Diving the Similans: The Black Manta

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

It’s a pity, my computer still isn’t fixed so the posts from previous trips are still on hold. At least I still go places occasionally now, so here’s a series of my recent trip to Similan Islands in Thailand.

Get ready for a whole load of blue! What else but diving is there to do when you’re on a boat in the middle of the sea? DC and I liked the Black Manta when we were last at Seven Skies. In fact he was so impressed that practically the next week he’d looked up all the available trips and before I knew it we were booked six months ahead.

IMG_0152a

We had days with lovely weather, although some evening showers and the edge of a storm caught us. Some of the dives didn’t have the greatest visibility because of bad weather the day before, but it was still great to get away and be uncontactable for a while.

IMG_0163

It’s a lovely boat from all angles isn’t it? I like how spacious it is. All the cabins have aircon and most are ensuite.  They have a water maker on board so there’s no need to ration water and you can shower as many times a day you like and even rinse your gear with fresh water every day! The food is great (Thai crew) and it’s got a big diving deck so it isn’t at all congested before or after a dive.

IMG_0105

And what did we see below the water? More next post!

An Almost Vegetarian Dinner

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

It was time we started eating slightly less fattening food. I attempted to go vegetarian(ish) for a meal or two. A trip to the supermarket got me lovely large king mushrooms, a courgette, mesclun salad and some herbs. The mushrooms ended up under the grill together with a miso-garlic marinade. The courgettes were caramelised and tossed with anchovies and mustard. Substitute capers for the anchovies if you’re going fully vegetarian, I just didn’t have capers in the house. For the couscous, make up some instant stuff with vegetable stock and stir in some chopped herbs. Here I use curly parsley (far cheaper than the Italian flat leaf type and much stronger, go easy). For the salad, I bought some mesclun and mixed in some organic tang oh (chrysanthemum leaves), then cracked in some pistachio (DC’s idea) and tossed in truffled olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It all came together to form a satisfying almost vegetarian dinner.

IMG_0018

Garlic-Miso King Mushrooms

Ingredients:

2 king mushrooms
1 tbsp miso paste (I use red miso with konbu here)
1 tbsp dry vermouth (sherry or sake is good too)
2 cloves garlic, minced

Method:

  1. Slice the king mushrooms lengthwise.
  2. Blend the miso, vermouth and garlic till you get a spreadable paste, smear lovingly over the mushroom portions.
  3. Place under a hot grill for about 10 minutes on each side or until the miso paste just about chars. Serve.
  4. Just before eating, scrape off the excess miso because it gets quite salty.

Caramelised Courgette with Chilli

Ingredients:

2 tsp olive oil
1 courgette, chunked
3 shallots, minced
2 tsp brown sugar
chilli padi, minced
2 anchovies, mashed
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
3 sprigs basil, sliced fine

Method:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan and brown the courgette pieces on all sides.
  2. Stir in the shallots on low heat and cook till fragrant. Now stir in the sugar and allow to caramelise.
  3. Add in the chilli padi and anchovy, stirring till combined.
  4. Take the pan off the heat and mix in the mustard and basil. Serve.

Both recipes serve 2.

Oriole Part Deux

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

We went back to Oriole to have a proper meal and were rewarded with excellent starters and mains. The potted crab was a lovely starter. I liked how the firm crab pieces blended well with the mayonnaise and generous amounts of pepper. The contrast with the crisp toasted bread and crunchy aromatic herbs was lovely.

DSCF6919

I had the beef cheek tagliatelle which was fantastic. It was one of the few dishes involving what’s normally a main course repurposed as pasta sauce that actually worked. The rich beefy sauce was absorbed well by the noodles and the mushrooms provided a burst of soft flavour ever so often. A definite reorder.

DSCF6923

Talking about reorders, the risotto was one as we enjoyed our taster of the last one very much. This time it was as good as ever. I think it was a slightly different version from before with a different fish (plus more too!) and asparagus included in it. Very good stuff.

DSCF6924

The dessert was where a bit of disappointment came in. The Eton Mess had overwhipped cream in it and wasn’t particularly special.

DSCF6929

Last of all was the espresso that we had to send back because it was too sour. Unfortunately the replacement espresso came back sour too, so we gave up. Nonetheless, KK says that coffee made by a certain barista is good, so we’ll have to reorder on a day when he’s there.

Oriole Cafe and Bar
96 Somerset Road
#01-01 Pan Pacific Serviced Suites
Tel: 6238 8348

Entre Nous Part Deux

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

DC and I revisited some old favourites. At Entre Nous, we tried out the savoury galettes. They’re buckwheat pancakes served most typically with savoury toppings. DC had the ham and tomato while I had the mushroom one. Both were very good. The galette was the same excellent standard as the sweet crepes: super crisp on the outside and still moist on the inside. The tomato and ham topping was pretty decent and made for a satisfying yet light lunch.

DSCF7285

I liked the mushroom filling much better though. It was very rich and, well, mushroomy. The depth of flavour was amazing, even more impressive because it was pure mushroom, probably with plenty of butter, but otherwise unadulterated with meat or truffle oil. Excellent.

DSCF7290

Entre-Nous Creperie
27 Seah Street
Tel: 6333 4671

Dark Double Chocolate Cookies

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Chocolate chip cookies are a perennial favourite and dark double chocolate cookies are even more well received. I make up a batch of these when I want to make the chocolate lovers in my life happy. Feel free to substitute whatever nuts you like, I happened to have pecans around. I can imagine it with dried fruit too, like orange peel.  Try to serve it fresh from the oven if you can. The chocolate oozes in a lovely way.

IMG_0049

Ingredients:
200g flour
120g cocoa powder
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
250g butter
200g sugar
120g dark brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g dark chocolate, chopped
200g pecans, chopped

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 170ºC. Line two baking trays with baking paper and set aside.
  2. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda. Stir in the salt. Set aside.
  3. Cream the butter and sugars till fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla extract and beat again.
  4. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined.
  5. Fold in chocolate and nuts.
  6. Drop teaspoonfuls of dough onto the baking tray, spacing about two inches apart. Try to make the dough balls as small as possible. I fit about20 onto each tray.
  7. Bake for about 7 minutes, taking care not to let the cookies burn. It’s a dark cookie as it is, so you have to watch carefully.
  8. Transfer to wire rack to cool and eat as soon as you can touch them without burning yourself. Otherwise, wait till cool and pack in airtight containers and give away.

Makes loads, at least 160 or so.

Quick Eats: Japanese Pasta at Bentendo

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

One more in the Japanese series before we head on to another theme. We brought DC’s grandmother to Bentendo because she loves mentaiko. Out of the other mediocre pastas we had, the mentaiko one with ika and shiso was pretty outstanding. I liked how the salty richness of the mentaiko played out against the bracing greenness of the shisho and the soft yield of the raw squid. The seaweed topping added another briny dimension to it. Here’s where every ingredient, including the garnish, worked well to make a creative and very delicious whole.

DSCF7347

The rest of the pastas didn’t fare so well. DC’s uni pasta was too creamy and the uni wasn’t fresh. DC’s grandma loved her mentaiko cream pasta but I found it too rich. We also had a sashimi salad starter that was quite good. The iceberg lettuce was crisp and fresh and the salmon, tuna and tako bits were fairly fresh. Topped by wafu dressing, it was a decent start to the meal. Next time I go, I’ll have the salad and mentaiko shiso pasta, and I’ll check out the Japanese pizzas.

Bentendo
1 Kim Seng Promenade
#03-32/33 Great World City
Tel: 6235 5606

Ramen Showdown: Marutama

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

The whole week was a week of ramen cravings for me. This time we went to Marutama, which I’d not had for years. I somehow never made it back to the one at Central because I found the restaurant a bit dingy and cramped for a meetup, plus memories of queues put me off. I quite liked the ambience of the branch at Liang Court. It’s still dark, but much smarter-looking.

We had chashu on the side. It wasn’t too bad, being tender and fatty with the bonus of being charred to order. It’s far too overpriced for the miserable four pieces you get though.

DSCF7344

Now I really liked the aka ramen. It’s so different from other versions as the toppings are some kind of  seasoned chicken ball, coriander and a squeeze of lemon. Also, the broth is made of 12 types of nuts rather than pork stock. Sure, there was still the usual stuff like runny(ish) yolk egg, seaweed and sesame seeds, but here even the noodles were different. They were much thinner than the usual, resembling the instant noodle type of ramen more than the traditional sorts. I enjoyed the freshness of the coriander and lemon, and with the richness of the soup, it’s now my favourite ramen place.

DSCF7346

Having said that, I still need to find a new favourite place for the more typical pork bone ramen. Suggestions anyone?

Marutama Ramen
177 River Valley Road
#02-01/02 Liang Court Shopping Centre
Tel: 6837 2480

Ramen Showdown: Menya Shinchan

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

I went out for lunch with DC on a day I had a terrible craving for ramen. Added to that was the woe of my last visit to my ex-favourite Ken’s Ramen where I was served noodles reeking of ammonia. DC of course never fails to deliver. He took me to Menya Shinchan, an apparently well-known place that’s been around for a while. It has a wide selection of ramen stocks, from pork bone to dried sardine, and you can choose between a light and rich version. I went for the rich miso dried sardine one.

First, the toppings. Only the tiny slices of chashu stood out. They were tender and just the right amount of fatty, but such stingy portions! The noodles were excellent. I like them al dente with plenty of bite. These were very firm and bouncy. Excellent. The broth was intensely seafoody and a little fishy, I liked it. It wasn’t as rich as I expected and a bit saltier than I’m used to. I think “rich” here meant something like saltier and fishier, not rich in the sense of thick and almost unctuous like pork bone soup. It’s not bad, but still doesn’t qualify as the best ramen in Singapore.

DSCF7338

Menya Shinchan
30 Robertson Quay
#01-05 Riverside View
Tel: 6732 0114

Apricot Upside Down Cake

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Last thing to top off the festive season. Here’s an apricot upside down cake from a recipe I found online. It was incredibly yummy, so I made it again for the family Christmas party, this time with nectarines. Practically any kind of vaguely soft fruit will do. I’d like to try it with pineapple or pisang rajah (local banana) next. It’s easy, it’s pretty spectacular, it’s very tasty, what’s there not to like?

I needed a pan that can go from stove to oven, so my all-metal WMF pan worked very well for this. I’d almost junked it because normal cooking just kept sticking to the pan. With the buttery caramel topping, there’s no fear at all of anything sticking here.

IMG_0011

Ingredients:

Caramel topping
50g butter
170g brown sugar
10 small apricots or nectarines, stoned and halved

Cake
2 tbsp yogurt
½ cup milk
200g flour
¾ tsp cream of tartar
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
100g butter
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 drops almond extract

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 190ºC.
  2. Make the caramel topping by melting the butter in the pan. When the butter has melted fully, reduce to low heat and sprinkle the brown sugar over evenly. Cook undisturbed for a few minutes. The sugar will start to melt and turn a bit darker. When most has turned darker, take it off the heat. At this point, there’d still be plenty of sugar crystals still visible. Carefully place the apricot halves cut side down onto the caramel. Be very careful because it’s very hot and can spit at you if too hot. Cut the fruit into slices and slide in between if there’s too much fruit. Leave aside and make the cake batter.
  3. Stir the yogurt and milk together and set aside.
  4. Stir the flour, cream of tartar, bicarbonate of soda and salt together and set aside.
  5. Beat together the butter and sugar till pale and fluffy, then beat in the eggs one by one, followed by the extracts. Beat till creamy and doubled in volume.
  6. Fold in flour mixture in 3 batches alternately with yogurt/milk mixture starting and ending with the flour.
  7. Pour batter over the apricots and spread evenly.
  8. Bake till golden brown and a satay stick inserted in the middle comes out fairly clean, about 45 minutes. Cover the top with foil if it browns too quickly.
  9. When the cake is ready, wear oven mitts. Remove from oven and put a large flat plate over it, pressing plate and pan firmly together. Quickly invert cake onto plate and carefully lift off the pan. Quickly scrape off any caramel from the pan and drizzle onto cake.
  10. Best served warm, though really excellent cold too.

Makes 12 slices.

Basilico Buffet

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

It was the last big meal of the festive season and boy did we have a big one. My aunt loves hotel buffets and she treated Mum, Dad and me to lunch at Basilico at the Regent. It’s an Italian spread with some local food to supplement, and a very good spread it was! I apologise for the presentation in the photos because they were obviously assembled by greedy me.

Let’s have a look at the appetisers first. There was a whole range of seafood salads, from prawn to squid to seafood. Avoid the mussels and scallops unless you like tasteless frozen jumbo ones. There was also smoked salmon and boiled crab parts (the knobbly, slightly bristly alien thing in the left foreground is a cracked open crab claw). On the vegetable front, there were grilled asparagus, marinated radicchio (bitter but very good) and marinate artichoke. There was also a decent beef carpaccio and the most excellent burrata ever. I ditched the mozzarella for the caprese salad and replaced it with the soft, yielding and beautifully creamy Puglian cheese.

IMG_0042

The breads were pretty good too. Aunt loved them. I especially digged how delicately beautiful the zucchini on this not-pizza bread looked. But I stayed clear to make space for the cold meats.

IMG_0043

There’s a nice selection of cold meats here. It was mainly pork with just one beef mortadella with pistachio that I didn’t fancy. The rest were salamis and various types of pancetta (oooh fatty lovely cured pork). And of course the star: parma ham with melon. Coupled with pickles on the side including tuna- and pesto-stuffed pimento, olives and cornichons, this was very very good. Oh, and don’t forget the extra serving of burrata on the side.

IMG_0044

Next, I went for the salad. Don’t scoff at the salad here because the leaves were fresh and pert (I hate having to pick out wilted brown bits off my plate), but mostly because of the truffle dressing. Sure, it’s just truffle-infused olive oil but what a treat! I adored the subtle earthiness of the truffle contrasted with good balsamic vinegar plus crunchy greens. It helps that I like rocket and raddichio too, the bitterness added a whole new dimension to it.

IMG_0046

Onwards to the soup! The mushroom soup is rich, not thick, and redolent with truffle. Very yummy because the truffle was again very subtle so it complemented rather than overpowered the mushroom flavour. Excellent stuff.

IMG_0047

You’ll notice that I didn’t have any real mains. I’m more of a nibbly appetiser type and I nibbled at Dad’s roast beef (passable), lamb (excellent) and squid ink pasta with tomato sauce (very very good!). Getting star mention is the roast pork belly. It was melt-in-mouth good though pity the skin was soft, I need my crisp crackling! I find that buffet mains tend to be a bit of a let down because they need to be kept hot and get stale or overcooked. The mains were fairly decent but not worth writing about.

The same goes for the desserts. They were all passable. I liked the plum tart and the caramel gelato. Other than that, the cheese did far better.

Cheese in small portions looks terrible indeed, but that was all I could handle by the time I ate my way through the preceding few plates of food and picked at Dad’s plate. There were two types of pecorino, of which one had a fantastic nutty flavour and it had bits of salt crystals that crunched just so in the mouth (just too bad I can’t remember the name). I liked the smoked ricotta which tasted, well,smoked. There were a few other hard ones, and of course my beloved burrata. Accompanying these were various preserves. I remember a lemon marmalade, different types of preserves with mustard, quince jelly and a very lovely fresh tasting plum jelly. There were quite a few types of honey too. I especially liked the truffle one. Odd how this buffet seemed to feature quite a bit of truffle and odd how I don’t normally like much truffle. Just as well that this was a buffet so they were more lighthanded with the truffle.

IMG_0048

Overall, an excellent outing with far more hits than misses. It was worth the distended tummy and a fitting start to the new year!

Basilico
1 Cuscaden Road
Level 2 The Regent Singapore
Tel: 6725 3232