Korean-Style Chicken Soup

I had a strange craving for Korean-style chicken soup. There’s something about the cloudy, aromatic soup with glutinous rice-stuffed chicken that made me obsessed about it for days. I found myself thwarted quite a few times – the first time, there was no Sakura chicken (it just tastes better, and hopefully is better for health) in the supermarket, then I realised that there wasn’t any glutinous rice. On the day I made it, I found that the dried red dates I bought were mouldy. So they went in the trash and I winged it.

I didn’t want to use too much chicken (Sakura chicken is not cheap), so stuffing a whole chicken with glutinous rice the traditional Korean way was out of the question. I used half a chicken instead and stuffed the glutinous rice into paper gauze bags (like tea bags) for simmering herbs in stock. They worked a charm and it was easy to retrieve the rice from the soup without it turning into porridge. It’s such an easy, tasty recipe!

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I served it with noodles (go easy on the noodles because there’s also glutinous rice for carbs) and scalded pea shoots for a warming and nutritious lunch. Super yummy!

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Ingredients:

half a chicken
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup glutinous rice, packed into 2 stock bags
500ml chicken stock or water
2 king oyster mushrooms, sliced

Method:

  1. Put the chicken, garlic and glutinous rice packets into a claypot. Pour on the chicken stock or water until it covers the chicken. Cover and bring to a simmer on low heat. Leave to simmer for about 1 hour.
  2. Before serving, put in the mushrooms and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Add salt to taste. If I use chicken stock, it’s normally tasty enough not to need salt.
  4. Fish out the glutinous rice packets and the chicken. Portion out into individual bowls and serve with the hot soup.

Serves 4.

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Yahava

Jean told me about this place called Yahava tucked in an area of town that I’ve been frequenting quite a bit. It’s stylishly decorated…

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… with interesting details such as the portafilters standing in for door handles. Cute eh? The inside feels very airy because they haven’t crammed the place full of tables and chairs. There’s plenty of space for displaying coffees from around the world. (They urge you to take a pack home to try.) There’s also a comfy couch if you feel like lounging.

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And how’s the coffee? Very decent. The cafe latte is aromatically assertive with a light bitterness and none of the horrible acidity of inferior brews.

IMG_4637Worth trying if you’re in the area. Good coffee, great atmosphere.

Yahava KoffeeWorks
4 Jalan Gelenggang
Singapore 578188
Tel: +65 6554 7080
koffee@yahava.sg

Jane Thai Food: Great Food with Dodgy Origins

The moment I heard that Jane’s opened a branch at Simpang Bedok, I immediately found an excuse to go. Jane’s original branch is at Orchard Towers so it’s not surprising that it has to push out authentic down-home food for the many Thai workers of the night there. It helps heaps that the food is very affordably priced too! I’ve been quite a few times with family and friends. This review is a hodge podge of the dishes I’ve tried at the various visits.

I always tell people to try the claypot mussels with basil ($8). It’s a massive pot of an uncountable number of fresh mussels cooked in a super nommy lemongrass-chilli broth. Now here’s the catch: see the green lip on the mussel shell? It’s kinda fluorescent don’t you think? It doesn’t really show on the photo, but the edges of each mussel piece hidden also has a strange fluorescent green lip too. I painstakingly took out that green edge from each mussel muscle before eating. DC has banned me from ordering it again because he thinks it’s radioactive. Eat at your own risk.

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The mango salad is well up to standard. It pulls no punches with the shallots, raw garlic and fish sauce shouting out strongly. Thumbs up also to the generous serving of dried shrimp and toasted peanuts tossed into the mix. The fried catfish part (crispy fish with mango salad – $20) isn’t as good. It’s a tad oily and not that authentic because the fish bits seemed to be coated in some kind of batter instead of just being fried into crisp-spongy goodness. Give it a miss.

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Go for the deep fried snapper instead. It’s expertly fried so that the fins are super crispy – I crunched up most of the fins and little bones. Make sure you have it with papaya salad, the two go together a treat.

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The pandan chicken ($10) is good too. I hadn’t any in ages because it’s generally crowded out by spicier options, but was very glad that Jean suggested it. It was very savoury and flavourful, with strong notes of pandan and caramelised oyster sauce. I liked that the chicken pieces weren’t too oily and some bits were almost crisp. The pandan wrapper kept the chicken very moist. A must if everything else is too spicy!

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And then the tomyum soup ($10). It’s fantastic. I always prefer the clear version because of the cleaner flavours. They also generally add some holy basil to finish the clear version. The heady herbal notes are magic to the seafood broth. The seafood version comes with some radioactive mussel, so order the prawn one if you’re dodging the, um, dodgy. Otherwise, enjoy the fiery fragrant soup. Jean and I slurped cautiously and steadily at the soup and after a while realised that both of us were finding it really hot but just couldn’t stop because it was that good. The pandan chicken really helps as a foil at this point!

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Jane’s has plenty of other good dishes. They do a credible stirfry with plenty of wok hei (the kang kong and bean sprouts are good), and their curries are fine too.

Oh, and the dessert? I haven’t had a good experience with dessert, so I suggest you stuff yourself to the gills with the excellent savoury food here. If you really need something sweet, go to the ice cream shop next door. It’s not bad.

Jane Thai Food
314 Bedok Road
Bedok Shopping complex
Tel: +65 6449 9201

La Braceria: My Current Favourite Italian Place

La Braceria came up in a search for newish Italian places in town. I’ve since been there a couple of times and the food was excellent. Here’s a combined review of what I’ve eaten there. First, you have to have the antipasti platter with creamy cheese, assorted cured meats and grilled vegetables. The first time, we had a beautiful burratta, which is cow’s milk mozzarella augmented with cream. It was beautiful – rich, creamy and decadent. The grilled vegetables were a stunning counterfoil as they were masterfully cooked – tender, uber yummy (somehow very tasty from vegetable goodness rather than addition of herbs) and charred in the right places. Then the cured meats. They had mortadella, which I’m not super fond of, and parma ham. The parma ham is one of the best I’ve had in Singapore. It’s not over-salted like most parma ham that makes it to our shores. Rather, it was delicately flavoured and very moreish.

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The next time I was there, they hadn’t any burratta, but they made up for it by serving bufala (made from buffalo milk and not augmented with cream – buffalo milk is already much richer than cow’s milk) instead. It was equally yummy. Though less creamy than burratta, it had a pristine, almost grassy flavour. The grilled vegetables were excellent as always and the mushrooms were juicy and succulent like the last time. I was so glad that they had more of the tiny little shrooms this time. And the parma ham? Still as good as ever. They have a great produce supplier!

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On my second visit, they had a special of airflown mussels. Though a small serving for about $20, they were well worth it. The small morsels were plump and juicy and bursting with the sweet flavour of the sea and the white wine it was cooked in. We asked for more bread to mop up the juices even though there was plenty more food coming.

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The next dish, crab linguine ($22), is a firm favourite. The first time I ordered it, I wasn’t sure if it was worth my while because there didn’t seem to be a great deal of crab in it. Sure, the tomato base was buttery and rich, but there was something slightly lacking. The strange thing was that I kept picking at it, and before long, I found that I couldn’t stop eating it! The second time round, they seemed to have fixed the problem and we all had to fight for our portions of crab linguine. Definitely something to order over and over again. What’s lacking in actual crab chunks is made up for in sheer flavour.

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Then came the pizza. It’s decent, but not mind blowing. The magherita pizza was well-received by a discerning 7 year old but I didn’t find anything special about it. (By the way, the Slurpee in the background is from 7 Eleven and not from La Braceria!)

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On visit #2, the pizza crust was still the same – not quite thin enough to be nicely crisp but decent enough. But the topping we chose was nicer. The pizza alla braceria was topped with mozzarella, beef tenderloin and porcini. The beef was yummy as I could just taste the blood on it, too bad it was a touch overcooked. The porcini was perfect, though. It was soft and slightly truffly. Excellent.

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Also on visit #2 was the roast pork special. The rest thought it, well, special. I thought it was well executed but lacking oomph. The meat had bite yet was tender (belly pork, see) and the crackling just about crispy but not light and heavenly.

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On visit #2, we didn’t have space for dessert, mainly because of lack of will. Because on the first visit, the Braceria cheesecake was a little underwhelming. It was a bit like eating a solid block of cream, as if the cream was whipped till light and frozen, but was somehow not freezing cold. I guess it was good execution, but didn’t do anything to me flavour-wise. Save your calories for the antipasti and pasta.

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La Braceria
5 Greendale Avenue
Tel: +65 6465 5918

Vegan Burg: As Unhealthy As It Gets

One evening, DC ordered Vegan Burg delivery on a whim. At that point they had a starter pack offer consisting of two burgers, a pack of fries and a pack of franks.

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The two burgers looked and tasted pretty much the same, except that the tangy tartar had slightly sour mayo and the cracked pepper one was, well, peppery. Duh.

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The burgers were pretty good, with soft buns, ample lettuce, squidgy mayo and patties that had the vague taste and texture of chicken. If I didn’t know better, I’d’ve thought that it was a regular mystery meat-filled processed burger.

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But no, this is mystery vegetable-filled processed food. The veggie franks were testament to that because they tasted exactly like any frank you’d get from the supermarket. I admit that they are tastier and burstier than normal franks, and are probably the paragon of franks. Notwithstanding, they are still highly processed and I shudder to think what’s inside real mystery meat franks. The fries were very excellent. Despite spending some time in transit, they were still just about crisp and the insides were nicely crumbly-melty. I liked the seaweed powder coating. It’s somewhat like McDonald’s samurai shaker fries, just probably a bit better.

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Apparently this place uses organic whole grain in their buns and don’t use trans fat. I suppose if you’re going to eat fast food you may as well do less damage by going vegan.

Vegan Burg
44 Jalan Eunos
Tel: +65 6844 6868
http://www.veganburg.com/

Oooh… Jam! AKA The Post about Bespoke Home Cooking

F and R hosted a bunch of us to dinner cooked by his friend Jeremy Cheok. Back story is that a couple of weeks before that, they hosted a barbecue again done by Chef Jeremy for a much larger group. We loved the food and F said he’d have a smaller dinner for us to savour more of Chef Jeremy’s creations. First up was the mushroom cappuccino topped with milk foam. Chef Jeremy said that he tried to acheive a cze-char taste here. That explained the very slight wok-hei aroma and the unctuousness of the soup. I liked how the rich soup tasted mainly of mushroom, rather than butter like a lot of cream soups. And to quote F, the best part of having someone over to cook is that we could always go into the kitchen for more!

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The salad course was called Rojak Nowadays. I felt that it was a bit of a misnomer because I was expecting haekor (thick prawn paste), yew char kway (deep fried crullers) and crispy tau pok (beancurd puffs) in the salad. To its credit, the salad did have generous chunks of pineapple and cucumber and the salad dressing was scented by rojak’s characteristic ginger flower. Below the cover of pineapple and cucumber was mesclun salad with rocket (yummy!) and the dressing was a mixture of balsamic reduction, soy and fish sauce. I found the dressing a bit too salty for my taste. The others didn’t mind so much and walloped the lot.

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Chef Jeremy found some fresh crab and made them into crabcakes flavoured with daun kesom (laksa leaves). They were prettily topped with smoked ketchup and Japanese mayonnaise.

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They were moist and nicely crabby, though I couldn’t really taste the daun kesom (or was it kaffir lime leaves that he used?). DC liked the smoked ketchup, but I’m not a fan of the synthetic processed tomato taste. Overall, good crabcakes stuffed with plenty of fresh crab, though the herbs could have come out stronger.

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Then came the pork belly porchetta with luak chye. It had been cooked at 70°C in the sous vide machine for about 30 hours then seared on all sides for a crisp finish. I liked the finish and the accompanying apples. Unfortunately, here’s where the pork, while tender enough, had a slightly dry texture. This is very surprising for pork belly since it’s such a forgiving cut of meat with all the layers of fat to retain moisture. Perhaps roasting it the traditional way would help? I also found that the luak chye accompaniment wasn’t up to scratch: it was too salty and the fresh ginger strips were too jarring. It probably needed a longer soak in water and left to to meld with the ginger for a bit longer. Whatever the case, I’m probably a bit too critical here as the combination of pork and its fat is something that irresistable. After we polished off the first porchetta, Chef Jeremy came to the table quipping “What’s better than one porchetta? Two of them.” And we demolished it all…

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… to our regret. Because we hardly had room for the next course of seared ribeye with roasted potatoes and caramelised onion gravy.

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The meat was beautifully seared and nicely rare, blood-red as I like it. The roasted potatoes were lovingly prepared, with each new potato cut with precision so that the potato remained intact but the roasting fat manage to permeate the whole thing nicely. Check out the pretty fan it forms. Best potatoes I’ve had in a long, long time. R really loved the caramelised onion gravy. It was very beefy and meaty because of the addition of pan drippings from the beef, making it very hearty. I think Chef Jeremy used gula melaka to caramelise it and he also added anchovies for extra umami oomph.

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By now, we were so full we had to deploy our extra stomachs for dessert. Good thing we did because the shortbread with banana calypso was excellent! The butter fingers were wonderful short and crumbly. Here’s where the main part of the dessert really sang out and the pisang raja caramel sauce was simply icing on the cake. Excellent stuff.

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The tiramisu was something that everyone else was raving over. Chef Jeremy said he made it with cooked eggs. This made it extra blissful for V, who was pregnant. She thought she wouldn’t get to tiramisu for a good many months aheads. What I gather from Chef Jeremy’s detailed explanation was that he whipped the egg whites with sugar over hot water,  probably a sort of Italian meringue, whipped the yolks with sugar over hot water, then combined both with cream and mascarpone cheese. The mixture then went over sponge fingers wet with Vietnamese coffee. It was a credible rendition that’s definitely not out of place in a good restaurant. I probably got a corner piece that wasn’t quite as good, but I dare say my own version using raw eggs is better. DC (of course!) agrees.

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We had a great experience with Chef Jeremy. He’s got great ideas and I like how he’s not gone all weird fusion and molecular gastronomy even though he does use some of these techniques. Plus, it’s great value for money. (The damage? $90 per person for a party of eight.)

JAM
Chef Jeremy Cheok
Tel: +65 9818 1714
http://www.oooh-jam.com

Shifting Sands and Early Man’s Land

It was time to leave the Serengeti. We were up early as usual, this time to take the scenic route for a couple of sights before getting to our hotel in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area for the night. While sad to leave, we were glad that the Serengeti gave us a stunning farewell gift.

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Muba drove us at a fast clip to the east gate of the Serengeti where he signed us out and where we mucked around at the visitors centre. There were quite a few agama lizards out sunning themselves.

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This guy’s pink and blue livery is so pretty and I love his affronted expression for daring to use the word “pretty” on him!

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The visitor centre also had a few rocky outcrops where there was a great view out of the Serengeti. Here, the plains extended on, but sadly in the form of desert rather than scrubland and kopjes. While it was even more arrestingly flat, there was a strong sense of desolation from the arid plains.

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The long drive out from the Serengeti gate brought us past a few scattered Grant’s gazelles and alarmingly, bleached antelope skulls. Later, a blob came up on the horizon and we knew that we were approaching the Shifting Sands. According to Muba, Ngorongoro used to be a mountain higher than Everest, perhaps even twice Everest’s height (or so he said). One day, the mountain turned out to be a volcano and it blew its top off, creating the largest caldera in the world. Some of the volcanic dust was magnetic. Over time, these magnetic dust particles coalesced into a dune known as the Shifting Sands. The sand was blown along by the strong winds sweeping across the flat plains, and kept together by the strange magnetism.

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It has a highly symmetrical shape because of the wind coming steadily from only one direction. According to Muba, it shifts several metres each year, slowly making its way westward.

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Here’s evidence that it really is magnetic! Either that or the iPhone is busted.

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Check out the movement of the sand in the wind. Videos often do more justice than photos.

Our next stop was the Oldupai Gorge, famously known as the location for Mary and Louis Leakey’s discovery of early man. For good reason, tourists aren’t allowed access to archaeological site itself proper. We contented ourselves with the little museum on the gorge. There was lots of information on wildlife in the area and various archeological finds.

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Note that they very proudly call the area Oldupai and not Olduvai as normally termed by the tourist industry and the scientific community. Oldupai is named after the hardy sisal-like plants that grow in the area. Olduvai is what the first westerner exploring the area called it. This German guy either heard wrongly or couldn’t wrap his tongue around the P and christened it its western form to the outside world.

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What was most interesting about the museum of two little rooms was the cast of the tracks of the early hominids. The discovery of the tracks of a large hominid walking together with a medium sized one and followed by a small one showed that they walked upright with feet not unlike modern humans’. This was the trigger to further discoveries along the same vein and the current thinking that Africa is the cradle of humankind. To me, the tracks of the three-toed horse and a little bird were more enthralling!

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We finished looking through the museum in about an hour, taking much longer than the other tourists, and went out to enjoy the view of the Olduvai Gorge. Check out the monolith in the centre. I wonder how it escaped erosion to stand proud like that.

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(Click here for a larger image.)