Malay Ayam Masak Merah: Sugar and (Lots of) Spice

Ayam masak merahIn many ways, the holiday season in Singapore is not unlike that of many other cities.

Forests of tinseled trees and explosions of twinkling lights take over malls and shopping streets; there is an unceasing assault of cheeseball tunes wishing you a Holly jolly Christmas. And tables everywhere are packed with glistening hams, turkeys or perhaps, a big plump goose.

This being Singapore though, my family often likes to include a local favorite or two at a Christmas meal — which is how we sometimes find ourselves chasing a plate of hearty roast beef with something curried. So when my sweet Let’s Lunch friend Lisa at Monday Morning Cooking Club suggested sharing a non-traditional holiday dish for our monthly virtual lunch date, I started craving something spicy.

One of my favorites? Malay ayam masak merah, a dish of fried chicken doused in a complex tomato-based gravy that’s both fiery and sweet …

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Kim’s Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee (Singapore): A God of Noodles

Kim's Hokkien MeeIf you happen to wander into the cozy hawker center perched on a sleepy bend in Singapore‘s Bedok neighborhood, an incongruous sight may catch your eye.

Amid the usual phalanx of hawkers in jeans or shorts sweating over hot stoves and churning out bowl after bowl of tasty cheap fare, you’ll see a stately man in a tailored black trousers, a white dress shirt, his hair neatly slicked and combed back. With a gold Rolex watch on one wrist and a towel casually draped over one shoulder, this man silently and deftly stir-fries woks of Hokkien mee, a delicious Singaporean Chinese dish featuring three different kinds of noodles stir-fried with shrimp, eggs and squid in a thick shellfish-inflected gravy.

When I first spied this on a recent trip home, I had to stop and stare for a moment. Who was this man? Why was he dressed like a banker to fry up noodles?

Most important — how was his Hokkien mee?

Well, there was only one way to find out …

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Royal Seafood: A Singaporean Chinese New Year Feast

It’s difficult being far from home at the holidays — which is what makes February a trying time most years.

Living in New York, far from the Chinese new year feasts and festivities of Singapore, I always feel like I’m missing out. Thankfully, though, there was a special dinner this year — on the seventh day of the lunar new year no less. Now, the seventh day is the day that Chinese celebrate as “Ren Ri,” the day that humans were created. (According to Chinese mythology, the first life-form the goddess Nu Wa created on the first day of the year was the chicken — go figure.) And since it’s the birthday of humans, the Chinese celebrate it as everybody’s birthday.

So it seemed fitting to be heading out to a Chinese new year celebration at Royal Seafood in New York on a day that we could toast everybody’s birthday …

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Green Tea Butter Cookies: Dragon Year Treats

Chinese new year, for me, has always been about my late grandmother’s pineapple tarts.

The buttery cookies topped with sweet home-made pineapple jam are so firmly connected with the holiday that all other cookies simply cease to exist whenever the lunar new year rolls around.

As much as I love them, I don’t quite have the equipment at hand to make them this year, alas. One must still celebrate, nonetheless. So, in a pinch, I whipped together a batch of buttery shortbread cookies flavored with green tea powder I’d picked up in Singapore and had never used in baking before.

The result? A delicious springtime treat that I may just have to include in my new year cookie rotation in years to come…

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Lithuanian Poppy Seed Holiday Cookies: Santa-Worthy Treats

I have the great fortune of living near Sahadi’s, a wonderful little Middle Eastern grocery in Brooklyn that’s filled with bins of dates and nuts and shelves of treats such as pomegranate molasses, Turkish apricots and three kinds of orange blossom water.

As much of a thrill as it is to walk through Sahadi’s on any day, given that you never know what new delicious morsel you’ll discover, it’s particularly lovely in December, when the usually crammed store gets absolutely packed with a shoppers and a frenetic holiday spirit that’s uniquely New York. Excuse me, there are meals to be made — out of my way! You going to get that box of tea or what? Hurry up! (OK, perhaps I am alone in having these thoughts — everyone else may well be imbued with saintly patience since it is the holiday season, after all.)

Being there always gives me that seasonal rush that propels me to the finish line that is our Christmas dinner, however. And this year, I picked up a little extra something I’d been curious to cook with: Poppy seed paste.

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