Every year, I host a dinner for my uni mates and their +1s and my own family as well when I go on holiday to Singapore. The first time I did it, it was decent and tasty but it mostly looked like shit. The second year, I upped the ante and the food was more communal and much better. The third year, I set up a makeshift argy style grill in my house. This year, I had my girlfriend helping me out, so I went overboard with the ambition but almost everything turned out pretty good and it’s clear even to myself that I’ve come a long way from when I was still learning the trade.

I had basically one day to shop, prep and cook but I cheated by doing some things before I left Sydney to save some effort and time. Ultimately, with the speedy aid my girlfriend provided, it was pretty much a cinch. I tend to like cooking explicitly simple things that don’t have excessive prep. So in terms of taste and execution, I think I did well for the most part. Where I went wrong was probably overfeeding people. Haha! I just made too much! Next year, I’m focusing on less but better.

Most of the food was procured at Chia’s Vegetable Supply in Tekka Centre. They’ve got an excellent selection of veg, great quality and reasonable prices so I’ve been buying stuff from them all the time. Also, the seafood at the market is pretty good in general. There’s one stall I don’t know the name of that specializes in prawns that looks superb and there’s also a good number of beef/lamb butchers and chicken guys too.

Otherwise, for my raw fish and Japanese needs, there’s only really Meidi-ya, which isn’t as good as Japan but it is hella close. If you close your eyes, you wouldn’t think you were in sunny Singapore. That’s until the samples auntie tells you about some top notch tofu.

I’m lucky that my dad loves to cook so he fixed himself a pretty big kitchen that’s also damn well stocked with stuff and this year, we removed the spare room at the back and installed a cafe/breakfast dining area which is really charming. For a pro, you couldn’t ask for a better home kitchen. Well, actually I did ask my mom for a walk in coolroom instead of her little workshop at the back. Oh, a combi oven, a pacojet and some immersion circulators would be great too by the way mom.

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  • Snapper White Soy – Filleted and cleaned up beforehand, sliced right before my friends who milled into the kitchen. The fish I bought from Meidi-ya which turned out to be nice and sweet. The only thing I stuffed up was overdosing the yuzu juice for this because I didn’t have a squeeze bottle. I’ll have one next time. Slicing up the fish in front of my friends definitely stressed me out.

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  • Aburi Smoked Salmon On Toast – Basically a miniature version of smoked salmon on toast but shaped like nigiri sushi. I brought over 4 boules of frozen Iggy’s country sourdough, which was still good. I’d prefer to use something baked locally but don’t know where to go. Lightly toasted bread gets topped with wilted spinach and smoked salmon before getting the blowtorch treatment. Dressing is store bought goma tare/sesame sauce and chives.

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  • Prawn Bisque + Prawn Toast – Ok first off, I messed up here cos one of my mates has a prawn allergy. Doh! It’s ok, I’ll stuff him with more of the other things. The prawn toast was a little crap. I par toasted some sliced sourdough and rubbed raw garlic on that. Then I put a mix of fine and rough chopped prawn meat on top. This went in the oven but I struggled with the settings and the mix was underseasoned. I think I could probably have done better with the prawns left in the rather excellent bisque and the toast on the side. Also, the milk frother stuffed up when I tried to use it which was super disappointing. I really wanted to do milk foam prawn bisquecinos. The bisque itself though, was good. I changed it from most regular versions with the inclusion of Chinese dried scallops and prawns to give it a certain extra oomph.

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  • Crab Croquettes – This dish I adapted from Movida’s Smoked Eel original. It’s basically a bechamel base that you have to cool, shape and then crumb before frying. This I prepped in Sydney. I rolled the mix into logs and then froze them. When it came to the day itself, the logs were cut when frozen into neat little cylinders. These get crumbed and then left to defrost in the fridge before we fried them off. In my opinion, Movida makes the best croquettes I’ve ever had. The bechamel base recipe includes the use of Queso de Mahon, a Spanish melty cheese that really helps the filling disappear in your mouth almost. I think I did the original some justice. I only wish I had a temp. controllable fryer and not a pot on  a stove.

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  • KFC – Korean fried chicken by my girlfriend. She marinated the chicken in milk to reduce the chicken smell and slightly tenderise the meat without drying or curing it out. This got lightly dusted and then battered in a seasoned mix before frying twice, once low, once high. Can’t go wrong with that when you don’t stuff around too much with something so simple.

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  • Roast Pork Loin w Chimichurri – The dressing is excellent but we adjusted the original recipe from Porteno. They used white wine vinegar and I used some shitty apple vinegar and added some lemon for zing. The pork loin ended up being pretty dang decent for a dish I thought up pretty much last minute and had no recipe for. I just chucked it in the oven with garlic/rosemary at 150C until it was almost done. When the entrees went, I chucked it in the oven at max heat for some colour and then took it out to rest. We sliced it all up and laid it on a chopping board to share.

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  • Beef Cheeks w PX, Cauliflower Puree – Probably one of my fave dishes I’ve ever had, I think Movida’s (again) version was my favourite so far. I should probably use a different PX next time because the bottle I got from bloody BWS wasn’t sweet enough. That or the shiraz I used was too tart. Hmmm, maybe it’s the latter. Anyway, this one was a nightmare. I did it on the stove which I regret. I shoulda used the oven because for whatever reason, the liquid always seemed to boil and this is a dish you wanna go low and slow so I kept worrying that it wouldn’t be tender or even edible. Thankfully, after 6+ hours, it was a little bit better than good. Ultimately, the 3 hit flavour of rich beef cheeks, sweet jus and creamy nutty puree won everyone over.

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  • Twice Cooked Brussel Sprouts – I pre blanched the sprouts but my friends started streaming into the kitchen when I tried to fry em off. There’s still water in the sprouts so things got a bit firey and I got nervous that someone would catch on fire so I kinda didn’t fry em enough. This ended up not having that great carameliezd flavour and crispy texture. A disappointment personally.
  • Fondant Potatoes – Potatoes cooked slowly until tender in butter. This was good but I think everyone was pretty damn stuffed and this was beastly in how decadent and filling it was. Probably drop starch altogether next time.
  • Cherry Tomatoes, Olive Oil, Basil – My girlfriend quickly tossed a pile of these in the wok and I think we picked out some sweetass cherrytoms because they were bloody good. The sweetness and acidity was also a welcome change of pace from the rest of the relatively rich tasting food.

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  • Tiramisu – I just really wanted to plop a quenelle on a plate so we deconstructed a tiramisu (got lazy) and made a mascarpone mousse dusted with cocoa, a choc ganache, an espresso glaze plus some crushed and sliced lady’s fingers. Taste wise, it was ok if a little underwhelming but it was small, light and just about enough. I need to work on that mousse to achieve a more firm texture that still melts in your mouth. If only I had my cream whipper. Also coulda swopped out the fingers for some grissini maybe.

I made some mistakes, learned a bit here and there, panicked and sweated but had a great time. I was forced to make decisions like dropping a duck dish altogether because supply seemed difficult. This turned out for the best because I had a shitload of food anyway. I think the best part aside from being able to share some grub, booze and good times with friends and family was being able to enjoy working together with my girlfriend. Somehow we really meshed well and got things to work. I used to work with her (that’s how we met) and I’d forgotten how good she was already!

To everyone who was there, I hope you enjoyed yourself and hopefully, we’ll be able to do it all again next year.

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