Ayam Penyet Ria

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We found ourselves at Ayam Penyet Ria at Lucky Plaza on recommendation from DC’s friend. The crowds and high turnover rate spoke for themselves and we happily settled in with some drinks. DC’s happy soda wasn’t quite the Southeast Asia backpacker joint variety, it being a very innocent (!) combination of rose syrup and condensed milk topped with 7-Up. Despite the incredible amount of sugar, he seemed to quite like it. My avocado juice started off really well, with plenty of thick avocado pulp mixed with runny gula melaka. Towards the end, it got really bitter as they inadvertently blended some avocado skin into the juice too. I had to get another sweet drink to rinse away the bitter taste!

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We started with some tahu telur, firm beancurd (taukwa) dipped in beaten egg and deep-fried, then topped with peanut sauce (Indonesian style) and garnished with vegetable shavings. It was very decent for fast food, with good quality taukwa and a very nice runny peanut sauce. It was slightly spicy, slightly sweet, yet not quite like satay sauce. Good stuff to start off the meal.

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We went for the more unique dishes and didn’t do the ayam penyet (smashed fried chicken). Instead, DC went for the empal penyet, or smashed beef steak. I was convinced that deep-fried beef was going to be overcooked and tough, but DC’s judgement was true. The beef, being smashed before it was fried, was decently tender and tasty. It went well with the crispy bits and the chilli sauce. Now that chilli sauce was jaw-judderingly spicy, as is typical of ayam penyet chilli. It was also very, very yummy. A lot of super spicy chilli sauces stop at being super spicy and aren’t a great deal more than chilli paste. This chilli sauce actually had flavour aside from simply “very hot”. They’d obviously used good belacan and added other spices that really added to the flavour. Sadly, I couldn’t eat more than a dab or two at a time, but it went well with both fried meat and the accompanying tempeh, tahu and vegetable sides.

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Mine was the lele penyet, or smashed deep-fried catfish. The catfish wasn’t smashed at all, maybe they’re referring to how the scattering of fried crispy bits on top make it look sort of smashed. I don’t know. The accompaniments were the same ones and the chilli sauce the same fabulous stuff. My fish was very excellent. It was succulent on the inside, and really crispy on the outside. I like how they fried it such that I could crunch up much of the fins and tail without having to spit any bones out. Also, with careful dissection, the fish wasn’t too bony. Plus, most of the small ones were soft enough to scoff down together with the tender white meat.

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It’s extremely good value. Treat it somewhat like fast food with slightly higher standards, and be warned that it’s not for chilli wimps!

Ayam Penyet Ria
304 Orchard Road #04-25 Lucky Plaza
Tel: 6235 6390

Tom Yum Soup

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One of my favourite soups to make at home is tom yum soup. I learned a version of it at the Chiang Mai cooking school and never looked back since. It’s dead easy to make from scratch and even adding tom yum paste is optional. Granted, the ingredients aren’t the easiest to find, but I’m finding that more and more shops are stocking them. Some of my local supermarkets even sell tom yum starter packs with lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, shallot, lime and chilli in them. What  I normally do is buy a bit more of the herbs when I see them, prepare them and chuck them in the freezer. With a bit of forward planning, a fragrant spicy soup can be made from frozen to tummy in minutes. If you’d like the soup a little spicier, there’s no need to add more chilli, just pound the chilli padi into smaller bits.

For today’s soup, I had some seafood and plenty of prawns and their shells. I also had some spare chicken bones and made a lovely stock from boiling the bones and the prawn shells and heads together for about 10 minutes. The prawn heads, especially when I squeezed out the orangey guts, gave the stock an intensely briny prawn flavour. You can make the soup with plain water, it’ll still be fragrant but not as robust.

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Ingredients:
15 prawns, shelled
1 large squid, prepared
1 clove garlic, smashed and peeled
1 shallot, peeled
2 thick slices galangal
2 kaffir lime leaves
3 stalks lemongrass, cut diagonally into thick slices
1 chilli padi, smashed

1 small punnet cherry tomatoes (about 16)
1 small bag oyster mushrooms (about 12), torn into large chunks

juice of one big lime
2 tbsp fish sauce

1 bunch coriander, leaves only

Method:

  1. Make stock from the prawn shells and head by boiling them in 2 litres of water for 1o minutes. Strain the stock into a separate pot for making soup.
  2. Add the garlic, shallot, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and chilli padi to the stock and bring to a boil. Next, add the prawns, squid, tomatoes and mushroom and bring to the boil again.
  3. Off the heat, add the lime juice and fish sauce sparingly, tasting as you go along, till you get the right balance of sour and salty.
  4. Serve, garnishing with coriander leaves.

Serves 4.

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

Quick Eats: Soup and Salad

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There’s a new salad place at Citylink Mall that’s both good and shockingly good value for money. I went for the $10 set lunch consisting of a soup of the day, a basic salad (the cheapest one on the board), and a small freshly squeezed juice. The juice wasn’t as small as I expected and they didn’t cheat by putting a huge lot of ice. My green apple juice was still sweet (I’m assuming no added sugar) and very refreshing. I went for a safe choice for the soup: mushroom. It was velvety and smooth and very flavourful – not your usual Campbells stuff.

The soup and nicely toasted bread were themselves quite filling, but the generous salad rounded off the meal so much that I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish the portion! I liked how they had nice leaves like rocket, mizuna and baby spinach leaves. The system works so that you can choose a few kinds of each category according to the price of your salad. I was quite happy with the basic one because I wanted to go vegetarian for that meal. For the more expensive salads, the extra price goes for added meat and seafood ingredients. They had quite a wide range of dressings, just that I can’t quite remember what sorts they had. I went for the Asian dressing, which I quite liked even though it was slightly too sweet.

Mescluns
Citylink Mall (opposite HMV)

An Unorthodox Carbonara

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I had some orange zest and two egg yolks left over from my orange clove cake and knew that I had to take this rare opportunity to make pasta carbonara without having to contend with egg whites glaring malevolently at me every time I opened the fridge door. There was also some chorizo Mum brought back from (of all places) London, so the orange and smoked sausage turned the pasta into something decidedly un-Italian.

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To make things slightly less sinful, I seared thick slices of zucchini on the grill and dressed it with a simple vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was something Mum took back from London (yes mums can be slightly eccentric too). If not, I’d just sprinkle a touch of balsamic or wine vinegar over and top with some crumbled sea salt and ground pepper.

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Ingredients:
5 slices of skinny chorizo, cut into thin strips
linguine
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp + extra parmesan cheese, grated
1 tbsp yogurt
zest of ½ orange
1 tbsp orange juice

Method:

  1. Fry the chorizo in a dry pan over low heat till fat is rendered and chorizo is crisp. Set aside. Also set oily pan aside.
  2. Boil the linguine in salted water till al dente.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks, cheese, yogurt and orange zest. Stir in the orange juice.
  4. When the pasta is just about ready, warm the rendered chorizo oil. Drain the noodles and toss them in the hot oil. Immediately transfer to the eggy mixture and stir, stir, stir till the cheese melts and the sauce thickens and clings to the noodles.
  5. Sprinkle over the chorizo bits and extra grated parmesan cheese.
  6. Eat immediately.

Serves 1 or 2.

Foil for a Herb Salad

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I’m going to be horribly lazy today and post a recipe for something that doesn’t quite count as cooking. I’d bought a pack of organic herb salad and wanted a fairly virtuous dressing that would stand up to the herbs but not interfere too much with the already complex flavours. A peek into the fridge and the idea hit: anchovies and mustard. Together, they would make a very assertive yet blunt combination. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar to round off the flavour, a good couple of squeezes of lemon juice to sharpen things up, then emulsify with good extra virgin olive oil and voila, a quick salad dressing that complemented the herb salad incredibly well.

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Ingredients:

2 anchovy fillets
4 tsp mustard
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
juice of half a lemon
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Method:

  1. In a small mortar and pestle, mash the anchovies to a paste, then stir in the mustard and keep grinding gently with the pestle. Add the vinegar and lemon juice and stir to a thick paste.
  2. Add the olive oil in drops at first, stirring vigorously, then gradually add more till you get a running, emulsified dressing. Taste, adding more mustard and vinegar if it’s too salty.
  3. Dress the salad to taste. Serve.
  4. Try not to look too unglam as you lick the bowl clean.

Serves 3-4.

Oomphatico’s

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I was at the Tanglin area and thought I’d have some long sought-after time with myself. It’s not often that I get time alone so I treated myself to a good lunch at Oomphatico’s.

The decor is whimsical pink and gold with soft-cushioned, slightly fussy Victorian style chairs. It’s obviously geared towards trendy young mummies with designer prams: family friendly yet not overtly so.

I started with the watermelon, pomegranate and mint juice. It was a refreshing and imaginative blend that came in a fairly generous portion. It was a bit more smoothie than juice because of the watermelon pulp, sometimes I had to chew a bit. Not bad nonetheless.

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My side salad came next and I was surprised by how generous the portion was. It wasn’t your typical run-of-the-mill mesclun. Rather than just limp lettuce, it also had various yummies like ripe avocado, sweet cherry toms and crunchy cucumber. The service was pretty attentive too because they asked if I wanted my main served immediately. Most places just plonk the main down whether you’re ready or not.

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I asked for my linguine vongole with mussels and anchovy to come when I was done with the salad. It still came piping hot yet not overcooked, very well done on the service. At first I found it slightly tasteless but soon realised that the anchovies weren’t mixed in properly.  It was a very pleasing combination of fresh clams and fresh mussels too, not the usual tough frozen New Zealand greenlip stuff. I liked how they were generous with the flat leaf parsley too. A winner.

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I ended off the meal with a latte. Too bad it was tiny, watered down and the only overpriced thing I had here. A let down to an otherwise excellent meal.

Seafood and an Unexpected Find at Alexandra Village

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I try to make sure I don’t get too fat by running three times a week. Unfortunately, running is almost always negated by dinner. After a good run at Labrador Park, we headed to Alexandra Village. We got there a bit too late as most of the famous stalls were closed. The good thing was that Rong Guang BBQ Seafood was not. We ordered sotong kia (deep fried baby squid in black sauce) and sambal sting ray. I managed to head off disaster by persuading DC that we really shouldn’t go for the deep fried you tiao.

DC decided that the sotong kia was one of the best he had, very similar to the memories of his childhood. I liked the crisp crunch of the squid especially while still piping hot, but I thought it was a bit too sweet for my liking. The best I’ve had in recent memory is the one at Pulau Ubin still.

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I adore sting ray and can never get enough of the moist smooth flesh. Grilled with sambal and eaten with onion-soaked chinchalok, it really is heaven in a mouthful. Here, the sambal was spicy with good kick and the fish fresh and firm.

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We had been rather, um, restrained in our ordering as DC wanted avocado ice cream. He was buying our very fresh and sweet pineapple and starfruit juice when he spied the avocado ice cream sign. Apparently Seng Hong Fruit Juice specialises in avocados. They make a mean avocado juice/milkshake too. (We had to go back another day to try it!)

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It’s the avocado ice cream that takes the cake. At first look, it’s a small tub costing $1. The pale green stuff was frozen solid and needed a while on the tongue to start yielding up some taste. I was dubious at first, but then started whining at DC for eating faster than me. The ice cream was very creamy and had a lot of avocado pieces swirled into the jade goodness. It’s definitely better and probably cheaper than the stuff you get at the local ice creameries. A definite win!

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Rong Guang Seafood BBQ and Seng Hong Fruit Juice are pretty much side by side, at the far corner of Alexandra Village hawker centre.

A Leisurely Breakfast with Easy Long-Rise Bread

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This is what I try to make my typical breakfast: lots of fruit with some dairy and complex carbohydrates. I think it’s a tad heavy on the sugar, but at least the jam is homemade and the Yakult gives me some sort of lactobacteria. I slice bread only when I need it and end up lazily using the chopping board as my serving platter too.

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The bread I make is very dense and quite moist, like the German fitnessbrot I grew up eating, so it doesn’t go stale easily. It’s based on a Cooks Illustrated almost no-knead bread recipe. I’ve modified it slightly to suit my own needs. My bread is dense because my tins are non-stick, meaning that the dough doesn’t get enough grip to rise high against its walls. If you have a regular (as opposed to non-stick) metal tin, go ahead and use that instead for a lighter bread. Don’t oil the sides, if not the high temperature of the oven will turn it into a gloopy mess that takes an eternity of scrubbing to remove. And use only metal tins because you need the metal to conduct heat to get the dough hot immediately. Fear not, the rest of the process is dead easy.

As for the flour, feel free to use all plain flour or all finely ground whole wheat flour, normally sold at atta flour or chappati flour at places like Phoon Huat. As long as the flour makes up three cups, try using a bit of rye or other grains for varying taste and texture. If you don’t have whey, just use water with a few spoonfuls of milk. Or try the original recipe with a quarter cup of beer in it.

Ingredients:

1 cup plain flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup atta chappati flour (very finely ground whole wheat)
¼ tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt
1¼ cup whey
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar or lemon juice

Method:

  1. Blend all the ingredients together in a bowl and cover with a dry towel. Leave to rise for 12 to 18 hours.
  2. Punch down the dough and knead by pushing and folding over the dough 10 times.
  3. Put into a 20 cm diameter round springform tin and allow to rise for 2 hours.
  4. Preheat the oven 30 minutes ahead to 250°C or as hot as your oven will go.
  5. Cover the tin tightly with aluminium foil and put onto lower oven shelve. Turn down the oven to 200°C.
  6. After 3o minutes, uncover and bake for a further 30 minutes.
  7. Leave to cool for about 30 minutes. Cut and serve immediately to enjoy the crisp crust.

Makes 1 loaf.