Archive for June, 2008

Contemplating MoVida

Posted in Restaurants in Melbourne with tags on June 18, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

I’m back! After a week of feasting furiously on the Sunny Island of Singapore, I have so much writing to catch up on on the food that I had back home and the restaurants that I visited. Most of it was amazing to say the least. I don’t think I’ve ever had this much food in my entire life, dinner party after dinner party, so much that I’m wondering if my parents were more excited about the food than I was!

Nevertheless, it was great fun, I’m sporting a new rock on my finger, and we’ve now taken the plunge into a whole new realm of “poverty”.

Fortunately or not, we’ve also booked ourselves a spot at MoVida long before the trip and that takes place tomorrow. Despite new resolutions to live on love and fresh air for the next year and a half, we’re also finding it hard to unbook our much-coveted spot in the restaurant as we’ve been dying to try the tapas there for the longest time.

So the next best thing you do? Justify it and come up with a perfectly legitimate excuse: It’s a celebratory dinner, we tell ourselves.

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Bag of Nuts

Posted in Cooking with tags on June 6, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

The Jman’s trip to the Royal Nut Company yesterday means that I now have bags of uber fresh hazelnuts, walnuts and cashews (the cashews were from this nut shop in Niddrie) sitting on my kitchen benchtop screaming “EAT ME! EAT ME!”.

But not before I season them though. Nuts can be full of wholesome goodness (or so I’d like to think) as long as you don’t fry them in oil or add too much salt in the seasoning. You see, I love bar/beer nuts, and we also know that beer nuts are just bad for you. So the best solution is to season them yourself at home.

It’s dead easy – toast them in a pan, make a spice seasoning of whatever you like, toss them together, and voila! This way, you can control the amount of salt, there’s no added oil, and best of all you really can’t get them any fresher than that!

The Chicken Rice Recipe

Posted in Asian Cooking, Recipes with tags on June 6, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

Chicken Rice

Serves 2-3 people

Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium chicken (approx. 1kg)
  • 3-4 sprigs spring onions
  • 1 inch ginger piece, crushed slightly (but not smashed)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed slightly
  • salt to season chicken
  • 1 tsp Chinese wine

Post Cooking Seasoning:

  • 3 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • White pepper
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • Fresh spring onions, sliced lengthwise and refrigerated in a bowl of iced water (for garnish)

Method:

  1. Remove excess fat from the chicken and set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. The water level should be enough to cover the entire chicken when submerged.
  3. Season the chicken with salt all over, as well as inside the cavity of the chicken. Be generous with the salt and don’t worry about it being too salty as the salt will be washed off anyway.
  4. Season the chicken with Chinese wine (feel free to add more than 1 tsp), both on the inside and the outside.
  5. Stuff the cavity of the chicken with spring onions, ginger and garlic. Seal the skin folds at the end of the cavity with a toothpick or skewer so that the pieces don’t float about during the cooking process.
  6. Submerge the chicken into the boiling water, cover the pot, and turn down the heat to the smallest flame for 5 minutes. Then turn off the heat for 10 minutes, leaving the chicken to steep.
  7. After 10 minutes, lift the chicken out to drain the water from the cavity, and be careful not to tear the skin of the chicken while doing this. I normally use a pair of chopsticks to stick into both ends of the chicken (the neck and the cavity) to lift it. This is to ensure that the temperature of water inside the cavity is sufficient to cook it evenly.
  8. Submerge chicken into the water again, turn on the heat to a low flame for another 5 minutes, then turn off the heat again and sit for 10 minutes.
  9. Keep repeating steps 7 & 8 for approximately 40 minutes. The amount of time is dependent on the size of the chicken, so you may need some trial-and-erroring there. You can test if the chicken is cooked by piercing a skewer into the fleshiest part of the thigh (usually the joint between the thigh and the breast). If there is no blood oozing out, this means that the chicken is cooked; otherwise, let it sit again for another 5-8 minutes with the heat turned off.
  10. When the chicken is cooked, lift it from the pot and dunk it into a bath of icy cold water. Be careful not to tear the skin! Leave it in the bath until the chicken has completely cooled. This is to stop the cooking process and ensures that the chicken doesnt’ become overcooked.
  11. Drain the water and rub sesame oil all over chicken.
  12. Chop chicken into pieces.
  13. Mix all “Post-cooking seasoning” ingredients together except the spring onions and drizzle over chicken.
  14. Garnish with spring onions.

Rice

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Jasmine rice
  • Chicken fat or 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 large (or 4 small) shallots, sliced
  • 10 slices of ginger (approx. 2-3cm in diameter) or equivalent portion
  • 2 cloves garlic, slightly crushed
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • salt to season
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil

Method:

  1. Wash the rice and set aside to drain.
  2. Fry the fat in a wok until it yields about 2 tbsp of oil, then add the ginger, shallots and garlic. Fry until fragrant.
  3. Add in the rice and fry on high heat until it is fragrant. The rice should be toasty, slightly browned and look evidently fried (this sound a bit redundant but I’ve under-fried it before and it didn’t taste as nice). Add in the pandan leaves and fry for a while more.
  4. Season with salt to taste.
  5. Transfer the rice to a rice cooker and add in chicken stock. The amount of chicken stock may vary with the type of rice you use, but essentially it should be about the same amount of liquid as you would normally cook rice.

Chicken Rice Chilli

Ingredients:

  • 6 fresh red chillies
  • 6-8 cloves garlic (or more if you like)
  • 1 piece thumb-sized ginger
  • 1 tbsp lime juice or vinegar
  • Salt to taste
  • And maybe a sprinkle of sugar
  • 3 tbsp chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil

Method:

  1. Firstly I have to confess: I didn’t quite measure out a recipe for this, so the proportions are all ball-parked and based on my poor memory. But if you’ve tasted chicken rice chilli before this should be quite easy for you to work out. Just play around with the ingredients. Add more of this, less of that, until you’re happy with the taste
  2. Blend chilli until it’s a nice paste.
  3. Add ginger, garlic, canola oil and chicken stock. Blend.
  4. Season with salt, and a bit of sugar, depending on your taste.
  5. Add the vinegar or lime juice, again depending on how much zing you like in your chilli.

So there you go, the ubiquitous chicken rice that is a must-know in every Singaporean/Malaysian household. Everyone has a different recipe/technique, so feel free to improvise! And if you’ve got secrets and tips to share, drop me a note. I’d love to hear from you!

Lesson du Jour: Never Bake A Cheesecake At Night

Posted in Baking on June 5, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

Juggling dinner and baking a cake at 8.30pm at night isn’t such a good idea after all. When I got home from work last night, I set out to bake a cake for my colleague’s birthday which is today. She loves the Japanese cheesecake soufflé, and I thought I’d make my virgin attempt at it after dinner.

I got all the ingredients from Safeway during my lunch break, and by the time I got home the cheese had softened nicely. Great, it shouldn’t take long to whip up. I did some mental calculations with the time; it takes an hour and a half to bake, so if I could get it into the oven by 9.30, the cake would be out by 11pm, 11.15 at the latest, and I could get to bed by 11.30 in time for my beauty sleep.

Little did I know. These things don’t always work out the way you want them to. After an hour and a half, the bottom of the cake was still too moist and hadn’t quite set. In the end it took slightly over two hours to bake, and by the time I got to bed, it was midnight.

I made a mini sampler for the Jman to try as well. Thankfully it turned out well and it was surprisingly easy to make. I didn’t get to poke my finger into its larger twin so fingers crossed, it’ll turn out well.

Ok the moment of truth has arrived – the birthday girl is here!

Cooking Backlog and the Bistro Flu Experience

Posted in Asian Cooking, Baking, Chocolate, Desserts, Food Reviews, Restaurants, Restaurants in Melbourne with tags , , , , , on June 3, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

“Water, water everywhere
But not a drop to drink”

This could be said for myself in the case of blogging – I’m surrounded by computers and Internet access everywhere, but I’ve nary had the time to sit down and blog, much less download, edit, and upload photos of my gastronomic endeavours in here.

Nevertheless, it’s not been all that still in the kitchen front. I’ve spent the weekend catching up on my cooking at the expense of vacuuming my carpet, but at least I am happy as a clam and so is the Jman.

Thursday
The Foodworks store near my place had these lovely skinny chickens (they even had less fat than some of the free range ones I’ve seen!) on offer (2 little chooks for $10) and I couldn’t resist so I bought a pack and went home to cook Hainanese chicken rice, complete with the zinger-of-a-chilli-sauce and ginger sauce.

Guess who was a happy man?

[stay tuned for recipe!]

Weekend @ Bistro Vue

It was our 4th anniversary last weekend, and to celebrate the occasion, I baked him a tray of fudge-coated mocha cupcakes and arranged them into the number “4”…at the risk of looking/sounding tacky (as you can see, I’d already exhausted all creative avenues in the first 3 years). I had a bit of an (mis)adventure there: the first batch I made were a total flop due to not one, not two, no not even three, but FOUR factors that could’ve possibly contributed to the disaster. I haven’t decided which was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but I’ll leave you to decide for yourself:

  1. I used duck eggs (after reading about it from Haalo‘s)
  2. The duck eggs I used were twice the size of normal eggs and I altered the recipe accordingly (to the weight, that is). I could’ve mis-measured the ingredients!
  3. I had a dumb blonde moment and kept thinking that 2oz off oil equated to 2 tablespoons. Guess who had a rubber cake?
  4. I handwhisked everything (although I can’t see why this would be a problem)

It was about 1pm when I was done with the first batch, and 3.30 by the time I decided that I would have to make a second attempt. It would’ve been a shame if we’d gone by our fourth anniversary without something, wouldn’t it? So between then and 5pm, I went and made a fresh batch of cakes and a fudge frosting a la Awfully Chocolate.

The result (I went back to using chicken eggs) was beautiful although the rushed frosting job meant less-than-perfect-looking cakes, but thankfully the Jman is not particularly fussed when it comes to the aesthetic department.

Later that night, the Jman took me out for the REAL celebration at Bistro Vue (kid sister to the highly-accoladed Vue de Monde, but more on that later). Through the course of dinner, we discovered a couple of interesting things about ourselves, our Vue de Cuisine (which means view of the kitchen, figuratively – sorry, couldn’t resist the pun), and how our literal view of the kitchen from where we were seated served more as a bane than a balm to our whole dining experience.

We were seated right in front of the kitchen window which was far too noisy. We could hear too much shouting, the head chef for the night seemed to be running on the edge, and the overbearing noise was nothing like what we remembered in our past visits. Suffice to say, it wasn’t the best spot for a romantic 4th anniversary dinner although I’m sure that the couple schmoozing at the corner of the restaurant might beg to differ.

In short, we found that the restaurant is no longer as good as what it used to be (we saw limp soufflés being served!), and the bread was no longer to-die-for (we even thought it was a little bit stale). This, I confirmed with the baker-of-a-Jman, was not a figment of my South-Beach-permeated imagination.

For starters, I had the escargots with chicken spring rolls. I loved the escargots, and wished I could just have an order of them. The spring rolls were nice, light and crispy but it was a little too Asian for me. The Jman ordered the French onion soup; he loved the soup, but hated the puff pastry on top and wistfully wished that it was served fitted with a perfectly-cut round of real toast instead. I liked it anyhow and had no complaints.

Then we had our mains. He ordered the wagyu sirloin to be done medium rare, while I ordered the prawn salad (hello South Beach). Unfortunately his steak came out medium (almost medium-done) instead, which he lamented was a shame because he could feel the tenderness of the meat trapped in its overdone state. Pity, pity. The real winner of the show, however, was the prawn salad – a generous serving of 7 perfectly-grilled HUGE prawns served on a tiny bed of mash and salad leaves. They were thick, fat, juicy and sweet, almost like mini lobsters but even better. We enjoyed them tremendously and wished for some more!

Dessert, unfortunately, was the least impressive of the lot and a very sad way to end off the meal. It was my fault as I insisted on dessert, thinking that a fine meal like this would be sad without one. Typically, I’d have made the natural selection of the soufflé au chocolat, but since (1) I was full, (2) there was chocolate cake back home, and (3) the last 2 soufflés I saw were limp, we chose the lemon cake with banana and coconut sorbet instead.

We were sorely disappointed: the lemon cake was too dense and too sweet. The rum on the banana was overpowering. The coconut sorbet tasted like frozen coconut cream. We didn’t end up finishing our dessert and left the place feeling a little…unsatisfied. If anything, it was the impeccable service of our Very Tall Waiter that saved the day.

So what went wrong? Was it a case of a “bad hair day” for the chef? Are they new and inexperienced? Or heavens forbid, complacency?

We initially made plans of saving up for a grand dinner at Vue de Monde one day, just to experience it for ourselves and see what the hullaballoo is all about. Apparently it’s one of those 100 things you’ve got to do before you die and I’ve really been looking forward to it. Well, we’re not all that sure now, and we’re thinking that that money might be put to better use by getting us two-thirds way to a KitchenAid mixer.

I’ve also since nicknamed the restaurant to Flu de Monde, or Bistro Flu in this case, after having that notoriously familiar feeling of the flu when I went home that very night. Familiar because it was the exact same feeling I had the first time I went there half a year ago, and was struck down with the worst-ever case of the flu that very night. It was the flu that I’ll never forget as it left me incapacitated for two full weeks and it sucked dry my year’s supply of medical leave. Was it the cassoulet? Or was it the frites fried in goose fat?

Thankfully, “the feeling” went away with my arsenal of peppermint tea, vitamins and supplements.

Monday
Perhaps it’s my impending trip back home, or it could be the weather, but I felt like something Chinese, something familiar, yet something different and something I’d never tried before.

So I made “claypot rice” (sans claypot), or “one-pot rice” as better known in some other parts of the world. The Cantonese call this “sar poh fun” (claypot rice) or “yao mei fun” (tasty rice), and this basically consists of any marinated meat mixture cooked in the rice. The authentic ones, traditionally, have chicken pieces, Chinese sausage, waxed meats and mushrooms in them and are cooked over very high heat before it is simmered. The result is a smoky one-pot treasure bursting with flavour and a charred crusty layer of rice at the bottom to boot.

I will post the recipe of what I cooked last night (as well as my chicken rice recipe) in my next post, although it is a pared down version of the Real McCoy that you get in hawker centres in Singapore. The bonus of this recipe is that you really don’t require special equipment, and ingredients are pretty standard fare in anyone’s pantry.