31 August 2006

Island Cafe

Upon ending a short stint in MCYS, my very kind and generous bosses decided to treat me to a meal each. One of them told me, through his Personal Assistant (everyone should get one!), to meet him at Island Cafe. Right in the middle of town.

I thought I had a good knowledge of where to go and what to eat, especially in town. Yet this little cafe escaped my radar, which is really miraculous considering that it is actually situated in the middle of Tangs Department Store where I often go to to oogle at kitchenware. Speaking of which, someone recently reminded me that I had to update my little wishlist at the side of this panel.

Anyway, it is no wonder I had no clue of the existence of this cafe since it is on the top floor. In fact, just a floor below it is a small and rather inconspicuous bar for yuppies to get a mid-day drink to unwind a little. The concept of Island Cafe is not novel. It serves local food, with a more luxurious touch, beautifully presented amidst a tropical surrounding. Panel after panel of light wood surrounded us, while the wide floor to ceiling windows let in natural light and gave a good view of Orchard Road.

I actually felt a little spoilt for choice while browsing the menu, because there was so much that I wanted to try. In the end, I chose the Black Pepper Soft-Shell Crab Tung Hoon (pictured above) over the Crayfish Laksa. I'm sure you get what I mean now, when I said they served food with a touch of luxury.

My dish had so much potential and could have been mind-blowing, but unfortunately it was executed poorly. When the tung hoon arrived at my table, it looked spectacular with a whole soft shell crab staring straight at me, lightly encased in a tempura batter. Something about seeing whole animals, or crustaceans in this case, on my plate that appeals to me. Suckling pig, whole steamed fish, whole chickens, whole ducks. While the noodles was flavourful, it was disappointingly dry. Even the crab was not much of an enjoyment, and I'm a big soft shell crab fan.

What was worse was the ice kacang that I had after dinner, willing myself to give the place another chance. Even the ice kacang was not let off and was given an extra touch of barley and gingko. But that was not the letdown. Instead, it was the fact that the shaved ice was coarse. I swear even the ice kacang I made manually with my friends was of better quality. How could they screw up the NATIONAL dessert?

It had a nice environment though. That must be the reason why the place usually gets crowded on weekends. I must admit I loved the vibe they emit there. Their waiters and waitresses were also extremely friendly and polite, more than I can say for alot of other 'better' restaurants. I would go back again just to kick off my heels and rest my feet from shopping, with one of their cocktails perhaps.

Island Cafe

Level 4, Tangs Shopping Centre, Orchard Road

Tel: 6737 5500

29 August 2006


Hi, I'm Daffy and I eat instant noodles. I tell people not to eat it, I scold friends for buying bagfuls of it, but I succumb to it too.

On days when I don't have the luxury of time, they are a life-saver. On days when I know I will appreciate little of what I put in my mouth (Yes, shock, horror. But shit happens to me too.), I dig it out just to quieten my gastric juices. And on days like these, I seek more pleasure in taking a nice photo of it than eating it.

But, I am really looking forward to going out for drinks with my girlfriends tonight, and we're hitting the bar at happy hour. Hopefully there will not be a repeat occurance of me belting out Backstreet's Back, though I'm sure my girlfriends will be highly amused.

26 August 2006

Floggers Meet

Not so long ago, I advertised for all Singaporean floggers to get together. And after much anticipation, we finally did last night at Sage! Sage is an exclusive restaurant at Robertson's Walk, a stone's throw (if you're really strong) away from Clarke Quay and about a 20 minute stroll from the Clarke Quay MRT station. But hey, I'm not complaining and I didn't hear anyone else complaining. Foodies are known to travel far and wide for good food anyway.

This year's gathering, unlike last's, was organised by Colin from Epicurative. Oddly, before meeting him, I had the impression that he was some balding middle-aged man with a passion for good food. Imagine my confusion when he appeared as an articulate and young guy in black shirt and jeans, and told me he was only going to enter university this coming September. Anyway, thanks to him, a total of 17 foodies got together to talk about (what else but) food.

Sage was a restaurant I had not heard about before Colin's introduction, but after visiting their website and finding out that it was helmed by a husband and wife duo (Jusman and Kimberly), I could not wait to sink my teeth into one of their dishes. But I could imagine the amount of stress that Chef Jusman was under, cooking for not 1 but 17 people whose lives revolve around food.

When I arrived, I was greeted by a box of Gryphon Straits Chai tea, which I had the honour of trying before and LOVED. With sachets made of silk, and prices so affordable, I'm sure they will be a hit once their brand is officially launched. That's right, floggers are getting a little preview of a brand of tea not on the market yet. The only other people who will be able to lay their hands on these beautifully packaged boxes of tea would be the people attending the IMF this coming September.

The menu featured 5 courses that already sounded delectable. By the way, those restaurants which cheat by counting coffee/tea as a course, ought to be closed down forever.

In the interest of floggers who insist on remaining unidentifiable, here's a real mysterious photo taken by Ivan. Actually when I walked in, I felt like I had landed upon a tai-tai's gathering. I don't mean that in a bad way. They all, like the stereotyped Tai Tai, dressed well (making me pale in comparison in my 'army' pants, even though they were made of satin) and looked better than your average girl. It must be all the good food, right?

Also, the proportion of estrogen to testosterone was greatly imbalanced. The three lucky souls were able to bask in the attention of the other 14 ladies. But we were all connected through food. Talk did not just revolve around food per se, but about taking photos of food, relationship with friends and family when it comes to food, restaurants with sucky service, and the list goes on...

Our first course featured a Fricassee of Burgundy escargot with lentil du puy and field mushrooms, poached egg and italian parsley cream.

I was EXTREMELY apprehensive about the first course, this being my virgin escargot attempt. If I could run away from these dead snails, I would, the way I usually run (at full speed, nonetheless) away from live (albeit slow) snails. The only other creepy crawly that trumps snails in terms of freaking me out would be earthworms. I kid you not, they can make me cry from horror.

But Chef Jusman and his team definitely made this experience painless and actually extremely pleasurable. I put the images of gooey garden snails at the back of my head and tucked in daringly. The flavours all went together beautifully, making the photo a very lousy representation indeed.

The next amazing course was a Chestnut mousseline with oxtail consomme and truffle oil, that I excitedly tucked into without taking a photo. It was served in a glass coffee mug, in three neat and contrasting layers. Contrasting not only in terms of colours, but texture. I dug in my spoon way down to the bottom, the way ChubbyHubby recommended, to scoop out a little of each layer to create 'heaven on a spoon'. It really was heaven to me, in the most surprising way ever. The creamy chestnut, shredded oxtail, in the super tasty oxtail broth amazed me. I never thought I'd drink soup out of a cup and enjoy it so, so much. All those prepacked cup-a-soups are henceforth condemned out of my life.

On to the third course of a Baked fillet of sea bass topped with tiger prawn mousse, braised fennel and a lemon-basil emulsion. While I enjoyed the lemon-basil emulsion and braised fennel, the sea bass was just a little too tough for my liking. But I can imagine how difficult it must have been cooking for 17 (very critical) people, and ensuring that each course was served simultaneously. The coordination that is required, not to mention the precise organisation in that unbelievably small kitchen of theirs is incredible. Only anyone who has cooked for large groups of people will understand this. And considering that I once screwed up just ONE serving of monkfish for myself before, I really have no authority in this aspect.

Shortly after, in came some US corn fed beef shortribs braised in red wine topped with slices of foie gras and bone marrow, glazed root vegetables and a mousseline of butternut pumpkin. Oh. My. God. If the Chestnut and Oxtail soup brought me my heaven in a spoon, here I present to you my heaven on a plate. Okay, I know I've waxed lyrical about lots of food before. But here was some really phenomenally tender beef served with bone marrow AND foie gras?

Chef Jusman knew that foodies, in general, would be suckers for such sinful pleasures. Although, I was expecting some visible slices of foie gras atop the braised shortribs. I am known for my greediness but didn't let it get the better of me by storming into the kitchen and demanding for more (visible) foie gras. In fact, thankfully I did not. Considering the growing number on my weighing scale, I better watch what I put into my mouth (as if I really can).

Finally, we had a simply delectable dessert of Fromage Blanc panna cotta topped with candied strawberries, Champagne jelly and strawberry sorbet. So good, that I would return to Sage just for this. But do bear in mind that I am BIG on desserts. Also considering that I have not perfected my sorbet-making skills, anyone who can make sorbet this refreshing and smooth without being overly sweet, gets into my good books immediately.

Actually our meal did not end there. Other than the constant flow of red and white wines, Limoncello and Grappa (courtesy of Umami and Ivan) and of course the abovementioned Gryphon tea, we also had other freebies. These adorable volcano shaped truffles were courtesy of Julius from Julius Truffles. Admittedly, I am not big on truffles. I love my chocolate but in small amounts, and not intensely bitter, which I usually find truffles to be. But these were surprisingly not so even though they were dark and creamy on the inside. Apparently they contained alcohol, but Ivan's Limoncello single-handedly ousted any alcohol taste in them. Julis Truffles also had other varieties that I did not try, and I admire his guts for daring to put his truffles under the review of so many demanding palates.

Another freebie that we all received is a Kasumi Knife. I can just imagine some of you just WISHING you had started a food blog, even if it was just for a chance to come to this event, or more specifically to get this Kasumi knife. Generously sponsored by RazorSharp after some talking to from the now extremely famous Chubby Hubby, they are frighteningly sharp and resonate with a 'ring' if you run your thumb against (not along, for god's sake) the blade. In fact, it is so sharp that I have no idea how to safely keep it. It requires an entirely drawer on its own. Actually, this is a good reason (read: convenient excuse) for me to get a nice sturdy knife holder.

I had a ton of fun at the food bloggers' gathering, which seems set to be an annual event (Thank you Cindy, for organising next year's, not like you really have a choice). Even though I was constantly teased by a couple of them, who threatened to begin rumours (RUMOURS, MIND YOU) about me being a lesbian (don't ask me why). So before anything gets thrown in the air, I am NOT lesbian. Nothing against them at all, really. I just feel like I have to clarify my sexuality.

I felt entirely comfortable in my own skin at this gathering, somehow. Perhaps it was the alcohol. Or perhaps it was the simple fact that during dinner, I could take all the photos of food I wanted, talk selfishly and endlessly about food (and all things related to it), and realise that I was not the only one committing such social faux pas. In fact, such behaviour was greatly celebrated.

And of course the food was such a steal at 65 bucks flat, served with such grace and ease as well. They did not chase us out, even though we may have overstayed our welcome just a little, and still bade us farewell with a big smile.

Another fantastic outcome of the night was my discovery of a ton of other food bloggers residing in this tiny island.

The 'alumni' members, or at least the ones I knew about before dinner, included:
Chubby Hubby
Dim Sum Dolly
Skinny Epicurean
Haute Stuff

The new ones I have yet to explore are:
Cocotte Rouge
Ice Blue Orb
Sook’s Food Notes
Food Recent Runes
Fine Fare
Lavender Cupcaker

Reluctant update: Actually my night would have been more fantastic by leaps and bounds if I had won one of the lucky draw prizes that CH managed to get sponsored for the night, from Razorsharp and BATS. A Kasumi 10 INCH slicer, a Staub Fondue set and 2 Staub Cocottes (self-basting too!). But don't even get me started on all of that, because it is painful to relive my experience of having to be the 'honoured' one to give out the prizes and see the beauties (I'm referring to the prizes of course) move further and further away from my open, welcoming arms. For a more detailed write up, head on over to Ivan's.

Here are the three people who made this night such a success - Chef Jusman (in his white coat) and wife Kimberly, with Colin.

I applaud those who actually read every single word of this long entry.

23 August 2006

Le Papillon

I have talked about Anderson Ho's cookbook - Menu Degustation, a couple of times now. I've tried recipes from there and have been relatively successful with them. However, like I've mentioned before, they are not targeted at the amateur cook. And it was a little irritating that much of the measurements were in grams. Irritatingly small quantities measured in grams sure maximises my digital scale and may be more accurate than measuring by volume, but is rather troublesome.

Still, I can't emphasize how much I absolutely adore the cookbook. For the photos and the inspirational combinations of ingredients. It makes me want to be more creative and experimental, instead of always staying within my comfort zone. Plus, that this is a local chef, makes it all the more appealing to me because I've always been a big supporter of all things home-grown.

So when I heard about Anderson Ho's new restaurant Le Papillon, I could not wait to try it out. I kept checking back with their website, but it was unfortunately still not complete. I went ahead and made a reservation for lunch this afternoon anyway.

They had a menu degustation for 80 bucks, which I was tempted to get but decided against because of a goats cheese and watermelon dish. I'm sure it would have been a phenomenal combination for those who love goats cheese, but goats cheese and me just do not go. At all. Not even a little bit.

Instead, I chose an appetiser of Seared Hokkaido Scallops, Herbed Risotto, Asparagus and Morel Mushrooms (pictured top), while my companion had a Foie Gras with some sort of kumquat compote, balsamic reduction, bay leaves and a foie gras creme brulee (bottom). Both appetisers were really great.

The risotto renewed my faith in the world of risottos again, because for a while I just kept eating risottos that seemed a little overcooked. This risotto still had that bite, just the way I like it. Extremely creamy and flavourful, it was amazing with the mushrooms and scallops.

The really interesting bit of the foie gras dish was the creme brulee. It had a crunchy caramelised top with and an interesting flavour. Soft like tofu, and faintly sweet, it had a wonderfully subtle hint of foie gras. I tried just a bit of the foie gras, but perhaps because my standards had been raised by a recent mind-blowing experience with foie gras, I thought it was good but not Fantastic.

But both our appetisers made us very hopeful for great main courses. I'm sure you can see where I'm going from here though.

Crispy pork belly with tiger prawns and green pea mousse was my companion's choice of main course. While the meat was tender and flavourful, I really have a big bone to pick with the 'crispy' skin. It was too hard, to the point that I knew I would develop a headache if I had to finish the entire serving. My poor friend had to do just that and told me afterward that it was getting difficult to listen to me while chewing (!!!!). I was extremely disappointed with this, but the green pea mousse provided some relief. It was perfectly soft with a very fresh flavour. I think green pea haters might even fall in love with this.

Mine was a lamb duo of a braised lamb shank ravioli and herb crusted lamb cutlets, medium rare, in a rosemary jus. Yes, I love my meat and love them bloody. The ravioli comprised of slightly chewy fresh pasta encasing some super tender shreds of lamb. But I was looking for more oomph and more moisture exploding in my mouth. Though then again, I could be overly demanding.

The lamb cutlets parted easily under the slim knife (that wasn't even serrated like a steak knife) and went in perfect harmony with the sweet rosemary jus. BUT ( I'm sure you saw this coming), I've never had such fatty lamb cutlet before. If you thought the crispy pork belly would be packing in more fat than my lamb cutlets, think again. I appreciate that fat does alot for taste, but when it is presented in such huge amounts in a single serving, it can get extremely off-putting, and not to mention, shocking.

Perhaps I had too high expectations from the person behind that gorgeous cookbook. Perhaps I had waited too long to try out the restaurant. Perhaps all the beautiful cutlery and decor had built my hopes so high that when the food fell short of my wishes, it fell hard and bad. I was really very disappointed with the main courses though the appetisers were promising. The service had its highs and lows as well, well-intentioned but executed a poorly. All this added up and made paying the bill a little painful.

I forsaked trying out any of their desserts especially since there wasn't a very huge variety of them anyway. But I hope that today was just a bad day for the chefs as I will be back to give the restaurant another shot, hopefully trying one of their desserts next time.

22 August 2006


Chocolate and banana muffin with peanut butter frosting, and Camomile tea with a shot of honey


1. A duration spent only with oneself in order to reflect upon past events.
2. A duration spent only with oneself in order to think about the future.
3. A duration spent only with oneself, just because.

I take plenty of me-times whenever I have to. When I feel like I have a lot on my mind, or have lost a sense of purpose, that's when I need it the most. Today presented the perfect opportunity to dig out my dusty but still lovely purple suede diary, to pen down what has happened since the last entry.

The environment plays a big part when it comes to me-time, simply because there is no companion to distract you from the surroundings. It is just you and everything else around you. I needed to find somewhere more secluded, less crowded, but with a good selection of comfort food/drinks. The fact that I happened to be in town when I decided I needed some time alone, made things a little more tricky.

Even though it was a weekday afternoon, the streets were still bustling with activity. The street cafes were not quiet enough, and were constantly interrupted by the noise and pollution from vehicles running around. I frown upon franchised/global cafes like starbucks or coffeebean, because yes, I'm a snob. But as I ran through my mental list of cafes or little eateries nearby, I realised I was simply surrounded by them. That is, until I remembered a friend telling me about this small cafe tucked in a very ulu ('desolate') part of Ngee Ann City.

I recalled his difficulty in describing the location to me, and that helped me secure the deal. I really needed somewhere less crowded for me to guiltlessly take my time writing my diary entry without feeling hurried by the staff. I was hoping this little cafe would be more private since it was rather out of the way. The fact that this little cafe is under the Marmalade Group also contributed of course because I've heard much about Marmalade Pantry at Palais Renaissance (also along Orchard Road) and had a good impression of it the last time I went.

The staff were extremely friendly and earnest in answering my questions ('Where's your tea from?' or 'Where'd you get these beautiful shot glasses?'), as well as helpful in offering suggestions on what to order. As I looked around, I saw gorgeous looking tai-tais and handsome expatriates with avocado and chicken wraps, or some mediterranean cous cous. With my Elvis Muffin (Chocolate and Banana, with Peanut Butter Frosting) and a generous (and refillable) mug of Camomile tea (accompanied by a shot glass of honey of course), I plonked myself down gratefully and started unloading my mind into my diary.

The staff left me to my own thoughts, and never once disturbed me. Every other customer was too caught up in their own conversations to bother about this odd girl scribbling endlessly. It really was my perfect sanctuary for the afternoon, and I left the place lighter (though fuller as well) and much happier too. But I heard that I was lucky to escape the lunch crowd. So if you're finding for a peaceful hideaway in town one weekday afternoon (2-ish), Toast is the place to go.

Unit 02-11 Ngee Ann City (Takashimaya)
Tel no. 67338489
Unit 01-09 OUB Centre
Tel no. 65341755

18 August 2006

Caramel Sauce

I love all things sweet, with the exception of a few. Some sticky toffee is all the way down there with sickeningly sweet marzipan. Marzipan may make wedding cakes look smooth, polished and elegant, but they certainly contribute little to the taste. If I can have things my way (and of course I hope I will), I will have a marzipan-less wedding cake next time in favour of a big stack of beautifully frosted cupcakes.

Anyway, back to the topic - Toffee. It may taste pretty good but I can certainly do without having toffee wrapped around my molars by the end of each piece. Those bits are impossible to remove but will slowly melt away, of course only after they've set up the foundations of a toothache. I definitely love my food easy to handle, requiring as little jaw work as possible. Of course, all this is based on what limited experience I've had with toffee. For all I know, there's this miracle toffee that will not leave me with such a bad after-feel.

So take away the 'sticky' from the toffee and you get something like caramel sauce. The flavours are definitely all there. The sugar, butter, with addition of cream, creates something sublime and so adaptable to a variety of ice cream flavours. While caramel sauces can vary in consistency, I love mine opaque and thick. Almost verging on toffee, but not quite there.

Jill Norman's The Cook's Book (yeah, I keep using the same few cookbooks) has a chapter by Pierre Herme, which includes a recipe for a caramel sauce. However, it requires some liquid glucose that helps prevent crystallisation and therefore lumpy caramel sauce. Since I had none on hand, I referred to Damien Pignolet's French and used his proportion of sugar to water.

But his was for a thin sauce, so I carried on from there with Pierre's butter and softly whipped cream. Just for kicks, I also added a pinch of vanilla salt that I got from Rome. This helps cut through the super sweetness of most caramel sauces, without impacting the palate explicitly. Really wonderful. In the photo, I served the sauce with some chocolate sorbet also taken from Pierre. While one was rich and thick, the other was refreshing with a very clean flavour.

Vanilla Salted Caramel Sauce
Makes 200ml

300g white sugar
100ml water
a pinch of vanilla salt
16g unsalted butter
160ml softly whipped cream

In a small saucepan over low heat, dissolve the sugar in the water, ensuring that sugar is fully dissolved before the water boils.
Cook the syrup until the temperature reaches 170 degrees celcius or is a lovely amber colour, then dissolve the salt in it.
Add butter and cream to pan away from heat and whisk in. (There should be quite a reaction upon addition)
Place the pan back over low heat and bring gnetly to the boil (103 degrees celcius).
Allow caramel to cool before serving.

13 August 2006

Simple Pasta

Barbeque food here is usually really predictable. Chicken marinated in soy sauce (and sometimes honey), store-bought frankfurters, chicken/beef/pork satay, fishballs, otah, sweet potatoes, and occasionally prawns or stingray. This array of barbequed food would usually be accompanied with a big tray of fried rice or fried beehoon and some marshmallows. Barbeques in the west however, could include polenta cakes, a variety of grilled vegetables, a big bowl of crisp salad, some pasta salad, beef burger patties, and fresh fish.

When Singaporean students from a UK university come together to hold a barbeque for the freshers, the choice of food becomes a whole mish mash from both cultures. Alongside the sambal sotong, there would be potato salad. Right next to the otah, you'll be able to find some pasta salad. And for dessert, a few pieces of refreshing Vodka watermelon is the way to go.

I was tasked with making the pasta salad. Okay, fine. I wasn't tasked, instead I enthusiastically volunteered my services. I love finding these opportunities to experiment with recipes, though it is indeed risky trying something new at a function where so many people's palates and stomachs are at stake. But over the years, I have (or at least I hope) learnt to strike a balance between being adventurous and just being ridiculously overambitious.

Actually, you're right. I haven't learnt. But I have to start somewhere don't I?

Just the night before, I picked up a cookbook from Borders and spotted a recipe for a simple prawn and pasta salad that involved some cream, lemon zest and horseradish. I couldn't get that recipe out of my mind and decided that I'd do something similar for the barbeque tonight.

So I made a Saffron-infused Lemon Cream Sauce for a pasta salad that included prawns and roasted peppers. Instead of using horseradish for the extra twang, I added my favourite mustard for salads - Dijon. The pasta salad turned out surprisingly refreshing despite all that cream, and had an extra earthy depth because of the saffron and sweet roasted peppers. Although it can be served warm as a main dish, I personally feel that it would benefit more from some chilling.

In future, I'd also add something crunchy like garlic and herb croutons or crisp, fried bacon. But then again, I'm known for complicating recipes and messing around too much with recipes such that the flavours of the main ingredients don't shine through. I often have to tell myself to drop that spatula, and just walk away from the dish once it is done. Just. walk. away.

I'd make this pasta dish as an entree anytime, not just because it is uber easy, but also because it tastes fabulous. I'll give the rough estimates of ingredients, but recommend just dipping one piece of pasta into the sauce and trying it as you go along (woohoo!), then adding more of whichever ingredient you think is necessary. Also, since the sauce is cream-based, here's your chance to use that bag of beautiful tri-colour large spiral pasta that you fell in love with at the supermarket but had no use for, until now.

Saffron-infused Lemon Cream Sauce
Makes 1 cup of sauce, for about 800g of pasta

1 cup cream (whipping/heavy/thickened)
1 pinch of saffron
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 1 lemon
3 tbspn Dijon mustard
1 tsp salt

Heat cream with saffron until blood heat and leave to infuse until cool.
Add zest, juice, mustard and salt then whisk until slightly thickened.
Pour onto cooked pasta salad and mix evenly.
Leave in refrigerator to chill for at least an hour before serving.
Update: I brought it to the bbq and it ended up a little drier than expected, most likely because of the refrigeration. So keep a little extra sauce to add in just before serving. It seems so obvious though, I really should have pre-empted this problem.

10 August 2006

National Day

Pasta, Peppers and Mozzarella Salad

Miny Burgers with Cheeseless Pesto and Sweet Yeasted Buns

Honey and Saffron ice cream sandwich

Happy National Day! Well technically, National day is over. I had a little housewarming+lunch party with a few dear friends. It was such a relaxed and fun affair involving good food, good vino and some superbly enjoyable company with whom there were endless conversations and laughter.

We know we've moved a little notch away from our past when lunch gatherings involve guys, and wine.

07 August 2006

For people who live to eat

Last year, around this time of the year, a group of food-crazy people met at Mag's Kitchen.

This year, Colin from Epicurative has taken over the baton and organised something similar.

So here's calling out to everyone who blogs about food, or are even intending to do so.

Food Bloggers' Dinner 2006

Venue: Sage the Restaurant (Website)
Date: 25th August, Friday
Time: 7.30pm
Cost: $60 nett

Please contact Colin with the following details if you haven't already done so:
1. Your attendance
2. Any food restrictions (No beef/pork, vegetarian/vegan etc)
4. Any other comments or queries
Please RSVP by 14th August, Monday.

06 August 2006

New York Cheesecake for a Birthday Girl

When I saw my mum oogling over some cheesecakes recently, I made a mental note to make a cheesecake for her upcoming birthday. So I set out finding for a simple recipe for a high and dense New York Cheesecake recipe. While I did think about adding something extra to make it different, I decided otherwise and chose not to mess with the classics.

This one that I got was from Epicurious (again), with just a little extra lemon zest and a gingersnap crust. The zest made a cake less heavy, and more refreshing. I added a thin coating of cocoa powder on top with some dark chocolate shavings. It was real simple, yet pretty. I would add one more egg or reduce the baking time though, as it could do with just a bit more moisture. But in all, it was satisfactory and a real easy recipe for first-timers like me.

We had a buffet at Marriott hotel's Marriott cafe, and the service staff were extremely accomodating with my requests to bring out the cake for her.

Happy Birthday Mummy! I Love You!

04 August 2006

Duck, revisited

My brother and I did not always have a very close relationship. There were times when we'd irritate the hell out of each other and I'd end up running to my room to scream into my pillow just to vent all the anger and frustration out of my system before it blew up.

But these days, we share alot more in common, one of that being a love for good food. However, as my exposure to food in the past few years has been more westernised, I don't have as much experience and knowledge when it comes to quality local food. Sure, I know the common food haunts such as Geylang and Smith Street in Chinatown, or those nearby like Bukit Timah Wet Market (which I wrote about before). But beyond the few more well known ones, I'm really quite ignorant.

When I told my brother about my disappointing duck experience at Johnson Duck along Bukit Timah, he immediately recommended that I go to somewhere in Paya Lebar for the best duck rice he has ever had. But when he told me that the shop was owned by his friend's family, I was a little doubtful as I thought his judgement might have been a little biased though understandably so. Still, I was open to suggestions and took up his offer to introduce me to his version of 'The Best Roast Duck, Ever'.

Today was D(uck)-Day. But not before we splashed around the pool together in the sun with two of our cousins, Marcus and Freda. It has been eons since I saw my brother in the pool and he really is such a natural joker, especially in the pool. That's because everyone is half-naked and any shred of self-consciousness gets thrown into the wind. I can really understand why my cousins sulk a little when he doesn't turn up for some family gatherings.

So after an hour and a half's worth of soaking in chlorine and getting a healthy tan, we showered and headed straight to Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint in Upper Payar Lebar Road. We were all ravenous, and that may have made the food tastier than it might have been, but I emerged from the shop agreeing with my brother that that was really the best duck I have ever eaten.

By induction, that would imply that this roast duck beats the one at Four Seasons in Bayswater,London. But let me explain.

Eating pure fat is something I do once in a while when I feel it is worth it. For example, the foie gras terrine I had at Robuchon was something I did without giving a second thought. Foie gras, braised pork belly, bring it on!

The duck at Four Seasons is infamously fat, with delicately crispy skin and some really solid, thick, syrupy sauce to go with it. On my first time there, I actually tried to remove the fat, until my friend insisted that the fat was crucial to the taste of the meal. So everytime I pop by Four Seasons with friends, I'd eat enough duck fat to last me the whole week.

But this one trip to Kay Lee's has taught me that taste does not necessarily have to come from the fat. Their duck, like Four Seasons, is tender, moist, and with a beautiful crisp skin. While remaining extremely flavoursome, it does not have the Four Seasons's signature thick layer of fat. I'm so, so glad to be enlightened about this, because this means that eating good roast duck can now be guiltless!

The sauce that they served was also ultra yummy without being overly sweet or artificially thickened with corn starch. However, I really have to say that I prefer Four Seasons duck sauce for its slight herby flavour and thicker consistency, making it more decadent and pleasurable.

We also had another plate of roast meat and char siew. While the roast meat was nothing spectacular, the char siew was certainly the first of its kind that I've tried. Instead of being made with lean meat, it had generous amounts of fat. This meal was turning into one big irony, really. But the Char Siew was so amazingly tender, obviously because of the fat, that it was such an experience to eat. My experience with char siew are obviously few and far apart, but my impression has always been that it always require a fair amount of jaw work. This char siew however, just melted in my mouth. But definitely not for the faint (or weak) hearted.

The last item we had was a bowl of Zhu Du Tang (Pig's Stomach Soup). I'm really big on innards, especially pig's stomach. In this bowl of hot (in both senses of the word) soup, the pig's stomach was particularly tender, that also did not require any vigorous chewing. It was however, more peppery than most. Nearing the end of the soup's lifespan, you'd be able to scoop up at least a huge tablespoonful of crushed white pepper. Superb, as if it was made just for me.

The meal was simply phenomenal, heightened because of the bad roast duck I had not too long ago, and also because it had been such a long time since I hung out with my cousins and my much adored brother.

Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint
No 125 Upper Paya Lebar Road
Singapore 534838
Tel. No. 67438778

And here is a video I took, just to convince you that... Damn nice leh, woohoo!

On the road to doom

I really am on the way to hell. The number of eggs that I've gone through in the last 2 weeks is astounding. I buy whole trays of 30 eggs each and am on my second one now. I'm just worried that all of that is going to all the hearts (literally) in my family.

But I missed using my ice cream maker so much, and might be separated from it for another whole year, that I can't help but get myself emotionally attached to it now. It has served me well, and has definitely served me hard. I already can't bear to leave it again. But until the time comes, what use is there in mourning over it?

Today's experiment was based on an epicurious recipe for a Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream. I used my basic recipe for vanilla ice cream though, because if it ain't spoilt, don't spoil it. It just involved an additional step of folding in some bread crumbs tossed in butter, sugar and cinnamon before being toasted.

This is actually something that even cinnamon haters might not mind having since the cinnamon flavours were really subtle. The crunchy breadcrumb bits not only made the ice cream texturally interesting, the taste of the bread and butter in the ice cream was novel but in a good way. It added a certain richness and comfort to an otherwise ordinary ice cream.

I'd recommend saving some breadcrumbs to sprinkle on top, together with a small (a little goes a long, long way) dash of ground cinnamon. Not just because of selfish aesthetic reasons though, but also because it's just so much fun to do so. I'll admit, I actually feel like a little professional chef when I'm at it. ;)

Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream

2 cups of a basic vanilla ice cream custard base (see below), infused with cinnamon and chilled overnight
3 slices of bread, put through a food processor until it resembles bread crumbs
2 tbspn butter, melted
1.5 tbspn packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Toss bread crumbs with butter, sugar and cinnamon.
Toast until brown and crisp then reserve a handful for the finishing touches.
Churn vanilla custard base in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.
When it is done, fold in bread crumbs and freeze at least 2 hours before serving.
Just before serving, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and a pinch of ground cinnamon.

Vanilla Ice Cream

2 cups whipping cream
1 cup milk
1 vanilla bean
4 egg yolks
100g sugar

Bring whipping cream and milk to a simmer, infusing milk (and cinnamon, for the above recipe).
Whisk egg yolks and sugar then pour hot cream mixture in a thin stream while whisking.
Return to pot and put in a double boiler (or over another slightly bigger pot of hot water), stirring well constantly until it thickens.
When the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, remove from heat and leave to cool.

03 August 2006

Why you should get a flog.

This flog (food-blog) started out innocently just as a convenient recipe diary. I figured, since I was pretty hooked to the internet, I might as well have an online diary for all the recipes I had tried and that worked.

I had multiple kitchen diaries before this flog and goodness knows where they are now. I'm such a scatterbrain and lazy-ass, that none of them stuck with me for more than 5 recipes. Imagine all the money wasted on the numerous notebooks.

This flog evolved into more than just something personal, but something I use to share recipes and lives with others. I've gotten to know so many people through this blog alone, a few of which I email back and forth. Some may just have an interest in the food, while others have a more serious inclination towards the cooking. An exceptional few strive for such excellence in all aspects of kitchen-ery that it inspires me to aim higher and go further.

One particular Singaporean girl in Japan, whom I got to know through this flog, has been emailing me more frequently recently. It seems like she (T) has taken a new found interest in bringing her cooking/baking up a notch by trying more adventurous recipes. She has also shared a couple of Japanese recipes with me, all of which were painless to prepare yet tremendously yummy.

I haven't been cooking much recently, mostly because my family just doesn't have time to get together for dinner. It requires much coordination and many sms-es before a normal family dinner can happen. Frankly, it gets tiring after a while since I usually end up being the middle-(wo)man. Which is why, when we do get together, we try to make dinner a little better than average.

Yesterday, I decided to just get my hands dirty and cook dinner for whoever would come home for dinner. The good thing about one of the recipes that T recommended is that it keeps well. Unlike risotto or souffles which need to be served immediately, this nimono (simmered dish) can be kept and reheated just before serving. Even better, it can be put together in a few steps and adapted to your palate.

And so I included onions, pumpkin, oyster mushrooms and enokitake (long japanese mushrooms). Served on a portion of rice (preferably Japanese), and topped off with some bonito flakes, it was ultra-comforting.

Imagine running around all day because of work, and finally going home to a big, hearty bowl of rice with stew. That's precisely how my parents felt. Of course it didn't hurt to have a side dish of simple salad as well.

I really, really appreciated T's recipes, but that's not the only reason why you should get a flog.

Imagine your ecstasy when you return home (also after a hard day of work) to a big parcel filled with loads of Japanese goodies that had pieces of notes stuck to each one of them, explaining what each packet contained.

T even sent me a frother! Some curry cup noodles, which I imagine to be really different from our local curry flavour, some wakame, miso soup, various Japanese snacks, bonito flakes (!), tabi socks (!!!) and many more. The most interesting had to be the matcha salt that I had never heard of before, but am eager to try out.

Has that convinced you to start a flog now? =)

Stewed Potatoes (jyagaimo-ni)

1 tbspn oil
3 potatoes, cubed into bite sized pieces and soak for 5 mins
1 onion, sliced into thick rings
a portion of pumpkin, half the weight of potatoes and cubed into bite sized pieces and soak for 5 mins
1 tbspn sugar
2 tbspn light soy sauce
2 tbspn mirin
about 12 pieces of oyster mushrooms
1 small packet of enokitake

Saute potatoes and pumpkin in oil in a deep frying pan until surface is slightly crisp.
Add onions, sugar, soy sauce, mirin and enough water to cover half the height of ingredients.
Cover with oyster mushrooms and enokitake.(*)
When water boils, reduce heat to a simmer until all liquid evaporates.(**)

* Covering the pan with a lid would slow down the process since the liquid should be evaporating, so covering the stew with mushrooms would act as a buffer. The mushrooms cook, and at the same time you're retaining some of the liquid, so this method effectively kills two birds with one stone! Alternatively, you could use a stewing lid that the Japanese use. Is a metal lid with small holes.

**As I love my stew to be saucy, I left some liquid behind and thickened it with a little cornstarch instead.

01 August 2006

Pluot Sorbet

I've been to the land of roadside stalls and back. Almost all of the roadside food I tried, save for those selling fruits, contained coconut in some form. Come to think of it, even their grilled smashed bananas were doused generously in a coconut based caramel sauce, which by the way, was lovely.

My girlfriends and I did not just do lots of shopping and gorging, we also spent some precious time pampering ourselves. However, I refused to go for their 'Traditional Thai Massage'. Once bitten, twice shy. The literally back breaking maneuvers were no joke at all. But Val and Addy had not gotten one before, so they foolishly (despite my warnings) went for it while I got my mane tamed. I watched in great respect as they endured the rubbing, smacking and kneading, and still emerged from the massage rooms alive.

We did spend most of our time shopping till the sun went down, the moon came up and the shops closed. It would have been a perfect trip if not for the bout of food poisoning I got on my last night. That would also explain the public service announcement in my previous entry.

The general rule of thumb is, as I found out through the hard way, to avoid ice and water from anywhere in the Asian region. So even if you are dying of thirst and have to walk a mile to get water, DON'T buy the lemon freeze from that drink store!

Back home and almost fully recovered, I was craving for something refreshing and light. That's when I remembered the Pluot Sorbet I made the day before I left for Bangkok.


That, my dear friend, would be this red fleshed beauty that I spotted in Chinatown (of all places!).

Taking my cue from the sticker on the fruit, I googled it and found Pluot in wikipedia. They originated in California as a hybrid between plums and apricots, which explains their name Plu-ot. I must admit that I find this a really corny way of naming a fruit. And get this, those hybrids with 2/3 apricots and 1/3 \plums are called Apriums.

Although the website said that it'd be intensely flavoured and sweet, I didn't find it particularly so. At SGD$1.50 per pluot, it'd be a waste to eat it as an after dinner fruit. It also didn't taste very unique, but the colour was too gorgeous not to make use of. And so I brought out my ice cream maker and put it to work.

After consulting the few cookbooks I have with recipes and tips on making sorbet, I finally settled on something I derived from Damien Pignolet's 'French' and Jill Norman's 'The Cook's Book'. Apparently, professional sorbet-makers would use a tool to measure the sugar concentration of the sorbet (before churning) in Baume. Damien suggests, after adding in the fruit puree to the simple sugar syrup, to adjust the mixture to a sugar concentration level of 14 degrees baumé.

While I wanted to create the perfect sorbet with the perfect texture, I did not have the proper tools. Adding too dilute a sugar syrup would make the sorbet freeze into a block of ice, impossible to scoop. Adding too thick a sugar syrup would result in a sickeningly sweet sorbet.

After some calculation (and mishaps) however, I somehow managed to make a sorbet that rocked. And can I say, THANK GOD for the ice cream maker. Having to fluff it every hour until it achieved the same consistency would have been too much of a pain.

Pluot Sorbet

A small squeeze of lemon
Equal parts of sugar and water

Deseed pluots and puree in a blender (since the skins have no fuzz, they can be left on).
Add a squeeze of lemon.
Simmer sugar and water until all the sugar has dissolved, but do not stir.
Remove from heat and cool.
Add 7/10* the volume of puree in sugar syrup to the pluot puree and mix well.
Chill for at least half an hour before churning in ice cream maker, following the manufacturer's instructions.

*This is where my mishap struck. I accidentally added more than the 'half' that Damien's book called for, but could not reverse my mistake without compromising on the taste of the pluots coming through the sorbet, so I stuck with it. In the end, the sorbet was still not overly sweet and was in fact less sweet as compared to other commercial sorbets I've had.

Also, although the sorbet could not be scooped straight out of the freezer, after defrosting in the fridge for a while (as I would do for my other ice creams anyway), it took on a rather interesting texture - less icy than other sorbets, and smoother on the tongue.