Thursday, January 24, 2008

Culinary Capers In Cambodia

I am very lucky, because these days, the only time I need to wake up really early is when I need to catch a flight somewhere. In the days of yore, I used to have to wake up at dawn for work, and other less pleasurable pursuits. So I guess I shouldn't complain, even if I was slightly hungover from a friend's 40th the night before, and having to wake up at 4.15am to catch a 7am flight to Siem Reap. (pronounced Seem Ree ap, not Siam Reep).

Since this is a FOOD blog, I shall stick to the culinary aspects of my trip, but of course one has to make a cursory reference to the other things, also to add some context to everything, afterall, a steak is a steak be it in London or Siem Reap....

While everyone has heard of Angkor Wat, (unless you completely did not pay attention in school, and were high on cocaine during your schooling years), not everyone (including me) had heard of Tonle Sap Lake, a HUGE HUGE humongous inland lake. A picture paints a thousand words, so there are 9000 here.

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I took pictures of the children to remind ours how blessed they are. Yet, these kids seemed contented. Look at the heart warming pic of the three boys playing in the washbasins as boats.

Of course, one has to have a photo collage of the famed temples. Angkor Wat being just one of many. There are many, like the one shot to fame by Lara Croft, like the Jungle Temple (forget what its called? Ta Phrom I think), Bayon, (with the famous smiling buddhas), etc etc. That famous scene which everyone takes at the pond with the reflection of Angkor Wat....WELL, there I was looking for some monumental body of water, like the sea of Galilee, but it turns out the reflective lake was nothing more than an oversized puddle. (the middle picture in the collage)

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In contrast to the general squalor, Siem Reap is also host to many a 6 star hotel, from the Raffles, to the Aman Sara to the Sofitel. The one in the middle is where I stayed, some cheapo hotel from the Air Asia Go Holiday package.

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Now that we've got the sight seeing out of the way, food..... hmmm. I honestly CANNOT say that I found the street fare appealing at all. As such, I shall only show them in passing, and will only blog specifically one meal.

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These were all taken in the vicinity of the Old Market. Honestly, give me our economy rice or nasi kandar anyday. Look at the hideous fish. Looks like something out of a Stephen King book.

Moving away from the street fare, we had lunch at the Raffles, where I think I paid the most EVER for a bowl of noodles. It was a Khmer noodle, probably their version of laksa crossed with the vietnamese Pho, but it was very ordinary, and certainly not worth the USD18. (RM 60) Why did I have that? Well, it's a long story, but call it peer pressure if you must. Wife's nicoise salad seemed to be much better value for money at USD11. Having said that, the food at the 6 star hotels aren't overly over the top, and are comparable with our hotels here.

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We had Khmer food on the first night. Now, the lighting in every restaurant seems atrocious, so it's virtually impossible to get proper food shots at night, at least not with my cheap camera. So basically I gave up after awhile, and have no proper record of our meals. We ate at a place called Touches, at the other end of Pub Street, and had their signature Khmer-ian Amok, (like a green curry), something that resembles pai tee, some Thai Tom Yam, etc. I found all the soups in Siem Reap not hot enough. Us Chinese like our soups piping hot. Whatever heat that was lacking in temperature was amply made up for with their Chilli Padi, which really offers a major kick.

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A lovely little establishment called the Blue Pumpkin offered free wi fi and an escape into a world of pastries and ice cream. My all time favourite was the caramel cashew nut ice cream. The cakes, a banana chocolate roll and the carrot cake, were dismal.

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After a morning of traipsing around the temples, we had to have tea at the Sofitel. The coconut curry was from some stall where we had lunch, outside angkor wat, while the cakes were from Sofitel. Again, the cakes were dismal. Fortunately, they only cost USD2 per piece. The opera cake was a 80 year old opera singer. Dry, and falling apart. The chilled peach cheese cake would have given Secret Recipe a run for their money. The pandan cream cake was probably the most passable of the lot.

On the 2nd day, fellow traveller got an sms from a supposed Siem Reap expert friend, who said we MUST eat at this place called Indochine. Whilst we were there, at a rather quaint wooden bungalow, rather nice ambience, two buses full of white tourist came by and jettisoned their cargo, which should have clued us in. The food was exceedingly ordinary, I could have probably whipped up a better meal. Pomelo and crabmeat salad, prawn fritters, pork sates, caramelised pork (that tasted like it was caramelised with salt...and had to be sent back) .....largely unmemorable.

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Dinner on the last night was at the Victoria Hotel, a beautiful colonial style hotel, at the restaurant called Le Bistrot, french inspired. I had the French Onion soup with puff pastry, which was excellent, and the beef fillet with foie gras. The foie gras was disappointing, the slice thinner than an anorexic Calista Flockhart, and saltier than the Dead Sea.

Okay, if I had to pick one meal to blog about it would be this. It was at the FCC, (Foreign Correspondent Club) along the riverside, a beautifully restored old colonial building, with about 31 rooms, in verdant greenery. The whole atmosphere of the place is charming, and made me feel like some indulgent colonialist screaming for a gin and tonic.

I had the potato and leeks soup for starters, a hearty thick broth, which coupled with bread, is enough for one as a main meal. Wife had the Prawn Ravioli for mains, which was swimming in a gorgeous thick seafood bisque. The bisque was divine. Prawny, crustaceany goodness.

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Creamy Potato and Leek Soup

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Prawn Ravioli in Seafood Bisque

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Seared Scallops and Pork Belly Salad.

No prizes for what ingredient made this the salad of my choice. Okay, it was a bit too lardy (lardous? lardacious? lardful? lardorial? lardida?) even for me. Obviously pig in question had too good a life and never went to the gym a day in its life. But the combination was very good. Crunchy purple cabbage, beansprouts and shredded carrots gave the crunch, the dressing gave a tang, the scallops gave it elegance and the pork belly gave it completeness.

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We adjourned to the lounging area for our ice cream.

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Deevine coffee ice cream with ginger ice cream, and chocolate and strawberry down below. A perfect lunch.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Reunion, Twice in 5 Days

Oddly enough, I've never been to Reunion at Bangsar Village II for dinner. Ever since they moved from Bangsar Shopping Centre, (Previously known as YI GARDEN), I found this new posh setting a bit intimidating, and at RM12 or so for a measly bowl of wantan noodles, and RM4.80 per person for tea, not a place I was looking to head to in a hurry.

Then I got an invitation to a friend's birthday dinner, hosted by another friend. Such generous friends. Everyone but one, was fashionably late, and I was famished by 8.30 or so, so the reviews here might not be so objective, because I think it's true that everything tastes better when you're hungry. Conversely, nothing really tastes very good when you're stuffed.

We left the ordering to the expert, who patronises the place as often as, my metaphors escape me at this point. I actually find ordering food for people, at a chinese restaurant, to be quite stressful business, so am always glad when there is someone else to do it for us.

The first dish was the crispy skin roast chicken with keropok. A timeless classic, this. The chicken was moist and succulent. I am so glad that God in His wisdom created some people to be breast men, and some leg men. ("Men" being the all inclusive of gender term, including women). This prevents unsightly battles for a particular anatomy of the dead chicken. I personally am a leg and thigh person. I find breast meat like blotting paper.

To the youth of today, who probably have never seen a blotter or blotting paper, in the days of yore, when we used REAL fountain pens, which can squirt ink, and suck ink, we used a blotter to quickly dry the ink to prevent smudging.

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The other dishes more or less came simultaneously, hence the name reunion, I guess. Feels like a Chinese New Year eve reunion dinner, when all the food's on the table, and we are spared the wedding dinner style one by one by one courses. I like it when all the food is there at one go. You can mix the flavours together with your bowl of rice. Feels homely.

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The (presumably Hong Kong) Kai Lan was soft and tender. You didn't need the molars of a T Rex to chew your way through this dish.

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Sweet and Sour Fish. Nothing outstanding about this dish. Would have probably been happier if it had been pork.

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Sauteed Prawns with Snow Peas (are they called snow peas?) with a generous helping of deep fried shallots and garlic. The prawns were plump and fresh, though a bit one dimensional in taste. As in they were not sweet. The taste was purely external.

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These pork ribs were yummy. Well seasoned, (Nam Yue Pai Kuat I think) and the meat was nice and tender. Also a bit on the lean side. However, the servings were toooo huge. We are afterall delicate eaters.

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Ah, the carbo nightmare. Spicy Brinjals With Mince Meat In claypot. This dish alone makes the perfect bridal partner to a bowl of rice. Slathering that lovely greasy gravy, a bit pedas, on rice, ahhhh, this is the comfort food. There was a hypothesis on the table that brinjal is a lady's vegetable, or usually only women like brinjal. Hmmm, I'm not sure of the vast ramifications and freudian implications of that statement, but heck, I am not ashamed to admit I lurve brinjal, and its relatives. The fat round ones, the long phallic ones, the bell shaped ones....

And that was Saturday night. Yesterday, Lemongrass pops up on MSN and asks me for lunch. I had my standard answer ready, coz I had just had my eggs and toast and was stuffed, and said, "I got no transport", which is true. Then she said, s*** la you, its in f******* bangsar. (don't believe me? its all there on the MSN Archive). I then played the "I just ate" card, but she insisted that the food would have digested by then. Anyway, I thought it WOULD be nice to meet up, so I went along, saying that I would join them for the company. But that woman in all her wisdom WAS right, by 1.20pm the breakfast had dissipated into an eggy smelling fart.

So, everyone was late as usual, and I wandered around the Kitchen Shop next door, and nearly fainted at the prices. ANd as they arrived, I suddenly had a phone call I had to take, so by the time I re-entered Reunion, I was the last.

Lemongrass was feeling particularly carnivorous and wanted her meats. Nigel said he was fine with the protein fix. Paprika, aka Lulian, aka Ravenous Rabbit, (make up your mind, woman) was easy, as was I, and left the ordering to them. But I did request the hokkien mee though, as we had that on Saturday as well, and it was deeeeevine. Pieces of deep fried lard calling out my name.

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The meat platter was good. The siu yoke was too fatty though, it was like, SKIN AND FAT. Eugh. Very contradictory, I know, but the only form of pork fat that I eat readily, without question, is chee yau char, (very healthy, I know).

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There you go, I told you the piece of lard was calling out my name.

Twas a most entertaining lunch, and I had no regrets going.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

New Toys (cont'd)

I've been meaning to put up acknowledgements for the wonderful presents I've received over the last two months, which spanned Jesus' and my birthday. Actually, I reckon it's quite easy buying presents for people with very obvious hobbies. The trick is, ensuring you buy them something they don't already have.

I have earlier posted some of the cookbooks I received. Sure enough, one of them was a duplicate to what I already have, Nigella Feast. SURELY the giver should have known that being the avid Nigella Fan that I am, I would have most if not all of her books. Truth be told, I don't have her Forever Summer, for some reason, and have no inclination to get it at all, despite my obsessiveness about having complete sets, when it comes to books. Still that does not remove her from the pedestal she's on. The other guy whom I do not feel compelled to have complete sets either are Jamie Oliver.

So anyway, I was rather pleased with THESE two books I received.

The problem with Gordon Ramsay's book, CHEF, is that whilst one can dream and ogle at the lovely lovely food porn in that book, it probably is destined to REMAIN as such. Something one can only fantasise about, because it looks darn difficult to do, and tedious as well. Its like reading THE SILMARILLION vs Jackie Collin's "HOLLYWOOD WIVES". (the latter being the Nigella equivalent...not in terms of literary value, (Nigella writes wonderfully), but in terms of ease of recipes). But it was a BEAUTIFUL gift nonetheless, and really, is the sort of thing one can only HOPE to receive, coz I doubt I would buy it on my own volition, because of the prohibitive cost. Thanks to the Lionheart, yhsmom and Leon crowd.

Annie Bell's Gorgeous Desserts was such a sweet surprise, from favourite neighbour girl, Miss D, who dropped it off as a belated Christmas present. She has always been a sweetie. The recipes here look delectable, and I can't wait to try some of them. In fact, there's another book in the same series I saw in Borders, Gorgeous Cakes, by the same author. I tell you, age is really catching up, coz when I was browsing that book, I really wanted to get it, coz there was 20% off, but at the back of my mind, I was thinking, hmmm, do I have this book? Annie Bell, hmm, rings a Bell.

In the tool/accessories department, I got these. My long awaited and dreamed of Blowtorch. Nigella is right. There is something wonderfully satisfying about wielding that flame thrower, it gives such an adrelanin rush. The sound of the highly pressurised lighter gas flowing through the nozzle with that glorious blue flame, sends tingles of pleasure down my spine. Who knew a blowtorch could be so fun. Oh, in case yall are wondering WHAT one does with the blowtorch, no, it is not for disciplining recalcitrant children. It's to caramelise sugar on top of the creme brulee, which are what those ramekins (them little bowls) are for. Ramekins are for things like souffle, brulee, anything else ending with Le....
Many thanks to Kung Tai Tai and gang for this birthday present.

The red silicone baking pan, is pyrex brand, given by Sunshine. Frankly, I have my reservations about silicone ware. For starters, the baking pans seem to come in really irregular sizes, so I was pretty thrilled to see that this particular one was 20cm diameter, or 8", which most cake recipes cater for. Secondly, I always thought they didnt cook as well, ie, didnt conduct heat as well as the normal aluminium pans. This particular one seemed to do a splendid job actually. So, I don't know if there are different grades of silicone, coz if there are, then pyrex must be using the good type, probably the same grade as that for breast implants.

And Crewcut of Crew's Brew, who bought me the Nigella Feast which I already had, replaced Nigella with this lovely arty clock he got from Thailand. Got people give clock for birthday one ah? Haha, fortunately, I not taboo.

So thankyewberrymuch all of you for your lovely birthday and Christmas gifts.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Easy As Pie

My mother wanted to send an apple pie over to a friend's place as a get well soon token, so decided to make an extra one for family dinner.

There are countless recipes for apple pie, so this particular recipe here is a bit of mish mash, bits taken from here and there. Does that make it original, or just blatant plagiarism? However, it IS through trial and error over the years that I've finally arrived at this recipe, which I now use.

Pastry - (enough for a 9" pie pan, base and top)

2¾ cup flour
200 gm butter
1 cup icing sugar (sifted)
1 egg beaten

1. Do the usual, yada yada, fold in the butter into the flour and icing sugar mixture until resembles breadcrumbs. The shortcut of course, is to blitz it in a food processor, or cake mixer with K paddle, until breadcrumbs.
2. Add the egg (if using hand) and knead till it comes together. Don't overknead, or pastry will be hard. If using machine, just pulse in the egg until forms a ball.
3. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare your apple filling:

8-9 apples, granny smiths, or combo, peeled, cored and sliced, either into 1/8ths, or sliced thinly
4 table spoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon clove powder
(Optional : 1 cup raisins)

Cook the above mixture for about 8 minutes until apples are tender. If sliced thinly, 6 minutes would do.

Roll out just over half of the pastry on a floured surface, and line the base of a pie tin with it.

Place the apples in the pie. Depending on what a neatness freak you are... I just dump all mine in and spread it out as best I can.

Roll remaining pastry to cover the top. Ensure the sides are sealed, but do cut some steam holes for steam to escape. Glaze with egg wash to brown.

Bake in preheated oven 180C for 30 minutes until brown.

Serve warm, with Vanilla Ice cream, custard or pure cream.

If too lazy to make, just order from me at RM60 per pie.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Abridged Dim Sum

I always look forward to receiving the monthly schedule from the Cooking House, my favourite cooking school (a bit biased I suppose, but its closeby to where I live, easy to park, reasonably priced, and run by my ex classmate and her sister), and when I saw that they were offering tidbits of dim sum (literally), I immediately signed up. Added to that, the instructress was Gina, the super evangelist of the Magimix Food Processor.

I got there at 3 sharp, but it was like one of those movie theatres that have no trailers in the beginning, and you walk in and the movie has begun. Really annoying. She was already sieving the egg mixture for the egg tarts, as I plonked myself beside 3 familiar faces. The 3 divas of the food blogging world, ie, Boolicious, Lemongrass and Precious Pea. The first two were a surprise, as I only expected Pea there. I asked Lemongrass under my breath if she was going to teach us how to make the flaky pastry, and LL confidently said, no, the pastry is pre-prepared. I was ready at this point to jump up and create a scene, coz the flaky pastry was the main reason I signed up. Fortunately, patience has its benefits, for it really was part of the syllabus.

While some may have found her teaching a bit haphazard, I found it suprisingly organised, because stuff that had to be pre-prepared, such as dough that needed proofing, were done before hand, and so she was able to demonstrate lots of concurrent activity, and backtracking later on to show how the particular dough was made.

ie, we started off at say, Step 3 for a particular dough....since steps 1 & 2 require lots of waiting time, but she would later on demonstrate steps 1&2. Good thing, or we'd have been stuck there for hours.

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We have above the various demonstrations on making flaky pastry and Bao dough.

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The completed egg tarts, which were a bit overcooked, and the pastry had hardened from the melted grease.

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This is a charsiu sou wrapped in hong kong style. The Singapore style is the pillow style, an oblong shape.

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Straight Dough vs Gay/Happy Dough

The charsiu baos, pre-prepared by the si fu, which fart. Fart (Fatt) refers to the way the bao opens up in four directions. Fart (prosperity) baos can only be obtained using the Starter Dough, which we will call the Gay/Happy Dough (because it makes the baos burst open in smile), because the other Dough she demonstrated is the Straight Dough, that doesn't need proofing and can be used instantly.

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The pillow cased charsiu sous.

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These were the baos made by the students. Various degrees of fartness. She taught us two methods of folding the dough, ie, the housewife method, and the sifu method, (similar to wrapping a siu long bao)

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We have here the 3 Flogger Divas posing for the camera with their various buns, (featured below)

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Lemongrass miraculously managed to get a smooth bald texture on her second bun, and named it in honor of Bald Eagle.

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The one above was my 2nd attempt, by which time, the dough for that round all didn't fart very well. I gobbled up my first one forgetting to take a picture.

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Her charsiu recipe is surprisingly simple and PRETTY GOOD!!!! Of course, since it was chicken char siu, there was no basis for comparison with the other artery clogging stuff we've been eating at places like FSF, but even on its own, the marinade made the meat most delicious, and call it whatever you want, it's great.

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I was most fascinated by the longevity peach that Gina was demonstrating. My favourite part of this entire exercise would be inserting the a** slit onto the bao.

I heard Lemongrass was SOOO inspired that she immediately headed off to the village grocer, and bought all the ingredients for the charsiu. As of press time yesterday, the meats were still having their spa in the marinade.

Friday, January 11, 2008

More Home Cooked Meals

Since I go out to eat with the rarity that the Irrawady Bottlenosed Dolphin mates, I can no longer keep up with the myriad write ups by my other esteemed fellow floggers. Coupled with the fact that I am getting lazy to photograph food, although they are quite patient models, unlike children, who fidget too much, there doesn't seem to be much to write about at all these days. Anyway, this started off as a recipe blog originally.

Last Wednesday night, New Year's Eve (of the Muslim Calendar), I decided to host a simple dinner for some friends, old and new, to reciprocate a friend's hospitality recently. Anyway, the menu was as follows:

Homemade Chicken and Mushroom Pizzas on A Duet of Base Sauces, Pesto and Tomato
Smoked Salmon & Avocado, Sour Cream, Cream Cheese Dip
Assorted Cheese Platter
Pumpkin Soup Garnished With Roasted Capsicum

Roast Beef In Red Wine & Mushroom Sauce
Chillied Linguine With Pan Seared Scallops
Aragula & Leafy Greens With Anjou Pear, Quails Eggs and Walnuts

Christmas Cake (courtesy of one of the guests)
Flourless Chocolate Cake With Molten Centres

There seems to be a nationwide shortage of the Pure Bulla Cream that I normally serve desserts with. Anyway, as I said, it completely slipped my mind to even blog about the dinner, so there are no proper pictures of the first few courses. Which is a pity, coz the chicken pizza did look rather good.

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I picked up the tip of serving some roasted capsicum garnish from the previous dinner hosted by another friend who cooks. It complements the pumpkin soup well. Leon Lai, who was present at the dinner, complimented it by saying he doesn't usually like pumpkin soup, but this was good coz it wasn't so sweet and cloy. Actually, wife made the soup.

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Chillied Linguine With Scallops. These days, I'm getting increasingly cooler when it comes to hosting dinners. Started slaving over the stove only at 5.30pm, and the scallops were freshly seared just before serving. I think the pasta wasn't bad.

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It's always tricky when you serve aragula aka rocket, coz its a bit of hit and miss. I know some people who are averse to rocket as vegetarians are to steak, so I am wary when a recipe consists MAINLY of rocket. So I modified the recipe for the rocket & pear salad, to incorporate other greens, and added quails eggs. The fact that one quail's egg apparently contains 10 times more cholesterol than 1 chicken's egg.....wasn't really a deterrent.

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I've dabbled in several roast beef recipes, with various levels of wearisomeness of seasoning. Some call for red wine, seeded mustard, thyme, ....heck, the seasoning is almost as expensive as the meat. Anyway, I decided that beef, if its a good cut, is best eaten without any seasoning. Very primal, but to get the succulent bovine juices tickling your palate, yum. Alas, this particular slab of rib eye seemed a bit bland. Ah, for the first time, I actually made my own gravy from the start. Red Wine Sauce. Rather simple.

375ml beef stock (buy the real beef stock cartons, not the cubes)
1/2 cup red wine
400gms button mushrooms
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon oil
3 teaspoons cornflour
3 teaspoons water
3 sage leaves

Fry the garlic in the heated oil, chuck in the mushrooms.
When mushrooms are soft, throw in (not literally) the beef stock, and wine, sage and let simmer for 5 minutes or so
Add the cornflour as thickening agent
Continue simmering until thick-ish
Add any pan juices from the roast

Note : Let your roast sit in wrapped aluminium foil for 1/2 hour after roasting, before serving. This will generate lots of juices.

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My original intention was to serve steaks, but I realised for a casual dinner with friends, in order to minimize wastage, its best that they carve out their own portions. I mean, this meat is like RM70 a kg, the last thing you want to see is people chucking away half a slab of steak.

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The Christmas Cake brought by another friend, which I forgot to serve at an earlier party, was served this time. Very moist and fruity, without being overly rich. In fact, my son asked me to learn how to make this. And this is from a boy who shudders at the sight of fruit and vegetables.

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The signature flourless chocolate cakes with molten chocolate centres. Pure bulla cream would have made it better, but had to settle for pouring cream, which I was too lazy to whip up, also because I dont really like the taste of whipped cream these days, not after eating pure cream.

Oh well.....