Five quirky and cool must-dos when in Tokyo

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Tokyo might be my favorite city in the world. It’s got an amazing mix of world class food, an incredible culture, a rich history and well…lots of quirky and cool things to see and do. Of course when you go to Tokyo, you should go to Shibuya and see the famous crossing, have yakitori and a beer on the street, buy electronics in Akihabara, etc… but there might be some items you should consider adding to your list of must-do things when visiting Tokyo. Continue Reading →

Pantry Basics: Homemade Vanilla Fridge Wipe

Homemade Vanilla Fridge Wipe

Vanilla fridge wipe is a household cleaning product that I first discovered as an undergraduate in Western Australia. It’s a food-safe disinfectant that also smells delicious, which helped to make housework just that tiny bit more tolerable. To my dismay, when I moved back to Singapore, I discovered that it wasn’t sold here. And because it’s highly flammable, I couldn’t purchase it in Australia and take it home with me either! Fortuitously, some years later, I chanced upon a recipe for homemade vanilla fridge wipe in Donna Hay Magazine (in Issue 17, to be precise). Since then, I’ve been happily whipping it up at home.

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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 →

Some great kitchen gear

Like a lot of guys, I’m really into gadgets and gear. And much to my darling wife’s chagrin, because I have (in her opinion) way too many interests, this means I’m constantly oohing and aahing over all kinds of new toys, from the latest smartphone to a custom-made bicycle part to, of course, all kinds of awesome equipment with which to fill our kitchen. Fortunately, this last category is one in which S also shares a passion and hence allows me to indulge my urges to buy shiny new things.

Over the last half year, we’ve picked up a number of nifty items, some of which I like so much that I feel compelled to write about them. Some are simple everyday tools; others are more specialized. All are pretty darned cool and stuff I am sure you will also love.

Lacor Home Vacuum Packing Machine

S and I spotted this small and portable vacuum packer on an early morning trip to Sia Huat, Singapore’s best industrial kitchen supply store. We were surprised by how affordable the unit was. After the ubiquitous Sia Huat discount, given, from what I can tell, to everyone who walks in the store, the vacuum packer was just a little more that SGD$70. With a price like that, we couldn’t help but pick it up, with several packets of Lacor vacuum packing bags. As soon as we got home, S went on a packing spree, vacuum packing nuts and chocolates and a dozen other edible and perishable items that we had lying around our walk-in chiller. The machine has two settings. You can “vacuum & seal” or just “seal”. The latter we have found handy for sealing sauces and cooked foods, which we can then toss into the freezer for later use. (Keep reading)

More kitchen pix

I’ve been very delinquent with blogging recently. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been running around like mad, both here in Singapore and also overseas, where I am working on helping a new client create a stunning 470-seat bar and restaurant. I’ll post more details on that establishment when I am allowed… the one thing I can say is that we’re trying to open it by the end of March 2009.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few more pictures of the kitchen that S and I have built in our new home. As mentioned previously, this is, for us, a dream kitchen to work in, and one we’ll probably spend many (many) months paying off. (Keep reading…)

Dream kitchen

I had a small spot of free time this weekend (which is not normal) and finally got around to taking a few pictures of our new place. And since I promised to post one of our new kitchen, here it is. The kitchen is approximately 4 metres wide by 6 metres long. As you can see, it is all white with black and white hexagonal floor tiles and an island in the middle.

Some of you emailed and left comments asking what S and I consider essential in a well-equipped kitchen. Honestly, all a good kitchen really needs is counter space, pretty good storage space, a hob (gas or induction) with at least 4 zones, good exhaust, an oven, a fridge, and sufficient power points to run a variety of tools and appliances. With these, a good cook should be able to whip up any number of delicious meals. (Keep reading…)

Shopping news

Singapore-based gourmands will be excited to know that Pantry Magic is opening the doors of its first Singapore shop on Monday, 29 Janaury 2007. For those who haven’t visited one of their two stores in Hong Kong or its shop in Taiwan, Pantry Magic is a (relatively) new, Asian chain specializing in cooks’ tools.

My darlin’ wife S and I dropped by the new store while the proprietors were unpacking their wares and setting up their displays. It was pretty exciting to see all the gorgeous product just waiting for eager beavers like me to buy and bring home.

S was especially interested in the wide range of bakeware available while I was literally drooling over the gleaming copper pots and pans filling the store’s shelves. We also really liked the roasting pans that they’ll be selling. It’s hard to find nice pans with upright handles. The store has a pretty amazing range of product. The prices are pretty impressive as well. Because Pantry Magic manufactures a good deal of their own wares, they are able to price their items at 30%-40% less than similar, imported products.

Pantry Magic Pte Ltd.
43 Jalan Merah Saga
Chip Bee Gardens #01-80
Singapore
Tel: 6471 0566

Update: Pantry Magic is now located at #44 Club Street, Tel 6224 4055.

Celebrity spoons

As mentioned in my last post, my wife S is writing her doctoral thesis on celebrity chefs. As you can imagine, she keeps pretty up to date on the latest comings and goings of these famous foodies. It helps that we’re fans of several of them. We buy their books; watch their TV shows; read about them in magazines and newspapers; and try to recreate some of their better recipes. But the one thing we usually draw the line at is buying their branded merchandise (with, for S, the exception of Nigella’s stuff). Too often, these tools are simply ways to pad these celebrities’ already bulging bank accounts and not the kind of things you’d actually use in the kitchen.

S and I, though, are obsessive kitchen tool shopaholics. Whenever and wherever we are, and especially when we’re travelling, we try to suss out cool kitchen stores. We’re always on the look-out for cool or well-made equiptment that isn’t available in our home town. One of the things we’ve (sadly) realized that we can’t easily find here in Singapore are good quality wooden spoons. You would think that given how essential wooden spoons are in cooking, high quality ones should be easy to find anywhere. Amazingly, they’re not. Too many times, the spoons we’ve found at our local neighborhood department stores or kitchen supply stores are cheap and poorly made. And, as expected, even the ones branded by famous foodies, are less than perfect.

Case in point, S recently bought a wooden spoon endorsed by Donna Hay. While she had high hopes for it, after rinsing it and washing it just once, we discovered that water had seeped through the wood. Suffice it to say that the spoon ended up in the trash.

So we were pretty surprised recently when we checked out the range of wooden spoons and other tools that are being sold under Mario Batali’s The Italian Kitchen brand. I’m a big fan of Batali. When I lived in the West Village in New York City, I loved going to Po and ordering his amazing US$25, 5-course pasta dinner. (These days, when visiting my old hometown, I love eating at Lupa, the cool, casual trattoria on Thompson Street.) Despite my inclination for his food, I have to admit that when I first heard that Batali was launching a line of cookware, I was a tad skeptical. But after taking a really close look at some of his products, I have to say that I am impressed. The wooden tools, made from beechwood, are really well made. The handles have a nice thumb groove, making them really comfortable to hold and use. The spoon especially is nice. The edges are nice and fine, making it easy to scoop things up and the impression is actually deep enough to hold the things you want to scoop. It’s also nice that the branding is very subtle. Batali’s name is engraved in small letters on the back of the spoon’s handle.

Hopefully, this is a good step for other celebrity chefs. The worst thing is to be let down by the people we admire. And selling inferior products to one’s fans just to make a quick buck is hardly respectable. I’m happy I’ve found these tools. I intend to try out some of Batali’s other cookware over the next couple of weeks; I’m very turned on by his panini press and risotto pan. I can only hope they are as well-made and useful as these wooden tools have turned out to be.

12 days of Christmas…

While I know that a number of magazines and other fabulous food bloggers have already printed and posted their own holiday gift guides, I thought I’d share my own ideas for what you could buy a loved one, or yourself, this year for Christmas.

And in the spirit of Christmas, I’ve chosen 12 items, one for each day (although admittedly, one of the items below is a range of 7 different things). I’ve also imposed two criteria while putting together this list. The first is that S and I had to have it already. Which means the products showcased here are all tried and tested. I’d never want to recommend something we didn’t have and therefore only knew about second-hand. Everything here is something either I or S loves. Secondly, these holiday picks had to be current. Everything I’ve selected was either first produced this past year (especially the books) or else S and I had acquired it in the last 7 months, meaning it should still be readily available in stores near you.

You’ll note that I’ve numbered the products for ease of identification. Start from the top and slowly work clockwise. Oh, I should add that the products aren’t in any particular order, i.e. number 1 isn’t better than number 7. All of them are awesome and great gifts that should put a smile on the face of any foodie friend or loved one. (Please note that most of the headers below contain hyperlinks to the brand’s pages. Please mouse over to check.)

1. Bodum Columbia Thermo Press
I’ve written about these fantastic coffee makers before. These double-walled, stainless steel, French Press style beauties are as easy to use as they are gorgeous. They not only make great coffee (of course, that implies you’re using good coffee) but also make your table look just that much more stylish.

2. William Yeoward glass cake dome
S has been looking for the perfect cake dome to fit her Bison cake stands (below) for months. Important to her was that the dome’s sides had to relatively straight; domes with sides that curved inwards at too great an angle would be useless for covering layered or high cakes. She finally found her dream dome in, of all places, our local Jim Thompson boutique. William Yeoward’s glass cake dome, like all of his other glassware, crystal and home accessories, is stunning. Its brilliance comes from its simplicity, elegance, and amazing quality, all things Yeoward is famous for. Domes come in several sizes so please measure your cake stand before rushing out to buy one.

3. Bison cake stand
S and I are huge fans of Brian Tunks’ stoneware company. Bison makes the most beautiful, handcrafted ceramics. Of all of his company’s designs, we like his cake stands the most, so much so that we have 3, two larger ones (the black is pictured here) and one tiny one. They’re a joy to touch and they look smashing—which explains why they are so often featured in the pages of Aussie food magazines like Donna Hay and Gourmet Traveller.

4. Chroma Type 301 Chef’s Knife
These FA Porsche-designed knives are sex with a honed edge. Forget Global. These are the designer knives you want. Especially once you handle one. Despite the ultra-modern and angled look, these knives are extremely comfortable to hold and to use. So cool and comfy, in fact, that they are the knives of choice of some of the world’s greatest chefs, notably Alain Ducasse. In Singapore, pick yours up from BATS Singapore.

5. Egg Top Cutter
I know I just mentioned this super-cool, palm-sized product in my last post, but S and I cannot describe just how cool we think this egg top cutter is. Of course, to appreciate it fully, you have to be either a bit of an egg fanatic, which I am, or have aspirations to serve cool eggshell-enclosed dishes, like Thomas Keller’s famous egg custard, at dinner parties, which S has. Singaporeans can buy it at Sia Huat, the cool kitchen-supply store on Temple Street.

6. Porcelain-lined Cast Iron Teapot
This super-cute and gorgeous teapot is one of S’s favourite finds of the year. The second she saw it in the homeware section of Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, she knew she’d be carrying it back home with her. Cast iron, as most of you already know, retains heat beautifully. The porcelain lining ensures that the tea flavours are as pure as can be. How could any tea lover resist such a beautiful find?

7. Bernardaud Tea
Of course, a great tea pot demands great tea. We’ve built up quite a collection of teas, including several wonderful blends from Bernardaud. Of course, I’m a big sucker for great packaging and I really admire the sleek, silver container these come in—perfect for making a good impression on a friend.

8. Cookbooks, cookbooks, and more cookbooks
This was, of course, the hardest category to put together, simply because there have been so many great cookbooks published in 2005. But nonetheless, here’s our picks for the best (in our minds) this year, chosen not so much because of great packaging or content, but based on what we felt were ones we’d end up opening and referring to the most over the coming years (listed from top to bottom).

Neil Perry, The Food I Love
We adore this book. It’s clean, simple, and full of great, gorgeous and easy to make recipes. Who knew that Perry had this book in him? It’s a great and soon to become classic book everyone who appreciates home-cooked food should buy.

Neale Whitaker, The Accidental Foodie
Whitaker is an editorial genius. He’s been the brains behind some of the world’s best food magazines for years and, hence, has worked with some of the world’s best food writers and chefs. This beautiful book, photographed by the hugely talented Petrina Tinslay, collects recipes and stories from and about the foodies that have made a huge impact on Whitaker’s life. It’s both a wonderful love letter to friends and a great collection of delicious-looking dishes.

Jane Lawson, Yoshoku
I’ve also written previously about Lawson’s excellent Western-Japanese book. The recipes in this softcover are mouth-wateringly good and a breeze to make. Everyone should have a copy of Yoshoku.

Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook
I’ve also just written about this beautiful book just last week. I love the look of this book. The design of the pages is exquisite, with real attention here paid to typography and choosing the right color palette. The photographs are sumptuous. And most importantly, the recipes here work. Another baking book I love is Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess. However, I like Lawson’s book more because of its style and tone; also, I’ve found the recipes, especially the baking temperatures, untrustworthy. With Stewart’s book, I’ve discovered that I don’t need to worry about this. The recipes have obviously been tested properly, and everything from the measurements to the temperatures to the timings seem spot on.

Jill Norman’s The Cook’s Book
S loves this DK book because of the way in which editor Norman has brought together some of the world’s best chefs to pen their thoughts and share their cooking techniques. Truly noteworthy is Ferran Adria’s chapter on foam and Pierre Hermé’s chapter on pastry.

Alain Ducasse, Le Grande Livre du Cuisine
What can we say about this book that hasn’t already been said? It’s huge. It’s ridiculously expensive. And every chef has to have a copy, ’nuff said.

Jane Rocca, The Cocktail: 200 Fabulous Drinks (standing)
This fantastically cheeky and pretty book was a recent gift from a friend. The recipes and the copy are marvelous. The graphics are both hilarious and gorgeous. Buy this for the femme fatale that you love drinking with.

9. LSA Otto glasses
S and I both adore glassware. And we’re constantly searching for the perfect water glass, wine glass, lowball glass, etc. These handmade glasses, LSA’s Otto, in a rich brown (they also come clear), are, we think, the perfect water glasses. They fit wonderfully in the hand. They have a nice, comfortable heft. They’re exquisitely made. And they just look damn sexy. Drinking water never felt so chic.

10. Beach shoe from Crocs
First things first, these are not the clogs that Mario Batali wears. He wears Calzuro clogs, which are made for medical practitioners. These, though, especially for those of us working in hot kitchens, are the next best thing. Crocs’ clogs are incredibly comfortable. They are light and airy. And moulded with just the right amount of support to make standing in the kitchen, prepping a 5 course meal for 5 hours, feel like a walk in the park. Seriously, if you spend a lot of time on your feet in the kitchen, you should put on a pair of these.

11. 40cm Staub Oval Cocotte
This is probably S’s favorite acquisition of 2005. This monstrously huge cocotte, big enough to fit a miniature long-haired dachshund and a few of his favorite toys (not that we’d ever actually do that), is perfect for slow-roasting and braising everything from a leg of lamb, a chicken and a couple of lobsters, or lamb shanks for 8. While it is rather expensive, it’s a worthwhile investment and, if treated properly, it should last you a lifetime. In Singapore, buy yours from BATS Singapore.

12. Nigella Lawson Serving Hands
I love all of Nigella’s Living Kitchen products. These salad forks are more rustic than a lot of her other things, but they’re very well-made and a joy to use. It, of course, doesn’t hurt that they look really sexy as well.

Well, that’s it. 12 fabulous gifts for yourself or your loved one(s). I’m off to Bangkok tonight for a few days. Good luck with your Christmas shopping!