Ayam Penyet Ria

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We found ourselves at Ayam Penyet Ria at Lucky Plaza on recommendation from DC’s friend. The crowds and high turnover rate spoke for themselves and we happily settled in with some drinks. DC’s happy soda wasn’t quite the Southeast Asia backpacker joint variety, it being a very innocent (!) combination of rose syrup and condensed milk topped with 7-Up. Despite the incredible amount of sugar, he seemed to quite like it. My avocado juice started off really well, with plenty of thick avocado pulp mixed with runny gula melaka. Towards the end, it got really bitter as they inadvertently blended some avocado skin into the juice too. I had to get another sweet drink to rinse away the bitter taste!

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We started with some tahu telur, firm beancurd (taukwa) dipped in beaten egg and deep-fried, then topped with peanut sauce (Indonesian style) and garnished with vegetable shavings. It was very decent for fast food, with good quality taukwa and a very nice runny peanut sauce. It was slightly spicy, slightly sweet, yet not quite like satay sauce. Good stuff to start off the meal.

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We went for the more unique dishes and didn’t do the ayam penyet (smashed fried chicken). Instead, DC went for the empal penyet, or smashed beef steak. I was convinced that deep-fried beef was going to be overcooked and tough, but DC’s judgement was true. The beef, being smashed before it was fried, was decently tender and tasty. It went well with the crispy bits and the chilli sauce. Now that chilli sauce was jaw-judderingly spicy, as is typical of ayam penyet chilli. It was also very, very yummy. A lot of super spicy chilli sauces stop at being super spicy and aren’t a great deal more than chilli paste. This chilli sauce actually had flavour aside from simply “very hot”. They’d obviously used good belacan and added other spices that really added to the flavour. Sadly, I couldn’t eat more than a dab or two at a time, but it went well with both fried meat and the accompanying tempeh, tahu and vegetable sides.

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Mine was the lele penyet, or smashed deep-fried catfish. The catfish wasn’t smashed at all, maybe they’re referring to how the scattering of fried crispy bits on top make it look sort of smashed. I don’t know. The accompaniments were the same ones and the chilli sauce the same fabulous stuff. My fish was very excellent. It was succulent on the inside, and really crispy on the outside. I like how they fried it such that I could crunch up much of the fins and tail without having to spit any bones out. Also, with careful dissection, the fish wasn’t too bony. Plus, most of the small ones were soft enough to scoff down together with the tender white meat.

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It’s extremely good value. Treat it somewhat like fast food with slightly higher standards, and be warned that it’s not for chilli wimps!

Ayam Penyet Ria
304 Orchard Road #04-25 Lucky Plaza
Tel: 6235 6390

Sticky Snail Buns

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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.

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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.

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Ingredients:

dough
3 eggs
150ml plus 1tbsp milk
75g unsalted butter
500g bread flour
40g sugar
¼tsp ground cloves
½tsp salt
1½tsp yeast

syrup
125g unsalted butter
4 tbsp brown sugar (or equal proportions of white sugar and dark brown sugar)
5 tbsp honey

150g pecan halves

filling
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated

Method:

  1. 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.
  2. Melt the butter, then combine with the eggs and 150 ml milk.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Top with the pecans, making sure that each pecan half faces down. About four halves go into each muffin cup.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Repeat with the other half of the dough mixture.
  10. Leave to prove for 20 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Leave to cool and either eat as soon as possible or keep in the fridge overnight.

Makes 24.

Blueberry Pancakes

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Occasionally I like to make a decadent breakfast chockful of expensive ingredients. This time I made blueberry pancakes, putting a good two punnets of the stuff in it. I made the fluffier thick American-style pancakes, which typically uses buttermilk and bicarbonate of soda. I replaced the buttermilk with a mixture of yogurt and milk and it worked out just fine. You can make the batter minus the bicarbonate of soda in advance and stir it in just before cooking. Be sure to sift the bicarb. If you’re lazy like me, you’ll end up with lumps that turn parts of the pancake disappointingly salty-bitter. Top it either with the traditional maple syrup and butter/whipped cream or go healthier like me and dollop with thick yogurt and manuka honey.

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Ingredients:
170g plain flour
1 egg
½ cup yogurt
¾ cup milk
40g sugar
50g melted butter
pinch salt
¾ tsp cream of tartar
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tbsp melted butter, for frying
2 punnets blueberries

Method:

  1. Mix all the ingredients from flour to bicarbonate of soda in a blender or mixer till smooth. (If making in advance, leave out the bicarbonate of soda: stir it in only when ready to make pancakes.)
  2. Heat a heavy frying pan and coat lightly with melted butter. Pour the batter into the pan in spoonfuls till it runs to the edges of the pan. Turn heat to low and sprinkle blueberries generously over the uncooked and bubbling side.
  3. When the pancake turns almost solid on the uncooked side, loosen gently and flip the pancake. It’s all in the wrist action. (Tip: use a non-stick pan, it helps a great deal!) Cook till brown on the other side, then transfer to a plate and cook the rest of the pancakes.
  4. Serve with butter, thick yogurt and honey.

Makes 8 pancakes.

Not Bad Not-Chocolate at Laurent Bernard’s

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By some freak coincidence, DC and I were both at business meetings in the Portsdown area on a weekday. It was just too bad that our favourite place in the area was closed, so we plumped for Laurent Bernard Chocolatier instead. I wasn’t expecting a great deal, mainly because I’d been disappointed at its Robertson Quay branch before (rude service, not particularly great food). This place surprised me.

I went for a healthy niçoise salad, which turned out more substantial than I expected as it came with a well-toasted piece of rustic farm bread. It went beautifully with the rare seared tuna chunks and the generous portion of salad. DC found the tuna a bit fishy but I liked it that way. It’s probably the best version of niçoise I’ve had as it doesn’t have the stuff I don’t fancy (boring boiled potato and squeaky boiled string beans) and has lots of green leaves and plenty of tuna.

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DC went for the goat cheese sandwich, which turned out very similar in style to my salad! There was the same slice of toast and a fairly substantial heap of salad greens, a bit less than the stuff for my salad. The main difference was of course the grilled goat cheese, which was of course fantastically oozy and runny under a crisped up crust. He loved it.

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Dessert was where we misstepped.  I’m surprised that the dessert here didn’t fare too well. We ordered the cherry soufflé to share and had high hopes seeing as they had an extensive soufflé section in the menu. I really like Blackforest-style sour cherries and it’s hard to find a place that does it well. Our soufflé was obviously fresh from the oven as it started to quite rapidly lose height once it landed on the table.  The dessert itself wasn’t too bad, although it was a tad weepy. I think the chef overwhipped the egg whites and undercooked it slightly. Still, it was light and airy with a tender, slightly crackly top. The raspberry sauce accompaniment was rather quotidien and didn’t do very much to help the soufflé along. I liked the cherries, although there was some kind of liqueur or flavour added that gave it the typical cherry cough syrup flavour when I had more than a mouthful of it. I suppose it would suffice if one were truly craving cherry, but not otherwise.

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Laurent Bernard Chocolatier
5B Portsdown Road #01-02
Telephone: 6475 9410

Mimolette

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We were casting out for a brunch place and Riders Cafe wasn’t open, so we settled for Mimolette next door. I’d heard that the standard had gone down but decided to try it anyway. We started with the lemon pancakes which were competently executed. They were done with lemon zest in the batter and served with honey and strawberries. I liked how they served real cream, whipped to just the right consistency. However, I didn’t like how the strawberries were the regular bland undderipe kind and I felt that the pancakes could have been taken a notch higher if they’d served it with lemon curd or French crepe-style sprinkled with lemon juice and icing sugar.

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DC highly recommended the steak and eggs and he was right. The steak was very well flavoured and done just right for breakfast – medium rare. We normally go for rare steak but this time went with the restaurant’s recommendation. It was perfect for the first meal of the day. The scrambled eggs were on the edge of runny – just right and the sundried tomato with bacon made a great counterpoint to both egg and steak. It was a good though heavy start to the day.

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Judging from the website, it seems like they’ve changed the menu. Try your luck anyway!

Mimolette
55 Fairways Drive
Tel: 6467 7748

Privé Cafe

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I’d been meaning to try Privé Cafe for a while and breakfast was as good a meal as any to check it out.  The website says that it opens at 9.00am, so we got there slightly after nine only to be told that while the place was open, only coffee and selected drinks would be served for then. It wouldn’t be till 9.30 that they would take orders for food and other drinks like smoothies. I found it incredibly bizarre because it was a bit silly to open for breakfast and tell people that they could only drink coffee and tea for the first half hour. No smoothies even! How hard is it to load a blender and flick the switch? The manager explained to us that even pastries couldn’t be served because they were still baking. It was obviously a lie because the pastries, while not stale, came at room temperature and the glaze of the Danish pastries were definitely not freshly set. The worst bit of it all was that they did not even offer to take our order first and get it to the kitchen so that our food would arrive just after 9.30. (Back story: we had an elderly person who couldn’t stay out for long, hence the need for speed.)

Well, we finally got round to getting our food and it was decent. The berry smoothie had lots of (frozen) mixed berries blended into vanilla ice cream. It was more of a milkshake than smoothie. My impression of a smoothie is one made with yogurt instead of ice cream, it was a bit too rich for the morning, especially with my main course.

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The stack of pancakes was quite lovely. It was the best I’d had in a while, with each pancake warm and fluffy, accompanied by fresh fruit, softly whipped cream and syrup on the side. A nice touch was the honeycomb bits which really added to the flavour and texture of the dish. All in all very satisfying.

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Discount the odd order-only-at-9.30 policy and not particularly attentive service and the food and ambience are great. It’s lovely to sit by the marina with the sun climbing up over the boats, feeling like it’s going to be a lovely day ahead.

Privé Bakery Cafe
2 Keppel Bay Vista
Marina at Keppel Bay
Tel: 6776 0777
info@prive.com.sg

A Rather Impressive Roast Beef Lunch

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I had a joint of beef sitting in the freezer that was crying out to be turned into a lovely Sunday lunch. It’d been a long time since I’d last entertained, so I thought I’d make it slightly more elaborate than normal. I started off with bacon and watercress soup, then served the beef with mushrooms in red wine, roast pumpkin (DC’s helper made it so I don’t have the recipe), green salad and horseradish garlic cream sauce. To top it all off, I served a very successful tropical plate trifle. It was boozy, it had pineapple and passionfruit in it, it had cream, it was amazing.

So let’s start from the beginning. DC and I headed out to Choa Chu Kang the day before in search of fresh ingredients. Too bad about the poor selection at the farmer’s market, as we ended getting most of the stuff from Cold Storage at Jelita in the end. I made the soup, mushrooms and cake base the night before so that there wasn’t much work to do in the morning, just the beef and assembly work.

Here’s the beef just out of the oven, adorned by an afterthought of DC’s Irish breakfast sausages. (The sausages were from Cold Storage, we’re not yet so hardcore that we make our own sausages!)

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We reluctantly let it rest till our guests arrived and got on to reheating the soup and checking the flavourings of the sauces. Eeyore, Wei and WW arrived first and we got on with the soup. To our surprise, watercress and bacon soup went incredibly well with some homemade prawn-flavoured keropok lying around. We couldn’t help but mop up jade liquid with coral crisps, proclaiming all the way that there wouldn’t be space for the beef at the rate we were going through the bucket of keropok. By the time Shinta and KK arrived, the bucket had dwindled to half its original.

As KK and Shinta tucked into their soup, the rest of us went ahead with the main course. It was so good we almost didn’t leave enough for the latecomers. Luckily, those two eat fast and soon caught up with us as they bagged their share of the good stuff.

And then came dessert. Oh my was it good. There was the tang of lime and passionfruit, the fragrance of Silver Valley pineapple, soft voluptuous cream and a generous shot of booziness. No one uttered the customary complaint of how fattening dessert was. In fact, Eeyore protested when I suggested waiting a while to digest first before serving dessert.

A testimony to how good it was? There was hardly any talking at the table, only chomping and semi-civilised requests to pass dishes around, followed by satisfied grunts and sighs. We finished lunch in a record half hour, including a Bordeaux and a Spanish dessert wine to round it all off. Then we proceeded upstairs to fall asleep while Shinta and Eeyore battled it out on Wii Super Smash Bros.

Hungry yet? Now for the recipes.

Roast Beef

Ingredients:

1.5 kg joint of ribeye
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
4 good quality sausages (optional)

Method:

  1. Slather the thawed beef generously with black pepper and leave to marinate overnight.
  2. Remove joint from fridge at least 2 hours before cooking. Preheat the oven to 210 ºC.
  3. Rub the outside generously with olive oil and salt, place in a foiled roasting tin. Surround with sausages.
  4. Roast for 30 minutes at 210 ºC then turn down to 160 ºC for another 30 minutes. Like this, you’ll get it medium. (See picture.)
  5. Remove from oven and allow joint to rest for at least 20 minutes before carving. Serve with the other yummy stuff.

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Mushrooms in Red Wine

Ingredients:

80 g butter
6 onions or shallots, sliced
2 punnets brown mushrooms, sliced
200 ml dry red wine

Method:

  1. Melt the butter and cook the onions gently till soft.
  2. Add the mushrooms and on slightly higher heat, cook till most of the butter is absorbed.
  3. Turn up the heat and pour in the red wine.
  4. Allow to bubble for about 10 minutes or till mushrooms are nicely tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Horseradish Garlic Cream Sauce

Ingredients:

2 heads of garlic
1 pot cream
1 tbsp horseradish powder

Method:

  1. Roast the garlic in a pre-heated oven at 120 ºC for an hour or till soft.
  2. Cut the base of the garlic head and squeeze out the pulp into a mortar and pestle. Mash till smooth.
  3. In a pot, combine the garlic and cream and warm gently. Do not let boil.
  4. Mix in the horseradish powder and season to taste.

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Tropical Plate Trifle

[syrup-soaked cake]

Bake the cake here using lime zest instead of tangerine. Use the juice from 5 limes and 100 g of icing sugar for the syrup. Add a touch more icing sugar if you like it less sour.

[cream]

Whip the i small tub whipping cream with 2 tbsp icing sugar and 50 ml dark rum till you get soft peaks. Chill in the fridge immediately.

[fruit topping]

Add 2 tbsp of dark brown sugar to 3 pulped passionfruit, stir and chill in the fridge. Chop Silver Valley pineapple into smaller chunks than the photo (I was too lazy to cut them smaller) and chill.

[assembly]

Arrange thick slices of the cake on a suitable plate, scatter with a couple tbsp of dark rum, then dollop the rum cream lavishly over. Pour over sugared passionfruit pulp then sprinkle with pineapple pieces. Serve to oohs and aahs.

All recipes serve 7, with leftovers.

Tangerine Syrup Cake

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It’s the Chinese New Year season and there are loads of tangerines in the house. I’m not very hot on eating them as is. Far too often I get a dry one and it’s just not worth the effort to eat. Give me an orange any time.

Faced with so many tangerines, I made a something festive yet different for another one of those family gatherings. It’s based on Nigella Lawson’s Lemon Syrup Cake recipe. The syrup makes it very moist and the fact that it’s an angmoh cake makes it very popular after a week’s worth of Chinese New Year goodies baddies .

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Ingredients:

[cake]
large loaf tin (22 by 11 by 6 cm)
110 g butter
125 g sugar
3 eggs
zest of ½ lemon
zest of 2 tangerines
180 g plain flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
4 tbsp milk

[syrup]
juice of the ½ lemon and 2 tangerines
80 g icing sugar

Method:

  1. Butter and line the loaf tin with overproof paper. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar, then add in the eggs and zest. Beat well.
  3. Stir into the flour the cream of tartar, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
  4. Fold the flour mixture into the egg and butter mixture, then add the milk and continue folding in.
  5. Scrape into the loaf tin and bake for45 minutes. It’s done when it’s golden and a satay stick comes out clean.
  6. Meanwhile, make the syrup by gently heating the citrus juice and icing sugar in a pan till the sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool.
  7. Poke lots of holes in the top of the cake and drench with the syrup. Leave overnight for the syrup to penetrate the cake.
  8. Slice and serve.

Makes about 12 slices.

Note: You can use 2 tsp of baking powder instead of the cream of tartar and bicarbonate of soda.