Sunday, September 29, 2013

Recipe: Matcha Green Tea and Adzuki Chiffon Cake

I've always had a quiet obsession with this cake, not because I really love green tea or adzuki bean, but because of Keiko Okashi: Sweet Treats Made with Love. The pictures inside the book really inspired me on Japanese chiffon cakes, even though I had never really been a great fan (except of course, pandan cake). It's just that for me, I associate some cakes with being light and fluffy, like pandan cake, or the steamed brown palm sugar risen malay cake (Malai kou, in Cantonese dim sum), but other flavours like orange or chocolate or lemon, no, give me a proper slice of crumbly, crystallised warm goodness, anyday!

While processing some chiffon cake recipes to look for those who had risen, even and tasty looking products, I discovered that there was a Bake-off challenge that involved chiffon cakes and that was it. Beetroot chiffon cakes- oh my, I didn't even know that a heavy ingredient like beetroot could be blended into a chiffon cake. And taro chiffon cakes (a beautifully and delicate purple hue) and coffee cakes and dulce de leche cakes, you can find the list here. Of course, in the end, it led me back to the green tea and adzuki bean cake. 

So somehow, when looking to make a cake to complement an Asian dinner and also to use up my store of ingredients (always a challenge), I drifted back to the same few choices of leftover fridge ingredients and landed on one that was none of those. At least I had the whipped topping, so it wasn't a complete waste and I did manage to finish an entire can of adzuki bean. 

That entire can, wound up being enough topping for three chiffon cakes, so after making one cake on Friday night, that was promptly demolished by the party that came to dinner, I wound up making another cake on Saturday for the family and then a third cake on Saturday, to give away. It was good practice, and an opportunity to iron out all the kinks while the knowledge was fresh in my mind, so now I think I have this recipe and the technique pretty much down pat. 

Also, please know from my experience now, that 1 cup of whipped topping and 1 can of adzuki beans = three cake frostings for a 20cm bundt. After washing out my bundt pan for the third time, I concluded that I need another bundt pan of the same size. I have a 20cm tin and a 24 cm tin and the volumetric difference is huge. (The 24cm is so large that it is simply impactical for home-use and I have not even touched it much). This recipe will fully occupy a 20cm tin and it will rise to an impressive but manageable 4 inch height, but in a larger tin, it's just completely insipid. 

The recipe that I use is adapted from, but not exactly as listed, in Okashi's book. 


Bowl A
70g cake flour
5g Green tea powder (this is listed as 10g but I don't like such a grassy, jasmine flavour in my cake. Also please note that this has to be green tea powder and not just finely-ground green tea)
10g Corn flour

Bowl B
5 Egg yolks
20g Caster sugar
70g Water
60g Canola oil or corn oil

Bowl C: Meringue
70g Caster sugar
6 Egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

1) Before you start, preheat oven to 160C. This is a fairly quick recipe to execute. 

2) Combine egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and mix well. Add water and corn oil and blend together. 

3) While the egg yolks are beating, sift the flours and the green tea powder together twice. Twice is important, so that it is fine. Add the flours and green tea powder mixture and until just incorporated, even and slightly sticky. Set aside.

4) Make the meringue by beating the egg whites until foamy and then adding the sugar and cream of tartar. Make sure your eggs are at room temperature and that your equipment is clean of any grease, to ensure the best result. Also, if you want to omit the cream of tartar, you can. I find that it helps me to stabilise the egg white and also reduces the size of the air bubbles and keeps them more even but some people feel that the cream of tartar has a sour, even metallic taste. 

5) If you are really efficient, you can beat the egg whites first and while those are beating (as it takes the longest amount of time, within the recipe), prepare the egg yolk and flour mixture. By doing so, you cut your preparation time in half, as opposed to doing this step by step, but you should not leave the egg white mixture, once beaten, out for too long as the bubbles may start to soften and subside back into liquid. 

6) The quality of your egg white is very important, if it is so fluffy, tight and foamy as to be almost solid, then you are guaranteed a lovely texture. If it watery, with large tepid bubbles that start to pop before you even mix in the flour, then you have a problem and will probably have a liquid thin batter that starts to seep under the groove of your bundt tin.

7) Lower the speed at which your egg white is beating and pour in the green egg mixture gradually. Do not overmix, stop the machine when all the batter is incorporated. Your batter should still be light, fluffy and thick. Conventional wisdom is that you should mix in one-third of your egg white into the batter, to keep it thick and aerated, and then fold in the remaining of the egg white, but I've found that adding the batter to the egg white, while the egg white is beating, has the same effect. You must however, never add the egg white to the batter while the batter is mixing. The egg white will deflate almost straight away. 

8) Pour into the tin, spread evenly and bake for 45min-1 hour. I find it helpful to place my bundt on a baking tray, to make keep things neat. 

9) Take the cake out of the oven and cool it, upside down, still in the pan. Do not attempt to cut the cake out before it is entirely cooled. 

10) Slice cleanly around the edges of the pan before attempting to pop out the cake. Slice the top of the cake cleanly off the pan base. 

11) Mix the cream topping with the adzuki bean and spread it on the sides and top of the cake. I find there is no need for sugar, as adzuki is naturally sweet. Some people add a little pink or red food colouring to achieve a prettier hue but I don't think it's necessary. When you cut the cake open, there is a lovely contrast between the pale pink exterior and the dusty green interior and the contrast of sweet, cold, bean-y and astringent, is just sublime, while still being light and refreshing. 

Recipe: Pork Rib Stew in Tomato Sauce

One of the dishes we frequently have at home is a really simple and fairly healthy one to make. This one is particularly accessible as it doesn't call for any fresh herbs, just dried bottle herbs and it's also a dish that keeps and freezes well. I've been going on this kick to actually document and spell out the recipes that we make often, just to keep them recorded and re-creatable. This is a step-by-step of the process, which begins with a marinade. (Actually, it begins with buying the pork ribs from a butcher or wet market but we'll skip that part. Try to make sure the ribs are meaty). 


1 cup red wine
1 Tbsp ground thyme
3 bay leaves
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp ground basil
1 tsp ground parsley
15 pieces pork ribs
1 1/2 tsp cornflour
2 carrots
5 potatoes
2 sticks of celery
1 turnip 
2 medium white onions

You can use more than 15 pork ribs, for a fuller and also more protein-heavy dish. You can also play around with the ingredients. I chop them into fairly large pieces as you can see and they cook down into softness but if you want, you can also make small dainty pieces of vegetable and meat. I find it a good way to trick children into eating primarily vegetables, that have been imbued with the flavour of the meat stew. 

Marinade all the ingredients in the herbs and liquid and mix them around well. Leave it overnight in the fridge or at least for a few hours. When you are ready to start, pour out some extra cornflour (I use about 4 Tbsp) and dredge the pork ribs in the flour, then heat some oil in a large pan and sear the ribs, meat-side down. You can deglaze the pan with some extra red wine if you've been careless and burnt the meat on the bottom of the pan. 

Mix the vegetables in and stir it through with the marinade sauce. Make sure to scrap down the bottom and sides of the pan. Fill the pot with water, just until all the meat is submerged and add to this, 1/2 a cup of Prego traditional tomato sauce (or any other kind of tomato sauce or home-made tomato sauce, if you have any), 4 Tbsp of tomato ketcup or 2 Tbsp of tomato paste and 2 Tbsp of light soya sauce. For my quantity, the water required was about 7 cups but this clearly will be variable depending on your quantity or the size of your pot. 

Close the lid and stew for 1.5 hours until the meat is soft and the liquid sauce has cooked down into a thick gravy. I think what gives this such a deep taste is the slow cooking process of all those vegetables and meat, in the tomato, rather like a oddly asian-fied version of a cassoulet. The meat and sauce is not overly alcoholic, as a lot of it would have cooked into the meat or boiled off in the process. Serve over steamed rice, or polenta and white crusty bread.   

Friday, September 13, 2013

Review: Catalunya

Both C and I have dined at Catalunya, not once or twice, but quite a few times. It is still one of the hottest (if not the hottest) large restaurants in Singapore and regularly has a waiting list of more than a couple weeks. Despite that, we haven't much to say about the place. Imagine that! Maybe it says something, that both of us have pushed off the review (to each other) back and forth, a few times. It says, probably, that there is nothing much to be said! It is a good restaurant, a nice restaurant, a perfectly competent restaurant. It is neither a special restaurant, nor really a very good value restaurant. 

Let's start with the first part. It is a beautiful restaurant. It really is. You know the two glass bubbles in front of Marina Bay Sands Hotel- one is the LVMH store, one is Pangea (yes, continuing the trend of, what is this Singapore that we live in nowadays). Then further down, past one Fullerton, you have the Fullerton Bay Hotel and there is a raft of eating places there as well. There is a glass pontoon of sorts, that sticks out into the water. That is Catalunya and when you enter, the vista of the water, glass and view opens up in front of you. It is gorgeous. 

The buzz is hype-y, they play trance amidst leather cubby seats and huge green-leaf potted plants and the servers are from Seville, in their skinny black ties. By day, it is hip and modern and by night, just plain sexy and dimly lit. If you are new and looking to make a scene, this place is for you, if not, you might find it just a wee bit pretentious and poor value. The food, depending on how you think about tapas, is either excellent or no great shakes. We started with the traditional pa amb tomaquet ($8 - Catalan bread with tomato puree) and the tomato tartar confit ($18), both were vegetarian but with the mix of onions, salt and concentrated tomato, managed to have a rich and almost meat-like fullness of taste. 

For me, I think the portions have diminished in size over time but the food is very good. It is very salty and it is very rich but I like it generally. The patata bravas, is really yummy, with the dollops of sour cream and ketchup. The batter for all their fried foods is crisp and light and smells cleanly of oil, not grease. I had also  the Lobster Buns and croquetas with jamon ($12++) and bomboletas ($10++). They were all clean, tasty and well, expensive. Imagine paying per piece, per guest. Yes, maybe you can say that dim sum is also the same but it doesn't add up quite as quickly. 

The mains are no less hard-hitting at $80 a pop. We had a lobster rice, very sticky, very soft and the lobster was definitely strong, but somewhat sour and overpowering. Then the piece de resistance, which is the suckling pig which gets carved up with a plate, at your table, presumably to show how soft it is. My advice though, is that if you go to Catalunya, don't get the pig. It is really expensive and it is frozen. 

I may be biased about Chinese cooking, but seriously, nothing really beats a roasted suckling pig. This pig wasn't exactly roasted, it was somewhere between smoked and BBQ-ed but it wasn't crisp, it was soft and chewy and tender, but it stank. You know, that very porky smell that tells you it's been frozen before. I packed some away from the restaurant and by the time I took it home, it smelled even stronger. I checked with the restaurant on a subsequent visit and indeed, it is frozen, not chilled pig. 

The thing is, this is not even how suckling pig tastes in Spain. It is much, much cleaner and fresher tasting. The version at Catalunya isn't bad, it's just...not great. But I think to a lot of patrons, it is really impressive and you can see how many little half pigs they run through in a day. The rest of the tapas, and the pig as well, may be classic Catalan cooking but it has definitely been jazzed up for the high-end consumption, so don't expect a rustic hillside or deep alley meal, that's for sure. 

For desserts, we had the smoked ice cream and torrijas, soaked bread in milk. All the desserts were again, very milky, very rich and well executed. I like the use of the emulsions and espumas, and the food techniques used to coax an almost concentrated sweet and savouriness out of the ingredients. One example is the deconstructed exploding olives, which are $3 each (for a tiny mouth-feel), definitely different and with attention to detail. Catalunya is much the same, it is well-constructed and worth a visit for life's special in-the-moment occasion (particularly with their well-stocked bar and extensive cocktail list) but be prepared for the sticker shock and by the end, the invariably feeling of being just slightly underwhelmed.

The Fullerton Pavilion
82 Collyer Quay
Singapore 049327
Tel: +65 6534 0188

Review: Kith Cafe, Sentosa Cove

Have you seen how the other half lives? I recently took a trip to the W Hotel, our friends were having a staycation there and I'd read on Chubby Hubby's blog about Kith Cafe, which is along the panoramic waterfront promenade just off the hotel. This stretch is given over to food, with shops for Belgium mussels and frites, pizzerias, tapas bars and all the usual non-Singaporean fare.

Kith Cafe has a branch in Robertson Quay, which I'd never been to, but the simplicity and Australian-ess of their food advertising caught my eye and we went out there with some friends to try it. It was definitely an experience. Firstly, try to get there early, like, before 9am. I know that sounds obscenely non-Singaporean, to be up this early on a weekend, but otherwise, it becomes a swamp of white people, their kids, their dogs and their glamourous young Asian wives. Before you accuse me of stereotyping, oh, I wish I was! It was like an ode to foreign money and privledge in Singapore. It was really quite something and it was a treat to be there, amongst the beautiful and well-heeled (I was distinctly of neither category but to give them credit, there is a relative democracy of patrons).

The food is large-portioned, generous and tasty. It is simply cooked, simply presented and it's exactly what you need for breakfast or brunch. The surroundings are breezey and beautiful, exactly what you would expect when looking over million dollar boats in a private marina. It felt like a different world and I really think they have done a fantastic job with the wide boulevards of both the promenade and Sentosa Cove generally. 

We managed to try almost all the dishes with our large group, we had the Big Breakfast equivalent, eggs, sausage, toast and tomatoes, the Mexican scramble with spicy sausage, capsicum, black truffle and onion, the pulled pork with a fried egg, the fruit muesli. It was all excellent, especially the thick slices of sourdough bread and quite affordably priced- by this I don't mean that it was cheap, at $15-17 a plate but that it was cheaper than other brunch places, which if you have noticed, have all hiked their prices to an average of $20. 

It is a lovely spot for a morning hang-out and if you have kids, have older folk or have just never been, it is entirely worth a visit. For an eye-opener, tour the architectural beauties that make up the wide lanes of Sentosa Cove- they have these gated-estate community names reminiscent of Levitttown or Los Angeles- Lakeshore Boulevard etc, with their own endless summer pontoons and Miami-esque sportscars. It really is pretty surreal. 

Friday, September 06, 2013

Miscellaneous Food: New York (Il Buco Alimentari)

For some reason, when I tell people I'm going to be in New York, I'm often asked which Michelin-starred restaurant I'm going to be eating at.
Apart from the fact that (a) it's really expensive to keep eating at high-end places; and (b) they can often be quite inconvenient to get to, I actually get a bigger kick out of finding restaurants that are not only nearby, but are also the sort of place frequented by locals.
So I was not entirely sure if it was a good thing when S's fellow LLM candidate, an Englishman I knew from university, declared to us, while we were making our way to Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, that that was the best meal he'd had in New York. "He's English", S whispered.

Still, signs were promising when we walked into the restaurant. A boisterous, casual Italian eatery, it was one of those charming places with a deli counter displaying home-cured prosciutto and handmade pastas, and lots of olive oil. Diner, deli and marketplace all rolled in one, what you get depends on when you drop by.

For dinner, we started with pulpo a la plancha, a dish of seared octopus served with fava beans and black garlic. A fist-sized octopus, perfectly grilled and smoke-charred, was meaty but supple, complemented by the silky black garlic sauce and crunchy split beans.

S's main course of orrechiete with a simple sauce of olive oil, parmiggiano and sausage meat was very tasty, if perhaps a little salty. Al dente pasta, as you'd expect from a restaurant specialising in freshly-prepared, rustic Italian cuisine, doused in extra-virgin olive oil that's been infused with the umami of the sauteed sausage meat, and the flavours of strong herbs like sage and oregano.

On hindsight, I really should have ordered a pasta as well, but I thought I'd be adventurous and have the slow-roasted short ribs with castelvetrano olives, celery, walnuts and horseradish. 

When the dish arrived, I was taken aback at the mountain of meat I received. If anything, it was larger than the steaks I'd had at Del Frisco's the night before. Not that it wasn't a fantastic cut of rib: I could taste and see that it was marbled through with seams of fat that made the meat both tender and irresistibly tasty. It also meant, however, that I was completely full after only after a few bites.

As much as I would have liked to have dessert, I had been completely done in by the ribs. Il Buco Alimentari does, however, offer a very tempting selection of home-made gelato and cheeses, as well as the usuals such as a panna cotta with a 10 year aged balsamico.

All in all, I'm not sure I'd say Il Buco Alimentari was the best meal I'd had or was going to have in New York, but for a casual, relaxed Wednesday night dinner, you could certainly do a lot worse.   
Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria
53 Great Jones Street, NY 10012
Tel: +1 212 837 2622

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Review: The Naked Finn

* I have given up on C finishing up his New York series, so you will have to wait for those posts to be resurrected as he is hard at work. 

I don't know if you have been trying out new restaurants in Singapore but I have a bone to pick with these places, many of whom are more about style than substance. A clever marketing team, a neat logo and presto, a place with no consistency and standards. I'm not going to name names, as to which are the biggest culprits in the 'can't-really-cook' category but I've had a few run-ins and I suspect if you've wasted enough money and effort on the local food scene, you too will have an idea as to which to avoid. To add insult to injury, every restaurant with the slightest of repute is now full, from the start of the week, on Fridays, Saturdays, Thursdays and sometimes even Wednesday nights- craziness. 

I'd heard a lot about the buzz about The Naked Finn before I ever stepped in and it started way back last Christmas. The small restaurant consists of a 16 seat bar counter and two tables for 6 (or 12 tables for 2) indoors, as well as three outdoor tables. I'd heard reports about the fresh seafood and the quirky atmosphere. I'm happy to report that both are true. The man at the helm of the restaurant, Ken Loon, is the same free-loving clever businessman who brought you Klee, the Portsdown bar with the great tropical fruit cocktails. Cocktails are also a strong feature at The Naked Finn but the bigger star is the fish. 

I've been there three times now and each time, I'm drawn to the beautiful simplicity of the place. It's a plastic tarp, thrown over dark concrete H-beams, with a view that looks out to the fields and buildings down Alexandra Road. In the spartan colonial layout of the Gilman Barracks, the Naked Finn is a deep-set and lovely, if slightly pricey, find. The people who go there, are another reason altogether to visit, they are beautiful but certainly not simple, in fact, they run the gamut of complexity, skinny leggy young girls with cross-backed jumpsuits and swishy hair, old rich-looking couples who come in at 10pm just for their bowls of prawn mee, metrosexual men- tables of them and the occasional odd neighbourhood visitor, casually dressed in moccasins and a tee-shirt. 

Ken himself, is a lovable oddball, a long, floppy-haired, musician-lookalike with braided bracelets and spindly knees. If you were having a bad day, you would probably not want to have a late dinner with a chef. Most chefs, despite their creative brilliance, are rather painfully obnoxious, and more counter-culture in flair than in thought. Ken is rather quiet, unassuming and usually clutching an illustrated book of crustaceans. His dedication to craft and food, is distinctly earnest and pedestrian. And yet, that is what makes The Naked Finn so attractive- the straight forward presentation, the nostalgic tastes and the basic but cheerful service (so very lacking in many local establishments). I'm told that they run through 300kg of fish in a week, which is amazing, given the small scale of the almost pop-up-like restaurant.

On two of the occasions, we had the Set for 4, which costs $360, on the second occasion, we supplemented this with a few additional side dishes to feed 6 people. Generally, the cost of dinner works out to be $70 per head, without drinks, but the food quality is high and seafood is never that cheap. Their dishes admittedly, are a lot more expensive than you would find at a zichar, but cooked with somewhat more refinement. We began with a sesame citrus mesclun salad, salt and pepper barbequed baby octopus (which had not be de-fibrulated, big minus for large sheaths of plastic membrane), four large scallops on shell, piquant cold bee hoon and fried kang kong, baby littlneck clams in broth, crispy skinned  hot, grilled barramundi served with cold cherry tomatoes and caramelized balsamic, large dark red prawns, fresh and sweet and a platter of lagoustines (they call them lobsters but they are more akin to yabbies). I will post some pictures but I'm always there late at night and the light quality is not the best, for pictures of all the dishes, visit their website or Alex Ang/Bibik Gourmond's annotated write-up here

There was definitely more than enough to eat and the preparation and service was smooth and fast. The sauce plates of thai chilli, belachan and flavoured salts were constantly refilled and water was on tap, to keep costs low, they explained. If I had one compliant, it would be that the cold bee hoon and kang kong sides were served too early, rather than with the seafood. I would have liked more variation with the menu to include maybe a beef dish or some kind of fried potatoes or bread, but it was all very good. I'm not sure anything was truly sublime, probably the cold bee hoon and the littleneck clams, especially on a colder night, or with a cold glass of Sancerre or a Japanese grape cocktail, but it was a darn sight better than most restaurants I've tried in Singapore. Ken's passion for food, his spot-on understanding of market placement and his self-assured pricing, is really unique. If you have patience with the reservation line, it is really worth a visit, just don't accept an outdoor table unless you are young and willing to deal with the heat and rain. 

The Naked Finn
41 Malan Road 
#01-12 Gilman Barracks
Tel: 66940807