Mango-Key Lime Pie: Tropical Cool

I’ve had mangoes on my mind recently. Living with a fertile mango tree in your backyard for a month in Key West will do that to you.

While I was there recently, mangoes came pelting down so frequently each day that I certainly took them for granted. There are only so many mango slices and salsas one can eat, after all.

Now that I’m back in New York City however, I’m come to rather miss that tree. So when I happened to see a display of beautiful mangoes in Brooklyn shortly after my Let’s Lunch group decided to share a “Too Hot To Cook” dish for our June virtual lunch gathering, I started thinking …

(null)

Caramel-Walnut Upside-Down Banana Cake: Doctor’s Orders

There are many perfectly lovely blogs out there that extol the virtues of healthy eating. Page after page will be filled with photos and recipes of jazzed up salads and low-calorie sweets, all nudging you to at least try to live a better life.

This blog, dear readers, is not one of them.

Yes, there has been the recent issue of the doctor’s concern. But when this concern has somehow led to an untouched mound of rapidly browning bananas sitting on the kitchen counter (because the doctor has ordered the consumption of a banana a day), something has to be done.

Not that this leads to any bananas actually getting consumed, mind you. Instead, a recipe is found — one that calls for ripe bananas that will be turned into a banana cake topped with a thick, hot layer of sweet caramel and walnuts.

The recipe oozes decadence and sin. But it does have a saving grace — there are bananas in there, after all. Isn’t that what the doctor ordered?

Continue reading

Taste Good: A True Thing


IMG_5331

Years ago, as a freshman at Northwestern University, I used to trek to the computer lab after classes to log onto a Web site and stare longingly at pictures of Singaporean food that someone out in the ether had taken the care to post.

I'm ashamed to mention how long ago this was, exactly — let's just say that this was the first year the university handed out email addresses to incoming freshmen and well, that this "Internet" thing was still new-fangled.

I've never forgotten the kindness of the person — whom I've never known — who put up that rudimentary site filled with pictures of dishes I desperately missed. The photos became my lifeline during that first bone-chilling Chicago winter — and I would spend the next 10-plus years looking for good versions of Singaporean chicken rice or spicy beef rendang in Southeast Asian restaurants across America.

After years of looking, I've finally found a place that I can whole-heartedly say is authentic: Taste Good in Elmhurst, New York. (And I'm not the only one who thinks so — the Singapore Permanent Mission to the United Nations often uses the restaurant to cater its events.) I won't go into all the details here — you'll have to check out my piece on the meal and my quest in the Atlantic Food Channel today — but I wanted to pay a little homage to that anonymous person who saved my sanity all those years ago.

So here's a little visual montage. Whoever and wherever you are, I hope you enjoy these pictures …

Continue reading

Cowgirl: A Dessert Surprise


IMG_5656 

The evening had been good — entertaining but generally uneventful. Until the question came, "Would you like dessert?"

Having just devoured chicken fried chicken, mashed potatoes, chicken fajitas and a massive bowl of vegetarian chili (plus copious amounts of chips and bean dip), dessert was an unlikely endeavor. But then there it was before us at Cowgirl in New York City: A dessert menu emblazoned with a large tempting picture of the restaurant's signature ice-cream "baked potato."

I was shocked to see the picture — not because of the calories I saw before me. (The dessert consists of scoops of vanilla ice-cream dusted with cocoa powder to resemble a
potato, topped with whipped cream, slabs of lime-sugar "butter" and
chopped pecans dyed green.)

The surprise was there because I took the picture last year for a piece on this blog about Cowgirl's seafood outpost, Cowgirl Seahorse. And there it was, massive and beautiful (if I do say so myself) on this restaurant's menu.

Continue reading

Lemongrass Frozen Yogurt: The Joys of Cooking Redux



IMG_4906

Years ago, I heard a sports writer complain about how he used to love sports — until he started writing about it.

Once it became a job, he all but stopped watching games on weekends. The thing that he adored had morphed into stress-inducer.

I remember feeling aghast — you get paid to write about something you love. Isn’t that more than many people dream of?

Recently, however, I’ve started to understand. After spending weeks with my nose buried deep in my book manuscript — which is all about a journey home to my native Singapore told through food and cooking — my time in the kitchen has become, simply, work. Meals have been thrown together out of sheer necessity; easy old faithfuls rather than new creative dishes have been making far too many appearances on the dinner table.

The stress of writing and editing my hundreds of pages on food, sadly, had transformed my love for cooking into a source of anxiety.

But I only realized I’d forgotten how to enjoy the act of making food when my Let’s Lunch friends nudged me back into the kitchen — not to put a meal on the table but to whip up something silly and anything but practical: A decadent chilled dessert.

Continue reading

Prosperity Cakes (Fatt Gou): Ushering In A Rich Tiger Year


IMG_1949[1]
You will have to excuse the radio silence on this blog. 

Between stuffing myself with pineapple tarts and cooking up a storm in Singapore, there simply hasn’t been a spare moment since the Chinese year of the Tiger began on Sunday to sit down and pen an intelligible sentence.

Amid the bacchanalia, however, some lessons have been learned. The deeper ones — about family, love and the enduring power of ancestral lore — I won’t go into. (You’ll just have to buy the book.) 

But the Chinese new year recipes — usually designed to conjure success, prosperity or love — now those, those I’m more than happy to share.

Over the last few days, I’ve had the good fortune of spending quality time in the kitchen with Auntie Hon Tim, the Colorado-based mother of my dear Auntie Donna in Singapore. Now, Auntie Hon Tim used to own and run a Chinese restaurant in Lakewood, Colo. — so she’s got some serious cooking chops. 

Besides teaching me the quickest way to skim fat off a pot of stew and how to rapidly chop carrots without slicing off my fingernails, Auntie Hon Tim has been showing me how to make some of her favorite lunar new year recipes.

On her must list every year is fatt gou, or prosperity cakes — cupcake-sized desserts that she makes to send friends wishes of riches and sweetness in the new year. 

Continue reading

Ice Kachang: Savoring The Old


Icekachang 

This is what inevitably happens when I get together with the Fairways Kids, a bunch of friends I’ve known since I was 11, back when my family moved into a Singapore condominium building named (naturally) Fairways.

Sure, we’ll catch up on jobs, lives, kids, significant others. But somehow the conversation always wends its way back to one thing: ice kachang, a sugary dessert featuring a bowl of sweet corn, red beans, palm seeds and jelly topped with a minor hill of shaved ice that’s been doused in syrup so sweet you can practically feel a toothache coming on as you shovel spoonfuls into your mouth.

We were a rambunctious lot — still are, some might say. Rough soccer games, fearless, kickboxing fights in the swimming pool, endless games of volleyball in the tennis court — this was how our youths were misspent. But the highlight of those idyllic days often was a trip over the fence (the shortcut before the condo association built a back gate) to the hawker center in the back. 

What lay at the end was an ice-cold mountain, festive and pink. 

Back behind the fence, we had homework, exams and, later, boy or girl problems to consume us. But at Telok Blangah Food Centre, things were simple. All we had to worry about was whether we had enough coins that day for a bowl of ice kachang.

Continue reading

Chilled Soup: Those Healing Green Beans


CIMG9074

The Chinese in Singapore are big believers in the healing properties of soups — specifically, “heaty” and “cooling” soups, which either add fire to your body or cool it down, getting just the right balance of Yin and Yang. 

I know it’s sacrilege to say this — and I can already hear the clucking of my Mum and aunts who might actually read this — but I don’t give two hoots about heaty or cooling.

The most important question for me always is, “Does it taste good?”

And with green bean soup, the answer is: Yes, oh yes.

Despite my love for this sweet soup, I’ve never known how to make it. So, when my Let’s Lunch friends, a group of intrepid cooks spread across two continents who’ve been staging virtual lunchdates, suggested that we make a chilled soup for our next meal, I jumped at the excuse to learn my mother’s recipe.

Continue reading