Yemeni Dish in Singapore: Lamb Mandi

One of the best things about living in the Southeast Asia region is the ability to travel across the different countries, as most are a 2-3 hour plane ride away (if that). I’m currently based in Thailand (Bangkok) but have been traveling to Malaysia and Singapore a lot… and immensely enjoying the food.

More than enjoying the eating, I’ve been learning a lot about foods from different cultures, more than I did when I was living in San Francisco, New York, D.C., or LA. It seems so strange how some Asian countries are more diverse than the United States or even London (pre-Brexit).

Each region’s local food is mind-blowingly delicious — especially in Malaysia and Singapore. Malay and Singaporean foods are heavily influenced by Chinese and Indian and there are many dishes with roots from China and India but unique to the region. (More on that later… actually, there will be a piece published shortly about Malaysian food I wrote – yay!)

But what a lot of the more developed cities of the region (Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, are the top three) do well, are foods from various countries (outside of China and India). For example, Bangkok — believe it or not — excels in Italian food. Pasta, antipasto, even mains such as osso buco are extremely delicious and a lot of establishments even import brick ovens from Italy for their pizza.

Singapore has pretty decent Middle Eastern / Mediterranean communities and those whom know me, know I loooooooove Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. From the spices: cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, paprika, saffron, sumac to the aromatics: mint, parsley, dill, oregano… I can keep going but I can’t get enough of the warm, deep, flirty flavors of Middle Eastern foods and the fresh, bright, acidity of Mediterranean foods.

The other day in Singapore, I had the tastiest lamb mandi, a Middle Eastern dish so I just have to share.

lamb mandi
Byblos Grill

Originating from Yemen, mandi is a one plate dish consisting of a protein (usually beef, chicken, goat, or lamb) with rice cooked with a special blend of spices. The menu description reads: roasted lamb marinated with saffron and Arabic spices served with mandi rice and homemade mint tomato sauce

In actuality, it was the most tender leg of lamb cooked in this clay pan-like thing with this lovely fragrant rice. I couldn’t get the flavors out of my head, so I googled recipes and tried with chicken at home. It was good but not great – I’m blaming the cooking method (traditional mandi is cooked underground) but I’m hoping practice will make perfect ūüėČ Recipe is after the jump.

By the way, if you’re ever in Singapore, Byblos Cafe is highly recommended. Not pictured are the four other dishes my dining companion and I ordered… for lunch. There were only two of us and we ate enough for like five haha

Byblos Grill
14 Bussorah Street Singapore 199435
11am – 12am
+65 6296 8577

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Kitchen Essential: Champagne Vinegar

Champagne vinegar is spectacular and every home cook should have a bottle stocked. For substitutions, various sites recommend Sherry Vinegar, White Wine Vinegar, Chardonnay Vinegar or even ‘Organic’ Apple Cider Vinegar.

The answer is: NO.

Champagne vinegar is made from the same grapes champagne is made of, and if you’re the type who substitutes¬†sherry, ‘white wine’ whatever that means, chardonnay or apple cider for champagne, then perhaps an alternative¬†is for you. But if you care about food then investing in a bottle is a must as champagne vinegar brightens dishes without an overpowering sourness. Think pink grapefruit vs grapefruit, lime vs lemon.¬†The acid is very light and it is a quiet, subtle tart, extremely suited for delicate or bland ingredients.

My all-time favorite salad dressing recipe is Ina Garten’s vinaigrette (which calls for champagne vinegar). This dressing is so simple, I default for most of my salad needs and so versatile, I switch up the dressing and ingredients depending on mood or what’s in my fridge. There are two basic recipes I make the most (which I share here) and as of late, I’ve been making a more tabbouleh-Panzanella inspired version.

The core ingredients are still the same: tomatoes, red onions, English cucumber or Japanese cucumber kyŇęri because they have nice, crisp bites compared to the common American cucumber, American cucumbers work just as well, just scoop the seeds and cut into quarters. The only caveat is the salad needs to be served chilled otherwise the cucumbers lose their crispness.

I then add fresh mint, parsley or scallions and pita bread, brushed with olive oil and toasted in a skillet with champagne vinegar, salt, pepper, olive oil, with some lemon depending on the amount of herbs I add. (Apologies for the ambiguity, I barely measure.)

As the weather warms, Ina Garten’s vinaigrette and the variations will come in handy for sure. Recommended to all!

Enjoy.

NYT Things You Should Make, Not Buy

Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies. Yum. source

As the title of my blog says, there are four things I keep up with on a daily basis: food, booze, Internet, and Japan.¬†I love the Internet as much as I love food and booze. Oh. And Japan too. But I really love the Internet — it’s an addiction.¬†So much so I forced myself to detox.

Fast forward about seven months, I’m back online. The time I waste trolling the Internet isn’t as bad as it used to be but, I am still constantly on Twitter and Instagram. Since I follow a lot of food related accounts, I sometimes post Internet finds here, tagged under ‘Internet Finds‘.

The greatest find this week, was a¬†NYT’s article: “20 Things You Should Make, Not Buy”. The Times only linked their recommended recipes but there are a few recipes I am 100% sure are (sorry not sorry) better than the ones in that article.¬†(Sidenote: I cook a range of foods, not just Japanese.)

Here are a few:

Marinara Sauce¬†— NYT shares a recipe from Julia Moskin. I am sure her recipe is delicious but this marinara recipe is easily in my top three of all time.

In 2010, I lived in LA when¬†Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo, ‚Äúthe Frankies,‚ÄĚ did a kitchen takeover at¬†Animal Restaurant. With the dinner, each guest received a signed copy of:¬†The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual¬†and it is now one of my go-to cookbooks. Their marinara sauce takes four hours, requires good olive oil and pricy canned tomatoes but definitely worth it. I found their recipe online here.

I also shared some tips to roasting vegetables from The Frankie’s cookbook way back in 2010 here.

Mustard-Shallot Vinaigrette¬†— NYTimes’ recipe is again by Julia Moskin but I am convinced Ina Garten’s Vinaigrette is king! Her recipe calls for champagne vinegar that may sound all fru-fru. But for lazy people like me, the light, tangy and subtly acidic champagne vinegar is far suited than red/white wine vinegar to drizzle over roughly chopped vegetables or, on a presentable salad to serve guests. I shared the recipe here.

EMP’s Granola source

Eleven Madison Park’s Granola¬†— funny timing. I¬†just¬†posted about trail mix¬†and was contemplating if I should do a granola round-up but this particular one is sooooo delicious by the time I get around to actually collecting my favorite recipes from around the internet, sitting down and writing out a blog post, you still won’t be sick of this one.

EMP is the famed Eleven Madison Park and their granola, like the restaurant, is a bit uppity but extremely addictive. I prefer the Serious Eats’ rendition with¬†cherries, pistachios, and coconut flakes. The recipe is here

Hummus¬†— hummus is astonishingly simple to make and¬†Mark Bittman’s recipe is my favorite. This is his recipe on epicurious, taken from his book The Best Recipes in the World. Since it’s so short, I’m pasting it into the body.

  • 2 cups drained well-cooked or canned chickpeas, liquid reserved
  • 1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste), optional, with some of its oil
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus oil for drizzling
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled, or to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin or paprika, or to taste, plus a sprinkling for garnish
  • Juice of 1 lemon, plus more as needed
  • Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

PREPARATION
1. Put everything except the parsley in a food processor and begin to process; add the chickpea liquid or water as needed to allow the machine to produce a smooth puree.

2. Taste and adjust the seasoning (I often find I like to add much more lemon juice). Serve, drizzled with the olive oil and sprinkled with a bit more cumin or paprika and some parsley.

I am a cumin fiend so paprika makes zero appearances in my hummus! Also, if you’re more of a baba ghanouj person, I have my version with tips of roasting eggplant¬†here.

And of course, from the top photo: Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies via epicurious from Laurie Colwin. There are hundreds of Katharine Hepburn brownies floating around online. But this one, edited by Ruth Reichl and taken from¬†A Harried Cook’s Guide to Some Fast Food¬†by Colwin is the authority. Mainly from bias — Colwin and Reichl are two of my favorite writers.

No one can compete with Colwin’s closing paragraph to the recipe:

You can cut these brownies into squares, once they have cooled, and eat them out of the pan, but it is so much nicer to pile them on a fancy plate, from which people are going to eat them with their hands anyway. If you want to smarten up your act you can put a square of brownie on a plate with a little blob of cr√©me fra√ģche and a scattering of shaved chocolate.

The full brownie recipe is here.
See the NYT’s piece and the rest of the recipes¬†here.

 

Smoked Cheese – Brilliant

photo source

Saveur has a fantastic column called “What we learned this week” and there was a bit from this weeks I couldn’t help but share.¬†It’s from Chef Amanda Cohen of NYC’s Dirt Candy, a popular vegetarian restaurant. Chef Cohen shares how she smokes cheese:

By using a stovetop smoker lined with tin foil and whatever type of wood chips you like, you can have smoked feta in 20 minutes. Cohen blends her feta with cream to make a smooth spread, but you can also crumble it on salads, eggs, or crusty bread. Try it with feta, goat cheese, or any other firm cheese.

Sounds so delicious. I’ve been hooked on smoked foods for a while — especially smoked edamame and smoked tofu. It’s so easy to do at home and an absolute crowd pleaser.

Here are some tips I found around the Internet on smoking:

  • How to use smoke woods by Serious Eats
  • For those who don’t have an outdoor grill (like me), How to make a stove top smoker¬†on Saveur — with a video. LA Times Food has some tips as well here.
  • For those who rely on multiple sources (like me,¬†more tips on Fire Craft
  • And two stores online that focus on smoking woods to get familiarized with brands¬†(sorry, US only) here and here

One of the neighborhood places I frequent, places wood chips in a small, steep cast iron pot with handles. Hard to tell from the photo, but the pots are mini:

IMG_2607

 

They cover the bottom with woodchips, place a mini wire rack inside of the pot, place edamame on top, place the lid on and throw it into their brick oven where they bake their pizzas and pastas.

Smoked foods are so delightful, beyond Chef Cohen’s smoked cheese, the possibilities are endless.

So happy to learn smoking cheeses are simple.

Japanese Kitchen Gadgets

  
Still deciding if this is genius or unusable. Saw it in a Japanese equivalent to Target, Don Quixote. Wonder if the lemon would smell like plastic after being spritzed through the nozzle. 

Thinking I should buy and try. Will report back! 

In the meantime if you’re interested in purchasing one, let me know. I’ll be happy to buy and ship. They’re ¬•899 about $8.50 USD(though I have a feeling shipping would cost more than the actual plastic-lemon-spritzer-thingy).

PS: there’s only one review on Amazon. The person’s issue is how there’s lots of juice left in the lemon after the stabbed portion is used. Uhhhhh no shit, Sherlock. 

Heritage

This may strike odd to some but I read cookbooks during my downtime.¬†They soothe me. One of the best cookbooks I’ve read in a very long time is¬†Heritage¬†by Sean Brock. Not only is the writing poignant, the photos knock it out of the park.

Stunning.

For those who know me in real life, know that I am a super duper ultra mega Sean Brock fan girl. His love and respect for food, ingredients, cooking and owning your heritage is reminiscent of the Japanese ethos. But, most importantly, he is bringing attention to traditional American cooking in ways no chef has ever done before.

Recently on a long airplane ride, I listened to food podcasts and re-read¬†Heritage.¬†Sean Brock’s manifesto is too inspiring not to share, so here it is:

My Manifesto by Sean Brock

  • Cook with soul — but first, get to know your soul.
  • Be proud of your roots, be proud of your home, be proud of your family and its culture. That’s your inspiration.

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Peanuts

Peanuts are a delightful addition to dishes and I’m thrilled to see them making more and more of an appearance. Or I may just be noticing now, as I don’t really eat Asian fusion food in restaurants.

Again, scrolling through Instagram I came across this:

Buttermilk fried chicken, kimchi, spicy peanuts and lime via Chef Ian Borders’ Instagram here

This is a dish from Opposite Restaurant in Bangkok (visit their website here). There’s just something about the combination of tang — be it vinegar, kimchi, anything fermented and even citrus — with peanuts that’s refreshing and so delicious. Add a bit of funk from fragrant ingredients as cilantro or kimchi and the flavors are out of this world.

One of my favorite dishes of all time actually has the same combination. It’s from Animal Restaurant in Los Angeles, CA, that I used to eat at least once a week during my consecutive two years in L.A.

Hamachi tostada from my Instagram

Animal is known for their use of meat (hence the name, duh) but this one non meat dish is so good. A tostada made with raw fish may seem off-putting at first, but don’t be fooled. The crispy tostada with a thin layer of guac, hamachi slices, raw cabbage, crispy fried onions and crunchy peanuts with herbs and a fish sauce vinaigrette not fishy at all is MAGIC. I can eat three of these in one sitting (with a bottle of wine, of course. Animal has a stellar wine selection).

At home, try sprinkling chopped peanuts and spritz lime over salads and even coleslaw. It’s so simple yet can completely transform a boring dish!

Chef Ian Borders by the way, makes salami in Thailand. His Instagram is worth a look and follow.

Also, if interested, I wrote about my experience in Bangkok here and how I was blown away by its food scene.

Julia, Jacques and Martha

What a find!¬†In 1999, Julia Child and Jacques P√©pin made B√©rnaise Sauce on Martha Stewart’s Living. And today, I stumbled onto it! Stumbled is a lie. I¬†was watching Snoop Dogg bake brownies with Martha and saw this video on the side. Snoop and Martha together by the way are so. funny.¬†

Anyway.

Bérnaise, is like Hollandaise but uses herbs instead of lemon juice. Bérnaise is most commonly served with steak, fish, even chicken. I prefer it with vegetables. (Serving suggestions on the bottom.)

Julia Child’s B√©arnaise

1/4 cup wine vinegar
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp minced shallots
1 tbsp dried tarragon
fresh ground pepper
salt
3 egg yolks
2 sticks unsalted or clarified butter at room temperature
2 tbsp fresh minced tarragon

1 bowl of water and ice.

Directions

      1. In a small saucepan combine vinegar, wine, shallots, dried tarragon, some butter and simmer over medium heat. Reduce to about 1 tbsp and cool off by putting the saucepan into the bowl of ice water.
      2. In another saucepan, whisk 3 egg yolks with 2 tbsp of water over high to medium heat. Keep whisking until the yolk becomes thick and sticks to the whisk, gradually adding the vinegar mixture. Then add butter 1 tbsp at a time.
      3. Season sauce with tarragon, salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm by setting the saucepan into a bowl of lukewarm water.

Notes:
— butter can be melted in another saucepan beforehand. Make sure the melted butter is at room temperature or below to prevent from cooking the egg yolk mixture into scrambled eggs
— around 1:55 in the video, Jacques P√©pin shares his technique of whisking the egg yolk. He whisks over a fire that is relatively hot, whisk, move saucepan away from heat, whisk, move saucepan away from heat, etc.
— at 2:22 of the video, Jacques shows his whisking technique of using his palm to navigate the whisk to evenly mix the yolk

Serving suggestions:
— steamed artichoke, pulling leaves off, dipping into the sauce and eating the meat; great appetizer
— roasted artichoke. Fantastic recipe here.
— pancetta, asparagus with poached egg
— french fries (frites)
— fried green tomatoes

…I’ve even used it with a lightly steamed broccoli, cauliflower and dare I admit, store bought salmon / crab cakes. The uses are pretty endless.

Enjoy!

My Mom’s Perfect Instant Ramen

I was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area long before the Asian invasion. At school kids made fun of me for eating ‘gross’ sushi. My mom packed bentos which was super weird. Rice? Who eats that? Me. That’s who. I remember feeling sorry for myself for being born to immigrant parents. Why was I forced to speak Japanese? Why did we have to take shoes off at home? Why couldn’t we eat fish sticks for dinner every night?¬†Oh woe is me.

As tragic as my life seemed, my mother had her own struggles with food too.

Our family was fortunate to arrive to California (from Canada, where my brother and I were born) when the Japanese economy was booming. There were many Japanese companies head quartered in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley and a robust Japanese community.

Lucky for us the Japanese culture is very food-centric. Because groups of very important people from Japan were forced to live abroad to head international branches, foods and ingredients from Japan were quickly exported and made available for purchase. There was even a tofu man who moved to California, built a mini tofu factory and distributed fresh handmade tofu on a truck.

Despite our good fortune living in an area and time where almost all basic ingredients needed for Japanese home cooking (including fruits and vegetables) were accessible, my mother would endlessly complain. What is wrong with this daikon Japanese radish – why is it bent like this? The skin on these nasu eggplants are too tough. Why can’t we get yuzu here? What is wrong with the quality of [beef, chicken or pork]. The fish sold here smell.¬†Why are they not fresh?¬†Why aren’t there more choices for [konbu, katsuobushi, niboshi, sake, mirin, vinegar, soy sauce, miso, salt, insert whatever condiments and seasoning]. On and on the complaints would continue, every day, when¬†grocery shopping.¬†I immediately learned to tune her out and just nod my head in agreement.

My mother was a pretty smart person and an incredible cook (her older sister,¬†my favorite aunt, was the best¬†— she was the one who taught me to cook but that’s a story for another day). And even if most of the foods and ingredients were so terrible they are insulting she said, as¬†the resourceful person she was, found clever ways to hack recipes to transform these bastardized foods and ingredients into sufficiently palatable dishes.¬†Looking back, she was indeed, pretty amazing.¬†

One of the most memorable is her modified instant ramen. There are hundreds possibly thousands of delicious instant or semi instant noodles in Japan. Back in our time, the availability was limited, especially abroad. Since our decent ramen options were extremely few, my mom had no choice but to use what was available, and here is her recipe.

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Jacques P√©pin: How to Chop Garlic

Master chef, legend, and one of the original food television superstars (pre-Food Network) Jacques P√©pin’s knife skills are so elegant. Here, he pur√©es garlic with his knife – no processor. I spend more time than I care to admit watching Chef Jacques cook. He is so soothing.

I also love this clip of Chef Jacques on the Rachael Ray show teaching cutting techniques. I hate how it’s on Aol (takes forever to load) but here it is: watch here.

Bonus:
Here is Jacques P√©pin’s Classic Vinaigrette recipe. As summer approaches and our salad intake increases, double or triple the recipe, store in a jar and use within two¬†weeks. This tastes identical (or even better) than the $6 bottled dressings bought in stores.

2 teaspoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup wine vinegar (red or white)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a jar. Shake well before serving. Keeps refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.