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Friday, July 28, 2006

The very best cocktail isn't a drink

A little while ago, my wife S and I took on our very first catering job. For anyone who missed it, I wrote about the experience here. One of the (many) things we made and served that night was a prawn cocktail. I really like prawn (or shrimp) cocktail. As do, as I've discovered, most people. In fact, I don't think I know anyone who can honestly say they don't like prawn cocktail. Many, though, are afraid to admit this publicly. Sadly, for the past decade or so and for inexplicable reasons, prawn cocktail has been shunned. Maybe it's because it was so overdone (i.e. served way too often) in the 1960s and 1970s and maybe it's because so many people made awful renditions, that the dish took on connotations of kitsch -- and not in an "awwww, how cute" kind of way but more of an "eeeeew, what was he thinking?" way. If you were a restaurateur, putting a prawn cocktail on your menu immediately gave your establishment a veneer of cheesiness that was hard to shake. Similarly, serving prawn cocktail at home made people giggle and gossip about your lack of sophistication. Which is, of course, hogwash.

Anyone who's ever had a really good prawn cocktail, with really succulent fresh prawns, served chilled with a good, fresh homemade sauce knows that prawn cocktail can be divine.

Fortunately, as in fashion, food trends seem to come in cycles. What was out not so long ago can be suddenly très au courant today. And just as high-waisted pencil skirts are suddenly chic again, so too is the prawn cocktail. Which is fantastic. Both for me and for the legions of secret admirers out there who no longer need to wrinkle their noses when what they really want to do is dig in.

To make a great prawn cocktail, S and I like to steam our prawns with some spring onions, ginger and Chinese cooking wine -- which is, admittedly, quite Asian. Some chefs will boil theirs in court bouillon (with the shells on), then peel them and chill them. This works well also. What I don't recommend is boiling them in plain water. Instead of the cooking process enhancing the prawns' flavors, this does quite the opposite. S and I are also fortunate in that we've become proud new owners of a Miele (combi) steam oven, which makes steaming prawns as easy as pushing a button (actually, pushing 4 buttons, but who's counting?).

The sauce is of utmost importance as well. Traditionally, many people serve their prawn cocktail with a Marie Rose sauce (which is also known as Russian Dressing). The main ingredients of this sauce are mayonnaise, ketchup and (sometimes) brandy. There are a ton of variations for this in dozens of cookbooks and all over the Internet. It's easy to make, which makes buying it bottled a real culinary crime.

S and I don't use Marie Rose sauce though. The sauce we like to use, which we've discovered recently, comes from Frank Stitt's Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill. I love this book. It's very well written and has gorgeous pictures. I have yet to eat at Highlands Bar and Grill, but my good friend and famous foodie Johnny Apple tells me it is one of the best restaurants in the United States. In fact, he's insisted that if I ever make my way back to the USA for a visit and want to experience really good Southern food, I can't leave without a meal at Stitt's establishment.

Stitt's prawn cocktail sauce is delicious. His secret is fresh horseradish, which gives it a lovely kick. It's a spicy, tangy sauce that's amazing when cold. And it works with a variety of things. Mix it with some well-chilled, steamed prawns and some crisp iceberg lettuce and you have a perfect prawn cocktail.

Now, if only someone could make lava lamps trendy again...

Frank Stitt's Prawn Cocktail Sauce

1 cup Heinz ketchup
1/4 cup freshly grated horseradish, or to taste
juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
juice of 1 lime, or to taste
3 shakes Worcestershire sauce
2 shakes hot sauce, such as Tabasco
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Combine all these ingredients in a small bowl. Mix and keep in the fridge.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

1 bird, 3 dishes

It's always fantastic to discover a recipe that tastes great when you first make it and that's just as good when you eat the leftovers the next day. It's even better when the recipe is flexible enough that with some simple tweaking, the second or third time around, you can have a whole different dish.

I was away for a few days last week. I had to make a quick business trip up to Macau. When I came home, I was delighted -- especially since my flight had arrived well past 10pm -- to discover that my generous and loving wife S had whipped up a special snack for me. She and I have owned a copy of Camille Glenn's The Heritage of Southern Cooking for years. A friend who grew up in Washington DC and Kentucky gave it to us. And while we've perused the book countless times, and even flagged a number of recipes that we've wanted to try, we'd never actually cooked from it. As a surprise and as a treat for me (because, quite honestly, between the two of us, I'm the one with the penchant for Southern cooking), S had prepared Glenn's Hermitage Chicken Cornbread Sandwich. For the cornbread, however, instead of using the recipe in Glenn's book, she followed one in Mitchell Davis' Kitchen Sense. It was a honey-buttermilk cornbread recipe that I had also flagged and had been pestering her to make.

The dish is, as you can probably already tell, pretty simple. It's a warm chicken hash served in between two slices of delicious cornbread. This chicken hash, though, doesn't have any potatoes in it, which makes it a tad lighter than normal. Essentially, it's poached chicken, diced and warmed up in a rich chicken-stock based sauce with some celery and onions. The hash is seasoned with some fresh parsley, salt, white pepper and cayenne pepper. The little hint of spiciness gives it a lovely kick. Spooned piping hot between the (toasted) cornbread slices, the "sandwich" was a delicious and comforting way of being welcomed back home.

Because I was a tad tired from the flight, I didn't eat as much of the hash as S had expected. Which meant that we had cornbread for brekkie the next day and extra chicken for dinner. Instead of rehashing (sorry, I love bad puns) the same meal we had the previous night, we decided to try and make something different with the leftovers. We decided on a simple macaroni dish. We prepared the macaroni by boiling it in a combination of chicken stock and milk. We melted a knob of butter in a saucepan, tossed in the leftover chicken hash and added a bit of cream and salt. The nice thick chicken hash became a lovely, chicken sauce for our pasta. We tossed the macaroni in it and added some freshly grated parmesan. It was delicious. And it took no more than 15 minutes to make.

In addition to the chicken hash, S also had two poached chicken thighs sitting in the chiller. Instead of following Glenn's instructions to just poach two chicken breasts, S had poached a whole chicken, following the method she usually uses when she makes chicken rice. For another quick meal, we deboned the thighs, shredded some iceberg lettuce, prepared some corn, and made a quick dressing with ginger, Champagne vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, grapeseed oil and sugar. It was a nice, light salad that captured a lot of the flavors of chicken rice.

Chicken often gets a bad rap. It's often thought of as the boring meat. It's not as exotic as duck or quail, nor as hearty and rich as beef or lamb. But sometimes, when cooked properly, chicken can be really nice. It's also a good versatile meat. With one chicken, S and I were able to prepare three excellent meals over three days. And two of them in almost no time at all. Which, when you consider how many other things we have to do each day, is a really nice luxury.

Versatile Chicken Hash

2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
4 cups cubed freshly poached chicken (see the recipe for chicken rice chicken here)
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 cups chopped celery
salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
cayenne pepper to taste
parsley sprigs for garnish

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Mix in the flour. Add 1 cup of the stock and cook over medium-low heat, stirring with a whisk, until thickened and smooth. Add the chicken cubes into the sauce.

Simmer the onion and celery in 4 cups of the stock in a large heavy pan until they are tender but not too soft. Spoon the vegetables into the saucepan with the chicken. Add just enough stock to this to create a nice sauce, stirring gently. How thick you want the sauce is up to you.

Season with salt, white pepper and cayenne. Garnish with the parsley when using.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Great Simple Burger

Regular readers know that one of my all-time favourite foods is a good burger. A delicious, well-made burger is hard to beat. It can also be hard to find. At least, it's hard to find here in Singapore. I can count on one hand the number of places that I think serve up really great burgers. At the top of the list is Iggy's. The mini-wagyu burger, topped with a truffle sabayon, served at this uber-sleek over-the-counter fine-dining establishment is fantastic. But it's tres chic, tres petit and tres cher.

The very best no-frills burger I've had in Singapore so far has been at Wild Rocket, the small, popular casual restaurant at Hangout@Mt Emily. By no-frills, I mean no wagyu, no foie gras, no truffles, no caviar, no fancy foreign cheeses with names we can't pronounce. Basically, no fancy stuff that doubles, triples or quadruples our burger bills. A good burger doesn't need to be (some might say "shouldn't be") fancy. In fact, a great, moderately priced, no-frills burger is often many times better than the fanciest frou-frou version. Wild Rocket's burger is simple. It's definitely, in my book, a no-frills burger. But it's also better than almost any other burger I've had in Singapore, including much fancier versions from Four Season's One-Ninety, uber-expensive UberBurger and tai-tai favourite Marmalade Pantry. It's also tastier than no-frills burger slinging competitors Whitebait & Kale, Seah Street Deli and Brewerkz.

I tried the Wild Rocket Burger for the first time just last week. I was floored. The burger was both deliciously tasty and super-juicy. It's served on a toasted bun with two complementary sauces, a sun-dried tomato salsa and a pepper sauce. This second sauce, Wild Rocket's owner and chef Willin Low (pictured here) told me, was inspired by a Ramlee burger that he had eaten in Sarawak. The burger was served with a lovely, spicy, peppery sauce. Chef Willin loved it enough to try to emulate it in his own burger. The other burger that has most inspired this self-professed burger-loving chef is every burger-lover's favourite, the In'N'Out burger. Chef Willin loves In'N'Out's burgers. He loves them so much that he once approached a tourist here simply because the American was wearing an In'N'Out T-shirt. He stopped the very surprised visitor in a MRT (subway) station and just started to enthusiastically rave about In'N'Out.

Because I wanted to ensure that my first, fabulous Wild Rocket Burger wasn't a lucky fluke, I dropped into Wild Rocket again this morning. The Wild Rocket Burger I had today was served with a bit of salad and some lovely new potatoes sautéed in duck fat. This one was just as good, as savory, as juicy, and as delicious as the one I had last week. My darling wife S also ordered one and, after just a few bites, agreed with me. "Except for Iggy's, this is the best burger I've had in Singapore," she declared. When I asked Chef Willin what makes a perfect burger, he said, "A good burger has to be juicy." When you bite into it, all the yummy juices have to dribble out."

Right now, the Wild Rocket Burger is only regularly available on the Sunday Brunch menu. Chef Willin does occasionally serve it as a special set lunch item and from what he tells me, he's now considering putting it on his regular weekday lunch and dinner menu. I've done everything I can to try to convince him that that's a fantastic idea. I've even promised to come by at least once a week to have one. Book a table on an upcoming Sunday and try one for yourself. If you like it, help me out and beg Chef Willin to serve it every day.

Wild Rocket
Hangout@Mt Emily
10A Upper Wilkie Road
Tel: 63399448

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Pear-Caramel Swirl Ice Cream (another guest post by S)

I only became obsessed with making my own ice cream after I set eyes on the Musso Lussino Pro, a sexy, 38-pound stainless steel ice cream-churning R2D2 with its own built-in refrigerator unit. After reading the glowing review in Burt Wolf, Emily Aronson and Florence Fabricant’s The New Cook’s Catalogue (“makes superb ice cream of the exceptionally smooth and creamy sort you might have thought you’d never enjoy outside of Italy….chills 1½ quarts of ice cream in 25 to 35 minutes; 15 to 25 minutes quicker than the Simac”), I decided that I simply had to make my own ice cream and I couldn’t do it unless I had my own Musso Lussino Pro (yes, I’m like that when it comes to shoes too). For nearly half a decade now, my gleaming Musso has served me well.

The fantastic thing about ice cream is its versatility. It takes well to being under the spotlight and can be a fabulous headlining soloist. Yet, it is equally great at helping to pull an ensemble cast together. Whether it’s served in a cone or an elegant coup, it is usually greeted with enthusiasm. I love that ice cream can be both wholesomely simple and decadently sophisticated.

I have been dying to try Emily Luchetti’s pear-caramel swirl ice cream recipe in A Passion for Desserts. As it turned out, last week my fruiterer had received a gorgeous delivery of South African pears he called sugar pears. I couldn’t resist the pale green beauties dusted with a hint of blush pink. Armed with two bagsful of them, I decided that they would be perfect for Ms Luchetti’s tempting frozen confection. All I had to do was to wait for them to ripen.

I reckon that the ice-cream was well worth the wait. But then, I’ve always enjoyed eating cooked pears. As a toddler, my mother tells me, I was fond of eating spoonfuls of steamed pear. Spiked with a little pear liqueur (I used a Poire Williams one), this ice cream has subtle, yet unmistakable pear flavours. Coupled with swirls of caramel sauce I had strongly accented with vanilla salt, it made for a delish after-lunch snack on a blisteringly hot day! I can’t wait for my copy of Ms Luchetti’s latest book, A Passion for Ice Cream, to arrive with my next Amazon delivery.

Pear-caramel swirl ice cream
(adapted from A Passion for Desserts by Emily Luchetti)

Makes roughly 2 litres

1.5kg ripe pears
265g castor sugar
1 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup pear liqueur
6 large egg yolks
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups milk
2½ cups whipping cream
1 cup cold caramel sauce (see below)

Peel, halve and core the pears. Cut them into 1.5cm thick slices. Cook the pears with 65g sugar, the lemon juice and 2 tbs of the pear liqueur over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan until the pears are soft and the juices have evaporated. Be sure to stir constantly. This step is important because if your puree is too moist, it will affect the texture of the ice cream. Let the pears cool before pureeing them in a food processor or blender. I passed them through a sieve at this point. Refrigerate until cold.

Whisk the egg yolks, salt and 100g sugar together. Heat the milk, cream and remaining 100g of sugar in a saucepan, stirring occasionally. Slowly whisk the cream mixture into the eggs. Pour the liquid into a bain-marie and cook over simmering water, stirring continuously, until the liquid coats the back of a wooden spoon. Strain and cool. Refrigerate overnight.

Combine the pear puree, the cream mixture and the remaining pear liqueur. Freeze in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Immediately after removing the ice cream from the machine, fold the caramel sauce into the ice cream, creating a swirled pattern. Freeze until firm.

Caramel sauce

Makes 1¾ cups

1½ cups sugar
½ cup water
1 cup whipping cream
40g unsalted butter
½ tsp vanilla salt

In a medium saucepan, stir the sugar, salt and water together. Cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Brush the insides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to prevent sugar from sticking to the sides of the saucepan. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase to high heat and cook, without stirring, until the sugar turns amber. Remove the pan from the heat.

Carefully add ¼ cup cream (be careful, the caramel will splutter). Using a wooden spoon, stir the rest of the cream into the caramel. If the cream splutters, stop stirring. Let the bubbles subside before you continue stirring in the remaining cream. Stir until well combined then cool for another 5 minutes before whisking in the butter.

Let the caramel cool to room temperature before refrigerating it. (This caramel sauce can be made up to a week in advance and kept refrigerated.)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Cookbook Spotlight: Kitchen Sense (a guest post by S)

I’ll admit that this book wasn’t exactly a title on my Amazon pre-order list. I hadn’t heard of Kitchen Sense or its author Mitchell Davis until the lovely Cathy of A Blithe Palate emailed us an invitation to participate in this Cookbook Spotlight event which she is co-hosting with Sara and Alicat of Weekend Cookbook Challenge. I’ll also be the first to admit that general, how-to-cook-everything cookbooks no longer rate highly on my must-buy list. Don’t get me wrong, I have bought my fair share of them, but these days, I tend to wonder if we need to add yet another tome explaining the basics of cooking to our burgeoning collection. I mean, how many recipes for poaching eggs do we really need?

Having said that, I will acknowledge that Kitchen Sense is a nice addition to the general cookbook genre. I like Davis’ detailed instructions and reasonably lengthy essays on various aspects of culinary commonsense. His recipes cover everything from shu mais (pork and shrimp dumplings) and baba ghanoush (a smoky eggplant dip) to spätzle (short lengths of egg noodles) and a version of Pierre Herme’s salty chocolate sablés. However, for me, it’s his recipes for classic American comfort foods which have earned Kitchen Sense a spot on our bookshelf.

You see, although CH is Singaporean, he grew up in the US and has a penchant for American favorites I have not, as yet, grown to love (probably because I haven’t tasted the real deal). For the longest time, he has been bugging me to make meatloaf which, based on my own limited experience of it in Singapore, seems like a real waste of good meat. (I know, I know, it’s because I haven’t tasted a real meatloaf.) I have read countless meatloaf recipes. None have inspired me to pull out my loaf tin. Mind you, I have attempted one recipe (oh, the things wives do to make their husbands happy). The results of which did not make me feel at all like a domestic goddess. Davis’ meatloaf recipe, on the other hand, has an entire page devoted to discussing the merits of various methods of grinding your own meat. He describes meatloaf as “everyday pâté” (okay, that makes a little more sense to me) and makes a point to discourage the use of lean beef in this particular dish (surely, he must be a man who knows a thing or two in the kitchen). His suggestion that the top of the loaf be covered with bacon strips finally won me over. A cookbook author who doesn’t balk at using a little fat to keep his meat dishes moist and juicy has my vote. I’ve flagged his promising meatloaf recipe and gone on to fill the 516-page book with a flutter of little Post-its. CH’s requests include honey-buttermilk cornbread, chicken-fried steak, creamsicle pie, Maxine’s peanut butter cookies and butterscotch shortbread. I’m also dying to try my hand at preparing Boston baked beans, Earl Grey’s devil’s food cake and lavender cookies.

For a quick lunch today, I made the buttermilk fried chicken with cream gravy pictured above which CH suggested I pair with a fresh corn and tomato relish (yes, he seems to think of himself as the executive chef of our household). The chicken was salted and soaked in buttermilk (I steeped it overnight) before it was dusted with seasoned flour and fried. It was a really simple, yet effective recipe. Our chicken pieces had crisp crusts and remarkably tender flesh. The relish consisted of a sautéed base of onion, garlic, bell pepper, jalapeno chili and corn kernels dressed with red wine vinegar and sugar. This was cooled before diced tomato, sliced scallions and chopped cilantro were stirred in. I loved the tart and sweet flavors in this dish, which cut through the richness of the fried chicken. I can’t wait to work my way through more recipes in this book.

Monday, July 10, 2006


Last Friday, my wife and I did something that was entirely new to us. It was rewarding, exciting, educational and challenging. But it's also something I'm in no rush to do again soon. Last Friday, S and I did our very first professional catering job. While the two of us have thrown countless dinner parties over the years, cooking for friends at home is nothing compared to cooking for paying guests at their place. The latter, especially because of the professional nature of the engagement, is a whole different category of stress. Fortunately, this first gig was relatively small. The dinner, hosted by two close friends, was for just eight people. Two of the guests, however, were not only major VIPs but also very well-known as gourmands. Knowing this added a little more pressure to what was, as I mentioned, an already stressful situation.

The hosts of the dinner wanted a small, but exciting menu. We proposed having four courses, three of which would be composed of trios of dishes.

The first course was a trio of seafood. It consisted of a crabcake with wasabi-mayonnaise, a prawn cocktail with a sauce made with freshly grated horseradish, and a shitake-soy toro (fatty tuna) tartar served with a yuzu vinaigrette. I really like this combination. We had originally thought of serving a raw oyster item instead of the crabcake, but I think the crabcake worked better. Because the toro and prawn dishes are served cold, the contrast with the hot, freshly fried crabcake is really nice.

The second course was a real challenge. We had admired this dish in The French Laundry Cookbook for years. We also liked that Thomas Keller would call something as refined as butter-poached lobster served with a mascarpone and lobster broth enriched orzo "mac & cheese". This is a gorgeous, sensuous and incredibly rich dish, thanks mostly to Keller's broth. The broth is made by sautéing the shells of 3 lobsters. You then cover them with water and add some tomatoes, carrots, and tarragon. You simmer this until the stock is aromatic. Then you strain the liquid and reduce this down to just one cup. At this point, it's deliciously powerful. You then add two cups of cream to the stock and reduce everything until just two cups remain. The result is the loveliest, tastiest, creamiest seafood broth I've ever had. In this dish, the lobster is steeped in hot water, then before service, the meat is poached in warm butter. Cooked orzo is mixed with some of the creamy lobster broth and a couple of tablespoons of mascarpone. This is a dish everyone should eat at least once.

The main course was a trio of veal dishes, inspired by a dish served at Boulevard in San Francisco amusingly called "Veal Veal Veal". The course consisted of veal tenderloin, osso buco and a veal cheek ravioli. The veal tenderloin is wrapped in prosciutto, seared than roasted in the oven. We paired our version with some potato purée and a super-yummy sauce we made with fresh horseradish, white truffle honey and cream. We cooked the osso buco overnight in extremely low heat; it was wonderfully tender. The ravioli is stuffed with a combination of braised veal cheek and creamed spinach. Both the ravioli and the osso buco are sauced with some of the braising liquid that was reduced until syrupy. We also topped the osso buco with a little fresh gremolata.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a good photograph of our dessert course. It was another trio: a blueberry cheesecake tart; an egg soufflé; and a quenelle of chocolate gelato served with some homemade croquant. Post dinner, we served a really special treat with coffee and tea. I convinced the amazing J of Kuidaore to sell me two batches of custom-made macarons. I ordered a batch of peanut butter & jelly and a batch of chocolate & yuzu. These were pretty stunning and everyone was pretty amazed that we could get such high-quality macarons in Singapore.

In addition to taking care of the menu, we also planned the wines. We ordered some excellent wines from a local distributor that we'd gotten to know recently. With the first course, we served a Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus, an excellent single vineyard Champagne. Our second course was paired with an amazing white wine I've become quite enamored with of late, a Mark Angeli La Lune 2003. With the veal, we served a yummy, powerful red, a Clos des Fées Domaine du Clos des Fées 2002. With the dessert, we poured a delicious dessert wine made from viognier grapes, the Francois Villard Aprés Tout.

I have to admit that we had help catering this meal. We hired two amazing people, a waiter and kitchen-hand, who assisted us in the dining room and in the kitchen. Without them, there is no way we could have accomplished this meal. Of course, even with their help, by the end of the night S and I were both exhausted. And while I still contend that such gigs are not something I'd be keen to do too often, the experience was very rewarding. Especially when two of the guests told us that the meal was one of the best they had ever eaten.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Love at first sip

There was a time in my life, not that long ago, when I would have been considered a barfly. During this (hazy but fun) period of my life, which lasted for quite a few years, I probably spent some part of each and every day in a bar. After school, after work, before dinner, after dinner, for no reason whatsoever, a bar stop was a routine and requisite part of my life. Of course, even back them, I was finicky and particular. I had two preferred kinds of bars. The first is the dive bar. I love dive bars. I love them for their ugly and bargain-basement interiors, their dirt cheap drinks, their overplayed jukeboxes that always have a few Patsy Cline songs on their playlists, and their regulars, who always sit in the same seats and drink the same drinks. I love them most of all because they're places where you can go and drink with friends... drink seriously, without stupid interruptions, music so loud that you can't hear yourself talk, dumb young things looking for a sugar daddy or noisy over-testosteroned knuckleheads. These are also many of the same reasons that my second preferred type of bars are, for lack of a better term, civilized bars. By civilized, I mean clubbish, high-end drinking establishments. You know, the kind of bar in which you can sit with friends, get a perfectly made cocktail and speak to each other without having to yell. The kind of place where the music is soft but cool, the bartenders are immaculately dressed and don't toss bottles in the air. The kind of place that uses a spray to mist vermouth into your martini and offers you a choice of a dozen different vodkas, none of them flavored. The kind of place where the clientele look great but aren't bothering the people they didn't come with. Unfortunately and especially in Singapore, it's so very difficult to find a civilized bar these days.

At least, that's what I thought for the longest time. Unable to find the kind of watering holes I love, I had pretty much given up on going out for drinks in the Lion City. Then a few weeks ago, a friend brought me to Coffee Bar K and I knew I had found a new home. Coffee Bar K opened here in Singapore in April, the third in a group that has outlets in Ginza and Chiba, Japan. Coffee Bar K is sleek, sexy, and cool. It's also expensive and very Japanese. When you arrive, you're handed a warm towel. As you settle into one of the comfortable black leather armchairs that front the glowing bar, a platter of snacks is placed in front of you. The drinks are made exquisitely and served in proper and beautiful glasses. The bar's drink menu is huge but if you're feeling adventurous, you can tell one of the bartenders what you're in the mood for and let him surprise you with a custom cocktail. Whiskey-lovers will love it here. They have a ridiculously good list of Single-malts from Scotland and Japan. Ask for yours on the rocks and it comes in a nice heavy lowball glass with one giant, round and perfectly clear ice cube. Sit at the bar for awhile and you'll realize that these cubes are hand-chipped by the bartenders.

Since discovering Coffee Bar K, I've been back several times. I've also been bringing friends as often as possible. They've all had the same reaction as I did, love at first sip. In fact, I bet that my wife and these same friends are probably going to kill me for blogging about this great and hidden gem. But I think a bar this good needs to be written about and shared. Cheers!

Coffee Bar K
205 River Valley Road
#01-076 UE Square
Singapore 238274
Tel (65) 6720 5040

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Cake and a contest

Announcement: Congrats to Prisca Lim and Cheryl Ang for winning the free tickets to The Marriage of Figaro. The contest is now closed.

This is a post about opera. But it's not about opera. At least not in the way regular readers of this blog would expect it to be. What I mean is that this post isn't about the gorgeous chocolate, coffee butter cream and almond sponge cake confection in the picture above (but it was a damn good excuse to get S to make me one). This post is about the kind of opera in which large men and women with big hair sing songs of love, passion and grief on a stage in front of tuxedoed gentlemen and glamorously dressed women.

I enjoy going to the opera. I have ever since I was a kid. My father is a huge opera fan, so it was only natural that I grew up hearing it. But it wasn't until I actually attended my first one that I began to really appreciate the art form. I remember that first one clearly, partly because that opera, Bizet's
Carmen, remains my favorite one to this day. I also had the opportunity to see many more operas in my early years thanks to a rather atypical middle school club. The Opera Appreciation Club was run by the school's Latin teacher, a brave (albeit possibly masochistic) man who made it his mission to introduce this very civilized art form to a bunch of rather uncivilized 10 and 11 year old boys.

Later this month, Singapore's only opera company, the Singapore Lyric Opera, is staging The Marriage of Figaro in honor of the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth. The opera runs from 14-17 July 2006 at the city's premier performing arts centre, The Esplanade.

As a special promotion, I'm happy to offer
2 free pairs of tickets to the very cultured readers of this blog. The tickets are each worth S$110 and are for the 8pm show on 17 July 2006. All you have to do is be the first two people to correctly answer the following three questions:

1. In what city was Mozart born?
2. In what year did he write
The Marriage of Figaro?
3. In what 1978 film starring Thomas Hulce, who also played the lead role in
Amadeus, did actor Kevin Bacon famously say, "Thank you sir. May I have another?"

Please email your answers to Please include your mailing address so I can post the tickets to you (I should note that only people residing in Singapore are eligible for this little contest). The first two people to email me the correct answers will each get 2 tickets. For those of you who don't win the tickets, you should still consider buying some. It should be a great show.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Life's little luxuries

A friend of mine called me the other day. He's a high-end kitchen equipment and food distributor. He had just received a supply of Beluga caviar and was selling it for S$6,000 a kilo, with a minimum order of 100g. "Would I be interested in some?" he wanted to know. Of course, my answer was "no". Not that I wouldn't have loved to have had some. But there was no way I was going to shell out that much money.

Fortunately for those of us with cravings for a little caviar but who aren't willing to mortgage our homes for such occasional gustatory indulgences, there are some substitutes on the market. The best I've tasted to date is Avruga, a Spanish mock-caviar made from herring roe. It's become increasingly popular, both in restaurants and among greedy gourmets, for several reasons. For one thing, it's cheaper. Much cheaper. Around 10 times cheaper. But it also tastes good. And while it doesn't exactly replicate the flavors of top-grade caviar, it has a nice subtle taste. It's also not as salty as real caviar.

Since Avruga is affordable, it means being able to serve dishes that would normally be extravagant on a regular basis. For me, that means a breakfast of scrambled eggs topped with deliciously savory black pearls. I'm a big fan of this classic combination. It's perfect for a slightly fancy weekend brunch and equally magnificent served small as an amuse-bouche at dinner.

Of course, the scrambled eggs have to be made properly as well. They have to be fluffy, rich and not at all over-cooked. They also have to be made with a healthy amount of cream and butter, which means that while they won't be healthy, they'll be quite lusciously delicious. And made even more so topped with the Avruga.

Scrambled Eggs with Avruga
Serves 2 for brekkie or makes 8 tiny portions

3 eggs
120ml cream
salt to taste
1 tablespoon of butter
2 teaspoons of chopped chives
30g of Avruga

Whisk the eggs, cream and salt in a bowl. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. When all the butter is melted and bubbling, pour in the egg mixture. Wait 20-30 seconds and then lower the heat to the lowest setting. With a wooden spoon, stir the egg mixture continuously until just barely set. Then turn off the heat, toss in the chives, and mix them in evenly. Spoon the eggs onto plates, bowls or small shot glasses and top each portion with some of the Avruga.