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!

A Whirlwind Trip: Getting into Milan

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I went for a work trip in July last year and was lucky enough that it involved a whirlwind trip of the shopping capitals of Europe, with the first stop being Milan. We took the red-eye flight which meant that we got off the plane early enough to have breakfast at a bar just before our first meeting. We were thankful for the Italian custom of drinking espresso like water and helped ourselves to copious amounts of the brew to keep us awake in the business discussions.

One of the companies we met was very hospitable and brought us to Trattoria Del Drago for a very welcome lunch. The trattoria was set in a little garden and there was a lovely relaxed vibe to it. We had a lovely white wine to go with our lunch, the Picol 2008 (14%). It was a light and crisp sauvignon blanc with a lime flower nose and plenty of slate in the finish. It was a lovely accompaniment to our appetiser.

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And what an appetiser it was! A typically Milanese starter of seafood carpaccio, this is Italy’s answer to sashimi. There was impossibly fresh salmon, tuna and white fish with two types of prawns. It was all dressed lightly in olive oil and was wonderfully tasty, each bite bursting with the sweetness of the sea. I would definitely go back there just for this dish, far away as it may be from the touristy areas of Milan.

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My main was an orecchiette in a tomato cream sauce and a meat I cannot recall, probably chicken. Sadly, it wasn’t mindblowing and it was forgettable in my seafood-dazed, jetlagged stomach.

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Trattoria Del Drago
Via Pusiano, 63, 20132 Milano, Italy
Tel: +39 02 2720 9849 ‎

Our last meeting was, curiously, in an old Roman building that housed the Milanese headquarters of a high tech company . We got through that aided with plenty of hot espresso from thermos flasks, drunk by the shot in tiny plastic cups. We thankfully sank into Hotel Spadari al Duomo, probably the most reasonably priced 4-star hotel of that standard in the area. It was a lovely and very modern hotel, with large enough and very comfortable rooms. 

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In contrast to the Duomo just around the corner, even the artwork on the walls was modern. I liked how the minibar was included in the price of the room (non-alcoholic drinks only), so I didn’t have to worry about finding a convenience store for water. It was a lovely touch especially coming in on a hot day.

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But the feature I liked best was the shower. There were three showerheads in there: a regular handheld shower head (not shown), a rain shower and a waterfall shower! It was fantastic standing under a wall of warm water after a long, long day simply enjoying the pressure of water against skin.

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It was a great hotel with very prompt and excellent service, from emailing for reservations to getting our excellent breakfast every morning to making reservations to depart for the airport. Well worth it!

Hotel Spadari al Duomo
Via Spadari 11 20123 Milano
Tel: +39.02.72002371
Email: reservation@spadarihotel.com

But no rest for the greedy. Before long, we had to regroup for dinner. We went for an early dinner nearby so that we could head back to crash out. An institution and therefore tourist hangout in the area was Trattoria Milanese, a pretty down home type place with unfortunately less down home prices. Still, it was considered reasonable for the area.

We started off with a mix of appetisers. On my plate are parma with melon; tomato with mozzarella and basil; and half a perfectly ripe, luscious summer fig. While not super fantastically good, I think the ingredients travelled far less than it would have if we had the meal back home in Singapore, making it fresher and tastier somehow.

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I made the classic glutton’s mistake of ordering osso bucco with risotto. Mind you, it was yummy and very well made, especially the osso bucco with its unctuous marrow just begging to be sucked dry. The risotto was no slacker either, al dente and richly aromatic. I managed to finish about a third of the plate and tried to parcel as much away to my dining companions as possible. It was such a pity that I couldn’t take away any for later.

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Full to bursting as I was, my greed yet again overreached and I found myself not simply ordering apple sorbet for dessert, but also nodding amicably when the waiter asked if I wanted it doused in Calvados. Unfortunately, the sorbet wasn’t at all tart and was a bit flat on taste, and the apple liqueur was more bitter than aromatic. Still, it sozzled me nicely and at the end of the meal I had to walk carefully so that I wouldn’t stumble on the cobblestones and fall flat on my face in front of the highest ranking person in my organisation.

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Trattoria Milanese
Via Santa Marta, 11, 20123 Milano, Italy
Tel: +39 02 8645 1991 ‎

Thankfully, I made it back to the hotel in one jetlagged, sleep-deprived, espresso-ed out, stuffed-to-the-gills and pretty much sozzled piece. Another lovely waterfall shower later, and I was fast asleep, dreaming of my weekend to follow.

Farm Visit at Poison Ivy

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A friend and I went to explore the Lim Chu Kang farm area on a lazy Sunday. Our first stop was of course for lunch and we had it at Poison Ivy at Bollywood Veggies Farm.

First, we cooled off with an icy glass of fig tea and then perused the menu.

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We ordered quite a bit of stuff off the special menu of the day. There was a lot to choose from but only two bellies to fill, so we had a tough time choosing.

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We started with the grilled brinjal. Even though the presentation was awful, with the tomato and onion sauce slapped on messily, it tasted quite decent. Dunno why but it seemed to be fried in egg rather than grilled like it said on the menu. I liked the soft texture It was not badof the brinjal although the sauce was a touch too sweet. My friend said that he had eaten better on previous visits.

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Next up was the banana curry. It’s so popular that it’s often sold out, so get there early for your banana curry fix. It was quite unusual because the bananas were the starchy less ripe variety. It went surprisingly well with the curry although I felt that it could have had a little more depth, perhaps paired with another vegetable, either carrot or cabbage maybe.

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Our last main dish was sweet potato leaves fried in chilli, garlic and onion. It was delicious! I liked how tender it was. It’s hard to find sweet potato leaves that aren’t fibrous and tough. These were deep green and very young, going very well with rice.

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For dessert, we had banana crumble and kueh kosui. The crumble was more of a cobbler and came with the usual supermarket vanilla ice cream. I liked the texture of the banana and suspect it’s probably pisang rajah. The topping and ice cream were pretty run of the mill. I routinely make better crumble than this and in my books, crumble has to come with custard. Not up to my standards.

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Now the finale certainly was a worthy one. The kueh kosui was what it should be: soft, sticky, coconutty, caramelly and yummy. It came in a big slab and had to be teased out in bits by the sticky forkful. Even my true-blue grandma-makes-everything-from-scratch Peranakan friend said it was decent. Pass!

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A word about the portions: they’re not exactly the most generous, but it makes for reasonable prices and the chance to nibble at a lot more things. I think small is beautiful, so I’m not complaining. Just take note if you’re a big eater, as opposed to merely a greedy eater like me. The bill came up to $23.50 for the two of us. It was decent considering we had two fig teas, three dishes with rice and two desserts.

Poison Ivy Bistro
100 Neo Tiew Road
Tel: 6898 5001