Beef & Pork Chili with Beer

Everyone has their own version of chili, the all-American comfort food of choice during this Superbowl season. Aside from the basic ingredients of beef mince and kidney beans and chili powder spices, I like mine porked up, with the yummy trinity of bacon, ham and pork mince to amp up the richness. In addition, I dunk in a bunch of mushrooms for an earthy base. You can opt to spice up yours with your favourite stuff, like carrots (for a sweeter finish, take about 10 baby carrots, diced to 1cm lengths and added before step 4 below just before the mushrooms), capsicums (for a peppery kick, take 1 pepper and dice to 1cm cubes and fry with mushrooms below), and beans (for a nuttier element, take 1 can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed and add at step 7 below).

This is a great party food that you can prepare in advance, so you get to mingle with guests without having to hover in the kitchen all night. In fact, I actually prepare this the night before a party, pop it in the fridge overnight to maximise the flavours of the stew, and pop it out to warm up half an hour before guests arrive. 

1 large yellow onion, minced finely
600gm mince (Purists will use just beef for this, but I prefer a two-thirds proportion of beef mince to one-third portion of pork mince)
1 can diced tomatoes

Optional stuff:
Mixed Mushrooms (1 portobello, 3 brown and 3 white button mushrooms), diced roughly
5-6 slices bacon (you can use either back bacon or streaky, I prefer streaky for its fattier oil renderings), sliced to 1inch squares
3-4 slices ham, sliced to 1cm squares


1 tbsp hot sauce (you can use tobasco)
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp paprika
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tbsp ground cumin

Beef stock, unsalted so you can salt to taste
1 can Budweiser beer (this is the "secret fairy dust" that makes the chili "pop")

1) Heat 2 tbsp olive oil with bacon until fat renders from bacon. Dish up bacon, leaving the oil drippings behind.

2) Fry onions in bacon fat until they sweat.

3) Add ham and fry until fragrant.

4) Add bacon and mushrooms and fry until mushrooms cooked through.

5) Add mince and fry until browned.

6) Add spice seasoning and toss thoroughly.

7) Add diced tomatoes.

8) Add stock and beer, and simmer for an hour, stirring at 10 minute intervals to ensure the bottom doesn't burn. The longer the chili gets to stew, the punchier the flavour..

9) Salt to taste and "rest" the chili for about 5 minutes before serving.

You can also opt to load it with sour cream, freshly shredded lettuce, diced avocados, diced onions, chilli flakes and/or shredded cheddar. For us, we like it shashouka-style: breaking an egg into a bowl, dish the chili atop, and let its residual heat cook the egg softly, and top it off with chilli flakes and shavings of Comte. 


The Lookout

The Hubs says that my membership at the club is completely wasted. I don't play golf (no ball sense whatsoever and I try to stay away from the sun...too aging!) and ever since I signed up for Muay Thai classes at Impact, I don't ever use the gym here anymore. The rare occasions that I ever step into the club is really to use the dining levy to eat. While Silk is the arguably the best dining establishment in the club, The Lookout offers cheap(er) fare in a much more casual setting where there isn't a dress code to adhere to.

The Fillet Mignon of Veal ($25.90), wrapped in bacon for an extra punch of flavour, was pretty good. Especially when you consider how cheap it is. This was sided by mashed potatoes, boiled root vegetables and drizzled with a thin but tasty red wine sauce.

The Lookout
Singapore Island Country Club
180 Island Club Road
Open daily from 6.30am to 10pm


Ichiban Boshi, Great World City

We were getting some last-minute groceries at the Cold Storage at Great world City when we popped in to Ichiban Boshi for a light bite. The cooked food at this mass-market, mid-priced Japanese chain isnt' top notch, but it's pretty decent. And this branch at Great World City is probably the best of the chain. During peak dining hours, there's always a line of hungry diners waiting to get into the casual restaurant.

The Chicken Pirikara Udon ($11.90), a claypot laden with fried chicken pieces, smooth beancurd cubes, cabbage, shitake, enoki and chewy udon are topped with an egg in a garlicky spicy broth.

The Dobinmushi ($7.90), teapot of dashi stock flavoured with shrimp, chicken and root vegetables, is delicate but rich in depth.

A wedge of lime helps brighten the sweet broth.

Ichiban Boshi
1 Kim Seng Promenade
Great World City B1-07
Tel: 67343433
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 11.30am to 10pm; Sundays from 11am to 10pm
Website: www.ichibanboshi.com.sg


Casa Verde, Singapore Botanic Gardens

I've never realized that there aren't many places that are dog-friendly. I've never had a dog, and the Hubs doesn't want any dogs (for the same reasons why he doesn't want kids...PM me for the full list). The cumulative conditions for us to get a dog were that, we're both retired, and no longer mobile to travel, and are lonely, AND have a huge compound for our goldie to run around. Since none of these were happening in the near future, there wasn't a need to know which restaurants are dog-friendly, and which ones aren't. Until we met up with a couple friend of ours, who'd brought their Japanese spitz puppy out (at my incessant begging) for brunch this weekend.

I recalled having been to the Botanic Gardens eons ago where I'd seen a whole bunch of doggies running around, so I figured that at least one of the restaurants at the park would be dog-friendly. A quick call to Casa Verde, the casual bistro/pizzeria under the Les Amis Group, confirmed that "dogs of all shapes and sizes are welcome" at our brunch table. One quick aside: many websites say that Food for Thought at Botanic Gardens is dog-friendly but a call to the restaurant informed that they are still awaiting their pet license and so, cannot allow you to sit with your dog at the table, so don't bring your furry pooches there! *end of aside*

Another quick aside: we'd presumptuously left our home barely 10 minutes before our lunch date, thinking that we'd make it in good time. Unfortunately, even with Google maps, we got ridiculously lost, and ended up being half an hour late. The Visitor Centre at the Botanic Gardens needs much better signage from the main roads! So, anyways, for the benefit of you drivers out there, you turn off Cluny Road into the Nassim gate entrance of Botanic Gardens (it's the entrance that's at the junction of Nassim Road and Cluny Road). Thereafter, the gardens signage will direct you to the right carpark. *end of aside*

Please be informed that Casa Verde is entirely self-serviced (i.e. no service charge!), so you'll be waiting forever for the staff to serve you. You'll also have to find yourself a table in the bustling glass-housey bistro. Just like in a food court, we hovered, in a not so conspicuous way of course, around the tables that looked to be finishing up. The good thing here is that turnover is brisk and we didn't wait very long before a table for 4 persons opened up. Although we sat outdoors, us pampered air-conditioned rats were quite comfortable. Thanks to wonky weather (I'm not complaining!), the cooler weather these days really do facilitate alfresco dining.

Like every other well-executed dish, the Calamari Fritte ($9.50) was cooked with finesse. The squid rings were soft, not rubbery, and the breadcrumbed coat was toothsome and tasty.

The Fish 'n' Chips ($15) were very commendable as well, fresh flaky delicate fish fillets battered lightly and sided by really addictive shoestring fries. 

Although Casa Verde offers a smattering of local breakfast favourites like nasi lemak and mee siam, Italian cuisine is where Casa Verde really shines. The memorably good Vongole Spaghetti ($18) had al dente pasta dunked in the most awesome broth ever, made from a good handful of fat juicy clams, oodles of aromatic garlic, a dusting of robust chilli flakes and a big splash of white wine.

If you're a fan of Peperoni, then Casa Verde's pizzas are to be missed at your own peril. The Pizza Rustica ($23), Casa Verde's flatbread take on carbonara, is loaded with tomato salsa, smoked streaky bacon, baby asparagus (for the token green item on a decadent cheesy dish) and a perfectly cooked sunny side egg. While this pizza may be a little on the underweight end of the scale, it was delicious nonetheless.

Isnt' she just the loveliest little furball ever???

Casa Verde
1 Cluny Road
Singapore Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre
Tel: 64677326
Open daily from 7.30am to 9.30pm
Website: www.lesamis.com.sg


Carlton Hotel CNY Dinner

My firm celebrated Chinese New Year early this year, at the Empress Ballroom of Carlton Hotel, where we dined on the Fortune Menu ($758++ for 10 pax). Although dinner was catered from the hotel's in-house Cantonese restaurant Wah Lok, the food was disappointingly lackluster compared to our usual meals at Wah Lok. All of the dishes suffered from too heavy a sprinkling hand with the salt. I had to drown myself in coke all night to counter any post-dinner water retention. 

The Salmon Yusheng here marked my second lo hei of the year, and this run-of-the-mill version paled in comparison to the one I had just last week at Crystal Jade Golden Palace. The fish were sliced so miserably thin they might as well have done a carpaccio instead.

The Braised Fish Maw Soup with Crabmeat was 2 pinches too salty. I had to flood this with pepper to balance out the saltiness. Save for the saltiness, the fish maw was braised very well and crabmeat fresh and plentiful.

The Deep-Fried Seabass in Thai chilli sauce had evidently been left in the fryer too long. A way to mask its mild fishiness, I suppose. I gave up chewing halfway through the dry and tough fish. It was just too much work!

The Kampong Soya Chicken was, relative to the other dishes, decent. This had just the right amount of flavour, well-marinated and juicy.

The Sauteed Prawns in XO sauce was again, too salty. Some of us resorted to scraping the sauce off the peppers and greens to even down this. The prawns were a lost cause, they'd unfortunately absorbed the salt content.

The mushroom-lover in me was looking forward to eating the Braised Lingzhi Mushroom with spinach but. as expected, it was overtly salty. It was such a pity that even the plain clear taste of the mushrooms and metallic accents of the greens couldn't quite balance out the salty gravy.

The Fried Glutinous Rice with Chinese sausages, mushrooms, and dried shrimps was thankfully, not overloaded with sodium. Moist and soft, this somewhat mediocre dish, at the very least, helped to fill us up after we'd mostly left the rest of the dishes unfinished.

The radioactive-looking Aloe Vera with Jelly in Lemongrass tasted as artificial as it'd looked. I felt like I was drinking lemongrass aromatherapy. Suffice to say, none of us finished any of our desserts.

Empress Ballroom Carlton Hotel
76 Bras Basah Road
Level 2
Tel: 63388333
Website: www.carltonhotel.sg


Soup Restaurant, Paragon

We're trying to eat lightly in the week leading up to the Chinese New Year festivities. A sort of balancing act to counter the amount of sinful, indulgent, artery-clogging feasting come 31 January 2014.

Soup Restaurant fits the bill nicely in our bid to eat a little more healthily this week. They have a rotating stable of traditional soups that are wholesome, as well as a range of double-boiled herbal soups that are nourishing, and their heritage fare tends to the simple and homespun.

The Beggar Bowl Steamed Rice ($5.90), loaded with blanched kailan, sauteed chicken and Chinese sausages, was indeed a humble dish. A side of thick gooey black soy imparts just that little bit of flavour to the plain rice.

The Traditional Boiled Soup-of-the-Day ($15.90 for 2-4pax) was a sweet corn, carrot & pork rib soup. Delicate, yet with sweetness and depth of flavour from the simmered corn and stewed carrots, this was very comforting.

Soup Restaurant
290 Orchard Road
B1-07 Paragon
Tel: 63336228
Open daily from 10am to 11pm
Website: www.souprestaurant.com.sg


Violet Oon's Kitchen

We were in the Bukit Timah area and the Hubs took the opportunity to revisit Violet Oon's. We'd arrived just as they'd begun operations for the day. Like getting a car warmed up in winter, I think the kitchen needed a bit more time to get their engines revved up. Our orders took inordinately long and some of the food was a lil' bit choppy. They didn't quite hold up to their usual standard.

The Asian Big Breakfast ($20), a brunch item, was basically an upmarket nasi lemak. It can't quite compare with the authentic hawker stuff, but it was relatively decent. The otak was heavily textured with large chunks of fresh fish, the fried chicken wing was fairly succulent, but the sambal egg was the best of the lot, perfectly boiled with nary a rubber consistency. A mound of yellow flavoured nasi kuning and a cucumber & ikan bilis salad sided the substantive platter.

The Ngo Hiang ($14) was as good as ever though, incredibly juicy insides with a good crunch on the out. The freshly pounded sambal was a great accompaniment to the fritter, a mild kick without tear-inducing heat.

The Babi Pongteh ($19) was a little lackluster compared to the previous rendition. The pork belly could have used an additional half hour braising time, but the tau-cheo-based gravy was just as luscious. The Hubs, who was trying to stay away from carbs, finished half the white rice, just because it set up the brown gravy beautifully.

Violet Oon's Kitchen
881 Bukit Timah Road
Tel: 6468 5430
Open Tuesdays to Thursdays from 11.30am to 10pm
Fridays from 11.30am to 11pm
Saturdays from 9.30am to 11pm
Sundays from 9.30am to 10pm
Closed on Mondays


Crystal Jade Golden Palace

The Crystal Jade Group of restaurants is one of those reliable chain-name restaurants that one can always depend on for a good meal. Of the lot, the biracial Teochew-Cantonese Golden Palace branch at Paragon is the most refined and my pick for a meal that'll definitely impress. The imposing décor with deep red and sexy black hues, luxurious chandeliers and large cavernous hall, is matched by the exquisite fare and generally faultless service.

The Roasted Crispy Chicken ($22 for half) was very commendable; moist and succulent with a thin, paper-crisp skin. Still, I thought Wah Lok's version is marginally better; so tasty it didn't need any salt at all. CJ Golden Palace's version still needed the occasional salt dips for full-on flavour.

The Braised Mushroom with 2 Types of Vegetables ($26) was unexpectedly delicious. I usually shy away from those thick fibrous crunchy stalks of green veggies but these had been braised to a denture-soft texture so it required the barest of chew.

One of my favourite dishes, the Stewed Seafood with Beancurd Casserole ($28) was, as usual, very good. Scallops and prawns and sliced fish and squid were impossibly fresh, cooked perfectly to a juicy, not rubbery, finish, and doused in a luscious oyster sauce gravy bubbling away in the pre-heated claypot.

The recent "cool-er" weather is perfect for indulging in soup, and the Sichuan Spicy & Sour Soup ($11) here hits the comfort button squarely. Thick, smooth and bold, this was an explosion of the spicy and piquant.

Crystal Jade Golden Palace
290 Orchard Road
Paragon #05-22
Tel: 6734 6866
Open Mondays to Fridays from 11.30am to 3pm, 6pm to 11pm
Saturdays from 11am to 3pm, 6pm to 11pm
Sundays from 10.30am to 3pm, 6pm to 11pm

Website: www.crystaljade.com/


Long Beach Seafood Restaurant, UDMC, East Coast Seafood Centre

The Hubs and I generally don't plan our meals in advance. Most of the time, we let our stomachs decide, barely 15 minutes before we eventually arrive at the restaurant of choice. That's why we're not in the habit of making reservations. There's just not enough time to place one! Usually, our spontaneity (and lack of planning) isn't a problem, because it's just the 2 of us, and most restaurants (even if packed) are able to accommodate just another 2 persons without much fuss. Not this weekend at Long Beach though.

Trying to get to Long Beach's salted egg yolk crabs turned out to be an hour-long hunt of those elusive crabs. Our usual haunt, the Long Beach King outlet at Kallang had shockingly run out of Sri Lanka mud crabs. At 8.15 pm, no less! So, we called the main branch at East Coast Park, and were told that the waiting time for just 2 persons was over an hour. Even takeaways attracted a waiting time of at least an hour because the dine-in patrons took priority. As a last resort, we called the one down the road, at East Coast Seafood Centre, and we finally got a table.

Thing is, we don't particularly like the seafood restaurants at East Coast Seafood Centre. They're very much like production-line factories, soulless, faceless and lacking in any warmth or character. I'm referring to both the food and service. Worst of all, I've found that the quality of the food at these touristy seafood restaurants are generally a notch below their flagship branches. Notwithstanding my personal reservations, after that hour-long hunt for salted egg yolk crabs, we were defeated, famished and just grateful for a open table.

The Crabmeat Fish Maw Thick Soup ($20) was overtly starchy; there were globs of cornstarch balls laced among the slices of mushroom, julienned black fungus and bamboo shoots and miserly chunks of crabmeat. The shredded crabmeat was fresh out of the shell, but the fish maw wasn't prepared well. It wasn't braised thoroughly, there were raw tasteless bits. The golden-hued one at Long Beach King well surpassed this mediocre version.

The deceptively plain-Jane Enoki & Baby White Cabbage ($14) was a nice surprise, and possibly the only dish of some standard. The broth, once it'd lost its starchiness, boasted a mellow roasted garlicky element that was beautifully complemented by the delicate oyster sauce base.

The Salted Egg Yolk Crabs ($110 for 1.7kg), despite its grand plating, didn't quite measure up to its counterpart at the Long Beach King outlet. The crab was fresh and flesh sweet, but the salted egg yolk coating was just too one-dimensional, without the lively spice of the fried curry leaves at the Kallang King outlet.

Long Beach Seafood Restaurant UDMC
#01-04 East Coast Seafood Centre
1202 East Coast Parkway
Tel: 64483636
Open Mondays to Thursdays from 2pm to 12.15am;
Fridays from 1.30pm to 12.15am;
Saturdays from 11.30am to 1.15am;
Sundays and PH from 11.30am to 12.15am
Website: www.longbeachseafood.com.sg


[Invited Tasting & Revisit] Crystal Jade Golden Palace

I was thrilled to receive an invitation from the Crystal Jade Group to preview some of their Chinese New Year offerings at their fine-dining Golden Palace branch. It's one of my favourite restaurants and I generally love the food and service here. A huge bonus of this tasting was that I got to bring the Hubs as my plus-one. It's possibly the only part of my blogging hobby that he truly appreciates. (Usually, I'll have to strap him down and "force" him to read my blog posts!)

As per S.O.P. of my invited tastings, we returned twice, in order to sample all of the dishes tasted. While service at the tasting was that little bit more attentive and personalised, it was, afterall, a VIP room, and I expect that most VIPs would get the same treatment. That said, service at both revisits, in the main dining hall and not private rooms, were still above-par, efficient, speedy and so thoughtful and nice they helped me stage the dishes properly when they noticed that I was taking pictures of the food.

The newly-launched Hearty Five-Treasure Yusheng was the best yusheng I've ever had. By the way, that's considered a huge compliment as I'm not a fan of the CNY fish salad. BUT, the Golden Palace's rendition is truly one-of-a-kind, with luxurious gold leaves, juicy mangoes, and hazelnut oil all upping the ante in extravagance.

CJGP's yusheng uses the ubiquitous salmon and luxes it up with premium amberjack. Both were impossibly fresh and sweet.

The before shot of the Hearty Five-Treasure Yusheng ($128.80 for large) at the L.A. Dinner revisit, where this ginormous portion easily fed up to 12 persons.

The devastated after-lo-hei shot. The staff had, very disappointingly, forgotten to say all those auspicious words when dumping in all the oils and powders and fish. Even if I'm one of those who can't quite understand any of those auspicious sayings.

I realised, at the revisit, why I love this yusheng so much. This is much nuttier than the usual yusheng, with pinenuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds that all added to the crunch factor. This was more like a mixed nuts combi than a fish and vegetable salad.

We were introduced to the Deep Fried Japanese Amadai ($5.50 per 37.5gm), a type of snapper, at the tasting. This was simply flavoured with zesty shichimi powder, a blend of orange peel, peppercorns, sesame seeds, dried ginger, seaweed and chilli.

Apparently the Japanese amadai is some kind of Japanese delicacy, which you're supposed to eat this with scales and all. This wasn't as icky as it sounded, as the scales are paper thin, so if you can eat those kinds of fishes with bones and all, you'd have no problem doing the same with this.

At the revisit, my friends made the exact same face I did when told they were to eat the scales and all of the Deep Fried Japanese Amadai ($54 at $5.50 per 37.5gm). Like me, they took to it after the initial bite. A lightly adorned dish made delicious by skilled frying and really fresh ingredients.

The Hubs loved the Stewed Canadian Lobster ($11 per 100gm) at the tasting. This was his favourite dish, slathered in a superior broth from the bones of the halibut fish. I loved that kitschy heart shaped mango on the side.

At the revisit, the Stewed Canadian Lobster ($88 at $11 per 100gm) was very well received, in no small part thanks to that velvety mellow sauce that complemented the delicate springy flesh of the lobster.

The Sauteed Kurobuta Pork Strips with assorted mushrooms, cordycep flowers and capsicum, was my favourite dish. This was uniquely fragranced with extra virgin coconut oil so at first whiff, mental images of Thai cuisine come to mind.

We didn't quite realise that both this Sauteed Kurobuta Pork Strips ($28) and the next dish below are ADVANCED orders, and we weren't quite told this at the tasting either, so remember to call ahead to pre-order these 2 dishes.At the revisit, this was slightly different from the version I had at the tasting, mostly because of the mushrooms, but this was no less scrumptious.

A great alternative to the obligatory end-of-meal carb dish was the Braised Sea Cucumber and Scallop with barley, corn kernels, asparagus in some kind of "special sauce". This was sufficiently substantial without stuffing us to the gills. 

At the revisit, Braised Sea Cucumber and Scallop ($68) was a hit, with the sea cucumber braised to chewy perfection, and the scallops cooked just right. That said, I thought its pricing was quite excessive.

We rounded off the tasting with a trio of Chinese cakes for desserts.

First up was the Pan-Fried Carrot Cake ($25.80 for whole cake), a savoury radish cake that we usually order during dim sum. I didn't realise you could buy the whole cake home, cut it up and pan-fry it in your kitchen to serve. I'm so gonna buy these home to serve up as savoury snackers from now on!

The Black-Eyed Pea Cake ($25.80 for whole cake), a variant of the carrot cake, was a little nuttier and possessed a mellow sweetness to the radish version. Nice, but I still prefer the carrot cake.

The Glutinous Rice Cake ($23.80 for whole cake) or "nian gao", steamed and lightly tossed with shredded coconut and peanuts, was really good. It didn't have that yucky sickeningly sweet and slightly stale after-taste present in most nian gaos. I don't usually eat this, even during the CNY festive period, but I actually finished this up, so that's saying something.

Thanks to JJ and Samantha of Crystal Jade for the hospitality!

Crystal Jade Golden Palace
290 Orchard Road
Paragon #05-22
Tel: 6734 6866
Open Mondays to Fridays from 11.30am to 3pm, 6pm to 11pm
Saturdays from 11am to 3pm, 6pm to 11pm
Sundays from 10.30am to 3pm, 6pm to 11pm

Website: www.crystaljade.com/
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