Braised Brisket: Seder a La Singapore

Sometimes, one just needs a good muse to get the juices flowing.

In my case, that would be a certain brisket I spied recently once the cut of meat began flooding butchers with Passover on the horizon. Now this was a beautiful five-pounder with an impressive girth, hearty red hue and slick coating of fat. Thoughts of what I might do to it washed over me instantly — something conventional, perhaps? Or a return to the trusty sweet and sour brisket recipe I’ve hauled out time and again? And then I thought of my Auntie Alice’s Singapore-style braised duck recipe and how unforgettable that soy sauce gravy inflected with ginger, garlic and five spice powder is.

In recent weeks, I’ve spoken often of how one shouldn’t be intimidated by Southeast Asian recipes — yes, it’s a less usual form of cooking than you would see in most American kitchens. The ingredient lists can be long and the sometimes numerous steps can be mind-boggling. But if you love the flavors, try to understand and dissect them, I’ve been saying in book appearances and interviews — and then adapt those techniques and spice strategies to everyday dishes in your own kitchen.

Faced with my brisket, I thought perhaps I should heed my own advice. My auntie’s braising strategy works wonderfully on duck — so why not beef? Armed with a bagful of garlic, ginger and an onion, I was ready to give it a shot …

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Razor Clams: A Southeast Asian Kitchen-Sink Tale


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The dinner gathering has been impromptu and Chef Simpson of Cafe Asean is feeling a little guilty that he hasn't had time to plan what to cook.

Calmly but quickly, he zips about his spacious Manhattan kitchen, pulling out bags, inspecting his fridge. "This is a good time to eat razor clams, you know," he stops to say, showing us the big bag he acquired from the farmers' market that very morning. "They taste really good right now."

Now, while I've eaten razor clams — or bamboo clams as they're called in some parts of Asia — I've never even thought to cook them at home. A slab of steak, pieces of chicken, a whole turkey — those I can comprehend. Razor clams? They had just always seemed a touch too exotic for my abilities.

Simpson, however, shares none of my apprehension, looking at me like I'm crazy and then shrugging when I ask, "How are you going to cook them?"

"It depends on what I have in the kitchen," is his simple answer. With that, Simpson fires up his stove and away we go …

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Lemongrass Frozen Yogurt: The Joys of Cooking Redux



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Years ago, I heard a sports writer complain about how he used to love sports — until he started writing about it.

Once it became a job, he all but stopped watching games on weekends. The thing that he adored had morphed into stress-inducer.

I remember feeling aghast — you get paid to write about something you love. Isn’t that more than many people dream of?

Recently, however, I’ve started to understand. After spending weeks with my nose buried deep in my book manuscript — which is all about a journey home to my native Singapore told through food and cooking — my time in the kitchen has become, simply, work. Meals have been thrown together out of sheer necessity; easy old faithfuls rather than new creative dishes have been making far too many appearances on the dinner table.

The stress of writing and editing my hundreds of pages on food, sadly, had transformed my love for cooking into a source of anxiety.

But I only realized I’d forgotten how to enjoy the act of making food when my Let’s Lunch friends nudged me back into the kitchen — not to put a meal on the table but to whip up something silly and anything but practical: A decadent chilled dessert.

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Apple-Cornmeal Cake: A Reason To Celebrate


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A dear friend recently asked me what my ideal birthday cake would be.

My immediate answer was a pure pipe dream (in the U.S. anyhow) — a durian cream cake in which the sliver of cream wedged between two layers of pound cake is flecked with hefty chunks of creamy durian, a pungent, Southeast Asian fruit that’s hard to find in New York.

Now, if I can’t have durian cake, my second choice would be a vanilla cake coated with a creamy guava or passionfruit icing.

I know, I know.

I have been told I can be hard to please.

Having no durians, passionfruit or guava at hand, however, I set about making myself one of my absolute favorite fall cakes — an apple-cornmeal upside down cake that is so simple and can be assembled so quickly that I’ve set it out for more Thanksgiving and autumn meals than I can count. 

In fact, it’s what first came to mind when my Let’s Lunch group, a bunch of intrepid cooks around the world who have a standing monthly lunch date, decided to do a fall dessert for November.

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