Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut

Yes, finally. The famous original glazed doughnut. Can't believe it took this long for me to try Krispy Kreme. I never thought it would be in Manila (well, I didn't want to join the queue in Shinjuku years ago).

I have to say I understand why people love it. It's amazingly soft and satisfying, as you sink your teeth into it. I like that gorgeous glaze that's so crinkly light. On the whole, it's a tad too sweet for me, but yeah, I'd eat it again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pan-fried nian gao
Are you eating this today? If you have leftover or hardened nian gao (glutinous rice cake), as we often do after Chinese New Year, there's no better way to revive them than giving them a coat of batter and frying them up! A crispy coat on the outside, and gooey sweetness on the inside. Best way to have nian gao, I say!

It's just a simple coat of batter, but I never realised there were so many variations! I found one post that tested 5 different batter recipes.

I just used this:

  • 40-50g flour (all-purpose should be fine, I just used cake flour since I had some open)
  • 1 egg
  • half teaspoon baking powder (this makes it extra crispy!)
  • half teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 2 ice cubes (stir until almost melted, but make sure batter remains cold)

So it's a bit like a tempura batter. Stays crispy for a bit longer after frying too.

Crispy on the outside, gooey sweet on the inside

Here's wishing everyone 年年有余! May you all have abundance year after year.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Lunar New Year
Here's wishing everyone a fantastic lunar new year! I have a feeling the Year of the Dragon is going to be absolutely roaring. Just that it's a water Dragon, and looks like it is already making a splashing entry, creating ponding situations all over Singapore.

Nonetheless, I hope everyone is enjoying the festivities, reunion with family and visiting with friends. We are over in Malaysia, where the kids are visiting grandpa.

Some time ago, Mr Brown posted about the difficulties of photographing for passport purposes his kid Faith (who has autism). I know exactly what he is talking about. We had to take Nadine's photo because her passport had expired (my gosh, it's been five years already since she did hers as a baby).

Nadine - many shots to get the passport ready one
Nadine doesn't have autism; she has Down Syndrome. But the difficulty in getting her to pose properly is not due to her special needs condition. It's just because she's an imp!

She understands the instructions perfectly. Because for a mini split second, she complies. But then she finds it heck of a lot more interesting to do something else.

And here's Jolie. We took like one shot.

Jolie - one shot done
Too bad she's not the one needing her passport renewed.

Speaking of passports and traveling, I must apologise for my Hong Kong and Manila posts being hijacked and interrupted. But now that I've cleared all the CNY-related stuff, I'll be back posting about them. Looking forward to that!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Opening of 1st Bengawan Solo at Marine Terrace
There is an old school Bengawan Solo shop in my Marine Terrace neighbourhood that is just different from the rest that are located in the malls. Someone told me that is the very first outlet, so they have always kept it.

And recently, my friend Joanna introduced me to the Liew family that owns Bengawan Solo, and they confirmed the story. Bengawan Solo opened here in 1979, which makes them as old as Red Star Restaurant down at Chin Swee Road.

The founder Anastasia Liew, now in her 60s, still runs the business with tremendous passion, energy and attention to detail. Her son, Henry Liew, is also working with her, as are five other family members.

Lovely kuehs including a new cranberry lapis!
Now Singaporeans are all very familiar with the brand and the kuehs, cakes and cookies they make. These are so readily available (44 outlets all over Singapore), and so uniformly consistent, that we sometimes tend to dismiss them as "mass-produced" goods. But did you know that some of the items are still handmade?

Yes, there is a central factory up in Woodlands, supplying the outlets. But as the Liews showed us, it's not all machines at work, because there are some things machines just cannot do. And they refuse to compromise the quality of the products, so some things are still painstakingly done by hand.

Their ondeh-ondeh is still made by hand, all 11,900 of them daily!
Their ondeh-ondeh, for example, are rolled and cooked individually - all 11,900 of them per day every day! To do this by machine would require a less desirable texture for the dough, so that was unacceptable.

Have you had fresh and warm ondeh ondeh? It's heavenly!
Have you ever had fresh and warm ondeh ondeh? It's like coddling a sweet piece of heaven in your mouth.

Kueh dadar is also made by hand
The kueh dadar is also made by hand. You can see the saucepans with the crepes or green skin being made, and once these are ready, they add the coconut filling and roll them up.

Kueh Dadar
Hand-made. Every one of them.

The steamed layered kueh goes around a conveyor belt
The lapis sagu has many thin layers. They've got a clever way to make this. Trays and trays of it go around on a conveyor belt being steamed as they go, and a new layer is freshly poured on with each loop. Very efficient.

Kueh Lapis Sagu
And guess what - each of these are hand-cut too. Seriously, there is a guy here that specialises in cutting the lapis sagu, and I saw how he chopped each one of them into uniform pieces with practiced precision. The sagu is too soft for machines to handle, and so they would rather do this by hand, than make lapis sagu that's less delightful to chew.

The round pineapple tarts are finished by hand
The premium (round ones) pineapple tarts are also finished by hand.

Premium pineapple tarts

Well, attention goes not just into the preparation, but also ingredients. Bengawan Solo insists on using freshly pressed coconut milk instead of pre-packed ones, and real pandan juice instead of essence. For their cakes, they mix an Australian premium butter with a certain Dutch butter that costs four times as much but has incredible buttery aroma and taste.

But the most fun part of the factory has got to be the icing room.

The icing room looks most fun
See all the Disney cakes come to life!

So many edible colours!
It's like an art studio in here, with so many fun colours! Edible colours!

Only freshly baked sponge cakes are used for the cakes
Only freshly baked sponge cakes are used. Unlike many places, they don't use cakes that are not baked on the very same day.

This is how they "draw" the Disney characters - tracing an OHP like projection
Ever wonder how they get the likeness down pat for the cartoon characters? They use this thing like an overhead projector to project the image onto a cake and frost the outlines. But even so, it's still not an easy job. Trust me, you still need some skill to do this, and do it quickly.

Someone's getting this cake
There are also the "printed" cakes. Much easier to make, and madly popular. Some little girl called Chloe is getting this one.

And some lucky boy's getting this too
And another lucky boy has got this coming for him. Who doesn't like Toy Story?

3D airplane cake!
Look at this 3D airplane cake! Yes, they are now making 3D cakes as well.

Kueh Lapis (large, 1.2kg)
Their ever popular kueh lapis is also made by hand, using a similar conveyor belt system - a smart way of saving a lot of effort! Instead of opening and closing ovens all the time to pour in each new layer, the cake makers have a whole line of cakes on the move. They add a new layer, send it off to be grilled, and work on the next, and repeat until the cake is completed (takes about 2-3 hours).

There's a prune lapis as well. And they've introduced a cranberry lapis too, which doesn't use any spices, but is fragrantly buttery. I love it! See it in the second photo (the row in the middle of the platter).

Walnut cake - one of our favourites
One of my family's perennial favourites is their walnut cake. It's just one of those simple pleasures in life.

Jolie giving a piece of kueh lapis to Nadine
Nadine and Jolie always run into the Marine Terrace Bengawan Solo shop, yelling, "Cake!"
It's the only shop in the neighbourhood they instinctively love dashing in to.

CNY Sale Tent at 23 Woodlands Link
For Chinese New Year, they have an airconditioned tent outside the factory at 23 Woodlands Link (take shuttle bus 964 from Admiralty MRT or Woodlands interchange), selling CNY goodies at a 10% discount. Visitors have been thronging there for to buy stuff in bulk. They also have festive hampers you can pick up. Interestingly, Bengawan Solo does not raise their prices for the festive season, except for the last two days before Chinese New Year.

It's ironic that they don't make as much profits during Chinese New Year, despite the increased sales. That's because they have to pay a lot of overtime for workers to cope with the orders.

But anyway, here's what we bought.

Special fish keropok or crackers made with fish from Bangka, Indonesia
Fish keropok (ball-shaped) using fish from Bangka (near Palembang) where Anastasia was born. The fish there is particularly sweet, it seems.

Casava Cheese Cookies
Casava Cheese Cookies. These were new to us, and had a most unusual taste. I can't quite describe it, but has a delicate savoury touch from the cheese.

Hae bee hiam dried shrimp rolls
The "hae bee hiam" spicy dried shrimp mini-rolls. So tedious to make, but so easy to eat.

Emping Manis
If you like belinjo crackers, you will love these "Emping Manis" or sweet crackers. They're made from the same fruit.

Philip, Serene, Anastasia Liew and I at Bengawan Solo's office
It was a very enlightening visit, and I now have a new appreciation for Bengawan Solo and the way they are such sticklers for quality. Philip, Serene and I were very pleased to meet Anastasia and Henry Liew. They are wonderful folks. I'll be back hopefully to do a personality profile on Anastasia.

Meanwhile, enjoy the Lunar New Year festivities! 恭喜发财 in the year of the Dragon!

Photo credit: first and last photo from Bengawan Solo.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Kagoshima has some nice goods!
Justin Quek visited the beautiful Kagoshima prefecture in Japan last year and loved it all. He's incorporating some of their best marine and farm produce into his cuisine at Sky on 57 as it goes into its second year of operation at the Marina Bay Sands.

Chef Justin Quek receiving his Certification of Recommendation from Kagoshima Governor Yuichiro Ito
For his support, Chef Justin Quek received a Certification of Recommendation from Kagoshima Governor Yuichiro Ito. This is only the second time such a certificate has been presented (the first one went to a five-star hotel in Hong Kong last year).

To mark this event and to welcome the Chinese New Year (CNY), Chef Quek will be presenting a special five-course menu (S$138++) inspired by the various products from Kagoshima. The menu will be available for from 17 January to 7 Feb 2012.

Enormous Sakurajima Daikon!
Some of the produce are real eye-popping wonders, like this enormous Sakurajima Daikon. Sakurajima is an active volcano at Kagoshima Bay. I think it's that mountain in the background of the first picture. Kagoshima is so beautiful, I want to go there too!

Kagoshima Vegetables
The supermodels of produce. Vegetables from Kagoshima.

Various Shochu labels from Kagoshima
Various Shochu labels from Kagoshima.

At the press luncheon, we were treated to some dishes that are in the CNY menu.

Ceviche of 'Buri-OH' marinated in lemon dressing (foreground); Steamed bamboo Shoots in Truffle Dressing with Micro Greens
We started off very well with the Ceviche of 'Buri-OH' marinated in lemon dressing (foreground) and Steamed bamboo Shoots in Truffle Dressing with Micro Greens. Buri is Japanese amberjack, and is refreshingly sweet. The lemon dressing is a perfect match. You'll find a variation of this in the CNY menu - Prosperity Salad with Sliced Buri-oh fillet and jellyfish.

Spring Salad with Kagoshima Vegetables - sweet potato and cheese croquette, snow peas, fava beans, fried leeks and grilled pumpkin
Spring Salad with Kagoshima Vegetables - sweet potato and cheese croquette, snow peas, fava beans, fried leeks and grilled pumpkin. Amazingly fresh and beautiful. I love the croquette. What a lovely combination of cheese and sweet potato, and it wasn't oily at all.

Organic Kagoshima Pumpkin Veloute with Crabmeat Custard
Organic Kagoshima Pumpkin Veloute with Crabmeat Custard - smooth and very savoury. The crabmeat custard is interesting. It almost tastes like very tender half-boiled egg white. Goes well with the breads here, which are excellent, by the way.

The highlight however is the Kurobuta pork. Oh, the wondrous little black pig.

Grean Pea Risotto: Sauteed Kagoshima Kurobuta Confit, Green Pea and Bacon, Natural Meat Jus
Grean Pea Risotto: Sauteed Kagoshima Kurobuta Confit, Green Pea and Bacon, Natural Meat Jus (extracted from pork bone).

Kagoshima exports some of the world's best kurobuta, and it is very evident here how good it really is. The surface is seared to a gentle crisp, and the juicy fat and tender meat inside is absolutely divine. Sweet and clean-tasting. My last meal on earth - yes, can I have this please?

This dish is in the CNY menu too, as is the wagyu below.

Kagoshima Wagyu: Grilled Minute Steak with Kagoshima Vegetables
Kagoshima Wagyu: Grilled Minute Steak with Kagoshima Vegetables. Kagoshima also has very good wagyu, and the robust flavours here will thrill your tastebuds almost as much as the kurobuta pork.

Chilled Musk Melon and Mousseline and Sauternes Jelly
Dessert was Chilled Musk Melon and Mousseline and Sauternes Jelly. The natural sweetness of the fruit was allowed to come through in this.

Sky on 57 is designed to be open with dynamic flowing forms
It's not just the food that's pleasing. Feast your eyes on the unbeatable view from the top of Marina Bay Sands. Sky on 57 is very open and spacious, designed with dynamic flowing forms. It's my first visit, but won't be my last, given that Chef Quek will continue to use Kagoshima's produce in his dishes even after the promotion.

Sands Skypark
Tower 1, Level 57
Marina Bay Sands
10 Bayfront Avenue
Singapore 018956
Tel: +65 6688 8857 (reservations highly recommended)
Open daily

Warmest thanks to the Marina Bay Sands team for inviting me to the press luncheon.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tossing for good luck
Familiar faces, familiar places.

I was glad to be able to have an early lo-hei with some fellow blogger friends at Xin Cuisine. We had good memories of the food from last Chinese New Year at this Holiday Inn Atrium restaurant.

Imagine this bugger charging at you!
So are you ready to charge into the new Dragon year?

This lobster certainly looks so!

It's the star in Xin’s Gold Leaf Australian Lobster, Canadian Geoduck Clam and Salmon Yusheng, which is part of its most lavish Bountiful Harvest set (S$3,999++ for 10). They use a whole lobster for this.

Xin’s Gold Leaf Australian Lobster, Canadian Geoduck Clam and Salmon Yusheng
Side view of the impressive ice tower upon which the various sashimi slices nest. I first saw this last year, and was totally blown away.

This year's yu sheng comes in the shape of a dragon
This year's yu sheng comes assembled in the shape of a dragon. There's more of the pickled and sweetened vegetables in order to provide the vibrant colours. But last year's pyramid-shaped offering tasted more refreshing because it didn't have so much of these.

HUAT AH! Yusheng for lo-hei
But it makes for a festive-looking dish nonetheless. Later on, we asked for extra crispy fritters. More symbolic "gold" too!

Pan-Fried Scallop with Eggplant in Japanese Miso Sauce
Xin Cuisine has also included in its festive menus certain customer favourites that are on the regular menu. Pan-Fried Scallop with Eggplant in Japanese Miso Sauce is one of those - each bite of these is somehow very comforting, like a homemade dish.

Steamed Garoupa Fillet with Beancurd with Light Soya Sauce
Steamed Garoupa Fillet with Beancurd with Light Soya Sauce - this dish has a very nice name in Chinese ending with 老少平安 (old and young peacefully safe). It somewhat alludes to the fish and beancurd as similar to parent and child in terms of colour and texture.

Prosperity Pen Cai
And here is the Prosperity Pen Cai (S$398 for 10 pax, S$298 for 6 pax). It features a whopping 17 ingredients: Lobster, Abalone, Shark’s Fin, Fish Maw (two kinds - 花胶 and 鱼肚), Sea Cucumber, Dried Oyster, Dried Scallop, Wolf Berry, Fresh Scallop, Jelly Fish, Mushroom, Sea Moss, Bamboo Pith, Radish, Sea Whelk and Chinese Cabbage.

This is more of a delicate seafood-based pen cai. If you prefer something more robust and meaty, they have other versions like the Imperial Pen Cai, which has deer tendon and goose web among its ingredients.

Deep Fried Xin’s nian gao
And what's Chinese New Year without some nian gao? These were nice, because they weren't too sweet or sticky.

Sesame coated glutinous rice balls with red bean paste and champagne
The dessert you do have to try is the Fried Sesame Ball with Red Bean and Chocolate Liqueur Filling. Inside this innocuous exterior is a champagne-infused truffle. Very potent!

Bird’s Nest with Almond Cream
Or soothe your satiated tastebuds with this Bird’s Nest with Almond Cream. Your skin will also thank you for it.

If you are still looking for a restaurant to celebrate Chinese New Year at, well, you shouldn't tarry. Xin Cuisine itself is almost fully booked. There might be a couple more tables for New Year's Eve, but that's about it.

Wherever you decide to celebrate - have a wonderful feast and fabulous reunion with friends and family!

Level 4, Holiday Inn Atrium
317 Outram Road
Singapore 169075
Tel: +65 6731-7173

Thanks to the lovely team at Holiday Inn Atrium for hosting this dinner!
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