Monthly Archives: June 2015

Tried & Tasted: Red velvet chiffon cake

I can’t resist any chiffon cake. They’re so airy and insubstantial I don’t feel guilty about polishing off a couple of large pieces. It’s like eating coloured clouds.

But I don’t really like cakes made with cooking oil as I love butter. So, when Sharon Chan shared her Red Velvet Chiffon Cake recipe with The Straits Times, I pounced on it with glee as she uses melted butter in place of the usual oil.

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Any cake I can manage to turn out should be manageable for almost anyone as my baking skills are minimal. I see myself as the one who puts the idiot-proof stamp on recipes, so if you’re a kitchen newbie, step this way.

red velvet 1red velvet

Compared with Sharon’s cake, mine is a pink-brown rather than red, but it tastes good and is moist. For the recipe go to the link:

To pretty it up and add flavour, try coating this cake with whipped cream or a cream cheese frosting.

PS – I cheated and used ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar to help the egg whites fluff up as my first attempt resulted in a slightly heavier cake. This time I decided to split the batter into two small pans – a good size to take to work. You know how everyone always says, “just a small piece” when you offer them cake – well, this is small!

Game over

I can’t bear to continue watching Game of Thrones. In the months between the end of Season 5 and the beginning of Season 6, I might very well change my mind, but as Oliver Griffin comments in The Independent – what is the point?

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GRR Martin (grr indeed) is a sadist. I am exhausted with tears unshed for the honourable characters (beginning with Ned Stark) who met gruesome ends. And horrible Joffrey had too easy a death. Some painful vomiting before conking out is no worse than a severe bout of food poisoning. I’ve been there. I felt like dying the last time I hurled my guts out. My spasms left me doubled up in agony for several hours. Joffrey was gone in minutes. Now, is that fair?


Jaime & Tyrion

I have no sympathy for Cersei. She can dry out in the dungeon for all I care. But I was hanging on for Jon Snow. And dear Sam. I’m still rooting for Tyrion, the Lannister who drew the short straw, and Jaime has become a bit of alright. Drogon the dragon? Absolute darling!

In Westeros, decency is such a rare commodity that the slightest display of kindness stands out. Of course, in the GoT world of psychopaths and sociopaths, this is a weakness likely to earn, not a reward, but an unpleasant death.

I got more satisfaction watching Jurassic World. It was rather predictable but the raptors were cute, and the human who deserved to be eaten got his just desserts, or rather the dinosaur did.



Okay, so it’s unreal but I try not to watch art movies because the story lines cut too close to the bone. If I want like-real tragedy and misery, I just catch the news. Life is hard enough. Give us justice and something to live for. GoT is full of fabulous characters and the story is riveting, but is it too much to ask for Ramsay to be castrated (slowly) and then given a lobotomy? For Sansa to find true love?

Gimme hope, GRR Martin, Gimme hope … (with apologies to Eddy Grant).

Grab a crab

What stops me from going totally vegetarian is my love of eggs and shellfish. That said, I can’t kill my food, so either I buy dead shellfish or do the hypocritical thing and let other people kill them i.e. eat in restaurants.

No problem with prawns which can be bought dead, but to avoid contamination crabs and lobsters need to be alive just before they are cooked. Result: I never buy crabs. Anything breathing that comes into my home will be given a name and allowed to live out its natural life. Imagine George and Daisy, the Sri Lankan crabs scuttling around the backyard, waving their pincers menacingly at our stalking dogs. Someone will get nipped, and it’s 3-1 in the crabs’ favour.

My friend Devagi Sanmugam recently posted a recipe for garlic-pepper crabs which got me drooling. Butter crab, chilli crab, baked crab, curry crab, fried soft-shell crabs….love ‘em all!

There is no kind way to kill anything. If you must have your crab and eat it, the old-fashioned method is as good as any – Asian mothers use a chopstick to skewer the crab through the tapered flap on the underside. Devagi tells me she simply pops the crab in the freezer and leaves it to die of hypothermia. The biting cold will probably put it to sleep, so maybe it’s less painful than being stabbed to death. For a quick kill, refer to

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Your mouth watering? Here is Devagi’s recipe – Unless it’s hanging on to my toe, nothing will induce me to kill a crab, so I will have to drool on.




Oil for deep frying

1 ½ kg mud crabs or crayfish, cleaned, washed and halved



100 g Q.B.B. Pure Ghee

2 green chillies, seeded and very finely sliced (optional)

10 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 cm ginger, finely chopped

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

2 teaspoons dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

3 tablespoons black peppercorns, crushed coarsely

100 ml chicken stock or water


  1. Heat oil until very hot (preferably in a wok) and then deep fry the crabs or crayfish until the shell changes colour.
  2. Drain and keep aside.
  3. Melt the Q.B.B. Pure Ghee in a wok. Add in the chilli, garlic and ginger and sauté till aromatic – about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the oyster sauce, both soya sauces and sugar.
  5. Simmer for a few seconds and then add the black pepper.
  6. Continue cooking until the sauce thickens and then add the crabs or crayfish.
  7. Keep stirring until the crabs are well coated with the sauce and cook for another couple of minutes.
  8. Serve hot.

Service without a smile

You can find anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant*…and Singapore’s Mustafa Centre.

A veritable Aladdin’s Cave of things edible, cosmetic and electronic, plus jewelry, pharmaceuticals, and more, Mustafa Centre is open 24/7. First-time visitors will be exhausted just checking out a fraction of the goods. At 2am, you can find insomniac families wandering around.

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Mustafa accessories


Mustafa greengrocer

Mustafa shoppers like the variety available – many items can’t be found anywhere else. Deciding on toothpaste or tea can be mind boggling. Take sweetener as an example. Choose from organic or non-organic sugar. Or Lion Date Syrup (800g, $8.50), Pure Harvest Rice Malt Syrup (500g, $6.50), Cecil Coconut Treacle (180ml, $2.50), not to mention Southeast-Asian palm sugar and neatly packaged jaggery (Indian palm sugar).


Mustafa chocs


Mustafa electronics

The fact that I find Mustafa Centre irresistible despite the sucky service is a tribute to the store’s merchandisers. Perhaps service can take a back seat when the goods are the draw. That doesn’t seem right, but how else can I explain why I keep returning when service is at-best casual indifference?

Last week to my amazement, I ran into one staff who appeared keen to serve. Maybe he was a promoter in the health section. That’s how used I am to the usual dour faces.

It was 3pm on a Friday. I brought my basket to a cashier with no queue. Her expression could have curdled cream.  Sorry, I must have interrupted her reverie.

My worst experience was some years ago in the jewelry department where I waited 10 minutes for the woman behind the counter to fish out gold earrings – a gift for my then helper. I tried to get her attention by waving. I said, “Er, excuse me….” She pointedly ignored me as she leisurely pushed earrings onto a display board. I wouldn’t have minded if she’d just looked up and said, “Just a moment, let me finish this.”  Finally, when I wouldn’t go away, she snapped, “Yess!” in a whaddya-want tone.

I’m ranting. Enough.

Even vinegary countenances won’t keep me away. Other stores have something to learn from this.

*Alice’s Restaurant – Arlo Guthrie’s musical monologue

Cut the mustard

Sometimes, I want to return to the familiar flavours I grew up with. I’m talking about staples like HP Sauce, Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, Tabasco Sauce and Colman’s Mustard Powder.

Viva nostalgia! These condiments give an old school flavour to sturdy favourites like shepherd’s pie, pork chops, and curry debal or devil’s curry – dishes that hark back to our days as a British colony. Back then, knowing how to use such imported delicacies meant one was either sophisticated or a Hainanese cook in a club or expat household.

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Now that we can get gourmet sauces from all corners of the globe, and those olde brands are available in neighbourhood supermarts, we don’t think of them as anything special. Yet, the fact that they are still in production means they’re as essential as soy sauce.

I just bought a large tin (454g) of Colman’s Mustard Powder in Mustafa Centre. Of late I haven’t seen Colman’s at my neighbourhood FairPrice. There’s no way I would miss the jolly yellow packaging. Also, what’s available elsewhere is only the small tin (probably 57g). Hence, at $13.80 for 454g, it’s a good buy.

Colman's mustard

As a flour miller, it wasn’t surprising that Jeremiah Colman came up with mustard in powder form in 1814. His factory in the vicinity of Norwich is still there today. So, if you’re ever in Norwich, check out the museum and bring home some Colman’s souvenirs.

Colman's mustard 1905

Cooks who prize Colman’s suggest combining equal parts of the dry mustard and a liquid – water, wine, vinegar, beer, milk, cream – and leaving it to stand for 10 minutes for the flavour to develop before using it. Stir a tablespoonful into stews, sauces, relishes, dips, marinades or dressings. Add zing to burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches.

(As an aside, if you have an ant problem, sprinkle some mustard powder on the ant trail. Wonder if it will work on roaches, but then, those hardy pests seem to be able to survive anything.)

For convenience, I’ve been using French mustard in my devil curry, but English mustard is sharper than Dijon. Now that I have my large tin of Colman’s, I’m going for the bigger kick. Here’s a recipe from my former colleague, Angela Fernandez. Every Eurasian family seems to have their own version, so vary the amount of onions and chillies to get a hotter or thicker gravy.

I forgot to take a photo last week when we made Devil’s Curry, so I had to borrow a visual:

devil curry


30 dried chillies

2 fresh chillies (optional)

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

4 big onions

2 thumb-sized knobs of ginger

10 cloves garlic, sliced

2 carrots, cut into large chunks

2 potatoes, quartered

¼ cabbage, cut into large pieces

Chicken thighs and drumsticks or ½ a chicken, chopped

350g bacon bones

300g sausages, sliced into thumb lengths*

1 tablespoon vinegar

1½ tablespoons English mustard


  1. Blend chillies , ginger and onions into a paste.
  2. Saute garlic in oil. Add mustard seeds and when they pop, add blended ingredients and fry till fragrant.
  3. Add bacon bones and top up with water. Slow cook for 4 hours or pressure cook for 10 minutes. Now add chicken and potatoes. When chicken is half cooked, add carrots. When chicken is almost done, add cabbage, vinegar and mustard.

*Substitute sausages with roast pork or char siew. This is an any-meat goes dish.