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Foodie Days

4 Feb

Since I first started this blog, life has changed for me. I have become more and more immersed in the pleasures of food and cooking. Its been a wonderful journey, at first taken with little steps, but it has now moved into joyful leaping bounds. I cook most every day, and often I am too tired to blog about it!

So much has happened, in such a short time. I am humbled and awed at this simple truth: if you live your passion, your true self, then everything falls into place. Every day is joy, every moment is a pleasure. In recognising that which resonates inside, happiness becomes normal. And opportunities (and wonderful people) come to you.

So what have I been doing, rather than blogging?

I did a photo shoot with the magificent Lascheersco for Retale magazine – O’Gourmet Food Hall’s Chili Ice Cream for their Valentine’s day issue. It turned out gorgeously (as you can see here), and it was wonderful to work with such creative people. The image is really beautiful, and the process was yet another education in food presentation.

I was given so many good food things! Two of my favourites … The amazing GoddessMoments brought back a tub of dulce de leche from Argentina, which was devoured and savoured… I wish I had been less greedy, and put it in an ice cream, but so it goes. And I recently, GoldenOro gave me a little tub of mastic – the very particularly Greek herbal sweet gum paste. I am currently meditating on how to use it. Perhaps in an almond honey cake – the tart herbal hit an antidote to the sweet unctuous honey richness. Or in an ice cream – refreshing and creamy at the same time. Decisions, decisions!

Our foodie crew had dinner at Nathalie’s Gourmet Studio again to celebrate ZaZa’s and Adi’s birthdays. Nathalie is cooking with beautiful precision and artistry. This meal was absolutely phenomenal from start to finish. And, she is continuing the menu into the month of February, so if you havent tried her food (or are aching to go back), now is a good time! They are open for lunch, and two nights this month for dinner – the 11th and 25th. Go, if you can!

The deconstructed french onion soup was so beautifully presented, and delicious. Rich, without being heavy. And the vegetarian main course – an emmental and parmesan custard, topped with darkly sweet and bitter caramelised endive, and a endive and cream foam – I dont have words for how it made me think, and reevaluate, and abandon myself to the pleasure of that dish. And the carnivores were raving about the lamb, the beef cheeks, the fish, the prawns. I fell in love with the pureed peas. I wanted to slather it all over myself it was that good. Each dish was presented with such care and elegance, and yet it never felt artificial or forced. It felt like you could taste the passion of the woman cooking for you … and that kind of experience is soul deep satisfying.

On the way home, Adi and I talked about the joy of that meal, and how strong and confident the food is, and yet utterly feminine. There is an elegance and a grace, a female beauty to the presentation and the taste, which is often missing in the peacocking of some (very good) male cooks. I am a fan of Nathalie’s food (obviously) … but there is a power in a woman’s touch, and a great pleasure in being one of her lucky customers.

The following photos from that night are courtesy of Adi 🙂

Sauteed Endive and Cheese Custard

 

Prawns with a Milk Foam

Lamb

Prettiest Peas Ever (and most delicious)

Lemon Cake with a Cherry Sorbet - Stunning

I also cooked, and helped to host, more than 50 people for Jobby’s baby shower. Ive detailed the menu in a previous post, and will definitely be writing up a few of the recipes – the truffled potato salad, and the fresh ginger cake were particularly lovely. It was overwhelming, and exhausting, to cook for that many people. But the challenge was a wonderful one. It made me stretch myself in a different way, and demanded I plan and consider what to cook, when, and how.

I was so pleased to see how much everyone enjoyed themselves, and ate and ate and ate!  And I was so very lucky, to have once again, the invaluable assistance of AngelKitten. She has a grace, a quiet strength and a wonderful eye. She made the food look good. And MsTK made the whole space look professionally designed and put together – in less than 24 hours!

Here are a few of the things we enjoyed…

Mini Cheese Scones - Served with Fresh Herb Cream Cheese

Chili Spinach Artichoke Bake

Truffled Potato Salad

Cakes! A dark chocolate cake with mint chocolate chip frosting and a fresh ginger cake with vanilla cream cheese frosting

Mini Baked Truffle Cookies (Starry Starry Nights)

And I have cooked, on request, for many friends. And even found it within myself to price and sell what I cook. This was unimaginable for me just a few short months ago. But as I immerse myself more and more in cooking, I recognise that I need to put a value on the time and energy I spend cooking. Its part of valuing myself as a cook. Its been a challenge, but its also been a learning and growing experience.

I made more Yee Sang cakes than I can count in the last week or so for Chinese New Year. They were such wonderful fun – and I still have a few more to make! People really enjoyed the quirky nature of these cakes – a traditional yee sang, it is not. But its a delicious dessert, that holds much symbolism and joy for the New Year of the Rabbit.

I made two versions. The first batch, with the assistance of AngelKitten, were corporate gifts. They had their own bespoke design, and were very beautiful.

Making the World Beautiful Yee Sang Cake

 

And this week, I did a series of cakes based on the original O’Gourmet Food Hall version. I do love that blue porcelain against all that red. Dramatic and gorgeous.

Yee Sang Cake for the Year of the Rabbit

I have also been cooking regularly for friends and loved ones. A hazelnut chocolate cake. The same cake, made into a big birthday cake, stuffed with raspberry cream cheese, and iced with vanilla whipped cream. An easy pasta with tomatoes, spinach, white wine and onions. My semolina white chocolate pudding, with raspberry sauce. A simple bread pudding, elevated with bittersweet chocolate and raspberries.

Each of these moments, these events, these experiences, have consolidated a celebration of myself as a cook. As I near my 40th birthday, I am thankful to have found such happiness. I am looking forward to what life will bring me. And I promise… I will blog regularly!

 

Please note that the photographs from Nathalie’s Gourmet Studio are copyright bigeyesentertainment@gmail.com and the second photograph of yee sang cake is copyright GoddessMoments. None of these images may be used without express permission from their authors.

Delectable Wanderings …

18 Jan

I have not blogged for two weeks now… and I have missed it so much. The discipline, the focus, and the energy that I get from blogging every day has been missing. Part of it was that I lost all my data – my hard drive crashed. I felt sad every time I looked at a computer. But part of it, I think, was that I was internalising my life as a cook, and embracing, fully, my new life.

Though I have not blogged, I have been immersed in cooking and eating.

I have had two photo shoots – one for O’Gourmet, with a Yee Sang Cake I created for Chinese New Year (which will be my next blog post!), and one for ReTale, with my delicious chili ice cream for Valentine’s Day. I was lucky enough to work with amazing artists, designers and photographers for both shoots, and the images are stunning.

AngelKitten and I have had an amazing time. I am so grateful to the generosity of the amazing baker, Mama Min. She introduced us to what has quickly become one of my favourite hangouts in KL – PastryPro. This is a shop for serious bakers. The first time we went, AngelKitten and I spent hours wandering the aisles. We were like little kids in a candy shop. AngelKitten was completely and utterly smitten by the sugarcraft supplies. We got gorgeous gum paste and fondant, and all sorts of tools for sugar flower making.

PastryPro also has a wonderful service. They will print any image (photograph or graphic) onto an A4 icing sheet (for RM15), which you can place atop a cake or cupcake. I used this to create a cake “plate” for my Yee Sang, and the results were gorgeous. If youre interested, email PastryPro with your image. Its that easy!

AngelKitten and I stocked up on basics – vanilla beans, almond flour, sugar, 74% cacao bittersweet chocolate, cream, butter, cake rounds, cake boxes and spices. We also splurged, on gold leaf, gold powder, beautiful ready made decorations, and glitters. All in all, a satisfying and enjoyable adventure.

AngelKitten and I were also lucky enough to catch a great cooking class by Manju Saigal and maestro Paul on roti chennai and dosa, as well as two stunningly good chutneys. Manju teaches wonderful cooking classes from her home – particularly focusing on Indian cuisine.

The class was such great fun. We learned how to make the dough for both roti chennai and dosa, and also the wrist technique for flipping and stretching the roti dough. We each got to try our hand at making various kinds of breads, and we loved eating our own creations. I am not sure either of us is ready to join the mamak stall quite yet, but it was a really enjoyable and interesting day.

If you want to be informed of new classes, email Manju and get put on her mailing list.

And finally, we have had some decadent and lovely meals in the past few weeks. The always good La Risata in Damansara served up a luscious pizza speck – caramelised onions, gorgonzola and mozzarella. And Vineria.it in Bangsar Shopping Centre produced a wonderful chili, tomato, and pesto pasta that left us sighing.

And I have done a lot of cooking – refining of old standards, and exploration of new dishes. I have cooked for friends, and also accepted a couple of orders for speciality dishes. I have also been planning a baby shower for Jobby, which is happening this coming weekend, and of course, I will be blogging it all.

Its been a food filled few weeks, and I am looking forward to getting back into the blogging cycle. I have missed this space, and I am excited to be back!

Baking Equipment

5 Jan

I was recently asked what equipment is absolutely critical to me in my sweet life. Its an interesting question because I have only really begun to bake seriously over the last year or so. Before that, I would bake, but not with any real attempt at making and remaking the same recipe in the same way. I guess I was always comfortable with just winging it – which is fine. But if youre serious about baking, you do need a few serious tools – and a couple of fun things as well, just for the pure pleasure of it.

I have collected most of these items over several years. I have gotten to the point where if I want to bake, at any time, I can. I like that. These are the things which I have found to be pretty important in how I bake, and pretty critical in ensuring the finished quality of my baked goods. If youre passionate about baking, too, look over this list. And tell me if Ive left anything out! 🙂

A good oven, that you know how to use

An oven is (obviously) pretty critical to easy and happy baking days. You need an oven that fits your kitchen and budget, but is also the best you can afford. I like an oven that has the capability for convection too so things cook faster if youre making loads. I have a Rubine oven which I got on sale when I was renovating my house, but I dream of a big Viking oven – possibly even a double or triple one! Ahh, if I had the budget, and more importantly, the space. But you do with what you have. Make sure your oven is sturdy, has a good warranty, and is roomy enough to bake the things you love.

Oven temperature thermometer

 

It is absolutely critical to have a good oven thermometer. I have an Oxo oven thermometer, and I use it every single time I bake. When a recipe calls for preheating the oven (as most do), you must allow the oven to come up to the right temperature before putting in your creation. If you dont, you mess with the science of baking, and you can get very poor results. I never knew when my oven was at the right temperature (or in fact, if it was running too hot or cold). My oven thermometer helps me regulate the heat in my oven, and know the timing of when to put my baking in. I could not do without it.

And just a note here. I really like the Oxo brand of baking equipment. They are well designed, fairly priced, robust, easy to use, and very reliable. I love the measuring jugs for their flexibility and cleverness. I love my Oxo electric candy thermometer, for example. It helps me regulate the temperature for candy making, custard and ice cream bases. I would not do without it.

Really high quality pans/baking sheets

When I first started baking, I had a few baking sheets that I purchased in the supermarket. They tended to buckle in the heat of the oven. When I got serious, I started to read reviews online – particularly those at Cook’s Illustrated.

I ended up getting two Vollrath Cookie Sheets – huge sheets, with shallow curves on the short sides. My oven is small enough that the sheets actually slide into the grooves and thus dont need to sit on the racks. They are wonderful. I use them all the time. For baking, but also for prep work. They can be lined or unlined, and the cookies or baked goods still have minimal sticking. They are amongst the best investments I have ever made.

I also have several large baking sheets/pans, with a shallow lip all around, a bundt pan, a few tart pans (including one that has a removable base), a few glass baking pans, a square pan, two muffin tins (for cupcakes as well as muffins) and quite a few round cake tins in various sizes. Ive collected them over the years, and use all of them constantly. These days, I pay attention to build quality over anything else. I would rather buy one very good baking pan which can be flexible, rather than four or five single use pans which will warp, pit, or conduct heat unevenly. I find that for fairly priced baking goods, Ikea is a great bet.

Cooling racks

If you bake, you need cooling racks. These racks, which sit on a flat surface, are used to cool the pan/dish/ingredient once it comes out of the oven. If youre icing a cake or using any liquid (syrup or chocolate for instance) over a finished baked good, a rack is also useful, set over parchment paper or a baking tin, to allow any extra liquid to drip off. I have four or five of them, and have had them for so long, I cant remember where I got them!

KitchenAid mixer

I could not live without my KitchenAid stand mixer. I use it almost every time I bake. It is a workhorse, and makes life so much easier and happier. It is heavy, easy to clean and totally reliable. I love the level of control I have with it. Given that, as I am beginning to make macarons, I am going to invest in handheld electric beaters with flat blade whisks. Apparently, these are best for whisking macaron batter!

Grinder / Food processor / Immersion blender

OK, I admit it, I am a wee bit of a collector of kitchen kit. I admit it, and yet oh I love them all. I have a small grinder – for nuts, coffee beans, chocolate and spices. I also have a Cuisinart food processor which I use for easy quick puff pastry and doughs, and to grate, chop and mix with speed. I also have my beloved Kenwood immersion blender which I use to liquidise fillings and toppings. I am lucky that I dont have to choose between them!

Whisks, spatulas and spoons

I love my whisks. I have a heavy duty balloon whisk, for whipping cream, hand whisking batters and setting up icings. I also have a smaller whisk, and a sauce whisk which is flat. I dont like the non-stick whisks, but this is totally personal preference.

I have three heavy duty spatulas, which I use for everything from smoothing icing to stirring batters, and I also have an iSi silicone spatula scraper which has become like an extension of my hand. If I had to chose just one spatula, this would be it. It scrapes out bowls, mixes, stirs, smooths … everything! And because you hold it in the palm of your hand, its very intuitive.

I also have several offset spatulas, with stiff metal blades, offset from the handle for easy workings. To be honest, I cant even remember where I got them – I have several different sizes and lengths – but I use them for everything from removing cookies from the sheet to smoothing icing and fondant. An important instrument in the baker’s arsenal!

And I have a few mixing spoons I use all the time, in particular a Tovolo silicone mixing spoon which I find to be very hardy – I use it when I stir candy, melt butter or chocolate, and for stiff batters or to integrate egg into a batter. I also have several hand made cherry wood spoons by Jonathan’s Wild Cherry Spoons which I got at Dean and Deluca in New York. I bought these as gifts, and regretted that I did not keep one for myself! So when I was in New York recently, I made sure to get a few. I love them, and use them all the time.

Mixing Bowls

I have four stainless mixing bowls – two large and two small. My favourites are from Ikea – they have a rubber bottom, which is useful to make sure that the bowl doesnt slip and rubber lids which makes storage in the fridge simple. But I also love my small stainless bowl which has a very wide rim – it sits perfectly on my saucepan, and is what I use to melt chocolate or butter. I prefer stainless to plastic or melamine bowls, but again, its a matter of preference.

I also have several small bowls which I use for mise en place – prepping ingredients before actually starting to cook. Very useful, and indispensable when you need to be quick and focused.

Digital scale

I used to have a very cool looking manual scale, but I rarely used it. I never believed it was accurate, and I could never really judge small increments of weight (which you need to do with some degree of accuracy when you bake). Every time I start to bake (and actually, most times I begin to cook), I pull out my Oxo digital scale. It is brilliant. Easy to use, incredibly sturdy, simple to clean and it has the choice of ounces or grams. I love it, and use it every day.

Measuring cups

Many cooks prefer to have two sets of measuring cups – dry cups, which are traditionally a scoop variety and liquid measuring jugs. They measure the same volume, but some people find it easier to scoop dry ingredients. I am not one of those. I have two measuring jugs (4 cup and 2 cup) by Oxo which I use constantly. I love them because they also give liquid measurements along the sides (fluid ounces and milliliters) and they have a solid rubber handle. They pour very well, and are easy to control. I also have one glass measuring jug which I use particularly if I have sticky substances like honey which need to be measured out.

I like measuring jugs more than the scoop cup because I often use them as small bowls as well. I can measure out my flour and add the baking soda or powder, spices or salt, directly. All my dry ingredients can usually be combined easily in my 4 cup measuring cup, and this saves me quite a bit of washing up!

Teaspoon and tablespoon measures

Accuracy is critical in baking. Often you are required to add a teaspoon of this, half a tablespoon of that. When compiling my recipes, I have found that measuring spoons are vital in ensuring I can replicate my recipes exactly, over and over again. I used to have tons of measuring spoons – heart shaped ones my sister gave me, cheap plastic ones, flimsy round ones. They never really did it for me. But I adore my new set – five stainless steel measuring spoons by Progressive International. These are double spoons – one side of the spoon is round and the other is oval. I find it useful to have two versions of a particular measurement at hand at all times – this makes it easy if I am measuring liquid and dry. The spoons are heavy duty and very accurate.

Knives

Dont get me started on my knives! Its an obsession that makes me happy. But for baking, I really only use two knives. For larger jobs (chopping a big amount of chocolate or speeding through nuts and other hard ingredients), I use my Shun Santoku Knife. I really love that thing – solid, heavy, sharp and totally reliable. But more regularly, I use one of the three small Kuhn Rikon non stick paring knives which I have in a variety of colours. I like these knives. Theyre not “serious” knives in any sense – theyre light, theyre not crazy sharp, and they come in a variety of silly patterns and colours. But theyre very useful in the baking kitchen. They are small workhorses – they pare, peel and slice with ease, they are non stick, so they work through sticky substances easily and well. Clean up is a breeze too!

Bits and pieces

These are some of the items that I have found I use all the time when baking.

Dough Scraper and Chopper – again by Oxo, with a solid rubber grip. This scraper has a flat edge, so its not useful for for scraping down bowls. But it comes into its own when scraping dough off a flat surface and when dividing dough.

Rolling pins – I have several, most of them wood. Rolling pins are critical when you need flaky crusts, or are working with fondant.

Chopping boards – the more solid the board the better. I have two extremely solid plastic chopping boards, two heavy wooden boards and a small one for little jobs.

Cake Lifter – a large metal wedge, which lifts and moves cakes with ease. I love this thing! It makes broken cake layers a thing of the past.

Small Silicone Molds – for whimsy and fun, I have quite a few silicon molds which I bake little cakes in.

Pastry bags and tips – I never saw the use of these until I became serious with my baking. Now, I love them. The control that pastry bags give, with icing and batter, is unequalled. I use Ateco lined bags and tips, and I adore them.

Microplane zester – I use this zester for oranges, lemons and lime zest, and for spices like nutmeg or cinnamon. Simply the best.

Microplane coarse grater – I use this for grating butter into flour – the perfect way to get flaky crusts, pastries and scones.

Sieves – I have several sieves – small and large metal, a flour sieve and a nylon sieve. All useful in my kitchen.

Silicone baking and rolling mats – durable, easily washable, and very useful to prevent sticking of dough, cookies and fondant.

Parchment paper – I have huge, professional reams of this. I use it every day. From lining a baking pan, carrying and measuring ingredients, storing and wrapping. I could not do without it.

Boxes, bags and cake plates – I have found that as I bake more often, and as gifts, I need little paper boxes, bags, cake plates. They are so useful because they help to transport the baked goods easily, make gifts a cinch and you never have to worry about getting your favourite plate or container back!

Professional kitchen sources

Finally, I think one of the most non-negotiable parts of the baking kitchen is not in the kitchen at all! You need a good source of high quality baking equipment and ingredients. I have spoken about Bake with Yen in a previous post, and I like them for the basics of baking. But recently, I was introduced to PastryPro and I think I have found my version of baker’s heaven. This place is amazing, and I will do a full review of it soon. But for baking equipment, and staff who know exactly what they are doing – this is the place. Its a great source for the professional and home baker because they have everything you need, from equipment to ingredients to toys, all under one roof.

Find a baking shop, either online or near you, which professional bakers use, and make friends with the proprietors. They will give you good solid advice, and you will be able to source quality equipment at great prices.

_______

Baking requires a lot of patience and focus. And though this list I have made may look overwhelming, it is by no means exhaustive. Do remember that this list is the result of a passionate cook married with the spirit of a hoarder. I have tried to be restrained (probably failed miserably) but these are the things I use and love all the time!

Oh My Millesime!

26 Dec

So a few days ago, a group of friends and I decided to try out Max Chin’s new restaurant, Millesime. Two of the group had been to Max Chin’s previous restaurant, and had loved his cooking, and the ambiance. Another friend found a review of Millesime online, and forwarded it to us. In true techno-age fashion, we made the arrangements to go on Facebook, and all met at around the pre-arranged time in Solaris Dutamas. We were thrumming with anticipation as Millesime had a white truffle promotion going on, and several of us were eager to try this decadent delicacy.

Millesime is very slick – a high class joint, so to speak. Open kitchen, where you can walk up and watch Chef Max do his stuff. Elegant seating area, with room for may be 30 people or so. Beautifully and dramatically decorated, it certainly set the scene well. The menu changes daily, and reflects what the Chef finds freshest and most inspiring. Its a 5 course tasting menu, with the possibility of changing the main, or adding or substituting a white truffle course. As a vegetarian, I called and told them that I was coming, and that I required a vegetarian tasting menu as well.

Before I get to the food, let me just take a moment to make a few small comments on the service. When you pay as much as we did (about RM300 per person on average – some drinking wine, some having the truffle course), you expect service of the highest distinction. Whilst Millesime was aiming for that, it really didnt deliver. Of the two major-domo’s, one was quite good. He knew what he was doing. He was polite and friendly and very professional – welcoming without being too intrusive. He noted people’s requests, and he did his best to fulfill them. Unfortunately, the other main service person was a little … clueless. She seemed to be both overwhelmed and a little bit too personal. She made comments about people’s physical attributes that were not really appropriate. She tried, but she did not make us feel as if she had it together and knew what she was doing. Some of our party found her frankly annoying. Hopefully, this is part of the working-in phase (they opened in October 2010), and as it goes on, Millesime will find its groove in terms of service, and will meet our expectations a little better.

Given that, the staff managed to deal with several waves of our table arriving at disparate times, and figure out who was having what, when. Some people took the full 5 courses. Some people took 5 courses and substituted one course with a truffle course. Some people opted for 3 courses of the 5. It must have been a logistical nightmare to deal with a table of 8 people who were all ordering differently. But they managed, and managed well. Unfortunately, when the bill came, we noted that we had been over-billed. The truffle course came with champagne, but none of us were given it (may be we had to request it?) … but they billed us for it. They were extremely gracious about taking it off the bill when we realised and pointed this out… but again, at those prices, we expected a little more focus and professionalism.

We also had problems in understanding the actual menu. How much was the 5 course tasting? It didnt actually state it on the menu. Did we have the option to take only a few courses? Again, we werent informed. How did the truffle course fit in? Was it an add on? A substitution? Information was sadly lacking, until we spoke with a waitperson, but luckily, we figured it all out in the end!

And now on to the food! Which in the end, was what we were there for … well, that and the joy of being with each other just before the big Christmas and New Year’s holidays!

And by the way, as I noted, I asked for the vegetarian menu when I called to reserve. I mentioned this when I arrived, and was told several times by the female service person that she would check to make sure it was all right… as if may be it would not be. This is not comforting to a vegetarian. Especially when we call ahead, especially in a very meat oriented single option tasting menu, we like to be assured that we can be catered for. Of course, I was. And Chef Max was creative about how he re-jigged my meal – taking elements of the main tasting menu and adding vegetarian proteins or substitutions for the meat.

My amuse bouche was very simple. Grilled mushrooms on a skewer. Tasty enough, but not so fantastic or earth shattering that I thought I should take a photograph!

The first course was a composed salad, highlighting some beautifully disparate tastes and textures.

Fennel, sauteed mozzarella, tomatoes, a creamy herb reduction, balsamico and bright arugula. It was lovely. Hot, crispy, astringent, creamy. A nice balance and very tasty.

The second course was a broccoli soup.

This was a showstopper – the soup was stunningly good. An soup bowl, with a mound of sauteed mushrooms, was placed in front of me (carnivores had smoked chicken). Soup was then poured around the mushrooms from a small porcelain jug at the table. The soup was beautiful – simple, lush, elegant. The mushrooms were good, but they tasted like they had been cooked a little too close to the gas grill – they had the perfume of gas rather than of mushrooms. The carnivores loved their smoked chicken though. We were all in agreement that there was not enough of that soup – we could have bathed in it, happily!

The third course was a composed arrangement of vegetables.

It was lovely, if a bit similar in presentation and taste to my first course. Im not sure why cooks cannot vary the menu for vegetarians as they can for meat eaters. The plate was composed of grilled yellow courgettes, white asparagus, french beans, a bit of spinach and a red pepper coulis. There was a creamy hint of black truffle in there somewhere I think. It was nice, and I enjoyed it, but it was not fantastic.

The fourth course was the course I was there for – my truffle course.

A plate of white truffles, under a glass dome, was kept near the main service area. Each person was asked to choose the truffle they wanted (and yes, we got one each!). A friend had his truffle course before mine, and I spied a truffle I particularly liked. I asked that it be kept for me, and it was, wrapped in its own little paper, and stored away carefully in the wine room. I liked and appreciated that. It was suggested that I choose the duck egg and white asparagus combination for my truffle, but I decided against it. I wanted the full frontal truffle experience, so I chose a simple pasta, lightly gratineed as the base for my truffle. Talk about mindblowing musky gorgeous completely enveloping truffle nirvana. I groaned aloud. My eyes rolled back in my head. It was a sublime experience. The simplicity of the pasta was the perfect foil for the complex earthy soul deep sensual experience of that truffle. Ive never had so much truffle in one bite before. It completely takes over the sense experience. Your nose is filled with its scent, your mouth wraps itself around such complex flavour layers, it takes your brain a little while to catch up. Its a very sexy and intimate experience. I cant wait until I can do that again.

I do have to note though that the joy and the pleasure was derived from the truffle. The actual pasta was just there to add a contrast to the overwhelming-ness of the truffle. My carnivore companions though were in absolute delight over lobster tail poached in duck fat, over which their truffles were grated. While it sounded and looked fantastic, I was happy that my truffle base was so simple. There was nothing to distract me from the siren call of the truffle.

And finally, we came to dessert.

Hazelnut ice cream which was phenomenally good, beautifully executed – light yet creamy, and intensely hazelnutty. I could have just had the ice cream and been happy. It was accompanied by berries and fresh figs, covered in a delicate vanilla sabayon. It was lovely but didnt quite reach the heights of that ice cream. And a friend had the cheese plate, and was in paroxysms of joy about it. And some of us had coffee which was absolutely perfect. A good coffee ends a meal such as this with grace and happiness.

So… that was our meal. Each element was enjoyable and interesting, but I have to admit, it did not, for me, reach the heights of say Nathalie’s Gourmet Studio. It was slick and beautiful and tasty – but in a kind of 5 star hotel way. Nathalie’s, though less expensive and less  dramatic, has more soul (and the service is seamless!). I enjoyed Millesime, but I would probably only go back once or twice a year. Its a huge meal, at a huge price and it wasnt over the top fantastic, which is what I was hoping for. I didnt get a true sense of Chef Max as a cook – I couldnt feel him in the food. May be thats because it was a vegetarian version of his carefully thought out tasting … The regular tasting menu seemed to be very complex, and a fascinating combination of tastes and ingredients (scallops and fois gras, for example).

I am glad we went to Millesime, and glad that Max Chin is cooking his elegant, well plated, interesting food. I will be back to support him, but may be I will wait a while until some of the teething issues in starting a new restaurant get smoothed out. I would recommend Millesime for the decadent and lovely truffles and for the sparks of inspired cooking … and for the joy of discovering a new way of putting together disparate elements and ingredients.

The 5 course tasting menu is RM150++

The addition of a truffle course is RM120++ inclusive of a glass of champagne

Millesime

G1-01-3, Level G1Menara Kencana Petroleum, Solaris Dutamas, No. 1, Jalan Dutamas, 150480 Kuala Lumpur

Tel: 03.6211.0648

 

A Meal to Remember @ Nathalie’s Gourmet Studio

13 Dec

Sometimes a meal is a symphony of taste and texture and colour … and sometimes, its even more than that. A divine merging of friends and loved ones, family and comfort, intermingled with sublime food, cooked by an artist, with a sense of love and presence and drama. Last Friday night at Nathalie’s Gourmet Studio was like that – just pure joy. With Adi, Goddess, GoddessSpouse, AngelKitten, GoldenOro and Bubby, and MsTina… laughter flowed around us, wrapped us in warmth and happiness, and the food was a beautiful counterpoint to the joy in the room.

You cannot plan that kind of a night, you cant buy it or make it happen by force of will. It is an alchemical merging of all that is good and joyous. Thank you to Goddess + GoddessSpouse for hosting us. And thank you for Nathalie for welcoming us, yet again, with open arms and brilliant skill. We will be back next month! Meanwhile, feast on our memories 🙂

Joy

A potato galette with sauteed mushrooms, and a porcini foam. Simple, sensuous, lively flavours. Not too much, not too little. Just right to start with. This was the vegetarian choice and it made me happy.

A new take on duck liver with brioche – the brioche made into an apple tart tatin. A clever merging of two very French tastes.

Tuna Tartare with blini and chive cream… and a fresh green salad.

Snail napoleon – earthy, rich, beautifully presented. I tasted the accompanying sauces, and they were beautiful. Balanced, imbued with vegetable essence, gorgeous.

The vegetarian main course. Home made egg tagliatelle with green capsicum and a perfect parmesan porcini foam. Subtle and luxurious, elegant and beautiful. Incredibly satisfying.

The duck main course. According to those who ate it, it tasted truly of duck … gamey and wild and delicious. Served with a stunning hazelnut polenta and a blueberry stuffing. Clever and thoughtful all in one go.

Steak. Apparently, it was perfectly cooked. With a stuffed potato on the side. I like how this looks, the juxtaposition of the meat and the potato… Smart.

An intense caramel custard creme brulee – perfectly burnt crispy sugar crust, with a lime and thyme sorbet. What an interesting combination.

Trio of desserts – a pineapple foam, an incandescently good salted caramel macaroon, and a vanilla spoon biscuit, holding chocolate mousse, and a chocolate truffle. Mine!

Frozen chocolate mousse “gift” with a liquid river of raspberries running through it. So so so good. I could have buried myself in this plate and just whuffled.

A dramatic and architectural Mont Blanc – pureed chestnuts, whipped cream and crisp meringue. So beautiful!

Dried fruit croquant – crisp, caramelised, sticky, delectable.

O’Gourmet Food Hall

2 Dec

As a passionate cook and a foodie, I am always on the lookout for places where I can source the best of the best. I truly believe that ingredients matter: the olive oil you use impacts hugely on the final taste of your dish; the nuts, spices and flavourings, if fresh and carefully sourced, can deepen and embolden a meal so much more than wan supermarket choices; and fruits and vegetables of sublime quality are not only a joy to work with, but their colours, textures and flavours make everything just taste better.

I will drive an extra mile to find food of extraordinary quality, to be able to speak with knowledgeable purveyors about their wares, and to sample different and new items. I am lucky though, because I live within a few minutes of what I consider one of the most wonderful collections of food and ingredients in Kuala Lumpur – the O’Gourmet Food Hall at Bangsar Shopping Centre. O’Gourmet has it all – a decadent and seductive cheese room; a bright and stunningly beautiful fruit and vegetable stand; fresh nuts, spices and herbs; the astonishing variety of Vom Fass vinegars and oils; pastas, flours, and grains of just about every description; a thoughtfully curated wine selection; chocolates, cookies, candies and cakes; and prepared foods that are made with care and quality.

O’Gourmet reminds me of a Malaysianised combination of Dean and Delucca, Chelsea Market and Zabars in New York with Harrods and Harvey Nichols in London. Its a Food Hall of quality, with resources from around the world. I have been deeply impressed by the way the way the people at O’Gourmet know their food. For example, Sebastien Le Francois, the resident sommelier and cheese guru, is not only deeply knowledgeable, but happy to make time to talk through selections, options, ideas, pairings. He tells you what he thinks, he explains the relative merits of different cheeses and wines, he talks recipes, combinations, flavours. Wonderful!

Its like a gourmet wonderland of food and ingredients, and I have always regarded a visit to O’Gourmet Food Hall as a thrill, a moment of inspiration and joy – a truly happy day. I can wander the aisles of O’Gourmet for hours. In fact, AngelKitten and I did so just yesterday, marveling at everything we saw. I love the food conversations she and I have together – we inspire each other, fantasise how different ingredients can be put together, find hidden gems and share our excitement. Our day at O’Gourmet Foodhall was pure happy – we marveled at the careful way in which each item is chosen, tasted the oils, sampled the cheeses and imagined different pairings of ingredients… from a gingerbread house with candied and sugared fruits to a hazelnut torte to a truffled macaroni and cheese. O’Gourmet has the resources to provide for all these imaginings and more.

First we stopped at the fruit and vegetable stand. Amazing! Such colour and texture. Such a wide variety to choose from, and so fresh, so luscious, completely delectable. Those fruits, oh my goodness. Tiny perfect apples (we want to candy them for our gingerbread house), comice pears at their peak of ripeness, a beautiful array of berries, tomatoes on the vine, voluptuous dragon fruit, and lettuce leaves so fresh their roots are still attached.

O'Gourmet Foodhall

Such a great selection – and so intrinsically sexy. Onions, cabbage, fennel and mushrooms so perfect that I couldnt wait to get my hands on them, to touch and tease them into recipes and meals. I felt like the little old lady in the movie Tampopo, who gets chased away from the produce section for touching and stroking and feeling the vegetables a little too much!

Luckily there were other things to mark our attention. We wandered through the herbs and spices, dried pastas and grains…Everything is lovingly laid out, like art, and easily accessible. You can sample, sniff, and consider to your hearts content.

O'Gourmet Foodhall

I love the fact that you can look and choose exactly what – and how much – you want – bay leaves, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, mustard seed, mace, cinnamon, fennel, chili, nutmeg, dried pulses, and so much more – all arrayed temptingly, their colours a symphony of choice, and each pretty bottle a really exciting possibility of flavour and illumination. A spark of possibility every where you turn.

O'Gourmet Foodhall

From there, we wandered over to the oils and vinegars. Alongside carefully chosen bottled oils and vinegars, O’Gourmet has brought in Vom Fass – a German company that supplies artisanal vinegars and oils of the absolute highest quality. You can sample everything at the Vom Fass section because of how the oils and vinegars are presented in earthenware casks – and we did! From a stunning wild raspberry vinegar to the sharp brightness of calimansi vinegar to the syrupy dusky wonder of a 25 year old balsamico. From extra virgin olive oils that tasted like sunshine and light to hazelnut oil that was rounded and rich and wild to a truffle oil that was totally imbued with the haunting notes of truffle. Each oil and vinegar can be sampled, and they can be bottled in 100ml and up glass bottles of your choice. We were like kids in a candy shop!

O'Gourmet Foodhall

We wanted to bring all that we sampled home with us, but we tried to be restrained (!) and so we chose three – the hazelnut and truffle oils and the 25 year old balsamic vinegar. I have to admit, when we got home, we unwrapped the oils, and tasted them again. Tonight, I will make a hazelnut torte using some of that hazelnut oil. So beautiful!

O'Gourmet Foodhall

And finally, we went to the cheese room. We stood and sniffed that pungent enticing wild aroma of cheese, we tasted, we looked, and we chatted with the accommodating M. Sebastien. I am so pleased that Kuala Lumpur has a cheese shop of such high quality, beautifully curated and totally tempting.

O'Gourmet Foodhall

And we chose – a triple cream Brilliat Savarin, imbued with truffles. I looked at it and I could feel myself purrrrrr.

O'Gourmet Foodhall

I have been a customer of O’Gourmet for a while now. Each time I am at Bangsar Shopping Centre, I make time to wander and look and touch, to consider some special cheese or a prime flavour ingredient that will brighten the food I am cooking that day. I love that there is always something different, something unique, something deeply tempting.

Because I am so enamoured of the quality ingredients available at O’Gourmet Foodhall, and so inspired to creativity every time I visit, I have decided that I am going to do a weekly O’Gourmet recipe for the next few months. I hope these recipes will excite you with the possibilities inherent in ingredients of perfect quality, and will spark a passion for prime ingredients, treated with love and respect.

O’Gourmet Food Hall is at the East Wing, Ground Floor of Bangsar Shopping Centre, Jalan Maarof, Kuala Lumpur. Tel: +60.3.2094.9966

Visit their website and their Facebook page to be inspired!

 

Anna Olson @ Le Meridien

30 Nov

On Sunday, my nieces and I went to see Anna Olson, the amazing chef from Fresh and Sugar, present a cooking demonstration at Le Meridien. The entire event was presented by the Asian Food Channel, which has really revolutionised access to food television here in South East Asia, and Mumm Champagne – with a free flow of champagne and sparkling apple juice. We were so excited about the event – and my nieces, the youngest at 15, were starstruck.

Even though admission was expensive (USD$100 each), we felt it was worth it – time spent watching a master chef at work, a five course meal at Le Meridien, and the chance to meet Chef Olson and get our cookbooks signed. We were excited beyond belief, and ready to have a luxurious, fun and decadent day.

Let me start out by sharing the good with you – Anna Olson was wonderful! Warm, witty, charming and a brilliant cook. She made three desserts: a Lady Baltimore Cake – a white chiffon iced with an Italian meringue studded with nuts and dried fruit; a Banana Caramel Cheesecake – gorgeous cookie crust, a layer of caramelised bananas, a stunning cheesecake, all enrobed in “ooooooh” sticky caramel; and a Cappuccino Nanaimo Bar – a Canadian sweet treat that consisted of dark cookie layer, a fudgy custard layer and dark chocolate ganache.

with Anna Olson

The desserts tasted as good as they looked, and the cooking demonstration was brilliant. Chef Olson is extremely knowledgeable, and shares her tips, tricks and information openly and intelligently. She explained how sugar worked, how it interacted with various elements of baking. She worked quickly but calmly, explaining why each ingredient when into the recipe at a given time, and what it would do.

And oh is this woman charismatic and funny! The audience was a tough sell. I am not sure why – Malaysian audiences can be notoriously “dead” – may be it was because it was a Sunday morning, but there was little to no response at the beginning. By the end of her presentation, however, she had the audience laughing, clapping and excited. A true professional, and it was thrilling to watch her cook, see how she worked with her off set spatula, timed her ingredients, and all the while, speaking, joking, teasing and teaching. I was impressed. She brought her beloved husband, Chef Michael Olson, out at the end of the demonstration, and that personal touch really seemed to warm up the crowd. My nieces were so impressed by him that they also wanted to take photos with him at the end as well!

Chef Anna and Chef Michael seemed like down to earth, interesting, intelligent foodies, with a great breadth and depth of knowledge about cooking and baking. They were interested in everything unique and Malaysian – from durians to pandan to kaya, and they looked like they were really enjoying their tour in South East Asia. Hands down, this couple were the most laid back and approachable “celebrities” I have ever met (and I have met a few!). They were professional and open, relaxed and funny. It was a pleasure to be in their company.

Unfortunately, I was not impressed by the savoury part of the meal we were served. I had been thrilled to see that the menu was quite vegetarian-centric. Given that there were four courses before a flurry of (superb) desserts, two out of the four were vegetarian, while the other two courses had vegetarian options. Unfortunately, all four courses, eaten vegetarian, were overwhelmingly rich and creamy.

The starter – a beet and goat’s cheese terrine, which features in her new cookbook, was delicious. It was very intense, the goats cheese and herbs mingling with the tart sweetness of the beets. I ate it with bread, which helped cut the richness, and if I had known what was coming, I would have finished it all up. The cream of mushroom soup, with a puff pastry dome, tasted of nothing but white pepper. It was unfortunately, inedible. The seafood in parchment parcels (which was the alternative) was lapped up by the other members of our table though. The main course, spinach, corn and herb stuffed pepper seemed to have sat out for ages – it had become crusted and rather ungainly. It was not helped by the addition of yet more cream to bind the spinach and corn. Though my nieces, who had the beef, said that while it was not hot, it was at least, very tasty. And finally, the brie and fig tart was a great idea – except for the fact that the fresh figs had wilted in our heat, and the brie was yet again too rich.

Le Meridien KL

I often think that restaurants and hotels pay a lot of attention to how to balance meals for those who eat meat and fish, but little to no attention or care is paid to those of us who eat vegetables. Its as if we need to be thankful that they remembered to cater to us in the first place, and therefore we should accept whatever they give us with gratitude. Its a shame, because Chef Olson’s new book is chock full of wonderful, colourful, fresh and delicious looking vegetarian dishes – all of which seem balanced and thoughtful and not as cloyingly rich as what we were served.

I appreciated the effort to place some fresh vegetables in the mix, and I did enjoy the salads, but overall, I was surprised and disappointed with the lack of care and quality on the plates that were served to me – particularly at that price! I did quite enjoy the sparkling apple juice though, and I noted quite a few people joyously partaking of the Mumm!

And finally, we were invited to the meet and greet outside, where Chef Olson presented some of her other desserts – best amongst which were the gorgeous and lush lemon olive oil cake with citrus and cream, the cashew cookies and the delicate and airy madeleines. I watched as the entire audience filed out to the foyer to have their books signed, and pose for a precious photograph with Chef Olson – and also partake of more of her treats.

Unfortunately, a member of the AFC staff ruined the moment for everyone by going down the line of people patiently waiting and telling them, in a brusque and authoritative manner that they were running out of time, and thus they needed to make sure they didnt spend too much time with the Chef. When she got to us, I told her that I thought her attitude was offensive to people who had paid so much to meet Chef Olson, and I thought that the way she was delivering the message was rude.

The AFC staff acted as if we did not matter – and they did not truly represent AFC as it should be represented. From the start they were officious, rude, overwhelmed and unable to deal with issues that came up. I was sorry for their inability to work in such an environment, but that was not my problem. They represent an amazing television channel – they are the frontline for the consumers of that channel and its events, and they should work a little harder at being diplomatic, gracious and kind.

In the end, Chef Olson overcame all. She made time for each and every person, even though she looked tired. She smiled, she posed for photos, she signed books, she paid attention, she laughed and chatted. She was lovely, and for her, I was glad we went. I do want to note that from experience, I really enjoy Le Meridien – they have a stunningly good buffet with loads of options for vegetarians, and their service is always smiling and sweet. And AFC is a great television channel which has brought food into the homes of so many of us who look to be inspired and uplifted. I am just a little sad that a day that could have been perfect was marred, just a bit, by thoughtlessness.

by Anna Olson

 

A Food Lover’s Day

10 Nov

Today was one of those days… It was a day I used to only dream about, but ever since I have embraced my life as a woman immersed in the pleasures and joys of food, these days seem to be happening more often. It was a day of adventure and exploration, of sensuous delight and comfort, and happy-making gifts devoured with beloved ones. Today was a food lover’s day 🙂

This morning, AngelKitten and I ventured out to the wilds of Taman Megah to find Bake With Yen. We had gone to the Taman Tun Pasar Besar outlet, but to be honest, it was a bit, well, rough. And it really didnt have all the supplies we were looking for. AngelKitten and I are on a big baking jag – we are going to be refining and baking cookies, with the possibility of offering some for sale over the Christmas period. We needed to go to a real baker’s shop, and we had been told about Bake With Yen and really wanted to go and see for ourselves.

The Taman Megah shop was wonderful! So many pretty and useful baking supplies – we were like kids in a candy store!

Every kind of flour and nut you can imagine, in any presentation you might like. Green pea flour? They had it! Ground hazelnuts or almonds, yes yes! All broken down from huge bags at the back, direct from the supplier, and sold in 1 kg bags. Brilliant, and very inexpensive compared to supermarket prices.

Colourings

Food colouring, flavouring, spices, herbs, vanilla beans,honey, treacle, sugars, coconut – anything and everything you could imagine to add colour and taste to a cake, pastry or cookie – they had it. And in bulk too – often for less than you would purchase a tiny amount in the supermarket.

Pans

Every kind of baking tin, pan, roll that you could imagine, in every shape and size. Amazing selection, and really good prices. A little cat shaped tin, yep, they could find it for you. Hearts and teddy bears, squares and rounds and octagons and quiche, pie, flan and chocolate tins. I was totally overwhelmed.

And for decoration, every kind of sugar flower that you could think of, for a few cents each. And pretty decorations for sugar cookies and cakes. And loads of different decorative pieces including stencils, fondant rollers, sugar work tools, and an entire aisle of colourful cupcake holders.

I’m telling you, we were both in an advanced state of happy. So we got what we needed (meringue powder for sugar cookies! almond meal! loads of extras we didnt mean to buy but couldnt resist!) and headed on to our next stop….

Well, actually, we stopped at the Warung Kek (Cake Shop) next door – very old school. Huge loaves of bread, blistering hot from the oven, blueberry cheesecake tarts that reminded AngelKitten of her school days, mee with sambal and packets of nasi lemak, and big moist slabs of chocolate cake. Could we resist such take home temptations? Of course not! 😉

But then it was time to rest and revive our senses…

——-

At the unadulterated sensuousness of lunch at Nathalie’s Gourmet Studio…. Oh bliss.

We shared a starter of a tangle of lightly sauteed green vegetables, atop a crispy puff pastry circle, elegance and deliciousness combined with a light and sure touch.

And our main course was a mindblowingly gorgeous, light, yet rich ink lasagna with ratatouille, and a ratatouille foam scented with parmesan. Smooth and sexy, perfectly balanced, indulgent yet restful.

And finally, we shared a pot of tea and this dessert – chocolate espuma, over chocolate cake dust (which coated the entire inside of the bowl) – textures of smooth silk and rough chocolate, and in the centre, in all its subtle glory, mascarpone sorbet.

What a meal. We were so happy. And we went away with 2 kgs of Valrhona chocolate to bake with…

——-

And this evening, AngelKitten and I put the chocolate to good use. First I made a batch, and then AngelKitten made a batch, of Starry Starry Night cookies. The batter sits in the fridge at the moment, doing its magic and firming up so that tomorrow we can roll in sugar and freeze them before the final bake. I love this part of cooking – imparting my knowledge, my rhythm, my sense of balance and taste to my niece. Well, the niece of my heart. I love the sense of continuity it gives me, and joy and peace.

And after the melting of the chocolate, the whipping of the eggs, the folding of the almond meal, and the washing up, cleaning and drying… we rewarded ourselves.

We sat down, and shared an entire box of Pierre Herme macarons which had been brought home to me all the way from London by my beloved Goddess. What a lovely gift. What pleasures to taste these macarons. Such amazing complexity of flavours – grape and bittersweet chocolate, green tea, apricot, vanilla, hazelnut. These were macarons to be savoured – each one painstakingly cut in half, looked at, smelled, tasted, discussed. There were great depths to the macarons, amazing flavour combinations, varying textures. We had such a great time, immersed in our macarons, intent on discovering the flavours of each new bite. As AngelKitten said to me, these were like no other treats she had ever tasted … they were a feat of enfolding complex and deeply layered flavours into one tiny little pastry. Astonishing and wonderful and such fun to share, and to be given, such a treat!

And on that note, I will look at my now almost empty box, and bring myself to bed… perchance to dream of another perfect food lover’s day…

Sweet dreams!

 

New Cookbooks

1 Nov

Cookbooks are, as I think I have noted before, a form of pleasure, relaxation and happiness for me. I read cookbooks at night, before bed, and the ones I love the best are filled with the personality of the writer – their opinions, descriptions, passions. I love being drawn into a story about food – and I am forever fascinated by the minds of great cooks – how they think about food, what they choose to put together with what, and how they cook.

I treated myself to a few cookbooks recently that I have really been wanting to read. I share them with you here, in the hope that they might inspire some culinary pleasures of your own 🙂

Gesine Bullock-Prado

Confections of a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado

Bullock-Prado once worked in the high flying world of Hollywood – as a producer for her famous sister’s company. She made movies, but all the while, she was dreaming of food … of baking in particular. Finally, she acknowledged her true self, and with her husband by her side, settled in Vermont, and opened her own bakery. This book is her story – intertwined with the stories of the powerful women in her life – her mother Helga (a famous German opera singer), her sister and her grandmother and aunts. Their European sensibilities about food and baking pervade her story. And after each chapter comes a recipe – for Helga’s Cake, Raspberry Meringues, Apfelkuchen, and Starry Starry Nights – a kind of baked truffle meringue cookie which is “black with chocolate.” Bullock-Prado’s advice for baking these cookies is wise and exemplary of a true cook:

Starry Starry Nights are as much careful process as they are high-quality ingredients. It’s easy to cut a corner and court disaster. Pay attention: to the chocolate, to the eggs, to the temperature and feel of your ingredients at every stage. Make sure to have extra chocolate on hand to nibble as you work; it calms the impatient baking beast beautifully.

I love the way Bullock-Prado writes, and how she thinks about food. Her blog is wonderful too! She shares her knowledge freely, and with a lot of precision and intelligence. Enjoy 🙂

Rose Elliot

New Complete Vegetarian by Rose Elliot

It seems I have always had a cookbook or two by Rose Elliot – probably Britain’s best known vegetarian cookbook author. She has written over 50 vegetarian cookbooks, and her chatty and intimate style of writing pulls you in and inspires. I like her recipes for being simple, straightforward, and tasty. I bought the New Complete Vegetarian because it reads as a wonderful reference to just about any vegetable that you can imagine. It also really makes me think about the myriad different ways of presenting vegetarian food. I cant wait to try her Vegetarian Paella, Stilton Pate with Walnuts and Port, and Croustade of Mushrooms, a gorgeous pie made from sauteed mushrooms and soured cream, on a baked base of breadcrumbs, almonds, garlic, herbs de Provence and garlic. Glorious!

Elliot’s voice is clear, confident and completely immersed in the wonders of vegetables. If you can think of it, she surely has a few suggestions on how to prepare it. And for a cook like me, Elliot’s recipes form a wonderful base from which I can let my mind and creativity wander… add a bit of goat’s cheese to that croustade may be … or possibly some oven dried tomatoes? Once you understand how to cook vegetables, and treat them with grace and respect, almost anything is possible. Elliot really provides that basic understanding, and passion.

From her introduction to Pulses:

Pulses – beans, peas and lentils – are one of our earliest-known foods. They are nutritious, health-giving and low in fat; an excellent source of protein, low-glycaemic carbohydrate and fibre; and packed full of valuable vitamins and minerals… I like them – love them, actually – for all of these health reasons but also because … I love all the gentle processes involved in cooking them: the serene soaking, the unhurried boiling, the transformation from hard, dry seed to plum, moist bean that is full of flavour.

Yotam Ottolenghi

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

I had heard much about Yotam Ottolenghi – both my friends, Karo and JL (aka Goddess’ husband), had forwarded me fascinating recipes of his. A classically trained chef, Ottolenghi has a series of restaurants in London selling bright, fresh salads, cakes and prepared foods. They look amazing, and are on my list to visit the next time I am visiting.

Ottolenghi also writes a column for the Guardian newspaper called The New Vegetarian which is an innovative, passionate and inspiring series of recipes using an extraordinary fusion of international tastes and textures. What is fascinating about this column is that he is not a vegetarian, but his cooking features many vegetarian dishes …. the colour, textures and passion are evident in each dish!

Ottolenghi is daring and brilliant in how he combines different foods – and the freshness and beauty of his plates makes me always want to get down and dirty and cook! He reminds me a bit of Nigel Slater – rough and ready and yet intensely sophisticated. Influenced by his Middle Eastern heritage, Ottelenghi travels to eat, and brings many different styles and approaches into his food.

Plenty is a vegetarian cookbook – a collection of his Guardian articles along with many unpublished recipes. Its a rollercoaster ride of inspiration and passion – brilliant and exciting. He is so clever! A caramelised garlic tart! Caramelised onion tarts are an old stand-by, but garlic? Of course! And what a different taste, yet echoes of the familiar. Enlivened with cheese, made creamy and comforting with eggs and cream, this tart is a wondrous idea – something I cannot wait to make. There are others … Stuffed Portobello with Melting Taleggio, Figs with Basil, Goats Curd and Pomegranate Vinaigrette, Broccoli and Gorgonzola Pie. Each recipe is unique, challenging and beautiful. I love how he thinks, and how he writes.

In the introduction to his (savoury) Green Pancakes with Lime Butter:

I guess these pancakes are so comforting they somehow take you back to your childhood, when the joy of textures and flavours is still pure and unadulterated.

And in the Introduction to the book:

I’ll start with something as simple and unassuming as rice. When I try to think of all the uses for this grain, I immediately go dizzy with all the countless possibilities – within and between cultures, pairing with other ingredients, all the types of rice available, the methods of cooking and when you serve it, the consistency, degree of processing, home cooking, commercial uses. I think of paella, wild rice salad, and ho fan noodles. I visualise arancini with their golden breadcrumb crust, Iranian saffron rice with potatoes, Chinese fried rice, rice pudding. I recall plain steamed rice my mum used to prepare for me when I had a bad tummy, with only a little bit of butter stirred in at the end.

______________

So these are my three new gifts to myself – my inspirations, my references, my pleasures. I hope they inspire you to may be pick one up to be inspired… but for now, I am going to bed, with a cup of warm milk with a dash of home made vanilla essence and some honey… to read, and to dream.

 

 

 

 

Another Night @ Nathalie’s

31 Oct

This past Friday, we went to Nathalie’s Gourmet Studio to celebrate AngelKitten’s birthday. I have blogged about this amazing and passionate Chef before – here and here. Suffice to say, it was another enchanting and flawless meal, served with passion (and tons of that totally perfect bread) and joy. It was so lovely, we took pictures… so I thought I would share them with you. For an actual review of Nathalie’s, please follow the other links… for now, just enjoy 😉

Starter

AngelKitten’s salmon starter. Perfectly cooked salmon on the inside, Asian, fusion tastes, and gorgeous plating. Such an elegant Chef, our Nathalie.

Starter

BoyBoy’s starter. A sublime mushroom foam, a tower of pasta, creamy chicken and morels in the centre. And on top? On that simple bamboo skewer? A morel, stuffed with chicken and deep fried. A nod to Chinese cooking, but with a definite French twist.

Starter

And finally, my starter. I laughed when I tasted this. I think its something I do, instinctively, when a taste is just perfect. If you ever visit Nathalie’s and you see pumpkin on the menu, order it. She has some wildwonderful juju with pumpkin. A pumpkin broth, essence of sweetness and savoury. Hiding home-made goat’s cheese stuffed raviolis. Such a perfect taste combination.

And oh, did we devour Nathalie’s bread during our starters… and, like true Malaysians, fantasised about having it for breakfast the next day, warmed, split, buttered and stuffed with a fried egg. BoyBoys eyes rolled back in his head in ecstasy as he imagined that perfect bread, soaked with hot egg yolk. Heheh.

Kitten

AngelKitten’s main course. Cabbage, braised, stuffed with dark greens and chicken, with a chicken foam. She said it was perfect. Light and rich, substantial and beautiful, all at the same time.

BoyBoy

BoyBoy’s main – a reconstructed moussaka rich with lamb, cheese, eggplant and tomato. Each bite a perfect balance of flavour and texture. He must have loved it because he finished every last bite.

P

My risotto – and again! I forgot to take a photo of the centre of this sublime dish. Herb foam made it light, and it was rich with all sorts of good vegetables – asparagus, broad beans, snap peas and mushrooms. They lightened the risotto, and yet it was so rich and pure and perfect – you could taste the parmesan in every bite. I know how difficult it is to make risotto that is al dente and not too soft, not too hard, especially in a restaurant. Nathalie managed wonderfully. It was so so so good.

Charlotte

A chocolate chocolate charlotte. BoyBoy and I were very civil in sharing it 😉 But I think thats because we were full on bread (and he wasnt feeling 100%)… if not, it might have been war 😉

Morels

And amazingly, delightfully, morels made another appearance in our dinner – for dessert. Caramelised morels and bananas, a banana ice cream, caramel mousse and balsamic caramel banana sauce. It was outrageously good, and very daring!

BoyBoy had been nursing a cold, but he drank a big pot of Mariage Freres‘ Nil Rouge tea and perked right up. Nathalie’s has a full stock of Mariage Freres’ teas – and you should try them some time – they are known as the best teas in the world, and the flavours and scents are absolutely lovely.

We cant wait to go back to Nathalie’s Gourmet Studio and try their new menu (which starts on Tuesday). She will be open for another 2 nights in November… do check out her website, and join her mailing list. You will be so happy you did!