us that I carry around with me everyday. I miss you, and I'll see you at Christmas!

Your Cousin

20 April 2007

My Super Fast Food

Yet another quick, fuss-free, little dish for worn-out, can't-be-bothered-to-cook moments. Something that can be made in 5 minutes flat definitely deserves an entry on its own and a space in your cupboard.

Have it with some reheated chicken stew for a hearty meal.
Toss it with some greens for a healthy perk-up.
Eat it by itself if you're just feeling a little greedy but feel guilty for overeating.

I simply followed the instructions on the back of the packet, prescribing the amount of boiling water to add, and the appropriate time to wait. Using boiling chicken stock might make it slightly tastier, but it might then strip away too much of its original flavour (though this might be a good thing for some). Added the toasted pinenuts, raisins, mandarin olive oil (see previous entry), some lemon juice, and salt, and tossed till it was light and fluffy. Just make sure you use instant cous cous, or be prepared to steam it (the traditional way) or simmer it in a pot for up to an hour!

I think it says much that my meals are getting shoddier and quicker to prepare, ever since my work started proper. Though I think I should qualify that it's not that I stay at work till late, but that all those yoga classes after work simply leave me little time to spend time in the kitchen. Even my weekends are burnt spending entire days with Fel (which actually isn't bad)! It sure feels rather 'dodgy' meeting up with her almost everyday of the week though.

16 April 2007

After so many years...

It's really embarassing that I only just met my neighbours after having stayed here for so many years. We met in the elevator and I only realised they were my neighbours when we wanted to stop on the same floor.

It's great that I can now put names and faces to the home that seems to constantly emit heavenly smells of homecooked food. Not only do they often make me feel a little hungry, they also prod me to spend a little more time in the kitchen myself. The little things. =)

15 April 2007

Mandarin Orange Infused Olive Oil

I have no idea when it really started, but I find myself receiving random sms-es from friends and family once in a while asking for recommendations to restaurants and cafes given a particular context. This could be for a special date, an anniversary dinner, a casual gathering, a girly catch up, a formal business lunch or simply for the sudden need to pamper oneself. I guess that's what I get for making it so obvious that I have this (unhealthy) obsession with the preparation and enjoyment of food. Of course, I try my very best to help in whatever way I can with whatever limited knowledge and experience, but when I can't offer something suitable, is when I feel terribly bad.

An extremely positive spin off though, is that friends almost always know exactly what makes me happy. April had just returned to Singapore for a short 3 week break (making Gabe an extremely happy man) and had gone on a tour of Europe before flying home. On one of her stopovers, she picked up a gorgeous metal tin of Mandarin Orange Infused Olive Oil that has the beautiful aroma and taste of Mandarin Oranges, from O&Co. I find their packaging novel and ergonomic with its easy-pour pop up spout.

Incidentally, they had a shop in London that I chanced upon, just around Spitalfields Market. When I was last there (which is such a long time ago), I had purchased some white truffle oil that though pricey, is better than some other brands of truffle oil that I have since tried. I regretted not getting more, or other types of oil that they stocked. So when April presented me with the O&Co paper bag, I couldn't be happier! Actually I did feel even happier when I saw that it was exotically infused with Mandarin Oranges, indulging my perpetual craving for unusual flavours.

For a little 'snack' this weekend, I decided to try it out by adulterating the typical Aglio Olio. Suffice to say, I went back into the kitchen to make another serving promptly after finishing my first. I don't think that tin of oil will last very long in my kitchen.

Typically I would have chosen linguine for this, but I desperately wanted to try out my not-so-recently purchased Yellow Label Sgambaro Mille Righe pasta, made purely out of durum wheat and using bronze dies. I was trying to kill time when I walked into a wine shop. Yet the thing that caught my eye was a crate of dried pasta right in the front of the store. The brand was totally foreign to me, but the pastas' slightly rough quality appealed to me. I was out of the shop with two packets in hand, and eager to try these out.

So fast forward a few months (!!) and here I am. They softened under the generously salted boiling water into floppy short, large tubes. They also did a great job in letting the oil stick to it. So even as I took my time taking a photo of it, they did not dry out and stick to each other. This was a problem I encountered before and always thought it was just a problem with the sauce I had made. This revelation is a helpful boost to my confidence in preparing pasta. Now my only difficulty would be finding the wine shop that I had so randomly wandered into, and hope that they would still have stocked up on these.

12 April 2007


Creamed spinach with mushrooms and mozzarella cheese panini

Before I left for UK, I was insane about sandwiches. I would willingly give up my bowl of Mee Pok for a well-filled club sandwich anyday. I thought UK was the PERFECT place for me to live in. I could live on sandwiches all day/week/month/year long. That was until I arrived and got sick of sandwiches within the first month.

After a month of all different types of sandwiches, I learnt to be a little more discerning of the good and the bad. Those with incredibly dry and tasteless fillings ought to have been banned, but were unfortunately rampantly available in our school's Costcutter (mini-mart). What UK did open my eyes to, was the world of Paninis. Crisp exteriors, matched with just the right amount of filling not to overwhelm but to flirt with one's tastebuds and pleasure points.

But grass is always greener on the other side, and after one month of 30 too many sandwiches, I hardly touched sandwiches anymore, even paninis. I opted for more 'real' food instead. Preparing Asian (Chinese) food was a luxury that I would indulge in after each trip into London or Birmingham's Chinatown.

Now, having been back in Singapore for almost a year now (just about slightly more than 2 months shy of that mark), I'm glad to announce that my aversion to sandwiches seems to have worn off. But while I used to lavish in any kind of sandwiches, as long as there were two slices of bread with something edible in between (I'm just as dumbfounded as you by my past choices), I find myself increasingly dissatisfied with the sandwiches that some cafes try to con you into buying.

So when I need my sandwich (panini) fix, I usually return to my reliable haunt - Menotti. It was recommended by a fellow reader (JY) quite a while ago through her comment. We had met when I was working in Takashimaya, where she enquired about panini presses and lamented the dearth of great paninis in Singapore. In the end, she couldn't find a suitable one for her home, but felicitously found Ricciotti and Menotti (both under Garibaldi). I've tried almost the entire range of their paninis by now and have only been let down by the Pollo Panini, where the chicken seemed to be in dire need of some moisture.

Seafood risotto (with extremely fresh prawns)

Thankfully, they also serve a range of pastas and (a) risotto, for those friends of mine who are of the opinion that a sandwich makes not real food. The pastas that I've pinched from them have been excellent, and in my last visit, my girlfriend thought the risotto was great, just a little too heavy for her. Their portion of risotto was incredibly generous and might have overwhelmed my very skinny friend (with her very skinny appetite) a little. I've tried desserts but have not been particularly impressed (and even really disappointed once), though it's the only place I've seen Olive Oil Gelato being served.

I also appreciate that I am guaranteed a seat immediately, everytime I go there. I am a little surprised by this but I'm not complaining, and exploiting this while it lasts!

Menotti The Original Italian Café
252 North Bridge Road
#01-17 Raffles City Shopping Centre
Singapore 179103
Tel: (65) 6333 9366
Fax: (65) 6339 4907
Email: info@garibaldi.com.sg
* Email reservations must be made 24 hours in advance

Sunday to Thursday: 8am to 12am
Friday, Saturday and Eve of Public Holidays: 8am to 1am

07 April 2007

Polenta and Onion Relish

When people gather for many rounds of mahjong, food is usually one of the last thing on their minds. Perhaps this isn't true for some of you, but for my relatives and my mum, they would skip mealtimes if only hunger did not bug them enough to make them slightly distracted. I typically do not cook for my mum and her mahjong kakis if I can help it. But if I do, I would work out something terribly simple, that can be eaten from a bowl and with just a spoon.

So when my mum had a mahjong session yesterday, polenta came to mind. I had a bag of polenta sitting around my shelves just screaming to be slowly simmered into a creamy, corny mush. So I did just that, and made a pot of beef stew as well as some roasted vegetables to go with it. Unfortunately, I had grossly overestimated the amount of polenta that I needed, and ended up with an entire tray worth of polenta.

I find that the best way to save extra polenta is to spread it out on a tray, let it cool, harden, then slice it into 2 cm thick pieces. These can be fried with a little olive oil or frozen for future frying. Fried polenta becomes gratifyingly crisp, with incredibly soft middles. Arguably, they are better than their more viscous predecessors.

For a quick dinner tonight, I chose to cube and fry them in a touch of olive oil. Some halved white button mushrooms, a scoop of onion relish, a sprinkle of dried parsley and a splash of white wine vinegar later, I was stuffing myself with spoonfuls of this very, very comforting dish.

The great thing about this meal is that it can be prepared in a flash, on any worn-out weeknight of yours, when the last thing on your mind is having to wait for your onions to caramelise, or your polenta to soften. Just a little planning beforehand, and some leisurely cooking during the weekend, and you'd have created many instant 'TV-dinners' for whenever you really need it.

04 April 2007

Surprise Surprise

Ever since Fel and I made the commitment to True Yoga for 7 months, we (sort of) vowed to attend yoga classes as regularly as possible, at least 3 times a week. While there were the highly intensive weeks of daily yoga classes (after which I promptly fell ill for an entire week), there were also weeks where we hardly went for a single class because we kept taking turns to be occupied after work. Still, we both never thought we'd keep up this active lifestyle (in fact I daresay that we are more active now than in Uni) once we started work, so it's really pleasantly surprising.

We also never thought that we'd still see so much of each other after returning from Warwick. I thought I would have to travel to her hometown in Jakarta, in order to see her again. Or perhaps wait for her occasional visits to Singapore. But the one thing I definitely thought I'd NEVER ever do with her again, is to cook with her.

Imagine my shock and horror when she requested to come over my place on Sunday to use my oven. Use my OVEN? I could not believe my ears, did I hear her right?

She explained that she needed to bake cookies for her new colleagues, for reasons I have no liberty to share with everyone. So of course, I did the friendly thing and welcomed her into my home, offering all my tools and 'facilities'.

It was tremendously amusing watching her muddle around with the electric mixer, misunderstanding the recipe, clumsily measuring out the ingredients, moaning about having to sift ('Is it reaaaaally necessary??') the flour and baking powder, and then sighing before she even started any mixing.

Somehow though, she made it through the entire batch of cookies. She must have gone through about 6 or 7 batches of 15 minutes each. Of course, the cookies started out really small and oddly shaped. With each batch, the cookies were more refined and smooth. But they also got visibly bigger, in Fel's attempt to finish the cookie batter quickly.

While she busied herself in the kitchen, I was just a step away roasting peppers and tomatoes for a salad, and making onion relish for dinner. Dinner was decided upon when I was at the butchers at Chip Bee Gardens. While I was tempted by the various steaks, I thought the onion relish I had in mind would go best with thick, juicy burgers.

As usual, and in order to speed things up, I exploited the fundamental carnal connection between men and meat, and got my brother to help out with making the burgers. Before that, he successfully made a batch of one of his favourite dips - Tomato and Chilli Jam (Peter Gordon, from The Cook's Book). Coincidentally, it was also a suitable accompaniment to burgers. So the three of us were cramped in the kitchen, excusing and apologising our way around each other.

Just before dinner (finally) started and everyone tucked in ferociously, I tossed the roasted peppers and tomatoes in olive oil and added them to crunchy greens then sandwiched the many beef patties in a Walnut and Onion Ciabatta. The onion relish, generously ladled over the beef patties, quickly depleted. Truth be told, I had intended to distribute the onion relish to my colleagues as little random gifts. But seeing how my whole family - Fel included- seemed to relish (heh heh) the relish, I decided to keep it for our personal consumption.

I would just have to find another day to go through another 3 kg batch of onions, peeling, slicing and caramelising. It is not something I mind though, as I found it incredibly satisfying watching the turgid green-tinged rings soften into translucency, then slowly caramelising into a deep brown hue. All done within my grenadine-stained, heavy duty oval Staub cocotte, the onions initially filled the entire pot then eventually reduced to less than a third of its volume.

Perhaps because we only managed to get dinner ready by the time it was supposed to be supper, my brother was still in search of something to munch on after the burger and salad. So imagine his delight when I told him that Fel had very generously left a cookie jar of her chocolate chip cookies behind for our enjoyment. Recipe for another day!

Onion Relish
From Donna Hay's 30th Issue
Makes 5 cups

1/3 cup olive oil
2 kg brown onions, peeled and sliced into 1 cm rings
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup red wine vinegar
sea salt and cracked black pepper

Preheat a large deep saucepan over medium-high heat.
Add oil and onions.
Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes or until the onion is golden and caramelised (Cooking it uncovered but keeping a close watch on it, stirring more than occasionally, sped up the process)
Add the sugar, vinegar (I would be a little conservative with these two components and add more only when necessary after a taste test), salt and pepper and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Cook for a further 10 minutes or until thick and syrupy.