Oxtail Bo Kho, a Vietnamese beef stew with Coke and Laughing Cow cheese

oxtail bo kho

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that, while attending the Noosa International Food & Wine Festival, S and I had eaten one of the best oxtail stews we’d ever had in our lives. It was prepared by Chef Mark Jensen of the very famous Vietnamese restaurant Red Lantern, which is in Sydney, Australia. Traditionally, Bo Kho is made with cuts like brisket or shank. It’s also one of those traditional dishes that has no really defined and universal recipe. While certain ingredients might appear in most dishes, all mothers (and grandmothers) and chefs who make Bo Kho seem to have slightly different ways of making theirs. And, of course, every Vietnamese friend you have will swear that his mother’s version is simply the best in the world. Continue Reading →

Family Food: Savoury Rosemary-Parmesan Mini Madeleines

Family Food: Savoury Rosemary Madeleines

This is one of those recipes that I reckon works for both papa and toddler. I’m constantly trying to find snacks for T (and CH) that aren’t packed with sugar. These savoury madeleines from Patricia Wells—inspired by Anne-Sophie Pic of the century-old Maison Pic in Valence, no less—fit the bill. They are an easy-to-make treat that T can’t get enough of.

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Neil Perry’s Awesome Asian Dipping Sauce

When I was counting down my favourite meals of last year, I wrote that one of them was had at Neil Perry’s very sexy Chinese restaurant, Spice Temple. While I had originally gone in slightly skeptical, I left a believer. And while the food may not have been the most authentic, it certainly had flavour, and a lot of heart.

Since then, and because of that visit, my hot and hungry spouse S and I have been cooking more and more from Perry’s Chinese cookbook, Balance and Harmony: Asian Food. It was a book that we had originally purchased (before our meal at Spice Temple) because it was, well, pretty. As cookbook collectors, we occasionally buy texts not because we want to cook from them but because of the pictures, or the layout and design, or because we have all of the chef’s other books, or for any number of reasons. Neil’s recent books are beautiful. They’re a joy to look at, with clean design and gorgeous photos. And so, while we had poured over Balance and Harmony: Asian Food several times, we had never intended to actually use it as a real reference. When we wanted to cook Chinese, we usually turned to authorities like Barbara Tropp, Fuchsia Dunlop or Grace Young. But after that meal at Spice Temple, we decided to give Perry’s book a try. And we’ve been really happy we did. (Keep reading)

Charsiu quail with Mandarin pancakes and a lime and cucumber salad

When I was in the 5th grade, each student in my science class was given a small quail’s egg and asked to look after it. The eggs were housed in a large incubator. We were to ensure that our assigned egg would develop properly and were asked to study the hatching process. When the teeny tiny baby quails were finally hatched, we were given a few weeks to play with the super cute baby birds (and study them) before the little suckers were brought to “the wild” and set free. Of course, as I think back, I really don’t know if what our teachers told us was the truth. Where in the world in or even around New York City would you take 50 or 60 baby quail to set them free? Were they brought to a pretty little farm in upstate New York? Or let loose in a lovely patch of forest? Or (heaven forbid but potentially more probable) sold to some very happy butcher, who turned our little friends into delectable goodies waiting to be picked up by some greedy gourmand?

Of course, when I was 9 years old, I could never have fathomed eating those cute little critters. Now though, older, cynical, and much more omnivorous, I’m a big fan of eating quail. I really like the slight gameyness of quail as well as the tenderness of the meat when cooked just right. (Keep reading)

Pierre Herme’s Sweet Tart Dough

Pierre Herme needs no introduction. He is one of France’s preeminent pastry chefs and possibly one of the most recognized names in the business. I wouldn’t imagine myself ever coming close to replicating the lovely creations he stocks his eponymous boutiques with, but when we plan our dinner party menus, I frequently find myself dipping into Desserts by Pierre Herme and Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme, the two books he co-authored with Dorie Greenspan. The recipes range from simple to elaborate, with flavours that are accessible, yet sophisticated. But what I love most is the fact that the recipes are detailed and precise. They work. They reflect Pierre Herme’s innovations, tweaks and personal preferences as a pastry chef. Personally, they exhibit a flavour profile that also appeals to me. The bitterness of chocolate (Pierre prefers Valrhona) isn’t masked with too much sugar. His pastry dough celebrates the glorious flavour of good butter. His simple lemon cream is irresistible when paired with his sweet tart dough. Yet, he doesn’t take himself so seriously as to eschew the use of Nutella in a tart.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been working my way through a series of his tarts. Each successful attempt has made me an ever bigger fan. Most recently, for a group of chocolate lovers (including a friend who retails the stuff himself), I picked the Tarte Grenobloise. Pierre’s rethinking of this classic, as Dorie explains it, is influenced by the all-American pecan pie. A chocolate-almond pate sable tart shell is filled with chocolate ganache and topped with pecans enrobed with caramel. It was rich and heavy, but I certainly relished the tiny, cold wedge of leftovers I polished off the following day! It actually benefitted from chilling and would’ve been perfect washed down with a cold glass of milk. (Keep reading)

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)

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)

Truly great scones

For most guys, scones aren’t exactly the food of our childhoods. They’re things our girlfriends and sisters, mothers and especially our grandmothers, ate. There is absolutely nothing masculine about sitting down for tea and scones. Which meant that for the majority of us boys, during our childhood, it would have been up there with cooties, a trip to the dentist and a haircut. Of course, as we age we get a little wiser and at some point, hopefully a little more genteel. We’re also prone to do anything for the gals in our lives that we love (or think we love) and want to impress. Even if that means sitting through an oh-so-civilized afternoon tea when all we really want to do is hang out with the boys and make fart jokes.

Now, here’s the thing. Most of the scones I have tried throughout my life have been seriously underwhelming. And I’m willing to wager most of my male peers have had similar experiences. I mean, it’s tough enough to sit calmly in an overly romantic and all too prissy atmosphere, string quartet doing serious injustice to Vivaldi, while you sip your Darjeeling from an insanely delicate porcelain cup you’re afraid you’re going to break, all the while trying not to let your significant other have the slightest inkling that you’d rather be in a T-shirt and jeans, throwing back beers and playing video games. You’d hope at the very least that the food you’re being forced to eat — and eat properly (cut scone, spread cream, dollop jam) — wouldn’t taste like dried up cardboard. But most of the scones I’ve tasted, unfortunately, have been hockey puck hard, dry, and spectacularly unappealing. (Keep reading)

Creamy crab croquettes

My always hungry wife S and I are devoted Japanese food addicts. We recently realized that 8 of 10 meals we eat out at are at Japanese restaurants. One reason might be that we’re pretty proficient at cooking most other cuisines, so when heading out of the house, we tend to go somewhere where we can’t get food we could otherwise whip up for each other.

Another, much stronger reason is that we just really love going out for Japanese food. We adore all aspects of Japanese cuisine and are equally happy sitting in some small ramen joint as we are partaking in a highly formal, proper kaiseki dinner. And while I wish we could afford to hit our favourite sushi joint on a weekly basis, doing so would put us in the poor house faster than you could say “aburi toro”. Most often, we go to izakaya style restaurants. An izakaya, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure yet, is a Japanese gastropub, a drinking establishment that also happens to serve darned good food. The dishes are often small and can be easily shared. Which makes them perfect accompaniments for the booze that is often poured (and consumed) quickly and liberally at these establishments. (Keep reading)