I like going to Tekka Market. Both the market and the hawker sections have such great stalls. The market side always has stuff open all the way into the afternoon on Sundays, making it ideal to catch some fantastic lunch and then buy groceries for dinner. The vegetable stalls have such a variety of ingredients that each time I go I find something I haven’t seen before. It’s a great place to get ingredients for Vietnamese or Thai food. It’s so easy to find Thai basil and other herby leaves here.
Now the hawker side is chock-full of nasi briyani stalls. Yakader is the place I go to. This was the place I had my briyani epiphany. Before this, I never understood why one would cook nuts and raisins with savoury rice. The nuts would just be soft and the raisins pulpy and sweet, which I don’t fancy in savoury food. It all became clear when I had my first spoonful of their rice. The cashews, though not crunchy, gave a lovely fragrance to the rice, and the not-too-sweet raisin gave it extra interest and texture. Now let’s get on to the mutton. It is amazing how tender this stuff is. At first, it seemed deceptively unyielding to the fork, but once a morsel was hacked off, it fairly melted in the mouth. Spiced just right, this stuff is briyani heaven.
DC spotted some sup tulang at Hanifa’s nearby and ordered some mutton bone soup. It was very peppery and quite nice to gnaw at. I’m not super keen on chewy tendon (I like mine soft and melting), but the soup was nicely flavoured, though a bit of a shock to the system with the amount of pepper in it. It was so good that the family at the next table asked us where we got it and happily slurped up their order. I’d go back to try the mutton and tongue next time.
These sticky snail buns are always a big hit. As Mum prefers non-chocolatey things and DC’s mum likes nuts, these were a natural choice for Mother’s Day last week. They’re so good that I caught Mum chewing on something as she snuck out of the kitchen. True enough, there was one less on the rack! These gooey, crunchy spiced buns are quite irresistible both fresh out of the oven and also the next day cold from the fridge. Somehow keeping it cold keeps the syrupy bits crackly and crunchy. I can never stop at one.
Packed into a pretty box, these little buns beckon so glisteningly and enticingly, it’s no wonder Nigella urges in her Schnecken recipe to “apply to face” as soon as cool! Now I’ve made loads of modifications to her recipe to suit my taste and sense of practicality. I replaced golden syrup and maple syrup with honey because it’s easier to find and I have no idea what to do with leftover golden syrup. Plus I find that the fragrant honey I use gives a lovely aroma to the buns. Also, I find the recommended amount of 150g sugar for the filling a bit excessive and have cut it down tremendously. Feel free to scale up the sugar if you have an especially sweet tooth! Lastly, I find that this recipe makes quite a lot of dough, so make sure that the buns don’t sit too long in the proving stage. Either that or halve the amount of dough and make 18 instead of 24. That would mean less dough and more syrup, so leave to prove for as long as you like instead of hawkishly watching them to make sure they don’t fill up the muffin tin too easily.
Beat the eggs. In a separate bowl, combine 1 tbsp of the beaten egg with 1 tbsp milk and set aside the mixture to glaze the buns later.
Melt the butter, then combine with the eggs and 150 ml milk.
Into a bowl, stir the flour, sugar, cloves, salt and yeast together and then pour in the liquid ingredients above. Using the dough hook of a cake mixer, knead for 5 minutes on high. Alternatively, knead by hand for 10 minutes.
Form into a ball, oil the bottom of the mixing bowl and drop into the bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for about an hour or till doubled in size.
In the mean time, prepare the syrup. Melt the butter in the microwave (medium for 1-2 minutes), then whisk in the sugar and honey. I don’t know how it works, but this magically turns it into a thick syrup. Spoon about 1 tbsp of syrup into each cup in two 12-bun muffin tins.
Top with the pecans, making sure that each pecan half faces down. About four halves go into each muffin cup.
When the dough is ready, knock it back, knead once or twice and halve the dough. On a flat surface (I normally use a long piece of aluminium foil), spread out half the dough with your fingers to form a rectangle about 15 cm long and 30 cm wide. Glaze the surface of the dough so it’s damp and sprinkle on a thin layer of sugar. Sprinkle on half the cinnamon and half the nutmeg, or just grate the nutmeg directly onto the dough.
Roll up the bun from the long side and push it gently but firmly away from you till you have a sausage seam side down. Don’t worry if the dough is a bit sticky, with careful handling, it shouldn’t go too pear-shaped! Using a sharp knife, cut the dough sausage into 12 even pieces. I normally halve and halve it again to get four logs, then cut each into three. Take each swirly piece and lay into the muffin cup so the swirly part lies on the syrupy-nut mixture.
Repeat with the other half of the dough mixture.
Leave to prove for 20 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.
When the 20 minutes is over, or the buns are risen and puffy, bake for 20 minutes. You’ll probably want to swap the trays at the 10-minute mark so they brown evenly. They’ll come out brown and gooey and the syrup is likely to bubble over, so make sure there’s a pan on the bottom of your oven to catch drips.
Carefully loosen each bun with a knife and place a roasting tin over the muffin tin. Invert carefully and the sticky buns should pop out into the roasting tin. Carefully replace any fallen nuts and transfer any leftover syrup in the muffin cups onto the buns.
Leave to cool and either eat as soon as possible or keep in the fridge overnight.
Chocolate chip cookies are a perennial favourite and dark double chocolate cookies are even more well received. I make up a batch of these when I want to make the chocolate lovers in my life happy. Feel free to substitute whatever nuts you like, I happened to have pecans around. I can imagine it with dried fruit too, like orange peel. Try to serve it fresh from the oven if you can. The chocolate oozes in a lovely way.
120g cocoa powder
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
120g dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g dark chocolate, chopped
200g pecans, chopped
Preheat oven to 170ºC. Line two baking trays with baking paper and set aside.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda. Stir in the salt. Set aside.
Cream the butter and sugars till fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla extract and beat again.
Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined.
Fold in chocolate and nuts.
Drop teaspoonfuls of dough onto the baking tray, spacing about two inches apart. Try to make the dough balls as small as possible. I fit about20 onto each tray.
Bake for about 7 minutes, taking care not to let the cookies burn. It’s a dark cookie as it is, so you have to watch carefully.
Transfer to wire rack to cool and eat as soon as you can touch them without burning yourself. Otherwise, wait till cool and pack in airtight containers and give away.
The whole week was a week of ramen cravings for me. This time we went to Marutama, which I’d not had for years. I somehow never made it back to the one at Central because I found the restaurant a bit dingy and cramped for a meetup, plus memories of queues put me off. I quite liked the ambience of the branch at Liang Court. It’s still dark, but much smarter-looking.
We had chashu on the side. It wasn’t too bad, being tender and fatty with the bonus of being charred to order. It’s far too overpriced for the miserable four pieces you get though.
Now I really liked the aka ramen. It’s so different from other versions as the toppings are some kind of seasoned chicken ball, coriander and a squeeze of lemon. Also, the broth is made of 12 types of nuts rather than pork stock. Sure, there was still the usual stuff like runny(ish) yolk egg, seaweed and sesame seeds, but here even the noodles were different. They were much thinner than the usual, resembling the instant noodle type of ramen more than the traditional sorts. I enjoyed the freshness of the coriander and lemon, and with the richness of the soup, it’s now my favourite ramen place.
Having said that, I still need to find a new favourite place for the more typical pork bone ramen. Suggestions anyone?
177 River Valley Road
#02-01/02 Liang Court Shopping Centre
Tel: 6837 2480
I like the strong, bitter, almost meaty flavour of rocket. It seems to be a love it or hate it affair with this leaf and I’m firmly in the love-it camp. Rocket works not just as a salad leaf to perk up an otherwise boring lettuce salad, it also comes into its own used as a herb in pesto. The fact that it’s priced like a salad leaf, not a herb, also boosts its popularity in eatdrinkcooktravel land.
I’m normally quite lazy when it comes to pesto, so lazy that I don’t even want to break out the food processor for it. That’s why my favourite way to make pasta in pesto is a sort of deconstructed version.
This recipe is the first of a loose series of pesto-inspired experiments. Pesto is a typical Italian pasta dressing. It’s associated with Genoa in the Liguria region, an area famous for olive oil and apparently perfect basil with the most ideal balance of flavours. Italian mamas make it by pounding garlic, basil leaves, pine nuts in a mortar and pestle, hence the name. Grated pecorino cheese is then stirred in to complete the pesto.
I’ve only made pesto using a mortar and pestle once and learned my lesson after that: it is long, hard work. Some people swear by using a mezzaluna for the job but purists just laugh. Now I use a food processor like the average sensible modern cook.
In this recipe I use parmesan cheese simply because it’s the easiest to find. Please use pecorino if you can find or afford it.
1 handful pine nuts
pinch coarse sea salt
2 cloves garlic
50-100 g (one supermarket pack) basil leaves, stems discarded
1 handful parmesan cheese, finely grated
3 tbsp best extra-virgin olive oil
Toast the pine nuts in a hot frying pan. No need to add oil, just toss frequently till golden brown.
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse, scraping down frequently, till just smooth.
Use to dress pasta or drizzle over minestrone soup. It can keep in the fridge for a while. Make sure the top is covered with oil.