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Saturday, July 30, 2005

IMBB #17: Tea x 3

It's time once again for Is My Blog Burning?. IMBB #17 is being hosted by A La Cuisine, who has picked tea as this month's theme. It's a great theme. So many wonderful dishes can be made using tea. In fact, S and I had such a hard time choosing what delicious thing to make that we decided to make not just one, but three things. We invited a couple of friends over for a lazy Saturday lunch, and put together a three course tea-based menu. We also chose, for our first two courses, to use recipes from two Singaporean chefs that we admire.

Our first course was an Oolong Tea Steeped Quail Egg and Pork Belly. We adapted this from a recipe in Menu Degustation by Anderson Ho.

Yields 4 portions

Braising liquid
Oolong tea 20g
Dark soy sauce 15ml
Light soy sauce 100ml
Cinnamon sticks 3
Cloves 2
Star anise 2
Chicken stock 1.5 litres
Rock sugar 25g

Quail eggs 4 (you can make up to 15 eggs without increasing the braising liquid)
Pork belly 200g, seasoned with five-spice powder and salt (we used a slab of just under 1kg which made at least 8 portions, also without increasing the braising liquid)
Cornstarch, for thickening
Chives 4-8 sticks for garnish

Add all the braising liquid ingredients into an oven proof casserole or pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Plunge eggs into braising liquid and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove and gently crack shells but do not break. Return into the braising liquid and steep for 1 hour. Peel shells and set eggs aside. Preheat your oven to 130ºC. Sear the seasoned pork. Then put the pork into the pot with the braising liquid, cover it and put it in the oven for 3 hours. (Anderson's recipe calls for the pork to be simmered on the stove for 1 hour.) To serve, remove the pork and slice it. Then thicken the strained liquid with cornstarch. Serve the pork with an egg; drizzle with the sauce and garnish with chives.

Our second course comes from New Shanghai Cuisine by Jereme Leung. This book is special to me because S helped write it. Jereme, who is chef at Whampoa Club at 3 on the Bund in Shanghai and a good friend, asked S to help him with this, his first book. Working together, S helped this amazing chef turn his ideas and thoughts into beautiful prose. The book just hit the bookstores, but Jereme passed us a couple of advance copies a few weeks ago and I've been dying to try something from it. For this month's IMBB, I chose Jereme's Sugar Cane and Tea-Smoked Pork Ribs.

Serves 4

Pork spare ribs 600g
Cooking oil 250ml
Ginger 5cm knob, peeled and shredded
Spring onions 3
Water 500ml
Shao xing wine 1 Tbsp
Salt to taste
Red glutinous rice wine yeast 50ml
Tomato sauce 5 Tbsp
Sugar 150g
Cornstarch to thicken

for smoking
Aluminium foil
Plain all-purpose flour 5 Tbsp
Tea leaves 1 Tbsp, soaked
Sugar cane 5 sticks, each 5cm, lightly smashed

Cut the ribs into 8cm lengths. Deep-fry in the oil until light golden brown. Drain and set aside. In the same oil, fry half the ginger until light golden brown. Pat dry with paper towels and set aside for garnish later. In the same oil, sauté the spring onions and remaining ginger until fragrant. Add the water, shao xing wine, salt, yeast, tomato sauce and 50g of the sugar. Bring to a boil and add the spare ribs. Lower heat and simmer for 1 hour or until the pork is tender. Remove ribs and strain sauce. (You should probably try to remove the oil from the sauce as well.) Arrange the ribs on a wire rack. Line a dry wok with the foil and add the flour, tea leaves, sugar cane and the rest of the sugar. Mix well and sprinkle some water over the mixture. Cover the work and cook over high heat until yellow smoke appears. Place wire rack of ribs in the wok, over the mixture. Cover and smoke for 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, thicken the sauce if necessary. Plate the ribs, reheat the sauce and pour it over the ribs. Add the garnish and serve.

For dessert, S made a yummy creme brulée infused with a tea I had picked up in Paris from Betjeman & Barton called A Gentleman of Deauville. This blend has a wonderful delicate floral taste with hints of chocolate. It was a very yummy end to a great meal.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Real men eat quiche

This past weekend, we flew to Taipei on Jetstar Asia Airways. This is significant for only two reasons. The first is the price. Jetstar is one of Asia's new budget airlines. The advent of these new airlines has made regional travel suddenly very affordable. Flights that were once between S$700 to S$800 are now between S$200 to $400. Flights that were once a few hundred dollars are now sometimes as cheap as S$20 to S$30. Our flight to Taipei was only S$342 a person (we'll be flying to Hong Kong next week for only S$277 each), cheap compared to what we would have paid a year ago. However, low cost means no frills. Drinks and food, while available on board, aren't free. Not that we'd want to buy any of Jetstar's inflight meals. What we've seen so far has been pretty terrifying. S and I have always liked to pack snacks when flying. Usually that might mean some sandwiches or a can of "rillette d'oie"--nothing too heavy since even the worst airline can be depended on to serve nuts, bread, or some other palatable snacks. But flying Jetstar necessitates packing properly and packing anything and everything we'd want to eat or drink.

For our flight to Taipei, S decided to make some delicious individual Quiche Lorraines. I love quiche. As a food, it combines two of my favourite things, pastry and egg. Add to this an endless variety of yummy ingredients (for example, bacon, mushrooms, spinach, cheese, crabmeat, leeks, etc) and you have what might be one of the most perfect foods ever invented. I should also admit that I didn't know S was making these for our flight. I discovered them after coming home from work. They were cooling in the kitchen, as pictured above. What a wonderful vision. The aromas were equally heady, with the smells of bacon, egg, cheese and pastry filling the house. I was extremely tempted to eat one right there and then, depriving myself of an inflight meal but satisfying my greed immediately. S, of course, wouldn't let me. And she was right not to. Without any other forms of (free) inflight entertainment--other than my ipod and the latest Harry Potter--my Quiche Lorraine was not only a wonderful meal but a great way to pass the better part of a half an hour.

Quiche Lorraine (adapted from Baking Illustrated)
Makes 4 mini (4.5 inch) quiches

Enough flaky pastry (pate brisee) for 1 double-crusted 9 inch pie (you will have leftovers)
8 ounces bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 large eggs
250ml whole milk
250ml heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
pinch grated nutmeg
4 ounces parmesan, grated

Every baker has his or her own favourite pie crust recipe. If you're looking for a good recipe to start with, S recommends the basic pie crust recipe in The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion (p408), using a mixture of all-purpose flour and pastry flour, replacing shortening with more butter. The two step method of cutting in the fat gives you a pastry with a lovely mixture of flakiness and crumbliness.

Pre-heat oven to 375ºF. Blind-bake the pastry shells in the 4 pans until lightly golden brown (yes, that means you'll have to use pie weights, beans or rice). Remove them from the oven but leave the oven on at the same temperature.

Fry the bacon in a skillet until crisp. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Whisk the remaining ingredients, except the cheese, in a medium bowl. Spread the cheese and bacon evenly over the bottom of the pans. Pour the egg mixture into the pans until almost but not entirely filled. Bake until golden brown, a knife blade inserted into the quiche (half an inch away from the crust) comes out clean and the centre feels set but wobbly (roughly 25 minutes for mini quiches). Transfer to a rack to cool. They will continue cooking in their own heat.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Pigging out in Taipei

For months, a chef friend of S's and mine, who moved to Taipei last year, has been raving to us about the amazing produce--seafood, meat, veggies, fruits, etc--available in Taiwan. Not only is it better than what we get in Singapore, he would tell us, but it is also much cheaper. We simply had to come up and taste all the wonderful foods, he would say. Given that this friend is (arguably) the best French chef that The Little Red Dot (that being Singapore's latest nickname) has ever produced, I should have simply accepted what he told us as fact and visited him a long time ago. But stubborn idiot that I am--and because I had never really had the urge to see Taipei--we kept procrastinating our trip.

This past weekend, we finally got around to visiting Taipei and spending the weekend with chef Justin Quek, known to most Singaporeans (and many foodies worldwide) from his ten years as head chef of Les Amis. Justin now owns and operates his own place, La Petite Cuisine, a tiny but intimate Modern French restaurant that has within a year become recognized as Taipei's top and perhaps most expensive European restaurant.

We flew in Friday evening, arriving a little after 5pm, and after quickly freshening up at our hotel, made our way to La Petite Cuisine for what turned out to be an extraordinary feast. Our menu, if my poor memory and lack of notes (I was too busy eating) is correct, consisted of a prawn tartare in a deep-fried pastry shell ("pie tie"); uni jelly with cauliflower cream; a summer salad topped with summer truffles (pictured); tuna belly carpaccio topped with summer truffles; squid carpaccio topped with Russian caviar; roasted pork belly with caramelized white peach; roasted quail with foiegras and figs; tagliatelle with more summer truffles; a lychee foam; and a confit of lychees on a pineapple carpaccio. The summer salad--which is one of only 2 dishes I shot a quick snap of with my tiny Contax--was a real stand out! One of the main ingredients was young bamboo shoot, something which I never expected to enjoy in a salad and which Justin explained to us was a popular summer ingredient in Taipei.

The next morning, Justin took us to the local markets. And I have to say, the produce did amaze me. The seafood was super fresh. The pork and other meats were beautiful, especially the lovely fatty pork that was being sold for close to nothing. The fruits and vegetables were so much better than what we get here in Singapore. And, as Justin had rightly pointed out, much cheaper. It was really quite an eye-opening experience and the longer we hung out at the markets, the more jealous I became. Later, we went to a well known restaurant, Chef Show Time, for lunch. According to Justin, Chef Huang is one of Taipei's most well-known culinary stars (he's the one on the right above; Justin is on the left). Chef Huang's cuisine is fusion, sort of a Taiwanese-European. And while the dishes looked simple on the menu--descriptions were as plain as "fried pork Taiwanese style" and "fried crab"--the resulting dishes were hardly simple. They were, in fact, both complex and utterly delicious.

Here's the "fried pork Taiwanese style", which is perhaps one of the best dishes I have ever eaten in my life. The pork, splendidly fatty, was melt-in-your-mouth great.

The "fried crab" was Hokkaido Crab, lightly crumbed, fried with salt and pepper, and basil and garlic. The crab's meat was amazingly sweet and tender. In addition to these two wonderful dishes, we had baked escargot with cheese, braised beef tongue, fried somei, mushrooms grilled with olive oil and bamboo shoots, and some imported jamon iberico bellota.

That night, we checked out the famous Shilin night market, which I can now say, I've been to and would happily never visit again (I'm not the biggest fan of huge crowds). I had heard a lot about the street food from this famous market. We tried the oyster noodles and the deep fried chicken filet. Both were only okay.

For lunch Sunday, we went to the one place that I had insisted be part of our culinary itinerary, Taipei's most famous xiao long bao restaurant, Din Tai Fung. Xiao long bao (Shanghainese soup dumplings) are one of my top ten favourite food items. Friends who had eaten at both the Taipei branch and the Singapore one had always told me that the Singapore branch's dumplings were nothing compared to the ones in Taipei. So, naturally, I had to see for myself. We ordered both the normal and the crabmeat versions. I'm happy to say that they were right. The skin of the xiao long bao I tasted were extremely thin, much thinner than the ones made here. Because the pork in Taiwan is of a much higher quality as well, and fattier too, the dumplings were also tastier. The biggest difference, though, was with the crabmeat dumplings. These tasted better simply because the crabmeat was better, fresher and with a cleaner taste than those cooked here. I could have easily eaten basket after basket if it weren't for the fact that we were planning a second lunch at a well-known restaurant around the corner.

Slack Season Tan Tsi Noodles is a cute little restaurant that's been built around a simple street stall from Tainan. It specializes in noodles and rice tossed with minced pork that's been braised in an incredible master stock that's supposedly been kept cooking for 100 years. The photo above is of the cast iron pot in which the stock is continuously stewed.

We had the noodles and the rice. Both were delicious. Happily, we also picked up a couple cans of the minced pork sauce, which I can't wait to open and use. For dinner that night, we went to a lovely seafood restaurant, amusingly named Really Good Seafood.

Our last meal in Taipei was lunch the next day (Monday). Justin took us, plus two new friends, to an amazing Taiwanese restaurant called Ming Fu. It's the kind of place you would never normally never walk into, the kind of non-descript neighborhood restaurant you'd just walk by, never realizing it was one of the best restaurants in town. When we entered, S, much more observant than I, noticed that there was a photo on the wall depicting the restaurant's owner and movie director Ang Lee. Ming Fu, we soon realized, was obviously one of those cult secrets that Taiwanese-in-the-know (and no one else) dined at. We had, as I am sure you have already guessed, a fantastic meal. We had bamboo clams, grilled "tofu shark", some wonderfully fresh green leafy vegetable fried with black beans and anchovies, deep fried black fish gizzards, and crab fried rice. All of it was fantastic. I especially enjoyed the gizzards, something I had never eaten before, and the fried rice, which was so good, we ordered some to take with us on our flight that afternoon.

All in all, it was an amazing few days of pigging out. I'll definitely go back to Taipei now that I've had a taste.

La Petite Cuisine; tel: +886 2 2597 3838
Chef Show Time; tel: 2702 5277
Slack Season Tan Tsi Noodles; tel: 2772 1244
Ming Fu; tel: 2562 9287

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Singapore Floggers Lunch

This afternoon, 12 of Singapore’s food bloggers (and one newspaper reporter) got together for a rather delicious lunch. For many of us, it was the very first time we had ever met (and as the only guy in the group, I felt both excited and slightly nervous). We gathered at Mag’s Wine Kitchen, a wonderful little restaurant that I’ve written about before. Owned and operated by a self-trained chef (Mag), Mag’s has become a local favourite among French food fans. For this first food bloggers lunch, Mag’s prepped an amazing 5 course lunch.

The meal, I have to say, was partly sponsored by Veuve Clicquot, who very generously gave us several bottles of their Rich Reserve 1998. The wine was crisp, delicious and perfect for this celebratory gathering. It was extremely kind of Veuve to sponsor this gathering, and I hope it is not the last partnership between our nation’s food bloggers and this historic Champagne brand.

The meal started with Grilled Belly of Swordfish with Pickled Fennel.

This was followed by Seared Sea Scallop served with a Soy Mirin Dressing.

Next was a Smoked Duck with Arugula.

Our last main course was a truly amazing dish of Seared Beef Tenderloin Slices served with Buttered Spinach, Caramelized Baby Carrots and Veal Jus. Dessert was a Crème Caramel (which while tasty, I felt wasn’t all that photogenic).

I have to say that Mag really pulled out all the stops for us. The meal was truly delicious!

In addition to Veuve Clicquot, our meal was also sponsored by BATS Singapore, the importers of such amazing kitchen products as Staub and Chroma. Sebastian (, the man behind this great distributorship, kindly gave each of us a goodie bag with a Staub spatula, a little stuffed toy (of the Staub mascot), and some Staub and Chroma brochures. But, more excitingly, he donated 4 amazing lucky draw items, a Staub Chocolate Fondue Set, a Chroma P4 Chef’s Knife, a Staub 28cm oval dish, and a Staub 22cm cocotte. You can see the pix above of the very happy bloggers who won these truly super prizes. Many thanks to Sebastian and BATS Singapore for their generosity and support of our local food bloggers.

In all, it was a great (long) lunch. It was great to finally put faces to the people whose blogs I've been reading and enjoying for quite a while now.

Monday, July 18, 2005

One pot meal

In December 2002, S and I took a very belated honeymoon to Paris. Thanks to the overwhelming generosity of a friend, we spent half of our trip staying at the George V Four Seasons hotel, easily one of the most magnificent hotels in the world. One of the many highlights of our stay was eating not once but twice at Le Cinq. At the time, Le Cinq had not earned its third Michelin star (that would be announced just weeks after our stay), but as far as we were concerned, we could not have had better food, wine or service. On our first visit, one dish on the menu in particular jumped out at both of us, but as it was a main course for two, the maître d'hôtel recommended that on this, our first visit, we have different mains in order to try more things. The meal, of course, was amazing. But we still wanted to try that dish, so we begged our way into a table just 2 nights later and this time we ordered Philippe Legendre's Poulette de Bresse et homard George V en cocotte lutée (young Bresse chicken and lobster cooked in a casserole pot).

It was delicious. Truly revelatory. And upon returning home, I became slightly obsessed with cooking chickens "en cocotte". I couldn't find a recipe for chicken and lobster en cocotte but I did find many for just chicken. We also didn't own a cocotte large enough to house both a chicken and a lobster. Plus, I felt that lobsters were a little too expensive to waste when I wasn't 100% sure of the recipe. So, I stuck to chickens, but after a few weeks, I moved onto other obsessions.

Fast forward to 2005 and S's brand spanking new and--until this past weekend--unused 41cm Staub cocotte. Ever since S had picked up this enameled cast iron beauty, we've been waiting for just the right opportunity and recipe to christen it with. Enter from stage left: a pair of generous in-laws who had just gone on a mad lobster spending spree and who gave two of them to us. We had the right pot; we had lobsters. All I needed was a chicken and a prayer. And, of course, a recipe... which, I admit, I kind of made up as I cooked.

We invited the well-fed W and J of Kuidaore to join us. Fortunately, the dish came out perfectly (I shudder to think of serving a less than perfect meal to W and J). The chicken was super-moist and the lobster surprisingly tender. The sauce, made with the chicken and lobster juices, was both sweet and savory and lifted the dish well. I couldn't have been happier with the results. Especially since I was sweating with worry for the whole hour that the cocotte was in the oven.

Chicken and lobsters en cocotte, feeds 4 generously

1 large chicken
2 small-medium size lobsters
3 large onions, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
12 cloves garlic
1/2 white wine or Champagne
1/4 cup cream
1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat your oven to 120ºC. Clean, salt and truss your chicken. Heat a tablespoon of butter with the olive oil in a large cocotte. Sauté the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic together, stirring occasionally. When the onions are soft, pour in the wine and reduce for 5 minutes. Then place your chicken carefully in the cocotte, over the aromatics. Place your lobsters around the chicken, one on each side. Cover and put the cocotte in the oven for 1 hour.

After an hour, remove from the oven, open the cover, take out the chicken and let it stand for 10 minutes. While it stands, take out the lobsters, pulling the tails off, slicing them down the middle and carefully removing the meat. Then strain the liquid from the cocotte into a sauce pan, add a knob of butter and the cream (salt to taste) and reduce for 5-10 minutes. While the sauce is reducing, remove the breasts (2 portions) and both thighs and plate with the lobster meat. Pour as much or as little of the hot sauce over your chicken and lobster.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches

Well, this is my first post on the new site (which aside from the URL shift should hopefully look the same as the old) and what better celebratory food than an age old classic dessert and snack, the ice cream sandwich. This one was made using chocolate brownie cookies and mint chocolate chip ice cream.

I have to admit that once again I’m posting about a delicious treat that my darling wife S made for me, instead of something that I cooked up on my own. Quite simply, she’s not only the better cook but she’s also able to spend more time than me in the kitchen these days. Which means, while I’d love to put on my apron, sharpen my knives, and pour through our 270+ cookbooks in search of something to prepare, most often (especially on the weekdays) I’m simply the happy recipient of some wonderful kitchen magic that S has pulled off during the day.

S knows that I love mint chocolate chip ice cream. I used to live off the Breyer’s version when I was in college. Over the years, we’ve tried making it many times, using both mint syrup as well as fresh mint. None have worked well. Recently though, one of our local Japanese supermarkets (Isetan) had a Hokkaido fair—the Japanese supermarkets here have a tendency to host regular Prefecture-centered fairs. At the fair, we picked up some beautiful peppermint oil, which, once we tasted, knew it was the secret ingredient we had been missing.

From Alice Medrich’s wonderful book Bittersweet, we also learnt the best way to make chocolate chunks for use in ice cream. If you just use normal chips or chunks, the chocolate is often too hard and tasteless. By melting it first and then refreezing it, the chunks develop a melt-in-your-mouth feel that is perfect for frozen confections.

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Makes 3½ cups, tweaked from a recipe from Bittersweet by Alice Medrich

450ml heavy cream
¼ tsp peppermint oil (we used the Hokkaido peppermint oil, but peppermint oil can also be found at organic stores)
225ml milk
90g sugar
1/8 tsp salt
¼ tsp pure vanilla essence
4 large egg yolks
Homemade chocolate chunks (see below)

Combine the cream, milk, sugar and salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat.

In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks just to combine them. Add the hot cream in a think stream, whisking constantly. Place mixture in a double boiler and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a wooden spoon (temperature should read between 175º and 180º Fahrenheit). Strain mixture into a clean bowl, stir in peppermint oil and pure vanilla essence, cool and refrigerate, covered, overnight.

Freeze according to the instructions for your ice cream maker. Add the chocolate chunks at the end.

Homemade Chocolate Chunks
112g bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Pour onto a piece of parchment paper, slide onto a small baking sheet and freeze until firm. Chop the chocolate into whatever size chunks you desire. Return the chunks to the freezer until needed.

Chocolate Brownie Cookies
Makes 5 dozen cookies, from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course

35g all-purpose flour
¼ tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
2 large eggs
135g sugar
½ tbsp brewed espresso
1 tsp vanilla extract
30g unsalted butter
140g extra-bittersweet chocolate, chopped
55g unsweetened chocolate, chopped
¾ cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375ºF/190ºC. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, briefly whip the eggs to break them up. Add the sugar, espresso, and vanilla and beat on high for 15 minutes, until thick. While the eggs are whipping, place the butter in the top layer of a double boiler, or in a metal bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water, and scatter the chocolate on top. Heat until the butter and chocolate melt. Remove from over the water and stir the chocolate and butter until smooth. Gently fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until partially combined (there should still be some streaks). Add the flour mixture to the batter and carefully fold it in. If the batter is very runny, let it rest until it thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Drop the batter by heaping teaspoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets and bake until puffed and cracked, 8 to 9 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before removing from the sheets.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Gulyas alla triestina

Last night, S and I hosted some friends for dinner. It was a special occasion as one of S’s childhood friends, F, was back in town on her first visit home in 3 years. And she had come home with her boyfriend, an extremely charming Brit named Matt that we certainly hope to see more of over the years. Joining us was F’s little sister and three other friends—one couple and a bachelor buddy. The couple is getting married in November and had brought along some wines, which they’re thinking of serving at the wedding dinner, for us to taste. As usual, S and I split the cooking duties. Since it was a working day, S allowed me to make the easier courses.

We started with a simple dish of San Daniele prosciutto and melon. This was followed by baked butterfish medallions served with angelhair pasta (that had been tossed in an aglia olio spiked with laksa leaves) and a laksa sauce. For our main course, we had a wonderful Italian gulyas (goulash) served with a Gratin Dauphinois. To end the meal, we gave everyone a small bowl of Melissa’s chocolate gelato and an amazing ice cream sandwich that S had made using brownie-cookies and mint chocolate chip ice cream (which I will post about later this weekend).

It was S’s first time making goulash, a dish I completely adore. When I was in university, I spent a semester studying in a small town on the Austro-Hungarian border, which meant I had the complete pleasure of consuming bowl after bowl of goulash all over Austria, Hungary and a number of other Eastern European countries. S, however, had never had an authentic goulash. Thankfully, the recipe she tried was fantastic and I can happily say it was one of the best I have ever had.

I must add that S and I discussed at length whether to use the picture (above) that I shot of the goulash and the Gratin. Both of us prefer “pretty” food shots, the kinds of images you find in Donna Hay’s magazine (and now every other Aussie food magazine), i.e. highly stylized and sensuous. The above, we felt, was more “real”, perhaps too real. It reminded us of the sort of gritty realist style that a lot of British cookbooks seem to favor. I’m still not sure if I like this picture, but it was, in the mad frenzy of plating the dishes and serving them to our friends, the best of the few I shot.

A slightly tweaked version of Joyce Goldstein's recipe in Italian Slow and Savoury
Gulyas alla triestina
Beef Stew with Sweet and Hot Paprika from Trieste
Serves 8

3 lb boneless beef chuck or brisket, cut into 2-inch cubes (we used beautifully marbled Australian beef cubes from Meidiya which is meant for Japanese curry)
1 tablespoon sweet paprika, salt and ¼ cup olive oil for marinating
½ cup olive oil
½ lb pancetta/bacon, sliced ¼ inch thick and slices cut into ¼ inch wide strips
3 large brown onions, chopped
2 tbs sweet paprika or pimenton dulce
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp freshly toasted and ground cumin
2 tbs minced garlic
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups seeded, chopped canned plum tomatoes with juice
1 each fresh rosemary and marjoram sprig and 1 bay leaf, tied in a cheesecloth sachet
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rub the meat with the paprika, 2 tbs salt and the olive oil. Cover and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 130 degrees Celsius. Bring the beef to room temperature before placing a large sauté pan over medium heat and cover the base of the pan with a little of the ½ cup of olive oil. Add the pancetta/bacon and let it render its fat (about 7 minutes). Transfer pancetta/bacon to a plate.

Raise the heat to high and brown beef cubes, adding olive oil as needed. As each batch is ready, transfer to a Dutch oven. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions and sauté, add more oil as needed, until softened. Stir in paprika, cayenne, cumin and garlic and cook for 5 minutes to blend the flavours. Add the seasoned onions to the beef along with the pancetta, wine, tomatoes and their juice, herb sachet, and lemon zest. Place over medium heat and stir to combine. Bring to a gentle boil and place a cartouche over the surface of the stew. Cover with lid and insert into pre-heated oven for 3 hours.

Discard herb sachet. Season stew to taste. Tastes best refrigerated overnight, then reheated.

Turducken for dogs?

I've always been equally amused and excited by gourmet dog foods. When S and I spied this line of food, we knew we had to pick up a couple cans for Sascha (the kitchen-shark mentioned a couple days back) and Alix, who is pictured above. We were especially eager to pick up the Turducken can, mostly because, despite never having actually tasted a turducken, we think it may just be one of the most amusing foods around.

For those of you don't know what a turducken is, it's a turkey, stuffed with a duck, stuffed with a chicken. Entirely boneless, this fowl triple threat, supposedly created by famed cajun chef Paul Prudhomme, is served roasted and eaten in some parts of the USA at festive occasions (instead of the usual turkey). Personally, I'm dying to try one.

Since, however, we have yet to find someone in Singapore who supplies them, and since I am way too lazy to bone three birds and shove them inside each other, I figured, well, if I can't try it, that doesn't mean our dogs shouldn't. I'm happy to say they loved it, gobbling all of their dinners in seconds. Of course, being greedy Golden Retrievers, they gobble most things pretty quickly.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Two great flavors... x2

Today's post is about two sets of flavors that I (and I'm sure others) love pairing. The first is fish with green curry. Specifically, I love pan-roasting or frying filets of what Rick Stein calls "large round fish" (obviously for want of a more inventive way of describing them)--like cod or butterfish--and saucing them with a sort of green curry pesto that S and I came up with. In the past, we always served this delicious duo with cous-cous. Because I've been trying to cut down on carbs in the evening, tonight we plated the dish with some sautéed eggplant.

The dish is pretty simple to make. Just get some really good quality filets of cod or another similar fish. Cook them as you prefer--fry, bake, pan-roast, pan-braise, etc. My favorite way is to sear the fish skin side down in a hot pan. Then when the skin is nice and crisp, flip the fish over and add beurre monté into the pan until the fish are half-covered. Let them simmer for 5-10 minutes, depending on how thick the filets are.

For the green curry pesto, you can either make it from scratch or, if you're lazy like me, buy a good quality paste and start from there. Chop up an onion and 4-5 cloves of garlic. Fry them up in a tablespoon of oil in a hot sauce pan. Then add the curry paste and cook, stirring, for a few minutes. Chop up a small chili pepper and toss it in the pan. Pour in a half cup of chicken stock and add 4 tablespoons of coconut milk. Heat this but don't let it come to a boil. Pour the curry into a blender, add all of a small packet of basil (around two handfuls), and blend until smooth. Pour the sauce back into your pan and add more coconut milk or stock according to your tastes.

The other flavor combination that I adore is chocolate and lemon. The above was my dessert this evening, and I gotta thank Melissa of The Traveler's Lunchbox for inspiring S to make this SUPER-AMAZING chocolate gelato (It's recipe #2 in case you too want to make this for a loved one). The gelato is paired with a simple lemon cookie, made from a recipe from Carole Walter's Great Cookies. Years ago, a once-amazing French restaurant here in Singapore used to make the most delicious chocolate-lemon soufflé. I was obsessed with it, and despite the ridiculously expensive price (seriously, soufflés and coffee for two was around S$50), I had it as often as I could. I have to say that no matter how good that soufflé was, the above combo--a scoop of gelato and a cookie--simple as it is, was better by far. Come to think of it, perhaps it's the simplicity that makes it so much more appealing.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Damn Dog!

Let me repeat that. "Damn dog!" For dinner tonight, S, obviously inspired by the recent Asia-Middle East Summit that was hosted here in Singapore a couple weeks ago (and that one of our relatives was involved in), had decided to make something from Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

The recipe she chose was Yogurtlu Basti (Chicken with Spiced Yogurt). Before she picked me up from work (yes, I am very spoilt by her), she prepped her mise en place. She mixed the required spices and the yogurt and set it aside. She chopped the onions. And most importantly, she took some fresh boneless chicken thighs out of the fridge, salted them, and put them on a plate on the kitchen counter, expecting them to reach room temperature by the time we reached home.

Of course, she had forgotten about our fluffy white kitchen-shark, Sascha. For those who don't already know, Sascha is a 5 year old Golden Retriever with a penchant for gourmet foods and the skills of a ninja. Normally, Sascha is a sweet, lazy, fuzzy-wuzzy. But every so often, when our backs are turned, she dons her black ninja mask and whisks delectable goodies off the kitchen counter and into her tummy with amazing stealth and speed. Dog trainers tell us we should only scold a dog when catching it in the act of doing something bad. Suffice it to say, we've never caught Sascha in the act. All we usually catch is the sight of a dog sitting smugly, smiling to herself, and an empty space on our kitchen counter where our dinner was sitting just moments before.

Over the years, she's stolen abalone, tofu, braised pork belly, and a whole host of other treats off our counter. But she's smart. She doesn't do it all the time. She lulls us into a false sense of security by being perfect for months. Then, when we've just forgotten about her last indiscretion, BAM! She's done it again. Tonight, as you've already guessed, she did it again. When we came home, the chicken was missing, or rather, had found its way down our greedy pooch's gullet.

Thankfully, we live near a supermarket, so went right back out again and came back with some chicken drumsticks, with which S made the Yogurtlu Basti.

Yogurtlu Basti (serves 4)

2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
1.5 inches ginger, grated
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
3.5 lb chicken, cut into quarters, or 4 filets
salt and pepper
1/4 cup toasted chopped almonds

In a bowl, mix the yogurt with the cardamom and ginger and let it infuse while you cook the chicken. In a large skillet, fry the onion till soft. Add the chicken and sauté until onions are golden and chicken browned. Add salt and pepper and a cup of water, and cook over low heat--12 minutes for breast meat, 20 minutes for dark--until chicken is tender and sauce reduced, turning the chicken over and adding a little water if it becomes too dry. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the yogurt. Serve sprinkled with almonds.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Calling all Singaporean Floggers!

It's amazing just how many Singaporean food bloggers there are now. Seems there's a new one popping up every week. It's actually become really hard to keep track. Joone, over at Nibble & Scribble suggested to me and Gwenda that we get all these greedy geeks (myself included) together for a lunch... which is great idea. If interested, please check out Joone's post here and email her for details and if you want to join us. We're thinking of a Thursday or Friday lunch in the next couple weeks and we're working on a really reasonably priced meal with (hopefully) some sponsored wines and other treats. Of course, any other food blogger in the region who can make it is also welcome.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Wholemeal pikelets with blueberry compote

This morning, as we were lazing in bed, S started daydreaming aloud about "American breakfasts". She quickly clarified that she didn't mean a New Yorker's breakfast, i.e. bagels and cream cheese, donuts and coffee, etc. She was talking about things that you didn't buy rushing from the subway station to the office, but things you cooked for your family, things that when served up "hot off the pan" put smiles on faces, simple yummy staples like bacon and eggs and blueberry pancakes.

To make her happy--and also because once she mentioned it, I started craving it also--I decided to whip up some blueberry pancakes. To make S even happier, I looked for the healthiest pancake recipe I could find. Enter Bill Granger and his wonderful book, bills food. On page 30 of this Sydneysider celeb's book, I found a wonderful, easy recipe for Wholemeal Pikelets with Butter, Lemon and Sugar. All I had to do was follow the pikelet recipe, leaving out the butter, lemon and sugar topping and replace that with some delicious blueberry compote that S had made a couple days earlier. It took only a few minutes to prep the batter and another few to make the pikelets and serve them. I'm happy to report that S was beaming, not only because of how good these tasted but also because we had found a great way to use our wholemeal flour to make a relatively healthy (yet still yummy) breakfast.

Pikelets (makes 12), from bills food by Bill Granger

125g wholemeal flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons raw sugar
1 egg
170ml milk
butter, for greasing the pan

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Add the sugar and stir. Add the egg and milk and whisk until smooth. Heat a large, non-stick pan over medium heat and brush with butter. Spoon tablespoons of the batter into the pan. Cook each for 1-2 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface. Then flip and cook for another 30 seconds.

Blueberry Compote, from The Last Course by Claudia Fleming

2.5 cups blueberries
1 tablespoon sugar

Mix 1 cup of the berries with the sugar and cook over low heat until the berries have popped and broken down, about 5 minutes. Strain the cooked berries into a bowl and discard the solids. Add the remaining berries and toss to combine.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Steak haché and a great gift

Ever since S and I first noticed that Isetan, one of the local Japanese supermarkets, began carrying minced wagyu, I’ve been dying to get some and make my own steak haché—which, unless you happen to wish you were living in Paris (like me!), or are Frasier or Niles (who don’t exist anyway), you'd probably call a "burger". Last night, I mixed up two trays with an egg, an onion (diced), some Worcestershire sauce, some plum tomato relish we had picked up at Bunalun, bread crumbs, a bit of salt and a sprinkle of pepper and made two generous wagyu burger patties. Under the patties we mixed some rocket and spinach with some toasted pine nuts, all dressed lightly with a Champagne vinaigrette. Over the burger, we spooned a super-tasty truffle mayonnaise that S made from combining a recipe from the Balthazar cookbook with Tetsuya’s truffle salsa. It was a lovely, mostly carb-free, dinner and one of the more elegant burger meals I’ve ever had or made.

On another note, I was pleasantly surprised today by a package from a friend who has just returned from London. Inside were these gorgeous Nigella Lawson Serving Hands. S was especially thrilled; she’s slightly obsessed with all of Nigella’s beautiful products. And since we haven’t yet seen any of her products for sale in Singapore, getting anything from her range is a real treat. Isn’t it wonderful when friends get you great gifts that you’ve been coveting for a long time?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Banana Cake, a post by S, guest blogger and darling wife

My darling sexy wife S made these for me last week. I suggested that perhaps she wanted to write the post that accompanied the photo. Little did I know she would write an epic. Here's what she wrote:

My mother-in-law’s banana cake

My love for cooking and eating stems from growing up in a family that lives to eat widely and plentifully. When I was a child, my mother’s pineapple tarts - still the benchmark against which I measure all others - were beloved not only for her generously spiced and artfully caramelized pineapple jam (I’ve always been puzzled by the pale yellow versions I’ve tasted, hers always had a mouthwateringly deep burnished hue), and sinfully buttery pastry, but for her generous mounds of filling. Family friends referred to her tarts as ‘Dolly Partons’. My mother has always been a maximalist at heart. And it is her generous spirit in the kitchen (as far as I can remember, we’ve always had guests at the dinner table and none were ever allowed to leave before they were well over-fed) that has fueled my own penchant for sharing the fruits of my kitchen labors.

However, more recently, my mother-in-law has also become a great source of culinary inspiration. I’ve never actually tasted her cooking. She decided to hang up her apron years ago. But her two sons continue to rave about her char siew noodles, duck porridge, cheese burgers, banana cake and many other specialties. I was surprised (and delighted) to discover that although CH spent his formative years in the US, his comfort foods, the ones his mother constantly fed him, were very similar to the ones I grew up with in Singapore. Call me sentimental, but my mom-in-law has inspired me to master the dishes of our childhoods (CH’s and mine) because I’d like to be able to give our children the same kind of gastronomic memories she has given her sons, ones they’ll cherish always, no matter where we may choose to bring up our family.

It was with this intent that I attempted her banana cake recipe. Of course, for CH, my learning his mother’s recipes is also the only way he gets to taste those foods of his boyhood. I’ll have to admit that I’ve put off trying to make this banana cake for years because trying to live up to a treasured memory is often a recipe for disaster. Banana cake is an easy enough thing to bake, but recreating the one your mom-in-law used to make just the way your husband remembers it really is a daunting undertaking, especially if you’ve never actually had the chance to taste the original. It’s like trying to recreate someone else’s experience of falling in love for the first time. It just isn’t something that a person in her right mind would attempt.

Nonetheless, last week I decided to give it a go. I had a few ripe ang bak chio (red-fleshed bananas) that my fruit guy had given to me earlier in the week. They were sweet and fragrant without being overly mushy, making them ideal for banana cake. The toughest decision I had to make was to pick out which of my mother-in-law’s three sets of handwritten notes in her Singapore Cookbook I would follow. Accustomed to making small batches for a nuclear family of two (that’s excluding our two greedy golden retrievers), my palms got sweaty as the assembled cake batter started looking like it could feed an army. I fretted over how much batter I ought to fill each muffin cup with. What if they overflowed? The recipe didn’t even state the size of the baking tin required. O, how I missed the painstakingly detailed instructions of Baking Illustrated right then.

I could only start breathing a little easier after the little cakes were inserted into the oven and the familiar intermingling aromas of banana, vanilla, butter and sugar filled our home. Then, I felt loved and loving. I felt hopeful. Success felt well within my reach. Yet it bothered me that the recipe called for the cakes to be baked for an hour. As their tops grew darker I worried that they’d get burnt. But I’d decided that for my first attempt at this recipe I’d stick closely to the instructions. Perhaps this was what made her cake different, I thought to myself. So against my better judgment I waited with great impatience for the hour to pass.

Just out of the oven, they tasted gloriously moist and deliciously sweet. CH was deliriously delighted with them and tried to sneak as many as he could into his mouth. But conscientious as I always try to be, I offered a few to my mother-in-law in the hope that she would give me some feedback on my rendition of her recipe. Wonderfully honest (yes, I mean that), she tasted them the day after and declared them a little too dry - which they indeed were after they’d cooled. Imagine my embarrassment. I couldn’t even get a simple banana cake right. What kind of mother will I be?

Undaunted, I purchased another comb of bananas. I am waiting for them to reach that point of perfect ripeness, when they are at their sweetest, before I make my next batch of banana cakes. Next time around, I know I’ll get the recipe right. I’ve only just noticed as I’m writing this post that among my mom-in-law’s maze of recipe notes, it says “24 cups, bake at 350˚ for 30 minutes”. I had somehow managed to miss that little detail. Boy, do I feel like an utter doofus.

My Mother-in-law’s Banana Cake

Makes 20 to 24

21⁄4cups (295g) flour
2tsp baking powder
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
1⁄2tsp salt
1cup (210g) sugar
240g unsalted butter
4 eggs, beaten
4 bananas (roughly 375g), mashed
5Tbs milk
1tsp pure vanilla essence

Sift flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a medium bowl. Cream butter and sugar until creamy white. Add beaten eggs a little at a time. Beat well after each addition. Add vanilla, milk and mashed bananas. Fold in flour and blend well. Pour mixture into muffin cups and bake at 180˚C for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Sunday, July 03, 2005


In order to use some of the Prosciutto di San Daniele and the pancetta I brought back from Venice, S and I hosted some friends for Sunday lunch. We welcomed friends with Bellini sorbet-cocktails (i.e. a splash of Champagne over white peach and prosecco sorbet that S had made) followed by a Pierre Herme macaron as a sweet starter. This was followed by a veritable pigfest. I made a mixed salad of rocket and spinach, topped with the prosciutto. Next was a fettuccine carbonara which used up the pancetta and to which I added some of Tetsuya’s truffle salsa. After this, we served pork tenderloin braised in milk plated with braised purple cabbage. To end the meal, S used a Claudia Fleming recipe for a blueberry cream cheese tart with a graham cracker crust (which we’ll post about in the near future).

I’ve used several recipes (all variations of each other) over the years for pork tenderloin braised in milk. Since seeing the dish, I’ve been trying to perfect it. It combines two things I love, pork and milk. Obviously, I’ve tried Marcella Hazan’s; I’ve also tried the River Café’s and Moro’s. None of these have really pleased me. The pork has often come out a little too firm. This time, I tried Molly Stevens’ recipe, found in her book All About Braising. This recipe cooks the pork for a much shorter time than these other recipes, and also uses less milk. She also tests the pork’s internal temperature, asserting it’s ready when it reaches 150 degrees F. I seasoned a wonderfully fatty piece of loin with garlic, sage, crushed fennel seeds, salt and pepper overnight. When ready to cook it, the oven was preheated to 140 degrees C (275 F). I heated some butter and olive oil in an oval dutch oven / cocotte. The pork is then browned and set aside. In the hot oil and butter, I quickly cooked some crushed garlic and then poured in 1.25 cups of whole milk, bringing it to a boil. Then I put the pork in, fatty side down, covered it and placed it in the oven for 45 min. After 45 min, I turned the pork over, and put it back in the oven for another 30 min. The pork then stands while the braising liquid is reduced and then blended smooth. To serve, the pork was sliced and the heated sauce spooned over it.

Today’s pork was perfect. It was tender and soft. The sauce, when reduced and blended, was flavorful. The cabbage was braised with a combination of duck fat, butter, Champagne, chicken stock and shallots and matched the pork well, both in looks and taste.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

A box of heaven

A colleague of mine just came back from a business trip to Tokyo. As a favor, I asked him to stop off at Pierre Herme and buy me some macarons. Boy was I delighted when I saw the box he bought. Gorgeous, delicious, and plentiful. My skinny yet wonderfully gluttoness wife and I have been enjoying eating and identifying the flavours of these tasty treats. The obvious ones are yuzu, coconut, chocolate and rose. There were two though that we weren't sure of. One of these both S and J of Kuidaore thinks is passionfruit-chocolate but the other we just can't figure out... one of those "there's at least 3 or more flavours here, but damned if I know what they are" experiences. That said, all were delicious. To date, I am yet to discover any one who does macarons better than Pierre Herme.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Local food shots

A month or so ago, I landed a great gig to shoot some local food shots for a client. I’m tremendously excited because these shots will be seen by a good part of the local population here. I was asked to identify some local dishes that best represented Singapore; the client only needs 6, but they suggested I shoot more so they could choose the best ones. The only glaring omission from my list is probably chilli crab, which I don’t think photographs well.

I’ve done shots at both a few local hawker centres as well as at the Raffles Hotel. For the hawker shots, my wife and I just ordered up some signature local dishes (char kuay teow, oyster omelette, etc), shot them quickly and then ate them. The above is some really yummy char kuay teow from the Old Airport Road hawker centre. Raffles Hotel, on the other hand, was super-kind, prepping 9 dishes for me early on a Saturday morning, specifically to shoot. The dishes looked fantastic… case in point, the very sexy prata pictured at the top of the post. I’ve just submitted all the finished pictures and hope the client is happy with them. These days, because of my “day job”, I seldom take on photographic assignments, but this was one I couldn’t pass up.