Recipes from a Singapore kitchen

Easy Spaghetti Bolognese

May 5th, 2012 | Posted by yvonne in Food | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Easy Bolognese

It was a sad night a few days ago. Our New Zealand expat apartment neighbor, and first buddies in Singapore, decided to leave us for another apartment complex a few miles away. As they were cleaning out their fridge, I was bequeathed with packages of ground beef and pork, so I decided to cook up a quick bolognese sauce for dinner. We don’t really go out for Italian here, so we save these dinners for making at home.

I remembered there being a bolognese recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, but since I couldn’t access the site-it doesn’t stay free when you leave:), and since I’m too smart to realize that I had the entire compendium in my bookshelf, I decided to wing it from what I could remember. I leave out the traditional carrot and celery in my recipe because a certain someone who I share my meals with hates those two vegetables, but I feel the extra onions and the tomato paste keep the sauce just sweet enough. It turned out pretty good if I don’t say so myself. The combination of beef and pork work really well together, but if you use just beef, that would be fine too. The keys to keeping the meat soft, not tough, are to keep it from browning it before adding the milk. The milk also helps to tenderize the meat. My bolognese has a lot of meat in it…not a bad thing for a meat lover like me.


Easy Spaghetti Bolognese

Serves 4

4 Tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, minced

1 teaspoon salt

5 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press or minced

10 ounces ground beef (chuck)

10 ounces ground pork

1 cup whole milk

1 cup red wine

2  14-ounce cans crushed tomatoes

4 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 pound spaghetti

Parmesan cheese to serve on the side

  1. In a large heavy duty saucepan, heat oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion with salt and cook until softened and golden, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  2. Add ground beef and pork, stirring to break up into bits. Cook until just no longer pink and then stir in the milk. Cook until most of the milk is cooked off.
  3. Add the wine, crushed tomatoes and their juice, tomato paste, red pepper flakes, and black pepper and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low and continue to simmer sauce, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 1 hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Cook spaghetti until al dente, drain and toss with sauce, or spoon sauce over cooked pasta. Serve grated Parmesan or shavings over the top.



Bintan Island

April 24th, 2012 | Posted by yvonne in 1000 Days | Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

Shady Shack Bintan Island


We just got back from an amazing weekend in Indonesia. We’d been looking to escape the heat of Singapore for a quick trip when our apartment neighbors rang us up. “Hey we found a place called ‘Shady Shack’. You in?” Of course we were.

Getting to Indonesia is really easy from Singapore. We just hopped on a ferry and after about an hour we landed and had our passports stamped. Our driver ready to take us to Shady Shack was already waiting.

Bintan Island is known for it’s plush resorts, mostly right near the ferry terminal, but we decided to try out a secluded, more rustic island experience. We felt up for a more relaxing holiday anyway, where we didn’t have to share the water with tons of kids and families:)

Bintan Indonesia

After an hours drive through mountainous rural areas to the other side of the island, we arrived at Shady Shack and met up with our host, Lobo, who showed us our abodes for the weekend. This place is definitely high on the “roughing it” scale. Each couple had our own quaint fairly solid shack that had a room with a mosquito netted bed and a concrete bathroom with it’s own toilet (a concrete tub of water with a bucket is provided to do your own flushing). No sink or shower, but hey, who needs a shower when you’ll be in the ocean all weekend?

Bintan Indonesia

Shady Shack Bintan Island


Shady Shack Bintan Island


Just before we got there our friends had to tell me an awful story about their travels in Cambodia involving spiders in the night–not a good thing for me to hear. After seeing a spider on the outside of their shack I decided to sleep fully clothed and with the lights on the first night. No incidents, so felt a little better the second night. We fared better than our friends, who wound up with a rat rummaging around in their bags in the middle of the night!

That said, the location absolutely rocks. It’s truly an island paradise. Right out of an episode of Gilligan’s Island. The shacks are just feet from the beautiful sandy beach which is only shared by a few locals and a handful of other Shady Shackers. I noticed that all the other guests were European, not locals, or even Singaporeans. Not sure why? The water of the South China Sea is nice and warm. It’s also pretty shallow (suits me just fine) close to shore, and is perfect for snorkeling. At low tide all I had to do was walk out to the coral and rocks to get a glimpse of a few adorable clown fish guarding their reefy homes.

We tried a few dishes at the Shady Shack cafe that Lobo and his wife run (she does the cooking). We tried some simply prepared vegetable, fried fish, and rice dishes. We also took a walk to the small village down the road and stopped at a roadside stand where we sampled some fried banana and fried tofu with chili sauce. Yum.

the Shady Shack dog contemplates a swim (he winds up going for it)


local village food

Getting ready for the Saturday night bonfire on the beach right outside our shack

At a place like this you really shouldn’t do more than swim, read, play cards (maybe), drink beer, laze around, drink more beer. The group next to us tried to play some frisbie and it stressed me out just watching them. Turn it off and relax, people. Can’t wait to go back, and hoping the creepie crawlies stay away.








Pho Bo

April 18th, 2012 | Posted by yvonne in Food | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

homemade pho bo

Since my trip to Vietnam in February, I’ve been obsessed with making a big bowl of Pho Bo (beef noodle soup). This soup is made from a rich beef stock that’s flavored with with charred onion, ginger, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, and star anise. Bowls are then filled with slippery rice noodles, and finally topped with a heaping of Thai basil, sliced onion, chiles, mint, fish sauce, lime wedges, and bean sprouts. Phew! All of these ingredients work together to create the perfect balance of rich comforting soup and bright fresh herbs. My favorite part are the thin slices of raw beef that are place on top to be quickly cooked by the hot broth. Making an authentic homemade Pho Bo has always seemed like a huge undertaking, but I finally set aside some time and gave it a go. This dish is no quick Tuesday night dinner. It’s definitely a commitment (give yourself about 5 hours total).  Most of the flavor comes from simmering all the goodness out of the beef bones–and that takes patience. But the rewards of a beefy stock are well worth the time spent.  And smelling like beef bones for the whole day isn’t the worst thing in the world either.

For this recipe, I took inspiration from both Epicurious and the fabulous Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, by Andrea Nguyen.

The first step in this recipe is to get a nice char on the onions and ginger. A broiler works well to brown a large batch such as this in the shortest amount of time. While the onion skin goes into the stock, discard the really burnt bits.

charred onions and ginger

Here in Singapore, I feel very lucky to just be able to stroll into the local protein and produce market in Chinatown to pick up my beef bones and Thai basil. The stalls are super busy in the morning, and by the early afternoon it’s starting to close up. I got here just in the nick of time today. If you can’t find them in the grocery store, ask your local butcher. He probably has some in the freezer.

This stock takes a lot of bones–about 5 1/2 pounds. You didn’t want a watery broth did you? Try to buy nice shin bones that aren’t too long, with some  marrow in the center. And if they have any meat on them, the better.

beef bones

Palm sugar adds a hint of sweetness to the broth (along with the onions). It usually comes in hard blocks.

palm sugar

I don’t have a 12 quart stock pot yet, so had to make due with 2 smaller pots. Not the most ideal situation but it worked. I had to start out with less water than I was going to, but i ended up with a concentrated and flavorful broth in the end.

pho on stove

These are the rice noodles that I used. The width is fairly thin (1/8-inch), but you can use whatever rice noodle you can find. They’re soaked in water prior to cooking to speed up the cooking process.

rice noodles

The finished product! It’s important to slice the raw beef as thin as possible so the the hot broth can cook it. I used a bit of chuck along with the brisket but found the texture to be a little dry (it was a very lean cut). The piece of brisket was better, due to all of the fat which renders out during cooking but keeps the texture moist. Pile up a big plate of the garnishes for everyone to pick from. Most of the fun of this dish is dressing up your bowl before slurping it down. The rich meaty broth is perfectly balanced by the acidity from the lime juice and the fresh crunchy herbs.


Pho Bo

Serves 5

Note: The strained broth can be made a day before to save time on the serving day. Make sure to cool the broth down as quick as possible after making it to prevent spoilage.

For the soup:

1 pound onions, halved (skin left on) and root ends removed

5″ piece of ginger, halved

9 star anise

6 whole cloves

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

5 1/2 pounds beef soup bones (preferable in 2 inch lengths)

5 quarts water

1 1/2  pounds beef brisket (or chuck if you want a leaner meat), cut into 3 or 4 pieces

3 Tablespoons fish sauce

1 ounce piece palm sugar, chopped or grated

4 teaspoons salt

1 cinnamon stick


For the bowls:

12 ounces sirloin steak

1 13 ounce package rice noodles

1 large onion, sliced paper thin

5 scallions, sliced thin


For the garnish:

2 bunches Thai basil

1 bunch cilantro

1 bunch mint

2 cups bean sprouts

4 limes, cut into wedges

5-10 thai chiles

fish sauce

grated palm sugar


  1. Adjust oven rack to broiler position and preheat broiler. Line baking sheet with foil and place onions and ginger on pan cut side up. Broil until flesh starts to become charred, then carefully flip and broil until skin is charred. Discard the really burned pieces of skin. Set aside.
  2. In a small skillet, lightly toast star anise, cloves, and black peppercorns over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute; set aside.
  3. Place beef bones in large 12 quart stockpot and fill with water to cover. Bring to boil over high heat and boil for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse bones. Clean stockpot and return bones to pot with 5 1/2 quarts water, charred onions and ginger, toasted spices, brisket, fish sauce, palm sugar, salt, and cinnamon stick. Heat over high heat until boiling, then reduce heat to simmer. Continue to simmer for approximately 3 hours, skimming off any foamy residue that may collect on top.
  4. At the 1 1/2 hour mark, check to see if brisket is tender, or continue to cook until it is. When brisket is ready, remove from pot, place in bowl and cover with water for about 10 minutes. (This prevents it from drying out and turning dark). Remove from water, place on plate, cover and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble bowls.
  5. After 3 hours, remove bones from pot (reserve bones) and strain stock through cheesecloth into another large pot. You should have about 3 1/2 quarts broth. Set broth on stove and let rest about 15 to 30 minutes. Using a fat skimmer, skim as much fat as you can from surface of stock. (The stock can be made ahead and chilled. Simply remove any hardened fat from top of chilled broth). When bones are cool enough to handle, pull off any meaty bits to add to soup bowls and then discard the bones.
  6. Place sirloin in freezer for 15 to 30 minutes to partially freeze. While sirloin is freezing, Place dry noodles in bowl and fill with cool water to cover. Place onion slices in bowl and fill with cool water to cover for about 30 minutes and then drain.
  7. When sirloin is partially frozen, use a sharp knife to slice 1/16-inch slices, place on plate, cover and chill until ready to assemble bowls.
  8. Adjust beef broth to taste and bring back to a simmer. Fill large pot 3/4 full with water and bring to boil.
  9. In the meantime assemble bowls for the soup: Slice cooked brisket into 1/8-inch slices or 1-inch chunks and divide amongst bowls. Cooking noodle servings one at a time, drop a handful of noodles into pot of boiling water for about 15 seconds. Remove with strainer or tongs and place in bowl. Repeat with remaining noodles.
  10. Divide soaked and drained onions amongst bowls. Sprinkle scallions over bowls. Divide sliced raw steak between bowls. Ladle simmering soup into bowls, making sure to cover beef so that it cooks.
  11. Serve immediately with basil, mint, and cilantro leaves, bean sprouts, squeezes of fresh lime juice,  and hot chiles, fish sauce, and palm sugar to taste.