Freshly Made Bread

I’ve been toying around with a bread recipe, adapted from Nigel Slater’s fantastically practical and very approachable book Appetite. I’d been faffing around with other bread recipes and a bread machine. I gave up on being lazy with the bread machine – sure, it’s easy, but it turns out bread that isn’t a great deal different from the stuff in the shops in the plastic bag. Baking my own bread seemed much more satisfying as the loaves that came out were beautifully crisp on the outside, and when still hot, soft and yielding on the inside. One of the joys in life is a simple home made soup with freshly baked bread spread lavishly with butter. I toyed with the original recipe, adding wholewheat flour and bran, and trying out various shapes and sizes, from buns…

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… to freeform loaves as per the original recipe, and finding that the freeform loaves tend to spread a lot. Plus the control freak in me doesn’t like how slices from the end and slices from the middle differ so freakin’ much that portion control is an issue. So I slapped it in a tin and it came out just as nice, only not quite as pretty.

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Here’s my tweaked recipe:

Ingredients:

600g bread flour
150g atta flour (wholewheat flour)
10g bran
1½ tsp salt
3 tsp yeast
500ml warm water

Method:

  1. Measure out the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. I use a jumbo-size metal mixing bowl about 60cm in diameter so I can knead and do everything directly in the bowl.
  2. Pour about 450ml of the warm water gradually into the dry ingredients and mix with one hand (this is to keep the other hand free in case you need to grab more flour or water). Work the water into the flour mixture to form a dough. Start kneading it by pushing it down firmly with the heel of your hand, turning and folding and continue to do so for about 10 minutes. It needs more flour if the dough won’t come off your hands, keeping kneading more flour in till it stops sticking. If it’s very hard to knead, you may need to add a few drops more of water till the dough is easier to work.
  3. Cover with a dish cloth and leave to rise for an hour or until doubled in size.
  4. Punch down the dough and knead again for 2 minutes.
  5. Flour a paper-lined tray and plonk your dough in whatever shape you want it to be. Remember that the dough rises and spreads significantly. One recipe makes 6 small buns and one loaf of bread in a 500g loaf pan. You can also do it free form but this requires either leaving the bread either rather flat and long or, as Nigel does it, tucking the bread in very gently to a high ball. I’ve only done it successfully half the time without making the whole thing collapse.
  6. Thickly flour the top of your bread and leave to rise till doubled again, about another hour.
  7. Pre-heat the oven to 250°C and when the dough is risen, put in the oven. Bake at 250°C for 10 minutes, then turn down to 220°C for another 20 minutes or until the bread turns golden brown. Remove and leave to cool on a wire rack. If you’re using a loaf tin, it’s probably a good idea to take the loaf out of the tin when the time is up (30 minutes) and bake upside down for another 5 minutes to allow the insides to brown slightly.

Makes 1 loaf and 6 small buns or one large free form loaf.

I’ve also made some rather lovely sandwiches with the home made bread. It’s a delicious filling with some common things I tend to have in my fridge – chicken shreds, Chinese cabbage, mustard and yogurt. If I have homemade yogurt, I normally strain it in cheesecloth so it’s almost solid. Otherwise, I’d use Greek yogurt for similar thickness. This filling is a take on chicken coleslaw, so use carrot slivers if you can be bothered with the knife work, or onion if you like the flavours punchier, or mayonnaise if that’s what you have on hand. Leave out the meat altogether if you’re going vegetarian or add canned tuna. I happened to have some ham in the fridge, and it really upped things a notch. Let me know what combinations you like to use!

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Sandwich filling

Ingredients:

1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded
2-3 handfuls of shredded Chinese cabbage (about 4 large leaves)
1 tbsp Dijon mustard (or to taste)
3 tbsp strained yogurt or Greek yogurt
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method:

  1. It can’t be easier – combine all ingredients and taste till you’re happy.
  2. When assembling the sandwiches, make sure you either spread the bread generously with butter or use a lettuce leaf (dried with paper towel) to separate the bread from the filling. Otherwise, the sandwiches will get soggy if you’re not eating them straight away. Another good reason to use thick, strained yogurt.

Fills 4 generous sandwiches.

 

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Moving to the Next Stage AKA The Post about Cooking, but with No Recipe

I’ve just entered a new stage of life, and getting used to it has naturally taken some time. DC and I have moved into grandma’s old place for the time being and it’s wonderful finally having a kitchen all to myself again. Getting settled and getting used to our surroundings has taken a while. It is an old place after all as we’ve dealt with our fair share of pests, from ants to cockroaches and even nasty rats. But the best part is the large kitchen and the pandan growing practically wild at the back. I’ve been spending plenty of time catching up with my cooking and now have a backlog of posts to work through. While that’s an explanation, it’s not an excuse for neglecting this blog.

I’ve stocked up my kitchen with all sorts of herbs and spices and bought a massive 40 inch wok from Buffalo (great for fried rice!). DC contributed his sturdy old Tanyu claypot that is, sadly, chipped on the cover. DC’s aunt called one day and asked if we’d like to take a standalone stove with oven off her hands. We of course greeted that offer with great enthusiasm. I wondered for a while how to justify paying hundreds of dollars for a Kenwood chef mixer, till we looked in the spare room and found grandma’s old one. Checking online, we realised that the mixer was older than me! So that was me a few weeks ago, and I’ve been happily stocking up the freezer since.

Today, I made some of my favourite watercress soup, this time modified with chicken-white wine stock from last night’s poached chicken breast, plenty of bacon, a carrot and a little more butter. DC must’ve been pleased that I finally got round to using his Tanyu pot, I see why he loves it so much now! Lunch was the soup with salad greens and wheat berries dressed in anchovied mustard. As if I’d not pottered around in the kitchen enough, I laid down even more things in the freezer. Previously, I’d processed lots of seasoning items and put them in the freezer for later, like pureed ginger, pureed shallots, sliced galangal, sliced red chillies and calamansi halves. I rounded off the collection by finally laying my hands on kaffir lime leaves, fresh bay leaves and young ginger. Those again went into ziploc sandwich bags for removing bits later whenever I want a quick meal going.

Mid-way through the tedium of preparing these, I checked out the Saveur video on how to skin a head of garlic in less than 10 seconds. Of course, it was because I had a few heads of garlic to process too. Sadly, it didn’t work for me because I didn’t have any suitable metal or plastic bowl. DC suggested the wok and its lid. I could hardly lift it, let alone shake Dickenses out of it. But DC could, and soon he was dancing round the kitchen (good thing it’s a big one!) having fun clanging it about. It worked fairly well, though of course you’ll have to live with bruised cloves of garlic. That’s not a big problem if you’re chopping them up to stick in the freezer later.

In between all that, I managed to bake a loaf of bread (which I need to tweak slightly before blogging about it) and a failed fig and blackberry tart. I was trying to use up some fresh figs that were past their prime and chanced upon an interesting pastry recipe that called for cornmeal (which I was dying to get rid of). It was too juicy and came out so soggy that most of the pastry didn’t get a chance to brown, though DC said it was like eating fig and blackberry crumble. I suppose the blackberries saved the day.

And the point of this post? To say that I’m still alive and cooking. And will get round to posting about recent travels, eating and cooking real soon. Bear with me!

Mmmmortons!

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DC and I had a special occasion to celebrate and celebrate we did! We dressed up and went to Morton’s for a blow out meal. The onion bread that started our dinner was an omen of things to come – see how huge it is? We only nibbled a  bit of the soft bread while waiting for the typical show and tell that the menu was about.

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Already being forewarned that we would eat until we couldn’t eat no more, we shared half a dozen fresh Pacific oysters ($36.50) to start. They were fresh and sweetly briney, going very well with just a squeeze of lemon juice and less well with the cocktail sauce and grated horseradish. The saltines – crackers in cellophane packets – were an inexplicable, yet totally American addition to the appetisers.

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Then came the mains. DC was rather restrained (!) and went for a 400g double cut filet mignon ($97). Sorry for the poor lighting in the picture, but look at how high the steak is. It was done nice and rare. While a very tender cut, it wasn’t the tastiest I’ve had. Perhaps in aging the meat, all the blood is drained out and a lot of the taste is gone. Either that, or my main stole the show.

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When the server showed us the live Maine lobster ($50 per lb) in the menu demonstration, I knew that I was destined to have it. It was 3.5 lbs and was baked in butter. They even gave me a bib so that I could get cracking! This was lobster like I’ve never had before. I never really understand why people like lobster so much, because I’m such a fan of the tender, sweet flavour of crab. This lobster was incredibly sweet, tasting of the sea. It was firm and full of flavour, needing only a dab of melted butter at first, then a squeeze of lemon as the richness of lobster and butter began to sate. The head bits were the richest parts of the lobster, and the best part was that it could be eaten with a spoon. The lobster was amazing, huge and way too much for me. I gave up after eating half the lobster tail and a chalky tasting claw (weakest link). DC had to help with the rest so that I could have room for dessert.

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We finished off the meal with a slice of key lime pie, compliments of the restaurant. The custard part was tart and incredibly sweet, for once the cream was an absolute must so as to cut through the sweetness of the filling. It was a fitting end to our calorie-laden and very American dinner.

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At Morton’s, the service is impeccable. People come here for celebrations and the staff do their best to make everyone feel like it’s a special treat. In fact, it seemed that half the restaurant was celebrating birthdays. For us, the staff went all out to make sure we were OK (three different staff, from the manager to our own server asked if the food was fine and that we were having a good time) and even printed out a menu with our names and a congratulatory message on it as a souvenir. As an overall experience, Morton’s, while terribly expensive, is worth the while, simply because you and the food are the stars for the night.

Morton’s
Mandarin Oriental Singapore
Fourth Storey
5 Raffles Avenue
Tel: +65 6339 3740

Pizzeria Mozza

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It’s not easy to get a table at Mozza. The first time we went, it was an impomptu treat from a regular and we had no idea of the privilege we had then. The next time, we called, hoping to get a reservation for the following evening, only to be told that we had to wait till the week after. So wait we did, and it didn’t disappoint. Make  sure you order lots of antipasti, they’re generally very good. We started with the chicken livers, capers, parsley and guanciale bruschetta ($17). The coarsely chopped liver paste on crisp toast is one of my favourite starters here, I love the not-quite pate texture of silky yet not completely smooth. The bacon crisp on top of guanciale (apparently bacon made from pork cheek) really was gilding the lily. Yummy. If you have space, also try the fagiole one, that’s pretty decent too.

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It seems a bit of an overkill to order bread to go along with our starters especially after the bruschetta, but the  fett’unta ($6) was really quite something. It’s a peasant-style bread cooked in a pan with olive oil to a very crisp crust, very yummy but also on the oily side. Eat with plenty of the next starter…

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… the prosciutto di parma and buffala mozzarella ($32). The buffala was creamy yet not heavy and was the perfect accompaniment to the salty prosciutto. We walloped it all with the bread. If you’re not so keen on ham, try the house made mozzarella with tomatoes, really excellent too.

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The marinated baby peppers with tuna ($16), while decent, was a bit of a weak link. It tasted like a starter on a hotel buffet line, which is not to say it was bad, it simply didn’t blow anything out of the water. Over-priced.

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We went for the pizza with ricotta, oyster mushrooms and shallots ($33). What I like about the pizzas here is that they are made to order and the ingredients are fresh, fresh, fresh. They even make their own ricotta in house. The ricotta was creamy and beautifully yielding, the perfect contrast to the crisp, fragrant bread base. Here, the pizza base is quite substantial, not the same as the thin crust variety that is so a la mode. This way, you get to really taste the bread and remember the pizza is in the end, bread with toppings, rather than toppings on a bread base.

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For dessert, the three of us were quite full from all that bread, so we share the banana gelato pie ($17). It’s basically banana ice cream on a biscuit base that’s topped with whipped cream, dark caramel sauce and plenty of toasted hazelnuts. I liked how it wasn’t as tooth-achingly sweet as the butterscotch budino we tried the last time, but considering how it’s really just a slab of ice cream with caramel sauce and hazelnuts, it’s expensive, no?

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Service-wise, this place is fairly OK as the staff are responsive and quick to take orders. I do, however, have the feeling that it’s not as good as when it first started. Maybe they aren’t able to retain good staff. Aside from that, though, there is this tendency for them to watch our plates like hawks and whip them off once empty, even if others at the table were still enjoying their food. Prevalent as the pratice is, I find that rather rude and offputting. I suppose they train their staff to do that to keep people moving. Doing that encourages people to finish quickly and get out, rather than lingering.

Considering how expensive this place is, I think it really takes away from the experience. I like the food, but I do not like the prices. I suppose one pays for the fresh produce and the privilege of dining at Marina Bay Sands.

Pizzeria Mozza
B1-42/46 Shoppes @ Marina Bay Sands
Tel: +65 6688 8868

The Best Seafood Pasta Ever

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DC and I found ourselves at Club Street one evening and he led me to an old haunt (to him). It was about time he introduced it to me!

Cugini is a charming little trattoria with colour-coordinated cyan menu covers matching the cyan chairs and cyan aprons worn by the waitstaff. Such a cute touch!  It’s dimly lit for the romantic feel and also to make food photos look less appetising despite my camera’s fabulous low light setting.

I liked how they added a little character to the ubiquitous bread basket by adding cherry tomatoes to the bread and providing a zingy horseradish dip. Yummy dip, though I’m not a big fan of how Italian bread tends to have a more collapsed texture compared to regular stuff. It’s probably because the bread is more proofed. DC loves it, so it’s just me!

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I ordered the Pizza Fiorentina ($20.90), with spinach and egg on top. I was rather dismayed that the egg came fully cooked, looks like the wood-fired oven was that hot that they couldn’t cook it any gentler. It was a very decent rendition, with a substantial enough crust that was thin but not so thin as to make it difficult to hold up with the fingers for eating the barbaric way. I liked how rustic the thin crust was. That said, it’s something that absolutely had to be eaten piping hot from the pizza stone, otherwise it gets soggy and slightly stodgy. Also, the tomato sauce tasted like they didn’t do a great deal to canned tomatoes to make it. I haven’t got anything against canned stuff, but the tomato base on pizzas absolutely needs to taste fresh and zingy. This one didn’t quite hit the mark. All in all, a decent rendition, though not worth a special trip for.

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Now what’s worth a special trip and an extra special mention is the phenomenal seafood spaghetti ($24.90). It’s off the menu and DC, having been there before, knew to ask. I tell you, it’s the best seafood pasta I’ve had in my life (at least as far as I remember). Oh my, it was the sauce that made it so incredibly. Where the tomato sauce on the pizza fell short, this one made up for it and more! It was thick, zesty and very full of flavour. There was plenty of clean seafood flavour, and probably a hint of white wine in it. I don’t know how the chef managed to pack so much seafood taste into the sauce, I could just eat the spaghetti and the sauce on its own… And talking about the spaghetti! Oh my, I thought I knew my al dente, but this al dente rocked my world. It was made so perfectly that the stars aligned at that point (and I probably should’ve gone to buy 4D). Let me attempt to describe it: there was chewy and yielding, there was tenderness, and there was noodle that was cooked through; it didn’t have a hint of durum hardness that you sometimes have to bear with for the sake of al dente, there was any sogginess that came with overcooking. This was, quite simply, the epitome of pasta and sauce. Now, it would’ve rated perfection in my books except for… the seafood. The fish was fresh and cooked just right, but the prawns were rather overdone and a bit meh. There wasn’t any other seafood, which was odd. I do love the crunch of slightly overcooked squid. So here’s my sad face about the seafood part not quite being up to par. But I must stress that the pasta and the sauce are probably the best thing that’s happened to me food-wise this year.

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Do yourself a favour and eat the seafood pasta.

Cugini
87 Club Street #01-01
Tel: 6221 3791

Really Good Lebanese

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Mum and I were in the Arab Street area sorting out some errands and we wanted something that wasn’t too heavy, like my favourite nasi padang or Moroccan in the area. We stumbled across Beirut Grill and liked both menu and ambiance. I liked how it was brightly lit so I won’t fall asleep over my food (yes I’m very sensitive to low light conditions – even brightish yellow light makes me yawn).

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Yet they added really nice touches with the Arabic/Lebanese decor.

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The food was surprisingly good for a place so styled up. Hey we’re talking Arab Street here where the good looking places are generally crap and the crap looking places have good good food! We started with baba ghanoush and tabbouleh. The baba ghanoush was pretty decent, mushy eggplant dip with crunchy vegetables. I think I’d’ve liked it better if it didn’t have crunchy bits, I guess the baba ghanoush I was expecting came from a different region in the Arab world! The tabbouleh on the other hand was sharp, zesty and very refreshing. I don’t know what they put in the bread, but it was incredibly tasty. I mopped up all the dips (despite the baba ghanoush not being my favourite texture). The taste was quite similar to the kind of vermicelli they like to put in rice in Arabic food. It was addictive!

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Mum and I shared a main, the shish taouk. It was grilled chicken with chicken rice. I liked how flavourful the spiced meat was and enjoyed it with the various sauces. There was a slightly vinegared chilli sauce, a thick garlic one somewhat like aioli and a chilli cream sauce. All were good and helped to disguise the dry chicken breast parts. They really should have used chicken thigh if they couldn’t cook the breast right. The chicken rice was done rather differently from the local version. I liked the subtle flavour and how it wasn’t awash in oil.

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My biggest disappointment was this place was the dessert! I held off on having separate mains just so I could have my favourite baklava, but they didn’t have any. My reasons to return? For the chance to try their baklava and the fabulous bread.

Beirut Grill
72 Bussorah Street
Tel: 6341 7728

Don Quijote

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Don Quijote is a little gem of a Spanish place tucked in a little corner in the far flung west side of the island. It’s hard to get to because it’s not really near to a MRT station and parking is practically impossible here. The food here is pretty decent. We started with bellota ham at the request of the jamon-loving DC. It was fairly cheap for bellota ham and I guess you pay for the quality. While it certainly was very tasty and good ham, it was too greasy from being left at (hot, humid) room temperature. In the world of bellota ham, this was but a pretender.

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The ravening pack then moved on to the clam special. They normally have a clam tapas on the menu but that night, they had a special clam dish. Presumably they managed to get their hands on a good batch of imported clams and boy were these good! They were sweet and briny, full of the sea and picked up the wine, herbs and garlic in the sauce very nicely. These were swiftly mopped up with plenty of bread.

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Finally, the ravening pack of two came to a standstill with the squid ink paella. The good stuff came al dente just as we requested and was enveloped in a black and almost solid sauce. The flavour was somehow of intense savoriness, though not overwhelmingly salty. It was crammed with squid and prawns and with a squirt of the lemon, came together to give a very comforting yet not quite stodgy dish.

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The food here was really decent. Just don’t bother with the sangria if you’re like me and not fond of syrupy and very mildly alcoholic drinks.

[P.S. Pardon the poor lighting, it’s one of those places with dim yellow lighting. Almost impossible for food shots.]

Don Quijote
17 Lorong Kilat
Tel: 6465 1811