Kok Kee WanTon Noodle: Battling a Memory


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"It is impossible," my Singaporean chef friend Willin said to me one day, "to please everyone when you make wanton mee."

This Cantonese-style noodle dish, which is ubiquitous in Singapore, is usually served dry, with the broth in a small bowl on a side. The thin yellow noodles come swimming in a salty sauce that's usually some combination of soy sauce, a sweet and dark thick soy sauce, sesame oil and, perhaps, oyster sauce. Slivers of Chinese roast pork, vegetables and wantons (which is how wontons are spelled in Singapore) are scattered on top and a smear of chili sauce is scooped onto the side for added fire.

There is one fundamental problem with wanton mee, according to Willin. It's fairly easy for hawkers to make and there are so many variations on the dish out there — each hawker center in Singapore usually has at least one, if not two or three, stalls selling just wanton mee. The noodles could be more al dente at one place; the gravy could be thicker and saltier at another. The wantons could be soft, boiled versions or crispy and deep-fried.

"Everyone ends up loving the exact kind of wanton mee they grew up with," Willin says. "So unless you're making that exact kind, they're not going to love it."

It's an interesting perspective, but I still wasn't sold — until I trekked to a spacious hawker center in Singapore's Lavender neighborhood to sample the dish at Kok Kee Wanton Noodle, a little stall that had come highly recommended by some of the most discerning palates in Singapore…

 

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Anadama Bread: A Very Good Place To Start


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Among the lessons I've learned while baking bread, this, I suppose, could have been the most predictable: Baking bread is not like riding a bicycle. If you haven't done it in a long time, well, don't count on being able to do it again.

I won't go into it, but there exists a recent valiant attempt at making multigrain bread extraordinaire, which many bakers in the Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge had pronounced a breeze. In my Brooklyn kitchen, however, this turned out to be anything but. And the end result was a flat dense brick that was as saggy in the center as it was dry and mealy.

"You're out of practice," the husband noted. (Which earned him extra dishwashing duties but — I had to admit — was not untrue.)

How to solve the problem? An old Julie Andrews song instantly came to mind.

Perhaps, I thought, it might help to go back and start at the very beginning …

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Lemongrass Frozen Yogurt: The Joys of Cooking Redux



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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.

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Green (Deviled) Eggs & Ham


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If it’s been a little quiet on this blog, well, there’s been good reason.

There is the issue of this book, you see. A book editing deadline, to be precise. After following my various exploits while traveling and researching “A Tiger In The Kitchen,” you’ll be patient, I hope, as I wade my way to the finish line later this month. The blog, with all its death-defying bread baking, restaurant explorations and virtual lunch dates, will be back to normal in no time, I promise.

In the meantime, however, there are things that can prod the bloggery back to life.

In this case, that would be a carton of green eggs, large, pert and in the loveliest shade of pale sage. The moment they were spied, said carton was whisked off the table at the Brooklyn Heights farmers market and ferried home for further inspection.

What to do with these green eggs? I immediately thought of the deviled eggs a talented artist friend, Moses Hoskins, recently served up for lunch …

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Indian Chicken Curry: A Grandmother’s Recipe


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A few weeks ago, I found myself on the phone, frantically shuttling between calls to my aunt and my grandmother, trying to jolt their memories and nail down the ingredients we needed for my Singapore family’s take on chicken curry.

As the calls got more confusing and the ingredient list grew more nebulous, my friend Basil, a Singaporean of Indian ethnicity, sat nearby, listening in with an increasingly incredulous look.

“You’re sitting next to an Indian,” he finally said, “and you’re not asking him how he makes his curry?”

A very good point.

It turns out Basil, better known to his friends as the hard-to-miss, gregarious guy at any bar that he frequents, also knows how to cook. He learned 20 years ago in his grandmother’s kitchen, when he was drafted as a teenager to help her after she’d lost a leg to diabetes. “She would park her wheelchair at the entrance to the kitchen and bark out instructions to me,” he said.

Well, her lessons must have stuck because Basil then proved that he could rattle off her curry instructions as quickly and surely as he can list the latest Manchester United stats.

The moment I got back to my Brooklyn kitchen, I knew I had to try it.

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Chicken Adobo: Baguio Beckoning


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As we were hunched over the stove, embroiled in some recent kitchen experiment, my Singapore family’s maid Erlinda noted in passing that it’d been almost two years since she’d eaten her own home-made adobo.

Two years? This seemed like an interminably long time for a Filipina not to be enjoying her national dish, cooked by her own hand.

My mother doesn’t stock vinegar in the kitchen, she explained, which instantly makes brewing a pot of the vinegary pork or chicken stew impossible. And the soy sauce that we Chinese use happens to be just a little too sweet for real adobo, it turns out. 

Now, being a massive lover of the stuff, I immediately decided that Erlinda’s adobo drought needed to end. (This had nothing to do, of course, with the fact that my mouth often starts to water the moment I hear the word “adobo.”)

So, with some instructions from Erlinda on what she needed for her adobo, off we went.

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Orgo: Mile High Martinis


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I have been known to enjoy a cocktail now and then.

My requirements for boites, they’re generally basic — a clean seat, a friendly-bordering-on-flirty bartender and a decent wine list are all I need to be golden.

A fabulous view, however, now that’s a quality that never fails to keep me coming back. And in Singapore, I recently discovered a boite with an exquisite one: Orgo, a calculatedly hip restaurant and bar that’s perched atop the waterfront Esplanade arts center and has a sweeping view of the city skyline.

Now, as far as my three basic needs go, this place meets one — the seats were clean. 

The staff, it was perfectly perfunctory, if a little drowsed and unhurried. (Particularly unforgiveable given the place was almost empty on the nights we were there.) And the wine list — well, by the glass, you have two options: House white and house red.

But, what can I say? I’m a sucker for a bar with a view.

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Braised Duck A L’Aunty Alice


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When I think of the family feasts of my Singapore girlhood, there’s always a duck in the picture.

To say that my people — that would be the Teochew ethnic group from Southern China — adore duck would be a major understatement. During a recent trip to Shantou, the area in China where my great-grandfather lived as a boy, duck and goose were inescapable at every dinner table.

So it’s more than slightly sacrilegious to say that I often avoid duck simply because it isn’t one of my favorites. (Hey, I’m a big hunk of red meat kind of gal – what can I say?)

I do make an exception for some versions, however — and Teochew-style braised duck is one of them.

While I’m really good at eating it, making it is another matter altogether. But this was something my Aunty Alice, the best cook among my mother and her sisters, was intent on fixing right away.

On a recent weekday, she arrived at my Singapore home armed with two ducks and a bag of ingredients and the tutorial began…

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Joseph Leonard: A Salty Start


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Joseph Leonard is one of those restaurants that might have you thinking, “Recession? What recession?”

On the first night that the little West Village restaurant started serving dinner, it was so packed that finding a spot to perch for a drink was a challenge, much less a table for four. And this was well after 9 p.m. on a weeknight.

But this level of interest in a place so new it had a dessert menu to tempt diners but weren’t actually equipped to serve dessert yet is unsurprising.

New York food folks have been working themselves up into a big froth over Joseph Leonard, after all, since Gabriel Stulman, a former owner of the much-beloved Little Owl and Market Table in the West Village, announced he was opening a new restaurant. And, of course, it didn’t hurt that Vogue.com did a “People Are Talking About” item about the carefully planned grandma’s garage sale meets farmhouse rustic decor of the place more than a month before it opened.

While I’m generally skeptical of this level of pre-opening hype, I have a great deal of respect and fondness for Little Owl and Market Table.

And, Joseph Leonard (named for Stulman’s two grandfathers), with its cozy setting and equally comforting lineup of dishes, is likely to please many — especially those who love salt, which chef Jim McDuffee (formerly of Bouchon Bakery) seems to be rather fond of.

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