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Name:Chubby Hubby
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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Big breakfasts



One of the things I like most about my wife S is her love of big English breakfasts. Neither she nor I are partial to buffets -- we try as much as possible to avoid all those Sunday hotel brunches that the rest of our countrymen and women seem to adore. I personally think that they're a waste of money. You pay a lot thinking you are going to eat (and drink) a lot, but never actually do. I also hate having to fight for my food. There's inevitably some greedy fool standing in line in front of you who happily takes every last piece of whatever you have both been waiting for. I've watched grown men and women take half of an entire tray of oysters and other seafood, leaving nothing for the throng behind them. Of course, I've always wanted to grab that last piece of lobster off his or her plate and bash him or her on the head with it. S, of course, never lets me actually do it.

I like my brunches relaxed. I like ordering something reasonably priced and having it delivered to my table. Call me lazy but I'd rather spend my time chatting with S or other friends than crazily circumnavigating a buffet restaurant.

The often-maligned Graze -- which I do actually kind of like (and I'm not just saying that because they are one of this blog's sponsors) -- recently launched some new breakfast items. The first time I had brunch there I was a little let down (by both the food and the service), so I was very delighted that everything seemed to go swimmingly well on my most recent visit.




Graze, at Rochester Park, might actually be best at breakfast time. The courtyard is very pretty in the morning light and there's a wonderful, friendly feeling coming from both the other diners and staff. Many of the breakfast patrons, I'm told, are regulars who go there with their families almost every single week. S, as expected, ordered the big English fry-up (pictured at the start of the post). At Graze, it's called the Cast Iron Pan and it includes homemade bratwurst sausage, smoked bacon, mushroom, tomato, country potato, fried egg, baked beans and plum chilli salsa. A vegetarian alternative is available, but who wants to eat that? I ordered one of the newer additions to their menu, a baked omelette, which is a light puffy plain frittata stacked with a variety of delicious toppings (pictured above). I had mine with a layer of melted cheese, bratwurst sausage, mushrooms, and sauteed potatoes. Both dishes were good. Good enough to make me want to come back again. I also enjoyed the "door stopper" toast, so named because they're served in rather big chunks. The toast comes with a variety of jams and homemade honeys. I ate mine slathered with lavender honey and butter.



One of the cuter new elements to Graze's breakfast menu is their cupcakes, presented on a large plate from which you can greedily grab what you want to eat. Surprisingly, they were good. I actually expected them to be dry (I know, I should stop being pessimistic), but they were moist and the icing was fabulous. They are dense though. Which means that they are very filling. I couldn't finish mine after the omelette I had also eaten. S and I have decided that they're probably best as a stand-alone late morning or tea time snack, served with some tea or coffee.

I know that a lot of people have very mixed opinions of Graze. In the very same week, I-S gave it an amazingly fabulous review while Straits Times bashed it. I've had good and bad experiences there myself, fortunately more good than bad. My last breakfast was definitely a good one. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, hoping it stays that way.

GRAZE
No 4 Rochester Park, Singapore 139215
Tel: (65) 6775 9000


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Free phones --- whoopee!



Local readers hoping to win a brand new Nokia N73 phone still have 2 more days to enter my first N73 giveaway contest, Funny Eating Fotos. So, if you have a great, hilarious picture taken of someone stuffing his or her face, hurry over to Flickr and post your photo. I'll be announcing the winner of this contest during the first week of September.

If you don't win a phone through Funny Eating Fotos, you still have a chance to win a Nokia N73. Contest 2 begins today. I'm calling this one "Best Kept Secret Food Stalls". Entering it is similar to contest 1. If you're not already registered with Flickr, you'll need to sign up (relax, it's free). Then go to Best Kept Secret Food Stalls, the Flickr pool I've created for this contest.

This contest is open only to Singapore-residents (sorry). Please post one picture per contestant only. Post a great picture which has been taken using a mobile phone of your favourite local "best kept secret food stall", i.e. that place you love to eat at that serves super-delicious food but that you're pretty sure not that many people know about. Note: the photo must have been taken with a mobile phone.

Please describe the photo after you post it. The photo can be anything from someone eating to the food itself to a shot of the stall/eatery/coffee shop itself. Just be sure to tell all of us where it is.

The contest closes 22 September 2006. The folks at Nokia and I will judge the pictures and award the winner with a Nokia N73. We'll be looking for a really cool picture... something really great... not sure exactly how to put it in words. We'll be looking for a picture that just makes us go, "wow". Good luck!


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Monday, August 28, 2006

Dreaming of Morocco



When S and I got married 5 years ago (well, actually it will only be five years in 2 weeks), we had originally planned to honeymoon in both Spain and Morocco. We especially wanted to go to the latter. We dreamed of visiting Fez, Casablanca, Tangier and Marrakech. We bought several guide books, surfed multiple websites and quizzed friends on where we should stay, shop and eat. Sadly, because of some craziness at work, the honeymoon was postponed. A full year later, when we finally found some time to take a trip together, for a number of reasons, we went to Paris instead.

We still want to visit Morocco some day (soon). Until then, we've been feeding our fantasies through feeding our appetites. S and I have been slowly amassing a collection of North African and Middle Eastern cookbooks. One of the cuter and more charming cookbooks that we've enjoyed using is Diana Henry's Crazy Water Pickled Lemons.

One recipe that I really like in Ms Henry's book is her "Moroccon chicken with tomatoes and saffron-honey jam." It's a mouth-wateringly tasty dish that is also very easy and quick to make. It has wonderful flavours. I'm partial to dishes that are both sweet and savory at the same time. I really like saffron-laced dishes. And I love the soft succulence of braised meats. So this dish works for me on at least three different levels. I also like that this recipe is purposely lighter and not as sweet as the traditional Moroccan version.

Ms Henry uses a whole chicken jointed in 8 pieces. I prefer using 8 chicken thighs. That way guests don't have to fight over who gets the better portion. Plus, chicken thighs braise better than other parts, like the breast for example.

Moroccan Chicken with Tomatoes and Saffron-Honey Jam
Adapted from Diana Henry's Crazy Water Pickled Lemons

Serves 4

8 small chicken thighs
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
6 heads of garlic, peeled and chopped
2.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1.5 teaspoons ground ginger
800g tomatoes, roughly chopped
280ml chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
5 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon orange flower water
25g flaked almonds, toasted
small bunch of coriander, chopped

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown them in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Set the chicken aside and cook the onion in the same pan until soft. Add the garlic, ginger and cinnamon, stirring constantly. After a minute, add in the tomatoes, stir and turn the heat down. Cook, still stirring, for 5 minutes.

Boil the stock and dissolve the saffron in it. Pour this into the vegetable mix. Bring to a boil and then place the chicken into it. Try to submerge most of the chicken pieces below the liquid. Then cover and lower the flame to its lowest setting. Cook for 25-30 minutes.

Remove the chicken pieces, set them aside and keep warm. Turn the heat up again so that the braising liquid starts to boil. Reduce it till it is quite thick and "creamy". Add the honey and keep reducing it until it becomes jammy. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning. Add the orange flower water. Put the chicken pieces back into the sauce, heating them through and slowly coating the chicken with it. When serving, toss the almonds and coriander over the chicken. Serve with cous-cous.


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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Singaporean food bloggers dinner



photo montage courtesy of food.recentrunes.com


Last Friday, Sage restaurant hosted the second annual Singaporean food blogger's gathering. Last year, we had a fantastic lunch at Mag's Wine Kitchen. This year, we decided that dinner might allow us more time to eat and mingle. Chef Jusman So whipped up a lovely five-course dinner, which was paired with wines generously provided by some of my fellow food bloggers.

Huge, huge thanks go out to our generous sponsors: Sage restaurant, for offering us an incredible menu at a very good price; Razor Sharp for gifting each blogger with a stunning Kasumi 12cm utility knife and for also sponsoring one amazing 27cm Masahiro slicer as a lucky draw prize; BATS Singapore for sponsoring 3 awesome lucky draw prizes, 2 Staub cocottes and the cutest Staub fodue set; Julius Truffles for some hand-made chocolates; and last but not least the Gryphon Tea Company for giving each of us a box of its Straits Chai tea -- a blend specially made for the IMF-World Bank Meetings that are being held here in Singapore next month -- and for creating a special bespoke tea just for our dinner. Huge thanks also to Colin from Only Slightly Pretentious Food for organizing this year's feast.

Here's a list of the blogs of the bloggers in attendence:

www.cheateat.typepad.com
www.cocotterouge.blogspot.com
www.ilovemypaddington.blogspot.com
www.dimsumdolly.com
www.sooksfoodnotes.blogspot.com
www.hautestuff.blogspot.com
www.skinny-epicurean.blogspot.com
www.umami.typepad.com
www.food.recentrunes.com
www.fine-fare.blogspot.com
www.cinheartlife.blogspot.com
www.lavendercupcaker.blogspot.com
www.joonelovesfood.blogspot.com
www.epicurative.blogspot.com
www.kitchencrazydaffy.blogspot.com

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

There's always room for dessert



I'm a big fan of carrot cake. And while it's a relatively easy cake to make, as far as cakes go, I don't always have the time to tie on an apron and make one for myself. At those times, I often head over to PS Café, whose version is terrifically delicious. It's easily one of the very best and most consistent things on their menu. But PS Café is the kind of place where you go to sit and linger. It's not exactly known for zippy service. Nor is it the kind of place you can just drop into and buy a couple slices to go.

Fortunately, I've just discovered a great little place that specializes in take-away cakes. And best of all, it's right around the corner from my apartment. Room for Dessert is in the unlikeliest of places, hidden in an obscure corner of an HDB block on Waterloo Street. I only found it because I zigged when I should have zagged on the way to lunch. I was surprised when I was told that it's been there for a year. I've been going to eat at the hawker centre in that block for years and I'd never seen it.

Room for Dessert first started as an online bakery in December 2003. While they offer a pretty good variety of cakes, it's their "Summertime Carrot Cake" that they are proudest of. It's both their house specialty and their best-selling cake. I couldn't resist trying it and I have to say I was impressed. While it may not have been the prettiest carrot cake I've ever eaten, it was definitely among the better ones I've tasted. The white-chocolate cream cheese frosting was appropriately abundant and very, very tasty. The cake itself was really nice too, not too dry and chock full of walnuts and raisins.

(I also tried a slice of their "Bananas about Chocolate" cake, which was pretty good, but not amazing.)

Room for Dessert delivers its cakes nation-wide. But they only delivers whole cakes. If you only want to grab a slice, you'll have to make your way down to Waterloo street.

Room for Dessert
Blk 261 Waterloo St #01-42
Waterloo Centre
Singapore 180261
Tel: 6337-7637


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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Meme: Five things to eat before you die

One of my favourite food writers and bloggers, Melissa from The Traveler's Lunchbox has just tagged me with her very first meme. "Things To Eat Before You Die", also known as "The Foodblogger's Guide to the Globe", asks participating bloggers to list five amazing food experiences that they think everyone should have at least once in their lives. I'm more than happy to take part -- as I said, Melissa is one of my favourite people on the Web -- plus I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone else's lists.

Melissa actually tagged both me and my wife S. S is a tad swamped on a couple projects this week, but she promises to post her own list soon, tagging 5 other bloggers as well.

So, without further adue, here are 5 things I think everyone should eat at least once.

1. Macarons from Pierre Hermé

No other single cookie has as many devoted fans around the world. But no other single cookie has ever tasted as good as one of Pierre Hermé's macarons. If you haven't had the fortune of visiting either of his Paris or Tokyo outposts (or haven't had any really generous friends hand-carry them home for you), you have no idea what you are missing. These are simply the sexiest, most sinfully delicious cookies on the planet.

2. Sakura ebi




I was introduced to Sakura ebi at Iggy's, one of Singapore's best and one of my favourite restaurants. Since it opened, it has featured a Sakura ebi pasta dish on its menu. It's one of the two or three dishes there that I've become completely addicted to. Sakura ebi are tiny shrimps, measuring only 4 to 5 centimetres in length. They have a lovely, powerful taste and a fantastic, slightly crispy texture. They're most famously cultivated in Japan’s Shizuoka Prefecture, where they are harvested from Suruga Bay twice a year. Apart from Japan, Sakura ebi are cultivated only in Taiwan. While Iggy's is able to serve fresh Sakura ebi, its difficult for the rest of us to buy this delicacy fresh. Fortunately, most Japanese supermarkets stock packets of dried Sakura ebi, which when heated a bit before serving, are almost as good. Inspired by Iggy's, I've been making my own Sakura ebi pasta at home, basically by adding these tasty pink shrimps to my classic mentaiko pasta recipe.



Chubby Hubby's Sakuri Ebi Mentaiko Pasta
Serves 4

1 packet dried Sakura ebi (around 20g)
1 small onion, diced
2 tbsp butter
1 packet mentaiko (usually has 3 to 4 sacs)
1 tbsp Japanese mayonnaise
1 tbsp prawn oil
150g cappellini or linguine

Put the butter, prawn oil and the mayo in a mixing bowl. Scrape the mentaiko out of the sacs and into the bowl. When the butter is soft, mix the ingredients together. Sauté the onions. Mix them into the mentaiko sauce. Boil your pasta. Drain the pasta and mix it with the sauce. On a very hot frying pan, quickly heat up the Sakura ebi. Toss those into the pasta. Serve.

3. A really proper frito misto in Venice, Italy

I love fried foods. And I've always enjoyed a good frito misto -- which is essentially a mixed plate of battered and deep-fried seafood and vegetables. But until I started taking regular trips to Venice, I never really knew just how good frito misto can be. The best I have had is at Ostaria Boccadoro, a small, humble eatery off the tourist track. I first discovered this great little place in the summer of 2005. I've been back several times since and the frito misto has been consistently outstanding. Despite being deep-fried, the seafood is never overcooked. The range of seafood is fantastic -- fish, shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, the most amazing small soft-shell crabs and, of course, squid. They are all always terrifically plump, tender and full of natural flavours. The batter is always crisp, very light and never oily. The ostaria's owner is very amusing. He demands that anyone eating his frito misto must do so with his or her hands. Maybe it's a psychological thing, but to be honest, I think it does actually make the dish taste better.

Ostaria Boccadoro
5405/a Campo Wildman, Cannaregio
tel: 041 5211021

4. Corner Bistro's bistro burger

I couldn't create a list of must-have food experiences and not include Corner Bistro. This dark, neighborhood bar in New York's West Village has a very special place in my heart. It was where my friends, flatmates and I spent many a night, wolfing down bistro burgers and throwing back pints of McSorley's Ale. The burgers here are fantastic (among the best I have ever had). They're especially good at 2 in the morning, after a long night out and just before you head home to crash.

Corner Bistro
331 W 4th St
New York, NY 10014
USA

5. Sushi at the crack of dawn in Tsukiji fish market

I have to admit that this is something I haven't done yet but have been meaning to do for the longest time. Friends who have gone have raved about the fantastic quality of the sushi and sashimi served at the little restaurants within Tokyo's main and most famous fish market. I hear rumours that Tsukiji is considering closing its doors to non-trade, i.e. foodie tourists like you and me. If this is true, we all had better visit sooner rather than later.

Time to pass the meme along. In order to stick to Melissa's spirit of picking bloggers that represent as much of the world as possible, I'm tagging:

1. Greedy Goose in Singapore
2. Jam-Faced in London
3. Cook Sister in South Africa
4. Spiceblog in Australia
5. Tasting Life in The Netherlands

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Elegant comfort food


oxtail pastilla

I'm a huge fan of small, humble restaurants that are owned and operated by young couples, especially when one of them is the chef and the other runs the front-of-house. One of my newest, favourite restaurants is such a place. Sage, located on the second floor of Robertson Walk, is run by chef Jusman So and his wife Kimberly Chew.

I first learnt about Sage a few months ago through a few friends. They were raving about this hidden gem of a restaurant that served fantastic food at great prices and never charged corkage. When they told me it was in Robertson Walk, I have to admit, I was a little doubtful. A few weeks later, some friends and I finally checked it out for ourselves. And from the first bite, I was totally hooked.

Chef Jusman, who trained at the Hilton's Harbor Grill & Oyster Bar, serves delicious, hearty, yet refined French food. What I like most about his dishes is that they're elegant and comforting at the same time. When eating them, you can tell that Jusman has a great grasp of his fundamentals. His dishes are clearly steeped in tradition, but they've also been deftly updated by this young, talented chef.



lamb shank ravioli

Since my first visit, I've been back several times and have tasted a good number of dishes. My two favourites so far are Jusman's fricassee of Burgundy escargot with lentils du puy and field mushrooms, poached egg and Italian parsley foam, and his pastilla of braised oxtail meat and duxelle mushrooms on a sage and potato gratin, brunoise vegetables and a reduction of its own braising jus. I especially love the oxtail pastilla. It's super-tasty, rich, and has fantastic textures, both crispy and soft at the same time. It's an amazing and highly addictive dish. Unfortunately, on my most recent visit, I've discovered that Jusman has just taken it off his regular menu. That said, he did admit that he will still have a few available for regulars like me (the version at the top of the post is plated with a chestnut and truffle ragout instead of the potato gratin).


duck cassoulet

S and I recently tried out a couple of new dishes from Jusman's latest menu, which he has just launched. In addition to my requisite order of oxtail pastilla, we tried an order of ravioli of lamb shank topped with sauce choron and crispy Parmigiano Reggiano, Provencal ratatouille and roasted garlic jus, and Jusman's duck cassoulet (confit of duck leg with smoked pork belly and sausage, a ragout of haricot beans, parsley and fresh bread crumbs). Both were fantastic. S especially liked the cassoulet, a dish that we've found hard to find here in Singapore. We're also keen on trying a couple of his other new dishes, especially the medallion of braised pig trotter filled with lardons and sausage farci topped with French green lentils, grated eggs and sauce Bearnaise, and the blanquette of braised veal tongue on ragout of savory cabbage and lardons, sweet white onion confit and light mustard cream.

For now, Sage is still pretty much a secret. But next Friday, 19 of Singapore's better known food bloggers are going to be getting together there for dinner. So, pretty soon, I expect the word will be out. But that might be a good thing. A restaurant as good as Sage needs to be publicized and definitely deserves as much support as it can get.

Sage, The Restaurant
11 Unity Street
#02 -12 Robertson Walk
Singapore 237995
Tel: (65) 6333 8726

Sage is open for lunch only on Friday and for dinner Tuesday through Sunday. A three course dinner is S$50; four courses is S$55. They don't charge corkage (for now).


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Friday, August 18, 2006

17 great chefs and me



What do you get when you take 17 of the world's best chefs and bring them together to cook for a week in one place? Well, if you were me and you got the chance to spend the week with them, eating their dishes and attending cooking classes taught by them, you'd get one damn happy blogger!

The Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok is hosting its 7th Annual World Gourmet Festival this coming 10-17 September. And yours truly has been appointed the Festival's Official Blogger. That means S and I get to go to Bangkok and attend as many of the events as we can! Both of us will be posting daily during the Festival. I'm very excited. This year, the Festival is showcasing some really amazing chefs, including one of my personal food heroes, Peter Gordon. Regular readers might remember that S and I served a dish inspired by one of Gordon's at our wedding dinner. While I've eaten at The Sugar Club and at Providores, I've never had the pleasure of meeting him. I'm really looking forward to attending both his dinner and his cooking clas.

Other great chefs taking part include Yoshii Ryuichi from Yoshii in Sydney; Michael Mina from Las Vegas; Fatema Hal, from Morocco by way of Paris; William Ledeuil from Ze Kitchen Galerie, also in Paris; and Ruth Van Waerebeek-Gonzalez, head chef at Concha y Toro, one of Chile’s most renowned vineyards. Also taking part is one of S's friends, Vincent Bourdain (Vincent, not Anthony!), Valrhona Chocolate's regional pastry consultant. But the chef that has S most excited is Emily Luchetti, pastry chef extraordinaire. S adores both of Luchetti's books, A Passion for Desserts and A Passion for Ice Cream. She's very thrilled to be able to attend Luchetti's class; we've also asked for an interview, so hopefully, S will be able to spend some time chatting with her.

Each of the guest chefs will be cooking 2 dinners (in one of the hotel's restaurants) and teaching at least one class. If you're anywhere near Bangkok, you should consider attending the Festival. But, book soon. Some events are already sold-out. For more info, please email wgf.bangkok@fourseasons.com. Hopefully, I'll see you there.

p.s. We've actually asked for interview-time with Peter Gordon, Michael Mina, Emily Luchetti and Fatema Hal. If any of you have questions that you want us to pose them, please leave them in a comment or email me. We'll try to include the best questions in our interviews. Thanks.


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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Win a Nokia N73



Over the past few weeks, I've had the pleasure of testing out one of Nokia's awesome new N Series phones. The N73 is a joy to use and I'm not just saying that because I got one free. The N73 is the first Nokia I've used in years. Quite a few years ago, I made the switch to PDA phones, using (in order) a Treo, HP iPaq and most recently a Dopod 838 Pro, which I totally love. But I have to admit, the N73 has been winning me over. It's a good size; it feels right in my hand. It has simple, clean looks (I hate fancy "fashion phones") and the calender software works perfectly. Keying in appointments is a breeze and the read-out on the main screen is very clear. Best of all, the Nokia N73's camera rocks. It has a 3.2 megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss lens. I've complained in the past about the cameras on my PDA phones. The Treo's was awful and the iPaq's not much better. The Dopod's camera isn't bad but it's nothing compared to N73's. While you can't really shoot things too close, for general snapping away, it's brilliant.

But, as in all things, you should judge for yourself! So, thanks to the fine folks at Nokia, I'm thrilled to be able to give away 2 brand new Nokia N73 phones. I'll be giving each one away via 2 contests over the next 2 months.




FUNNY EATING FOTOS is the first contest and it starts today! Sorry, but it's open only to Singapore residents. Starting today, post the funniest photograph that you have taken of someone (that you know) eating or enjoying a meal. The photo can also be a self-portrait. I love funny photos of people eating. I especially love snapping them. My wife S (pictured here; photo taken with the N73), however, hates it, but has learned to live with it (and me). Please only post 1 photograph per contestant.

At the end of August, I will (with input from the folks at Nokia) pick a winner.
To enter, you need to join Flickr, post your photo online and then send it to this Photo Group that I have created just for this contest: Funny Eating Fotos. Good luck! I look forward to seeing your entries and I'm looking forward to sending one of you a brand new Nokia N73.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

Kitchen samurai

Maybe it's a guy thing, but I really like knives. When I was younger, I bought a lot of silly knives, like folding blades and boot daggers. These days, though, my purchases are limited to kitchen knives. Over the years, S and I have amassed what I consider a pretty nifty collection. At last count, we have well over a dozen gorgeous chef's knives. My personal favourites among them include a Masahiro Deba, a Kasumi, a Wusthof Classic with an exceptionally wide blade, a Chroma Type 301, and a Wusthof Culinar.

Buying knives is easy. Maintaining them is not. A good knife, to be really useful when working with it in the kitchen, has to be razor sharp. The only problem is that, for the longest time, I was neither confident nor sure how to properly sharpen my knives. Part of me feared that if I tried and somehow did something wrong, I'd ruin my precious tools. I do own one of those fancy-shmancy Global sharpeners, the kind which sits on the table and has litle grooves for you to run your knife through. But I've never really felt that it works properly. I also own a Global wetstone, but, as said, I've been too nervous about screwing up an expensive tool to acually use it. For the longest time, S has been sending my knives out to be professionally sharpened.


Fortunately, a very kind and very skilled new friend (I'll call him Knife-Sensei David) spent a good chunk of a recent afternoon walking S and me through a knife sharpening class. The first thing we had to understand, Sensei David told us, was our knives themselves. German knives and Japanese knives are quite different. German knives are two-sided and each side is ground at a 20 degree angle. Traditional Japanese knives are only one sided and the angle is sharper, at 15 degrees. Modern Japanese knifemakers are also making double-edged blades now. These are also ground at around 15 degrees. But what does all this mean? Basically, the more acute the angle, the sharper your knife can be. A straight razor, for example, is ground at a 10 degree angle. However, the sharper the angle is, the thinner the blade becomes. And for a chef's knife, a thin blade is only useful if it won't break. The strength of the metal in a blade is measured by something called Rockwell Hardness. Most German blades measure between 55-58 while most Japanese blades measure between 59-60. The steel used in most Japanese knives are thus stronger, which is why they can be ground to a finer angle, i.e. thinner, (and are often made single-sided) without fear of becoming brittle.

Once we understood this, Sensei David then walked us through his 4 important points of knife sharpening. They are (1) angle, (2) abrasives , (3) technique, and (4) control.

Angle: Basically, he explained, as long as you understand that knife blades are sharpened along an acute angle ranging from 15-20 degrees, what actual angle you use to sharpen your own knives doesn't really matter as long as you are consistent and stay within this range.
For a quick check to ensure that you are somewhere on the right path, he advises holding the knife at a 90 degree angle, halving that to form a 45 degree angle, and then finally halving that again. You can then adjust according to your own preference.

Abrasives: Sensei David advocates using a wetstone. He advises to soak the stone in water for 5-10 minutes before use and to always let it dry properly afterwards. Wetstones are graded according to how rough and smooth they are. They can start as low as 200 and go all the way up to 10,000 (the higher the number, the smoother the surface). Stones graded between 200 - 1,000 are considered cutting stones. Those graded over 1,000 are for polishing and honing. Essentially, what stone you use is determined by how sharp or blunt your knife is. Start with a cutting stone. If your knife is dreadfully dull, you'll need a very abrasive (low-numbered) stone, like a 400. If it's already quite sharp, you could start with a 1,000. Polishing stones are used later to hone the edge of your knife as well as to create gorgeous, shiny edges on your blade. Most people, Sensei David suggests, will be thrilled with the polish from a 4,000 level stone. "Only kitchen samurais who want super-sharp, super-shiny knives use 10,000," he said.

Technique: It's better to sharpen your knives with a large stone. You'll want one with a wide surface area so that you can draw all of the knife's edge along the stone in one motion. Gripping the handle of your knife with one hand, get it into your desired angle along your stone. Place three fingers of the other hand on the flat of the blade near the tip. Start at the top left corner (if you are right-handed) and and run the blade along the stone towards the near right corner. Go back and forth in a consistent motion, sharpening only one side of the knife. Every so often, check the blade. You stop only when you can feel a burr running down the total length of the edge of the blade, on the side that you were not sharpening. When you feel this, stop, flip the blade and sharpen the other side the same way until you feel a fine burr. Sensei David said to us, "the burr is your friend, it is how you know your knife is sharp." Then use a polishing stone to hone your knife. Holding it the same way, run the blade back and forth on both sides until the edge is smooth and gleaming.

Control: As in anything that requires technique, control is everything. You need to be consistent. The good thing is, according to Sensei David, that despite what you may believe, you really can't ruin a good quality knife by botching up the sharpening process.

Once your knives are properly sharpened, you won't need to sharpen them every day. Only professional chefs, who have to cut through endless produce every day, need to do that. Home chefs should, though, hone their blades with a few quick sweeps against a straightening steel (the ceramic vesions work equally well) each time they want to use one.


(Phew. Talk about long-winded posts.) Hopefully, this has helped you all a little. Or maybe you knew all this and I was the only moron out there who was spending a lot of money buying fancy knives without knowing how to take care of them properly. Thanks to Sensei David, I now understand how to sharpen these gorgeous babies myself. (So does S, which is great because hopefully she'll feel motivated to shapen them for me.)

If, however, you still want to get your knives professionally sharpened (and you live in Singapore), feel free to call David's company, Razor Sharp, any time. They can make your knives look like new and cut through paper as if it was air. I've been amazed at how finely-edged some of my knives have been after a visit to his office. And, because David knows I love it when the edges are super-shiny, he gives this fat foodie the kitchen-samurai special, honing my knives with a 10,000 graded stone.


Razor Sharp
315 Outram Road
#01-03 Tan Boon Liat Building
Singapore 169074
Tel: 6227 7515


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Friday, August 11, 2006

More ways to eat kaya



As one faithful reader pointed out in a comment on my last post, one of the very best ways to devour homemade kaya is spread over French toast. Taking inspiration from her very wise words, I whipped up a batch for breakfast and smeared it with the remaining kaya.

I really love French toast (or pain perdu, as the French call it). It's one of the easiest dishes to learn to make. It's also one of the most delicious. It's great for breakfast paired with some crispy bacon and maple syrup. It's also fantastic as a dessert, plated with some fresh fruit and ice cream.

When making French toast, I like to use a soft white bread. The local 7-11 here sells a bread they call "Kopitiam Bread". It's the same bread I used previously with my kaya toast. Because it's so soft, it really soaks up the egg dip that you dunk the bread into before frying.

To make a batch, mix all of the ingredients cited in the picture above in a large bowl. This quantity is enough for 3 or 4 pieces of bread (perfect for breakfast for deux). I like cutting my bread in half in order to get slightly smaller pieces of French toast -- which are also easier to handle when cooking. Melt a large pat of butter over medium heat in a large frying pan. When the butter begins to brown, dunk the bread pieces in the egg mixture, then place them, one at a time, on the fry pan. When the sides on the pan turns golden-brown, fip the bread pieces and brown the other sides. Serve with kaya, powdered sugar, or whatever else you might have on hand.


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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

National brekkie



Today, Singapore celebrates its 41st birthday. So today of all days, I thought it would be appropriate to make, eat and write about something that I felt was very typically (though not uniquely) Singaporean. While there a myriad of dishes that are beloved by my countrymen and women and some which are considered by many to be "The Great Singaporean Dish", like chicken rice, fish head curry or laksa for example, to me, nothing is more Singaporean than a breakfast composed of kaya toast and soft-boiled eggs.

For foreign readers, kaya (or serikaya, as it was originally called) is an egg jam, made with coconut milk that's been infused with the aroma and taste of pandanus leaves (also just called pandan). It's a Malay and Nonya (Straits Chinese) specialty. Local food historians trace its origins back to to the Portuguese, who, during the height of the spice trade, had established major trading outposts in the Straits of Malacca.

"Kaya toast" combines this rich, delicious jam with thin slices of toast and cold bits of butter. Traditionally, the bread is toasted over a charcoal fire. The combination is, while simple, quite heavenly. The sweet jam contrasts wonderfully with the savoriness of the butter. The crispy toast also acts as a good counterpoint to the two spreads.




Kaya toast is usually served with soft-boiled eggs (flavored with soy sauce and pepper) and a cup of exceptionally strong, sweet coffee. All across the country, thousands upon thousands of Singaporeans wake up every day, get dressed and head out to their favorite coffeeshop for the nation's favorite breakfast. For many, the day doesn't even start properly without digging into this now classic combination.

I've never tried making my own kaya before. And while I own several local cookbooks, including some fantastic old volumes handed down to me by my mother, I decided to ask an expert for some help. Christopher Tan is my go-to guy when it comes to Nonya food. Unlike me, who rambles aimlessly on the Internet, Chris actually makes a living writing about and working with food. He's an extremely respected food writer with several cookbooks under his belt, a great photographer, and one of the few and best food stylists in the region. He also comes from a family of food journalists. His book Shiok! is the one volume that S and I always recommend to anyone interested in learning to cook Malaysian and Singaporean dishes.




Chris passed S and me his family's favorite recipe and has graciously allowed us to share it with all of you. Unlike the kaya used in most coffeeshops, which is creamy and smooth, Chris' recipe yields a slightly more dense, custardy kaya. He contends that traditional Nonya kaya is made this way. You should be able to, he told me, slice it with a knife. The soft, spreadable kaya that most coffeeshops, including Ya Kun and Killiney Kopitiam (the two most famous kaya toast places in town), serve is a Hainanese adaptation.

The recipe worked well. In fact, it was surprisingly easy. Easy enough to make me wonder why anyone would buy commercially-made kaya. S and I had steamed our kaya for only 90 minutes (Chris recommends between 90-120 minutes), so it wasn't too firm, i.e. easy to spread. Paired with some nice French butter (which S stores religiously) over hot toast, this really made my (National) day.

(Note: I've created a new badge which appears in this post. I'll be using it when writing about Singaporean foods, restaurants and people. Kudos to Lush 99.5 for their "Lush loves local" campaign; it's a fantastic campaign which has totally inspired me to do this. Of course, this doesn't mean I won't be posting non-Singaporean content. In fact, I've just secured a deal to be the Official Blogger at a major overseas Gourmet Festival. I'll be posting about that soon. )

Kaya
Makes 600-700 ml

250ml coconut milk
8 pandanus leaves, washed
275g caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 fresh chicken eggs

Combine the eggs, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Stir (do not beat) with a whisk until the sugar is dissolved.

Tie six of the pandanus leaves into a knot, bruising the leaves to release the pandanus aromas. Put the coconut milk and pandan into a saucepan. Slowly heat it up until it begins to boil. As soon as it reaches the boil, pour it over the egg mixture, stirring it in carefully. When blended, take out the pandan and strain the mixture through a sieve into the top part of a double boiler. Gently heat the mixture, stirring constantly, until it just begins to thicken.

Meanwhile, tie your remaining pandanus leaves and place them in a heatproof bowl or loaf tin. Then sieve the mix into the container. If you use jars, use wider, shorter jars; you can also put one tied pandanus leaf into each jar. Cover tightly with foil. Make a few small incisions in the foil so steam can escape.

Place the container (or jars) into a steamer and steam for 90 minutes to 2 hours, or until firmly set. Cool and then keep covered in your fridge. It will keep for a week.


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Friday, August 04, 2006

Deconstructed California roll



Whenever my darling wife S brings home live Sri Lankan crabs from the market, I get excited. I love the flavors and textures of freshly cooked crab. S also has a phenomenal, continuously expanding repertoire of crab dishes. Her crab cakes, for example, are truly inspiring.

I’m a very lazy crab eater. I hate peeling crabs. This makes me the worst kind of crab lover. I love the taste but I hate the work. Partly because I’m just not very skillful when it comes to extracting the meat from the shell but also because I’m just too darned impatient. Fortunately, S is as patient as she is pretty and she’ll kindly spend an hour or two working her way through a couple of crabs whenever the need arises. Which means that when I need some freshly picked crabmeat for a dish I’m working on, she’ll come to my rescue.

A couple of years ago, while on a business trip to Melbourne, I had the opportunity to dine at a fantastic little hole-in-the-wall called Yu'u. One of my favourite dishes from that meal was a salmon tartar composed of large cubes of raw salmon, tossed with seaweed, avocado and tobiko. When I returned home, I knew I had to try and replicate it. Because the staff at Yu’u had refused to give me the ingredients for the tartar‘s dressing, I had to try to figure it out on my own. After a few attempts, I came pretty close. Once I had nailed down what I felt was a fair reproduction, I then started to experiment, changing ingredients and tweaking the dressing until the resulting dish was something that I felt represented my own personal tastes and styles.

I love California rolls. So, pairing the seaweed, avocado, and roe with crabmeat instead of salmon seemed like a good idea. It also makes the dish, to me, feel more special and more refined -- which is something that the introduction of crab into a dish always seems to do. And since my lovely wife is always willing to prep some deliciously fresh crabmeat for me, this has become one of my favourite dishes to serve friends. Once you prep the crabmeat -- or like me convince someone you love to do it for you -- the rest of the dish is actually very easy to make. And it never fails to please and impress.

Tian of crabmeat, avocado, wakame and ikura

Serves 8

Meat from 2 steamed Sri Lankan Crabs
2 avocados, peeled, deseeded and diced
2 teaspoons of dried wakame
8 teaspoons of ikura
Juice from 1 lemon

Dressing
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon wasabi
2 tablespoons shiro miso
1 teaspoon Japanese mayonnaise
1.5 teaspoons mirin
Salt to taste

Soak the dried wakame in some hot water. When expanded, transfer to a bowl of ice water. Then drain and place the wakame on a plate lined with paper towels.

Drizzle some of the lemon juice over the diced avocado. Mix the ingredients of the dressing together. Put all the crabmeat in a bowl and add dressing to taste. Mix well. Place a small round metal ring on the centre of a plate. Put some avocado into the ring. Then put a healthy portion of the crabmeat over the avocado. Place wakame on top and place one teaspoon of the ikura over it. Carefully remove the metal ring and serve.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

What to cook the morning after



Now that I'm married, one of the things I most enjoy doing is waking up before my wife (which, since she likes sleeping in, is relatively easy) and fixing breakfast for her. There are a couple great things about doing this. First, she's always appreciative of this relatively simple gesture. Secondly, because we've gotten to know each other pretty intimately over the past 7 years that we've been together, I have a really good idea of the kind of foods that she'll appreciate me preparing. Which makes making breakfast easy. What I mean by that is that there's very little risk involved. I don't have to worry about making something she won't eat or won't like. That's one of the wonderful things about being married. You build up such a wealth of information about someone you love that you know instinctively what they'll think of something.

Cooking for someone you don't know, however, can be unnerving. There's no way of knowing if what you're making will appeal to them. In a worst-case scenario, you might even serve them something he or she's allergic to. Cooking breakfast for a new special someone the morning after a "big night" (how you interpret "big night" I'm going to leave to you, but the very fact that you're making breakfast should tell you something) is possibly the most challenging home-cooked meal you could ever be faced with making. Do you make scrambled eggs? Does s/he like them runny or set? How about just toasting a few pieces of bread? Cold pizza could make you look like an unsophisticated clod. A fantastically elaborate and perfect fritatta could give your new lovemuffin the wrong idea about your inclinations. Throwing a few frozen croissants into the oven is easy and safe but is it too easy and safe? Or do you forget making anything at all and suggest going out for breakfast?




I suggest making something simple but delicious. It should be something you can easily whip up from scratch in under an hour. It should also be something impressive, something that looks fantastic and tastes even better. It should be brimming with classic flavours, full of familiar tastes that everyone loves. One of the best sources for such recipes is Sydney Food, Bill Granger's first cookbook. It's no secret that bills in Sydney serves some of the very best breakfast dishes on the planet. Of these, my three favourites are the scrambled eggs, ricotta honey hotcakes and the corn fritters. And of these, I'd recommend making the corn fritters, served with roasted tomatoes and bacon, the morning after.

My own personal favourite is the scrambled eggs. But the amount of butter and cream in this dish might scare off health-conscious companions. The hotcakes are tasty but heavy. The corn fritters, on the other hand, are deliciously fresh. They're sweet and savory at the same time. And they're relatively healthy, what with the amount of vegetables and herbs in the dish. They're also easy to make. Just roast the tomatoes while you prepare the corn mixture and the batter. There are no real elaborate steps in this recipe. Just stirring and then frying. You can pretty much get the fritters done by the time the tomatoes are done.

While S enjoyed an extra hour of shut-eye yesterday morning, I whipped up a batch of these fritters. It was really nice to be able to start the week by trying to make her happy.

Sweetcorn Fritters with Roast Tomato and Bacon
from Sydney Food

1 cup plain (all-purpose) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 cups fresh corn kernels, cut from the cob
1/2 cup diced red capsicum
1/2 cup sliced spring onions
1/4 cup chopped coriander and parsley combined
4 tablespoon vegetable oil
to serve
4 Roma tomatoes
1 bunch rocket, washed and dried
4 rashers grilled bacon
olive oil
salt and pepper

Serves 4

Pre-heat your oven to 180ºC. Slice tomatoes in half. Place tomatoes (cut-side up) on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 40 minutes.

Sift flour, baking powder, salt and paprika into a large bowl, stir in sugar and make a well in the centre. In a separate bowl, combine eggs and milk. Gradually add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk until you have a smooth, lump-free batter.

Place corn, capsicum, spring onions and herbs in a mixing bowl and add just enough batter to lightly bind then. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Drop in 2 tablespoons of batter per fritter and cook 4 fritters at a time. Cook for 2 minutes or until the underside is golden-brown. Flip and cook on the other side. Transfer to a plate and keep warm and cook the remaining fritters.

To serve, place one fritter on each plate. Top each with 2 halves of roast tomato, a small handful of rocket and a rasher of bacon. Finish with a second fritter and drizzle a little olive oil around the base of the stack.