Winter Melon Soup: Comfort, Simple & Clear


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Among the many Cantonese-style soups of my Singaporean girlhood, the one I find myself craving once temperatures start heading south in fall is a simple one: Winter melon soup.

This broth, dotted with cubes of soft winter melon and bits of mushroom and pork, isn't an elaborate or fussy soup — it's what the Chinese call "cheng," or clear. The flavor is subtle; the experience is all about warmth and comfort.

So, when my Let's Lunch friends suggested doing a fall soup for November, I immediately started badgering my mother for her recipe

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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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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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Asian Feastival: Southeast Asian Cooking Tips


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If one does have to work over a holiday weekend, this is not a bad way to do it: Eating and, well, talking about eating.

On Labor Day, at the Asian Feastival in Queens, I had the privilege of spending a lovely hour on a panel with New York chef and restaurateur Andy Yang (of Rhong-Tiam Express, a tiny Thai takeout place that he opened after closing his one Michelin-star restaurant Rhong-Tiam in January) and Kian Lam Kho, a private chef and caterer who blogs about Chinese home cooking at Red Cook. The food festival, which included tasting booths and cooking demonstrations by experts such as the effervescent blogger Maangchi, was designed to showcase Asian food from all regions.

Outside our cozy conference room, the booths and cooking displays meandered through Taiwan, Korea, China, the Philippines. Inside, however, our panel had a specific angle: Deconstructing Southeast Asian Flavors.

While I had felt that I had already learned a lot in the year I spent traveling to my native Singapore to learn to cook for my upcoming memoir, A Tiger In The Kitchen, I ended up picking up a few handy tips from our lively discussion …

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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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Totto Ramen: Noodles Worth Sweating Over


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This is my general policy on sweating: It’s disgusting. Don’t do it.

Well … unless there is good reason. Like, say, an awesome bowl of soup noodles.

On the hottest day of summer so far in New York, a scorching bowl of ramen seemed like an insane choice for dinner. But there we were in Midtown, just blocks away from the recently opened Totto Ramen — a new sliver of a noodle shop by the owners of Yakitori Totto, whose grilled rice balls coated with a crispy soy-sauce glaze have occupied more of my dreams than I can count. (Hey, Thomas Keller is a fan of the place, too.)

Since we were practically within sniffing distance of the new place, a visit was definitely in order …

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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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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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Winging It: An Easy Chicken Stew


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My mother will be the first to tell you that she is not a cook. 

(Even though she is. Sort of.)

In my family’s Singapore home, however, it is our maid Erlinda who does the magic in the kitchen most days. Her dishes are typically simple, delicious and never fail to hit the spot.

Like many good home cooks, improvisation has been the mother of many of Erlinda’s inventions. One of my favorite dishes is a super-easy chicken-wing stew that she first tossed together while thinking of the adobos she grew up eating in her hometown of Baguio in the Phillippines.

The stew she makes here, however, is quite different because my mother typically doesn’t stock vinegar in her kitchen. Instead, dark, sweet soy sauce is the main ingredient — but the result can be just as satisfying.

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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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