Julia Child’s braised goose with chestnut and sausage stuffing

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)

Blowtorched prime rib roast

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)

Daniel Boulud wants you (maybe)

I’m taking a quick break from posting about my own stuff to bring you this quick and potentially important me

ssage which I think readers from the F&B trade might find pretty useful.

As many of you (might already) know, the Dinex Group, which owns and manages Chef Daniel Boulud’s restaurants, has come into Asia. They have one restaurant already in Beijing and are opening another in Singapore (which is great news for me).

The Dinex Group’s HR folks are making an Asian tour, looking for great talent. Here’s their pitch:

The Dinex Group, the restaurants owned and managed by Chef Daniel Boulud, is offering the opportunity to build a lifelong career with both global potential and a sense of pride in work well done.

The Dinex Group continues to expand to exciting new destinations around the world (Beijing, Singapore, Vancouver, London, New York, Palm Beach, Miami, and Las Vegas). If you are interested in the opportunity to be part of that growth within an organization whose values you share, and that recognizes your dedication and hard work, then we invite you to apply during our Open Call Interviews Recruiting Tour in Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai)
(Keep reading for dates and times of the recruitment calls)

Buon Ricordo, Sydney

There are a small handful of dishes, cooked by an equally small number of amazing chefs, that I’d travel for. At the top of my list is Chef Armando Percuoco‘s fettuccine al tartufovo. Chef Armando’s fettucine with cream and parmesan, topped with a fried truffle egg, and tossed at your table, is one of those life-altering dishes. To me, it might just be the best pasta dish I’ve ever had, anywhere in the world. This ridiculously simple yet rich and oh so delicious plate of food is, quite simply, worth flying all the way to Sydney for.

Of course, there are many other gustatory reasons to go to Sydney–like Kylie’s duck, Tets’ ocean trout, Bill’s scrambled eggs, Peter Gilmore’s Sea Pearls, or this week the Sydney International Food Festival’s World Chef Showcase. But none (to me) are as addictively appealing as Armando’s truffled egg pasta. I’ve actually written about this heavenly plate of food back in 2005; in fact, it was my 10th post. But that was just a little reminiscent musing. This weekend, thanks to Tourism Australia, Tourism New South Wales and the Food Festival bringing me in for a little song and dance on stage, I’m getting the chance to revisit some favourite restaurants, as well as try a few new ones. Of course, the first place I ran to, within hours of landing on the ground, was Buon Ricordo. (Keep reading)

Tippling Club

I might actually be among the last foodies, and food bloggers, in town to try Tippling Club. While I’ve known about this ultra-modern gastrobar since it opened a year ago, my darling wife S and I had not, until recently, been inspired to visit this somewhat controversial restaurant. I say “controversial” because any time that it came up in conversation among foodie friends, spirited debates would inevitably ensue. Some friends argued that the food was self-indulgent, far too expensive for what it was, and that the structure in which the restaurant is housed is little more than an air conditioned lean-to. Other friends said that Chef Ryan Clift, formerly of Melbourne’s Vue du Monde, was one of the most talented chefs working in Singapore today. They held fast that while the food had its highs and lows, the highs were higher than those of any other chef in town.

The one thing that all of my friends did agree on was that the combined food and cocktail menu was a little too expensive and not really necessary. Yes, we all appreciate the hard work and skill put in by award-winning mixologist Matthew Bax, the other luminary sharing centre stage with Chef Ryan. And I, especially, love a fabulously well-made cocktail as an apertif or digestif, i.e. before or after my meal. But we all agreed that we’d like to eat our food paired with nothing more than a nice bottle of wine or two — and not with a different cocktail paired with each and every course. (Keep reading)

The Complete Robuchon

There are some cookbooks that you know, after just one use, that are going to be a keepers. And constant kitchen companions. You know what I mean. These are the books that, no matter how large your collection becomes, you keep going back to. Because they are dependable and inspiring and comforting all at the same time. The recipes always work and the results are always scrumptiously satisfying. These are books that almost always also cover all the bases, meaning that whether you’re looking for a blueprint for a quick and simple one dish meal or planning a multi-course extravaganza with which to wow your friends’ socks off, you’ll always be able to find something in their pages.

Some of these books might surprise you. I know that when I look back and try to pinpoint the oldest keeper in my collection (based on date of acquisition not publication), it’s The Harry’s Bar Cookbook. My very first cookbook, that I still own, was Mollie Katzen’s The Moosewood Cookbook. And while it was a fabulous book for a then vegetarian Sophomore in university, it has probably been at least half a decade since I have wanted to cook anything from it. The Harry’s Bar Cookbook was my second cookbook, purchased in 1993. It’s a book I still use, as recently as this past weekend. Of course, what is a keeper to me may not be to you. The books I love most might seem trite and uninspiring to you. And I might find your favourites to be interesting but not works that I’d ever think about saving from a burning building. (Keep reading)

Heston Blumenthal’s popping-candy chocolate cake

Ever since returning from Barcelona, I have been slightly obsessed with peta zeta, or as we say in English, pop rocks. It’s Oriol Balaguer‘s fault. When we were in Spain, one of the must-visit places on my wife S’s itinerary was Balaguer’s boutique. She’s been slightly obsessed with this genius chocolatier ever since a pastry chef friend gave her Balaguer’s cookbook as a present some years back. Balaguer’s Barcelona boutique is a very small, chic corner space, located in the middle of a wealthy residential neighborhood. (It is also just around the corner from the showroom of Tresserra, an amazing Spanish furniture brand I am currently in love with but cannot afford — and probably won’t be able to for decades to come.)

As you can imagine, we tried many of Balaguer’s chocolates and even some of his pastries. Everything was delicious, but one thing in particular blew me away — his pop rock filled chocolate truffles. These were simply fabulous, not just because they were made with the very best chocolate but because they were fun. Really fun. I hadn’t eaten pop rocks in years. In fact, I wasn’t even aware that these effervescent candies were still being made. (Keep reading)

El Bulli 2008

My greedy but gorgeous wife S and I have wanted to try El Bulli for almost a decade. We first heard about this exciting Spanish restaurant in the late 90s/early naughties. In 2001, at Tasting Australia, we were lucky enough to attend an incredible two-hour long private demonstration during which Ferran Adria showed off some of his more innovative cooking techniques to a room full of journalists. Later that day, we were given a few minutes to interview this revolutionary artist-philosopher-cook.

While theoretically we’ve wanted to dine at El Bulli, I have to admit we never really did anything about it. We never tried making reservations or tried planning a trip. We just assumed that we’d get around to it one day. Of course, as the years passed by and booking a table went from hard-to-get to almost impossible, we started to wonder if maybe we’d been waiting too long. So, when a good friend — a restaurateur who is friends with Ferran — called me two months ago and said, “Hey, I’ve decided to swing by El Bulli on the way to the States in May. I have a table for 6 and am calling you first. Do you want to go? But…um… I need to know right now,” S and I jumped at it. And even though we had just decided to postpone a trip to Italy that we had been planning for September 08 to sometime in 2009 because we weren’t sure we could afford it, we said, “what the halibut” and have put ourselves into even greater credit card debt than we already are. (Keep reading)

Sauce from scratch

There are some foods that we self-professed gourmands try as often as possible to prepare from scratch. We shake our head and pooh-pooh store-bought pasta sauces. Canned soups are verboten from our pantries. We cry foul whenever friends try to serve us pizza baked on premade bases. Pasta must be made by hand. So too must our bread be, kneaded or not. Our fries have to be hand-cut, never frozen. And we take great pride in pointing out that the confit de canard we’re serving is home-made and most definitely not from any can.

But then, there are some other foods that we simply accept for what they are. Despite our new-found (and occasionally pretentious) predelictions against store-bought products, we never even think about making these things from scratch.

Like ketchup for example. I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve been pretty happy eating Heinz for most of my life. It’s one of our kitchen staples. There’s always an open bottle in the fridge and often a sealed one in the pantry (running out midway through a burger is simply a no-no). Unfortunately, most other ketchups just don’t measure up to the “thick, rich one”. Most are either too watery and simply unsavory. One of the rare exceptions is a Swiss German ketchup that S found in a gourmet store. It was nice, with a sharp and almost curry-like taste.

Recently, S and I have been helping some friends develop ideas for a new restaurant here in Singapore. One of the things that came up in conversation while we were brainstorming food concepts was the idea of serving homemade ketchup. S remembered that Heston Blumenthal, one of our food heroes, had included a recipe in his fantastic book Family Food.

The more I thought about it, the idea of making (and eating) ketchup without any artificial ingredients and preservatives was really appealing.

Heston’s recipe calls for 5kg of ripe tomatoes, which yields approximately 500ml of ketchup. Truth be told, I looked at these numbers for quite a while before finally deciding to actually try making it. 5 kilos of tomatoes is one heck of a lot of tomatoes. And to only get 500ml of ketchup seemed like a whole lot for a whole little, both in terms of quantity and in terms of costs of ingredients. But, I rationalized, if it tasted great, better in fact than any other ketchup that I’d ever had, it would be worth it.

Making the ketchup was easy. But it did take several hours, so be sure to set aside enough time. I suggest using the recipe (reprinted below) as a general guideline. I honestly eyeballed almost all of the ingredients (save the quantity of tomatoes that is), slightly increasing and decreasing some to suit my taste.

The resulting ketchup was delicious. Nothing at all like Heinz, but still gorgeously sweet and savory. The combination of ingredients — especially the mustard, cloves, five-spice, ginger and cayenne — gave the ketchup a spicy complexity. One friend who tasted it said it was more like a thick, slightly sweet salsa than a ketchup. Another said it tasted like ketchup, but one that had a real distinct richness. S liked that it really tasted of tomatoes and not artificial thickeners. It worked beautifully with some fries (home-made of course) and a nice bottle of bubbly (hey, a boy’s gotta celebrate these little culinary achievements). I simply can’t wait to spread some on a burger later this weekend.

(Picture note: The fries and ketchup are displayed in a “Nuevo Doble Bowl”, a beautiful disposable plastic bowl from Tast. S and I first saw Tast products at a World Gourmet Festival event in Bangkok a few years ago and fell in love with them. Until recently though, we had no idea where to get these gorgeous Spanish disposable catering tools. We’ve just discovered that you can now get Tast products in Singapore through Ruiter Far East. We think they look great and our friends have been totally wowed by these cute and sexy little plastic bowls.)

Tomato ketchup
From Family Food by Heston Blumenthal
Makes approximately 500ml

5kg very ripe best-quality tomatoes
200g onions, chopped
4 cloves of confit garlic or 2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
8 cloves
2 coffeespoons salt
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice
A good pinch of ground ginger
A pinch of cayenne pepper
6½ soupspoons icing sugar

Core and halve the tomatoes, then roughly chop them and put them into a casserole. Cover with a cartouche (a circle of parchment paper that covers the top of the braising liquid in the pan) and bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.

Pass the tomatoes through a fine-meshed sieve into another casserole, and add all the other ingredients except the icing sugar. Simmer until the mixture is reduced by approximately half and begins to thicken.

Push the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve again, return it to the casserole, and add the icing sugar. Put the casserole back on the heat. Whisking regularly so that the ketchup does not catch and burn, bring to a simmer and cook until the desired thickness and flavour achieved.

Pour the mixture into a sterilised preserving jar, seal, and stand the jar in simmering water for 40 minutes. The ketchup will then keep for several months.