Monday, 31 October 2011

30-minute meal

I got home a bit late in the evening and had no time to really think about what to cook for dinner. YK arrived home shortly after, announcing that he was starving. I sprung into action immediately, starting with the rice which normally takes about 15 minutes to cook.

Luckily I already had a piece of salmon steak (already seasoned with teriyaki sauce a day ago) thawing in the chiller. While that was being panfried, I worked on 2 salads. The first was easy to put together.

Just cut up some tomatoes, a mango and small onion. Mix together and add sliced chilli, coriander, pinch of salt, black pepper, chopped garlic, fresh lime juice and a splash of olive oil and chuck the whole thing in the fridge.

The glass noodle salad requires a bit more effort. Blanch fresh prawns and cuttlefish in chicken stock, set aside. Then blanch glass noodles and long bean in the stock. Drain and mix together with the seafood. The seasoning is easy to put together. Mix fish sauce, sugar (I used gula melaka) and lime juice and pour over the noodle. Garnish with sliced tomato, onions, chopped chilli and coriander.

I also did a quick stirfry of shredded carrot and cabbage (no photo). Finally, I cooked a long bean omelette while the boys set the table.

It took me under 30 minutes to prepare 5 dishes and everything was wolfed down in less than 15 minutes. According to the boys, quickie meals always turn out better than the ones I spend hours slaving over. Well, some dishes just can't be hurried.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

How to make Eight Treasure Duck

We Teochews love to eat duck. I know because when dad brought us out for lunch when we were young, we always had duck rice. My late granny made the best braised duck too. Funny though, I hardly eat duck these days maybe because it takes too much effort to prepare at home. Tonight I felt like treating my dad to duck, so I took the trouble to make this elaborate dish called Eight Treasure Duck.

I got a medium sized fresh duck from the supermarket. After cleaning thoroughly (remember to remove the stinky gland from the butt), I rubbed five spiced powder, salt and dark soy sauce inside the cavity and all over the skin.

For the stuffing, I used dried shitake mushrooms, chestnut, barley, dried oyster and shrimps, ginkgo nut, red dates and wolfberries. You can vary the ingredients if you like.

The stuffing must be stir-fried to bring out the flavour. Add a teaspoon oil in a pan. Brown some sliced shallots and the dried shrimps until fragrant, then add everything else and fry for about 5 minutes. Season with pepper and soy sauce. Leave aside to cool.

Stuff everything into the cavity of the duck and seal up the hole using string or toothpicks. Then put the duck into a preheated oven and grill the duck on high heat until the skin is crispy and brown. Turn and do the same on the other side.

After that, remove from oven and steam in a wok for 3 hours. The meat will be so tender and the stuffing so delicious, you wish you could eat it everyday.

This is what it looks like after an hour of steaming. I had to top up water in the wok every now and then.

After grilling the duck in the oven, I ended up with a bowl of oil. This is good stuff. I've seen most of the stores in France selling this. I kept it in the fridge knowing it will come in useful one day.

Try making your own Eight Treasure Duck and let me know how it turns out.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Balboa Island

After 2 days of shopping, I couldn't bear to step into another mall, so I headed the other way, to one of the loveliest places in California - Balboa Island.

Indeed, the moment you cross the bridge and enter Marine Avenue of Balboa Island, you're immediately transported into another world.

Balboa Island is a charming community of beach-inspired boutiques and All-American ice cream shops and a myraid of restaurants. It is also a place that is oozing Southern California architecture, Mediterranean homes, harbors filled with luxury yachts and wide stretches of sand lined with quaint beach homes.

It was a chilly morning and the streets were still quiet when I arrived. The first thing I noticed were the luxury houses overlooking the sea and was amused to see this big CosmetiCare - Plastic Surgery Specialists building along the street. Needless to say, this is big business in LA!

The morning fog hung in the air for most part of the day.

Walking down Marine Avenue, the main business street, I was charmed by the little boutiques selling knick knacks, clothes, flip flops and beach wear.

It is easy to get a sense of nostalgia here.

The frozen banana is a must-eat around here. I had one of course.

Even though the air was chilly, I couldn't resist the hot chocolate fudge sundae sprinkled with pecan brittle. It was amazing!

At the end of the street, I turned and walked along the pier that is lined with beautifully decorated beach houses. Most of these are holiday homes owned by the rich and famous, like the one below which has many sculptures in the living room including John Wayne's. I heard he has a house in Balboa. Could this be the one?

These houses come with private jetties too.

There's even a Statue of Liberty in someone's yard.

It was just days away from Halloween, many houses were elaborately decorated.

After admiring the gorgeous homes, I took a ferry to Balboa Peninsula just across the waters. The ferries bring cars (maximum 3) and people across for a small fee. It's US$1 per person.

Balboa Peninsula is a neighbourhood city of the Newport Beach.

The carpark was filled with cars but the beach was rather empty because of the cold.

Most families were having Sunday brunch in the local restaurants like Ruby's or Cab Cantina.

After a quick walkabout, I took a ferry back to Balboa Island. It was not the right day to be at the beach.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Hits and misses

Maybe I had too much time on my own, I made it a point to eat well this trip. I must admit that I ate more than necessary, sometimes out of sentimental reasons like the cheese burger at In-N-Out.

Some years ago, a friend brought me to In-N-Out Burger near San Francisco and I fell in love with the amazing cheeseburger. I'm not a fan of hamburgers but the one I ate really blew my mind. I remember how the soft and fluffy buns were toasted at the stove until the sides were slightly charred and the patty was so soft, the entire burger melted in my mouth. The fries were crispy with a buttery taste, they were the best I've ever had.

At that time, the outlet at San Rafael was teeming with people waiting for their numbers to be called. The hive of energy made our burger joints in Singapore pale in comparison. My first experience at In-N-Out was a most memorable one. Even though I had been back to USA many times after that, I didn't get a chance to savour another In-N-Out burger.

So when I walked by this outlet at Costa Mesa on Saturday morning, I went right in. It was early and I was the 8th customer. I ordered the set meal and waited for my number to be called. The kitchen staff appeared to be newcomers who looked quite lost and were reprimanded by the manager more than once. As I watched them assembling the burgers, I noticed they lacked the skill and energy. And they didn't toast the buns!

To me, toasting the buns had given the burgers that special edge over the garden variety burgers out there. You should see my disappointed face when I collected my order.

To be fair, the bun was very soft, still miles ahead of the competition. The patty was so tender and juicy, every bite was satisfying. It would have been better if the buns were toasted though. The fries didn't fare too well. Though they were freshly fried, some weren't very crispy. More importantly, they have lost that buttery taste I remember so well. I suspect they use a healthier type of oil here because of the clientele. The one I went to in San Rafael was filled with hungry truck drivers whereas this one in Orange County caters to families.

I shouldn't have ordered the fries because I ended up thowing away most of it. After the heavy breakfast, I went shopping at South Coast Plaza for the next 4 hours.

Everything in USA, from the meals to hotel rooms, is larger than normal. It is no surprise that South Coast Plaza is so sprawling that in the 2 days I was there, I couldn't cover all the stores. I must have walked for miles and miles before I realised it was almost 3pm. Most of the restaurants have stopped serving lunch, so I ended up at ZCafe again.

The chicken salad I ordered was a mistake. The grilled chicken breast was dry, tough, overly charred and horribly bitter. I decided against sending it back and ate up the greens instead.

From ZCafe, I could see Hamamori nearby. Now, according to a food critic (forgotten his name), this restaurant is a gem and yet to be discovered by foodies. For two days, I had arrived too late for lunch as they close at 2.30pm. I was so determined to dine here before I leave LA, I hung around the mall for 2 more hours.

I was one of the first to arrive when the restaurant reopened at 5pm. There are so many dishes on the menu that I wanted to try but how much can I eat? I went for an appetiser and a sushi platter.

The complimentary miso soup and salad were a pleasant surprise.

The miso soup was chockful of goodies like fresh mushrooms, onions and even small diced sweet potato. It was really delicious.

The humble looking green salad, drenched in a zesty dressing with a hint of tahini, was surprisingly good. It was such a pleasure to eat garden-fresh produce that is so lacking in Singapore (cos we import everything), I savoured every bite of the sweet carrot and crispy greens. The chef is really a genius to add candied cashew and fresh raspberries into the salad which really made the salad outstanding.

After such a great start, I was really excited when the Appetizer Trio arrived.

I came here because of the chef's ingenuity in giving a new twist to traditional Japanese cuisine. The seared scallop with truffle-infused Saikyo miso and sliced truffle (below) is an outstanding example. Needless to say, it was my favourite that night.

The albacore (type of tuna) with crispy maui onion was another winner.

Seared hamachi (yellowtail) paired with Kanzuri chilli paste which gave a kick to the half-raw fish.

My main meal - sushi combination - was fresh and satisfying.

I particularly enjoyed the 6 pieces of spicy tuna roll.

The most outstanding sushi must be the largest piece of uni (sea urchin) I had ever eaten. It was so amazing that I could really enjoy the unique and complex flavour that only the freshest uni can bring. The sweet, luscious and so fragant (even more so that the truffle) taste make one cannot imagine that it is raw and harvested from a spiky sea creature.

Naturally, I left Hamamori feeling extremely satiated and pleased. I wish I could return there again to savour the rest of their hot meals too.

After indulging in a good dinner, I skipped breakfast the next morning and headed to Balboa Island. The island is rather touristy with lots of cafes filled with people having the typical American Brunch.

While walking near the beach, the wonderful smell of grilled meat wafted in my direction. It was a cart selling Mexican food.

The spicy pork looked really good, so I ordered 2 tacos.

They were the best tacos I've ever had! The stall owners could barely speak English but they sure know how to make the best Mexican food. The 2 tacos only cost me US$3.

Having heard so much about Balboa Island's frozen chocolate banana, I had to try one. Honestly, it was nothing fantastic. Just take a frozen banana, dip in molten chocolate and sprinkle with nuts. It cost me US$3.50, more than my taco lunch!

To round off the trip, I had Peruvian dinner at Inka Grill, a cosy restaurant just across our hotel. It was a cold day, probably as cold as it can get in LA and I was looking out for something spicy to warm me up. I'm glad I didn't end up choosing Wernerschnitzel (hotdogs), Subway or Del Tacos (not taco again for dinner!) because Peruvian food is good!

What is Peruvian food anyway? I'm not sure but somehow the dishes I ordered turned out to be rather Asian. The appetiser, fried shrimp in a light batter, was very tasty. After the bad experience with charred chicken, I avoided chicken altogether. It's difficult to go wrong with shrimp as long as they are fresh. These were fresh and they went so well with the onion salad (dressed in vinegar and cilantro) and panfried potato.

The main dish, a seafood stew cooked in garlic and onion were surprisingly good. There were chunks of boiled tapioca which I liked very much. The rice is the long grain type that we use back home. The seafood was very fresh and the green gravy tasted like a lightly spiced curry.

To wash everything down, I had a glass of sangria which came with diced apple inside. Again, I was so impressed with how crispy the apple was. Sadly, by the time apples travel across the world to get to our supermarket shelves, they have already lost that crunch.

Once again, I was glad I stumbled upon yet another restaurant that serves good food. In fact, the restaurant at our Ayres Hotel serves good food too.

For dinner one night, I had nachos which was served on a huge plate filled with diced chicken, mashed beans, guacamole and tomato salsa and melted cheese.

It was a hit!