29 October 2007

Almost Quarter of a Century later...

It is no secret that I am biased towards non-local/Asian food, whether I am thinking about what to cook, or which restaurant to visit. I have to qualify that when it comes to eating out, this bias only applies to those days when the wallet is a little fatter and a special occasion warrants a generous palate-pampering. This is typically because GREAT Asian/local food is available in such abundance, at reasonably high quality, and at ridiculously low prices at some nearby coffeeshop or hawker centre. Paying premium prices for something I can get at a fraction of the price at a similar, if not better, standard is just not logical.

However, last night was an exceptional night in all senses of the word. To celebrate a MOMENTOUS occasion almost a quarter of a century earlier, my family wanted to go out for a good meal with my grandma. By that, of course, I really mean that I wanted to go out for a good meal with my family and my grandma.

While my grandma is generally appreciative of a variety of cuisines, I know that she truly enjoys Chinese food the most. As I wanted to make sure that she enjoyed the night as much as I was going to, I chose a contemporary chinese restaurant - New Majestic Restaurant - to celebrate the Momentous Occasion.

I ate there a couple of months back with some university friends and remember the meal with such fond memories, not just because of the laughter all around the table, but also because of the extremely delectable spread. Returning this time, I was certainly not let down. The meal lived up to my expectations, which we all know somehow escalates overtime, and impressed my entire family.

Once we arrived, I ordered their signature appetiser platter - soft-shell crab, crab omelette, wasabi prawns with a mango salsa of sorts and crispy pork belly- while pondering over the other dishes. They were all flavourful and contrasting in texture. My favourite was the wasabi prawns , which is pretty common in most contemporary chinese restaurants, but I've always had a soft spot for perfect, fresh, crystal prawns.

We ordered a couple of other dishes as well, most of which did not look good in front of the lens, but all of which tasted like heaven. The Roast Chicken with Five Spice Salt (pictured above) was recommended by the waiter, in place of the other wasabi chicken dish I initially planned to order, as he was afraid we'd turn green from overdosing on wasabi. It had everything you would expect of a good roast chicken, crisp skin and tender chicken. Even the chicken breast was not spared.

Cubed beef tenderloin in black pepper sauce impressed my grandma very much, to the extent that she started trying to concoct the recipe in her head with her eyes closed and a furrow between her brows. When the poached amaranth with three eggs (century, salted, chicken) arrived, it was a great interlude from all the rich dishes. The homemade tofu was equally, if not more impressive as it was incredibly silky, almost like soya beancurd deep-fried and drenched in a deliciously savoury sauce.

We had wok-fried mee sua which had plenty of wok hei, and which my mum and grandma were thoroughly amazed by because handling a noodle as delicate as mee sua is highly challenging. It's fine if it is merely dumped in doup, but when it has to be fried, to keep it from sticking to the wok or breaking into little pieces, surely requires more than just a wok, a ladle and a very big flame.

What I did not order again in this second visit, but which I wish I had the appetite to accomodate, was the Chai Tow Kuay aka Carrot Cake (Chinese-style). In hawker centres, these are served with small cubes of the rice cake fried with garlic, egg and seasoning. At New Majestic Restaurant, they added some crunchy beansprouts and spring onion, and served it with big, juicy cubes of rice cake. Before I tried it, I thought it would be overwhelmingly heavy and would cause the dish to become a little bland since the whole mouth would essentially filled with nothing but rice cake. It was however, and very surprisingly so, utterly tasty throughout - from bite to swallow.

Dessert was a must of course, and while I had tried many of their fancier desserts like Homemade Sorbet with Aloe Vera and Grass Jelly, or Fried Durian Ice Cream, what left the greatest impression on me was the Red Bean Pancake. It effectively raised my expectations of all other red bean pancakes henceforth. It is not enough to be crisp, with a suitably sweet and smooth red bean paste, it also has to be almost feather-like, providing only the slightest resistance between the teeth before it snaps into two fragile parts.

Dinner was truly a delight, and my dad was more than happy with their service, which really says alot since he is very particular about it everywhere we go. It was however, a little surreal that I was celebrating my 23rd birthday already. Not long ago, I was merely 16 years old, celebrating my birthday with my girlfriends at a foodcourt, right after the Chinese 'O' level paper. They serenaded me in the herb garden right outside the school. They concocted a potent cocktail of tabasco sauce, pepper, faux grated parmesan and whatever they could lay their hands on, for me to consume because well, it was just one of those wild things we did. They were such gems and such joy.

I remember thinking about where I'd be at 23, and decided that I would want to get married at 23, 2 years after graduation and just enough time to accrue a tidy sum of savings. At 25, I would have my first child, and my second would come at 27. My husband and I would then live happily ever after.

Now, in a blink of the eye, 7 years have passed?! I still keep in contact with those girls of course, and they are still such gems and joy. But the 'M' concept is getting increasingly elusive, and the thought of having children in two years time is more frightening than Halloween, so I'm thankful it'll definitely be a(long)while till then.

But 7 years have passed indeed, and it really scares me that I'll be 24 soon, then soon enough I'll really be a quarter of a century old. Before I know it, I'll be middle-aged, middle-income, and middle-heavy!

24 October 2007

Food for thought

I believe we all have a little (or big) nook in our hearts for certain special things or persons. It could be the strum of the guitar that instantly tugs at your heartstrings. For some of my friends, it is the sighting of an old camera that makes their hearts skip a beat. As for me, it is no secret that the sounds of sizzling garlic or bubbling stew are what make my toes shudder with excitement.

But what makes my heart turn to absolute mush is well... a heart. A heart for people OTHER than yourself, your family and your friends. I think most of us could afford giving a little more back to community, helping those who truly need help. For some this could mean volunteering. For others it could mean
raising funds and donating it all to the needy. For a couple of people, they chose to make this a part of their work.

And that. Makes my heart turn into total, complete, mush.

"FOOD FOR THOUGHT is a quirky little indie diner where you can get great comfort food at a fair price, have fascinating conversations, find new friends and discover simple ways to give back to the local and global community."

Part of their profits go to School of Thought's Financial Aid Scheme for underprivileged students, and there is the option to donate to international well-building projects instead so that other people may have free water someday as well.

The best part about them? They not only try as far as possible, to work with local farmers, they also support local baking talents who've never had the opportunity to put their products of love OUT THERE.

Food there is simple. A wide array of sandwiches, a choice of 2 soups and a couple of salads. That brings about a gazillion permutations of possible meal options. Add to that a range of drinks, of which I enjoyed their Lychee and Sage Freeze as well as Watermelon and Mint Freeze, and an ever-growing repertoire of desserts (some endearingly named after their creator) and an extremely fulfilling meal awaits.

While a part of me has been drawn to the place because of the social cause, a major part of me went back to Food For Thought about say... a thousand times in the past 2 months, because of the food. Sandwiches come with freshly baked foccacia bread and the spicy pork belly and slow-roasted pulled pork are my regular orders when I do get a sandwich. If the Chinese Chicken Caesar Salad doesn't sound interesting enough, wait till you find out it comes with some pretty cool egg. The Shitake Mushroom soup is a mainstay in the soup menu, but is joined by other worthy partners such as Pumpkin and Sage.

As for desserts, Mississippi Mud Pie was highly recommended by both chefs - David and Peter, but I managed to wrangle out of their very generous hearts a secret stash of Durian Mousse Cake they had not even displayed. I'm not sure if it is on their regular menu, but I have made sure they know that they would have a very pesky customer on their hands asking for THAT Durian Mousse Cake everytime she visits.

All that good food is very reasonably priced, making me more than happy to recommend this place to friends, visit this place so often that they now greet me with 'Welcome Back!', and part with a little more money for international well-building projects. Let's all help others get easier access to quality academic help, and of course water!

Food For Thought
420 North Bridge Road
North Bridge Centre
Singapore 188727

For event bookings, lunch/dinner bookings, takeaway orders and catering requests:
Please call
+65 6338 8724
or email

16 October 2007

My Monthly Fix

Every month, I religiously head to Kino for my dose of food related magazines. For a very disturbing digression, on one of those trips I spotted a guy in his late thirties or early forties sitting on the floor, with a soft porn magazine open on his lap. Sure, I'm all for free speech and human rights, and whatever men like to do in their own little private space. Lets not even go there.

Bring it out into the open, er... SURE. But to sit there, with a camera phone in hand, snapping photos of the bikini clad, busty model with barbie-type big hair featured in the magazine, now that's just plain disturbing.

Anyway! Fortunately or unfortunately, I head to Kino pretty often to grab a couple of magazines. I'm a terrible sucker for handsome steaks or sexy pies. Throw in some adorable mini scoops of caramel ice cream and I'm sold. A couple of magazines have entrapped my mind and heart. Donna Hay is one of them. The gorgeous photos, reader-friendly layout and useful tips on cooking make the magazine a mainstay in my repertoire of magazines to grab regularly.

Sadly though, their recipes and tips have been grossly used and consulted. And with that realisation, I stacked up my D.H. mags and trawled through, considering a possible menu to provide for some friends. As I was catching a matinee, I only had a couple of hours to prepare the meal and had to (again) look for something uncomplicated.

There were way too many choices, and after much mulling over, I chose to start the meal off with caramelised mushrooms to top off a thinly sliced baguette, smeared generously with cheese (I chose my childhood fav,
Laughing Cow Cheese) and scattered with wild rocket leaves. This was such a convenient dish to prepare way before hand, to get out of the way and out of the mind while preparing the other courses. I just had to simmer it for a while, allowing it to cool naturally until it is ready to serve. Although the original recipe asked for goat's cheese, my uncontrollable aversion to goat's cheese led to my substitution, which I thoroughly enjoyed anyway.

Following that, we had salmon gently poached in tomato broth, frugally garnished with dill. Convenient point number 2: the broth is prepared before hand and the salmon poached for just 8-9 minutes for the middle to remain that slightly darker shade of pink. Of course, that means that the salmon should be sliced into individual portions first before poaching.

With some careful timing and prep work, some stew and risotto was served after that. The lamb was stewed with an entire bottle of red wine and the aromatic rosemary, while the risotto was plain and spiked with just a mere hint of thyme.

One thing I've learnt however, after so many attempts to recreate dishes featured in magazines or in cookbooks, is that they almost always never turn out the way it looks like in the photos. My fish broth looked far too red, making me alarmed by the disparity of colour. I re-read the recipe over and over again to make sure I wasn't adding the tomato puree to the broth erroneously. Was it 1 tsp, and not 1 tbspn? Was my tomato puree unusually red?

So yes, I've learnt (the hard way) to accept that I might never be able to make such perfect looking steaks or pies. But when you have friends like mine who mostly don't notice if the carrot sticks were not julienned properly or if the frosting on the cake is slightly uneven, it is easier to let go.
Just walk away from the cake Daffy, just walk away from the cake.

11 October 2007

Pseudo Mediterranean

I don't know about you, but I have my lazy days. Days when I wish I have the energy to prepare an elaborate and enjoyable four course meal. Days when the spirit is more than willing but the flesh is terribly weak. Last week was definitely a lazy WEEK. I didn't touch a single pan, and even contemplated having instant mee for dinner (oh the sin!).

Evidently, I took the easy way out over the weekend by asking my girlfriends to come over at tea-time, knowing that I wouldn't have to prepare too much. I toyed with the idea of pastries (using frozen puff-pastry of course), and simple sandwiches, similar to
something I had done before.

Before long, I found myself lingering over thoughts of creamy chickpea dips, and tangy aubergine dips instead. Slightly crisp triangles of pita bread and long fingers of focaccia bread went very well with the hummus and baba ghanouj, both of which were recipes I took from Claudia Roden's
Arabesque, one of the cookbooks that have been sitting in my bookshelf rather neglected.

I swear I still remember how ox-bow lakes are formed as well as what breakwaters are, but ask me the capitals of various cities or the exact location of Greece on a map and I'd have to hum and haw for a bit before giving you an uncertain answer. I am certainly not known for my geography. However, I'm pretty sure that dips like Hummus is as Mediterranean as one can get.

I can already picture Paul's face as he's reading this, flabbergasted at the cheese he spies in the photos, thinking 'Here she goes again, mixing up her geography. Yawn, what's new.' And so to Paul, I'd like to scream, NO! I did my prior research this time, and the cheese was a last minute though extremely welcome addition to the tea that I arranged for those old friends I've known since my secondary school days.

The rest of the menu, I'm pretty sure, was mediterranean. And for that I'd like to quote Claudia in her introduction, "Three great cuisines - of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon - developed around the Mediterranean where the Occident meets the Orient and where, long ago, medieval jihadis and crusaders clashed." How beautiful.

By the time I reached home from the supermarket, armed with my tracing paper, tulip and groceries, I only had 1.5 hours to prepare all the food, set the table, write the menu and create the elegantly moody centerpiece. Thankfully Addy, my very meticulous and always radiant girlfriend, saved the day by arriving an hour early armed with the cheeses, grapes, dried cranberries and apricots. She also got 2 small portions of sweet relishes from Absolutely New Zealand at Sunset Way, Singapore's next upcoming foodie district. For a pretty comprehensive guide to Sunset Way, see
Jasmine's entry.

While she arranged the gourmet goodies, I set off to make the hummus and baba ghanouj, which was essentially all that was needed. In the meantime, Addy crisped up the pita bread and sliced the focaccia then split them into individual portions. By the time the other girls arrived tardily (as usual), the dips were scooped into a few portions to share and distributed around the table. I opened a bottle of
Long Flat Moscato that I swear many people will find drinkable. It may not be the ideal sommelier's choice to pair with the dips, but everyone polished their glasses before our 'tea' even ended.

I don't know why I don't make dips more often, since there's virtually no cooking required. Only the baba ghanouj needed some roasted aubergines (or charred over an open fire if you don't have an oven), from which the lovely flesh was scraped out for use. And while the ideal method would be to mash the aubergine flesh through a sieve, removing the seeds, I took the easy way out and just blitzed everything in my blender. The seeds were imperceptible in the dip anyway.

My first encounter with Baba Ghanouj was at
Amirah's Grill during one of those department lunches. Although it looked less appetising than the hummus, it was infinitely more delicious and I resolved to replicate it one day. So you can imagine my joy when I found that Claudia Roden's recipe for Baba Ghanouj was even more yummy than the one I tried at Amirah's Grill.

Claudia's was less sharp, with a gentler flavour that greets your palate warmly like a big red wool scarf on a cold wintry night. However, if you like more BAM to your dips, you can always feel free to personalise it with more tahini and lemon juice.

Baba Ghanouj
(Aubergine and Tahini Dip)
Serves 6-8

2 aubergines, weighing about 650g
3 tbspn tahini
juice of 2 lemons
125-200g strained Greek Style yoghurt
2 garlic cloves, crushed, or to taste
2 tbspn extra virgin olive oil
2 tbspn chopped flat-leaf parsley

Prick the aubergines in a few places with a pointed knife.
Turn them over the flame of the gas hob or under the girll, until the skin is charred all over.
Alternatively, place them on a sheet of foil on an oven tray and roast them in the hottest oven (pre-heated to 240 d celcius) for 45-60mins until the skins are wrinkled and they are very soft.

When cool enough to handle, halve and scoop out the flesh.
Adding a tiny squeeze of the lemon juice (to keep them from oxidizing), blitz in blender with garlic until a smooth puree is formed.
In a bowl, beat the tahini with the lemon juice (the tahini stiffens at first then softens), then beat in the yoghurt.
Add the mashed aubergines, beat vigorously and add salt to taste.

Garnish with a dribble of olive oil and a sprinkling of parsley.

07 October 2007

To share or to hog...

When I discover something novel and lovely, I sometimes find myself in a huge conundrum. What should I do? Do I share this exciting news-bite with everyone? Or would it be wiser to hog the treasure, to be shared only with the select few I intend to enjoy it with? The answer, if you haven't already guessed it, would be to spread the word. Food bloggers certainly would not be food bloggers if they did not like sharing their new bonanza.

I'm pretty sure other food bloggers share the same 'problem' that I have: I'm ALWAYS tasked to suggest a place to dine. Of course, it is natural to leave the where-to-eat-problem to the person who probably has a long list of eateries to try. But once in a while (Yes! It happens!), nothing comes to mind and thinking of some place on a tight budget becomes a painfully excruciating exercise.

So when Sherwin suggested a cosy gathering among the couple of us old Warwick peeps, I was SO relieved that he suggested some place he wanted to try. Better still, someplace I had not tried myself! Of course, if there's some new eatery, you can bet your life that some food blogger (in this case, June) would have blogged about it before.

Being so comfortable with this bunch of clowns, I shamelessly requested that we have lunch there instead of dinner. Apart from the fact that it meant I had to trudge up the terrible off-road in the sweltering heat, it was a great decision.
First and foremost, photos were a joy to take since the food was bathing in the glorious sunlight. Also, for some reason (maybe the heat?), we were the only ones there. I was not complaining about that, especially since the place was full house the night before. I really don't fancy shouting over tables to make myself heard or straining my ears to stay in conversations.

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Although I was not particularly ravenous, we ordered a whole load of appetizers, including a pizza to share. I heard sounds of pleasure around the table, and particularly enjoyed the mushroom soup. It was not thick nor overly rich like I expected it to be because of very many disappointing experiences, and I could taste the very essence of the button mushrooms.

The star of the round of appetisers however, was the Buono Pizza, which when translated literally means 'good pizza'. The few people who balked at the sight of rocket surprised themselves by polishing their pizzas to the last leaf. The white sauce and delicious blend of cheeses went perfectly with the occasional ring of tomato and the abundant scatter of the peppery rocket that would otherwise be rather overwhelming.

When we spoke to the chef, he admitted a penchant for adding his own little twists to dishes, and the Curry Seafood Pasta has got to be the epitome of this quirk of his. I didn't manage to try it, being too besotted with my own dish but it did look tempting. There were the classics of course, which he did not fool around with, like the Squid Ink Risotto. It seemed a tad oversalted, but my friend lapped it up. When it comes to portions, they definitely don't play the
small-portion-big-plate game, making this a great place to go when you're ravenous.

Although I was tempted by the ravioli (with seafood and tomato-based sauce), I eventually chose the tortelloni because well, it's cheese and mushrooms - simply irresistable. I managed to steal a ravioli from Vivien, and it was quite lovely. The tomato-based sauce was smooth and rich, and had evidently spent much time stewing gently in some big cast-iron pot.
But the tortelloni... ah the tortelloni. It was soothing with each bite, with the pasta substantially thick and just slightly chewy. The cheese stuffing was not overpowering nor cloying, and went well with the flavourfully earthy porcini cream sauce.

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Just when I thought I could stomach no more, the man himself came over to introduce his stock of specially imported ice creams. A peach sorbet, a pineapple sorbet, a chocolate hazelnut gelato, and a blueberry molten lava cake it was for the couple of us. The presentation was novel to me, and therefore fun to snap. The frozen peach that came with the peach sorbet was not let go either of course, and on a warm day like that, it was a welcome respite.

Couln't resist posting this really 'cool' photo of the pineapple sorbet as well. These baby pineapples were tres cute, but unfortunately not very edible since they were also served frozen.

I, of course, chose the chocolate gelato rolled in chopped nuts, which was probably a mixture of hazelnuts and almonds. The best dessert of the lot, though also least good-looking (and therefore not here), was the blueberry molten lava cake with an incredibly smooth and refreshing filling.

If I had to pinpoint one reason I have not been back to Buono's ever since, it has got to be the distance. Located just off Serangoon Central, you have to be armed with your street directory or GPS system to find the rather secluded Lichfield Road. But I would love to return with a bunch of close friends to while a lazy afternoon away with the best company ever - good food.


Tel: 6733 5646