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Monday, October 30, 2006

Simple minced pork noodles

Two things that I love to eat are pork and noodles. Which means I'm always happy to find a dish that deliciously combines these two great ingredients. Some dishes, like Justin Quek's gorgeous sounding tagliatelle with summer truffles and sauteed pork neck confit (from his new cookbook, Justin Quek, Passion & Inspiration), take quite a bit of work to make. Others, thankfully, are simpler. One of my favourite pork and noodle dishes is extremely simple. It's just boiled noodles tossed with a sauteed minced pork sauce.

Both the Chinese and the Japanese make variations of this delicious dish. The Chinese call theirs Dan Dan Mian. It's a traditional street food (supposedly) originally from Chengdu, in Northern China. You can usually find a version of it on the menu of any Northern Chinese dumpling restaurant. The Japanese enjoy topping either rice or noodles with stir-fried minced pork and spring onions. They call this quick and easy stir-fry Negi to buta-niku no itame (which is a bit of a mouthful for the rest of us).

Making either the Chinese or Japanese versions of this quick and simple supper is relatively easy. I suggest following the recipes faithfully once or twice first and then deviating at will and to taste. You can decide what style you want and how you want your pork flavoured. I change the way I cook this almost every time I make it, often based on what's in my pantry and fridge at the time. You can also choose the kind of noodles you want to eat. I enjoy having mine with somen noodles. I like the weight, bite and taste of this wheat-flour noodle.

The great thing with this dish is that you can always cook up a little more minced pork than you need. Pop the extra portions in your fridge or freezer. And the next time you're feeling a little peckish, a great, comforting meal is only minutes away. All you have to do is boil your noodles, defrost the pork and you're ready to chow down.

Kimiko Barber's The Japanese Kitchen has a great, simple Negi to buta-niku no itame recipe. I've copied it below for you all the try out. If you want a really good, authentic Dan Dan Mian recipe, you should check out Fuschia Dunlop's Sichuan Cookery (called Land of Plenty in the USA). If you want to find a really simple version, however, you can pick up Les Huynh's new book Takeaway.

Negi to buta-niku no itame
from Kimiko Barber's The Japanese Kitchen
Serves 4

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
200g minced pork
4 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stalks removed, finely chopped
8 negi or spring onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons sake
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan over high heat. Add the pork and chopped mushrooms. Stir-fry for 5 minutes before adding the spring onions. Add the sake and soy sauce to the work. Stir well, then serve over noodles or rice.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Arena in Singapore

For the longest time here in Singapore, there seemed to be almost an oversupply of women's magazines and an undersupply of good, intelligent stuff for guys to read. That's since changed. Recently, a whole slew of new men's magazines have been launched (and from what I hear, there are more yet to come). One that I am particularly excited about is the Singapore edition of Arena. I've always liked this British, slightly snarky, sometimes sexy, and always smart periodical. It's great to have our very own edition. I'm also pleased as punch because the editors have asked me to contribute a monthly column to the magazine. Of course, I couldn't say no. Anyway, Arena Singapore launched last night. It should be on the newsstands by today or tomorrow. Grab a copy. Or two or three.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Margaret River

S and I have just returned from a wonderful trip to Margaret River in Western Australia. While we had gone down in order to attend the wedding of two good friends, we've never really needed a reason to visit this gorgeous wine region. Margaret River is one of our favourite near-by vacation spots. And we're not alone. Today, it has become a hot spot for wine buffs, traveling gourmands, and swanky couples looking for an affordable and exceptional place to spend anything from a weekend away to a week or more. The area is beautiful. It is filled with award-winning vineyards, great restaurants and a growing number of very well-appointed hotels and holiday homes. Foodies will delight in the amazing produce available here, from freerange venison to freshly caught marron.

Getting there is easy. It’s a short 3.5 hour drive from Perth. As said, staying in Margaret River has also become easier and easier. Whether it’s a luxury resort or simple cottage you’re craving, there are plenty of choices. One of our favourite places is a rather unique and now (unfortunately) well-known, award-winning, place called La Foret Enchantee. La Foret is essentially 2 beautiful houses situated on a private estate just minutes from Margaret River town. La Foret offers two kinds of living experiences. The Cabin is rustic and earthy while the Palazzo is elegant and, well, palatial. Each residence has a well-appointed and well-stocked kitchen, living room, dining room and bedroom. We really like the Palazzo’s circular bedroom, with floor to ceiling windows that look out into the woods and a circular bed that encourage all kinds of deliciously naughty thoughts. La Foret is owned and run by Fee Menzies Stirton, a vivacious blonde whose business and life partner, Michael White, runs marketing for one of Margaret River’s most exciting vineyards, Vasse Felix.

photos courtesy of Ron Roozen House

On this most recent trip, S and I booked what has become our newest favourite place to stay in Margaret River. The Ron Roozen House was built by architect Dale Jones-Evans for local artist and surfer Ron Roozen. The house is stunning. It has a clean, modernist design with an amazing terrace, 3 king-sized bedrooms, a large dining and living space and a very well-equipt kitchen. It's located on a high bluff in Prevelly, a small-beach town 5 minutes west of Margaret River town. The house faces the beach and the views of the ocean are simply breathtaking. It was an amazing place to spend a few days and an equally stunning place to host two dinner parties, which we did the first night we arrived and the day after our friends' wedding.

Wine, of course, is perhaps the reason most people visit this region. With more than 80 wineries to choose from, the thirsty traveler could keep himself occupied for days on end. Of course, S and I have our own personal favourites.

One current favourite is Cape Grace. A relative newcomer, this tiny vineyard makes fantastic reds and a sweet, delicious Chenin Blanc. In 1996 Robert and Karen Karri-Davies planted their 15 acre vineyard on the headwaters of the Willyabrup Valley. Just five years later, with consultant winemaker Mark Messenger, Cape Grace became a Gold Medal and Trophy Winner at the 24th Annual Sheraton Wine Awards for its 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon. Both the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Shiraz (only 300 cases of each are made a year) are highly rated. James Halliday—arguably one of the most trusted Aussie wine experts— heralded Cape Grace as one of Australia’s top ten new vineyards. And the best thing? The price of the reds is under AU$40 a bottle and the whites less than AU$20. We always make a stop here when we're in the area. Firstly to buy wine of course (I sent a whole case home) and secondly because visiting Karen is always a joy.

Voyager Estate is easily one of the most striking sights in the region. Its white-washed Cape Dutch main house, situated behind a stretch of rose gardens, is visible from the main roads and is a stunning sight. The vineyard has one of the better restaurants in the region. And the wines are usually very good. Unfortunately, this year when we visited, there weren't any Tom Price wines available. Voyager's Tom Price range is its premium line; it's only released during exceptional vintages. When we've visited in the past, we've been able to stock up on these very coveted wines. This year, we satisfied ourselves with some very affordable, light, fruity and delicious Chenin Blancs.

Vasse Felix is the oldest commercial vineyard and winery in the Margaret River wine region. On trips into the region we always make a stop here, partly to buy their fantastic wines but also to eat lunch in the winery’s superb restaurant. The restaurant has previously received the highest rating for any regional establishment in Western Australia in Australian Gourmet Traveller's Restaurant Guide to Australia. And its accolades are very well deserved. The food here is always brilliant. Seven of us had a lovely lunch the day of the wedding. We toasted with Vasse Felix's yummy sparkling wine (Silver Knight) and feasted on a simply gorgeous spread. I had a super-yummy clam chowder with sweet corn hush puppies as a starter. For my main course, I had a delicious hunk of roasted baby goat served with the best polenta I have ever tasted. S had an order of corned beef cheeks that were to die for. Unfortunately, we were all too stuffed for dessert.

Another fabulous vineyard to visit is Cape Mentelle. This LVMH-owned vineyard turns out some delicious premium wines that are exported all over the world. Two wines that aren't exported though are the vineyard's very drinkable Dry White and Dry Red, both sold in magnums. At AU$14 and AU$16 respectively, these wines are a fantastic value. We bought a bottle of each from the cellar door. While we had planned to bring them home, we cracked both open and polished them off on our first night in town.

Once you've stocked up on all the wine you can drink, if you're staying in a place in which you can cook (and I recommend you do, because most of the vineyard restaurants are only open for lunch and the restaurants in Margaret River town are only so-so), you should head over to a few of the region's gourmet food suppliers. My favourite place to pick up some goodies is My Butcher Lifestyle Food. You can get great meats plus super-fresh seafood. A dozen oysters here were only AU$13. Live marron were AU$45 a kilo (when I checked at a store in Perth, they were AU$59; in Singapore, I was just quoted S$80 a kilo). We were able to create two amazing feasts during our trip. Our second meal in particular was both delicious and fun. Four of us cooked the meal. The newleywed couple came over for early evening drinks. Nine of us polished off 4 dozen oysters with a couple bottles of Champagne while watching the sunset. The wedding couple then had to run off for a family dinner, so the seven of us left enjoyed our meal. I made a marron pasta based on Tetsuya's pasta with scampi and scampi oil. Our friends L and M made a gorgeous roast pumpkin and beetroot salad. S roasted some chickens that had been marinated in a Moroccan spice mix we picked up in Perth. We served this with some cous-cous. For dessert, S served meringues with roasted strawberries. With the meal, we sampled a variety of the region's best wines. It was, all around, a wonderful meal that was the highlight of a wonderful trip.

Insider Margaret River

Wineries we like

Cape Grace
Fifty One Road,
Telephone: (08) 9755 5669

Cape Mentelle
Wallcliffe Road
Margaret River
Telephone: (08) 9757 0888

Cullen Wines
Caves Road
Telephone: (08) 9755 5277

Gralyn Estate
Caves Road

Telephone: (08) 9755 6245

Leeuwin Estate
Stevens Rd
Margaret River
Telephone: (08) 9759 0000

Vasse Felix
Cnr Caves Road and Harmans Road South
Telephone: (08) 9756 5000

Voyager Estate
Stevens Road
Margaret River
Telephone: (08) 9757 6354

Places we sleep in

Ron Roozen House
The ultimate house for couples looking for a place to escape to with a few friends. This place is amazing. Great views. Great design. Great kitchen. Great great great! Get the hint?
For rates and to book, click here.

La Foret Enchantee
The most romantic escape for a well-heeled couple. Book the Palazzo and pretend you are in Venice.
Telephone:(08) 9757 9889
Facsimile: (08) 9757 9899
298 Caves Rd
Margaret River

Empire Retreat
Empire is the winner of the 2002 West Australian Tourism Award for Best Hosted Accomodation. While we hate to use the word, Empire can best be described as “Balinese”. If you're into tropical Asian resorts, then you will appreciate this place.
Telephone: (08) 9755 2065
Facsimile: (08) 9755 2297

Losari Retreat
Stunning limestone chalets on a private hilltop estate. These self-contained chalets are excellent for couples looking for an affordable but luxurious escape.
RMB 264B Osmington Road
Margaret River
Telephone: (08) 9757 3630
Fascimile: (08) 9757 3630
Mobile: 0414 394 945

Hilltop Studios
These are 2 beautiful modern self-contained accomodations that will please any traveler who prefers his lodgings a little more slick than rustic. Choose between the Panaroma Studio with indoor spa or the smaller Limstone Studio with outdoor spa.
RMB 286 Carters Road
Margaret River 6285
Tel: (08) 9758 8988

Restaurants we dine in

This is a great place to drop in for a quick lunch. Some cooked foods, but a good variety of cold cuts and cheeses. This is real casual dining. But it’s also delicious casual dining.
Restaurant bookings: (08) 9755 5656

Vasse Felix
In the upstairs balcony restaurant, lunches are served every day in a smart, casual environment that overlooks a sweeping panorama of vines and natural forests. The food here is fantastic and well worth a visit.
Telephone: (08) 9756 5000

Clairault Restaurant
The restaurant here was awarded Four Stars by Mietta's Best Australian Restaurants Guide 2002. This is a gorgeous modern restaurant in one of the most beautiful vineyards in the region. Enjoy a glass of wine by the fireplace and chow down on some lovely Mod Oz cuisine.
Telephone: (08) 9755 6655

Winos is cleverly designed as a spacious, well-lit wine bar, clearly separated from a busy restaurant area with similar high ceilings. It is managed by local winemaker Mike Gadd, so the superb wine list should come as no surprise. Also impressive is the food of chef Dennis Mifsud.
85 Bussell Hwy, Margaret River
Telephone: (08) 9758 7155

The Green Room Surf Cafe
This little café in town, open from 430pm onwards makes a great burger. A large patty topped with 3 inches of salad—alfafa, beetroot, lettuce, etc—cheese and bacon served on a bacon cheese bun. It’s the cheapest good meal in the region.
113B Bussell Hwy, Margaret River

Sea Gardens Cafe
This lovely cafe is just down the road from the Ron Roozen House. It's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and all are excellent. The only problem here is getting a table because this place is very, very popular with visitors and locals alike.
Lot 103 Mitchell Dr
Telephone: (08) 9757 3074

Food shops we frequent

My Butcher Lifestyle Food
This is an excellent place to pick up both local seafood and meats. Great quality and good prices.
Shop 2/120 Bussell Highway
Margaret River
Phone (0)8 97572313

Coles Supermarket
If you need to pick up staples, then Coles is the place to get them. It's located smack in the middle of Margaret River town.
Bussell Highway
Margaret River

Margaret River Venison
This is Western Australia’s first commercial deer farm. Great quality venison and Jessie, the resident dog, is super cute and loves to play catch with customers.
The Farm shop is located on Caves Rd between Ellensbrook & Cowaramup Bay Rds 12.5km from Margaret River.
Telephone: (08) 9755 5028

Olio Bello Olive Oil
This farm produces award-winning extra virgin olive oils. Try the oils and do a short tour.
Corner of Armstrong Road & Cowaramup Bay Road
Telephone: (08) 9755 9771

Margaret River Regional Wine Centre
Centrally located in Cowaramup, the Margaret River Regional Wine Centre is the ideal place to begin your exploration of this renowned and varied wine growing area. You can taste wines here and create itineraries to help enhance your visit. Maps, tourist guides and information about the area are all available.
9 Bussell Highway
Telephone: (08) 9755 5501

Margaret Riviera
This little shop stocks gourmet produce produced in the region and cooked delicacies by some of the area’s best chefs. It was better stocked the last time we visited, but it is still a great place to stop at if you plan on making your own meal.
Shop 2, Cnr Bussell Hwy & Bottrill St
Telephone: (08) 9755 9333

Monday, October 23, 2006

lost and FOUND!

It's a little after 10pm on Monday and I'm very, very happy to report that Alix has been found, picked up, showered and is happily snoozing away.

I'd like to send out huge thanks to all the people who posted very kind and sympathetic comments, who emailed me during the day, and all the bloggers who put up notices on their own sites. Your support was amazing and it really touched both S and me.

Even bigger thanks go to Andy, the ultimate kind samaritan. This very nice guy saw our crazy little gal trying to cross Siglap Road last night. He rescued her and gave her a safe place to spend the night. Andy, thank you so very much!

Help. Our dog has gone missing!

I'm typing this from Perth, where my wife and I have been the last few days. Last night, we got some horrible news. Our younger dog Alix (pictured here) has gone missing. She was staying a friend's house while we were away. During a walk near Telok Kurau Lorong M, she got spooked by a stupid little boy on a bicycle (who almost ran into her), got loose and ran off. She was last seen running towards the canal that runs adjacent to Lorong M.

PLEASE, please, if you have seen her or have any information on her, my wife and I would be eternally grateful. Alix is a 3 year old Golden Retriever. She's very small (much smaller than normal) with a short coat. She doesn't bark (ever) and is overly friendly. She's wearing a yellow collar with an AVA tag on it. S and I are very willing to give a small reward to anyone who helps us find her.

Please email me at if you have seen her or have found her. Also, I would be very grateful if you could ask friends who live in the East to keep their eyes out for her. She means the world to us.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Lobster ravioli with lobster broth and a lemongrass-shellfish sauce

It's always satisfying to create a recipe that wows your friends. For a recent dinner party, I had told my wife S that I wanted to create a lobster ravioli. I was inspired partly by the amazing seabass ravioli, made by Chef William Ledeuil, that I tasted while attending the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok's World Gourmet Festival. Chef Ledeuil's ravioli was served with two sauces. Under the ravioli, Ledeuil had laid down some pepper compote. Over it, he had spooned some lemongrass-accented foam. It was a gorgeous, subtle, aromatic and delicious dish.

I wanted, for my dinner, to create something a little more rich. And a little more luxurious. For the one and only catering job that S I have ever accepted, we made (among other dishes) Thomas Keller's butter-poached lobster served with a mascarpone and lobster broth enriched orzo. Keller's lobster broth is beautiful. It's thick and full of flavour. I wanted to use Ledeuil's idea of combining two sauces, one stronger and one lighter, and I thought Keller's lobster broth would make the perfect underlying sauce.

Since we'd have to use the shells from 2 lobsters to make the broth, it only made sense then that our ravioli should be stuffed with the lobsters' meat. S used a fish mousse recipe from John Campbell's Formulas for Flavour and tweaked it to produce a delightful lobster mousse. We combined this with more lobster meat and some Thai herbs. Our final touch was a light prawn stock that had been infused with lemongrass and Thai shallots, then flavoured with coconut milk, blended and strained. We drizzled just a touch of this light and fragrant sauce over each dish, giving it a nice subtle Asian flavour.

It's always just a little bit nerve-wracking to serve something that is entirely of our own creation to friends. If a dish comes straight from a cookbook and if it doesn't pan out well, we can always blame the chef whose recipe it is. However, when the dish is something we come up with ourselves, then if the flavours or textures don't gel together, than we are entirely to blame. Fortunately, our friends appeared to really like this dish. They polished off their plates pretty quickly and a couple even asked for extra portions. S and I were thrilled at the results and plan to make this at future dinner parties, including one to celebrate my mother' s 65th birthday in just a few weeks.

I have to admit that the dish is not the easiest thing in the world to make. But it is very tasty and extremely satisfying. I hope you take the time to give it a try.

Lobster Ravioli with lobster broth and a lemongrass-shellfish sauce
Serves 8 (makes 16 ravioli)

body meat from 2 large lobsters
60g Chinese coriander, finely chopped
100g lobster mousse
30g Thai basil, finely chopped
olive oil
1 egg, beaten
32 wonton skins
flour for dusting

Dice the lobster meat and combine with the coriander, mousse, and basil. Drizzle just a touch of olive oil onto the mixture and stir it in. Season to taste with salt. Use 2 wonton skins for each ravioli. Put a small amount of the lobster mixture onto the middle of a skin. Rub a little of the beaten egg around the edges of the skin and place another skin on top of it, sealing it. Dust with flour and store on a tray in a cool area.

Lemongrass-shellfish sauce
3 cups prawn stock (or chicken stock if you can't get or make prawn stock)
1 cup coconut milk
juice from 1 lemon
4 sticks lemongrass
50g Thai shallots

Chop up the lemongrass and shallots and place them in a pan with the prawn stock. Add the lemon juice to taste. Warm the pan up slowly, letting it reach a boil. Then remove from the heat and add the coconut milk. Salt to taste. Blend the mixture until it is as smooth as possible, then strain the sauce into a pan.

Lobster mousse
(makes more than is needed for this dish)
meat from the claws of the 2 lobsters, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of ground pepper
150ml cream

Place the lobster meat in a food processor and blend to a fine mince, stopping when needed to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the salt and pepper and mix again, ensuring even distribution. Chill for 10-15 minutes. Place the lobster back into the processor, then blend in the cream, adding it in a steady stream. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Cover well and store in the fridge.

Lobster broth
1/4 cup canola oil
2 lobster body shells
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 bunch tarragon
2 cups heavy cream

Heat the oil in a large, deep pan. Add the lobster shells and sear over high heat for 1 to 2 minutes, until they turn red. Add the tomatoes, carrots, and tarragon. Cover the shells and vegetables with water and bring to a boil. Skim off any impurities that rise to the top. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour. Strain the stock through a large strainer, smashing the lobster bodies with a wooden spoon to extract all the liquid. Strain again through a chinois into a clean saucepan. Return the strained stock to the stove and simmer until it is reduced to just 1 cup. Add the cream, return to a simmer and cook, skimming occasionally, until the broth is reduced to just 2 cups. Strain again.

To serve, cook your ravioli in boling water. When the ravioli rise to the surface of the water, they are done. Spoon some of the lobster broth into the bottom of each serving dish. Then place 2 ravioli on each dish. Drizzle a little more lobster broth and then a spoon or two of the lemongrass-shellfish sauce.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

What to do this weekend

Justin Quek, Passion & Inspiration, the first cookbook by Singapore's most celebrated chef, Justin Quek, goes on sale across Singapore and Malaysia today. The book is great. It's big, glossy and full of gorgeous pictures. It's also chock full of recipes that are guaranteed to make you drool. Surprisingly, they are also very easy to follow. If you buy just one book by a Southeast Asian chef this year, this is the book to get. Justin's recipes and his story, told throughout the essays in the book, are truly inspirational.

If you have some free time and actually want to meet the amazing chef, and taste some of his delicious food (for free), he'll be making some special guest appearances today and tomorrow. Details are below:

Saturday, 14 October 2006, 2pm, Borders
Saturday, 14 October 2006, 4pm, Kinokuniya main store (Ngee Ann City)
Sunday, 15 October 2006, 2pm, MPH Parkway Parade

So, what are you waiting for? Call all your friends! See you later!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A great bowl of teh

I haven't posted for a few days because I had to take a quick work trip to Penang, Malaysia. Usually, I love going there. The street food in Penang is fantastic. Sadly, it is far better than what we get these days in Singapore. Unfortunately, because of the nature of this trip, I wasn't able to take too much time off to visit my favourite eating stalls.

One, though, that I was able to pop into, mostly because it was just a few steps from the hotel I stayed in, was Zealand Seafood Restaurant, on Gurney Drive. This moderately sized, open air and old-fashioned eatery serves what I think is some pretty damn good bak kut teh. Bak kut teh, for the uninitiated, is a pork bone soup commonly found in both Malaysia and Singapore. It's eaten all times of the day, but most seem to prefer it early in the morning or very late at night (after a big night out). It's eaten with rice, fried dough sticks, or simply on its own.

I'll be honest. I don't like the bak kut teh that most stalls in Singapore sell. Here, it's a clear, watery soup flavoured with too much pepper and garlic. It also usually comes with few edible ingredients -- a few pieces of bone with a bit of meat on it, but that's it. The bak kut teh served in Penang, and elsewhere throughout Malaysia, by contrast, is world's apart. It's made with less garlic and less pepper and with many more herbs and spices (among them dong quai, cinnamon, wolfberries, star anise and ginseng). The broth is usually dark and flavourful. The soup is also served with a heaping portion of pork bones, bork belly, mushrooms, bean curd skin, and other yummy treats.

The version served at Zealand is delicious. It's well-balanced and very tasty. And you can also get as many refills of broth as you like. I know I try to stop here at least once whenever I visit Penang. So should you.

Zealand Seafood Restaurant
62 Gurney Drive
10250 Penang
Tel: 012 4738877

Monday, October 09, 2006


In addition to being a total pig when it comes to good food, I’m also a bit of a lush. Long-time readers will already know about my love for good, well-made cocktails.

I'm a huge fan of starting an evening, before one eats, with a drink. Traditionally, an aperitif serves a couple of functions. First, it's a really fun and festive precursor to a great meal. A cool cocktail or even just a really lovely glass of vintage Champagne adds that extra bit of oomph or pizazz to the evening's undertakings. It also allows a host or a restaurant to show off a bit. Creating something exciting, innovative, and delicious hints at more tantalizing gustatory treats to come. Take for example one of the signature aperitifs from Tabla in New York City. Called the "Ginger Citrus Snap", this cool concoction is a mixture of Stoly orange vodka and ginger eau de vie, which is then topped up with Billecart-Salmon Champagne. When served, a small helping of pomegranate seeds is deposited into the drink. As the bubbles collect around the seeds, they float up. Then as the bubbles fall away, the seeds sink. Some customers have likened it to an alcoholic, edible lava lamp.

Secondly, some pre-dinner drinks can open up one's palate and stimulate digestion. Traditionally, an aperitif was made only with herb-infused wine-based products like vermouth, Lillet, Dubonnet, St. Raphael and Byrrh. Also, to properly stimulate your appetite, your drink should have a tinge of bitterness coupled with a touch of sweetness, to make it palatable.

Of course, I'm not one to argue whether a good cocktail is or really isn't a proper "aperitif". It if tastes good, pour me a double.

My current favourite cocktail is the Alberto #1, named after and created by Alberto Alonso, who spent 40 years working behind the bar at the famous but now closed restaurant La Caravelle. It's a great but sneaky drink. It tastes deceptively light and refreshing. It's very easy to drink. You could easily throw back 2 or 3 of these in a row very quickly. But it's actually pretty strong. I once made the mistake of pouring a few too many of these for a good friend at the start of a dinner party my wife S and I were hosting. By the second course of our meal, he had stopped making sense, slurring and rambling on unintelligibly.

To make one, you will need fresh lime juice, mint, sugar syrup, vodka, and Champagne. Muddle the mint leaves in a cocktail shaker. Add some lime juice, vodka, syrup and ice. (How much vodka, lime juice and sugar syrup should be up to you, to taste.) Shake and then strain into a large Champagne glass. Top with the Champagne.

I've very happily been able to convince the amazing bartenders at one of my favourite bars, Coffee Bar K, how to make this delicious drink. Yamato-san (pictured above), in particular, makes it supremely well. And if that wasn't enough, he and his colleagues have come up with their own variation (which uses mojito syrup and Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label), which they and I have dubbed The Titanium. You simply have got to go try and try one.

Two other places I enjoy throwing back a liquid pre-prandial are Mint Bar, at Graze, and the lounge bar in il Lido. It's always useful when a good restaurant also has a good bar. It means that you can enjoy a couple drinks then walk directly to your dining table. Call me lazy, but I hate going to a bar that's more than a 5 minute walk from the restaurant I'm eating in after. If it requires a car ride, then I get really huffy.

Both Mint and il Lido's lounge bar are sleek, sexy places to cool your Jimmy Choos and quench your thirst. Best of all, the drinks are well-crafted and always served chilled.

So, what's your favourite cocktail recipe? Please, please, please leave yours in my comments so we can all try it out. Cheers!

Coffee Bar K, 205 River Valley Road, #01-076 UE Square, Singapore, Tel: 6720 5040
Mint, 4 Rochester Park, Singapore, Tel: 6775 9000
il Lido, Sentosa Golf Club,Bukit Manis Road, Singapore, Tel: 68661977

OCBC cardmember offers:

Mint Bar (at Graze)
25% off for cocktails and house pours 6.30pm to 9pm.
From now until 6 April 2007.

il Lido lounge bar
1-for-1 housepours by glass and 10% off on all other beverages including bottles.
From now until 6 April 2007.

Coffee Bar K
Order the Titanium cocktail at the special price of $20 (the normal price for a champagne cocktail is $28).
Additionally, you get a 20% discount on housepour whisky, spirits(vodka/rum/gin) and wine, plus a 20% discount on the following: GLENFIDDICH Solera Reserve 15 years old; GLENFIDDICH Ancient reserve 18 years old; and GLENFIDDICH 30 years old. Additionally, the $15 cover charge will be waived from 6pm to 9pm.
From now until 31 December 2006.

Promotion is subject to Service Charge, prevailing Government Taxes and GST. General Terms & Conditions for all Dining Privileges apply. These promotions are valid every day except eve of and on public holidays. For more details, visit

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A link to J's amazing cakes and cookies

In my non-blogging life, my wife and I manage various media-related and lifestyle projects (ranging from, but not limited to, putting together editorial products to public relations, events, corporate retreats, and restaurant consultancy). One of the most fun events we did recently was a series of tea parties for specially invited media to launch a fantastic local tea brand. We held our tea parties in a gorgeously decorated suite in the New Majestic Hotel and hired a trio of super-smart, attractive, and cool young people (pictured here), togged out in French maid and butler uniforms, to help serve. Most importantly, we hired the amazing baker, J of Kuidaore, to make a medley of amazing cakes and cookies. J's just put up a post that shows what she made. Check it out by clicking here. Jut try not to drool too much on your keyboard when you do.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A sad day for all of us

I was deeply saddened earlier today when my wife and I got an SMS from a friend. It was soon followed by other SMSes and several phone calls. Respected journalist, awe-inspiring foodie and family friend R.W. Apple Jr passed away yesterday, at the age of 71. I consider myself fortunate to have gotten to know Johnny, as his friends called him, over the past few years. I feel especially honored that this blog was mentioned in one of the last pieces he filed for The New York Times. He was an amazing man, the kind of person that inspires, entertains and enthralls. He was totally unique. And he will be missed.

For those who might not know Johnny, I've attached a link to one of the best stories ever written about him right here. It was written by his long-time friend and fellow foodie Calvin Trillin and ran in The New Yorker in 2003. The story wonderfully illustrates what an amazing man he truly was.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Flava is fresh

Khao Tang Na Tang

Regular readers will remember that a few weeks ago, S and I spent a fantastic week attending the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok's 7th Annual World Gourmet Festival. Despite eating almost every single lunch and dinner that week in the hotel, S and I did manage to sneak out a couple times (although, if you've ever seen the Four Seasons Bangkok, you'd probably ask why would we ever want to leave the premises). One of the places we were able to visit is a restaurant called Flava, located in the swanky Dream Hotel. We had met a fantastic local food critc, Anantroj Thangsupanich, at Chef William Ledeuil's dinner. His recommendation for an excellent Teochew braised goose stall was spot on, so when he told us we simply had to try Flava, we were more than happy to check it out.

The Dream Hotel is one of Bangkok's newest boutique hotels. It was opened by 30-something Indian-American entrepreneur Vikram Chatwal (who one of my friends has described to me as the "male, Sikh Paris Hilton"). Chatwal had previously and famously opened another Dream Hotel and The Time hotel in New York City. Music fans might recognize the Dream as the location for Thai songstress Tata Young's music video for "El Nin-Yo" (which in my opinion is a Godawful song).

Geang Kiew Wan Gai

Flava, located on the second floor of the hotel, was terrific. The food was both authentic and modern at the same time. This admirable feat was pulled off by Executive Chef David Hamilton and Executive Sous Chef Kunchit Srimuang. While keeping the flavours of their dishes as traditional and "real" as possible, the two long-time colleagues have also been able to present their dishes beautifully and elegantly. It's no surprise that Flava has become a hit among locals and local food critics alike. Anantroj praised chefs Hamilton and Srimuang while also telling me that most of Bangkok's most famous Thai restaurants are, sadly, only favored by expats. One of the most famous, in particular, he decried as "horrible" and said that no Thai would ever consider it a worthwhile place to dine in.

We sampled 6 dishes at Flava, all of them excellent. We started our meal with an order of Khao Tang Na Tang, one of my personal favourite Thai treats (pictured at the top of the post). This dish is essentially a dip, which can be made with pork or chicken or shrimp, served with home-made rice cakes. I have to say that I have rarely tasted a version as fresh and delicious as Flava's, which Chef Srimuang made with shrimp. It was hard to resist ordering a second portion.

Yam thod man pla

After the sumptuous Khao Tang Na Tang, we had an order of Yam thod man pla (Thai fish cake & palm heart salad with yellow curry dressing). This was really nice and again tasted very fresh. We followed this with an order of Geang Kiew Wan Gai (green curry with chicken quenelles, apple eggplants and young coconut) and Pla Gao Raad prik (deep-fried grouper filets with chili paste and coconut). S and I both especially enjoyed the green curry. The ingredients were all supremely fresh. By shaping the chicken into quenelles, the chefs ensured that the meat would be consistently tender and very tasty--a nice contrast from the usual overcooked slices of chicken breast. The addition of a generous helping of young coconut flesh also lifted the dish beautifully.

coconut milk custard with pumpkin

Desserts at Flava are made daily. There is no menu, only what the chefs feel like making. The day we went, we tried a lovely coconut milk custard with stewed (chilled) pumpkin (pictured above) and a black sticky rice pudding (cake) with mango sorbet. Both dishes are riffs on traditional Thai dishes and are interestingly the most modern, or "fusion", dishes coming out of chefs Hamilton's and Srimuang's kitchen. I really loved the custard with pumpkin. The light, sweet clean flavours were a great finish to a great meal. The dessert was also a wonderful palate-cleanser, wiping away any lingering hints of spice in my mouth.

Because I liked it so much, I asked Chef Srimuang for his Khao Tang Na Tang recipe, which I have transcribed below. Amazingly, it's very simple. I guess how good this is depends entirely on how fresh your ingredients are. And, of course, the quality of your red curry paste (which you may or may not want to make yourself).

Khao Tang Na Tang with shrimp

50g red curry paste
100g fresh shrimp, cleaned and shelled
20g fresh sliced garlic
5ml fish sauce
5ml palm sugar
250ml coconut milk

Mince your shrimp. Set aside. Heat the vegetable oil in a saucepan and then add the red curry paste, stirring and cooking for 1-2 minutes. Lower your heat, then add the shrimp and sliced garlic. Add the fish sauce, palm sugar and coconut milk. Simmer for another minute, stirring slowly and season with salt to taste.

(If you want, you can also add some minced pork--50g or so--to the recipe. Add it when you add the shrimp.)

Serve with rice cakes, which you can buy or make yourself.

Rice cakes
(based on a recipe from David Thompson's Thai Food)

3 cups jasmine rice
1/2 cup soaked white sticky rice (optional)
oil for deep-frying

You have to start working on these 2 days ahead. Mix the rice together and cook. allow to cool. Press the rice over a large, flat, clean and dry metal tray. Sprinkle with a little water. Press down until the rice is only a quarter of an inch thick. Dry the rice in a warm place overnight or for 2 nights. The rice must be completely dry. As the rice dries, it will crack into pieces. Store in an airtight container. When ready to serve, deep-fry the rice cakes in the oil until they have puffed to almost triple their original size and are just beginning to colour.

10 Sukhumvit Soi 15
Kloeng Toey Nua, Wattana
Tel: +66 (0) 2254 8500

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The winning entries

The fabulous winners of the Justin Quek dinner contest, brought to all of us through OCBC's generosity, have kindly agreed to allow me to run their winning entries. To recap, I had asked readers to write a short essay (100-200 words or so) about their own chubby hubby or sexy spouse. Here are the winners, in no particular order:

1. We met 9 years ago and I can still remember the T-shirt she wore, what she drank, where she worked, the colour of her hair, the sparkle in her eyes. I remember thinking ‘WOW!’

Unfortunately she has no recollection whatsoever of this meeting!

Fortunately, fate threw us together 6 months later and she was bowled over by how much I knew about her – particularly her love of food. For our first proper date I took her to the famous Swee Kee restaurant at the Damenlou Hotel. The 4 C’s! Not in her mind. Can he order good Chinese food! I ordered the chicken, broccoli and the special tofu with crab meat. I passed the test.

We’ve since been to hundreds of restaurants all over the world and that remains the only time I have ever ordered for her! Food is King in her world...we chose our apartment because of the kitchen…the TV remote is stuck on AFC…and a small forest no longer exists due to the books and magazines lining our walls. Food is her passion. And I’m much the better man for it and her (even if a slightly bit chubby). SEAN DONOVAN

2. My once chubby hubby, Eric, has been my pillar of support, my buddy, my makan kaki and personal Aunt Agony all rolled into one. Lately he has also become my iPod fairy as I am not as technologically inclined like he is. New songs and photos get uploaded into my iPod every time I charge it while I am asleep. The next day while commuting to work, I would hear new songs on my iPod and it makes me smile as these songs bring back sweet memories of our relationship that started in ’88, which was a great vintage year, and it has been an ongoing sweet marathon for 18 years of which 9 were spent together as husband and wife.

Food is one of the strong links that binds us both. From trying street food in Shanghai to hunting down the best ramen in town to satisfying my midnight cravings for frog leg congee in Geylang, he has always been game and relishes the food experiences each time with as much as gusto as me. He has been my “guinea pig” and diehard fan as I try out different recipes at home after reading cooking books and the numerous local food blogs such as Kuidaore, Nibble & Scribble, Umami, Slightly Pretentious Food and yours.

After being together for almost two decades, every day with him is still fresh and fun and most important of all, my chubby hubby still makes me laugh and I love him for that and so much more. ANNIE TAN

3. “Greta Carbo”
Not the screen goddess. I am talking about my XM and her craving:


She simply must have her carbohydrates. Bread, potatoes, rice, noodles, pasta - one of these characters must cameo at some point in every meal. I on the other hand am a carbo minimalist: I love my fruits and greens, meat and oceanfare. Of course, XM likes all of those too, but her true passion is carbo.

As the cook, you can imagine the balancing feats I am obliged to perform to achieve peace in our time:

“What’re you cooking for lunch?”

“Seared striploin in its pan juices with sauteed mushrooms on a bed of wilted spinach?”

“Atop a quivering slab of pommes dauphinoise?”

“Of course, what was I thinking…”

Sometimes I try to outwit: pseudo-carbos like carrots, radish and lotus root parade in different guises, though often in vain. Sometimes she lets it slide, mostly I do.

But when I see her nibbling blissfully on a piece of hot buttered toast or starting dinner with that first unaccompanied mouthful of steaming white rice, I understand why she has the final word:

“Carbo makes me happy.”

You can’t really get smarter than that, can you? CHONG KIM SOON

Movies and free tickets to the opera

(Note: as of 1230pm on 3 October 2006, the five pairs have been snapped up. Congrats to the winners!)

I'm a huge, huge movie buff.
Sometimes S is amazed at the number of films I've watched and the sheer volume of ridiculous movie trivia that I know.

Of course, I love food-centric films. My all-time favourites are Babette's Feast, Tampopo, and Big Night. I love the cooking scenes in Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, but I always found the female characters a little too annoying to enjoy the film thoroughly.

As a movie fan, I was quite thrilled by Singapore Lyric Opera's idea for a concert which was aimed at introducing new audiences to opera. Titled "Opera on Silver Screen" (yeah, I know it's grammatically incorrect), this performance features arias and other great pieces of music from some super-popular films, like Armageddon, Babe, The Godfather and Superman Returns. The concert runs on 13-14 October at the Drama Centre (National Library); tickets are available here.

SLO has been gracious enough to pass me some tickets for the 8pm performance on 13 October. Which, of course, I am passing onto you. This is open to anyone who can actually get him or herself down to the concert (which means that Malaysians or Indonesians or Thais, etc who really want to take part can).

I'm giving away 5 pairs of tickets (good seats in the stalls). All you have to do is be the first 5 persons to email me the correct answers to the following quiz questions:

1. What were the names of the two chef brothers in Big Night?
2. What kind of food was Tampopo, in Tampopo, trying to perfect?
3. In The Bad News Bears (original version), Walter Mathau's character was constantly whistling an opera tune. From what opera was it?

Please email answers to

Monday, October 02, 2006

Winners for Justin Quek's dinner announced

CONGRATS TO THE THREE people who sent in hilarious, sweet and very smart essays about their significant others. These three super-cool spouses have won two seats each to dinner next Thursday, 12 October, at Snappers restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore. They'll join me and some friends at a gastronomic feast cooked by Singapore's best and most famous French chef, Justin Quek.

And the winners are Sean Donovan, Chong Kim Soon and Annie Tan. I have asked all three if I can run their entries. I hope they say yes.

Congrats again to Sean, Kim Soon and Annie. And thanks to all the wonderful readers and OCBC cardmembers who took part in this contest. Lastly, if you didn't win, you really should consider booking your own table at Snappers on the 11th or 12th. Who knows when Chef Quek will be cooking in Singapore again?

Pork belly in almond milk

There's nothing so sinfully satisfying as a perfectly cooked portion of pork belly. Whether it's been (slow) roasted or braised, if done properly, the fat on this great cut of meat should melt gorgeously in your mouth and the lean meat should be deliciously tender. Recently, S and I tested a recipe from Cocina Nueva by Jane Lawson. I've previously written about another of Ms Lawson's cookbooks, Yoshoku. Yoshoku is a fantastic book filled with Japanese-Western recipes. It's one of S' and my favourite cookbooks, especially when we're just cooking for each other. Cocina Nueva is subtitled The New Spanish Kitchen and is filled with both great, modern, easy-to-use Spanish recipes and beautiful photographs by Steven Brown. When we saw this book at our local Borders a few months back, having already been fans of Yoshoku, we were quite excited to flip through it. When we spied Lawson's recipe for pork belly braised in almond milk, I knew we had to buy it.

The recipe is, I have to say, a tad fiddly. But the effort is worth it. The finished dish is delicious, suprisingly light, but immensely satisfying. The pork came out very tender. Because it was marinated for 24 hours in herbs and spices and then braised first in stock and water, and then the almond milk, it had a lovely savouriness. The almond milk (finished off with a dash of amaretto) was perfect served both as a sauce or as an accompanying soup.

While I do admit that the above photo might be a tad cheesy, I like it a lot. It took me a good 20 minutes to convince my darling wife S to pose for this (only took a minute or two to shoot). To me, this dish is so sensual that I just had to create a little bit of food porn in its honour. I hope you like it as much as I do.

Pork belly in almond milk
from Cocina Nueva by Jane Lawson
makes 12 small pieces

1kg piece of boneless pork belly
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 fresh bay leaves, torn into small pieces
large pinch of freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon salt
1 litre low-salt chicken stock

almond milk
250g blanched almonds
500ml milk
375ml cream (whipping)
1 large strip of lemon zest

aromatic sprinkle
1.5 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Put the pork belly in a non-metallic baking dish. Mix the sugar, thyme, garlic, bay leaves, white pepper and salt in a bowl. Rub this mixture over the pork, then cover with plastic wrap. Weigh the pork down with another baking dish (filled with water) to flatten it. Pop this in the fridge for 24 hours.

Rinse the pork off and pat dry. Put it in a large saucepan. Pour in the stock plus 1 litre of water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 90 minutes, turning the pork occasionally.

Make the almond milk. Finely grind the almonds in a food processor, then transfer to a saucepan with the milk, cream and lemon zest. Bring to the boil and allow to boil for 5 minutes to infuse the flavours, then remove from the heat and allow to come to room temperature. Strain into a large saucepan.

Transfer the pork, rind side-up, to the saucepan with the almond milk. Then strain the stock over the pork and stir gently to combine the liquids. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat. Cover and cook for 75 minutes. Lift the pork out of the sauce, cover to keep warm and set aside. Reduce the sauce for 30 minutes or until you feel it tastes good as a soup/sauce. Add a dash of amaretto to the sauce.

Slice the pork into 12 rectangular portions. In a bowl, mix the ingredients for the aromatic sprinkle. To serve, place a slice of pork on a plate. Sprinkle some spice mix on top of each slice. Either spoon the sauce over the pork or pour it into a small glass or bowl and serve as a soup.

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Winner of Nokia N73 Contest #2

Congrats to Prabakaran Rajinderan for winning the second free Nokia N73. Prabakaran submitted the below photo to win this awesome new handpone.

He wrote, "Giving a Heartfelt Thumbs Up after Eating In MarryBrown Singapore. A marvelous,good tasting but rare Fast Food Restaurant which has/had stores in Changi Airport, Tampines and Jurong."

Prabakaran took this using a Nokia 3230.