Saturday, August 27, 2005

Grazing in Green Pasture

Sushi without the rice? Organic vegetables? No meat in sight?

A health-conscious colleague had been raving about this organic vegetarian cafe in Fortune Centre, and insisted that I expand my dining horizon to include healthier alternatives. I like vegetables but am generally wary of places touting healthy-organic style dining as they invariably end up serving bland food with reduced salt, fat/oil and sugar, omitting every other sinful but tasty ingredient. I did not have high hopes for a satisfying lunch when I saw New Green Pasture Cafe, its decor was nondescript, and it had no more than 10 tables (though half were filled with customers). The only spark of hope was when I met Sophia, the owner and chef, who sported a really bright pink beret. Ah-hah...there should be some creativity at work here!

Fruit-Rojak The first dish arrived - the healthy version of fruit 'rojak'. The normal 'Rojak' is a popular local dish of sliced jicama, cucumber, green mango and pineapple mixed, made unhealthy by the sweet sauce which is a mixture of sugar, chilli sauce and black prawn paste (har-cheong). Sophia's rojak was a mixture of sliced turnip (jicama), pineapple, carrots, green apples, starfruit and really good crunchy beetroot, all held together by a light sweet, spicy and slightly tart sauce, and topped with chopped peanuts. The flavors of molasses and apple cider vinegar in the 'rojak' sauce gave the latter a lovely refreshing taste - not a bad start...

Soba-SaladThe sushi roll was next, and as you can see from the top picture, instead of Japanese sticky rice, the roll was essentially julienned/shredded jicama, carrot, beetroot, lettuce, red cabbage etc. wrapped in seaweed. This is easily one of the most delicious 'vege-crunchy' sushi I've ever had, as the julienned vegetables had been mixed in a tasty mayonnaise-like sauce. If I am ever reincarnated as a cow, this has gotta be my main chow.

Soba-Salad2 Soba salad came topped with loads of shredded lettuce, red cabbage, seaweed, diced tomatoes, mungbeans and watercress. After thoroughly mixing the entire bowl of soba noodles with the shredded vegetables and sauce which had flavors of sesame oil, mirin(?) and what I was told to be liquid aminase (in place of soya sauce), it was slurp-slurp-slurp until the bowl was clean.

Sophia tries to use organic produce as much as possible in her dishes and she also sells organic vegetables, grains and flour and other health-food products at her shop for the converted.

Mushroom-SoupMy colleague called this the 'bak-kut teh' soup without the 'bak-kut' (pork ribs). Mushrooms and compacted chopped mushroom-stems (a Chinese vegetarian product - a slice is shown in picture being picked up by chopsticks) are used as a meaty substitute for the pork ribs, and the soup is brewed with traditional chinese herbs including medlar seeds (kei-chi). Steaming hot, no MSG, with all the goodness of the ingredients developing in the soup.

Nasi-Briyani Being greedy, we couldn't resist this vegetarian nasi briyani. Brown rice was cooked with turmeric for the color, and sides included potato/vegetable curry, pumpkin chutney, and more of the delicious fresh organic vegetables cooked and as a salad. I'm a fan of fluffy white Thai jasmine rice, so brown rice is really not my thing though my colleagues were quite happy to give the thumbs up for this dish as well.

Bubur-Cha-Cha Finally, dessert was bubur-cha-cha with the usual sinful coconut milk being replaced with oat milk and almond powder. Apart from the usual sweet potato cubes, Sophia had added red kidney beans, gingko nuts and lilybulbs (pak-he). A most unusual combination.

Prices range between $4 to $7 generally per dish, and a good healthy and tasty meal can be had for less than $10 per person (fulfilling the Health Promotion Board's recommended intake of at least 2 cups of vegetables daily).

New Green Pasture Cafe
190 Middle Road #04-22
Fortune Centre
Singapore 188979
Tel: 6336 8755
Open: 11.30 am to 7.30 pm (Closed on Mondays)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Can you pronounce PROSCIUTTO?

This is my absolute favourite way for eating prosciutto di Parma (or Parma ham) - 1 to 2 thin slices wrapped around a slice of rockmelon which has been seasoned with some freshly ground black pepper. The matured sweet and savouriness of the prosciutto offers an interesting contrast to the sweetness of the melon, tinged by the slight spiciness from the black pepper. I will also add that apart from being fuss-free in preparation (no cooking required whatsoever), a platter of these prosciutto-wrapped rockmelon slices looks truly presentable on any dinner table as an appetizer/starter. The best way to eat prosciutto is to eat them raw, thus the reason for them being sold in tissue-paper thin slices.

The first time I presented this dish to my Chinese family though, they looked at the ham and melon slices with suspicion, pondering at the incongruity of these two items together. It is a good thing that my in-laws, being kind and gracious, are wonderfully tolerant of the cooking adventures of their daughter-in-law, and have accepted that dinner invitations at our home may not always end up in a traditional Chinese meal.

Prosciutto di Parma is basically cured ham from Parma in the Emilia-Romagna region in north-east Italy. For centuries, these Italians have taken their raw legs of pork and dry-salted the same with only sea salt in cold cells for at least a month. The salt with the added cold air draws moisture from the ham adding to its preservation. At the end of the first month, the legs of pork are kneaded to allow for better absorption of the salt and then left to cure for a further 2 months or more. The legs are then subsequently washed in tepid water and left in a cool airy environment to dry without smoking for between 8 months to 12 months. Just imagine, that slice of Parma ham on your plate has been left sitting around for at least a year, and yet when you taste it, the meaty flavours of the ham remain distinct and fragrant.

I once saw this episode of Avventura (on Travel & Living cable) featuring Friuli (which is the producer of Prosciutto di San Daniele, reputed to be even better than Prosciutto di Parma), and was suitably impressed by the huge storehouses with thousands of ham legs hanging out to dry. What was truly educational though was seeing a ham curer test the maturity of a leg of ham by first sticking a long sharp needle into the leg in various places and subsequently breathing in the aroma of the ham deposited on the needle! Wonder whether he has a 'stockpile' of descriptive words for his ham, just like a winemaker?

Prosciutto-Wrapped-SalmonPlaying around with some left-over prosciutto, I wrapped them around half-inch slices of salmon (which had been seasoned with freshly ground black pepper and some sea salt), placed them on a baking dish, drizzled some olive oil and popped them into the oven for 10 minutes or so. The salmon slices were quite tasty, but it would be remiss of me if I didn't mention that cooking prosciutto in this manner is not the best way to truly savor the taste of good cured Prosciutto di Parma (some might even say it is desecratory!).

Bacon-Wrapped-SalmonA meatier alternative to the above would be to use bacon slices in place of prosciutto, and to pan-fry the bacon-wrapped salmon slices until the bacon is crisp and the salmon has been browned on its sides. A dash of squeezed lemon juice and the dish is ready to be served.

Oh, by the way, 'prosciutto' is NOT pronounced as 'pros-quit-toh' (a la mosquito), which was how uneducated me tried to verbalize this word in the past, BUT as 'pro-shoo-toh' - I have since been enlightened!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Virginal Outing for Staub Pan

At the recent Singapore food bloggers' lunch (read all about this lunch and the wonderful people I met here), I won this Staub oval pan and since then have been looking for the right recipe to try it out. Whilst pouring over back issues of Gourmet (one of my favourite pastimes), I saw this recipe called Pork Loin with Apples, Prunes and Mustard Cream Sauce, apparently a common dish in Scandinavian countries. What attracted me though was the full page photo of a deliciously tender looking slice of pork loin topped with the sliced apples, prunes and cream sauce. Unfortunately, although Epicurious has provided the recipe (click above recipe title), it didn't include the photo for me to share with you. So, you will instead be subjected to my amateurish attempts below at capturing this dish...

This dish is absolutely easy to do. I browned the seasoned pork loin on all sides in a skillet before placing the pork on Staub pan (and drizzled the pork and the pan with some olive oil) and chucking the same into the oven for 50 minutes or so, at the end of which the pork loin (after resting for 10 minutes or so) when sliced just before serving is wonderfully tender and moist. Remember to deglaze the roasting pan for the lovely roasted bits to add to the sauce - recipe called for half a cup of dry white wine which I replaced with half a cup of verjuice.

Roast-Pork-Loin1 The green apples, pitted prunes and onions cooked in chicken broth with added heavy cream and mustard until slightly thickened is quite excellent. The slight tartness of the apples with the sweetness of the prunes and cooked onions meld very well with the slight sharpness of the mustard and the creamy sauce (which one can lighten with light cream if one is overly concerned with weight but what the heck, it's only half a cup).

I must say that the dish was quite successful, completely wiped out by family with sis-in-law almost singlehandedly devouring one-third of the platter meant for 7 persons. Definitely worth repeating for another weekend dinner affair.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Durian Muffins

Yesterday, I was a selfish and delinquent wife. Knowing full well my hubby's abhorrence for anything to do with durians (I have previously posted on this most un-Singapore-like behaviour), I nevertheless brought durians (packed into styrofoam boxes and shrink-wrapped) into his car and our home. And all because I had this great itch to bake durian muffins! What can I say, sometimes a cook has to do unpopular stuff to further culinary boundaries... sigh... I can just hear hubby in the background saying 'crap'!

Naturally, I had lots of fun separating the durian pulp from the seeds, and which durian lover can resist licking her fingers at the end of such session. Baking the muffins created wonderful aromas redolent of durians in the kitchen (which hubby naturally differs in opinion). Luckily, baking time is less than half an hour and with the help of a good exhaust system and natural night breezes, the aromas dissipated within an hour or two.

Picture of muffin includes some durian fruit and a split open muffin, showing small bits of yellow fruit interspersed within. This was my first attempt at durian muffins and I loved the wonderful soft texture, taste and fragrance of the muffin, especially fresh from the oven. My recipe below is actually adapted from a banana muffin recipe, replacing the banana with durian.
  • sift 250g plain flour together with 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • cream 150g sugar with 125g butter until pale and creamy, and beat in 2 eggs - one at a time
  • add 250g to 300g durian pulp(flesh) into creamed mixture (I used the D24 durians which are sweet with a slight bitterness, and extremely creamy in texture) together with between 3/4 cup to 1 cup of milk (check consistency before adding the last 1/4 cup, as it depends on how creamy or wet your durian pulp is) and mix well
  • fold the sifted ingredients into the durian mixture
  • fill muffin cases and bake immediately in preheated 190C oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown
  • recipe makes 12 medium-sized muffins
In case you're wondering, I didn't finish all 12 muffins myself and my durian cohorts-colleagues had 'mouth fortune', transliterated from the Mandarin phrase 'kou fu', a colloquial phrase used for one who is lucky to be offered good food or a feast.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Peanut Ice Kacang

Peanut-Ice-Kacang Last week, I was lunching with a couple of colleagues at Far East Square, and while hunting down the famous prawn and pork rib noodles stall (which will be the subject of a future post), we chanced upon this stall called Annie's Peanut Ice Kacang, selling this wonderful mountain of syrupy shaved ice for only S$1.80. Before I expound on Annie's stuff, first you need to know what is the 'norm' for ice kacang...

Ice-Kacang 'Ice Kacang' is the Malay word for 'peanut ice', and generally describes shaved ice that is doused with coloured syrup and evaporated milk and at the base of this mountain of shaved ice, one would usually find cooked red beans, peanuts, sweet corn kernels, and black/grass jelly bits. The normal variety is shown in 2nd photo with its rainbow-colored hues, although there are also versions which douse the shaved ice in gula melaka syrup ('gula melaka' is brown palm sugar tapped from the coconut tree and wonderfully fragrant) and fresh coconut milk, making the entire concoction absolutely calorifically sinful. This popular dessert can be varied in so many different ways by the addition of different ingredients to the red beans-peanuts-sweet corn combination, in fact, I've had some which added pomelo pulp (adding a slight tartness to the sweet dessert).

For me, the only way to eat this mountainous ice is really to start at the top, whilst praying that each spoonful will not result in my ice mountain collapsing outside of its bowl (which has happened before, much to my chagrin). The problem with this method - I get to the ingredients at the base much much too late after plowing thru' half the syrupy mountain.

Now, if you look at Annie's Peanut Ice Kacang, you will understand why I much much prefer this version. Some of the ingredients are still at the base but there's also cooked red beans (in a slightly mushy form) and ground peanuts covering the ice which allows each spoonful starting from the top to be chockful with ingredients and lovely syrupy ice. Annie's ice-shaving machine is also much more superior - the ice shaving is finer (with no ice crystals) and melts instantly on the tongue. The ground peanuts are an absolutely wonderful touch to this dessert, adding the fragrance of roasted peanuts without too much of the crunch to detract from that melting sensation in the mouth!

Unfortunately, after a very satisfying lunch, we were rushing back to our office and I didn't have time to note the stall unit number for Annie's Peanut Ice Kacang, nor the name of the building in which it is located. Far East Sq being the maze of eating places and shophouses that it is, I will have to navigate myself back to the hawker centre somewhere in the center of this square.. or was it northeast..?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Slow Cooking to beat the evening ERP

Living in the northeast of Singapore sucks especially during the late weekday evenings when travelling home on the Central Expressway (CTE) with what would appear to be half of Singapore as well, all of us plodding along at snail's pace bumper to bumper. Apart from patience, an automatic transmission car helps - can you just picture the irritable monster behind the wheel who has spent more than half an hour stepping on clutch, and alternating between accelerator and brakes?

To ease the evening traffic congestion, the Little Red Dot's bureaucrats have recently imposed electronic road pricing (ERP) for use of the CTE during the hours from 6pm to 8pm, hoping to divert part of the north-bound traffic (i.e. drivers who baulk at paying more road charges) to other non-ERP roads. Hubby and I thus have 3 choices, (i) contribute to the government's coffers, (ii) join other drivers in congesting the non-ERP roads or (iii) stay longer in the office and leave at 8pm after the ERP hours.

Beef-Stew Options (ii) and (iii) will no doubt result in us returning home even later than usual, which leads me to this evening's post on the benefits of a slow cooker. Just imagine... you've arrived home late, hungry but too tired to even lift a pan, and as you enter your home, the welcoming aromas of a delicious homecooked meal waft in from the kitchen, courtesy of your slow cooker. One of my favourite slow-cooked one pot dishes is beef stew in rich tomato sauce.

Putting aside 20 minutes of prep time in the morning, quarter 4 tomatoes, peel and quarter 4 to 6 medium-sized potatoes, 1 big onion and 2 carrots and place all inside the slow cooker. In fact, the potatoes, onions and carrots can be prepped the night before and packed separately into bags and kept in the fridge for use in the morning.

The beef is cut into equal size chunks, which I normally saute for a few minutes in olive oil to brown the meat before I add to the slow cooker. Add a can of pureed tomatoes, 1 to 2 dried bay leaves, 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, one and a half cups of water, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir mixture in slow cooker and cover. Switch on slow cooker and leave on low heat.

Many, many hours later when you return home, the beef stew is ready to be scooped out and eaten with a crusty loaf. If you prefer a thicker sauce, stir a tablespoon of cornflour into 4 tablespoons of water and add to the beef stew and cook on the slow cooker's high heat setting for about 10 minutes or so. Me, I'm usually too hungry to even bother with this step...hunger makes me a very impatient person!