Tuesday, May 31, 2005

EoMEoTE#7 - The Limerick Edition

Jeanne at Cook Sister! is hosting this blog event called EoMEoTE #7 (otherwise known as the End of Month Egg on Toast Extravaganza), which basically invites bloggers to send in a post with photos (if possible) on a dish with eggs and bread as its main ingredients. This is my first time participating in a food blog event and what an enjoyable start it's been(bean?) - as this month's EoMEoTE requires a limerick as part of the posting. Really had a great time coming up with this:
There once was an Egg in the Pan
Whose pals had been Beans from the Can
They swore ne'er to part
Til the very last fart
And such a grand Pong they did Plan !

Beans Omelette Pillow

As the limerick suggested, I opened a small 230g can of baked beans for this dish.
  • Chop a little garlic (about 1 tablespoon) and 2 slices of bacon.
  • Chop 2 spicy Italian sausages into large chunks (you can use your favourite sausages, mine is the Italian one as it's got a nice herby and slightly spicy taste)
  • Fry the garlic, bacon and sausages together with a little olive oil until fragrant (just a few minutes).
  • Add baked beans into mixture, stir and add salt and black pepper to taste.
  • Remove beans mixture and set aside.
  • Fry up omelette (I use 3 beaten eggs for this dish), remove to plate and place beans mixture in the center before folding omelette in half.
  • Garnish with required bread toast.
Why do beans cause flatulence? For the scientific answer, turn to Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, and you will be treated to 2 whole pages (in fine print) on how oligosaccharides (type of linked sugar molecules) found in beans (the family of legumes) are the main culprits. Yawn! For laughs, skip straight to Fart and Humor (beware - not for the faint-hearted) - I particularly like these two jokes:
  • Why do farts stink? So that deaf people can enjoy them also! [a joke! a joke! please take no offence]
  • "A sigh is but a breath of air that issues from the heart; But when it takes a DOWNWARD course, it's simply called a FART!"
For the record, at time of posting (which is approximately 2 hours since omelette dinner), hubby and I have yet to cover our noses, and we are keeping our fingers crosssed that we can pass a pleasant and peaceful night! Goodnight.....

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Crabs in Hot Soup!

Crab Beehoon Soup
Over the weekend, hubby and I discovered this new 'zhe-cha' coffee-shop in Ang Mo Kio that serves, in my opinion, one of the best crab beehoon soup that I have ever tasted. Be forewarned though, this place is so popular that you will need to wait between 45 minutes to an hour to get a table and be served. We were there at 6.30 p.m. and the crab made its entrance only at 7.20 p.m., but it was well worth the wait. The steaming claypot arrived with this beautiful crab perched on top of thick-round 'beehoon' (rice noodles) in an aromatic milky soup that had been imbued with a really sweet and fresh taste of crabs with a whole knob of ginger to give it the right robust touch. We chose a female crab and you can see the lovely crab roe peeking out from under the shell just waiting to be savoured.

Mongolian Pork Ribs Whilst waiting for the crab soup, we were served the 'Mongolian pork ribs' which were absolutely succulent and tender, fried and coated in this sweet, slightly salty sauce with lots of black pepper kick.

This coffee-shop is highly recommended, save for the waiting which is fairly excruciating as we see other tables being served and the wonderful aromas wafting over to poor us with the rumbling stomachs and active gastric juices. Advice: go very early (maybe 5 p.m.?) or very late (maybe 9 p.m., after the dinner crowd) but just keep in mind above picture of crab soup as you patiently wait for a table!
Mellben Seafood
Block 232 Ang Mo Kio Ave 3 (St 22) #01-1222
Singapore 560232
Personal ratings: 7 out of 10 (for crab beehoon soup) - must try, and warrant repeat returns

Saturday, May 28, 2005

STOP! In the name of DURIAN!

There’s a wonderful scent in the air these days, do you smell it? If you are an aficionado, you will be overjoyed when durian season descends on the city. Visiting the streets of Geylang or any neighbourhood market in suburban Singapore where heaps of durians in all shapes and sizes are displayed, I wonder how an apple (a nondescript take it or leave it kind of fruit) can be considered tempting next to this ‘King of Fruits’ (an intoxicating love it or hate it kind of fruit). To me, the world is divided into 2 classes of people, the devotees and the detractors. Those who don’t know which camp they’re in had best get their act together and find out. As G, a fellow devotee, once said to me, “It’s a sin of omission!” (directed to those who have not had the opportunity or worked up enough courage to sample this controversial fruit). This fruit is so controversial, they actually ban it on certain airlines, and even in Singapore (where surely there are more devotees than detractors) it is not allowed on public transportation and in most hotels and air-conditioned public places.

Durians Galore
I LOVE LOVE LOVE DURIANS but this devotion can be a cross to bear throughout the durian season (traditionally from May to September) since hubby HATES HATES HATES DURIANS. He is a Singaporean through and through in all respects and yet behaves like a bloody ‘angmoh’ when it comes to this particular fruit (‘angmoh’ is Singlish for foreigner – loosely translated into ‘red-haired’ person, which is probably how our ancestors viewed hairy western foreigners). No particular offence to any enlightened durian-devotee ‘angmoh’ reading this posting but it’s no big secret that most foreigners who’ve had some contact with this fruit fall in the class of detractors. In the same breath, there are pockets of unique Singaporeans who just cannot bear the stench, sight and taste of the fruit.

Once, I bought from the local supermarket some durians, the fruit of which had been removed from the outer spiky shell, packed into styrofoam containers and finally saran-wrapped to keep in the wonderful aroma (or horrendous stench, it’s a matter of perspective). The treasure was smuggled into our shared home and refrigerator. No prizes for guessing that all hell broke loose! For that one infraction, I was exiled to the far and cold nether of Siberia – had to clean out the entire fridge and replace butter and eggs plus anything else that had odor-absorbent qualities, and then faced freezing icy countenance from hubby for the next couple of weeks!

True DevoteesTrue Devotees Since then, it’s been a dearth of durians for moi. Many, many, many moons passed until recently when a bunch of colleagues suggested a durian feast, and G volunteered his home as venue. Only another durian-deprived devotee can understand the pure pleasure of anticipation, and in this CM whose husband is as bad as mine, was right up there with me. The durian partakers at this feast either skipped lunch that day or had a very light one in preparation for the waist-expanding exercise that night. No other food was allowed for the dinner feast – this was going to be an exclusive homage to the ‘king of fruits’. We gathered at G’s home, and the salivating aroma hit us the minute we stepped into the garden where G had placed the fruits in 4 big sacks. 20 fruits in all for 6 of us – what heavenly bliss!

Prelude to Bliss As we pulled apart the durians, the lovely pale yellow fruit peeped thru’ and beckoned… its fresh durian aroma wafted through the air and like invisible tentacles drew the devotees hopelessly into its clutches (nothing else smells quite like it, and that is why it is probably one of the most easily identified aromas), its custard-like texture giving a full-bodied satisfying feel in the mouth (somewhere between not too firm and not too pulpy), its sweetness tempered with a perfect dash of bitterness (just enough for contrast), the not-so-big seeds and thus more-flesh for the eating, raised enough oohs, aahs, sighs, hmms, that G’s neighbours would have been forgiven for thinking that an orgy was going on in his backyard. It was an orgasmic experience for the palate!

Crime SceneCrime Scene Piles of durian husks and seeds later, we were suitably sated and CM and I started the ritual of removing all evidence of durian feasting from fingers, hands and breath (can’t do anything about the potential burps or farts) before returning home to durian-detractor husbands. Took a portion of the husk, rubbed a bit of salt onto the white segments which had earlier contained the fruit, poured water into the segments and drank from the same. Repeat ritual and use water to wash hands. Durian sellers swear by this method for effective removal of the durian scent. For added precaution, CM and I also did the Listerine gargle!

I wonder how many more moons will pass before my next taste of this luscious redolent fruit. In the meantime, looks like I will have to satisfy myself in the meantime with durian cakes, durian mousse, durian ice-cream, durian cream-puffs, durian chips (these are air-dried and then oven-baked durian flesh, somewhat like banana chips), durian shakes, durian chendol (a local Malay dessert concoction using fresh coconut milk mixed in syrup with an assortment of jelly, both agar-based and tapioca-based, and with durian pulp added to it). By the way, did you know there's durian-flavoured condoms? Incredulous, the 'king of fruits' has stamped its mark again in the most intimate of settings!

So, what are you waiting for? If you are a devotee – no time of lose, get your durian fix pronto quick. If unsure, don’t continue committing the sin of omission. If detractor you be, hope you’ve found some other substitute to equal this orgasmic experience for the palate!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Saute Pan Christening!

Finally put to work that 'BMW' of saute-pans, with salmon steaks. Okay, okay, I know salmon's not the toughest of stuff to cook but it's the first time out for 'me lovely pan' and I sure as hell didn't want to burn the bloody thing in its infancy! Chose this recipe from Bill Granger's "Bill's Food" coz' it had a lovely marinade which hopefully would allow me to test the 'deglazing' properties of the pan.
  • marinade consisted of equal portions of mirin and soy sauce, grated ginger, a tablespoon or more of red miso, sugar and lemon juice
  • salmon was marinated for at least half an hour in fridge
  • the 'bmw' was heated up, oiled and salmon slices placed skin side down (the fish cooked beautifully)
  • dressing for salmon was made from equal parts soy sauce and mirin and a tablespoon of sugar, which I poured into pan (after removing salmon steaks), simmered until syrupy or partially caramelized.
  • hubby loved the marinade sauce - looks like this could end up as a regular entree on our family table... a cloud of great satisfaction descended on the cook.

The purchase has been vindicated to some extent, but will require more kitchen-work to assuage guilt when remembering cost of pan. In the meantime, really need to put in some gym work with dumb-bells to strengthen those fore-arm muscles - this pan is definitely not in the light-weight category!

Red miso (fermented red soybean - follow link to Cook's Thesaurus on aka miso/sendai miso, page displays a whole bunch of other soy products that is truly illuminating for a non-vegan/ non-vegetarian) can be bought in small tubs from the local supermarkets (look in the Japanese section - I found mine in Isetan supermarket) and it has a lovely rich taste to it. I wonder whether the marinade can be successfully used for turbo-broiled chicken wings? hmmm?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Not just any Saute Pan!

Yesterday, I went shopping for a saute pan. You're probably wondering what's the big deal - hubby thought so, too - until he peered at the price-tag when I lifted the 5-qt saute pan from Caphalon One (and mind you, S$289 was already the discounted price - I shudder to tell you the original price, you probably think me a fool parting with her money already!) . "You've got to be kidding? That's the cost of at least 10 frying-pans, which you can burn to your heart's content and throw away!" he says ... he's obviously seen the condition of some of my existing fry-pans. "Well, this one is akin to the 'BMW' of saute pans, and will be an heirloom in time to come.." and I launched into the many expected benefits from this heavyweight (unashamedly, using food into his belly as one of the weapons of persuasion). The pan is a beauty, and you've got to give it respect - how many saute pans have a dedicated website tutorial to guide you through its history, compositions and usage? In case you're wondering, Caphalon One is infused anodized cookware that, according to the brochure and website, allows for 'perfect' searing, browning and deglazing. My sis-in-law, who stayed in the US for a couple of years, owns a Caph One frying pan and swears by it - no other pan will do when she grills her fish slices.

The pan is now happily sitting on my stove-top. I have yet to attempt cooking with it due to a very busy schedule this weekend, but first thing tomorrow morning, a-marketing we will be going for stuff to sear, deglaze and braise! Can't wait ...

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Quickie Dinner A La Salmon

Salmon and Soba
Originally uploaded by eatzycath.

I am begining to discover that cooking for one can be really fun. With hubby away on a business trip, I can experiment to my heart's content without worrying about his food likes/dislikes. Pulled out Bill Granger's "Bill's Food" and saw this really simple recipe called 'Crispy-skinned salmon with fresh noodle salad and soy dressing'. The original recipe actually called for egg noodles and finely julienned cucumber and daikon radish, all of which I did not have in the kitchen (only had the salmon fillets). Missing ingredients were substituted with soba noodles and 'dou miao' (pea-shoots).

  • brush salmon fillets with oil and season liberally with sea-salt and black pepper
  • cook salmon on heated frying pan for 2 mins or so on each side
  • prepare soy dressing by stirring together 1 tsp sesame oil, 4 tbsps soy sauce, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp caster sugar, and 4 tbsps lime juice (as I was cooking for one, the portions above may be a little different from the original recipe - do add or reduce according to taste)
  • place cooked soba noodles on plate, add the cooked 'dou miao' and salmon fillets on top
  • finally drizzle with soy dressing (as I wasn't quite into cold dressing, I heated the mixture in the frying pan for a very short while before I drizzled over the noodles and salmon)
This was really quite yummy, and somehow, sea-salt always gives that sudden and wonderful burst of crunchy saltiness on the tongue as one bites into the salmon fillets! The balsamic vinegar and lime juice with dissolved sugar gave a very Western twist to the Asian soy dressing - would this qualify as 'fusion'?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Plain old mushrooms

Mushrooms on Toast
Originally uploaded by eatzycath.

Dining alone at home can easily descend into 'instant noodles' or grabbing a couple of biscuits from the tin, especially when I'm late home from work. Who has the energy to slice, cook and wash-up? However, tonight, I couldn't stomach another packet of 'Koka' noodles but hunger pangs needed a quick solution. Dived into fridge and found a punnet of button mushrooms. Still had some bread left - mushrooms on toast - not as quick as instant noodles but no more than 6 mins tops.

* Butter 2 slices of bread and pop into toaster. (toast for 3 to 4 mins)
* While bread is toasting, rinse mushrooms, slice off stems and cut into half. Chop some parsley. (1.5 mins at most - including rummaging in fridge for parsley sprigs)
* Heat up pan and melt a knob of butter, add mushrooms, pinch of salt and black pepper, let mushrooms brown to lovely colour and cook till tender (2 to 3 mins).
* Add chopped parsley to pan and sprinkle a bit of lemon juice.
* Ping! toast is ready - place on plate, serve mushrooms on top of toast and drizzle the lovely fragrant butter sauce over mushrooms cum toast!
* [add 1 min to locate camera and snap pic] - CHOW TIME, a much more appetizing alternative ....

Thursday, May 12, 2005

'Zhe-cha' servings

Singaporeans are really lucky to have an abundance of ‘zhe-cha’ stalls near their homes (at least for the majority of the local population). ‘Zhe-cha’ stalls are food-stalls located in hawker centres or the local ‘kopi-tiams’ (coffee-shops), which serve local home-cooked dishes from a menu usually comprising a wide variety of seafood, poultry, pork and meat, vegetables, noodles and rice dishes. As most homes are no more than a 15-minute walk to a ‘zhe-cha’ stall, there is really no excuse, even for the non-kitchen entering species, to survive on just bread and instant noodles (unless the butt has gotten so lazy that it’s stuck either on the tv-couch or in front of the computer). Don’t feel like cooking tonight, just go to your nearest ‘zhe-cha’ and get your balanced ‘pyramid’ meal of 1 serving meat/fish and 2 servings vegetables cooked on the spot (in the way that u like) and served piping hot. Having a dinner party but can’t handle cooking a whole slew of dishes, just order one or two or more dishes from your favourite ‘zhe-zha’ for takeaway and if you have 'thick skin', hide evidence of takeaway packaging and unabashedly claim dishes as your own!

One of my favourite ‘zhe-cha’ stalls is “Fatt Choy Mui Seafood Restaurant” at Blk 34, #01-86 Cassia Crescent (not exactly 15 minutes from our home, more like half an hour by car but worth the drive), which is just behind the hawker center at old airport road. Over the weekend, hubby and I went back and had a delicious ‘assam fish-head curry’ together with ‘mui-choy (preserved vegetables) braised pork belly’ – haven’t quite mastered the art of food-photography, so photos look a bit blur (ok, ok, I admit I was out-of-focus..) but still u get the picture right!

Assam fish-head - subject hidden by vegetables and red-hot chilli-gravy! Posted by Hello

The ‘assam fish-head’ looks chilli-potent but is not as hot as it looks and the sourness of the ‘assam’ (tamarind) balances the spiciness very well - the gravy demands at least a bowl of rice. This place also serves ‘chilli crabs’, ‘fried crab beehoon’, ‘mongolian pork ribs’ (don’t ask me why it’s called Mongolian, but the ribs are really succulent and tender braised in some kind of black sauce with a tinge of sweetness) and a host of other dishes. Reasonably priced, you will not ‘sweat’ your bank account dining here.

Pics may be blur but memory of delicious taste not blur at all! Posted by Hello

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Discovery Travel & Living Addict!

A couple of months back, we bought a DVD-recorder and also changed our SCV cable-box into a digital box. Life as a 'foodie/traveller' couch-potato hasn't been the same since then! With these two items, I can now record to my heart's content all 'yummy' Discovery T&L programs during unearthly a.m. hours and anytime during working hours, switch back to the AXN channel (and record the currently running series of CSI, CSI Miami and CSI New York - I'm a sucker too for police procedural and detectives shows and novels) using the auto-tune function on the cable remote, and switch back to Disc T&L again...the wonders of digital-age electronics!

Have been 'devouring' Jamie Oliver (Naked Chef and Oliver's Twist), Nigella Lawson (Nigella Bites), Anthony Bourdain (A Cook's Tour), Ben & Curtis (Surfing the Menu) with much, much relish (and drooling...luckily, there's a machine-washable cover-slip over the sofa). Bourdain has to be my all-time favourite food personality with his dry New York-wit. Jamie inspires with his bloody ease around the kitchen and the way he uses his hands (literally) on everything, especially when tossing the salad with the dressing - will need to try this one day once I get past this mental block against 'playing with me vegetables'!

Hubby's been very patient over the last few months (not exactly as enamoured of Disc T&L as I am) but we reached a good compromise, with priority given to the Sports channel on weekends (good thing that most of the T&L stuff are shown on week-days, and anyway, I'll be busy trying out stuff in the kitchen to 'bribe' him). Will try to show pics of 'bribery' at next posting!

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The shoppin' rocks in Beijing

Is shoppin' any good in Beijing? Well, if you are into cheap 'branded' stuff or generally 'cheap' stuff, this would be paradise! For real branded stuff, wait for the Great Singapore Sale to start instead, unless you are looking for certain French/foreign fashion houses/brands not found in Singapore yet (yes, they actually get some pretty nifty latest fashion ahead of us!).

Wangfuqing Dajie is of course where all the tourists go to (or are herded to), and it's not unlike Nanjing Lu in Shanghai, i.e. pedestrian mall/road with lots and lots of individual shops, shopping malls and of course, the spanking new Oriental Plaza (we exited from the subway station, Wangfuqing right into the basement of the OP - no excuse for not being able to find this street on your own). Oriental Plaza is purely 'upmarket' shopping - credit card(s) required (bring more than one in case you bust your limit on any). "Window-shopping" was great and the OP also boasts one of the larger basement hawker centres with a huge variety of food - all kinds of noodles, baozi, grilled meat etc. in air-con comfort!

As hubby and I were on the prowl for cheap 'branded' stuff, we hit XiuShui Shichang (the Silk market) - in fact, not once but twice during our recent trip. Easily accessible by the subway (Yonganli station), the market is right at the station's doorstep. In the past, XiuShui Market used to consist of this huge ground with lots of stalls (somewhat akin to our pasar malam) - that is all gone in the name of modernization - all the stalls have now been shifted into this huge 7-storey building developed on the site - with a separate floor each dedicated to bags, clothes (ladies, men & kids), shoes, jewellery/watches etc. The urge to spend and spend is hard to control at this place!

The locals expect tourists to bargain - so the only question is by how much? Some tourist guidebooks tell u to start at half the quoted price (let me tell u, the storekeepers already expect that). The stuff we bought were usually concluded at between 20-40% of the quoted price but then we may not be the best of hagglers. If you are truly brave and love the tussle of bargaining - start at 10% and move up (but of course, if you get blasted - please don't quote me). True test that you've hit the rock-bottom price is when the storekeeper doesn't hail you back to his shop should you decide to walk away. There were times, after a purchase, when we felt that maybe... we should have reduced the price further. Our game plan in such situations - cost-averaging - i.e. buy some more at even lower prices to average our costs, now isn't that a shop-worthy plan?

Similar to XiuShui Shichang is the Sanlitun Yashou Clothing Center (again, another multi-storey building with numerous stalls to trek thru'). By the way, if possible, leave husbands behind (either back at the hotel or at a coffeeshop on the ground floor of this place) - they will not have the required stamina! If they wait patiently for u, do reward them by buying dinner at XiaoWang Fu restaurant (this place is directly opposite the Clothing Centre, is set in alley about 20 meters in from the main road - can't miss the huge signboard at the main road). The setting is lovely (in grand reds and maroons) and dinner will not cost more than Rmb50 (S$10) per person. We had really fragrant 'piaoxiang paigu' (pepper-salt fried pork ribs), double-boiled soup, vegetables and fried rice.... believe me, he will forgive u for the 2 hours spent at the Clothing Center.

If shopping in multi-storeys buildings doesn't quite do it for u, take the subway to Qianmen station and spend half a day at Dashilar, walking down Qianmen Dajie, and the parallel walk-alley that intersects with Dazhalan Jie - lots of little shops filled with cheap clothes and silkwear (hubby bought a pair of jeans for S$7, I bought a pair of 'le coq sportif' sneakers for S$10!) - some of the shops here have wonderful traditional facades, being once the shops frequented by the imperial residents (note this place is just south of the Forbidden City).

On the taxi-ride back to our hotel (after an especially good 'harvest' at XiuShui market), I had this silly grin plastered on my face, telling hubby repeatedly that "This is a GREAT country!" (for shoppin').