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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

EoMEoTE #7

There was once a man with an appetite
Who wanted his eggs to come out right
He fried his bread
He scratched his head
His croque madame was out of sight.

Okay, so I stink at limericks! For this month’s EoMEoTE, Jeanne challenged us to write a limerick to accompany our recipes. Sigh… Well, as said, I made one of my all-time favourites, a Croque Madame. Of course, I can’t guarantee my version is original or even very French, but to me it’s the perfect breakfast or late night snack.

Croque Madame

2 slices of bread (I used wholegrain)
tablespoon olive oil
3-4 slices prosciutto
2 slices of gruyere, crumbled
teaspoon of mustard
teaspoon Worcester sauce
1 egg yolk
1 egg

Heat up the olive oil in a frying pan. Stir the egg yolk, cheese, mustard and Worcester sauce together. Place one of the pieces of bread in the pan. Spread the prosciutto on the frying bread and then spoon the cheese mixture over it. Now put the other piece of bread over this. Carefully, flip the sandwich. Now, in a smaller frying pan, fry the egg sunny side up (you can grease the pan with olive oil, butter or vegetable oil). After a minute or so, your sandwich should be ready. Plate it, and then place the egg over it.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Yummy Comfort Food

Comfort foods turn me on. Most nights, I’d much rather have a chicken pot pie, a hearty lasagne, a big plate of fried rice, or a steamed egg custard with minced pork than a multi-plated, multi-course culinary extravaganza. Comfort foods are delicious. They also activate our sense memory, transporting us back in time—to our own childhoods and sometimes to imagined but inspiring ones. I can’t eat chicken a la king, for example, without thinking of the amazing chicken a la king crepes I used to order as a kid in the 1970s and early 1980s at the Magic Pan restaurant in New York.

I think I like oxtail stew so much partly because my father has always loved it. Over the past few years, I’ve enjoyed learning to cook it. Oxtail is a cheap cut, meant to be braised. Two years ago, when I was on a pressure cooker craze, I almost always pressure cooked my oxtail. Today though, I prefer slow cooking it for several hours. Either way, it’s best when cooked a day or two in advance, cooled in the fridge and then reheated before serving.

When I cook up a big batch of stew, I sometimes serve it on the bone, with mashed potatoes, veggies or some fresh baguette. Other times, I’ll debone it and turn the meat into a ragout. I’ve used it in lasagnes and used it as a ravioli stuffing. Anyway you eat it, I find that oxtail warms both the tummy and the soul.

Oxtail stew
Serves 4

8-12 pieces of oxtail
500ml beef or chicken stock
2 carrots, chopped up
2 onions, chopped up
1 stalk celery
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/3 bottle of a good red wine
1/3 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons flour
pat of butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Salt and pepper your oxtail. 2. Heat up the butter and oil in a large (oven-proof) casserole pot or cocotte. Sear the oxtail over high heat. When the oxtail is browned, put it aside. 3. Lower the heat a little and toss in the onions, carrots, garlic and celery. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the flour and stir, while cooking for another minute. Then add the tomato paste and again let the mixture cook, while stirring, for another minute. Add the wine and cook until the alcohol fumes subside. Add the stock and stir. Add water, salt, or sugar to taste. 4. Place the oxtail back in the pot, nestling it with the vegetables. Bring to a simmer and then cover the pot. You can now either lower the flame and cook over the lowest flame for 2 to 3 hours, or cook in a preheated oven (180ºC) for 2.5 hours. 5. Once ready, let the stew cool to room temperature and then put it in the fridge. When you want to eat it, reheat it in the oven or over the stove. 6. One optional thing I like to do is strain the liquids from the stew, then purée the vegetables, and then add the puree back to the liquids to thicken it.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Macarons - Tokyo & Singapore

The best macarons I have ever eaten were from Pierre Hermé. Unfortunately, getting to either Paris or Tokyo to buy these amazing pastries is pretty difficult (anyone out there wanna sponsor me with a Marquis Jet card?), so I make do with what is available locally. Sometimes though, I do end up rather shamelessly begging road warrior friends to play pack mule for me.

One friend recently made a quick trip to Tokyo. The day after she came back, she couriered the above pictured box to my office, with the cutest note. Get this, she actually apologized for not making it to Pierre Hermé and "hoped" that these beautiful mini macarons from Le Chocolat de H, a gorgeous Roppongi Hills based chocolatier, would suffice. OF COURSE THEY DID! Le Chocolat de H is run by Japan's best known chocolatier, Hironobu Tsujiguchi. The box had 12 mini macarons, in 4 different chocolate-enhanced flavours, green tea, vanilla, caramel and framboise. We devoured them that night with some friends. My favourite by far was the framboise.

For a fantastic article on chocolate shops in Tokyo (including Pierre Hermé and Le Chocolat de H), check out this article from the Japan Times.

Pictured at the top of this post, though, are my favourite locally-available macarons, the Caramel-Sel macarons, made by Chef Pang at the Canele pastry shop located at Robertson Walk. Chef Pang is a really talented and very, very nice young pastry chef. I love these macarons. They have just the right crispiness on the surface and softness inside. The salt both lifts and contrasts with the sweetness of the caramel perfectly.

One of these days I’m going to attempt (the gargantuan challenge of) making macarons, but for now, I’m pretty happy eating these.

Canele Patisserie-Chocolaterie
11 Unity St #01-09
Tel : 6738 8145

Friday, May 27, 2005

Sponsored Product

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from a friend of mine. He’s the local distributor for some pretty amazing kitchen-related brands. After seeing my blog—which I had never mentioned to him—written up in the local daily newspaper, he dropped me a line asking me if I had some ideas on how to better market his products. Also, and surprisingly, he offered to sponsor me and my site with some of these products. After having read recent discussions on sponsorship on The Accidental Hedonist and Food Blog S’cool, I decided that I’d accept the offer, given a few caveats. I’d be totally open about the products that I accept and be totally honest about what I think of them.

I’ve been given a Chroma 301 kitchen knife as well as a set of Staub plates and (mini) cocottes. I haven’t had a chance to test out the Staub stuff yet—although they look totally sexy (I'll post pictures of them when I get around to using them)—but I did try out the Chroma knife today (we whipped up a big batch of oxtail stew for later this week). The Type 301 was designed by FA Porsche; the handle is made with 18/10 stainless steel and the blade is forged with 301 Japanese steel. It’s used by several top chefs and is the official knife of le centre de formation Alain Ducasse. It’s still a bit early to really evaluate the knife’s performance. That said, the look is, as expected from Porsche Design, stunning. The weight and feel in the hand are also really nice. But I’m going to use it for a while longer before I make any more judgements. I also want time to compare it with our other knives (which include Kasumi, Wusthof, Furi, Global and Henkel).

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

50% Viognier, 50% Marsanne, 0% Cork

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I’m a big fan of Viognier. It’s a wine varietal that I only discovered 4 years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since. The first one I had was a D’Arenberg “The Last Ditch” Viognier. It was one of many wines served at an amazing al fresco lunch thrown for a bunch of foodies and winos by Tasting Australia and held at Geoff Hardy’s vineyard in McLaren Vale, South Australia. The Viognier was fresh from the barrel, poured into clear glass bottles by the winemakers at D’Arenberg, and rushed over to satisfy we hungry alcoholic-gourmands. The wine, we were told, wouldn’t actually be released for several months, so we were getting a special preview. I’ve also since learnt that New World Viogniers are often best drunk as early as possible, and we couldn’t have gotten this batch any earlier. It was sensational.

Over the past few years, I’ve enjoyed tasting many Old World and New World Viogniers. I have to admit, oddly enough, I prefer many of the New World ones over the more well-known French Condrieus. One of my favourites is the Clay Station Viognier, a reasonably priced, multiple-award winner.

I saw the above pictured wine, a Viognier-Marsanne blend, a couple weeks ago in the wine cellar of Singapore’s latest uber-chic (and expat oriented) gourmet store/café, Corduroy & Finch. I was amused by the bottle’s label. “How very un-French,” I thought, as I admired the clean, bold graphics. That all the other text was also in English meant that this wine was clearly designed for international export. I was especially tickled by the text on the bottle’s back label, which suggested the wine would go very well with Chinese food and a description of the wine itself, which read, “50% Viognier, 50% Marsanne, 0% cork.” Obviously, someone working in the marketing section of La Vieille Ferme wines has been having a helluva time amusing him or herself. Even if I wasn’t a big fan of these grapes, I would have bought the bottle based on the labels.

The wine turned out to be only so-so. There was too much alcohol present in both its nose and on the mouth. I’m not sure if it would age well either. That said, I was pleased by the efforts that the winemakers (and their colleagues) made to make the wine extremely marketable and attractive. As I said, it looked, well, very un-French.

Monday, May 23, 2005

DIY Sundaes

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I love ice cream. Always have, and I suspect, always will. Lately though, I haven’t been eating a lot of it. Trying to eat a slightly more nutritious and healthier diet has meant that ice cream, instead of being a regular treat, has become a reward of sorts. A week of eating well means I can indulge in a nice big bowl of whatever frozen dessert I want.

While I love some store bought brands, the ice creams I want most nowadays are home-made. Riciotti (owned by my favourite Italian restaurant in town, Garibaldi) makes some terrific flavours—and their tartufo ice cream cake is to die for. But my favourite ice creams are cooked up by my wife. A couple of years ago, S bought the most amazing appliance, a Musso Lussino ice cream maker. Not only is this machine ultra-sexy in design, it functions wonderfully. It makes 1.5 quarts of ice cream in 30 minutes, freezing while it churns (so there’s no need to pre-freeze bowls or anything). In the past few years that we’ve owned the Musso, I’ve enjoyed challenging S to make up both traditional and experimental (even goofball) flavours. She, I think, has enjoyed discovering which chef’s recipes work best.

We threw another dinner party this past weekend. This time, we prepared a 5 course meal, capped off with what we thought would be a fun dessert, DIY Sundaes. I have to admit we were inspired to do this by one of our guests—a doctor and restaurateur who used to own a place that offered, among its desserts, a great little sundae trolley. S whipped up 2 flavours—vanilla and strawberry-mascarpone. I prepped a bowl full of freshly whipped cream while S also made some Valrhona-based hot fudge sauce. When it was time for dessert, we served each person a scoop of each flavour and placed the whipped cream and the fudge sauce out on the dining table, along with flaked almonds, mini m&m’s, and some colorful candy sprinkles. It was good fun watching each of our guests ladle on their toppings. I, greedy boy that I am, went for all of them. The dessert, I think, was a hit. Our guests offered several suggestions for future toppings (my favourite was chocolate chip cookies) and also excitedly discussed their own favourite sundae combinations.

So, what’s your favourite sundae?

Friday, May 20, 2005

IMBB #15: Trial by Jelly

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For this month’s IMBB challenge, hosted by Simply Recipes, I tried out a recipe for a Panna Cotta Parfait and Red Fruit Jelly from Patrick O’Connell’s Refined American Cuisine. When O’Connell makes this dessert, he uses a tall, skinny glass and layers both the jelly and panna cotta twice. For two reasons, I opted for only one layer of each. The first reason is that I really wanted to use the glasses pictured above. They come from a set of 8 gorgeous shot glasses (consisting of 4 pairs of distinct shapes). The glasses are small, so at most I could have set only 1 extra layer of either the jelly or the panna cotta.

But the second reason, and the real reason I didn’t add that extra layer of jelly (which I had considered), is that O’Connell’s recipe was off—specifically, his gelatine measurements were incorrect. I’m not exactly sure what brand of gelatine powder O’Connell uses, but he must have some super-industrial stuff. After following his prescribed measurements, neither my red fruit jelly nor the panna cotta would set. His panna cotta mix, for example, called for a 1⁄4 teaspoon of powdered gelatine for roughly 500ml of liquid. (I’ve since compared that to another cookbook—something I should have done that day and stupidly didn’t do—and read a similar recipe calling for 1 1⁄2 teaspoon of powdered gelatine for 450ml of liquid.) I ended up having to ‘guestimate’ how much more extra gelatine I would need to add. I added what I thought would be right for each, but I still wasn’t confident that the panna cotta would set perfectly. So instead of risking creating a mess—I had visions of pouring the jelly liquid over the panna cotta and it all mixing into one pink sludge—I stuck with only one layer of jelly below and one layer of panna cotta.

(Aside from the whole gelatine debacle, my only other real variation from the recipe was with the jelly’s flavour. O’Connell uses a variety of berries, but I decided to use only strawberries.)

In the end, my panna cotta did set, but barely. Nonetheless, everyone enjoyed it, and my wife commented that she actually liked the panna cotta the way it was—very custardy and slightly runny. It made, she told me, a good contrast with the firmer jelly below. I’m not so sure she was right, but great wife that she is, she had only good things to say.

--The IMBB #15 Round-up is posted here.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Wagyu Burger

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A couple of days ago, a friend of mine who owns a fantastic little restaurant nestled in Fort Canning Park called me to ask a favour. She needed some photos done of one of her chef’s signature dishes; a local high-society magazine wanted to run it. Always happy to help a friend and equally thrilled to shoot anything yummy, I trekked over to Poppi and met up with chef Chris Millar. The dish in question was his Wagyu Burger, made (obviously) with wagyu beef, and topped with foie gras and truffle. I shot the burger from a variety of angles, in natural light. The shot above is my favourite of the lot (My wife calls the angle “very Australian food magazine-ish”).

I should say that the food at Poppi is good. Chris is a wonderful guy who is always eager to please his customers. After shooting the burger, I was ravenous but I wanted to eat something a tad healthier than the burger. Chris whipped up a wonderful duck confit and pear salad for me. It was delicious.

The Legends – Fort Canning Park
11 Canning Wlk, #02-02
Tel : 6339 8977

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

A Lunch with Krug

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It’s great to be married to a food writer at times. Take today for example. S was invited to a fabulous lunch and Champagne tasting and was allowed to bring me along. It was a double treat for me. The lunch was held at Iggy’s, one of my favourite restaurants in Singapore, and the Champagne brand was Krug, by far my favourite Champagne house.

Krug’s young and incredibly friendly winemaker, Nicholas Audebert, had flown in for the occasion, as did an old friend, Anouk Blain-Mailhot, who is Veuve Clicquot and Krug’s regional marketing director. Monsieur Audebert was a fabulous host and before we ate, he led all of us present through one of the most novel and enjoyable wine tastings I’ve ever gone through. We were presented with a glass each of Krug’s Grand Cuvée, Rosé, and Vintage 1990. We were then asked to think about the wines according to our senses. To help us, Audebert offered for each sense, 6 things that he felt would help us describe each wine. For smell, for example, he passed around 6 cups, each with a markedly different scent and asked us to pair the smells to the wines. For hearing, he played 6 different kinds of music and asked us to match the balance in the songs with the balance in the wines. What was most interesting about these exercises was the variation in how all of us present interpreted the wines. For example, with the music, I paired the Vintage 1990 with a slow, seductive vocal jazz piece, while quite a few others paired the song with the Rosé. A Russian operatic piece that I paired with the Grand Cuvée, someone else had matched with the 1990. To end the tasting, Audebert divided us into three groups; each was assigned to one of the wines, and put in front of a blank canvas, with paints and brushes. We were then asked to paint what we felt our assigned wine represented. My group was given the 1990 and we painted a naked, high-heeled woman, dancing in a forest—sensual, wild, yet elegant.

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After our art session, we got down to some serious eating. Iggy, as always us, fed us well. Our menu consisted of Avruga with angel hair pasta tossed in classic caviar condiments; Steamed foie gras with tofu and ponzu; Marinated tartare of tuna; Gourmet salad with maguro, French beans and soft boiled quail eggs; Sakura ebi cappellini with extra virgin olive oil and chili flakes (my favourite course); Roasted quail with truffle risotto; and Champagne jelly and sorbet with elderberry foam. Phew!

In all, it was a fantastic meal. My favourite of the 3 Champagnes we tasted was easily the Vintage 1990. It had a softness and a sweetness, with a structured maturity, that the other two didn’t have. That said, the 1990 still doesn’t come close to the Clos du Mesnil, my all-time favourite Champagne and the superstar of the Krug stable.

Monday, May 16, 2005

A Weekend of Stuffing My Face

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What a weekend of eating! On Friday, my wife and I met up with two good friends for a delicious yakitori dinner at Ahodori (which I wrote about in March). Saturday night, we had a feast at a friend’s new (and really amazing) apartment. The food, cooked by his gorgeous fiancé, was beautiful. We started with an amuse-bouche of ebi cappellini topped with lobster bisque jelly and flutes of Rosé Champagne. The dinner consisted of a seared tuna salad, tartare of ocean trout and sushi rice, grilled lamb chops with mash, and a delightful lemongrass jelly with fruit and citrus sorbet. Wow!

Sunday, my wife S and I were hosting lunch. We decided to whip up a small lunch, made up of some of our favourite dishes. We started with Chiva-Som’s Thai Pomelo Salad with Prawns that we’ve become quite addicted to. As a main, S slow-cooked a big slab of pork belly, which we cubed and served with grilled vegetables and cous-cous. The pork was buttery and super tender. I have to say, S has really mastered this dish in the past few months. For dessert, I made a layered red fruit jelly and panna cotta which I’ll post about later as my contribution to this month’s Is My Blog Burning? challenge.

After lunch, to eat with our coffees, I whipped up some madeleines (pictured above). I adapted the Mini Madeleines recipe in Patricia Wells’ The Paris Cookbook. I like her recipe a lot because it’s really simple and the batter can be prepped a day in advance. I’ve posted it below.

To finish off a weekend of feasting, Sunday night, we went with my family to the newish Straits Kitchen restaurant in the Grand Hyatt. It’s a sexy, slick space that fronts a local hawker buffet. It’s not cheap but it's actually pretty good. One weekend, 4 huge meals. I think I’ll be drinking juice and eating light for the rest of the week… well, maybe for a day or two.

Mini Madeleines (recipe adapted from The Paris Cookbook, by Patricia Wells, published by Kyle Cathie Limited, 2001.)

2 eggs
100g sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
120g plain flour
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
90g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon honey

Butter the madeleine pans and place in the freezer. • Beat eggs and butter together using a mixer until the mixture is thick and lemon-colored. Stir in the zest, then the flour and salt. Finally, stir in the butter and the honey. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours. • Preheat the oven to 190ºC. Remove the batter from the fridge and spoon it into the moulds. Bake for between 8-10 minutes (if using large madeleine moulds, 10-12 minutes works well). • Remove the madeleines from the pan as soon as they are cool. Enjoy.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Genius of Jereme Leung

It’s not every day that a respected and discerning professional critic calls someone a genius, so it was incredibly thrilling to hear that this past Friday, a close friend was described as such by none other than the International Herald Tribune’s food writer Patricia Wells. The friend in question is Singaporean chef Jereme Leung, who helms the kitchens of the Whampoa Club, in the 3 on the Bund complex, in Shanghai.

In an article titled "Cutting-edge delights of the 'new' Shanghai", that ran in the 13 May 2005 edition, Wells writes:

"It's been a long time since I got up from the table after dining in a restaurant and whispered to myself, ‘genius.’ … If there are revolutions in contemporary Chinese cooking, then it is the gifted, ambitious chefs such as Leung who will serve as the leaders. His food is not fusion, it is not confusion, it is not all about avocados and papayas with raw tuna. It's good, honest, Chinese fare that's been given a face-lift, an update, a new look with no sacrifice in flavor. In fact, it's more like an upgrade to first class."

Getting this kind of accolade from a critic like Wells—friend, collaborator, and judge of some of the world’s greatest chefs—is no mean feat. (Unlike critics in a place like Singapore, her meals are neither free nor are they eaten in the company of a restaurant’s public relations staff.) She’s considered one of the world’s best herself. So when she names Jereme a genius, you can bet the culinary world is sitting up and taking note.

Hopefully, the Singapore government is also taking note. There have been several recent articles in the local press here (the most recent in this past Saturday’s Business Times) investigating the current culinary environment and advocating for more and better attention and resources for our chefs, whether they live here or overseas. I’ve also previously written, in this blog, of my own belief that we need to do much, much more to help our chefs and at the same time help our country develop its culinary scene and culture.

That said, in the interest of brevity, I’m going to end here (before I start rambling on and on with my ideas for a Singapore Culinary Arts Council) with a simple message to Jereme. "CONGRATULATIONS! You very much deserve every compliment you get."

Read the Full Article Here
Jereme’s website

p.s. For readers who can’t get to Shanghai, Jereme will soon be launching his first cookbook, titled New Shanghai Cuisine. Published by Marshall Cavendish, it should be in stores by August this year. (I should probably come clean and admit that my lovely wife helped Jereme write the book, so I’m once again shamelessly promoting her and her work.)

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Nigella's Banana Muffins

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This morning, my wife, S, decided she’d bake us up a quick breakfast. We had some bananas that were turning just a tad too ripe and had to be eaten right away, mashed up and turned into something, or thrown out. She decided she’d try option 2 and turned to Nigella’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess. In this rather delicious (but often inaccurate) book, there’s a recipe for Banana Muffins that Ms Lawson claims is so easy any child could make it.

I won’t include the recipe here. Any one who really wants it can get it out of the book (it is on page 220 in the 2000 Chatto & Windus edition). I will say though that the ingredients are pretty simple: butter, honey, vanilla extract, bananas, flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon, and salt. Amusingly, S noted that the ingredient list was quite dog-friendly as well—especially with the use of honey instead of processed sugars.

The muffins were, as promised, easy to make. Unfortunately, they were also pretty mediocre. Overall, they lacked flavour. It could have been the use of honey instead of sugar. It could have been the bananas we used. Maybe Nigella simply likes her muffins bland. Anyway, even though we didn’t particularly enjoy them, they didn’t go to waste. Simply put, they've gone to the dogs.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Far-off Food Cravings

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I think everyone has certain foods that they’d travel the world for. We all have cravings. And when those food items are in far-off countries, we often crave them even more. My gorgeous greedy friend L, for example, is a total Penang food fanatic. (Then again, who isn’t?) One of her favourite Penang food items is tau sar peahs from Him Heang bakery (pictured above). A tau sar peah (or piah), for the unintiated, is a flaky pastry made with molasses and stuffed with bean paste. (If you want some more info, you can check out this page on the Tourism Penang website.)

My darling wife’s must-travel-to-eat faves include Sprungli chocolate truffles from Zurich, licorice ice cream from Simmo’s in Margaret River, yuzu macarons from Pierre Hermé’s Tokyo boutique, the lobster club sandwich from Anne Rosenzweig’s Lobster Club restaurant in New York, and the spinach-ricotta pizza from the unfortunately-closed Cip Ciap pizzeria in Venice.

Mine include any ice cream from Berthillon in Paris, pata negra ham from any of Bellota Bellota’s shops, a real Bellini from Harry’s Bar in Venice (I’ll be there in two weeks!), a bistro burger from Corner Bistro in New York, the steamed, stuffed leek starter at Le Cinq in Paris, the truffled egg pasta dish at Buon Ricordo in Sydney, the poached egg with soft polenta dish at The Botanical in Melbourne, and a bottle of Ottokringer dark beer from Austria.

But enough of what I’d travel the world to eat or drink. What about you? I’d love to know what you crave. Feel free to let me (and everyone else) know by posting it in the comments section below.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Farewell Tai Cheong Egg Tarts

I read a really sad little announcement in the newspaper this morning. Tai Cheong Bakery, in Hong Kong, is closing on the 25th of May, after 51 years in business. Tai Cheong, famous for its egg tarts, is, for those that haven't heard of it, an institution in Hong Kong. Ex-Governor Chris Patten was just one of many well-known patrons.

When I worked in Hong Kong, Tai Cheong was a two minute hop downhill from my office (which was just a 10 minute walk from my home). I'd say that in my two years there, I must have eaten several dozen Tai Cheong egg tarts. And I enjoyed every one.

Tai Cheong is closing because its landlords have raised its rent by 110%, essentially forcing it to move out or close. I really don't want to say too much about this, but this kind of thing always makes my blood boil. A similar thing happened in Morningside Heights, New York City (the neighborhood around Columbia University, where I went to school). Eager to gentrify the area and get better-paying tenants, many of the landlords in Morningside Heights (the worst culprit, I might add, was the university itself) drove out all the "mom & pop" stores and restaurants that gave that neighborhood character. Now, the area lacks uniqueness, what with the Starbucks and fast food chains that have replaced decades-old institutions.

If you can get to Tai Cheong before 25 May, please have a tart for me.

Tai Cheong Bakery, 32 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, Hong Kong. Tel:2544-3475

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Cookbooks Meme a la Spiceblog

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Couple days ago, Anthony over at Spiceblog shot some of his cookbooks. Like all things on the web, this has kicked off a fun new meme, asking foodies on the web to post pictures of their cookbook collections and answer the below questions. For more info, check out Anthony’s original post here. I hope all of you out there will join in and post.

1. Rationale behind what we're seeing?
My wife and I re-ordered all our cookbooks last year. They’re grouped by country as well as theme. The photo captures only 1/4-1/3 of the collection. The books line one whole wall in our living room

2. Most recommended?
My faves for cooking from are probably Real Food by Nigel Slater and Glorious French Food by James Peterson. There are just too many to recommend, but if pressed for 3 more, I’d also recommend Bouchon by Thomas Keller, Dishy by Kevin Gould (because it’s just plain fun), and Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.

3. Cookbook that made you what you were?
Real Fast Food, also by Nigel Slater, and Molly Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook got me cooking properly. I got the first in Shakespeare & Co in Paris, during the summer of 1994, when I was an intern there. The latter I picked up in 1995, after having used a flatmate’s copy for an entire year. These two books made me appreciate how easy it was to make delicious food.

4. Porniest cookbook?
Gastroporn? Has got to be French Laundry, which I pull off the shelves, look at over and over again, and almost never attempt to cook from (my wife, much braver than I, actually does though).

5. Sophie's Choice cookbook?
Um… I’m not quite sure what this means.

6. If you were a cookbook, which cookbook would you be?
Country Egg, City Egg by Gayle Pirie and John Clark. It’s small, cute and full of wonderful things to start your morning.

7. If your cookbook we're extrememly valuable, so valuable you might hide it with other valuables, where would that place be?
You think I’m silly enough to post that?


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I’ve written in previous posts that Iggy’s is one of my favourite restaurants. Maybe it’s because I’ve known Iggy—Ignatius Chan—for more than a decade. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for (and total believer in) the culinary world’s latest gastrotrend, the counter-dining experience. (Going to L’Atelier de Robuchon last December was a religious experience.) But more than anything, I think it’s because the food is just so damn good.

Iggy and Chef Dorin Schuster have put together an exquisite menu of small, wonderful modern European dishes that can be ordered in a combination of courses. At lunch, for example, diners choose a 2, 3 or 5 course meal. At dinner, the meal can stretch to ten or even more courses.

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Last week, a colleague and I had a wonderful lunch at Iggy’s. While we each ordered a 3 course lunch, Iggy gave us an equal number of extras. What was meant to be a small lunch became a 6 course feast. We started with a sesame tofu covered by a pumpkin puree. We then both had squid ink risotto with char-grilled baby squid. This was followed by mushroom cappuccinos. My colleague had for her main course a char-grilled seabass with truffle gnocchi, rosemary oil and aged balsamic (pictured at the top of this post). I had the homemade hamburger with over-easy egg, grilled onions and potato wedges. (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is easily the best burger in town. The only problem is it is no more than 3 inches across. Considering, however, the number of other courses we’re expected to eat, anything bigger might kill us.) As a pre-dessert snack, Iggy offered us something I had never tried before, Udo, a Japanese root vegetable similar to ginseng. It was cut into thin strips and cooked with Gorgonzola…and it was delicious. My colleague ended her meal with a pina colada soufflé, while I had a Champagne jelly and sorbet with Elderberry foam and lemon zest. As always, everything was perfect.

Iggy’s is located at level three of The Regent Singapore. Call (65) 6732 2234 for reservations.

Monday, May 09, 2005

More Shameless Self-Promotion

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Earlier this year, a good friend working in a publishing house emailed me and asked if I’d be interested in contributing to a book on hotels. The book, it turned out, had been commissioned by Institutional Investor, a US-based magazine started by a friend of my family's. How's that for a small world! Called The World’s Best Hotels, it is a compendium describing what Institutional Investor readers consider the world’s top 80 (city/business) hotels. (I was thrilled to read that my own favourite city hotel, the Four Seasons George V in Paris had been voted number one!)

In between the descriptions of the hotels, the publishers commissioned me and a couple other writers to pen a few essays on hotel trends. My 3 essays were centered on f&b trends, amenities, and architecture and design. Today, I was emailed a copy of the cover, which I love and have posted above. The book should hit shelves in June 2005.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

A Birthday Dinner

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For Christmas last year, my wife and I gave my mother a dinner voucher. More specifically, we offered to cook a dinner party for her and her friends whenever she wanted. This past weekend, she cashed in the voucher in order to celebrate her best friend’s birthday.

We hosted 7 people and cooked them a 5 course meal. We started with a Thai Pomelo Salad with Prawns that we learnt how to make at Chiva-Som. Next, we served what I like to call a Deconstructed California Roll, a dish inspired by a visit to an amazing restaurant in Melbourne called Yuu. This was followed with a dish my wife and I came up with this past week, Pan-fried Butterfish Medallions with Noodles served in a Laksa Broth. Our last main was an Oven-roasted Rack of Lamb plated with Lentils Du Puy. The lentils recipe came from the Balthazar cookbook. For dessert, we had homemade Carrot Cake, pictured up top.

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Pictured here are the "California Roll" course and the Butterfish. Both are actually pretty easy to make, with the right ingredients. The former is composed of fresh crabmeat mixed with wakame, ikura, tobiko, and avocado. It’s tossed in a sauce made from mirin, white miso, mustard, Japanese mayonnaise, and wasabi. The latter course depends on the quality of the fish (which we bought at Swiss Butchery) and the broth. We used a store-bought laksa paste, but the broth was homemade. My wonderful wife whipped up the stock using crab shells, prawn heads and fish bones. The dinner was complimented with a 2003 Madfish Premium White and a 1999 Reserve de la Comtesse.

A Straits Times Hot Blog

Colour me flattered. This morning, I was surprised by an SMS from a friend telling me my blog was in the paper! (Our paper service, because of heavy rain, was delayed today, so my wife and I had left the house before it was delivered.) Sure enough, there it was, featured in the Straits Times’ weekly Hot Blog feature.

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For a larger and legible version of the article, you can click here. I must say that I’m grateful for the publicity and also to the very kind words penned by the writer Serene Luo.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Chef Has Risen

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I’ve always been a big fan of owner-operated restaurants. And one of the best in Singapore is Restaurant Ember. Owned by Chef Sebastian Ng and his always cheerful wife Sabrina, this small restaurant on the ground floor of the Hotel 1929 serves up delicious fusion food at moderate prices. We visited Ember this week to celebrate my wife’s baker friend’s birthday. As usual, the restaurant was packed.

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I started my meal with a half dozen deep fried oysters paired with an equal number of sauces. My favourites were the wasabi mayo, the orange sauce and the sweet chilli sauce. For a main I had a slow roasted rack of lamb with melted leeks, potato fondant and lamb jus. My wife had the pan roasted US pork tenderloin with garlic and a mixed herb crust, creamed corn and natural jus (pictured at the start of the post). Both were excellent. For dessert, my wife and a couple of the other gals shared a big dessert platter, which looked really, really good.

If you haven’t yet been to Ember, I totally recommend it. The prices, as I said, are great (especially the S$38 set dinner), as is the food. Oh, on a final note, I should congratulate Chef Sebastian. It was announced during the World Gourmet Summit here last month that he’s won Best Rising Chef for the second time. Maybe next time the judges will realize that he's already risen!

Restaurant Ember
50 Keong Saik Rd
Tel: 6347 1928

More Places to Eat and Shop

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Two great new food shops are up and running in the Lion City. Hediard, the fab French food purveyor has just opened up on Tanglin Road and Bunalun, a super-cool, Irish organic food store has surfaced in Holland Village.

Bunalun has been open for a while now, and while my wife's been shopping there for a few weeks, I only managed to get there this past weekend. It's a gorgeous airy, mostly white space with products lining the walls and a lovely dining counter in the middle. I have to admit I went a little crazy on my first visit. In addition to wolfing down both a cinnamon bun and a crab cake for breakfast, I ended up buying an armful of products. We got some tomato relish, tomato chilli jam and red onion marmalade, as well as a jar of kitchen odour absorber, which I have to say, works.

Hediard's store has just opened. It's a small dark space, reminiscent of its stores in other countries. We checked it out also this past weekend, and while we were trying our best to be frugal, we came out with a bottle of Champagne vinegar and 200g of beautiful Scottish smoked salmon (at 50% off). The picture above is of some tarts we made with the salmon. My wife made the pastry and I whipped together some low fat cottage cheese, some cream cheese and some chopped chives. A simple, but sumptuous snack, thanks to the quality of the ingredients.

43 Jln Merah Saga #02-76 Singapore 278115
Telephone : 6479 2598

125 Tanglin Rd Singapore 247921
Telephone : 6333 6683

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Duck Season? Rabbit Season? No, Mango Season!

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Every April, a close friend of ours goes a little nuts. She’s usually a great gal. Beautiful, funny, sweet, generous, and, of course, as you might expect as a criterion of our friendship, wonderfully gluttonous. But April marks the beginning of the all too brief Alfonso mango season. And this gal, L, is mad about mangos, especially the Alfonso (also spelled "Alphonso").

The Alfonso is easily the most expensive mango varietal out there, as well as universally considered to be the best. It hails from India, from states like Goa and Tamil Nadu. Goa, it should be noted, once produced some 77 varieties of mango. Other top Goan varieties include the Musarad and the Mancurado. The Alfonso, though, thanks especially to international demand, is the world’s most coveted mango.

The season lasts for only 6 weeks and in order to ensure a supply of good quality Alfonsos, L has taken to bypassing the fruit markets and sellers—who she contends only sells second rate cast-offs to the public anyway—and goes direct to the source. Using some f&b contacts, she’s managed to establish a relationship with a rather dependable Indian fruit importer (not that I’m implying most Indian fruit importers are undependable). So now, thanks to her “hook-up”, our lovely lass orders her Alfonsos, direct and by the box. Frighteningly, she also consumes them by the box, mainlining them like there’s no tomorrow.

As mentioned, she’s a generous gal-pal and she not only allows friends to order through her, she also shares her booty (um… meaning the mangos, of course). Here’s a picture of my wife enjoying one.

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On a final note, a mango, while high in fibre, is also highly nutritious. It’s high in beta-carotene, and contains all four recognised anti-oxidants (Vitamin A, C, E and Selenium) that prevent heart disease, cancer and diabetes. One mango contains three times the recommended daily intake of beta carotene and vitamin A.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Burger Challenge / EoMEoTE #6

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Last week, Bonny Kang, a very frequent poster and member-in-great standing on Flickr started a new and fun community. Similar in some ways to Is My Blog Burning? (IMBB), this new group, Friday Food Fiesta, asks its members to photograph a specific food/dish each week. Unlike IMBB, which is more recipe driven, this group is more picture-driven, and the focus of the challenge is to see how different people capture the same food distinctly. Of course, there will be variations in the food, but that just adds to the personality of each photo.

For the very first challenge, Bonny announced a hamburger challenge. Shoot any kind of burger. Instead of running over to Iggy’s (who makes THE best burger in Singapore), I decided to make my own. The mix I used is at the end of the post.

My wife and I had her dad over for a relaxed holiday lunch. The burger, topped with gruyere and a fried egg, is served over a toasted slice of walnut bread, bought from Canele.

There's also another really cool food challenge/meme going around the web as well. It's called End-Of-The-Month-Eggs-On-Toast. Simply put, bloggers create cool egg on toast recipes and post about them. When putting together this dish, I kept thinking about this as well. (Hiya Jeanne, hoping that the introduction of a hunk of meat between my egg and my toast won't disqualify this from EoMeoTe #6!)

The egg/burger/toast was paired with a salad of rocket, spinach, cherry tomatoes and sliced almonds, with a Champagne vinegar-vinaigrette. We also had a wonderful portobello and porcini mushroom quiche, which my wife whipped up, accompanied with a bottle of Nepenthe 2004 Sauvignon Blanc. Here’s a pix of the quiche…which was delicious!

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Burger mix (for 3 pretty large patties or 4 small ones)

400g premium beef mince
1 small brown onion
1 egg yolk
1 tsp Japanese hamburger sauce (tomato paste, soya bean paste, apple, sesame)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Illusions of Grandeur

I just heard some really disturbing news from a close friend. Last night, he and his wife went to a restaurant that my wife and I had introduced to him, Trattoria La Fiandra, on Prinsep Street. It’s a tiny little Italian place run by a husband and wife team. It serves good food at reasonable prices. The interior seats maybe 20 (they also have a number of outdoor tables). And unless the interior has changed radically since my last visit, the décor is pretty simple: Italian tourism posters on the walls, plastic tablecloths, and an air conditioner that makes just a tad too much noise. We liked it though because it was the kind of simple neighborhood place where you could just walk in no matter how you looked or what you were wearing and expect a good meal.

Well, that’s all changed. Last night, our friends went to La Fiandra, only to be insulted and shocked beyond belief. According to them, after having been seated at one of the indoor tables, the owner’s wife surprised them by informing them that there was now a dress code at the restaurant, and if they wanted to be served, since the husband was wearing a t-shirt, shorts and tevas, she would prefer it if they could sit out in the courtyard. Since Singapore’s been faced with a rather shocking heatwave of late, our friends apologized for not knowing about the "new" dress code but asked if this time—and seeing as they were regular patrons—might eat inside. To their amazement, according to them, the owner’s wife rather rudely informed them that when dining in her restaurant, she would like them "to follow her rules".

I’ve eaten in La Fiandra many times, as has my whole family. My brother and I have been there many times in shorts. The restaurant as I said, to me, is pretty humble. No polished silver or fine linen here! So, to impose a dress code in a place with plastic tablecloths seems, to me, a tad ridiculous (a quick phonecall has confirmed a no shorts and no slipper policy). But to insult return customers is simply inexcusable. I, for one, will never go back to La Fiandra. Nor will my friends, whom I’m happy to say walked out and ate somewhere else.

Best Easy Roast Chook

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Until I discovered this recipe, my favourite roast chicken recipe was a rather unhealthy but delicious version picked out of Nigel Slater’s Real Food, which is also one of my all-time favourite cookbooks. Nigel’s version asks us to rub our chicken inside and out with butter (herb butter, granted, but still butter).

The recipe my wife and I now like best—which is the topic of this post—comes from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon cookbook. In fact, it’s the very first recipe in the book, and one that, when we first read, we didn’t quite believe. It calls for nothing more than salt and thyme (and of course the chicken). First, get a really good, big bird. Wash it and pat it dry. Preheat your oven to 230 Degrees Celsius (450F). Sprinkle some good salt over the bird-preferably inside and out. We like using fleur de sel but for the bird above we used some wonderful Murray River salt flakes, picked up on a trip to Adelaide. Truss the bird and then place it on a roasting pan (you can sprinkle a tad more salt over the bird if you want). Roast it for 50-60 minutes. Take it out of the oven, off the pan and let it stand for 15 minutes. While it’s resting, sprinkle the fresh thyme over the bird and pour some of the pan juices over the bird.

The chicken comes out moist, tender, and delicious. The skin will be lovely and crispy. All you need to make it better is a glass of wine and a side salad. The bird pictured up top was made over the weekend for my wife’s sister—back for the weekend on holiday from Beijing—and a good friend who was leaving town for a few months. We started the meal with a roasted vegetable tart and finished it off with some macarons from Canele. With the chicken, we enjoyed a lovely bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut.