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Monday, March 30, 2015

Week 13 part 2 - Kurokawa Onsen

After breakfast we picked up our rental car to drive to Kurokawa hot spring area. Due to the minor issue of my lost-and-found iPad, we had a late start so were famished half way to our ryokan. I didn't want to eat at some restaurant chain so I kept driving until I saw a little place by the road side that looked promising.
Once I sat down and had a look around I knew I had picked the right place. The space was divided into three sections: a restaurant on the left, a retail space in the middle and a coffee shop on the right.

 The owner's pride in what they do shines through little details that dotted throughout the space, such as this little flower arrangement.

The menu didn't have too many items on it, which makes the selection easy. J picked the set meal on the right, which is the restaurants signature sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves. I ordered the set on the left, which is a persimmon leaf rice ball soup with anago chirashi-zushi bowl.

When the food came out we were pleasantly surprised again, first by the impeccable presentation:

My set came with a little cup of shiitake soup, marinated vegetables and a piece of pickled daikon.
The daikon was pickled in pink vinegar and cut into the shape of a sakura flower!

J's set had a piece of temari-zushi that had a daikon flower on top, it's hard to see from the bad photo but the flower was perfectly shaped.

My main dish of anago rice and rice ball soup. It was a lot of food but the soup was so nice I drank it all.
And J's persimmon leaf wrapped sushi and a bowl of ikura-don.

This style of sushi is not particularly our favorite but the stock for the clam soup was so light yet full of ocean flavors we couldn't put it down.

After finishing my food I went to check out the merchandise and chatted with the owner. She said their shop won the Heritage award of traditional (文化遺産)Japanese food for their persimmon sushi and when I told her the soup was very delicious she proudly said that it was a very special stock that they spent a lot of time making. I saw their extensive coffee selection and even though I was full by now I knew I shouldn't miss out on dessert and coffee if their food was anything to judge by. And sure enough the coffee jelly was probably the best I've ever had.

Before leaving we bought his and hers slippers (zori) hand made by a grandma to wear as room slippers back at home. I am happy to report that I am wearing them now as I type and they're very comfy.

After another hour of driving through some narrow mountain roads we finally reached our ryokan, Yamashinobu やましのぶ in the town of Ota 小田. We were promptly led to our room and tea was served.

After tea we changed into yukata and went to explore the three private onsens (hot springs) and the two public outdoor onsens. This is the women's outdoor onsen

Dinner was in a central dining building instead of served in room, like some traditional ryokan. I prefer it this way so that at least you have to walk a few steps back to the room after eating instead of going straight to bed.

Our dinner menu:

Dinners at ryokans are always served Kaiseki styled, which follows a very strict formula: a selection of small dishes to start, followed by a soup, sashimi, a covered dish, a hot dish, a grilled dish, some kind of meat, rice with pickles and miso soup, and a small dessert. 

Our amuse bouche was a tempura of white tree fungus topped with ikura, and the selection of small dishes were: white bait braised in pickled plum, broad beans stewed with honey, small squid, glutinous rice ball, grilled chicken, pickled eggplant, mountain yam tempura and baby daikon.

The clear soup had lotus root croquet, yuba and seasonal vegetables in it, and the sashimi consisted of tuna, fresh yuba, botan shrimp, and a squid that was so fresh it tasted creamy.

Next came a covered dish of tofu, sakura gluten, shiitake, and burdock roots, a chicken and daikon soup with komatsuna, and a grilled Yamame fish.

The meat dish of Aka-ushi sukiyaki was simply delicious. The Aka-ushi beef is a specialty of Kumamoto prefecture and has just the right balance of fat:lean meat ratio so it's melt in your mouth tender without being too greasy. Before the traditional rice with pickles and miso soup, Yamashinobu served an extra soba dish from a famous local restaurant 草太郎. J is not usually a fan of soba due to its limp texture, but these soba are different. They are firm and chewy, almost like udon.

 Dessert was soba chiffon cake and melon.

After dinner we went to sit by the fire in a hut in the middle of the ryokan ground and met a very talkative Japanese retiree who is an avid skier and scuba diver. Despite not speaking a word of foreign language, he spent the last twelve years traveling the globe. He had some really interesting stories to tell and was very keen to convince us that a cruise is the best way to travel.

 During the sake fueled conversation I looked up and saw this haiku and thought it described the scene to the T
Enjoying simple cooking, listening to interesting stories from the past, with a subtle fragrance in the air we drink sake together.

Week 13, part 1 - Fukuoka

Our trip to Japan this year started in Fukuoka, an area we've never been before, but first, a short stop in Haneda airport before getting on the domestic ANA flight to Fukuoka.

Unlike the international terminal or Narita airport, domestic terminals at Haneda have a lot of restaurants to choose from. At first we thought our first meal in Japan ought to be sushi, but were soon distracted by all the choices and settled on yakiniku in the end. J ordered beef tongue and I got Harami, which is the tender meat around the diaphragm.

While the meat was delicious, I felt like I needed something sweet to finish off, and it is then I saw Kihachi. Years ago, on my first look-see trip to Tokyo before moving there, there was a Kihachi across the street from our hotel and I thought their dessert was out of this world. Only when I moved there did I realize that Kihachi was just an average place by Japanese standard. Still, it held a special place in my heart because it was my initiation to the world of Japanese pastry. This Kihachi stand in Haneda sells soft served ice cream, and being spring, I ordered their seasonal special of strawberry vanilla ice cream on chocolate cake cubes. It was delicious!

We arrived in Fukuoka at dusk and was greeted with a beautiful sunset.

One of the specialties in Fukuoka is a style of hotpot (nabe) called mizutaki (水炊き) so we set off looking for the restaurant that is supposed to have the best mizutaki nabe in Fukuoka.
Being a Saturday night, the best mizutaki nabe restaurant was fully booked. However, on the way to the restaurant we passed many interesting places so we randomly picked one that's a few doors down the road and went in.

On top of the regular menu there's a list of daily recommended dishes and I ordered mostly from that menu.

We were very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food, especially the sashimi and the simple fire roasted edamame. We ordered a mini mizutaki hotpot (lower right corner), grilled gindara, agedashi tofu, lightly pickled nozawana, and cucumber strips dipped in a chunky miso sauce that was so good that we got another portion, as well as the rosted edamame. The best part? All of this plus three servings of sake came up to only 7500 yen!

After dinner we took a detour to the canal to walk back to our hotel in Canal City.

On the way we took a wrong turn and ended up in the red light district, where we saw our first cherry blossom of the trip, except they were so out of place I thought they were fake =oP

By the canal we saw a row of street stalls with tiny counters around a central cooking area shrouded in plastic curtains. Most of them sell Hakata ramen, which is another specialty of the area, with soup stock made from pork bones. One of them, however, had a different menu that looked interesting. At this point we were by no means hungry but definitely greedy, so we sat down to have some more.

The beef tongue was not as good as the one at Haneda airport, but the grilled conch and anago tempura were both delicious and the tomato was unbelievably sweet. The star dish, however, was the mentaiko tempura. Let's have a closer look

Mentaiko was wrapped in shiso leaves, dipped in batter, then fried. It was genius! If I knew I would've skipped the beef tongue and ordered another one of this. How is it that I've never had this until now??

The next morning I took a walk from our hotel to Tenjin area and found Kouign Amann at the Paul in a department store basement! Last May I was running around Paris trying to look for this with a friend but I see now it's made its way to Japan!

Back at the hotel we shared the Kouign Amann and a new biscuits by Yoku Moku that I bought at Haneda airport for breakfast. The biscuit is made of choux dough and baked until it's crispy. I didn't like it as much as their signature cigare rolls, but look at the single-serve drip coffee provided by our hotel. Isn't it smart?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Week 12, 2015

Mar 16 (Mon)

I'm definitely more a dessert person than a food person. If I have to choose between food and dessert, I defintely choose dessert. And that is why when I flipped through the recipe booklet that came with my new toy, the Philips Air Fryer, the coconut banana fritters immediately caught my eyes. I love pisang goreng sold in hawker centres in Singapore, but they're really greasy. Imagine if I can make an almost oil-free version!
I bought mini bananas for this, as they're sweeter and has a tighter texture, which I like. The batter has desiccated coconut in it so it smelled really good while the fryer was going. The recipe said 8 minutes, but it looked too pale so I fried it for another 5 minutes, and they finally looked golden. I poured melted chocolate on top and served with strawberries. Again, it's not the same as the real thing, but it's sweet, it's crispy, and it's almost completely oil free! Because it's so fast and easy to make, I think it can be an emergency snack when my sweet tooth takes over.

A while ago one of J's colleagues brought back some frozen Taiwanese Zhua Bing for us. It's a popular street food sold in night markets in Taiwan, something between a roti prata and a scallion pancake. The Chinese character "zhua" 抓 means to pick up or to pinch, and it refers to the pinching motion you need to carry out while frying these babies. Here's a website I found teaching you how to make it.

Anyway the ones I received were already made into the shape and frozen, so all I had to do was to fry them. Since I've never done it before, I don't think I pinched them enough, so they came out more or less still in one piece, instead of really shredded, like the way they are served up in Taiwan. It still tasted good though =o)

I made my favourite green curry recipe to go with the Zhua Bing. Instead of pouring the curry on rice, I used the pancakes to dip in the curry

This is one of my favorite Thai green curry recipes, and it's from a cookbook. I'll post the recipe after I come back from my trip.

Mar 17 (Tue)

Air-fryer testing continues. I tried the fried chicken wing recipe that came in the air-fryer recipe booklet. What came out was more like a very nicely roasted chicken wing, but definitely not fried. Considering the short cooking time and the fact that there's no need to heat up the oven, I am ok with this.

The next recipe was definitely a success. I made the Zucchini Parmesan Crisps a while ago in the oven, and although the surface was crispy when it first came out of the oven, it became soggy after a while. Cooked in the air fryer, the surface was a deeper golden color, and it stayed crispy for hours. This is definitely a keeper.

Mar 18 (Wed)

Fuel for my 7am jumping lesson today is a avocado smoothie
1/2 avocado, 1/2 naval orange, 2c baby spinach, 1/2c plain yogurt, 1 home made coconut strawberry popsicle. I'm starting to think that there is no wrong way to make a smoothie because no matter what you put in, it always comes out yummy =o)
Grilled Halloumi with Watermelon Mint Basil Oil

This is one of my favourite salads to eat. First of all, I love Halloumi cheese. If I have to become a vegetarian one day, I think I can live with substituting all grilled meat with Halloumi. Second of all, there's something very addicting about combining the sweetness of the watermelon and the briney taste of Halloumi. Last but certainly not the least, roasted cherry tomato with basil mint oil, yum!!

Chilled Thai Squash Soup with Yogurt and Cilantro

I wanted a cold soup to go with the salad and this was pretty nice. Flavor is mild, but not bland.

Mar 19 (Thur)

Chicken Cutlet with Romesco & Serrano Crackins

I found this recipe in my files and it turned out really nicely. I don't remember the last time I made this but I will definitely make this again soon. I used bacon instead of Serrano, so it's like bacon bits. The salad had very little dressing on it, but paired nicely with the chicken cutlet. The key to this dish is not to cook the chicken too much so it's still juicy. I stick a small knife into the breast when I think it's about done and watch the color of the juice that comes out. If it's pink it's not done. Try again in a few minutes, until the juice is clear.

Mar 20 (Fri)

I'm leaving for Japan at midnight so it's time to clean out the fridge of perishables, and what better way to do it than to make smoothie!
 1/2 avocado, 1 frozen banana, watermelon
watermelon, naval orange, strawberries, yogurt

One before riding, one after riding, and Istria and all the horses got lots of watermelon rinds.

Before I started packing and researching on places to go in Fukuoka, I had two cakes to bake. This is one of them: the Reeses's Peanut Butter Cup

In view of all the ramen and yummy Japanese rice we'll be eating for the next week, dinner was carb free

Tex-Mex Tilapia

Crunchy Fennel Salad w/ dates grapes olives & almond

Have to go to the airport in two hours, not done packing yet, but my nails are ready for some sakura viewing!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Week 11, 2015

 Mar 9 (Mon)

Happy Monday! I had a very busy day today. Went for Body Combat for the first time in months and sweated buckets. Completed my first bakery order and went to graze Istria at the Polo Club in the afternoon. As we were walking back to the stable at 5pm I turned around and saw this. Isn't it beautiful? I'm always amazed that you can still find places like this in the concrete jungle that is Singapore.

I went to pick up some bone-in pork chops at Isetan after my Body Combat session and made Pork Chop au Poivre for dinner. The sauce is lovely on rice or on salad. Today I served it on a bed of butterhead lettuce.

I always brine pork so they don't get too tough when you cook it, but when you brine meat remember to cut down the salt in the recipes so they don't end up too salty.

Mar 10 (Tue)

Sometimes I really wonder what makes a restaurant/café successful/popular. It doesn't seem to always be a reflection on the food, or location. I've been hearing and seeing photos of this coffee joint everywhere since last year, but never made it there because the location is just too weird. Then today two of my friends have kids swimming in a stadium in the area, so we decided to catch up there. The coffee was ok, but I can't say it was mind-blowing, which is what I expected from a place that prides itself on its home-roasted beans. The food, on the other hand, was borderline bad. I ordered a pork burger, which had a whiff of past-the-sell-by-date taste, and at $18, I expected real fries, not some broken chips out of a bag.

My friend H's tuna steak had a fishy smell, and J's smoked salmon on focaccia bread looked puny and unappetizing. I tried the almond croissant that A ordered and it was completely dry. Almond croissant is one of the easiest things to make if you can get your hands on almond syrup. The one we had didn't seem to have any syrup in it at all, nor any almond taste. Needless to say, I will never go back to this place again. Nothing annoys me more than wasting my stomach on bad-tasting calories.

After the unsatisfactory lunch I needed some comfort food, and since hubby's not coming home for dinner I went for my default simple pantry meal: a traditional Shanghai noodle dish with pickled vegetable and meat topping. The pickle comes in a can, and so far I've only found it in the Chinese grocer Yue Hwa in Chinatown. The packaging looks like this, and although it says pickled cabbage, it's not cabbage at all.

I usually stir-fry one can of this with about 200g of pork or chicken slices, or minced pork. I then make a soup stock with 50% chicken stock and 50% water. Boil some noodle, add the soup and put the pickle/meat combo on top, and you have yourself a meal.

Mar 11 (Wed)

Today is SOSD day, but because my instructor is in Germany helping some big shot in the show jumping world build courses, my jumping lesson before SOSD was cancelled, so I got to sleep in a little, and had a normal breakfast of toast and coffee, along with a smoothie.

I soaked half a cup of oatmeal in half a cup of almond milk overnight and blended it with some strawberries and blueberries in the morning.

For dinner I met up with my bunch of foodie girlfriends at our favorite Peking duck restaurant in Paragon shopping center. Restaurants that serve Peking roasted duck in Singapore are dime a dozen but this place does it the best. I like the fact that the skin is always crispy without being greasy and heavy, and they do a very good duck fried noodle with the meat that's left on the carcass.

Whenever I get together with this group of friends, conversation never stray too far from food and we exchange information on all kinds of food related topics. This time I found out about a Nonya lady who teaches Peranakan cuisine from her house. Here's her website: Grandmother's Recipes 

I also learned where to get cheap and good organic vegetables from the supplier's warehouse

Mar 12 (Thur)

J is not coming home for dinner tonight, which is just as well because I spent the whole afternoon baking for my charity drive.

I tested a new cookie recipe to be added to the bakery as well. The double chocolate oatmeal cookie. Ta-da!

With so much baking, dinner was just a smoothie and my go-to grilled cheese sandwich.
1/2 avocado, 1/2 mango, 50g blueberry, 1/3c home made yogurt, enough almond milk to thin it.

Mar 13 (Fri)

My friend P read about a neighbourhood bakery that sells authentic French bread and another friend A went to check it out, and said it's one of the best in Singapore. A is an Le Cordon Bleu alum and who also completed a bread course at one of New York's culinary institutes, I just can't remember which one now. So when a bakery gets A's stamp of approval, it's a must-go.

The shop is called the Bread King They are open from 7:30am to 8pm on weekends, but on weekdays they close from 1pm for a few hours in mid day. Besides bread, they carry some cooking ingredients as well, and A scored some burrata that was freshly shipped in from France. It's a little bit out of the way for me, but I think I need to check it out soon.

Bread King
43 Burghley Drive
6289 2508

After chowing down the croissant that A bought for me from Bread King (it's gone soft in this humidity but the flavour is very good) we went searching for lunch in Tiong Bahru. Here's my friend L admiring the unique architecture that's unique to old houses in Singapore.

In the past few years trendy cafes have been popping up one after the other in Tiong Bahru, but I'm sad to say, none of them has really good stand-out food. Today we ended up in a place called PoTeaTo. Because we weren't too hungry, the four of us shared two main dishes and a big jug of lime juice. The fish and chips and their fries were decent, but the ribs were not cooked enough so the meat was very hard to cut off the bone. I guess at least they're true to their name and does good fries, but I don't think I'll go back again just for fries. Another place stricken off the list =o(

I've been seeing the Philips Air Fryer everywhere, in stores, at friends' homes, everywhere! I have so many kitchen appliances that I have to think really really hard before buying anything now so it took me a while to finally bite the bullet and get one for myself. It arrived today, just in time to make an oven-fry recipe in the air-fryer.

Mexican Fries

Four potatoes fit just nice in the fryer basket. I decreased the oil from 4 tbsp in the recipe to 1 tbsp according to the recipe booklet that came with the fryer. It took 5 min of pre-heating, and 20 min of "frying" (shake half way).


The fries that came out of the fryer had a slightly crispy outer layer and a warm and soft interior, something in between the real deal and the oven-fried version. I never expected the air fryer to give identical result to deep frying so this works for me.

When J came home later, the fries were cold, so I put them back into the fryer at the same setting for 10 minutes, without the pre-heat. To my great surprise, they came out crisper! Isn't that nice to know! So next time I'll double fry to get them crisper.

The BBQ Margarita Chicken Tostadas was very ordinary. The chicken taste no different from if I had just mixed it with some bbq sauce. The salsa was nice though, so the recipe is worth saving after all.

Mar 14 (Sat)
I have a habit of browsing through Pinterest before bed and sometimes I see a recipe that I want to try and start mentally checking off if I have all the ingredients needed that I end up losing sleep. Does anyone else do that?
Anyway, on Friday night I saw a photo of a biscuit with an egg hidden inside that I just had to try. The ingredient list was short, flour, eggs and butter are always on hand. My chives are dying but I do have oregano and I still have cheddar left from another recipe that I shredded and froze. Of course I have yogurt, so I'm all good to go. 
I was already planning to make Chicken Sausage with Brussels Sprouts and Fennel for brunch but decided that I can make the biscuit too. It all worked out well, because the biscuit needs to bake at 475F while the sausage skillet bakes at /250C.

Surprise Cheddar Biscuit


The hardest part of this was to boil the eggs to the right doneness. Because the biscuits will need to be baked with the egg inside, I didn't want to have a hard boiled egg at the end, so I tried to have a soft  egg yolk to start with. The first time I tried the eggs were too soft and I couldn't peel them without them falling apart. The second time I cooked them closer to a medium, and they were much easier to peel.

The dough was fairly easy to make in a food processor, but whatever you do, DO NOT over work your dough, or you'll have a very tough biscuit. Shaping the dough around the eggs was a little tricky because it's very sticky, so make sure you wet your hands. I ended up with a little extra dough, which I made into a regular biscuit. They bake very fast, 5 min at 475F and 5 min at 400F.

These biscuits were huge but they were so yummy you'll want to eat it all. I devoured my half in just a few bites and took some from my in-laws too. The texture is very soft and airy, and the cheddar and oregano adds a nice flavour to the biscuit. It's definitely a keeper. If I'm not in the mood to impress I may just shape them into regular biscuits without the eggs inside. Then you wouldn't have to worry about over-cooking the eggs, and should be able to bake them at the normal 180-200C for about 15-20 minutes.

Then a foodie friend of mine saw the photo I posted on WeChat and commented that I could try salty eggs inside the next time. Brilliant idea! Or maybe even century eggs! I've always loved the century egg pastry in Hong Kong, so why not put it in a biscuit?! Mmmmm, the possibilities!!

For dinner I made Mint Marinated Shrimp with Tabbouleh

It's the perfect dinner on a hot summer day, and also feels healthy ;o)
Mar 15 (Sun)

My in-laws will be leaving in two days after their 3-month visit, so today we went for lunch at our favourite dim sum place, which is the same group as the Peking duck place I went to earlier in the week. There are many restaurants for dim sum in Singapore and our friends have recommended to us their favourite places, including the famous Hua Ting, the Cathay, the one in Carlton Hotel, and Peach Garden, but after trying all of them we still go back to Imperial Treasure in Great World City whenever we want to have dim sum. While Hua Ting and Cathay are both pretty good, I think Imperial Treasure has the best Liu Sha Bao (salty egg yolk custard buns), which is a must-have for me when I go for dim sum. They also have a steamed dessert with alternating layers white bun dough and salty egg yolk. Yes, I do have an addiction to salty egg yolks...

I picked up some flank steak from Cold Storage for dinner and made it with my favourite recipe: Martha Stewart's Soya Lemon Flank Steak

Once in a while it's nice to take a break from the highly fatty wagyu steaks and sink your teeth into some chewy muscles, and flank steak is just the right thing for that =o)