An Experiment with Olive Oil: Apple and Cherry Cake

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First up, this is one of those recipes that didn’t do too well. I was intrigued by Nigella’s recipe of a cake that used olive oil and I thought it’d be a healthy alternative to a butter cake. Plus, with apple and cherries (I substituted those for the original raisins), what could go wrong?

Nobody except me seemed to like it. DC said the olive oil smell made him think of chicken rice. Don’t ask me how that man thinks, but in my world, chicken rice isn’t made with olive oil. My mum asked whether it was supposed to be bread or cake. I guess they thought it a tad dry. I wonder what’s wrong with my taste buds because I found it moist enough, and not too horribly sweet. I liked how the apple and cherry brought in bits of texture and flavour to the cake and thought it was a nice homespun type of thing to eat for breakfast.

All the same, if you’re game for something controversial, or have run out of butter and there’s nothing except olive oil and apples in the kitchen, then please try this recipe and let me know if you got any better reviews!

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Ingredients:

100g dried cherries (I just used an entire 120g pack, go ahead to substitute with raisins)
100ml rum
150ml olive oil
200g sugar
3 eggs
350g plain flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp  cream of tartar
½ tsp salt
4 apples (smallish), peeled, cored and coarsely chopped

Method:

  1. Butter and flour a 20 cm springform cake tin.
  2. Heat cherries with rum in a saucepan, bring a boil and then take off the heat, allowing the rum to soak into the cherries. Alternatively, soak the cherries in rum the night before.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
  4. Using the whisk attachment of a cake mixer, beat the oil and sugar together briefly, then add in the eggs one by one. Beat for a few minutes till well incorporated.
  5. While the mixture is beating, measure out the dry ingredients and sift them together. Fold into the egg mixture. The batter will end up quite stiff.
  6. Then drain the cherries and mix with apples (this is to make sure that the apples and cherries are well dispersed in the batter), then stir it into the cake batter. Give it a few good stirs to spread out the fruit evenly, then dollop the batter into the springform tin.
  7. Bake till a cake tester comes out fairly clean, i.e. no wet batter and only bits of crumb, about 1 hour.
  8. Let the cake stand in the tin for about 10 minutes, then turn out and leave to cool. Slice and let plenty of people try, I’d like some comments please!

Yet Another Quick Pasta Dish – With Pan-Roasted Tomatoes

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I know I feature way too many pasta dishes, sorry. I don’t cook as much as I’d like and lately things have been crowding in. I’d love for an entire weekend of leisurely cooking at some point soon. In the mean time, this will have to suffice.

I like chicken baked in the oven plain and simple till the juices flow and the skin is crisp. Poured onto warm pasta, it makes a simple dish incredibly yummy. This time I thought I’d use some cherry tomatoes and roast them over low heat in a frying pan. Slip in some crushed garlic and the juices come out sweet and aromatic. Let the mixture cook slowly over low heat to intensify the juices while the pasta cooks. Pour in the chicken juices, toss in the asparagus spears at the last moment, then mix with the cooked pasta. Season with plenty of freshly grounded black pepper and sea salt and a great lunch is served.

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Here’s the recipe if you must.

Ingredients:

1 chicken leg, deboned
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
8 cherry tomatoes
enough pasta for one person, linguine perhaps
10 mini asparagus spears, cut into short lengths

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 150ºC.
  2. Separate the skin from the deboned chicken leg and lay each flat on a baking tray lined with aluminium foil, taking care that they are far apart enough that the juices stay away from the skin. This way the skin becomes nice and crisp. Bake for 20 minutes or until chicken is done. If the skin isn’t crisp yet, grill till it is.
  3. Let the chicken sit and cool so the juices ooze out.
  4. In the mean time, heat the olive oil gently in a frying pan and then sweat the garlic and tomatoes till just on the verge of brown. This takes a while, so be patient.
  5. Cook the pasta in plenty of salt water till al dente.
  6. When the pasta is just about ready, pour the chicken juices into the frying pan and turn up the heat. Toss in the asparagus and stir till just cooked, about 30 seconds.
  7. Now toss in the pasta and stir till the noodles are completely coated. Season well to taste with salt and pepper.
  8. Turn onto plate, top with chicken and crispy skin and dig in!

Serves 1.

Another Quick Lunch Salad: Brown Rice and Fish

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As you can tell, I haven’t had a great deal of time to cook lately. It’s mainly been work, and keeping up with the various bits and pieces that make up a full life. Am also juggling a new personal project that I hope I can share at some point soon. Unfortunately, cooking has taken the, um, back burner. Today I only managed to quickly rustle up some lunch out of bits and pieces in the fridge and it turned out pretty well!

I knew I wanted something healthy, so it was brown rice and cracked buckwheat. There was leftover romaine, cabbage and basil in the fridge, together with some fish slices. I was inspired by a version of nasi ulam Mum made a few weeks back where she shredded fried wolf herring into rice and local herbs and squeezed plenty of lime juice over it. This time, I wanted a Western version of it and did the lazy thing of combining it all with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It turned out pretty well!

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Ingredients:

¼ cup brown rice
2 tbsp buckwheat
1 cup water
1 small fish fillet, sliced
1 small head romaine lettuce
1 handful shredded cabbage
25g basil leaves
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Method:

  1. Cook the brown rice and buckwheat together with the water in a rice cooker.
  2. When cooked, fluff the rice mixture and stir in the fish slices. Turn off the cooker and leave the fish to cook in the residual heat.
  3. Prepare the vegetables (wash, slice, chop).
  4. Combine the fish and rice mixture with the vegetables and tear the basil leaves gently over.
  5. Stir in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, top with a few grinds of salt and pepper to taste. Toss and serve.

Serves 1.

Another Variation on the Tune of Anchovy

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Inspired by the pasta I had at Big D’s and also by the past due can of anchovies Mum dug out from the cupboard, I had to have a crack of my own version of the salty fishy stuff. As always when it comes to these weekday dinners, I was famished and tired from yet another long day in the office. In less than 20 minutes, I threw this together using stuff in the house and a mixture of herbs including some sad bits of coriander and spring onion Mum left in the fridge and some freshly bought flat-leaf parsley from the supermarket. Use whatever herbs you fancy, or whatever’s left in the fridge.

Anchovies can of course be very salty, but this varies enormously from brand to brand. Just taste as you go along before adding too much. Also, not salting the pasta helps too. I also add some chilli to spice things up a little. Here, I used some aglio olio e peperoncino powder Mum got from Italy (it’s otherwise inedible just on its own with pasta), although simply because it was another past due item begging to be used up. I’d also use fresh chilli or my usual standby of chopped chilli padi.

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Ingredients:

2 tbsp olive oil, preferably from the canned anchovies
6 shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
small sheath spaghetti (enough for one)
5 anchovies tinned in oil
chilli, to taste
good handful of chopped herbs

Method:

  1. Start by sweating the shallots and garlic gently in the oil from the anchovies till barely golden brown.
  2. While still watching the shallots and garlic, boil the pasta in plenty of water till just before al dente. Do not salt the water.
  3. Going back to the shallots and garlic, add in the chopped anchovies and stir to break up into a paste. Sprinkle in the chilli and continue to stir.
  4. Toss in the pasta into the anchovy mixture, adding in a few spoonfuls of pasta water. Turn up the heat and stir till the water is absorbed and the mixture coats the pasta well. Add a few more spoonfuls of water if the mixture still doesn’t stick to the noodles.
  5. Slip in the herbs and stir, stir, stir.
  6. Serve immediately and devour.

For 1.

Possibly the Best Vegetarian Food in Singapore

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Naive was so good we went there twice in a month, a rarity considering how promiscuous we are with our food places. This post is an amalgamation of both visits. At the start of the meal, a waiter will bring round a mortar and pestle filled with black and white sesame seeds for a wellness ritual of sorts. It was quite a nice start grinding up the seeds for sprinkling onto our food later.

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We started off with the excellent and almost unbelievably good brown olive rice. With the savoury olive paste inside, it was tasty enough to eat on its own. The kaffir lime leaf strips on the top brought it up a notch so much so that it was almost a waste to eat the rice with the dishes!

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The tamarind tofu cake was flavourful and the firm tofu tasting almost meaty. It really didn’t taste at all like I was eating a vegetarian dish. I liked how the seaweed wrapping the tofu gave it plenty of umami flavour that went well with the spicy tangy sauce.

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My favourite dishes were the monkeyhead mushroom ones. I can’t decide which is better, the braised version (Enchanted Forest) or the slivered and fried version (can’t remember the name).

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Both versions tasted fairly similar, they probably used the same sauce. It was made from good stock nonetheless and I’ll definitely have it again. I liked the texture of both versions. The fried version had a very nice crisp-chewy texture while the braised version was somehow firm and again, almost meaty. It certainly didn’t feel like I was eating vegetarian here.

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There were quite a few dishes that didn’t work for me. DC liked the golden oats (it’s his soft spot), but I felt that it was too pedestrian. The tofu in the dish didn’t shine at all. There was also the rendang tofu paired with mantou. That flopped because the taste was neither here nor there and the mantou gave the wrong taste associations: tongue was expecting darkly savoury and sweet, but got spicy instead. A big no-no.

I also didn’t like the steamed tofu with water chestnut and orange sauce. It didn’t help that the service is a bit odd: our waitress was this “I know better than your mum” type who didn’t get her recommendations right. She told us that the special of the day was two kinds of steamed tofu, one was orange and watercress and the other something I can’t remember. I expected that it would be a pairing of tofu, which would be rather interesting, but we were disappointed. It was also a bit annoying to find that the portions were really small. At first, we ordered only one olive rice and asked for a bowl so we could share. When the food arrived, we realised that we needed extra. At this point, the server took away the empty bowl, meaning that we couldn’t even share out the first bowl of rice and start eating. Sure, the second rice arrived very soon, but befuddling moments like these punctuated our entire meal.

Last gripe: the bowls are pretty but hopelessly impractical. The sloping sides made it impossible to rest our chopsticks  naturally in between bites. I kept trying to put my chopsticks down only to realise belatedly that I had to angle them 90 degrees before it would work. Eat there and you’ll realise it.

Final verdict: the cooking at this place is very good, if they fail it’s because of the flavour profile falls flat, not the textures or cooking technique. There are some dishes that work really well, especially the signature monkeyhead mushroom and tofu cake dishes, as well as the olive rice. Other dishes aren’t so good, so be careful of the side-ish dishes. The place is too expensive for what you get and the service is very odd! (See above, plus they don’t take reservations for groups of less than five. I don’t see what’s stopping people from making reservations for five, turning up with three and telling the restaurant that the others didn’t want to go because of their odd requirements.)

99 East Coast Road
Tel: 6348 0668

Quick Roasted Vegetable Couscous

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Some evenings I go for a post-work run and want to come back to something quick and good. One night I popped some mushrooms and cherry tomatoes into the oven and went out. By the time I got back, the tomatoes were on the verge of drying out and the mushrooms prettied much burnt in the toms’ charred juice. Do as I say, not as I do: only leave the vegetables in the oven for max 15 minutes! I suppose you can try this with any other non-leafy vegetable. Think eggplant, courgettes, peppers and the like.

The couscous was very easily done: some vegetable stock (I use an organic no-msg stock powder) and a quick buzz in the microwave, then top with chopped basil and the grilled vegetables and it’s good to go. If you feel like you can’t do vegetarian, try adding a chopped anchovy or top with a grilled chicken breast. Quick and cheerful for a weekday dinner.

This recipe of course has way too much couscous. Keep the rest for another meal.

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Ingredients:

handful mushrooms, I used oyster mushrooms in this recipe
as many cherry tomatoes as you like, I used yellow ones here
olive oil

¾ cup vegetable stock
½ cup cous cous
handful basil leaves, finely chopped
1 anchovy fillet, finely chopped
1 wedge lemon

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a roasting tin with foil and set the mushrooms and tomatoes on. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Roast for 10 minutes or until the vegetables just start to brown.
  2. Heat up the vegetable stock and pour over the couscous. Microwave for 2 minutes on high. Set aside for 5 minutes and fluff with a fork.
  3. When the vegetables are done roasting, pour it and any pan juices onto the couscous. Stir in together with the basil and add salt and pepper to taste. If you’re using chopped anchovies, add them here too.
  4. Top with the lemon wedge and serve.

For 1.

Pesto Variations: Rocket (Deconstructed)

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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.

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Ingredients:

linguine
handful pine nuts
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 handfuls of rocket, chopped
parmesan cheese, optional

Method:

  1. Cook the linguine in plenty of boiling salted water till al dente.
  2. Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan, tossing often till golden brown. Set aside and chop coarsely if you can be bothered.
  3. When the linguine is about done, heat the oil in the frying pan and gently cook the garlic for a few seconds.
  4. Add the pasta, a spoonful of its cooking liquid and the rocket and toss till the linguine is well-coated.
  5. Toss in the pine nuts and season to taste.
  6. Grate over the parmesan cheese if you’re using and serve.

Serves 2.

Pesto Variations: Classic

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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.

Ingredients:

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

Method:

  1. Toast the pine nuts in a hot frying pan. No need to add oil, just toss frequently till golden brown.
  2. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse, scraping down frequently, till just smooth.
  3. 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.

Makes about ½ cup pesto.