Moving to the Next Stage AKA The Post about Cooking, but with No Recipe

I’ve just entered a new stage of life, and getting used to it has naturally taken some time. DC and I have moved into grandma’s old place for the time being and it’s wonderful finally having a kitchen all to myself again. Getting settled and getting used to our surroundings has taken a while. It is an old place after all as we’ve dealt with our fair share of pests, from ants to cockroaches and even nasty rats. But the best part is the large kitchen and the pandan growing practically wild at the back. I’ve been spending plenty of time catching up with my cooking and now have a backlog of posts to work through. While that’s an explanation, it’s not an excuse for neglecting this blog.

I’ve stocked up my kitchen with all sorts of herbs and spices and bought a massive 40 inch wok from Buffalo (great for fried rice!). DC contributed his sturdy old Tanyu claypot that is, sadly, chipped on the cover. DC’s aunt called one day and asked if we’d like to take a standalone stove with oven off her hands. We of course greeted that offer with great enthusiasm. I wondered for a while how to justify paying hundreds of dollars for a Kenwood chef mixer, till we looked in the spare room and found grandma’s old one. Checking online, we realised that the mixer was older than me! So that was me a few weeks ago, and I’ve been happily stocking up the freezer since.

Today, I made some of my favourite watercress soup, this time modified with chicken-white wine stock from last night’s poached chicken breast, plenty of bacon, a carrot and a little more butter. DC must’ve been pleased that I finally got round to using his Tanyu pot, I see why he loves it so much now! Lunch was the soup with salad greens and wheat berries dressed in anchovied mustard. As if I’d not pottered around in the kitchen enough, I laid down even more things in the freezer. Previously, I’d processed lots of seasoning items and put them in the freezer for later, like pureed ginger, pureed shallots, sliced galangal, sliced red chillies and calamansi halves. I rounded off the collection by finally laying my hands on kaffir lime leaves, fresh bay leaves and young ginger. Those again went into ziploc sandwich bags for removing bits later whenever I want a quick meal going.

Mid-way through the tedium of preparing these, I checked out the Saveur video on how to skin a head of garlic in less than 10 seconds. Of course, it was because I had a few heads of garlic to process too. Sadly, it didn’t work for me because I didn’t have any suitable metal or plastic bowl. DC suggested the wok and its lid. I could hardly lift it, let alone shake Dickenses out of it. But DC could, and soon he was dancing round the kitchen (good thing it’s a big one!) having fun clanging it about. It worked fairly well, though of course you’ll have to live with bruised cloves of garlic. That’s not a big problem if you’re chopping them up to stick in the freezer later.

In between all that, I managed to bake a loaf of bread (which I need to tweak slightly before blogging about it) and a failed fig and blackberry tart. I was trying to use up some fresh figs that were past their prime and chanced upon an interesting pastry recipe that called for cornmeal (which I was dying to get rid of). It was too juicy and came out so soggy that most of the pastry didn’t get a chance to brown, though DC said it was like eating fig and blackberry crumble. I suppose the blackberries saved the day.

And the point of this post? To say that I’m still alive and cooking. And will get round to posting about recent travels, eating and cooking real soon. Bear with me!

Bunker

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Bunker is a restaurant tucked in a little known corner in Changi. It’s right next to Johore Battery (whut? I hear you say), just beyond Changi prison complex and directly opposite Selarang Camp.  For the history buffs out there, the Johore Battery was the only 15-inch gun battery that was not able to swivel round to fire on the Japanese troops arriving from the north.  I guess the Sultan of Johore didn’t like the idea of the guns that he was paying for being able to turn in his direction.

Rather incongruously, Bunker features a very nice chill-out open-air bar and an indoor fine dining restaurant that serves decent western food.  Unsurprisingly, given the location, Bunker has a monopoly on fine dining options in this part of Singapore and the place was quite full even though we were visiting on a weekday.

The first course we tried was the rather ubiquitous escargot, which was alright but nothing special.  DC didn’t think the hazelnuts stuffed into the escargot shell added that much to the flavour. I don’t like the escargot because of the car tyre texture, and this didn’t change my perception.

IMG_3913

Next up was a field mushroom soup, which I thought was good because of the clear, strong mushroom flavour. Then again, I’m a sucker for mushroom soup because DC didn’t find it very special.

IMG_3914

The seafood salad was a bit better, as it had nice large prawns in it.  However there was a tad too much oil drizzled over the salad which had the effect of drowning any other flavour the dressing may have had.

IMG_3917

For the main course, we had the Asian-style seafood spaghetti, which was actually spaghetti in some sort of laksa-tom yam concoction.DC liked this a lot.  I guess it was like laksa, but had a bite of sourness to it mixed in with the creamy texture to create a slightly unusual taste profile.

IMG_3919

You’ll notice we were very restrained in our ordering this time.  I guess we were on a diet!

Bunker is a good idea, especially for people who are stuck out in the Changi village side of Singapore and are looking for a finer dining option.  The open-air bar is really lovely and you should try to get one of the private gazebos for a really romantic dining experience.  Bunker also offers interesting and decently-priced weekday set lunches that offer a decent alternative to the usual local fare around the area.  Do take the opportunity to check out this place one day and chill out among the remnants of Singapore’s WWII history!

Bunker
27 Cosford Road
Tel: +65 6466 9000

Quick Eats: Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

I was in the Sin Ming area for car servicing, so I had to check out the famous bak kut teh stall there. Rong Cheng has excellent clear, peppery soup. The flavour is probably one of the best I’ve had. Too bad that the ribs themselves were a bit tough. I also liked that they had fresh vegetables (tang oh AKA garland chrysanthemum)  as a side dish in addition to their decent rendition of salted vegetables. The braised ter kah (pork trotters) were tender and yummy, though nothing mindblowing. A good place to go if you’re in the area.

Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh
Blk 22 Sin Ming Road (the coffee shop right at the corner)

Quick Eats: Tsuru Tsuru Tei

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

DC and I found ourselves at The Central one work night. Despite wanting something light, we were lured in by the siren call of the deep-fried black pig ramen. I thought to order a salad to help lighten the meal and ended up ordering the only salad on the menu: avocado salad ($7.80). At least there were vegetables. I liked how the leaves were fresh and there were quite a lot of avocado chunks. The onsen egg was a lovely touch to top off the salad, I love eggs with still-runny yolks and barely set whites. Yummy!

IMG_3640

And now for the piece de resistance, the koumi ramen ($15.80). I apologise for the poorly composed photo. It was a work night, it was late and I was tired. The basic ramen below the rack containing the deep-fried pork, though not among my favourites, was decent. The noodles were fairly firm on arrival but got soggy towards the end. You just have to eat fast to enjoy the firm texture. The soup was a decent tonkotsu style broth, very milky and unctuous with plenty of collagen dissolved in it. I think it had loads of msg too, so watch out before you over-indulge.

IMG_3644

Ah… and the thing that lured us in! The deep-fried pork rib was fairly decent, though not as crispy as we’d anticipated. Still, the meat was substantial and tender, and the batter fairly light. I’d prefer it slightly less sweet, but for something that’s not too expensive, I’m not quibbling too much.

IMG_3643

Tsuru Tsuru Tei
6 Eu Tong Sen Street
#03-88/89 The Central @ Clarke Quay
Tel: 6327 7887

Lombok: The Beach

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

We finally got round to seeing the beach, going southeast to a different set of Gili islands from the usual Gili Air, Gili Meno, and Gili Trawangan. These Gilis were called Gili Nanggu and Gili Sudak. We drove about 2 hours down, following the winding road till we found the beach at Sekotong and rented a boat for the day. The boatmen took us in turn to each island, stopping first at the smallest one, a mere splodge of sand fringing the coast.

IMG_3458

It was a beautiful splodge of proper white sand, albeit rather coarse. This was a far cry from the brown beaches of Senggigi – I didn’t even bother writing about that. We circled the island, found a nice spot and enjoyed the water for a bit.

IMG_2084

Then it was off to the next island, Gili Sudak, where we took a walk along the beach, thinking it wasn’t such a big islet. By the time we got round to the edge of the island, we realised that it might be bigger than we thought. For a moment, we wondered whether we’d starve by the time we got back to the little cafe for lunch.

IMG_3462

But it wasn’t too bad. After crossing round to the back of the island, there wasn’t a great deal more to go and we again sat and enjoyed the beach. The waves were a little too strong for us to venture into the sea, so we saved that for the next island. We headed to our cafe for a simple lunch of nasi goreng and vegetable soup made with a chicken stock cube.

IMG_3463

Then it was more lying around on Gili Nanggu. We wanted to go snorkelling, but the conditions weren’t good enough. Close to the beach, the waves churned up too much sand and further away, the waves seemed a little too aggressive.

IMG_3460

We ventured into the island and found a little turtle conservation area. There was lots of little pools of  turtles of different ages. I think this little fella is a green turtle. We gawked for a while and then gave a little donation at the centre.

IMG_3470

Then we lounged under some casuarina trees for a nap and headed back to Lombok.

IMG_3474

Our final meal in Lombok was this fantastic sop buntut, also known as oxtail soup. Again, Ibu Rosa at Villa Sayang recommended this place. It was sop buntut as I’ve never known before. The place was someone’s front sitting room converted into an eating house. It appeared that there was only one dish served here. Everyone had generous portions of tender oxtail in a thick, almost stew-like broth. They’d obviously spent ages gently cooking the oxtail as the soup was immensely flavourful and unctuous with collagen. The flavour was so intense that the were lime wedges provided to cut through the richness. I also liked the very spicy chilli sauce accompaniment – alternating mouthfuls of soup, chilli-spiced oxtail and plain rice was enough variety that I didn’t even think of having other dishes for our meal. They were very generous with the oxtail as well: plenty of soft meat that couldn’t help but be flavourful, and almost melted tendon. I think I’d return to Lombok just for this amazing dish. It was definitely the best sop buntut I’ve had.

IMG_3488

And with that marvellous meal, we ended our relaxing trip to Lombok. I think I enjoyed the eating far more than any other activity there!

136 Hong Kong Street Fishhead Steamboat

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

One night I had a dinner at a new place recommended by my aunt. We had a boisterous family gathering round an eponymous fishhead steamboat. It was chockful of chunky grouper fishhead in a rich, flavourful stock, all augmented by plenty of fresh vegetables and yam. The yam practically melted in the mouth after spending a while in the soup. It was a great dish for sharing in a group.

IMG_3235a

To accompany the steamboat were deep-fried pork spareribs that were fairly decent. It was blown out of the water by the next dish.

IMG_3241-1

I spied this dish at another table and insisted that we order a portion of it: prawn sang meen. The  crispy noodles bathed in thick yet not too gloopy sauce was simply heaven. I don’t recall anywhere else that does the noodles so thin and crisp and plain yummy! The juicy big prawns with plenty of orange milt helped a lot too. I’m still dreaming of this dish.

IMG_3238a

Not satisfied by just one serving of crispy noodles, my cousin insisted on another one, this time fish. I don’t know how we could be relatives but this cousin doesn’t even like prawns, hence this version. It had the same to-die-for crispy noodles and yummy sauce, but I felt that the prawn version was far better.

IMG_3243a

136 Hong Kong Street Fishhead Steamboat
291 South Bridge Road
Tel: 8288 3368

Quick Eats: Ayer Rajah Food Centre

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

DC was told to try out Hasan Rabit’s nasi briyani and we realised that it was at Ayer Rajah Food Centre. We took the excuse of visiting a friend in the area to try it out. It was too bad that Hasan Rabit itself was closed but the place was chock full of Malay stalls, worthy contenders to fill our stomachs that night.

Two dishes stood out. One was the ayam penyet from the amusingly named Boombastic Penyet stall (#29). The chicken was well fried so that it was very crispy. DC even managed to chew up some boney bits, it was crispy enough. I liked the rice, done chicken rice style. It was made with plenty of chicken broth and was tasty enough to eat on its own, yet wasn’t overly oily like how the Chinese style chicken rice can be. Last, but definitely not least, the chilli sauce was rich, tomatoey and incredibly spicy, just the way it should be!

IMG_3137

DC ordered another dish that’s not very common. He ordered not the mutton soup but the mutton tongue soup from A. Rashid Khan (#59). The tongue had a great texture, firm and slightly chewy, going extremely well with the highly spiced and peppery soup. Excellent stuff.

IMG_3142

We’re returning soon to try out more stalls.

Ayer Rajah Food Centre
503 West Coast Drive

Tom Yum Soup

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

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.

IMG_2516

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.

Tavolo

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

We found this understated gem of an Italian restaurant sandwiched in the middle of several Japanese restaurants on the third floor of Parco Millenia.  As it’s directly opposite Nantsuttei, we’d had ample opportunity to scout it out and we noted that the restaurant was suffering from a serious lack of clientele.  Originally we’d put it down to poor food quality, but eventually we decided to give it a try – mainly because the poor Italian chef sitting at the restaurant looked so desperately despondent!

The menu was a bit unusual, so we tried a little bit of everything.  We noticed that there was only one soup option, so we had to have it.  Nothing that special, it was a simple cream of zucchini but it was well-executed and not too salty or creamy.

IMG_2377

The next thing we tried though was something else.  It was advertised on the menu as a “piadina”, or pizza bread.  Intrigued, we ordered tomato and mozzarella version.  It was delicious!  The bread crust was nicely toasted, crispy and flavourful.  The ripe tomato and especially the rich mozzarella topping complemented the bread’s flavour perfectly. DC particularly liked it and almost overate before getting to our pasta course.

IMG_2379

Next up was the homemade fettuccini with squab ragout.   It’s quite hard to find squab in Singapore, so I was a bit worried that the dish wouldn’t be well-made.  But it turned out perfectly.  The sauce was a nice thick consistency and a little bit nutty and full of meaty, slightly gamey flavour.  It definitely didn’t taste like chicken, though if I was told it was beef, I’d believe it. The only thing that gave the squab away was the occasional little  bone that I had to pick out from the sauce. I liked the pasta immensely. It was freshly made with plenty of egg yolk and cooked till just al dente. Excellent stuff.

IMG_2381

DC went for the fettuccine with sea urchin and bottarga (salted cod roe).  The waitress warned us that some people didn’t like this dish as it was rather fishy, but DC’s always up for a challenge when it comes to food; plus for him, the fishier the better.  True enough, the dish was rather fishy due to the bottarga. After getting over the first fishy mouthful, he reported that the unique flavour of preserved fish roe and sea urchin really hit the spot. I wasn’t too convinced as I’m not fond of the slight whiff of ammonia that accompanies sea urchin that isn’t absolutely fresh from the sea (an impossible feat in Singapore), though I can understand how the umami and sheer in-your-face essence of the sea can really hit the spot.

IMG_2383

So far, we’d had two unique dishes – the piadina and the bottarga/sea urchin pasta.  We were looking forward to the dessert.  DC ordered a chocolate sausage, while I ordered semifreddo.  Unfortunately, the chocolate sausage, while interesting-looking, was a bit of a disappointment. The log of chocolate and bread (panettone?) was crying out for intense dark chocolate to be used and for far less of a sugary crunch. It was an unfortunate but immediate fail.

IMG_2384

The semifreddo, on the other hand, was something else altogether.  The semifreddo, half pudding, half  melting ice cream, was smooth and caramelly with plenty of almond for crunch. I especially liked the burnt caramel sauce that rounded it all off nicely on a slightly bitter-sweet note.

IMG_2386

If you’re interested in good Italian at a reasonable price (Citibank had a discount running here!), heck out Tavolo.  Unfortunately, most people go to Parco Millenia for Japanese food and give this place a miss, so I don’t know how long this restaurant can survive.  Catch it quickly before it’s gone, especially the piadina!

Tavolo
9 Raffles Boulevard
#03-07 Parco Marina Bay, Millenia Walk
Tel: 6423 1123

Quick Eats: Sembawang Hills Hawker Centre

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

DC and I thought we’d do something a bit healthier and go for the HSBC treetop walk at Macritchie Reservoir. Before that we of course had to stop somewhere for sustenance. The Sembawang Hills hawker centre nearby did the trick. I did a very unwise thing and queued for the famous “inventor” fish soup where the owner had lots of little contraptions for serving his customers better. There was a curved dispenser so that we help ourselves to spoons hygienically and a coin sorter that helped him with his change. Needless to say, the queue was horribly long and DC said he’d go for the salted duck noodles instead. I persevered and got my fish soup with instant noodles (everyone else seemed to be ordering that too) and added some fish roe to it.

My verdict? It wasn’t worth the queue. While the fish was decent, there wasn’t a great deal of flavour and the noodles were a bit too soft for my taste. I could have done better cooking it myself at home.

IMG_2103

DC was prescient enough to take this shot before he started. By the time I got back to the table with my fish noodles, most of the duck and noodles were gone! Still, I managed to wrangle some over from him. Oh my, the duck was very good! The salt had cured the duck somewhat and intensified the flavour of the duck, also giving it a firm, smooth texture. And the noodles! I’m not normally a fan of yellow noodles (sek mee) but this version was still very much firm to the bite. DC had to restrain me from buying my own set of duck noodles after the disappointing fish ones.

IMG_2101

Next time we go to Macritchie I know what I’m having!

Fresh Fish Soup
#01-36

Ah Ee Traditional Hokkien Salted Duck
#01-28
590 Upper Thomson Road
Sembawang Hill Food Centre