Friday, December 30, 2005

Steamed Strands of Wonder

Before you read further on, take a look at the photo below and try to guess what the translucent strands are.
Sharkfin Melon Salad with mushrooms
If you say 'beehoon' (rice-flour thin noodles) or 'tunghoon' (glass noodles).... buzz... buzzz... buzzzzzing you out for the wrong answer! These translucent strands are actually from a melon!

I discovered Shark's fin melon (yu chi gua, in Cantonese) some months back, and have been happily using them in chinese-style brewed soups. A picture of this particular melon can be found in my previous post "Sharkfins in Melon?". Its moniker is probably derived from the fact that the cooked flesh of this melon separates into translucent strands, very akin to strands of shark's fin. Tastewise, though, it is actually quite different from real shark's fins, the latter being fishy/briny in flavor and slightly crunchy to the bite while the melon strands retain their melon flavor with texture that is somewhat like softened 'tunghoon' (glass noodles).

Recently, whilst flipping through local Chef Sam Leong's first cookbook offering A Wok Through Time, I was easily persuaded by his unusual way of serving Shark's Fin Melon with Nameko Mushrooms marinated with a sesame light soy sauce dressing. Without much ado, I was soon hauling back such a melon from the supermarket.
  • Chef Leong's method calls for an entire melon, to which he cuts the top-cap off, scrapes out and discards the seeds, before filling the melon with lightly salted water and steaming. As an entire melon would be far too much, I sliced the melon in half, and sprinkling some salt on the cut surface, I steamed the melon-half with rind on for about half an hour, or until the flesh is soft and tender.
  • Discarding the salted water, the soft flesh is scraped out and you will see the strands breaking apart. Set aside.
  • I substituted nameko mushrooms (a tad difficult to locate at our local markets) with brown hon shimeji mushrooms (or beech mushrooms) instead, which I lightly blanched in boiling water.
  • The mushrooms are mixed in with the melon strands. Dressing for this dish comprised a little bit of sesame oil, light soy sauce, white vinegar and chinese huatiao jiu (cooking wine).
Garnished with some chopped chinese parsley, this dish of steamed shark's fin melon strands and mushrooms is truly healthy eating, concentrating on the texture of the melon strands and the light dressing.
Sharkfin Melon Salad
As the melon strands absorb well the flavors of any stock in which they are simmered, I am thinking that the next natural progression for this dish is to add the melon strands to a more flavorful broth (chicken or abalone), let the whole dish stand for a short while to allow the flavors to be absorbed by the melon strands and maybe, just before serving, steamed for a bit to warm the dish up. No prizes for guessing what will be in my grocery shopping cart this weekend!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Dutiful Wife's Contribution

Hubby was super nice to me the week before Christmas. In between the smiles and hugs, he let slipped that he was having a Christmas office pot-luck lunch last Friday and wondered whether his lovely wife would make him a little something to share with his office colleagues. As you never know when extra 'brownie points' may come in handy in the future, the dutiful wife said 'yes'. With that Friday being a working day for me and his pot-luck lunch being served at noontime, my only solution was to cook something none-too-elaborate in the early morning which could be easily reheated at noon without too much deterioration to taste and presentation.
Shepherd's Pie came to mind, although the one that I made should really be called a Cottage Pie, on account of it containing minced beef instead of the traditional minced or cubed lamb meat.

Half a Shepherd's Pie
  • a couple of russet burbank potatoes (between 6 to 8 medium-sized potatoes) were boiled until they were soft, and then mashed with some butter (about 2 heaped tablespoons), fresh milk (about 3 tablespoons), salt and pepper to taste, and set aside
  • for the meat filling, I sauted some chopped onions in oil before adding the minced beef (about 600g to 700g - depending on how big your casserole dish is) and stir-frying until the beef changes color. To this, I added some salt, pepper, a cup of chicken stock, a tablespoon of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce and some dark soya sauce. The latter was included to add some color to the minced meat filling (a very Chinese thing, which I also subscribe to personally as I don't really like my meat too pale in color). Diced carrots are also added in for earthy color contrasts and sweetness.
  • the meat filling is cooked and simmered in the broth for about 10 minutes so that the meat is moistened, and then 3 to 4 tablespoons of cornflour dissolved in a little water is stirred into the meat filling. The cornflour mixture helps to thicken the gravy and at the same time, coats the minced beef for a slightly smoother texture. I prefer my meat filling with thickened gravy coating the minced meat and diced carrots rather than with a diluted form of liquid gravy.
  • filling is spooned into a casserole dish and topped with the mashed potato mixture. A fork is then used to run across the surface of the mashed potato layer to create ridges which, after being baked in the oven, will pick up not only lovely shades of brown but also some crispy bits.
  • the pie is baked in a preheated oven of 200C for about 30 minutes or so until the top is slightly browned as in pic.

Although, I had to wake up a little bit earlier than usual to get this dish prepared, I still had time to snap a couple of pics and the end result on Friday morning was most satisfying, with a peck on the cheek from hubby as he carted the casserole dish out of the door. Will remind hubby of the extra 'brownie points' at the appropriate time in the future!

Sherpherd's Pie

Monday, December 26, 2005

A Christmas Dinner at Home

Each Christmas season, we get inundated with the usual roast turkey (usually a tad dry), honey-baked ham, smoked salmon and tasteless brussels sprouts when doing the whirlwind tour of Christmas lunches and office parties. Not willing to stomach another morsel of turkey breastmeat, this Christmas eve saw me marinating lamb shanks instead. This was extremely risky (to say the least) since lamb shanks would be the only meat item on the dinner menu. Nevertheless, I was praying that the lamb shanks braised in red wine and cinnamon (recipe courtesy of Tyler Florence's Eat This Book) would make converts of my parents and hubby, who are not exactly fans of lamb.
  • The lamb shanks are first seasoned with salt and black pepper. Fresh thyme and rosemary herbs are then broken up to release their wonderful aromatic oils and rubbed and scattered over the shanks. Lemon zest from 1 lemon, a couple of halved garlic cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 bay leaves, a teaspoon of whole black peppercorns and a tablespoon of sugar are added to the shanks before pouring 3/4 of a bottle of red wine (I used a Cabernet Merlot) over the shanks. The whole bowl of ingredients is then covered and left in the refrigerator overnight (minimum 6 hours). Marinating with red wine over such an extended length of time helps to tenderize the lamb meat and to a certain extent removes the strong odors of lamb meat.
  • As I was preparing for Christmas dinner, my lamb shanks stayed in the refrigerator for more than 12 hours. The next afternoon, the lamb shanks were removed from the marinade (do not throw away) and they had taken on the red hues of the red wine. After patting dry with paper towels, the shanks were dredged in plain flour which had been seasoned with salt and pepper.
  • Heating a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in my Le Creuset dutch oven over a medium fire, I sauted the lamb shanks until they are a nice brownish color (about 8 minutes or so). The rest of the marinade is then added to the pot and brought to a simmer.
  • 2 cups of chicken stock, a cup of onions (Tyler recommends pearl onions, but I used a combination of red shallots and big yellow onions, quartered) and a handful of green olives are then added to the pot, the whole thing brought to a boil , before reducing the heat to low and simmered slowly for 2 hours, covered.
  • Tyler's recipe also called for the addition of chopped carrots and whole dried apricots together with the chicken stock in the earlier step, but as I didn't want my carrots to be too mushy, I added both items (carrots and dried apricots) in the last half hour or so.
  • Food Network has kindly reproduced the entire step-by-step original recipe from Tyler Florence and you can print the same from here.
Braised Lamb Shanks
This is truly an easy dish that does not require one to spend too much time in the kitchen. With most of the prep work for the marinading done the night before and only some minimum prep work (peeling of onions and carrots) required on the afternoon of the dinner, I sat back and relaxed on Christmas Day (catching up on some internet surfing and merry wishing to other foodbloggers) while the entire pot simmered slowly away on the stove-top, and tantalizing aromas wafted in from the kitchen. When ready, transfer to a serving platter, scatter a couple of cilantro leaves and dinner is ready. The lamb meat was tender and falling off its bone, and the red-wine sauce with the combination of the various herbs, chicken stock, carrots, onions, olives and apricots, was both sweet and flavorful, quite irresistible accompanied with mashed potatoes and crusty bread.

For sides, we had two vegetable dishes, which again were a breeze to prepare (each not taking more than 15 minutes or so), and yet unusual in their presentation style that they are deserving of a place at the Christmas dinner-table.
Prosciutto-wrapped Salad
The first is Prosciutto-wrapped Salad. My fascination with prosciutto continues, and this time, I found a recipe in ABC's Delicious Nov 2005 edition which featured this lovely thin salty and flavorful parma ham wrapped around salad leaves instead of the usual wedges of rock-melon.
  • French beans which had been trimmed, cooked quickly in boiling water, and refreshed in cold water, are added to a combination of salad leaves and drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to season and set aside.
  • Each prosciutto slice is laid out diagonally on the chopping board, a handful of beans and salad leaves are placed on the prosciutto slice, some roasted pinenuts are added and fresh parmesan cheese finely grated on top. The prosciutto slice is then rolled up and transferred to the serving platter.
  • Dressing for this dish is made from a whisked mixture of balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, a teaspoon of chopped fresh garlic, a pinch of dried chilli flakes, some chopped cilantro (flat-leaf parsley, if you can find).
  • I thoroughly enjoyed this dish as the salty matured flavor of the prosciutto is balanced quite well against the crunchy beans and salad leaves and the slight chilli-hot sourish dressing. A really simple-to-make yet impressive-looking vegetable dish.
Saute Chinese Cabbage2
The second vegetable dish is Saute Chinese Cabbage, this time from the creative world-class Nobu Matsuhisa. From his inspirational Nobu Now cookbook, this dish was the simplest recipe that I could find and reproduce in the home kitchen. Using just 3 ingredients - chinese cabbage, flaked salt and black pepper - the sweetness of the cabbage is amplified by its method of preparation.
  • the cabbage leaves are first separated, and then arranged on a large sheet of aluminium foil, one on top of each other in alternating directions so that they lie flat and are of even thickness. The foil-sheet is then rolled with the cabbage within (just like rolling a sushi-roll) - pressing the cabbage down so that there is little space between the leaves.
  • the entire roll of foil-sheet covered cabbage is then tied with butcher's string at various 2-inch intervals, and is then cut into cylinders of about 1-1/2 inches to 2 inches long.
  • the tops of the cabbage cylinders are scattered with salt and pepper, before placing them into a saute-pan heated with a generous amount of light olive oil. Saute on both sides of the cut ends, until the edges are slightly browned and the cabbage cooked (but not too long such that the cabbage leaves become shrivelled).
  • remove foil before serving, though I have taken a pic of the cabbage cylinder in foil and without.
  • Nobu's version is topped very dramatically with ito togarashi (long red chillies cut lengthwise in really fine long threads to use as a garnish). Not being able to reproduce such fine long threads, I took the easy way out and used pork floss dotted with bits of seaweed as the garnish.
Saute Chinese Cabbage
This was everyone's fav vegetable dish, as the succulent juiciness and sweetness of the cabbage is the main focus and the dish is none too oily from the olive oil used for sauteing. The ingenious use of the aluminium foil keeps the heat and steam within the cabbage leaves while cooking and that, I suppose, accounts for the wonderful flavors as we bite into the cabbage rolls.

Three very easy dishes to share with all of you, so that you don't have to break your back in the kitchen over a festive meal.

Wishes to one and all for a peaceful and bountiful year ahead and here's to more adventurous, wholesome, comforting and satisfying meals to come!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Xi Yan - Simple Yet Exquisite

Xi YanBehind this bright orange-red wall on the 2nd level of 38A Craig Road, a memorable Asian culinary experience is about to unfold. But first, you need to locate this wall and there are no signboards (neon or otherwise) at street level to assist you. In fact, you will not even see the number 38A until you step into a small garden walled-enclosure and walk towards a staircase lighted with flickering tea-lights.

Welcome to Xi Yan, a dining experience that would probably only be repeated once every quarter, for no other reason than its reservation book being completely filled with 3 months advance bookings. With only 6 tables accomodating 6 to 12 guests per table, the long waiting list is explained, tho' that certainly does not explain why anyone would agree to wait that long for a table, considering that most of us scream bloody murder at our wait-staff when made to wait longer than 30 minutes for a table at any Chinese restaurant. To understand the reason(s), you need to make a reservation at Xi Yan for dinner.

Xi Yan, which started life in Hong Kong five years ago, has only given birth to its Singapore branch not more than 5 or 6 months ago. With no neon signboards, no ala carte menus and strict dinner commencement times ("we like to start dinner promptly at 7.30 p.m., please don't be late", Kent, the manager tells us), we feel as if we're attending a personal dinner party at a friend's home. And this feeling asserts itself when you enter the dining area made warm by the red accented walls, wooden floors, deep maroon curtains, accented lighting and lovely Chinese paintings hung on and left standing against the walls, and most importantly, the warm smiles of the service staff.

XY Prancing Lobster in Dual SaucesDinner is a 12-course affair. There is only one set menu, and guests dine on whatever the chef dishes out for the night. You may say, isn't that just plain arrogance? Or maybe, it's just confidence on their part that you are likely to enjoy most if not all of the courses?

Our 1st appetizer, the "Prancing Lobster in Dual Sauces" was an excellent start to the evening, served with a mint sauce and a light chilli-belachan sauce. Personally, I couldn't get enough of the mint sauce, with its added touch of butter. Even after the last of the lobster meat had been polished off the plate, we insisted on retaining these two dipping sauces at the table.

XY Tomatoes in Sesame Sauce
The 2nd appetizer, Japanese Tomatoes in Sesame Sauce, was a delightful eye-catching display of huge chilled red tomatoes (cut into wedges) and drizzled lavishly with a sesame sauce (made, I think, with sesame paste, a touch of vinegar, soy sauce and a bit of sugar). One of Xi Yan's signature dishes, I'm told, and easily reproduced in the home kitchen - now if I can only find those huge Japanese tomatoes without having to empty the contents of my wallet too drastically.

XY Cold TofuThe 3rd appetizer, Cold Tofu with Pork Floss, had soft silky-smooth tofu topped with fried shallots, pork floss and crumbled salted egg yolks, sitting in a huge bowl of tasty shabu-shabu sauce mixed with a bit of soya sauce and sesame oil. A very simple dish, with that touch of difference given by the salted egg yolks and the lovely sauce.

By now, you will note that Xi Yan does not serve exotic or expensive food items. Its strength lies in the various sauces prepared as accompaniment to the dishes, its excellent food presentation style and that quirky single (or more) different ingredient(s) that changes an ordinary dish into a culinary experience. More than once during this dinner, we had a couple of smacks to the head while exclaiming, "now, why didn't I think of that before?".

XY Stewed RadishThe 4th appetizer, Stewed Radish in Abalone Sauce, had radishes which had fully absorbed the flavors of the abalone sauce in which it had been stewed. The soft radishes contrasted well with the topping of spongy fish roe, crispy bacon bits, and bits of shredded seaweed. Doesn't it look lovely and appetizing - this is saying a lot for radish, a humble vegetable which is not exactly a favourite for most?

XY Cloud-Ears with WasabeThe 5th and last appetizer, Cloud Ears with Wasabi, is basically crunchy cloud ear mixed with a shabu shabu sauce heavily tinged with wasabi and sesame oil. This salad-like dish (which I liked for the 'wasabi-kick') was the only one that had some left-overs in the bowl, partly because not many of my dining companions are wasabi-lovers and largely because after 5 courses, everyone was waiting for the first of the main courses to appear, and had begun to pace ourselves to achieve maximum mileage for this dinner.

XY Roast Pig CheekThe 1st main course, Roast Pork Cheek, arrived in a long platter garnished with thin strips of kaffir lime leaves and diced lime pieces at the end of the platter. Xi Yan does not serve exotic, but it sure serves an unusual part of the pig that is truly tender. Place a few diced pieces of lime on the thin slices of 'sophisticated char siew', and dip into a fish sauce mixed with lime juice, sugar, shredded kaffir lime leaves, sliced chilli, chopped shallots and parsley, and enjoy the wonderful combination of tastes created.

XY Spicy Sichuan Chicken
The 2nd main course, Spicy Sichuan Chicken, or its Mandarin name "Kou Shui Ji" (Salivating Chicken) lived up to its 'moniker'. Steamed tender chicken served on a bed of 'konnyaku' vermicelli and diced preserved eggs on the side (to reduce the heat of the dish), and mixed in a 'mala' Sichuan hot and spicy sauce, garnished with roasted peanuts, sesame and chopped parsley. This dish comes in three degrees of 'hot' - (1) original, (2) medium and (3) mild. We settled for medium and that was plenty hot for most of us, cos' Sichuan peppercorns have a tendency for slow but steady increase in burning-tongue sensations.

XY Shrimp-Sauce Garoupa on Pomelos3rd main course, Shrimp Sauce Garoupa with Pomelo, saw a very fresh fish coated with shrimp paste (har cheong) and deep-fried, creating a nice contrast of salty flavors from the crispy outer skin of the fish against its sweet tender flesh. Again, the bed of pomelo and bits of diced water-chestnut with a tangy lime dressing was an interesting accompaniment for this deep-fried fish.

XY Crab-Roe Glutinous RiceHaving earlier espied this 4th main course from the menu, Crab Roe Glutinous Rice, we had waited with bated breath for its appearance. Served in a lotus leaf on a bamboo steamer, the steamed glutinous rice mixed with dried shrimps, black mushrooms, shredded dried scallops, diced yam and crab roe, was fragrant and had absorbed the taste of the crabs which had been steamed on top of the rice. This was a huge favourite at the table, evidenced by the lack of any substantial grains of glutinous rice at the end of this course.

Having gone thru' 5 appetizers and 4 main courses culminating in the carbo-strong but delicious glutinous rice, we were quite ready to throw in the towel. At this stage, Xi Yan throws in its trump card - it served a platter of fruits (slices of apple, chinese pear, jambu and guava) which had been soaked in a sour plum juice (mixed with sugar and some ume plum wine). A wonderful palate cleanser, the fruits incredibly stirred the appetites again! Truly, we were just being plain greedy. The next course was a clear Coconut Chicken Soup, basically a chicken herbal soup with an extra ingredient, coconut slices.

XY Braised MushroomsThe last main course arrived, a simple bowl of Braised Mushrooms with Pickled Cucumber. I didn't think I could stomach anymore food and yet, with chopsticks in hand, I place a morsel of mushroom in my mouth. Immediately, the woody smoky flavors of the mushrooms (which had been stir-fried with lots of wok-hei) exploded in my mouth and unashamedly, I did not stop at one.

Dessert was the Xi Yan Tang Yuan, glutinous rice balls served in a bowl of sweet ginger soup. Our waiter challenged us to identify the 5 ingredients wrapped within a single tang yuan (rice ball). We managed to nail the first four down to (1) chopped peanuts (quite obvious), (2) sesame seeds (another obvious one), (3) chopped candied melon (we are good) and (4) butter (we were patting each other's backs). The last ingredient escaped us as it is so totally alien to traditional tang yuan filling - bits of salted egg yolk.

Kent, the manager, had warned us beforehand that the whole 12-course affair would take a full 3 hours. He wasn't joking. When we downed the Xi Yan cocktail (a concoction of lime juice, whisky and honey) served by the chef himself (quite a cute young capable fella), it was quite close to 11 p.m. but just like a good dinner-party at a friend's place, we had not realized how fast the time flew. Is it deserving of another visit? Well, my next reservation is in March 2006! Care to join me?
[by the way, cost per pax came to about $100 (our table had ordered a bottle of wine) - that's almost the cost of one ang-pow for a wedding dinner]

Xi Yan
38A Craig Road
Singapore 089676
For Reservation: 9695 4957

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Madam Kwan's Fish-head

The fourth floor of Suria KLCC (Kuala Lumpur) has a host of interesting restaurants, but we noticed that the more popular ones were Madam Kwan's and the Little Penang Cafe. Having only two nights in KL (with the first one reserved for Nando's grilled chicken - story in the post before this), we did what Singaporeans normally do - patronize the place with the longest queue. We saw the long snaking queue, we saw the packed restaurant and the delicious-looking dishes that were being served to diners within (you see, the restaurant has a verandah spanning its length immediately next to the public walkway within the mall, and passerbys have ample opportunity to spy on the diners and their food) - and the decision was made to dine at Madam Kwan's.

Fishhead Curry
We ordered the Fish-head Curry, and our jaws dropped when we saw the huge tureen in which it was served, not to mention our surprise in finding this very large and 'meaty' (fleshy) fish-head within. With lots of long beans, brinjals (aubergine), ladies' fingers (okra), tomatoes and taupok (fried beancurd), this dish is truly a meal in itself. The curry gravy, thickened with coconut milk, is wonderfully fragrant and truly, we couldn't stop spooning the gravy onto our white rice. Beware though that the fish-head curry is served in only one size, and that size was just too much for the 4 of us - I'm pretty sure that the entire tureen could comfortably serve at least 6 to 7 fish-eaters.

Grilled Otah Another good dish to order is the grilled "otah" (fish paste mixed with spices and coconut milk, steamed and then grilled on banana leaves). Served in the form of a thick mini brick-slab, it was definitely more satisfying that the usual otah served in tiny elongated thin slices. The grilled chicken (ayam panggang something or other - I forget the exact name) was also quite a pleaser for us, well marinated and nicely grilled with crispy skin - unfortunately, no pic of the same cos' I was pre-occupied with the fish-head by the time the chicken arrived at our table.

Ice KacangTo round off the meal, I decided to order the Ice Campur (transliterated into 'mixed ice') which is almost similar to an ice-kacang minus the peanuts. It does look good, doesn't it, after that hot spicy curry. Unfortunately, I have been spoilt by Annie's Peanut Ice Kacang, and this one didn't quite live up to expectations. It was also quite a drag to have to eat up half the ice before we could get to the ingredients at the bottom of the bowl - the other alternative, to try and nudge the ice aside bit by bit so that one can slip one's little spoon into the edge of the bowl in the hope of scooping out some jelly etc. The danger, of course, is that one could end up 'nudging' too much of the ice to the other end of the bowl resulting in an 'icy avalanche' down onto the table.

Madam Kwan's is not cheap though - in fact, I would say it's more or less equivalent to the pricing of a Singapore hotel cafe serving the same kind of food. We saw quite a few orders of Nasi Lemak and Nasi Bojari (with fried chicken) - must be its signature dishes - KIVed for the next time!

Being a short weekend jaunt crammed with shopping and mall-hopping (by the way, loved the F.O.S. - Factory Outlet Store - wonderful bargains on t-shirts, tops and bottoms, got quite quite carried away), we didn't get a chance to come back to KLCC to try out the Little Penang Cafe which is diagonally across Madam Kwan's. You can however feast on the tasty food pics of Boo_licious at Masak-Masak who recently posted on her visit there.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Nando's Nando's Nando's

Petronas Twin TowersThis was where we (i.e. hubby and I together with hubby's younger brother and his wife) were a couple of weekends ago - right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Booked into Crown Mutiara Hotel, we were less than a 10-minute walk to Suria KLCC (also the site of the Petronas Twin Towers). Photo is my very first "live" sight of these twin towers taken on the first evening of our arrival. Reminded hubby that this was the location where they shot the movie "Entrapment" starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and he gave me this incredulous look and said, "Why would anyone even bother to remember that movie, not to mention the location?" Okay, he's not a big fan of Sean Connery in the latter's younger days and definitely not in the graying years. Me, I'm a sucker for an English accent in a deep male voice.

Back to the title of this post, those two syllables were ringing in my head before we embarked on this trip as bro-in-law is fairly fanatic about Nando's grilled chicken, making it a point to eat at Nando's everytime he comes up to KL. Sis-in-law had warned us that we would be lucky if we were only 'persuaded' to visit Nando's once during this trip as the nearest Nando's to our hotel is at KLCC (wondering if that's the real reason why bro-in-law chose this particular hotel).

As befitting a 'fan' of Nando's, bro-in-law dropped his luggage in the hotel room after checking-in and instructed us, "30 minutes, we'll meet you at the lobby, and we're hitting KLCC." No prizes for guessing that we ended up seated at Nando's within the first hour or so of our arrival in KL.
Nando's Hot
We ordered various sets, with hubby trying the grilled chicken set with Hot Sauce. I was quite amused with the little flags that were stuck onto the grilled quarter/half chicken pieces, and with camera focused on the words, I have unfortunately blurred the chicken pieces. (Never mind, a grilled piece of chicken looks like any other piece of grilled chicken.)

"HOT" "gets you in the mood" while "EXTRA HOT" is "sure to ruffle your feathers". Being the brave unthinking soul that I am, I opted for "extra hot" and regretted it halfway thru' the meal. It was truly fiery hot, and my tongue suffered temporary numbness (bad choice... could see hubby trying to stifle his sniggers). I will however state, for the record, that while my tongue had full control of its senses during the early part of meal, Nando's grilled chicken is quite delicious, juicy and tender meat with the right amount of piquancy in the sauce. Furthermore, the set meal which is a quarter of a chicken, served with two side dishes (your choice of rice, coleslaw, fries etc.), a soup (nothing to shout about) and a dessert(which was a disappointment for me - I had expected mango sorbet in a glass bowl, it came packaged as Nestle's latest mango sorbet product in a paper cup) is quite a good deal (I think it was about Rm 17).
Nando's Extra-Hot
We managed to keep our first visit to Nando's as the single one for this trip. The next time I'm in KL, I'm definitely coming back to Nando's but this time "HOT" should "get me in the mood" for a much better review of this place.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Do you see what I see?

The pictures on this post were taken during my recent jaunt to the Singapore Botanical Gardens. With a little imagination, these flowers have taken on different personas in the mind's eye!
Yellow Cannons
Named the above "Yellow Cannons" as they reminded me of the cannons protruding out from old galleon Spanish ship of war, and the red ends of the yellow bud - I see the image of a blown up cartoon cannon (you know, the kind that always has its cannonballs jammed and exploding within the cannon and ends up creating this flower-like frayed edges at the cannon's mouth). Too much Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in my younger days!

Graceful Swan
This in my mind's eye had the graceful curves of a long-necked swan with a full off-white body glistening with droplets of water floating on a green expanse of water. I loved the full balloon(y) shape of the tip of this heliconia variety, and given an extra tad of imagination, I might even see the full bustle skirts of a 19th century English lady.

Amidst the Shrubs
A heliconia plant, you may say. Look again, and maybe, you might see a row of red hornbills (birds) with their beaks all aligned?

Let your imagination run wild and let me know what your mind's eye see!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Not easy to get Smooth

Unprofessional Faubourg Pave Some time back, I had attempted my second Pierre Herme creation from his famous Chocolate Desserts - the Faubourg Pave, which should actually be baked in a loaf pan and shaped like a brick or paving stone (i.e. 'pave' in French), since the Faubourg Pave is named after the paving stones in rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, a very posh street in Paris teeming with top fashion-houses, Guy Laroche, Christian Dior, Lanvin, Hermes, Yves Saint-Laurent... you can practically smell the money on the street! But I digress...

A cake that is named after such an exclusive neighbourhood will no doubt look sophisticated, luxurious, stylish and ever-so inviting. If you have a copy of Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme, turn to page 16 and you will see this beautiful sleek oblong cake covered in glistening thick chocolate ganache garnished stylishly at one top end of the cake with a moist dried apricot (isn't that an oxymoron? - moist and dried, but that's what the pic in the book shows) topped with a sliver of gold flake (ultimate luxury). The most incredible part to me was the super-silky smoothness and evenness of the top layer ganache.

Turning to my own creation, it looked more like it's been styled after rue du 'country', a huge slab of uneven cobblestone. First and obviously, I had used a 20-cm round pan instead of a loaf pan. Second, I didn't have at hand any gold flake slivers and also didn't think anyone in my family is into gold consumption. Third, Pierre Herme's recipe for the chocolate ganache is beautiful and perfect but I do believe skill with a palette knife requires years of practice (shaky hands spell doom for smoothly even ganache topping). Not to mention, I read later on with much regret that Monsieur Herme had recommended the use of a metal spatula (provides a larger flat surface area compared to a narrow palette knife) - this is the reason why you must always read your recipes twice over with time to digest and reflect AND not at the kitchen countertop while juggling between tasks!

Inside story to the Faubourg Pave
The exterior of the cake I baked was not great-looking, but when the slices were served, the beautiful alternating layers of cake and golden apricot-specked ganache looked fantastic.
  • the chocolate cake made with Valrhona cocoa powder, cake flour, a bit of potato flour, butter, eggs yolks, whipped egg whites and sugar was light and very airy - it also produced a cocoa-dark cake - unfortunately, my photograph using flash and overhead lights depicts a much lighter-colored cake
  • the baked cake is sliced into 3 horizontal sections and each section is brushed with a layer of caramel sauce imparting moistness, apart from that caramel flavor, to the cake
  • using a mixture of Valrhona Manjari (dark bittersweet chocolate) and Valrhona Jivara (milk chocolate), sugar, unsalted butter, heavy cream and a bit of salted butter, a lovely creamy ganache frosting is created, and spread over each layer of cake and on the sides
  • in between the layers, dried apricots which have been moistened (i.e. simmered with water in a pan for a few minutes) and diced, tossed with lemon juice and ground black pepper (yes, you read right, a touch of spiciness to the sweetness is a brilliant idea from Monsieur Herme) are pressed gently into the ganache layers within the cake
It looks decadent but tastes light with the wonderful chocolate richness tempered well by the caramel and just that touch of saltiness (from the salted butter). Even if you're not a chocoholic, you'll be tempted with the first bite - now if I can only wield that palette knife / spatula like a master!

Last words - "Never judge a cake by its cover."