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Monday, August 29, 2005

No IMBB; Kylie Kwong and Jimmy Chok

It's been an amazingly busy week. So busy in fact that I wasn't able to find any time to take part in this month's Is My Blog Burning? challenge. Of course, J over at Kuidaore created enough amazing dishes for a half dozen eager bloggers, so I doubt my lack of participation will even be noticed. Despite my crazy schedule, I did find the time to attend a pretty amazing dinner on Saturday night.

Aussie celeb chef Kylie Kwong is in town to take part in the Singapore Writers Festival. One of her events, and the quickest sell-out event in the Festival, was a dinner at Poppi, a Modern Australian restaurant in Legends (the former Fort Canning Country Club). The menu was a collaboration between Ms Kwong and Poppi's head chef, Chris Millar. For starters, we were served 3 sharing platters of Sashimi of Kingfish and Ocean Trout; Salad of Squid, Chinese Pork, Baby Herbs and Nolans Rd Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil; and Tasmanian Spiced Chicken and Prawn Salad with Pomegranate, Figs and Cinnamon Spiced Almonds. For mains, we first had a Coconut and Lime Crusted Garoupa in a Smoky Coconut Broth with Asian Herbs. This was followed with a Crisp Skinned Magret of Duck with Fresh Ruby Grapefruit Sauce and Sauteed Asian Greens. This second main was particularly exciting because it was a variation of the amazing crispy duck that Ms Kwong serves up in Billy Kwong, her restaurant in Sydney. For dessert, we had Poached Stone Fruits with Creme de Framboise, Lime Curd and Vanilla Bean Anglaise. It was a good dinner with great company. I was fortunate enough to get seats at the table Ms Kwong herself was at. Other dining companions turned out to be famed New York Times writer RW Apple Jr and Makansutra founder KF Seetoh.

My luck only got better because Sunday, S and I had the great fortune of attending a private lunch in honor of RW Apple Jr ("Johnny" to his friends), prepared by one of Singapore's best but often underrated chefs, Jimmy Chok. Here's a picture of Jimmy explaining our menu to Johnny.

The menu, and the food, I have to say, was amazing. I've eaten Jimmy's cooking many, many times. And I've always enjoyed his food. But it was never like it was today. Today, perhaps because he wasn't cooking in a busy restaurant or perhaps because he was hoping to impress Johnny and then get written up favorably and famously in the New York Times or perhaps because he was just in a good mood, the food was particularly inspired. It was both terrific and inspiring. Here's our menu:

Hot Seared Scallops with Prawn Ravioli and Clam Laksa Leaf Nage

Marinated Angel Hair with Australian Abalone

Tian of Lobster with Mango and Pea Puree, Lobster Bisque Emulsion and White Truffle Oil

Slow Cooked Chilean Sea Bass with Roast Duck Dumpling, Terrine of Duck Liver and Soy Mirin Reduction

Coriander Crusted Rack of Lamb

For dessert, we had a rather modern take on 'goreng pisang' (fried bananas). And to help wash down all this yummy food, we enjoyed some Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1996 and then some Torbrecks The Steading 2002. Jimmy is currently the executive chef of The Academy Bistro, which is on level 1 of the new Supreme Court building and just opened a couple of weeks ago. The Bistro is open every weekday for lunch and open Fridays for lunch and dinner. On weekends and on weeknights from Monday to Thursday, Jimmy is available for private catering. To reach him, you can email him at

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


CH says: During the summer of 1994, I spent a little over a month in Vienna, doing an intensive German language course. The school was located in the heart of the oldest and most beautiful part of the city, just steps from St Stephansplatz. In addition to being located perfectly for lunch hour and after school sightseeing sessions, this meant that most of Vienna's best and most famous coffeehouses were just a few minutes away. My 5 classmates and I took 6 hours of classes a day from a couple of really grumpy old Austrians, so you can bet we really needed to unwind in between and after classes. Our lunch hour was literally one hour. Which meant that we couldn't spend too much time exploring. Most days, we grabbed a bratwurst and a beer and ate sitting on the steps of some grand historic building, enjoying both the cityscape and the fantastic weather. After school, however, (and on weekends) we spent as much time as possible checking out the coffeehouses, pastry shops, wine taverns and bars that make Vienna famous. It was during this summer stint that I took my first bite of Sachertorte. Sure, I had heard of it. But for some reason, I'd never actually eaten one. I had the pleasure to try both the versions at the Hotel Sacher and at Demel's, possibly Vienna's most renowned café. Both were amazing. And over that summer, I became totally hooked (I should also admit that I don't usually enjoy chocolate desserts, but I loved these). It got to the point where I'd save money on other things just so I could sneak off by myself to the Hotel Sacher (whose version I like just a bit better) and indulge in a slice and a mélange. Let me say that I'm so very glad I had never eaten a Sachertorte before then. I have friends (like my wife) who, when I tell them I'm a Sachertorte addict, shake their heads, unable to understand and appreciate my enormous fondness for this historic, apricot-enhanced chocolate cake. The reason, I have come to believe, is because of the vast numbers of substandard Sachertortes that proliferate pastry shops around the world.

For those who may not be so familiar with this cake, a Sachertorte consists of chocolate sponge cake cut into layers, between which and over which apricot jam is spread. The whole cake is then iced with a chocolate ganache and served with a side dish of whipped cream. The cake was created in 1832 by a 16 year old chef named was Franz Sacher. Early that year, Prince Clemens Lothar Wensel Metternich (1773-1859) of Austria, famous for his love of new flavours and foods, ordered his kitchens to create a new cake. When the orders made their way down, the kitchen went a tad nuts. The head chef was sick and the rest of the cooks didn't know what they should make. Sixteen-year old Sacher, an apprentice cook, took charge and created this famous chocolate cake with the ingredients that were available. The Sachertorte (and other recipes) eventually made him rich, and he was able to open several cafes and restaurants over time.

In 1876, his son, Eduard Sacher, opened the Hotel Sacher, known to every traveler as one of Vienna's best hotels. On a curious and inexplicable note, Franz Sacher sold his original recipe to Demel's, while the Hotel Sacher made and still makes its own version, calling it the "Original Sachertorte," while Demel's has to call its "Demel Sachertorte." Of course, many other coffeehouses make their own versions.

A couple of years ago, I ran across a book by Rick Rodgers called Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague. Of course, I had to buy it. Not only am I a fan of Sachertorte, I'm also enamored with Kipferln, Strudel (especially milchrahmstrudel), Buchteln, Topfenpalatschinken, and a number of other Central European yummies. But more than anything, I wanted this book in order to learn to make Sachertorte. Unfortunately, Sachertorte quickly became to me what the River Café's Chocolate Nemesis is to so many others... you know, that damn yummy cake you just can't make properly, no matter how many times you try. Each time I tried making it, something would go wrong. Either my jam was too lumpy or the sponge cake had too many holes or came out too dry. Eventually, I gave up and began begging my wife S, a much more talented baker than I am, to try making it. After a year of groveling, she's finally tried. And, on only her second attempt, pulled off a winner!

S says: Having never been to Vienna (as yet), I'm a Sachertorte non-convert. Friends have cracked open their beautiful packages from the famed Hotel Sacher (and Demel's, I do vaguely recall) and generously shared their stash of black gold with me. I've sniffed, nibbled and tasted, but each experience has left me wondering if there was something wrong with my tastebuds. What am I missing out on? I don't get it.

But CH can get very persistent when his tummy gets fixated with any manner of gustatory pleasure. (Don't get me wrong, I say this with great affection.) With little more than a desire to please my husband to inspire me, I've read pretty much every Sachertorte recipe I could get my hands on. (As CH read this over my shoulder, he muttered something about how good I am at making myself sound like such a martyr.) Eventually, I settled on a trio of recipes, two of which are not Sachertorte recipes per se. For the chocolate sponge itself, I chose Rose Levy Beranbaum's Moist Chocolate Genoise from her award-winning Cake Bible. Light, yet velvety and moist, it is the perfect canvas for our elegant chocolate extravaganza. I like that she uses chocolate cooked with water in place of the more commonly employed cocoa powder. Just a half portion of her recipe is needed for a 9-inch cake (plus our little KitchenAid nearly overflowed when I first attempted her full recipe and because of that, I couldn't fold the chocolate in properly, resulting in a less-than-pleasing torte).

This is the halved recipe. I've paraphrased the instructions heavily.
113g bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2cup boiling water
4 large eggs
100g sugar
75g sifted cake flour

Grease 9-inch round cake pan or springform pan, line bottom with parchment, grease again and flour.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. In a saucepan, bring chocolate and water to a boil over low heat, stirring constantly, Simmer, stirring until chocolate thickens to a pudding-like consistency. Cool completely.

Beat eggs and sugar with whisk beater on high speed until triple in volume. Sift half the flour over the egg mixture and fold it in. Repeat with the remaining flour until all the flour has disappeared. Fold in the chocolate mixture until incorporated. Pour into the prepared pan (Baking Illustrated advises that you NOT pour it in from a great height, keep the lip of your mixing bowl as close to the base of your cake pan as possible to retain the fine bubbles needed to give your genoise its airy lift) and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a tester inserted in the centre enters as easily as it does when inserted closer to the sides. The cake will pull slightly away from the sides when it's done. Unmold immediately to cool. Trim cake only when ready to assemble.

For the all-important apricot jam element (and general assembly procedure) I dipped into Baking Illustrated. While the amount of apricot jam they asked for was far too generous (I eventually settled on a 10oz jar), blending it until smooth in a food processor then heating it on the stove resulted in the perfect pouring consistency. (After having tasted J's jam, however, I'm inspired to try making apricot jam myself.) Slipping the cake into the refrigerator for 30min after the apricot jam has been slathered in-between and all over the assembled discs of cake also makes applying the final glaze of chocolate ganache a breeze.

When it came to the chocolate ganache glaze, I finally picked Sherry Yard's recipe from The Secrets of Baking. Again, half the recipe is more than enough. I like the touch of apricot jelly she calls for which subtly echoes the haunting apricot top notes in the cake. Light corn syrup gives it a gorgeous, velvety sheen.

This is for a half portion of Sherry Yard's ganache glaze, enough for the torte I made.
113g bittersweet chocolate, chopped and placed in a heatproof bowl
2 tbs apricot jelly
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 cup milk
1 tbs light corn syrup

Warm the apricot jelly over low heat, stirring until it is melted. Whisk in the cream, milk and corn syrup. Increase the heat to medium and bring the mixture to a boil. Pour the hot cream mixture over the chopped chocolate. Using a rubber spatula, slowly stir in a circular motion, being careful not to add too much air to the ganache. Stir until chocolate is melted. Glazing should be done once the ganache reaches 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

To assemble, trim your cake and slice it to form two thinner discs. Spread apricot jam on one disc, then place the other layer over it. Cover the top and sides of the assembled cake with remaining apricot jam. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then glaze with chocolate ganache. For both genoise and ganache, I used Valrhona (66 per cent cacao). The next thing I'll have to master is writing the word Sacher, in chocolate, across the cake. Perhaps I'll leave that project to another rainy afternoon in.

We've discovered that the Sachertorte actually tastes better a day after it's been made. The chocolate flavours become more pronounced (important for a chocolate lover like me) and the apricot jam tastes less petulantly sugary. Freshly whipped cream is the other essential element. Each slice of cake demands a huge dollop of it. The clean simplicity of its flavour simultaneously heightens and yet softens the rich, dark complexity of the torte. I won't say that this has become the most favoured chocolate cake recipe in my repertoire, but it certainly is one that I will keep returning to because for minimal effort, you end up with a timelessly elegant dessert. Like a beautiful string of South Sea pearls, it projects itself as being effortlessly stylish no matter what the occasion. And that makes it a winner in my book.

P.S.: The above recipes are not word-for-word reproductions of the ones in the books I've mentioned. I highly recommend taking a look at the originals. All three titles are ones I consult regularly.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Damn good dim sum!

Unfortunately, I didn’t make the delicious looking cha siu pau pictured above. Fortunately, I did have the pleasure of eating it and a whole table filled with other delicious dim sum this past Sunday morning.

Waking up too lazy to make our own breakfast, S and I decided to take a short walk around our neighbourhood and grab some food somewhere nearby. Our original destination was a prata stall at the corner of Short Street and Middle Road that I like because their prata are always very crispy. They weren’t open however. So, we walked across the street to Sunshine Plaza, which is on Middle Road between Prinsep and Bencoolen Streets. There’s a wonton mee shop there that I like but hadn’t visited in many months. I also recalled reading in the Straits Times that there was a good duck noodle place now operating in the mall. We didn’t find any duck noodle shop, but we did run across a little dim sum restaurant called Victor’s Kitchen. This place is tiny; it can seat maybe a dozen people inside and another dozen more at foldable tables set up outside, in the mall’s corridors. Inside, aside from the tables and stools, there’s one long counter covered with dim sum steamers and a small open kitchen. When we first walked by, there was nobody inside, except for the chef, and one family happily eating away at one of the exterior tables.

Curious, we decided to try a couple dishes, thinking that if they weren’t great we could head over to the wonton mee shop just a few doors away. We ordered a cheong-fan wrapped around dough sticks, some siu mai, and a steamed carrot cake. All were excellent. In fact, the steamed carrot cake was one of the best I have ever eaten. We quickly ordered some more food. I insisted on trying the lo mai kai and what the chef calls his Tasty HK Chicken. S asked for an order of custard buns. Again, they were all fantastic. The lo mai kai was delicious and I could have easily eaten another. But it was the custard buns that really blew me away. While S loves these, I have never really been a big fan. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, a custard bun is made with a soft fluffy dough and filled with both egg custard and some salted duck egg’s yolk. All of the ones I have ever tried have kind of left me wondering why people like them. Until Victor’s. His custard buns were revelatory. The dough was soft and light while the custard was sweet and runny—something I have never experienced before. Usually, the custard is overcooked and dry. But these were beautiful. Not wanting to stuff ourselves too much, we ordered some “oyster sauce cha siu pau” to take home (and also because I wanted to shoot them) and decided to stop there, rationalizing that we lived only 5 minutes away and could easily come back again.

I regret, however, not trying Victor’s “king prawn har kau”, which he told us was one of his specialties. Not being a huge har kau fan, I had decided against ordering it. But as the restaurant filled up (which it did in the 30 minutes we were there), I began to notice that every other customer was ordering them. One man even asked for 4 orders.

Victor Leung and his wife moved here from Hong Kong only last year. And they moved for one of the best reasons I can imagine—so that their kids can take advantage of Singapore’s public education system, which is one of the best if not the best in the region. I really admire this incredibly friendly couple. They picked up, moved here and have started from scratch for the sake of their kids. Victor has 20 years experience as a dim sum chef, and has worked in several countries. His last job, before coming here, was in the dim sum kitchen at the New World Hotel in Kowloon. If you’re a dim sum fan, you must, must, must check out this tiny, inexpensive and simply fantastic find. Even if you’re not, I urge you to visit, for no other reason than to support Victor and his wife.

Victor’s Kitchen
91 Bencoolen St, Sunshine Plaza, #01-21 (open 10am-9pm, Tues-Sun)
HP: 9838 2851 (He also does catering)

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Chicken with Truffle-Butter Sauce

At some point, when I was much younger, I stopped ordering chicken in restaurants. Chicken, the younger, sillier me rationalized, was something I cooked at home, so why order it in restaurants. Things like duck, lamb, veal, scallops, turbot... not only was I not buying these things in the local Food Emporium, even if I had, I wouldn't have known how to cook them. So, when I had the chance to dine out in fancy restaurants--and even not that fancy restaurants--I would try to order anything but chicken. It reached a point where I wouldn't even really read the chicken items on menus. I'd just skip over them looking for more exotic meats.

Of course, I was young and stupid and fortunately, I got over this ridiculous eccentricity pretty quickly. Because sometimes, there's nothing better than a really well-roasted chicken or a perfectly cooked oyako-don. In fact, some of the world's best restaurants' dishes are chicken dishes. Like Auberge Bressane's coq au vin or Le Cinq's chicken and lobster en cocotte. One of the most amazing culinary experiences I have ever enjoyed was at Alain Ducasse in Paris, which S and I went to during our honeymoon. The one and only time we went there, we both ordered the Winter Truffle Menu. The main course was a wonderfully tender chicken breast, with a gorgeous white sauce. This was then smothered with a mountain of paper thin shavings of the most incredibly aromatic white truffle. Chicken had never been as sensuous.

S and I made a quick, casual dinner for a couple of friends this past Thursday. For starters, S whipped up some super-delicious lamb ravioli tossed in a sage-butter sauce. (The lamb was actually the leftovers from our 7-hour lamb roast.) For our main, I slow-cooked a couple of chickens "en cocotte". I cooked them with leeks, carrots and garlic in S's awesome 40cm Staub cocotte at 120ºC for 75 minutes. To go with the chicken, I tossed some rocket and spinach with some olive oil and raspberry flavored vinegar. S helped me carve the chicken and plate it neatly over the greens. Over this, I poured a truffle-butter sauce that I made. I'm a big, big fan of white sauces. S complains that I love butter much too much. And I guess it's true. To me, nothing beats a velvety smooth, well-made white sauce. This sauce was also a cinch to make, calling for only flour, butter, thickened cream, chicken stock, and my favourite magic ingredient, Tetsuya's truffle salsa. The dish came together beautifully and is, I think, a fitting if not economical homage to that magic chicken dish S and I ate on our honeymoon.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Big-time foodies comin' to town

A short news item for all Singaporean readers (and well, any others who are planning a vacation here at the end of the month). The Singapore Writers Festival is (I think for the first time) incorporating a food writers component in its programme. The Festival runs from 26 August - 4 September. Some of the featured foodies are NY Times writer Johnny Apple, British food writer Kevin Gould, Aussie celeb chef Kylie Kwong, and Malaysian superstar Chef Wan. They'll be speaking, cooking and signing books. For specific details, you can click here. I've also just discovered that one of Kylie's dinners, in which she'll be cooking at Poppi, is already sold out. So, if you want to attend anything else that requires registration or tickets, I suggest you check out the Singapore Writers Festival site now and sign up ASAP.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Seven Hours to Heaven

I love slow-cooked meats. I love how after spending several hours gently cooking away in the oven, a tough piece of meat becomes buttery soft, so soft that it falls off the bone with no more than a gentle nudge of a spoon. I love the concentration of natural flavours in a slow-cooked cut that’s been basting away in its own juices in a tightly sealed cocotte. Which is why, when I saw a recipe for “Gigot de Sept Heures” (lamb leg cooked for seven hours) in Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, I knew I had to try it.

S and I had, earlier in the week, invited a few friends over for Sunday lunch. But as late as Friday night, we still weren’t sure what we were going to make. Knowing that we needed to make a quick decision, and mostly because we intended to do all of our grocery shopping Saturday morning, we quickly put together what we felt was a fun and not too taxing (to make) menu.

Ever since dining at Opia in Hong Kong, I have been obsessing over Teage Ezard’s Potato Gnocchi Gratin, which he serves with a Taleggio cheese sauce, walnuts, sliced pear and chives. We’d just picked up Mr Ezard’s book, so we decided to try making that as a first course. Mr Bourdain’s seven hour leg of lamb was an easy choice to make for our main. Not only did we like the idea of serving a traditional Sunday roast, but the recipe looked really easy to make. For dessert, I convinced S to make a pecan pie and some maple syrup ice cream.

Saturday morning, we picked up a beautiful 2.8 kg leg of lamb (bone-in) from the Swiss Butchery. For those Singaporeans who haven’t been there or people not residing on these shores, the Swiss Butchery is Singapore’s best European butcher. It has, in my opinion, the choicest selection of meats in town. It’s also hugely popular. When we arrived at 1015am the place was packed. James, one of the butchers who frequently serves us, told us that when they opened at 10am, there was already a crowd of people waiting outside.

Mr Bourdain’s lamb, as the name implies, takes seven hours to cook. S wanted to serve the pecan pie hot from the oven, which meant, that for a lunch starting around 1230ish, I had to pop the leg in the oven sometime by 5am latest. Saturday evening, I marinated it, first by making multiple incisions and sliding in pieces of sliced garlic into the cuts. I used up four cloves of garlic for this. Then I generously salted and peppered the leg and rubbed it with a quarter cup of olive oil. I saran-wrapped the marinated leg and popped it in the fridge, taking it out again around midnight, when I went to bed.

Surprisingly, I woke up before my alarm went off. It was 415am and my alarm was set for 430am. I quickly and quietly turned the alarm off so that it wouldn’t wake S up (hoo boy, is she not a morning person!) and slipped sleepily into the kitchen. Alix and Sascha, loyal Golden Retrievers and ever-curious about anything that has to do with food, followed me.

I preheated the oven the 150 Degrees C while I prepped the aromatics for the roast. Into S’s huge 40cm Staub cocotte, I tossed 4 peeled and halved carrots; 2 onions, sliced up; 20 cloves of garlic; 2 leeks, halved; and 225ml of a dry white wine. On top of this went the lamb leg, over which I added a drizzle more olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. At this point, Mr Bourdain asks us cover the cocotte and seal it with a ring of dough, placed around the area where the lid meets the pot. He tells us to make a dough from 225ml flour and 225ml water. I have to say while the rest of the recipe worked perfectly, his ratios here are way off. All I got was a sticky, slightly runny paste, to which I had to add another 200ml flour in order to get a dough of the right consistency. Once sealed, the cocotte went in the oven for 7 hours. At which point, Alix, Sascha and I all headed back to the bed.

I woke up again at around 730ish to the incredibly heady aromas of slowly roasting lamb. It was deliciously dreamy. All I could do for a while was lie in bed, breathing in the rich smells that had filled the house. S had also woken up, Turning to me, eyes brighter than usual for such an early hour, the first thing she said to me was, “yum!”

For a second there, I thought she might mean me and I was about to get lucky. Silly me. Of course, she meant the lamb.

And it was yum. In fact, it was perfect. Soft, rich, and incredibly tender. The vegetables were also perfect, especially the leeks and the carrots. This is one dish I plan on making again and again.

P.S. Random Note: Our first ever Singapore’s food bloggers lunch made the national newspaper today! Here’s the link to a scanned copy of the article.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

SHF #11: vanilla coffee madeleines and warm mocha tarts

I've never been much of a baker. Baking requires precision. It requires having the patience to measure ingredients properly, which I've never actually had. I've always been one of those cooks who enjoys eyeballing his measurements. Terms like "salt to taste" were written for over-confident lazy guys like me (of course, some gals would argue that all us guys are over-confident and lazy). The theory is that with enough experience, one instinctively knows how much of each ingredient to add to one's dish. Of course, it's just a theory, which as soon as I pull out our lemon-curd colored Kitchenaid mixer is often proved wrong.

Let's just say that my wife S, who is obsessively precise, is the baker in the family. Which means that, while we share kitchen duties, desserts are her domain. Which further explains why I've never taken part in Sugar High Friday before. Until now.

This month's SHF is being hosted by Ronald of Love Sicily and is a coffee themed challenge.

I love coffee. When I was in university in the USA, I was a total coffee addict, drinking an average of 12 cups a day. Back then, I was a tad silly; my java of choice was made from those frou-frou flavored beans... you know, "vanilla hazelnut" or "chocolate peppermint", things like that. Fortunately, a study stint in Vienna and an internship in Paris introduced me to proper coffee. Good, strong, small cups of coffee. My cuppa of choice these days is espresso. I like that it's small, thick, and powerful. I also like mine sweet. I'm still not enough of a purist to take my espresso black. At home, we make ours with the most wonderful wedding present, a day-glo orange Illy Francis Francis.

For this month's SHF, I decided to make one of the few baked goods that I'm good at, madeleines, this time flavored with espresso and vanilla. I'm a bit of a madeleine nut. I don't get any Proustian flashbacks when eating them, no early childhood warm fuzzies. I just like, no, love the way they taste. The crisp surface, the buttery cakey insides. I particularly like mini-madeleines; not only is there more of that wonderful crunch, they're also small enough to dunk in a small coffee cup. Plus they're just plain more fun to eat.

For these delectable treats, I adapted a recipe from Patricia Wells' Paris Cookbook, adding 3 tablespoons of espresso and a half teaspoon of pure vanilla essence instead of the lemon rind Mrs Wells asks for as well as a tad more flour to the mix. I made the batter last night, letting it sit in the fridge overnight in order to bake up this batch for breakfast this morning. There's nothing more wonderful than the smell of baked goods early in the morning except the smell of baked goods combined with the aromas of a good, strong cup of coffee--which as you can see, I enjoyed with my madeleines.

Let's just say that I had a really good morning.

To compliment my rather limited baking skills, S decided to surprise me after work with a coffee themed treat--something she knew I'd enjoy but also want to boast, er... blog about. Using a recipe from Bittersweet by Alice Medrich, she made a batch of Warm Mocha Tarts. Ms Medrich's recipe is for one large tart. For ease of eating, S made me 8 small ones. She must have baked them in the late afternoon because they were still a little warm when I got home. The sweet smells of chocolate, coffee, sugar and butter still hung in the air. The dogs, greedy little beasts that they are, were definitely turned on by the tarts. They sat, refusing to move, by the dining room table, where S had left the tarts to cool. A puddle of drool had even begun to collect by Alix's mouth. Ignoring them (for their own good of course--chocolate being toxic for dogs), I grabbed one of the tarts and quickly bit into it. The filling was warm, velvety and decadently delicious. The crust, made from sweet cookie dough, offered a delightfully light, crumbly, buttery contrast to the thick rich coffee-enhanced chocolate custard. While I would have been more than happy to eat my way through the lot of them, I managed to exercise enough restraint to stop long enough to take a quick photo. After which, of course, I ate another one.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Eating and Shopping in Hong Kong

What a trip! We ate, we shopped (well, actually S shopped), and we ate some more. Truth be told, I took very, very few photographs. Right before we left for the airport, I decided to ditch my Nikon and only bring along my little pocket-sized Contax. S, ever-annoyed when I whip out a large professional-looking camera in civilized spaces, was pleased with the decision. (Pleasing one's wife, of course, is the only proper way to begin a vacation together.) Which means that although we had great meal after great meal, I had only a couple of usable shots to post, and I've decided to just use two.

We landed in HK with just enough time to check into our hotel, quickly change into some respectable clothes and rush to meet some friends for lunch at JW's California at the JW Marriott. S and I shared a couple of modern sushi rolls to start (roast duck and lobster tempura) while I had a lobster, corn and chorizo risotto for my main. While my risotto was good, S's main course was great, a wonderfully cooked and beautifully marbled char-grilled wagyu steak. We spent the afternoon resting (well, okay, we also checked out the hotel's ultra-swish spa and had a treatment each). That night, we had dinner at one of our favorite, must-eat places, Shui Hu Ju. Located at the top of an annoying steep cobblestone street in SoHo (South of Hollywood Road), this tiny, dimly lit restaurant serves up phenomenal Northern Chinese food. I'm totally addicted to their crispy mutton, which we ordered along with stewed pork hock, scallops in sweet and garlic sauce, some fried seasonal green vegetables (S insisted), and rice noodles with salted duck egg yolks.

Friday, we went shopping--well, actually, we went shopping everyday, but we started shopping in earnest on Friday. S made her annual pilgrimage to Manolo Blahnik, which, like the rest of HK's shops, was (thankfully) on sale. After a bit of heavily discounted retail therapy in Central, we walked up to Yung Kee because I wanted S to try its amazing roast goose. Yung Kee--thanks to this goose (pictured above)--may just be HK's most famous restaurant. We had the goose, an order of roast pork, some scrambled eggs with XO sauce (yum), and (of course) more green vegetables. After lunch, we shopped a bit more and then went to visit a friend, fashion designer Barney Cheng, at his atelier. Barney later joined us and 3 other friends for dinner that night at Xi Yan, a renowned "speakeasy" restaurant owned by one of Barney's friends, an ex-ad-man turned chef named Jacky Yu. Xi Yan, hidden on the 3rd floor of a commercial building in Wan Chai, is tiny. To book a table, you need at least 6 people in your group. There's also no menu. You eat whatever Jacky feels like cooking, which on the night we were there was an amazing 12 courses.

We had steamed lobster with lime sauce and chili sauce, silken tofu with sea urchin (pictured above), momotaro tomatoes with sesame sauce, cassia smoked duck eggs with abalone and ikura, braised beef with chili and preserved orange peel, "saliva chicken" (white cooked chicken with century egg, peanuts, dough sheets and a spicy sauce), crab with glutinous rice, salted guava and apples served with sour plum, deep-fried garoupa with pomelo and nashi, chicken soup with fresh ginseng and wolf berries, dragon beard vegetables with dried shrimp and chicken stock, and finally jasmine tea ice cream and kumquat honey. Suffice it to say that I almost died from over-eating, but boy was it good. We also found out that Jacky will be opening a branch in Singapore in October, and while I can't wait, I hope he allows us to order either a la carte or offers options with fewer courses. I don't know if I could eat another one of his 12 course extravaganzas for a while.

On Saturday, I brought S to a restaurant I used to love when I lived in HK back in 1996-1997, Mozart Stubn, which (no surprise) specializes in Austrian food. After a relatively light lunch, we checked out the new IFC mall. I was especially impressed with the Lane Crawford there, not just because it had a great range of brands but because spread out throughout the store were some pretty amazing installations by various HK-based contemporary artists. It was really nice to see such support for visual artists. Later that evening, S and I met up with another friend for dinner at HK's hottest new restaurant, Opia, located in the Jia Hotel. Created by Aussie celeb chef Teage Ezard, this modern Asian-Australian is, without exaggerating, awesome. We had what may be one of the best meals in recent memory that night. We started the night with oyster shooters. I had a gratin of potato gnocchi with sliced pear, walnuts and tallegio followed by a crispy skinned pork hock with a caramel chili sauce. S had a pork belly salad followed by lamb chops in sumac and raspberry sauce with goat cheese and dill. While I was too full for dessert, S devoured an order of honeycrunch ice cream.

Sunday, we had another treat. We accepted an extremely generous and kind offer to have lunch at Gaddi's, the formal French restaurant at the Peninsula Hotel. Their newish (about 6 months now) chef, David Goodridge, has worked at La Maison Troisgros, Restaurant Pierre Gagnaire, La Cote D'or, and most recently at Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons in Oxford. So, as you can imagine, we were pretty excited. We had a fabulous 6 course lunch (which Chef David called, "light"). We started with an amuse-bouche of foie gras with mango chutney and toasted brioche; followed by marinated then slow-cooked Scottish salmon with horseradish sauce, cucumber, cucumber jelly and osetra caviar; pan-fried scallops, deep-fried frog's legs with peas and a shallot cream; lamb loin with parmesan gnocchi and truffle mash; peach jelly and Champagne ice cream; and a trio of chocolate--white chocolate mousse, milk chocolate parfait, and dark chocolate tart. For me, the scallops and frog's legs were the stand-outs in an all around impressive display of culinary artistry.

Sunday afternoon, we first went to Space, a Prada and Miu Miu outlet in Ap Lei Chau, and then spent the rest of the day walking around Causeway Bay. Dinner was a really good but casual meal at a lively joint packed with young people, just steps from the entrance of G.O.D., called Red Ant restaurant. We shared a baked rice with ox tongue and cheese cream sauce, a spaghetti with minced pork, sautéed eggplant and crab paste, and a roast duck and scallion pancake.

Phew! Like I said at the start, we ate, shopped, and ate some more. I think I need to go on a detox diet to recover from my trips to both Taipei and Hong Kong. (Of course, I'll probably get over that thought by tomorrow.)

Shui Hu Ju, tel: +852 2869 6927
Yung Kee, tel: +852 2522 1624
Xi Yan, tel: +852 9020 9196
Opia, tel: +852 3196 9000
Gaddi's, tel: +852 2315 3171

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Off to Hong Kong

I'm taking off to the SAR, leaving on a 620am (God help me!) flight tomorrow morning. S and I have booked a few restaurants already. We've called up some friends. And S has been saving up so she can splurge at Manolo Blahnik and Narciso Rodriguez. I'll try and report while we're there. But in case I don't get the time, see y'all next week.

Monday, August 01, 2005

A Healthy Dip (the hummus, not the hubby), another guest post by S

For quite some time now, I've been on a quest to reduce the chubbiness of my hubby. I'll readily admit that he isn't clinically chubby, but I'd still prefer it if he'd eat a little healthier. So whenever he shows enthusiasm for anything that is remotely good for him (you'll notice that his usual gustatory passions are pork belly, cream, duck fat and Strasbourgian foie gras), I try my best to master the dish in the hope that it'll wend its way into our everyday menus. Yes, wives are sneaky and conniving in that way. Recently, we had some lovely store-bought organic hummus which he snacked on with gusto. Subscribing to the homemade-would-obviously-be-even-better-philosophy, I decided to make some myself.

I dipped into husband and wife restaurateur team, Sam & Sam Clark's lovely first cookbook, Moro for a simple recipe. I haven't yet eaten at their restaurant, Moro, in the increasingly trendy neighborhood of Clerkenwell, London. But the tale of their three-month honeymoon spent driving around Spain and Morocco has always drawn me to their recipes. It was exactly what CH and I had planned to do on our own honeymoon but couldn't get enough time-off to do (we ate our way across Paris instead).

Their recipe, which makes roughly 1.5-2 cups, calls for
200g chickpeas, soaked overnight with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda
3 tbs olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste with salt
3-4 tbs tahini

Rinse the chickpeas under cold water, then place in a large saucepan, fill with 2 litres of cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, skimming off any scum as it builds up, and cook for about 1.5-2 hours or until the skins are tender. Remove from heat, pour off excess liquid until level with chickpeas, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Drain the chickpeas, keeping aside the cooking liquid, and blend in a food processor with a little cooking liquid to help the chickpeas on their way. When smooth, add the lemon juice, garlic, tahini and olive oil. Taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper, and some more liquid if necessary.

The bicarbonate of soda helps to tenderize the chickpeas, but will result in a soapy taste. Paula Wolfert, in true slow Mediterranean kitchen-style, recommends cooking the chickpeas in a slow cooker for 8 hours. I just did without the bicarb (Claudia Roden doesn't use bicarb but cooks the chickpeas for 1.5 hours).

The other thrill from making hummus came from getting to use our strapping, relatively new Sumeet Asia Kitchen grinder, a Christmas present from close friends of ours. It took no more than a couple of pulses to get a perfectly smooth texture.

Claudia Roden offers a tempting array of optional garnishes (I'd like to try her hot version which involves topping the hummus with melted butter and pinenuts fried in the same butter, before baking it), but my favorite way of enjoying hummus is to lick it off my finger. -- S