Friday, June 30, 2006

The Real Deal in a Veal Meal

Went in search of veal cutlets a couple of days back and found a nice rack at Espirito Santo's outlet in Great World City (basement 2). Requested for 2 cutlets (one for me and one for hubby).. and nearly fainted at the cashier - the two cutlets (albeit, each between 1-inch to 1 and 1/2-inch thick with a dimension bigger than my palm) cost me close to S$35, sheesh... I could buy 6 whole chickens for the same amount of $$. No wonder they cost an arm and a leg when you order a veal rack in a highfalutin restaurant.
Veal Meal
Generally, veal refers to meat from a young calf of less than 1 year old. Milk-fed veal is supposedly the best quality veal as these young calves (from 1 to 3 months old) have not as yet been weaned from their mother's milk, resulting in tender meat that is creamy white with a pale pinkish hue. In older calves who have started dining on grass, the color of their meat is a deeper shade of pink moving towards darker red hues and gets tougher in texture.

The veal cutlet that I bought could not have been 'milk-fed veal' as it had a deeper shade of pink but the texture was finely grained and tender - so, maybe it was a slightly older calf (more than 3 months old) but instead of feeding on grass, had been 'formula-fed' (I kid you not - it's just like babies being fed formula powder after being weaned off their mothers' milk) with some kind of milk substitute containing the necessary nutrients for growth.

As the veal cutlet is generally a very tender and lean cut of meat, it is usually recommended that the cutlet be pan-seared and grilled or cooked to no more than medium doneness to retain its delicate texture. When in 'lazy mode', I would just season the meat with salt and ground black pepper, and leave it aside for half an hour before grilling. In fact, this is all the seasoning that is required for good quality meat.

But there are times when a little adventure in experimentation is called for - after seasoning the veal cutlets with salt and pepper, I further marinaded the cutlets in an emulsion made from combining juice from half a lemon together with 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil, a tablespoon of sugar, a dash of salt and pepper (in fact, almost like a salad dressing), for half an hour or so. The veal remained tender and flavorful when grilled, as the lemon juice acts almost like a meat tenderizer.

Without the luxury of open space (as in an external garden area) for a full-blown grill, most of my grilling is done on my Le Creuset cast iron grill skillet pan, which is excellent for heat distribution and retention and sears lovely grill marks onto meat (just look at the top pic). The only issue I have with this pan is removing the stubborn food residue - sometimes I'm so afraid of scouring too hard and scratching the matt black enamelled surface that I end up using my fingernails to pick at the burnt stuff and that is so so BAD for my manicure!

The grilled veal cutlets were topped with 'gremolata' to add a fresh zesty taste (okay, don't deny it - bet you're wondering what's that 'g' word) - and here's a little bit of trivial information for the foodie:
Gremolata (greh-moh-LAH-tah) is basically a garnish made from a mixture of minced parsley, finely chopped lemon peel and garlic (usually added as a garnish to osso bucco) for a fresh lemony fragrance and taste.
Medium Rare

For the vegetable side, french beans cooked in boiling water for about 4 to 5 minutes - not too long, the beans should be cooked until tender but retaining that crunchy texture of vegetables. Remove beans from the pot and drain. In a pan, I heated a tablespoon of olive oil and added the beans together with a handful of toasted sliced almonds, season with salt and butter and serve alongside the veal cutlets.

A great dinner, with every single chomp of that veal cutlet worth the full price paid, including damaged manicure!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Paintbox Delight

This is NOT a scene of some Italian or Greek or French alley, but one of a back alley somewhere in central Singapore. When I saw these bright contrasting colors, I had to grin and shake my head at the audacity of whoever put paint to wall - there is HOPE after all for our little city to be a vibrant mecca of colors, with sufficient cans of ICI-Dulux primary colors!
Primary Hope

And if paint might just be too expensive for the redecorating job, we can just let nature take its course - rust and rain combined together creates beautiful rust-stains streaking in parallel lines down a wall - designer wallpaper, compliments of the weather!
Designer Rust Stripes

And if you thought that such vibrant colors are only the whimsical efforts of private enterprises and individuals, let me show you the next shot of the Red Dot Traffic building along Maxwell Road - which used to be the Maxwell Traffic Police Station - but now totally refurbished by the authorities to be an exhibition venue for red dot design awards with trendy cafes and restaurants (Le Papillon being one of them).
Red Alert

And finally, on a bright sunny day with a clear blue sky, cheery yellow walls and bright red window panes, a black crow perched on an antenna sings out, "now who said Singapore lacks colors?"
Tropical Sun

So, the next time you take a walk-a-bout on the streets of Singapore, be sure to wear your shades as the colors are just blinding!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Vitamin C Comin' Up

It's the middle of the week, and I'm sorely in need of something bright to cheer me up!
Vitamin C comin' up!

These huge oranges which are bigger than my fist, are incredibly sweet and juicy, perfect for juicing or just eating them wedge by wedge, and just the right size as jelly moulds.

1. slice top off orange, remove flesh and dice the orange segments
2. add hot water to orange-flavored konnyaku powder, stir to dissolve (didn't add any sugar as the packet of konnyaku powder that I used already had glucose added in)
3. pour konnyaku mixture into orange moulds and/or jelly moulds and add the diced orange segments
4. refrigerate until the jelly is set

Four simple steps to getting my daily requirement of Vitamin C and fibre, sure beats popping Vit-C pills!

If you're non-Asian, and wondering what konnyaku is, check out link to wikipedia's site on the end-product of an Asian starchy tuber (konjac), supposedly low in calorie and high in fiber. I must qualify though that using konnyaku powder as I have done above, would hardly support the low in calorie claim!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Off the Menu

If you ever find yourself seated for the first time at Azhang, a little cafe along Mohamed Sultan Road - don't be dismayed by the A3-size one-sheet laminated menu and its tiny 1-inch by 1-inch pictures (some slightly bigger, some even smaller - at a recent dinner, my dining companion commented that she may have to bring along a magnifying glass the next time she comes in).

Helmed by owners, Patrick and Ava Zhang (not related, they stressed), Azhang recently moved from its previous abode at Joo Chiat Road to its present location amidst a row of cafes and restaurants now occupying the sites of the pub-haunts of not too many moons ago.

When hubby and I first chanced upon this place last weekend, we saw the menu comprising an assortment of grilled/roast meats, soup, salads and some local dishes, and were decidedly unimpressed. Luckily for us, a family of four had ordered a rack of roast lamb ribs and it looked and smelled very edible indeed. Scanned the one-sheet menu and couldn't find anything listed as roast lamb ribs, enquired with the hostess and discovered that from time to time, Azhang dishes out 'off the menu' items, depending on the chef's 'inspiration' and the requests of regulars.
Slathering of Pate
Having decided to brave the roast lamb ribs, we were told that it would take awhile to be served as there was only one cook (Patrick himself) in the kitchen. To still the growing hunger pangs, we ordered a small crock of the homemade chicken liver pate together with a small basket of home-baked focaccia bread. Just look at that wonderful texture of pate and bread.. hubby was not much of a liver person (his loss), and the whole crock of pate ended up at my corner and was soon totally wiped clean. Hubby, in the meantime, was quite happy dipping the fresh focaccia slices in olive oil with a few drops of balsamic vinegar.

AZhang's Offering
Finally, the roast lamb ribs arrived, crispy on the outside (we understand that they were roasted over lava stones), succulent tender meat within, well-flavored and just the right touch of honey probably either drizzled or basted on during the last part of the roast. Obviously, we didn't bother with the knives and forks - the dish called for finger-licking techniques.

Besides the lamb ribs, I had the pumpkin soup which was thick and very hearty soup while hubby ordered the beef curry. Although the curry had no coconut milk, it definitely did not lack flavors and the strong spices melded very well together. A word of warning, this dish is subtlely SPICY - it does not hit you immediately but halfway thru' the dish, you suddenly realize that your nose is sniffing and your hand is reaching out for relief in that glass of cold water. And oh, did I mention that the beef shin used in this curry has been cooked until it is so tender that Azhang didn't even bother to serve this with a knife or fork - just a lone spoon, that's all the cutlery you need.

Told my lunch kakis about my weekend meal at Azhang, and a few days later, we had reserved a table for dinner and upon enquiry of his 'off-the-menu' item for that evening, agreed to try out Patrick's Moroccan paella.
AZ Moroccan Paella
The saffron-flavored rice came in a huge WMF shallow pan, with a variety of seafood (mussels, squids, prawns and fish) and chicken meat, dotted here and there with bell peppers and sliced chilli. Slightly spicy, it was delicious gaining a special flavor from the burnt rice-crust (the socarrat) at the bottom of the pan (an absolute must for paella).

AZ Sweet Potatoes DelightTo accompany this dish, we had a platter of sweet potatoes cooked with sweet potato leaves. A most unusual platter, it had hints of Peranakan cuisine with the addition of chopped dried prawns (hae bi) and spices. Quite quite yummy too!

My company of 5 also ordered desserts, a chocolate pudding (which is almost like crumbled rich chocolate cake drizzled with chocolate sauce and topped with cream) and a tangy sorbet... but my apologies for the absence of pics - by this time, with the amount of carbohydrates consumed, the mind had kinda gone into "non-alert" mode!

If you have the time to spare (after all, 1 cook in the kitchen may sometimes mean a leisurely wait with a glass of wine in hand and do ensure you have an amiable dining companion), do give Azhang's dishes (both on or off the menu) a try, and after dinner, go ahead and have a chin-wag with Patrick and Ava, a couple of friendly hosts.

6 Mohamed Sultan Road, Singapore
Tel: 68363436

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Osso, what? Shokubutsu?

Last Sunday, I told hubby that I wanted to attempt "osso buco" for dinner, and here, I must pause to inform readers that hubby is not a foodie at all. A simple man, he will just eat whatever's served at the table (and for that, he's a darling!), and unlike his wife, has very little interest in the culinary aspects of any dish, so long as there's no cuttlefish or squid in sight.

Mentioning "osso buco", he looked at me questioningly as I went on further to add, "you know, that Italian dish..", to which he replied, "osso whatever sure doesn't sound Italian, sounds like Shokubutsu or something Japanese!" Dear heaven! Shokubutsu is a brand of shower cream we use at home!

Okay... repeated conversation but this time, replaced the words "osso buco" with veal shanks cooked Italian style, and hubby happily drove me to Espirito Santo's latest outlet at Parkway Parade to get our hands on some veal shanks.

Osso Buco
One of those slow-cooking type of dishes, osso buco has a short list of ingredients and non-tedious prep work. Its only MAJOR requirement is that you must allow for at least one and a half to two hours of slow-cooking of the veal shanks in a Dutch oven (usually a cast-iron pot - Le Creuset or Staub brands are available in Singapore) to enable the magic to take place, where meat is transformed into tender morsels filled with flavors.
  • Season 4 thick slices of veal shanks (the ones I bought were slightly more than 1-inch thick) with salt and pepper, and dredge in plain flour, shaking off the excess flour.
  • Finely chop or dice 1 big onion (yellow onion), 2 stalks of celery and 1 medium-sized carrot - if you have food processor, use it!
  • Melt 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the Dutch oven on medium fire, and add the dredged veal shanks to brown on both sides (takes about 2 to 3 minutes per side) - remember to brown the sides as well - use a pair of tongs or chopsticks to hold the veal shanks in place (it's not easy to do it otherwise and don't even consider trying to balance the side of the shanks against the spatula).
  • When meat is browned, add the diced vegetables to the pot and cook until the vegetables are tender (stirring occasionally) - about 8 minutes or so.
  • In the meantime, chop up half a can of peeled tomatoes (for this type of slow-cooked dishes where the tomatoes end up in a sauce, I normally just reach for a can of Heinz or SW tomatoes - the red colors are better and it saves me the trouble of peeling the tomatoes).
  • Add a cup of dry white wine to the pot and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to do some partial deglazing. Add the chopped tomatoes and a cup of chicken broth.
  • Bring to a simmer, cover the pot and let the whole thing simmer on slow fire on top of the stove for 1 and 1/2 up to 2 hours until the meat is tender. If there's too much liquid, just leave the lid off until the sauce is reduced down.
  • Some chopped garlic, parsley and lemon zest are added to the pot just a few minutes before serving to let the fresh flavors mingle with the dish. If you like the taste of anchovies, this is the time to add the same (2 pieces, chopped).
With a bowl of 'osso buco' set on a plate with fresh baguette slices, and a spoon in hand (trust me, no knife is required at all as the tender meat will just fall off the bones), hubby and I progress to the couch for a night of dining before a World Cup match (the Holland vs. Serbia-M opening game). A glass of red Cecchi Chianti Classico 1998 Riserva in hand (lovely dark red color, a plum and cherry bouquet, full-bodied with sufficient oomph to handle the osso buco) and we declared this a mighty fine way to end a Sunday night!

And hubby will never confuse "osso buco" with 'shokubutsu' anymore!

Saturday, June 10, 2006



Was having lunch at Takashimaya Basement last week and happened to see this bright mosaic of colored panels on the side wall of a pizza counter. Asked hubby to move from his seat so that I could have a better square shot of the mosaic, and realized that the back of his chair had such lovely earthy shades (with a yellow patina right at the edge) which complemented the mosaic colors spot on. Couldn't resist and shot was taken, but you should have seen the exasperated look on hubby's face for interrupting his lunch!

*silent sheepish grin* - this is what happens when you allow your wife to tote her camera out for lunch!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Preparing for World Cup

The World Cup (WC) is descending on us this weekend, hubby is all ready - having weeks ago signed up for the full coverage of the WC on the SCV Sports Channel, and the hard-disk DVD recorder has been erased of all previous recorded programs in readiness for those late nights/early morning 'unearthly hour' matches.

In the meantime, the wife will be happily ensconced in another room watching her favourite Korean drama serials. Not wanting to be a 100% WC-widow though, the dutiful wife will from time to time make her appearance in the living room, hovering at the fringes of the game, cheering sometimes, asking stupid questions ("why isn't that a foul?", "what's the ref blowing at?", "how can u tell he's off-side?", "why is he kicking into no-man's land?"...) and making inane comments every once in a while (sometimes, just for the sake of irritating that soccer-fan), but generally acting like a conveyor belt between couch and kitchen - you see, my biggest role during the WC is as F&B supplier!

Sunday Dinner Tart
With that in mind, I recently tried this bacon and onion tart and hereby declare that the short preparation time, together with a 25-minute baking period, makes this savoury tart perfect for snacking during a WC match.

Using frozen puff pastry that's been thawed (in fact, if you buy the ones which are already pre-rolled into square or rectangular sheet-sizes, you don't even need to use and wash a rolling pin), spread a blended mixture of cottage cheese and sour cream seasoned with just a tad of salt (not too much as the bacon would be salty) and pepper onto the pastry leaving a 1-inch border all around, top with the sliced bacon and onions mixture (which I cooked together in a fry-pan for a few minutes to soften both bacon and onions), grate some parmesan cheese on top and put the baking tray into the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes until the pastry is a nice golden brown color and puffed up.

You can stock up on the 6 main ingredients (apart from salt and pepper) in the pantry and refrigerator, and bake this tart any time. Easy to prepare, really tasty with the savoury bacon and onions mix and mild-flavored cheese spread, the soccer fan(s) will definitely appreciate this over ordinary potato crisps anytime but beware, if hubby's friends get a taste of this, they may end up camping in your living room every evening for the WC month!

The recipe for this Alsatian Cheese Tart can be found on