The Porthole – My beautiful new cocktail infusion vessel

Porthole shot

Please indulge me for the next few paragraphs as I show off my latest toy. The Porthole, the sexiest infusion vessel known to man, is one of those products that you absolutely have to get for no other reason than its general gorgeousness. I’m an absolute sucker for great design, and this piece of kitchen porn I got off Kickstarter was well worth the one year wait.
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Quick fix: review of the Aeropress

Aeropress

Last year, to celebrate my first full year in the working world, I got myself a Hario Cold Water Dripper. It reminded me that it’s okay to take it slow once in a while and make time for inconsequential delight, such as cold drip coffee. This year, to mark my second year of employment, I typed emails past midnight, was behind schedule on all my posts for this website, and had to give up Pilates for three whole weeks. It was around then – approximately the first week of July – that I decided I needed an Aeropress, because while the Hario is a most excellent office companion, sometimes, ain’t nobody got time for that.  Continue Reading →

Amazing sous-vide candied apples with apple cake

apple cake with sous-vide poached apples

A few weeks back, I updated my page in which I list my favourite tools. The list pretty much covers my camera gear (plus the Olympus OM-D I don’t own yet but dream of daily), my favourite knives and knifemakers, and the equipment I use for sous vide cooking. While I previously championed the SousVide Supreme, these days, my wife S and I are lucky enough to be using the coolest, smallest (and comparatively affordable) chamber vacuum packer on the market, the Vacmaster VP112EU, and the Addelice swid, a beautifully designed (and also comparatively affordable) immersion circulator. Continue Reading →

Zen and the art of cold brew coffee: Review of the Hario Cold Water Dripper

I’ve been fascinated with cold brew coffee since I read about it a couple years ago. Being a caffeinehead in Singapore means drinking a ton of iced coffees – the weather is often too hot for regular coffees or espressos, even in the air-conditioned comfort of my office – and I’d always felt that the conventional method of simply pouring steaming hot coffee over ice compromised the flavour profile of the beans somewhat. The cold brew method, which favours a slow steeping process over the shock therapy of adding boiling water, seemed a lot more elegant; but I’d never been able to find a product that satisfied both my vain predilections and my cold caffeine curiosity. That is, until I discovered the Hario Cold Water Dripper. Continue Reading →

New West Knifeworks

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a real weakness when it comes to well-designed, beautifully-made kitchen knives. I count myself super lucky to be the owner of a real Bob Kramer knife (as opposed to the Kershaw/Shun ones from Sur La Table). I also count the Japanese knives in my collection among the best I have ever worked with. And, like any obsessive collector, I’m always on the lookout for new names and exciting new designs.

So, when I was contacted by the fine folks at New West Knifeworks, I was extremely excited. I had a read a few snippets about their forged knives over the past year but doubted I’d get my hands on one anytime soon (the range of brands available in our local stores here in Sillypore being sadly limited). I both admired the philosophy behind New West’s approach to making knives as well as their artistic flair, exemplified best in the colourful handle designs in their Fusionwood line. Of the two lines, the Phoenix Knives and the Fusionwood, it was hard for me to decide which was more appealing. To be completely honest, the Fusionwood knives had an immediate visual appeal because of the gorgeous handles, made by infusing hardwood veneers with penetrating dies and engineering-grade phenolic resins. They reminded me of artworks one would see travelling through the American Southwest. On the other hand, the Phoenix Knives had more immediately applealing blades. The Fusionwood blades are cut from high-carbon Swedish stainless steel and then ground and finished in Seki, Japan. The Phoenix blades, on the other hand, combines a tool steel core and layers of Damascus steel. Sixteen layers of Damascus steel are forged together and the forge-welded onto the extra high-carbon stainless tool-steel sheet by master knife makers in Seki. The result is a gorgeous, thin but durable blade that can keep a very finely honed edge. (Keep reading)

Holiday Gift Guide 2007

Well, it’s that time of the year again. Time for giving and receiving joy, hope, charity, good tidings and, of course, gifts. This year, S and I have picked 12 (well, actually 16, but 4 are in the same category) wonderful gifts ranging from the very affordable to the uber-splurge that we love (own) and highly recommend. And–as we did two years ago, when we first started posting our holiday gift guide–we’ve picked 12 things to signify the 12 days of Christmas. So, happy holidays and happy shopping. (Note that most titles below also a hyperlink to the product or brand.)

1. Eva Solo Fridge Carafe
I personally adore these fridge carafes. The neoprene cases come in 5 brilliant colors (black, red, yellow, blue and green). They’re perfect for keeping your water, juice, milk or other liquids cool. And they look sexy and feel luxurious. They’re also designed perfectly. They sit upright in most fridge door shelves and the rubber stopper keeps your liquids fresh. The bottle has a flip-top lid that helps prevent spillage if you’ve added ice cubes into the carafe for some super cooling.

2. Baccarat Glasses
S is currently obsessed with collecting (thankfully, collecting slowly) Baccarat glasses. Last year, we spent a week in December in Osaka, Japan. While there, we had drinks a few times at B Bar, a stunning Baccarat-owned cocktail bar (it also has branches in Tokyo). All drinks, as you can imagine, are served in gorgeous Baccarat glasses. Since then, S has been determined to have her own collection of cool Baccarat crystal to serve cocktails in. Buy your Baccarat both old and new. While the one on the left is brand new, we bought the one on the right (a vintage Rohan tumbler) on eBay ridiculously cheaply.

3. Black Solstice plastic cocktail shakers from Habitat Bangkok
To help you make those drinks that you are going to serve in those chic Baccarat galsses, you’ll need a couple of cocktail shakers. While it’s great to have one stunning silver one, I find that it’s also very useful to have several cheaper ones lying around. That way, you can make several drinks at one time. These black plastic shakers from Habitat in Bangkok are less then US$5 a piece (on sale that is, they are normally priced at US$10), which makes them perfect for either hoarding at home or giving to friends.

4. Cusipro silicone baking spatula with stainless steel handle
S believes these are the very best spatulas she’s ever used. First, of course, is the silicone, which is heat-resistant, non-stick and a breeze to clean. It also makes this spatula super efficient at scraping every last bit of cake batter from your mixing bowl. Then there’s the great design, the sexy metal handle and all the colors you can choose from (ours is from a couple of seasons back). This is not just a great gift but a kitchen-essential. In Singapore, get your Cuisipro products direct from the distributor, Razorsharp.

5. KitchenAid Stand Mixer
Sure, it’s expensive. But doesn’t your loved one deserve only the very best? The KitchenAid Stand Mixer is THE mixer, the standard by which all other mixers are measured (and the only one your loved one really wants anyway). The fact that it looks amazing and comes in a variety of colors only makes this incredible kitchen-tool that much sexier.

6. Microplane Rotary 39000 Series grater
S and I have tested a lot of graters over the years. And the one we’ve come to love the most is this rotary grater (we’re onto our second one, and this is truly a new and improved version). The easy to use handle makes grating mountains of the fluffiest shavings of cheese the simplest task in the world. Where we used to argue about who would get stuck grating the cheese for pasta dishes and other foods, now we both volunteer for the duty. The 39000 Series grater comes with two blades for grating different kinds of foods. S also loves it because it can be adapted for left-handed use. In Singapore, you can purchase Microplane products from Ruiter Far East. Email heng@ruiter.com.sg.

7. Teastick by Gamila
Some of the coolest things come in very small packages. S and I love Gamila’s teastick for its size, design and usefulness. The tiny stainless steel tea-steeping tool is slim and sexy. To make a cup of tea, slide open the tea stick, pack your tea in, slide it shut and slip your teastick into a cup of very hot water. When done, remove. The water flows through perforated holes in your teastick, but the leaves stay trapped inside. It’s also easy to wash and dry. And at US$18, you can easily afford to have several, a couple for home, one for travel and one for the office.

8. Some very special books
It’s no secret that S and I love books. Here are 4 that we think make great stocking stuffers this year.

Ashley by Heng San San
Singaporean Heng San San lost her daughter Ashley two years ago. This beautiful child was just seven years old; she was five when she was diagnosed with malignant tumors in her brain. This moving children’s book, illustrated gorgeously by Ximena of Lobster Squad, talks about Ashley and her love for food, how she got sick and then how she came to terms with both her illness and her religious beliefs. This is a very beautiful book. San San self-published it and is selling copies at just S$25. Further, all proceeds are going to a children’s charity in the Philippines. To buy a copy, contact San San at bookashley@gmail.com.

Happy Now! by Karen Yeo
The story behind this book is also pretty moving. A little while ago, a lovely old woman named Lee Kim Wah was conned of her entire life savings. She had worked for most of her life as a nanny and housekeeper. Karen Yeo was one of the persons who Ms Lee helped raise. When she learned about what happened, she tried to help her get her money back and the conmen arrested, eventually to no avail. Trying to find a way to help Ms Lee get back on her feet, Ms Yeo and some friends decided to produce a cookbook of Ms Lee’s recipes. Friends had always said that her homecooked Singaporean and Malaysian food was some of the best they’d ever eaten. All the proceeds from sales of this book are being given to Ms Lee. To purchase, please go here.

Wine Dinners: Pairing Asian Flavours with Bordeaux Wines by NK and Melina Yong
Dr NK Yong is one of Asia’s most famous wine collectors. His wife Melina is a legendary cook. Over the past two to three decades, these two have been instrumental in introducing fine wine to Asia and in introducing Asia to winemakers from around the world. This is their first book, a small volume that presents 12 wine dinners, each focused on the wines of a very special Chateau in Bordeaux. This book is also special to me as S was the book’s co-author. Wine Dinners is currently only available at bookstores in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and through Swindon’s in Hong Kong. Melina is also auctioning off a private cooking class at the Miele Active Kitchen in Singapore to raise funds for the Children Cancer Foundation. The reserve price for the entire session for 10 people (including a four-course meal with wines) is $3,888. Interested donors are invited to submit their bids (along with their full names and contact details) to Cheryl Yuen at cheryl.yuen@miele.com.sg.

In the Land of Cocktails by Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan
This lovely little tome is written by cocktail divas, Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan, proprietors of the legendary New Orleans restaurant Commander’s Palace. It is naughty and nice, and filled with great cocktail history and recipes that will inspire you to re-introduce the cocktail hour (as it was first practised) into your social calendar.

9. Indonique teas
Indonique Tea & Chai operated a cafe and wholesale busines on Magazine Street in New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina. During this horrific storm, the whole business was literally destroyed. Since then, owners Daya and George Constance have moved to Connecticut and re-opened their business. As you can imagine, it’s been tough. Please support this couple as they try to get their feet on the ground again. Their Indian teas are excellent and by buying from them, you’re helping a very worthy enterprise.

10. 1995 Les Echansons from Mailly Grand Cru Champagne
What’s the holiday season without Champagne? This season, I’m drinking a classic Champagne from a classic house. The 1995 Les Echansons from Mailly Grand Cru is simply beautiful. And, for all Singaporean readers, I have arranged a special deal in case you want some for yourself or to send to a friend. This Champagne is normally priced at S$195. I have arranged with the distributor, Estima, to make 14 parcels of 3 bottles available at S$420 nett (including free delivery). That is a savings of S$165. Again, only 14 parcels are available, so act fast. Email eric@estima.com.sg to place your order.

11. Louis Vuitton European City Guide 2008
I am addicted to these city guides and buy every edition every year religiously. They’re beautifully designed, surprisingly well-researched and just plain cool to have, look at and touch. Every global nomad will love this amazing box set.

12. Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2
I’ve written before how much I love this little but powerful point and shoot. With easy to use programmes, optional manual controls and a Leica lens, this is the best, small travel camera I’ve found to date. Give it to your favourite shutterbug and make his or her year.

A few travel essentials

As I said in my last post, I travel a lot, mostly because of work. Over the past year, I think I was away from home an average of 10-12 days each month. I’ve already started planning next year’s business trips and it looks like that average might even increase. Because I’m away so often, I’ve taken to packing certain items on each and every trip — what I consider travel essentials. Some of you might consider some of these items frivolous or self-indulgent, but when you’re on the road a lot, you start to develop certain needs.

I’ve decided to share a few of my favourite travel essentials with you. Of course, just because they’re things that I feel the need to tote doesn’t mean they’re right for you. In fact, I’d be extremely keen to know what some of your own must-bring-on-a-trip items are. I’d like to invite all of you to leave a comment and tell the world what your own travel essentials are. And, when you do, you’ll qualify for a little lucky draw I’ve decided to run. Because I’m actually very interested in what you feel the need to pack on each trip, I’m giving away two (one red and one black) X-Mini speakers to one of you. Just leave a somewhat articulate comment by 12 November 2007 to qualify. I’ll pick a name at random and email you if you win.

So, here’s a list of just a few of my favourite essentials, as pictured and numbered above:

1. A great shoulder bag. I have a small weakness for slightly old-fashioned bags. One of my favourites is an old camera case that my sister-in-law picked up for me at a flea market in Australia. I don’t like carrying my computer around when I’m out (I’d rather lock it up in my hotel room), so I don’t need or like my bags too big. If it can fit a camera, a notebook, a map and maybe my guidebook, then I’m thrilled. I picked up this very cool Japanese case from Actually on Seah Street in Singapore.

2. Snacks that you can bring on-board. In the good old days, you could take any kind of food on your flight. But today, travel and safety regulations require us to find foods packaged in quantities of less than 3 ounces, or roughly 90 ml/grams. I recently discovered Kojima Mentai Sakiika, sold in 20g packets. I’ve always liked dried cuttlefish; it has a wonderful umaminess that makes it quite addictive. This version is spiked with mentaiko, spicy cod roe, which makes it even more delicious. Amazingly, I found this at OG, a rather large and ghastly department store that is inexplicably always crowded. And while I once shunned the place, I now make regular visits in order to stock up on this savoury snack.

3. Canned goose meat. Okay, the name sounds a lot better in French. I love rillettes d’oie. And before those previously-mentioned pesky airline rules came into being, this was my preferred in-flight snack. I would never board a plane without a can of this delicious, rich pate made with slow cooked and shredded goose meat. With a hunk of bread (or a few standard-issue bread rolls), it makes a wonderful substitute for the crap most airlines pass off as food. Now, I pack it along in my check-in luggage. You never know when you might get peckish and, to me at least, there’s nothing more satisfying than a can of rillettes d’oie.

4. Good quality tea. My darling and finicky wife S loves tea. More specifically, she loves really good tea. I have to agree with her that there’s something really soothing about ending one’s day, especially a hectic day abroad, with a cup of your favourite brew. S’s current favourite is an amazing blend called Polo Club Tea, created by a relatively new (and soon to be huge) tea company called TWG Tea. The man behind TWG Tea was previously responsible for making some of Mariage Freres’ best known and most interesting teas. Polo Club is a green tea with vanilla, fruits, flowers and, amazingly, little chunks of caramel. TWG Tea is just starting up, and their website isn’t ready, but if you want to know more about them and their many fantastic blends, you can email Ada at Ada.Zee@TheWellnessGroup.com.

5. A small but really (REALLY) good camera. When I went searching for a good, small camera to throw in my carry-on, I drew up a list of must-have functions. It had to had manual aperture controls. It had to be able to open to as wide an aperture setting as possible. It had to have a great lens. It needed to have a custom white balance setting. I had to be able to shoot at a pretty high ISO without too much noise. And it had to look great. At the time of purchasing, the camera that I felt best fit the bill was the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2. The camera is almost identical to the Leica D-Lux 3 but with a more reasonable price tag. I’ve been using the LX2 for months with some pretty fantastic results. And while it will never replace my DSLRs, it’s a great option when I don’t want to lug heavy gear around. Another camera you might want to consider and that I’ve been hearing great things about is the Canon G9. I fully intend to go play with one soon!

6. Wireless stereo headphones. My Capdase HSDG01 headphones are totally an indulgence but I love them anyway. I can plug the dongle into any audio output, including airline seats (using an adapter, which I also always carry), sync the headphones and I’ve got great sound without being tethered to anything, which I really can’t stand.

7. X-Mini speaker. I just wrote about these last week. Click here if you missed it.

8. A good guidebook that suits your needs. I own a lot of travel guides. And I help, on occasion, write them. When I’m actually on the road, I hate carrying anything that adds extra weight to my luggage. So, I really value short, compact but informative guides that are tailored to specific tastes. These days, I tend to be less driven by culture and more by what great shops and restaurants are in any given destination. My favourite guides that specialize in this kind of information are the Louis Vuitton European City Guides and the Luxe Guides. The Wallpaper City Guides aren’t bad, depending on the city you’re interested in visiting (i.e. some are pretty good, while others are awful). My best advice is to do all your research before you go anywhere. Take down any and all info that you think you’ll need. Then pack just one guide to bring along; pack the lightest and/or the one you feel will be the most useful for you.

9. The ultimate white balance tool. My ExpoDisc is one of my most valuable and important photographic tools, whether on the road or shooting at home. Setting a proper white balance is vital when shooting. But setting it properly can also be an annoying and inconsistent process. The ExpoDisc makes this process ultra-simple and amazingly accurate. While I was at first a little hesitant about picking one of these up (especially given the costs) and a little skeptical, after a few uses, I’ve become a believer and huge advocate. With this tool, shooting in any location becomes easy. And for anyone out there who has ever tried to set their white balance discretely in a crowded restaurant, this tool will change your life. Any and every photographer out there should carry one of these around with her.

10. A portable DVD player. This really gorgeous DVD player has been a life saver. Not every airline is like Singapore Airlines, with video-on-demand, and not every hotel has a TV. And some that do, don’t have any channels worth watching. My Philips PET830 has kept me from going crazy from boredom on planes, ferries, in hotels, and in airport waiting rooms. It’s small, easy to carry, has amazing clarity, and a nice, long battery life — I can easily watch 2-3 movies when fully charged.