the hinata diaries

Friday, December 30, 2005

Mushroom tart and chocolate pots

I'm still pretty new to the food blogging world and every day brings new discoveries of wonderful entries, tantalizing recipes and amazing restaurant reviews from around the world. I'm slowly familiarizing myself with the blogging royalty as well - food bloggers whose globetrotting exploits, access to the finest and rarest ingredients, gorgeous photo taking, unique writing style or just plain passion for food set lofty standards for the rest of us. A follow-the-links journey through such celebrity blogs led me to C'est moi qui l'ai fait! what I understand to be the most popular French food blog. Author Pascale has a beautiful blog with heaps of charming photos and recipes and, bonus for me, it's all in French! Well, bonus because I really do need to improve my French, and what better way than to practise it while reading about food glorious food, but headache in another regard (this will be obvious later).

Also figured that after about a week of non-stop Chinese food, it would be nice to surprise Philippe with a home-cooked French dinner, and Pascale's mushroom tart from Dec 20 seemed the perfect thing. Will take the liberty of translating and adulterating her recipe below (someone please tell me if this violates some sacred food blog code!)

Mushroom tart (Tarte feuilletée aux champignons, adapted from C'est moi qui l'ai fait!)

Serves 2 not-so-hungry people

  • Different mushrooms, according to your preference

Pascale used 400g champignons de Paris, 100g of chanterelles and 100g of shitake. The Plaza Singapura Carrefour not being as abundant, I ended up with a mixed pack of portobello, swiss browns and swiss whites. Not as exotic or varied but good enough for a casual dinner.

  • Butter for frying
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1-2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 egg, beaten and mixed with a tablespoon of milk
  • Herbs to taste

Preheat oven to 210 degrees. Brush puff pastry sheet with egg and milk mixture, keep cool. Fyi this yields a very thin tart, so if you really like your pastry you can probably use two sheets, one on top of the other. Lightly fry garlic and shallots in butter, taking care not to brown them as they'll continue cooking a bit longer. Toss in sliced mushrooms and cook till softened but not soggy. Note: Pascale details a cooking order to her mushrooms - first the champignons de Paris for 4 minutes, then add the chanterelles for 1 minute and finally the shitake for 2 more minutes. My mushrooms all had pretty similar textures so I figured there'd be no harm in tossing them in all together. Plus I hate being precise in cooking cos it takes away all the fun! But, yeah, depending on your choice of mushroom, stop to think if they need dramatically different cooking times and order them accordingly if so.

Top tart with mushrooms and bake for 15 minutes, till pastry is golden brown. Top with herbs (Pascale called for fresh herbs but I had some dried herbs de provence on hand, those worked perfectly). Serve immediately. And, as they say in French, voila!

This turned out really delicious and perfect for a light dinner. We were done eating in literally 5 minutes. On hindsight, should've probably prepared a little salad to go with it. The tart is also great for tea, light snacks, late supper or even breakfast (I still have 6 more pastry sheets left so it's likely I'll try this soon).

Since dinner was fairly simple, I decided a little dessert couldn't hurt, so also tried Pascale's recipe for Petits pots de crème au chocolat (little pots of chocolate cream) from her Dec 15 entry. Now this is where the French got really tricky! Her recipe cites liquid volumes as "cl" or centilitres, which in my hasty reading I mistook for ml, i.e. 1/10th of a cl. As a result, I ended up with a very dense chocolate mousse, as opposed to the pudding like consistency that Pascale produced. If you like eating chocolate on its own, then this would probably be great for you; it'd also be a great filling for a no-bake version of the chocolate tart I made for Christmas (see earlier post). Below is the Pascale version, with my comments:

Petits pots de crème au chocolat (from C'est moi qui l'ai fait!)

Makes 8 pots

  • 800ml milk (I used 80ml by accident)
  • 200ml crème frâiche (again, I used 20ml)
  • 400 dark chocolate (I used 100g - couldn't melt any more since I used too little milk/cream)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 50g sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cornflour

Heat milk and cream in large pot over medium flame. In the meantime, chop chocolate in large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks, sugar and cornflour.

Remove milk and cream mixture from fire once bubbles appear. Gradually stir mixture into chocolate, stir well until melted chocolate is well mixed. Gradually add egg yolk mixture, again stirring until well mixed.

Return chocolate mixture to pot and heat over low flame, stirring continuously until bubbles appear. Cook for 2 more minutes then pour into serving pots. Chill in refrigerator for several hours.

And here you have it!

Note: For the chocolate, this time I used a Carrefour dark cooking chocolate (62%) on Philippe's suggestion that the regular cooking chocolate in France isn't too far from Valrhona. Having tried it though, I do beg to differ. The Carrefour chocolate, while being rich and dark, didn't manage to deliver that final punch of chocolate ecstary that can only be expressed by closing your eyes and mutter an expletive, that Valrhona always produces. That said, the Carrefour version is pretty similar to the type of chocolate you get in the desserts of 5-star hotel buffets. So really not too bad, and infinitely more affordable at $3 for 200g (vs. $20 for Valrhona). At the end of the day, I guess it depends on how much you want to impress your guests :)

Still have leftover chocolate, cream etc. Maybe will try the Pascale version tomorrow. Taaa!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Best eggplant ever!

Had lunch at mezza9 yesterday and tried their lobster lunch set - half boston lobster on crispy noodles, with seafood soup, steamed eggplant with preserved vegetables and honeydew mango pudding. The set was very enjoyable and the lobster portion was incredibly generous, but what really stood out was the eggplant. So much so that I thought about it all afternoon and when Philippe decided we should have dinner at home, I immediately jumped at the chance to recreate it. Proud to say, my attempt was a success! Here's a pic:

Steamed Eggplant with Preserved Vegetables (inspired by mezza9)

  • Small Japanese eggplant (nasu), quartered lengthwise
  • Garlic, chopped
  • Chinese preserved veggies, like chye sim or mustard leaves
  • Soba noodle dipping sauce (tempura sauce works too)

"Grill" eggplant slices by leaving them, cut sides down, on a heated frying pan over low/medium heat (this is my lazy way to grill/toast almost everything), until brown, soft and slightly shrivelled. If you like your eggplant softer, you can toss in some water as well and cover with a lid (my lazy version of steaming). Toss in the garlic and the end and gently mix around (not even stir fry) until garlic is brown and smells good. Note: the mezza9 version actually used a raw minced garlic paste as a topping - I don't really like the taste of raw garlic... up to you!

Pour a little bit of soba noodle dipping sauce into your serving bowl (I used about 2 tbsp for 2 baby eggplants) and place eggplant and garlic on top. Top with preserved veggies. Voila, quick and simple, and really the yummiest way of serving eggplant I've ever experienced!

Made a couple of other dishes to go with the meal as well. Emphasis was to keep the portions small and light - while I grew up having huge dinners, Philippe's not a big dinner eater, so a tapas style meal is really the best compromise: I get the variety I like but Philippe doesn't feel completely ill after.

First off, decided to make a Shanghainese style cold noodle dish:

Shanghai-style cold noodles

  • Pasta
  • Peanut butter (crunchy is best!)
  • Teriyaki sauce
  • Oil (chilli oil, vegetable oil, olive oil, whatever you prefer)

Prepare and drain pasta, toss in oil, chill to desired temperature. Mix with generous amounts of peanut butter and a splash of teriyaki sauce.

I used olive oil cos I didn't have chilli oil at hand. Regretted it at first as the olive oil flavour does compete with the peanut butter, but started to appreciate it about halfway through as it kept the noodles from being too cloyingly sweet. If you're a traditionalist, stick to chilli oil; otherwise, whatever is handy works too. The peanut butter btw was difficult to mix in elegantly and I ended up using my hands. Good fun!

And then, two other sides: cold tofu with minced pork and cucumber slices to add some crunch.

The tofu and pork was really as easy as it gets - it's usually my default food when the fridge is empty and/or I'm too lazy to cook (which is very often). Tofu, minced pork, soya sauce and you're done. As for the cucumber slices, I left the slices to stand for a little while (30 mins in this case) with salt and sugar. That drains away some of the excess water so you get the nice curled up yet crunchy slices.

So there you go, a simple and quick dinner that still managed to look like haute modern Chinese cuisine :) A toast to all shortcut meals!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Hong Kong recap part 2

Damn, food blogging is hard work, I'm almost spending more time writing about meals than I spend eating them :)

Saturday in Hong Kong was filled with greedy anticipation, as I'd booked Christmas Eve dinner at Hutong three weeks ago and was looking forward to the special degustation menu that was prepared for Christmas. So lunch was really light - we had taken a day trip to Macau, and as I was the only one who was hungry at lunch (Philippe's family eats breakfast with almost religious fervour while I tend to skip), I thought the proper touristy thing to do would be to stuff myself on Portugese egg tarts. Again, these disappeared too fast to be photographed, but they really do look exactly like they did in their Singapore heyday: buttery puff pastry cases filled with golden yellow custard that's caramelized at the top to a glistening dark brown. What I hadn't recalled from eating the Singapore version was the amount of oil in the pastry - my paper bag was completely soaked through with oil by the time I finished (approximately 20 seconds). Also I was a little disappointed to see that most of the egg tarts on sale weren't lovingly handmade on the premises using some centuries-old family recipe, but supplied from some central manufacturer and cased in the same metal displays as the lousy baos you find at hawker centres here.

And then, dinner!

HUTONG, One Peking Road

Will try to let the photos do the most of the talking. Menu:

First course (named "Winter Passage"): Marinated dou miao, drunken chicken slices and an abalone/spring onion salad

The dou miao was simple, blanched, rolled and served cold with a dollop of fresh wasabi on each. Great palate-opener that I'll keep in mind for home entertaining. Drunken chicken rolls were amazing, sweet and alcoholic to the point of practically being flammable. Abalone salad was again very simple, with practically zero dressing but great flavours. If I were to make this at home, I'd probably just drizzle the abalone and spring onions with some olive oil and be done with it. And toss in a few arugula leaves to balance the spice of the onions.

Next ("First Frost"): Double boiled deer horns soup

I have to admit, I was incredibly skeptical at the thought of drinking deer horns soup, but when the soup arrived the meat looked and smelled comfortingly of chicken. Then we realized that it was really a chicken soup (that black blob in the photo is a knob of black chicken) and that the deer horn was limited to the odd spongy looking thin discs that made an occasional appearance when scooping out the soup. No-one in our group actually dared to eat the deer horn pieces, but honestly I don't think we were missing much. It didn't appear to impart any discernible flavour in the soup anyway.

Winter Flurry: Fried prawns in garlic and long leg crab fillets in capsicum sauce

These dishes were unfortunately fairly average, despite the particularly pretty presentation of the first. I don't recall ever being a fan of the small prawns you find in Cantonese cooking, as they usually come in some dodgy cornstarch thickened sauce and tend to taste recently defrosted. And unfortunately for these prawns, the garlic topping was probably more a mix of garlic and some random soggy cereal, which lacked fragrance and crunch. As for the crab legs, both mom-in-law and I independently came to the conclusion that they would have been much better without the starchy, rubbery batter that encased them. Wrestle off the batter and voila, fresh, thick, sweet crab meat. What a waste! The capsicum sauce also tasted like a run-of-the-mill sweet and sour sauce that reminded me of Chinatowns all across the US.

Winter Solstice (what is the point of these names?): Crispy de-boned lamb

This is apparently the house specialty - crispy lamb de-boned and served Peking duck style with pancake, spring onions and a soy sauce laced with chilli pieces and shallots.

This dish managed to be delicious and disturbing at the same time. Primarily because we asked our waitress what the crispy layer on the top was and she replied skin. Which seemed perfectly normal until the thought occurred to me, what on earth is lamb skin??? Apologies for the unsophisticated question, but isn't that what wool is stuck to??? So while it had the texture and taste of perfectly roasted pork crackling, I kept imagining I was eating a mouthful of wool. Very bizarre. Being a traditionalist, I would've also been happy to have this with plum sauce, given that the soy sauce dip did nothing to balance the smoky and somewhat strong lamb smell.

Delicate Cold: Wok-tossed garoupa fillet

In a word, yum! Basically the fish version of kung pao chicken but worked so much better. A while ago, Philippe and I discovered the joy of cooking and eating fish fillets bulgogi style (we had run out of beef and pork in the fridge), and this kung pao fish is another great substitute.

Seven Herbs: Kai lan in ginseng broth

Simple and very refreshing after all the meats and strong sauces. Presumably good for you too, although the seven herbs were nowhere in sight. Another 'to make at home' dish.

Bitter Cold: Hashima in sweet soup

Here we were given a choice of desserts. Once I explained to my in-laws what hashima was, they readily opted for the ice cream topped with bird's nest. This turned out to be a coconut ice cream garnished with white fungus and, yes, a miniscule dollop of bird's nest. My hashima soup came in a generous bowl and was dense with the innocent-looking white lumps:

The pleasant surprise was that the soup was coconut based, which made it taste like an upscale bobor chacha. No complaints from me there - I would be quite happy if hashima cooks around the world settled on this as the default way of serving hashima.

Will end the meal recap with a parting photo of the view from the restaurant, which was pretty amazing... the same unfortunately can't be said for the choice of band for the night - Chinese girls singing evergreen pop songs while playing traditional Chinese instruments, ugh:

VONG, Mandarin Oriental Hotel

This one's short. Christmas lunch was a buffet at Vong. International spread with the usual suspects - omelette station, sashimi, dim sum, turkey carving cart, cheese, little desserts etc. Almost all the dishes were faultless and the atmosphere was festive with happy families and friendly staff. A couple of photos, more of the environment than the food, which can easily be imagined. Btw, the cutlery was gorgeous too, with their scalloped edges. I want!

And that's the end of my Hong Kong culinary adventure. Some big hits and some equally big misses, but lots of ideas for dishes to try at home. Looking forward to hitting the kitchen again soon.

Hong Kong recap part 1

Got back from Hong Kong on Sunday evening, in time for dinner with my folks. Trip was short but productive - hung out with my in-laws, did a spot of good eating and finished all the necessary Christmas shopping (I am eternally grateful to whoever created Shanghai Tang).

Food review coming up, but quick disclaimer: while it's fun to write this blog and post pics, some basic instincts really cannot be overcome, the most basic of which is - eat first and think about everything else later! So you'll see a lot of the pics tend to be of half-empty plates with details sorely missing. What to do?

[SOMETHING SOMETHING] Barbecue Restaurant

Prime example: first meal of the trip was at a roast meats restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui. Didn't write down name of restaurant ([something something] Barbecue Restaurant) and didn't remember the street name either (one of the small streets that joins Chatham Road South with Nathan Road I think). It was a completely random choice but a good one, since the place was filled with a continuous stream of locals, some of whom did look straight out of a Hong Kong movie. Ordered soy sauce chicken, char siew and roast duck, plus a plate of greasy Yangzhou Fried Rice. Pic!


This was more of a refreshment stop than a meal, as we had decided to take a tram ride up Victoria Peak for the afternoon. I've heard lots of good things about this restaurant from friends in Hong Kong and, upon visiting, the place did seem a bit of a Hong Kong institution, with Cafe Deco t-shirts on sale at the entrance and a wall of framed awards. The open kitchens, in particular, the Indian kitchen with its tandoori oven, churned out some fantastic smells, but we were still stuffed from lunch and stuck to coffee and ice cream. Philippe and I shared a banana split, which disappeared too fast to be photographed. Here's a picture of the entrance instead:

YUNG KEE (aka The Emotional Roller Coaster of a Meal)

Friday night dinner was at Yung Kee. Realized in the morning that I should've made a reservation, given that it was a Friday night, but by then it was too late - the earliest available table was at 9pm! It so happened though, that we were walking around Lan Kwai Fong in the late afternoon, and my in-laws were hoping for an early dinner/sleep having just arrived that morning, so we tried out luck and managed to get a table at 6.15pm . Unfortunately, having had all the roast meats during lunch, none of us were really in the mood to try the signature roast goose. We tried to have a light meal instead, with mixed results. The "complimentary" starter (complimentary in the same way that peanuts and towels are complimentary, i.e. it's on your table whether you like it or not and you're charged for it) was century egg with pickled ginger. Don't know if you can tell from the picture, but the egg yolk is really runny, and the ginger is thick cut, compared to the usual Japanese slivers.

As expected, this was not the biggest hit with the in-laws, who managed to have one slice of egg between them. Philippe wasn't touching his. So out of foolish determination to not waste food (a recurring theme that causes my fellow diners no end of grief), I managed to stuff down three slices of egg on my own. Warning: do not try this at home. Plus runny century egg is infinitely more gag-inducing than regular century egg. Even remembering the experience is making me feel queasy, onwards!

We first ordered a steamed fish and braised ee-fu noodles. After a good 15 minutes of re-reading the various menus from cover to cover, we finally decided to add a sliced beef with spring onions and ginger. The beef arrived fairly quickly, and while it did taste very delicate, Philippe wasn't a big fan of the heavily tenderized texture, likening it to the beef being 'watery'. I couldn't disagree, except that it's probably something Chinese diners are pretty used to.

The beef was followed with a 30 minute wait for the fish and noodles, which was quite surprising since the restaurant has obviously been around for quite a while and service had been pretty efficient up to that point. The hostess, while seating us, also requested us to finish our dinner within the hour as the table was reserved for 7pm. This plus the fact that we were tired and/or jetlagged did not make for a happy wait. But all fatigue and frustration melted away when the dishes finally arrived.

(Like I said, eat first, take picture later, hence the fish photo). The garoupa was really great, very much akin to the Singapore version but faultlessly executed, and the ee-fu noodles are probably the best I've ever had, light with a faint smoky taste and almost devoid of oil.

Dessert was the ubiquitous mango pudding, a generous portion that wasn't ground breaking but well done enough to not leave room for much complaint.

By the end of the meal, we were feeling pretty satisfied with the combination of good food and having checked off our first restaurant to-do. Even the long wait for the food had become a distant memory. So, ready to roll off, we asked for the bill, and then....

(important life lesson coming up)

... found out the stupid fish cost HK$750!!! That's S$150+ for a garoupa for four people! This came as an unpleasant surprise - the menu had stated 'market price' and Philippe and I hadn't really thought twice of it since in Singapore it's rare that you get taken advantage of by that, but we really did regret not asking then. So great was our disbelief that we reacted the only way possible in such shocking circumstances: call mommy! (Yes, it warranted an international roaming call). My mom's reaction though was a lot less sympathetic and much closer to uncontrollable laughter. Her laughter was later echoed by the Hong Kong family friends at our Christmas dinner back in Singapore, who reminded us between guffaws that we should be glad we only ordered a garoupa and not some rare, potentially endangered exotic species, which would have set us back thousands of dollars. Fair enough I suppose. Lesson learned!!!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Off to Hong Kong!

Off to Hong Kong tonight to spend Christmas with my in-laws. They're visiting Hong Kong for the first time and are pretty adventurous when it comes to food (they're actually the inventors of kaya mixed in yoghurt, and enjoyed bak kut teh on a ski trip!), so gotta make sure I'm well-prepped in terms of places to go, things to try etc. Just as well cos my last few business trips to Hong Kong were exceedingly short and micro-organized, so I haven't really been able to check out much local food.

Here's the game plan so far:

1) Dim sum - Fu Sing at Sunshine Plaza, Lockhart Road. Michelle first brought us here in July and we went again for her post-wedding lunch last October. The XO noodles are the best. Unfortunately, she wasn't there to help us order the second time round; we muddled through it but missed out key dishes like the pineapple char siew baos. Need to redeem myself this time!

2) Formal Chinese - Hutong at No. 1 Peking Road. Part of the Aqua Group. This will be our Christmas eve dinner and we're expecting a lot! The set menu looks fantastic and there will also be fireworks in the bay that evening. I still find that Singapore lacks good fine regional Chinese food e.g. Shanghainese, Sichuan, northern... We lived in Beijing for 2 years and even though Beijing's very constrained in terms of freshness of food and restaurant design, so much tasted better than anything we've found in Singapore. Xi Yan's probably the closest thing but even their food is very Japanese/Thai influenced. In a nutshell, this is gonna be good!!!

3) Western buffet - Vong at the Mandarin Oriental. Figured my folks would probably appreciate some Western food on Christmas day. Doesn't sound spectacular, but probably a nice tourist thing to do anyway, what with the view and all. And they have ham and turkey.

4) Hong Kong institution - Yung Kee. I guess you can't visit Hong Kong without going to Yung Kee! I haven't been since 1998 and have vague memories of it, that probably means it's time to go back.

5) Really local food - Dad-in-law has requested that we try lots of street/casual food. We'll be staying in Kowloon so I guess we can wander around and stumble on places. My mum's suggested Nathan Road, Lock Road and a couple of other streets whose names I don't remember now but will probably recognise them when I get my hands on a map.

So that's it! Back on Sunday with write-ups and pics (hopefully)!

Monday, December 19, 2005

My baby!

Just realized that, while I have my camera with me, I can finally post a long overdue picture of my birthday cocotte! Here it is, isn't it gorgeous? I should probably do the proud owner thing and name my cocotte; suggestions welcome!

Christmas dinner - photos and post mortem

Christmas dinner has come and gone! Another one for the memory books, what with conga lines, naughty toys, chest shaving, talcum powder fights and all...

Of course, we know that all great parties begin with great food :) so without further ado, the Christmas dinner menu post mortem:

1) Green chilli tapenade

Not too bad... the anchovy fillets didn't process too well, so a couple of people got 'anchovy bombs' but overall pretty good with a very homemade taste. Wouldn't use the organic rice cakes again though, they were a lot more cardboardy than I expected.

2) Parmesan, nori and sesame puffs

Photo a little skewed (uploading newbie, and too lazy to transfer the photos to my hard drive to edit). These looked just like the photo in Yoshoku, so feel pretty chuffed. Tasted really good too, helps to be generous with the parmesan. They got a little hard as the night went on, definitely have to serve them hot. Gonna try varieties of this in the future, they'd look especially pretty with paprika I think.

3) Mentaiko dip

This was a last minute addition as Philippe declared we needed one more starter. Had to go to the Isetan at Lido for last minute shopping, so decided to make a mentaiko dip by simply mixing mentaiko and mayo, plus loads of black pepper. (Been craving mentaiko ever since trying it in Tampopo's Kyushu Jangara ramen.) Couldn't find grissini sticks so used Glico. Surprisingly yummy for something so simple.

4) Tomatoes a la Xi Yan

Again, simple, gorgeous and yummy (although you can't really see it in the photo). Splurging on the beef tomatoes was definitely the right decision, they looked great and were so thick and sweet, wouldn't have been the same otherwise. Used most of the shabu shabu sauce and tossed lots of sugar in as well. This would actually be a great snack for eating in front of the tv!

5) Asparagus, parmesan and mint salad

This was really amazing, although the recipe seemed fairly straightforward. Dressing was lemon juice, olive oil and equal parts mint, parsley, chervil and chives. Trick is to chop the herbs very coarsely so that they cling patchily to the asparagus. Each bite then has a different flavour, depending on what herb piece you picked up. Literally took 5 minutes to make, and another 5 minutes for it to disappear off the table.

6) and 7) Ham and turkey from Mezza9

Can't take any credit for this, but people are still raving about it over e-mail today and I'm actually enjoying the leftovers :) The sauces were also wonderful - a brandy raisin sauce for the ham, and cranberry sauce (you can still make out the individual cranberries) and giblet gravy (ditto with bits of giblet floating around) for the turkey.

8) Baby potatoes

This was supposed to be a potato and lardon casserole, and was planning on stuffing it into the oven after the first guests start arriving. Just as well I waited, as it turned out we had a Muslim guest, so decided to hold the bacon and serve the potatoes simply boiled and tossed in butter and fresh thyme. Birthday girl Jean decided to do the potato boiling honours and they came out perfectly. In the rush of it though forgot to take pictures, but you can imagine what a bunch of boiled baby potatoes look like.

9) Korean chocolate upside-upside-upside-upside-down cake

This was supposed to be a very beautiful and sleek chocolate tart per Donna Hay. Unfortunately, substituting a shortcrust pastry crust with a Keebler chocolate cookie crust made a huge presentation difference, since the cookie crust decided to crumble into a million pieces after trying to flip it out of the aluminium pan it came in. Nicky and Jean, the Korean danger twins, had so much fun with the first flip that they decided to flip it again and again and again, hence the upside-upside-upside-upside-downness. Definitely not a pretty sight, but it was saved by its exquisite taste! On the sagely advice of June of Nibbles and Scribbles, decided to splurge on Valrhona chocolate and damn it was good. For those who asked for the recipe on Saturday night, it was really easy and fast to make as well (if you can get hold of a pre-made crust). I haven't baked in years (actually I think since Home Econs in secondary school), so if I can manage to not completely screw this up, I'm sure you can too. All credit goes to Donna Hay's Modern Classics 2:

1. Whisk 7 egg yolks with 3 tablespoons of sugar, set aside.

2. Bring 2 1/3 cups of cream to the boil over medium heat, then remove from heat and add 200g of chopped chocolate (only the good stuff). Stir until smooth, then pour in egg yolk mixture and stir until well mixed.

3. Bake 15-20 minutes in a 150 degree oven or until set. Leave to cool completely. Serve with berries or cream. Keep all Koreans out of the kitchen (ok Donna Hay didn't specify the last one).

10) Nectarine clafoutis

This never got made, as Nina got a bit carried away by the Christmas spirit and bestowed 4 boxes of mince pies and a Christmas fruitcake from Marks and Spencer upon us. Ate the nectarines with leftovers last night though, yum.

11) Sangria and Nicky's Special Mojito

Philippe is usually bartender extraordinaire, and creator of such what-the-hell-were-you-thinking cocktails as balsamic vinegar and cumin vodka shots. Deciding to play it safe this year (at least while the night was still young), he made the lovely sangria above. But he readily admits defeat to Nicky's signature mojito, which we've never managed to replicate no matter how hard or often we try. So Nicky was called upon for slave girl duty, working hard in the kitchen while everyone else was having fun. What to do, with great power comes great responsibility! No photos of the mojito unfortunately, but rest assured even if I had a photo, you'd never be able to make it taste as good as Nicky's!

Phew, that's it, Christmas dinner reviewed! Probably won't get a chance to hit the kitchen for another week or so as will be spending Christmas in Hong Kong, also our fridge fortuitously died the night before the party so needs to be replaced. I'm not planning on writing any restaurant reviews in this blog, but may have a few words (or pages!) on our Hong Kong trip, since planned some good meals there. To be continued!

Friday, December 16, 2005

The road to Christmas dinner

In an attempt to improve my kitchen management skills, went advance grocery shopping for the big night (tomorrow) last night. Decided to battle the holiday shoppers at Takashimaya, figuring that the Cold Storage there would be the best one-stop shop. (Not a big fan of Carrefour since it's way too big and I inevitably forget the one or two or three items that are at the opposite end of the store.)

Anyway, phase 1 of mission more or less accomplished. Some deviations:
- Decided to splurge on beef tomatoes for the tomato salad. $18.90 for 6 tomatoes! but since figured the dressing would be fairly simple, that I might as well make sure the tomatoes taste and look their best. Even the aunty at the cashier was trying to persuade me to change my mind:

aunty (prior to weighing) - these are beef tomatoes you know, very expensive
me - yah, i know, it's ok
aunty (after weighing) - $18.90 you know! got cheaper ones, you want to go change?
me - really, it's ok...
aunty - *sigh* (probably thinking, kids nowadays don't know how to save money)

- As for the tomato salad dressing, original plan was to make a sesame sauce and serve them similar to Xi Yan. Unfortunately I have the wrong Xi Yan cookbook (there are two or three volumes now I think) so only had the recipe for cold spinach in sesame sauce. That sesame sauce is a mix of sesame paste, vinegar, soy sauce and sugar, and sounded close enough. But while scanning the aisles for sesame paste (which I ignorantly don't think I've ever seen in package form before), I came across a bottle of shabu shabu sauce, whose main ingredients were water, soy sauce, sesame sauce etc. etc. Makes sense! So picked that instead, hopefully will turn out ok. Worse come to worse, shabu shabu for dinner next week :)

Other substitutions made due to products being unavailable: (Cold Storage needs to restock faster!)

- Thai asparagus for angmor (Australian?) asparagus. Quite unhappy about this one but didn't think it was worth a separate trip to another supermarket just for asparagus. There were also only 3 packs of asparagus left. A fourth mysteriously appeared upon my return to the veggie section 20 minutes later. Probably not enough for 20 people though, we'll see.

- Nectarines for plums in the plum clafouti. Never thought plums would be hard to find but apparently so.

- Green chilli for capers. Think this might work out quite well actually. Plan was to blend capers with anchovy fillets and black olives for a nice tapenade, but had been thinking of ways to spice the tapenade up as well.

- Chocolate cookie crust for butter shortcrust. Kinda amateurish, but the butter shortcrust was out of stock and again didn't want to go trekking to search for it. Anyway the tart crust will soon be indulgently filled with Valrhona dark chocolate; hopefully everyone will be too caught in throes of chocolate orgasms to notice the cheap crust. Obviously I will soon have to set my sights higher, but for now this'll do.

All these proud acquisitions are now sitting patiently in the fridge awaiting their moment of glory tomorrow. May I do them justice!!! Photos to come.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Christmas dinners past and present

Hosting Christmas dinner at our place this Saturday for a group of about 20 friends. Philippe and I have thrown Christmas parties every year since we've been married, and they've provided loads of amazing memories through the years. E.g.:

(1) 2001 - Christmas at Yonghe Villas in Beijing. Maybe this is idealizing it a bit, but my memory of this Christmas is walking through the snow covered hutong to arrive at bright lights, warm food and flowing wine. Had about 50 friends and friends of friends there. Having grown up with the unshakeable belief that every Christmas must have ham and turkey, but that any attempt on my part to make said ham and turkey would lead to dramatic failure, we ordered them from the Kerry Hotel. The shepherd's pie was the sleeper hit of the night, defying our ayi's suspicions that such a bland looking dish could actually be tasty. And I remember Gloria's amazing homemade blinis and choux...

(2) 2002 - Christmas at Spottiswoode Park. Our first Christmas party in Singapore! Ham and turkey from Marriott, which led to the surprising discovery that Sa is pretty adept with an electric knife (quite a terrifying realization actually). Sleeper hit this time round were the cherry tomatoes soaked in peppered vodka, which was responsible for quite a bit of merriment that night. Also remember mango and beet rolls (looked great, tasted ok) and drunken chicken (looked awful, tasted great) and a blue cheese salad, whose noxious pong succeeded in defending itself from all hungry advances. For some strange reason though, my strongest memory of that night was cleaning up after and wishing Seah had made it back from the States in time to come.

(3) 2003 - Christmas at Everton. The insane Christmas party! Ham and turkey from Marriott , rest of food catered from House of Peranakan for a change. Star of the night was Mr Shit, whose shenanigans that night (some of which involved polka music) are the stuff legends are made of and simply beyond words.

(4) 2004 - Two Christmas parties at Everton. 1st was for the Borg 'n' Frog, ham and turkey from Marriott once more. Reasonably sedate compared to the year before, although the evening libation managed to evolve from very civilized wine and champagne to vodka detergent. 2nd was for the new non-Singaporean friends we had grown close to over the year. Breaking with tradition, ham and turkey for this night was from Mezza9, a definite change for the better and from which there is no returning. Highlight of this evening was the arrival of the police at 1am, who were astonished to discover that all that noise had been generated by a sedate looking group of about 10 people. (Nicky, fortunately, had climbed down from her chair and stopped screaming by then. Julien, however, needed a bit of further hushing up.)

(5) 2005 - Last Christmas at Everton before the big move to Tembeling! I can't even begin to predict what the night will have in store for us in terms of events and happenings, but do need to sort out what it will have in store for us in terms of food!

As with my new (and unfortunately still unused) cocotte, planning the menu is really half the fun, and has taken me the better half of the last two weeks. Including a trip to Kinokuniya with June of, under the excuse of there being a 20% off members' sale. Given that it is Christmas, thought the fare should be pretty hearty, may have to crank up the aircon to keep people hungry methinks. So here is the plan so far:

Still undecided, but potentially:
Parmesan and nori puffs, from Jane Lawson's Yoshoku (one of my new acquisitions)
Tapenade (recipe from our Italian former neighbour in Beijing)

Tomatoes in sesame sauce a la Xi Yan
Asparagus, mint and parmesan salad, from an old issue of Vogue Travel & Entertaining

Ham and turkey from Mezza9 (hooray for Christmas staples!)
Potato and lardon casserole, from the Dec 2005 issue of Epicurious

Plum clafoutis from Donna Hay's Modern Classics
And, if I'm really feeling ambitious, a chocolate tart from the same book, to double up as Jean's birthday cake

Given my sorry kitchen management skills, have tried to find relatively straightforward recipes. But then again, they all look relatively simple until you realize the guests are arriving and you're only halfway done and still clad in food-stained clothes and messy hair. So we shall see! Wish me luck!