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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Osaka (part 1 of 2)



A few weeks ago, S and I made our very first trip to Osaka, Japan. While I'd been to Japan previously and had explored quite a fair bit of the country, I had never been to Osaka. In fact, up until a few years ago, I had never really given visiting Japan's third largest city much thought. So what happened? Well, over the past few years, at various dinners and other occasions, when the conversation would turn to memorable meals, a good nunber of foodies I know and respect (chefs, restaurant owners, food writers and passionate gourmands) would talk excitedly about Osaka. One restaurant in particular was spoken of with sheer reverence. Many compared it to El Bulli and a few even went so far as to say that they'd rather eat more regularly at Kahala than at Ferran Adria's famous restaurant. After years of hearing about this and other gastronomic experiences, S and I couldn't wait to taste Osaka for ourselves.

Kappo Counter Gastronomy

One of the best culinary experiences in Japan is dining in a kappo restaurant. These tiny places usually seat only a handful of patrons at a small counter. Dishes are prepared a la minute and served to hungry diners across the counter. The experience is similar to that of a sushi bar, but in these places, you'll get beautifully cooked and artfully plated dishes. Having the chef work on your food and serve it to you personally also creates a unique sense of intimacy which heightens the dining experience. Historians tell us that kappo restaurants first became popular in Japan in Osaka in the nineteenth century, so it only made sense for S and me to try 2 of Osaka's best.




Momen is a wonderful little kappo restaurant in the Shinsaibashi district. Located on a small side alley, this delightfully hidden gem seats just eight patrons at a time. The atmosphere is lovely, slightly dark and suitably zen-like. Take note though, Mr Momen hardly speaks any English, so you will need your hotel to call ahead and make your reservation for you. Dinner here is a seven course affair. The food is excellent. It's not super-fancy or challenging. But it is delicious and lovingly prepared.



We started our meal with a gorgeous plate of crab sashimi; one of the advantages of visiting Japan in the winter is the availability of all this yummy seasonal seafood.



Our second course was one of the simplest dishes of the night but also my favorite. It was a homemade goma-tofu, breaded with roasted rice and then deep-fried.



The third course was gorgeous. It was a crab dumpling in a subtle crab broth, served in a beautiful laqueur bowl. The inside lid of the bowl was fantastic, with an inlaid landscape picture accented with mother of pearl. The fourth course was a plate of various types of fish roe. S especially enjoyed this. Next was a bowl of slow-cooked daikon with fresh yuzu. The last savory course was a lovely slice of roasted wild salmon marinated with miso. Dessert was a small plate of fresh fruit. Another great thing about Japan is the fruit is ridiculously sweet and fresh. A plate of fruit to end a meal in most other countries would be a let-down. Here it works.



While Momen is relaxed, Kahala is reserved. It's a small but austere kappo restaurant located on the second floor of a small building in the Kita-shinchi neighborhood. The street Kahala is on, Sonezaki-shinchi, is a crowded strip of restaurants and bars. Kahala accepts diners at two seating times, either 540pm or 840pm. Friends have told me that if you are dining during the former that they usher you out of the door at 830pm on the dot and if you are scheduled for the latter you are not allowed inside early, even if you arrive at 835pm. Kahala is a cult restaurant -- made most famous a few years ago when celebrity chef Tetsuya Wakuda raved about it and credited it as a place that inspired him -- with suitably cultish prices. Dinner there is a whopping 30,000 yen per person.



Like Momen, there are only 8 seats in Kahala. The restaurant was founded by chef-owner Yoshifumi Mori 35 years ago when he was just 26 years old. The space was originally a steak-house, which accounts for the hot-plates that still flank the counter today (and which are now only used to prepare one single but excellent dish). Mori-san, like many other culinary greats, is self-taught. He admits that his lack of training has pushed him to create a truly innovative cuisine. More than just innovative, Mori-san's food is pretty darned special because of his commitment to sourcing the very best produce from all over Japan. S and I started our 10 course dinner with a small portion of crabmeat with grass seeds and fried dill, plated on a flattened yuzu, and served with a little chicken comsomme. This was followed by a composed plate of fried pumpkin, Hokkaido oysters, dried herring roe, truffle-dusted lilyroot and a sandwich of turnip and yellowtail. Third was an am amazing portion of grilled "Kacho kabaro" cheese (from the Yoshida farm) with some sauteed turnip and squash. After this we tasted one of Mori-san's signature dishes, a sharks fin steak with fried coriander leaves, sauteed daikon leaf, and thinly sliced potato seasoned with thyme leaves that had been crystalized with salt.



We also had some buckwheat soba noodles with powdered "karasumi" (sundried mullet roe). This was a yummy, savory course.



A dish I was a tad squeamish about was Mori-san's shirako soup. I've never been a huge fan of shirako, which to the uninitiated is also known as "cod's milk" or "cod's sperm", but this soup was outstanding. After this was the highlight of the meal and the dish that has made Kahala a must-visit for many of my friends. Mori-san's "millefeuille of beef" is a gorgeous dish composed of 5 thin slices of Iga beef from the Mie prefecture. Each portion is sauteed quickly on both sides; the top and bottom layers are cooked but the middle layers are served raw. This is served with "Nozawa" turnip, yellow Inca potato and "ebi-imo" (Japanese yam). The only downside to this dish is that each person is only given 4 portions; I could easily have eaten another 4 or 5 more. After this, we were offered a delicious bowl of fugu (blowfish) rice. To round off the meal, we were given two desserts. The first would have thrilled Alice Waters, who so famously served her patrons an unadorned peach as dessert. The famous founder of Chez Panisse said, "The perfect dessert after a rich and satisfying meal is a perfect piece of fruit." Well, that's exactly what Mori-san served us, 2 slices of the most uniquely dense, syrupy and sweet apple, harvested he proudly told us from a small farm in the Yamagata prefecture. When Mori-san served us the fruit, he showed us a whole one and then held it up to a light over his counter. Amazingly, the apple turned translucent and the light shone through it. The final course was a creme caramel with sweet, white Azuki beans and a coffee syrup. S loved this and is trying to recreate it for our own dinner parties.

All in all, Kahala was a pretty unique experience. Was it worth the price? Given the size of the restaurant and the quality of the produce, yah, I'd say the splurge was worth it. It's definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But the restaurant both S and I look forward to returning to is Momen. We both enjoyed the restaurant's modest atmosphere and slightly simpler cuisine. Of course, it didn't hurt that Momen was one-third the price.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Knocked out!

Ironically, Chubby Hubby is down with gastroenteritis. Posting will resume as soon as the room stops spinning.

P.S. I just wanted to thank everyone who took part in Menu for Hope III. This year, we raised US$60,925.12, which is quite an amazing and impressive sum.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sugar High



A little while ago, I wrote about Pang Kok Keong, the young and talented pastry chef at Canelé Patisserie Chocolaterie. In that post, I also mentioned that I had been able to coerce Chef Pang into preparing a very special and unique meal, a 15 course dessert degustation. The dinner was pretty special, both because of the dishes that Chef Pang came up with but also because of the company -- a mix of friends and readers who had won seats to the dinner.

The dinner was held on 6 December 2006 and was hosted at Canelé Patisserie Chocolaterie, which is located on the ground floor of Robertson Walk. Before I get into describing the food, I have to say that the table decorations were stunning. Chef Pang had engaged the services of Plant (tel: 68360010) , whose florists created a gorgeous and unique table setting that spanned the length of the whole table. It was made up entirely of vegetables! (By coincidence, S and I had also hired them the same week to do all the table settings for her father's 60th birthday dinner).




Our first course was a Roasted Pepper Tagliatelle with Olive Oil Cake and Spiced Pine Nuts. This pretty dish was served in a martini glass. The tagliatelle was actually made from roasted peppers and agar-agar. The olive oil cake was delicious. Our second course was a Tuna Tataki with Mustard Vinaigrette, Crab Tuile, and a Seaweed Marshmallow. I know this sounds like a wierd combination but it was really good. The seaweed marshmallow was awesome (I wish they sold bags of it at Canelé) and the crab tuile had just the right subtlety of flavours. Third was the Frozen Asparagus & White Truffle Lollipop. This was wild. For some reason, I had expected it to be a little sweet--probably because it was a "lollipop"--but it was savory. The flavours of both the asparagus and truffles were very pronounced and it was a wacky, icey mouthful of fun. Fourth was the “Tako” on Potato Jelly with a Paprika “Cloud” and Aioli. Tako is octopus, so this dish was sort of a deconstructed takopachi. To me, it was more interesting conceptually than it was delicious. But it was kind of cool to try. The fifth course was a Pan-fried Duck Breast with Orange Chocolate Jam and Roasted Hazelnuts. I loved this dish! When I had first seen this menu, I wasn't sure if it would work well. But it was delicious. The sweet, citrusy chocolate sauce was the perfect counterpoint for the fatty and savory duck breast. Again, I wish they'd bottle this sauce for sale; I would buy jars and jars for myself and all of my friends for Christmas. The sixth course was a nice sweet, simple dish that Chef Pang called "Pina Colada". It was seared and caramelized pineapple with coconut foam. This was really yummy.



The seventh course was probably my least favorite. It was an Apple Ravioli with Apricot Coulis and Tomato Marmalade. From a culinary viewpoint, this was really interesting. Chef Pang was testing out Ferran Adria's famous technique for making skinless raviolis. From a taste perspective though, I found the dish a tad too sweet and I didn't like the choice of tomato. The next course, by contrast, was awesome. It was a Hot Chocolate Espuma with Frozen Kalamansi Chibouste and Exotic Fruit Compote. The hot chocolate foam was piped into perfect, round, hollow sugar balls. I was also really impressed by the cool, custom steel plates that Chef Pang had ordered just for this meal. This dish was served on one of them. The ninth course was a Raspberry Foam with Chocolate Tea Cream and a Cocoa Bean Tuile. This was really delicious and I could easily see this making its way onto many a restaurant's menu (or at least I have hopes that it will). The raspberry foam was substantial and dense, which was nice eaten together with the silky smooth chocolate tea cream. Unlike S, I like berry and chocolate combinations (she likes her chocolate au naturel), so I especially enjoyed this dish. Next was a Flambé Banana with Milk Chocolate Yoghurt and a Lemon Cloud. While interesting, this dish fell into my "hmmmm....okay, tastes good but what's next?" category. That said, the milk chocolate yoghurt was very, very good. The eleventh course was, from a pure taste perspective, my favourite of the night. It was a "Pain Perdu” with Spiced Fig Compote and Cinnamon Ice Cream. I love French toast and to be able to enjoy such an elegant and well-made version was a real treat. This is another dish that I would love to see on restaurant menus. While this eleventh course was my favorite taste-wise, clearly the most visually sensational dish of the night was the twelfth dish, Chef Pang's Rose “Bombe”. When the waiters walked into the room and presented us with this dish, there was a collective gasp from the gathered diners. Perched on a clear acrylic box filled with rose petals was a perfect pink globe. The globe's shell was rose-flavoured meringue. Inside was a yummy rose and nougatine ice cream. Truly a showstopping dish.



The thirteenth course was an Orange Tea Savarin. This was a light dish that was perfectly executed. The savarin was deliciously moist and the tea flavours, spiked with a little Grand Marnier, were lipsmackingly good. The fourteenth course was simply called Chocolat, Chocolat, Chocolat and was a trio of 2 tiny chocolate cakes with chocolate ice cream. Finally, to finish off the meal, we were each given a plate of Petit Fours. Chef Pang made a chocolate-pistachio lollipop, a violet macaron, a vanilla jelly and a caramel-chocolate truffle.

Suffice it to say, after the meal, I was on a serious sugar high. It was, especially now that I've had a week to think about it, an amazing meal. It was inventive and unique. No one else in Singapore is doing these kinds of things and I'm very grateful to both Chef Pang and OCBC (who sponsored the meal) for making this dinner possible.

But don't just take my word for it (after all, you should never completely believe what you read, right?), try Chef Pang's desserts for yourself. And if you or one of your friends or family members has an OCBC credit card, then you can even book your own dessert degustation dinner with Chef Pang. Starting 4 January 2007, if you have a group of at least 6 persons, you can book your very own 6 course dessert degustation dinner (priced at S$65+++ a head). Chef Pang will come up with an exquisite menu just for you. Some of the dishes might be from the menu I tasted, but with such a creative chef, you never know... he might end up making up some new, crazy and wonderful confections just for you. You will need to book 1 week in advance and this special dinner is only available on Thursday nights. If you have a sweet tooth, I would totally recommend booking a table. Chef Pang's dessert tasting menu is probably one of the most interesting, yummy and unique dining experiences in town.

Canelé Patisserie Chocolaterie
11 Unity Street
#01-09, Robertson Walk
Singapore
Tel: +65 6738 8145




P.S. I'm off tonight to Osaka for a quick trip so I won't be posting until, most likely, the middle or end of next week. Spend the next few days perusing through all of the items up for grabs through Menu for Hope III and please make a donation. Help feed the hungry this holiday season.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Menu for Hope III

During this festive season, one of the very best things any of us can do is give to those who aren't as fortunate as we are. Please join me and almost every other food blogger in the world in raising money for the United Nations World Food Programme. Menu for Hope is an annual web-based initiative founded by celeb flogger Pim Techamuanvivit of Chez Pim. Through this awesome campaign, over the past two years, food bloggers have raised funds for the American Red Cross (aid for Tsunami victims) and UNICEF. This year, in a very fitting move, we're raising money to feed the less fortunate.

Here's how the campaign works. Floggers around the world have either donated or have sourced amazing prizes that anyone from anywhere in the world can buy (virtual) raffle tickets for. The money that is collected will be donated, as said, to the United Nations World Food Programme. Pim will be hosting a round-up of all of the donated prizes. To see the global round-up, please click here. In addition, each region has its own host, who will probably post more details on the prizes donated in her/his region. The Asia-Pacific round-up is hosted by Helen over at Grab Your Fork. The fundraising and funds distribution is being managed by professional fundraising company First Giving. To go to the Menu for Hope III donations page, please click here. Every US$10 that you donate qualifies you for one chance at any of the prizes of your choice.

I'm extremely happy to announce that I've managed to talk 6 friends into donating 6 amazing prizes for Menu for Hope III. (Please note that the vouchers/dinners must be claimed in 2007.)They are as follows:


1. Dinner for four with wines at Iggy's in Singapore (prize code AP01)




Every reader knows that I'm a huge, huge fan of Iggy's. Restaurant Magazine rated this tiny Modern European restaurant the 4th best restaurant in Asia. The late, great Johnny Apple and the very-cultured Kevin Gould have both raved about Iggy's amazing menus and wine lists. Dinner here is truly a treat. The value for this meal is approximately US$750.


2. Dinner for two with wines at Tetsuya's in Sydney, Australia (prize code AP02)




Who hasn't heard of the great Japanese-Aussie chef Tetsuya Wakuda? His restaurant is clearly one of the very best on the planet and his unique blend of Western and Japanese cuisines has made him a living legend. Dinner at Tetsuya's is a must for any foodie. Win this and treat yourself and a loved one. Tetsuya promises that he'll prepare a very special meal for the winner.

3. Dinner for two at Felix at The Peninsula Hotel, Hong Kong (prize code AP03)




Felix is a Hong Kong landmark. Designed by Philippe Starck, it's as famous for its killer interiors and views as it is for its food. Felix's new chef, American Jason Oakley, has a stunning pedigree. Formerly from the French Laundry and Alex at Wynn's Las Vegas, Oakley's own very contemporary cuisine is putting Felix back on the culinary map.

4. Two amazing Japanese chef's knives (prize code AP04)



Japanese knife specialist Razorsharp has kindly donated two gorgeous and exceptionally well-made Japanese chef's knives, a Kasumi 20cm chef's knife and a Hattori HD 17cm Santoku knife. You could not ask for two better tools for your kitchen.

5. A set of 7 cookbooks and travel books donated by Editions Didier Millet (prize code AP05)



This is a great collection of cookbooks and travel books. I'm also personally excited by this collection because I helped write two of the books in this set.

Hot Chefs Hip Cuisine
This book features original recipes from 34 of the world’s most daring chefs, including Charlie Trotter, Ferran Adria, Michel Troisgros, Gordon Ramsay, Tetsuya Wakuda, and more, who have, in their own ways, changed the way the world eats. Proceeds from sales of this book are donated to UNICEF.

New Chinese Cuisine
This book chronicles how the chefs at the respected Tung Lok Restaurant group are revamping classic dishes from Sichuan, Hunan, Beijing and Canton in order to create a new Modern Chinese cuisine.

The Six Senses Cookbook
Founded in 1995 by husband-and-wife team Sonu and Eva Shivdasani, the Six Senses brands have become synonymous with luxurious living and cutting-edge concepts. With resorts and spas located in the Maldives, Thailand and Vietnam, Six Senses properties feature the very best in resort accommodation and spa experiences, accompanied by a keen sense of environmental awareness. The restaurants at the group’s Soneva Resorts, Evason Hideaways and Evason Resorts (under which Ana Mandara is branded) have also been serving up innovative fusion cuisine to a rising tide of international acclaim.

Four books from the Chic series: Shanghai Chic; Singapore Chic; India Chic; and South Africa Chic. Each of these books offers great narratives covering both history and culture, as well as reviews and listings of each destination's coolest hotels, restaurants, spas, shops and bars.


6. A suite for a weekend at the New Majestic Hotel, plus a voucher for dinner at the Majestic Restaurant, Singapore (prize code AP06)



The New Majestic Hotel is Singapore's sexiest and most chic boutique hotel property. Similarly, its resident restaurant, the Majestic, serves some of the country's best, most well-prepared and modern Chinese food. Stay for a weekend in one of the hotel's uniquely appointed suites and dine in-house. The dining voucher is worth S$80.

As said, to make a donation and buy a chance for one of these or other prizes, go to the donation page at http://www.firstgiving.com/menuforhopeIII. Each US$10 will give you one raffle ticket towards a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize or prizes you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. Do state how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize codes; for example, for a donation of US$50, you could buy 2 raffle tickets for AP01 and 3 for AP02. (For US donors, if your company has agreed to match your charity donation, please remember to check the box and fill in the information so we may claim the corporate match.) Please also check the box that allows First Giving to see your email address so that they can contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone. Donations are accepted from today until 22 December 2006, so please act quickly. Finally, if you do take part, please check out Chez Pim on 15 January 2007 to see all the results of the raffle.

Don't forget to check out all the regional hosts to see details on all the various prizes. Here's a list of them all:

US West Coast: Becks and Posh
US East Coast: The Amateur Gourmet
US (the rest): Kalyn's Kitchen
Canada: Cardamom Addict
Europe: Davidlebovitz.com
Latin America: The Cooking Diva
Asia Pacific: Grab Your Fork
Special wine bloggers' host: Vinography

Thank you so much for reading. Please tell your friends about this and please, please, please donate and take part in Menu for Hope III. Good luck!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Weekend bites

Three birds in one



I don't know about you guys, but I've always wanted to eat a turducken. The idea of a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey just sounds too amusing not to one day try. The idea of making one though looks a little daunting. From what I've read, it's a pretty involved process and one that's a too time-consuming and messy for me to try this holiday season. If, however, you have a few days to spare and want to give this rather unique dish a whack, you can try out Chef Paul Prudhomme's recipe. Click here to check it out. Fortunately for lazy old me, I've just discovered a supplier right here in Singapore. Melvyn Tan, an ex-Michelangelo's chef, now runs a small private dining and catering business simply called 289. This year, Melvyn is making and selling turduckens. Each one comes with gravy and a cranberry dipping sauce and runs around S$200 (5.5 kg - 6.5 kg). Each of these triple-fowled feasts can feed 10 to 12 persons. One of these, I'm thinking, would make a rather interesting centerpiece for anyone's Christmas dinner. In addition to turduckens, Melvyn also offers full holiday menus that can be "taken away" or served in his private dining space. Contact Melvyn Tan at melandaddie@gmail.com.

OCBC Holiday dining

While you are planning all your meals this holiday season, if you are an OCBC credit cardmember, be sure to keep in mind all the various dining promotions available to you. Click here for a full list.

Some of the more interesting ones to consider include the following:

The Regent Singapore, Something To Go, Tel 6720 8000
15% off Festive Takeout with a minimum spend of S$50. Offer is valid from 1 Dec 2006 to 2 Jan 2007. Discount will not be extended for any purchases that are to be collected on 24, 25, 31 Dec 2006 and 1 Jan 2007. To order, pls call 6720 8000 at least 3 days in advance and quote “OCBC Festive Redemption Programme”.

The Oriental, Singapore, MELT – The World Café, Level 4, The Oriental Singapore, Tel 6885 3080
15% off Christmas Goodies. Offer is valid from 1 to 26 Dec 2006. Please order 3 days in advance.

Wasabi Bistro, 4/F The Oriental Singpaore, Marina Square, Tel 6885 3091
10% off Weekend Champagne Brunch. Offer is valid till 31 Oct 2007.

Jaan, 70/F Equinox Complex, Swissotel The Stamford, 2 Stamford Rd Tel: 6837 3322
Platinum & Titanium Exclusive: 15% off food bill on a la carte menu for lunch from Mon to Thu. Offer is valid till 31 Dec 2006.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Holiday Gift Guide 2006



Last year, I was a little late in posting my Christmas Gift Guide. This year, I've decided to get as early a start as possible. Unlike last year, in which I recommended only things that I had already acquired and road-tested, this year I am including things that are at the top of my own wish list. (This is, of course, in the very self-centered hope that good friends and family members will actually consult this before buying us our Christmas gifts this year.) Some of these gifts are pretty pricey; some are very reasonable. Some are only for serious cooks; others are items even the youngest of foodies will enjoy.

I hope that you enjoy my little round-up. Like last year, in honor of the 12 days of Christmas, I've chosen 12 nifty gift ideas that will make your favourite gourmand love you more than ever. Singaporean-based readers should also take note that, in conjunction with my beloved bank sponsor, OCBC, we've arranged some special prices on some of these items for cardmembers. Happy shopping and happy holidays!


1. KitchenAid products



I'm going to take it for granted that you already have (or your favorite foodie has) a KitchenAid Stand mixer. I know that S wouldn't be able to live without hers. But what many of us often forget is that KitchenAid doesn't just make mixers. A couple of shiny countertop appliances that I've had my eyes on for quite awhile are their food processor, their espresso machine and their burr (coffee) grinder.



All of them are stunningly designed, with the same gorgeous, brightly painted, metal finishes as the mixers. The processor features the largest feed tube on the market; that means you can easily toss into your mix all kinds of large food items, like tomatoes, potatoes or cucumbers with minimal sectioning. The espresso machine is simply gorgeous. I mean, who wouldn't want that on their kitchen counter? And if you like your beans fresh, you'll need a good grinder. The Pro Line series (Model KCG100) one is fantastic. And it's not just for coffee. I have a friend who has one that she uses for grinding up Asian spices. Of course, you wouldn't want to use the same one for coffee and spices. Do what she did, and get two.

OCBC Promotion: From 8 December to 28 February 2007, purchase the KitchenAid KES100 Espresso Machine and KitchenAid KCG100 Burr Grinder at a special combined price of $1399 (usual price is $1698), including GST. In addition, purchase the KitchenAid KFPM770 Food Processor (red color only) at just $469 (usual price is $599), including GST. Purchases must be made at Mayer showrooms and stores. Locations below in Terms & Conditions.


2. Stovetop smoker

I love the idea of being able to hot-smoke foods right on my stovetop. These smoketop smokers, from Camerons Professional Cookware not only look really easy to use, they also look pretty stylish. I can just imagine smoking everything from salmon to duck to pork ribs in my new smoker. Experimenting with different smoking ingredients, from various kinds of wood chips to gourmet teas, would be fun too.

3. Bespoke tea

The truly special person in your life needs a truly special present. Some of the best presents I've ever received were those that were specially tailored just for me. Singapore's hottest, coolest and newest gourmet tea label, the Gryphon Tea Company, in addition to producing an exciting range of teas for the retail market, also has the facilities to custom-blend a tea specifically for you or your loved one. The process of creating a bespoke tea blend can take anywhere from a week to a month, depending on how many rounds of tastings you need to go through. Teas are packaged loose in vacuum-sealed bags. Because Gryphon is a subsidiary of one of the region's top tea manufacturers and importers, you can be rest assured that they can create something truly special and of top quality for you. Click here for contact info. Prices for a kilo of bespoke tea, which contains approximately 200 servings, starts at around S$250.

OCBC Promotion: Pay with your OCBC card and get a 10% discount on the price of your custom-blended tea. Promotion valid till 28 February 2007.


4. Cook With Jamie

I have to admit. This book really surprised me. Cook with Jamie, by Jamie Oliver, is a great cookbook. Unlike many of his more recent books, which I felt belonged in a "nice to have but far from essential" category, this well-written, clear and informative work has a good chance of becoming a classic cookbook. It's definitely for me one of the year's must-haves.

5. Revolutionary Chinese

Few people, Chinese or otherwise, understand Chinese food as well as Fuschia Dunlop. S and I were already big fans of her previous work, Sichuan Cookery. So, when Revolutionary Chinese hit the bookstores, we knew we had to have a copy. It's a brilliant primer on Hunan cuisine, filled with insightful essays and clear recipes.

6. Justin Quek: Passion & Inspiration

As part of the team that produced this book, I admit freely that I'm extremely biased about it. That said, I do believe that Justin Quek's cookbook is both beautiful and unique. Justin was insistent that this book tell his story--how he went from being a merchant sailor to becoming one of the world's finest chefs. He also insisted that this book pay homage to his mentors and friends, featuring them prominently in its pages. Because of these inclusions, this book won't just offer you dozens of amazing Modern French recipes (which it does), it provides the reader with a unique insight of one of Asia's most talented artists.


7. Mario Batali cookware



This range of cast-iron cookware, fronted by one of the world's favorite chefs, is both beautiful and affordable. The range that's currently available in Singapore includes the 6qt Italian Essentials Pot (S$269); the Panini Grill and Press (S$249); the Risotto Pot (S$259); and the Extra Deep Lasagne Pan (S$239).



I've tried out both the risotto pot and the panini press and love them both. In fact, S and I like the panini press so much, we've ordered what looks like an awesome book of panini recipes just so we can use it more. S has also been trying to convince me to pick up the Lasagne pan. She likes that it has really straight sides; that ensures pretty plating when you serve the slices.

OCBC Promotions: Puchase any item from the Mario Batali cast iron cookware line and get the following items (worth S$116) free: a large ceramic utensils crock, a small silicone spatula, a large silicone spatula, and a silicone spoon spatula. Plus, buy any second item of cookware at 40% off. Available from the Razorsharp showroom, 315 Outram Road #01-03, Tan Boon Liat Building.


8. Mariage Freres teapots


These gorgeous glass tea pots from one of the world's most notable tea companies are really S's contribution to the Christmas gift list. In fact, she's dropped many unsubtle hints to me that I should be placing an order for her as soon as possible. The two models above are amusingly named (from left to right) Happy Alladin and Happy Dream. Give one of these to your favorite fashionable female and I guarantee she'll be happy as can be.

9. Fresh Alba truffle

Nothing is more indicative of the end of the year than the annual clamor for white Alba truffles. And nothing is as seductive or as powerful for food-lovers than the aromas and subtle flavors of these ridiculously expensive and rare tubers. This year, the average price was around 3,000 Euros per kilo. Is it worth it? Only you can answer that. But if one of your loved ones is a truffle fanatic, you might consider shelling out some cash and purchasing him or her a few truffles. Check with local restaurants and gourmet food importers. See if they'll sell you some at a wholesale price. Or contact a top truffle company, like Tartufi Morra in Alba, and beg them to sell you some directly. Just remember to eat them properly. You never cook white truffles; they are best simply shaved over some risotto, pasta or scrambled eggs.

10. Kasumi 20cm chef's knife



You can't go wrong with a Kasumi chef's knife. I know I can't live without mine. This beautifully made, well-balanced Japanese knife is thin, strong and sexy as hell. The knives are made in Seki, Japan, which has a knife and sword-making history stretching back 700 years. The main cutting blade of Kasumi knives is V-Gold No 10 High Carbon stainless steel; the blade has a hardness on the edge of 59-60 HRC. The fine Damascus stainless steel pattern on the blade comes from 32 layers of folded steel. It's both an essential tool and a work of art.

OCBC Promotion: Buy a Kasumi 20cm chef's knife (usual price is S$290) for S$245 and get a Kasumi 12cm utility knife and a bamboo cutting board free. Plus, you get a voucher for one free knife sharpening service. Available from the Razorsharp showroom, 315 Outram Road #01-03, Tan Boon Liat Building.


11. Musso Mini ice cream machine

I've probably bored readers to tears over the last 2 years with countless stories about the fantastic ice cream that my wife S makes for me. She uses a Musso Mini, which looks a little like R2D2's cuter, smaller cousin. It's a fantastic machine. It freezes while it churns and can whip together a fresh batch of ice cream in just 20 to 30 minutes. While it's certainly not a cheap appliance, it is very well-made and after 5 years, ours is still performing perfectly.

OCBC Promotion: Purchase your super-sexy Musso Mini right now for just $1,344 (usual price is S$1,680, so you save 20%). Plus get a voucher for an ice cream making class (venue and date to be determined). Contact BATS Singapore by calling +65 62925658 or email them at info@bats.sg. Alternatively call Sebastian Muthu at +65 94241807.

12. A case of Jacquesson Cuvée 730

Nothing is more festive than a glass of good Champagne. One of my favorite Champagne producers is Jacquesson. Founded in 1798, this excellent vineyard produces only 350,000 bottles a year. And while Jacquesson is nowhere near as well-known as some of the other houses in Champagne, like Krug, Moet & Chandon, Bollinger, or Veuve Clicquot, its wines are as elegant and well-crafted as those from these other houses.

The Cuvée No. 730 is the 730th cuvée made by the House since its Centenary Cuvée in 1898. It's a light, clean, crisp Champagne with slight nutty and citrusy elements. It's the perfect bubbly for toasting in the new year.




KitchenAid Terms & Conditions:
a) Please note that these offers are valid while stocks last only.
b) Valid for all OCBC cards.
c) Limited to one purchase per product category only. That is, one card member can only purchase 1 Espresso Machine, Burr Grinder and Food Processor only.
d) Not valid in conjunction with any other promotions and offers.
e) Not entitled to Mayer In-Store Promotions, Free Gifts & Lucky Draw.
f) All items are cash & carry and do not include delivery. Collection of products must be at point of purchase. In the event there is no stock at the showrooms, new stock will be sent to the showrooms and customers must collect within 5 days of notification.
g) Promotion is valid till 28 February 2007.
h) Promotion is for purchases made only in Mayer stores. Locations are as follows: Causeway Point #03-22/23 Tel: 6767 1017, Compass Point #B1-01/02 Tel: 6315 8700, Great World City #02-05 Tel: 6838 4079, IMM #02-45 Tel: 6563 4288, Parkway Parade - Home Haven on 7 #07-10/14 Tel: 6346 9216, Plaza Singapura #05-06 Tel: 6835 8272. Showroom opening hours: 11am - 9.30pm daily.

Mario Batali and Kasumi Terms & Conditions:
a) All items are while stocks last.
b) Valid for all OCBC cards.
c) Razorsharp reserves the rights to replace free gift items with other items of the same value.
d) Color depending on stock availability.
e) Promotion is for purchases made at the Razorsharp showroom, 315 Outram Road #01-03, Tan Boon Liat Building, Singapore 169074, Tel: +6562277515. Operating hours : Mon~Friday 09:30~18:00 & Sat 09:30~13:30 (Closed on Sunday & PH).
f) Promotion is valid till end January 2007.

Musso Terms & Conditions:
a) This offer is valid while stocks last.
b) Valid for all OCBC cards.
c) Cooking classes are contingent upon a minimum number of participants signing up.
d) Promotion is valid till 28 February 2007.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Ming Kee Live Seafood



It's been a long time since S and I have gone out with friends and pigged out, mostly because she's still trying to finish her long-overdue doctoral thesis. As I've written previously, we're currently trying to stay in most nights. However, there are some friends that you just don't say "no" to. Ever. N & M are two such people. So when they called and told us they were organizing a group to check out a seafood restaurant they've recently become enamored with, we immediately agreed to join them. And given the quality of the food we had, I'm very happy we did.



Ming Kee Live Seafood is tucked among a busy row of restaurants and eateries on Macpherson Road. It's next to a famous fried intestines shop and a few doors down from Swa Garden, Ignatius Chan's favorite Teochew restaurant. We had a splendid meal, made even better through the edition of some amazing wines supplied by N, including some JJ Prum Rieslings and a 1996 Flor de Pingus. We began our feast with a perfectly roasted suckling pig. This was followed by the most beautifully tender mussels cooked in a lovely, umami, soy sauce based sauce. After this, we had equally delicious steamed scallops covered in young garlic. We then had some fried mee sua that was good but not great. The next course, steamed crayfish, on the other hand, were excellent.



Our feast continued with a pair of fried soon hock. These were stunning. The fish was crispy yet tender. And the sauce was yummy and savory. Soon after the fish came out, we were served some homemade tofu with mushrooms and broccoli. The tofu was exceptionally well-made. We also had some kangkong fried with sambal, which was not bad. A dish that I didn't expect to enjoy but which was quite tasty was deep-fried frogs' legs. Our second-to-last dish of the night was some super-yummy fried hor fun. If I hadn't already felt more stuffed than a Thanksgiving turkey, I could have eaten several helpings of this simple but gorgeous noodle dish.



The piece de resistence of the night, which was clearly S's favorite dish, was crab bee hoon. S especially appreciated that the noodles were coated evenly with the crabs' roe. The crabs were cooked well and were full of meat. The whole dish was very tasty and we were assured that it was all MSG-free.

Ming Kee Live Seafood is a great place if you feel like gorging yourself on course after course of delicious, well-made food. Personally, my favourites were the mussels, the scallops, the soon hock, the tofu and the fried hor fun. As said, S was a big fan of the crab bee hoon, which some friends declared as being even better than Danny's (of Sin Huat fame). While I don't want to cast judgement, I will say that it was excellent.

Ming Kee Live Seafood
556 Macpherson Road
Singapore
Tel: 6747 4075

Monday, December 04, 2006

Sharing tradition



A few weeks ago, S and I received a wonderful gift from a new friend who is based in the Philippines. Margaux Salcedo is an ex-lawyer, a journalist and serious foodie and, since 2004, an inspiring micropreneur. Her fantastic little business revolves around and started with one product, a traditional Filipino hot chocolate paste made using a recipe from her 90 year old grand-aunt. Nana Meng's Tsokolate (Nana Meng is what Margaux affectionately called her grand-aunt, whose real name is Carmen Perez) is really interesting. This traditional hot chocolate paste is flavoured with ground peanuts. According to Margaux, the ground peanuts were traditionally used both to add a special flavour but as a thickener. And, as anyone who has ever enjoyed a Reese's peanut butter cup knows, peanuts and chocolate go really well together. Margaux was inspired to launch her business when she was living in New York in 2003. Unable to find a hot chocolate that appealed to her as much as those she had drunk throughout her childhood, on her return to the Philippines, she decided to try and bottle these childhood memories and share them with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, Nana Meng's Tsokolate is currently only available in the Philippines, but I'm sure Margaux has plans to try and export it as widely as possible. (For more information, email nana.meng@gmail.com.)



The thing I really admire about what Margaux has done is that she's preserving traditional recipes that are meaningful to her and that she believes are unique and delicious. And, through sharing them with the rest of us, she's been able to build a business around them. I wish more people who have access to similarly impressive traditional recipes would do the same thing. One person in particular I am always pestering to do this is my good friend J. Readers of her blog will already know that J is a wizard-chef, especially when it comes to pastries and dessert. In fact, her pastries have proven so popular that J's been able to launch a mini-bespoke pastry business called Gateaux Fabulous! But, what a lot of people don't know is that J is descended from an equally talented cook. Her grandmother, like her, has a magic touch when it comes to cooking. I am particularly addicted to a spicy bean sauce/paste that her granny whips up from time to time (pictured above). It's an amazing sauce which is also highly versatile. I've used it in a variety of ways. It was the base for the best sea urchin pasta that S and I have ever (made and) eaten. I love topping steamed scallops with it. Honestly, it works well with almost anything.



Because I had a little free time last week and also because I was so inspired by Margaux, I decided to try designing a label for J's granny's bean sauce, with the intention of finally convincing her to launch an ultra-chic line of traditional Chinese sauces. I figured if I could show her some possible packaging ideas, maybe she'd be similarly inspired to convince her granny to go into business with her. My first idea was to go with something slightly cartoony, retro and fun. The above was the result.



This next image is a slightly more jazzed up version of the first idea. I just added a little more colour to it. A little later, I decided to go in a different direction altogether and put together the label design below. Instead of fun and cartoony, I decided to try something more minamalist and clean. The idea for this one was that each sauce could have an assigned number and colour.



Anyway, I've since shown these to J and am hoping she shows them to her granny. I'm pretty confident that if she ever does bring her granny's sauces out into the market, they'd sell like wildfire. They're that good. (My ideas for packaging, on the other hand, are still pretty rough. If any of you want to give some feedback, or better yet, offer new design ideas, that would be really awesome.)

I'm sure J isn't alone either. I'm sure there are many of you with access to great traditional recipes. Wouldn't it be incredible if you could package these exceptional food products and share them with the rest of us?