Sunday, September 30, 2007

My Sister went to Paris and brought me back some FDS

It seems to me so many food bloggers rave about the use of fleur de sel. When my sister offered to bring me back something from her trip to Paris, the first that came to my mind was fleur de sel. But which fleur de sel? I've been reading enough to know its not just any ordinary sea salt, but there are many grades and varieties. I figured, how expensive can salt be right? I'm an avid reader of David Lebovitz's blog, and he says that his absolute favouritest is Fleur de Sel de Guérande.

So after giving several smses to my sister to give more precise instructions, the clever girl found some at Galleries Lafayette (correct spelling?) at about 6 Euro a packet of 250 grams. Exorbitant since thats about 12 Singapore Dollars a bag, when its 60 cents for 250 grams of table salt here. Thats about 20 times more expensive. But it is indeed the loveliest stuff, and being salt, it's not the kind of thing you use by the tablespoon.

I was really excited to use it, so the first thing I used it for was one of the simplest ways I know to appreciate salt.

Yeps, on a nice red juicy tomato. One knows its not easy to find excellent red tomatoes that do not cost an arm and a leg at your friendly neighbourhood supermarket, (and if I do I eat them like fruit without anything on them because its such a luxury). But recently it seems to be tomato season because there's just heaps of tomatoes at the nearby wet market, and being sold at $1.50 a kilogram, meaning about US$1.00 for the equivalent of about 2lbs. If you're careful at the tomato picking from the heaps, you can get good coloured specimens with decent tomato flavour. Compared to the hothouse tomatoes I got from superfresh (when in the US), its wayyyy cheaper for better flavour.

There's just something about the sweet, tart juiciness of tomatoes that suck up the saltiness of.. salt. And this FDS is amazing. I can put a fat grain of it on my tongue and feel the ocean/sea without cringing, wanting to spit, or drink a whole glass of water. Amazing.

Somehow I feel that it will not be suitable for my everyday cooking though, and it will be mighty expensive to use it in my chinese style stir fries etc, I'll gladly use superior soy sauce for that (another rather pricey basic condiment, will save for another post), and somehow they require the harsher but more intense table salt flavour.

I keep a little plastic container of the FDS on my desk at work, to use on my salads on the days I bring salads etc to work for my lunch.

Asides from that though I need to figure out some other ways to use this precious stuff, hand-raked off salt water puddles and brought to me halfway across the world here in sunny Singapore. I used some of it in the tuna salad I made, and it tasted pretty good. (The tuna salad was my attempt at replicating the swordfish mousse starter at le Papillion, I even used homemade mayonnaise and served it with beetroot) But I agree with David that it does this FDS more justice to use it as a finishing salt where you can crunch gently into the soft crystals that did not melt and enjoy the fresh ocean taste in your mouth.

Next up, I will try it on a baked potato.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

When the menu has a name

When a menu does not contain the word menu, we at the table all patiently await our 'Perfect Moments'. As with all other family events, an aunt had a funny story to tell about how our uncle's puzzlement at the pretty gold embossed dinner invitation, and why he felt it was unnecessary since the dinner was going to be held at 'her house'. For a 'humble' house, My Humble House sure spares no expense with the fancy names for their dishes.

Life is Good fresh mini octopus, spicy crab rolls with Jellyfish, Top Shells in Thai Style, Seafood Roll, Crispy Eel in Chef's Blended Sauce

The highly anticipated dinner started with a platter of cold dishes called 'Life is Good'. Well.. according to that platter i'd have to say life is only so-so. Only one item on the plate was worth its salt, the blandest sounding, but tastiest seafood roll. Crunchy sweet prawns in a crisp deep fried beancurd skin, I was glad i saved the best for last. My pet peeve was with the octopus. They looked and tasted exactly like the seasoned baby octopus used in supermarket sushi, probably fresh out of a nice food service sized carton. Also, the crab roll was actually shredded crabsticks. It was rather sad that the starter plate consisted of so many processed things, each little portion was so highly seasoned that towards the end it was kind of hard to tell the difference. Thank goodness there was more to look forward to.

Blessed Treasure Double-boiled Soup with Scallops, Fish Maw, and Bamboo Mushroom Consomme in Young Coconut

Being Cantonese, and totally weary (and wary) of shark fin soup, any soup course would get me excited. This tantalised both with glowing pre-dinner reports from a person who attended the sampling dinner, and the incredible sweet coconut scent that wafted through the room as waiters walked by with massive trays of the hot steaming coconuts. For the uninitiated, double boiling is by far one of the best ways to make chinese soup. A vessel with the ingredients for the soup is prepared and placed in a steamer. The vessel is then steamed for hours until the solid ingredients and liquid inside meld to form a harmonious whole. The relatively slow cooking method extracts the flavour of the ingredients without messing up their protein structures, so solids achieve tenderness without disintegrating and the broth remains sweet and clear. This soup tasted beautiful, except maybe it was seasoned a little too much for my liking, because halfway through, it began to feel really salty. The fish maw and dried scallop were real treasures to find and eat, somehow making you feel delicate and precious. (But dried scallops and the like also trigger my allergies so it's really a love hate relationship). The coconut flesh was fun to scrape off and eat, and had the characteristic coconutty milkiness with an added salty umami dimension. Definitely something to remember.

That Warm Feeling Wok Grilled Half Lobster in Superior Stock

Lobster for some reason is one of those things that never fails to impress. Maybe because its got all the juicy sweetness of prawns exept in a bigger chunk and with greater ease of extraction (from the diner's point of view of course) Consequently however, its bigger chunk means a much higher chance of too much or too little heat and makes for an altogether riskier experience for the cook since lobsters do cost substantiially more. Of course this half lobster was done perfectly, and the rich stock sauce enhanced the sweetness of the tender lobster meat. Pity the bride has a lobster allergy. Lucky those whose diner next chair had lobster allergies. Happy me to have some delicious lobster!

The Sea Calls with Good Fortune Steamed Marble Goby in Foie Gras infused Sauce

Somehow Steamed Marble Goby sounds so much more exotic than steamed Soon Hock. But of course the fish was very well done, moist and tender, a very generous sized chunk, and the light fois gras tasting sauce complemented perfectly. Definitely a great way to do steamed fish. Definitely.

Luck Aplenty, Fortune Found Stewed Sliced Abalone With Sea Cucumber and Spinach

Wedding Dinner dish, the abalone with spinach, except this came along with a lovely tender gelatinous hunk of stewed sea cucumber. Need I say more? my skin feels smoother already.

Little Wonders Crispy Spring Chicken wiith Fermented Bean Curd

hicken Little Wonders what happened to his best friend you mean... Well.. He/She was marinated in those little fermented bean curd/also known as bean cheese/fu yu wondercubes. The end result, fragrant with a crispy skin yet tender meat. It even had some of its bones in. Very very Chinese. By this course I was struggling to pack it in, so the lucky brother and cousin got some extra. The frisee I enjoyed because it balanced the salty flavours of the chicken's marinade coating. (Yes I am one off those Garnish eaters... Can't help it since they're mostly some greens or aromatics..)

The pictures for the next two courses disappeared... I don't know but maybe they were deleted.

Country Musings Stir-fried Fragrant Mushroom Rice with Chinese Sausage and Assorted Mushrooms came encased in a lotus leaf package so the rice opened up with a gush of lotus scented steam. Otherwise I was not too impressed. It was good and addictive because I'm a rice lover, but the rice was once again rather heavily seasoned, and I always prefer my rice a little plainer so the sweetness of good rice can come through to balance the rich flavours of the ingredients that were mixed in.

Perfect Harmony Chilled Hashima with Cheng Teng was a sweet dessert soup, nothing too special except for the Hashima. Now Hashima is one of those weird Chinese food thingys, purportedly good for your health/complexion/vitality, but of where it originates is pety hard to fathom. First cousin declared it was frog intestines. I remembered the guy at the Chinese herbal shop telling me something about egg nutrition. First Aunt said its definitely not the intestines but some kind of body fat. Internet research has turned up 'hasma is from the snow frog and it is the reproductive gland of this forest frog. Specifically, it is the oviduct of Rana temporaria cheninensis, family Ranidae. So says the Atlas of the Chinese Materia Medica Pharmacopoeia of 1995.' Apparently it is also known as Hasma. I've seen it dried in medicnal shops, very expensive indeed and they look like large yellowish granules. Prepared, it turns into jellylike clouds, completely clear and smooth, slipping down your throat like some elixir.

Ah... Wedded Bliss indeed. now I understand the need to share some of this bliss in the form of an excellent wedding dinner for family and friends.

To an everlasting Love, dearest Cousin J and Cousin-in-law H, and thanks for the Dinner experience at your humble house. :D

Monday, September 17, 2007

Another 'nice restaurant' Dinner

This evening was a highly anticipated one. I found out that my cousin was getting married and hosting her wedding dinner at Tung Lok's My Humble House. As it turns out, the food seemed rather 'traditional' not really 'fusion' as touted, more like 'modern chinese'. The execution however, was faultless, and a few innovations helped make it a very memorable food evening.

That was the good news.

The bad news is that, the food pics are all in a cousin's camera, and that will therefore take some time to materialize. The ones for this post I took with my dinky little phone camera, really not meant for such high performance tasks such as picturing food. *tsktsk* Thus the actual post will have to wait. Sorry Guys.

Thats the bad news for you all, I have extra bad news for myself, have gotten some hives since dinner 3 hrs ago.. therefore the conclusion is that some of these traditional chinese ingredients I really cannot eat. Sad huh.. *sniff* bye bye conpoy, dried shrimp, abalone sauce... hello antihistamine...

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Flogger's Dinner 2007 at Le Papillion

Amouse Bouche
Marinated Goat Cheese with Pesto on Watermelon

Very nice indeed, even for a goat cheese non-admirer like me. The fresh basil pesto worked wonders to balance out the pungency of the goat cheese, and the watermelon provided a refreshing, light, but sweet contrast to the saltiness of the cheese.

The Butter for our rolls.. just thought they looked real pretty...

Cold Appetiser
Hokkaido Scallop Carpaccio and Barracuda Fish Mousse with Miso Cream

Some bloggers at my table had asked for a no shellfish menu, refering to clams and oysters that they did not like the taste of. Unfortunately for them, scallop (and so is prawn as we will later find out with utmost certainty), is shellfish, so they had a beetroot 'carpaccio' instead. Eager to try a little more, I swapped some scallop with them. The scallop tasted very mild, a little too strongly perfumed by the olive oil for my taste. I actually enjoyed to paper thin slices of beetroot more. The barracudda mousse however was impeccable, with tart and slightly creamy mayonnaise enhancing the fish meat, with an added crunch from some lightly cooked, chopped green beans.

Jasmine Tea Perfumed Duck Consomme made with Fiji Water
Foie Gras Tortellini

The first few mouthfuls of the soup were very mild, then the perfume of the Jasmine Tea began to filter into the tastebuds and the sense of smell. The clear pristine nature of the consomme helped to balance the rich fois gras filling in the tortellini. The pasta was perfect in texture, firm yet yielding, no gummy or pastey texture, very enjoyable indeed, exceptional vehicle for the fois gras delivery.

Hot Appetiser
Escargot with Herb-Garlic Butter on Button Mushroom Gratinee
Parsley Oil and Arugula Salad

It did come as a disappointment to my table that the chef figured one leaf of arugula could constitute a salad.. Fortunately, everything else was perfectly executed. The Gratinated mushrooms were plump and juicy with the natural mushroom sweetness. The Escargots were so tender they practically melted in your mouth. The only thing I felt I needed for a little lift was some fresh cut chilli, but I think that is just my personal palatte speaking. I still enjoyed it perfectly fine without my chilli fix.

Someone Elses Pasta
Rigatoni tossed with... cooked spinach, some kind of sausage meat and crisp smoked ham, probably fried, topped with a shave of parmesan.

I don't know exactly because I did not taste it... and it was not written down on the menu...
I was so busy joking around I forgot to take a picture of my own.
Rigatoni tossed in Crustacean Oil, Tiger Prawn, Shaved Bottarga and Parmesan Cheese,
which tasted as good as it looked. A pity no picture.... hehe

Char-Grilled King George Whiting Fillet with Toasted Mustard Seeds and
Saffron Tomato Sauce - My absolute favourite of the night. Amazing...

Fish was flavourful and tender, the mustard seeds adding a little spicy nuttiness against the perfect foil of finely chopped and lightly cooked tomatoes. The flavour of the tomato became more complex from the cooking, increasing in its tangy tomato taste, but not losing its light juicy texture. Extremely well thought out and put together.. I need to try making something like this.

Blood Orange Sorbet

Slow-Cooked Oxtail in Feuille de Brik Parcel with Truffle Butter and Jus Gras

Tender, Crisp and Chewy with every single mouthful, the sauces and pureed potato complimented perfectly, extremely enjoyable.

Passionfruit Symphony
Souffle, Creme Brulee and Macaroon(with a passionfruit mousse inbetween..)

Chef used passionfruit puree and mixed it with Marquisa (Lovely Indonesian variety of the passionfruit), the shell of which you can see on the plate, the one with the passionfruit souffle inside. The result was sublime, Passionfruit Perfume, with the crunchy, faintly sweet seeds of the Marquisa, an improvement from the tarter and harder (ok.. crunchier) passionfruit seeds!

I do hope you enjoyed looking at my dinner as much as I enjoyed eating it! Thank you Joone and the people at Le Papillion for a job very very well done. It was also great meeting fellow food bloggers in person. Colin! we're looking forward to next year's event eh!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Tofu Smoothie

I love tofu, and many other soybean products. I have however, always been slightly skeptical of non-asian handling of the humble soybean. I blame that on Silk Soymilk. No wonder they called it silk, because it was not meant to be edible. Why anyone thinks that adding things to pure soymilk can make it better is totally beyond me. What could taste more simple and complex yet sweet and pure at the same time as fresh soymilk, ingredient list? soybeans and water.

Thus when i saw Alton Brown's Good Eats episode on tofu, I laughed a little at his tofu smoothie idea. But since I had the ingredients all sitting there, i figured why not? I never really drink smoothies outside, since most of them are more sugar than anything else. So if this one proved to be good, it would make for a very good snak when i came home from work, before i go about preparing dinner.

basically, blend silken tofu, the softest you can find in a blender with some fruit juice and frozen fruit.

I tried cranberry kiwi juice with frozen grapes. His version boasted cranberry juice and a small can of frozen fruit cocktail. Then I tried with cranberry kiwi juice and orange slices, and that was really good as well. I might now try a tofu mocha smoothie, with some milo and good strong coffee. Since I usually take soymilk with my coffee, It might not be too much of a stretch.

wish me luck!

Oh, by the way, I use the unicurd silken tofu because it has a softer texture than the fortune brand one.

update: the mocha tofu smoothie turned out very well. Yums

Food Blogger's Dinner 2007

I am so excited about the dinner tonight, it's my first time at the food bloggers dinner. I'm looking forward to meet other food bloggers as well as taste some really good food. I first heard about Le Papillion from the co-owner, food photographer Edmond Ho (turns out he's the chef's brother) at a food shoot at a restaurant at which I was working. He said I should go give it a try, and I never thought the opportunity would come so soon. Things do work in mysterious ways. I hope I will get to give everyone a favourable update as soon as possible!