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Sunday, January 29, 2006

IMBB 22: Roast duck noodles



Big thanks goes out to Amy of Cooking With Amy for hosting the 22nd edition of Is My Blog Burning. She's chosen noodles as the theme for this month.

My wife S and I really enjoy making fresh pasta from scratch. We also like putting together delicious sauces to eat with our freshly-made pasta. We'll go to our favorite butcher and vegetable stall, looking out for produce that inspires us to tie on our aprons and spend a few hours cooking away. There's very little as rewarding as enjoying a plate of homemade pasta with a slow-cooked sauce that you've lovingly labored over.

Of course, there are other times when you need a plate of pasta right away. When S and I get those "I need to eat something awesome right now" cravings, we throw together a couple helpings of Roast Duck Pasta. This is one of our favorite almost-instant meals. So long as you can get your hands on an order of roast duck from a nearby Chinese takeaway or roast meats stall, you can whip up this delicious dish in a matter of minutes.

To make this, you'll need, as mentioned, some roast duck. When you buy it, ask for some of the duck sauce. You'll also need some pasta (I suggest angelhair or linguine), an onion, some garlic, a little olive oil and some hoisin sauce. Chicken stock and spring onions are good optional additions. Shred the duck, reserving a few nice slices to place on top of the pasta. Dice the onion and garlic. In a saucepan, heat a little olive oil. Then cook the onion and garlic until soft. In a bowl, mix some of the duck sauce with a splash of olive oil, some hoisin, and if you like the taste, some chicken stock. Pour this over the onion and garlic. Add the shredded duck into the saucepan, stir everything together and cook until the meat is warm. Cook the pasta and when al dente, drain it and stir it into the sauce. Plate the pasta, topping with a few slices of the duck and if you enjoy the taste, some chopped spring onions.

Of course, this dish is highly adaptable. In the pictured version, I've sprinkled some steamed salted duck egg's yolk. It's also great with some chili. The great thing is, from start to finish--given you have all the ingredients--you can make this in less than 10-15 minutes. I'm also purposely not giving any exact measurements here because I believe that everyone has his or her own tastes and should be able to decide for him or herself how much duck sauce or hoisin or stock to use.

Because this dish is easy to make, it's also great to use as a course during a multiple-course dinner. After all, there's no point killing yourself when entertaining friends or family. I find that it's best to plan a couple intricate dishes, interspersed with equally delicious but easy-to-make ones. For Chinese New Year this year, S and I hosted and cooked my family's reunion dinner, as we have for the past few years. We planned a 6 course dinner, of which the duck pasta dish was the 5th course. The entire menu, for the curious, consisted of egg cocotte with foie gras and truffle salsa; a trio of ngoh hiang and foie gras; prawns with a salted duck egg yolk crust, shimeji mushrooms and spinach tofu; shark's fin soup with abalone and crabmeat; Teochew braised duck pasta; and a candied walnut ice cream sandwich, orange-Bavarian timbale and caramelized tangerines. We were also fortunate that a close friend had given us a Teochew-style braised duck, which we used for the pasta (braised duck works just as well as roasted). It was, as it always is, fantastically tasty and a snap to make.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

A Chinese New Year Greeting from Alix

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

More beans please



I think everyone has moments when all they really want to eat is something familiar and comforting. One food that seems to do the trick every time is beans. Of course, there are so many different ways to whip up a big, hearty helping of beans and so many different kinds of beans that one could use that you might find fault with my choice, arguing that I need to be much more specific. But I think the beauty of beans, be they flageolet, haricot, kidney, fava, pinto or lima, is that everyone has a favorite way of cooking or eating them. My darling wife S, for example, is a huge slow-baked beans addict. My own favorite recipe comes from one of my first cookbooks, the small and easy-to-use Real Fast Food by British food god Nigel Slater.

I discovered this amazing little paperback at Shakespeare and Company in Paris during the summer of 1994. I spent 10 weeks that summer "staging" at the International Herald Tribune. In Paris, I had subletted a tiny studio from a friend, a fellow-student who was spending the summer partying across Eastern Europe. The studio was little more than a tiny room with a bed, a shower and a kitchen. The kitchen, I should note, took up at least 30% of the whole apartment. So, as you can imagine, I spent a lot of time there. Real Fast Food was only the second cookbook I had ever bought for myself (the first was Molly Katzen's awesome Moosewood Cookbook) and it became my best friend during that summer. I loved the fact that the book offered "350 recipes ready-to-eat in 30 minutes". And since I lived just a short walk from a fantastic farmer's market, I had no excuse not to work my way through the book.

I still have my beat-up copy of this book, a Penguin edition printed in 1993. The corner of at least a dozen pages are folded over--my way, back then, of marking the pages that contained my favorite recipes. My favorite beans recipe is on Page 209, White Beans with Tarragon and Cream. It's a lovely, herby creamy dish that works wonderfully on its own, with toast or with any number of meats. This is, of course, one of the great things about the best beans recipes--that they taste great with a vast variety of things.

Recently, because S knows that I have a preference for white beans, she decided to come up with a recipe to serve alongside some beautifully fresh lamb racks that we had bought at the Swiss Butchery. It was tasty and earthy, spiked with carrots, onions and celery, and braised with chicken stock that's been flavored through the addition of a nice, meaty ham bone.

It was even better the next day. For breakfast, I couldn't resist heating up some more of the braised beans. Having spent the night in the fridge, the bean's flavors had become more balanced and more nuanced. I sliced up and pan-fried some bratwurst and topped everything with a poached egg. It was a wonderful, hearty breakfast, made especially so served with a glass of iced coffee.

S's simple braised white beans
Begin with 225g dried flageolet beans, picked over and rinsed. Cover the beans with 500ml water. Soak them for 8-12 hours, then drain. Put the beans in a large sauce pan with another 500ml water. Add 3 cloves of garlic, bruised; and 1 bay leaf. Bring to a boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface; reduce the heat and simmer for an hour or until cooked. Store the beans in the remaining cooking liquid if you don't intend to use them immediately.

1 carrot, peeled & diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 onion, peeled & diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled & minced
enough chicken stock to cover the beans and vegetables

Drain the beans and add to the stock. Next, add the carrots, onions, celery and garlic. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes or until most of the liquid has been reduced. Adjust seasoning (salt and pepper) to taste. If you can, cool and refrigerate overnight. Reheat before serving.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Best iced coffee



One of my favorite (non-boozy) drinks is a good iced coffee. I've noticed that in some countries, an iced coffee comes with a scoop of ice cream. And while that's yummy, it's not quite right to me. I like my ice coffee pretty simple: good quality coffee, served ice cold, sweet and milky. What I really don't like is when lazy baristas prepare iced coffee by pouring hot coffee into a glass filled with ice. They might as well call that "somewhat cool, watered down coffee". Not only is the temperature not right but the flavor is diluted, thanks to all the melted ice.

When researching a story a few years ago, I came across the description of a café in Tokyo that had been pitched to my colleagues and I as the home of the best iced coffee in Japan. The owners of this café used only the very best and most expensive Blue Mountain coffee. The coffee was mixed with milk and sugar and then poured into a cocktail shaker. This was sealed tightly and then spun... yes, spun... on top of a giant block of ice. The coffee gets chilled without any additional water diluting it. Fantastic! And of course a tad extreme.

One of the best iced coffees in Singapore used to at the Four Seasons Hotel. In the past, they served their iced coffee with coffee ice cubes. That way, as the ice melted, not only was there no dilution, but the coffee in the glass was replenished. Unfortunately, they've stopped serving it this way. Another good iced coffee drink can be found at Café Rosso, in Holland Village. They do a drink there which consists of a tall glass filled with coffee ice cubes. This is served with sugar syrup and milk, which you add to the coffee ice cubes.

I've wanted to recreate this at home for a long time. But I've long felt that the drink just wasn't right with small ice cubes (like the ones used at Café Rosso). Then, a few weeks ago, during one of our regular Ikea runs (yup, S and I like to visit Ikea every few months, just to see what's new), we spotted some great rubber ice trays. Not only were they fashioned in bright colors, but they came in a variety in shapes and sizes. We were immediately drawn to a set of red ones that would hold 4 very large cubes each.

I've been in iced coffee heaven ever since. We use these trays to make large blocks of frozen coffee. Each cube is large enough for one drink. All I do is place it in a nice glass and add a splash of cold milk. I then mix a tablespoon of sugar with another 2 ounces or so of milk and zap it in the microwave, just long enough to melt the sugar. I mix this up well and pour this over the iced coffee ice cube, which helps melt it just a bit. The beauty of using a large ice cube versus small ones is that the larger the ice cube the slower it melts. Of course, this means I'm forced to take my time enjoying this drink, sipping it slowly as the cube melts. But that suits me just fine.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Comfort food for a greedy princess



I've just recently written about our younger golden retriever Alix. So, it's only fair that I now dedicate a post to our first and older golden, Sascha. Regular readers will remember this big white fluffy kitchen shark from a previous post in which I wrote about her penchant for stealing food off our kitchen counter. S and I bought Sascha in March 2000 and while Alix is an adorable, perpetually happy and overly friendly little tyke, Sascha's somewhat distant. Actually, she's just plain aloof. Unless you happen to be eating. Then, this snooty, sophisticated pooch becomes the sweetest thing in the whole wide world. She'll stare at you with big brown eyes. Her tongue will be hanging out of her mouth--which, oddly enough, will be upturned into what looks like a big, toothy smile. Her ears will be adorably perky and her tail will be wagging enthusiastically. She'll have one paw extended, hoping that you'll reward her with a savory treat. Quite simply, where Alix is lazy, Sascha is just plain greedy.

S claims that Sascha eats like a man. She likes meat, more meat and sweet desserts. Put a cherry tomato in front of her, and she might pick it up with her mouth, but she'll just as quickly spit it out. This greedy gourmet doesn't like fruits and vegetables--unless, that is, they've been cooked in some kind of meat sauce. However, when she gets her paws on exactly what she wants, she eats it voraciously and quickly. And once she's finished, she'll toss you a look and proudly saunter off in search of another tasty morsel or a little "alone time".

A dish that S and I both agree quite accurately reflects the rather carnivorous, yet snooty, tastes of our beloved older pooch is Osso Buco with Risotto alla Milanese. And in her honor, we whipped together a small batch--which, of course, we shared with her fuzzy Highness. I love a good Osso Buco. I adore the heartiness of the fork-tender meat that's been lovingly braised in tomatoes and white wine. And I love the risotto that it's traditionally paired with. Flavored with saffron and punched up with parmesan and butter, a really well-made Risotto alla Milanese is hard to beat.




For this classic dish, S and I split the cooking tasks. She handled the more arduous task of preparing the veal shanks while I took command of the risotto--something I'm particularly fond of making. For the Osso Buco, S turned to a recipe from Molly Stevens' All About Braising. Ms Stevens' recipe is interesting for a number of reasons: It uses a relatively small amount of liquid; she adds orange zest and fennel to the braising liquid as well, which gives the meat and the sauce a fruity, subtly anise-inflected accent; and she recommends finishing the shanks off by topping them with gremolata and returning them to the oven uncovered for 15 minutes. Because the recipe is long--it covers 4 pages in Ms Steven's fantastic cookbook--I've decided not to transcribe it here. I do, however, wholeheartedly recommend buying this cookbook. Every recipe in it that S and I have tried has been fantastic. It really is one of those must-have books.

I love making risotto. Making it is incredibly therapeutic. And when done well, the result is marvelously delicious. I love the satiny smooth texture of it on the tongue. I love the rich, buttery, cheesy taste. Of course, good risotto must also be made with homemade stock--using that powdered stuff just won't cut it. These days, when I make risotto, I can pretty much work on auto-pilot. I've made it often enough that I don't need to refer to any cookbook. For reference though, I've decided to share with you the recipe that appears in Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers' The River Cafe Cook Book. This recipe is entirely dependable, producing excellent, delectable results.

Making this last batch was especially rewarding because a good friend had recently given us some lovely Iranian saffron that she had bought on a recent trip. Saffron, as many of you know, is the most expensive spice in the world. And Iranian saffron, prized for its fragrance, color and flavor, is considered the very best. Of course, I couldn't resist using it in this risotto.

The Osso Buco with Risotto alla Milanese turned out just as we had hoped. In honor of our principessa pooch, S and I plated it in small, elegant portions. Just a few spoonfuls of the risotto at the bottom of a shallow dish, with a small portion of the meat, off the bone, placed over the rice.

Risotto alla Milanese
from The River Cafe Cook Book
Serves 6-8

300g arborio rice
1 litre chicken stock
150g butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon saffron threads, soaked in a bit of stock
75ml extra dry white vermouth
175g parmesan, freshly grated

Heat the chicken stock. Melt 75g of the butter and all the oil in a large saucepan. Gently fry the onion until soft. Add the rice, and off the heat, stir until the rice becomes totally coated; this takes only a minute. Return to the heat, add 2 or so ladlefuls of hot stock and simmer, stirring, until the rice has absorbed nearly all the liquid. Add the saffron. Continue to add more stock as the previous addition is absorbed. Nearly all the stock will have been absorbed by the rice; each grain should have a creamy coating and yet still be al dente. Add remaining butter in small pieces, the vermouth and the parmesan, being careful not to overstir. Serve.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Moo

We interrupt the regularly scheduled post to bring you this breaking news item:

"AVA LIFTS BAN ON BEEF IMPORTS FROM THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) of Singapore will be lifting the ban on beef imports ('as soon as possible') from the United States of America (US). AVA is finalizing with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the operational details of the health certification program to facilitate the resumption of imports as soon as possible. With the lifting of the ban, de-boned beef cuts from young cattle (less than 30 months old) from the US will be allowed for import into Singapore." Yeah! American beef back in town! I am totally thrilled. For more info, please click over to this story.

Now, back to our oddly-coincidentally cow-related post...



photo from www.julialohmann.co.uk

In addition to being slightly obsessed with food, I also enjoy looking at art. One recent exhibition that I've really enjoyed is currently on at the Earl Lu Gallery, run by the Institute of Contemporary Art, at the Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts. The show, titled Great Brits: The New Alchemists, features the works of five fab British designers whose works cross the line between design and art.

The work I liked best--perhaps because it is actually food-related--was Cow Benches by Julia Lohmann, pictured above in a rather pastoral setting. Ms Lohmann describes the work as a "leather bench or bovine memento mori" and made this statement to contextualize it:

"We don't want our food to remind us of the animal it is made of and, at the same time, are able to create living materials through advances in bio-technology. The 'cow-bench' explores the threshold between animal and material."

I really like them. Not so much for their message but because of their cheeky and really kitsch appearance. And also because Ms Lohmann obviously used really good leather when crafting them. Up close, these "benches" are actually very beautiful. I would love to own one; I'd place it in a large, but rather empty, room.

The rest of the pieces in the show are also very good; in particular, I enjoyed the works of Matthias Megyeri. But don't just read about it here. If you can, go catch the show while it's still on.

Great Brits: The New Alchemists
Fri 13 Jan - Sun 12 Feb 2006 • 10am - 6pm daily, including public holidays • Earl Lu Gallery • Free • 90 Goodman Road

Participating Artists:
Pascal Anson, Michael Cross + Julie Mathias, Julia Lohmann, Matthias Megyeri and Peter Traag

Monday, January 16, 2006

Watch this space



Talk to a lot of the f&b insiders in town and ask them what new restaurants they're eagerly waiting to open in 2006 and chances are one of the most popular responses will be the Majestic Restaurant, opening in the next month or two at the New Majestic Hotel. The hotel, also opening soon, promises to be Singapore's newest, coolest, swankiest boutique hotel. Both it and its ultra-suave owner, Loh Lik Peng, have been getting tons of press coverage recently, so everyone in town is pretty excited already.

I had the pleasure this weekend of having a sneak preview of the Majestic Restaurant. The kitchens at this cool, bright and modern space are presided over by Chef Yong Bing Ngen (pictured above). Chef Yong's a familiar face to fans of Chinese food in town. Previous to joining the Majestic, he was the head chef at Hai Tien Lo, at the Pan Pacific Hotel. He's also worked at Jiang-Nan Chun in the Four Seasons Hotel, Doc Cheng's and Empress Room at the Raffles Hotel and at Jade in the Fullerton Hotel. Chef Yong is an expert at preparing both traditional Cantonese cuisine as well as surprising his guests with some exceptional and innovative Modern Chinese fare. In fact, it's his Modern Chinese food that really blows me away.

I won't say much about my sneak preview. Other than that I enjoyed it very much and I'm grateful for the invitation. I'll post a full review of the Majestic only after the restaurant officially opens. In the meantime, I, like the rest of the city, will just have to wait excitedly for the hotel and the restaurant to open.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Bed-time cookies, inspired by a lazy pooch



I know I really shouldn't be jealous of a dog, but I just can't help myself. The younger of our two golden retrievers, Alix, is both aggravating and inspiring. And at times, I just can't help but envy her. Let me try and explain. Alix, who is one of the most affectionate and gentlest creatures I've ever had the pleasure of knowing, is also one of the laziest. I've never seen anything or anyone display such an incredible amount of visible delight from loafing about or sleeping. Whether she's laying on my bed--which technically she's not supposed to do but does all the time anyway--or her own custom-made down-filled dog bed, she has the ability to make herself look so incredibly comfortable and satisfied. And when I'm working late into the night, trying to finish an overdue essay or some other piece of work, and I turn around and see her chilling out so ecstatically, I can't help but wish I had her life. Or when she wakes S and me up at 7am to feed her on a Saturday or Sunday, and then after having had her breakfast and having gotten me up, jumps into my bed and promptly falls asleep in my spot, I can't help but harbor immediate thoughts of kicking her in the butt (which, of course, I never do)--but of course, secretly, I just want to go back to bed like her. (The above picture is her in S's spot, having jumped on the bed and onto S's pillows while S was having a shower one morning.) When I leave for work, she's snoozing. When I come home, the other dog, Sascha, is all wags, happy to see me. Alix is never at the door first. Usually, after a minute or two, she'll groggily walk out of the bedroom, obviously having just woken up. She lives to sleep and loves doing so. S and I constantly talk about just how inspiring she is. She makes us want to spend a day doing nothing but lying in bed.

In honor of our lazy little puppy (and because I was working on finishing a project all night), S decided to make me a batch of bed-time cookies, the kind of edible treats that she knew I would really enjoy munching on while lazing around in bed. The cookies she chose to make also happen to be one of my all-time favorites, Mexican Wedding Cookies. I love these for several reasons. I love the powdered sugar that surrounds each cookie and gives it an immediate sweetness. I love their texture. When done well, they literally melt/crumble in one's mouth. Third, I love the hint of pecan in the cookie. And lastly, as a big believer that milk is a necessary companion to any cookie, I really like that these go beautifully with milk. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that without a glass of milk (or a cup of coffee), one really shouldn't even bother eating these.




Mexican Wedding Cookies
from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
Makes 6 dozen

106g pecan halves
230g confectioners' sugar
284g all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
227g unsalted butter at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350ºF/180ºC, with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In a food processor, combine pecans with 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar; pulse until nuts are finely ground. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar-nut mixture, flour and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until the dough just comes together.

Roll dough into 3/4 inch balls; place about 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake, rotating the sheets halfway through, until cookies are pale on top and lightly browned on the bottom, 10-12 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and cool. Place remaining confectioners' sugar in a shallow bowl and roll cookies in it to coat completely.

p.s. I want to thank both Lynn for buying us the gorgeous wooden tray in the picture and my mother-in-law for picking up those cool Donna Hay napkins for us during her last trip to Australia.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The sweetest cut



I really love sweetbreads. I love them most when they're sautéed in butter, served crispy on the outside and tender (and sometimes creamy) on the inside. I love that duality of textures and I love their taste, somewhat meaty but also somewhat nutty. That said, while I've always eagerly ordered them in restaurants, I've always been a little terrified of trying to prepare them at home.

First of all, while I know that sweetbreads come from either the pancreas or thymus gland of calves or lambs, I have no real idea what these organs do or really even look like. Not knowing much about them makes knowing how to prepare them a bit of a mystery. Further, from all I'd heard, cooking internal organs was a somewhat tedious and exact process. Unlike working with the more popular cuts of meat, you can't just grill, roast or braise cuts like sweetbreads. Preparing them would mean learning a whole new series of cooking processes, which a lazy boy like me wasn't about to do. Especially not when these cuts aren't cheap and chances are high that I'd ruin my first few attempts.

This past week, however, I became inspired to try making them for two reasons. The first was a quick conversation with J of Kuidaore. She's as passionate about sweetbreads as I am and, like me, hadn't yet tried her hand at it. The second was the latest copy of Gourmet magazine. To celebrate their 65th anniversary, the magazine's editors decided to select their favorite recipes from each of their 65 years, recreate them and run them in one beautiful issue. The recipe representing 1973 was Sweetbreads Meuniere. And reading it, they seemed remarkably simple to prepare.

Inspired, I consulted a half dozen cookbooks and discovered that the process is easier than I thought. You just need to soak the sweetbreads in cold water, poach them in water or court bouillon, and then clean them properly. Once you've done this, you can then cook the sweetbreads in a variety of ways. As mentioned, I like them best browned in butter.

Ready to give it a go, I called my favorite butcher last Friday afternoon and reserved 500g of milk-fed veal sweetbreads. I also, despite S shaking her head incredulously at me, decided not to follow one of the many recipes I'd read, but try and amalgamate what I'd learned and come up with one of my own. A simple one, of course. The recipe I came up with was Sautéed Sweetbreads with Curry.

Essentially, I'd fry my sweetbreads--dusted very lightly with flour, curry powder and salt--in brown butter. I'd plate this with some beautiful, tiny yellow tomatoes we'd just bought at Tekka market and some fried, crispy curry leaves. I based my curry--again, much to S's shaking head--not on an Indian or a Southeast Asian recipe, but on the recipe for curry made at Harry's Bar in Venice. It's more of a curry-enhanced sauce than it is an Asian curry, chock full of ingredients; it's creamy, clean, subtle and (to me) utterly delicious.

Fortunately, the recipe seems to have worked. I'd even go so far as to say it was delicious. S, who approached the dish a tad skeptically, wiped her plate clean... so at the very least it was edible. Most importantly, though, I feel that I've just managed to clear a personal culinary hurdle, learning to cook something I'd always been afraid to make at home.

Sautéed Sweetbreads with Curry
Serves 4

Sweetbreads
500g milk-fed veal sweetbreads
1 small onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 whole clove
salt
flour
curry powder
curry leaves
2 tablespoon butter

Soak your sweetbreads in cold water for 2-3 hours, changing the water frequently until there's no pinkish color in the water. Fill a large pot with 2-3 litres of water; in this, place the onion, bay leaves and clove. Bring this to a gentle simmer. Drain the sweetbreads and poach them in the pot for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, quickly take the sweetbreads out of the bouillon and plunge them in a bowl filled with ice water--this is to stop them from cooking. Pat them dry and then remove any obvious bits of skin or membrane. Cut the sweetbreads up into small pieces, around 3 inches across. If you can, flatten the sweetbreads a little. Mix together some flour, curry powder and salt (to taste) and use this to dust the sweetbreads. Melt the butter in a very hot frying pan. When it begins to brown, fry your sweetbreads and curry leaves. You should cook the sweetbreads on each side for roughly 2-3 minutes, or until they take on a lovely golden brown color. Drain on paper towel of a metal rack before serving.

Curry Sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 leeks, white part only, washed and thinly sliced
1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 green apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons brandy
salt
pepper
sugar (optional)
3-6 teaspoons curry powder, to taste
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken stock, heated
1/2 cup sweetbreads poaching liquid
1/2 cup heavy cream

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook the onion, leek and carrot in the oil for 6-8 minutes, or until the onions are soft. Add the apple, lower the heat a little, and cook for 20-30 minutes, or until the apple slices are very soft. Pour in the brandy and carefully flambé the ingredients in the pan. Then mix in the flour, curry powder (which should be adjusted to your own taste--because I like a slightly stronger flavor, I add 6 teaspoons), some salt and pepper (again, to taste) and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Whisk in the chicken stock and sweetbread poaching liquid. I like to add a teaspoon or two of sugar, but this is optional. Cook uncovered over very low heat, again stirring frequently, for 30 minutes. Then strain the liquid into another saucepan. Stir in the cream and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Market tour



The market that S and I go to most often in Singapore is the one in Tekka Centre, at the corner of Serangoon Road and Buffalo Road. S likes to go on Friday mornings, when much of the produce is freshest. When she's unable to make it then, we'll usually go together as early as possible on a Saturday morning. It's vital to go early--preferably arriving before 9am--because the parking situation on weekends is ridiculous. And also, because in my opinion, the market begins to take on a rather ungainly smell the later it gets. While almost anything and everything is available here, we limit our shopping to certain things--namely chicken, pork, vegetables, fruits, certain kinds of seafood, and eggs. There are several beef and mutton suppliers here, but we prefer going to the Swiss Butchery, on Greenwood Avenue, for red meat.

We've been going to Tekka for a number of years now and we've reached the point where we've developed a regular routine, visiting our favorite suppliers in a specific order.

Our first stop in the morning, though, isn't to one of those suppliers. Our first stop is to eat breakfast. Tekka Centre has, alongside the market, an excellent hawker centre. We used to always breakfast on roti prata--fried Indian bread served with curry. These days, however, we like visiting Hoo Seng Fishball Mee (01-329). We order the mee pok (a flat, thin noodle), pictured above and served dry (you can also have it in soup) with only a slight tinge of chili. The noodles are tossed in a sauce flavored with soya sauce and vinegar. The owners of Hoo Seng, who have been making this for 30 years, also and correctly mix a bit of lard into their sauce, which while unhealthy gives the sauce just the right level of oiliness. On top of the noodles, they add lean pork, fishballs, fishcake, a beef ball, Chinese mushrooms, and a sprinkling of chopped spring onions. The mee pok here is excellent and at only S$2 a bowl, the perfect way to begin a trip to the market.

After our mee pok, we visit Tan Chee Boon Fruits (01-191/192) to pick up all kinds of fruits. The very friendly man who runs this stall carries everything from apples and oranges to Taiwanese musk melons, Korean strawberries and Japanese grapes.

Next stop is Boon Leng Chicken (01-46), followed by a visit to the always cheerful fishmongers at Lee Chuan Seng Fishery (01-16/17). We buy prawns and sole most often from here. Along the same aisle as Lee Chuan Seng is Mr Robert Lim's crab stall (01-66). This is where S buys all her crabs for the many crab dishes she prepares.

Our favorite pork stall (01-142), which doesn't seem to have a visible name on display, is just a few steps away from the crab stall. The pork here is great. It's always fresh and priced very reasonably. We like buying large slabs of belly pork here--which we either braise or slow roast.

One of the most famous stalls in Tekka Centre is Chia's Vegetables Supply (01-201). It's hugely popular among the shoppers who regularly frequent this market, especially among the women. I believe this is for three reasons. First, Chia's has an incredible variety of both Western and Asian vegetables. You want oregano, mint and sage? No problem. You want kangkong and curry leaves? No problem. Second, the proprietor, 29 year old Victor Chia (whose father started the stall), is young, attractive, built like a lifeguard, speaks fluent Chinese and English, and always greets return customers with a big smile. Thirdly, Victor likes to play music. Not just any music. Victor likes to blast bossa nova and jazz from a little stereo perched above his stall, making his crowded little vegetable stall the coolest place to be in the market.

One row away from Chia's is S's favorite egg stall (01-153). Run by a kind Christian woman (obvious from the religious posters decorating the stall), this stall offers all kinds of fresh eggs--duck, chicken, kampong chicken, quail, etc. Given S's penchant for making ice cream and my love for eating eggs at breakfast, we've become big customers here.

There are a few other stalls we visit here--for example, a fantastic fishball stall and a stall for wonton skins--but these 7 are the ones we go to almost every visit. I won't say that they're better than others in this great market--because I think everyone develops their own favorites--but we've found them to be totally dependable. And, as time has gone by, we've been able to develop a rapport with these suppliers. The great thing is that shopping here is much cheaper than shopping in a supermarket. And, of course, you won't be able to grab a bowl of delicious mee pok at the local Cold Storage.

Friday, January 06, 2006

2005 Food Blog Awards and wearable food

I don't have any food to rave about this post, but I do have three cool things to write about.

The first is that Chubby Hubby is a finalist in 2 categories, Best New Blog and Best Food Photography, in the 2005 Food Blog Awards. There are so many great blogs nominated in these categories, I don't really know what my chances are. But, if you have time, please click on over to the 2005 Food Blog Awards and cast your vote. There are also a bunch of other great categories and more fantastic blogs nominated in these.

The second item comes via Robyn, aka the girl who ate everything (who in turn got this little gem from NOTCOT. Check it out below (Click on the photo to be taken to the Pagliei Online's store).



Photograph from Pagliei Online.

I think these are both hilarious and cute. I'm totally tempted to get one for each for my two golden retrievers; maybe a wonton for Alix, the younger one, and a potsticker for Sascha, whom S has recently taken to calling "fatty". They're the perfect gift for a young, fun (female) food-lover. Pagliei also sells these on a charm bracelet. How wonderfully kitsch!


Photograph from The Food Loop

Lastly, and also via those wonderful folks at NOTCOT, check out the The Food Loop, a heat resistant, silicone food trussing tool whose manufacturers claim will make kitchen twine obsolete. I don't know about you, but I certainly want to get my hands on these and try them out. If, for no other reason, than to take photographs of my food tied up in them.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Just peachy



I like simple old-fashioned desserts. One of my favorites is peach melba. Firstly, peaches are one of the few fruits I really enjoy eating. (It's a really short list: peaches, mangosteens, clementines, berries, musk melon, and mangoes. Oddly enough, while I'm not a great fruit eater, I love drinking fresh juices.) Secondly, my mother use to make peach melba for my brother and me when we were really young.

A traditional peach melba, as invented by the great Escoffier in 1892, consists of peach halves, served with vanilla ice cream and topped with a sweet raspberry sauce. My mother's version is a bit of a departure. She topped hers with vanilla ice cream, Hershey's chocolate syrup, peanuts and whipped cream. Not especially authentic but delicious nonetheless, especially for a kid with a sweet tooth.

S and I picked up some lovely peaches from our favorite fruit seller this past weekend. I decided to use one of them to make my own easy-peasy-Japanesey peach melba. My plan was to simply slather S's lovely vanilla ice cream over the peeled peach halves and devour it with some whipped cream while watching America's Next Top Model (I know, I know... not really intellectual fodder, but it is fun!). However, when I told S my plans, she quickly convinced me that my dessert should be as beautiful as it is delicious.

She had some chocolate mayo cake leftover from her Bavarian timbale; amazingly, it was also still very fresh. She cut a small round from it with a metal ring. She then used the same metal ring to shape some vanilla ice cream, which she placed over a thin disk of the chocolate mayo cake. A peach half went on top of this and to really make me happy, she drizzled some chocolate sauce over the whole thing. I also made a small batch of whipped cream, which I liberally spread over the peach right before digging in. It was wonderful.




While totally unrelated to food, I've decided to include a photo I just took of our younger Golden Retriever Alix. After coming home from work last night, S--who likes to do this every 6 months or so--asked me to help her re-arrange the furniture in our living room. She likes the novelty of regularly changing the seating arrangements in and tweaking the look of our apartment. This way, she argues, we get the experience of new things without actually having to buy anything. Our most recent arrangement has resulted in our coffee table being taken out of the living room and parked in our store room. This has, in turn, opened up quite a bit of empty floor space, which Alix immediately decided was her territory and flopped down in. And stayed in for the next hour or so, all the time looking very pleased with herself. I just couldn't resist snapping a picture of the pleased pooch and posting it.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Thanks!

Chubby Hubby, which I started as an experiment to learn about the blogging world, turns 1 in a couple of months. It's been a really amazing experience so far and I'm constantly amazed by the number of readers that this site's been getting and the great comments from wonderful people, many of whom also maintain remarkable food blogs of their own.

I was very pleasantly surprised this past week when I checked my site's statistics. During September, October and November, Chubby Hubby was getting around 17,000 to 18,000 hits each month. In December, however, the hit rate jumped... by more than 10,000 hits (it got 28, 580 hits, with 19,516 being unique visitors). Okay, for some of my peers, like the lovely Pim (who, by the way, kicked my butt in the Gridskipper World's Best Urban Food Blog competition last month), that's nothing. She gets that many hits between brushing her teeth and her first coffee. But for me, it's awesome. Hell, that's more readers than most of the food magazines sold in this country! I'm quite frankly stunned. And so very, very flattered that so many more people have stopped by.

So, thank you all so very much for making this little blog not quite so little.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Vanilla, vanilla, vanilla



Happy New Year!

I hope all of you had a wonderful, delicious and fun-filled New Year's Eve feast. S and I had the pleasure of dining at a friend's house. She had engaged the services of chef Jimmy Chok for the night. Jimmy whipped up an amazing 6 course feast for the 16 of us gathered together: seared scallop on a wakame tart; braised pork belly topped with a fried egg on a portobello mushroom; lobster ravioli in lobster bisque; Atlantic cod with vanilla leeks and salmon roe beurre blanc; lamb shank and porcini wrapped in phyllo pastry; and warm molten chocolate cake. It was a fantastic meal, enhanced by great company.

For New Year's day, S prepared a real treat for me. As I've written in the past, I'm not a huge chocolate lover. Quite the opposite in fact, I adore vanilla. And I'm constantly pestering S to try out recipes that feature this delicate, clean, creamy and utterly refreshing flavor.

A few months ago, we received a fantastic gift from some dear friends. It was a copy of Boulevard, a beautiful cookbook by Nancy Oakes and Pamela Mazzola, who run a very acclaimed restaurant of the same name in San Francisco. The book is gorgeous, full of inspiring recipes and stunning pictures. One recipe in particular that really excited me was called Vanilla, Vanilla, Vanilla. And ever since discovering it, I've been asking S to make it.

Boulevard's Vanilla, Vanilla, Vanilla is no simple dessert. In fact, it's three desserts plated together. It consists of a creme brulée, a Bavarian timbale, and an ice cream sandwich, all flavored with vanilla.

In order to make her hubby a really happy camper on the first day of 2006, S strapped on her apron a few days ago and started making this amazing trilogy of desserts for me. Another reason why she was eager to give this a try was because we'd been given some vanilla beans from both Madagascar and Tahiti and she'd been looking for a way to use both in order to do a good taste comparison. She decided to use the Madagascan vanilla for the ice cream sandwich and the creme brulée and use the Tahitian vanilla for the Bavarian timbale.

The creme brulée was probably the simplest of the three desserts to make. It's your typical custard, enhanced through the addition of real vanilla, set in small ramekins and then flamed right before serving. To give this classic dish a novel touch of umaminess, we added a pinch of vanilla-infused fleur du sel to the sugar that was sprinkled on top of each custard and crisped. The ice cream sandwiches were made with vanilla ice cream and vanilla shortbread cookies, both of which S made perfectly.

The third dessert was the hardest to make but, in my opinion, the most interesting. It's a vanilla cream custard--held together with gelatin--sitting on top of a chocolate mayo cake base and filled with a hot fudge sauce. The Bavarian creams were molded and cooled in small cups. A small hollow was then dug into the bottom of each custard. The chocolate sauce was poured in and a chocolate mayo cake round affixed to the top of each one. This went back in the fridge to cool and then unmolded, cake side down, when ready to serve. The Timbale looks like a vanilla custard on a cake base. But when you cut into it, hot fudge flows out.

To help me devour these delectable desserts, S invited a few friends to join us. All of us loved the desserts. S and one of our guests decided that they preferred the taste of the Madagascan vanilla to the Tahitian. Honestly, I couldn't tell the difference. I was simply too busy moaning in gustatory pleasure.

What a way to start the new year!