When I was a child, my mother often fed my brother and I chocolate cake for breakfast. While not particularly healthy, it was a treat that we both enjoyed tremendously. Continue Reading →
Food trucks have been gaining in popularity throughout the US and New York City has many of them. They tend to be priced lower than most sit-down places and even though some of them have long lines, you still get your food pretty quickly as people in the trucks typically prepare food from a limited menu. There are even many Smartphone apps that follow the movement of trucks and update their locations so it’s now easier than ever to find the truck you’re looking for! Continue Reading →
Independence Day… what do those words conjure up in your mind? A whoop ass Hollywood movie? Or a day to celebrate the signing of the Declaration that pronounced freedom, opportunity and equality for all? Continue Reading →
It’s no secret that I love burgers. Love going out for them and also love making them. And I think I do a pretty good job. Haven’t had too many complaints at least. That said, I’ve always been slightly bothered by one thing. I prefer my burgers with a slightly thicker patty. It’s just more pleasurable to chomp down on a nice fat burger. While I have had good burgers made with thin, flat patties–which necessitates at least two patties per burger–they just don’t have the same level of juiciness and taste compared to a well-made thick patty. My problem is that cooking a thick patty can be tricky.
Okay, I have a new, local culinary addiction. And not just me. Most of my colleagues and I are currently obsessed with Chef Travis Masiero‘s newest venture. The wunderkind, baby-faced chef-owner of Spruce has taken over a small shack in an obscure corner of Phoenix Park (where Spruce is also located) and opened (from what I can tell) Singaore’s first Taqueria. As in taco stand. And a pretty damned awesome one to boot.
The new Spruce Taqueria is agonizingly open only from Monday to Friday and from 12pm to 3pm. It really is not much more than a tiny hut in which the chefs work and from which you place your order (everything here is self-service). There’s a tiny shaded area with some outdoor furniture and a few more tables along the side of the building. This is no-frills eating. That said, this is no-frills gourmet eating, as you would expect from a talented chef like Masiero. (Keep reading)
On Christmas Eve last year, as we were picking up a prime rib at Huber’s for the lunch we were hosting the following day, I espied a goose in the poultry section. For some inexplicable reason, I decided that I had to have it and that at some point between Christmas and New Year’s, I would prepare a menu with goose as its centerpiece. Mind you, up to that point, I’d never cooked goose. I didn’t even have a recipe in mind. CH looked at me as if I was insane and must have put it down to jetlag. Nonetheless, accommodating as he usually is when it comes to matters of the belly, he made no objection as I hauled the just-under-5kilogram bird into our shopping basket.
Cooking the goose turned out to be an enterprise of epic proportions, but it was a delightful indulgence spread over a number of days which was well worth the effort. It is by no means a dish to be prepared on a whim (despite the fact that I acquired said bird on a whim). You need to have the luxury of time–especially if you plan on serving other dishes with it. I’d liken the process to reading War and Peace. Fortunately, I actually take great pleasure in wading through epic novels. (Keep Reading)
Sometimes it takes a great chef to come up with the simplest and most elegant solutions. Like blowtorching a prime rib before slow-roasting it at low heat for several hours. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me backtrack a bit.
As you all know, my voraciously literary wife S and I are avid cookbook collectors. For the both of us, there’s perhaps nothing better than spending an afternoon browsing the shelves at one of our favourite bookstores, especially if that store specializes in cookbooks. On a recent visit to 25 degree Celsius, Singapore’s only cookbook specialist, S and I went a tad nuts, picking up several fantastic hardbacks, including Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck Cookbook and Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home. (Keep reading)
One of my favourite scenes in Robert Redford’s fantastic film Quiz Show takes place over lunch. Ralph Fiennes’ character, Professor Charles Van Doren, has taken Rob Morrow’s character, Dick Goodwin, to the Harvard Club for a bite. The special that day is a Reuben, about which Goodwin decides to “educate” Van Doren. He tells Van Doren that the “Reuben sandwich is the only entirely invented sandwich”, having been invented only “two years prior by a man named Reuben Kay at a poker game in Nebraska”. Then, referring to the obvious WASPishness of the club’s clientele and the underlying Jewish origins of the Reuben, Goodwin remarks, “Unfortunately they have the sandwich here, but, uh, they don’t seem to have any Reubens.”
For the two of you out there that don’t know what a Reuben is, it is a sandwich made with toasted Russian Rye, corned beef or pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing. When made well it can be sublime. The best I have ever had — which is pretty darned surprising after having lived in New York City, home of the Reuben, for 14 years — was just recently, over my Christmas break in Columbia, South Carolina, at a small cafe called Ela’s European Market & Deli. Run by Jimmy and Ela, who have Cuban and Polish roots respectively, this tiny hole in the wall made such amazing sandwiches that S and I insisted on visiting it three times in one week. Jimmy’s Reuben was pretty amazing. Buttery, crisp, thin slices of Rye. Delicious layers of homemade corned beef; not piled so high you can’t fit the sandwich in your mouth (a pet peeve of mine with several famous NYC delis). Homemade sauerkraut and homemade Russian dressing. All the elements were perfectly proportioned so that every bite was a pleasure. (Keep reading…)
We had some exceptional meals during our trip to South Carolina. Our favourite restaurants were Ela’s European Market & Deli in Columbia, FIG in Charleston (both of which I mentioned in my previous post), and Hominy Grill, also in Charleston.
I wish I had a place like Hominy Grill in my neighborhood back here in Singapore. But that would be pretty dangerous. Because I’d be there at least once a week, if not more often. And then I’d go from being a chubby hubby to a corpulent corpse. The food at Hominy Grill is marvelous, but it is anything but healthy. (Keep reading…)
Merry Christmas y’all. This year, S and I decided to trade hot weather for a nice wintry holiday visiting my best friend from high school, who lives in the USA. More specifically, he lives in Columbia, South Carolina. We decided to fly into Charleston (which is a two hour drive from Columbia), both because the flights to Charleston were cheaper and also because we had heard it was a gorgeous city in which we should spend a few days eating, shopping, and taking in the sights.My friend J met us in Charleston airport… wearing a short-sleeved polo shirt. The weather here, surprisingly and at first annoyingly but I will admit, now, pleasantly, has been unusually warm. T-shirt warm. Which means all of S’s and my winter fantasies of huddling in front of a fireplace sipping hot mulled cider have been replaced with knocking back chilled glasses of eggnog (Melissa’s recipe, of course) – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that we didn’t expect it. (Keep reading…)
It feels like a year since I last posted. I really do have to apologize for not posting something sooner. After visiting Alila Cha-Am, I returned home for one night and then took off for China for a frantic and way too busy two week work trip. We (a colleague and I) started in Shanghai, then went to Nanjing, Guilin (and Yangshuo) and Beijing, before returning to Shanghai for just one night.
As mentioned, the trip was a bit of a blur. Not only were we exhausted by the end of each day, we were also freezing. If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know that China has been hit by one of the coldest winters in years. Parts of the country have, quite frankly, been crippled by the uncommonly fierce weather. We were there on behalf of a client, sussing out and staying in the country’s coolest boutique hotels, and meeting with the properties’ owners or general managers. And while many of these places are stunning — and I would gladly book a room in several of them in the Spring or Fall — quite a few just weren’t equipped to deal with the current weather conditions, which made the trip less than ideal (icy cold bathrooms suck).
We did eat pretty well. The best meal I had was at a cool Japanese restaurant in Shanghai called (I think) Tenya. My good buddy Jereme Leung and a food writer friend of his brought me there. It’s a small place run, I’m told, by Japanese tuna importers. The set menu is fantastic value. For RMB250, you get a sampling of various kinds of toro (including o-toro and chu-toro), followed by a plate of giant crab legs. After this, you enjoy a hotpot with more tuna, some smaller crab legs, and loads of fresh vegetables. Once you’ve devoured most of these things, the staff then bring you udon to dump into the soup. To end the meal, you get a small but filling bowl of negitoro-don. The meal was so good that I ended up bringing my colleague back there on our last night in China. The restaurant’s card is entirely in Chinese, which I can’t read. So too is its website, which you can find here. The restaurant I went to is the one featured at the top of the web page. The manager does speak English, so feel free to call the number listed and make a reservation and ask for directions.
On another night, we were hosted to dinner by an old family friend. One of his other guests was a retired airlines executive. At one point during our meal, the conversation — partly because of this guest — centered on airline meals. I don’t know about you, but I have yet to meet (or eat) an airline meal that has really impressed me. Most of the times, the main course is barely edible and everything else is not even worth touching. Some airlines do serve ice cream, which is always a nice treat, but I’ve noticed that this is becoming less and less common.
I simply don’t understand why airlines can’t serve good, simple meals to passengers (and I’m speaking about us folks who fly cattle class most of the time). I appreciate (1) the need to manage food costs; (2) that the dishes served need to be refrigerated and then served either cold or reheated; and (3) the combinations chosen need to appeal to as wide a demographic audience as possible.
One of the problems that was discussed at the dinner was that some airlines try too hard. In a constant need to try and one-up the competition, airlines are appointing guest celebrity chefs to create newer and more exciting dining options. Open an airline menu and you might see names like Gordon Ramsay, Neil Perry and Alfred Portale peeking out at you. But honestly, the way I look at it — and I don’t think I am alone — the very last thing I want to eat when I’m spending anywhere from 6 to 12 hours stuck in the air is pretentious restaurant food. There are times when I want to be wowed by a chef. There are times when I like to be challenged by my food. But when I’m sitting in a cramped and uncomfortable seat, stuck next to some smelly guy whose arm keeps floating over the armrest, with a passenger in front of me who has decided to spend the entire flight with his seat pushed as far back as it can go, then I all I really want to eat is something simple, comforting and ideally palatable. At the end of the day, my belief is that airlines should treat their customers the way that Remy treated Anton Ego in Ratatouille, i.e. give them something classic, something simple, and something that will make them happy.
The other thing I don’t quite fathom is why airlines will try to serve dishes that logically don’t reheat well. Why oh why would you serve a chicken breast filet or a piece of fish when we all know that the darned things will become overcooked in the reheating process? On a recent flight, I tried the burger from the children’s menu (I was flying business class for once). It was dry and tough. And pretty darned disgusting. It’s like no one with any culinary sense is in charge of creating the menus for most airlines these days.
Over the past three weeks, I’ve been on seven different planes from 3 different airlines. And boy was I served some interesting things. These flights, and so many others in the past, have inspired me to put together my own airline meal, i.e. what I wish I could be served on my next flight. I’ve numbered the items in the picture at the top of the post, so from top left and working clockwise: (1) UCC dark roast Espresso — I’d much rather have this than the crap coffee served in cheap plastic cups that create spills at the first sign of turbulence; (2) Kirin Melon Cream Soda; (3) The Laughing Cow Cheese Dippers — perfect for hanging onto and snacking on while watching a movie later; (4) Satsuraku Coffee Jelly, served with a cream syrup; (5) Chicken a la King served with steamed rice — perfect comfort food that reheats beautifully; and Potato Salad a la Harumi Kurihara.
Chicken a la King
adapted from a recipe from Gourmet magazine
1 3/4 cups chicken broth (14 fl oz)
1 1/2 lb boneless chicken thigh, cubed
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 each yellow, red, bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
salt, or to taste
black pepper, to taste
1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/4 lb white mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
3 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon paprika (not hot)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Marinate the chicken pieces with some sea salt for at least an hour before cooking.
Put broth in a large heavy saucepan and bring just to a simmer over moderate heat. Place chicken in and gently poach for about 5 minutes or until just cooked.
Transfer chicken to a bowl. Set aside. Reserve broth for the sauce.
Heat 2 tablespoons butter in the large saucepan over moderately high heat until it foams, then cook peppers, stirring, until slightly soft, 5 minutes or so. Add a little salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the peppers into the same bowl as the chicken.
Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and when foaming, toss in the onions. Cook at moderate heat until soft. Add a little salt to taste. Add flour, reduce heat to low, then cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Whisk in 1 cup broth, then all of the cream and mushrooms. Simmer until mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Add more broth if you feel the sauce is too thick.
Add the peppers and chicken into the sauce and let heat through for 5 minutes or so.
Whisk together yolks, lemon juice, and paprika in a small bowl. Whisk in 1/4 cup of the sauce, then stir this yolk mixture back into saucepan. Cook over low heat until sauce is slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon chicken à la king over rice, then sprinkle with parsley.