Friday, January 30, 2009

Let It Simmer

Who would have thought that I - someone who is an aficionado of elegant fare in the kitchen - would fall head over heels in love with stew, and be the one to extol the majesty of beef stew in all its gloppy glory?

Stews are bringers of contentment to a discontented world, high in the ranks with freshly baked bread and cakes, guaranteed to fill a kitchen with such a sense of abundance. Stews are the most forgiving dishes and seem to possess an organic vitality independent of the cook. Under their tight-shut lid they can be allowed to simmer away for hours on end, and whilst the aromas of bay and wine pervades through air, benevolent unions and fusions are taking place in the pot.

Ironically, being “in a stew’ is a description of sweaty anxiety when, in fact, the food is a balm for the fretful: a slow, voluptuous yielding, long bundles of fibre softening in a gently bubbling bath of yeasty beer - in the recipe of Belgian Carbonade. Stews are irrefutably wintry comforts but they are also sure-fire proof against dirty weather, hot or cold.

Despite with promised joy in the consumption of a richly cooked stew, it is rarely featured in the menus of ambitious contemporary restaurant. I suspect it’s because their messiness doesn’t sit quite well in a plating culture that wants you to ooh and aah at presentation that are often exquisite and sublimely beautiful. Stewing meat of whatever kind is never cute; it’s the slob on a plate, leaking incontinently towards the beckoning mash and beautifully tanned bruschetta.

With winter biting and gloomy nights look set to linger, my craving for gratifying, oozing, life sustaining stews becomes irresistible, and what could be better than a nourishing Pot of Pleasure. Moreover, when left alone overnight, gathering of richness and intensification of flavour would ensued, in other words, it will just keep getting better.

Belgian Carbonade
A rich stew of beef and onions cooked in beer
Serves 2
Ready in 3 hours and 30 minutes

1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, finely chopped
500g beef brisket or stewing beef, trimmed of fat and cut into 3 cm cubes
50g chopped bacon or gammon
1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
200g baby potatoes, halved
1 tbsp plain flour
200ml brown ale
200ml hot beef sock
1 tsp brown sugar
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Slices of crusty bread and mashed potato, to serve

  • Heat a little olive oil and butter in a large nonstick pan and lightly fry the bacon pieces till slightly coloured. Transfer to a large pot.
  • Brown the beef on all sides (don't overcrowd the pan or the meat will steam, not brown, and add a little more oil if needed). When nicely browned, tip them into the pot.
  • Cook the onion in the pan until golden. Add garlic, then the carrots and potatoes till they took on a vivid glaze.
  • Stir flour into the pan and add the brown ale gradually, stirring constantly to remove any sediment at the bottom of the pan. Heat until simmering and pour over the beef and vegetables in the pot.
  • Add the stock, sugar, bay leaf, thyme, and a sprinkle of herbes de provence (an aromatic blend of dry herbs - thyme rosemary, basil, marjoram, oregano & tarragon). Cover and wish it a happy simmer over low heat on the stove for 2 hours and 30 minutes. Do poke your nose in the pot from time to time to check for dwindling juice.
  • Add the balsamic vinegar, season with salt and pepper, replace lid and simmer for another 30 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the mashed potato and bruschetta to serve with the stew.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Teochew Cuisine!

With visitors from Penang and Chicago, I decided to bring everyone for Teochew food for dinner. I grew up eating Teochew home-cooked food made by my beloved Ah Mah and Mom and learnt to make a dish or two as I grew up as well. Maybe I'm bias but I truly think that Teochew has some of the best cuisine amongst the various diversely-tasting Chinese Cuisine from the respective provinces in China. Of course being in Singapore, we've the good fortunate of having literally all sorts of cuisines under our noses and I've had traveled to China a little bit in the recent years for work and had the chance to try out quite a variety of food from Shanghai, Beijing, Suzhou, Wenzhou, Sichuan, Zhejiang etc but never really quite find the food familiar to my taste buds despite the fact that they are all Chinese cuisines. Perhaps it's the taste of home-cooked food that made all the difference.
So today, the 6 of us went to Lee Kui (Ah Hoi) Restaurant at Mosque Street (of Chinatown) for a taste of the humble Teochew food. All in all, we had 7 dishes, including Cold Crab, Braised Duck, Teochew steamed Pomfret, Deep Fried Springroll platter, Oyster Egg Omelette, Stir-fried Asaparagus and of course my favorite Yam Paste with Pumpkin and Gingko Nuts dessert! The food was absolutely awesome, the ingredients were fresh and the the dishes were well-made! Two thumbs up and I would definitely recommend anyone with a craving for Teochew cuisine to check out this restuarant!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Japanese Cheesecake

This is a new recipe that I've found and tried over the weekend.

85g cream cheese
60ml milk
2 egg yolk
2 egg white
50g white sugar (divided half-half)
1g cream of tartar
25g all-purpose flour
10g cornstarch

1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C. Line the bottom of a cake pan with baking paper.
2. Warm the cream cheese and milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stirring until cream cheese is melted. remove from heat and set aside.
3. Using an electric mixer, beat egg york and half of the sugar until light and fluffy.
4. Fold the cream cheese mixture into the egg yolks.
5. Sift in flour and cornstarch and stir until blended.
6. In a separate bowl, using clean dry beaters, whip egg whites with cream of tartar until they can hold a soft peak. Gradually add the remaining sugar and continue whipping to stiff peak.
Fold egg whites into cream cheese mixture. Pour into prepared cake pan.
7. Place cake pan in a water bath and put into the oven.
8. bake for 20 minutes at 175 degrees C. Lower the temperature to 150 degrees C and continue to bake for another 15 minutes.
9. Let the cake cool before removing from pan.
10.Run a knife along the outer edge of the cake pan and invert onto a plate to remove the cake. Peel off the baking paper and invert onto serving plate so that cake is upright again.

Thoughts after baking:
1. This cake is a bit too sweet, I would suggest reducing the sugar to 15g + 15g, instead of 25g + 25g.
2. I would also recommend using self-raising flour instead of all-purpose flour.
3. This is a really light cheesecake with very little cream cheese in it, the texture is more like a sponge cake with cheese flavour. For a heavier cheesecake, consider doubling the amount of cream cheese.

New York Mango Cheesecake

This is one of the tried and tested New York Cheesecake recipe:

Cookie base:
15 digestive biscuits
30g butter

Cheesecake Filling:
900g cream cheese
300g white sugar
180ml milk
4 eggs
230g sour cream
* if sour cream is unavailable, replace with juice from 1 large lemon
1 tbsp freshly grated lemon zest * optional
15ml vanilla essence
30g all purpose flour

Mango Topping:
2 large honey mangoes
15g corn starch

1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees C.
2. Mix biscuits crumbs with melted butter and press onto bottom of springform pan.

3. Use a mixer to mix cream cheese with sugar until smooth. Blend in milk.
4. Using a spatular, mix in the eggs one at a time, mixing just enough to incorporate.
5. Mix in sour cream, vanilla and flour until smooth.
6. Pour filling into prepared crust.
7. Baked in preheated oven for 1 hour.
8. Cool the cake on a rack and chill for 2-3 hours before serving.
9. Peel and dice the mangoes
10. Use 1 cup of mango, add water and puree using a blender. Bring the puree to a boil.
11. Dissolve cornstarch in water and add into boiling puree while stirring.
12. Cool the thickened puree and add in diced mangoes.
13. Spoon the mango topping onto the chilled cheesecake before serving.

1. Do not over mix/beat cheesecake filling to prevent introducing excessive air which will cause the cheesecake to crack during baking.
2. Baking the cheesecake in a water bath will prevent burning. Wrap the base of the springform pan with aluminium foil to prevent the water from seeping into the pan.
3. Do not be tempted to open the oven during baking to check. Ensure oven is well pre-heated and once the pan is placed into the oven, just leave it there for 1 hour without opening the door.
4. If time permits, cooling the cheesecake in the oven for about 2 hours after turning it off will also helping to prevent cracking.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

First Trip of 2009 - Desaru Fruit Farm

This is the first time in my life where I actually went for a holiday after a day into the new year!

Despite the relatively short duration and close proximity of the holiday destination to my point of departure, it was nevertheless a trip away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

At a mere cost of $198/adult, the 2 days 1 night trip organised by Desaru Fruit Farm Tour & Travel really exceeded my expectation.

Food...was definitely the primary motivation for joining the tour. To prove the point, on the day of arrival, we were presented with an 8-course lunch.

Three hours later, we were driven to a seafood restaurant where we were once again presented with another 8-course dinner.

Breakfast the following morning consisted of an international breakfast buffet bar. Three hours later, on a beach near a fishermen village, we spotted a pushcart selling the famous Malaysia Ramly Burger. Despite a full tummy, we simply couldn't resist the temptation!

And 15 minutes into the burger, we heard a distant familiar "ring" "ring" which could only be the ice-cream man. Had he not parked his motobike just next to us, we would not have ended up with two huge ice-cream cones in our hands. And this was despite the schedule for lunch in another 30 minutes!

Lunch was again another 8-course affair!

What a way to start the new year! May this signify a great start to 2009! :)

Orange Chiffon Cake

Orange Chiffon Cake

6 large eggs, separated
1 additional egg white
2.25 cup (225g) sifted cake flour
1.5 cup (300g) superfine white castor sugar
1 tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (120ml) vegetable oil
3/4 cup (180ml) freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tbs (10g) orange zest
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 tsp cream of tartar

(1) Separate the eggs and place whites in one bowl and yolk in another.

(2) Preheat oven to 170°C and have ready a 10" 2 piece tube pan (ungreased)

(3) In bowl of electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, place the flour, sugar (minus 3 tbs - 42g), baking powder and salt.

(4) Make a well in the centre of flour mixture and add egg yolks, oil, orange juice, orange zest and vanilla extract.

(5) Beat for about a minute or until smooth

(6) In a separate bowl, with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until foamy.
(7) Add cream of tartar and continue to beat until soft peaks form

(8) Gradually beat in the remaining 3 tbs (42g) of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.

(9) With a large rubber spatula or wire whisk, gently fold the egg whites into the batter just until blended. Be careful not to deflate the batter.

(10) Pour the batter into the ungreased tube pan and bake for about 55 - 60 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. When lightly pressed, the cake will spring back.

(11) Immediately upon removing the cake from the oven, invert the pan and place on a bottlee/flat surface so it is suspended over the counter.

(12) Let the cake cool completely before removing from pan

(13) Remove cake by running a long metal spatula around pan. Invert onto a greased wire rack.

(14) Can store in an airtight container for a few days at room temp or ~ a week in fridge. Cake can also be frozen for a couple of months.

- This ingredient produces a cake which is not as soft as a sponge cake nor as dense as a pound cake.
- The black sesame-like seeds are actually poppy seeds which I have added to create a more interesting 'popping' effect with every bite of the cake.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Auf Widersehen 2008!

My last meal for 2008 was at Forlino. The Italian restaurant is strategically situated by the Singapore River, right behind the Merlion. I guess it would have to be one of the best dinner reservation which offered a spectacular view of the fireworks at Marina Bay where the biggest 2009 New Year countdown was held.

The menu for the evening consisted of five dishes with a choice of either venison or lobster for the main course.
Focaccia (a flat oven baked Italian bread)

Tasted like mashed raw prawns topped with caviar...yucks!

Cheese risotto topped with edible gold leaflet

Main course choice 1 - Venison with Goose Liver (The venison tasted very much like Goulash and I would have preferred the latter where the rich sauce provides an excellent dip for bread)

Main course choice 2 - Lobster
(The lobster was wonderfully done and the meat tasted so sweet!)

(The wine soaked pear reminded me of the Gluhwein served in Germany/Austria during winter)

To be quite honest, I only enjoyed the focaccia, risotto, goose liver and lobster. Although everything came in small portions, I was pretty full half-way through the main course. For the exorbitant price charged and the fact that I didn't managed to finish most of the dishes, I doubt I'll be returning to the restaurant at all.