Sunday, September 14, 2014

Recipe: Kaeng Hung Leh/ Burmese- Thai Pork Curry

I've been on a curries kick lately! This dish was inspired by a meal we had at Pok Pok in Portland, I was so impressed by the mellow, yet deep and savoury taste of the pork curry we had there. I looked up the Pok Pok Cookbook (seriously, what did we do before the internet) by star chef Andy Ricker and found this recipe for Kaeng Hung Leh. This is a Northern Thai curry, from where Thailand and Burma meet and hence, it has the influences of both. Unlike a Malaysian curry, it does not have candlenut (in Pok Pok, I remember the curries being distinctly thinner than those we are used to), nor tomato or coconut milk. Instead it has a lot more 'assam' flavours, lemongrass, galangal, shrimp paste and tumeric.

This dish is famous and popular in Chiang Mai, where it is eaten with sticky rice and jackfruit salad. I can't wait to visit and try different version of this complex dish. We are quite lucky to have most of the ingredients easily at hand and even pre-prepared. I cannot imagine the resourceful cooks who take on making this in the US, where you have to go to a specialty grocer, buy ingredients online, or fry shallots by hand.

(1) Curry Paste

1 ounce thinly sliced lemongrass (tender parts only), from about 4 stalks
1 teaspoon (0.25 ounces/6 grams) kosher salt
1 (0.5-ounce/14-gram) piece peeled fresh or frozen galangal, thinly sliced against the grain
0.25 ounces/7 grams stemmed dried Mexican puya chilies (about 4), soaked in hot tap water until fully soft, about 15 minutes
1.5 ounces/45 grams peeled Asian shallots, thinly sliced against the grain
1 1/2 teaspoons Kapi Kung, shrimp paste

I couldn't decide whether Kapi Kung was the dried, block of belachan or the sticky, black hei chu (which goes into assam laksa). Let me know if you know! I rather leant toward the latter, given the assam flavours in this dish, but I used belachan anyway, since that is the most common.

The recipe also says to pound all the ingredients in a mortar and pestle but honestly, we live in the moden age. I blitzed it all in a Magimix until it reached a fairly soft and smooth curry paste. I doubled the recipe, which hopefully will make me two batches of curry, without having to make the rempah again.

(2) Curry
2 tablespoons/30 milliliters vegetable oil
1 ounce/30 grams peeled Asian shallots, thinly sliced with the grain (about 1/4 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons mild Indian curry powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 pound/450 grams skinless pork belly, cut into approximately 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 pound/450 grams boneless pork shoulder, cut into approximately 1 1/2 inch chunks
3 tablespoons/45 milliliters Thai fish sauce
2 tablespoons/30 milliliters Thai black soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons/22.5 milliliters liquid from Thai pickled ginger (straight from the jar)
1 1/2 ounces/45 grams palm sugar, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons/80 milliliters Naam Makham (Tamarind water)
2 cups/500 milliliters water
1 (1-ounce/30-gram) piece peeled ginger, cut into long (about 1 1/2-inch/4-centimeter), thin (about 1/8-inch/0.3-centimeter) matchsticks (about 1/4 cup)
1 1/2 ounces/45 grams separated and peeled pickled garlic cloves (about 30 small cloves)
4 ounces/115 grams long beans, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths (about 2 cups)
6 tablespoons Hom Daeng Jiaw (Fried Shallots)

Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium-low heat until it shimmers. Then add half the paste, breaking it up and stirring, till it turns a slightly duller shade of red, 2 to 3 minutes. Cook the shallots, then add the curry powder and tumeric, then add the pork, stir to coat and cook for awhile till the pork has a chance to absorb the flavour.

Stir in the fish sauce, black soy sauce and pickled garlic liquid, then add the palm sugar. Increase the heat slightly to bring the liquid to a simmer, cook until the palm sugar has more or less completely dissolved, then stir in the tamarind water along with the 2 cups of water. Increase the heat to high, let the liquid come to a strong simmer, then immediately decrease the heat to low and cover (or partially cover, if your lid doesn’t let any steam escape), adjusting the heat to maintain a steady simmer.

Cook for 45 minutes, stir in the ginger, then remove the lid and cook at a steady simmer until the pork shoulder is very tender but not falling apart and the liquid has thickened slightly, about 45 minutes more. The curry should still be fairly soupy (not gravy-like and dry) with a layer of reddish liquid fat near the surface.

I didn't understand what pickled garlic cloves were- I guess I really should have visited a Thai supermarket before making this, so the curry had to stand while I figured out how to procure some. The curry is a complex balance of sweet, salty and sour flavors, with sweetness taking the lead, it really gave me a better appreciation for how interesting Thai and less specifically, South East Asian cooking can be. There are so many ingredients that you need! No wonder a proper South East Asian kitchen has to be so fully stocked with packets and wrapped bits and bobs of everything.

The curry keeps in the refrigerator for 5 days and the taste matures best over a day. Serve over warm white rice with fried shallots. I garnished with some sliced garlic matchsticks and fresh basil leaves.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

Review: San Francisco and Portland: State Bird Provisions, Frances, Pok Pok and The Screen Door


We ate really well in San Francisco. On our first day, we went to James Beard restaurant, State Bird Provisions. This was designated by Bon Appetit magazine as the Best New Restaurant in America, and our friend managed to get seats for us to try it. The meal is dim sum style, composed of 20 tiny shareable, small dishes and rotating menus of really interesting, local and fresh ingredients.

The place is tiny and chock full of tables, the total capacity is only about 20 people. From each corner you would see trolleys of dishes being pushed around, with a running commentary "Here we have chili spiced yuba with a parsley almond pesto, for $6," you might hear as a tray of dishes is set down on your table. "Those are veal-sweetbread polpette with blackened fig, also $6, and the bowl—that's whipped Haas avocado. We top it with this seafood salsa, which tonight is mussels, clams, scallops, calamari, and shrimp... that's probably my favorite tonight. It goes for $9."

It is one of the more free-styling food places I have been to and the energy and enthusiasiam of the place is infectious. The dishes tend to gravitate back to the same styles, burrata on fried bread (delicious), a lot of savoury and deep-fried foods like octopus, squid, corn balls and a copious use of pork belly and greens. I felt the food was alright, not mind-blowing but carefully prepared and fresh, but the concept and the crowd made it new. The price point was also incredible, we paid just $40 a person.

After dinner, our group drove to Smitten Ice Cream- a place that gained fame as a travelling truck with nitrogen-frozen ice cream. (This was back in the day, when it was really revolutionary to pour dry ice straight into a KitchenAid). I’m not a ice cream fan, especially on a freezing cold SF night, but the vanilla was absolutely smooth and very tasty. One of the selling points of nitrogen is that the crystals formed in the ice-cream are really small and therefore the overall taste is unfailingly smooth, instead of icy and this is true, I could not taste a single crystal in the ice cream, it was as if the whole thing was just made of magically, monotonously cold cream.

The next day, on a friend’s recommendation, I hopped onto OpenTable (great site) and scored a 5pm reservation for Frances, in the Castro. 5pm is a ridiculously early time for dinner, but it was the only available table for the entire week. When we arrived, I realized this is because the restaurant isn’t large at all, probably 30 seats in an L-shape, with cosy seats, a quiet environment and a peaceful, simple, pared-down presentation. I was quite sure the food would be spectacular, as they had clearly focused away from the décor.

As it turned out, this was probably my favourite meal of the whole trip. The menu changes daily and the all-male, metro-sexually groomed and “lovely, darling” wait staff were attentive and brought us hot water with a slice of lemon and crusty warm bread, without even being prompted.

I looked at the menu and was floored for what to order, everything was sourced locally and sounded amazing, for example, the bouchees were Monterey Bay Calamari, Roasted Garbanzo, Tomato and Summer Squash, Smoke Bacon Beignets with Maple Chive Crème Fraiche, Baked Cherry Stone Clams cooked with Fennel, Bacon, Kale and White Corn, Panisse Frites and Chickpea Fritters with Preserved Lemon and Olive Aioli and Charred Spring Onion and Sour Cream Dip with Nigella Seed Lavash, for $7 each. I mean, really?

And those weren’t even the Appetizers ($10 each), Entrees ($18-28 each) and Sides of Ricotta Gnocchi with Iacopy English Peas and Meyer Lemon or Baked Eggplant with Burrata and Roasted Early Girl Tomatoes for $8 each.

I challenge you to find me a top-end, beautiful, clean restaurant in Singapore that serves entrees that are not pasta for $28 each. Let alone one that does it with such a deep knowledge and dedication to the differences between local produce. In the end, we had the calamari, the Chilled Corn Soup with Sungold Cherry Tomato Puree and Cornmeal Crisps, which was smooth, cold and absolutely spectacular, and the Lucinato Kale Salad, Pecorino, Summer Stone Fruit, Spring Onion and Toasted Almond. With every bite of the salad, I tasted fresh white peach, toasted nut, caramelized onion and that crisp, dark green bitterness of kale, it was a really beautiful salad and one that inspired me to recreate my version here.

We had the Sonoma Duck Breast and Cassoulet of Butter beans, Summer Squash, Ancho Chipotle and Point Reyes Mozzerella, all of them bursting with flavour and summery vegetables. For dessert, make sure you have their ‘Lumberjack’ cake, they say that this is made fresh to the season with fruit, but it is no fruit cake, more like a well-baked, yet moist date cake with thin slices of Fuji apple, peach and coconut with a scoop of Maple Ice Cream. Really sublime stuff, I finished the whole plate before poor Z. could even look up.

The drive from SF up to Portland, was one of the most beautiful drives I have ever taken- the long straight roads, yellow dried fields and blue cloudless horizons of California, turning into swaths of everglades, green broad lakes and sunset hills resting atop clouds.

The charm of Portland, is that it melds the goodwill of a little town, where cars stop for bikes and pedestrians, with fairly cosmopolitan food and enterprise. Unlike in SF, where the immigration officers and all the other Asians will give you disingenuous looks, in Portland, you will frequently be the only Asian in the restaurant. This is like the Real America. Where men have beards and where there aren’t really many airports and when you show up with a bundt cake, they cut the whole thing into 6 equal chunks to serve (after a big meal). The America where there are deer by the roads and most people haven’t really stayed skinny.

On our first cold, peach-coloured evening in Portland, we went to Noble Rot, a restaurant where the main highlight is their rooftop vegetable garden and high deck overlooking the skyline of Portland. The food concentrates on vegetables, we had a colourful rooftop salad, with rhubarb vinegrette, quinao dumplings with fresh spring vegetables (carrots and asparagus) and steak.

The food was fresh, competent but not terribly adventurous, the vegetables were very clean and tastey but they did not taste of sunshine, the way vegetables taste in Tuscany. On the way back, we walked past Le Pigeon, which is one of the most famous places in Portland, but whose long lines had turned us off an early reservation. The food there is very modern American, in that it stretches to ingredients like rabbit and dill.

Portland has a variety of food trucks and stalls, these are really hit and miss, I had some wonderful snacks like caramel popcorn, and also some that tasted a bit mothy. My overall impression of the food trucks, particularly the ethnic food (read: Asian/African) is that they were really greasy and I wasn’t really attracted to patronise any, except maybe the burger vans. T

he next day, we went to Pok Pok, which serves Northern Thai food.To be clear, if you live in Asia and within budget flying distance of Chiang Mai or even Bangkok, there is no real need to go to Pok Pok, either in Portland or it’s sister café in NYC. (It seems all Portland successes make it to NYC, like Stumptown). But if you are in the continential USA, then Pok Pok is excellent- from their sharp and sweet drinking vinegars, to the delicious stewed pork and crispy fish that we had, it took me straight back to the strong flavours of the Northern border of Thailand with Burma.

It really hit the spot, in a little luau shack no less, with atypical indifferent Asian service and I was amazed that Portland had a clientele that could appreciate this. The restaurant also had a white cook, which I know is a politically incorrect observation, but increased my curiousity as to how they were so dedicated to their craft (and again, acceptable, as Singapore has this awful penchant for authenticity in their restaurants, from Chinese to Italian to Indian.

After a while, I was down to one meal a day (a frequent condition when I’m in the US and my body has just ceased to digest any more food). This we used for The Screen Door, a Southern restaurant – unfortunately, with only two people, we could not order much more than their buttermilk-fried chicken, okra and deep fried cornbread. While it was really good (and packed), I felt that the saltiness of their food, left the flavour somewhat blunted. I couldn’t really taste the nuance of the spices, through the heavy crispiness and saltiness of the oil and pepper. 

Review and Recipe: Sunday Folks and Waffles of Insane Greatness

I've gone a tad crazy about waffles. Granted, these have always been a favourite of mine but in the last couple weeks I've had way too many for my own good.

It all started with the wholewheat bacon and cheese waffles at Nassim Hill. The crispy exterior and the soft, savoury insides. Oh yum. Then, I was alerted to the opening of Sunday Folks at Chip Bee Gardens in Holland Village. This is an offshoot of Creamier at Toa Payoh, an ice cream store. Sunday Folks concentrates primarily on desserts and the soft-serve ice cream is offered as a side and only in 6 main flavours.

The store is sited next to Phoon Huat in Chip Bee Gardens and during the two times that I visited, it was packed. Packed with young people, spending their parents' money and looking so very chic doing it. I was amazed at the long floppy hair, hiked up behind their pant-waistband boxers and stylish striped shoes that I saw the young men wearing! What a difference to when I was that age and all the boys thought rolling out the door in slippers and bermudas was absolutely alright for a date.

The store is doing a brisk trade and that is becuase their waffles are really good- thick, wheaty and crisp. The ice cream, particularly the gula melaka sea salt caramel and the vanilla madagascar bean, is very good. The pistachio though, rubbed me the wrong way, with its slightly tannic after-taste. There aren't that many cakes, usually just three or four to choose from, but the cake skew toward the Japanese mode of matcha swiss rolls and strawberry cakes.

If you are free after dinner, I would most definitely visit for a sweet pick-me-up, but good luck getting a table, or hearing your conversation!

Having contemplated Nassim Hill's waffles, I somehow found myself the proud owner of a waffle machine, which I am now intending to upgrade to an industrial waffle machine. The one I have is a Cuisinepro a waffle plate, as opposed to the Waring waffle machines that are invertible. However, in my testing recipes, I have been really satisfied with the speed and the crispness of the waffles I've made. I shortlisted 6 waffle recipes and compared them. It seems what gives waffles the rise and crisp, is one of three things, cornflour, beaten egg white or the use of yeast (and therefore a resting time).

I have tried two of the six recipes- of course the two that didn't require resting, both were spectacular but the second one trumped the first one, especially when made with a half proportion of rye flour, for a healthier and crispier exterior. It's also very quick and simple to make as it doesn't require a resting period.

Waffle recipe

3 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs, separate yolks and whites and set aside
500ml milk
180g flour (1 and a half cups)
60g corn starch (half cup)
1 tablespoon baking powder
Half teaspoon salt
113g butter (half cup), melted
Half teaspoon vanilla essence (optional)

1. Sift the flour, corn starch, baking powder and salt, then set aside.
2. Combine butter, egg yolks and milk and beat well.
3. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until risen and frothy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and continue to beat till the egg white is stiff and foamy.
4. Add the butter mixture to the dry ingredients then stir to combine. Don’t stir them too vigorously. We want the mixture to still be lumpy. Gently fold in the egg whites and add the vanilla essence.
5. Once the batter is combined, lightly grease your waffle maker, preheat it, and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions.
6. Dress your waffles with honey and butter, some fruit or ice cream.

Sunday Folks
44 Jalan Mera Saga, Chip Bee Gardens
Singapore 278116
Opening hours: 12pm- 10pm daily, closed Monday

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Recipe: A vintage buttercream chidlren's birthday cake


In the last few years, I feel like I've been swamped by fondant cakes. Fondant cakes are beautiful and often, they are the only canvas on which you can craft something really fancy. They are also extremely time-consuming, difficult to store and honestly, unpleasant to eat.

I don't understand in particular, why more children's cakes aren't regular buttercream. To me, buttercream is a real throwback ingredient but good quality buttercream is so tasty and luxurious.

This is one of the cakes we did recently for a one-year old. Since she is too young to remember the birthday, we suggested to her mummy that they choose something simple, tasty and delicious. We were so happy that they chose this buttercream pink cake and we made a delicious, moist blueberry layered cake with lemon curd and raspberry buttercream.

The siding on the cake are thin, individual pieces of fondant that have been crafted separately and then adhered to the cake right before collection and serving. The matching cupcakes have the same blueberry lemon crumb and are dusted with feminine sprinkles.

We were told the cake was so much enjoyed that it was all eaten up and that to the host's horror, one little boy even ran up to the cake and took a big lick out of the side! 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Review: Bangkok Eats: Issaya Siamese Club, NAHM, Sri Bua at the Kempenski Hotel and Soi Polo Fried Chicken

I always think the most fun cities in Asia have to be Bangkok and Hong Kong- the buzz just makes me feel more alive. That and the food. Food is everywhere! I had a quick pitstop in Bangkok but I made the most of it, I think. I wanted to explore some new places this time and I think I did because I didn't eat a single beef noodle or pad thai while I was there. I almost didn't eat any mango sticky rice or Tub Tim Krub (red ruby dessert). Amazing, no?

The first night, I caught up with an old work friend at Issaya Siamese Club. I had heard a lot about this place, that specialized in Northern Thai cuisine and because I really liked Pok Pok in Portland, I thought I might like this too. I was hoping, secretly, to find the Burmese Pork Belly curry that I liked so much, but sadly, they didn't have it.

What they did have though, was a lovely Massaman Lamb curry and their curries had that sort of deep, mellow flavour of the North. Absolutely delicious. We also had a lobster that had been halved, made into an otak (fish paste) and then stuffed back into its shell and steamed. We had a pomelo salad, served in an overturned flower pot.

The only slightly sour note of the meal was the dish that looked like cabbage and turds. They were dry and kind of hard, I'm not sure what they even were! The desserts were fairly simple and also, I thought, not the strong point, coconut mochi in the a fresh coconut, but the mochi skin was thick and unrefined and a series of slightly artificial tasting ice cream flavours. The best dessert, I felt, was one that was reminescent of a street vendor dessert. On a banana leaf, they spread dried coconut, passionfruit puree and popped rice, as well as a thin shell of chocolate and sponge cake rolls filled with cream- very simple but tasty.

The next day, I went to NAHM, which is the David Thompson restaurant in Metropolitan. I had never remembered it as being particularly hip but it is now impossible to get a reservation (for dinner). I have to admit that I went in particular for lunch, because it was so hard to get a reservation and I had very low expectations.

However, the food surprised me, it was absolutely fantastic! Even Z. who does not eat to live, thought it was refreshing and different, because of the freshness of the ingredients used. We had a blue swimmer crab curry, which was mellow, with hints of spice and wonderful fresh crab and some vegetable dishes, just brimming with flavour and juiciness. Even the simple egg omellete, which was the cheapest thing on the item, was steamed and then smoked in a banana leaf pan, it had a tamago-like texture and yet a lovely savoury depth to the taste.

I walked out the restaurant impressed and very satisfied. We did not opt for the set meal, which seemed like also a good option, for our ala carte meal, we paid about SGD$40 a person. Not cheap by Thai standards, but not expensive for a special occasion, for a white tablecloth restaurant and for a really fulfilling meal.

At dinner, we went to Sri Bua at the Kempenski Hotel, which is an offshoot of a similar restaurant in Europe Kin Kiin. This was a long set dinner, served over 7 courses and my overall feeling was that it was pricey and unfulfilling for the amount they charged, even though there was nothing poor, (but also nothing memorable) about the food, which was simply beautifully presented.

There was cornettes, meringues and crackers, with a lot of dessicated kaffir and coconut, however, some of the dishes struck a slightly sour note where the proportions were not right and overall, the small plates meant that most of it was served cold which was great as an experimental and intellectual talking point, but not necessarily for the quality of the cooking.

I checked out the website after getting home and the photography of the food is simply beautiful. The dark lighting in most of the Thai restaurants made food photography rather difficult and unflattering.

The following day, we too a quick cab ride to the It was a public holiday, so the roads were absolutely empty- a real revelation. We went to Soi Polo Fried Chicken, a place that I've written about before. The fried chicken here is so good, it's raised three generations of children for the lady proprietor. Get it with an extra helping of fried garlic slices and sticky rice, along with their amazing green papaya salad and the grilled pork neck.

Recipe: Chocolate Prune Cake


I keep coming back to this recipe for a beautiful chocolate cake that is moist, delicious and somewhat healthy. I first tasted it when it was baked for a cookbook project and I've been making it again and again since.

You can make it neat, which is actually the way I like it best, but you can also top it with a rich chocolate ganache (this is just half cream and half dark chocolate). I chose to frost only the top, to keep it simple and rustic.

The recipe is here in a previous post.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Recipe: The Obamas White House Flaky Nectarine Pie

I must admit, I was drawn to this recipe becuase I thought Barack Obama must know his pies! This pie recipe was from the White House chef, whom Obama thanked with his now-infamous quip that there might be "crack" in his pies. I tried it over this weekend and came to the conclusion that while the crust was lovely, the filling with nectarines is a bit too liquid and wet. I much prefer a thicker Sour Cherry Pie. The aesthetics of this pie though, are just beautiful and the crust, because of the copious addition of butter, is pretty heavenly and flakey, as advertised.


20 tbsp (21⁄2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
7 tbsp heavy cream
3 tbsp rendered lard (or use more butter)
33⁄4 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling the dough 3 tsp. granulated sugar
11⁄4 tsp salt

8 cups (about 7) ripe nectarines, unpeeled, pitted, and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar
1⁄4 cup packed light brown sugar
1⁄8 tsp salt
4 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp brandy
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg white, beaten, at room temperature
11⁄2 tsp granulated sugar

In a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, cream, and lard until smooth. In another bowl, thoroughly mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add about a third of the flour mixture to the butter and beat until the mixture comes together like a fairly wet dough. Add the remaining flour and mix until the dough just begins to come together. Turn the dough out on a floured surface and gently knead it into a smooth ball. Divide the dough in half, wrap each piece tightly in plastic wrap, and flatten into disks. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight (or up to 3 days).

In a large bowl, toss together the nectarines and lemon juice. Add the sugars and the salt, and gently mix to combine without mashing the nectarine chunks. Set aside to macerate for about 30 minutes. Return the nectarines to the bowl and add the cornstarch, mixing until it has completely dissolved. Stir in the brandy and vanilla.

Assembly and Baking:

1. On a lightly floured surface, roll out both disks of dough to a 1/4-inch thickness and fold in half. Then re-roll to rounds about 12 inches in diameter and 3/16 inch thick (about the thickness of two quarters). This will create the layers of flakiness in your pie dough. Transfer one round of dough to a black steel or Pyrex 9-inch pie pan, and trim the edges so they are even with the rim of the pie pan. Place the second round on a flat baking sheet and put it in the freezer. This will become the top of the pie.

2. Freeze the dough in the pie pan for 1 hour. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425°F. Remove the pie pan from the freezer and line the dough with aluminum foil. Fill with baking beads, dried beans, or uncooked rice. Bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool. When cool, preheat the oven again to 350°F.

3. Pour the nectarine filling into the pre-baked pie shell. Use a pastry brush to moisten the edges of the bottom pie crust with some of the egg white. Remove the top dough from the freezer and place over the fruit. Press down around the edges with your fingers to seal and tuck any excess dough under the edges. With a paring knife, cut 12 slits in the center of the raw dough, barely piercing it, to create air vents. Then, brush the top dough with the remaining egg white and sprinkle with Demerara or granulated sugar.

4. Bake on an aluminum-foil-covered rimmed 11-by-17-inch baking sheet on the center rack until the pie is deeply golden and you can see the thick juices bubbling through the vent, for 1 hour. Let cool before serving.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Recipe: Gaeng Keow Wan Gai (Thai Green Chicken Curry)

Thai Green Chicken Curry must be a comfort food. It's not my favourite dish- in terms of curries, I'm much more a massaman red duck curry with lychees-kinda eater. However, green chicken curry is so easy to make and so good over white rice (an indulgence these days), that I think everyone should know this recipe.

We harvested a basil patch over the weekend and wound up with a large bag of Thai basil, so I was motivated to make this, one of the dishes that uses a good amount of Thai basil and also Pad Krapow Moo, stir fried minced pork (or sliced long beans, for a healthier alternative) with Thai basil over rice, usually topped with a fried egg.

This curry is also easily stored for a simple one dish meal. The essence is the green curry paste, or rempah, as we would say in South East Asia, which in Thailand is called Nam Prik. If you cannot be bothered to make your own, you can get a packet version- I would recommend the Blue Elephant sauce packs. (There are some curries for which you have to make the Nam Prik yourself, this I feel is not one of those).

The Nam Prik has all the hallmarks of South East Asian cookig- kaffir lime, galangal and lemongrass, as well as a very Thai ingredient of cilantro root, which is supposed to be very healthy and helps to lower cholestrol. Combine the coriander seeds, cumin and peppercorn in a mortar and pound well. Pound hot chillies and salt together, then add the remaining ingredients except the belachan. Add the cumin mixture and the belachan and mix well. Modern chefs might use a food processor or a thermomix to grind the whole lot until smooth and fine.

15 large fresh green chillies
3 shallots, sliced
9 cloves garlic
1 tsp finely sliced fresh galangal
1 tbsp sliced fresh lemon grass
1/2 tsp finely grated kaffir lime rind
1 tsp chopped coriander root
5 white peppercorn
1 tbsp roasted coriander seeds
1 tsp roasted cumin seeds
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp shrimp paste (belachan)

400ml coconut milk
100ml water
500 grams chicken meat - either thighs or breast meat
2 egg plants
1 box cherry tomatoes
3 tsp fish sauce
a handful of Thai basil

From there, the process is easy. Heat some vegetable oil in a pan, fry the rempah until aromatic and add half the coconut milk, while continuing to fry. Add the remaining coconut milk and water, then turn up the heat and cook with the chicken, egg plant and tomatoes until cooked through. 

I use regular egg plant instead of Thai egg plant in my green curry chicken because I'm not a fan of the see and pulp -filled Thai eggplant, and I like my curries fairly mild, if you like yours thicker and spicier, feel free to add less coconut milk or more chillies. 

Monday, June 02, 2014

Review: The Tippling Club


I did not realize that the Tippling Club had moved from Dempsey Hill to Tanjong Pagar until recently. I had never been to the old Tippling Club at Dempsey despite a lot of rave reviews. Not being a fan of molecular gastronomy nor expensive cocktails, it seemed to me a place that I might enjoy, once and never return to, so I never got around to the opportunity, even though it had placed in the Asian Miele guide within the top 20 restuarants and was also part of the top 50 restaurants in Asia. C. had been once and was unimpressed with the experience, which additionally coloured my view.

I finally had the chance when I was invited there for lunch and was pleasantly surprised. I definitely had my reservations- that this would be an expensive and unfulfilling lunch filled with sauces and espumas and marshmallows, lots of unpleasant or gooey mouthfeel and a hungry belly at the end of it. I was proven wrong, in fact, it was a most inventive, delicious meal and I am thinking about going back and introducing some friends to the experience.

The old space was 42 seats around a curved counter, but the new Tippling club offers bar seats as well as regular table seats, in front of the kitchen. The service is excellent and knowledgeable and the chefs work silently in the background. The restuarant is in a lovely, quiet spot along Tanjong Pagar road and natural sunlight filters into the space, lighting the quirky, green decor.

I was initially a little shocked at the prices, 12 courses $160/$260 with wine, 28 courses $265/$415 with wine) and even those of the set lunch (2 courses $42, 3 courses $57) and pre-theatre menu (6-8pm, 3 courses, $70). The set lunch and pre-theatre menu consist same items except the latter comes with a glass of wine. The dishes are all described in a very ad-hoc modernist way, like 'black soil. snail espuma' and so it makes you feel like you are getting very little for the money, but that's not true, as we were treated to three innovative amuse-bouche before our set lunch began and then a selection of petit fours after, which filled us up and I felt, made the experience and price worthwhile, at least for the 2 and 3 course set lunch.

I wished that I had been there at dinner to experience the drinks- which I've heard come as bubbling martinis or as purple cough syrup in brown glass bottles, with medical labels!

Our three amuse bouche were an interpretation of the local curry chicken in the form of curry foam topped with crispy rice; three bell peppers in a squid-ink tempura, with a sesame, soy, wasabi dip and theatrical metal tweezers to pick them up with and a test-tube of clear, cold tomato essence soup with a pipette straw of basil extract.

We tried the tomato tart, the smoked eel and the Kohada, which was served as a sushi, three really beautiful dishes. I had the most 'boring' starter, the pea ham soup with 62 degree egg.

Most of us had the risotto with charred tomato, burrata and basil and the roasted barramundi with milk, braised parsley root and garlic soup.

I was blown away by the attention to detail and the preparation of the food, from the thin, drying of the meats to the solid jellies made of tomato, the long, slow cooking and the playful presentation.  Despite this, the food retained the fullness of their taste and freshness.


The show-stopper was the additional dessert that we added on, the Cassis and Violet souffle, with a yoghurt, white chocolate mini magnum that was simply out of this world. Although I didn't like the very artificial looking violet sugar sprinkled on the top of the souffle, it was wonderfully light and risen and I was amazed that they had baked it in a glass, double-bowled cup. The magnum combination of yoghurt and white chocolate was just brilliant.


There was nary a sour note, if I had to pick one, it would be that the grains of the risotto were too tough and it had so much rice that we ran out of ingredients to eat it with. The tomato tart (roll) and the dessert of souffle were the best things, I felt. After the meal, we were given petit fours, an apple doughnut, a chewey nut meringue and a tie-dyed, liquid filled chocolate sweet, that sated our sweet appetite.

I notice that the appetizers and mains also rotate very often, so that going there should always be an inventive, novel and special experience. While this is a good place for a date, I think it is fun to go in a bigger group to be able to appreciate the diversity and creativity of the dishes and becuase these experiences are more fun when shared and discussed.

Tippling Club
38 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore 088461
T: 6475 2217
Lunch: M-F, 12-3pm
Dinner: M-Sat, 6-11pm
Bar: M-Sat, 12pm-12am

Review: Diamond Kitchen for Makansutra Dinner


Diamond Kitchen is an air-conditioned zi char place opened by two young businessmen, at Laguna Park, at the base of a large condominium complex in East Coast. Don't go expecting atmosphere, as it is along the stretch of shops with a tuition center and childcare, with a very similar space. The ceilings are clapboard, gussied up with the tackiest of chandeliers and there is a mock white brick fireplace in the center, stuffed full of tablecloths and toilet paper rolls.

We were, in any case, there for the food, as part of the Makansutra Dinner outings. These BYO dinners are arranged for a fixed sum, in this case, our 10 course dinner, very reminiscent of a Chinese banquet wedding, was $50. I did a rough calculation on smaller portions of the dishes and you could have paid slightly less, about $40 a head for an ample dinner for 4 people.

The first item on the menu for the night was the appetizer, San Lau Chicken. This is an interesting take on a cold dish, which is usually the first platter in a Chinese banquet. The cold, jellied drunken chicken is shredded and mixed into julienned celery, radish and mu er, wood ear mushrooms. I really liked this dish, it tasted of deep sesame and retained a good crunch. One of the dinner guests commented that the skin had been left on the chicken, which made for some fatty bits which they felt should have been omitted. Dinner had taken a fair while to get started and service was slow and inadequate but as far as food goes, so far, so good. 

The second dish was a Superior Chicken Soup, which came in a robust black pot. It was full of soft chicken pieces, red dates and Chinese dried mushrooms. The soup was piping hot and very strong and flavourful. Definitely one of the favourites of the night.

The next dish was the Steamed Sea Bass Hong Kong style. I had read that the managers of the restaurant are so particular that they go personally to select their fish at the fisheries early in the morning. The sea bass was really large and it was impressively cooked, flaky and fresh, however, the taste was slightly bitter and muddied, it didn't have that sweet taste of fish flesh that you hope for. The sauce and condiments were suitably sharp and tasty.

One of my favourites was the Beancurd in golden pumpkin sauce, I really liked how the beancurd was fried, with a good give in the skin and creamy soft on the inside. The pumpkin sauce though, could use some work. I tasted no pumpkin at all and if I had been blindfolded, it would have simply been a starchy, sweet and smooth soup.

The Salted Egg Sotong had really good flavour, but I wish that they would have used a larger sotong, these sotong seemed to have shrivelled into small bits and the coating, while flavourful, was hard. I was disappointed not to have the live steamed prawns that I had seen online, they are thrown into a wooden bucket with hot coals and seem to be the highlight of this restaurant.


The next dish was Champagne Pork Ribs, I was hoping for large, bone-in pieces of pork rib but no luck there! These were small, narrow nibbles of pork ribs but they were very tasty. They had been well marinated and fried to a soft but chewy texture. I am told that Champagne is a partial misnomer, most of the pork ribs are marinated in Seven-Up to get that springy, turgid texture. If I were to compare these and the pork ribs at Ming Kee seafood in Macpherson, I like Ming Kee's coffee ribs about as much as I like these ones, but Ming Kee had large, satisfying pieces, which is nice to have in pork ribs!

The Sweet Potato leaf in Claypot was quite unremarkable, it was fairly spicy is all I remember. The Kam Heong Crab is also one of the highlights of this restaurant. I had never had Kam Heong before and the spicy, dark red paste reminded me of Sichuanese ma la and has the same effect of making your mouth a little numb. The sauce is made from dried prawns, or hae bee, curry powder, birds eyes chilllies, oyster sauce, soy sauce, shallots and curry leaves, basically a mish-mesh of South East Asian flavours. I don't know that I like it, it is really overpowering. The sauce is used for chicken, lala, crab. I've always prefered my crabs plain steamed with ginger, so I'm not a good judge of sauces, but this is closer to a dry black pepper crab than the very wet chilli crab.

I enjoyed the Bee Hoon with Clam in superior stock but some of the clams were slightly sandy. I felt that could have been more attention paid to this, but the soup was very tasty. Again, I read that they boil over 10kg of clams to get this stock and it certainly had a good briney kick of clam flavour. I don't usually like Chinese desserts and I'm not a fan of yam ornee (paste) at all, so I was quite surprised that I really liked their Yuan Yang Yam Paste. I suspect this is not because it was that unusual, but because the dessert was drenched in coconut milk!

The yam paste is not savoury and cooked in lard, which I always find an odd combination, rather the yam and sweet potato had been steamed and with coconut milk added, making it a lighter and more refreshing end to a heavy meal. 

All in all, this was a very enjoyable meal with the unusual setting and good company. I am not sure it's a place I would have come out to on my own, nor that I would have found it by myself, within the condo complex. I think it would be booked solid during weekends as there is ample parking, local food at a decent price and must benefit off the large residential hinterland in this area. The staff looked very harried and I really salute the two young people for running a full restaurant with such a wide menu, not an easy ask at all. It's definitely something to be supported, if Singapore's local cuisine is to prosper and progress. 

The restaurant's prices are reasonable and I was sorry to not get to try some of their other dishes like the sweet and sour pork ribs. Their pork dishes, for example are $12/18/24 for the small, medium and large portions, as are their tofu dishes and the sweet and sour pork rice or pork rib rice, costs $6 per plate. Definitely worth a try if you are wanting a meal in the East Coast over the weekdays or are thinking of a family treat over a weekend. 

Diamond Kitchen
5000F Marine Parade Road
Ground Floor Laguna Park, (parking costs $1)
Singapore 449289

Friday, May 16, 2014

Recipe: Vanilla Browned Butter Raspberry Jam Madeleines

I have a new discovery, Natalie Eng's gorgeous food blog here. She is a Singapore who splits her time between Singapore and Paris and has apprenticed at some of the top Parisien restaurants. Her cookery is mostly baking, but she has also included some food recipes as well. Her blog is just gastronomy to the eyes, I couldn't believe that she was barely 19 years old and had such a beautiful eye for photography. What a gift.

I sent her blog to some of my friends who are themselves gifted bakers and we all ooh-ed and aah-ed over her talent and beautiful bakes. I've been inspired by several of the items that she has blogged about and when I looked at the recipes, I was even more in love. She weighs everything and has helpfully laid out all the ingredients by weight and all the notes you need to achieve a good result. I love that her batch size is small and well-controlled.

This was the first of her recipes that I undertook to try. I have never made Madeleines but her pictures were so beautiful and moorish that it spurred me to borrow some madeleine pans at once! Browned butter is clarified butter or ghee, basically you heat butter until it starts to show brown flecks, then you skim off those charred and bitter bits and what is left is a golden, hazlenut- smelling concoction that smells divine. It is a great way to spice up your baking.

I love that this recipe uses honey and indeed, her tips, which included wiping the pan after brushing with melted butter and baking at slightly higher heat, did result in great, risen madeleines, although I felt the texture was a bit dense. I wished I had mini Madeleine trays as I think the smaller size helps with both the rising and the bite-size portion control.

I sandwiched my madeleine batter with a little spoonful of raspberry jam, I felt it cut through the butteriness of the batter and gave it a bit of a surprise. These were just delightful to eat warm, with a crisp skin and a soft interior, straight out of the oven. I baked these with K (this recipe is very simple and suitable for kids, especially if you have already made and refrigerated the batter) and the two girls chowed their way through the madeleines and the crumbs.

Since then, I have had a piping bag of madelaine batter in my fridge, as it is such a versatile thing to have lying around. I make the batter and then rest it in the piping bag, I think I could also freeze the batter for sudden desserts. I will definitely be returning to Natalie E's blog for more inspiration to bake and more deliciousness.

Vanilla Browned Butter Madeleines:
(adapted from the Le Meurice)

90 grams browned butter
15 grams honey, I used the best quality I had
70 grams eggs
25 grams milk
65 grams sugar
5 grams vanilla bean paste
100 grams T45 flour, I used regular all-purpose flour
4 grams baking powder


1. Make a browned butter and strain out the burnt fats using a muslin cloth. Add in the honey and stir to melt it. Set aside to cool slightly.
2. Whisk the eggs, milk, vanilla paste and sugar together.
3. Sift the flour and baking powder together.
4. Add the dry ingredients into your egg mixture and mix gently till well combined and then add in your browned butter. Mix till just homogenous. Cling wrap upon contact and leave in the fridge to chill for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
5. Preheat your oven to 230C without ventilation. Grease your madeleine molds lightly and wipe down with a kitchen paper to remove any excess oil. Fill each mold with 6g of batter and bake for 2 minutes or till the humps have appeared. Open the door, rotate the tray and let some steam out, and finish the baking in the last minute.
6. Unmold immediately and serve warm with a cup of tea and an assortment of jams.
7. Note: if you're using normal madeleine sized molds, fill them with 25g of batter and bake at 210C.