Saturday, May 10, 2014

Think Global, Eat Local

In my on-going quest to prepare "international" foods without the exorbitant price tag, I present to you:

Kailan Pesto

500g baby kailan
a large wedge of decent parmesan cheese
handful of cashew nuts
copious amounts of best quality olive oil

  1. Process the parmesan cheese into fine crumbs, not a dust but something like breadcrumbs.
  2. Wash and tear kailan into small pieces. Process roughly, add a bit of olive oil to help make a paste.
  3. Add the parmesan cheese and process.
  4. Add the cashew nuts and process.
  5. Adjust seasoning and add more olive oil to make the desired consistency.

This creates a lovely green paste with a strong parmesan taste. You may wish to adjust the ratio of cheese to cashew nut to have a sweeter flavour. The kailan was masked but the strong cheese and nuts, but there was a hint of greenness - the olive oil also had strong grassy notes which gave a nice sense of verdancy.

Pesto is usually made with a plentiful green herb when it is in season. During summer months, crops of basil and tomatoes are plentiful in temperate climes, so it makes sense to make pesto and tomato sauce from basil and fresh tomatoes; just like jams and preserves from summer fruit and berries.

Singapore is in the tropics and imports almost all its food. There are few seasons for the tropical fruit, but it is extravagant to make pesto from scratch. Of course it is delightful, I especially love smoked basil pesto, but not something you'd do regularly. I came across many recipes for kale pesto. Now kale is another fashionable vegetable, superfood, etc. But kale is imported and expensive. Kale is also a member of the Brassica family (brocolli, choy sum, etc), and so I thought to try making a pesto with kailan, my favourite brassica.

Anything kale can do, kailan can also do. Let's put this to the test.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Extra-special salumi

My friend Candice flew back from Italy and Geneva after a whirlwind Christmas/New Year's holiday. She's even crazier about food than I am; and an order of magnitude more accomplished. She's the only person I know who has thrown a dinner party for 18 where one of the courses included foie gras wontons.

She's crazy about food because she brought back several kilograms of cured italian meats. She left her boots and some clothes behind at a friend's to fit them in.

So last Friday, as a quick no-cook throw-together dinner, we had the following sample platters (just a few tasty morsels from Italy):

  • Finocchiona (Salami with fennel seeds)
  • Lengua di Manzo (Ox tongue)
  • Mortadella al Tartufo (with truffle)
  • Prosciutto di San Daniele
  • Speck Magro (Lean speck)
  • Speck di Trentino (Fatty speck)
  • Bresaola di Manzo
  • Coppa di Parma
  • Sopressa di Veneto
  • Salai di Cingliale (Wild boar salami)
  • Salami di Capriolo (Juvenile deer salami)
  • Salami di Camoscio (Venison salami)
  • Salami di Cavallo (Horse salami)
  • Mortadella di Bologna

The speciality, Lardo di Collonada(sp?), deserves a special mention. It's basically 90% cured and smoked fat with a thin streak of meat running through. Candice told me to eat it with the wild Italian mountain honey and a freshly toasted walnut - I cannot remember the last time I was in heaven.

Wild Italian mountain honey has the most incredible unctuous creaminess. It's still sweet, but there's such a strong, almost gamey, taste to it. It's slightly musky but still floral. The toasted walnuts give off that roasted smell; the sweet nut oils and crunch contrast so well with the soft melting fat. Of course its saltiness and smokiness mix with the sweet of the honey - the bitter rocket leaf just skewers everything together.

Together with a friend who brought over some amazing French cheeses, I was quite in heaven. Candice told me to try the Gorgonzola with a horseradish-applesauce - what a combination. The creamy and pungeant gorgonzola completely mutes the sharpness of the horseradish and you taste the high notes of this spice without the heat at all. It's a vegetal astringency crescendoing over the smooth bass of the cheese. The sweetness of the applesauce only brings out the fruity nature of the gorgonzola.

If that weren't enough she'd also brought back some amazing pasta and found some Truffle Salsa. Together with Italian mountain butter, I couldn't resist and stuffed my face as the cries of my internal watchdog, "It's all just fat and carbs!", faded into the background. I cannot resist the aroma of truffle; and when you have it with butter and egg fettucine, it's a sin to say no.

Candice prepared a second lot of pasta for some latecomers and I went for seconds, despite a distended stomach. Terry asked if I was still hungry.

"No, but I just want to eat more. I'm using a smaller bowl so that I will take less."

I'd heard that eating with child-sized utensils was a technique that Elizabeth Hurley used to shrink her portion sizes.

I cannot remember a time when I've had such amazing food. Oh yes, I can; it was at her previous dinner party.

Never turn down an invitation.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Eating with mum

My mother came to visit me over Christmas. She arrived on Christmas day at night.

She's a health conscious woman who's very concerned with her cholesterol levels. She went to Japan to visit my sister and hardly touched the shellfish for this reason. So I planned for lighter dinners and more substantial lunches, so that she could enjoy herself with slightly less guilt, I figured.

I grew up with my grandmother's Cantonese style cooking and wanted to try Peach Garden here in Singapore on a friend's recommendation. However, our host for the evening said that his favourite branch was closed for a wedding dinner. Wow, must be a rich family getting married to hire out Peach Garden.

DSCF3510So we went to Crystal Jade Golden Palace in Ngee Ann City.

My friend and host felt extravagant and we ordered Peking Duck, Roast Goose, Old Cucumber soup (served in the cucumber) and razor clams; amongst other things.

DSCF3512 So much for the light dinner. Mind you, we hadn't exactly stopped eating since lunch time when we went to Little India to eat thosai and appom. There's some pani puri in the background. Tasty morsels of yoghurt filled puri shells sprinkled with chutney.

Then after a shopping trip for baking goods and tofu setting agent, we went for a quick trip to Chinatown hawker centre to observe popiah skin making and sample popiah.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

La Nonna, Holland Village

La Nonna in Holland Village is an elegant Italian restaurant with dark wood tables and crisp white linen. The knowledgeable and smartly dressed waiters are attentive but not obtrusive. The menu is very authentic and truffle is on offer.

I ordered a Caprino pizza: pancetta, rocket and goat cheese. Wood-fired, of course, and the base was perfectly chewy and savoury. The way traditional Italian pizza should be, that is the toppings as an accent to the bread itself. Before my pizza, I had a complimentary bread basket with ciabatta and thin crispy grilled cheese pizze sticks.

Pizzas (for two or a greedy one) and pasta from $18.
Mains from $28.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Illy coffee

It's hard to find good coffee in Singapore. Recently I bought some illy coffee, attracted by the "individually wrapped sachets" promised on the shiny tin. I imagined using them in my filter coffee maker.

Imaging my surprise when these sachets turned out to be for an espresso machine. I can still use them, I just have to tear the packet and pour the coffee innards inside the machine. Kinda defeats the purpose, but oh well.

I like the idea of pre-packaged neat little capsules of ground coffee. I'd seriously considered getting a Nespresso expressly for this purpose. I'm glad to know that there is a cheaper and more ecological sound alternative to Nespresso.

Snowskin Mooncake

I made snowskin mooncake the other day.

I don't think I've got the skin texture right as it was a bit chewy. Next time I will add more shortening.

I like the translucency of the skin allowing the green of the pandan-flavoured lotus paste to come through. Here you can buy prepared lotus seed paste to flavour and add to your mooncake. There's even a pre-mix of the snowskin flour so all one needs to do is rub in the shortening and mix with a small amount of water to for the dough. Everything I bought from Phoon Huat bakery supplies in Holland Village.

The lotus seed paste is very thick and turns green once mixed with the pandan essence. I like how it looks like Hokusai's Wave when I mixed it.

My mooncake wrapping technique is a little shoddy. Mistakenly, I'd rolled out discs to envelope the paste and pinched it shut. I later found out that the correct technique is to form a small curved shell in one's hand, insert the filling then close it with the minimum of extra skin on the bottom.

I bought a mooncake press which makes forming and removing the mooncake so much easier, especially for hobbyists like me.

This is a far cry from the times my mother made mooncake. I remember her boiling the maltose syrup and vinegar (yuk), blanching lotus seeds, removing the inner shoot, then boiling until soft with sugar. She mashed the seeds into a paste, added oil, then let it rest for a few days to achieve the required texture.

I cut open a bag of lotus seed paste and squeezed it into a bowl to mix with the pandan essense.

My mum would oil and flour an intricately carved wooden mooncake mold, carefully press in the spherical pre-mooncake then pray as she inverted and tapped hard so that it would come out. My press makes peeling off the mooncake easy. I saw bright pink plastic mooncake molds for sale, presumably these are less prone to sticking.

Yi Bao Holland Village

This new eatery seeks to capitalise on the wave of nostalgia over childhood foods. I noticed this trend in London and I guess it's natural to start seeing this occur in Singapore, albeit slightly delayed. I think it's a byproduct of increasing affluence and a global focus on the past-as-better as the world becomes increasingly frightening.

Yi Bao serves specialities from Ipoh, Malaysia, a city known for its hor fun, bean sprouts and chicken. Something about the water there - perhaps no longer given its development.

It's an air-conditioned restaurant with table-service and a small outdoor area. The service is atrocious as I had to wave like a madman to attract the uniformed waitress. I asked for a glass of water to accompany my hor fun and chicken and was told it was 30c.

"What is that for," I asked.
"We charge 30c for water," she replied.
"What for?" I enquired, hoping to point out how cheapskate and ludicrous it was to charge for water when I was already buying food.
Like a robot, she replied, "We charge 30c for water."

All right then, I thought, I'll have the barley. I chose the barley without ice as ice costs an extra 80c for hot drinks.

"Barley no more, already," came her clipped reply. "You want fruit juice? Soursop?"

Fruit juice, a cold drink, costs 40c more without ice. So I pay for ice if I want a hot drink cold, and pay for no-ice if I want my juice undiluted . This is standard practice at hawker centres and local coffeeshops. I have no problem with that. But a place that has nicely printed menus, airconditioning and uniformed waitstaff are just impudent if they want to charge me for water in its various phases (ice and liquid).

It's a different set of priorities I guess, perhaps it's a Singaporean thing that paying for food and airconditioning is okay, but extras like ice they can do without. Perhaps it's a perception that ice is a luxury?

My horfun had good texture and was all right, but I was cranky from the experience and left after eating. I'd already been asked to pay the waiter when my food arrived - I guess I was a flight-risk.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


The durian has a similar love-hate relationship that Marmite has for its followers. Personally, I'm not a great fan although I will eat a few durian products like ice-cream and the puff. I quite like durian puffs which are like cream puffs with a whipped durian and cream filling.

Durian was on my sister's to-do (to-eat) list when she visited.

After our fabulous dinner at No Signboard restaurant, my sister and my dining friends Kin and Kenny went to Geylang to the durian stalls. I'd like to emphasise at this point that I had not eaten durian in about 10 years. I'd completely forgotten about the various cultivars; the sweet variety, the bitter one; D10, D4, etc. We selected our durians of choice after a quick discussion: sweet ones, not too bitter.

The restrictions on durian transportation (not allowed on public transport, frowned upon in taxis) mean that this delicacy is usually eaten on the roadside on makeshift plastic stools - no one really wants to stink up their car either. There's something appropriate about Geyland, Singapore's red-light district; the seedy side of things - bootleg cigarette peddlers, prostitutes and pimps openly going about their business; and the stinky waft of the aroma, that goes well with durian. The vendors kindly open the fruit for you with their thick padded gloves but extraction to reveal further seeds inside is a DIY affair. Immaculately dressed Kenny had no qualms about pressing the segments open with his bare hands looking for new fruit.

I must say that my first durian in 10 years wasn't all that bad. I think I've been de-sensitised to the smell since moving here. I'm not a convert, far from it, I could only manage three seeds or so. But everyone else enjoyed themselves. Here's a picture of my sister eating - she's wondering why this photo is public. It's because I wanted to post it on my blog!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Bangkok - Eating and Travel

A few months ago I went to Bangkok with Nicholson. A former ex, he tore my heart out and danced on it with his devil hooves - but, I forgive him. Not really, actually, I just like being dramatic. We had a great time in Bangkok teasing each other.

We stayed at the Metropolitan Hotel which he obtained at a discount rate of ~AU$200 a night. Quite a steal as usually it goes for US$200 a night. The tourism downturn has really hit Thailand badly. The junta govt, the uprisings in the south and the bomb explosions a few weeks earlier had cleared out the usually crowded streets.

Flying up on a Friday evening, we ate at Noodi an ostensibly 'westernised' global noodle bar (they do pasta too). I say ostensibly because Nicholson assured me that the usually fiery hot yum woon sern would be to the Western palate. Boy was he wrong - no compromises with the fresh chilli and chilli flakes here! My mouth was burning and I dreaded to think about what was going to happen to the other end of my gut.

We visited a gogo bar with boys on parade (interesting but no more details on this G-rated blog) then headed to DJ Station to see what the fuss was about.

Breakfast next morning we took at the Healthy Food bar at the Metropolitan - Glow. It's like spa-food, but very delicious; low on meat, oil, salt and other evil ingredients of the moment; high on vegetables, whole grains, minimal cooking, etc. Long rectangular trays of wheatgrass lined the room dividers. I guess one could ask for freshly squeezed wheatgrass if one wanted.

I had a Bircher muesli and tomato avocado bruschetta. Nicholson had a fruit salad and some berry pancakes...I think - can't remember. The muesli was creamy and as it should be: grainy but not excessively so, yoghurty and fruity. Great ingredients all round.

We walked the streets (no, not like that) to get a bit of local colour. Nicholson loves Bangkok and I enjoyed being in a city that wasn't anal-retentively clean. It reminded me a lot like the streets of Kuala Lumpur. I smelled the aroma of caramelised vanilla and baking wafting towards me and bought these madeleines from a street vendor. Of course I got confused with the currency and overpaid him 10x what they were worth but he gave me the correct change. He's probably inwardly cursing that he's got no more change for the rest of the day but Nicholson assures me that they're very Buddhist about this sort of thing.

These are made on a batter poured onto cast iron moulds heat with a gas burner. He sits on the corner turning the pan and dishing out the cakes as soon as they're made. Mine had some sort of fig or dried fruit jam in the middle; deliciously light and very slightly chewy.

We hailed a cab to get to Thewet to catch a river boat down the Chao Praya river. Nicholson's been here several times to do the tourist circuit so the Royal Palace, Reclining Buddha, etc. are not of interest to him. My proximity to Bangkok makes it easy for me to visit again soon, and I will. We bumped into some monks and marvelled at the teeming fish in the river. It's great that a river running through one of Asia's biggest cities is host to such wildlife.

Several of these boats powered by what looked like converted artillery guns roared past at great speed.

After a day shopping at Central World (we were disappointed as Nicholson's favourite Hong Kong brand has "turned to shit") we ate at the superb food court above. An elegant black stone surround on the highest public-accessible level of Central World offers cuisines of the world. You get a token and go around ordering. The cooks scan the bar code and it's all computed and paid for at the end of your visit. I ate this laksa with sour vegetables and a sambal. This dish is from the north of Thailand - very delicious chicken gravy with coconunt milk. There's a drink made from a local fruit behind (I can't remember now, ugh).

We walked through the park via Saladaeng to get back to our hotel for our second expedition that night (again, G-ratedness prevents me from revealing more; suffice to say that we visited the former kingdom of Hammurabi). We sampled Thai pineapple and freshly squeezed Thai mandarin juice from street vendors. Honestly, this country has the best pineapple and mandarins in the world. I once saw Thai pineapple for sale in Singapore and got all excited only to find that they had sold out. We passed a Buddhist offering place where one could pay money to have a troup of Thai girls in traditional dress dance - the more money, the longer they danced.

Afterwards we went to the Sky Bar at the Hilton where I felt like a moviestar. It's a beautiful rooftop bar on one of the higher buildings in Bangkok. There are several levels and descending to the corner bar there's a long buffet table to eat from. I felt like I was entering some rich person's party.

Our last meal in Bangkok we took at the airport. For some reason Nicholson ate nothing but pad thai for this entire journey. He's usually quite adventurous, but he just felt like fried rice noodles this time round. This time I also had the pad thai. We washed it down with some orange-coloured iced tea.

Aren't the condiment holders so cute?

Soba So-good!

I love corny puns for restaurant names. Singapore seems to be full of them. My sister has already talked about the bakery Bread Pitt and a perennial favourite of mine is Cake it Away in Australia. So, I'm delighted to present Soba So-good!

Handmade soba noodles and a variety of other standard Japanese dishes. This eatery in Paragon mall basement specialises in soba, although handmade udon are also available. In the background you can see salmon sashimi (Ralf's favourite) and a spicy salmon tartare with quail egg.

Faultless, I must say - insofar as my limited experience of Japanese can construe. A table of Japanese business men in weekend attire gave further support to my opinion. Round after round of Tiger beers, sake and shochu were ordered at our neighbouring table.

My perfectly poached egg quivered, waiting to be slurped. The duck was moist, tasty and not too greasy. These were cold noodles so the sauce reminded one of something zaru-soba style. Yummmmm.