A Very Comforting Stew

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It’d been raining quite a bit and I decided that I needed something warming and comforting for dinner instead of having leftovers. A quick whizz through the supermarket and scrounge in the fridge later, I’d assembled a whole bunch of root and other vegetables that completely overshadowed the meat. Let’s see, I had butternut squash, mushrooms, an onion, celery, carrots, potato and basil. The squash was an excellent addition as it added a lovely sweet dimension to the stew, I didn’t need to tweak the seasonings much at all. Lastly, the belly pork worked well as I didn’t have time to really stew it properly till melting soft and falling apart. It was tender enough after the one hour cooking time, though it definitely could have benefited from a stint in the slow cooker. I cheat a bit by adding some Marigold organic vegetable stock powder that I get from the UK. It helps give that extra little oomph. Lastly, adding basil at the end just before serving gave it a lovely fresh herby lift. Serve with bread, rice, or whatever carbs you have leftover in the fridge.

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Ingredients:
1 tbsp oil
300g pork belly, cubed
20g butter
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 onion, chunked
1 large carrot, chunked
2 sticks celery, chunked
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
butternut squash, cubed
250g button mushrooms
1 tsp organic vegetable stock power, optional
2 tbsp or a good splash dry vermouth

Method:

  1. Heat the oil in a large pot and brown the pork belly on all sides in batches. Set aside in a dish.
  2. Turn down the fire and melt the butter in the residual oily juices and toss in the peppercorns, bay leaf and garlic. Cook gently till fragrant, then toss in the onion, carrot and celery. Stir to coat with butter and cover. Let sweat for about 5 minutes.
  3. Toss in the potatoes, squash and mushrooms and stir. Add in the pork and turn up the heat. Keep stirring.
  4. Mix in the stock powder and splash in the vermouth. Bring to a boil then turn down and simmer for at least one hour. If available, transfer to a crock pot and finish off the cooking there.
  5. The stew is done when the vegetables are soft and the pork is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 3-4.

A Very Alcoholic Cherry Almond Cake

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I’d recently discovered some really nice dried cherries in Carrefour that don’t quite cost the sky (just an arm and a leg). It allowed me to finally try out Nigella’s recipe for a cherry cake. Her version involved natural glace cherries. I haven’t seen natural glace cherries anywhere in this corner of the world before and I thoroughly detest the typical bright scarlet ones, so I upped the decadence level by soaking the dried cherries for some hours in a mixture of kirsch and rum. It worked out beautifully, tasting a little like christmas fruit cake. It gets even better the next morning as the alcohol from the cherries infuses the cake. I’d imagine it’ll do wonderfully with extra dark rum scattered over the cake and left to age for a week before serving.

Before we get to the recipe, a few tips on prep work. First, soak the cherries overnight in a mixture of kirsch and rum. I ran out of kirsch, so topped up the alcohol with dark rum to cover the cherries in a bowl. Use brandy, whisky or vodka if you don’t have either the above. Next, halve your cherries or chop them very roughly  as I think the cherried alcohol infuses better in the cake that way. Last word on flour: I don’t really like the hassle of stocking both plain and self-raising flour and also keeping track of my baking powder to make sure that it’s not expired yet. What I do instead is to make up my own baking powder by using cream of tartar and bicarbonate of soda. If you’d like to tailor your own recipes, halve the amount of baking powder to find out how much cream of tartar to use, and halve the amount of cream of tartar for how much bicarbonate of soda to add.

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Ingredients:

200g dried cherries, soaked overnight in alcohol mix and then halved
250g flour
1½tsp cream of tartar
¾tsp bicarbonate of soda
200g butter
120g sugar
3 eggs, beaten
2 drops almond essence
100g ground almonds
about 3 tbsp milk

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170ºC. Butter and line a loaf cake tin.
  2. Drain the cherries, reserving the soaking liquid
  3. Cream the butter and sugar till light and fluffy, then add eggs and almond essence.
  4. Fold in flour and ground almonds.
  5. Make up the cherry soaking liquid to 6 tbsp with the milk and fold into the cake mixture.
  6. Fold in the cherries and scrape out into tin.
  7. Bake for 1 hour or so until a satay stick comes out clean.
  8. Let cool completely before removing from tin.

Makes about 12 slices.

Bukit Timah’s BK Forture

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Sis-in-law took the whole family to a coffee shop-style restaurant that supposedly had really good hamdan (salted egg) crabs. Since the focus of dinner was really the crab, we whizzed through the other dishes quickly. The cappuccino ribs scored full marks for imagination but didn’t do that well for taste. It was coffee ribs with cocoa powder and evaporated milk drizzled on top. The coffee part was nicely dark and bitter but the cocoa powder just didn’t do it for me.

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The herbal chicken was supposed to be another signature dish but I felt that it wasn’t particularly special. Overcooked chicken with herbs: sure, it’s comfort food but I’m not going all the way out to that part of Bukit Timah for this dish.

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They misnamed the fish. It should’ve been called assam curry fish instead of Thai-style fish. The taste was great as the fish was fresh, the curry spicy and the vegetables tender-crunchy. Bro insisted on taking this picture with the red snapper’s mouth gaping open. Too bad the camera couldn’t capture the steam and bubbles coming out of its mouth. It was horror-movie cool (that is, if you were a fish watching a horror movie).

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Then came the piece de resistance! Now this is what I’d call a heart attack on a plate. As if the cholesterol in the crab isn’t enough, I don’t know how many (neither do I want to know how many) salted egg yolks were mashed up to make the savoury rich sauce. In fact, it was so rich that most of us gave up. Shockingly, no one fought over the last pieces, although Dad was very naughty and had some even though he had to go for a cholesterol test the next day. Only DC stuck it to the end, polishing up the last bits and impressing Mum on the way. All in all, it was very decent stuff though not quite as good as the first time I had crab done this way in KL. Still, barring going all the way up north, this definitely hits the spot.

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BK Forture
887 Bukit Timah Road
Tel: 6469 5957

Dear Dessert at Camp

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DC and I were stuck for options one evening and we ended up at Camp for dessert. While the food was fine, it was horrifyingly expensive. A juice and dessert each cost us slightly more than $40.

Nevertheless, the strawberry shortcake was rather good. I liked how fresh strawberry was baked into the tasty cake. The creme anglaise instead of boring vanilla ice cream was a very welcome change. While the presentation in mess tin was quite cute, the high sides of the tin made it hard to dig into the food, so it kind of evened out plus and minus.

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The green tea and tofu tiramisu was quite interesting. It was hardly tiramisu to me as there wasn’t liqueur nor coffee in the mix. I could only taste the macha powder sprinkled on top, no green tea anywhere else in the dessert. The cake layer was kueh bolu and the cream layer had a centre of tau hway which I liked very much. It was a very imaginative dessert, though I’d probably not order it again as it didn’t really wow the tastebuds.

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House, Barracks and Camp
8D Dempsey Road
#01-01 to 06 Tanglin Village (Dempsey Road)
Tel: 6475 7787 / 6479 9212

August in China: Food in Chengdu

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The first pit stop for food was at Mr Bunglez favourite noodle place opposite his building. It has a rather impressive steamer at the front of the shop selling bao and other steamed goodies to supplement the noodles.

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The star of this little place surely had to be the noodles. There were three types: the regular thin lamian type, the flat type like meepok or fettucine, and the large flat sheets like ravioli sheets or mee hoon kway. They were served according to weight, so you could order one, two or three jin of the good stuff. For us two Singaporeans embracing the low-carb craze, we opted for one jin servings. I worked my way through the various flavours and on several occasions out-ate Mr Bunglez by ordering seconds. I did, however, concur with him that the best variation was the lajiang mian (hot sauce noodle) with minced pork and the best chilli sauce ever. It was complexly savoury, with slow burn chilli and the almost menthol kick of huajiao (Szechuan peppercorns). This stuff was so addictive I ate a portion practically every day there.

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Not all Sichuan food is spicy, case in point being the tomato-egg noodles at this famous joint further away from the town centre. Here, it’s a simple affair of noodles in a tomato broth topped with a fried egg. There’s something about the combination of sweet-savoury tomato and oily fried egg that really hits the spot after a night of clubbing.

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Of course there’s also the street food. Here’s me with a stick of barbecued tofu coated with chilli powder and msg. It probably pickled half my insides and made me lose a handful of hair with the amount of sodium on it, but what’s street food if not satisfying and unhealthy?

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And of course Mr Bunglez took me to an upmarket place for authentic Sichuan food. Oh my, mapo tofu and shuizhu yu are such revelations done the right way! Authentic mapo tofu is done without minced meat and has liberal lashings of chilli powder and huajiao. I don’t know how they do it, but the depth of flavour and contrast with the soft smooth tofu was simply awesome.

Shuizhu yu (literally: water-cooked fish) is a complete misnomer. Don’t be fooled by the innocuous-sounding name. Fish slices come in a vat of boiling chilli oil. It’s so covered with dried chillis and huajiao that it’s hard to spot the fish under it all. Again, the combination of chilli oil and numbing huajiao practically anaesthesized my tongue, but you know what they say about painkillers and addiction!

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Finally, there’s the mala huoguo (spicy numbing hot pot) which most people would translate as steamboat. I grew up eating steamboat Cantonese style in which the thinly sliced morsels were cooked in light broth made with chicken and pork bones. Here in Chengdu, mala huoguo is more a pot of chilli oil with a small ladleful of broth in it rather than broth with a bit of oil on it. This way, the raw morsels are pretty much boiled in chilli oil. After boiling each slice of meat in the numbing hot chilli oil (of course there are huajiao inside, this is Sichuan food!), I dipped it into my bowl of xiangyou (fragrant oil), a concoction of sesame oil, chopped coriander and a good dose of rich black vinegar. Of course, the wimpier you are the more vinegar you add. At first the morsels aren’t spicy at all, since the xiangyou washes off most of the spice. As I ate, I found the food getting spicier and spicier. The xiangyou was obviously soaking up the chilli and huajiao. Shortly, I felt the familiar addictive anaesthesized sensation on my tongue. Then I started sweating and soon after, I was gasping and pleading for peanut milk to soothe the spice. Needless to say, it was a fantastic meal. Sorry no pictures this time. I was too distracted to take pictures of the food!