Kasseler Mit Puree Und Kraut: German Smoked Pork Bliss

I used to think there was nothing better than waking up in the morning to the smell of bacon frying in the kitchen.

And then I woke up one afternoon from a deliciously languorous nap, having fallen asleep with a book on my chest, to the smell of bacon frying in the kitchen.

The bacon was just the first sign of a terrific meal ahead. What was on the menu? Kasseler mit puree und kraut — smoked cured pork neck with sweet buttery mashed potatoes and bacon-inflected sauerkraut …

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Belle Harbor Steak House (Rockaway Park, N.Y.): Back to the Basics

There’s something to be said for a solid, old-school meal.

What this means varies, of course, depending on where you are. In the U.S., I’ve always relished the mom-and-pop low-key restaurants that still roll out unfussy, decades-old standbys — hot turkey platters, melts, meatloaf and more. (If you’ve read “A Tiger in the Kitchen,” you’ll know what a meatloaf obsessive I am.)

I find myself craving these meals when it gets a little chilly. And so on a recent rainy day, we found ourselves heading over to a little restaurant called Belle Harbor Steak House in Rockaway Park, New York.

I’d caught a glimpse of the menu a few days before and it seemed like just the place to warm you up on a cold drizzly afternoon …

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Pork Giniling: A Home-Spun Fix

One thing invariably happens when I find myself wading through illness — yes, it’s a cliche, but visions of the home cooking of my girlhood start invading my few conscious thoughts.

My mother’s watercress soup, the fish congees she would set out for breakfast, even her turmeric fried chicken wings, inappropriate as they are for the bedridden — these all start to haunt me.

So when I found myself mired in a rather sad state recently, it was no surprise that all I suddenly could think about was a dish of pork slices and potatoes — sometimes with peas tossed in — swimming in a sweet and tangy tomato gravy.

Like many of the dishes I grew up with, I had taken this one for granted and never observed its execution. How it had come to be or what it was called, I had never known — it simply appeared about once a week, part of the regular rotation at Chateau Tan.

In my dismal state, I latched onto this dish as something I simply had to have. I believed it would cure me. And after some browsing, I finally learned its name — a Filipino staple called pork giniling …

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Apple-Cheese Meatloaf: Pretty Sweet Meat (And a Gourmet Jerky Giveaway)

At a recent “A Tiger in the Kitchen” reading at Powell’s Books in Beaverton, Oregon, a young man asked a question I’ve been getting a fair bit: “What’s your favorite thing to cook?”

It’s a sound question, given my book is a memoir told through food and cooking. And my answer always surprises people: “Meatloaf.”

Although Tiger is about a year I spent traveling to Singapore, where I was born, to rediscover my native culture by learning how to cook, in my Brooklyn kitchen, it’s often good old American meatloaf that I turn to when I’m looking for something easy, satisfying — and likely to yield lots of leftovers. My obsession with meatloaf began when I moved to the United States at age 18. I had never encountered this brick of meat before — it was truly exotic to me.

Since I mention this fact in the book, some readers have been awfully generous in sharing their prized meatloaf recipes. And when my book tour recently took me to Seattle, where I had a lovely catch up with a dear, dear friend, he happened to mention a magical meatloaf recipe that he adores.

The moment I saw the name of Russ’s recipe — “Apple Cheese Loaf” — I knew I had to try it …

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Kong Bak Pau: Braised Pork Belly Sandwiches


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Picnics have never been my favorite thing. Bugs, heat, grass, dirt — need I say more?

The picnics of my childhood in Singapore, however, were another thing entirely. The urge to organize one would only occasionally grip my family. But when it did, we’d find ourselves by the beach on a clear Sunday, inhaling the salty breeze as we unpacked plastic bags of food on wooden picnic tables. We’d have sandwiches and fried snacks; an uncle would fire up the beachside grill for the chicken wings we’d marinated.

So when my hungry Let’s Lunch group decided on fall picnic food for our monthly virtual lunchdate, I immediately thought of my bygone Singaporean excursions.

The perfect food for this occasion? My mother’s kong bak pau — a sandwich made up of a Chinese mantou bun filled with braised pork belly …

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Kitchen-Sink Stir-Fry: Spring Cleaning Your Fridge


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It’s hard to think about spring when there’s still snow on the ground in New York. But one must be optimistic — which we are over here in the Let’s Lunch crowd.

Fresh off our breathless postings on aphrodisiac-laced dishes in February, our thoughts immediately turned to warmer times as we debated what to make next for our monthly virtual lunch date.

How about “spring cleaning (the fridge?)” Stephanie over at The Cosmic Cowgirl suggested.

And so, kitchen-sink recipes to help you springclean your fridge it was.

Now, since I have several solid grocers (and one neat butcher) within a 2-minute walk of my Brooklyn apartment, I tend to buy as I cook. (I’ve never really been one to stock up my fridge like there’s no tomorrow, anyhow.)

Nonetheless, there are a few basics that I must always have in my fridge: Bacon, tofu and some sort of ground meat, usually pork or beef.

Bacon is a wonder that must be consumed on its own, in my book. (Or, in a bacon explosion. Or a BLT. Or … I digress.)

But what to do with tofu and ground pork? The possibilities are endless …

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786 Yassin Restaurant: “Drunk Food” To Remember


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The moment I heard about 786 Yassin Restaurant, a place in Singapore that reputedly serves outstanding Indian mutton soup, I instantly begged to be taken.

When done well, soup kambing, as it’s called, is a hefty flavor bomb that’s hard to forget. It comes infused with coriander, cumin, cardamom, turmeric, nutmeg and star anise (among other spices) and dotted with crispy fried shallots and soft onion chunks.

This, no doubt, is the Chanel of soups.

When to have it, however, turned out to be something to consider.

“You can’t have soup kambing now lah,” said my friend Basil, who had told me about Yassin, prompting me to immediately suggest heading there for dinner. ”It’s mabuk food.”

Ahh, drunk food — the dishes that are the perfect panacea when you’re leaving a bar at 2 a.m. and looking for something to quell your hunger and sober you up. In the case of soup kambing, this heady concoction of spices does an especially efficient job of clearing your head and helping you wade out of your Chivas fog.

I didn’t want to have to get drunk in order to try Yassin’s though. So after some persuading, we were on our way.  

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Gayatri Restaurant: One For The Road


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Your last meal in any city is no small matter, I’ve always believed.

It’s the meal you might still be able to taste as you look out at the diminishing skyline from the plane; the one that you’ll be thinking of to tide you over until you return again.

During my most recent trip to Singapore for book research, where to have my last supper was a particularly hard decision.

I’d eaten well. In just a few weeks, I’d clocked not one but two visits to Hock Lam for the umami bomb that is its gooey beef ball noodles. I’d trekked to the seafront Changi Village to sample the nasi lemak, a Malay dish of coconut rice with a fried chicken wing, sambal chili, fried egg and crunchy anchovies, from a hawker stall I loved but hadn’t visited in over 10 years. And I’d had a lovely lunch at Iggy’s, a high-end restaurant that served up a custard-like French toast dessert topped with thick flecks of truffles that was truly unforgettable.

When plotting the appropriate finale, one thing instantly came to mind.

My friend Basil had told me a few weeks back about taking some people to his favorite restaurant in Little India to eat spicy mutton, drink beer and watch the world go by. 

The choice was obvious.

Come, I said, let’s go.

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Top 10: The Memorable Eats Of 2009


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You know it’s been a good year when you are able to say this: 2009 was when I began to eat for a living.

I’d always been a devotee of affairs of the stomach. I may have written about fashion and other lifestyle areas for a living but baking, braising, trying new recipes, eating out — those were what consumed me when weekends rolled around. 

Luck has its ways of finding you, however. Now, on the precipice of 2010, I’m beginning to close out a lunar calendar year of cooking and eating with my family in Singapore as research for my book, “A Tiger In The Kitchen.” 

My journey so far has taken me many places – France, where I had the loveliest gingery champagne cocktail with friends old and dear; China, where my father and I went in search of my great-grandfather’s footprints in the village of his birth. And, of course, Singapore, where my aunties and maternal grandmother have been plying me with meals, recipes and much, much love along the way.

With all that I’ve packed into 2009, it’s hard to decide what the highlights have been. But, inspired by some stellar Top 10 gastronomic lists out there (definitely check out Sam Sifton’s list of Top 11 dishes in New York in the New York Times), I decided to give it a go.

Here, in no particular order, are my 10 memorable eats of 2009. 

Enjoy, buon appetito and listen, let’s do this again in 2010 …

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Debal: A Devil of a Curry


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If you’re still staring at a fridge full of Christmas ham, roast beef or turkey, here’s something you can do with all those leftovers — make debal.

The dish, a traditional spicy stew that Eurasians in Singapore make on Boxing Day, is a kitchen-sink concoction made with the myriad leftover meats of Christmas feasts. It’s a classic dish in Eurasian cuisine, which developed in the 19th Century when European traders began migrating to Singapore and marrying into local families. Debal combines cooked hams and roast beef with spicy Southeast Asian chilis and ginger.

I spent a few hours last week learning how to make debal (pronounced “dee-bahl” and also known as curry devil or devil’s curry) from chef Damian D’Silva of Big D’s Grill for a piece for The Atlantic.

The process is fairly laborious — you’ll need to be stirring constantly for at least two hours. But the end result is out of this world.

Here’s how to do it …

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