Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Why Lamb & Mustard?

Checked the freezer this morning and discover a piece of lamb tenderloin. Since hubby was away for work (and as he isn't a fan of this particular meat-type), defrosted the same and had the entire tenderloin piece to myself for dinner. As an afterthought to fulfil the vegetable quota for the day, I added tomato wedges tossed in a vinaigrette of extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and chopped parsley.
Honey Mustard Lamb

For the lamb marinade, I used bottled Honey & Mustard glaze from Marks & Spencers, which basically contains Mexican blossom honey and a combination of coarse-grained, whole-grained, English and Dijon mustards. The bottle design was fairly attractive (which was the reason for the purchase in the first place). After tasting the grilled tender glazed lamb, I must admit that I was quite HAPPY to have this idiot-proof bottle around (i.e. I was spared the task of measuring spoonfuls of honey and mustards and fiquring out their correct proportions - too much mustard tends to overpower the rest of the other flavors of the dish).

I wondered why lamb and mustard is the classic combination that it is, tried googling "lamb" and "mustard" and received 1,840,000 results - I stopped clicking after the 10th page of results, it's bloody scary to see the amount of recipes out there for the different ways in which lamb rack, lamb cutlets, lamb tenderloin, leg of lamb, lamb fillet etc. can be cooked with the numerous combinations of mustards. For the record, as at midnight, I have yet to find the reason or source for this classic combination and will just settle for the "taste" test being the best of reasons. If you, my learned reader, should have the answer, do share that fount of knowledge and put me out of my "googling + mouse-clicking" misery.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Return to Paradise

Sometime back in July this year, I had blogged about this zhe-cha coffeeshop at Defu Lane 10 called The Seafood Paradise Restaurant (link back to previous post). Itching to suck at some well-cooked crabs, the whole family trooped back to this coffeeshop last week and with their extensive menu, we managed to order an array of dishes without repeating a single item from our last visit here.
Butter Crabs
Although this dish of butter crabs came last, I must feature it first cos' these guys do a really mean butter crab dish - creamy butter sauce spiced with some black pepper and slices of red-hot chilli padi (and I believe, some Thai-based spices, tho' I may be wrong), garnished with coriander leaves, fried bits of garlic and crunchy oat bits. A separate side order of fried mantous (little square breads) are a MUST in order to soak up all that lovely sauce. Finger-lickin' good!

Bitter Gourd Soup This bitter gourd soup was ordered by hubby, which came as a total surprise not only to me but his family as well since hubby is not known to consume bitter gourds. Kudos to hubby though as the combination of bitter gourd slices cooked with fresh fish slices and cuttlefish produced a refreshing soup - with just a tang of that distinctive bitter gourd taste without overpowering the sweet flavors of the fresh fish slices and cuttlefish.

Bacon Cheese Sausage Wrap Most stuff wrapped in bacon and panfried or deepfried will taste good and this particular dish of bacon wrapped cheese sausage was no exception.

Braised Frog Legs with Chicken Essence We also loved this dish of tender braised frog legs, which was served at the table with a bottle of Brands' Essence of Chicken that we duly poured right into the broth itself. The broth was quite flavorful tho' I generally prefer my frog legs sauteed with dried chillies in thick black sauce normally served with porridge (but that's a post for another day).

Luohan Chye Parcel We were fairly impressed with the presentation for this dish of 'luohan chye', with the braised mushrooms of different varieties, baby corn, black wood-eared fungus and other ingredients all wrapped inside a parcel of beancurd skin. Cutting open the parcel released the ingredients within as well as the aromatic steam of the braised mushrooms and vegetables.

Suckling Chicken
And finally, I must share with you this unusual dish called the Jinlong Suckling Chicken. Now, I've eaten suckling pig but I must say that this is the first time I've come across a dish called suckling chicken. Thin slices of chicken meat (meat that is sliced just next to the skin) together with its crispy roasted chicken skin are served with a savory sweet sauce. Altho' the skin did not remain all that crispy after being drizzled with the said sauce, it was nevertheless tasty and before we knew it, our chopsticks had picked up more than one slice (which was the number we had originally intended to limit ourselves to per person, considering that chicken skin no matter how lovely couldn't be all that healthy for us, no?).

Our return to Paradise did not disappoint and we now await eagerly our next visit here - which can only happen after that little bump at the tummy region has had some work-out done to it!

The Seafood Paradise Restaurant
91 Defu Lane 10
Swee Hin Building
Singapore 539221
Tel: 64872429

Thursday, November 24, 2005

45 degrees UP

Cleaning up some of the photos from my recent vacation in Sichuan, I particularly liked these two for that glimpse of 'chinois' afforded by just a section of the local architecture in a little river town. This post is titled "45 degrees UP", cos' sometimes, it pays not to look forward all the time BUT to look up!

Right at the Top
These were part of a row of small statues sitting on top of the roof of a temple. The smiling buddha in the centre was easily identifiable but the other was pretty unusual, a strange creature that looked like a dragon but with a fish tail (as a headgear??) and the hilt of a sword at the back of its skull.... really weird!

Red Eaves

Along an old-fashioned cobbled street, I found these lovely maroon red carved timber eaves set out in a row. Liked the contrast between these dark colors and the washed out roofs in the background. Notice the colorful lanterns hanging in a row as well!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Moment to Smell the Flowers

Last Saturday, I woke up pretty early (by moi's weekend standards) and with my camera gear in tow, joined an amateur outdoor photography workshop at the Singapore Botanical Gardens, which had been organized by Olympus for their DSLR users. Hubby was still happily in slumberland when I left the house, and I was thinking to myself, "Sheesh, do I really need to know all the bells and whistles for this camera? Maybe, I should just stick with Programme mode and auto-everything else!"

I must confess that although I've lived in Singapore for more than 20 years, I have never been to its Botanical Gardens, not being a nature buff at all. It was a PLEASANT surprise, and again I reiterate, looking at everything thru' a camera lens is pretty refreshing.

Some of the better shots are produced below, in the hope of enticing you to take a morning or evening stroll in these gardens soon!
Pregnant Bloom
Named this "The Pregnant Bloom", during pregnancy (a round full bud) and after pregnancy (an open bud bursting with seedlings). I have absolutely no idea what these beautiful flowers/plants are called, and if you can enlighten - do drop me a comment or two.

Tiger Stripes
This little flower was peeking out from the ground, and was no more than 2 to 3 centimetres big. It looked really delicate, notwithstanding those fierce tiger stripes petals amidst its pristine white body. To get this shot, I had to go down really low onto the ground. Getting up, I felt a couple of black harmless ants crawling on my feet (shorn in sandals). I DON'T LIKE ANTS. Did a little dance to get rid of the buggers and I'm pretty sure there were a couple of snickers from the other male workshop participants! Remembered why I'm not a fan of nature close-up!

Blue Haze

This was actually an 'out-of-focus' shot, as the camera's auto-focus was totally confused by the many strands at different distances. Nevertheless, the resulting blurry photo had its own charm.
I have only explored a very small fraction of the botanical gardens, and with such interesting finds, it does look like I will be sacrificing some weekend beauty sleep.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Velvety Burger

Last week, I dropped in at Isetan supermarket, which is at the basement of Isetan Scotts, and in a moment of fancy at the fresh meat counter, handed over S$10/- for two minced beef patties (each having a diameter of a little bit less than 4 inches and approximately 1.5 cm thick). "That's pretty steep for minced meat," says you and I would agree except that these were Wagyu minced beef patties. Now, if you are 'in the know' on Wagyu, skip the rest of this post, sit back and just enjoy the photo of my juicy velvety burger!

Wagyu Burger

Wagyu beef are generally characterised by (and in fact highly prized for) their strong white fat marbling in the meat. Wagyu is actually a breed of Japanese cattle (link shows pic of this huge black cow), genetically predisposed to intense marbling, producing white veins of unsaturated fat spreading out like a spider web throughout the meat. If bred in Kobe, Japan according to the strict standards imposed by the Kobe prefecture, Wagyu beef is entitled to be designated "Kobe Beef". All Kobe beef is Wagyu beef BUT not all Wagyu beef equates Kobe beef (think Champagne and sparkling wine) as Wagyu cattle are also reared outside of Kobe or for that matter outside of Japan.

Methinks Kobe Wagyu cattle have a darn good life, fed on sake/beer and high premium-grade grains coupled with regular massages - do the same to me and my skin will shine with glowing health and I too will have a nicely plump torso spotted throughout with layers of fat! [maybe you should just ignore that last phrase in italics, a little too horrific to imagine!]

The Wagyu beef that I bought came from Australia, and to be frank, I didn't expect too much from the minced meat since I figured that most of that wonderful white fat marbling thru' the slab of meat will somehow be decimated when minced. Adding just a pinch of sea salt and black pepper to the patties, I heated up my oiled griddle pan and seared the patties on both sides on high heat, then lowered the heat to cook the patties to just about cooked. Place patties on toasted buns, add a couple of lettuce leaves and tomato slices for crunch and top with sliced onion rings fried in a black pepper sauce and the burger was ready for its taste test.

Was it a waste to use Wagyu beef minced? Well heck, NO! It was one bloody tasty burger, the meat was velvety in texture (not rough or dry like most cooked minced beef), sweet in taste and flavor (not sugary sweet, more like the taste which we Cantonese would associate with good strong meat broth or soup), and definitely didn't taste like any burger I've eaten before (I'm not even going to insult the Wagyu by comparing it with McDonald's, Burger King or Carl Jr.). My palate for home-made beef burgers has just been raised ten notches higher, it's going to be tough returning to normal minced beef *sigh*.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Take a break and laugh!

While browsing through the shops recently, I came upon a shop that sold a lot of badges with funny messages, some were 'dripping with sarcasm' remarks that were so insulting that they were a scream. In fact, I had so much fun laughing to myself and pointing them out to hubby that I got thrown quite a few side glances from passerbys.

Here's two to share with you and lighten up your day!
Funny Badge
In fact, I might also add to this list "MENace" and "MENdacity" (or the tendency to be untruthful). Hubby's huffy comment, "Just like a woman, always blaming the man!", and in order for peace to reign in our little household, I shall try to hold back my laughter on that one.

Another Funny Badge
This is one insult to be used only on really special occasions, and before you let go, make sure the other guy is truly "abusing that privilege" or he might just bash your head with a fry-pan!

Have a good day!

Evening Skies

Seeing the world thru' a camera lens can sometimes bring on new dimensions, when the ordinary becomes extraordinary - throw in a different perspective, zoom in on a single point of interest and suddenly the ordinary fades into the background!

And so there I was driving home one Saturday evening, when I saw the beginnings of a beautiful sky filled with threatening clouds backdropped against the local neighbourhood church steeple. Rushing home, I pulled out my digital SLR and rushed back to the church location, all in record time since dusk does not wait for any man...or woman....

Ascend Upwards to the Heavens
A composition of rising spikes (part of the church gates) and steeple arching towards the heavens in the early evening light. I liked the convergence of the straight lines towards the centre-top portion of the picture, as if there is an invisible ladder to the top.

Evening prayers at the close of day, a time for contemplative reflection, a time to give thanks. Sunsets have always been a magical time for me, and especially precious considering that it is quite difficult to catch a sunset behind a desk as a working adult for 5 days a week.

Street Lamp
A lone street lamp overshadowed by the wondrous color play at dusk. Strong sunset colors that last no more than 15 minutes at most.

The Evening Light
As the evening lengthens, the dramatic skies are a portent of the night to come. And I return home, silent and wondrously grateful for the opportunity to capture these beautiful scenes, in this little isle called Singapore.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Water Chestnuts Steaming over a Wok

"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..." - a seasonal song especially apt during this period of the year. However, this isn't a post about roasting chestnuts, rather it's about steaming water chestnuts. Curious? ... read on ...
Water Chestnut Cake for Tea?
Chinese water chestnuts are not truly nuts, being more tuber in nature. Peeled before use, the water chestnut can be eaten raw and has a crunchy texture, slightly sweet in taste. When diced, it is one of my fav ingredients for use in wonton fillings mixed in together with the minced pork and prawn.

Inspired by ST's water chestnut cake in her Cheat Eat blog, I had wanted to attempt this steamed cake for quite awhile. The impetus came when I saw another version of this steamed cake in the Oct/Nov 2005 edition of the bilingual local food magazine, Gourmet Living (Shi Shang Pin Wei), which featured the use of wolfberries as part of the steamed chestnut mixture. Making a trip to Phoon Huat (our local baking supply shop), I bought water chestnut flour (S$2 per packet) manufactured in China (pic below shows the packaging of the box) and moving on to the NTUC Fairprice supermarket, I looked for fresh ready-peeled chestnuts (not being particularly keen to peel fresh chestnuts) or canned ready-peeled chestnuts. The ones you see below (foreground, right) are from a can and they served me just as well.
Water Chestnut Flour etc
  • first, wash and soak half a cup of wolfberries (not for too long though - 5 minutes is enough) - drain away water
  • then, dice 150g water chestnuts
  • add 200g sugar to 800ml water and bring to boil, reduce heat and add in the wolfberries and diced chestnuts
  • mix 200g water chestnut flour with 20g cornflour and 400ml water into a paste
  • add chestnut paste to wolfberries and diced chestnuts mixture and STIR till mixture thickens - mixture will look very gluey and starchy
  • pour mixture into a greased square pan and steam over high heat (covered in a wok) for half an hour
  • serve cut into slices when cooled, tho' I preferred mine after being chilled in the refrigerator
Steamed Water Chestnut Cake
This sticky slightly sweet dessert with its crunchy bits of chestnuts and bursts of sweetness from the wolfberries is great after a meal on a hot day (like today) and of course, from the aesthetics point of view, the little dots of reddish brown from the wolfberries and glistening texture is very satisfying to my amateur photographer's eye!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Carthaginian Apples? Errr....sounds familiar?

Pomegranate Fruit
Tis the season for pomegranates (or Carthaginian Apples, as was once known in ancient days when they were first introduced into Italy via the port city of Carthage) and with the help of modern freight transportation, nowadays one can easily find this imported fruit in supermarkets across Singapore. Pic above shows pomegranates from Spain, at least according to Cold Storage Supermarket where I bought them. Truth be told, I wouldn't know the difference betweeen this variety and the other varieties cultivated in in Iran (apparently, the pomegranate's native land), India, the Mediterranean countries, California (USA) and even parts of Southern China, since I haven't been introduced to these other varieties as yet in our local supermarkets.

Hubby and I have never tried pomegranates before, and the waxy orange-reddish orbs beautifully displayed in a sandbox at the supermarket called out to us, the virgin explorers. Returning home, I stared at these orbs without an inkling as to how to open or devour them. Some 'googling' was definitely required, and resulted in this wonderful site that had a 3-step 'no-mess' method for removing the sacs - link provided here.

After breaking apart one of them, the red/pinkish sacs (the edible portion) are scooped out and separated from the pale membrane that envelopes them in segments within the fruit. As the juicy sacs looked really inviting, they went straight into glasses which contained 2 parts cranberry juice stirred together with 3 parts Sprite (or Seven-Up) and a shot of vodka - very, very refreshing. It's no wonder that Persephone (the Greek goddess of spring) couldn't resist the temptation of consuming almost the entire fruit while she was held captive in Hades (Greek lore).

Loved the burst of sweet, slightly tangy taste of the juice of the pomegranates when I bit into the sacs - not exactly taken with the aril seeds within but as they seemed crunchy enough, we just chewed and swallowed them (for additional fibre) instead of wasting too much time spitting them out.
Pomegranate Cranberry Spritz
Lovely virginal experience with these 'Carthaginian apples', and can't wait to try them out in salads and desserts! More to come!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Pacman Trio

Bought these three different types of fishcakes yesterday from the Hokkaido Food Fair held at Takashimaya Food Basement. They were originally totally round in shape..... before I decided to take a knife and create 'pacmans' of each of them. From left to right, crabmeat fishcake, green vegetable fishcake and mixed vegetable/prawn fishcake - all very yummy with good fresh fish flavors and the right 'spongy' texture.

Just like the 'pacman', hubby and I chomp, chomp, chomp with relish (sis-in-law who is a fervent fishcake/fishball lover would have approved)!

Friday, November 04, 2005

A Plummy Deal

Plum Blueberry Cake
This Plum Blueberry Cake was inspired by a very beautiful peach blueberry cake which graced the cover of Gourmet's August 2005 issue - the recipe is reproduced on the Epicurious website (link for recipe provided here) together with the original Gourmet photo (link here if you're interested to view that photo, and if you feel the need to compare the two *which I'm sure you will, it being a human failing we all suffer from*, I can only plead for "kindness" after strenuously pointing out that Gourmet has a test kitchen and professional photographers at its disposal).

I would have gone with peaches as per the recipe except that I couldn't find any at the particular supermarket I frequented - so I went with plums instead and they performed their substitution task excellently. The ruby and garnet-red colors of plums were definitely more passionate, when compared to the more romantic pink-blush peaches. The plums' natural tartness have also been tempered with their sweetness coming right to the forefront after the long baking period needed for this cake.

The good thing about Gourmet's recipes is the fact that they are sometimes featured and archived within the Epicurious website, and loads of readers who have attempted such recipes submit their comments, tips and brick-bats (even Gourmet is known to make mistakes at times). Any baker will know that baking being such an accurate science, one or two mis-steps in the process can sometimes spell doom for a cake and utter disappointment to the baker. And this is where all those tips and brick-bats from Epicurious readers come in REAL HANDY!

For this particular cake, a long baking time of 1 and 3/4 hours was specified "to keep the ripe fruit from bursting and releasing its juices" (quoted from Gourmet). However, the oven temperature recommended was 375F (or 190C), which is actually moderately hot and may end up causing the crust to burn. Thanks to the varied comments of Epicurious readers:
  • I reduced the oven temperature to about 160C (or 325F) for the first and a quarter hour and increased the temperature to about 175C (or 350F) for the last half hour, which was perfect for the crust to be slowly cooked and browned without drying - in fact, this particular pastry recipe creates a lovely moist and crumbly crust, not exactly dense like a tart but also not exactly light as sponge like a cake.
  • To prevent further possible burning of the crust, it was recommended that a light-colored springform cakepan be used instead of a dark-colored metal pan - this I followed to the 'T' as well.
  • Finally, while cake is baking with fruit filling on top of pastry, the cake should be covered loosely with an aluminium sheet-foil, to prevent over-cooking and drying-up of the sliced fruits - foil can be removed in the last 15 minutes or so to allow the crust to brown further to a lovely golden color.
All in all, a successful afternoon baking and from the oohs and aahs at the dinner party where it was served later that evening, this is one recipe that can be kept with a little bit of tweaking.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Toh-mah-toh Toh-may-toh

This afternoon, I tried my hand at baking a savoury tart. Having espied this particular recipe for Ricotta and Tomato Tart from Bill Granger's Sydney Food and being particularly enamoured by the photo of red tomato slices atop the tart, I proceeded to 'finger-tip-rubbed' flour and pieces of chilled unsalted butter until mixture resembled breadcrumbs - the first step towards a 'rough puff pastry' according to Granger's recipe.
Tomato Ricotta Tart
Unfortunately, I didn't end up with puff pastry. As picture indicates, mine turned out more like meltingly buttery shortcrust pastry (still delicious but NOT puff pastry). Looks like I will be embarking on a journey to find that perfect puff pastry recipe.

The filling for this tomato tart is both creamy, savoury and slightly peppery, with the use of ricotta cheese and shredded arugula (rocket leaves). Being a 'meat' person, I included chopped ham into the ricotta/arugula mixture to increase the savoury factor. The addition of the layer of sweet ripe tomatoes baked on top of the filling, provided a dash of sweetness.
Tomato Ricotta Tart Slice

Recipe adapted from Granger's Sydney Food:
  • place sliced tomatoes (sliced from 2 whole tomatoes) in a colander sprinkled with salt and put aside (the excess liquid will drain through)
  • mix 1 cup of ricotta (original recipe calls for 2 cups, but that would probably have been too cheesy for my taste), 2 lightly beaten eggs, 1/4 cup cream, 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, pinch of nutmeg, salt and black pepper in a bowl
  • to this mixture, I added a cup of finely shredded arugula leaves and about 3/4 cup of diced honey-baked ham
  • roll out puff pastry to a circle of about 12-inch in diameter and a quarter inch thick
  • place the ricotta mixture in the center of the pastry and spread over the same leaving more than an inch or more in border, fold in border of pastry onto the filling to recreate a 'wall enclosure'
  • arrange tomato slices on top of filling
  • brush pastry with beaten egg yolk (to produce that lovely yellow baked-in color)
  • bake in preheated oven at 200C for 35 to 40 minutes until golden
  • finally, sprinkle with chopped parsley and ground black pepper just before serving
I love the way this particular tart photographs, it looks absolutely inviting with its splashes of red (from the tomatoes) and golden yellow (from the pastry) and hints of green (from the parsley), all of which are great food colors (in fact the majority of food items fall into at least one of these three colors).

Addendum: Notwithstanding the great looker that this tart is, hubby is still not convinced that ricotta cheese is edible cheese (which in his books, comprises only Kraft's processed cheddar slices). Very, very sad!