Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Moment in Time

A long long long time ago, a little girl gazed intently at her birthday cake....


.....and in retrospect many many years later on, a hint of the beginnings of a 'food-lover' can surely be traced back to that once-upon concentrated gaze!

During the seventies, film cameras were still not that common among ordinary-folk and not many families owned their own cameras. Photos of my childhood were usually taken by professional photographers or family-friends either at their photo-salons or requested by my parents to come to our home and capture those special celebrations. Such childhood photos are few in number and thus more precious, especially as the years go by.

Looking back at this nostalgic photo, there is a little tug at the heart as I try to remember that little 4-year old girl all decked up with hair nicely parted and combed down, staring down into this huge two-tiered cake having just blown off her candles...... an obedient little girl just waiting for the darned photographer to finish his shot and mummy to come and slice the cake quickly.

To all parents reading this, I probably don't need to tell you that there are never enough photographs of your little ones as they travel through life's journey. Yes, they may complain now and then whenever they see you bring out the camera to take a snap of them... but, years from now, when the moment has passed never to return, they will thank you for capturing a fragile memory of a precious moment!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

There's Just Something about this Pair!

Unless you've been a vegetarian from birth, it is quite likely that you have at some point in your life tasted meatballs with noodles or pasta. Meatballs made from ground meat (pork, beef, lamb or a combination of sorts) can be found in various world cuisines, fried, baked, stewed, braised or steamed. One of the fastest ways to use up leftover meat, I love rolling up spoonfuls of minced pork mixture into little round balls before dropping them into a vegetable or chicken broth for a quick meal.
There's just something about this pair!
Another favourite result of the rolling hand exercises is that of meatballs cooked in tomato sauce and served with spaghetti. This particular recipe, which incorporates grated cheese and white bread moistened with milk into the ground meat, creates moist meatballs full of flavors, a far cry from some of the dryer 'bounce-off-the-wall' versions served up in some places.
  • Heat up 1/4 cup of milk in a small saucepan over low heat until warm. Remove from fire and soak a slice of day-old white bread (crust removed) in the milk until milk is more or less absorbed. After it has cooled down slightly, squeeze out the excess milk from the bread and discard the milk. Chop up the bread (don' fret if you end up with a soggy gooey white paste).
  • Add the bread to 250g of ground pork, 250g of ground beef, 1/3 cup of freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, 1 tablespoon of finely chopped shallots, 1 egg, 2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh Italian flat-leafed parsley (or if unavailable, fresh coriander leaves are a good substitute), 1/4 teaspoon of dried marjoram (or Italian herbs), a bit of oil, ground black pepper and salt. Mix until combined.
  • Roll a heaped tablespoon of the meat mixture into 1-inch balls or slightly bigger.
  • To make the tomato sauce: put in blender 2 cans (14 oz-can) of whole peeled tomatoes and pulse until crushed and smooth. Add 2 cloves of minced garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes (this last ingredient is so very important for that extra kick in the sauce) into 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan and heat over medium fire. When oil starts bubbling around the garlic, add the crushed tomatoes and a bit of salt. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or so.
  • Add the meatballs into the simmering tomato sauce to cook them over a slow fire. After 5 minutes or so, stir the sauce and the meatballs (gentle stirring so as not to break up the tender meatballs). Simmer for another 5 minutes or so until the meatballs are cooked.
  • Serve over cooked al dente spaghetti with extra grated cheese on top. Grab a fork and start twirling that pasta.
  • Recipe should make enough for about 3 persons (for a main course) or up to 5 persons (as a starter).
A lot of meatball recipes use breadcrumbs in the meatball mixture and they bake the meatballs until cooked. When I first followed this recipe, I was a little apprehensive about the soaked bread in meat mixture and the slow braising in the tomato sauce, but both are surprisingly good for maintaining the moisture in the meatballs.

And so, with a glass of red wine in hand and Andrea Bocelli's Sogno CD playing in the background, we're ready to toast to a wonderful pair (meatballs and spaghetti) and more easy-going meals such as this!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Star-fighter Swoop

white starfighter

When I look at the center subject, I see a star-fighter in flight formation from a Star Wars flick, with its wide wing-span, sturdy determined tail-rudder, swooping up to the sky. In actual fact, it's a beautiful wild orchid spotted in the Singapore Botanical Gardens, but my imagination has a tendency of going from time to time on fairly nonsensical journeys :)

Things have been kinda busy lately and I haven't had much time to upload recent photos and posts - so, this shot is a 'filler' until my next post... hope you have a great week ahead!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Eating my Curds

Lemons are the most maligned fruit in the English language. Take for example the following phrases, "when life gives you lemons..." or "you've bought(got) a lemon..", the English-speaking world is saying that you've gotten yourself a thoroughly bad deal!

And yet, where would we be without a bit of tart lemon juice or fragrant lemon zest to add that spark or zip to our tea or our pies, and who would eat curd unless it's delicious zesty and tangy lemon curd!
I have never been tempted to make lemon curd as the commercial ones I've tasted in the past were either too sour or didn't really catch my attention with their muted or zilch lemon fragrance. Having decided that I should not based my entire life experience with lemon curd on those commercially bottled curds, I tried my hand at 'curdling' and used this lemon curd recipe from the January 2001 issue of Gourmet(reproduced at this page on

With just 4 ingredients: lemons, sugar, eggs and butter, a little wrist action (some frequent whisking required), and half an hour later, my very first batch of lemon curd appeared last Saturday and unfortunately, since then, I haven't been able to stop sneaking a tiny spoonful of luscious tangy sweetness out of that cheery sunny yellow bottle every now and then. Home-made lemon curd is bloody addictive!

Not wanting to finish the entire bottle of lemon curd by sneaking spoonfuls of it (no matter how tempting it might be), the baking supplies and utensils came out on full parade on Sunday and the result, raisin scones (pic on the left) and lemon madeleines (pic on the right).

Raisin Scones Lemon Madeleines
The recipe for raisin scones was from the March 2005 issue of Martha Stewart Living and it appeared to be healthy with the addition of wheat germ to the flour and the use of heavy cream in place of butter. It baked a tad too dry for my liking though (maybe, due to the lack of butter) but I do like the addition of wheat germ to the scones. Will probably need to do some tinkering to this recipe and if successful, will share it in future.

The lemon madeleines, on the other hand, turned out beautifully - light and spongy. Break one in half, spread a dollop of lemon curd over it, and if you are a fan of tangy sensations like me, it may be fairly difficult to stop at one. I adapted the lemon madeleine recipe from this blueberry madeleine recipe of Tyler Florence in his Eat This Book (one of my all-time favourites, both for the recipes and the gorgeous pictures of man and food). Instead of using orange zest, I added lemon zest and omitted the blueberries entirely.
Lemon Curd for Tea

Will need to take a break from lemon curd soon - am beginning to feel like little Miss Muffet sitting on her tuffet and eating her curds!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Carnivore's Delight

Pork is the second-most consumed white meat in our home, after chicken. In the Chinese kitchen, pork is usually stir-fried (in strips), braised or stewed (in cubes), grilled (as in grilled bbq pork, "charsiew" or grilled pork chops) or steamed (minced). I hardly ever attempt roasting a pork loin as the meat may at times end up toughened and chewy.
Carnivore's Delight
Having read that brining may be the solution to dry and tough roast pork, I recently carted a slab of pork loin home and prepared a 'brine', which is basically a salt solution in which the lean meat is soaked over an extended period of time (whether for a couple of hours or overnight).

Miraculously, due to some chemistry between the brine and the meat (something to do with osmosis and the absorption of liquid into the meat, and the breaking up of the protein bonds within the meat fibres - that much I absorbed from my limited reading up on this very dry subject), a brined pork loin when roasted retains more moisture and is juicier when cooked. For a proper scientific explanation, I would recommend this article on Why Brining Keeps Meat So Moist written by the famous food scientist and author of Cookwise, Shirley O. Corriher. Bruce Aidells, chef and self-confessed pork-lover, has also put up a piece on 'flavor-brining' to enhance flavors and moisture in lean meat. Trust me, you can handle reading these two short less-than-1-page articles and would not need toothpicks to keep your eyelids open.

The roast Bacon-wrapped Maple Pork Loin recipe was culled from the March 2006 edition of Gourmet, and has so kindly reproduced the same on their website at this page [sure saved me the trouble of having to type out the entire recipe here]. The only variations I made to the recipe was to skip the fresh sage leaves for the brine (couldn't find them at my nearest supermarket), and in the marinade for rubbing all over the pork loin before roasting. Substituted instead with dried rosemary and some Italian herbs (which was quite nice too).
My first Brining

After soaking in its salt and maple syrup bath in the fridge overnight for at least 20 hours, the pork loin was as ready as it could ever be to spend some time in the oven. You may not be able to see it from the picture but the slices of pork were surprisingly not tough even after more than an hour of roasting. The flavors of the maple syrup, crushed garlic and dried herbs melded very well together, and somehow the pork tasted just a tad ham-like, in that one could distinctly savor a tinge of sweetness from the meat (probably the result of the absorption of flavors from the brine comprising salt, maple syrup, crushed black peppercorns, garlic and bay leaves). The reduced sauce from the pan juices, with that tangy touch of cider vinegar is quite delicious as well.

Suffice to say, I'm a convert of 'brining'. With more practice, maybe, I will be fool-hardy enough to attempt my first brined roast turkey this coming Christmas!

Monday, May 08, 2006

For the Cookie Monster

"C is for cookie, that's good enough for me!"
This is my hubby's favourite line from Sesame Street - in fact, the only one that he remembers to this day as he mimics from time to time that little ditty sung by the blue Cookie Monster.
For the Cookie Monster
My own lovable Cookie Monster at home had been nagging me for weeks about the lack of cookies in the cookie jar, and it didn't help that I had forbidden him to purchase any from the supermarket (can't bring myself to pay for dry and sometimes tasteless cookies in packets when one can so easily make a batch at home in half an hour).

The nagging reached a certain crescendo last weekend and I found myself in the kitchen weighing the usual suspects of flour, butter and sugar. As my Cookie Monster will only allow rolled oats to enter his diet in the form of cookies, I normally make oatmeal cookies. This time around, I added raisins (instead of chocolate chips) and for experiment sake, some Chocolate-flavoured Horlicks malt powder (out of a complimentary promotion pack). Ended up with fragrant slightly chewy (soft-centered) cookies which I like! Cookie Monster has been placated for the moment, or at least until the cookie jar empties again!
Cookies & Milk Raisin Oatmeal Cookies
If you are interested to try your hands at these 'no-sweat' cookies:
  • Cream 1/2 cup of brown sugar and half a block of softened butter (125g) in an electric mixer until light and creamy.
  • Add 1 egg to the mixture and stirred until mixed thoroughly.
  • Add 1 and 1/2 cups of plain flour, 1/2 cup of Horlicks powder, 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, 1/2 cup of rolled oats and 1/2 cup of raisins to the bowl and mix to combine.
  • Drop 1 heaped tablespoon of the cookie mixture on the baking trays lined with baking paper and flatten slightly each heaped mixture.
  • Bake in a preheated 160C oven for about 20 minutes or so.
  • Remove and cool on wire racks before storing in an air-tight container.
  • This recipe makes about 25 to 30 cookies depending on how heaped your tablespoon of cookie mixture is!
Soyamilk in a Bottle
Just recently, we saw this promotion for soyabean milk sold in bottles at Giant supermarket. It's been a long time since I drank my soymilk straight from the bottle instead of tetrapacks and milk-cartons. A Saturday afternoon, an ice-cold bottle of milk, a couple of cookies, an inviting comfy sofa - now, where is that remote control for the TV?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Eye to the Sky

Thru' the Eye
It was a Saturday evening at Raffles Place, right in the heart of the Singapore Central Business District. With most offices on 5-day week, this hub of activity during a working week is as quiet as a ghost-town during the week-end. I looked left and right, the coast was clear, and with camera in hand, I surreptitiously climbed onto the parapet wall of this particular sculpture to capture a couple of shots of Caltex House enclosed within the "eye".

Not that it was illegal to get onto the parapet, but on a normal week-day with well-heeled executives pounding the pavements of Raffles Place and the risk of a familiar face or two in the crowd, it may have been embarrassing to say the least. Even after months of taking pictures, I still find myself a tad self-conscious when handling a camera in public and going into 'not-so-flattering' positions to get certain shots.

And you know what they say about Murphy's Law - after taking my shots, I clambered down from the blinking high parapet wall in a most unladylike manner (imagine a clumsy person on all fours crawling gingerly backwards), turned around and saw this nice and attractive-looking stranger resting against his parked car staring at me with a thoroughly bemused expression on his face. Aiyah, where to hide my face?

Front Row Seats
Scooted quickly across Battery Road down to Boat Quay. Sat down on the shady steps of the Cavenagh Bridge and saw this 'front-row' crate-seats, all having an unblocked view of the Singapore River and the Fullerton Hotel on the opposite side of the river bank but unfortunately lacking an appreciative audience. Looked like a romantic spot but with less than inviting and comfortable seats!