Thursday, May 31, 2007

Miscellaneous Food: Mothers' Day 2007

How do you celebrate Mothers' Day at your house? Write in and tell me! This year, I bought my mom a design edition Thakoon for the GAP white shirt and decided to help my dad out and cook a dinner for a group of close family friends. We had four mothers in the crowd and a great time over dinner! My brother, stylish as always, sent a cake from The Patissier from the UK.

For the menu, I picked something special (a giant bistecca florentina that Billy and I had carted all the way from Panzano, Italy), something old (pumpkin soup) and something new (a trio of seafood in a garden amuse bouche). Of course, also a sampling of desserts, starter plates of prosciutto and bresaola that we had brought back, olive salad and some great wines.

First, the amuse bouche. The first part was the shooter; this was inspired by a trip to Aqua in Sydney, where they used dashi jelly as part of their ingredients. I love dashi and I use it for Japanese soups and stews but I was intrigued and impressed by the simple (and modern) idea of making it into a semi-hard jelly. Into the glass goes a layer of cauliflower puree, then the dashi jelly, which is made of dissolved dashi in hot water and gelatin, then stamped out into little rounds and finally, a little mound of ikura (salmon roe), topped by a sprinkling of baby chives and finely grated lemon peel. The presentation is key and the idea is that you move from the saltiest taste, to a less salty one, before the distinct, piscine brininess is blanketed over by the blandness and creaminess of the cauliflower puree. Lots of tastes in a little space. Below, I took a very crude picture of the stamped out dashi jelly to show you what I mean. I tend to use my dashi very strong (no point not being able to taste what it is!) and also use a fair bit of gelatin because I don't like it when the jelly sets too wobbly (in which case you can just cut it into cubes and serve it anyway) and also to speed up the time in the fridge. This is a great little thing that can be prepared way ahead of time and quickly assembled.

The other two recipes came courtesy of CH and his lovely wife S, who were kind enough to describe all the ingredients for me. The first you will recognize as his deconstructed california roll- a layer of avocado in a metal ring, steamed crab mixed with mayo and in my case, some light orange tobiko, topped with wakame and ikura. You can actually flavour this dish, adding sake and mirin as the recipe calls for, or adding more interesting flavours like replacing the lemon with an orange. This is fairly simple and I won't repeat the recipe here (you can check out this link for the exact instructions) except to show what dried, then soaked wakame looks like.

The last part of the amuse bouche was the crabcakes fried with Japanese panko, with wasabi mayo. Although the recipe called for cod, I was shocked at the prices of Chilean seabass, so I used only a bit of seabass and bought some local fish to supplement the steamed crab. You should really just get the freshest kind of fish because it will be firm and won't release the kind of water that comes from most of the seabass which enters Singapore pre-frozen.

The bistecca was such a breeze to cook, it doesn't really bear writing about. It's just too awesome a piece of meat. More posts to come about the whole Italian trip and how the bistecca is such a gift from God that it can't be improved on in any way...but suffice here to say that we seared the surface with herbs, some breadcrumbs and a little balsamic vinegar and red wine mixed, then salted it with good quality Italian sea salt and roasted it for three hours in a low 100 degree oven. You can also pull it out right at the end and smoke it over a charcoal and hickory open grill or fire pit but we took out that part as no one fancied smelling of charcoal and sweat themselves.

We served the main with some tossed pesto pasta topped with cherry tomatoes baked in their own juices. Easy peasy!

The dessert was challenging only because my ambitious plans to make green tea opera cake fell through because the green tea buttercream didn't set (happens to the best of them and pooh the recipe was clearly lousy), of course by then I had already made a chocolate ganache so I changed course and made a heavy Italian dessert- little glass pots filled with green tea sponge joconde, Valrhona chocolate ganache and raspberry puree. The sponge joconde was quite a brilliant yummy recipe- my dad ate all the scraps so that's a good sign and the little glasses packed a punch! The other dessert we made was an awfully simple sticky toffee date pudding, I haven't the photos so I won't post the recipe just yet either. We paired it some warm cream whipped into a melted brown sugar and tawny port sauce.

Noble One in Australia, should you ever go to Yarra Valley, has a brilliant Sticky Wines tasting for just $5. You get to try their sweet botrytis semillion dessert wine, the Noble One Black, which is this interesting, complex, somewhat awful black dessert wine that has botrytis but also hints of molasses, balsamic and ginger, as well as their whole range of ports. I don't actually like port but when I tried this honeyed, tawny, toffee port, I could only think of sticky toffee date pudding and bought it (so cheap! $27 for a beautiful bottle and sexy red and black case) to complement desserts.

I hope all the mothers had a great time, I think the fathers definitely did. The best thing about the dinner was really not the food, it was the family and the camaraderie among friends. It was lovely for me, to spend Mothers' Day in the company of all these women who have for so many years, given me such support and guidance. This is a belated post but Happy Mothers' Day, Mom!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Miscellaneous Food: Weylin's Bee-autiful Cupcakes

Look at my little bee's behind

I attended Shermay and Joycelyn's cupcake class a few weeks ago and had a great, girly time. I often find that for many of their classes, the range of dishes is too wide, such that it incorporates both things that you're interested in and things that are really basic (case in point, I'd love to learn the Patissier's chef recipe for dense chocolate cake but tiramisu? That's a tad too common. Also, for a japanese class, Hijiki seaweed is basically dried seaweed boiled in hot water and served as a homestyle soup. Unless you plan on growing the seaweed yourself, it's really not something you need to learn. This I remember very well because when I told my Japanese housemate in college that I liked this dish, she remonstrated that I had very unimpressively peasant taste in Japanese home cooking which wouldn't stand me in good stead if I ever met a nice Japanese man).


This class though, was focused, pitched at the right level and was chock-full of helpful tips from Joycelyn. She really knows her baking inside and out and in case you're wondering as I had been, yes, she really does have the perfect precision, drip-free prep that you see in her blog pictures. In person, she is generous and helpful and on top of that, can I just say she is super cute, stylishly-turned out and petite. Urgh! I hate how Singapore makes me feel like a giant in girl's clothes.

I digress. The culmination of any cooking class is in a sense, making the products for yourself. Before I could get lazy, I hopped off to Sun Lik, which was a recommendation from Joycelyn, for some new baking supplies. Sun Lik is at 33 Seah Street, right next to Raffles Hotel. From the outside, it looks like dinghy, uninviting old shophouse but inside is an absolute baking mecca. I've never seen so many trays of decorating devices and applications in other places in Singapore and I had to stop myself from buying much more than I needed. I've been told that there is a cake decorating store in Bukit Timah just past Newton Circus and also, Phoon Huat has great supplies but I really liked how Sun Lik packages some of their decorations, like hundreds and thousands, into sturdy little containers so that you can buy them in smaller amounts and can keep them fresh. Also, unlike in other places, the ladies who run this place are very helpful and nice.


Here are some photos of mixing up the chocolate cupcake batter, it comes out very runny but I like that it uses a light, frangrance-free oil (I used grapeseed but sunflower can also be used) which is healthier and that the cupcakes are beautifully moist. There isn't much chocolate powder in the cupcakes so it's important to use the best quality Valronha chocolate, other than that, its mostly flour, sugar, eggs, vanilla essence and hot water.


The cupcakes also bake pretty fast, a lot of recipes I've used say 20 minutes but are really an hour in the oven. This one really was 20 minutes and here are my finished cupcakes.


I made two batches of icing, a icing sugar based royal icing and a buttercream frosting, both in yellow, to match the colour theme of the party I had been invited to.


While both are pretty, I thought the buttercream made for better pictures.


Here are some of whipping the buttercream and adding the yellow colouring gel. A great tip from Joycelyn was to use these gels instead of liquid colouring because the consistency of the mixture is better maintained. This I found to be really true and I had to stop myself in Sun Lik from buying the pretty petite gel containers in multiple colours. (I think they have a different gel for pink and red, which is Such an evil sales tactic).


Also, I added two big tablespoons of acacia honey, which apart from lending a flavour, gave a stiffer texture to the buttercream.


After the class, I finally learnt the proper technique, that's not true, I had always known the proper technique, I had just not practiced it, of filling the piping bags. I practiced it this time because Joycelyn said so. However, I glooped a big drop of frosting onto the table in the process, that's just me, the world's laziest baker (ask my brother). For those interested, the proper technique is you snip a hole, push through the piping nozzle (partway, not the whole way, which will happen if you snip the piping bag hole too big) and then you can either tape the bag to the nozzle or count on gravity to work well. Then you place the bag, nozzle down, into a container and roll the top of the bag down the edges (a bit like preparing to put on a sock). Drop the buttercream into the bag (not on the table) and when it's done, pull up the bag out of the container and force the cream down toward the nozzle, twisting the top of the bag into a tight knot as you go along (don't actually tie a knot, then you'll trap air into the piping bag, bad idea).


Now, the fun begins! Holding the piping bag perpendicular to the cupcake top, pipe in a swirl, starting from the outer rim of the cupcake and ending in the center. If you can't control the stream of buttercream, there are somethings that you could try- hold the bag on the top with your right hand, guide with your left hand on the bottom of the bag (unless you're left-handed then vice versa), you could possibly have made buttercream that's too lumpy, or too liquid, or be using a piping nozzle too large (for cupcakes, I use a 3/4cm diameter piping nozzle in either star tip or round tip, depending on whether you want your swirl in classic fat round worms or a more sophisticated grooved sour apple candy string). Or you could just not be very mechanically inclined and have chronically unsteady hands.


Seriously though, everyone has piped cream at some stage of their life, whether it be playing with toothpaste, or hair gel, or hair mousse, or foundation, or soft serve ice get my point. It's not that hard. Maybe a little practice.


After the piping, I coloured some marzipan yellow, rolled more marzipan in chocolate powder (because I was too lazy to make chocolate putty which yields a darker colour stripe and eyes to your bee) and broke out the almond flakes. Behold my fleet and swarm of little cretins...


Then to assemble, take your piped cupcakes, gift with a pinchful of hundreds and thousands, push on two little bees (if you leave the cupcakes for too long in the fridge, the buttercream will harden and you won't be able to make your bees stick, either leave the cupcakes out to thaw or prod the bees a bit harder) then slice up some cadbury honeycomb chocolate bars, or violet crumbles (do you know the difference? Cadbury Crunches are milk chocolate covered honeycomb bars in golden yellow wrappers, Violet Crumble is a Nestle-produced chocolate-covered honeycomb bar in a purple wrapper which is a bestseller in Australia. The Violet Crumble honeycomb has a finer-grain texture while the chocolate has more malt in it, such that it resembles a darker, Malteser chocolate. Neither will withstand the humid weather in Singapore well and will turn dark yellow in a matter of minutes but I tend to find that Cadbury Crunch will be less sticky when that happens). Yes, I don't mess with my candy, how *you* doing?

The final picture...and happy birthday TQ! I've decided to submit this post along to Winos and, a cancer fighter herself, for her A Taste of Yellow for Livestrong day in support of the Lance Armstrong Foundation's advocacy awareness program for cancer. Please see for more details, the different entries and if you want to submit your own yellow food recipe.
Review: Fabbrica

fabricca interior

Ola! Last week, I saw next to a lady for dinner and she commented that she is a fan of food blogs. "Oh really?" I said, "my brother runs a food blog".
"Who is he?"
"No, I don't recognize him."
"Oh, Colin" I said, "Oh Colin!" she said. "I've met him...very tall and skinny, doesn't look like a foodie!"

While tall, I am increasingly not skinny. And yes, I am Colin's sister, Weylin (our parents had a thing for alliteration), the inheritor of this food blog while he is away in England suffering the trauma of a student budget. So, hurry on back ye readers, we have lots and lots of food reviews lined up, local restaurants as well as reviews culled from my travels abroad. While not as sardonic as my brother, I am perhaps more frank, given that I haven't a care what chefs think of me (as long as they don't spit in my food).

And so we kick off with a review of the new baby in the Dempsey Cluster, Fabbrica. A restaurant so new that Chubby Hubby hasn't reviewed it (and I know you will think that's trite but really it's not that untrue).


Fabbrica serves up Italian food in what can only be described as a cute if campy environment, a converted warehouse with high ceiling and an open glassed frontage. It's casual, moderately prices (especially for the pastas) and in a to-be-seen spot. What else do you need? Oh yes, good food.

In a word, I think Fabbrica will be a success. The price points are fairly affordable although not cheap and the food quality was decent, although whether that will be consistent is a whole other question. We had a large dining group and ordered quite a lot of dishes, so I think we were good for a comprehensive review, although the restaurant had run out of lobster and mozzarella.

fabricca pear salad

The soup of the day, pumpkin soup was a bit thin, I thought I could have done better, to be honest. The salads were mediocre, though stuffed with ingredients to distract you from the fact that you were eating a salad. We tried the Arugula, Pear with Tomatoes and Parmesan ($16) and Crabmeat Salad with Citrus Dressing ($16).

fabricca parma melonfabriccabrasaola

The rock melon in the Prosciutto with Rock Melon ($20) and the Lamb Prosciutto with Rock Melon ($20) though, was wonderfully sweet and the prosciutto and bresaola (which for some reason, the restaurant called Lamb Prosciutto- its not really) were suitably salty. The presentation was also charming, with the rock melon partially skinned and butterfly-ed, I appreciated the attempt to jazz up the old staple.

To me, the best beef carpaccio I've had in Asia was in Otto Ristorante Italiano, Area 8, 6 Cowper Wharf Road or Finger Wharf, Woolloomooloo, NSW (thinly sliced but boy what a dense, mouth-full flavour) and I'm a bit of a carpaccio addict, scarfing up the stuff at Buko Nero and Rief and James.


The Raw Beef Carpaccio with Arugula & Shaved Parmesan ($18) didn't look beautiful from the outset but it had a delicious flavour; I was pleasantly surprised. Then I turned over the carpaccio and the mystery was revealed! Under the slices of carpaccio, they had spread a thin layer of seed mustard! Tricksy tricksy! But appreciated, nonetheless, it was still excellent and the parmesan cheese was flavourful as well.

fabricca meat for 2

Most of the mains we had were pastas, with the exception of the Poterhouse Steak (500gm) served with side salad ($60). Let's start there. The beef was chewy. So it's alright if you like your beef chewy but I like mine tender. Also, I felt that if the beef was already sliced so thin, it really shouldn't be all that chewy. The chargrill was well done and adequately smoky, it's just that I don't think the beef was of very good quality.

fabricca duck pasta

Generally, the pastas were alright but just alright. I am picky about pastas, I am. Even my dad keeps asking me- "Why do you always like the thick ribbony ones?" The reason though, is because those are the ones, unlike spaghettis and linguinis, that really showcase the quality and texture of the pasta. Unfortunately, their specialty dish, Home-made Pappardelle with Duck Ragout ($20) fell somewhat short. The pasta was not so bad, although it wasn't light and I didn't finish it but the pasta sauce was somewhat Chinese...not in a good way. In a slightly starchy, off-white sauce sort of way; there were medium flesh coloured floating islands of unidentifiable meat and carrot flecks. I probably am doing it a disservice with such an off-putting description - the taste wasn't that bad but it wasn't characteristically duck and I was disappointed.

fabricca crab squid ink pasta

My complaint about the Squid Ink Spaghetti with Lobster in light tomato emulsion ($32), here done with crabmeat, is that it wasn't really Squid Ink Pasta, it was Pasta with Squid Ink (and yes, there is a difference). The taste was passable and pleasant enough but it wasn't powerful. I much prefer the version at Ristorante Da Valentino at Rifle Range Road, or even Yuan's version down at Brown Sugar at Stardust, Institution Hill, River Valley, or at Marmalade Pantry.

fabricca roe pasta

There was though, one standout. One pasta, and I don't often say this, that stood head and shoulders above any pasta that I've had recently and for which I would gladly go back to the restaurant. That's the Spaghetti with Bottarga & Caviar ($28). I'm not exactly sure what their take on Bottarga is but the roe on the pasta looked like a mix between caplin and sturgeon and the flavour in the pasta, the mix of savoury, salty and slightly eggy, textured and lightly herbed, made one high in the head and happy in the heart.

We didn't have desserts because we'd brought a cake for my Dad's early birthday. The dessert menu consisting of a chestnut semifreddo, fruit flambe, panna cotta and other similarly italian-inspired desserts is entirely priced at $9 each.

A throughly enjoyable dinner and now I know exactly what I'd order if I went back. Not bad, not bad at all.

The service was good, especially from the servers; I appreciated that they knew how to pour a tasting of wine and not a cupful, although I thought the maitre d' was a bit abrupt in announcing which foods weren't available and giving some unnecessary answers back when we enquired about particular dishes. The owner though, Roseita Awang, was very gracious in taking our reservation (clearly, she has equity stake) and UOB card holders enjoy a 15% off ala carte meals and wine by the bottle.

Fabricca (Italian)
18B Dempsey Road, tel: 64797808
Location: 2.5/5
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Food: 3.5/5

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Miscellaneous Food: La Bouchée

One of the good things of staying in the South Kensington area is that there are many restaurants to choose from, all within easy walking distance. La Bouchée is a typical French bistro that serves up traditionally French fare like coq au vin and gigot d’agneau. The chefs and managers are all French, so you’re getting the real deal.

La Bouchee

Two drawbacks stand out in particular though. First, the place is tiny, seating a maximum of twenty patrons, so a reservation is imperative, unless you dine early or alone. Second, for a bistro, La Bouchée charges restaurant prices, including the ubiquitous 12.5% ‘discretionary’ gratuity. They offer a prix fixe two-course menu for 11.50 pounds, which is probably the best value you’ll get, but only until 6.30pm, and they can be quite anal about this; refusing to offer it to me even though I was there at 6.27pm.

Ris d'agneau

I chose the starter of the day, ris d’agneau, brioche, sauce champignons, lamb sweetbreads in a rich mushroom sauce, served with two pieces of brioche. Luscious and decadent, the sauce was concentrated and bursting with an earthy flavour, but also enriched with a very meaty aroma – possibly some marrow. The sweetbreads themselves were soft, slightly chewy, and went well with the sweet, airy brioche.

Coq Au Vin

Coq au vin was the cheapest thing on the menu, but still pretty pricey at 13.50 pounds, and for that price, I was disappointed with what I received. While it arrived in a Staub casserole, keeping the dish piping hot and allowing the flavours to develop, the portion of chicken was quite minute, and the lack of any accompaniments like potatoes or noodles was striking. The sauce was full-bodied and fortified with the traditional red wine, but beyond that, I didn’t think much of the dish. It seemed like something you could easily find back in Singapore or even replicate, with some care, in your own kitchen, for a fraction of the price.

La Bouchée (French)
56 Old Brompton Road, South Kensington, SW7
Tel: 020 7589 1929

Location: 4.5/5
Service: 3.5/5
Ambience: 3/5
Food: 3/5
Overall: Go for the prix fixe menu