Comfort Food for Sickies: Multigrain Porridge/Risotto

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I was sick over the weekend and didn’t even have the energy to go out for groceries. Having still the need to feed myself, I rummaged in the fridge and found some hardy vegetables and plenty of various healthfood staples my mum bought from various places – brown rice, buckwheat, barley and regular rice. Not wanting to spend any time at all slaving over the stove, I chucked about a tablespoon or so of each grain into the rice cooker, topped up with plenty of water (at least twice the height of the grain) and set the rice cooker to start its job. I found some dried mushrooms, reconstituted them in some water, and sliced them. I then cut up the carrots into slices and the tomatoes into wedges. I also remembered that I had some organic no-msg vegetable stock powder in the fridge and scattered in a teaspoon or so into the cooking porridge, together with the carrot. It was then time for a nap of about 30 minutes.

When I woke up, the porridge was pretty much cooked and almost dried up to the consistency of thick rice even. I added a bit more water and stirred in the tomatoes. Then I took out an egg from the fridge, washed it thoroughly in warm water. I then set it in a bowl and poured hot water over it, letting it steep for about 5 minutes. By now my risotto was done and I scooped it out into a shallow dish. I then cracked the egg carefully into a hollow of the porridge, let any remaining eggwhite set in the heat of the porridge, then stirred it all together and ate it greedily before going back to bed. Simple, good and delicious.

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1 for 1 at Zambuca

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I was lucky. It was my cousin’s birthday and First Uncle and Aunt asked me along to make up the numbers for the 1 for 1 offer at Zambuca. It was a four-course meal that started with an amuse-bouche they called “tomato tea.” It was pretty well executed as the very pale yellow tinged liquid tasted startlingly like tomato. I wonder if it was just strained fresh tomato juice but it was very good as something to tickle the palate.

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I picked the scallops with muesli as a starter. True enough, two small scallops made a plural; even though I felt the portion was far too small, one really couldn’t complain about misrepresentation on the menu! The scallops were fresh and the barley-currant mix added an interesting texture to the dish. It was a pity the foam didn’t taste of very much, otherwise this would have made a rather imaginative and unique starter.

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The crab, caper and anchovy angel hair pasta was a bit of a letdown. It sounded like it had such promise on the menu but the execution fell flat. The capers and anchovies were too salty, while the crab was a bit bland. The flavours just did not meld well. This was probably the weakest link in my dinner.

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The beef pretty much saved the disappointment of the pasta dish. Here, however, was where there definitely was misrepresentation. The menu said that the beef was aged but it certainly did not taste like it. Also, I was shocked that the restaurant could overcook my beef. I asked for rare but it came out on the medium side of medium rare. Having said all that, it was decently flavoured so I didn’t bother to send it. In any case, I couldn’t be too fussy because I wasn’t paying anyway. The onion was decent though too sugary as the chef cheated when he caramelised the onions. The sprouting broccoli was a nice touch though.

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Last of all was dessert. My cousin got a bonus tiramisu complete with candle and singing waiters. That was a lovely touch and it was good for the rest of us greedies since she needed a lot of help to finish her extra dessert. For my own dessert I had creme brulee with rhubarb compote. It was a typical creme brulee, rather forgettable and the rhubarb compote wasn’t particularly flavourful. Nothing to complain about yet nothing particularly exciting.

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I know that this post isn’t particularly glowing. It was great stuff since it was free for me: I guess it’s one of those cases where the food was up to standards but not particularly remarkable but the company more than made up for it.

Zambuca Italian Restaurant and Bar
Pan Pacific Singapore
7 Raffles Boulevard Level 3
Singapore 039595
Tel: 6337 8086

Quick Eats: Cheng Tng at Tanjong Pagar Hawker Centre

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Tanjong Pagar Hawker Centre is most famous for its peanut ice kachang. As I’m not the biggest fan of that and have already tried it before, I went for the cheng tng at the stall behind Annie’s.

This is one of the better and more unique cheng tngs I’ve had. I liked how only old-fashioned ingredients were used, so there was none of that weird QQ ball stuff or strange food colourings. It was also good that the shaved ice dessert it wasn’t overly sugary. The sweet potato was cooked plain and didn’t need the help of syrup to make it taste right. There were the usual toppings: barley, big sago balls and agar agar strips.

I liked how they made mundane ingredients special. For one, they used jumbo red beans instead of the usual tiny ones. That made a big difference to this erstwhile red bean hater. The reconstituted dried longan was quite special too. I don’t know how they did it, but it was done so that the longan was juicy but still retained that slightly earthy dried flavour. The gilding of the lily came with the splash of gula melaka on top.

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For $1.50, this blend of flavours and textures on ice was a real winner for me.

Huat Kee
#02-53 Tanjong Pagar Hawker Centre

Burps at the Beer Fest

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I was late to attend Beerfest Asia 2009 mainly because I was out diving for most of the time. (Will update on that in a while.) Finally made it on the last day, on a Sunday afternoon when all the fun was pretty much over. No matter, we made up for the lack of good music (and Vertical Horizon) by downing more beers.

We limbered up on the Turkish Efes which was surprisingly light for a 5% and tasted of… nothing at all really. This was swiftly chased down by our very own local Archipelago Travellers Wheat that had a very unique taste. I couldn’t place it until I looked it up on the website. It was tamarind and ginger together, so it was spicy and warming yet with a very pleasant tang.

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I’d originally planned to stop at a couple of beers, but I’d already paid $27 for entry only to pay more money to get my hands on some beer. So I wasn’t a particularly happy camper and proceeded to instigate my drinking companion to buy more beers.

The American Doggie Style Pale Ale (5.5%) was more packaging than good beer. We were not impressed. Another friend joined us with a Dog Schwarz (7.8%) and was similarly underwhelmed. No matter, onwards to better things! DC liked the Chimay Tripel (8%) from Belgium, proclaiming that it was complex, dark and… like a stew. I thought it was bitter and moved swiftly on to my favourite of the session. The Silly Saison (5%) was also from Belgium and was redolent of thick , buttery and almost salty caramel. It was smooth and amazingly good.

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Then came a silly in-joke as we drank to a friend called Calvin. Unfortunately the Calvinus Blonde (5%) from Switzerland lived up more to the second part of its name. Despite the pretty label, it was another one of those bland forgettables in the ocean of beer. John Calvin must’ve been rolling in his grave, more because it was such a bad beer, methinks.

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Next up came a short and rather ill-fated interlude with some cider. Magner’s Irish Cider (4.5%) from (you guessed it!) Ireland was, according to DC, metallic and tasted like rotten 500-year old cheese. I thought it was OK, but not worth the carbs and burps, so we moved swiftly on.

I don’t remember trying the Pompey Royal (4.5%) from the UK but DC said that it was malty and full-bodied with lots of hops. It was well-balanced and smooth, worth the $10 price tag. I remember scribbling some notes, but ended up losing them, so fat lot of good that did me and this blog post.

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And last of all, we dreg up the Swiss Schwarzer Kristall (6.3%) from the depths of my memory and all I remember is that it was a terrible letdown that tasted like the insipid Flying Dog stuff from the US.

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The conclusion really was that there are good beers and there are expensive beers and the two are not necessary the same. Oh and there are bad beers too. And beer makes me tipsy. And gives me a headache. So no more beer for a while.

Dinner Party Solutions: Prawn Orzotto

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Orzotto is risotto with barley instead of rice. It’s so much less fiddly than arborio rice because it doesn’t have to be cooked à la minute, making this yet another dish that can be prepared well in advance. All you need is to cook the prawns and reheat the orzotto ten minutes before serving.

You can make the prawn stock by boiling prawn shells and heads in enough water for about 10 minutes. Add  bay leaves, onion, celery and carrot too, if you have any, to make the stock even tastier. If you don’t have white wine sitting around, try substituting with beer (the whole 330 ml bottle) or extra dry vermouth.

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Ingredients:

1.5 litres prawn stock
70 g butter
8 shallots, chopped
250 g barley
300 ml white wine
bunch parsley, chopped
prawns, shelled (as many as you can afford, about 4 per guest)
100 ml cream

Method:

  1. Heat the stock in a pot and keep at a gentle simmer.
  2. Melt the butter in a deep pan and gently cook the shallots till fragrant. Do not let them colour.
  3. Turn the heat up to medium and add the barley, stirring to coat each grain.
  4. Pour in the wine and stir constantly till the wine is almost all absorbed.
  5. Stir in a ladleful of hot stock and keep stirring vigorously till almost absorbing. Keep adding ladlefuls of stock and keep stirring. You can take a rest after about 10 minutes of stirring, just remember that the more you stir, the creamier it gets. The orzotto is ready when the barley grains are al dente, about 40 minutes. If you run out of stock, add hot water instead. Season to taste. Set aside at this point if you are making in advance.
  6. To finish the dish, melt a knob of butter in a pan and toss in the prawns. Cook over medium heat on both sides till the prawns are a bright coral pink. Off the heat, stir in the cream and season well with salt and pepper.
  7. To assemble, place a generous scoop of orzotto in a wide soup plate, top with the prawns and drizzle with the cream sauce.

Serves 8.

Risotto on Foodista