Leaving on a jet plane
Blog entries will cease for one and a half weeks while Mr UnProfessional Chef and I take a short break to London. I promise to bring back many stories of food adventuring!
To all in Singapore - Happy Holidays!
The UnProfessional Chef
A girl's commentary on food, cooking and all things delicious!
- Name: The UnProfessional Chef
- Location: Singapore
A closet food critic and wannabe chef who loves the art of cooking and enjoying great cuisine in the company of great friends!
Friday, October 28, 2005
Leaving on a jet plane
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Fast Food, Shanghainese Style
In anticipation of the massive round of eating we have planned for our upcoming trip to London, Mr UnProfessional Chef and I resolved to eat ‘more healthily’ this week, particularly after the excesses of the weekend. This basically meant avoiding three course meals(!) and having huge sinful desserts at the end of every meal(!!), which we’d been doing most of last week(!!!).
But that didn’t mean we had to sacrifice good food. Tired out after a long day of work and hunting for food after 8pm in the middle of the work week meant that we wanted something quick, cheap, comforting, yet not unduly calorific. Happily, we found the perfect solution in one of our fallback favourite restaurants – Crystal Jade Xiao Long Bao.
The Crystal Jade chain is ubiquitous in Singapore. In Ngee Ann City alone, there are at least four or more related restaurants serving up different styles of Chinese food ranging from dim sum to high end Cantonese cuisine. The outlet we chose serves mostly different types of handmade noodles (lamian) and snacks (assorted dian xin) aimed at providing cheap and fast nutrition to as many customers as possible at a cheerful, brisk speed, and most importantly, at a consistently satisfying standard. This explains the constant stream of hungry customers coming in one door and happily satiated ones leaving through the other. It is a testimony to the quality of the food that a queue to be seated was still in existence when we traipsed in well after 8pm smack in the middle of the week.
Tonight, it lived up to that promise once again. I had lamian with Sichuan vegetables and shredded pork in a clear soup topped with lots of coriander and spring onions. The noodles were springy and perfectly cooked and the soup, tasty enough but clearly not laden with huge quantities of MSG. The Sichuan vegetables provided a nice sour crunch in contrast to the meaty shreds of pork. This is comfort food of the highest level and was the noodle dish with which I commenced my love affair with Shanghainese food. On the side, we had xiao long bao - Shanghainese dumplings stuffed with minced meat and a superbly tasty broth topped with vinegar and thinly sliced ginger. The test of a good xiao long bao is that its skin must be fine and thin, yet thick enough to retain the copious amount of broth within its interior walls. This will result in the quick surrender of the skin to the teeth and produce a juicy gush of broth, meat and vinegar that should result in a tasty melody of meaty sharpness. The version here is not the most refined nor exquisite I have sampled, but it hits close enough to the spot with great regularity.
Despite being a simple, quick dinner, the healing abilities of hot soup and juicy dumplings managed to melt away the tiredness of our day and reminded me once again why this reliable friend continues to remain one of my favourite fast food outlets.
Crystal Jade Xiao Long Bao
391 Orchard Rd #04-27 Ngee Ann City
Tel : 6333 6436
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Easy-peasy Night-time Night and Day Cupcakes
Burnt out by a frustrating day at work, I headed to Jason’s supermarket to grab a quick dinner and stock up on baking supplies. Now, the wonderful thing about baking is the magic that can be created by the simple yet wondrous combination of flour, eggs and butter. It being a Monday, I decided that this special pick-me-up was just what I needed to help me get through the rest of the week.
Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess contains a great selection of easy baking recipes. I’ve converted about 10 of them into delicious successes, with only one crumbling apart on me (but still tasting suitably edible, chocolatey and decadent), so it was a safe bet relying on Ms Lawson’s directions this dreary post-work evening.
If I must say so myself, I made an extremely inspired choice of producing her Night and Day Cupcakes. This basically comprised a simple chocolate cake base made extraordinary with a cream cheese frosting lightened with a squirt of lime juice. All it took was about an hour’s work, washing up included. A quick whirl of dark muscovado and caster sugars with self-raising flour, Valrhona cocoa powder, eggs, milk and vanilla extract in my trusty KitchenAid mixer produced the batter for the cakes, which took a mere 20 minutes in the oven to bake. Another even faster whirl of the cream cheese, icing sugar and lime juice resulted in a very grown-up version of utterly sinful cake frosting. This was simply slathered on and topped with chocolate covered expresso beans. The result - divine. The chocolate cake base was given a richly sweet flavour by the dark muscovado sugar which was set off perfectly by the tangy creamy cream cheese frosting. Plus, I got to eat all the extra chocolate-covered expresso beans!
Completely delicious and pretty good-looking to boot, these cupcakes were the perfect night-time baking cure for the woes (and the headache brought on by deciding what to do about breakfast) of the work week.
Sunday, October 23, 2005
An Excessive, Cloudy Sunday
What better way to mourn the imminent end of the weekend than by having a four and half hour brunch? Upon the suggestion of my wine aficionado friends, five of us burnt out professionals headed for Saint Pierre, a French restaurant located at in the quiet locale of Central Mall for brunch on this cool Sunday afternoon. The occasion? A one-off wine tasting session pairing wines from Cloudy Bay winery in New Zealand with Chef Emmanuel Stroobant’s unique brand of fusion French cuisine. As you can see, a mega event justifies a mega blog entry with multiple pictures of dishes that were as beautiful to consume visually as they were to eat.
The second course was a warm seafood combination of Seared Hamachi King fish with Scallop Yakitori, White Wine Emulsion and Prawn Quenelle arrived soon after. It was paired with a Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2003. On its own, we generally did not much like the wine due to its overtly buttery oaky tones, but it complemented the rich seafood excellently. The dish was faultlessly done, in particular the hamachi king fish and the scallop which were cooked to perfection and retained the flavours of the ocean.
We then came to the star dish on the menu – Cold Salad of Japanese Noodles with Julienne of Smoked Duck Breast and Pepper-crusted Foie Gras paired with Cloudy Bay Late Harvest Riesling 2002. All of us, save one healthy girl, were certainly candidates for gout after consuming this. We wolfed down the firm slippery soba with the creamily smooth foie gras in rapid time. The duck breast added a tasty, almost Parma ham like element to the dish without raising salt levels too much. The honeyed syrupy sweet Riesling balanced out the fattiness of the foie gras, fooling our certainly clogged arteries into freeing up our tastebuds for more of the same.
By this time, we were pretty stuffed, but the main course was still to come! Blanquette de Veau paired with Cloudy Bay Tekoko 2002 awaited. The veal was topped with baby carrots, a rich creamy sauce, shaved black truffles and mixed fresh mushrooms. We breathed in the fragrant, heady fumes of both the veal and the woody, smoky wine (an extremely unusual rendition of Sauvignon Blanc) before attacking the dish with the gusto of starving orphans in spite of our rounded bellies. The tender veal fell with the merest touch of the fork and was flavoured delectably by the robust truffle flakes. The equally weighty wine complemented the veal beautifully. Immensely satisfying
The meal (if it could be merely referred to as a ‘meal’, it was a feast of Roman proportions) was fittingly completed with a selection of petit fours and a latte for me. The petit fours were little pieces of heaven: a semi-frozen lychee, a cloud of sweet meringue, a choux pastry stuffed with vanilla cream and a biscuit topped with raspberry and more cream.
Shocked into submission, our bodies slumped in our chairs – we were sated, full and satisfied with all manner and variety of great food and wine (thanks to the friendly wait staff who topped up our glasses unceasingly). It was at least a good half hour after our last bite that we were finally able to summon up ourselves out of our food-filled stupor and roll ourselves back home in time to recover for the week of work that lay ahead of us.
Brunch had been worth every penny.
3 Magazine Road, #01-01 Central Mall
Tel: 6438 0887
Fax: 6438 4887
Saturday, October 22, 2005
Saturday morning brunch
Thank goodness for the weekend – a great time to chill out, take it easy and generally do everything at a slower pace than the frenetic, adrenaline-charged pace of the work week.
Mr UnProfessional Chef and I woke up to an uncharacteristically cool and gentle Saturday morning in the tropics. I say ‘gentle’ because over here we are either otherwise struggling to keep out the blazing sun or battling to avoid being soaked in monsoon thunderstorms. Inspired by the spot of mild weather which reminded me of happy times in the temperate climes of Berkeley, California, we headed off for a slow, relaxing brunch at Sebastien’s, a French bistro in the heart of the quiet residential estate of Greenwood Avenue.
Sebastien’s is a lovely little bistro done up to look as close to a traditional French bistro is possible, complete with red and white checked tablecloths, 1920s French posters and clay ‘Thé au Ceylon’ pots. While the décor borders slightly on the kitschy side, I can think of far worse places to spend one’s Saturday morning. Heartened first by fresh toasted crusty bread alongside a huge pot of strawberry jam that looked and tasted homemade due to the lack of the usual overt sweetness of commercial jam, we were treated to huge bowls of coffee and tea. My coffee grand au lait was just right. Not as strong as expresso but certainly more robust and flavourful than the usual coffee from the office machine, its warm milkiness was a comforting wake-up call most suited for lazy weekend mornings. I also enjoyed the novelty of slurping it out of a huge blue bowl instead of the usual coffee cup.
The menu wasn’t very wide, and seemed to consist mostly of a variety of eggs done in different styles alongside standard servings of sausage, bacon, baked beans and mushroom ragout. Mr UnProfessional Chef selected Eggs Florentine, and I had poached eggs with soldiers. [Note: It actually had a fancy French name that I’ve forgotten and my Internet research turned up nought on this – apparently, it’s not usual for the French to have eggs, sausage and bacon for breakfast!!] Mr UnProfessional Chef’s version was a ramekin of eggs that looked fairly soft-boiled and topped with a few shreds of foie gras. Mine was a served atop a slice of ham and toast with Hollandaise sauce. Both were tasty and suitably sinful when mixed with the homemade sausage (which for once, didn’t taste too processed or salty) and bacon. My poached egg in particular was done just right, nicely tidy and firm on the outside but breaking open to reveal oozy creamy yolk within. All in all, we enjoyed our meal. I wouldn’t say it was the greatest ever breakfast I’ve had (first choice is still a traditional Continental breakfast that we had in France cooked for us by a 2 star Michelin chef in the Loire Valley that contained the most delectable homemade jams, fragrant breads and the creamiest butter ever that I still dream about regularly), but it hit the spot. The eggs and the side dishes were competently cooked and were neither bad nor unusually wonderful – my only complaint though was that they weren’t served as piping hot as I would have liked. But, like I said, no major problems and the lovely atmosphere and opportunity to while away time at the start of a weekend increased the pleasant experience immensely. We’ll be back.
12 Greenwood Ave
Tel : 6465 1980
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Given my love for food, I have overindulged once too often, resulting in clothes that are too tight and a face that’s getting pudgy. I’ve thus been of late attempting to eat less during the course of the working week in order to enjoy the weekends. Often however, the attempts have failed, hence the “ ’’ around the title.
Today was one of those days. I’d planned to run a couple of errands at Raffles City during lunchtime and thought it’d be the perfect day to diet since I hadn’t made a lunch appointment with anyone. An ideal menu for today would have consisted solely of a selection of fruit from the numerous fresh cut fruit stalls that dot the shopping centres in the vicinity of my workplace. However, by noon, even before it was time for lunch, my stomach was growling ravenously for substantial, tasty, calorific actual food. To top it all off, the monsoon season brought about a downpour just as I headed out, which made me crave something hot and satisfying.
To quell my hunger yet assuage my guilt about not going for the healthy fruit fix I’d planned, I headed for my favourite soup joint. There aren’t many places in Singapore where one can get decent Western soups at equally decent prices. Most places serve runny, MSG-loaded liquids that pass for cream of something or other. The Soup Spoon is a surprisingly happy exception to the rule which serves up a wide variety of consistently high-quality, hot and chunky soups.
Departing from my usual choice of cream of mushroom (the version here is awesomely creamy and tasty and so laden with chopped mushrooms that it resembles a stew rather than a soup), I opted to try one of the rotating new flavours suggested. Today’s was Chicken Gumbo ‘inspired by New Orleans’. I’ve never been to New Orleans, so I don’t know what real chicken gumbo tastes like, but this tasted great anyhow and a lot better than the awful picture I took of it! Huge pieces of chicken jostled for space alongside triangular bites of red peppers, celery, carrots and large cubes of potato in a deceptively mild-looking but kickass spicy soup base. I didn’t see any chilies but they must have been in there somewhere because this soup left me draining my entire bottle of Orangina rouge in double-quick time in an attempt to put out the fires set by the gumbo at the back of my mouth.
But I doggedly persevered, masochistically enjoying the fiery, satisfying soup to the last drop. Certainly the perfect antidote to a wet and rainy lunch hour (though not to the woes caused by my ever-expanding waistline!).
The Soup Spoon
252 North Bridge Rd
Raffles City Shopping Centre
Tel: 6334 3220
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Weekend wining and dining
Ah, the weekend! The time to take a break from the routine flurry of work and settle down to the creation of meals and sit-down dinners at home with friends. Though I was probably on my feet more today than I normally am during the working week, it was thoroughly relaxing to measure ingredients, mix dough and assemble the various components together to produce a great dinner. Moreover, my two girlfriends came over early to help in the kitchen, so our meal was sprinkled with laughter and gossip as water boiled and pastry baked.
I had Chef Sebastian, whom I mentioned in my last post, to thank for tonight's dinner. His recipe for miso cod worked out excellently! Having marinated the cod for two days, I fished it out of its lovely miso-mirin broth, cleaned off the excess and roasted it for about 20 minutes in the oven. The cod was then held under the grill for just a few minutes to caramalise the miso-mirin layer and seal in its delectable sweetness. We served it up with mashed potato using 8 medium potatoes (boiled thoroughly and peeled), a 100 g of butter, oodles of mayonnaise (the Japanese brand with the baby on the bottle is best!), some cream, lots of freshly-ground pepper and salt, and, since we were feeling decadent, drizzles of truffle oil. On the side, we quick blanched sweet peas in salted boiling water for slightly under a minute as a crisp, fresh accompaniement to the rich tasting cod.
It was absolutely delicious. Although we'd burnt the cod slightly, I'd forgotten to debone it and our plating skills left much to be desired, the cod was melt-in-your-mouth tender and permeated thoroughly with the sweet fumes of the miso-mirin broth. The home style mashed potatoes and sweet peas set off the fish perfectly and provided sufficient carbohydrate sustenance to Mr UnProfessional Chef. We were enormously chuffed that a dish we had previously only partaken of in a restaurant could be recreated at home without too much fuss.
But more was to come. At that same cooking class, Chef Sebastian had also taught a recipe for chocolate tart. The plain ole title of 'chocolate tart' says absolutely nothing about the mind-bogglingly superb chocolatiness of his creation. First, the tart shell had to be baked. This was the most difficult, requiring the tart dough to be mixed and left in the fridge for at least 4 hours to rest, before being rolled out and painstakingly shaped into mini tart tin and baked 'naked'. Then, a ganache comprising butter, brown sugar, cocoa powder and cream had to be made. This was to form the surprising heart of this dessert but turned out so good it could be eaten on its own. Finally, a mousse-y chocolate mixture of eggs, sugar, great quality dark chocolate, butter and flour was prepared to create the hiding place in which the ganache centre could nestle. Thus assembled, the chocolate tart was baked for about 8-9 minutes before being finished off in any form of decoration preferred. Given that I had some blood oranges indented from the Ritz-Carlton Millenia, we placed some small wedges on the top of the tart. Lacking in icing sugar, we settled for the artfful sprinkling of cocoa powder over the tart and plate.
The final result left the chocaholics (ie all three of us girls) craving for more! The softer texture of the chocolate mousse exterior broke nicely to reveal the warm, melty goodness of the ganache within. We polished off our individually-assigned portions of tart in quick succession but then split the extra two tarts in greedy desire.
A great dinner and evening in the company of my closest friends is one of life's greatest pleasures. In these days of uncertainty, war, threat of pandemics and terrorism, living life to its fullest while we can is a great way of beating down the bleak outlook. Happy weekend!
Friday, October 14, 2005
I'm having two girlfriends over for dinner this Saturday and we wanted to whip up something healthy. I settled on miso cod and chocolate tart. Well, at least the fish will be good for us....
I'd never made this miso cod dish before and have to admit that I'm rather nervous about how it will turn out. I first tried it at one of the best restaurants in Singapore, Restaurant Ember at Hotel 1929 - I digress at this point to say 'Try it! Everything's good!'. The chef, Sebastian Ng, kindly revealed to us how to make this dish during a cooking class I attended recently. Charming, engaging and reassuring, he convinced us that this dish was very simple and essentially required just miso, mirin and water to cook the cod. It has to be marinated for at least two days before being roasted in the oven till caramelised and tender.
As usual, what professional chefs carry out with simplicity and ease, the UnProfessional Chef sweats buckets over and creates a right mess in the process. Following Chef Sebastian's explanations, I measured, boiled and cooled the broth while leaving blobs of miso all over my kitchen top. After it had cooled (and I had watched a whole riveting episode of 'Lost'), I slathered it onto the best cod I could find. The chef had strongly recommended using Chilean sea bass, but it's difficult to find these days. I replaced it with snow cod that I picked up at Meidi-ya, a great Japanese supermarket, where I also bought mirin, miso and a round slice of Hokkaido Camembert (the last is not an ingredient for this dish, just the product of a greedy 'end-of-day' supermarket shopping excursion). The result is the rather ugly large glob of broth with uncooked fillets of cod swimming in it, for now.
To respect Chef Sebastian's intellectual property rights in the dish, I'm not going to post the proportions - happy experimenting!
Now I just have to cross my fingers and wait for the concluding episode on Saturday night! Will it work out? Did I successfully boil off all the alcohol in the mirin? Will the change of fish sink this dish? Will Jack find out who murdered Boone? Tune in to find out ....
50 Keong Saik Road
Tel: 63471928 (please call for opening times)
Meidi-ya Japanese Supermarket
177B River Valley Road Riverside
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Tea for Two
A burst of rain showers just before lunch time today stirred up a longing for something hot, spicy and soupy. However, in typical tropical island fashion, just as Mr UnProfessional Chef arrived to pick me up for lunch, the blazing muggy sunshine appeared. Determined not to let our plans dry up, we persevered in our plans to have ‘tea for two’ at a nearby bak kut teh joint.
But what a joint Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha turned out to be! We first had to experience the ‘excitement’ of having to pick our way through loose earth and dodgy staircases with no handrails to get into a building undergoing renovation before finding ourselves in a 70-seat fully-packed, noisy establishment specializing in bak kut teh (rou gu cha in Mandarin), or literally, pork spare ribs tea.
This deceptively clear and simple-looking soup (look at that pale nondescript bowl on the top left of the photo) is an immigrant dish put together by the Chinese who migrated to Singapore and Malaysia in the early 20th century. In its best manifestation, it combines around seven different Chinese herbs alongside cumin, fennel, star anise and a ton of peppercorns (black and white) with the cleanest, freshest pork spare ribs to produce a lip-smacking, consomme-like soup. Its herbal flavour bursts in the mouth and its peppery afternote punches the back of the mouth with myriad sensations, leaving you gobsmacked and salivating for more.
The bak kut teh here did not disappoint. After a half hour wait that only served to whet our appetites to fever pitch as we watched bowl after bowl of soup pass us by, the goods arrived. Freshly prepared with meat so tender it fell right off the pork ribs, this bowl matched all my conceptions of the perfect bak kut teh. Alongside that pungently herb-y, peppery soup were servings of juicy braised peanuts, tangy salted Chinese vegetables and crispy, chewy yu zha kueh (deep fried dough sticks for dipping in the soup). Actual strong black Chinese tea was available to wash it all down but we passed on that. We dug into the savoury soup, dipped the tender meat into thick dark soy sauce flavoured with fresh cut red chilis, slurped every last drop of soup and alongside at least 200 other customers, waved unstintingly at the caffeine-charged frenetic serving staff for the complementary unlimited refills of soup.
When at last, we could eat no more, and full of warm, herbal goodness, having to then head back to the office smack in the middle of the working week seemed just a little less awful.
Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha
7 Keppel Road #01-05/07
(Open mostly only up till lunch - 7 am to 3pm)
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Diva Dining #1
The best thing about having very, very old girlfriends is knowing that it matters far less where we meet to eat than what we meet to talk about. That said, when I met my dearest friends whom I've known for over 17 (!) years tonight, we went to a rather more adventurous than usual place. EN, a Japanese dining bar , or izakaya, was a smoky, cozy, informal place that served up a wide range of sashimi, Okinawan and sumiyaki cuisine.
Hungry but anxious to get straight into catching up and gossip, we ordered quickly, since the nice thing about knowing your dining companions well is being able to delegate that task to just one person and the rest will happily wolf down her choices. Despite being distracted by the fast flowing conversation, we were silenced by the quick arrival of a refreshing multi-variety sashimi salad, juicy wafu steak (cubes of sizzling beef with a fresh side salad), perfectly al dente edamame beans sprinkled with sea salt, flavourful grilled scallops, hot plated tofu steak, agadeshi tofu swimming in soy-based sauce topped with a cheery bright orange ginger and spice, the fattest slice of gindara or grilled cod with teriyaki sauce, bacon wrapped enoki mushrooms, sinfully salty grilled chicken wings and simply salted (again!) shitake mushrooms on a stick. Alongside that were two large portions of the garlic fried rice so tasty, it couldn't have been that good for us.
The food was demolished in half an hour. Dessert was even quicker with four scoops of green tea and sesame ice cream and one black sesame pudding disappearing in 10 minutes.
Let's just say I had to yell 'Stop!' multiple times in order to steal a couple of photos before the food vanished straight down the throats of five hungry (and not very ladylike) divas.
Well, it wasn't the most sophisticated diva dining experience ever, but it certainly hit the spot in satisfying our craving for all things savoury and tasty and brought back fond memories of our schooldays when we had to settle for heavily salted french fries (in the days when our budget only took us as far as fast food joints) to chat over. All too soon, it was time to head back to our non-diva lives of work, families and one hungry baby that needed to be breastfed.
The tastiness of the chatter and food will however remain on our tongues.
EN Japanese Dining Bar
207 River Valley Rd #01-57 Singapore 238275
Tel : 6735 2212
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Barbeques and the food of friendship
This is my maiden foray into the blogsphere. I hope to share my love for food and cooking all manner of foods with everyone in cyberspace and would love to hear from all of you! I promise photos in due course once I get my act together.
This being my first post, I thought I'd start with the most fundamental experiences in cooking - the barbeque (it was also, coincidentally, my first time hosting one). I didn't do much cooking incidentally - this barbeque was a team effort.
Living as I do on a sunny tropical island, the farewell barbeque planned for two dear friends and my godson was supposed to be a sure-fire bet. The equally tropical downpour for most of that day set up some anxious moments. However, the heavens smiled on us with enough sunshine subsequently to save the day.
Building the fire fazed my main man. The charcoal pieces were arranged in their tidy tripods but try as we might, the fire, once started, wouldn't continue burning. Cue aforementioned 'friends-in-whose-honour-the-barbeque-was-held' to the rescue. G the barbeque vetran tidied up the charcoal structure, and our fire got going. We threw water-soaked hickory wood chips on the fire for good measure.
I'd ordered great meats from a speciality Brazilian butcher which did not disappoint. Piece after piece of tender, tasty lamb chops, succulent cheese sausages, lip-smacking, juicy steaks were efficiently grilled by a rotating roster of 'chefs' (ie anyone who just could not stuff anymore food into their mouths and had to stand up in order to aid disgestion). If you've never been to a barbeque before, start that fire immediately and slap those meats on. Nothing beats that delicious, slightly burnt woodsmoke flavour of meats that have been grilled over an open flame, not even the most expensive professional grill out there. You might want to ensure provision of some crisp, cold salad to balance all that meat. If you can get your hand on Japanese sweet potatoes, just wrap them in foil, toss them into the coals and ignore them for a few hours - they're just fabulous. Oh and if you can count 'The UnProfessional' Bartenders amongst your friends, get them to concoct lots of sparkling cool, juicy sangria to top it all off.
Sated with meat and alcohol, the most truly satisfying part of barbeques though is the fact that it is best enjoyed amongst the company of good friends. Under that starlit night, laughter and memories filled us more than the overdose of meats combined. So G, J and G, though it's adieu for now, here's to more barbeques!