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Oodles of noodles goodness in a bowl

What is it about a bowl of noodles and hot soup that sets one at ease.  For me a good bowl of noodles is one of my favourite comfort foods.  During a family vacation last December, I as introduced to a restaurant in Johor Bahru, Malaysia known for their fishballs and yong tau foo.  Yong tau foo is chinese stuffed bean curd.  Traditionally served in a clear broth with some vegetables, yong tao foo is served with noodles or rice.  Ah Koong restaurant to local Malaysians and Singaporeans alike known for yong tao foo.

With the open kitchen located in front of the restaurant, my eyes were tantalized with trays of fresh fish balls, tofu and stuffed vegetable such as green/red chilli, lady fingers/okra with fresh fish paste sitting on a bed of ice.  Beside the colourful platter, there is a buffet of different noodles from yellow egg noodles, rice vermicelli to big fat rice noodles.  Time to tickle the taste buds.

You can’t help not too look at one side of the restaurant wall where a montage of pictures of local and Singaporean celebrities pictures who has patronized at the restaurant giving their thumbs up.  No doubt this boost their popularity a little more. One of the things I love about eating yong tao foo is that you can eat the traditional way served in a soup or you eat “dry”.  When it is served dry, it means some sauce poured over the individual ingredients.  Trying Ah Koong yong tao foo for the first time, I opted to have mine the traditional way in a soup with some rice noodles.

When the bowl of steaming hot clear broth was placed in front of me, there was some fish balls, deep-fried wanton, some marinated pork balls, crispy bean curd skin stuffed with fish paste, some lettuce leaves and a piece of seaweed.  The broth was full of flavour and I love that each scoop is filled with either one of the ingredients swimming in the bowl.  The fish ball is not too chewy and there is still a crunch left from the crispy skin of deep friend wanton and bean curd skin. We couldn’t help to try some side dishes.  A serving of ngoh hiang and a basket of deep-fried yong tao foo.  Ngoh hiang is pork mince with water chestnut wrapped with bean curd skin which is deep-fried and served with some chilli sauce.  It is very sinful but rather delicious not only from the crispy skin and the crunchy water chestnut inside the mince.  As for the deep-fried yong tao foo, it was a mixture of crispy bean curd skin only, wanton, and bean curd skin stuffed with fish paste. Well what can one say about anything deep-fried, it sure tasted good.

In a recent day trip to Johor, my family couldn’t driving to Ah Koong for lunch.  This time, I wanted to be bold and try something different.  I ordered my yong tao foo noodles served dry .  The rice noodles are tossed in dark soya sauce topped with some spring onions with a small bowl of the clear broth and some pieces of mixed yong tao foo.  It is a nice balance to have the clear broth to wash down the soya sauce noodles.  If I had to choose between soup or dry yong tao foo, I would order the soup version.  I just like the comfort of sipping hot soup.  We also ordered a serving of steamed yong tao foo.  The dish came with several pieces of stuffed bean curd, red/green chillies and bitter gourd drizzled with some garlicky brown gravy.  Bitter gourd is my least favourite vegetable and happily offered to anyone who is willing to eat it.

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I do enjoy the food at Ah Koong. I love their quality of the home-made fish balls and serving consistently good wholesome food. If we were to drive to Johor again, I wouldn’t hesitate to make a detour to Ah Koong for a bowl of good fishball noodles.

Contact details:

Ah Koong Restaurant – Skudai, Johor Branch

Located at:  No.42 & 44, Jalan Jati 1

Taman Nusa Bestari Jaya

81300 Johor Bahru, Johor

Malaysia

Tel: +607-511 2200

Business hours: 11am to 11pm

Culinary delight in Tel Aviv (Part 2) – Cooking Class

I am continuing my series of Culinary delight in Tel Aviv , it was time to take all of our ingredients from Souk Carmel and begin to learn our cooking lesson. We head north of Tel Aviv  towards Orly’s  home.  Greeted by her husband, Ben each of us were issued a bright yellow apron and a recipe book cum menu.  It was a degustation menu:

  • Challah Bread
  • Hummus
  • Eggplan Baladi
  • Multi Color Peppers Antipasti
  • Fatoush Salad
  • Kitchry – Rice with Red Lentils Iraqi style
  • Chriime – Moroccan Style Fish in Red Sauce
  • Dates, Figs and Nuts cake

From my basic knowledge of Israeli foods, most of the dishes are influenced by Middle Eastern, Arab and Mediterranean. Thanks to the  Jewish immigrants who brought these flavours into Israeli. Working backwards, we started our cooking class with chopping and cutting the ingredients for our dessert.  Meanwhile, I volunteered to start making the Challah bread, a traditional bread served during Sabbath.  I enjoyed mixing and kneading the dough.  While the dough is left to rest and rise, we moved ont to making the hummus.  It is so easy to make that I have tried replicating myself recently.  It is versatile recipe that allows you to play around with the flavour  by adding fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley or basil to give a different taste. Orly even shared that the type of tahini used can make a difference in the final taste of the hummus. There was a demonstration how to eat hummus Israeli way thanks to Ben.

With all the cake ingredients mixed together and placed in the oven for baking, it was time to knead the Challah bread dough.  Kneading the dough is very therapeutic. We rolled the dough into long strips before cutting and shaping into a plait. After sprinkling poppy and sesame seeds, the bread was ready  for baking.  There was a such a buzz in the kitchen with eggplants and multi colored peppers being roasted under the grill and preparing the salad leaves for Fatoush salad.  We all chipped in to peel the blistered skins of the peppers and slicing them into thin strips for the anti pasti.

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I watched and helped Orly prepare the rice with lentils.  While the rice is being cooked, it was time to prepare the red spicy sauce for our fish.  The tomato paste, paprika, garlic, cumin and caraway blended  was not to spicy and tasty without overpowering the taste of the fish.  It is so easy to prepare that it can be whipped up within 30 minutes served with fresh baguette or on a bed of couscous makes it a perfect meal.

After cooking for at least 2.5 hours, our feast was ready.  The table had an array of colours and food that I couldn’t wait to stick my fork and tase the food.  We had the pleasure of  Orly’s youngest daughter and husband to join us for the scrumptious lunch. It is so satisfying to see the ingredients and flavours coming together.  My taste buds was enjoying every morsel.  Learning to cook Israeli cuisine with Orly was a great experience.  I recommend to spend the day with Orly if you want to truly understand Israeli cuisine.  Visit her Cook in Israel website for more details.

Now I am craving some hummus and pita bread!

Culinary delight in Tel Aviv (Part 1) – Souk Carmel

As a foodie, I am always on a hunt for good food.  My palate is heightened when I travel eager to try the local culinary.  In March of this year, I decided to take a trip to Israel. This would be my third visit and first trip where I was able to spend more time soaking in the culture.  You may ask why Israel and I would say “Why not, Israel!”  Beautifully situated by the Mediterranean Sea, the white sandy beaches, the museums and the history.  So much to do, many places and lots of eating. Tel Aviv is my first stop and where I spend most of my time.

A holiday without learning how to cook some local dishes would be incomplete for me.  So, I make it a point to include a cooking class into my itinerary. I came across Cooking in Israel who specializes in cooking tours in Israel. I signed up for a one-day culinary tour of Tel Aviv. Greeted by Orly Ziv early Friday morning, we started our day with a visit to souk Carmel (souk is market). I had the company of an American living in Be’er Sheva and a Londoner in this tour.  I love going to markets to see what fresh produce are available.  My eyes were treated with so man colours and smells. Patronized by locals and tourists, souk Carmel is filled with fresh fruits and vegetables vendors to bakeries, butchery and you may even pick up a souvenir or two.  Our first pit stop is a bakery specializing in bourekas, a lightfilo pastry filled with salty cheese, typically feta cheese.  The smell of freshly baked pastries is intoxicating. Orly bought a few for us to sample.  The fluffy pastry was so light and flaky that it almost melts in your mouth.  The warm cheesy filling is mildly salted that it complements the buttery pastry.  It was rather delicious!

With our mouth still full of boureka, we continued our walking tour into the small lanes of the Yemenite quarter.  Orly led us through a door that took us into a family kitchen where they were making pita bread and salouf, a Yemenite flatbread.  As we watched the men flipping the bread in their stovetop ovens, we sampled the breads.  The warm bread tasted so good that it gives a comforting feeling.  I could eat a few pitas quite easily.  But I wanted to leave some space to try other yummy food.  I wonder what is next.

Still within vicinity of Yemenite quarter, we visited a local hummuseria, Shlomo and Doron to complete our Israeli breakfast experience. A bowl of plain hummus topped with chickpeas and another bowl of hummus with a fava bean mixture and boiled egg in the middle was placed in front of us.  The dish is best served with pita and salouf bread to scoop up the thick hummus along with wedges of lemon and condiment of spicy sauces.  To round up the wholesome breakfast is a good cup of brew.  The hummuseria serves a wonderful Turkish black coffee and kawaitch, a blend of grounded cinnamon and cardamom. The coffee was I needed.

Feeling very satisfied I was ready to move on to the next activity.  Orly wanted to give us a flavour of Israeli street food. Falafel is a common snack made out of chickpeas that can be eaten on its own or in a pita with some hummus anytime of the day.  By now I was starting to feel full but our sampling didn’t stop here.  As we walked into the main street of the market, we stopped by a stand where Druze women were flipping what looks like a huge piece of crepe over a large roundhotstone.  The flatbread is often dressed with condiments such as jam, honey, chocolate spread or savoury vegan spread.  We tried tabouleh and labne slabbed on the bread and wrapped in a roll.  With the flatbread still warm in my hands, I took a bite and it was scrumptious. The thin flatbread was soft and the labne  (yogurt cheese) gave the tabouleh a lift to the snack.  My taste buds was satisfied and it is only mid morning.

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We continued to stroll in the market picking up ingredients for our cooking class later.  Stay tuned for my next post where I will write about cooking class

B’tayavon! (That’s Bon Appétit in Hebrew)

The art of making food look good

Have you looked at a picture of a mouth-watering hamburger or a juicy steak drizzled with sauce in a magazine or TV commercial that you want to lick the screen. Ok, licking the pages or your TV screen may not be a good idea.  Anyway the art of making food look good credited to the food stylist.  In my humble opinion food stylist are the unsung hero in the culinary world. He/she painstakingly take the time to prepare and dress the food to make it look good in front of the camera.  This may sound simple enough.  This is not the case.

Earlier this month, I attended a 2 day “Food Styling for Today’s Marketplace” workshop here in Singapore conducted by Culinary Entrepreneurship.  Accompanied by  experienced and aspired food stylist from Italy, Dubai, Russia, Indonesia, Philippines, Hong Kong, Australia as well as a few Singaporeans, the group gathered in the kitchen of  Palate Sensations cooking school.  The workshop was led by an acclaimed food stylist and culinary consultant for 25 years, Denise Vivaldo.  Denise is a vivacious woman who openly shared the secrets of food styling. Her great sense of humour  kept us entertained throughout the 2 days.

On the first day, Denise showed us how to work with frozen meals and styled the food based on her interpretation.  The beauty of food styling is the creativity and there is no one style superior.  And this is what attracted me to food styling.  One of the very first exercise was to practice working with a frozen meal.  I grabbed a chicken teriyaki meal served with steamed white rice and vegetables.  The challenge is working with whatever content available.  What I have learnt in the morning is a having extra ingredients for stand in and the “hero” plate.  Since we had limited resources, we had to work with the content of one packet.  However, we had access to other ingredients such as bok choy, tomatoes and fresh herbs to help us jazz up the plate.

This is only one example of what we covered.  We were exposed to working with various ingredients such as noodles, meat, seafood, desserts and how to highlight the best best attributes for the camera. I would love to write on each styling experience taught in the workshop but best saved for a book. Whenever I see a layout in food magazines or hot pizza TV commercial, I always think of what the prep work to achieve the final result.

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Food styling is incomplete without a photographer. Photographers are the essential ingredient in making the food come alive. During the workshop, we were graced by the presence of Christopher Lee from Dream Merchant Photography.  He provided invaluable insight and experience on food photography from photographer’s perspective. He shared how lighting and angles shot can make a difference in good and bad picture. This was an added highlight and rounded the workshop nicely.  Christopher was kind enough to extend his professional services and photographed our dishes.  Many thanks, Christopher – what a champion he is!

I walked away from the 2 days armed with new-found knowledge. What I love about food styling is that there are so many ways to style the same food. It is up to your imagination.  A big thank you goes to Denise, an amazing woman.  I know there is so much more to food styling and the best way is to dive in the deep end. I am looking forward to the adventure.

No Signboard Seafood (Esplanade) is starting to lose their touch

When entertaining out-of-town visitors, it is only fitting that we hope he/she is keen to immerse themselves into the culture as much as they can.  What a better way to appreciate the culture by trying the local culinary.  Although some visitors are returning for the second or third time, the most often asked question is ‘”what food should /must try in Singapore?”. Other than chicken rice or laksa, perhaps one of the most suggested dish is chilli crab. If you ask most local Singaporeans where to eat chilli crab, the first restaurant name that comes to mind is Jumbo.  They certainly have built their reputation.  However, there is another seafood restaurant that has gain attention over the past 8 years  is No Signboard Seafood.

Established in the 1970’s as a stall in the Mattar Road Hawker Centre, No Signboard has expanded to four locations on the island. I was first introduced the seafood joint by family members over 5 years ago at their Geylang branch.  Decor was plastic tables and red plastic chairs/stools – it was simple and the food was great.  Since then I have returned to the same outlet on various occasion and enjoyed each time. I was thrilled to learn they opened at Esplanade in 2007 and the last time I visited the this outlet was 2008.  The food was just as good as what I had at Geylang branch.

Having the same perception as three years ago, I suggested to bring our visitors’ to try No Signboard at Esplanade over the weekend.  With the view of the Marina Bay, it was a perfect place and setting for a seafood lunch degustation.  Everyone was very excited to get their hands on the crabs.  So here is what we ordered and what I thought of each dish.

  • Chilli Crab with deep fried Mantou to mop up the sauce:  The sauce in my opinion is key to a good chilli crab.  I like it to be medium to thick consistency  enough to coat the crab and easy to scoop with the Mantou. The last thing you need is to have the sauce dripping on your forearms.  I tasted the sauce and it just didn’t have enough chilli kick.
  • White pepper crab: I prefer black pepper crab.  The white pepper crab for me was just ok.
  • Special Duck: this cold dish just show cased the duck in special marinate. The mean was quite tender.  I may not order this myself.
  • Steamed Seabass cooked in Teo Chew Style: the Seabass was very fresh and I do like the preserved vegetable, ginger, mushroom and fresh coriander/cilantro used to give the extra flavour.
  • Beancurd with seafood: This is one of my favourite beancurd dishes.  I enjoy the soft texture of the tofu with mushrooms, snow peas and some seafood.
  • Spinach cooked in chicken broth and wolfberries: Simple vegetable dish.  Nothing wow about this dish.
  • Deep fried marinated chicken:  This dish is supposedly marinated with prawn/shrimp (belacan) paste.  The paste is a very pungent and strong taste when used in cooking.  However, I failed to taste the marinate in the chicken.  I was a little disappointed as I have ordered this dish before where I was able to detect the marinade when I sunk my teeth into the chicken.  This time round it just tasted like any other fried chicken.
  • Crispy Cereal Prawns: The idea of using breakfast food into a seafood savoury dish is great.  I like the crispy sweet taste of the cereal covering the deep-fried prawns.  I noticed that the prawn has been dipped in a light batter.  I am not too sure if this recipe has evolved.  In the past where I have ordered this dish, the prawns were just deep-fried leaving the shell nice and crispy.  The sweetness of the cereal can overpower the taste of the prawns.

Overall the meal was a-ok.  No one particular dish stood out for me. Perhaps No Signboard is starting to lose their touch in cooking the seafood to what I first stated at Geylang.  The company certainly made up for the lack lustre .

No Signboard Seafood

8 Raffles Avenue

#01-14/16

The Esplanade

Singapore 039802

Tel: +65 6336 9959

Open from 11am to 11pm

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Love thy Opal Basil

Basil is often hailed as the “king of herbs” by many chefs and it is one of my favourite herbs in cooking.  The herb is an undeniable feature in Italian cuisine and other varieties is highlighted in Thailand and Vietnamese dishes.  Whenever I see a bouquet of fresh sweet basil, I am always hypnotized by the sweet fragrance.

I was lucky enough to meet the cousin of sweet basil, Opal basil – thanks to specialist produce company, Melissa’s. The opal basil has short crinkly and serrated purplish leaves with similar colored veins and stems. If you hold the leaf against a light, you can see the green highlights.  Unlike its cousin, the opal basil makes a rare appearance in Singapore supermarket shelves. When I saw them, I had to smell and try it. I love the strong that the opal basil has a clove like taste with a tinge of ginger.  It would be perfect as salad garnishing or decoration piece.

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Since the opal basil wasn’t used during the workshop, I happily volunteered to take them home. With an abundance of basil in hand, I couldn’t resist making pesto sauce and nothing beats home-made pesto sauce.  The traditional Italian pesto from Ligura, Genoa is made with green basil, good extra virgin olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino cheese.  Pesto is best served with ribbon pasta such as tagliatelle , fettuccine or linguini where sauce can cling onto the pasta or stirred with home-made gnocchi.

Pesto is versatile and it can have used in other serving suggestions.  Here are a few ideas:

  • a dollop of pesto on top of soups.
  • as a spread for bruschettas.
  • serve as a tapenade.
  • mixed with some mayonnaise to give your sandwiches that extra zing.
  • add to some sour cream or natural yogurt and serve as a dip.
  • mixed with some vinegar for a salad dressing

It is so easy to make and it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.  Here is my version of the classical pesto sauce.

CY’s Pesto Sauce

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients:

6 cups of fresh basil

140 grams of roasted almonds (unsalted)*

1.25 cups of extra virgin olive oil

6 cloves of garlic

1 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

kosher salt and black pepper to taste

* You can purchase raw almonds and toast in oven on a low heat.  For classic pesto use pine nuts or walnuts.

Method:

1. Rinse the basil leaves.  You may air dry or use a tea towel to gently wipe the leaves dry.

2. Place the leaves, almonds, garlic and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in a food processor.

3. While the dry ingredients are being blended, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the processor to form a smooth sauce.  It should medium smooth texture and not a thick paste.

4. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5. It can be served immediately with your favourite pasta or stored in an air tight container in the refrigerator  for up to 1 week.

Opal Basil Pesto


Mangiar bene! ( that’s good eating in Italian)

Sunday roast

Sunday’s in England or US wouldn’t be the same without the traditional roast. Since I am not living in either country, I thought it would be nice to have a roast dinner for a change plus I can’t resist a good roast either.  I wanted to try roasting the chicken using a method I learnt from an Israeli chef a few months back.  His Egyptian grandmother  roasted the chicken by creating a border of sea salt .  The salt helps to create the skin to brown and crispy without losing tenderness or moisture of the meat.  The Chinese has a similar method by  wrapping a whole chicken in lotus leaf placed on top of bed of hot salt cooked over a stove top.

With the modern convection ovens, it is much easier to achieve the taste the same result.  I decided to incorporate the Egyptian method but I infused some fresh rosemary to give the chicken extra flavour.  The roast dinner would not be the same without potatoes. To complete the meal, I served some beautiful steamed baby cauliflowers and baby corn. Baby cauliflowers are rarely sold here in Singapore supermarkets. I happen to chance upon them during my food styling workshop last week and was lucky enough to take home the unused produce.  The organic fruits and vegetables were supplied by Melissa’s, a fresh produce specialist based in the USA.

Beautiful Baby Cauliflowers

I decided not to dress the baby cauliflowers and corn.  I wanted to rosemary flavour to come through and the natural sweetness of the vegetables to compliment the chicken.  No one ingredients overpowered each other.

What I like about this recipe is that you need minimal ingredients to complete a wonderful meal. The chicken is roasted on a lower temperature and cooked for a longer period.  The meat is so tender and falls of the bones so easily that you only need a fork to eat the chicken. Here is my recipe for the roast chicken.

Salt Baked Roast Chicken with Fresh Rosemary 

(serves 4)

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken (approximately 1.5 kgs)

4 sprigs of fresh rosemary

200 grams of sea salt (fine or coarse)

500 grams potatoes

Cooking string

Parchment paper

Method:

1.  Preheat the oven to 180 deg Celsius or 350 deg Fahrenheit.  Prepare a roasting pan or tray with parchment paper.  If you are not using parchment paper, sprinkle some oil on the base to prevent the chicken skin sticking to the pan/tray.

2. Prepare the chicken by removing the neck, feet and discarding any giblets. Trim off any excess fat.

3. Starting at neck cavity, loosen skin from breast and drumsticks by inserting fingers, gently pushing between skin and meat. Try not to tear the skin during this process.

4.  Carefully insert the rosemary in between the skin and meat of the breast and drumstick.

5. Tie the drumsticks together with the cooking string.  Place the chicken in the middle of the roasting pan or chicken.

6. Create a border of sea salt around the chicken.  Place the washed whole potatoes on top of the sea salt.

7. Depending on the size, roast the chicken for between 1 hr 15 mins to 1 hr 3o mins until the skin has turned golden brown.

8. Once it is ready, let the chicken stand for 15 to 20 mins before serving. Brush off any salt from the chicken and potatoes before transferring the chicken and potatoes to a serving dish.

Options:  You may use other herb such as thyme instead of rosemary.  

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Hope you enjoyed my first post and recipe.  My 13  year old nephew topped my evening by complimenting the meal as “This chicken was AWESOME!”.

Bon Appétit!