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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


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.


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!

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 🙂


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.

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 😉


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


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.


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.


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’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.


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.


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 😉


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!


Per Se – Part II

7 Oct

My companion and I, both vegetarians, decided to have the Tasting of Vegetables. I really wanted to see how the Chef thought about vegetables, how he would present them, and how a nine course meal of pure vegetable, served haute cuisine, would feel. It was truly the experience of a lifetime. Though they say the menu is nine courses, it is actually more like twelve, what with the amuse bouche to start and the flurry of mignardises at the end.

Every day, the menu at Per Se changes. With the changing of the seasons, with the new bouquets of fall, winter, spring and summer, different dishes are presented. The knowledge of food, the breadth and depth of passion for each vegetable and fruit is stunning. I am so glad we got to experience Per Se at the end of summer, and the beginning of autumn … the flavours were deep and rich, as resonant as a bass drum.

My companion had wine, and asked our waiter to chose. It was the first time in a long time that I wished I still drank. Champagne to start, a Pinot Gris that was so delicious I find words hard to express its complexity, crispness, delight… and finally a red which was soft and rich and full. Perfect pairings for our most phenomenal meal.


Amuse Bouches

The amuse started the meal out with a bang. Tiny, miniscule gougeres – so little, they seemed inconsequential. Two, one each, served on a crisp white plate. Eaten by hand, they were like a peanut… until their huge flavour exploded in the mouth. Crisp outer shell, mindshatteringly savoury warm cheese, melting like velvet on the tongue. That little gougere was like a wake up call. Sit up! Pay attention! Your mind, your taste buds, everything is about to be blown away. It was so good, I immediately wanted 20 more. I could have sat and eaten those gougeres forever – but of course, that would have lessened the power of that singular mouthful. I thought it was one of the most intense and delicious things I have ever eaten. And it set up the meal perfectly because we couldnt wait to see what was going to come next.

One of Chef Keller’s most famous amuse bouches is his smoked salmon, served like an ice cream, in a tiny savoury cone. We had the vegetarian version, with artichoke, a sublime couple of bites – creamy, astringent, crisp. Eaten with the hands as well. Astonishingly clever. And a perfect match for that intense gougere because it spoke of balance, sweetness and savoury, a sense of humour and adventure.

Caramelized Salsify “Veloute” Pomegranate Reduction, Medjool Date “Marbles” and Truffle Puree

Our first course was … how to call this a soup? A veloute is one of the four mother sauces that the great French Chef Careme classified as being the basis from which all other sauces come from – bechamel, espagnole, veloute and allemande. Veloute is made from roux, with huge amounts of butter, and uncaramelised stock. This vegetarian veloute was smooth like the finest silk, soft as a baby’s cheek. Salsify is a root vegetable – it looks like a thin parsnip but it has its own flavour, hauntingly expressive, with notes of oyster, earth, dampness.

Together, the salsify and the veloute created a dream. Sweet and voluptuously satisfying. And then… pomegranate reduction and truffle puree! Taking that smooth white emulsion, and bringing in dark notes. Truffle is one of those tastes that in and of itself is mesmerising. Married with the pomegranate and the salsify … it was like nothing I had ever tasted before. And the dates – literally marbles of sweet honeyed flavour. This entire course was about grounding, earthiness, the life force of the vegetables tangible and yet elevated together to a stunning resonance.

Both of us considered putting our faces in our bowls and licking them clean, but we did not want to embarrass ourselves quite yet!

Compressed Persian Cucumbers Slow Roasted Beets, Horseradish Panna Cotta, Mizuna and Gold Beet Glaze

Well, one thing is for sure. I will never ever look at a cucumber the same way again! After the earthy complexity of the first course, we had a “salad” – but honestly, it was something else entirely. The cucumber and the beets had been pressed and roasted – until some shattered on the tongue like delicate shards of flavour, and some had the caramelised roasted perfume of the Goddesses. Each delicate slice was presented with reverent perfection and each tasted completely different. The mizuna – Japanese watercress – added a burst of colour, and reflected the sharp contrast of the sublime horseradish panna cotta hiding under a golden sunshine sweet beet glaze.

This dish was composed like a painting. It was gorgeously lush, and so beautiful to look at. The gold beet glaze was almost unreal – an orange yellow slick of brightness. It was sweet, as were the cucumbers and beets. But the creamy panna cotta had the acerbic sting of horseradish. What a combination! Each mouthful was different and yet perfectly similar. I wanted to take a breath, to savour, but it was so sublime, I could not stop eating it. I just wanted to find another taste, another angle, another combination.

And this was the pure joy of the meal – to experience a Chef thinking about putting different tastes, textures and emotions together. The colours, the presentation, the rhythm of the meal was so seductive because it was at once intellectual, humourous and wantonly sensual.

Rosa Bianca Eggplant “A La Grenobloise” “Haricots Verts et Jaunes,” Parsley Shoots and Crystallized Eggplant Chip

After the black and white pleasures of the veloute, and the sparkling composition of the cucumbers, we were presented with eggplants. But not just any eggplant … Rosa Bianca, a beautiful heirloom variety, small and seedless, roasted to perfection. Sexy and rich, deeply moving. A la Grenobloise refers to a method of preparation which uses brown butter, parsley, lemon juice, capers and tiny croutons. This sexy salad had echoes of these flavours, along with beautifully prepared green and yellow beans, tender and subtle, and parsley shoots – tiny young shoots, sweet and gorgeous garnish – totally different in taste and texture from the older, full grown variety. So much contrast here, and so much to think about. The crunch of the crouton, the slickness of the green and yellow beans. The creaminess of the eggplant, highlighted by its preparation…

And to top it all off, a slice of eggplant. Sliced through from top to bottom, a slice gossamer thin, and crystallized. It was like a piece of stained glass art. So stunning I didnt want to eat it but then I allowed my appetite, and my interest its full rein. Sweet, perfect, crackly. Eggplant? Yes! Oh yes yes yes. Such a superb combination of presentation and flavour, and such deep connection to the first two dishes. A Chef at once thoughtful and playful. And so moving.

With this course, we were served our first bread of the meal – a small roll, a cross between a brioche, a croissant and Southern spoon biscuits. Utterly devastatingly satiny soft, like a pillow of richness. So good that on its own, it would deserve accolades and applause. Served almost nonchalantly with two butters – Vermont salted and California unsalted. Of course.

Butter Roasted Sweet Potato Brussels Sprouts, Pearson Farms’ Pecans, Frisee Lettuce and Blis Maple Syrup Emulsion

How to move on from eggplants? From that ripe earthiness? From the artistic exactness of that crystalized piece? A perfect square of sweet potato, roasted in butter until so unctuously soft, it was experienced like a toffee butternut! With a crisp coating that had saltiness and creaminess, and which stopped the sweet potato from going into the overwhelmingly ripe. Alongside, bright braised brussel sprouts, their acidity a counterpoint to the sweetness. Toasted pecans, artful tiny lettuce and a creamy maple syrup. Each element of this dish not only complemented each other but raised the tastes into an aria… sung a capella!

I know, I am verging on the obscene with the superlatives… but honestly. Harmony. Balance. Lushness. It was all there.

It just blows me away when I can enjoy a meal in such a way, and yet I can feel the thought and care, tenderness and intensity that has gone into preparing every mouthful. I love home cooked food because its really about love. When I eat a meal prepared for me by someone who cares about me, I sense it in every bite. Restaurant meals are more difficult, because there is rarely a personal connection between Chef and diner. More so with the superstar restaurants … and yet here, in every part of the experience, I was immersed in a depth of care. Every dish that was presented was done so lovingly, was prepared with honour and respect. You cannot fake that.

Mushroom Pot Pie “Matignon” of Root Vegetables, Ekerton Hill Farm’s Chestnuts, Watercress Salad, Fines Herbes Creme Fraiche and Madeira Cream

After five courses (including the amuse bouches), this was the pinnacle. A pot pie. Homely. Something that one would make to comfort and show love. A hug. Reassuringly familiar. Yes, and yet… Oh my good Goddess. This one, I did end up dipping my fingers in at the end and licking up the remaining juices.

Essence of mushroom, in all its complexity. Shadows and mustiness, dark thumps of flavour.

And with it, the matignon, which is a method of cooking vegetables slowly, softly, with butter and Madiera, until they are melted and melded with each other. Another essence, this time of root vegetables (and echoes of the salsify we began with). And chestnuts, sliced in perfect matchsticks with the mushrooms. Lush beyond belief. Creamy and earthy, so rich and intense. Crowned with a perfect crisp puff pastry, that was delicately sliced. A quenelle of fines herbes and sharp watercress horseradish cream deposited into the exceptional mushroom. A transcendent experience. It was perfect. Really truly, perfect. Every part of me resonated with that pot pie.

I could have laughed out loud with joy.

Mascarpone Enriched Parsnip “Agnolotti” Honeycrisp Apple “Parisienne,” Young Onions, Pea Shoots and Black Winter Truffle Beurre Blanc

Agnolotti are a form of ravioli,  plump squares of pasta from the Piedmont region of Italy. These tiny, thumbnail sized squares were stuffed with a silken parsnip puree. Amazing explosion of flavour from a small bite… echoes of our gougeres and that sublime first course. Remembrance and memory woven into a singular meal. Sweet honeyed apples, tiny rounds of contrast, mirroring the dates. And a beurre blanc of truffles (black and white again! And oh, what a taste to leave you gasping!) … another memory intertwined with this one.

So flawless…except for the young onions. For me, they were a dissonance. I understood why they were there – the counterpoint. The astringent to the creamy. But I did not find that they melded well into this course, and I did not eat them. This was noticed, of course, and I was asked why I had left them. I answered honestly… and it was accepted.

“Ticklemore” Thyme Sable, Compressed Figs, Belgian Endive and Watercress with Walnut Marmalade


“Smokey Oregon Blue” Per Se Graham Cracker, Poached Quince, Celery “Ribbons” and Tellicherry Pepper “Aigre-Doux”

Our cheese course arrived. Since we were two, we ordered one of each, and shared. Two completely different cheeses. Mine, the Ticklemore, was a goat’s cheese from Devon – subtle and creamy. Very delicate for a goat’s cheese, and served with a sweet thyme sable biscuit, ripe figs, a sharp melding of green and a luscious walnut marmalade.

My companion had the Smokey Oregon Blue – totally intense, smoked over hazelnuts for hours, and strong. What a forceful flavour! Paired with the Per Se version of a graham cracker – honeyed and gingery, jewel-like quinces and the sour sweet pepper.

Our two versions of the cheese course highlighted how completely different cheese can be. It was wonderful to be able to share.

Huckleberry and Buttermilk Sherbet Oat Crumble, Oregon Huckleberries “Demi-Sec” and Buttermilk Chantilly

Ahhhh the sorbet. A chance to take a breath. Cleanse the palate. Huckleberries and buttermilk. Again, that magical contrasting combination of flavour and sharpness, softness and creaminess. The oat crumble, a laughing nod to crunchy granola folks, but perfectly done. And those partially dried huckleberries – an intense fruity version of sun dried tomatoes or raisins.

Purple and white on the plate, with golden dusting of oats. How not to smile when you are presented with such a plate after such overwhelming courses as had come before. So clean. And yet so impeccable. Just when the appetite flags, when we thought we could not have any more… this perked up the taste buds, cooled down the heat and cleansed our souls.

“PB & J” Peanut Butter Parfait, Crystallized Lemon Verbena, Toasted Virginia Peanuts and Concord Grape Sherbet


“Glace a la Vanille” Cardamom Grissini, Bartlett Pears and Root Beer Syrup

Again, we shared one of each dessert.

I had the PB & J (Peanut Butter and Jelly). Playful, fantastical romp over every memory of pb & j sandwiches as a child. The peanut butter parfait – splendid little cakes, lathered with peanut butter cream. The crisp sweetness of the peanuts, and the sweet dark purple cleanness of the grape sherbert. And atop one of the parfaits, what looked like a single grape. Turned out to be peanut butter fudge encapsulated in grape jelly. How funny and light and sense arousing!

My companion had the vanilla ice cream – bold in its simplicity, and adorned with root beer syrup which highlighted the dusky note in the vanilla, and pears, which resonated with the creaminess of the glace. The only wrong note, for me, was the cardamom grissini (sweet breadsticks) – served with much reverence, but slightly stale and sticky.


We thought we had come to near the end of our meal. A little coffee and may be a piece of chocolate to finish.

Mignardises are small bites – much like the amuse bouches but sweet. Little desserts, tiny tastes.

I am not sure what happened but it felt like all the Chefs in the kitchen of Per Se were replaced by a very worried Jewish mother – worried that we had not eaten enough, worried that we had not gotten our fill. A veritable blizzard of little treats were showered down on our table. I actually did laugh out loud – I could not believe the extraordinary symphony of delectables that were presented to us.

Along with the best cup of coffee I have had in a long time, we were offered a silver platter of home made chocolates – about 18 different flavours. We each chose two, and reveled in the unique flavours. Curry buttercream anyone?

And then… Keller’s justly famous “Coffee and Doughnuts.” Brioche doughnut holes, light and yeasty, dusted with dusky cinnamon sugar, and a cappuccino  semi-freddo. Totally unannounced, this could have been a dessert in its own right. And it was scrumptious! So good in that down home haute cuisine sensibility that Keller has perfected. That semi-freddo was the perfect coffee ice cream – so smooth and light. And those doughnuts. Seemingly simple, I have read the recipe. This is a complex dish, and I was totally thrilled to be able to taste it!

And then… a silver triple layer container, hiding white, dark and milk chocolate truffles, pulled caramels, tiny hard candies. Chocolate covered hazelnuts. It felt like we were being buried in deliciousness. I could literally feel my stomache stretching to accommodate everything. And I wanted to taste it all, to feel it all, to be totally immersed in these sweet complex flavours.

And then finally. The last bite. A bookend to that phenomenal gougere. What looked like a white chocolate truffle – an impeccable bon bon which hid salted caramel pop corn ice cream (I kid you not) – a sweet salty explosion. A bang of a finish. A supreme hit of fireworks.


What a meal. What an experience. What theatre.

When we were done (almost four hours from when we started), I think we were both grinning like children who had had their first taste of joy. We had expressed our contentment and pleasure so clearly, that we were honoured to be invited for a kitchen tour. But thats another story for another time.

Throughout the meal, we were treated with such kindness and grace, with such happiness and pleasure that the total experience was sublime. This was special. It was unique. And I am thankful that neither of us is so world weary or pseudo sophisticated not to be grateful for the opportunity to experience Per Se in that light.

For right now… all I can say is, if you want a culinary education in a few hours, go to Per Se. If you want food that is cooked with love and laughter, joy and reverence, go to Per Se. If you want the experience of a lifetime, pure artistry in food, ephemeral and fleeting, and yet so clearly held in the memory that it is tangible… go to Per Se.

Thank you to Chef Keller for creating such an establishment, and such a wonderful version of American food. And thank you to our Chef, the Chef de Cuisine Eli Kamineh, for a meal that will live in in my memory for as long as I am on this earth.


Per Se – Part I

7 Oct

I recently returned from a visit to New York, and while I was there, I wanted to treat myself to something truly spectacular. For some people, this might be a gorgeous outfit or a piece of jewelry, a stay in a fabulous hotel or a night at the theatre. For me, it was a meal at a truly exceptional restaurant. I looked at quite a few – L’Atelier du Joel Robuchon, Daniel, etc. But there was one place I really wanted to go… Thomas Keller’s Per Se. I have read all his books, and the French Laundry is on my list of places I want to go before I die. But since I was in NYC, rather than California, I decided Per Se would do 😉

Reservations at Per Se are notoriously difficult to get. One has to book two months in advance, and offer a credit card deposit. However, I figured out that Per Se releases their lunch cancellations on the Monday before the weekend of – they only serve lunch on weekends. So, the Monday before I went to New York, I looked on Open Table, and lo! Lunch was available for Saturday at 12. Perfection!

I have to say, I am glad we went to lunch rather than dinner. While dinner might have been more romantic, and reviews have told of the spectacle of watching the sun go down over Central Park, the meal itself is so phenomenal – so full on hedonistic – that if I had tried eating it for dinner, I would not have been able to sleep until 4 am. I was also really intrigued to note that Per Se offers lounge dining, first come first serve, from an a la carte menu which reflects some of the dishes served in the Chef’s Tasting Prix Fixe menu. Next time I am in New York, it might be a pleasant splurge…

From the moment we walked in, Per Se impressed. Its a very elegant space, with floor to ceiling windows, beautifully dressed staff, and a calm sophisticated atmosphere. The chairs are wide and comfortable, the tables set with beautiful cutlery and plates. Whites, browns and the beauty of Central Park. My companion remarked upon the fact that there was no music. To be honest, I quite liked this. Nothing to distract you from the symphony of food to come.

I have travelled the world, and been to some lovely establishments, and I was impressed by how the staff managed to be friendly and open, yet totally professional. They imbued the experience with a sense of occasion and respect, without once coming across as snobbish or belittling. They were as excited about the food as we were, and knew everything there was to know about each course.

The restaurant only has 16 tables, and is divided between two levels. We sat at the top level, which gave us a great view of the other guests. The rest of the clientele was quite diverse. Next to us were two women who were as intent on the food experience as we were. Flanking our two tables were couples – one celebrating a birthday, and the other who looked and sounded international. They enjoyed their food as much as they enjoyed each other!

Further along, was obviously a touristy couple, here for the experience. Unfortunately, the woman (we shall call her Red) decided to cobble together her own menu from the Chef’s Tasting, Vegetable Tasting and 5 Course Prix Fixe. She loudly replaced one thing with another, and told her server that they were on a low fat diet! I am not sure why one would even begin to think of coming to a restaurant like Per Se if one couldnt actually eat the food they served! I also feel that the Chef planned the tastings in a certain order, with a certain balance. To start shifting dishes around, and ordering off point was exactly besides the point – it killed any possibility of really seeing the Chef’s vision. We did note that when Red went to the restroom, her husband devoured the course in front of him with a relish that told us he had not gotten to eat like that in a long time.

There were others. Two men who had a menu quite different from anyone else, and who were the centre of attention from a lot of the wait staff. A woman who had brought her parents to Per Se from out of town. Two couples in their 60’s, with the women wearing pearls as big as golf balls. It was fun to check out our fellow diners, but to be honest, I was there for the food!

And what food it was! We could choose between a nine course Tasting of Vegetables or Chef’s Tasting Menu, or a five course Prix Fixe. As vegetarians, we decided to go with the Tasting of Vegetables, but because I love reading menus, and I think you might too, I will reproduce the other two menus here.


5 Course Prixe Fixe

Smoked Columbia River Sturgeon Sweet Pepper Tapenade, Carrot “Ribbons,” Garden Dill and Preserved Horseradish Vinaigrette

Liberty Farms’ Pekin Duck “Presse” New Crop Potato Salad, Cornichons, Greenmarket Onions, Celery Branch, White Heart Celery and Caramelized Onion Jus


Sea Urchin “Tofu” Crispy Rice, English Cucumber, Watermelon Radish, Jalapeno, Pea Tendrils and Kanzuri

Australian Abalone “Poele” Butternut Squash, Glazed Chestnuts, Crispin Apples, Fried Sage and Brown Butter Emulsion


Dover Sole “AmandineHeirloom Cauliflower Florettes, Plumped Sultanas, Parsley Shoots and Truffle Coulis

Elysian Fields Farms’ “Cote D’Agneau” “Petit Sale,” Herb Scented Panisse, Red Wine Pickled Eggplant, Young Fennel, Aji Dulce Peppers, Sylvetta and Lamb Jus


Herb Roasted Thomas Farms’ Squab Sauteed Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras, Flowering Quince Puree, Brussels Sprouts, Petite Turnips and “Sauce Hydromel”

“M&M’s” Pretzel Chips, Candied Peanuts, Madagascar Vanilla Mousse and Mast Brothers’ Chocolate Ice Cream


Chef’s Tasting Menu

“Oysters and Pearls” “Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar

Salad of Big Island Hearts of Palm Jingle Bell Peppers, Cherry Tomatoes, Cilantro and Hass Avocado Puree


“Tourchon” of Elevages Perigord Moulard Duck Foie Gras Quince Marmalade, Eckerton Hill Farms’ Chestnuts, Young Beets, White Heart Celery and Aged Balsamic Vinegar

Herb Roasted Fillet of Atlantic Halibut Globe Artichoke, Sunchokes, Castelvetrano Olives, Parsley Shoots and Meyer Lemon Vierge

Nova Scotia Lobster Mitts “En Brochette” Hadley Orchard’s Medjool Date “Marbles”, Glazed Sweet Carrots, Mizuna and Madras Curry-Cauliflower Puree

All Day Braised Salmon Creek Farms’ Pork Belly “Matignon” of Root Vegetables, French Green Lentils, Frisee and Pork Jus

Snake River Farms’ “Calotte de Bouef Grillee” Chanterelle Mushrooms, Salsify Root, Wilted Arrowleaf Spinach and “Sauce Bordelaise”

“Pyrenees Brebis” Pain de Campagne Croutons, Haricots Verts, Confit of Torpedo Onion and Petite Radishes

Strawberry Sorbet Rick Bishop’s Tri-Star Strawberries, Strawberry Lace and Saigon Cinnamon Soda

“Tropical Tea” Passionfruit-Chocolate Cremeux, Earl Grey Genoise, Passionfruit Mousse and Earl Grey Ice Cream


“Delice au Damas” Brown Butter Financier, Damson Plum Mousse, Mint Jelly and Plum Ice Cream


We had the Vegetable Tasting Menu, which I will go through, in detail, in the second part of this review. Just note, this is not a restaurant for vegans – they use lashings and lashings of butter, cream, cheese and eggs. We did not eat for 24 hours after this meal… it was just that overwhelming, that amazing. Each dish was so carefully constructed, so beautifully presented, and above all else, tasted so astonishing… nothing else could compare.

Review: Limited Edition Shun Elite Ken Onion Santoku Knife

17 Sep

Limited Edition Ken Onion

A while ago, I mentioned that I had ordered a present for myself – the limited edition Ken Onion 7 inch Santoku knife. It arrived about a week ago, and I have been using it steadily since. I wanted to get a feel for this knife before writing a review. I have used it every day since it arrived, for just about everything I cook, and it has exceeded my expectations.

I have relatively small hands, and when I cook at home, I usually use 4 – 6 inch utility knives. I love my Chef’s knives but as most of them are Sabatiers, and need to be sharpened and cared for very carefully, I prefer to use journey-man knives on a regular basis. When I came here to the US, I bought an Oxo Good Grips Chef’s knife, and I really liked it. It was light, easy to use, sharp, and flexible.

I remember thinking that I was not sure I could go back to my old knives once I returned home. I must admit though, the chef’s knife was a bit long and unwieldy for me – I managed to get through a huge amount of chopping and cutting, but the 8 inch knife blade, which narrows down to a sharp point, was just a bit too long. The width of the blade made it easy to chop through large onions and butternut easily, but the length lessened my feeling of control. While I liked the rubbery grip of the handle, it was also a bit wide for my hands, and did not feel extremely comfortable. I wondered if there was something that would “fit” me better.

When perusing the tempting pages of Gilt’s sale website, I came across the Shun Santoku knife as part of a set. The santoku is the Japanese version of a chef’s knife, and it is definitely made for smaller hands. The blade is the same width from hilt to tip basically, and its sometimes narrower than a chef’s knife, though this one was about the same width as my Oxo. Its blade edge is also straight – rather than curved for the chef’s knife – so the cutting motion is more of a chop than a rocking pace. Interestingly, the Ken Onion design incorporates a very small curve into the santoku knife, so you can choose slicing, chopping or rocking motions when using the knife.

I went online (thank goodness for the internet says this oldtimer!) and read as much as I could, and watched loads of videos about santoku knives (thank you youtube). Its amazing how much crap is out there, but occaisionally one chances across some solid information. A reader of this blog suggested I watch Martha Stewart on santoku knives, and I found her video online. It was very informative.

One thing I realised was that the “professional” way of holding a knife is very different from the way I have been holding one. That is to say, one holds the knife right at the point where blade meets handle. You need to almost pinch the knife between thumb and third finger, using the pointing finger to guide the knife. I always held my knife with the handle in the palm of my hand, but have now started to try and hold my kitchen knives in this new way… It seems a bit clumsy but once you get used to it, you realise exactly how much more control and strength you have. It makes using a knife very precise.

I have to admit though, the reason I purchased the Limited Edition Shun Elite Ken Onion Santoku (its full name!) is that it is so bloody gorgeous. I mean, this thing is a work of art. Ken Onion is known through the knife world (there is one, apparently) as a first rate artist – he generally makes switchblades and collectors knives. He has been in partnership with Kai knives for a while now, and has looked at making cooking knives from a new point of view. My knife was hand made in Seki City, Japan, the centre of the samurai tradition, and was inspired by old samurai swords.


The santoku has probably the most gorgeous handle I have ever seen in a cooking knife. Made of ebony pakkawood, it has a clever ergonomic design so that your hand fits right in, and rests along its curves as if you were made for each other. The wood is has a dark sheen, and embedded in the pakkawood is a brass and silver emblem reminiscent of a family crest. A brass and red ring join the handle to the blade. The hand forged (rather than stamped from a mold) steel blade is coated with 16 layers of high carbon stainless steel, making the knife impenetrable to rust, very sharp, and extremely hard. It has been shined to a glorious matte finish.

Importantly, this knife is also full tang, which means that the steel of the blade carries on through the entire handle. The ebony pakkawood is fixed onto the steel handle through the emblem rivet. This is a very vital part of any knife – I should know! One of the many scars on my hands is from a knife that detached itself from its handle and decided to chop me instead of the onion! Getting a knife that has a full tang means that it is fully balanced (between blade and handle) and also means that the sharp blade will never detach from the handle and mince you.

This knife is so pretty that the first day I had it, I just took it out of its (cheap paper) sheath to look at, and touch, and admire. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that such an expensive and beautiful knife came with almost no protection, no sheath, no box, no storage. Luckily, I found a wonderful sheath via Cook’s Illustrated’s website (the Victorinox 8- to 10-inch BladeSafe Knife Guard) so at least now I can travel safely with it in my suitcase.

But it was when I started cooking with the santoku that I really noticed a difference. I often have very sore hands after chopping and mincing and slicing for hours on end. My hands feel painful and swollen sometimes. But with the santoku … I was literally looking for more things to chop and mince and slice! And the control! Paper thin slices, tiny dices, minuscule minces. I worked through a huge butternut, thick skin and all in a few minutes. Onions were the work of seconds. Literally. I have used this knife every day, in an infinite variety of ways, and its still sharp, its still as breathtakingly exquisite as when I first set eyes on it, and it has made me into a better cook because I have more confidence, more control, and am more aware of how the food I am cooking is being prepared.

The santoku really made me realise that knives are personal – they are not just a brand or a label, but about how a cook uses them to make the food that she or he is passionate about. This knife fits me. Its as though it was made for my hand. Its a beautiful balance of heavy and light, strength and flexibility. I am so happy I decided to treat myself to this knife because its made the cooking experience even more of a pleasure for me.

Is it the right knife for you? I am not sure. I would certainly suggest going to a cooking shop and trying out knifes – feel their heft, weight and balance. Think about what you are going to use them for – as a vegetarian cook, I am not concerned with bones and skin and cartilage (thank goodness), so my knife is really for fruits and vegetables. This knife is perfect for chopping, mincing, dicing, slicing. It fits my small(ish) hands very well, and feels like a natural extension of me. I love it – and I would highly rate the Shun knives by Kershaw/Kai for their quality, handling, and sharpness – and for their pure lustful beauty!

Enjoy, and good cooking!

In the Hand!

Sticky Fingers Bakery + Fried Rice

5 Sep

Today was a totally vegan day. We planned it that way, but to be honest, no one ever even vaguely missed the dairy! For brunch, we went to Sticky Fingers Bakery – a Washington DC vegan institution. M and I had been talking about it for ages … when she got married, I thought of getting her a cake from Sticky Fingers, but I couldnt get my act together! Finally, we went and ate there. It was a bit of a mission to get to, but thank Goddess for GPS, she found it fine!

Sticky Fingers is a really cool, relaxed place. There were families, teenagers, a young woman studying for her LSATS, guys drinking coffee and Skyping, and a man who came in and bought himself a huge sundae, and sat all by himself and ate it with great relish. As you walk in, there is a cold case with pre-made food: everything from TLT’s (tomato, lettuce and tofu bacon sandwiches) to pasta to gyros. Straight in front of you is the bakery section with cookies, cakes, brownies, cupcakes. Everything is home made, fresh and looks incredibly tempting. There is a menu on a chalkboard above the payment counter, and drinks from a cooler or you can order coffee and tea. You can choose between take out and eat in, and because we were with the baby, we sat and ate. There are a few tables (one big communal and 6 smaller tables) inside, and a few outside.

I had the iced vanilla latte, and it was absolutely superb. The coffee itself was brilliant, and I couldnt tell the difference between the soy they used and regular milk. I think they used Silk, which we have tried, and its great. M suggested we have the breakfast sandwich. It came from the pre-made cooler, and it was sublime. Sooooo bloody good! Two english muffins sandwiched a tofu egg omelette (coloured with tumeric and creamy and delicious), with soy protein sausage, and a yeast vegannaise. It was one of the most delicious things I have had in a long time.

M and B had seconds, and I decided to be adventurous by ordering the biscuits and gravy, with scrambled tofu and roasted potatoes. To be honest, I should have stuck with the breakfast sandwich. The biscuits were bland, the gravy was this floury white sauce that was completely tasteless, the scrambled tofu was just ok, and the roasted potatoes had no flavour to them at all. We were all quite disappointed after the delights of the sandwich.

To make up for it, I ordered a sweet and salty cookie which was really good! A chocolate chip and raisin cookie, baked with a sprinkle of salt over it. Really lovely, wonderful juxtaposition of tastes. I would have those again and again! M had a peanut butter fudge cupcake for dessert and B had an oreo cupcake. They were delicious (I think B had seconds on that too!)…. Not too sweet, velvety, moist, and very chocolaty. Even Baby Z got into the fudge cupcake. But when everything is vegan, cholesterol free, lower in saturated fats and sweetened with evaporated cane juice … its actually kind of okay 😉

I also ordered, and took home, a sticky cinnamon bun. How can you not when they are the bakery’s name inspiration? They were good, if a bit doughy…I should have gotten another sweet and salty cookie instead. Though this bakery is not cheap, it is very much worth the trek to find it, and the expense. I wish I could say everything was delicious, but what was good, was phenomenal! We were so busy eating, I didnt even have time to take photos 😉

Sticky Fingers Bakery
1370 Park Road, NW Washington DC, 20010
1 block north from Columbia Heights Metro
Tel: 202.299.9700


vegan!We had a busy afternoon, walking around downtown, shopping, playing… When it was time for dinner, we wanted something really light and yet satisfying. Fried rice was the perfect solution. I made it really quickly and very simply, with a few ingredients.

Because we had rice, curry and rendang potatoes for dinner last night, I had left over rice – this, as any Malaysian will tell you, is the key to good fried rice – cold rice! Once rice has been cooked and refrigerated, the starches solidify over each grain. When you apply heat again, the grains of rice remain intact, firm and rice-y. If you try and fry hot just cooked rice, it will turn to mush!

I used what was in the fridge for this dish, and heated up the remains of the rendang potatoes (mmmmmmm) to serve as a side dish. It was a delectable vegan dinner! You could use any manner of vegetable in this dish – peas are wonderful, as is spinach. Toasted cashew nuts would be great too.

Serves 4

  • 2 – 3 tablespoons oil (I used 1 tablespoon each of olive, truffle and toasted sesame oil – use what you have – peanut oil is good too – it gives a nutty smoky flavour) plus additional if needed
  • 1 cup sliced and chopped red onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 inch ginger, sliced and chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon plus extra soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 – 2 cups button mushrooms, peeled and sliced
  • 3 – 4 cups cold rice (at least overnight in the fridge)
  • 1/2 cup baby roma tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 cup baked seasoned tofu, cubed
  • 2 tbsp chili sauce (I used Lingam’s)

In a large, non stick frying pan, over medium high heat, saute the onions, garlic and ginger in the oil. This is the longest part of the dish – you need to get the onions past the soft stage to the slightly burnt and sticky stage. Adjust your heat accordingly so they dont over burn, but keep stirring and let them really cook down so they are soft and brown at the edges. Salt and pepper well.

Pour over the soy and balsamic vinegar, and let the onion mixture cook for several minutes more. Peel and slice the mushrooms, and add them to the onions. Encourage them to burn a bit too – you want them to lose all their moisture, and cook well. Once the mushrooms have coloured, add the rice all at once, and mix the rice into the pan ingredients. Fold over and over again, using a spatula or wooden spoon. Incorporate everything, and then taste. Pour over a bit more soy so that the rice colours a little. Taste again.

Add the tomatoes and tofu, and stir to incorporate. Taste. Adjust. Add the chili sauce and taste again. Adjust to your liking, and serve hot. M and I love scraping the pan from fried rice – its where the best bits hide!