Saturday, December 31, 2011

Rose Water Panna Cotta With Apple Compote


One more post before the end of 2011. Do you, like me, find that each year goes faster than the year before? Maybe time seems to fly the older you get because one day for an older person is one day over thousands of days compared to, say, a one-year old whose one day is one day over 365. I read that in some magazine years ago and I liked that explanation.

Panna cotta ("cooked cream") is super easy to make and super yummy too. Yes, believe it or not, there is such a dessert. Just set dairy cream with gelatine (overnight so you have plenty of time the next day) and serve it very cold with a caramel syrup and seasonal fruits. The Brits try to complicate everything the dessert by making a fruit compote but even so it's still much easier to make than say an apple crumble or a bread pudding.

I can't get rose water here so I used rose essence for the flavor and grenadine for the color. The rose flavor gave the dessert a subtle but wonderful flavor. I was lucky to have dried blueberries and cranberries. I didn't have dried cherries so I used fresh ones. The original recipe was from London: Authentic Recipes Celebrating The Foods Of The World but I made the panna cotta according to my long-trusted recipe. I also simplified the apple compote. That just means I made do without ingredients I don't have, such as Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, a sweet white dessert wine.

Happy New Year All!

Rose Water Panna Cotta With Apple Compote
The panna cotta:
1000 ml fresh dairy cream*
6 pieces gelatine sheets**
1 1/2 t rose essence or 2 t rose water
6 T castor sugar

* increase to about 1200 ml in cold weather or if you want a wobbly panna cotta
** from cake ingredients shops

1. Put the cream into a small pot, add the gelatine sheets which have been briefly soaked in cold water (15 sec or until just turning soft). Heat and stir the cream until the gelatine is thoroughly melted and pour into individual molds, preferably metal molds which are easier to ease out. For big parties, I make a huge mold for guests to help themselves with.

The Apple Compote
3 apples, peeled, cored and diced
3 T dried cranberries
3 T dried blueberries
2 T dried cherries
3 T lemon juice
finely grated zest from 1 large lemon
7 T caste sugar (to taste)
1 t rose water (or 1 t rose essence + 1/4 cup grenadine syrup)

2. Put the sugar, zest and 2/3 cup water into a sauce pot and cook, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is slightly syrupy. Add the remaining ingredients except for the lemon juice and let the mixture simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until the apples are tender and sauce is reduced and thickened. Add the lemon juice and remove from heat. Cool.

3. Run a blade around the sides of the panna cotta, hold a serving plate over the mould and invert. Cover the mould with a hot towel, leave for a few seconds and shake the mould to ease the panna cotta out. Spoon the compote on and around the panna cotta and chill thoroughly before serving.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bacon Explosion

This caterpillar of meat, known as Bacon Explosion or Bacon Bomb, is just pork meatloaf wrapped in bacon.  Regular beef meatloaf is so tame compared to the Bacon Explosion.

I wanted to make devils on horseback for Christmas dinner but when my son Ming asked if I've heard of bacon weave before (I hadn't), I googled it and that led me to Bacon Explosion, a long roll of pork sausage meat with fried bacon bits covered with a mat of weaved bacon, bbqued until it's smokey and crisp and glazed with a sweet sauce. The original Explosion was created by the bloggers here and was said to contain at least 5000 calories. I have made a less sinful version, cutting back on the amount of bacon and fat used but still, do proceed with caution.

Because bacon is expensive here, I didn't want to use any more bacon than necessary so I didn't have crispy bacon in the meat filling. We can't get fresh sausage meat here and I had to make my own. I had a packet of chorizo sausages from Australia (thanks, Liz) that was close to the used-by date so they were chopped up, fried and mixed into the sausage meat for extra flavor.

The Bacon Explosion for Christmas dinner was so good that it went quickly, leaving me scavenging just the bacon bits and dried cranberries I had used for garnish. I intended to post the recipe after making another Explosion this weekend but after several requests for the recipe, including from W in Canada who I just spoke to this evening, I am posting the recipe today for those who want to make one for New Year's Eve dinner. I am waiting for a photo of the cut Explosion taken by a friend (I was too busy to take photos) and I'll upload it later.

If fresh pork sausage meat is available where you are, you can use that instead of making your own. You can also substitute the chorizo with bacon, pepperoni or whatever you like. In the original recipe, the Bacon Explosion is smoked-bbqued and glazed but I find it easier to cook it in the oven. I also don't like my bacon fully crisp so the oven is a better place to cook the roll.  If you want a glaze, just make your own or use bottled bbq sauce mixed with some honey or maple syrup. Serve the Bacon Explosion with a crisp salad and some mash and say hello to your triple chin.

Note: I made a second BE a week later and the result wasn't as good as the first one. I've thought about it and think these are the reasons:

1. The local chorizos were not as tasty or maybe it was because I used only 2 instead of 4 chorizos. Advice: Use tasty chorizos.
2. I got the bacon from the same supermarket but noticed that the bacon was in narrower strips and tasted different. Advice: Keep to good fresh thick-cut Aussie bacon.
3. I took the short cut of having the butcher mill-grind the pork for me but the mince was too coarse. Machine-ground pork is too pasty. Chopping by hand gives a fine mince that's just nice.
4. I didn't cook the roll until the bacon was browned enough because I needed the oven for baking bread. The BE should be baked until the bacon is browned and quite crispy.
5. I used Hunt's hickory bbq sauce to glaze and I think that really spoilt the taste. My advice is to skip the bbq sauce.

Weave the bacon strips on a piece of firm plastic. You can sprinkle some bbq seasoning or dry rub on the bacon mat if like. I didn't. 

It is easier to pat the sausage meat into a long log on a prepared tray and then slap the bacon mat on top than put the sausage meat on top of the bacon mat and roll.

Weave the bacon mat on a piece of plastic for easier lifting of the mat and slap the mat on the sausage roll. Tuck the ends under the roll.

Make sure the weaving is tidy and snug.



My Bacon Explosion
The sausage meat:
1.5 kg pork shoulder, with at least 20% fat
4 chorizo sausages (about 400 gm)
3/4 t salt (or reduce slightly)
3/4 T ground sage
3/4 t thyme
1/4 t ground ginger
1/2 t nutmeg
1/4 t white pepper
1/8 ts cayenne pepper
1/4 cup water or 1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 slices of day-old bread, cut into 1/2 cm cubes

For the bacon weave:
About 800 gm to 1 kg of thick-cut streaky bacon (do not use the thin-cut Danish bacon)

Optional: bbq seasoning/dry rub

1. Chop or coarse-grind the pork. Cut the chorizo into small pea-sized cubes and fry them in a frying pan without oil. Remove when the chorizo are golden brown. Cool.

2. Mix the fried chorizo and all the other sausage meat ingredients until well-blended, cover and leave in the fridge for at least half an hour to firm up.

3. Meanwhile, weave the bacon criss-cross into a mat. You'll need two or three large bacon mats. Arrange the bacon 'mats' on a baking tray lined with aluminium foil. You can sprinkle the bacon with your favorite bbq seasoning/dry rub for extra flavor.

4. Pat the sausage meat into a long roll on the weaved bacon. Roll the sausage with the weaved bacon mats firmly and snugly. Or, the easier way is to weave the bacon on a piece of plastic for support, lift the plastic up with the bacon mat and drape over the sausage roll. Re-arrange and tidy up the weave, making sure the bacon strips are woven closely. Tuck the edges under. Make sure the ends of the roll are covered and the seams of the mats are at the bottom on the tray. You can spread some bbq seasoning on the roll if like. Chill the roll in the fridge while the oven heats up.

5. Preheat oven at 200 C and put in the bacon roll. Bake 1 1/2 hours uncovered. Check on the roll now and then to make sure that it is not burnt. At the end of cooking, glaze with a bbq sauce if like.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Dinner 2011

I went straight from church to my kitchen where I worked until the guests arrived. I didn't even have a chance to shower or step into the washroom! I had moved my Christmas dinner to Christmas Day (Christmas dinner is always on the eve this part of the world) and forgot that my helper celebrates Christmas at home too so I had to do everything myself. Dinner parties are a cinch here because we have help to clean the house, set the table, prepare the ingredients and all that. Anyway, Vero came in after 4 pm and she helped me more than all the three men in the house did the whole afternoon. For that, I gave her Boxing Day off so we'll just have bread and turkey soup today.

Okay, I should give credit where it's due. Hub arranged the tables, got the drinks and did last minute shopping.  He did a great job chopping nearly 1.7 kgs of pork because I forgot to tell the butcher I wanted ground pork. Machine-minced pork is rather pasty and not right for what I wanted to make. Ming set up the speakers in the patio and was in charge of music. We had Michael Buble and Diana Krall singing for us. So good, especially Diana Krall. Buble's too commerical for me. Wey helped here and there, disappearing upstairs to play computer games whenever I'm not looking. I miss my daughter. The family just misses her so much this time of the year but she was on Skype with us and she was happy at yet another dinner party, third in a row this week.  Shanghai seems like the happening place for expats.

Initially it was just a party for 17 including my family but the guests swelled to 24 so at the last minute I bulked up the veggies and added an English trifle. The trifle was the worst I've made and I think the spoilers were the cheap rum and store-bought Swiss rolls. The surprise hit of the night was something new to us: Bacon Explosion, which is really a pork meatloaf wrapped in a layer of weaved bacon strips. I am told that it was very very good--I didn't get a chance to eat it except for a thumbnail-sized bit when S was about to stab it with her fork. I did eat the what was left--the bacon bits and dried cranberries--and it was SO good, the crispy, tasty, smoky, salty bacon and sweet cranberries were perfect together.

Great food, wine, music, weather, friends and family and a reminder that we are so blessed because Jesus was sent to redeem us.

                   Roasted turkey with traditional chestnuts stuffing.


My version of Bacon Explosion.

Radicchio (which I've learnt from this dinner, should not be cooked if you want to keep the pretty color), mixture of brussel sprouts, baby carrots and asparagus, and fennel.

                    English trifle.

White Christmas log of creamy silky coconut cream and durian Swiss roll!

                  Dark choc cupcakes with marzipan stars.

                            Traditional fruit cake with home-made marzipan.

                        Australian cherries.

Pumpkin soup (pumpkin from my garden) and bread photos to be uploaded later.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011!

Merry Christmas everyone! I know you are all tucked in bed, tummies full of wine and turkey and excited about Christmas Day tomorrow. I'll be busy tomorrow so I'm uploading some photos of tonight's Christmas Eve's dinner at my friend Elaine's house.

Elaine is a terrific cook. She throws elegant dinners where people stay and stay because the company's always fun and her home is beautiful and welcoming. I wish I have a long dining table too and a house with glass walls from where I can see the city lights. I was stunned by the spread she had on the table. Simple dinner she said, so I offered to make a couple of simple desserts and when I saw her table I just wanted to go home and whip up something more befitting to the occasion.

I need to get up early to prepare for tomorrow's dinner so I'll stop writing and just upload my photos.

I couldn't find marzipan anywhere so I thought I'd make my own. If there's one thing I'll remember about this Christmas, it's that I made my own marzipan and it's darn easy and cheap too! Just knead 500 gm ground almonds, 500 gm sifted icing sugar, 2 egg whites and either 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla essence or a few drops of almond essence until well-blended and smooth. Chill until ready to use. Home-made marzipan tastes way better than store-bought (store bought usually has more sugar and less almond) and this recipe makes a great-tasting marzipan that's not too sweet.



I thought this photo was pretty funny. The guys had to carve. Looks chaotic but it was fun.

Excellent turkey with stuffing.

New Zealand leg of lamb done so well I decided it's better to eat than to look slim.

Delicious cookies. Must get the recipe.

My fruit cake, covered with marzipan.

Candied fruits.

DSC_0785_1024x678_1024x678 Chocolates and stollen.

My choc cupcakes.

Merry Christmas, dear friends!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Katong Laksa, Singapore

Katong has been made over since my last visit 3 years ago. I love how they have conserved the old shophouses and made everything look so...touristy-nice...but when I was in Katong at noon one day two weeks ago, there were only a handful of people walking around. I don't know it if's the heat (Singapore is all about air-conditioned malls) or the sterile, perfect 'Tourists Welcome' look of the place. What it needs is more people to liven up the place. Maybe it is different at night. Next time, I'll go at night.

The one thing people come to Katong for is the most famous Singapore laksa stall at 328 Katong. 328 is not the original laksa operator in the shoplot but it has literally cashed in on the original operator's reputation for the best laksa after the original operator moved out when the rent was increased. There's a lesson to be learnt from this: don't build up a reputation and leave, thinking that somebody else can't do the same thing.


3 years ago I found 328 laksa too creamy-thick. This time, I loved it. The soup was just nice, not too thick or thin, there were lots of dried shrimps, the cockles were plump, sweet and crunchy, the noodles slippery-smooth and delicious. At S$4/5/6 (S/M/L), who says Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world? In KK, you can't eat a decent bowl of noodles for below RM6 (and you shouldn't convert the currency unless you are a tourist).

Otak otak is something I don't particularly like. Or dislike.

The lady of this quaint Peranakan/Eurasian shop cautioned me about taking photos inside when I stepped in. Perasaan because I didn't think of doing so. I did buy two of her old-fashioned curry puffs, the ones that are made with short crust pastry and baked, not deep-fried. They were kind of hollow and dry but still tasted heaps better than the awful spiral pastry deep-dried curry puffs we get these days.


The red agar was rose syrup-flavored, cold, very firm and not too sweet. It reminded me of simpler days when desserts were just that, simple agar agar jellies.

These banana loaves smelt heavenly but nobody wanted to share a loaf with me so I stood smelling and drooling but the lady didn't offer me a sample. Which isn't so bad because one of my friends stood drooling at the window of a Chinese dimsum place in London years ago and a waiter came out with a doggie bag and told her to go away. Lesson: wear a good coat when travelling.

I know some people say Awfully Choc's choc slice is overrated but I love it.

Straight from 328 Katong to Katong Mall for the Hainanese chicken rice! This was at Delicious Boneless Chicken Rice stall in the food court of the mall. What can I say? We had two plates of the chicken. That was less than 30 minutes after eating Singapore laksa and we each had a bowl. Why am I not surprised that when I went to town yesterday 3 people said I've put on weight? Two said I look "fatter and different". That's brutal.

Mixed pickles and refills are FOC with the chicken rice.

Singapore started as a free port nation about 50 years ago. Due to its strategic location in the Straits of Malacca and good management, Singapore tied with Rotterdam, The Netherlands as the busiest ports in the world for decades until about 6 years ago when Shanghai took over that spot. This photo was taken from our apartment which is not near the port but even so, look at the number of ships out there.

'Good' Job NS Planners

I both like and dislike this time of the year. I am stressed just going to town. The roads are jammed, the queues are long and nothing gets done because people look like they are working but they are just faking it.

I am a terrible procrastinator and I work only when stressed. Would you believe me if I told you I still haven't done my shopping except for the turkeys and the only thing I've made so far is my traditional Christmas cake? Yet I have plans to make panettone, host 3 dinners in one week and am preparing to send my son off for national service on 1/1/12. We just got the prep pack from the Ministry/whoever two days ago, that's how competent they are. Why did they send the pack so late and during this period when nothing gets done--my son has to open a bank account, get a medical check up and report done, get all documents and personal items ready and there are all those holidays between now and 1/1. For CNY, the NS trainees get 5 days off. Yeah, thanks for the break and consideration about family reunions but better planning would be welcome because the air tickets have all gone up. It will cost over RM1200 to get my son home for what will effectively be 3 days of holidays, with time lost travelling from Rawang to KLIA to KK and back. And where the heck is Rawang? Why do the trainees have to be sent across the seas since they will be isolated in a camp anyway? I'd rather pay less for my food, my utilities bills and taxes than have my son sent to Rawang to get up at 5 am to learn to make his own bed. I wish it will but 2 1/2 months will not make a soldier out of him. It's time to rethink the NS program. Does the program really benefit the trainees for life or just for 10 weeks? If it is life-changing, it should be compulsory for all young people. If it isn't for all, then it is an unnecessary program and is being done just for the sake of doing. Continuing with the program just because it's implemented ages ago doesn't merit the expenses. I am for anything that will instill discipline and good habits in my kids but I doubt NS will make an iota of difference. The only thing it will do is make my son miss home. I hope.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Singapore Dec 2011-2

Orchard Rd was busy and merry as usual. Two new malls have sprung up since my last visit. Ion and 313@Somerset. I found Ion more pleasant. A couple of restaurants looked really tempting. One of them, Ippudo Ramen, had people queuing even at 3 pm.

This was the end of the queue at Starbucks in one of the Orchard malls and we were incredulous that Singaporeans were so crazy about Starbucks coffee. A couple from Finland stood near us and wondered at the same thing too. Starbucks is kaput in Australia I heard but Singaporeans can't get enough of it.

I was with a friend in the Isetan Supermarket when she spotted this pretty young thing and made me take a photo with her. Turned out that she's Fiona Xie, a Singaporean actress. I was so unnerved I forgot to take a shot of her mile-long legs. Remember AngelaBaby whom I saw in Hong Kong?


A resting place for tired shoppers somewhere in Gallery Mandarin. Apparently tired shoppers not only eat and nap, they pet too. 

Abercrombie & Fitch had a week-long promotion of their about-to-open store on Orchard
Rd and flew in some dishy hunks who stood outside the store half-naked. The women bystanders went crazy, their bfs or hubs fidgeting and sucking their bellies in. Someone pushed me forward and I ended up looking stupid with a bunch of hunks half my age. 

These boys kept their shirts on but I bet they have abs too.

The cakes at Antoinette looked SO good but we just had a big lunch and my guys didn't want any dessert. I tell myself that next time, I will make a trip to Singapore with my girlfriends and we will sit down for tea.

At Tangs, I met up with my son Ming who had flown in from Melbourne via KL and Hub who had flown in from Penang and the first thing Ming ate was chicken rice and choy sum. This was in one of the food courts on Orchard and Ming said it was 6/10.


If you've never been to Marina Bay Sands the casino, go. From far the buildings look
ridiculous, like a ship is marooned on top of two buildings but close up the grandeur of the whole project is just awing. The casino is HUGE and classy and there are lots of restaurants and shops if gambling is not your thing. 

We were wearing jeans, so we chose to eat dinner at Mario Batali's Osteria Mozza (2 Bayfront Ave, Tel: 65.6688.8522). The dang thing about the place is you have to decide whether you want pizza or pasta at the entrance. Pizza diners go right, pasta lovers go left. You can't have both, isn't that silly. Hard decision but I chose pizza.

House salad, about S$10++. Boring and the dressing was pH 4 maybe, so acidic I couldn't finish it.

An appetiser of calamari with beans, S$10++. Not a bit impressive. 

The main course of the day was braised lamb shank, S$36++. It was good, tender yet still attached to the bone. Yum with the thin pieces of crisp bread.

This was worth the wait (they said 45 minutes but this came in 20 minutes). Fennel and sausage pizza, about S$28++ I think. I've never tasted a similar pizza, not even in Italy. The crust was thin, puffed and crisp and the fennel and sausage were so good together.  I  would surmise that the oven temperature was over 400 C? Awesome.

3-mushroom pizza, another awesome creation.

The pizza crust was made even more crispy by a coating of semolina.

The caramel ice cream with peanuts, about S$15++, was a disappointment because it was too sweet and ordinary. Really those pizzas were a hard act to follow. I wished I had ordered the ice cream with olive oil. Next time.

We stepped out of the building and faced the Louis Vuitton store with the Singapore river and city skyline as back drop. People were dining al fresco and the cool night air blew through giant palms, making the place seem so laid back and beautiful. This part of Singapore reminded me of Sydney Harbour but Sydney Harbor seems so tired and old in comparison. 
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