The Cook Next Door meme
J over at Kuidaore tagged me on this great meme created by Nicky at Delicious Days.
So, without further ado…
What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
I guess I have two. When I was really small, a friend of my parents named Mrs Barudi visited with us frequently. One of the dishes she often cooked for us, and which she showed me to make was a very peppery fried egg dish. It was a simple, fuss-free-can’t-really-screw-it-up kind of recipe, and the only cooking my very strict mother would allow me to make in her always pristine kitchen. The latter memory is not so much of cooking per se but of mixing together ingredients to finish off and create what was one of my favourite childhood dishes (and while I rarely eat it today, still is). It was a simple plate of hot rice, a pat of butter, a big spoon of beef Bovril and a fried egg or two (with the yolks still runny). The dish was usually presented to me unmixed, and I had the great pleasure of mashing all the ingredients together to create a very unhealthy but utterly delicious dish.
Who had the most influence on your cooking?
Aside from my darling wife ("Less butter honey!" "What? You’re cooking with duck fat again!") and my all-time favourite cookbook author, Nigel Slater (whose Real Fast Food was one of my first two cookbooks), the persons who had the most influence—without actually ever teaching me to cook—would be my father and a couple, the Munyans, close to my family. My father has always been adventurous with food, loves trying new restaurants, and has exposed my brother and I from young to many different cuisines. He’s also indulged us in our gustatory education; one of my favourite memories is a trip through Alsace’s Route du Vin we made in 1989 (foiegras every day!). The Munyans, bless them, exposed me to a world of fine dining, both in New York and in Paris. I’ve eaten in some of the world’s best restaurants and many Michelin 2 and 3 star establishments thanks to their generosity. All this exposure made me realize over the years that I wanted to learn how to make some of these wonderful dishes that I’ve eaten with my dad and the Munyans.
Do you have an old photo as "evidence" of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?
Not quite culinary refinement, but here’s me stuffing me face:Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
I hate baking. My wife tells me it’s because I like being an "instinctive" cook, i.e. looking at recipes but then following them only so much as I want to, adjusting to my taste as I cook. Baking, however, is a science. You have to stick to certain formulas and certain ratios and measurements. And that drives me insane. Of course, masochist that I am, I still try, and I have to say, there are a few baked goods I can do pretty well. I’m especially proud of my madeleines. Sacher Torte (which, thanks to a student stint in Vienna, I adore), however, is not something I do well. I once spent a week trying to get the damn thing right. I think I made 4 that week and all ended up thrown out. I keep telling myself I need to get back on that horse, but I keep putting it off.
What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?
My fave gadgets are my knives (see Utensibility below). After those, most recently, I’ve been loving the new juicer we picked up a couple months back. S and I have made a promise to each other that we’ll have a fresh fruit juice every morning to start the day. So far, we’ve kept it up. The biggest letdown recently was actually a really small thing. I bought a really sexy ceramic peeler. Looks great but functionally it stinks compared to our old all-metal-ugly-as-hell-but-works-great one.
Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else!
When I was really young, I liked dipping BBQ flavoured potato chips in root beer. These days, I must be getting boring, because aside from favoring ketchup on my fried rice, I can’t quite think of something I like that others wouldn’t.
What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don’t want to live without?
A good cheeseburger, my wife’s steamed egg custard with minced pork, and xiao long bao (steamed Shanhainese soupy pork dumplings).
Your favorite ice-cream... Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby, anything by Berthillon, and Breyer’s Mint Chocolate Chip
You will probably never eat… Durian, if I can help it.
Your own signature dish… That’s hard. Used to be pan-roasted cod in green curry and cous-cous. Now I’d have to say Mentaiko pasta.
And last but not least: Tag three people!
Ah, the fun part, I’d love to hear Ruth from My Little Cyberspot on this, as well as Daffy from Kitchen Crazy Daffy and Kate at the Accidental Hedonist.
Utensibility: a 20cm Kasumi chef's knife and a 40cm Staub cocotte
Sam over at Becks & Posh has started a fantastic once-off meme. Called Utensibility, she’s asked fellow food bloggers to write about "the one splurge utensil that has pride of place" in our kitchens. I thought about this for a good amount of time. My wife and I have collected some pretty cool stuff in our 6 years as a couple, including a Musso ice cream machine, an Illy Francis Francis espresso machine we got as a wedding gift, some wonderful copper pots and pans, our Dualit toaster, and a vast selection of Le Creuset cookware. However, the Musso is really my wife’s splurge item not mine; the Francis Francis was a wedding gift as were the Le Creuset pieces. The copper cookware was also bought by my wife and the Dualit, while great, wasn’t "it". I didn’t think a range would count as a utensil or else I might have chosen our new DeDietrich cooker.
The more I thought about the things that I’ve splurged on that I’ve loved, the more I realized they were my knives. Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I love knives—not the Rambo kind mind you, but super-cool chef’s knives. The first really cool one I bought myself was a Global, some 10 years ago. Before that, my flatmates and I used cheap no-need-to-sharpen knives that we didn’t care if we lost, broke, or if they got blunt, we could just buy new ones. But one day, on a walk in SoHo, a few months after I graduated from college, I spied this gorgeous Global knife in a design store, and I knew I had to have it—even if it did cost almost US$200 and I was still looking for a job.
For years, I was a Global loyalist. Then a couple years ago, my wife and I decided to try out a set of Furi knives. More recently now, I’ve been trying out and splurging on other knives. The ones pictured above were all bought (except for the Chroma, which was sponsored) in the past 2-3 years. From top to bottom are a Wusthof Culinar, a Chroma Type 301, a Consigli, and a Kasumi. The Consigli, hand-forged in Tuscany and with a buffalo horn handle, was picked up on my recent trip to Italy. But my favorite of the 4, and the one I would pick for this challenge, is the 20 cm Kasumi, hand-forged in Seki, Japan, with a core blade of V Gold No. 10 high carbon stainless steel, clad in 32 folded layers of damascus steel, and with a hardness on the edge of 59-60 HRC. It’s a gorgeous knife that feels wonderful in the hand. While I like all 4 pictured, the Kasumi is the one I turn to first when in the kitchen.I decided I would also ask my wife to contribute to this. She picked her brand new Staub Cocotte. Below is what she wrote:
"A good cast iron cocotte (French oven) will last you a lifetime, and then some. Whether it is boeuf bourguignon, Chinese braised pork belly, mutton briyani or any manner of pot roast, slow-cooked stew, stock and soup that you’re planning on preparing, you’ll quickly discover that using a cast iron pot gives you the consistent, subtle heat that you need to coax those heady flavours from your ingredients. Put it in a slow oven and your show-stopping braised lamb shanks will magically take care of themselves enveloped in gentle heat. Yes, these cocottes are heavy and can be a pain to manoeuvre around, but they’re lovingly reliable kitchen workhorses. Nothing can quite substitute the culinary edge you get from using a cast iron cocotte. Try putting your heavy-based stainless steel saucepan in the oven. You’ll never get the same meltingly tender texture in your braised meats.
"I’ve recently acquired a 40cm oval Staub cocotte which I am looking forward to braising whole leg of lamb, lamb shanks for eight and making pot au feu in. Apart from being a handsome piece of craftsmanship, the self-basting spikes (a signature feature of Staub cocottes) underneath the lid ensure that the moisture that collects there drips back into your simmering dish. And the enamel has skin-like pores that absorb some of the oil used in your cooking to create a natural non-stick surface. It was also pretty much the largest cast iron cocotte I could possibly find. Size matters, because I’ve found that the dishes that I tend to cook in my cast iron pots are generally ones that I enjoy sharing generously with friends and family. I also find the Staub gratifyingly heavier than my Le Creuset (I have a 26cm round Le Creuset cocotte which is an ideal first acquisition, although on hindsight, I think an oval one is more versatile). At the very least, every well-kitted kitchen deserves one cast iron cocotte."
Wanna job in Jakarta?
A couple days ago, I received a very nice email from a restaurateur in Indonesia. She’s helping to build what sounds like a sexy new fine dining establishment in Jakarta. The designer she’s using is one of the world’s best—I’m not sure I’m at liberty to divulge the name, but I was very impressed. What she needs, of course, to make sure this restaurant succeeds is a great chef, which she’s looking for currently. As a courtesy and favor, I’ve decided to run her announcement here, which I’ve also emailed privately to some friends in the F&B business, in hopes that some of you readers might be interested or have friends and contacts who might be interested. Please feel free to copy the text and email it to anyone you know.
JAKARTA, INDONESIA - Executive Chef Position
A Leading F&B Conglomerate in Jakarta is in the process of designing and establishing a new fine dining restaurant and kitchen and requires an experienced executive Chef who is able to launch this new Restaurant. The suitable candidate has to be a great cook in his/her own right and should have worked abroad, possessing vast experience internationally. Cooking methods and flavour must be Classical / European with sound Asian techniques however presentation must be Unique, Modern, Trendy and Chic. Each dish must be unique and have a Point of Difference. The cuisine will not be modern Asian or fusion, but it will be Modern European which will make the best use of locally sourced produce whenever possible.
You will be required to provide an Up to date complete CV, Pictures of your plated presentations, and Copies of menus you have created. Copies of references and awards achieved will be appreciated and fluency in English is essential while basic knowledge of Bahasa Indonesia is a bonus.
It is expected that you have participated in the Opening of Restaurants in the past in a senior role / capacity and you are prepared to offer your advice and opinion regarding the restaurant design, atmosphere and kitchen design prior to starting this assignment. You will be prepared to build, guide and train a team of chefs and front of house staff ready for the successful opening of this restaurant in Sept 2005.
We would deeply appreciate if you could all share this opportunity with someone whom you may know who is looking to move on. We would love to hear from motivated, knowledgeable individuals who are dedicated to this fine art. If you know of any suitable candidate who is ready to get ahead and enjoy new challenges here in Jakarta, please have them email their CV to email@example.com.
Mentaiko-Tobiko Pasta, IMBB #16
This month’s Is My Blog Burning? is being hosted by Seattle Bon Vivant. She’s chosen eggs as the theme for this month’s challenge.
I decided to make one of my favourite (unhealthy) dishes, mentaiko pasta, this time topped with tobiko. Mentaiko is the Japanese term for spicy cod roe, while tobiko is flying fish roe. Mentaiko pasta is kind of an odd dish. It falls into that rather bizarre category of Japanese-Western food. It’s also not "restaurant food". I’ve never seen a Japanese cookbook that had a recipe for it. I’ve seen recipes on some personal homepages and a few Japanese friends have told me their own ways of making it, but more or less, I’ve never seen a real set formula for making it. Which means that over time, I’ve had the pleasure of tweaking a recipe that works best for me. Of course, much to my wife’s dismay, that recipe is as artery-clogging as it is delicious.
1 small onion, diced
100g bacon, thinly sliced
2 tbsp butter
1 packet mentaiko (usually has 3 to 4 sacs)
2.5 tbsp Japanese mayonnaise
1 small packet tobiko
150g angelhair pasta
Put the butter and the mayo in a mixing bowl. Scrape the mentaiko out of the sacs and into the bowl. When the butter is soft, mix the ingredients together. Sauté the onions and the bacon. Mix them into the mentaiko sauce. Boil your pasta. Drain the pasta and mix it with the sauce. Now plate the pasta. Over the pasta, sprinkle some of the nori and spoon some tobiko over the whole thing. Enjoy.
Disgruntled German critic and a commendable food challenge
This is a quick post... was surfing (as one does) through the food-blogosphere and found two items of particular interest. The first is a series of articles (well, only 2 so far) written by (supposedly) one of Germany's top food writers, Wolfram Siebeck, who, in response to the list of the world's 50 best restaurants that so recently came out--and that has been heavily blogged about--was able to convince (ahem... "con" would be a better word) his editors to let him eat his way through the list, commenting on each one.
While initially excited by the features, after a quick reading of the first two stories, on The Fat Duck and St John plus others, I get the sense that Mr Siebeck is not so interested in writing fair reviews of these restaurants as he is in bashing them. Maybe his German readers enjoy such reviews, but I found them kind of juvenile. One theory that I have is that maybe Mr Siebeck is simply pissed off that only 1 German restaurant appeared on the list and this is his way of defending his nation's pride. Hey, the only restaurant in Asia to appear on the list was Felix. Now, Felix is hardly the "best in Asia", not even in my top 10, but that doesn't mean I'm gonna start saying bad things about Heston Blumenthal.
Finally, what really got my goat was that Mr Siebeck kept saying that the list was put together by "The Guardian". Now, while The Guardian reported on the list, every food-blogger and foodie knows that the list was put together by Restaurant magazine. Such an obvious error (especially to an ex-magazine fact checker like myself) is simply inexcusable and raises questions of motive.
On a more enlightening note, I enjoyed reading an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about a challenge that some San Franciscans are taking up in August, as their way of celebrating Wold Environment Day. Called "Celebrate Your Foodshed: Eat Locally", the challenge calls for them to eat only foods grown or harvested in a 100 mile radius of SF. (For more info, click here.) I don't know if I could do that. So much of the food we get here in Singapore is imported. But, my hat's off to them. It's a fantastic idea and a great way of rediscovering local produce.
This week’s Friday Food Fiesta on Flickr is on fried foods. In order to submit something both yummy and homemade, my fabulously sexy gourmand of a wife, S, whipped up a plate of calamari (fried squid) as well as some beer-battered flathead, served with a simple side salad. Truth be told, we both enjoyed the calamari better—the squid had been tossed in seasoned flour (salt and pepper) and then sifted to remove the excess flour. The beer-batter (from a recipe from Neil Perry’s new book, The Food I Love) was tasty but was also a tad heavy for our taste. It was, though, a great way to get rid of a can of Asahi that my brother had left in our house the last time he came over for a meal. Neither S nor I are beer lovers, so it was either a beer batter, a carbonnade (a la flamande), or this can was gonna be in our fridge forever.
I adore scallops. I like them deep fried, sauteed, even eaten raw, sashimi-style. I also love gratinated dishes. I relish the crisp tangy taste of grilled parmesan over, well, just about anything. So, when I saw this dish while leafing through some cookbooks--my wife and I were planning a Father's Day lunch--I knew I had to try it. Not only did it combine these two things I like so much, but it looked really easy... or as my wife likes to say, when she's feeling silly, "easy-peasy-Japaneazy."
The recipe is from Nobu's second cookbook, Nobu Now, but is more French or Italian than Japanese. All you really need are good, fresh scallops and their shells, soy sauce, garlic, butter, lemon, and parmesan. Nobu uses parsley but I swapped it for some tiny morsels of bacon.
Clean your scallops, disconnecting them from their shells and then after patting dry, placing them back on again. Add a tiny amount of butter on the scallop, a drop of soy, a little grated garlic, and (for me) a few of the bacon morsels (already cooked). Sprinkle the scallops with freshly grated parmesan and pop them into a preheated oven and cook at 200 Degrees C for 4-5 minutes. Please note that if using a convection oven to place your scallops on the highest rack, so that the cheese is nearest the hot metal conductors. Serve the finished scallops with a wedge of lemon and leave it to your guests to add the juice if they want to.
We served this as a starter to a simple 4-course Father's Day lunch and it went over really well. My only regret is that I only bought enough for one scallop per person. I could have easily eaten a plate full of them.
Jimmy's Coriander Crusted Lamb with Spiced Orange-Hoisin Sauce
A lovely friend from Paris--who is moving this month to London--was in town for a quick visit (a work trip within two weeks of starting her brand new job). She's hosted me to so many marvelous treats in Paris (we're talking multiple meals at Le Cinque, among other things), so I really wanted to roll out the red carpet for her. Unfortunately, I missed her first few days in Singapore; I came back from my Venice trip with only a couple days left in her stay and was also really quite jet-lagged from all the traveling. She was in turn really busy, what with this being a work trip and all. My wife and I were only able to book her for dinner on her last night in town, and only right before she had to head to the airport to catch a red-eye back to Europe.
We made a simple 3-course meal. S had baked some deliciously flaky tart cases and we filled them with a crabmeat and scrambled egg filling, and served that with a small side salad tossed with a lemon-truffle dressing. For our main, we made a coriander crusted rack of lamb with a spiced orange-hoisin sauce, served over creamless creamed corn. For dessert, we had a very light dish of some bellini sorbet that S had made the night before.
The lamb dish is one of my favourites and something we learned from Chef Jimmy Chok, who has just taken over the restaurant of the Singapore Academy of Law (restaurant re-opens 1 August and will be open to the public). Here's the recipe:
2 racks of lamb (frenched, each should have 8 ribs)
100ml hoisin sauce
200g coriander leaves (chopped)
50g coriander seeds (freshly toasted and pounded)
250ml hoisin sauce
200ml tomato ketchup
50ml red wine vinegar
1 orange (juiced, zest)
3 red chilies (chopped)
1 tsp garlic (chopped)
2 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp honey
Marinate the lamb with 50ml of the hoisin for an hour. To cook the lamb, sear the meat on a hot pan and roast in a preheated oven at 180 Degrees C for 20 minutes or until an instant read thermoter reads 55 Degrees C. Remove from the oven and spread 50ml of the hoisin on the lamb and crust with the coriander leaves and seeds. Set aside the lamb to rest.
For the sauce, mix all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl and whisk until the sauce is well mixed. Heat before serving.
Slice your chops when ready to serve and sauce to taste. For the corn recipe, please refer to Tom Colicchio's excellent cookbook, Craft of Cooking.
Final notes on Venice
I'm back home now, after a long week and a half in Venice. It was a wonderful and tiring trip. The last few days were a blur of visiting exhibitions, meetings and trying to squeeze in a few culinary adventures. On my second last night, one of my bosses asked me to organize a (thank you) dinner for our team--20 persons strong--in Venice. I booked two tables at Fiascheterria Toscana, a very well-known seafood restaurant near the Rialto bridge. We planned a yummy four course meal consisting of raw tuna wrapped in ricotta and a spinach crepe; squid ink tagliatelle in lobster sauce; sauteed John Dory with fried chanterelles; and Tiramisu. White wine, coffee, and water were included. The first two courses were knock-outs, especially the pasta (pictured above). The Tiramisu was good, if a tad sweet, but the John Dory was a bit overcooked.My last night in town, I went with four colleagues to another well-known seafood restaurant, Trattoria Alla Madonna. (This was after having a lovely, slightly boozy lunch back at Ostaria Boccadoro--which I really love.) This was my second visit to Alla Madonna and it was just like the first, noisy, busy but serving good food at prices much more reasonable than the canal-side restaurants just a few steps away. I had a crabmeat tossed in olive oil and lemon juice (pictured above), followed by cuttlefish cooked in a squid ink sauce with polenta, and then fragolini with vanilla ice cream (super-delicious).
Before I left, I knew I had to find some great stuff to share with my wife. I had gone looking for some wine a couple days earlier, but the wine store I usually visited (Mille Vini) was out of all the wines that I was looking for. Fortunately, just the day before I left, I discovered a fabulous wine store, with--according to the owners--the best wine collection in Venice. And, from what they had available, I tend to believe them. While all the other storekeepers I asked about Quintarelli Valpolicellas or Amarones either shook their heads or laughed at me, Mascari had a healthy stock of both. They also had Romano Dal Forno Amarone and many other wines by great cult Italian winemakers. I picked up a Quintarelli Valpolicella and a Multipucliano D'Abruzzo Rose wine that the storekeeper claimed was the best in Italy. I also stopped off at a great butcher, Aliani, around the corner from Mascari, and picked up some San Daniele Prosciutto and some fabulously fatty Pancetta. I plan to enjoy the wine and the meats in the very near future.
tel: 041 52 85 281
5719 S Giovanni Grisistomo, Cannaregio
Trattoria Alla Madonna
tel: 041 52 23 824
594 Calle della Madonna, San Polo
tel: 041 52 29 762
381 San Polo
tel: 041 52 24 913
654 San Polo
Gianno Basso and a new ostaria
I had a bit of free time today, so a friend—also in town for the Biennale—and I went to visit Gianno Basso. Basso is a bit of a mad genius. He’s a printer and stationer and in my opinion makes some of the most beautiful name cards and stationary in the world. He’s also unique in that he handprints his creations on an old Gutenberg press, using paint that he also mixes by hand. He takes no orders by phone or fax. He does not use a computer either. Which means the only way to place an order with him is in person. He also demands payment in cash. Despite all these conditions, his client list is vast, and includes many celebrities like Susan Sontag, Hugh Grant, and Gael Greene. After our visit with Basso, we were hungry and stopped off in a pretty ostaria just a few steps from his shop. It was quite the find! The Ostaria Boccadoro, we discovered, may be only a month old but the food is excellent. We started with an amuse-bouche of sardines in saor. We then shared plates of gnocchi with crabmeat and tagliatelle with baby scallops and zucchini flowers. This was then followed by the best plate of frito misto (fried seafood and vegetables) that I have ever eaten in my life. It was an amazing selection of seafood, including sardines, scallops, clams, mussels, bamboo clams, scampi, squid and the most delicious, juicy soft shell crabs. Boccadoro is a great find and a place I’m keen to return to over this and future trips.
5306 Calle del Fumo, Cannaregio
5405/a Campo Wildman, Cannaregio
tel: 041 5211021
I’ve never eaten at Da Fiore, acclaimed by many as Venice’s best restaurant. That said, to me, the best restaurant in Venice has got to be Corte Sconta, a gorgeous cult eatery hidden away—appropriate given that the name translates as “hidden corner”—on a tiny lane in the Arsenale sestiere. I only discovered Corte Sconta late last year, and boy was I upset. Upset that I hadn’t discovered it earlier. Upset that over the last decade of visiting this enchanted city, I’ve had to endure an enormous number of crappy restaurants (which are the majority here).
Finding Corte Sconta was a revelation. Akin to listening to Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for the very first time; reading The Princess Bride for the first time; a first ever viewing of Before The Rain; finally seeing Desmoiselles D’Avignon in person; trying on a Giorgio Armani tuxedo for the first time or, for the ladies, slipping on that first pair of Manolo Blahniks; the first-ever taste of top quality toro sushi or sashimi; or that first sip of a Quintarelli Amarone. In other words, it’s one of those life-changing first experiences that makes you realize you just may have been missing out on some pretty amazing things for most of your life. Yesterday, I brought some colleagues there for lunch. Despite its hard-to-find location, Corte Sconta is always busy. In fact, when I called up for a table, I was told that they were booked full every night for the next 2 weeks. Fortunately, the owners squeezed us in for a late 130pm booking. We started our meal with several shared appetizers. Plates of anchovies, wild salmon, and spider crab pate were followed by a large bowl of steamed clams. A mixed seafood plate was put down on the table next. There was crayfish, scampi, baby octopus, sardines, squid, and scallops. This was in turn followed by a large plate of spider crabmeat, deshelled and tossed with olive oil and lemon. Pasta was next. There were 4 choices available. I had some gnocchi with crayfish (pictured above), which was stunning. For dessert, we shared some tiramisu and a caramel basket filled with lemon sorbet (pictured below). We also split a bottle of the house Prosecco. In addition to the amazing food, I adore Corte Sconta’s courtyard (top picture), one of the prettiest I have ever seen in any restaurant. It’s the perfect setting for a Spring-Summer lunch and fortunately for us, the weather held up beautifully.
Castello, 3886 Calle del Pestrin
Tel: 041 522 7024
So Good But So Pricy
As mentioned, I made it to Harry’s Bar last night. It was, as it always is, packed and buzzing with life. Our table was upstairs, tucked in a corner near the staircase. Definitely not one of the better tables available, but beggars can’t be choosers. Then again, the moment that first Bellini was placed in front of me, I didn’t really care where I was sitting.
The food was delicious. And outrageously expensive. Surprisingly, the wine list was really quite affordable, with most bottles priced lower than any main course. I had a tuna tartare to start followed by one of my all time fave Cipriani dishes, baked tagliolini with ham. I have to admit that I was enjoying my food and wine so much that I completely forgot to take any photos until mid-way through my pasta—which by that point would not have made a pretty picture. I did remember to take a picture of my dessert though. I had the lemon meringue pie, also one of my faves. Everyone else in my group had the chocolate cake, easily one of the best and most famous chocolate cakes in the world. It was this cake, in fact, that helped me convince a darling WASPish young lady, some 11 years ago, that one should live to eat, and not eat to live. All in all, it was a wonderful, decadent and bloody expensive night, as they always are at Harry’s Bar.
It's been rather odd day, weather-wise, today. It's been both sunny and dark and cloudy and sunny again. Right now, we're back to cloudy. It actually looks like it might pour at any moment, which would suck. I spent the early morning--before work--checking out the market area near Rialto. I can't describe just how beautiful all the fresh produce here is. Stalls and stalls of the most delicious looking fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses, and seafood. I wish I had a kitchen here, so I could buy everything and cook it up. The above are just a few quick snaps from the market. Sadly, the only thing I ended up buying was a small basket of fragolini (tiny wild strawberries), which I brought for my colleagues to try.They were super-sweet and delicious. Wonderful eaten as they were, I couldn't help but close my eyes and thick of a dozen different ways to incorporate them into pastries and other desserts.
On the road
There’s so much to write. Firstly, I wanted to write about this amazing breakfast I had over the weekend at new uber-expat hangout Corduroy & Finch. Let’s just say, scrambled eggs with fresh summer truffles, salmon and Maine lobster, washed down with Veuve Clicquot Rose Champagne. And that was only part of the meal.But the full report on that breakfast is going to have to wait a week or so. Because I’m in Venice! I just got in today (via a pain-in-the-ass transit in Frankfurt), and have already started planning some culinary exploits with colleagues and friends. So far though, I’ve only had one meal—at an uncomplicated little café in the Arsenale area. Trattoria Ai Corazzieri’s menu and name cards says it specializes in fish. So, I knew I had to order some. I had a grilled seabass, which was good but not great. To be a little more specific, while it was very fresh, it was grilled just a little too long for my taste.Two of my colleagues had the above pictured dish, a spaghetti “alla busera”, i.e. with prawns and tomato sauce. Of course, I had to take a bite. It was very nice, if a tad salty. Anyway, I have quite a few good meals lined up, including dinners at Harry's Bar and Da Ignazio, so check back soon. I'll try to update this blog whenever I get a chance.
My wife's dumplings
I love dumplings. My all-time favourite would have to be xiao long bao, the Shanghainese steamed, soupy pork dumplings that explode with warm broth when bitten into. Gyoza, the pan-fried Japanese dumplings, come in second.
About a year ago, my wife (S) spent an afternoon with a Japanese friend learning to make them. Essentially, it was a matter of learning how to make the filling (a combination minced pork, cabbage, spring onions, ginger, garlic, salt, sake, sesame oil, soya sauce, and some chilli bean paste), learning to wrap the dumplings, and then the right technique in cooking them up. While I have to admit, I don’t really contribute in the filling-making process—unless you count peering over someone’s shoulder while making lip-smacking munchy sounds a contribution (which S certainly does not)—I do enjoy helping S wrap the dumplings. The first couple of times I tried this, I made a bit of a mess of things. Creating evenly spaced folds in the edges is not as simple as it sounds. And instead of picture perfect gyoza, my initial creations looked more like some poor Tokyo citizen that had been trampled by Godzilla. But after some practice, I can happily say that when I offer my help, S doesn’t swat me away but instead pulls out a chair for me to join her.
Cooking the gyoza is something I enjoy. Essentially, you pan-fry them over pretty high heat until the bottoms are browned. Then you add a little bit of water and cover the pan, allowing the dumplings to steam through. After a couple of minutes you can uncover and cook until the water evaporates.
The above pictured gyoza were made by S for a mid-week meal for me and her father. Incidentally, they are plated on a Staub cast iron plate, given to me by the local distributor. The plate is not only sexy and hardy, but because it is cast iron, retains heat beautifully.
Yummy New Blog!
I've written previously about my brother's amazing girlfriend J. I like to call her "she who bakes" but she cooks as wonderfully as she bakes (yes, I'm also referencing Chika). She's also a pretty durned good writer and photographer and she's finally gotten around to setting up her own blog! It's named KUIDAORE, which means, supposedly, "eating until collapse" in Japanese. She only has a couple of posts up, but it's already making me laugh and drool. You must check out her Plaisir Sucre, straight out of Pierre Herme's Chocolate Desserts. Yum!
Link is here: KUIDAORE
Venice and a reborn local restaurant
This is a really quick 2-part post.
1. I'm off to Venice (Italy) this weekend, there for 10 days for work. While I've been pretty successful in sussing out some good restaurants and cafes, I'm sure there are many, many more I don't know about. So, if any of y'all out there have some suggestions and recommendations, please, please tell me about them. Post them in my comments or email me! I especially want to find some great, affordable places. Thanks!
2. Over this past weekend, while wandering around looking for a place to eat before catching a film, my wife and I wandered into the recently refurbished Oriental Hotel (in Singapore). The redesign is fantastic and shows what a good, well thought out renovation can do for an aging hotel (for an example of the opposite, visit the Pan Pacific). The new interior is sleek, dark, and sexy. It's also very Asian. Finally, the hotel looks like it belongs in the Mandarin Oriental group (which it does)! While walking around the hotel, we checked out their new buffet station cafe/restaurant Melt (gee, is every hotel in Singapore doing this now?) and then went up a floor to look at the newly re-opened and renovated Cherry Garden. We loved the new look--styled to look like a chic but zen courtyard house--of this classic Cantonese and Sichuan restaurant and were tempted to try it. And I'm glad we did. The food was very good. We had, as an amuse-bouche, a duck roll with honey, followed by carrot cake with XO sauce, some of the best siu mai I have eaten in a long time, pan-fried Shanghainese dumplings with a gorgeous, finely spun crust, spinach beancurd with crabmeat, cai miao poached in a superior stock, and cheong fan with shredded abalone. The service was also excellent and the restaurant was quiet and calm (possibly because we were eating at noon). I hate noisy, crowded Chinese restaurants with kids running all over the place. Cherry Garden, by comparison, was entirely civilized. I can't wait to try it again. (Oh, sorry, no photos. I wasn't carrying my camera with me.)
Cherry Garden, tel: 68853538