30 September 2014

Cilantro flatbread

I love the idea of making bread, I really do. The image of a smooth ball of dough slowly rising in the oven, and eventually splitting apart to unearth more doughy goodness... is very alluring. 

But almost all bread recipes require a fair amount of forward planning. By that I mean you have to start hours in advance so that the dough has enough time to relax and grow. Skipping this step would be disastrous as the yeast needs time to work its magic, creating many tiny little pockets of air. 

Then comes flatbread to the rescue. A work of art that delivers all the starchy deliciousness you are looking for, but which can be done in under half an hour.

And since I often have all the ingredients necessary, these can be made even for a quick supper - delicious with tzatziki or hummus. This is so easy I actually look forward to making it. And I give this many bonus points because Ed always asks for seconds when I make this. 

Cilantro Flatbread
Recipe adapted from Epicurious
Makes 8 flatbreads

1 1/2 cups (or more) unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3/4 cup (or more) plain whole-milk yogurt
Olive oil (for frying)

Sift first 4 ingredients into medium bowl. Stir in cilantro. Add yogurt and stir with fork until small clumps form. Knead mixture in bowl just until dough holds together, adding more flour or yogurt by tablespoonfuls for soft and slightly sticky dough. Turn dough out onto floured surface. Knead just until smooth, adding flour along the way if the dough is too sticky, about 1 minute. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces.
Roll each piece into ball, then roll each dough piece out on floured surface to 4 1/2-inch round. Brush large nonstick skillet generously with olive oil; heat over medium heat. Working in batches, add 3 dough rounds to skillet; cook until golden brown and puffed, adjusting heat to medium-high as needed to brown evenly, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer flatbreads to platter; serve warm.

17 September 2014

Tomato Anchovy Pasta

Talk to any Chinese home cook, and chances are that they will admit to having cooked a noodle soup dish to finish up leftover bits of ingredients in their refrigerator. Like fishballs, tofu, bits of mince meat, or limp and almost yellowing vegetables. I am no exception. This was a useful skill I picked up from my mum and frequently practised in my university days. 

Ed is very (sensibly) particular about not wasting food and gives me plenty of grief when he sees me throwing away anything from the refrigerator. Not that he would stop me - moldy anything is impossible to salvage - but a brief lecture would usually follow. Sometimes I resort to throwing it away secretly and hope he never notices. That works... sometimes. 

It does not help that I love cooking a variety of cuisines. This means that while I have a few lady's fingers and tomatoes left over from the Indian fish head curry dish I made the day before, I also have a few stalks of italian parsley (from making a Spanish octopus salad) or dried shrimp (from the Peranakan rempah udang last week). It would require a really creative person to come up with a dish that can combine all of them. Alas, I am no such person, but I do my best. 

This is where pasta - the Italian equivalent of the Chinese noodle - comes in. While thinking about what to cook for lunch today, I rummaged through my refrigerator for some inspiration and found a small tin of anchovy fillets - a tin I had originally intended to use on some pizza one day. A day which never came about. Combining it with the few lonely stalks of italian parsley and half box of cherry tomatoes seemed like a delicious flavour profile for a pasta dish, and it was!

I had never cooked anchovy fillets over direct heat before, since I always eat mine grilled whole on pizza, or neat if they are simply pickled instead of cured. (I really adore pickled anchovy, which can usually be found near the deli section of supermarkets. I'm salivating just thinking of it now.) So I didn't expect the cured anchovy fillets to melt into the sauce, but it made for an incredibly delicious sauce packed with the tang from the tomatoes and salty fermented flavour from the anchovy. I was very pleasantly surprised by how well all the ingredients came together, and will definitely make this again. 

Tomato Anchovy Pasta
serves two

160g dried short pasta 
(I used a mixture of casarecce and fusilli, both of which had similar cooking times.)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
A 55g tin of cured anchovy
200g cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
A tablespoon of chopped italian parsley (or more, if you wish)

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente, keeping some of the pasta water. (Be generous with the salt. I use 1.5 teaspoons for every litre of water.)

While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Add sliced garlic - it should sizzle gently the moment the garlic hits the oil.  
When the edges of the garlic are turning brown, add anchovy fillets. Feel free to mash it up. When the anchovy fillets are starting to break apart, add cherry tomatoes and stir to combine. 

When cherry tomatoes have softened slightly (they should still be able to hold their shape and yield slightly to pressure), turn down the heat to low, add drained al dente pasta to the saucepan and toss until pasta is well coated in the sauce. Add reserved pasta water if necessary i.e. if the pasta seems a little dry. 

Garnish with italian parsley and serve warm. 

15 September 2014

Rempah Udang

Since getting home from our two month escapade, I've been cooking far more often than when I had a regular job - double the joy there. It is truly blissful to feel inspired to cook fish head curry simply after seeing a really handsome piece of fish head, AND have the luxury of time to do it that very day. Or to be able to take all afternoon making prawn mee even though a good bowl is just a few minutes away. 

Since I left my job, many have asked me how I have been occupying myself. I suppose this curiosity is natural, since I used to spend a good 50 - 60 hours a week at work. The best part of having all that time is that I now have the time and energy to reconnect with old friends, and deepen relationships with people who matter. How better to start than with my own family. 

One of the items on my to-do list, crafted when I was still in Australia, was to finally attempt Rempah Udang. Spending an entire afternoon doing that with my mother was exactly how I envisioned my first foray into Rempah Udang to go. 

Using my trusty go-to Peranakan cookbook by Philip Chia, we mixed, chopped, pounded, steamed, fried, and rolled our way to many irregularly shaped and sized banana leaf parcels of glutinous rice and dried shrimp deliciousness. It was also a great learning process for my mum and I as we got better with each new parcel we created. We found it a real challenge to ensure there was just the right amount of glutinous rice (read: not too much)  and dried shrimp (read: as much as possible), while still ensuring the shrimp was fully encased in the glutinous rice. We might need a few more rounds to nail this, but it was certainly good enough to give away to friends and family. But the best part of it all really, was spending all afternoon in the kitchen with my mum, the way we used to do when I was just a wee girl helping her prepare the Saturday dinner. 

Rempah Udang
Makes about 30 parcels
(Recipe from Peranakan Heritage Cooking, comments in italics mine)

Banana leaves as needed 
(I bought $1 worth and it was more than enough)
Dried bunga telang
(These are flowers to dye the glutinous rice blue, but they are more for its aesthetic value. I omitted them since they are quite difficult, but not impossible, to find.)
Water as needed
600g white glutinous rice, soaked for 4 hours
250ml coconut milk 
1/2 teaspoon salt
60 bamboo cocktail sticks

200g dried shrimp, rinsed and drained
4cm bulbous end of lemongrass
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
200g shallots, peeled
2cm knob of tumeric, peeled (or 1 tsp ground tumeric)
2 tablespoon cooking oil
2-3 tablespoons dried chilli paste (see recipe below)
100g grated skinned coconut
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon sugar


Wipe banana leaves clean, scald in hot water or over an open flame to soften the leaves and prevent them from tearing when folded. Cut to obtain about 30 square sheets, each at least 9cm x 9cm. (You may want to cut them only when you are rolling them, so that you can adjust the size of each sheet to your preference.)

Place dried bunga telang in a bowl with 100ml of water. Leave to soak for about 15 minutes or longer if you want a deeper blue. Strain to obtain water for colouring. 

Rinse and strain the glutinous rice. Place on a steaming tray. Mix coconut milk with 50ml of water and salt. (The recipe called for 100ml of water, but the glutinous rice was more stodgy than I would have liked it.) Pour over glutinous rice. Using a teaspoon, drop spoonfuls of blue colouring randomly on rice to colour it in patches.

Steam rice for about 45 minutes or until rice is tender and cooked. Set aside to cool. While rice is cooling, prepare filling.

Heat a wok and dry-fry dried shrimp until fragrant. Leave to cool, then grind until fine using a mortar and pestle or blender. 

Using a mortar and pestle or blender, grind lemongrass, garlic, shallots and tumeric into a paste. (For all my pounding needs, the Ultrapride does a fine job.)

Heat oil in a wok and add ground mixture and dried chilli paste. Stir-fry until fragrant. Add ground dried shrimp and grated coconut. Stir-fry until golden brown. Add salt and sugar.

To make parcels, spoon 2 tablespoons of cooked glutinous rice on a banana leaf square and press it down lightly. Spoon enough filling in a line along the middle of the rice, then roll banana leaf up neatly to get a cylindrical parcel. Secure open ends with cocktail sticks. Repeat until ingredients are used up. 

Grill parcels for 1-2 minutes or until leaves are lightly browned just before serving.

(For chilli paste: soak dried chillies in hot water for 30-45 minutes, drain well and grind finely into a paste.)

01 September 2014

The Grand Aussie Tour

With some (okay, a lot) of time on our hands, Ed and I thought we would take a not-so-short trip to unwind, recharge and reflect. We contemplated numerous options - we ruled out Europe since we'll be heading in that direction next year for some work; we considered Alaska but got freaked out when we read that we'd have difficulty booking accommodation and especially renting a car if we hadn't already done so at least three months in advance; and we would have done a Grand South-East Asia trip if our friends did not remind us that we could always visit various parts of our neighbouring countries over many short trips given how accessible they were from Singapore. 

After much contemplation, and fighting our inner desire to go to the less travelled path, we chose Australia. Neither of us had been there much in our adult years. We thought we had plenty of time, but it turns out the two months was just enough to scrape the surface of the huge and beautiful country. We went there with certain expectations but had them surpassed and lapped, and achieved more than what we thought we would.

There are plenty of guide books and internet resources for places to spend the night in, things to see and food to eat in Australia. We found ourselves visiting Urbanspoon very often when deciding where to eat (nearby) for crowd-sourced reviews and ratings, and were recommended Beanhunter for the coffee-joint equivalent. They gave more up-to-date information such as the opening/closing hours or whether the standard of the food dropped. 

There were still a few things that really stood out to us. These were places we would certain return to in future when we visit Australia again. 

Perth - City

Eat: The Mushroom Pesto Papardelle at Cantina 663 (663 Beaufort Street) was sublime. It was packed full of flavour from the generous serving of mushrooms and pesto, which had plenty of flat-leaf parsley (one of my favourite herbs). I licked the plate clean. It helped that the restaurant had a really cool, laid-back vibe. We saw lots of pate going to other tables, which we would probably have ordered if the portion was not so gigantic. But what a happy problem.

Adelaide - Kangaroo Island and Barossa Valley

Clockwise from top left: Koala at Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, Snake skin and Kookaburra at Radical Raptors, and Seals at Seal Bay Conservation Park

See: Kangaroo Island isn't teaming with kangaroos but there are plenty of wildlife to occupy your time. Just a short 45 minute ferry ride away from a jetty south of the city, it was definitely worth a journey down. 

Eat: There's something particularly gamey about the pork in Australia that made us avoid it. But when we were told that the pork belly at Cafe Y (Barossa Valley) was wood-fired and cooked over two days, Ed was intrigued and ordered it. I'm so glad he did because it was divinely tender with a delicately sweet glaze, and none of that gaminess. The manager, Elias, was also beyond hospitable and entertained us with stories of the resident geese and chicken. He also recommended getting some of the 20 year-old muscat from the Yaldara Estate just next door. We couldn't be happier with our purchase.

Melbourne - Phillip Island

See and Eat: Having had very little luck in previous fishing trips, we were slightly hesitant about going fishing for trout albeit at a farm (Rhyll Trout and Bush Tucker Farm). But they couldn't have made it easier with their indoor pond. We succumbed to the indoor experience after braving the winds (since this was in winter) for about half an hour with nary a bite. They helped with everything, even casting the line which was easier said than done. We couldn't even hook the live bait of earthworms! Overall, the experience was seamless, and the fish tasted incredibly sweet. But I couldn't help thinking how unlucky those two specific trout were that morning. 

Tasmania - Hobart and Launceston

Eat: On our first night in Tasmania, we decided to treat ourselves to a meal at Garagistes. We were incredibly fortunate to have entered early as the restaurant was almost fully booked. Sitting at the bar, we had a great view of the entire food preparation area. We could fully appreciate the precision required in the plating of each dish, and the effort put into ensuring the flavour of each component of the dish was exactly as intended. The service staff were also particularly attentive and hospitable.

See: The photo says it all. Just a short car ride away from the town, a breathtaking view awaits. If you're lucky, you may even see snow!

Stay: Relbia Lodge was a lucky find. While we usually stayed in the heart of town, I decided to take a risk with Relbia Lodge after seeing the stunning photos on their website. It turned out to be just a relaxing 15 minute relaxing drive away from town and a really stunning piece of property. The interior was very tastefully done and more importantly, had an incredibly well-equipped kitchenette. Our hosts, who stayed just up the road, also made sure we were comfortable while still respecting our privacy. 


See: The Queen Victoria Building (QVB) is hard to miss amidst all the tall and cold buildings. It was such a great respite from the noise and rush of the streets; and a treasure trove of cafes and boutiques to browse at your own pace. The detail in the architecture is also worth a few moments of awe.  

Eat: With an incredibly high rating on Urbanspoon, and just a hop and a skip away from where we stayed, Buffalo Dining Club was an easy decision to make. We ordered their gnocchi and cacio e pepe. Both were flawless and left us both full but wanting more. This was definitely a place I would return to, despite the slightly curt service. 
We definitely enjoyed our time in Australia thoroughly, but after two months away from home and our two lovely cats, we were eager to stop living out of a luggage. And now we're home, and I could not be happier.