Monthly Archives: December 2010

Dolmades

Dolmades with tzatziki

After a week of eating out with my parents while they’ve been visiting, I felt like I needed to a) eat something home-cooked and b) spend some time fiddling around in the kitchen.  The answer: make dolmades.

Healthy and time consuming, it’s the perfect panacea for me, and adding that my office is closed between Christmas and New Year, meant that I had all the necessary ingredients to make them – food as well as time.

Dolmades – Greek stuffed vine leaves are delicious and adaptable to what you feel like on the day.  Tonight I felt like pork in the stuffing.  You can substitute that for any other kind of meat (it’s traditionally made with beef or lamb mince) or take it vegetarian and leave the meat out altogether.  Serve with a good dollop (or bowl!) of tangy tzatziki.

Ingredients (to make around a dozen average sized dolmades)

  • 1/2 cup of uncooked shortgrain rice – you can use white or brown (I used brown tonight)
  • 1 cup water for white rice, 1 1/2 cups water for brown rice
  • Handful pinenuts
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 150g pork mince (or more if you prefer a meatier version.  Leave out for a vegetarian option)
  • Handful dill
  • Salt and pepper
  • Vine leaves x 12 plus a few extra to line the bottom of the saucepan
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Tzatziki to serve (recipe below)

Method (for stuffing):

  1. Cook the rice by simmering the rice in the water for 10-15 mins for white rice, 40 mins for brown rice
  2. Toast the pinenuts in a frying pan.  Set aside
  3. Brown mince.  Set aside
  4. Gently sweat the onions
  5. Add the browned mince, rice, pinenuts and dill and season lightly

Method (for wrapping):

  1. Line a heavy-based saucepan with a few vine leaves
  2. Take a vine leaf and place on a large plate with the raised veins of the leaf underneath and the stalk away from you.
  3. Place a spoonful of the stuffing in the middle across the leaf
  4. Fold the bottom part of the leaf up first, then roll, wrapping the parcel with the left and right sides of the leaf, until you have a little parcel
  5. Place on top of the vine leaves in the saucepan.
  6. Continue to pack them snugly in the base of the saucepan as you make them
  7. Once you have wrapped them all, pour over the olive oil and lemon juice – you can also add some of the brine from the jar of vine leaves (which will add salt, hence seasoning the stuffing lightly)
  8. Weigh down with a plate
  9. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer for an hour
  10. Once the hour is up, turn off the heat and let them cool in the saucepan with the lid on
  11. Store in the fridge with a generous drizzle of olive oil

Tzatziki – mix in a large bowl:

  1. 1 x 500g tub natural yoghurt – look for the ones which are naturally set in the tub as they are thicker – strain out excess liquid
  2. 3 medium lebanese cucumbers (or equivalent), skin and seeds removed and then grated – sprinkle salt over to draw excess liquid out and then squeeze the grated cucumber to get rid of as much liquid as possible
  3. 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  4. Juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon
  5. 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  6. 2 – 4 tbs finely chopped mint or dill
  7. Salt and pepper to taste
  8. Cover and let sit in the fridge for a few hours for the flavours to develop
Advertisements

Ng Ah Sio bak kut teh

Ng Ah Sio Signature bak kut teh with you tiao and liver and kidney soup

Ng Ah Sio serves traditional Teochew bak kut teh. Literally translated, this means pork rib tea.  The reality is a bowl of pork ribs simmered for hours to make a complex and delicious soup full of flavour and spices and herbs, predominantly garlic and pepper, served with hot tea.

The other type of bak kut teh is the Hokkien variety (there are various stories of which variation is the original between Teochew and Hokkien) which uses dark soya sauce as well as the addition of other spices like star anise and cloves to the stock to produce a sweeter, almost medicinal herbal stock.

I remember the Hokkien style from my childhood but have to admit it’s been a long time since I’ve tasted it – perhaps it’s time that I attempt to cook it 🙂

Kung Fu tea

But I digress – bak kut teh is traditionally a breakfast meal, although there are often people enjoying this dish as supper around Singapore at the 24 hour bak kut teh restaurants.  Ng Ah Sio opens at 6am and closes at 2pm, and I had the luxury of being able to take my dad there for breakfast this morning.

The shop is located in a quiet part of Rangoon Road and it was lovely to be able to sit down, relax and enjoy the food and just catch up with my dad in the relative cool of the morning.  By the time we left at 10.30 the place was full and I assume it will only get busier towards lunch time.

The menu is limited – they only do a few dishes…very very well.  We ordered the prime rib soup (which comes with soup top-ups if you ask for it), a liver and kidney soup, which comes in a more subdued and sweeter stock than the pork rib stock and you tiao – Chinese donuts.

It’s one of those dishes which is really difficult to describe other than if you like pork and pepper and garlic, it’s a must-try.  The tea is a must, to help neutralise the fat in the soup and cleanse the palatte.  It’s served out of old ceramic teapots with a large kettle of boiling water next to the table for you to refill, and drink out of traditional teeny tiny tea cups.  Enough to hold one sip of the strong tannic tea.

A million bowls have been served since 1988 in their current location – they’ve got to be doing something right.  Their site seems to be down but there’s a cached version of the history which is below if you’re interested in the history and evolution of this famous eating house.

Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House
208 Rangoon Road
tel: +65 6291 4537
Opening hours: Tue–Sun: 6am – 2pm
(Closed on Mon)

History
As one of the pioneers of this now famous dish, Mr Ng Siak Hai’s (nickname: Ng Ah Sio’s) father – Mr Ng Mui Song, began plying the pork-based, peppery herbal soup cooked in a distinct Teochew style in the 1050s at the current River Valley and Hill Street vicinity.  These early servings of the bak kut teh was accompanied by Chinese donuts (you tiao) and a strong brew of Chinese tea and there was no chilli and soya sauce dips.  One of the common beliefs of the origins of bak kut teh is rooted in the early days of the Republic’s founding where large numbers of young men migrated from China to work as coolies at the godowns by the historic Singapore River.  As their jobs involved much physical hardship and their meagre salaries could ill-afford the luxury of meat then, they used the bones of pork to brew their soups as a form of nourishment.

It is said that the Teochew labourers came up with the original version of the bak kut teh and their legendary stamina and strength after taking it soon led to other groups of Chinese coolies making the same with variations in the types of herbs added.

On 1 December, 1977, with an initial crew of seven workers, Mr Ng Siak took over from his father at his retirement and began serving the crowds at new World Amusement Park (current Kitchener Road) with an improved recipe that further enhanced the aroma of pepper in the soup, which is more robust than the original, while retaining many of the hall-mark use of fresh pork ribs, garlic and a secret blend of herbs.  He named his shop Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House.  It is this unique robust flabour that many have come to associate Ng Ah Sio with, and his team of workers soon increased to 18 to cope with the surging numbers of people looking to fulfill their craving for this invogorating version of Singapore’s heritage dish.

Since moving to Rangoon Road on 15 March 1988, over a million bowls of this classic heritage dish have been served.  Ng Ah Sio as a brand has since become synonymous with the dish.  It remains a firm favourite with both locals and foreigners and this is the place many would come to savour a truly original bowl of bak kut teh, served with chilli, soya sauce and many other accompanments for the ultimate enjoyment of this dish.


Le Chasseur

Claypot chicken rice

In the never-ending hunt to find good local food, I went on a recommendation of an ieatishootipost post to Le Chasseur on North Beach Road, just opposite the Central Shopping Centre.

For a place where the main write up was about claypot chicken rice, the restaurant itself is simple (and not at all what I expected from a claypot restaurant) and there is only one claypot dish amongst two walls where the entire menu is printed out, every dish with pictures.  It’s essentially a Singaporean cuisine cafe/restaurant.

Pork hock and ginger in soya sauce

I was impressed that this place advertised no MSG as well as no artificial additives and is testimony to the fact that you can get food that tastes great, that isn’t overly seasoned or with MSG added.

Between the four of us, we ordered far too much, but the portions are small, which means you can get away with tasting more dishes – always a good thing.

Chicken curry

The service is pretty appalling, but the food turned up all at once, which I was pretty impressed with, especially as I know the claypot rice is made fresh and takes 20 minutes whereas the rest (like the pork and curries) would have been made much earlier in advance.

Duck with salted vegetable soup

We had claypot chicken rice (which I have decided I cannot taste the difference between a good one and a bad one and don’t like it enough to continue the search), sambal eggplant, which was tender and not too oily nor smothered in sambal sauce, curry chicken, which D mopped up with toasted bread, pork hock in dark soya sauce with ginger, fall-off-the-bone sweet and sour pork ribs and a duck and preserved vegetable soup.

Sweet and sour pork ribs

All solidly good dishes and despite the number of dishes, we did the chef justice and finished everything on the table.  My favourites were the pork ribs, which certainly had a sweet and sour taste to them, but lacked the eye-squinting punch and ruby red colour that I am used to seeing in other Chinese restaurants, and the soup which was simple and delicious.

I’m very much looking forward to going back again to sample the rest of the food on the menu…walls.  Stay tuned.

Le Chassuer
31 North Beach Road
Tel: 63377677
11am to 11pm daily


Yum cha at Golden Peony Cantonese Restaurant

Siew mai – pork dumplings topped with whole prawn

I woke up with a craving for yum cha/dim sum today. D had recently been to Golden Peony and suggested we give it a go.

This award-winning Cantonese restaurant in the Conrad Hotel serves a-la-carte yum cha at any time, with some specials only available during Sunday lunch.

It lacked a lot of my yum cha staples – the only ones on the menu being fried carrot cake, steamed glutinous rice with chicken in bamboo leaf and char siew pau – steamed roast pork buns.

I understand that a restaurant of this calibre needs to up the ante to differentiate it from other restaurants, but the other items on the menu just didn’t appeal to someone like me who likes her staples.

Har gau – prawn dumplings

We ordered the har gau that did not appear on the menu, and they came with bright green dumpling skins – no explanation as to what it was, but the skin was a little too thick and doughy for my liking.

Diced duck in Portuguese sauce “puff”

Another order was diced duck in a Portuguese sauce in a crispy shell.  This was served to us in the shape of perfect curry puff pastry – lots of layers to be seen.  The filling was forgettable – a sweet goo with few pieces of duck to be seen.

The siew mai on offer was the traditional pork/prawn mix but topped with an enormous prawn.  Kudos to the chef who didn’t soak these in bicarbonate of soda so the prawns are not unrealistically crunchy.  This was lovely.

Fried tofu skin topped with pan-fried tofu skin and suckling pig

One special dish we ordered was a sheet of deep fried tofu skin, topped with thin slices of pan-fried foie gras and then covered with a square of suckling pig crackling – how could that go wrong??  Worked very very well, and the wasabi prawns that was also served were delicious as well.

Overall, I think this would be a terrific restaurant to have a business lunch at.  For someone that just wants good old fashioned dim sum, my search continues.

Golden Peony
3F Conrad Hotel
2 Temasek Boulevard
Tel: 6432 748


Pavlova

pavlova with fresh cream and berries

Pavlova is another one of those desserts whose origin seems locked in battle between Australia and New Zealand.  I don’t care who “invented” it, I’m just grateful for it, no matter where it comes from.

It’s a dessert which seems to invoke fear in people trying to make it, but I have made it enough times to know that with some basic rules, it’s a simple and impressively sweet treat to make.  You end up with this perfect blend of crisp outer shell with marshmallowy centre, topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit.

The basic rules:

  1. Use a clean bowl and beater – any oil, egg yolk, water, soap etc will limit the volume that you will get from your egg whites
  2. If you’re in humid weather, beat your egg whites with the airconditioner on.  Humidity also minimises volume
  3. I make my pavlova a touch less sweet, but you need at least 50g of sugar per egg white to keep the stiffness in the meringue mix
  4. Make sure you add the sugar to the egg whites gradually, making sure you beat well until the sugar is dissolved (taste some of the mix, if it’s gritty, you need to beat it more)
  5. When the cooking is done, let the pavlova cool in the oven with the oven door closed or at the most open only a crack or your pavlova will collapse

OK that’s a few more than I thought, but really, it’s not that difficult, honest !

Ingredients (to feed 6 people or 4 greedy ones)

  • 4 egg whites at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • 200g castor sugar
  • splodge of vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • Whipped cream and fruit to top

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180C
  2. Beat egg whites with salt until satiny peaks form
  3. Add castor sugar in small batches, beating well between each so that the sugar has dissolved
  4. fold in the vanilla, cornflour and vinegar
  5. Pile on to a tray lined with baking paper (you can draw a 15cm circle on the underneath of the baking paper to help), flatten the top a little (so you can add the topping)
  6. Put into oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 150C and bake for 30 minutes
  7. Reduce the temperature to 120C and bake for another hour
  8. Turn off oven at the end and let the pavlova cool in the oven
  9. Top with fresh whipped cream and fresh fruit

Honey glazed carrots

Honey-glazed carrots

I wanted to have some vibrantly coloured vegetables on the table for Christmas lunch with my family, and decided to serve simply blanched haricot vert and honey-glazed carrots.

The thing with the carrots is that they still need to have some bite after they’ve been roasted, so when you first boil them, make sure there is still plenty of crunch left in them.

Ingredients:

  • 500g carrots sliced into sticks
  • juice of small orange
  • 3tbs honey
  • 1tbs olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 200C
  2. Add the carrot sticks to a saucepan of cold water and bring to boil
  3. Boil for 2 minutes max, and then drain and lay out in a single layer on a baking tray
  4. Add the orange juice, honey and olive oil in a jar, mix well and pour over carrots
  5. Season with salt and pepper
  6. Put in the oven for 20 minutes

Christmas roast

Roasted pork belly

Last year I roasted a turkey for the first and last time. Not that I didn’t like the finished product, there was just so much of it leftover, and with just D and I, turkey leftovers get a little boring, no matter how you try to dress them up.

This year, D will have to do without turkey, as I have the special present of my parents visiting, and I’m reverting to a family tradition of making roast pork for my family.

I’m lucky to live in Singapore where I have easy access to lots and lots of pork belly, my favourite cut of pork to roast.  It’s such a tasty cut of meat, due to the layers of fat between the meat that seem to almost melt once roasted, just basting the meat in tasty goodness and keeping the meat tender and moist.

A little preparation can also give you brilliantly crispy crackling.  Simply pat the meat dry and score the skin every 1 cm (you can also ask your butcher to do this for you).  A great trick is to use a stanley knife – it’s a bit rudimentary, but it works a treat in giving you evenly deep cuts into the skin without any stress at all.

Coat the entire cut of meat in oil, and then rub a liberal amount of salt into the skin, making sure you get salt into the scores.  Then pop into the fridge, uncovered, for a few hours or overnight if you can.  Both the salt and the fridge draw the moisture out of the skin to ensure a really cracking crackling.

Bring the meat out of the oven an hour or two before roasting to bring it to room temperature.

Brush off the excess salt, and then season the entire cut on all sides, above and below with salt and pepper.

Pop onto a roasting tray, and into a hot oven at 230C for 30 minutes to get the crackling going.  Then lower the temperature to 180C for an hour – an hour and a half if you’ve got a huge piece of pork belly.  Because pork belly is a thin-ish cut of meat, it doesn’t take a long time in the oven, but also because of the layers of fat, it’s a forgiving meat to leave in the oven for longer at a low temperature.

Leave out to rest for at least 30 minutes before tucking in.  This will give you time to make gravy with the juices in the tray.

Haricot vert, potatoes roasted in duck fat, honey-glazed carrots

Serve with roasted potatoes (I’m doing mine in duck fat for a more festive touch – if only I could find goose fat !), roasted onions, garlic, leeks and any other vegetables that you can find in your fridge.


Penang buffet at Copthorne Kings Hotel

Nasi lemak – coconut rice with chilli anchovies and peanuts

Whenever my parents visit me in Singapore, there’s always a line-up of peranakan food.  My grandmother was nonya, and my mother craves the food she grew up with in Penang.  There are a handful of Malaysian restaurants in Sydney, but there isn’t the demand for Sydney to import a few of the spices and herbs that you need to make it authentically Penang cuisine.

Today I took them to the Kings Hotel where there is a Penang buffet – so not just Malaysian, which encompasses Malay, nonya, maybe even Indian – this is pure nonya food.  And what a spread it is.  It’s not the most glamourous places to eat – the hotel looks a bit dated from the newer hotels, but the food is so good, I visibly watched my mum eat herself into a stupor.

The variety on offer is huge and the buffet-style means you can sample a little of everything.

chee cheong fan

I started with chee cheong fan, steamed rice rolls, topped with a simple drizzle of sesame oil, hoisin sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.  The rice rolls were thin and slipped easily down your throat.  Deliciously simple. Simply delicious.

Penang otak – steamed golden snapper in coconut custard

This was followed by nonya otak.  Otak is fish with herbs in a curried coconut broth that is steamed in a banana leaf.  It’s been so long since I’ve had otak this way – in Singapore it’s barbequed and the end result is a lot more fishcake-like rather than custard in texture.  When it’s steamed, it turns out as a delicate piece of heaven.

Penang asam laksa

There was also Penang laksa available.  Again, this differs from the more popular laksa that is made with curry and coconut cream, with the stock made from mackerel and tamarind, so it is clear(ish) and has a distinguishing sour taste.  The fish is first poached and then flaked and the stock includes lemongrass, galangal, chilli, pineapple, mint, thinly sliced onion, sweet prawn paste and the pink bud of the ginger flower.  It’s one dish that the very mention of which can make my sister salivate on demand and very rare to find.  Needless to say that was a favourite on our table.

Selection of nonya kueh

Too many other dishes followed, including Penang Hokkien mee soup, which was topped off with fried bits of pork lard (sounds awful, tastes wonderful), acar, a salad of cucumber, carrots and cabbage pickled in aromatic spices and vinegar and then tossed in crushed peanuts and of course nonya kueh, traditional nonya dessert cakes, made authentically and made with the perfect balance of sweet and savoury.  A perfect way to end a perfect afternoon of nonya delights.

All in all, highly recommended for hard-core Peranakan devotees.

Copthorne King’s Hotel Singapore
Princess Terrace Cafe
403 Havelock Road
Singapore
Tel: 65 6733 0011


Lasagna

Lasagna for me is pure molten meaty cheesy goodness on my plate.

There are probably thousands of different recipes out there for this but here is mine – it does take some time, because you essentially have to cook it twice, but you can always freeze cooked or uncooked portions and enjoy again later.

For the bolognaise sauce:

  • 600g minced beef
  • 1 large brown onion, finely diced
  • 2 sticks celery, finely diced
  • 2 medium carrots, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely diced
  • 1 stick fresh rosemary
  • 800g tinned tomatoes
  • 1 tin tomato paste
  • 2 glasses red wine
  • Lasagna sheets
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese
  1. In a large saucepan, sweat the onions, then add the celery, carrots and garlic and fry over a gentle heat till soft
  2. In the meantime, brown the mince (you can do them in batches – make sure you don’t overcrowd the frying pan or you will end up boiling the mince instead of actually browning the meat and creating that lovely caramelisation)
  3. Add the mince to the vegetables
  4. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, rosemary and red wine and bring to the boil
  5. Simmer gently for anywhere between 1-4 hours

For the bechamel sauce:

  • 600ml milk, heated till scalding
  • 60g butter
  • 60g flour
  • pinch nutmeg
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  1. Melt the butter and add the flour, stirring constantly so you have a roux
  2. Slowly incorporate the milk on high heat, adding in small amounts and stirring constantly (the roux will suck up the milk and it will start with an almost play-doh consistency, hang in there, it turn out right in the end)
  3. Lower to the lowest flame and cook for 6-8 minutes
  4. Season with salt/pepper/nutmeg

To make the lasagna:

  1. Oil an oval or rectangular lasagna dish (you can also use a baking tin) and place lasagna sheets on the bottom
  2. Cover completely with a third of the bolognaise sauce
  3. Top the bolognaise with a third of the bechamel sauce
  4. Add another layer of pasta and repeat twice more
  5. Cover the top liberally with cheddar cheese
  6. Put into an 180C oven for 40 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling

Gingerbread People

Why did I ever think that gingerbread men/women/children are so hard to make ?  I vaguely recall making them years and years ago and haven’t since and I can’t figure out why because I love anything ginger.

I found a recipe from Joy of Baking and started making them tonight.  It’s a very easy recipe that calls for you to make the dough and then resting that dough in the fridge for at least two hours or overnight.  As it’s almost midnight, it will mean rolling out the dough tomorrow morning.

***UPDATE

I don’t know why but the dough from the Joy of Baking recipe just wasn’t right – it tasted like a molasses cookie with a hint of ginger, so I made the following adjustments:

1) Doubled the ground ginger

2) Reduced the molasses from 2/3 cup to 1/2 cup

3) Added a good pinch of salt

***END OF UPDATE

Resting dough allows for a few things.  Firstly if you are cutting butter into flour, it helps to avoid the butter getting soft (which is quite quickly in Singapore, even in an airconditioned apartment) and melting into the flour.  You want to keep the butter in flakes so that the pastry becomes light  and airy.  In the case of gingerbread men, there isn’t any cutting of butter, but you do need the dough to rest to allow the glutens which have become “tough” from the mixing, to relax, and means a more soft pastry once it’s cooked.

We’ll see how they turn out tomorrow – I hope it turns out well because we’re taking them to a friend’s place for Christmas lunch !

OK just back from eating and drinking ourselves silly at a friend’s place.  The gingerbread men were a hit !  And they are easy peasy to make.  The recipe (here) makes about 30 10cm men and the 6 1/2 minutes makes them perfectly soft for me – they continue to cook once they are out of the oven.

The hardest thing for me was icing them !  I chose to use confectioners icing but it’s really fiddly to decorate men that are that small.  I ended up using the icing as “glue” to stick mini-M&Ms on as buttons/eyes etc.  I also used syringes which I purchased from the pharmacy because it gave a cleaner, more controlled flow of the icing.  And even then it got messy.  But that’s half the fun of baking, isn’t it ?