A Quick Meal of Xi’an-Inspired Lamb

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I was dreaming of Xi’an lamb skewers but didn’t have the time to find a better alternative to the version at Yang Gui Fei. My take is very much a fusion version of this and is far from the original. Plus, it being nigh impossible to buy good-tasting, deep-flavoured lamb here, I had to stick with the usual supermarket New Zealand lamb. It was passable but not the same. Make sure that you buy a fattier piece of lamb, the fat here is essential, otherwise you won’t get succulent yet charred bits. While this is hardly gourmet food, the beauty of it is that it’s incredibly fast. If you time it right, you could get dinner in 15 minutes.

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Ingredients:
200g lamb leg
1 tbsp cumin powder
1 chilli, chopped
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp sichuan peppercorns
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
4 mushrooms, sliced

¼ cup couscous
¼ cup water
1 tsp vegetable stock powder

Method:

  1. Preheat the grill to the highest setting.
  2. Slice the lamb thinly, being careful that each slice gets a fair share of fat.
  3. Mix the lamb and spices together, toss carefully and grill together with the mushrooms (or whatever other vegetable you like) till just about charred on each side, about 5 minutes each.
  4. In the mean time, measure out the couscous, pour in the water and mix in the stock powder. Microwave for 3 minutes and cover for another 3 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
  5. To serve, pour the lamb and juices over the couscous and serve with side vegetables.

Serves 1, with leftover meat.

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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.

Quick Eats: Bedok North Hawker Centre

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I like Bedok North Hawker Centre quite a bit because while there’s plenty of good food, it’s also unpretentious and doesn’t have super long queues. I like the ban mian a few stalls down from Joo Chiat Chiap Kee. It has a clear, robust stock that tastes like there’s both pork bone and chicken in it. They use round spinach (bayam) in it, giving the soup a special fragrance. The noodles are decently chewy and don’t get too soggy after sitting for a while. I also like how the ikan bilis and onion bits taste like they’re fried in-house rather than taken from factory-made industrial-sized packs.

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For dessert, I love the taufa quite a few stalls down. It’s soft and silky and slightly creamy at the same time. I couldn’t ask for more.

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Bedok North Hawker Centre
Blk 216 Bedok North St 1

Finally, Ippudo

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After two aborted visits to Ippudo, we finally made it there for a late dinner. Showing up after 9pm helped a lot. Learning from that trick, we returned a few weeks later and found that even on a Friday night, there’s not much of a wait post-9pm.

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We’d tried a few appetisers there and all of them were a unanimous FAIL except the Ippudo organic salad. (We’d tried the prawn bun, beef tataki, and seasonal salad/vegetables. All were too flawed to make it to this blog.) The salad was fresh and had crispy deep fried burdock chips as a topping. It was pretty decent with the shoyu-based dressing.

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I tried this year’s seasonal offering of Kyusyu Miso Tonkotsu with blended miso, cabbage, leek, pork belly, pork loin and half an egg. Even though I like my noodles on the al dente side and ordered them so, I found them a bit too hard for my liking. They got much nicer towards the end as the noodles soaked in the broth. The broth was thick  to the point of being almost creamy and had plenty of pork flavour without tasting too gamey. I wasn’t too sure about the persistent foam on top of the soup though! While I generally liked the toppings and found the chashu nice and tender, I felt that the egg was a bit of a let down because it was too solid. The yolk had just solidified and I thought it was too much to pay for what was essentially hardboiled egg.

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DC had the Akamaru Kasaneaji, the original recipe with blended miso paste, garlic oil and pork belly. It was rich but not too rich and had quite a comlex flavour with the oil, miso paste and pork stock all competing for attention. Too bad they were rather stingy on the pork though.

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On our second visit, I had to have the seasonal noodles again, and DC went for the Shiromaru with pork loin and cabbage. This time, the noodles weren’t quite al dente even though we ask for them hard.  They were good when first served, but got soggy towards the end. I guess they need to work on being more consistent. My seasonal noodles were as good as ever and DC’s Shiromaru very decent. His pork loin wasn’t very tender but overall was well executed.

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My conclusion: Ippudo wins with excellent stock made from obviously superior ingredients and has good noodles, although the texture varies from visit to visit. Their toppings are decent but some are better than others, and they could definitely be a lot more generous with the pork slices. Where Ippudo doesn’t deliver is the egg, which really should be runnier. It’d win all round best ramen in Singapore if it fixed its egg. It’s definitely worth a visit, just not a long wait. And focus on the noodles, don’t bother with the side dishes.

Ippudo
Mandarin Gallery #04-02/03/04
Orchard Road

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.

Cream of Watercress Soup

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I love homemade cream soups. This watercress one is a heavily modified version of  Mum’s recipe. In the original, she uses a leek and potato soup base and bacon. I try to use as little meat as possible, but here I couldn’t make it vegetarian because I generally find vegetable stock too weak to make flavourful soup.

I make this when I have chicken stock and lots of yummy watercress from my usual vegetable stall. Try to get younger bunches with finer stems. Coarse stems would result in a rather fibrous soup.

The recipe itself is very simple although you’ll need a liquidiser. Mine comes as an attachment to my Kenwood mixer, normally used for baking. I suppose you could use a stick blender or a food processor, just that it’ll probably take a bit longer to reach the right pureed-ness!

This soup is also very freezer-friendly. I’ll make up a huge batch for lunch with salad and freshly baked bread, and then stick the rest in the freezer. Homemade soup is such a nice thing to go back to after a long day at work!

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Ingredients:

25 g butter
3 onions, chopped coarsely
1 stick celery, chopped, optional
3 tbsp flour
400 g watercress, torn to small pieces
1 litre hot chicken stock

Method:

  1. In a heavy cast iron pot, melt the butter and sweat the onions and celery on low heat till they turn translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Sprinkle over the flour and continue stirring over low heat for another 5 minutes. The paste should turn slightly golden but not brown.
  3. Add the watercress, stir to incorporate, and then pour over the chicken stock so it just covers the vegetables. Top up with water if necessary.
  4. Bring the soup to the boil and simmer for a few minutes. Allow to cool slightly.
  5. Blend the soup in batches. Here’s where you can freeze it for later or heat it up, then check seasoning and serve.
  6. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream or pesto or both if you like.

Serves 6.

[edited on 20 Apr 2009 11.10 am to include method. My apologies for the ditzy moment.]

Dinner Party Solutions: Melt-in-the-Mouth Pâté

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Hands up those of who’ve had homemade pâté before. Isn’t it so much better than store-bought? This is great for a casual dinner party because it’s made in advance, communal and is so easy to serve. The ingredients are pretty affordable too.

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Ingredients:

50 g butter
200 g chicken livers
cognac
80 ml cream
1 tbsp green peppercorns in brine, drained

50 ml chicken stock
½ tsp gelatin powder
bay leaves

Method:

  1. Melt the butter in a pan and when the butter is foaming and hot, slip in the chicken livers. Expect to have some fear factor cooking at this point because the livers will start spitting. Brown the livers on both sides on high heat and try not to burn yourself. The livers should still be pink in the centre when done.
  2. Tip the livers and butter into a liquidiser or food processor. Add a good splash of cognac to the hot pan and boil off most of the alcohol. To continue with the fear factor theme, flame the cognac by tipping the pan over the flames to ignite (only works with gas hobs). Wait for flames to subside before tipping the reduced cognac into the liquidiser.
  3. Blend, then add the cream and keeping blending till you get a smooth paste. Add salt to taste.
  4. Push the mixture through a metal sieve to give the pâté its silky texture. Stir in the green peppercorns.
  5. Scrape into small ceramic pots and transfer to the fridge. This recipe makes 2 small pots as pictured.
  6. In a small saucepan, add the gelatin and a good pinch of salt to the chicken stock and warm gently. Stir constantly till gelatin dissolves.
  7. Cool the gelatin mixture by putting the pan in a basin of iced water and stir vigorously.
  8. Place a bay leaf on top of the pâté and pour a layer of gelatin mixture over.
  9. Refrigerate till set, about 2 hours.
  10. Serve with crackers or freshly baked bread. Cheese on the side is good too.

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