Friday, September 26, 2008

Thai Cuisine Cooking Workshop

Chef Eric and his mom making the squid cakes
Sometimes it's nice to go for a cooking class, for the fun of it, with some friends. At the very least, you get to eat something at the end of it. A group of us (including Southernoise, Momo, Keropokman and his sister), went last Saturday for Chef Yong's Thai Cuisine Workshop held at the Ulu Pandan Community Centre (CC).

Chef Yong is actually Chef Eric Low who has trained with the CIA (and that's the Culinary Institute of America, not the intelligence agency). Here he is with his mom, who is probably the real "sifu" who inspired him to pursue his cooking career.

I'm amazed - the CC has a better kitchen than I do!
I was quite stunned - the CC has a better-equipped kitchen than I do! Double ovens, two hobs, one tze-char style large gas ring, a working hood, dishwasher, and fridge. At one corner was a KITCHEN-AID MIXER!!! My dream machine. Too bad it's blocked from view here.

I thought we were rather discreet with our point-and-shoot digital cameras but one auntie persistently asked us if we were overseas visitors. Thank goodness I didn't use my DSLR!

Thai grilled beef salad
The first item we saw demonstrated was the Thai grilled beef salad. Very easy to make, and very delicious. The Thais normally eat this with steamed glutinous rice. I'd be quite happy too, to have this as a one-dish meal.

Squid cakes with pineapple salsa
Squid cakes with pineapple salsa next. We loved the salsa but the fried squid quenelles were rather salty. I might skip the Maggi seasoning and tone down the fish sauce if I make this myself.

The brand of Thai sweet chili sauce to look for - Mae Pranom
This is the brand of Thai sweet chili sauce the chef recommended for making the salsa. It's not thickened by starch, unlike other brands. I forgot to take a photo of the recommended fish sauce. The best fish sauce, according to the chef, is made in Vietnam, not Thailand. Not just any type of fish but a certain type of anchovies yields the best fermented harvest of naturally occurring glutamates.

The trick to good fried rice is lots of oil, says the chef
Chef Yong/Low says you need a lot of oil to make good fried rice. This is to ensure that each grain is glistening and well-coated. He added curry powder for that yellow colour, instead of just turmeric.

Pineapple fried rice
The pineapple fried rice with pork floss, topped with cashew nuts and fried Thai basil leaves. We really felt the effects of the oil. This tiny bowl was deceptively satiating. We also felt a certain surfeit of fish sauce, which was used generously in all three dishes. Normally I love fish sauce but now I know it's best only in moderation. We were all quite thirsty afterwards.

The three-hour session (S$32 for members; S$37 for non-members) is not a hands-on workshop but it was quite informative. The chef even gave us tips on where best to get Thai ingredients (Tekka market or Chow Brothers near Muthu's Curry).

Chef Eric Low has a culinary series on Christmas favourites coming up (these get booked really quickly). He also runs two blogs that some of you may have already seen - Cook with Passion (his workshops) and Coolchef (musings and restaurant reviews). More on the various courses at the People's Association (PA) website here. Best viewed with Internet Explorer (yeah, pages don't show up on Firefox too well).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Homemade cereal prawns

Homemade cereal prawns!
Some dishes I don't even dare think about making at home, because they just SEEM too difficult to replicate. Cereal prawns, for instance. But boy, am I wrong! All you need to do is
1. Clean and devein prawns, trim the whiskers/front part of heads.
2. Deepfry the suckers until the shells are crisp (I love eating the shells!).
3. In a separate frying pan, heat 50g of butter, and fry a handful of curry leaves and sliced chili padi (2-5 is sufficient).
4. Toss in some cereal mix (ready made packs available; or prepare your own).
5. Watch the cereal miraculously transform your lake of oil into a dry Sahara field of flakes, and toss in your prawns. Mix well for a bit and serve hot. THAT'S IT!

Now I never need to order this outside ever again. If you buy S$5-6 worth of prawns, you can make what would cost easily S$20 outside. And at home, you can at least make it less oily if you prefer.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Haji Mohd Yusoff Warong Nasi Baryani

Mutton baryani or briyani
I was told the briyani from the Geylang Serai stall with the three sisters is quite good. So when I checked out the Ramadan bazaar, I had to pack some home to try. The mutton briyani (S$3.50) is well-flavoured but fell short of that wow factor. Hamid's mutton is more tender and seems a better deal.

Chicken baryani or briyani
The chicken briyani (S$4) is more expensive than the mutton briyani. But you get a whole chicken thigh/drumstick piece instead of two small pieces of mutton, so I guess that's fair. Flavourwise, well, I'm biased - for me, mutton always tastes better for briyani - but my family members prefer chicken.

The famous three sisters who serve up the briyani
Here are the sisters at work. As with most food, their briyani is better eaten hot on the spot, instead of as a takeaway.

Haji Mohd Yusoff, the award-winning briyani stall
This stall has won numerous awards, it seems. I see the "Anugerah Daun Pisang" (Banana Leaf Award) by a local TV station, and Makansutra's five chopsticks (out of six) rating (i.e. divine). But don't let that drive your expectations up too high, or you may be disappointed.

Stall no. 179 Geylang Serai Temporary Market

Monday, September 22, 2008

Halal Malay Bakchang?

How very unusual - Malay bakchang, or meat and glutinous rice dumplings!
These have started poppping up at Geylang Serai market - they look like the Chinese bakchang but are made with chicken (S$1.50) or mutton (S$1.80) to replace the pork. Therefore halal bakchang! I was intrigued. How would they look like or taste?

Malay bakchang, unwrapped
Hmm, when opened they still resemble the Chinese dumplings.

Malay bakchang use mutton and chicken to replace pork
The fillings are almost exactly the same, down to the boiled chestnut and five-spice based seasoning for the meat. However, the chicken and mutton both are quite dry. I now understand why fatty pork is used in Chinese and Nyonya dumplings, but this is a good attempt anyway to bring a halal version for Muslim enjoyment.

Cendol Geylang Serai

Thick, rich cendol - old school product in modern packaging

Ahh, old school cendol in bubble-tea style sealed cup packaging (S$1.80, with ice). This stall offers chendol that's just coconut milk, gula melaka and cendol - and very importantly, the slim, light green cendol, not the fat, garish green strips of flour.

This is cendol the way it used to be. None of the Chinese additions of red bean, cubed jellies and whatnot. Would this be similar to the cendol that I remember from the past? Hmmm, well, still not quite but close. While it's pretty good, this one is extremely rich, sweet and thick. The one I long for is thinner and more refreshing. Well, I guess you can add more ice or cold water to approximate the taste.

Cendol Geylang Serai

#01-372 Geylang Serai Temporary Market
9am - 7pm
Tel: 9485-5845 (Faizal)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

New Poll: Budget Limits for Dining Out

Anyone feeling the pinch these days with rising cost of living? I know even those that never used to blink an eye at eating out now think twice about where they want to eat and how much they would spend. How much do you budget for dining out in general (no special occasion)? Check out the poll on the right.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hari Raya Bazaar at Geylang Serai

Lots of greasy goodies
Once a year during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Geylang Serai becomes transformed into a huge bazaar for Hari Raya Aidil Fitri. I only managed to check out the tiny side near the market/hawker centre, and already I was exhausted. Here's a quick overview of what's there.

Lots of greasy goodies like roti john, fried noodles, deep-fried snacks and even Chinese style squid-paste yew char kway (dough fritters). These can also be found at the regular roving "pasar malam" (night market).

Beef dendeng - looks like "bakwa"
There's this guy selling stuff that looks like bakwa (BBQ'd dried meat) that's made of beef. Wonder if it tastes like sweet beef jerky.

Middle Estern dates - nutritious candy!
All kinds of Middle Eastern dates, kurma or medjool, for your choosing. These are practically nature's candy, but at least there's some nutrition in them and laxative power to boot. Also available are dried figs and other dried fruit.

Sinar Pagi Nasi Padang
Many of the Geylang Serai market stalls put out extra dishes for those wishing to pack home their meal for buka puasa (breaking fast). Sinar Pagi Nasi Padang has a perpetual long queue.

Hajjah Mona's Ramadan offerings
Here's Hajjah Mona's selections. Mind-boggling. I do have a curious concern though. Given that Muslim food operators cannot taste-test their cooking during the fasting month... I am wondering if the dishes are as finely tuned as they are during other months. 
(this paragraph has been reworded to be upfront instead of just vaguely hinting, as someone mistook my earlier line as a real question and one of ignorance)

Buy some if you're not baking
Everywhere you will see cookies, chips and savoury snacks. Most households will bake their own, but some busy ones may like to supplement with these supplies for variety.

I'm always a little bit alarmed by the amount of food colouring that goes into the drinks
The festive mood is reflected in the colourful drinks. I think my eyeballs will turn pink/yellow/blue if I drink too much of this stuff. I love the katira with the crunchy, chewy biji selasih (basil seeds) that look like frog eggs.

Hari Raya means home decor for the house proud
The bazaar is not all about food. Hari Raya often means the home gets rejuvenated as well, so there's lots of home decor items for the house proud.

Table runners, curtains and such
New curtains, table runners, cushion covers and assorted embroidered pieces.

Brightly coloured outfits
New clothes are a must, as there's lots of visiting to be done. Festive colours are very popular. Hey, the colours match the drinks above!

There's even a Visit Malaysia tourism booth!
Even Malaysia is inviting visits!

Hari Raya Bazaar is from 1-30 Sept
Whoa, is this a Chinese MP wearing Malay attire? That's jolly sporting of him. Now I'd like to see Barack Obama or John McCain do the same!

The bazaar is on until Sept 30. It's still not too late to go take a peek.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sony's World's Highest Resolution Full Frame DSLR!

Alpha 900_black 3
Food bloggers are often asked which camera they use. We also often know what fellow bloggers use for their drool-inducing photos. Whenever we gather to eat, some discussion regarding cameras is bound to pop up. Photography, as much as food, is critical to our blogs. In fact, photography probably reigns supreme, as appetite often has to take a backseat at mealtimes. We even risk food getting cold, while we do our little photoshoot!

So yes, we love cameras. And I count myself lucky to have gotten a sneak preview of the Sony Alpha 900 today. This is one of the most anticipated cameras in recent years. It's a 35mm full-frame DSLR offering a mind-boggling 24.6 megapixels - the highest resolution in the world! That's more megapixels than I know what to do with!

Megapixels alone, of course, aren't everything. Fortunately, there's lots more going in Sony's flagship DSLR camera. Dual BIONZ image processors improve photo quality and speed. They've also enabled in-body image stabilisation (SteadyShot INSIDE), a first for a full-frame camera despite the heavier sensor. This users to enjoy sharp images with wide angle and large aperture lenses, for which in-lens stabilisation is traditionally a challenge. Check out more details in DPreview and a full user review in Imaging Resource.

Sony launches the A900 in Singapore today

I only tested the camera for a few precious seconds, so I don't have a full review, nor sample photos to show. But initial impressions - I like the solid build, the powerful 5fps burst, clarity of the 3" LCD, and most of all, the roomy 100% optical viewfinder. It is amazingly clear, and I could see vivid changes in depth of view as I bounced the autofocus around different subjects. Makes my entry-level Canon 400D seem like a toy!

We heard professionals giving their testimonials too. Fashion and celebrities' photographer Mark Law endorsed the quality of photos, ease of use and portability. He said it was a very good package, in all. Only thing he would like to see improved is the speed of the interface, but he says it's not that slow that general users would notice.

Julian W, a nature and wildlife photographer, loves the ultra high resolution (nifty for stockphotos). He also praised the Intelligence Preview function which allows you to set and fine tune image settings (white balance, exposure, etc) in advance, using a preview image.

For all the features, I was expecting a pretty hefty price tag, aimed more at professionals. So I was surprised to hear that it would be below S$4,500! Looks like this camera is targeted at enthusiasts as well. And you won't have to wait long. Sony estimates the Alpha 900 will be available in early October in Singapore.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Muffins Marvel

Get your oatmeal and raisins in a muffin
It pays to bring along the old Sony point-and-shoot when out and about. On my way from the library to Marine Parade central, I spied a new muffin stall within a coffeeshop (the one facing Marine Drive and the Polyclinic).

The wares looked delicious to me. Click on photo for larger version if you can't read the text. I took home a chocolate sensation (S$1.80) and the unusual peanut butter and oreo cookies (S$1.50). Chocolate one was not bad - sweetly rich on top but light and fluffy within. Well-received in the family. In fact, hubby asked for more.

Muffins Marvel
There are quite a few of these around the island now - muffinpreneurs. I'm quite happy to support them, but only if they offer good stuff that is reasonably priced. These seem to be quite OK so far. I'll have to try some more to see how the rest of the flavours are.

Blk 81 Marine Parade Central (facing Marine Drive)
#01-654 Singapore 440081
Call Freddy Teo @ +65 9436-7755

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hosoi Teppanyaki

Teppan chef carving the scallop
Hosoi Teppanyaki is one of the newer eateries at the Suntec basement circling the Fountain of Wealth. The staff here all seem to be mainland Chinese, giving this so-called Japanese restaurant a "Made in China" feel. But at least the chef we got seemed to know what he was doing, most of the time.

This must be the appetiser from the set
Hubby went for an a la carte item to which he added $10 for set accompaniments (bread, soup, appetiser, salad, fruit and desserts). This is probably his appetiser, which the clueless wait staff served to me instead (perhaps I looked hungrier). The chef tried very hard to make the prawn balance on its back, but he gave up eventually. He does try with the presentation.

Beautifully grilled scallop
Nicely seared without overcooking. The flesh was still sweet and tender within. I love scallops. Too bad there was only one.

Wagyu appetiser
We also opted for a wagyu beef appetiser, instead of the S$90 wagyu tenderloin steak (too pricey a gamble as we really have no idea how well they handle wagyu). Ah, the slices were thin but not overcooked. Yes, you can taste the wagyu-ness but these tiny slices were probably not worth the S$18 price. I'd rather head to Aburiya for grilled wagyu CUBES.

Seafood and Meat Combination: tenderloin, shrimp, cod, vegetables
My seafood and meat (typo on menu says "meal") combination, S$28.

Luckily they served "ti wang miao" (what is the English name of this vegetable, anyone knows?) instead of chye sim! But I was still horrified when I saw the chef pour the brown sauce all over the beef! How criminal!

What a waste of good meat, drenched in that horrid taucheo sauce!
It was a thick, garlicky, taucheo-like sauce which absolutely robbed all and any beefy fragrance that the meat had.

Tenderloin steak (120g), served with cubed grilled garlic and a lonely sprig of broccoli
Hubby's tenderloin steak (120g, S$30) was all right. Fortunately, no sauce this time, and it tasted fine. The huge cubes of garlic look intimidating but they tasted really sweet, without any of the strong odours.

Tenderloin steak done medium
We asked the meats to be done medium.

Garlic fried rice
We were still not full so we opted for a seafood garlic fried rice. The rice quality is not very good. But hubby still enjoyed it. Nothing like the real Japanese garlic fried rice though. I still remember the best one we had, in a little basement restaurant called Ten near Harajuku.

Seasonal fruits, part of set
Seasonal fruits, part of the set. Mix of tart and sweet to cleanse the palate. We also had a salad, which the wait staff forgot to serve until we asked for it.

Dessert, part of the set
A sloppily presented creme caramel, also part of the set. I later saw lots of these waiting in the wings, all pre-prepared.

My cup of "emp-tea" - yes, tea was not refilled as promised

Service was atrocious. Yes, they try, but fail miserably. The poor waitstaff are total "deer in headlights" when asked things in English, but light up when you switch to Mandarin. But they aren't much more helpful either in their native tongue at answering questions. One chirpily remarked that my tea would be refilled whenever I finished it. An emp-tea promise. My cup sat alone, unattended. I put it under the spotlight to see how long it would be before someone saw it needed refilling. No one came.

So, highs and lows. Hubby thought it started horribly but ended OK. Personally I'd rather spend my money elsewhere for some real teppanyaki.

3 Temasek Boulevard
#B1-058 Suntec City Mall

Monday, September 15, 2008

"Sarah Palin" and "Hillary Clinton" on SNL

HahhahHAHHAHHAAHAHAHAahahaha!! I'm still laughing. Enjoy!

However, the farce that's become the U.S. elections is no laughing matter. If you have seen the ABC interview with Sarah Palin, you'll find it's scary to think this could quite well be the next President. She's clearly not ready, although that's not completely her fault - she got plucked out of obscurity for the Veep role. More reviews here on her first TV interview. Pretty mixed. But so what? Palin-ator action figures are now available! Johnny Mac sold separately.

Oh, and who says McCain didn't check Sarah Palin out thoroughly as a running mate?

Boy, is that wedding ring on fire or what!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival

Da Zhong Guo (or better known as Dai Chong Kok in Cantonese) makes traditional mooncakes
"How I miss the days of old
When things were so much simpler
We prized what was within
More than a pretty exterior"

Regular lotus paste with single yolk from Dai Chong Kok
Da Zhong Guo (大中国) makes traditional mooncakes, which I'm glad to see still come in old school packaging. It hasn't joined the others in churning out elaborately overwrought (and expensive!) boxes. Ironically, this way it stands out from the rest.

And the mooncakes? Well, they're traditional as well - no new-fangled flavours. Doesn't stop the lines from forming though. At the Takashimaya mooncake bazaar, they are the ONLY stall that did not offer samples. They simply didn't need to. They move boxes simply by their established brand. Personally their product is a little too heavy for my liking, but I appreciate that they are at least more eco-friendly with minimal packaging.

Hope you enjoyed the mid-autumn festivities and calories.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Istimewa Nasi Padang

Istimewa Nasi Padang
I finally got the chance to try the famed Istimewa Nasi Padang, at obscure-sounding Hoy Fatt Road (but really just a stone's throw from the ABC market at Bukit Merah). Thanks to D for recommending this.

My friends had just started their own PR agency, and I was thrilled to find that their new office was so near this place. Lunch here, of course, was a must.

There are over 20 dishes for you to choose from. Here's what we had:

Beef rendang
Beef rendang, soft and succulent, draped in spicy glory. A staple for nasi padang, in my books! This was quite good. Rich but so worth it.

Fried kangkong belachan
Some greens. Kangkong stirfried in sambal belachan. They got the texture and flavours right.

The famed crispy fried chicken
Many people like their crispy deep-fried chicken. I think ours may have been a little cold already, so it did not give me the superwow factor I was hoping for. But still delicious nonetheless. You can choose from small pieces (like the wings) or large (drumstick/thigh).

Chicken liver
Chicken liver - fear factor food for me! The only liver I will eat is foie gras or pate, no "ter kua" (pig's liver) for me either. My friends ate this. Seemed all right.

Sambal goreng
Sambal goreng - a spicy stir-fry of tempe (fried fermented soybeans), peanuts, onions and chillies. This one had an unusual addition of tomato in it, so it had an extra sweet dimension.

Sambal brinjals/eggplant
Oh the brinjals were good! Tender flesh that's soaked up all the flavours of the spices.

Fried beancurd with sambal
OK, this one was so-so. Fried beancurd doused with sambal - a simple dish but it carried a tinge of sourness, which as you can tell, is a flavour does not go well with tofu. I don't think the tofu was bad, just the seasoning wasn't appropriate. Oh well, perhaps others will like it.

Assam gravy and a delicious curry gravy
Our dishes came with two generous portions of complimentary gravy - an assam-style red curry which was not bad and a vegetable curry, which we polished off! It was addictive stuff!

We went a bit crazy for only three persons
Yes, as you can see, we went a little bit overboard for three persons. But guess how much this feast (inclusive of rice) cost? Only S$16 (like US$11)! I can't even buy ingredients at that cost if I were to make these dishes myself! Oh, note the generous portion of the (also complimentary) sambal belachan - it was delicious, and clearly not a slapdash effort.

It's no wonder there are queues for this stall, and that they often sell out before their 3pm closing time. Makansutra rates this as five chopsticks or "divine"! Another review by Tiantianchi here. I need more excuses to come over to this part of the island. A pity they are not open for dinner, and closed on Sundays. There are a couple other stalls in this coffeeshop that also look interesting.

Blk 28 Hoy Fatt Road (off Jalan Bukit Merah)
Stall 3 within a coffeeshop named Chong Wah Restaurant
Open 6.30am til 3pm (or when sold out). Closed Sundays!
Fortunately, it is business as usual despite the Ramadan fasting month.
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