Pollen & Photobombing: An Afternoon at Gardens by the Bay

Even if you’re a lazy couch potato who hasn’t had any interest in going to Gardens By The Bay because it would probably involve being outdoors for a prolonged period during daylight, when your husband announces he’s booked lunch at Pollen just because he wants to spoil you a bit, you say “That sounds wonderful, dear, I’d LOVE to go to Gardens by the Bay!”

There are probably tons of spectacular photos of the Gardens out there by now – no doubt taken by the intrepid shutterbugs we saw toting their tripods all over the place – and mine won’t measure up at all. But here they are anyway.

This is the Rhug estate pork belly with broad beans, slow cooked squid and chorizo we had as part of the Pollen set lunch. As someone who isn’t actually that keen on pork or fatty meat, this was still quite tolerable for me because the fat was much less sickeningly rich than it might have appeared in the photo, and the beans, squid and chorizo complemented it perfectly. It wasn’t the best pork belly dish I’ve ever had (that honour belongs to the “slow cooked pork belly, potato puree, black pudding and sauce Robert” I had at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner), but it was among the best. And yes, that big keropok-resembling thing behind it is crackling. Omnomnom.

Pork belly (Pollen, Singapore)

This dessert of chocolate roast cocoa nib ice cream with jasmine parfait and cherry might seem like just another chocolate dessert, but the jasmine parfait gave it a dimension I hadn’t expected. It didn’t take long for my tongue to go from “wow, this tastes interesting and different” to “why doesn’t every chocolate dessert come with jasmine parfait”? I loved this, and I’m not even that keen on chocolate. And, it wasn’t even the best dessert of the meal! (It was just the dessert I didn’t completely suck at photographing.)

Dessert (Pollen, Singapore)

The other dishes we had were:

  • Duck consomme with slow cooked quail egg and lapsong souchong tea (starter; rich and satisfying)
  • Roasted baby beetroot salad with goats curd and pine nuts (starter; nice but not cataclysmically tastier than the beetroot salad we make at home, even though the ingredients they are using are obviously several million times better than ours)
  • Roasted cod, creamed olive oil potatoes, lemon conserve and sauce grenoblaise (really good even though neither of us is that keen on cod)
  • Crispy burnt lemon meringue with cucumber sorbet (best dessert of the meal and one of the best desserts we’ve ever had)

After the meal I was very pleased to find out that as patrons of the restaurant, we could get into the Flower Dome for free. I may not be very interested in flowers but I am absolutely riveted by the idea of getting something for nothing, so I was all like OH HELL YEAH LET’S EXPLORE US SOME FLOWERS!

For about an hour, anyway.

I’m more of a cactus person, really. When I saw these two, the little easy-listening radio station in my head started playing Sometimes When We Touch. And then, because little easy-listening radio stations never last very long in my head, the retro porn music channel started up instead.

Sometimes When We Touch...

I’m not sure why, but when I saw this, the retro porn music channel switched to a crackly sputtering one with an old British man reciting Jabberwocky. (No, I don’t know what Pollen put in those desserts.)

Twas brillig and the slithy toves...

I’d brought along the ultra-wide converter I don’t use enough, and had some fun playing with it.

Flower Dome (Gardens By The Bay, Singapore)

Outside, I strolled down something marked as a viewpoint for the Supertree grove and was quite amused at the particular view it gave, which is basically a real tree photobombing whatever photos you might want to take of the huge fake trees. Nature can be such a troll.

Real tree photobombs photo of fake trees

Evening came, and with it an intense need for teh ping and a return to my couch. So Alec brought the wife he occasionally refers to as “Mrs Boo Radley” home, but not before she thanked him for the lovely afternoon out and admitted the Gardens by the Bay weren’t so bad after all.

Supertree Silhouettes (Gardens by the Bay, Singapore)

Aiyoyo, Aoyama!

Am I just fussy, or did I get a disappointing bowl of ramen from Menya Aoyama, the newest stall at Ramen Champion? Compare the menu’s depiction of their Special Tonkotsu Ramen to the bowl I was actually served.

Menya Aoyama Ramen - Photo vs Reality

To me, the shredded leeks are important because their fresh, sharp taste cuts through the richness of the tonkotsu broth. As you can see, I got barely any in my bowl. I’m aware that this sort of discrepancy between photo and reality is par for the course in many other F&B contexts, but given the importance which is placed on presentation of the food in Japanese cuisine, I  have higher expectations of a Japanese eatery than I do for McDonalds.

If you’re wondering whether I just opened my mouth and asked for more leeks, no, I didn’t. I didn’t really scrutinize my bowl when I collected it at the counter and only realized how lacklustre it looked once I’d carried it to my table some distance away. And I was starving, so I just started eating hoping it would taste better than it looked.

Unfortunately, it didn’t. The chashu was really, really bland, more or less tasteless except for an odd chemical tang I can’t put my finger on. The soup was okay, but again, blander in taste than the soup from Bario, Iroha, Ikkousha or Gantetsu. (Obviously I can’t compare Taishoken because tsukumen-style “soup” is totally different.) The egg was also okay, but similarly unremarkable. The noodles were fine. Had I ordered this bowl of ramen in a food court for $6, I would have shrugged my shoulders and said, “Well, you get what you pay for.”  The problem is that I paid $15.

Dinner For Two: Onion Pandade + Curried Carrot Pear Salad

This isn’t a food blog, but I’ve decided to try making a note here of our nicer dinners. While I can store my own ratings of the individual recipes in Springpad (which I also use to store recipes, make shopping lists and generally do all our kitchen-related planning), I like the idea of also keeping track of which dishes worked especially well together.

I had the following conversation with Alec a while back, which entertained people on Facebook at the time but didn’t get recorded here:

Me: How should we use up this shitload of onions?
Alec: Hmm, maybe an onion soup.
Me: Isn’t that quite labour intensive though?
Alec: No, it’ll be fine with the food processor.
Me: Food processor?!
Alec: Ah right, we haven’t got one. Back to the drawing board then.
Me: ……

After unfreezing my face from the pained WTF grimace I reserve only for the person I love most in the world, I went looking for an easier way to use up that shitload of onions, and found this onion pandade. Paired with this shaved carrot and pear salad with curry vinaigrette, it made for a meatless meal which was hearty, savoury and refreshing all at once.

Because this was an afterthought, inspired simply by being halfway through this meal and never wanting it to end, I don’t have any photos, but it wasn’t the most photogenic meal anyway, for reasons I will now explain.

Although the onion pandade recipe is intended to yield what its author described as a “savoury bread pudding”, we discovered that by screwing up, you can actually make it into a really delicious onion soup. Alec decided to disregard my suggestion of a suitable oven dish and instead use one which was simultaneously too deep and too small, which meant that a fair amount of the stock didn’t get absorbed into the bread, and we got the golden, crunchy topping the recipe promised…but on the floor of the oven. No matter. Our onion pandade “stew” was still bloody tasty, and the oven floor got the clean it probably needed – not by me, of course.

Hong Kong Day 1: Lamb Bam, Thank You Ma’am

Hong Kong has always been near the bottom of our Asian to-go-list, because it seems more like Singapore than anywhere else within four hours’ flying distance. And if you can fly the same amount of time (or less) to see pygmy elephants in the wild or explore the 12th-century ruins of what was the largest pre-industrial city in the world, then why would you choose to go somewhere more or less like Singapore? But we felt like a short trip, most of Asia seemed swelteringly hot at this time of year, or prone to typhoons, or both, so we figured it might be a good time to visit the place most likely to have widespread air-conditioning and well-constructed buildings.

We landed on a Friday evening, so all this post will feature is photos of our rather decent-value hotel (because I’ve realized I sort of enjoy seeing those sorts of mundane snapshots in other people’s travel journals) and the first instalment of a magnificent 2-day roast meatfest.

Dorsett Regency Hotel (Corridor)

The Dorsett Regency Hotel is in the Western District of Hong Kong Island, which is not where you should stay if you are the type of Hong Kong visitor who’s just there to shop, shop, shop, unload your bags back at the hotel and then shop some more. But if, like us, you like the idea of staying somewhere with more of a neighbourhood feel and view taking public transport as a fun way of exploring a city (unless that city is LA, because I’ll need my own car to stalk Simon Cowell), this place is worth a look. It helps that the hotel’s rooms seem larger than the rabbit-hutch impressions I was getting on Tripadvisor of other hotels with similar prices but more touristy locations, and the hotel operates an hourly shuttle bus which will get you to the heart of Hong Kong island in about 10 minutes.

Dorsett Regency Hotel Room

Dorsett Regency Hotel Room

Once we’d checked in and established that the wi-fi worked – because that is obviously the correct way to order priorities: roof over head, check, ability to sit on ass under said roof squealing at cat videos, check – we headed out to Ba Yi restaurant for dinner. It specializes in Xinjiang cuisine, especially lamb dishes, although it also has camel!

Here is the filling of the lamb pancakes, which are served Peking duck style i.e. the filling, condiments and wrappers are served separately and you assemble your own. I realize it might have been better to show you a photo of a finished pancake, but that would have delayed me from cramming it into my mouth. These were as hearty and satisfying as you can imagine a pancake of mirepoix and meat to be.

Lamb Pancake Filling

One might not expect much from a vegetable dish in a meat-dominated restaurant, but each bite of these string beans with Szechuan pepper and minced meat was an umami-packed mouthsplosion.

Spicy String Beans

Although we had hoped to try the lamb skewers which Ba Yi is famous for, they’d run out, so we went with the roast lamb rack instead. Second choice never tasted so good. This was wonderfully tender, just fatty enough for me to revel in that juicy fat flavour without getting grossed out by too much of it (I have a fairly low threshhold for fatty meat) and Alec said it was some of the best lamb he’d ever had. A man from the West of Ireland has had a lot of lamb.

Roast Lamb Rack

Tofunky 2: Strawberry Banana Yuzu Tofu Smoothie

Following the earlier tofunkiness, I had a small portion of silken tofu left over. So when I made my breakfast smoothie the next day, I decided to use that instead of the yoghurt I normally would.

Then I reached into the fridge to grab the milk and my eye lit upon the Peelfresh yuzu juice that Alec bought to make his breakfasts happier. I had been all “oooOOOooo, FANCY, is Marigold orange juice not good enough for you any more, HUH HUH HUH?” (because I am that annoying), until I tasted it and realized that it was super delicious. So I decided to stick with the Asian theme of the smoothie and use the yuzu juice instead of milk. I haven’t felt so damn Asian since I scored an A in AO’level oral Mandarin.[1. Yes, this really happened. See item 12 here for the details.]

There are many ways of making smoothies, and I’m sure those of you who already make your own will have your own idea of how you’d incorporate silken tofu or yuzu juice into your mix of ingredients. But in case it’s yuzuful useful to anyone, here is what I yuzually usually do as a quick guide, followed by how I adapted it this time.

Standard smoothie template

  • 1/3 frozen banana (I cut the bananas into chunks and freeze them, then use 3 or 4 chunks per smoothie)
  • 1/2 cup other frozen fruit, in smallish chunks
  • 1/3 cup yoghurt
  • 2/3 cup milk or juice (or both)
  • Optional: handful of raw greens, like spinach or kai lan. I didn’t use them in this smoothie, but I often do in others.

Note: these proportions will give you a fairly liquid smoothie, because that’s what I like. If you like yours thicker, use 1/2 cup yoghurt with 1/2 cup milk/juice, and more banana.

Strawberry banana yuzu tofu smoothie

  • 1/3 frozen banana
  • 1/2 cup frozen strawberries
  • 100g silken tofu
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup yuzu juice

Note: If you want to use some other fruit instead of strawberries, I’d suggest staying within the realm of the uncomplicatedly sweet, like apples, pears or peaches, rather than something tarter like berries or another citrus fruit. The yuzu juice will give you enough complexity and piquance (which is really nice against the soy taste from the tofu), so I don’t think the other fruit needs to compete with it. This is also why I chose to use 1/3 cup each milk and yuzu juice, instead of 2/3 cup of just yuzu juice.

Blend and enjoy, preferably while doing the Carlton dance to It’s Not Unyuzual Unusual.

Yuzu Strawberry Banana Smoothie

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Tofunky: Singaporean Chocolate Tofu Pudding

There isn’t always much rhyme or reason to the things I do. I mostly bought the pack of silken tofu because it felt like a better way to get some variety out of a buy-two-for-$1.55 tofu offer than having two packs of firm tofu. I also mostly decided to blog about what I did with the silken tofu just so that the post title would add to this site’s ample repository of terrible puns and unnecessary song references.

 

I’ve used silken tofu in the usual Asian ways before, of course, but my extensive food blog skimming has also made me aware that people sometimes use it as a dairy alternative of sorts. While I have no health or ethical reasons to do so, I do happen to be a person who likes creamy desserts in a country where silken tofu is about a quarter the price of cream. And if you are one of those people too, you really owe it to yourself to try out Mark Bittman’s Mexican Chocolate Tofu Pudding (with one key Singapore-centric adjustment I will mention later). Because this?

Mexican Chocolate Tofu Pudding

Is tofucking awesome. You have to try it to believe how decadently well the tofu blends with the melted chocolate.

I won’t do blow-by-blow instructions the way I did for the Tropic Thunder Roasted Chickpeas, but for anyone who doesn’t regularly deal with chocolate, here are two guides I found useful:

Other things to note:

  • I used the 70% Lindt dark chocolate which is easy to find in most supermarkets here.
  • While the linked recipe states that it makes 4-6 servings, I found that halving the recipe already yielded 4 satisfactorily-sized servings, so beware of making the full amount and ending up with way too much first world problems intense chocolate bliss. The pudding is so rich that I would find it a little difficult to eat a large serving of it in one go, though obviously your chocolate mileage may vary.
  • If you’re Singaporean or have a typical Singaporean threshhold for spiciness, feel free to be considerably more liberal with the chilli powder than the recipe suggests. (I used dried chilli flakes rather than powder because that’s what I had at home.) So although I halved the other quantities in the recipe, I doubled the amount of chilli flakes! And to me, the resulting level of spiciness was perfect.

So there you have it, a dessert which will cost you a pittance at NTUC but tastes like something you bought from Awfully Chocolate, and ignores all sense of proportion and restraint when it comes to spiciness. What could be more Singaporean?

Addendum: Do also have a look at the Strawberry Banana Yuzu Smoothie I made with the remainder of the silken tofu. Also very Singaporean, because dun waste mah.

Tropic Thunder Roasted Chickpeas

Although roasted chickpeas are a foodblogger staple by now (not that this is a food blog) and I always intended to give them a try, the imminent meltdown of our freezer – which had about two cans’ worth of frozen chickpeas in it, among other things – was what eventually forced my hand. There are plenty of recipes out there already but I wanted to write a little about what worked for me and what didn’t, because I have a hunch that getting a roasted chickpea crispy and keeping it that way is tougher in the wretched humidity of Singapore than in drier climes.

I started off by following the method outlined in this recipe, which differs from many others I saw in that it has you dry-roasting the chickpeas for the first twenty minutes rather than chucking the oil in with them right at the start. Also, it uses a slightly higher temperature than other recipes I’ve seen. As I said, my hunch is that these measures are helpful for Singapore’s humidity, so if you are trying this out in Singapore (or anywhere else where the air is similarly sodden) I suggest you bear them in mind. In light of this, and the torrential rain that was pouring down when I roasted my first batch, I shall call them Tropic Thunder Chickpeas.

Tropic Thunder Chickpeas

Ingredients

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained, rinsed and patted dry with a paper towel
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Your choice of seasoning. Here’s what I used, but just use your intuition and go by your own taste:
    • Batch 1: Soya sauce (about 1 teaspoon, possibly a little more) and dried chilli flakes (liberal sprinkling)
    • Batch 2: Jerk seasoning (about 1 tablespoon)
    • In future batches, I might try curry powder or garam masala. This honey-miso combination looks great too.

Method

  1. See that source recipe uses Fahrenheit. Say “Convert 425 Fahrenheit to Celsius” into Google Search app. Obtain gibberish as response. Consider, given your unfortunate history with this app, that you may have been suffering from an undiagnosed speech defect all these years. Realize that constant construction noise in background which you have become inured to is probably confusing Google. Type in conversion query instead. Preheat oven to 220C.

  2. Place chickpeas in one layer on baking tray. Roast for 10 minutes, then shake tray around (some will be sticking to it, fiddle as necessary with spoon to unstick them) and roast for another 10 minutes.

  3. Pour chickpeas from baking tray into bowl comfortably sized for tossing oily chickpeas. Depending on shape of baking tray, avoid thinking your kitchen ninja skillz are sufficiently advanced that you will not spill any. If in doubt, fiddle as necessary with spoon to get them all safely in. Sprinkle with oil and your choice of seasoning, to taste. Toss to get them all nicely coated with flava.

  4. Pour chickpeas back onto baking tray. Intend to follow source recipe’s instructions to continue roasting 5-15 minutes more at the same temperature. Instead, get distracted by trying to supervise freezer repairman (who arrived somewhere during step 2) in Mandarin. Realize eventually that chickpeas have been in there for nearly 20 minutes. Extract them hurriedly from oven, pop one into mouth, and realize they are perfect. Upon attempting batch 2 on a different day, follow original instructions and end up with less crispy chickpeas. Shake fists at tropical sky.

  5. Allow chickpeas to cool, then store in glass jar which formerly held pasta sauce, and which you saved because you have become your mother. Refrigerate. Battle spiralling chickpea addiction over next few days, which is an important battle to wage, because at the end of the day they are still beans with beanly consequences, ahem ahem. Settle on portion control strategy of only eating one jar lid’s worth at a time. Resolve to buy bigger jars of pasta sauce in future.

Roasted Chickpeas with Jerk Seasoning

Lastly, out of sympathy for long-suffering readers who just want a damn copy-and-pastable recipe, condense method as follows:

  1. Preheat oven to 220C.
  2. Roast chickpeas, in one layer on baking tray, for 10 minutes. Shake tray to dislodge any chickpeas sticking to it, then roast 10 minutes more.
  3. Remove chickpeas from oven and transfer to bowl. Add oil and seasoning to taste, toss.
  4. Transfer chickpeas back to baking tray, continue roasting at 220C until browned and crispy. In Singapore, in my oven, this was 20 minutes.
  5. Allow to cool before storing in airtight container. Refrigerate.

Food Styling Fail

I made this Lemon Tuna Avocado Snack for my lunch the other day, and when I had finished preparing it I decided to take a photo of it for fun. While I didn’t agonize over the plating (hungry!), I arranged the elements of the dish in what I thought was a visually pleasing manner, positioned the plate for the shot, got my camera, fiddled with the settings, looked through the lens to admire what I felt sure to be a quirky yet appetizing composition, and saw…

…an abstract rendering of the female reproductive system.

I put away the camera and ate my lunch.

P.S. This has happened before.

Saturday Lunch

I rarely post much here about the cooking we do at home because I tend to think food blogging is all about the photos, and most of our cooking is done on week nights when I don’t have nice outdoor light to photograph the food in. But Saturday was a nice lazy day with nothing on the agenda except the Tiger Lillies gig later that night, and I was in one of the happy hazes I still get into about how much I love cooking with my husband, so I put that happiness on a plate and took pictures of it.

Puttanesca

We have cooked this puttanesca many times by now. It’s delicious, and can be thrown together from stuff in our pantry without needing to go out and buy anything fresh.

Minted Fennel, Orange and Red Onion Salad

When I trawl the Internet for recipes I usually ignore anything that looks too fiddly, and would definitely have ignored this minted orange, fennel and red onion salad recipe too. So it’s good that it was Alec who found the recipe, decided he had the necessary knife skills to take it on without using a special slicing device, and didn’t consult me at all.

So we made this simple yet sophisticated, flavourful, healthy, elegant lunch. And then we put our plates on the coffee table, sat on the floor, and ate it while watching The Hangover.