Tuesday, January 31, 2006

My New Sushi Box

My dad once turned to me in a shopping centre and told me, the difference between men and women when it comes to shopping is that men are hunters; they know what they want when they enter the store and they hunt the item down. Women on the other hand are gatherers, they will walk around the store, look around for things they need and do not need and gather them together. This time my dad was right. While out looking for a larger pestle and mortar to replace the one I have at home, I ended up coming home without the pestle and mortar but an oshibako (wooden mould used to make pressed sushi). When I reflect about it, a sushi box is pretty different and far off from the original item I was looking for but nonetheless I’m rather satisfied with my new kitchen member.

To put my new kitchen baby to the test, I made some oshizushi (pressed sushi) over the past 2 days for lunch, dinner and lunch again. By the third attempt in 24 hours, I think I can safely say I’ve mastered the simple art of oshizushi. The whole process is rather gratifying. It all begins with first lining the box with some sushi rice followed a layer of topping and then pressing it all down with the lid. The final and my favourite step is the act of pulling off the mould to reveal the beautiful compact rectangle of edible art. All that is left is to cut the rice block up into bite sized portions and to top with some nori. Oh the joys of oshizushi!

Spicy Maguro Oshizushi


500 g cooked sushi rice
500 g sashimi grade maguro, cut into 0.5cm cubes

Spicy dressing
¾ cup Japanese mayonnaise
3 Tbsp sambal
Juice from ½ lemon
2 Tbsp dried bonito flakes
1 Tbsp tobikko
Salt to taste
Nori for garnish

1. Combine all the ingredients for spicy dressing.
2. Gently fold in tuna into spicy dressing and coat well.
3. Line oshibako with a layer of sushi rice and followed by a layer of spicy tuna mixture. Press the lid down. Continue to press the lid down and slowly lift the box away. Remove lid and slice into desired sizes. Garnish with nori and serve.

* Recipe adapted from Florence Tyler’s Real Kitchen

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Cooking Whilst Sleeping

Braising is a cooking technique, which I embrace. Whilst I find the process of chopping the mire poix and other flavouring vegetables extremely therapeutic, the most gracious element of this cooking technique is the relative effortlessness. The fact that most of the cooking does not need too much attention but patience allows me time to shower and to nap from the start to the finish of the dish.

I elected to Short Ribs Braised with Chinese Flavours from Simple to Spectacular by Jean-Georges Vongerichten & Mark Bittman for a mid-week dinner on the rationale that I could cook it the day before bedtime, crawl into bed, snuggle up and forget about it. I followed my plan, but my mind refused to shut down. My internal clock woke me up at intervals of 45 minutes (the recipes suggested that the meat should be turned once or twice an hour) and since I was up, I would pad my way down to the oven, take a peek and turn the meat. My plan to cook whilst sleeping hence was a total failure. My only comfort is that the braised short ribs did fall off the bone and smelt phenomenal.

Short Ribs Braised with Chinese Flavours
Serves 4

Peanut oil, ¼ cup
Short ribs, 4 lb
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Onion, 1, peeled and roughly chopped
Garlic, 4 cloves, peeled and smashed
Ginger, ¼ cup, roughly chopped
Sugar, 2 Tbsp
Star anise, 5
Dried chillies, 5
Szechuan peppercorns, 2 Tbsp
Coriander stems, 20, well washed
Shao Hsing, 1 cup
Light soy sauce, ½ cup
Water, 3 cups
Water chestnuts, 12, peeled, washed and quarted
Minced ginger, 2 Tbsp


1. Place 2 Tbsp of the oil in a deep heavy skillet or casserole and turn heat to high. Brown rigs well on all side, seasoning well with salt and pepper as they cook; this process will take about 20 minutes. Remove ribs, pour out and discard fat and wipe pan.

2. Preheat over to 175°C (350°F). Place remaining oil in pan, turning heat to medium-high, add onions, garlic, ginger and sugar. Cook, stirring until the onion is very brown, 10-15 minutes.
Add star anise, chillies, peppercorns and coriander roots; cook, stirring for another minute, then add Shao Hsing, soy sauce and water. Add ribs, cover and put in oven. Cook until meat is very tender and falling from the bone, about 3 minutes, turning the meat once or twice an hour.

3. Transfer the ribs to platter. Strain the vegetables and liquid, pressing hard on the vegetables to extract all of their juices, into another large pan and refrigerate or reheat. Bring to a boil and whisk until slightly reduced then add the ribs, water chestnuts and minced ginger. Heat the ribs through, and adjust seasoning as necessary.

4. Serve with steamy hot rice.

* Recipe Source: Simple to Spectacular by Jean-Georges Vongerichten & Mark Bittman (with slight edits)

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Foie Gras & I

Cooking with foie gras intimidates me. My first experience at home was a total disaster. Unfortunately I do not have the photos to show for it, (I deleted it out of disgust and the sheer embarrassment of the ugliness of the disaster) but take my word for it, it was horrible. I identified Thomas Keller’s roasting a whole foie gras for the experiment of the day. I had successfully de-veined and pieced back the liver, but my eagerness and impatience did not allow it to sit long enough in the fridge to re-set back into place and that was where it all went downhill. The book called for me to pan sear it and to toss it into the oven for the roasting. The picture in the book looked so beautiful, and the procedure seemed so simple, but alas it was not so for me. The minute my foie gras hit the pan, it started to fall apart and all I could see was this expensive delicate food item melt and fall away into the pieces that I had formerly broken it up into. The end product was overcooked on some ends and only edible on some parts.

M and A invited me over for dinner on Wednesday because they had some overseas visitors for dinner. I asked what was on the menu and A informed me that M was going to be cooking foie gras. My instant reaction was, “Has M ever done it? The last time I tried making foie gras it was a total disaster! The whole thing disintegrated on me and I watched my dollars literally melt away in my pan! Wish M all the luck in the world for tonight!” The conversation jolted my past experience, which I had longed to file away in my memory. Thankfully M was much better and successful with his first attempt. It almost made me jealous that his foie gras looked beautiful and had a lovely pan-seared crisp crust, a much much much better attempt than mine. I’m still intimidated.

The dinner that was cooked up was simple and luxurious. We started off with a Thai-flavoured prawns, which A has decided to call (she names all the plates) Otah-styled prawns. Put simple, there were spice elements that led to us commenting that it reminded us of Otah, and hence Otah-styled prawns. Following suit was the indulgent of roasted tenderloin with foie gras served with pineapple chutney. The pineapple chutney brought a good sweet balance to the plate alongside the slightly bitter salad leaves that were served. Dessert, was suppose to be simple, but it turned out to be a multi-coursed meal in itself! We started with a fruit platter, and then came the box of oh-so-delicious box of Royce chocolates. Before even the second piece of chocolate melted away in my mouth, I was served with a scoop of pineapple tart ice cream from island creamery. The ice cream was fantastic, but I felt so guilty from all that food that I resisted a second portion. Still dizzy from counting all my calories, the cheese plate arrived and my wine was refilled, at that point, I had decided to stop counting calories, taste everything once, and wash it all down with some Chinese tea. Dessert did finally come to an end and I rolled out of the house and made my way home and slept happy. I later dreamt about cooking foie gras; It must have been the encouragement by M’s success, so, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

I Heart Crystal Jade

Crystal Jade Golden Palace
Paragon, #05-22
Tel: 6734-6866

Other than the sometimes tedious long queues, I really love Crystal Jade. Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao or Crystal Jade Kitchen usually the names that surfaces when I have a craving for noodles. Despite its ever extending Chinese restaurant empire, where we have witnessed The Crystal Jade group set up shop in most shopping areas of Singapore and slowly taken shop space on almost every floor or Ngee Ann City, making their food more easily available for the masses, the standard of the food has remained consistent.

My last visit to Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao was similar to my other return visits. Without having to flip the menu, I usually grab the pencil and start ticking off my usual “set menu” that I have, zha jiang mian, xiao long bao and crispy eel. I personally prefer the food here, in particularly the zhar jiang mian and xiao long bao, to Ding Tai Fung. The crispy eel, is a must have, crispy and coated with the sweetish sauce, it is simply irresistible. Other dishes that I like here are the double-boiled chicken soup, the consommé is light and flavourful, very simple, very elegant; the prawns with salted egg yolk, the salted egg yolk covering is very rich, so do not order this if you are eating by yourself; and then finish off with the soufflé with red bean and banana filling. In my recent visit, I tried other things on the menu that I would order again: la mian with shallot oil, the fragrant shallot oil laces the noodles, it looks pale, but the flavour that the noodles and shallot oil pack is rather fantastic; and kuo shui ji (salivating chicken), the moist chicken parts were dressed with crunchy garlic bits, crushed peanuts and chilli oil. Lunch that afternoon was as always, satisfying.

We recently visited the higher tiered Crystal Jade restaurant, Crystal Jade Golden Palace, where they offer a mix of fine Cantonese and Teochew food cuisine. Unlike the more informal Crystal Jade Kitchen and La Mian Xiao Long Bao joints, Golden Palace is posh. The food is finer, even the regular dim sum items tasted better and more refined. The menu is extensive with the expensive options of sea cucumber delights, abalone indulgences, BBQ grilled quail or lamb shoulder, and Teochew dishes such as Teochew marinated octopus, pig ears, pig knuckles, trotters, duck or pigs tongue. We were there on a tighter budget and so no sea treasures of abalone or sea cucumber for me.

On our order chit consisted of minced meat congee with baby oyster and minced meat, goose meat, baked prawns with salted yolk, braised 4 vegetables with ham, stewed braised brisket and orh nee. The congee was out of this world good. My food associations with congee and porridge are of me being ill and weak, but this was something else. The rice used must have been something like a basmati or something along those lines, long grained and cooked till they retained a slight bite as they bobbed around in the broth with the oysters and minced meat. The baked prawns with salted yolk is much like the one that they serve at La Mian Xiao Long Bao, but the prawns are larger and executed with more finesse, the crust is crisper and the sauce is not as thick overwhelming. The braised vegetables were subtly favoured by the slow braising in the broth and what I think is Yunnan ham. In general, it was a great lunch; the food was excellent and the service staff are gracious and efficient. This is currently my favourite Crystal Jade.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Yakitori and Horse Sashimi

Kazu Sumiyaki Restaurant
5 Koek Rd Cuppage Plaza, #04-05
Tel: 6734-2492

Homemade smoked pork belly

There is something about eating yakitori that gets me excited. Being so close to the food with little formality of fiddling with a fork and a knife or chopsticks, but rather the simple one stroke motion of but just simply lifting the stick from the plate and straight into my mouth is great for a moment of instant gratification. The simplicity but exquisiteness of the food is also a celebration of food. The morsels of meet are grilled in their naked state and lightly kissed with a brush of salt or sauce honours the food in its au naturel state, something so uncomplicated but so delightfully delicious.

Kazu, this yakitori place, is a fabulous place to slip to after a hard day of work. The informal and communal nature of the food makes conversation easy and the salty nature of the nibbles makes it almost necessary to sip of an ice cold beer or sake. Fan through the huge menu, give your wish list of meat on sticks to the wait staff and let them work the grill. The team behind the charcoal grill is headed by Kazu himself, will then get to work: sauce, salt, flip and grill your orders to perfection and send them to on plates to you.

I was recommended this place over a lunch conversation that ventured into the topic of eating offal, where a colleague made a plug for this restaurant’s grilled beef intestines and foie gras. For dinner that night, I was given specific instructions to sample the beef intestines, foie gras, salmon belly and other likes on the menu. The beef intestines however never made it to our table because it because we could not get a majority agreement on it and the salmon belly was unfortunately sold out. Instead, we had a fabulous hotch potch of dishes – angler fish liver, homemade asparagus tofu, chicken with leek, horse sashimi, foie gras, squid, sweet potato, mochi with bacon, unagi, mackerel with vinegar sauce, chicken balls, chazuke with mentaiko, nasu, uni wrapped in shiso, homemade smoked pork belly, homemade roasted duck, milk shebert and macha ice cream with adzuki that had no relation to one another, but were scrumptious anyhow.

Except for the terrible icy macha ice cream that was iced till it bordered on being a granita, everything we had that might was generally greeted with “mmmm.., that’s good”. Of the list, the excellent dishes that are on my list of must-haves for my next visit are: chicken balls, the addition of sesame seeds and the sauce are wonderful; foie gras, crisp on the outside and melt in your mouth goodness with a flavour to die for; angler fish liver, the slight homemade smoked pork belly, sweet potato and squid. Among the interesting was my first encounter was horse sashimi. It tasted like a milder version of raw beef, but what they served felt a little too cold and a tiny bit frozen, and tasted much better with the grated ginger and soy sauce rather than the oil based sauce that was served. To clean our palates from the savoury treat, the chazuke with mentaiko was a wonderful way to end off, the delicate warm fish broth and rice brings a warm and calm feeling to your stomach, and then you can move along and finish off with sweets.

This cosy yakitori place packs a full house on most days, reservations are necessary.

Pay: S$40- S$50 a person with drinks.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Cooking with Mentaiko!

The culinary year for me started off on a rather exciting note! Hinata from Aventures d'une cocoette and I got together over the New Year holidays to work together on some mentaiko ideas that we have been bouncing off one another. Here's our joint account of adventure!

Hinata says:

Joone and I had recently been exchanging e-mails on how to use mentaiko, aka spicy cod roe. Before we knew it, we had whipped ourselves into a bit of a mentaiko frenzy and a plan was set to spend Monday afternoon preparing (1) our take on the now classic mentaiko pasta and (2) mentaiko panna cotta. The former is a dish that has been blogged about by others (Chubby Hubby, J, Umami and Obachan) on several occasions, and so seemed a must-try; the latter was inspired by Joone’s Christmas post about waylaid plans to make panna cotta then. Mentaiko panna cotta also seemed fanciful enough to be a true test ofculinary sensibility – one false step and it would almost certainly taste horrendous but, oh, the glory to be won if it turned out good! And so the intrepid explorers set out on the grand mentaiko quest…

Mentaiko pasta

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To be honest, I have very little idea of what was going on in the preparation of the mentaiko pasta, having been engaged in a battle with cream and gelatin at the time. So please see Joone’s wonderful instructions for details. What I can tell you though, is that it tasted pretty damn good. The cream held together a combination of contrasting flavours - the mentaiko was a delicate mixture of the salty and bitter, while the vinegar imparted a light “appetite opening” tartness – resulting in a rare balance that leaves you wanting more after each bite. For the record, greedyboy* wolfed down his plate even before Joone and I could serve ourselves. Similarly, I thought I could only manage one plateful, but ended up gobbling two then staring at the empty serving bowl wistfully.

Mentaiko panna cotta

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Given that we’d pulled the idea for mentaiko panna cotta out of thin air, this dish was incredibly fun to prepare. Without strict guidelines and preconceived notions to adhere to, we attacked the dish with the enthusiasm of 4 year olds inventing food with Playdoh. Fortunately, the end result was substantially more edible – the panna cotta was sweet and creamy (duh), and together with the lingering taste of mint, tasted sophisticated against the crunch and heartiness of the toast. Very addictive! The mentaiko provided great colour and visual appeal, but had minimal impact on both taste and texture, possibly as a result of first being overwhelmed by the sweetness of the panna cotta and then having gotten a little cooked by the heat of the warm cream. As a result, although we had imagined the dish more of a savoury appetizer or a cheese-like pre-dessert, the final product was decidedly a dessert, and one for the highly sugar inclined at that. We were then left with a bag of questions as to how to prepare it differently the next time – use less sugar? Top the panna cotta with mentaiko only at the end? Up the mentaiko: cream ratio? Substitute mint with fresh herbs? Conclusion: for such an odd couple, mentaiko and panna cotta offers a world of flexibility and variation. We’ll definitely keep experimenting with this in the future!

Joone says:

The thing I like about cooking rather than baking is the relative freestyle you are given in inventing your own dishes. I am clumsy and suffer from myopia, so staring closely at a weighing scale to ensure that I get the measurement of sugar and flour correct is sometimes quite a chore, simultaneously having to ensure that I don’t carelessly tip too much flour in causing my airy cake to transform into a dense brownie or biscuit, it sometimes borders on frustrating. Cooking on the other hand gives me more space and margin for error. In this case of our mentaiko pasta, the recipe happened out of necessity. I had people to feed and had neglected to buy a major ingredient from the supermarket and so I had to abandon the original recipe that we identified. Thankfully this experiment tasted pretty damn good, hungry people are not exactly the friendliest.

Mentaiko Pasta
Serves 3

Mentaiko, 1 fat sac, set some aside for garnish
Spaghetti, 200 g
Japanese mayonnaise, 1/4 cup
Rice vinegar, 1 Tbsp
Sesame seeds, 1 Tbsp, roasted and ground
Light soy sauce, 1 tsp
Mirin, 1 tsp
Nori, thinly sliced
Spring onions, 1 stalk, thinly sliced


Slit open the mentaiko sac. Using a spoon, gently scrap out all the roe and discard the sac.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, cook pasta as directed to al dente.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, using a whisk, combine Japanese mayonnaise, rice vinegar, ground sesame, soy sauce and mirin. Use a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula and gentle stir in the mentaiko.

Drain pasta and toss with the prepared sauce. Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with nori, spring onions and top off with mentaiko. Eat immediately. (Sometimes there is nothing better than instant gratification.)

Mentaiko Panna Cotta
Makes 8

Heavy cream, 3 cups
Sugar, 3/8 cup
Salt, a pinch
Mentaiko, 2 large sacs
Powdered gelatin, 2 tbsp
Hot water, 6 tbsp
Mint, 4 leaves, thinly sliced
Toast, 4 slices


Slit open the mentaiko sac. Using a spoon, gently scrap out all the roe and discard the sac. Separate roe clumps gently with fingers, as far as possible without damaging roe.

Heat cream, sugar and salt over medium heat, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove from heat once first bubbles appear. Transfer to mixing bowl.

Add mentaiko to cream sugar mixture and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.

Mix gelatin in hot water, stirring constantly. Add to panna cotta mixture.

Place panna cotta mixture in bowl of iced water to chill for further 10 minutes. Once mixture has cooled down and thickened slightly, transfer into individual ramekins, ensuring that each ramekin has equal portions of mentaiko (mentaiko may have settled at bottom of mixing bowl). Chill in refrigerator until firm, approximately 2 hours.

To remove panna cotta from ramekin, immerse ramekin in warm water for 10 seconds. Invert gently onto half slice of toast cut to desired shape. Garnish with chopped mint and additional mentaiko to taste. Eat with spoon or 'toast fingers'.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

New Year, New Beginnings

After 2005, the Old Airport Road Emporium & Cooked Food Centre located at Blk 51 Old Airport Road, would be relocated just down the road from its original location. This Olympian sized food court housed many culinary gems that I only hope will not be lost after the upgrade. Here’s a little tribute to the stalls that I loved and (fingers-crossed) moved to the new complex instead of moving on to retirement.

Sin Bee Hiong Hokkien Lo Mee Prawn Mee
Previously at #01-127C

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Certified by Makansutra with a triple chopstick grading, this Lor Mee sets the standard. The dark vicious gravy is hardly starchy and the crunch garnish of deep-fried and crumbled ang ko li (red snapper) bits, makes this humble dish rather spectacular.

Chuan Kee Satay
Previously at #01-123S

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These meat sticks are dangerously addictive. After my first stick, I eyed the rest jealously, making sure that I got my equal share or more of the 2 dozen that we ordered. The meat is perfectly barbequed, the meat takes on the sweet marinade, remains succulent and takes on little burnt bits to provide some bitterness. And did I mention they came with a yummy pineapple satay sauce?

The battle of the Wantan Mee

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Cho Kee Noodles
Previously at #01-113


Hua Kee Hougang Famous Wan Ton Mee
Previously at #01-113B

When I wandering into the far deep end of this eating complex, I found two famous wantan mee stalls -- judging from the number of newspaper articles, Channel U and Makansutra awards -- just stall or two away from each other Hua Kee had a long queue and Cho Kee had a digitised signboard that flashed numbers, summoning their customers forward to collect their bowls of noodles. Curious to see which was better, I bought one from each. I preferred the Cho Kee for its noodle texture, chilli and sauce, but wantan vs. wantan, Hua Kee’s wantans were better, Cho Kee’s was a little dry.

Matter Road Seafood & Barbeque
Previously at #01-131G

We had the chilli crabs from here, and the sauce was great, but the crabs were so-so. The stingray was wonderful and rightly torn apart and eaten under 5 minutes.

My Genie Gourmet

Previously #01-135

My dad groaned and complained about the queue when my mother queued up for some of their soon kueh, but he ate ALL of it for breakfast and did none for us. So I personally did not taste it, but it must have been good, no?

Mr Cook
Previously at #01-135C

The herbal chicken was fantastic. Falling off the bone, the meat melted in my mouth and the herbal chicken juices were slurpishly good.

Other very worthy stalls:

Nam Sing Hokkien Fried Prawn Mee
Previously at #01-115J

If you trust our makan guru See Toh, this is another tripe chopstick award winner.

To-Rico Guo Shi
Previously at #01-129D&E

So successful and popular, this double stall is hard to miss with the snaking human queue.

Toa Payoh Rojak
Previously at #01-125D

I haven’t been to the new place yet, but with a treasure chest of hawker gems, my next visit is not too far off.

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