the hinata diaries

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

We interrupt this program to bring you this news development...

I've just been informed by Philippe that as my cream puffs did not contain ice cream and were not topped with chocolate sauce, that they were not in fact profiteroles but choux a la creme. Which is fine with me since that sounds pretty good anyway. Except that mine are really choux a la "damn tasty and a lot of hard work went into this!!!" creme.

Monday, February 27, 2006

My first profiterole!

Now that I'm slowly conquering my fear of baking, I decided to set my sights a little higher (and, more specifically, daintier) this weekend by embarking on my first profiterole. The attempt was a bit of a debacle, but proud to report that at the end of the (long and sweaty) day, the (few) completed profiteroles were a success and would pass any blind taste test.

25 simple steps to making your first profiteroles:
  1. Start with the profiterole recipe in Donna Hay's (your only baking cookbook). Confidently exclaim to self, "That looks simple!"
  2. Lying on the sofa, daydream in front of said book about all the exotic fillings and toppings you can combine.
  3. An hour later, settle on Earl grey creme patissiere with toffee, Rasperry curd with white chocolate and nougat and Ginger and pumpkin puree with ginger icing.
  4. Run to friendly neighbourhood grocery store excitedly.
  5. The grocery store has no raspberries. Substitute with nectarines while wondering how one extracts juice from a nectarine. Push all negative thoughts out of head - people can taste negative energy.
  6. The grocery store only has big ass pumpkins. Contemplate drinking pumpkin soup for dinner every day for the next week. Decide to instead grab a can of candied yams while harboring suspicions that the yams are infused with enough sugar to send a grown person into convulsions. Breathe in and think more positive thoughts.
  7. Get home and make the profiteroles in 3 batches of 20 each. Easy peasy. Eagerly pull first batch of golden, puffy profiteroles out of the oven.
  8. Watch in horror as first batch deflates in front of your eyes.
  9. Re-read the recipe. Ohhhhhhhhhh.
  10. Second batch is done, correctly this time. Eventually though, these deflate too, though not as much as the first lot.
  11. But, you think you've figured it out this time. Third batch comes out perfect, hooray!
  12. While profiteroles cool, make earl grey creme patissiere. This is easy peasy too. Transfer cream to a ziploc bag with a tip cut out - read that all the cool home chefs do this instead of using a proper pastry bag.
  13. Using a chopstick, poke hole in bottom of one of the good profiteroles and insert ziploc bag nozzle. Squeeze gently.
  14. Watch in horror (again) as cream explodes through the opposite (the ass) end of the bag and towards you.
  15. Repeat several times.
  16. Run back to grocery store and buy a proper piping kit. Bring home. Insert newly purchased plastic piping bag in newly purchased metal piping tip. Wonder what that funny plastic thing that was included in the kit is for. Transfer cream to new piping bag, making sure to drop half the cream on the floor in the process.
  17. Using the same chopstick as before, poke hole in another one of the good profiteroles and squeeze. Squeal again as metal tip goes flying off the front and cream once again comes flying out the ass end.
  18. Husband comes home. Run to door with despairing look on face. He instinctively attaches that funny plastic thing to the bag. It works perfectly now.
  19. Fill 15 of the profiteroles before running out of cream.
  20. The profiteroles pass the taste test, and are sweet without being cloying. Decide to skip the toffee. And the nectarine curd. And the candied yam puree.
  21. Stare at remaining empty profiteroles wistfully. In a final burst of energy, decide to make some orange curd using already squeezed orange juice in the fridge.
  22. Curd is too runny. Dump in copius amounts of cream cheese. Dump in all the cream cheese in the fridge. Still a bit runny, but it might do. For a bit of flair, toss in chopped glace ginger and prepare to pipe.
  23. The glace ginger jams the piping tip. And the curd-cream cheese mixture is still too runny. (You can tell because it's also running down your face and hair). Scream "I give up!" to no-one in particular.
  24. Transfer all unfilled profiteroles to a glass baking dish. Spread curd mixture over and top with more profiterole shells. Chuck in fridge for another day. Think of it as an avant garde tiramisu that might revolutionize the history of modern dessert (positive thoughts).
  25. Return to the 15 good earl grey profiteroles. Stare at them appreciatively. Serve sparingly, approximate one per loved one.

Misadventure aside, I am now secure in the knowledge that, having mastered the art of profiterole baking and piping, that I could make these again in a jiffy (the curd recipe goes out the window though). Got rave reviews from the lucky people who got a puff or two each, and was even considering making another batch tonight. We'll see :)


Makes 30

  • 1 cup water
  • 100g butter, chopped
  • 3/4 cup plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
  • 4 eggs

Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius.

Combine water and butter in saucepan over low heat. Once mixture simmers, add flour and beat with wooden spoon till smooth. Once mixture leaves side of the pan (this can happen extremely quickly - mine was almost immediate), remove from heat and gradually beat in eggs.

Pipe an approximate 3 tsp of mixture per profiterole onto non-stick baking pan, leaving generous space between profiteroles to accomodate rising. (The profiteroles will approximately double in size in the oven.)

Bake for 20-30 minutes or until light golden. Turn off oven and wedge oven door ajar using a wooden spoon or similar. Leave profiteroles in oven for a further 20-30 minutes or until golden. (Note: Err on the side of longer here to prevent profiteroles from collapsing). Remove from oven and cool on wire rack.

(Adapted from Donna Hay's Modern Classics 2)

Earl grey creme patissiere

  • 2 cups milk
  • Earl grey tea - 2 teabags or the equivalent in loose leaves
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornflour (or cornstarch)

Bring milk and tea to boil in a large saucepan. If using tea leaves, strain to remove leaves. If using tea bags, remove the tea bags and discard (duh).

In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs and sugar till thick and pale. Add cornflour and whisk again.

Slowly pour in hot milk, whisking continuously.

Return mixture to saucepan over medium high heat. Simmer rapidly and whisk continuously to prevent a 'skin' from forming, 5 minutes or till thick.

Remove from heat. Cover cream with non-stick baking paper or clingwrap to cool, allowing the paper/wrap to adhere directly to the surface of the cream.

To fill profiteroles, transfer cream to piping bag with small nozzle. Poke a hole in the profiterole and fill gently.

(Adapted from Donna Hay's Modern Classics 2)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Just showing off

Philippe and I had dinner at Sin Huat with Nicky, Simon and Jo last night. Sin Huat's famous crab bee hoon has been exalted on numerous occasions by both local food bloggers such as Joone and Chubby Hubby, as well as by visiting celebrity chefs (most notably Anthony Bourdain), and therefore needs no new introduction. I just wanted to show off our plate :)

P.S. If you're a fan of Chubby Hubby and have read his post on Sin Huat, it seems like we owe it to him and his wife S for single (double?) handedly bringing this gem of a restaurant into the public spotlight. Can I be the first to nominate him for a national award? :)

Monday, February 20, 2006

Seeing stars, smelling truffles

Spent the most amazing Friday morning last week at the Raffles Culinary Academy, where guest chef Alain Soliveres was hosting a Provencal cooking class as part of the Raffles Hotel's annual Wine, Food & Arts Experience. The class, which included a cooking demonstration as well as a lunch, was a belated Christmas present from Philippe, and I spent the better parts of the two weeks prior giddy with anticipation.

This year marked the 11th anniversary of the Wine, Food & Arts Experience, and Raffles Hotel invited several of Europe's top chefs (with, aptly enough, 11 Michelin stars between them) to grace the festival. Events included Masterchef dinners, wine tastings, cooking classes, a star-studded champagne brunch, and many were fully booked weeks in advance. After much deliberation, we decided to go for the culinary class, thinking that it would allow us to appreciate a specific chef's cuisine more intimately and informally (and also without completely breaking the bank). And given that Philippe grew up in Provence, chef Alain Soliveres' class immediately won out over the others' :)

Here's what the Wine, Food & Arts Experience booklet had to say about Alain Soliveres (sorry, haven't figured out how to type accents, but you can see them from my cut-and-paste below) and his restaurant Taillevent:

Named after a 14th century chef who wrote one of the oldest known books on French cookery, Taillevent, the restaurant helmed by chef Alain Solivérès occupies a 19th century town house off the Champs-Elysées. Heralded with three stars rating for more than thirty years since 1973, this grande dame's success is a result of owner Mr Jean-Claude Vrinat's passionate and zealous attention to detail.

Chef Alain Solivérès, the fifth chef at Taillevent in the forty years that Mr Vrinat has owned the restaurant, is a native from Beziers in the Languedoc region of France. Before holding the reins in the kitchen at Taillevent, Chef Solivérès had trained under masters including Chef Alain Ducasse at Le Louis XV in Monaco and Chef Jacques Maximin in Negresco in Nice. His cuisine is distinctly Provençal, personal and robust, and has won a firm reputation of creating brilliant modern riffs of Southern French classics and tempts accomplished and proficient palates with constant new dishes that reflects his lusty yet refined style.

The class started at 10am on Friday. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the perpetually smiling staff of the Culinary Academy and handed our menu for the day:

Spelt Risotto, Sliced Black Winter Truffle

Poached Brittany Seabass, Shaved Truffle Caramelized Endives

Baked Ginger Snow Egg & Mango Jelly

After some quick introductions, Chef Alain began preparing the dishes... and my life was changed forever... :)

First and foremost, let me say that Chef Alain has to be one of the more pleasant and unassuming people I've ever met, let alone for someone so lauded in the culinary world. With the help of translations by Chef Nicolas of Raffles Grill, he patiently explained not just how each dish was put together, but also talked us through his choice of ingredients, his cooking philosophy, the history of Taillevent, how the kitchen of a 3 Michelin star restaurant is managed, and so on, and even took questions from our class as simple as "how do you choose a good frying pan?"

His humility was only rivalled by the evident love he has for his craft - even when preparing the caramelized endives, a Taillevent staple, he gently lifted each individual endive slice from the frying pan to check if the colour was precisely right. His painstaking attention to each and every component of the meal almost made us students ill with guilt - boiling your chicken broth for 3 hours instead of 6? buying off the shelf, factory refined grain instead of grain from a small-batch farmer you know personally? flipping your fish fillet in the frying pan more than just once? You could almost imagine a tear rolling down chef Alain's cheek at the thought...

This passion clearly echoes through the rest of the Taillevent kitchen - chef Arnaud, the pastry sous chef of Taillevent, similarly chose to remake an entire egg meringue (see photos below) rather than serve us one that had errantly fallen on the side of the plate and suffered a little dent, naked to the normal human eye, but an unforgivable blemish in the eyes of this pastry chef.

One wonderful and unforeseen side benefit of chef Alain's attention to detail came in the form of a statement, made casually and matter-of-factly, at the start of the class:

"I like to work with seasonal ingredients. One ingredient I like to use in winter is truffles, so I thought I'd share these with you today"

Kinda like the Queen of England saying oh, I think sapphires look good on you, would you like to help yourself to some of the Crown Jewels?

This introduction was followed with a short discussion on this year's truffle season and the mechanics of truffle pricing.

Some truffle facts, courtesy of chef Alain:

  • Apparently, due to a particularly cold winter in Europe this year, many truffles have frozen over, and there is now an Official Truffle Shortage which has pushed the price of French black truffles to 1,600 Euros a kg!
  • Taillevent uses 2kg of truffles a day, with each truffle weighing an average of 60g.
  • Nowadays, mainly dogs are used to sniff out truffles, as boar tend to eat the truffle (lucky pigs, pardon the pun).
  • Truffles can be found in France, Spain and Italy. Italy is the only source of white truffles, from Alban, which are not cooked but rather simply shaved over rice and pasta. White truffles go for 8,000 Euros a kg. I haven't checked my insurance policies for a while, but I highly suspect I'm not even worth as much.
  • When preparing black truffles for cooking, the skin of the truffle is usually removed using a fine peeler. This peeled-off skin is then chopped to produce chopped truffles. The peeled main body truffle is thinly sliced using a mandolin or a truffle slicer. These are the truffle slices usually used to top dishes - they are added to the dish at the final moment in order to retain the maximum perfume.

It was at the end of this little lesson that chef Alain began reaching for the chopped truffles to use in the risotto. Bear in mind, the risotto he'd been preparing was just one person's portion. He literally grabbed an entire fistful of truffles and nonchalantly tossed them into the pan.

The entire room went silent.

And the lady behind me, speaking for the rest of us, just went "Oh. My. God."

That was at 10.15am.

A course-by-course breakdown (don't worry, there were only 3):

Spelt Risotto, Sliced Black Winter Truffle

Spelt is a light brown grain from the rice family that is commonly grown in the south of France, where it is considered "poor man's food". While a quick visit to our local organic store yielded up several varieties of spelt flour, the grain is more elusive in Singapore. Chef Alain was also quite insistent that even if you can find spelt grain, it may not be worth cooking with if it's been factory processed, as much of the flavour is lost during the refining. At Taillevent, only spelt from a particular local farmer is used, and chef Alain purchases 500kg/year of the farmer's total annual production of 600kg.

As testimony to the "naturalness" of his spelt, chef Alain could constantly be found picking out little black specks from the spelt as he stirred it. Yup, the French terroir, the warmth of the Provencal sunshine, the footsteps of generations of French farmers, all captured in that little pan of spelt and lovingly removed by the magical fingers of a 3 Michelin star chef...

The spelt is cooked in a broth of beef bone marrow, shallows, white wine and chicken stock. The preparation time is somewhat lengthy, with the chicken stock being added one scoop at a time and made to reduce almost completely before the next scoop is added. This takes about 25 mins, following which the risotto is topped with butter (40g a person, an instant heart attack), chopped truffles (the aforementioned fistful), chopped spring onions, grated parmesan and whipped cream. Once plated, the risotto is then laced with homemade veal jus and topped with even more sliced truffles, olive oil and fleur de sel.

The end result is nothing short of alchemical, and you understand why this dish has been a Taillevent staple for over 10 years. The risotto itself is surprisingly light - the spelt has a barley-like crunch to it - and the minimal use of cream brings out both the heady perfume of the truffles, the robustness of the natural chicken stock as well as the intense flavour of the veal jus. The contrasts work so well that each bite just fuels your hunger for more, and it literally renders you speechless until the last spoonful is scooped off the plate.

You dig your spoon into the risotto.

You gingerly balance a slice of truffle on top.

You gracefully slide the spoon into your mouth (even though you'd much rather shovel it in with your bare hands).

You wait.

The flavours burst.

You close your eyes.

And the entire universe just ceases to matter.

Until you slowly come to your senses, and realize...

The main course is up next.




(On a side note, as if this dish needed anything to make it better, we were generously served a glass, well several glasses, of a Puligny-Montrachet from Domaine Leflaive, one of the guest vintners for the event. And kudos to this lovely white Burgundy for holding its own against the risotto - this is definitely one wine I'd love to hoard to elevate special dinners. We also had a lovely little amuse-bouche before starting, a gazpacho like cold tomato soup drizzled with basil oil in a martini glass. Here's a pic.)

Poached Brittany Seabass, Shaved Truffle, Caramelized Endives

Like the risotto, chef Alain's poached seabass is not a complicated nor difficult dish, just one that demands the freshest and best ingredients, and plenty of love in the preparation (feel the love!)

That's chef Alain on the left with the squeeze bottle. I'm guessing the other chefs are a visiting boyband in disguise.

The endives (also a winter vegetable - substitute with asparagus in the spring, artichokes, tomatoes or basil in the summer and wild mushrooms in autumn) were used in two ways on this dish. Large endives leaves were sauteed in butter, chopped truffles and chicken stock, then blended to produce a light foamy sauce for the fish. Baby endive halves were caramelized in butter and sugar, then deglazed with some chicken stock for a gorgeous, golden brown, crunchy and bittersweet side. As for the seabass, in keeping with chef Alain's philosophy of using only two or three key flavours per dish, it was simply poached in butter and fleur de sel, then topped with more sliced truffles.

Where the risotto was sinful in its richness and perfume, the seabass was light and even refreshing - the simple, clean cut flavours balancing each other perfectly on every bite.

Again the audience ooh-ed. Again the audience ahh-ed. No-one cared that this elegant dish concealed practically half a stick of butter per individual portion. The road to an early grave never looked so appealing...

This dish was also paired with a lovely wine - a gloriously intense and spicy Cabernet Sauvignon from Sassicaia in Tuscany. While we were concerned that the intensity of the wine might overwhelm the delicate flavours of the fish, it certainly made for very enjoyable drinking after and through dessert. A lady at my table was so smitten by the wine (and rightly so) that she tried to purchase some bottles on the spot, only to be gently rebuffed by the service staff who replied that it was only available at Raffles Grill. As if anyone needed another reason to eat at Raffles Grill! We were also treated to a little introduction by Mr Sebastiano Rossa of Sassicaia on the history of the vineyard and the wine.

Finally, dessert...

Baked Ginger Snow Egg & Mango Jelly

Due to some confusion over the menu, it turns out that dessert was neither baked nor did it contain ginger. Not like anyone cared, this was a luscious dish as beautiful to the eyes as it was on the palate.

Our instructor for this amazing dessert was chef Arnaud, the pastry sous chef at Taillevent. While less lyrical and effervescent as chef Alain, he impressed with his quiet confidence and sure hand, which made what would undoubtedly be a massive kitchen nightmare at home seem easily achievable for the average kitchen dummy. (But we know better, anyone who wants to attempt this better have at least (i) three days spare, (ii) two kitchen helpers, (iii) a heap of patience and (iv) a personal prayer from the Pope.)

Chef Arnaud in the centre and chef Nicolas standing behind him

The circular base of the dessert consists of two layers - the upper diced mango cubes set in homemade mango jelly, and the lower a gelatinized fromage blanc mixture so studded with fresh ground vanilla that it almost looked more brown than white.

(It was at this point that Philippe sniffed, "does he know that mango pudding is on every restaurant menu in Singapore?")

And right on cue, chef Arnaud proceeded to demonstrate why this was no ordinary mango pudding. He filled a large round cookie cutter with a stiff, yet uncooked egg meringue mixture, popped the now round meringue disc into a pot of hot water and poached it to make what looked like an enormous marshmallow. When it cooled, he then scooped at a smooth, ovalesque spoonful and set it carefully aside.

Using the tiniest of knives that would have made Willy Wonka proud, he then sliced off the top of the scooped meringue, dug out a little hole (what I would've given to lick the spoon there and then!), then piped fresh mango puree into the empty space and replaced the top. With what I can only describe as the loving hand of a painter, he then proceeded to painstakingly blend the edges of the meringue with a knife to perfect smoothness.

It takes you a couple of seconds to recover your breath and realize that the man has just made a fake egg.

The egg is then gently brought to nest on the mango-fromage blanc disc, where it sits nervously, knowing that the same chef who patiently brought it to life would unhesitatingly chuck it away should it so much as wobble and sustain a blemish.

The dish is finally top with a roll of dried mango that has been baked overnight at 60 degrees Celsius and decorated with drops of mango puree.

When we finally got to dig our spoons into these little masterpieces, the first realization is how simple the flavours are - fresh, sweet-yet-sour mango against sweet vanilla and airy meringue. But again, the quality of the ingredients and the precise cooking process made all the difference.

Surprisingly, the star of the dish for me though, was the dried mango roll. Although it only received a passing mention during the final plating, it was evident the use of fresh mango, slowly baked, allowed the roll to intensify the tartness of the mango, while retaining sufficient moisture. The end result was therefore not the tough and fibrous dried mango available in the local snack shops here, but rather a sophisticated and sensuous slice of the natural. I'm not sure when I'll attempt a meringue egg (I definitely lack an acrobat or professional pastry chef's dexterity), but I will definitely start churning out these mango rolls as a topping or base for future desserts.

Our meal was finally concluded by a visit from chef Alain, who seemed genuinely embarassed and almost perplexed by the superlatives being showered upon him. I guess the site of ecstatic foodies high on truffles can be pretty disconcerting. After a lengthy chat, our table was left on its own. The licked-clean plates and emptied wine glasses now only bore faint echoes of the magical encounter we just experienced. The staff were busy packing up.

A sigh.

A last lingering look.

We put down our napkins.

And it was over.





Thursday, February 16, 2006

Figs and zucchini flowers: The gaksei (student) way

I have never (and possibly may never again) eat so many figs and zucchini flowers in the course of three days. But the gift from my mom also came with the warning that they were highly perishable and thus had to be prepared almost immediately.

And we had the perfect excuse - Valentine's Day! No, no romantic candlelit dinner for two at home, but rather a gathering of the few sensible people in Singapore who refused to pay for overpriced generic restaurant meals that day. Our cosy dining crew consisted of Joone, brother Greedyboy (who gave him that name?), and Elaine and Marc. As testimony to why women are generally referred to as "the better half", Elaine had earlier made Marc cancel their reservation at Saint Julien... I then, in a hasty moment of bravado, declared that dinner would be better than at Saint Julien. No pressure!

Given that we'd already had figs as a starter and fried zucchini flowers on Sunday, I thought I'd play around with the ingredients a bit more. Figs therefore slid down the order of service (but not the order of importance!) to dessert, while the zucchini flowers made two appearances, first fried, then baked in a tart.

We began our meal with a classic foie gras terrine, courtesy of Marc: (all credit to Joone for the gorgeous photos)

Next up, a saffron chicken broth with risoni:

We then launched into the first star of the evening, the fried zucchini flowers stuffed with chopped wagyu and emmenthal. While the delicate sweetness of the zucchini flowers are typically paired with light cheeses, rice and vegetables, I had also come across some meat-based Italian and Mexican recipes that I was keen to adapt. And since I'd also recently been craving Philly cheese steak (one of the few things worth eating in Philadelphia), we ended up with this combination.

The below pic is before frying, the flowers are really pretty in their own right with their blazing orange tips. What looks like the stem of the flowers are actually baby zucchinis, which add a lovely healthy, albeit deep-fried, crunch against the gooey beef and cheese.

As an aside, preparing the zucchini flowers prompted one of those rare moments when you finally call upon some (what you thought for years to be) useless facts that you painfully learnt in school - i.e. I had to remove the pistil of the flowers prior to cooking. Our dinner was quite possibly delayed by a good five minutes as I stood by the sink, overwhelmed by memories of pistils, stamens, pollination diagrams and whatnot. Long belated thanks to Secondary School Bio Teacher (her name eludes me now, a petite Indian lady who was perpetually pregnant) (I remember her name now - Mrs Prama!) - without you, dinner would not have been possible!

(then after frying)

These were intended to be served together with the zucchini flower tart (or Tarte Aux Fleurs de Courgettes, to sound fancy), but upon much consultation we decided the tart would benefit from a few extra minutes in the oven.

The tart employed a more traditional approached - the flowers were stuffed with cottage cheese and herbs, then baked on a shortcrust base held together by cream and sprinkled with chopped almonds (recipe at end).

The figs made their appearance during dessert, peeking out of a marsala sabayon:

I'd been drooling over Donna Hay's Figs in Grilled Honey and Marsala Sabayon for a while - in fact, it was this recipe that prompted the e-mail to my mom for figs in the first place. That said, I'd harboured slim hopes of finding marsala, the sweet Italian wine, in Singapore, and figured that at best I'd substitute port for it. I was therefore amazed to find a bottle of marsala sitting on a shelf in my friendly Cold Storage at Katong Mall - all the more so because the outlet is fairly small (although it bears the distinction of being one of only two 24-hour Cold Storages in Singapore).

The figs ended up being a heady mixture of sweet honey and strong alcohol, and definitely not for the weak of heart, but they found an unlikely partner in the chocolate chili cake that Joone had brought. The dense chocolate cake and the bite of the chili complemented the figs and sabayon perfectly, and made for speedy eating. Joone, care to post the recipe?

And there you have it. The conclusion of our whirlwind love affair with figs and zucchini flowers... till we meet again!

Saffron chicken broth with risoni

Serves 6

  • 3kg chicken for soup (necks and backs recommended)
  • 2 medium onions, quartered
  • 1 tsp saffron threads
  • 1 1/2 tbsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp coarse grain sea salt, or to taste
  • 3 cups risoni

Bring all ingredients except risoni to boil in a large pot. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours.

Prepare risoni as per any other pasta, in a pot of salted boiling water, until al dente.

Serve risoni in strained chicken broth. Freeze any remaining broth for future use.

(Chicken broth recipe courtesy of

Fried zucchini flowers stuffed with wagyu and emmenthal

Serves 6 as a starter or tapa (2 flowers per person)

  • 12 zucchini flowers, pistils removed
  • 200g wagyu beef, shabu-shabu cut
  • 50g shredded emmenthal
  • Tempura batter, per instructions on box (note some batters call for the addition of egg yolk while others don't. I prefer the egg yolk ones as they give a richer batter that adheres better)
  • Oil for deep frying

Gently wash zucchini flowers in cold water and pat dry, being careful not to tear the petals.

In a shallow pan, stir fry wagyu in its own fat until lightly cooked. Chop finely and let cool.

Carefully stuff zucchini flowers, first with the beef, then the emmenthal, followed by a second layer of beef.

Coat stuffed flowers in batter and deep fry. Pat dry on absorbent paper towel after and serve immediately.

Tarte aux Fleurs de Courgettes, or Zucchini Flower Tart

Serves 6

  • 8 large zucchini flowers
  • Store-bought shortcrust pastry, half a sheet
  • Chopped almonds for sprinkling

For stuffing:

  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 tsp fresh tarragon, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp flat leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For cream:

  • 1 1/2 cups cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Line base of ovenproof casserole or tart dish with two layers of shortcrust pastry, pierce with fork and bake blind for 10 minutes. Remove tart base from oven and let cool to room temperature. Maintain oven temperature at 180 degrees.

Whisk stuffing ingredients together and gently fill zucchini flowers, using a piping bag if necessary. Arrange stuffed zucchini flowers on tart base.

Whisk cream ingredients together and pour over tart base and flowers. Top generously with chopped almonds and bake for 7-10 minutes, or until top is golden brown and tart is firm. Serve warm.

Figs with Grilled Honey and Marsala Sabayon

Serves 6

  • 6 large fresh figs, halved
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1/3 cup marsala

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Arrange 2 fig halves in each ramekin and set aside.

In a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, whisk egg yolks, sugar, honey and marsala for 5-7 minutes, or until ribbonlike trails form. Remove from heat and whisk for additional 3-5 minutes, or until mixture has cooled slightly.

Spoon sabayon mixture over figs and bake 2-3 minutes, until sabayon has risen slightly and tops are golden brown. Serve immediately.

(Recipe from Donna Hay's Modern Classics 2)

Figs and zucchini flowers: The sensei way

In this modern day, women have increasingly taken on, and often times excelled in, what have traditionally been seen as men's roles. Be in professionally, athletically or financially, be it voluntarily or as a result of circumstances, women have expanded their fields of responsibility to what was previously thought out of their reach... Including the most traditional of men's roles - that of the hunter gatherer.

Maybe my mom was thinking these thoughts as she carted back a box of figs and several packs of zucchini flowers from Sydney?

(In Carrie Bradshaw voice): If a man were to bring food back from Australia, what would he bring?

My guess is that it'd have something to do with dead marsupials *shudder*

At any rate, progress of the modern woman = good food for me.

The first round of figs and zucchini flowers took place at my mom's on Sunday. Being Chap Goh Mei, the 15th day of the lunar new year and hence the last day to celebrate Chinese New Year, dinner was a family occasion and began with the mandatory plate of yu sheng.

My mom doesn't host dinner for the entire family all that often, but when she does she goes all out, so our yu sheng became abalone yu sheng, with possibly almost more abalone than salad:

Again, apologies for the colours on the pics. Tried a new camera and obviously should've gotten more light. That or I need to learn to photoshop (or both). Akan datang!

Our appetizer for the evening was fresh figs with yoghurt, served with some gorgeous prosciutto from Cantina and a generous dollop of rich homemade fig jam (the fortunate fate that befell the figs that got bruised in their intercontinental travels):

This was followed by fried zucchini flowers, the first batch stuffed with three cheeses and the second with a mixture of salmon and ricotta. These were served with optional yoghurt-fresh herbs and olive dips:

Cross section of a stuffed zucchini flower:

Our main was roast lamb marinated with beer and rosemary (neglected to mention the lamb was also carted back from Oz, I have a sneaky suspicion my mom had nothing in her luggage but food):

The kids (i.e. my generation) contributed a mishmash of desserts, including cheng tng from Adam Road, a chocolate banana cake from Awfully Chocolate (a must try if you haven't!), and chocolate covered orange peel from Leonidas. Other desserts included desperate swigs of the remaining wine and champagne at the table. Something for everyone :)

Needless to say, I rushed into the kitchen the second dinner ended to stake my claim on the remaining figs and flowers, with much success. Which then leads to my next post... (or previous post, depending on how you read it. basically the one written chronologically after this one, aiyah). Same ingredients, different recipes, better photos. Onwards!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Azhang is moving!

Azhang update - finally brought Philippe there last Saturday with Jean and Francois.

Had the lamb loin again, but this time with lamb chops. The smokiness and leaner cut of the lamb chops really brought out the sweetness of the dijon and black sugar much better. The guys had beef kebabs, Jean had chicken, and we all shared a lovely bowl of buttered pasta as a side. Also finally managed to resist my urge to run across the street to My Mum's Place for orh nee and tried the house chocolate pudding instead - a rich, alchoholic and brownie-like slab topped with whipped cream.

It was at the end of this very satisfying dinner, and after Philippe and I had begun to make plans to be regulars here, that chef owner Patrick Zhang came round to say hi. To our dismay, he mentioned that this would be their last week in operation. Apparently, a resident at the nearby Sandalwood development had complained about exhaust fumes from the back of the kitchen. A URA investigation ensued, following which it was decided that Azhang had to vacate the premises immediately. Chef Patrick is still on the lookout for a potential new venue, and hopes to stay in the Joo Chiat neighbourhood he calls home.

The one silver lining is that the restaurant will go out with a bang - specifically, a couple of the social dinners it is now famous for, to take place this Saturday and Sunday night (Feb 18th and 19th). Saturday's menu features Azhang's local staples such as pandan chicken, ayam buah keluah, nasi lemak and sambal udang petai for $35+++, while Sunday will revisit the restaurant's European offerings such as grilled lamb chops and roast beef at $60+++. As usual for Azhang's social nights, both dinners include the option of a free flow of wine for a mere $11+++. Reservations are a must.

So to everyone who's been delaying a visit to Azhang, this may be your last chance for a while, do come down and support this charming local establishment. And if you're the Sandalwood resident who lodged the complaint, a pox on you! May you be doomed to a life of bad food :)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Foodie blood

Just when you think you've grown up and become your own individual, sometimes little things happen that remind you just how much you are a product of your environment. In this case, of my family...

Having spent a fair bit of time pouring over cookbooks in the last couple of weeks, I became mildly obsessed with a plan to acquire some figs. Figs with yoghurt and honey, baked figs with masala sabayon, fig tart... Just as well my mom is in Sydney this week and back tomorrow. So I sent her an e-mail a couple of days ago asking her to bring some figs back, if they're in season in Australia. And surprise surprise, this was her exact answer:

"Do you know I already had intended to get a box of figs back! They are lovely and I also will be bringing back some zucchini flowers (which were not available on my last trip) but I saw some the other day and hopefully they will still be around by Friday morning. I will also be bringing back a leg of lamb and you are all having dinner on Sunday night... Menu will be figs with proscuitto and yoghurt as appetizer and roast lamb with zucchini flowers and potatoes or whatever I can find here."

Not just figs, but zucchini flowers!!! I had my first taste of zucchini flowers at La Lucciola in Bali, where (if memory serves me right) they were stuffed with ricotta cheese and served with a gorgeous spicy salsa accompaniment. Since then, they've been stored in the back of my mind as a Must Try One of These Days, but never quite made it to the forefront whereby I actually make any progress towards acquiring them. And now my mom has beat me to it!!!

What to do aside from sending the humble reply:

"I want zucchini flowers too! I thought of them first! I ate zucchini flowers way before you did!!!"


Similarly, was having a conversation with Tam the Second Sister yesterday, when she suddenly mentioned that she had tried recreating the lamb chops we had at Azhang a few weeks back (link). She then recollected the dish in detail, the same way chef-owner Patrick had described it, and went on about the differences between the lamb chops at Espirito Santo vs. those at Cold Storage. And I felt a pang of jealousy because I'd actually forgotten the recipe! Even though I too had made mental plans to recreate the dish at home. Aren't I the Official Family Foodie?

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I'm not... Aside from my mom and Tam, there's Sai Momo, Sook Por, my cousins, Sam Ee Por in London...

Sigh again...

And that's when I realized that all my efforts at being a dedicated foodie were for naught - I didn't become a foodie, or work hard to be at the cutting edge of foodie-dom. Rather, like the rest of my family, I WAS JUST BORN THIS WAY. And I am simply a slave to my foodie blood.

Oh well. At least I get figs and zucchini flowers for dinner on Sunday! And I WILL make those lamb chops, dammit.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Sunday brunch at home

Ever since we opened the doors of our new home to friends and family last week, most of Philippe and my time has been spent trying to find new excuses to invite people over. And breaking in my still pristine Donna Hay's Modern Classics 2 seemed like a perfect reason.

Donna Hay's baking and dessert book is definitely no fancy and intimidating French tome. But it is filled with gorgeous photographs, surprisingly simple recipes and, as the title suggests, is the perfect baking encyclopedia for every classic dish you've tried/heard of/seen on a menu/peered at through glazed patisserie windows - cookies, muffins, tarts, puddings, scones, friandes, crumbles, flourless chocolate cake...

We ended up staying at home all day (which we're determined to do now anyway - it did take us a year and a small fortune to get this place ready after all!) and hosting two sessions - a brunch in the late morning and afternoon tea. And voila the menu!
  • Lemon and tomato salad, from Cooking Moroccan
  • Spiced carrots, ditto
  • Homemade tabbouleh
  • Anis' scrambled eggs with bacon (no bacon pic attached, use your imagination :) )
  • Chocolate chip cookies, from Donna Hays' Modern Classics 2
  • Coconut macaroons, ditto
  • Pink grapefruit granita, ditto
  • Plum clafoutis, ditto
  • Fresh papayas and baked nectarines with brown sugar mascarpone

Tabbouleh and grapefruit granita recipes after the pics. Unfortunately forgot to take a pic of the best dish (to me) of the day - the plum clafoutis.

I've been curious about clafoutis (sounds like a great blog title, like Sleepless in Seattle!) for a while - I tried a hotel buffet version of a cherry clafoutis at a Sunday brunch at the Shangri-La in KL's a couple of years ago and wasn't too impressed, but the sheer sight of it sent Philippe in emotional somersaults. Apparently, [insert stone fruit here] clafoutis was once Philippe's favourite dessert back in France. Which immediately made it one of my Most Important Cooking Challenges. Actually, any dish that no-one but Philippe's mom can make immediately becomes a Most Important Cooking Challenge, not in a rivalrous sort of way, but more out of curiousity to find out what his childhood tasted like. My own childhood food memories are still too sacred to attempt to recreate just yet :)

Anyway, happy to report that the clafoutis turned out both gorgeous and yummy. Philippe only managed to get a small slice of it since it was wolfed down pretty quickly by everyone else (including me). Will make this again soon and post pics then. For a simple mental picture though, imagine:

  • A square baking tray
  • Said tray filled with 16 heart shaped plum halves, cut side up
  • Said plum halves cushioned comfortably in a pudding (like bread pudding), puffed and golden brown
  • Said plum halves also oozing glorious purple plum juice on the sides
  • Barely visible (alright, so it was invisible, but just for the sake of imagining...) steam rising from the fresh-from-the-oven pudding

And there you have it!

Tabbouleh from scratch

Tabbouleh, the North African grain and mint salad, used to be one of our favourite party dishes - you can find the instant version at most Carrefours, which more or less involves adding water and sticking the bowl into the fridge. It's typically served cold and is perfect for hot sunny days (i.e. most days in Singapore). This time, I decided to try making the tabbouleh from scratch, and realized that it really is pretty simple, although you do have to start fairly early in the day to give the grains sufficient time to absorb all the lovely flavours.

Serves 4

  • 1 cup bulghur wheat
  • 60 ml olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons flat leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons mint, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons coriander, finely chopped
  • 1 green pepper, seeds and stalk removed and thinly sliced
  • Diced tomatoes to garnish (optional)

Soak bulghur wheat in cold water to cover and leave 30 minutes.

Transfer bulghur wheat to kitchen towel and pat out excess water. Replace kitchen towel and repeat until wheat is almost completely dry. Transfer dry wheat to large serving bowl (Warning: this can gets pretty messy, with grains falling all over the place. But absolutely necessary as you need the wheat to be dry in order to absorb what comes next.)

Toss wheat with olive oil, lemon juice, sugar, salt and pepper. Cover and chill for 1-2 hours, the longer the better.

Before serving, toss with remaining ingredients and serve chilled.

Pink grapefruit granita

I'd planned to use serve the granita, essentially grapefruit crushed ice, with alcohol as a welcome cocktail for our brunch guests. Unfortunately, being tucked away in the freezer, I completely forgot about it. Retrieved it in time for tea and passed Nina the first spoonful as a taste test. The look of sheer bliss on her face sent me reaching for the spoon as well and we tore down the stairs waving frantically (practically screaming "Eureka!") and thrusting spoonfuls of the ice into our amused guests' faces. So much for needing alcohol! Bottom line: you have to try this. It's ridiculously simple - if you can make ice cubes you can make this - and just amazing. The only drawback is that it melts pretty darn quickly, so be prepared to serve and eat it within seconds of taking it out of the freezer.

Serves 6

  • 4 grapefruits, juice squeezed and strained - makes about 2 cups juice
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2/3 cup caster sugar

Heat water and sugar over low flame, stirring constantly until sugar is completely dissolved. Let stand until cool.

Mix syrup in jug with grapefruit juice. Pour into shallow metal tray and freeze, approximately 4 hours.

To serve, scrape granita with fork to make fluffy crystals. Serve immediately.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Imperial Herbal and Mag's Wine Kitchen

Loads of food blogging to catch up on! Finally moved to the East last week so spent the week packing and unpacking, then got caught up in Chinese New Year festivities. On the happy side, our place is finally done and we've hosted our first party, so we're well on our way to being settled in and having fun.

And now, on to some belated posts...

Imperial Herbal Restaurant

Had our family's reunion dinner there. Imperial Herbal is situated on Seah Street in the quaint Metropole Hotel, and is famous for herb infused Northern Chinese cuisine, as well as its in-house Chinese physician, who will apparently recommend particular dishes based on your state of health. For followers of celebrity chefs, apparently Anthony Bourdain ate here as part of his Singapore tour (I didn't catch the show). I'd been once several years ago, and my strongest memory of the place was of jars of dodgy preserved animal body parts (deer penis soup anyone?) and exotic menu items like scorpion.

For some reason, I didn't notice that this time around. I guess the good and bad thing about being the youngest generation at a family dinner is that everything is organized for you - the grown-ups choose the restaurant, order the food, bring the wine, even pay the bill... all you have to do is turn up and eat! Unfortunately that means I have no idea what half the food that showed up on the table really is, but here are some pics to whet your appetite! On the plus side, I do know that the first dish is a sort of steamed egg white with dried scallops, while the last was a walnut cream.

Interesting to note though that, while I expected strongly medicinal soup dishes liberally scattered with herbs and whatnot, the actual use of the herbs was very subtle - most of the dishes did not have an overwhelmingly herbal taste and often made you question what herbs were in them if at all. My best guess is that probably not all of the dishes are herbal, but rather the combination of dishes was possibly chosen to achieve some kind of yin-yang equilibrium. They were all delicious though, so I'm looking forward to going back and trying them again (and this time ordering the food myself so I know what exactly it is I'm eating!).

Mag's Wine Kitchen

The girls organized Nicky's surprise birthday dinner here a couple of Saturdays ago. Mag's wasn't really at the top of my list of recommendations at first, as I'd only been once before for a weekday lunch with colleagues (albeit a very good lunch), but it came to mind when we were looking for a place with a private room. Dinner turned out fantastic and Mag's will now always be in my list of top go-to restaurants... *shedding a happy tear*

Mag's has been around for a couple of years now, and most by now have heard of her story - former banker turned self-trained French chef. The restaurant is situated in a cosy (read: tiny) shophouse on Circular Road, the menu changes daily depending on what's seasonal and fresh, and Mag is at the helm of the kitchen every meal. The restaurant is packed to the brim every lunch time and even dinner reservations can be pretty tough to get a hold of.

Basically Mag achieved with panache what every stressed out junior banker/lawyer aspires to :)

We had the two course set for $44+++, which including a choice of one of three starters and one of three mains, all introduced in loving detail by our server. (He deserves an award btw, for having the patience to endure Nina's cries of "what????" from the far end of the room!) The starters that day were a crabmeat salad with tobikko, pan seared tuna and something else (such quality journalism eh?) Couldn't take pictures of any of these because they disappeared off people's plates so quickly... Suffice to say they were gorgeous to look at and even better to eat.

The mains I can do a better job of! Choices for the day were: beef in veal jus, cod in fennel sauce and lamb chops in a rosemary reduction. The pictures below hopefully capture not just the quality of the ingredients (check out the size of those chops!) but also the painstaking presentation:

I had the beef, which was perfectly tender, but the highlight was really the veal jus, which was so full of flavour I poked multiple holes in my beef in a desperate attempt to expose maximum surface area to jus. This may sound like a fairly dumb statement, but it tasted so... french! Elegant, sophisticated and with tremendous depth of flavour but at the same time appearing so classic and effortless. I've had the good fortune of being spoiled each trip to France by my mom-in-law's cooking or my dad-in-law's restaurant planning, and while there are tons of good and affordable French restaurants in Singapore, there always seems to be a little spark that's missing. The only other place I've found in Singapore that gets this whole jus thing right is Raffles Grill, but that's another rave for another day.

Another bonus of dining at Mag's is the wonderful cellar of French wines (it is Mag's Wine Kitchen after all), which aren't cheap but are at least reasonable for their quality - most of the wines we tried were in the $70/bottle range and were very enjoyable.

All in all, a pretty fulfilling weekend - Imperial Herbal on Friday night and Mag's on Saturday. On hindsight, we should probably have done it the other way around - indulge in French wine and rich butter sauces the first evening, then detox with herbal cuisine the night after :)

More updates to come!


Imperial Herbal
  • 3/F Metropole Hotel, 41 Seah Street
  • 6337 0491
  • Mon-Sun: 11.30am-2.30pm, 6.30pm-10pm

Mag's Wine Kitchen

  • 86 Circular Road
  • 6438 3836
  • Mon-Fri: 12-2pm, 6.30pm-9.30pm. Saturday: Private events only