DC Cooks to Impress

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As mentioned before, DC is a man after my own stomach. He also knows that that’s the obvious path to my heart. Not being someone with a reputation for great culinary skills, he still went ahead to cook a gourmet meal for me without any help. Impressive huh.

First was the starter, poached eggs with smoked trout on toast, topped generously with my favourite ikura. I don’t know how he managed it but the eggs were perfectly poached so that the whites were just set and the yolks runny. (I’ve never had the guts to poach eggs.) They didn’t have even a hint of the vinegary poaching water. Coupled with toasted baguette and store-bought smoked trout and ikura, this was an irresistible combination.

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Now the piece de resistance really was the stuffed deboned chicken with truffle and spinach. I think he really outdid himself here as I don’t know how to debone a chicken  while keeping it whole. He had to figure it out all on his own.

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He roasted it till just so. The flavour of the truffle stuffing subtley permeated the chicken and the stuffing kept the chicken nicely moist.

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He also somehow learned (oh the power of the Internet!) how to “lollilop” a chicken wingstick. Check out the picture below: instead of having to gnaw indelicately away at the wingstick bone, all I needed to do was to pick it up and bite off the meat at the end. Very nice.

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DC claims to have forgotten how he made these dishes, so I’ll give you recipes of how I think he made them! Look through the ingredients list carefully, though, as quite a few ingredients come from a gourmet store.

Poached eggs with smoked fish on toast

Ingredients:

4 eggs
4 slices of baguette
1 small pack of smoked fish (trout or salmon is fine)
1 small pack of ikura
1 tbsp raisins, optional
1 handful rocket leaves, optional

Method:

  1. Poach the eggs carefully and set aside. (Don’t know how to poach eggs? Try Google.)
  2. When just about ready to serve, toast the baguette till crisp.
  3. Assemble the toasts by covering each piece of toast with smoked fish, then a poached egg and scatter a teaspoon or more of ikura on top.
  4. Garnish with rocket and raisins on the side.

Serves 2.

Stuffed chicken with truffle and spinach

1 chicken, deboned (again, try Google for instructions)
2 small bags baby spinach
1 15g jar truffle pate
1 tsp sea salt
100g wild mushrooms (chanterelles, ceps, etc)
plenty of cracked black pepper
4 pandan leaves
oil for basting
more rocket leaves
2 peaches for a jar of muscat-infused peaches

Ingredients:

  1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
  3. Cook the spinach: boil, steam or microwave depending on your preference. Let cool, then squeeze as much water out of the spinach as possible.
  4. Make the stuffing by blending the spinach with the truffle pate. Check the seasoning and add the salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Roughly chop the mushrooms and mix into the stuffing.
  6. Push the stuffing into the cavity of the chicken and tie up the chicken with pandan leaves.
  7. Roast the chicken for 100 minutes, basting it regularly with oil and turning about 60 minutes later.
  8. Carve and serve with rocket and sliced peaches as garnish.

Serves 4.

Method:

Stuffed Chicken Wings

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I’d not cooked for a while. It was high time I dusted off some of the old recipes percolating inside my head and update them. One of them was this recipe for stuffed chicken wings. I last made them yonks ago back in my university days and never since had the time nor inclination to make them again.

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The chicken wings are made by taking the wing part and removing the two little bones inside, keeping the skin and meat pretty much intact. Then the cavity is stuffed with an aromatic minced meat mixture and the wings baked till golden all over. Sounds simple to do, but the deboning bit can be very tedious. The trick is patience and taking it slowly by popping the bones out of the joint and slowly cutting the meat off the bones with a pair of kitchen scissors. After getting the knack of one, the rest are easy. Still, it took me about half an hour to finish deboning 10 of these little fellas.

For the filling, I tried to add a bit of Thai flavour by adding kaffir lime leaves and coriander. I’d imagine variations along the lines of adding water chestnut and cloud ear mushrooms for a more Chinese flavour. Or using curry powder and cooked potato for a slightly more local Malay-Indian touch. Try it and go crazy with the variations!

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Ingredients:

200g minced pork
¼ bundle tanghoon, soaked and cut into short lengths
2 dried mushrooms, soaked and chopped fine
1 bunch coriander, chopped
4 kaffir lime leaves, sliced very fine
2 tsp fish sauce
2 tsp corn flour
1 tsp chopped chilli, optional
10 chicken wingsticks, deboned

glaze
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp sugar

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 150°C.
  2. Combine the stuffing ingredients and mix well.
  3. Stuff into the chicken wings and round off the top, being careful to push all the ends of the tanghoon into the meat mixture. This stops it from drying out and burning in the oven.
  4. Combine the glaze mixture and stir till the sugar dissolves. Paint over the mixture on the wings and, if using, the drumlets.
  5. Place onto a foil-lined baking tray and bake for 30 minutes, turning half way through, till golden brown.
  6. Serve with a squeeze of lime on top.

Makes 10.

    July in Vietnam: Arguments and the Overnight Bus

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    The motorbike ride didn’t end quite as I would’ve liked it to. Just as we were about to enter Cuc Phuong National Park, Hu told me that we had only a few hours left. I was taken aback because my understanding with the travel agent in Sapa was that the whole point of the trip was that Hu would take me to  Tam Coc andCuc Phuong National Park, then drop me off at Ninh Binh, a transit town a few hours south of Hanoi. However, on the second night Hu told me that there wouldn’t be time for me to do Tam Coc as well as Cuc Phuong and I opted to drop Tam Coc in favour of the monkeys.

    On the day we were in Cuc Phuong, we got lost finding the right entrance and wasted about an hour going the wrong way. When we finally got to Cuc Phuong, Hu told me that we only had an hour there because he needed to get back to Hanoi to catch his train back to Sapa. I was furious because the whole point of the trip was to give me flexibility to explore the national park at leisure. If time really was tight, half day would have been fine, but an hour was pushing it. Besides, I’d made it clear while making plans with my tour agent that I’d wanted to spend time in both Tam Coc and Cuc Phuong, so the agent should have budgeted enough time even though we were delayed by an hour. I’d paid for this, and expected them to carry out their side of the agreement. After an increasingly heated phone call to Sapa, the tour agent agreed that Hu would take me round Cuc Phuong, drop me off at Ninh Binh and then his job would be done.

    However, Hu waited till we finished lunch and the Big Tree visit before insisting that there wasn’t enough time and that he would have to leave me in the middle of the national park if I didn’t leave with him that instant. I adamantly held my ground, firmly told him to stop as we rolled past the Primate Centre, and got off the motorbike. Leaving my pack strapped to the bike, I stalked into the Primate Centre, and got two tickets. I figured that he might as well go in since it was also his first time in Cuc Phuong. Hu refused the ticket and sulked while I returned to the Centre, determined that my trip wouldn’t be affected by his behaviour.

    I made good progress and was very soon back on the back, with Hu griping away about missing the train. I talked through his schedule with him and reasoned that he would make it with sufficient time. Even if he did miss the train, the travel agent would make sure that he would get on the next one and that there would be contacts in Hanoi that would take him in for the night. Each time, I countered his resentful complaints and persuaded him to continue the trip. The last heartstopping, frustrating moment came when he stopped again by the side of the road, this time only 3km away from Ninh Binh to say that he had to stop now and drop me off by the road so he could go home. I almost screamed but doggedly pressed him onwards.

    Thankfully, mercifully, he managed to get me to Ninh Binh in one piece and scooted off after I reluctantly (my turn now) tipped him. I hope he made his train in time.

    Next, I cleaned up at a guesthouse that arranged for overnight buses to Hue and got myself a very nice dinner of goat meat wraps with tree leaves! No pictures, but it was very tasty and filling. Quite special and a very unique experience eating stringy tree leaves and tasty but tough goat. Quite soon, it was time to hop on the night bus. Look how cool their utilisation of space was! It’s structured in such a way that there’s just barely enough room for a midget to lie almost prone. There’s a little cubby hole to stick your legs into that fits under the head of the person in front. Stacked up in a double decker, three columns of these beds filled up the bus. Quite a few people fit in and I found it far more comfortable than crouching at the back of a motorbike. After such a long journey, I slept quite soundly, waiting to arrive in Hue in the morning.

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    Fried Laksa

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    One of Mum’s friends once made a dry version of laksa for a potluck. It made so much sense to do it without the liquid for easy luggability. It was really yummy, so I had to recreate a version so that DC could try it. It was incredibly easy, although it requires quite a bit of effort in chopping everything up. The picture didn’t come out so good partly because I was trying out a new camera and partly because I lost patience with the chopping. Get some help with the cutting if you can. If not, don’t worry, it tastes much better than it looks!

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    Ingredients:

    2 tbsp dried shrimp, soaked in water
    1 piece belachan, about the size of two 50 cent coins, toasted
    6 shallots
    1 clove garlic
    5 stalks laksa leaves
    3 tbsp cooking oil
    2 tbsp dried shrimp (keep dry, do not wash)
    2 lemongrass stalks, sliced
    2 thick slices galangal
    1 packet laksa paste (I use Dancing Chef brand)
    good squirt of coconut milk, approx 10 tbsp
    6 taupok, cut into squares
    400g beansprouts (40 cents from my market), picked over and washed
    1 kg thick beehoon ($1 from my market)

    Sides:
    20 poached prawns, shelled
    1 big fish cake, shredded
    2 chicken breasts, poached and shredded
    3 eggs, hard boiled and sliced

    Garnish:
    1 cucumber, peeled, cored and shredded
    large handful laksa leaves, shredded

    Method:

    1. Pound the soaked shrimp using a mortar and pestle together with the belachan, shallots, garlic and a handful of laksa leaves.
    2. Fry the dried shrimp in hot oil till crisp, taking care to put them all in at the same time. Remove promptly from the oil as the shrimp burn easily. Set aside on paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
    3. In the same oil, fry the pounded paste of shrimp, belachan, shallots and garlic with the lemongrass and galangal slices till fragrant, about 2 minutes on low. Pour in the laksa paste and fry till fragrant or till you start choking from the pungent chilli smell (whichever comes first). Remember to turn on the fan extractor if you have one. Still, it’s pretty much guaranteed that your whole house will reek of laksa for days.
    4. Remove the lemongrass and galangal, discard.
    5. Add the coconut milk and stir till you get a thick but fairly runny paste.
    6. Stir in the taupok and beansprouts, making sure to incorporate fully before adding in the next ingredient, then finally the noodles.
    7. Check the seasoning, adding fish sauce to taste. Garnish with cucumber shreds, chopped laksa leaves and crispy dried shrimp.
    8. Serve with fish cake, prawns, chicken and boiled egg slices on the side for everyone to help themselves.

    Enough for 6.

    April in The Philippines: Island Hopping Like the Swallows

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    El Nido literally means “The Swallow,” in reference to the many creatures inhabiting the limestone cliffs. I read in an inflight magazine that harvesting their nests for birds nest soup is still a thriving industry. But for now, I was far more interested in the tourism side of things.

    We headed out on the island hopping tour on one of those eponymous outrigger boats. The first stop was Small Lagoon, nestled within a circle of limestone cliffs. It was a popular spot…

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    … especially for canoeing.

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    It was accessed through a little gap in the cliffs and made for a natural sheltered swimming pool. The bottom was nothing but pure white sand and the sides of the cliffs had interesting little creatures to stare at. Freediving a few metres down, I saw a moray eel and some shyer tropical fish. In the main part of the lagoon, there were plenty of white jellyfish. These didn’t sting and it was fun holding the squidgy mass in my hands. There was also a little cave at one end of the lagoon. As I squeezed through the little entrance I saw a shaft of light lighting up the centre of the dark cave. It was beautiful.

    We moved on over the clear water that ranged from deep blue to azure to green and shades of pale jade according to the depth of the water. Contrasting with the sand that was so white I had to squint at it in the sun, this was the colour sea is meant to be. I soon gave up thinking up new names for the shades of blue and sat back simply enjoying the view.

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    Next up was Big Lagoon, simply a sheltered area of otherwise open sea surrounded by several limestone outcrops. It was beautiful like the rest of the lagoons in El Nido, but not particularly special as the snorkelling was marred by the dynamite holes in the coral.

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    Next, we pulled up at this secluded beachlet.

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    The boat was simply driven up onto the beach as the fine sand didn’t seem to be capable of doing much harm to the hull.

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    Here there were many purple jellyfish, again harmless. They were quite large and often got washed up onto the beach to perish in the heat.

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    While the tourists frolicked in the shallows, the boat crew busied themselves with lunch. Here they took barbecue to a fuss-free level. Back in Singapore, it normally takes at least an hour and lots of paraphernalia to get the fire started and at least another hour before there’s the hope of getting any decently cooked food at all. In El Nido, the fire was started with just a few sticks of charcoal, a dash of lighter fluid, some dry twigs taken from the beach and one match.

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    Soon after the fire was started and got going, the fish was set on the grill…

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    … and lunch was ready in a jiffy. I timed it: only 30 minutes! And what a delicious meal it was! Freshly grilled fish adorned with soy sauce and lime, plus cabbage salad dressed with vinegar, was such a treat on the beach.

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    After lunch one of the guides took me out snorkelling. The water was amazingly clear and the coral beautiful. He brought me up to a giant white stinging jellyfish and showed me how to stroke the top without getting stung. Cute and quite fun!

    Then on to Secret Lagoon, a pool of water completely surrounded by cliffs and entered by a hole at the side. It felt pretty much like a cave without a ceiling. It was quite strange that this place was dry during low tide as all the water drained out then.

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    Our last stop was Seven Commandos Beach, the significance of which was lost to me. I liked the water more than the beach and ended up chatting with the boat crew most of the time there.

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    They soon busied themselves with coconut leaves. Doing what, I wasn’t sure.

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    But soon it was apparent. They fashioned little animals out of the coconut leaves. I got a bird…

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    … a fish…

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    … and a grasshopper. It was very imaginative and skillful work, fitting mementos to end the lovely day.

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    Not Bad Not-Chocolate at Laurent Bernard’s

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    By some freak coincidence, DC and I were both at business meetings in the Portsdown area on a weekday. It was just too bad that our favourite place in the area was closed, so we plumped for Laurent Bernard Chocolatier instead. I wasn’t expecting a great deal, mainly because I’d been disappointed at its Robertson Quay branch before (rude service, not particularly great food). This place surprised me.

    I went for a healthy niçoise salad, which turned out more substantial than I expected as it came with a well-toasted piece of rustic farm bread. It went beautifully with the rare seared tuna chunks and the generous portion of salad. DC found the tuna a bit fishy but I liked it that way. It’s probably the best version of niçoise I’ve had as it doesn’t have the stuff I don’t fancy (boring boiled potato and squeaky boiled string beans) and has lots of green leaves and plenty of tuna.

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    DC went for the goat cheese sandwich, which turned out very similar in style to my salad! There was the same slice of toast and a fairly substantial heap of salad greens, a bit less than the stuff for my salad. The main difference was of course the grilled goat cheese, which was of course fantastically oozy and runny under a crisped up crust. He loved it.

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    Dessert was where we misstepped.  I’m surprised that the dessert here didn’t fare too well. We ordered the cherry soufflé to share and had high hopes seeing as they had an extensive soufflé section in the menu. I really like Blackforest-style sour cherries and it’s hard to find a place that does it well. Our soufflé was obviously fresh from the oven as it started to quite rapidly lose height once it landed on the table.  The dessert itself wasn’t too bad, although it was a tad weepy. I think the chef overwhipped the egg whites and undercooked it slightly. Still, it was light and airy with a tender, slightly crackly top. The raspberry sauce accompaniment was rather quotidien and didn’t do very much to help the soufflé along. I liked the cherries, although there was some kind of liqueur or flavour added that gave it the typical cherry cough syrup flavour when I had more than a mouthful of it. I suppose it would suffice if one were truly craving cherry, but not otherwise.

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    Laurent Bernard Chocolatier
    5B Portsdown Road #01-02
    Telephone: 6475 9410

    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