Semi-Authentic Bolognese Ragu

I was looking for an old bolognese recipe from Delia Smith that involved chicken livers (love them!) but came across an even more authentic version from the Accademia Italiana della Cucina. Sadly, it involved very expensive ingredients, like pancetta in large proportions, and impossible to find ones, like triple concentrated tomato paste. Everything else, however, was relatively easy to find, and was surprisingly simple. I was surprised to find that there isn’t any garlic in true-blue bolognese, neither is there bay leaf or other herb. I substituted bacon for pancetta and passata (sieved tomato puree) for the tomato paste. The hint of tomato adds to the flavour backdrop and the surprise ingredient was milk, which added richness and unctuousness to the sauce. The only embellishment allowed was porcini mushrooms. I was delighted because I have a giant bulk bottle of dried ones bought at a very reasonable price at the gourmet store. This, together with the bacon, tomato and red wine added melded wonderfully with the beef to give an unbelievably rich and complex sauce, better than anything at even the most “authentic” Italian restaurant in Singapore.

It freezes really well and I now make it in bulk. Check out the quantities I used for 1kg of minced beef! First I minced all the solid ingredients as finely as possible. Onion, carrot and celery went into my mini electric chopper and came out in tiny bits. I unsuccessfully asked for my bacon to be minced at the butchers, but the Culina counter doesn’t do it! My electric chopper didn’t do very well chopping up the bacon, so much of it was done by hand. Will try to partially freeze the bacon next time, or get a better chopper.

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It was then a simple, but rather laborious task of first browning and releasing the fat from the bacon and then sweating the vegetables in the rendered bacon fat (mmm… bacon!). Then add the meat and keep stirring, followed by the rest of the ingredients. It makes so much that my giant wok can barely take all of it, and gets quite watery at the beginning especially when I couldn’t get triple concentrated tomato paste and had to substitute passata instead. But bubbling it for about four hours and stirring every now and then yields a thick brown sauce that clings easily to noodles.

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I like my spaghetti bolognese, as inauthentic as it is, and served it with a hurried grating of parmesan cheese and blanched green vegetables. When I defrost a portion for dinner, I tend to cook the pasta (sometimes using linguine or penne) till bordering al dente, and fry the noodles in the sauce, adding a bit of pre-salted cooking water from the pasta till it’s al dente. It’s a wonderful post-work dinner when you can’t imagine doing any laborious cooking yet want something comforting. Plus, it’s fairly healthy considering that it’s about 50:50 meat to vegetable content.

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Ingredients

3 big handfuls dried porcini or as much as you can spare
5 onions
5 carrots
8 stalks celery
500 g bacon
1 tbsp oil
1 kg minced beef
200ml passata
200ml red wine, white wine or vermouth
200ml milk

Method:

  1. Rinse the porcini briefly and soak in a little water to soften.
  2. Chop finely the onions, carrots, celery and bacon.
  3. In the biggest pan you can find, heat the oil gently and add the bacon, frying till most of the fat is rendered and the bacon bits are golden brown.
  4. Add the chopped vegetables and sweat for about 10 minutes or till vegetables are translucent.
  5. Turn up the heat slightly to about medium-high. Add the minced beef and break up any chunks. Keep doing it till the meat is browned in parts and you’re having trouble keeping the mixture from burning.
  6. Add the passata, wine and milk. Stir till all the stuck on bit at the bottom of the pan are scraped up.
  7. Strain the porcini, keeping the soaking liquid. Cut up any large bits and add both porcini. Filter the liquid to remove grit (I normally use a paper stock bag as a filter) and add the liquid to the pan.
  8. Turn down the heat to the lowest possible and simmer for four hours, stirring occasionally.
  9. Add salt and pepper to taste before serving on hot pasta. Or let cool completely and freeze in single or double serving bags.

Makes a lot, probably about 20 servings.

Zucchini, Potato and Carrot Parmagiana

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I love zucchini and had some hanging around in the fridge asking to be used differently from the usual pan searing and anchovy pasta combination. Coupled with some old and on the verge of moldering potato and carrot, I flipped through my recipe books and found Antonio Carluccio‘s recipe for parmagiana. Since I had a bit of time, this was it!

You can use any sliceable vegetable for this, just make sure that they are well dried using paper towel before preparing them for the dish. For the cheese, I didn’t have any mozzarella, taleggio or the eponymous parmesan, so I settled with the cheddar I had. It’s a good melting cheese with very nice flavour, so it worked too. For the tomato sauce, I had a jar of pasta sauce from a while back that I again hadn’t got round to using.  Be warned that  the quality of the tomato sauce  is very important. Some of them can be quite tart, so you’ll have to taste and moderate if necessary by perhaps adding a little sugar, or plain using  a decent brand of sauce! I also had some aglio olio spice powder consisting of garlic, chilli and random herbs, so some of that went into the dish too. It all worked out to be a happy use of leftovers to make a yummy, satisfying dish.

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Ingredients:

2 large zucchini
2 medium carrots
2 large potatoes

1 jar tomato pasta sauce

4 rashers bacon, diced
plenty of olive oil
flour for dredging, about 4 heaped tbsp
3 eggs, beaten

150g cheese, thinly sliced or grated

Method:

  1. Slice the vegetables into long slices, as far lengthwise as you can. You’re looking for long, fairly thin slices of vegetables, about 5mm thickness for the root vegetables. For the zucchini, it can go a bit thicker depending on whether you like to bite into mushy zucchini goodness or prefer less of the mushy burst. Pack the slices into paper towels and leave to dry for about an hour or until you get back round to them.
  2. Meanwhile, get out a big casserole dish that looks like it could fit all the vegetable slices and more. Spoon out a thin layer of pasta sauce and coat the bottom of the  dish.
  3. In a sturdy frying pan, saute the bacon dice in a little olive oil till brown. Sprinkle on top of the pasta sauce layer.
  4. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
  5. Add some salt and pepper to the flour and mix well. Standby the beaten eggs.
  6. In the same frying pan, add plenty of olive oil till the bottom of the pan is coated. Get ready to fry over medium heat.
  7. Dredge each vegetable slice in the seasoned flour, then coat with egg. Let drip till most of the egg has dripped off, then fry, turning each piece as it turns golden brown.
  8. When golden brown on both sides, transfer each piece to the casserole dish.
  9. When a layer of vegetables has completely covered the pasta sauce, spoon over more sauce for the next layer and also sandwich in a few slices of cheese.
  10. Proceed till you’ve exhausted all the vegetables and cover with a final layer of pasta sauce, topping generously with cheese.
  11. Bake for 30 minutes, turning down the temperature slightly if the cheese starts to burn.
  12. After removing from the oven, let rest for a few minutes before slicing and serving.

Serves 6.

Applebee’s

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Ever since spying Applebee’s from across the road at Oriole cafe, I’ve been wanting to check out this American chain diner. I remember reading a blog somewhere in which some random American girl (I know, not a particularly good source) said that it was her all-time favourite and was intrigued since then.

We started off with a Sour ApplebeeTini, an apple-flavoured martini with a cute stick of apple pieces to garnish. It was more apple juice than alcohol and  not particularly sour, though very palatable. This is one of those drinks that you could easily have on an empty stomach, it’s so mild. I’d imagine teenagers would adore this drink. Not your manly man type drink but very apt for the place and the food.

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DC the burger king ordered the Fire Pit Bacon Burger. It was a big burger with an even bigger portion of fries on the side. The seasoned fries were very good: soft inside and crispy outside. It was a good start already. The burger was very well seasoned, though I felt it a tad overcooked. It could be juicier but the melted cheese topping compensated nicely. No big deal with the jalapenos, they hardly added any heat but then again this is Singapore and we’re used to far hotter. I wasn’t very keen on the bacon because it was a bit too burnt and didn’t taste very bacony. But on the whole this was a very good burger with a nicely toasted bun, loads of ingredients that made a mess and excellent fries.

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I had the half rack ribs with Southern BBQ sauce. Those ribs were quite something. They were incredibly soft and tender with the meat practically falling off the bone and coupled with the sweet, smokey BBQ sauce, ambrosial. I don’t normally like sweet mains, but this was an exception. The accompanying coleslaw was surprisingly fresh and good quality. Coupled with the aforementioned excellent fries, this dish seemed pretty faultless to me!

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Now despite our full tummies, we couldn’t leave without trying dessert could we? There was no choice but to share a Maple Butter Blondie. The blondie was served  topped with vanilla ice cream on a hot skillet and maple butter sauce was poured on top to sizzle away. This was one of the few desserts that really worked the contrast between hot and cold, making it very special. I especially loved how the maple butter sauce caramelised on the skillet. Eating that those bits with the crisped up bottom of the blondie with cold creamy ice cream was such a sensation to savour.

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In short, expect loads of good, honest to goodness American food. None of it is gourmet, but it’s got me wanting to go back very soon!

[Edited to include the fajitas.]

So DC and I did go back another day. This time DC had the steak. Don’t bother with that sinewy excuse for meat, just head straight for the fajita combo. This sizzling plate of seasoned rice has lovely strips of beef and chicken nestled on a huge pile of  onions and peppers.

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Accompanying it was a generous plate of four tortillas, shredded cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo (basically onion and tomato salsa), sour cream and shredded lettuce. Making up the tortillas so that I didn’t overstuff them was a big challenge, I’m so greedy. I wanted a bit of everything inside and ended up squishing half the contents onto the plate by the time I got through the tortilla. It was very yummy though, with plenty of spice and smoke from the meat and onions and creaminess from the guacamole and sour cream. There’s enough for two people, so you could try sharing and ordering more starters and desserts. I certainly couldn’t manage a blondie dessert the second time round!

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Applebee’s
111 Somerset Road
#01-11/12 TripleOne Somerset
Tel: 6735 9671

True All-Day Breakfast

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DC and I were frustrated in yet another attempt to eat at Ippudo. Disheartened by the queues, we headed over to Wild Honey instead. It’s an interesting premise here: an eclectic set-up with odd-sized tables and chairs or sofas, a chalkboard menu with pictures to browse on an iPod Touch, and an emphasis on breakfast food. I was a bit surprised to have to queue and pay at the counter for my food, but soon understood as part of the fun was deciding what to eat from the photos on the iTouch.

True to its name, this place had several honey-themed drinks. I liked my refreshing fizzy pink grapefruit and manuka honey drink. DC also liked his banana, honey and meringue drink which was more smoothie than drink. It was like breakfast in a glass. I found it way too thick and rich and while I don’t particularly fancy soft meringue, I liked the creativity of the soft meringue topping crisped on the outside (most likely with a blowtorch). DC enjoyed it thoroughly, enthusiastically sucking up the gloop with the straw.

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The goat cheese salad was another hit. Hardly healthy at all, our token nod to vegetables was dominated by the very yummy breaded deep-fried goat cheese. The oozy, salty goodness went really well with the bacon bits and pine nuts. It seemed like the fresh salad leaves were an afterthought.

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I went for the Yemeni breakfast of “malawach with whole boiled egg, green chili harissa and tomato kasundi.” Turned out that malawach is a Yemeni version of roti prata, very similar to a fluffier version of the frozen kind you pop in the toaster oven to reheat. It came with a loh neng, seemed just like braised egg in soy sauce, but I had no idea what the sauce was. The harissa was quite spicy hot and the tomato kasundi rather sweet. The owner came over and explained to me that it was his favourite childhood breakfast and he was absolutely delighted that I’d ordered it. He taught me how to eat the dish: by mashing up the egg and then mixing the sweet and hot sauces to my liking and eating it all with the prata malawach. It was quite yummy, but I felt it quite expensive ($18)  for what I got.

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DC’s choice was more substantial and I rather preferred his Tunisian breakfast of a “sizzling pan of tomato stew, fried eggs and chorizo sausage.” Given that we were having dinner, this breakfast dish seemed more apt for the time of the day. I liked the combination of gooey egg yolk, salty spicy chorizo and tomato on toast. They were somehow a bit nicer on the toast soldiers that came with the salad.

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My verdict? I guess I’m not much of an all-day breakfast girl. It’s a nice little place with friendly service and interesting concepts. I wonder if it’ll last in fickle Singapore, especially given the high prices (think about it: eggs and bread for slightly under $20?). Still, I’d go back for brunch and try the other stuff too.

Wild Honey
Mandarin Gallery #03-02
Orchard Road
Tel: 6235 3900

Rustic French

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Work has been wearing me out lately, so DC decided to take me out for a weeknight splurge at Le Bistrot du Sommelier. It has a very traditional country-style French menu with surprisingly large portions. We ended up sharing a soup and a for-two main course.

The garbure soup was pretty excellent. The base was chopped vegetables in a light chicken and duck stock. On its own, it’d be a really boring vegetable soup. What made it pretty darn sublime were both the ravioli and the chicken dumpling. The mini ravioli were perfect little parcels stuffed with savoury cheese. Against the bland foil of the soup, the slightly chewy morsels gave out bursts of salty pleasure with each bite. And then the chicken dumpling. It had a lot more chicken than flour in it and was incredibly soft and delicate. I wasn’t sure of the slightly grainy texture of overdone chicken breast, but the flavour was deeply chickeny. One of the best bits of the soup was the crispy croutons. I don’t know how the grilled chunks of country bread retained the crunch even though waterlogged, but they did and… bliss.

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We went for the Baekenofe pork casserole for two made of different cuts of pork: cheek, trotter, belly and bacon. There were two large pieces of each in the claypot interspersed with carrot and turnip chunks as well as new potatoes. This dish is one of the few that made me like new potatoes (which I obviously normally detest). The whole dish was awash in white wine, with some cuts, especially the trotter, redolent with alcohol. It was lovingly braised so that the pork was tender. The best cut was the cheek, which just about didn’t require much chewing to enjoy. I just let it sit in my mouth for a moment to savour the taste and let it disintegrate slowly into a fragrant heap. (Pardon the red cast of the photo, we sat under the sign board lit in red so there’s no helping the hue of the photo. Sorry.)

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This place has great food. It’s too bad that it’s not exactly the cheapest place around and the service can be quite take-it-or-leave-it French. Even though we were the first to arrive on a weeknight they flatly refused to let us sit inside, claiming that it was all reserved inside. Mysteriously, we noticed only one table inside over the time we had our dinner. The outside doesn’t have the best atmosphere because of all the construction work going on opposite.

[An aside: If you’d like great atmosphere, just step two units down to the Creperie Des Armes. The Brittany atmosphere is amazing, made me feel like I was in a corner cafe in Europe. What was better was the warm welcome of the French couple running the place. Here, the couple smiled so much and tried so hard to please that I couldn’t help fall in love with the place. I practised my dormant French here, to the lady owner’s delight. It’s a pity that another place I like has far superior crepes. Also didn’t help that the crepes came out one by one, so not good for impatient or hungry hordes. ]

Le Bistrot du Sommelier
46 Prinsep Street #01-01 Prinsep Place
Tel: 6333 1982

Kitchen Sink Frittata

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I ran out of fresh vegetables one day and was too lazy to venture out for more. As usual, it was time to raid the freezer and find something fairly healthy for lunch. The freezer yielded my usual supply of chopped spinach, petit pois, minced shallots, minced garlic and bacon, and I also found some frozen (!) red chillis.  I had some spare eggs and always keep milk in the fridge, so I was pretty much set. There were parmesan cheese and brined green peppercorns in the fridge too, so that I also tossed in. As I put back the peppercorns, I noticed a bottle of anchovies lurking in one of the compartments, so no prizes for guessing what went in next. DC commented that it was a surprise he didn’t break his teeth nibbling on the kitchen sink.

This is a very useful recipe for coming up with something very delicious and fresh-looking and tasting without putting in too much of an effort. It’s also a bit like fried rice or pizza in that it uses up leftovers. Toss whatever that seems vaguely yummy in it and it should turn out fine. Other things I’d add if I had it would include boiled potato slices, peppers, cheese cubes, tomato, courgettes. Well, pretty much any vegetable really. Go easier on the meat, but if you’re anything like me I doubt you’ll have much leftover meat hanging around anyway. In my recipe I give approximate quantities, just feel free to make it up as you go along. Just make sure that there’s enough egg to barely cover the filling and you’re cool.

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Ingredients:

1 tbsp butter
2 rashers bacon, chopped
4 finely chopped garlic cloves
8 finely chopped shallots
cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed
a few tbsp petit pois, thawed
1 large red chilli, chopped coarsely
2 anchovies, coarsely chopped
1 generous tsp green peppercorns in brine
3 eggs
a good splash of milk (about 2 egg shells full)
good grating of parmesan cheese

Method:

  1. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan and brown the bacon till the fat is rendered. Add the garlic and shallot and saute gently till just fragrant. Don’t allow it to colour.
  2. Add in the vegetables, anchovies and green peppercorns and saute till the mixture is hot. Set aside in a bowl.
  3. In another large bowl, beat the milk and eggs together, then pour it onto the hot pan. Quickly spoon the hot spinach mixture over and spread gently. Stir very gently along the top of the frittata so that the egg and filling will mix. Turn the heat to low and cook till the middle is almost set, 5-10 minutes. Now’s a good time to preheat the broiler.
  4. When the top looks almost set, i.e. still wobbly but not liquid, transfer to the broiler and cook till set. Grate over a very generous layer of parmesan and return to the broiler. Cook till cheese is melted and brown. Remove from heat.
  5. Very carefully loosen the sides of the frittata with a spatula and invert onto a plate. Use kitchen gloves. Cut into wedges and serve with fresh brown bread.

Makes 8 generous wedges.

Mimolette

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We were casting out for a brunch place and Riders Cafe wasn’t open, so we settled for Mimolette next door. I’d heard that the standard had gone down but decided to try it anyway. We started with the lemon pancakes which were competently executed. They were done with lemon zest in the batter and served with honey and strawberries. I liked how they served real cream, whipped to just the right consistency. However, I didn’t like how the strawberries were the regular bland undderipe kind and I felt that the pancakes could have been taken a notch higher if they’d served it with lemon curd or French crepe-style sprinkled with lemon juice and icing sugar.

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DC highly recommended the steak and eggs and he was right. The steak was very well flavoured and done just right for breakfast – medium rare. We normally go for rare steak but this time went with the restaurant’s recommendation. It was perfect for the first meal of the day. The scrambled eggs were on the edge of runny – just right and the sundried tomato with bacon made a great counterpoint to both egg and steak. It was a good though heavy start to the day.

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Judging from the website, it seems like they’ve changed the menu. Try your luck anyway!

Mimolette
55 Fairways Drive
Tel: 6467 7748