Category Archives: Cooking

Eat for a Cause and Bak Kut Teh

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If you know me you’ll know I have a bit of a thing for food. I love eating food, whether at home or out and about, and I love cooking it as well. Living in Singapore has given me the chance to massively indulge my inner food geek. Although there are certain ingredients which I find hard to get hold of (and the lack of any information about animal welfare or origin – free range eggs? Cannot lah!) Singapore is a great place to be a foodie. There are some things which I am not sure I will ever try – pig organ soup is one that springs to mind – I am pretty open-minded when it comes to sampling new dishes and ingredients. I think I am one of the few people who goes into raptures at the sight of the Mustafa’s produce section! I love that I can easily pick up things that were tricky to get hold of, such as Kaffir lime leaves (which are also great in a G&T if you are that way inclined!).

I got invited by notatourist.sg to attend an event organised by NCompass Mobility called ‘Eat for a Cause’  in support of the yellow ribbon initiative, which helps rehabilitating ex-prisoners and drug addicts. To support the cause we ate at two restaurants that only employ ex-prisoners and drug addicts to help them reintegrate into society. One of the things that has surprised me about living in Singapore has been the lack of (or certainly the low-profile) of charities or social enterprises that exist to help the more disadvantaged. Having worked in this sector in the UK, it’s something I feel passionate about supporting, so I was really looking forward to going along and finding out more.

We headed up to Jalan Kayu to visit New Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh. The story behind this place is great. The owner was in and out of prison as a young man, and in his most recent stint he worked as the prison’s chef. On being released, he set up New Soon, serving Bak Kut  Teh which is his favourite dish. He now employs other ex-inmates, giving them a chance of gainful employment and an opportunity to rehabilitate. You can read more about his story here.

So what is Bak Kut Teh? It is essentially a soup with pork ribs. There are several different versions, and the broth can vary between herbal and peppery. We tried the herbal version which was delicious. The pork ribs were deliciously tender and the meat fell off the bone. I was able to get it off with my chopsticks and I’m not the most skilled at using them! The soup was served up with some steamed rice, salted vegetables and the ubiquitous chilli sauce. It was one of things that having tried, I think I would definitely eat again as its such a flavoursome dish.

Bak Kut Teh

After our Bak Kut Teh, we wandered up the road a little to get some Roti Prata which is essentially a fried flour-based pancake. I’d only had the savoury versions before, but here we ordered dessert prata. Some of the others went for chocolate but I ordered strawberry, seduced a bit by the idea of fresh strawberries nestling in a yummy pancake. Sadly the strawberry here was some kind of artificial syrup stuff (I should’ve guessed that!) so although it was enjoyable, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. We also got to try Teh Tarik, otherwise known as ‘pulled’ tea. It is a hot, milky tea drink and is usually made with condensed or evaporated milk giving it a sweet taste. The mixture is ‘pulled’ to give a frothy texture – this involves pouring the tea backwards and forwards between two containers to aerate it. Apparently this is quite a skill, with some teh tarik vendors putting on a show for their customers – I suppose similar to the showmanship that sometimes accompanies getting a cocktail in other countries!  

I really enjoyed my lunch; trying out new food, meeting new people, and supporting a great cause. I also really enjoyed meeting the people at NCompass, who did a fantastic job of arranging the lunch, but also do great work supporting expats in their moves to Singapore and lots of other countries.

Thanks to NCompass for organising the event and notatourist.sg for the invitation. 

Liebster Blog awards

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I am deeply touched to have been nominated for a Liebster Blog Award not just once, but twice, by two fellow expat bloggers. The rationale behind these blog awards is that they are a way of showing love for blogs you follow, so I am pretty excited to have received two!

My first nomination was from Laura over at Expat Adventures in Singapore. I got to know Laura’s blog long before I moved to Singapore, having done some extensive Googling on what life was really like living here. I loved Laura’s open and engaging writing style. All her posts are incredibly informative and helpful, but personal as well. I found a lot of comfort and confidence from what I read on her blog, and I think in some part, my decision to move here was influenced by what I read on her blog. Since I have arrived, I’ve got to know her as a person, and she is just as lovely and supportive in the flesh!

My second nomination was from Crystal at Expat Bostonians. Like Laura, I got to know Crystal’s blog before I moved. I loved her personal and incisive posts, and I also really liked how honest she is, and how she isn’t afraid of writing about things that she feels strongly about. I love reading about her experiences here, and of how that fits in with being a Mum to her two gorgeous girls. I’ve also met Crystal in person a couple of times now, and I am really excited about getting to know her better.

Thank you both for your nominations, and for your friendship 🙂

‘Liebster’ means ‘favourite’ or ‘dearest’ in German.  This award, which originated in Germany, recognizes up and coming bloggers with less than 200 followers.
In accepting the award, the recipient agrees to:

  • Thank the person that gave the award and link back to their blog.
  • Copy and paste the award to your blog
  • Reveal the 5 blogs you have chosen to award and let them know by commenting on their blog.
  • Hope they pay it forward by accepting and awarding it to bloggers they would like to honour.

It was really hard picking out blog that I love, that haven’t already been nominated. Many of the Singapore/expat blogs I read have already been nominated!The 5 blogs I have therefore chosen are a mixture of things that I love, but ones that I enjoy reading very much:

Fellow Fellow is written by a fellow Claire! I like to think of it as more of a scrapbook of things – Claire makes and sells her beautiful handmade paper creations, and blogs about things that inspire her, or photos of things that she working on. I love how her personality shines through, and reading her blog is a treat for the eyes (and sometimes ears!).

Alexa Loves is written by my friend Alexa, who lives back in the UK. She has recently made the move from the big smoke, to out in the country, and we share a passion for owning chickens some day! Alexa takes the most beautiful photographs, and I love looking at her gorgeous shots of England. I’ve been reading her blog for a few months now, but have really come to treasure it since I moved away.

North/South Food is written by an Irish brother and sister duo. He lives in the north of England, she lives in Brixton (my old stomping ground!). I’ve been reading their blog for some time and love reading all about their experiments with cooking and trying out weird and wonderful ingredients. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been inspired to make something after reading their blog, and the number of times I’ve sat in front of my computer just salivating!

Little Loaf is another London-based food blogger. She shares her passion for baking (breads and desserts) and for ice cream, and the occasional savoury dish! I get serious baking envy reading her posts and looking at her photos, and love reading about her latest creations. I love her passion for what she does, as it shines through her writing.

Food Urchin is also a London food blogger (spotted a trend yet folks?!). I got to know him via Twitter, and his tweets and blog posts make me cry with laughter all the time. I would love to be a fly on the wall with him for a day! His blog is brilliantly funny, and full of personality, as well as gorgeous things to cook. A new favourite of mine.

Mozaic restaurant, Ubud, Bali

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Whilst we were enjoying our Christmas break in Bali, we went and ate at Mozaic restaurant in Ubud. Mozaic is set slightly out of Ubud, so it’s definitely a taxi ride to get there. Inside the decor is very modern, but with hints of Balinese. You can either sit indoors or outside in the gardens.

It’s supposed to be the best restaurant in Ubud, and we certainly weren’t disappointed. We had the special Christmas Chef’s Table menu, which was a 6 course tasting menu (and we also opted to do the wine pairing with each course). As we were having the chef’s table menu, we were led through the gardens to a private room at the back, with about 8 tables in it. The kitchen is here, as they often run cooking courses in this room. It’s all very sleek and slick looking, with enough beautiful kitchen gadgets to keep me fascinated, whilst we waited for our first course.

The chef cooking for us was a New Zealander called Blake Thornley. He was incredibly friendly and welcoming, saying from the outset that he wanted people to come up and see what he and his team were doing, as well as ask questions about each dish, and cooking techniques etc. It gave me free rein to ask all my geeky gastronomic questions! Ha!

We started off with a delicious amuse bouche of tuna, with a soy and ginger dressing. Delicious, and it really woke up your mouth, ready for all the other treats coming up.

The next course was ‘Fine de Claire’ oysters, with crushed raspberries and fresh black truffles. It’s here that I must confess that I don’t like oysters. I’ve tried them a couple of times and I just don’t enjoy the texture or taste. It seems a little pointless to gulp down something that you barely taste. My only concession to oysters is when they are cooked (reduces the chance of making you ill as well!). So Will enjoyed his oyster starter, but I had a beautiful alternative of lobster instead, which was perfectly sweet and soft,  complimented with salty vegetable crisps and sauce.

This indulgent fishy starter was followed by a fish course – confied coral trout with wild mushroom crumble, potato espuma and sticky Iberico jus.  I’d never heard of coral trout, nevermind eaten it before. Coral trout is actually a reef fish and found all around Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Blake explained how the coral trout had been confied – slowly oven cooked in a low heat oven in a pan filled with oil, flavoured with herbs, at a low heat, until the trout is perfect. The trout was beautiful – just the right side of cooked, and soft but with plenty of flavour. The potato espuma was potatoes aerated in the same way as whipped cream – a new way of having mashed potato – meaning that it was the perfect light accompaniment to the fish. The Iberico jus was made by boiling pigs heads and trotters to make a stock, which was then reduced down to a jus over 36 hours – that’s some commitment to creating this amazing nod to surf and turf! Gorgeous, and perfectly matched with a 2008 Australian Chardonnay.

Perhaps it is here that I should mention the sommelier. He took the time to come round and speak to all the diners, to talk to them about the meal and the wine pairings. He is Balinese, so becoming a sommelier is quite unusual, as most Balinese people don’t drink. However, he took tremendous pride in his work and was delighted that we were happy with his choices.

After the fish course, we had foie gras. I love foie gras; I know some people think its cruel but I think its delicious! Perhaps that comes of having a French mother, who knows?! We had foie gras two ways (hot & cold) served with a bitter cocoa sauce and poached cherries. I loved the hot foie gras, which was pan-fried. I think it’s the contrast of the crust that forms during the frying against the soft inside, that just melts in your mouth. The unusual combination with the bitterness of the cocoa and sweetly sharp cherries was just gorgeous. Paired with a 2008 Reisling (which I discovered I really, really like!).

After the foie gras, I was feeling rather full, and a little bit tipsy from the wine pairings! The meat course was up next: Australian lamb loin, served with pumpkin and lemon puree, sage, and spiced jus. The lamb was perfectly cooked – pink in the middle – and deliciously meaty next to the soft pumpkin and spicy sage jus. Unfortunately, much to Will’s amusement I was so enjoying the lamb and the Bordeaux that we had with it, that I completely forgot to take a photo …sorry about that folks, but take my word for it that it was divine!

Cheese course next: Vacherin Cheese with baked brioche, and warm mushroom and black truffle vierge. I have a photo of this one! The brioche was soft, sweet and buttery, next to the rich cheese. The mushroom and truffle vierge lifted the richness and stopped it becoming too cloying. I’m not a massive fan of strong cheeses, but this was good match with the sweetness of the brioche.

Finally, we had the dessert course. I was super full by this point, but when I saw what it was, I knew I’d make room, no matter what! Baked hazelnut chocolate fondant, with goat milk ice cream and Armangnac reduction. Died and officially gone to heaven. I was intrigued to find out how they did the fondants, as I’ve watched enough episodes of Masterchef and Come Dine with Me to know the route to being an amateur chef is littered with the graves of failed fondants. Blake was confident in his method – all down to the timing apparently, and the texture of the top as you take it out of the oven (better to err on the undercooked, squidgy side to ensure a fondant centre). We all watched with bated breath as Blake eased the first fondant out of the mould – success! We were all rather in awe. But then, rather embarrassingly, it all started to go wrong – the fondants coming out of the mould started to collapse in on themselves, much to his embarrassment. He brushed it off as not having brought them to room temperature before cooking (they’d been prepped earlier in the day and stored in the fridge) but it made me smile that even a chef who has made thousands of fondants, still finds them tricky!

But luckily, there were enough perfect ones for us to sit down with a plateful, a glass of Sauternes, and start tucking in. Oh wow! Rich oozing chocolate combined with tangy goats milk ice cream – sharp and surprising at first, then deliciously salty and sweet – all with a hit of Armagnac finishing things off. I’d never have thought of such a combination, but it was delicious and unexpected. I could have happily eaten it all over again!

We left Mozaic feeling fully, tipsy but delighted at the wonderful evening we’d had – it really made Christmas special. Thanks must go to Blake Thornley and his team of sous-chefs for all the wonderfully delicious food they created, and for answering all my questions about dish composition and cooking techniques whilst trying to plate up! Also the sommelier – we didn’t catch his name, but he did a wonderful job with the wine pairings – even managing to get me to enjoy a dessert wine for the first time ever! Highly recommended if you find yourself in Ubud and want to eat somewhere special.

Makansutra cooking masterclass

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Those of you who know me well will know that there is nothing I love more than cooking. I love trying out new recipes and ingredients, and am undaunted by Ottolenghi-esque ingredient lists and complexity. You can imagine my joy then, to be invited to a cooking masterclass, with KF Seetoh (aka super Singaporean celebrity chef and food critic). I don’t think I could have said ‘yes’ more quickly to my invitation (thanks Laura!).

The cooking masterclass was organised by the folks at notatourist.sg, and was held at Tools of the Trade which a very confused taxi uncle eventually managed to get us to (thank goodness for iPhone maps). This place is full of all the latest kitchen gadgetry, and it was only the thought of all my kitchen gear bobbing somewhere over the sea to me that stopped me investigating further … I have enough kitchen stuff, I don’t need more! Tools of the Trade run a whole host of cooking classes that you can go to (details on their website) so the place is really set up for cooking classes.

On arrival, we were given little booklets that showed us what we’d be making. They were all dishes I’d never tried before, so I knew this was going to be a fun experience. On the menu we had: Rojak salad, Hainanese Pork Chop, and Bubur Cha Cha ice cream. Yum yummy yum! KF Seetoh took us through each dish, before we attempted having a go at it on our own. He was great fun – very clear, charismatic and engaging, giving us a little history on each dish and how it came to be created. It was fascinating learning how much of Singaporean food is born out of a fusion of cultures, cuisines and availability of ingredients. For example, I never knew that the sauce for the Hainanese pork chop contained ketchup and HP sauce, and was born out of many Hainanese working as cooks for Britons, and merging their own ingredients with those favoured by the British.

We kicked off our experiment in Singaporean cooking with the Rojak salad. This was something I’d heard of before coming out here, but really had no idea what went into it. It basically has no set rules about what goes into it – so long as its fresh and crunchy, anything goes! Our version had cucumber, pineapple, a local kind of turnip, apples, beansprouts and peanuts. You slice up the fruit and veg, and then gently toss it in a spicy dressing made from shrimp paste, sugar, sambal, tamarind water and lime juice. it’s finished off with some shavings of torch ginger, which I’d never even heard of before, never mind used! Rojak is actually delicious – spicy, crunchy and refreshing all at the same time. KF Seetoh told us that there are no set rules about when to eat rojak – you just eat it when you feel like it! I’d definitely eat it again, although I learnt that its best to eat it fresh – I took some home in a doggy bag, and it was definitely past its best the day after!

After that, we moved onto the Hainanese pork chop. I was a little bit daunted by it, as it involves deep-frying, which I’ve never done myself. The pork is flattened until its very thin, and then coated in egg and breadcrumbs, before being deep fryed until golden. Unfortunately, I was so preoccupied with getting my oil hot enough, that the oil was actually TOO hot, resulting in a slightly burned pork chop. Not my finest hour! Making the sauce was fun – you mix chopped carrots, peas and sweetcorn, into a mixture of ketchup, HP sauce, lemon juice, sugar and oyster sauce, and then thicken with corn flour. It sounds horrible when you look at the ingredients, but it’s actually nicely sweet and sour, and goes well with the crispy pork. It was served up smothered in sauce, and with fried potatoes on the side. Not the healthiest dish, but surprisingly delicious.

We finished off with the Bubur Cha Cha ice cream (try guessing what’s in that from the name – sounds like a dance to me!) It’s basically coconut ice cream, with yam, sweet potato, banana and tapioca pearls, finished off with a sweet, yet slightly salty sauce. The sauce is made from gula melaka, known as palm sugar in the UK. It’s an ingredient that I’d searched for many times in Asian supermarkets to no avail, so was delighted to get to use the real deal, rather than brown sugar. It makes a treacly sauce, a  bit like molasses but sweeter. I enjoyed the ice cream, sauce and fruit elements very much. I found the texture of the yam and sweet potato, in something sweet, slightly odd to what I’m used to, but it was very tasty, and I’d happily eat the whole lot again. It was also fun trying the tapioca pearls, which I’ve seen floating at the bottom of cups of bubble tea, which is popular here, but never tried. They are oddly chewy but oddly moreish!

I had great fun trying out cooking some local dishes. I love South East Asian food, and would cook it all the time in the UK (and will here of course), but I’d never cooked anything that was uniquely ‘Singaporean’. I’m so excited about having a properly equipped kitchen soon, so I can try recreating these, and other dishes. I also enjoyed being directed by someone who was so knowledgeable about the origins of each dish – it made me appreciate it all the more, knowing where it had come from. It was a fantastic evening.

Thanks to Laura for inviting me along, and for notatourist.sg and Makansutra for organising the class.